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Executive Summary for September 28th

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. 28, 2015 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

San Diego Looks at Second Desalination Plant

The San Diego County Water Authority hasn’t even begun to tap desalinated seawater from its new plant in Carlsbad, set to be completed by the end of this year. Yet it is already moving ahead with plans for a second major desalination project.

The agency last week authorized spending $4 million to test various seawater intake systems at Camp Pendleton, the major U.S. Marine Corps base located in Oceanside, just north of Carlsbad.

The project is not expected to come online until 2030, if it even gets that far. The intake testing alone, which is being conducted under a memorandum of understanding with the Marine Corps, is expected to take two years.

“Given the long lead time for developing seawater desalination projects in California, incremental development activities such as these intake studies will maintain a potential Camp Pendleton project as a viable alternative,” said Mark Weston, chair of the authority’s board of directors.

University Launches Major Water Scarcity Initiative

The University of California has launched a new program across several campuses to study water scarcity in the state.

Called simply “UC Water,” the effort aims to integrate information on headwaters and groundwater to see how changes affect the downstream groundwater. UC Water also intends to provide information and offer ideas that could be implemented by resource managers for a more secure water future for the state and beyond.

One of the biggest questions is how the state, with a population increasing by a million people a year, can meet insatiable demand for water for food production irrigation, for recreation, for fisheries and more. Demand peaks when it’s hot, which is not, typically, when it rains.

Meeting demand is only more difficult as the climate warms, said Joshua Viers, associated professor of ecology at UC Merced.

“We don’t live in a place of continuous plenty,” Viers said.

Part of the project’s goal is to assemble fragmented data on water supplies in the state. This will help researchers learn, for instance, how forest health influences water supplies.

For example, logging to thin out overgrown Sierra Nevada forests could increase water supplies and also reduce wildfire risk. But not in all locations.

Roger Bales, a professor of hydrology at UC Merced, has found that as the climate warms, trees have longer growing seasons at higher elevations.

That means “we could lose our water gains from forest thinning at lower elevations, because the trees will use more of the water,” Bales said.

Judge Allows State Water Enforcement to Proceed

Santa Clara County Superior Court judge Peter Kirwan has rejected a request by two water agencies that are fighting significant fines for illegal water diversions.

The decision upholds California’s water-rights enforcement process, and is thus an important affirmation of the state’s ability to regulate water diversions during the drought.

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District faces a possible fine of $1.5 million for allegedly diverting water when there was none available under the district’s century-old water right. West Side Irrigation District hasn’t been fined but was on the receiving end of a cease and desist order to stop future diversions.

The districts asked the court to set aside the state’s enforcement actions, arguing that it’s impossible for the state to act as an impartial arbiter in its enforcement hearings. But, said Kirwan, there is “simply is not enough evidence at this point for the Court to reach that conclusion.”

Instead, the hearings will proceed as scheduled in October and November.

Top image: Aerial photo of the California Aqueduct, which supplies at least some of the freshwater needs of 25 million Californians. (Mojave Water Agency)

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