Executive Summary for January 28th

California will get some help with new water infrastructure projects as the EPA announced $182 million for the state. Plus, drought shaming has backfired for one water district, and how a new plan to flood farmers’ fields could help fish.

Published on Jan. 28, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

California to Receive $182 Million for Water Infrastructure Projects

Money is on the way to help California’s water infrastructure as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday in Carlsbad, California, that the state will receive $182 million to help fund improvements in drinking and wastewater projects, and to combat water pollution.

“The $182 million in additional funding announced today will be used across California for water quality projects that will reduce water pollution, improve municipal drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, make projects more sustainable by increasing water and energy efficiency, and provide technical assistance to communities,” the EPA reported.

The money is allocated through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which uses low-interest (1 percent) loans to help municipalities improve water infrastructure. As the loans are paid back, the money is redistributed to other projects (hence the “revolving” fund). The EPA reports that since 1987, it has given 34,900 low-cost loans and a total of $105.4 billion to communities. Of that, $4.6 billion has gone to California.

The program is critical in funding clean water, but the funding gap between what’s available and what’s needed is massive. “The Agency estimates that $271 billion is needed to address the nation’s aging and failing wastewater infrastructure, of which $26 billion is needed in California,” the EPA reports.

Even though the money is far short of what’s needed, a lot can be accomplished. Carlsbad has received $30 million through the fund, and another $7 million from other sources. It will nearly double the capacity of its recycled water facility, add 18 miles of pipe, install 156 recycled water meters and be able to meet 33 percent of the annual water requirements of its district.

Other California municipalities have grand plans as well. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the city of San Diego will use $9 million for a recycled water pipeline and repairs to sewer pipelines. Valley Center is expanding its wastewater treatment plant and will now be able to offer recycled water instead of potable water to be used by golf courses; Davis is using money to switch from groundwater to Sacramento River water; San Francisco is focusing on stormwater control projects; and more projects are under way.

When Drought-Shaming Backfires

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) decided to take large water guzzlers head on during the drought. The district decided to publicly shame big water users from their mostly urban and suburban water district by publishing a list of names, and how much water individuals were using. The list has included famous athletes, local professors and prominent business people.

Just a few weeks ago, the Contra Costa Times published a story that said the tactic seemed to be paying off, writing, “The number of water guzzlers in the East Bay is declining sharply as the weather cools and the pain of penalties and public shaming sinks in.”

EBMUD spokeswoman Abby Figueroa told the paper that they have fewer violators, and their biggest guzzlers were now cutting back.

This all seemed like good news until the Contra Costa Times published another story yesterday that said the EBMUD had goofed in its numbers and called into question more than 4,000 names that had been published, and the amount of water the listed individuals were using. In at least several cases, published amounts did not match up with what was listed on individuals’ bills. As an example, the story cited one woman who was listed as using 5,437 gallons a day, but only used 1,009.

New Groundwater Project That Could Benefit Fish

Farmers and scientists are making the most of heavy rains this year. Last week we reported on a project that is flooding almond orchards in the San Joaquin Valley to studying the recharge rate into the aquifer, and how floodwater can be used for replenishing diminished groundwater.

Now another new groundwater project is under way, this time further north in Siskiyou County. Farmers in the Scott Valley Irrigation District have a permit to divert 5,400 acre-feet of water from the Scott River when flows are high.

That water will be applied to dormant or fallow fields, and the hope is that water will slowly move back down into the aquifer, and then from there, back into the river.

But the key difference between this project and other groundwater recharge projects in the works now is that the main goal is not to bank groundwater for the dry summer months; it’s to improve stream flow for fish.

Why are farmers here interested in helping fish? The project “hopefully helps to decrease the size of the target on our backs,” one farmer participating in the program told Ag Alert.

Top image: In this May 6, 2016 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. (Chris Carlson, Associated Press)

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