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Executive Summary for April 28th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California, including the drought’s impact on hydroelectric power. We also look at water concerns over a border wall and the end of mandatory conservation measures.

Published on April 28, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Drought’s Impact on Hydro

Although the drought has just officially ended in most of California, it will be a while before we understand the full economic impacts. But when it comes to how the drought has impacted hydroelectric energy, the results are already in.

A new report from the Oakland-based water think-tank the Pacific Institute found that five years of drought have meant an additional $2.45 billion in electricity costs in California. Reduced hydro and increased fossil-fuel combustion for electric generation have also boosted carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 10 percent, the report found.

This is the third report on the impacts of hydro generation from California’s most recent drought that the Pacific Institute has undertaken.

“All California ratepayers were affected by the drought as they paid for electricity that was both dirtier and more expensive than in non-drought years,” said Peter Gleick, the report’s lead author and the Pacific Institute’s cofounder and president emeritus.

The report does not cover new research about the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that reservoirs from hydro dams could contribute to climate change.

Border Wall Concern

With funding for President Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a hot topic in Congress, reporting from Water Deeply and NPR outlined concerns about the impacts on rivers, streams and wildlife.

Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, told Water Deeply that building the wall will be logistically complicated in many places, including the section where the middle of the Rio Grande delineates the border. “Are we going to try to build it in the middle of the river? That’s not a very practical solution,” he said. “Would we put it on Mexican soil? I doubt Mexico would agree to that. Or would we put it on Texas soil, and cede our right to use the river in that area?”

Additionally, Irvin said that as many as 500 waterways may cross the border and a wall would block important migration routes for wildlife.

And NPR reported that Mexico has raised concerns that the wall could violate an international treaty. “A concrete wall that blocks trans-border water movement is a total obstruction,” Antonio Rascon, chief Mexican engineer on the International Boundary and Water Commission, said in an interview with NPR. “If they plan that type of project, we will oppose it.”

Mandatory Conservation Standards End

On Wednesday the State Water Resources Control Board officially ended mandatory conservation measures that were enacted during the state’s five-year drought.

These include stress tests for urban water supplier preparedness.

Urban water suppliers are required to continue reporting that water conservation measures, including rules to reduce wasteful water practices, are in place. These relate to practices such as watering down sidewalks and other hardscapes.

State efforts are shifting from drought-survival to water-wise living as more efforts will be forthcoming to establish water efficiency standards and “make conservation a California way of life,” as Gov. Brown outlined in last year’s executive order.

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