Executive Summary for December 23rd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California, including allocations for 2017 and an environmental review of the Delta tunnels project. We also look at new findings on forest regrowth after fires.

Published on Dec. 23, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Water Allocations for 2017

California’s winter has had a wet start, meaning better projections for contractors being supplied by the State Water Project, as the Department of Water Resources announced its allocations for 2017.

The DWR increased initial numbers from 20 percent of requests to 45 percent of requested water – still short of the 60 percent of requested water that contractors received in 2016. The 45 percent announced by the department this week may change up or down depending on how the rest of the rainy season plays out.

“This winter’s wet start gives us hope we’ll be able to keep increasing the State Water Project allocation,” said DWR director Mark Cowin. “But the faucet can shut off suddenly and leave us dry for a sixth year in a row. Drought always looms over California, so we must use water wisely and sparingly.”

Delta Tunnels Environmental Impact Report

California has taken another step forward on California WaterFix, the plan to build twin tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, by releasing more than 90,000 pages of a finalized environmental impact report.

The report comes after “hundreds of public meetings and thousands of comments,” according to the Natural Resources Agency. Erin Mellon, an agency spokeswoman, told the Sacramento Bee that the state hopes “to have federal permits approved next year and construction under way as early as 2018.

“After years of scientific study and analysis, we have found the best solution for protecting both the Delta’s ecosystem and a vital water supply for California,” said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

But Restore the Delta, one of the most outspoken critics of the tunnels plan, disagreed. It said the document “is not a green light for the Delta Tunnels but rather should be understood as the submission of homework by sponsoring agencies … to be evaluated by state and federal regulators who will determine if the proposal can meet environmental and water quality standards under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – a feat no previous version of the proposal has achieved.”

The project still faces other hurdles, including hearings before the State Water Resources Control Board on water rights impacts and a crucial agreement by water districts on how to finance the project.

Conifers Not Regenerating After Wildfires

A report published this week in the journal Ecosphere found that some forests in the West of the United States, including California, have not grown back after severe wildfires.

The study looked at 14 areas burned by wildfires in 10 national forests and found that 43 percent of all the plots had no regeneration of conifers. The researchers found that “recent fires have killed so many mature, seed-producing trees across such large areas that the forests can’t re-seed themselves,” Inside Climate News reported. “And because of increasingly warm temperatures, burned areas are quickly overgrown by shrubs, which can prevent trees from taking root.”

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