Executive Summary for December 16th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary, including the most important stories, analysis and data. Our goal is to keep you informed of the day’s most significant events in the field.

Published on Dec. 16, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

State Eases Up on Salmon-Protection Rules

The State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday relaxed its proposal to require more water storage in Shasta and Folsom reservoirs to protect endangered winter-run Chinook salmon.

The move came after strong objections from agricultural and urban water agencies during a four-hour meeting in Sacramento. They feared the requirements would cause severe water shortages in 2016 if the drought continues.

“It sets arbitrary targets that in and of itself will create controversy that is counterproductive,” said Ara Azhderian, water policy administrator at the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. His agency primarily serves farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. “It is premature to take these actions today, plain and simple.”

The goal was to hold enough water in storage to maintain cold-temperatures flows for salmon in the Sacramento River. The juvenile salmon in particular begin to suffer illness and then die when water temperatures exceed 56F. This year and last, more than 95 percent of the new young salmon spawned each year were killed by high temperatures before migrating to the ocean.

Because salmon breed in three-year cycles, officials fear a third year of mortality at that level could mean extinction for the species, which is the last wild-spawning salmon run on the Sacramento River.

“I hate to use a sports metaphor, but the count is 0 and 2 on temperature management,” said water board member Steven Moore. “We can’t strike out.”

Nevertheless, rather than requiring specific reservoir storage targets, the water board decided to give the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources more flexibility to meet water-temperature requirements. Its new order establishes 1.6 million acre-feet in Shasta Reservoir as “a planning target,” not a requirement.

The order includes language that would allow adjustments in the carryover storage targets, if necessary and appropriate. DWR and Reclamation are also required under the order to submit a definitive temperature plan by March 15, a requirement that was lacking this year.

“By then, we’ll know how much snow there is, how much rain there is,” Frances Spivy-Weber, the water board’s vice chair, told the Sacramento Bee.

Obama Announces Sustainable Water Initiative

The White House on Tuesday unveiled a new strategy to build sustainability into the nation’s water supply, emphasizing more efforts to recycle water and boost conservation.

The effort is linked to the Obama administration’s programs to manage climate change, given that access to fresh water is expected to become more difficult as the climate warms.

The program includes:

  • A new Natural Resource Investment Center at the Department of Interior meant to encourage increased private investment in water infrastructure and to encourage exchanges through water banks.
  • $21 million in cost-sharing grants offered through the Bureau of Reclamation for projects that boost water and energy efficiency, protect wildlife and habitats, and facilitate water markets.
  • A new data-sharing website to shed light on Colorado River water scarcity problems.
  • Expanded interest by Reclamation to assist with pilot projects and research into water recycling.
  • Hosting a White House Water Summit on World Water Day – March 22, 2016. State, local and tribal governments, along with NGOs and private businesses, are invited to submit proposals on water efficiency, data monitoring and forecasting, water availability, and related ecological concerns.

The new Natural Resource Investment Center will work closely with the private sector to identify innovative ideas and financing options for projects that conserve scarce Western water resources and protect species habitat. This means more development of water exchanges and transfers, and new financing approaches to build and rehabilitate water infrastructure.

“I am confident the private sector can play a meaningful role in working with us to advance the goals of smart development alongside thoughtful conservation,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

Solar Energy to Power State Water Project

The California Department of Water Resources has signed an agreement to buy solar electricity to operate the State Water Project.

Long considered one of the largest energy consumers in all of California, the State Water Project for decades relied on power generated by a coal-burning facility in Nevada. But in 2012, the state began divesting from that source to concentrate on cleaner generators.

This includes a new natural-gas power plant in Lodi, which opened in 2012. And now it will buy electricity from a new solar energy facility called Solverde I, located near Lancaster in Los Angeles County and operated by sPower, a Salt Lake City firm.

The solar facility is not expected to come online until December 2016. It will include more than 330,000 photovoltaic modules mounted on a motorized heliotropic tracking system that adjusts the panels’ orientation throughout the day to follow the sun’s path and maximize energy capture.

DWR plans to purchase 4.8 million mega-watt hours over the 20-year contract. This is expected to offset greenhouse gas emissions by 105,000 metric tons annually, or the equivalent of avoiding carbon pollution from roughly 245,000 barrels of oil each year.

The state water agency has already met its 2020 goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent compared to 1990 levels. The solar-energy contract will help DWR meet its goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

The State Water Project delivers freshwater to more than 25 million Californians from San Jose to San Diego. It exports water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta across more than 400 miles and over numerous mountain passes, requiring a continuous operation of numerous powerful electric pumps.

Top image: Chinook Salmon like this one are at risk for a third straight year because of warm river temperatures caused by the drought. On Tuesday, the state added flexibility to regulations that seek to maintain appropriate temperatures in the Sacramento River, home to endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. (Damon Arthur, Associated Press)

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