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Executive Summary for September 8th

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

Published on Sep. 8, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

D.C. Politics Holds Back Water Recycling

California water agencies have projects on the books capable of producing 1.1 million acre-feet of drinking water by recycling wastewater. Yet the projects aren’t getting built because of a lack of funds, particularly federal assistance.

The federal government isn’t supporting these projects because of a ban on funding earmark projects in Congress, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The earmark ban was imposed several years ago when Republicans took control of the House. It’s a partisan strategy intended to prevent funding “pet” projects or favors for influential constituents.

“You can’t just say here’s a project, fund it,” said Matt Sparks, spokesman for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. “That’s an earmark, and that is exactly what we got rid of when we took the majority.”

This has had a number of repercussions, including setbacks for important infrastructure, like a vital levee-strengthening project in Sacramento that has been delayed for years. And water-recycling projects that could ease California’s drought.

Water recycling is cheaper and easier than seawater desalination and it requires less energy. The water-recycling projects now awaiting funds could produce twice the water supply estimated to come from four new reservoir projects, which have an estimated cost of $9 billion. Many of these recycling projects are “shovel ready.”

“It’s the least expensive of the next water supplies that California cities could develop,” said David Sedlak, a UC Berkeley environmental engineer and co-director of the Berkeley Water Center.

Two New Drought Bills Await Governor’s Signature

The California Legislature has approved two new bills designed to ease water shortages that are now awaiting a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Bill 555, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require urban water suppliers to conduct annual inspections to detect leaks and breaks in their water distribution systems, and submit the results to the Department of Water Resources for public review.

“It’s estimated that 40 percent of the 870,000 acre-feet of urban water lost to leaks could be cost-effectively recovered by detecting and repairing leaks,” Wolk said in a statement. “That’s 350,000 acre-feet in water savings.”

The bill also requires the State Water Resources Control Board to develop performance standards to minimize water loss in the water agencies’ distribution systems.

Assembly Bill 606, by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Francisco, would require state properties to modernize irrigation systems and implement drought tolerant landscaping, with an emphasis on native plants.

The bill requires state properties, during renovations or new construction, to install drip irrigation, recycled water and rainwater catchment systems when “feasible.” This means they must be cost-effective and able to be installed in a timely manner.

And in other legislative news, Gov. Brown has signed law-making amendments to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the law adopted in 2014 that regulates California groundwater for the first time. It’s a breakthrough law for a state that has never regulated groundwater before, although it has been criticized for long compliance horizons: Sustainable groundwater management is not required for 25 years.

The amendments were authored by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and are found in Senate Bill 13. The changes mostly refine who is required to submit groundwater management plans. But one provision adds additional compliance time for certain categories of groundwater users. Groundwater basins categorized as “medium” and “high” priority will now have until Jan. 31, 2022, to begin operating according to a sustainable management plan — two additional years.

Heat Wave to Sweep California

Temperatures will swing well into the triple digits this week across much of interior California as a heat wave bakes the drought-stricken state.

Temperatures by Friday are expected to reach 107 degrees in Sacramento and Redding. A heat advisory is in effect through Wednesday for the Bay Area. San Francisco will see temperatures break into the 90s, while the East Bay will exceed 100 degrees.

The heat will increase the potential for new wildfires. Adding to this concern is the potential for thunderstorms and lightning this weekend — just after the heat has baked vegetation to a crisp.

The forecast for above-normal temperatures extends into central Oregon, which is also experiencing severe drought. In fact, long-range forecasts indicate all of the Pacific states can expect above-normal temperatures through November.

Top photo: In this May 6, 2015 file photo, a pipe feeds recycled wastewater to a holding pond to recharge an underground aquifer at the Orange County Water District recharge facility in Anaheim, Calif. The water district, which serves 2.4 million people near Los Angeles, operates one of the nation’s largest wastewater recycling systems. (Chris Carlson, Associated Press)

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