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Executive Summary for June 9th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including waning conservation in California and the threat of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. We also look at plans to ban suction dredge mining in Oregon.

Published on June 9, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

California Drought Over, and Water Consumption Climbs

With the drought officially declared over in California, residents are apparently wasting no time parting with some of the conservation practices they’ve learned over the past five years.

According to data released this week by the State Water Resources Control Board, per capita water savings in California fell in April to 21.7 percent of April 2013 potable water production, compared to 26.1 percent a year ago. Gov. Jerry Brown declared the drought over on April 7.

The drop in conservation came primarily in Southern California. The Colorado River region – which covers inland areas of Southern California – saw the biggest decline in savings, dropping to 15.4 percent conservation in April from 30.2 percent last year. The South Coast and South Lahontan regions were close behind in conservation drops. Due to their larger share of population, they produced an overall decline in the state’s water-savings rate.

Some areas actually increased their savings in April 2017, including the Central Coast, San Francisco Bay, San Joaquin and Sacramento regions.

Average statewide per capita water consumption in April was 81 gallons per day.

Oregon Poised to Ban Suction Dredge Mining

The Oregon Legislature on Wednesday passed a bill that permanently bans suction dredge mining on 20,700 miles of rivers and streams considered “essential salmon habitat.” Gov. Kate Brown has pledged to sign the bill.

Suction dredge mining is a kind of motorized mineral extraction. Picture a lawnmower motor floating on top of a raft. The motor powers a large vacuum, which is used by a swimming miner to suck up sediment in search of gold.

Fishing and environmental groups succeeded in passing a partial moratorium on the practice in 2013, arguing that suction dredging degrades water quality and destroys the gravel substrate in rivers that salmon depend on for spawning. The new bill makes the ban permanent on streams designated as vital to salmon.

“The main goal is to prevent this kind of hobby, recreational mining activity from undoing the hundreds of millions of dollars in salmon habitat restoration that we’ve been focusing on for decades,” Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

California banned suction dredge mining in 2009.

Threat of Uranium Mining Puts Colorado River at Risk

Officials in Arizona and Utah are urging the Trump administration to end a ban on uranium mining in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon, prompting concern about water contamination in the Colorado River.

County officials in the two states are drafting letters urging an end to the 20-year ban on uranium mining, an Obama administration rule that took effect in 2012. They say the ban stifles economic opportunity in the mining industry.

“A number of companies are very anxious to get in there and start extracting uranium. There is no danger,” Gary Watson, chairman of the Mohave County, Ariz., board of supervisors.

Others worry that lifting the ban could contaminate groundwater and surface with with radiation as well as other mining waste. Prior uranium mining has already had a heavy toll on American Indian tribes in the region. Many Navajo have died of kidney failure and cancer linked to uranium contamination from mining that occurred between 1944 and 1986. And new research by the Centers for Disease Control shows uranium in babies born even today.

“We are faced with the potential dangers of uranium contamination into our sole water supply,” said Carletta Tilousi of the Havasupai tribal council, “and I don’t think we would be able to survive an environmental catastrophe here.”

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