Executive Summary for May 13th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including reactions to sweeping changes to the state’s conservation mandate. We also look at a desert water transfer and recycled wastewater headed to farms.

Published on May 13, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

esert Water Transfer Takes a Step Forward

Interbasin water transfers are not new in California – in fact, the state as we know it was built on them. But in the current climate of water stress, one proposed for the desert is hotly contested.

This week, California’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of efforts by Cadiz Inc. to pump groundwater in the Mojave Desert to sell to Southern California water agencies with customers in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange counties. The ruling was a big win for the company, which has proposed pumping 50,000 acre feet (62,000 cubic meters) a year for 50 years, but it’s far from a done deal.

Cadiz planned to transfer the water to the Colorado River Aqueduct by building a pipeline beside a railway line. But the Bureau of Land Management has signaled that it would need additional review to OK that.

Two environmental groups, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Center for Biological Diversity, have opposed the project. And so does one of California’s senators.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Dianne Feinstein called the project “a grave threat to the fragile desert ecosystem.”

Feinstein wrote: “The project’s corporate backers ignore the fact that it would drain a vital desert aquifer at a rate between 50,000 and 75,000 acre-feet (62,000-95,000 cubic meters) a year, while the aquifer’s recharge rate is between 2,000 and 10,000 acre-feet (2,500-12,500 cubic meters) a year.” And the senator added: “Climate change is real, and California must do more to prepare for future droughts, but irreparably damaging the Mojave National Preserve isn’t the way to achieve that.”

California Reacts to Changes to Drought Rules

A proposed plan by the State Water Resources Control Board would cast aside the mandate for urban water conservation. The plan will be finalized next week. It has broad support, but some concerns linger.

The new proposal gives local water agencies the ability to “self-certify” that they have enough water to meet three additional dry years and to set their own conservation rules accordingly. The news came at the same time the governor released an executive order calling for a long-term strategy for drought in California.

The Association of California Water reacted positively to the water board’s plan. It released a statement saying: “While the statewide drought is not over, it is time to better match conservation levels with local water supply conditions.” Most water agencies were already on board with the plan, which a group of them had previously proposed to the water board.

And while there was little handwringing over it, it has caused some to be concerned that the state is moving too quickly to dismiss still-serious drought problems. “I’m not opposed to giving districts more leeway in determining what they do,” Peter Gleick, president and cofounder of the Pacific Institute, a water think tank based in Oakland, told Wired. “But I do worry that this is too soon to be easing up on the conservation and efficiency measures that have just barely been put in place over the past couple of years.”

Recycled Water Headed Toward Farms

What can a water district that is about to receive almost no surface water allocations do? Some farmers in the San Joaquin Valley in the Del Puerto Water District will be trying out treated wastewater.

In a deal struck this week, Turlock and Modesto will provide “highly treated water from their sewage plants” to the district, which includes 45,000 acres, the Modesto Bee reported. The water would make up 30 percent of Del Puerto’s demand, and it is scheduled to receive 5 percent of its federal water allocation via the Central Valley Project.

Will more recycled water for farming lead to less pumping of groundwater in the Central Valley?

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