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Executive Summary for July 14th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including signs of progress on Salton Sea restoration in California and unease over water rate increases. We also look at an Arizona road show trying to boost support for wastewater recycling.

Published on July 14, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Progress Seen on Salton Sea Restoration Deal

As we’ve noted before, restoration of California’s Salton Sea is important far beyond that local area. Securing a restoration plan for the accidental lake, in fact, is crucial to a Colorado River water-sharing deal pending between three states.

After years of delay and uncertainty, opportunities may be opening to secure the Salton Sea’s restoration. Three local agencies with the most skin in the game — Imperial County, Imperial Irrigation District and San Diego County Water Authority —recently agreed on a proposal for what they want out of a restoration plan. They submitted this to the state, which recently released a long-awaited $383 million restoration plan.

Significantly, the three agencies are not asking for more projects or more money than what the state proposed in its plan. Instead, they simply want the state to be legally bound to this proposal, partly because the state has only $80 million in hand for the restoration work at this point. They’re asking the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt a formal order that would bind the state to its promises in the restoration plan.

“This is the first time that everyone has been pretty much on board with a plan moving forward,” Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency, told the Desert Sun newspaper.

If the state agrees to a binding order, it could at last clear the way to settle issues of long-term water shortage on the Colorado River affecting California, Nevada and Arizona.

A Season of Water Rate Increases Around the West

The past week has seen action on water rate increases around the West, from Portland to Tucson and many communities in between.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves a large share of the San Francisco Bay Area, on Tuesday adopted one of the largest recent increases – 19 percent over two years – amid howls of protest. Customers wonder why they should pay more even though they are using less water, a result of the recently concluded drought in the state.

The answer is that utilities face huge costs to maintain their elaborate water delivery systems, which are subject to constant decay. Water rates cover system operations but are not usually structured to cover the cost of replacing major sections of plumbing. It’s a common conflict: Conservation reduces utility revenue even as infrastructure decay continues.

In a new study, the Alliance for Water Efficiency puts a different spin on the conflict. Analyzing three Arizona communities, it found conservation avoided significant rate increases by preventing the need for new water supplies and related infrastructure.

“Although water rates will continue to rise over time, conservation will help keep those rates as low as possible,” says Mary Ann Dickinson, president and chief executive of the alliance.

Can Beer Break the Taboo on Recycled Wastewater in Arizona?

A coalition of state agencies in Arizona is hoping the public’s thirst for cold beer will turn them into believers in sewage recycling.

The Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge has recruited some 30 beer breweries around the state to join the cause. Featuring a mobile wastewater recycling facility in a semi-truck trailer, the challenge is taking to the road to demonstrate the possibilities.

At a recent stop in Flagstaff, the trailer hooked up to the city’s wastewater treatment plant to process effluent using several steps to refine it into drinking water. This included ultra-filtration to block bacteria; reverse osmosis to dissolve things like salts, minerals and pharmaceuticals; and ultraviolet disinfection to break down the DNA of bacteria and viruses.

The resulting recycled water will be sent through a barrage of water quality tests. Then the truck will return to Flagstaff in August to again run wastewater through its system and then truck it to four breweries, which will use it to make beer specifically for the challenge.

“We are trying to get people to think about not judging water on history but its quality,” said Brad Hill, Flagstaff utilities director.

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