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Executive Summary for May 6th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including how candidates for the U.S. House and Senate view California water issues. We also look at why El Niño rains may make this year’s fire season worse.

Published on May 6, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

The Politics of Water

National political races are heating up – both in the presidential contest and for House and Senate seats in California. And of course water is one of the issues candidates are hotly debating.

Vying for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat, Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez gave opposing views on the Endangered Species Act.

Last week Sanchez grabbed headlines when she said that amending the Endangered Species Act was a possibility, and “everything needs to be on the table when we go in to find a solution,” according to the Sacramento Bee. The paper also reported that Sanchez “wants to take a broader approach that calls for continued conservation measures, increased storage sites and the construction of Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin Delta tunnels project to move water south.”

Harris, however, said she wasn’t in favor of weakening the Endangered Species Act, and that both the environment and agriculture can be protected.

“Harris and Sanchez both generally favor Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial twin tunnels water-diversion plan,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “However, their answers diverge sharply on two proposed reservoirs that have been central to the water discussion for more than a decade.”

In the race for the House seat in the 10th Congressional District (now held by Republican Representative Jeff Denham), several challengers attended a forum this week in the Central Valley, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters, and water was a hot topic there as well.

Robert Hodges, a farmer of almonds and forage crops, said that desalinization plants (for both coastal and inland communities) could help with California’s water issues.

Two other challengers weighed in: Michael Eggman, a beekeeper and almond farmer, and Michael J. Barkley, a lawyer and rancher.

The Turlock Journal reported, “While Eggman believes desalinization is a viable option as well, he also hopes to fund acclimation systems and upgrade irrigation systems — none of which Denham has done, he said. Barkley plans to produce an additional 36 to 44 million acre feet of storage with no tunnels, reducing the risk of flooding in the area but solving the water needs of farmers, cities and the entire Southwestern United States.”

El Niño Makes Fire Season Worse

It would seem that with some parts of the state actually getting some good rain this year, it would help as we head into the worst of California’s fire season. But the opposite is true.

This winter’s rain has helped some new vegetation grow that could serve as kindling for already dry forests that in many places also have record numbers of dead trees, as the Los Angeles Times reported. At least 29 million trees in the central and southern Sierra are dying thanks to a bark beetle infestation.

“One of the guys says this is the most grass they’ve seen in this area in many years. It’s thick and getting taller and we had rain today,” Amy Head, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the paper. “Between just a normal everyday fire season, the increased grass crop, the bark beetles, it could be a very busy fire season.”

Water Quality in the Delta

State Senator Lois Wolk is leading the charge for the State Water Resources Control Board to set new water quality standards for the Delta in an effort to protect fish and other wildlife.

On Tuesday, Wolk and 10 other state legislators sent a letter to the Water Board saying, “Under federal and state law, the State Board is required to review the [Water Quality Control Plan] every three years, but has yet to complete any update from as far back as 1995. The Board initiated its current review of the standards in 2009, but six years later has yet to adopt any amendments.”

The letter contends that the Delta estuary is at risk and in need of updated standards to protect fish and other wildlife, as well as water quality.

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