Executive Summary for July 22nd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including a new court ruling affecting the Delta tunnels plan. We also look at reports on California’s water accounting and the sale of Delta islands.

Published on July 22, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Court Rules in Favor of State in Tunnels Case

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court gave a boost to the state’s plan to build two water tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta after ruling on a payment issue for landowners impacted by the project.

In order to conduct preliminary environmental tests for the proposed project, the state would have to access private land. Landowners sought compensation for that right, saying that it would be an inconvenience.

But the court ruled in favor of the state, which did not want to compensate landowners because it could add significant cost to a project that has an initial price tag of $15.7 billion.

The next hurdle for the tunnels plan to clear begins next week as the State Water Resources Control Board will start hearings on whether the new point of diversion for the tunnels will impact water rights for other users in the Delta.

Delta Islands Sale

It’s official: Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, the largest water supplier in the state, now owns 20,369 acres of land in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta despite attempts to block the sale.

After paying $175 million for five islands, the L.A. Times reported, “the agency has yet to put forth a project for the land.” Although it’s long been assumed that MWD bought the land, at least in part, to help construction of two Delta tunnels championed by the Brown Administration. The tunnels project, though, faces an uphill climb, a high price tag and is far from a done deal at this point.

The sale has been contested for months and litigation continues, with some seeing it as a “water grab” by the south. “It was a major blow to conservation groups, which have compared the pending sale to the movie “Chinatown,” the 1974 Roman Polanski film about deceptive tactics used by Los Angeles interests in 1937 to secure water rights to the Owens Valley, east of the Sierra,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

Keeping Track of California’s Water

A new report from the Public Policy Institute of California looks at the shortcomings of California’s water information system, which have become even more pronounced during the most recent drought.

“To allocate its water supplies efficiently and fairly and reduce conflicts over water, California needs a more reliable, thorough and transparent system of water accounting to measure, process and disseminate information on water availability, rights, and use,” the report, “Accounting for California’s Water,” states.

The report identified several problem areas including gaps in information about surface water availability and rights, a lack of accounting for groundwater in many (particularly rural) places, a lack of clarity and information about water available for trading and not enough consistent or clear requirement about water needed to support wildlife, including species nearing extinction.

It also lays out 12 priority actions that the state and federal agencies should tackle.

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