Executive Summary for July 30th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on July 30, 2015 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Feinstein Introduces Long-Awaited Drought Bill

Senator Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday introduced her legislative answer to California’s drought woes: a $1.3 billion proposal to fund new water storage projects, desalination, conservation and recycling programs.

The bill, cosponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer, is markedly different from a GOP-sponsored bill approved in the House earlier this year. Endorsed largely along partisan lines, it would gut key provisions of the Endangered Species Act so that more water could be diverted from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an estuary already in ecological peril.

What the two bills share is federal funding for new water storage projects, so there is a possibility for compromise with the Republicans.

While the $1.3 billion offered in Feinstein’s bill sounds like a big number, it won’t build much. For instance, it sets aside $50 million over five years for desalination projects and $600 million for five new reservoir projects already identified in prior studies. In comparison:

San Diego County’s desalination project in Carlsbad, to be completed this year by Poseidon Water, carries an estimated price tag of $1 billion.* The Sites Reservoir proposal in Colusa County is estimated to cost nearly $4 billion.

Feinstein told the L.A. Times she expects the bill to get a first hearing in September.

“This is the hardest area from which to legislate,” she said. “You see the devil if you do. You see the devil if you don’t. It’s just very hard. We’ve tried to balance this.”

In related news, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Wednesday transmitted to Congress its final report on the feasibility of increasing the height of Shasta Dam to store more water. That’s one of the projects that could be funded by Feinstein’s bill.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers this look at how the House and Senate bills compare.

Salmon Numbers Plunge in Yuba River

So far this year, only 42 returning spring-run Chinook salmon have been counted in the Yuba River during June and July. That’s down from more than 600 during the same period last year.

The decline is not unexpected due to the severity of California’s four-year drought. Yet it’s troubling for two important reasons: Spring-run Chinook are an endangered species; and they are a crucial population of wild-spawning salmon, which are considered more resilient ecologically than hatchery-raised fish. Hatchery-raised fish compose the vast majority of California’s salmon, a result of dams that block most of their natural habitat.

“It’s particularly alarming to see these low levels in the Yuba River,” said Gary Reedy, river science director at the South Yuba River Citizens League.

Wild salmon numbers are also down sharply on the Salmon and Trinity rivers.

Hunting for More Water

A number of communities are cooking up deals to secure more water through open-market sales and transfers. Here’s a quick roundup:

  • The Turlock Irrigation District gave final approval to selling Tuolumne River water to the cities of Turlock, Ceres and Modesto.
  • The Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District has signed an agreement to purchase a portion of Kern River water rights from Kern County.
  • The city of Solvang is exploring a partnership with the Central Coast Water Authority.

Photo courtesy of AP / J. Scott Applewhite

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