Executive Summary for October 6th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including the start of the new water year, a study about the impact of drought on groundwater wells and a court ruling over a long-running water dispute.

Published on Oct. 6, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Record-Setting Water Year Ends

The beginning of October in California kicked off a new water year, while official totals for 2016-2017 show the closing water year was both a memorable and record-setting one for parts of the state.

After being hit with 40 atmospheric rivers in the winter and spring, all the rain and snow gave the northern portion of the Sierra Nevada its wettest year since record keeping began in 1895, with nearly 95 inches of precipitation. The central Sierra Nevada had its second-wettest year in recorded history, with 89 inches of precipitation.

California is heading into the winter rainy season with reservoirs that have, for the most part, fully recovered from the state’s five-year drought. “Statewide, the 45 large reservoirs that form the backbone of California’s water storage are 120 percent of average for this time of year,” reported the Mercury News.

Study Shows Drought’s Impact on Groundwater Wells

Researchers from Stanford University published a recent study in the journal Environmental Research Letters that calculates the impact that drought in the western U.S. has had on groundwater wells.

The research examined 2 million groundwater wells that were built between 1950 and 2015 and calculated how many ran dry between 2013 and 2015. They found that during that period there was a high concentration of dry wells in rural farming areas, such as the Central Valley in California and the High Plains.

However, they also found that in some areas, domestic wells were more likely to run dry than agricultural ones, because the domestic ones were shallower.

“Our findings suggest that declining groundwater levels are threatening drinking water reliability and agricultural productivity, and consequently, have key implications for both domestic and agricultural water security,” the researchers wrote. “Ongoing reductions to groundwater storage are drying groundwater wells in the western U.S., and this manifestation of water scarcity warrants innovative groundwater management transcending status quos.”

Federal Court Rules Against Klamath Irrigators

This week, a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge ruled in a water dispute that goes back to 2001, a year of water shortage, when the Bush administration decided not release 336,000 acre-feet of water to farmers in the Klamath Basin in Oregon and California, according to E&E news.

The farmers have sued to recover millions in damages, but the court ruled that the federal government’s action, which held water to meet obligations to senior water rights holders, including three tribes, didn’t warrant a taking for which the farmers should be compensated.

“According to [the government], because there was not even enough water to fully satisfy the tribes’ senior water rights in 2001, [the farmers], as junior rights holders, were not entitled to receive any water and, thus, no taking occurred,” the judge wrote in her decision.

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