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Executive Summary for June 2nd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including ongoing well problems in rural California and the threat of toxic dust storms at Utah’s Great Salt Lake. We also look at water shortages at Oregon’s Crater Lake.

Published on June 2, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Some California Towns Still Lack Water

The drought may be officially over in California, but hundreds of people still don’t have reliable water. That’s because their wells remain dry and solutions still have not been found.

An estimated 449 homes in Tulare County still rely on supplemental water tanks filled periodically by a tanker truck.

“There is a serious problem looming here,” said Tom Collishaw, chief executive officer of Self-Help Enterprises, the local group that has been managing the water tank program for the county.

Worse, Tulare County supervisors voted May 23 to end their support of the water tank program, and will turn it over entirely to Self-Help Enterprises. There are still people waiting to get tanks installed, but the county will end permitting of new tanks on June 30.

State officials agreed to extend emergency funding for the county, which will allow Self-Help Enterprises to keep the tanks filled.

The state spent $50 million to extend the City of Porterville’s water system to serve East Porterville, allowing more than 250 tanks to be removed. A second phase of that project, expected to begin construction in June, will hook up about 700 more homes, bringing the total to nearly 1,000 homes out of the 1,100 in East Porterville that lost service due to dry wells.

Yet in the town of Okieville, only 14 out of 100 homes have water tanks.

“Before we used to be able to plant peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, watermelons,” Okieville resident Maria Marquez told NPR’s Marketplace program. “Now we can’t grow them, we have to buy everything … Without water, we can’t do anything.”

Dust Plagues Possible if Great Salt Lake Keeps Dropping

Great Salt Lake in Utah has been shrinking due to upstream water diversions. One result is severe dust picked up by the wind from the exposed lakebed.

One serious dust storm in March 2010, during a drought, blanketed the Wasatch Front with a thick haze and spiked particulate levels in many cities in the area to unhealthy levels for around eight hours.

Now Derek Mallia, a graduate student at the University of Utah, has developed a computer model that estimates how bad the dust could become if the lake shrinks further. In particular, he modeled what would happen if the lake shrinks by 8.5in, which is the estimated drop that would occur if the state carries out a proposal to build dams on the Bear River, a major freshwater tributary to Great Salt Lake.

The results: Mallia’s model found that a dust storm like the one in 2010 would have lasted twice as long if the lake dropped 8.5in, and particulate levels would have spiked even higher.

The dust is not just sediment, said Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“That lake has been on the receiving end of decades and decades’ worth of toxic agricultural chemicals,” Moench said. “In addition, there’s an undoubtedly heavy concentration of heavy metals like mercury and radioactive isotopes.”

Water Shortage at Oregon’s Crater Lake? Yes.

If any place has enough water to meet its needs, you’d think it would be Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, built around a 2,000ft-deep body of pure freshwater. Not so.

The national park has, in fact, been forced to haul in water using tanker trucks to meet its water needs.

The causes are complex. In short, the park relies on Annie Creek for water. But the park has been forced to stop drawing from the creek because of complications with water sharing in the nearby Klamath River watershed.

“We’ve never had to do this before,” said Marsha McCabe, spokeswoman for the national park.

The Klamath Tribes, a coalition of tribes on the Klamath River, instituted a “water call” on the river into which Annie Creek flows. This triggered federal actions to ensure water for the tribes, which have superior water rights. So water from Annie Creek that would usually go to Crater Lake can’t be diverted there.

The trucked water is intended as a stopgap measure until the rest of the snow melts and summer tourism at the park begins in earnest.

“Folks would think that, because it’s been a wet year, there’s more water to go around … and that’s not necessarily the case,” said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes. In fact, he said, watersheds remain depleted from drought conditions.

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