Executive Summary for December 16th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California including the Colorado River agreement. We also look at health threats from small water agencies and the winner of a new data challenge.

Published on Dec. 16, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Small Water Systems Face Lead Problems

New analysis of data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that Californians receiving water from smaller water agencies face higher risks of lead, a toxic metal dangerous to health.

The Desert Sun and USA Today found that drinking water tests in 7 percent of public water systems in California since 2010 revealed high levels of lead or violations for improper testing. While this shows the vast majority of water systems are safe, the systems that did have violations were overwhelmingly smaller water suppliers: 92 percent supplied water to fewer than 3,300 people, the Desert Sun reported.

“The smaller water systems just suffer from not having an economy of scale,” Cindy Forbes, deputy director for the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water, told the Desert Sun. “They don’t have sufficient customers to pass charges on to, so even the monitoring costs really hit them in the pocketbook.”

Lead can come from the existing water supply or the supply system, but also from pipes in people’s homes.

Earlier this year, the state passed SB1263, which aims to cut down on the creation of new, small water agencies and instead pushes developments to hook up to existing water districts.

Lake Mead Challenges

As states in the Lower Colorado River Basin work to come up with an agreement for sharing diminishing amounts of Lake Mead water, California’s own water issues have taken centerstage.

This week, water managers from California, Nevada and Arizona assembled for their annual meeting. Top of mind is an agreement, which has been worked on for more than a year, to have a plan for managing Lake Mead’s water between the three states in times of shortage.

Current law doesn’t require California to diminish its take of Colorado River water, should lake levels drop below a critical point, but the new agreement would have all three states sharing in cuts (although Nevada and Arizona would be first to take their cuts).

However, the Las Vegas Journal-Review reports a new hitch – trouble in California is holding things up. “Before they agree to store more water in Lake Mead, California’s largest river users want to know how much water they might have to forgo to protect endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta or keep the Salton Sea from drying up, triggering an ecological disaster,” the Journal-Review reported.

Winner Announced in Water Data Challenge

California is continuing to push data innovation to help tackle the state’s water problems, including with a recent data challenge in collaboration with the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The winner of the recent challenge was announced this week – FlowWest’s Sustainable Floodplain Habitat Finder. The app “uses four different datasets to provide insights into where and when to target the best floodplain habitat for juvenile salmon,” the State Water Resources Control Board said in a statement. “The judges were impressed by the team’s ability to find a unique and important problem ripe for a data driven solution, and then develop a prototype of a tool with live data connections in such a short time frame.”

FlowWest is a water, ecological engineering, science and technology consulting firm based in San Francisco.

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