Executive Summary for December 2nd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California including a new framework for conservation and more hearings on river flows. We also look at a new source of funding for removing aging dams in the West.

Published on Dec. 2, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Conservation Framework

This week five California state agencies released a draft report, “Making Conservation a Way of Life,” that provides a multifaceted framework for using water more wisely and increasing drought resilience.

The report is in response to an Executive Order, B-37-16, issued by Gov. Jerry Brown during the spring. In June, California moved from mandatory conservation targets to self-reporting on water supply preparedness by water agencies. Since that time, conservation in the state has fallen.

The report, which will be finalized in early 2017, extends current emergency water regulations; aims to set new standards for water use by urban agencies; would make permanent monthly reporting by water agencies; establishes guidelines for monitoring and reducing leaks in water systems; requires a five-year drought resiliency plan from water agencies and strengthens water management plans for agriculture.

Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager at the State Water Resources Control Board, told the Sacramento Bee that the report was “a response to the fact that this drought has gone on for five-plus years now … There are going to be more droughts and more severe droughts.”

Deadbeat Dams

A recent National Geographic story says the U.S. contains 14,000 “deadbeat dams” – aging dams that have turned from useful to dangerous – and a growing movement is working to remove such dams.

But removing dams is a costly endeavor, even where there is widespread community support. To help in that effort, this week the Hewlett Foundation announced that, as part of its Open Rivers Fund, it would support dam removal projects.

“We have entered into a new era of dam removal because a broad array of people who live in the West – ranchers, Native Americans, irrigators, businesses and communities – are realizing opening up and restoring rivers is an effective way to save taxpayer money, revitalize communities and help the environment,” said Michael Scott, acting Environment Program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The Fund will first begin by tackling the Matilija Dam in Ventura, California; the Nelson Dam in Yakima in Washington and a series of dams on Oregon’s Rogue River.

Battle Over Sacramento and San Joaquin Flows

Another hearing was held this week regarding the State Water Resources Control Board’s plan for water flows in the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.

With the Delta ecosystem and native species in trouble, increased flows have been proposed for both the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin, and their tributaries. But the Sacramento Bee reports that the plans have made few happy. Environmentalists think they don’t go far enough in protecting species, and farmers fear large economic impacts for their industry.

“The board says the unimpeded flow level should be raised to anywhere between 30 percent and 50 percent,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “Along with proposed changes in the Sacramento Valley watershed, hundreds of thousands of additional acre-feet of water could be left in the rivers for wildlife, subtracting supplies available to farms and cities.”

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