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Executive Summary for August 26th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought, including the economics of the tunnels plan. We also look at a salmon study in flooded farm fields and taps turned on in East Porterville.

Published on Aug. 26, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Water Flowing in East Porterville

The San Joaquin Valley town of East Porterville became the unenviable poster child of the California drought after hundreds of wells ran dry. This week things have begun turning around for some local people.

A multi-year project has been under way to connect residents of East Porterville, who rely on groundwater, to the City of Porterville’s water system. Some houses were connected this week, but it will take until the end of 2017 for all 1,800 homes which need water, because wells have run dry or the groundwater is too contaminated to drink.

The project results from the efforts of numerous agencies and nonprofit partners including the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Water Resources, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Tulare County, the City of Porterville, Community Services Employment Training, the Community Water Center, Self-Help Enterprises and Porterville Area Coordinating Council.

East Porterville was catapulted national headlines last year as the drought worsened, but a water crisis has been going on there for decades. “The San Joaquin Valley’s history of Wild West land-use planning, its governance structures, and the political disenfranchisement of an entire class of citizens have created a human-made crisis,” reported the Atlantic’s CityLab.

Delta Tunnels Economics Attacked

Current estimates put the cost of building dual tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at about $16 billion. New economic analysis says the return on the investment means it is not a good deal.

Jeffrey Michael, director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, has authored a new report, Benefit-Cost Analysis of the California WaterFix.

“The results clearly show that the WaterFix is not economically justified under both the base and optimistic scenarios,” the report states. Under these two scenarios, there would by anywhere from 23 cents to 39 cents of economic benefit for every dollar spent, it adds

Proponents of the project, however, called the report biased. “The promoters of this report fail to address the fundamental economic benefit of this project: to protect our state’s families, farms and businesses from continued water supply cutbacks that are all but certain if we don’t move forward with WaterFix,” said Charley Wilson, executive director of Southern California Water Committee.

Is Floodplain Farming Working?

A five-year study being conducted in the Yolo Bypass on flooding farm fields to create habitat for juvenile salmon has revealed some promising findings about how the fish are affected, explains Lynn Takata.

Takata is an environmental scientist with the Department of Water Resources and recently gave a talk about the study. Overall, the fish are growing bigger and healthier.

“Growth is really high on the floodplain, and that seems to be universal, no matter what the year is and no matter what the geography is,” she said. “Also, zooplankton production and invertebrate production [fish food] is really high, but the composition can differ, depending on where it’s located in the bypass or in the floodplain. It can also depend on what field type you have, what was grown the prior season or what wasn’t grown the prior season.”

You can read more about her talk on Maven’s Notebook.

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