Executive Summary for July 1st

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including how oil and gas activity may impact newly discovered freshwater aquifers. We also look at how much water will flow from Shasta Dam this summer and a new program to maximize the value

Published on July 1, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Flows from Shasta Dam

In a win for Central Valley farmers, federal fisheries agencies did an about-face on plans for water releases from Shasta Dam this summer by announcing that there would not be additional cuts to deliveries.

Agencies have struggled to find ways to balance water deliveries to farms with keeping enough water to aid struggling fish populations during the summer months, including Chinook salmon and Delta smelt. Earlier proposals to cut water deliveries were met with great pushback from the agriculture industry and its political allies in Sacramento and Washington.

“Rather than the more drastic proposal under discussion, the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reverted to a model for operating Shasta Dam that stays the course for giving farmers more water deliveries than in recent years,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

Of course, not everyone is happy with the decision. The Sacramento Bee notes that in 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation wrongly calculated the water temperature in which salmon could survive and not enough cold water was left in river, resulting in a massive die-off with just 5 percent of the juvenile salmon surviving. And the following year, one of the driest in the state’s history, the population was devastated again by warm river temperatures and saw just a 3 percent survival rate for the young salmon.

Oil and Gas and Water

By now the news of a major water discovery deep underground in California has made headlines. But the findings also help bring to light the proximity of water sources to oil and gas activity.

Stanford researchers discovered the new aquifers thousands of feet below the surface after reviewing data from the oil and gas industry. As Inside Climate News reported, the researchers found that where there is water, there is also often oil and gas, as well.

In seven of the eight counties studied, some oil and gas activity happened in the same formations as the water. Of most note, though, was the occurrence in the state’s oil and gas production epicenter, Kern County. There, the researchers found that, 15 to 19 percent of the time, oil and gas activity takes place in the same area as the water.

The researchers have highlighted that the impact of oil and gas production on freshwater aquifers is something that should be further studied. It’s also not new for California. For years, the state has allowed oil and gas companies to dispose of wastewater into freshwater aquifers.

“In 2015, Kern County officials found hundreds of unlined, unregulated wastewater pits, often near farm fields,” Inside Climate News reported. “Oil and gas wastewater is highly saline and laced with toxic substances, such as the carcinogen benzene.”

Grabbing More Water for Reservoirs

Gov. Jerry Brown can’t make more rain fall in California, but he can help fund ways to better capture it. A new program would do just that by focusing on a kind of storm known as “atmospheric rivers.”

“The program could enable storage of billions more gallons of water in state reservoirs than is possible now,” the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported. “By employing the latest knowledge of atmospheric rivers, advancing that knowledge and creating tools and methods aimed at monitoring and predicting them, it will provide potent new information to support modern reservoir operations strategies now under development.”

Scripps, which is pioneering the research, contends that the program could capture the same amount of water through existing infrastructure as would be stored behind expensive new dams that are also proposed.

The newly funded program is the result of Senate Bill 758, passed in 2015. The legislation seeks to address the dual function of letting the Department of Water Resources better operate the state’s reservoirs to ensure flood protection and also to capture more of the water that comes in heavy rain events caused by atmospheric rivers.

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