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Executive Summary for May 5th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California, including a risk of spring flooding, and movement on a controversial desert groundwater project. We also look at a Trump appointment making waves in the water world.

Published on May 5, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Late-Spring Flooding Risk

California this week conducted its final snowpack measurement of the season, revealing that the state’s mountains hold a snowpack that’s nearly double the annual average. That’s great for water supplies, but it raises concerns about flooding as all that snow begins to melt.

The Truckee River at Truckee and the Merced River in Yosemite Valley were both above flood stage late in the week, though few damages had been reported. Numerous other rivers were at monitor stage, including the Carson, the Tuolumne and the San Joaquin.

In Nevada, the Humboldt River reached flood stage at two locations, and the Truckee River exceeded monitor stage in Reno.

“I think you’ll continue to see a flood threat on and off for a few more weeks,” Dave Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys at the state Department of Water Resources, told the San Jose Mercury News.

Attention remained focused on the troubled Oroville Dam, where heavy water releases following February storms severely damaged the dam’s main spillway. Officials acknowledged they may have to use the spillway one more time this spring to manage snowmelt coursing into the reservoir, which will cause more damage and risks delaying repair work that must be completed before next winter.

Controversial Groundwater Project Moves Ahead

Plans by Cadiz Inc. to develop groundwater in the Mojave Desert moved forward this week as the company announced it had obtained $255 million in construction financing from Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm. Cadiz plans to earn billions of dollars selling the water for urban consumption in Southern California.

The project has been controversial for years. Critics note that the deep desert water is essentially irreplaceable, and worry that exporting it may cause ecological harm in the fragile region. The project was stalled for many years amid lawsuits and permitting problems.

But fortunes changed dramatically with the election of Donald Trump to the White House. Trump placed Cadiz on a list of priority infrastructure projects. And in March. his Bureau of Land Management rescinded an earlier decision to block the project, clearing the way for the financing deal announced Tuesday.

Cadiz has signed agreements to reserve water from the project with several water agencies, including Santa Margarita Water District, Three Valleys Municipal Water District, Golden State Water Company, Suburban Water Systems, California Water Service Company, Otay Water District, Lake Arrowhead Community Services District, the City of Indio and Jurupa Community Services District.

Trump Appoints Water Lobbyist to Oversee – Water

Until November, David Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist for Westlands Water District in California’s San Joaquin Valley, the largest irrigation district in the nation. Then he joined President Donald Trump’s transition team. And now he will officially join the administration as deputy Interior secretary, overseeing agencies like the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which provides water to Westlands, his former client.

Trump, who vowed to “drain the swamp” of lobbyist influence, has instead appointed many lobbyists to key posts. Bernhardt has long and influential connections to Westlands, helping the irrigation district in its decades-long fight to weaken environmental protections and secure more water for its farmers. Bernhardt and his law firm have been paid more than $1.2 million by Westlands for this work.

These efforts reached new heights at the end of 2016. Bernhardt also helped write amendments to a comprehensive water law carried by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that steers more water to Westlands. He was a major force behind another bill, HR 6366, that gives Westlands higher-priority access to water diverted from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and forgives a $375 million debt Westlands owes the federal government.

His new position at Interior puts Bernhardt in a position to influence a controversial water tunnel project designed to send even more water to Westlands.

“Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest,” U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, told McClatchy News. “He should absolutely have to recuse himself from anything having to do with Westlands Water District.”

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