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Executive Summary for March 17th

In this weekly roundup we analyze key water developments in California, including a surprising new study on dam removal, the availability of bond funds for water storage projects, and prospects for Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels proposal under Trump.

Published on March 17, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Officially up for Grabs: $2.7 Billion for New California Water Storage

The California Water Commission announced March 14 that it’s now officially open to applications for $2.7 billion in funding for water storage development, including new dams and groundwater replenishment projects.

The money comes from Proposition 1, a bond measure approved by California voters in 2014. It took so long to get to this place because the commission first had to develop regulations for managing the money, an application process and a review process.

The bond measure requires that the money may only be used for the “public benefits” that come with any new water storage project. Among other things, the commission first had to clarify what those two words mean. And they now officially include such benefits as ecosystem improvements, water quality improvements, flood control, emergency response and recreation. The money cannot be spent on the water storage portion of a project.

The application period for the money runs through August 14, 2017. To assist applicants, the commission has scheduled an application assistance workshop on March 30, 2017, at 9:30a.m., in the Klamath hearing room on the second floor of the California Environmental Protection Agency, located at 1001 I Street, Sacramento.

Controversial Delta Tunnels Likely to Receive Trump’s Support

California’s WaterFix project has had a lot of ups and downs.

The $17 billion proposal backed by Gov. Jerry Brown calls for two massive tunnels that would divert a portion of Sacramento River flows under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a shortcut to existing water diversion pumps near Tracy. The project is controversial, because many of its claimed environmental benefits remain highly uncertain.

It’s still early in the Trump administration, but it appears likely the new president will support the tunnel project. And his appointments and actions so far can be interpreted as though clearing a path for its approval, along with other big projects around the country.

“Probably the best we can hope for is the preservation of certain ecosystem characteristics reminiscent of the estuary’s historical state,” says U.C. Berkeley professor Ted Grantham.

Climate Change Complicates Dam Removal Picture

There’s a push worldwide to remove dams that may be impeding migration for imperiled fish species. But In certain regions, existing dams are the only thing sustaining flows in some rivers that would otherwise dry up for much of the year due to climate change. As a result, those dams are providing a lifeline to imperiled fish.

In a new study, a team of South African and Australian researchers argues that threatened species may actually benefit by keeping existing dams intact.

The findings are especially relevant in California and the American West. Historically, some streams now dammed for water storage would naturally dry up completely in the summer. Some salmon species are adapting to this, and would hold in cool, upstream reaches through summer until fall rains began.

“This isn’t a call to stop dam busting, or a one-size-fits-all scenario,” says co-author Olaf Lawrence Weyl, a specialist in endangered fish with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. “What we are saying is that there are sites in some regions, particularly dry regions, where dams could have important conservation value, and that needs to be taken into account when planning removal of dams.”

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