Executive Summary for July 21st

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, friction over California’s giant water tunnel project, and a look at the newly appointed California water boss and his interesting resume.

Published on July 21, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Grand Canyon Tribe Fears Uranium Contamination

A uranium mine that’s about to start producing ore on the Grand Canyon plateau could contaminate Havasu Creek, the only water supply for the Havasupai Nation.

The Native American tribe occupies the only settlement on the Grand Canyon floor, an oasis of deep shade and pristine waterfalls that it has called home for millennia. The tribe’s historic lands once included the plateau above, including the area now being developed by Energy Fuels, Inc., a Canadian company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange. The tribe fears that mining operations could irradiate groundwater that feeds Havasu Creek, contaminating the tribe’s only water supply.

“The water talks to us, it has a voice you can hear all the time,” Ed Tilousi, the tribe’s vice chaiman, told the Guardian. “We drink it, we depend on it. If it gets poisoned we are finished.”

The mine’s main shaft was drilled last year, and the company plans to begin supplying the weapons and energy industries by the end of 2017.

The conflict may get resolved by a lawsuit now before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The tribe and environmental groups sued the Forest Service for relying on old environmental studies when issuing a permit to Energy Fuels Inc. Ironically, the same court is mulling an appeal from the National Mining Association challenging an Obama administration ban on new uranium mines.

California Water Tunnels Run Into New Headwinds

A number of influential California farmers this week said Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build two giant water diversion tunnels is probably way too expensive for them.

The $17 billion “WaterFix” project calls for building two 40-foot-diameter tunnels, each 30 miles long, to divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. The tunnels are meant to make water deliveries more reliable for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and urban areas of Southern California.

The powerful Westlands Water District is a major backer of the tunnel project. But at its board meeting Monday, where Goldman Sachs bankers detailed the debt load the tunnels will require, dozens of Westlands farmers balked. The tunnels could balloon farmers’ water costs to $495 per acre-foot, about triple what they currently pay, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“For a farmer, none of the crops that I grow can support these numbers,” said Todd Neves, a tomato and almond farmer, and a Westlands board member.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) announced his own alternative to the Delta tunnels that he plans to introduce as federal legislation. It aims to make local regions more self-reliant and less dependent on imported water.

McNerney’s plan, according to the Lodi News-Sentinel, will cost around $12 million and be largely funded by reducing tax breaks for the oil and natural gas industries. The secretary of energy would establish an Energy-Water Nexus Office to implement desalination research, brine management technology, stormwater and groundwater management and programs for water conservation. It also calls for groundwater recharge programs.

New California Water Chief Appointed

Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday appointed Grant Davis as the new director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). Davis, general manager of Sonoma County Water Agency since 2010, brings an unusual background to the job.

Davis, 54, has a degree in political science and had never worked for a water utility until joining the Sonoma County agency in 2007 as assistant general manager. Prior to that, he was director of The Bay Institute, a nonprofit environmental group that is a leading critic of WaterFix, the $17 billion proposal to build two giant water diversion tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The tunnels are a top objective for the governor. Their construction and operation would be overseen by DWR. Will Davis bring a new perspective to the project?

In other arenas, Davis’s priorities are very much in line with the governor’s. At Sonoma County Water Agency, he has been a strong advocate for water conservation and recycling, diligent groundwater management, and greenhouse gas reduction.


Suggest your story or issue.


Share Your Story.

Have a story idea? Interested in adding your voice to our growing community?

Learn more
× Dismiss
We have updated our Privacy Policy with a few important changes specific to General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and our use of cookies. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies. Read our full Privacy Policy here.