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Executive Summary for July 28th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including a controversial Interior Department appointment and new analysis of California’s Oroville Dam disaster. We also look at a disturbing analysis by the Air Force of water contamination in Colorado.

Published on July 28, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Water Lobbyist Confirmed as Interior Deputy

The U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed David Bernhardt, a powerful water and energy industry lobbyist, as deputy secretary of the Interior Department.

The Trump appointee will now have decision-making power over public lands and waters that affect clients he represented as recently as a few months ago.

“This is the fox guarding the henhouse, except it’s the American people and their shared natural heritage that’s in danger,” Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

Bernhardt and his firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, represented Westlands Water District, among others, in its ongoing political maneuverings to squeeze more water out of the Central Valley Project in California, a Bureau of Reclamation system of dams and canals. Bernhardt terminated his registration as a Westlands lobbyist late last year after he was nominated by President Trump. But according to the Los Angeles Times, he continued to work for Westlands through the winter.

In a statement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Bernhardt is “exactly what is needed to help streamline government and make the Interior and our public lands work for the American economy.”

State, Feds ‘Negligent’ in Oroville Dam Disaster

A new report by a team of independent engineering experts concludes a “negligent” pattern of maintenance underlies the spillway failure earlier this year at California’s massive Oroville Dam.

The report singles out the California Department of Water Resources, its affiliated Division of Safety of Dams, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has oversight of the nation’s hydroelectric dams. All three failed to act on evidence the dam’s concrete spillway was seriously compromised prior to a massive breach that appeared on Feb. 7, according to KQED.

“The Oroville Dam Gated Spillway failure/self-destruction was preventable,” the new analysis says. “A superficial ‘patch and pray’ approach is not an acceptable safety and risk management process for important public infrastructure systems.”

The report was produced under the auspices of U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, which included analysis by a wide array of independent researchers.

Firefighting Foam Confirmed as Major Water Contaminant

The fire suppressant foam used by thousands of fire departments across the nation is the source of major water contamination in Colorado, according to a new report by the U.S. Air Force.

This week the Air Force released a nine-month study confirming that the perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, contaminated water and soil in a large region south of Colorado Springs. The contamination is more than 1,000 times the national health advisory limit, potentially affecting tens of thousands of people in the region.

The report focuses on Peterson Air Force Base east of Colorado Springs. But the results may have implications anywhere the firefighting foam is used.

The Air Force confirmed that the routine use of aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, which helps put out fuel fires, led to runoff of the PFCs into area drinking water supplies. But they do not know how far the contamination has spread or how long it could last.

The contamination documented in Colorado is “very similar” to levels found at other air bases around the nation and abroad, Air Force Civil Engineering Center team leader Cornell Long told the Denver Post.

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