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Executive Summary for June 16th

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 16, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

California Moves Toward Low-Income Water Subsidy

No U.S. state has ever offered a subsidy to help low-income residents pay their water bills, but such programs have been offered for decades for other basic utilities, such as electricity and phone.

Starting June 20, the State Water Resources Control Board will offer a series of public hearings to explain four options and help citizens weigh in. As Circle of Blue reports, the idea is to bridge the gap between slow wage growth and the huge water infrastructure bills looming as century-old pipes and treatment facilities are repaired and replaced. Many utilities also need big investments to secure additional water to accommodate growth.

The process began in 2015 with AB 401, a new state law that directs the water board to develop an affordability program. It’s a simple idea with a very complex path.

The water board must determine who is eligible, how to fund the program, what level of benefits to provide and how the benefits will be disbursed.

Another concern is reaching millions of tenants for whom water charges are wrapped into one monthly rent bill. How can a subsidy reach them?

“We need to … make sure the ability to access and navigate the program is as simple as possible,” said Jonathan Nelson, policy director at Community Water Center, a nonprofit based in the San Joaquin Valley.

Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water on Mexico Border

The U.S. border with Mexico is already known for its water scarcity. Now signs are growing that these challenges will worsen as a result of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions.

“They are very vulnerable in terms of climate change,” William Hargrove, director of the Center for Environmental Resource Management at University of Texas, El Paso, told KPBS Radio. “During very hot and dry times maybe the water table drops. It could drop below their intake and they could be without water for a time period.”

Many wells in the region are hand dug because immigrant families brought the knowledge to dig their own wells with them when they left Mexico. As a result, they are shallow and especially vulnerable to climate swings. Many people were also promised piped water when they bought land, a service that has never been delivered.

The Housing Assistance Council Community reported in 2009 that there are an estimated 1.5 million people living along the border who depend on vulnerable water supplies.

Phoenix Signs Water Conservation Deal with Gila Tribe

On Tuesday, the Phoenix City Council unanimously approved a deal with the Gila River Indian Community that will help stem the chronic shrinkage in water levels at Lake Mead.

In the deal, the Gila Tribe will leave 40,000 acre-feet of its Colorado River allocation in Lake Mead. In exchange, the city of Phoenix, state of Arizona and Bureau of Reclamation will each pay the tribe $2 million. The Walton Family Foundation will contribute $1 million.

The tribe’s water contribution is equivalent to 35 percent of Phoenix’s annual consumer use.

The Arizona Republic reports it is the first agreement of its kind in which local, federal and tribal governments have joined to conserve the region’s water. Cities have leased tribal water in the past but, under this deal, the water will not be used.

“As neighbors, we can accomplish great things together,” said Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community governor. “And historic agreements like this one make it easier to work on other matters that may impact our communities from time to time.”

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