Executive Summary for October 13th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including deadly wildfires blazing across Northern California, important votes on the delta tunnels and the latest on the Cadiz groundwater project.

Published on Oct. 13, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Deadly Fires Tear Through Northern California

More than a dozen fires erupted late Sunday and spread quickly through Northern California communities. On Wednesday, Cal Fire reported battling 22 large wildfires that had burned 170,000 acres, with hundreds of people still listed as missing and more than 20 lives lost, 11 of those a result of the Tubbs fire.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Sonoma, Yuba, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, Orange and Solano counties, as firefighters struggle to contain the blazes. Thus far 3,500 homes and businesses have been lost. In Santa Rosa, some neighborhoods have been reduced to ash.

Officials have not yet said what started the fires, which spread quickly due to high winds and dry conditions. But the Mercury News reported that when the fires were starting, emergency dispatchers received calls about power lines falling and exploding transformers.

“The reports of the power equipment failures began to turn the spotlight on PG&E, the giant San Francisco-based utility, raising questions about how well it maintained its equipment in the area, and whether it adequately cut back trees from power lines to reduce fire risk – as required by state law,” the Mercury News reported. “PG&E and other large utilities in California have a long history of being found responsible for major wildfires because of inadequate maintenance of their power lines.”

Major SoCal Water Agency Votes for Tunnels

Gov. Jerry Brown’s delta tunnels plan got a boost on Tuesday after Metropolitan Water District, the state’s biggest water agency and southern California wholesaler, voted to commit $4.3 billion to the $17.1 billion project.

The project, WaterFix, received a blow a few weeks ago when the powerful Westland Water District voted against funding it, and the state auditor released a damning report that found there was already “significant cost increases and schedule delays,” and that the state “has not completed either an economic or a financial analysis to demonstrate the financial viability of WaterFix.”

The vote by Metropolitan was no surprise, although it faced opposition from interests in San Diego and Los Angeles, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. And the Delta advocates reacted with their usual disappointment.

“Metropolitan’s actions are hardly surprising, but are disappointing nonetheless,” said Solano County supervisor Skip Thomson. “Rather than working together as a state on projects to provide the south with new water supply, Metropolitan Water District approves an expensive, divisive project that decimates the Delta.”

Coachella Valley Water Agency also voted to approve the project, as have Zone 7 Water Agency, Mojave Water Agency, San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency, Desert Water Agency, San Bernardino Municipal Water District and Crestline-Lake Arrowhead Water Agency. Kern County Water Agency and Santa Clara Valley Water District are set to vote soon.

New Development in Cadiz Project

Cadiz Inc.’s efforts to sell rural groundwater from the Mojave Desert to Southern California cities hit another bump in a long road of seeking approval of the project.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the most recent obstacle came from the State Lands Commission, which told Cadiz Inc. that its proposed pipeline will actually require a state lease because it crosses a tiny piece of state-owned land.

“The parcel is a tiny piece of the millions of acres that Congress in 1853 granted to California for the benefit of public education,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Commission spokeswoman Sheri Pemberton said the state never sold the 200-foot-wide strip, because in 1910, California granted a railroad right of way over it. Now the commission says Cadiz needs a state lease to use that portion of the right of way for the water pipeline.”

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