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Executive Summary for May 26th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including post-drought problems in California and a new Colorado law affirming farmers’ rights to use their water to grow hemp. We also look a federal court ruling that upholds Indian fishing rights in Washington.

Published on May 26, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

In Colorado, Farmers Can Grow Hemp with ‘Federal’ Water

Gov. John Hickenlooper this week signed a bill that allows Colorado farmers to grow hemp using water stored in reservoirs operated by the federal government. The law was necessary even though farmers hold rights to the water. That’s because the federal government still considers hemp a controlled substance since it is in the same plant family as marijuana.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Don Coram and Rep. Marc Catlin, both Republicans. The new law allows Colorado water rights holders to use their water on hemp if they are registered with the state to grow hemp for commercial or research purposes. Colorado legalized growing hemp in 2014, but it is still banned at the federal level.

“Hemp is a very versatile product with a lot of uses,” said Hickenlooper. “Having it grown and processed in the state could create a new niche market.”

Drought Aftermath: Wildfires, Mudslides – and Fines

California’s drought hangover keeps worsening as new environmental and governmental problems reveal themselves.

The biggest concern is wildfires. The wet winter spawned a bumper crop of vegetation on previously barren hills. Now it’s drying fast as hot summer temperatures settle in. Numerous small fires have already lit up Los Angeles County. But the worst so far has been the Gate Fire, which burned 2,000 acres in San Diego County – an unusually large blaze so early in the year.

“We have probably the worst risk of a major wildfire than we have had in a long, long time,” said San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Further north, on the scenic Big Sur coast, a giant landslide wiped out a large section of Highway 1. It was only the latest and largest in a series of slides that have isolated the remote region. They are caused, in part, by heavy rains falling on areas denuded by fires during the drought.

“We could see a very different landscape of who’s living here and what businesses are here,” said Kirk Gafill, co-owner of the landmark Nepenthe Restaurant, which sits along a closed section of the highway.

Meanwhile, incredibly, many homeowners who let lawns die during the drought could now be subject to fines.

During the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to protect residents of homeowner associations from such fines in order to encourage water conservation. Now that the drought has been declared over, those rules no longer apply.

HOAs can now fine homeowners who don’t maintain green lawns. But they cannot force a homeowner to remove drought-tolerant landscaping already in place.

Federal Court Upholds Indian Fishing Rights

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court has upheld a ruling that affirms 19th-century treaties guaranteeing fishing access to American Indian tribes in Washington state.

The action effectively requires Washington State to remove hundreds of culverts under state roads that prevent salmon from accessing upstream habitat. The ruling likely affects other states, which is why Idaho and Wyoming joined Washington to seek the Ninth Circuit’s review of a lower-court decision. The circuit court declined to reconsider that decision.

The chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission called the ruling “a win for salmon, treaty rights and everyone who lives here.”

“Fixing fish-blocking culverts under state roads will open up hundreds of miles of habitat and result in more salmon,” said Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Washington State claimed the required culvert work would cost nearly $2 billion. But the judges said in their ruling that estimate was “not supported by the evidence.”

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