Executive Summary for June 3rd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought, including evidence submitted about the impact of the Delta tunnels on water users. We also look at new funding for climate and energy innovation, and new scientific findings about snowpack.

Published on June 3, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Evidence Submitted in Support of Tunnels

In preparation for the public hearings regarding California Water Fix, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Bureau of Reclamation submitted their evidence to the State Water Resources Control Board.

The agencies are seeking to make the case that the proposed twin tunnels project that would create a new diversion point for water withdrawals would not “initiate a new water right nor injure any other legal user of water.” DWR hopes to convince the water board in the hearings, which begin on July 26, that existing water rights would not be impacted by the project or the water quality of the Delta itself.

Although much will be hashed out about the proposed plan over the coming months, including the environmental impacts, the first set of hearings will focus on the water rights aspect.

DWR argues that their petition is not a new water right because they claim that several operational aspects of the tunnels (upstream storage, overall Banks/Jones pumping) will not change materially, this is merely a modification of the existing CVP and SWP permits,” said Tim Stroshane, policy analyst for Restore the Delta, an organization opposed to the project.

“Delta advocates beg to differ; any added diversion point, requires issuance of a new water right permit,” he said. “If the state water board agrees with Delta advocates and decides it’s a new water right, tunnel backers would need to do a water availability analysis to follow their procedures. We doubt they would find enough water to sustain the tunnels project.”

Funding Water and Energy

The close relationship between energy and water has been starkly revealed in the drought. But a new grant from the California Energy Commission seeks to boost innovation there in four hubs across the state.

Los Angeles, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley were all chosen as places to focus on developing successful technologies to help with the nexus of water, energy and food.

Fresno State received $5 million in the grant to help spur the Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster, which will look closely at agricultural applications of new technology. “We will identify innovative entrepreneurs who are developing solutions to address the region’s needs in the water-energy and food space and provide them with tools and direction to bring the technology to market,” David Zoldoske, executive director of water initiatives at Fresno State told Western Farm Press.

In another project, energy and water are also a focus at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has launched the Water Resilience initiative to address the challenge of how energy systems are vulnerable when there are changes in water availability. For instance, pre-drought, California was getting 40 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric power. But today it’s down to 11 percent.

Finding ways to develop energy sources that are more resilient in the face of California’s changing climate is becoming a key goal of the state’s research institutions.

How Temperatures Affect Snowpack

California’s snowpack has historically been a primary source of water during hot summer months as runoff fills rivers and reservoirs. But new research looks at the impact of temperature on snowpack.

California is getting hotter, and climate modeling suggests this will continue in many parts of the state, which is why new research coming out of the University of Utah about the relationship between snowpack and temperature is so important.

We used to think about precipitation pretty simply – how much snow fell correlated to how much runoff we’d get later in the year. But researchers have found that scenario is true only to a point.

When you get above a certain elevation, they found, the amount of precipitation determines the snowpack more than temperature. But that’s not true everywhere. At a certain point in elevation (or “threshold”) this shifts, and temperature becomes the driving force.

“By the end of the century, according to the study, that threshold will move uphill by around 800 feet in the Wasatch and more in the Sierra Nevada, Cascades and parts of the Rocky Mountains,” reports Science Daily.

“They look at that as how much water is available in the form of snow to melt and capture in the reservoirs,” said Court Strong, one of the researchers. “That will be down in the future. Even if we have the same amount of water coming into the system, it will be melting earlier and faster. If we want to supply that to a growing population, then we need increased storage capacity.”

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