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Executive Summary for July 7th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including political maneuvers affecting California’s Cadiz groundwater project and potential water benefits from a coal mine’s demise in New Mexico.

Published on July 7, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

California Lawmaker Wants State Vetting of Cadiz Groundwater Project

A bill introduced in the California Legislature this week would hand state officials substantial new powers to review projects that export groundwater from one basin to another, like the controversial Cadiz, Inc., project in the Mojave Desert.

The bill from assembly member Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, would empower the State Lands Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife to review projects that would transfer groundwater away from desert lands in the vicinity of national monuments, national preserves and other protected spaces. The agencies would be tasked with ensuring such transfers “will not adversely affect natural or cultural resources, including groundwater resources or habitat.”

Cadiz proposes to tap an ancient groundwater aquifer in the Mojave Desert and sell 50,000 acre-feet annually to urban areas in Southern California. The long-delayed project was closely scrutinized by the Obama administration, which set the stage for a full environmental review. But the Trump administration reversed those actions, clearing an easier path for the project.

“That area is a very special area, really for everyone in the state,” said Friedman, a first-term lawmaker who until recently served on the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “It’s up to California now to protect its own land and waters.”

Demise of Navajo Coal Mine May Boost Water Fortunes

The Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, a massive coal-burning power plant, has for decades provided as much as one-third of the revenue that keeps the Navajo Tribal Nation functioning. But not all its tribal citizens are pleased with the plant.

Many rural residents of the Navajo Nation say the great thirst for water by the power plant and an adjacent coal mine has depleted their wells, forcing them to make arduous daily journeys on remote roads to collect water in portable tanks.

“Water is everything in this region. If there’s no water, we’re not going to be able to survive,” Jessica Keetso, an eighth-generation Navajo livestock rancher, recently told Public Radio International. “Everything revolves around it, all of our jobs, all of our chores – it revolves around the water.”

Now, due to competition from natural gas, the prospect has emerged that the power plant might close as soon as 2019 – a full quarter-century earlier than expected. Officially, the Navajo Tribe hopes to keep the plant operating, and recently signed an agreement with its utility partners to continue working to keep the power plant operating.

But numerous additional steps are required, including approvals from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a former partner in the power plant. Ultimately, economics in the energy sector may have the final say.

Expansion of Bay Area Reservoir Moves Forward

A coalition of 12 water agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area made a significant stride this week to expand Los Vaqueros Reservoir, a project that could serve an additional half-million people in the region.

It would not be the first expansion for the reservoir, owned by Contra Costa Water District. Located near Byron, California, it stores water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It was originally built in 1998 with a capacity of 100,000 acre-feet, then expanded for the first time in 2010 to a capacity of 160,000 acre-feet.

The new project would boost capacity to 275,000 acre-feet by raising the earthen dam 55 feet.

Other water agencies are interested in contributing to the $800 million project and reaping some of the rewards. The San Jose Mercury News reports that Santa Clara Valley Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Alameda County Water District and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, among others, are contributing to the studies. They see the project as a cooperative solution to water shortages and a way to better tie their systems together as insurance against emergencies like earthquakes.

Six public meetings are scheduled this month to discuss the project and collect public input.

“An expanded reservoir provides an opportunity for us … to capture surplus water that ordinarily would flow to the ocean,” said Colleen Valles, spokeswoman for Santa Clara Valley Water District.

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