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Executive Summary for October 20th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including the latest on California’s wildfires and new votes on the Delta tunnels plan. We also look at a study that shows how climate change may impact Southwest rains.

Published on Oct. 20, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Silicon Valley Shakes up Tunnels Plan

The Santa Clara Valley Water District this week voted for a scaled-down version of Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels plan, California WaterFix.

By a unanimous vote, the seven-member board of the water agency, which is a wholesale water provider for 1.9 million people in Silicon Valley, voted for a one-tunnel project that would have a smaller cost burden for participating agencies.

Financing for the $17 billion project received a big hit last month when the large agricultural water district Westlands voted in opposition. Since then a number of urban water agencies, including the largest, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, have voted to support the project.

More water agencies are set to vote, but Santa Clara Valley Water District’s decision not to support a two-tunnel project, along with Westlands, could be significant for the state in shoring up the necessary funds.

The Brown administration said it is open to considering the smaller project. Water Deeply reported last year on what a one-tunnel project would entail and the arguments for and against it. But one thing is certain: It could add years more to the project as engineering and environmental studies will need to be reevaluated.

Deadly Fires Leave Path of Destruction

Firefighters have continued to make progress on 13 large wildfires that torched more than 210,000 acres in California, CAL FIRE reported.

Most of Northern California’s major fires are more than 75 percent contained, but 22,000 people still remain evacuated and 42 are confirmed dead.

Economic damage is likely to be significant as well, with more than 3,500 structures burned. The Mercury News reported that 22 wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties were damaged or destroyed.

Another industry that has taken a hit is cannabis, which will be legal for recreational purposes in California in just a few months. “Many of the region’s farms, including those that harvest cannabis, have been scorched, including those in Sonoma County and in Mendocino County, the center of California’s marijuana industry,” the New York Times reported. “Mendocino is one of three California counties that comprise Emerald Triangle, where much of the United States’ marijuana is produced.”

Climate Change Impacting Southwest’s Rainfall

The Southwest relies on heavy monsoon rains during summer months to shore up water resources, but a new report shows that is in jeopardy thanks to climate change. Rainfall from monsoons in the area may fall 30–40 percent by 2100, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. “Most of this precipitation decline can be attributed to increased atmospheric stability, and hence weakened convection, caused by uniform sea-surface warming,” the researchers wrote. “These results suggest improved adaptation measures, particularly water resource planning, will be required to cope with projected reductions in monsoon rainfall in the American Southwest.”

Monsoon rains are key water sources for ecosystems and wildlife, as well as critical water supply for desert cities like Tucson. The Arizona Daily Star reported that monsoons feed a quarter of groundwater recharge in the Tucson area and supply half the area’s rainfall.

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