Executive Summary for June 24th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including a new court ruling on the Delta Plan. We also look at findings from a UCLA study on drought recovery and the completion of urban water suppliers’ new “stress tests.”

Published on June 24, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

New Ruling on Delta Plan

After years of writing and review, the Delta Plan was adopted in 2013. It laid out 14 policies and 73 recommendations for management of the Delta. But it was immediately met with a host of lawsuits.

After years of litigation, a judge last month gave a mixed ruling on the plan but stated that it didn’t do enough to establish “quantified or otherwise measurable targets.” Now the ruling has been clarified and the judge has ruled that the plan is “invalid.”

“The Court reiterates that Respondent must revise the Delta Plan, and any applicable regulations to include quantified or otherwise measurable targets associated with achieving reduced Delta reliance, reduced environmental harm from invasive species, restoring more natural flows, and increased water supply reliability,” the ruling states. “Consequently, to achieve Delta Reform Act compliance with section 85308’s requirements for quantifiable or otherwise measurable targets, Respondent must adopt legally enforceable regulations. Merely providing recommendations to comply with section 85308 is insufficient.”

The Delta Stewardship Council, which wrote the plan, was unsurprisingly disappointed in the ruling, and stated, “The Delta remains in crisis and now isn’t the time to set aside the State’s only comprehensive management plan for the Delta.” Expect an appeal.

Drought Recovery to Take Years

A new study from UCLA found that it will takes years – perhaps until 2019 – of above-average precipitation for California’s mountain snowpack to recover from four winters of drought (and counting).

Snowpack measurements are taken by Department of Water Resources sensors around the state, but the UCLA study also used NASA Landsat satellite measurements to create maps that are more detailed and cover more area than the sensors, providing a more complete picture.

“Our larger goal is to build a very detailed, continuous picture of the historical snowpack, diagnose the primary factors that cause it to vary, and then ultimately improve models for predicting how much water will be available from it,” said Steve Margulis, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. “This unprecedented information can help policymakers make more informed decisions with regard to this critical resource, especially as climate change affects it.”

Water Suppliers Complete ‘Stress Tests’

This week, the deadline came and went for California’s approximately 400 urban water suppliers to report to state water officials on the resilience of their water supply for the next three years.

This so-called “stress test” was handed down in place of California’s year-long statewide mandatory conservation requirements lifted last month. The conservation mandate was hugely successful, saving 1.43 million acre-feet (1764 million cubic meters) from June 2015 to May 2016 – enough for 7.2 million people for a year.

It also resulted in big energy savings, too. Between June 2015 and February 2016, the state saved enough electricity to power 135,000 homes for a year, with a greenhouse gas savings equivalent of taking 50,000 cars off the road for a year.

But now it looks like conservation may not be a big part of the picture of water agencies in the next year. While the state water board has not yet made water suppliers’ plans public yet, some have published their own plans. “It’s clear that a number of water agencies are abandoning mandatory water conservation entirely,” reported KPCC. Although at least one water supplier, the city of Ventura, is sticking with its 16 percent state mandated conservation goal.

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