Executive Summary for October 27th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including more bad news for the Delta tunnels project, concerns that key infrastructure is not ready for the winter rains, and reports that utilities have delayed efforts to map fire risk.

Published on Oct. 27, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

More Trouble for the Twin Tunnels

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels plan took further hits this week – the biggest from Congressional Democrats who want a federal review of the funding.

On October 24, the Associated Press reported that five Democratic congress members from California and one from Arizona are calling for an investigation by the U.S. General Accounting Office to determine whether the use of taxpayers’ money to fund planning for the project was legal.

The following day, AP reported another development: The Trump administration is not supporting the project, which would require approval from the Interior Department. The administration’s position was later clarified in a press release by the agency, which said they supported the goals of the project to deliver more water but “under the current state proposal does not expect to participate in the construction or funding of the CA Water Fix.”

In the last month, the project, priced at $17 billion, failed to get the backing of two significant water districts in California, which called the economics of the project into question and has prompted calls for a smaller, scaled-down version with only one tunnel.

Key Infrastructure Ready for Rains?

With California’s wet season set to begin, repairs to the dam at Lake Oroville are nearing its deadline and concerns have emerged about the readiness of some levees damaged by heavy rain last winter.

After last February’s near-calamitous spillway failures at Oroville Dam, crews have been working at top speed to complete repairs that will aim to get the dam safely through the rainy season, KQED reported. More demolition and work on parts of the spillway will continue next year.

But that’s not the only infrastructure issue the state is dealing with. Capital Public Radio reported that repairs are being made to 30 levees that suffered critical damage during last year’s record-breaking wet season, and 10 more are next in line. However, there are another 100 places that have been deemed a “serious” risk that won’t be repaired yet.

This highlights a funding shortfall, with $130 million needed and only $30 million budgeted.

Utilities Slowed Efforts to Map Powerline and Wildfire Danger

As officials sort out whether utility lines are to blame for the North Bay wildfires, it was reported this week that utilities companies have been stalling on efforts to map electric lines and fire risk.

The Mercury News reported that after deadly wildfires ignited after high winds toppled electrical lines tore through San Diego County in 2007, the state attempted to set new regulations for utilities and maps of wildfire risk areas. But 10 years later, they haven’t gotten far.

“A review of the mapping project by the Bay Area News Group shows that utilities have repeatedly asked to slow down the effort and argued as recently as July that, as PG&E put it, certain proposed regulations would ‘add unnecessary costs to construction and maintenance projects in rural areas,’” the Mercury News reported.

Wind-downed electric lines are being investigated as a possible cause of the deadly blazes that killed 42 people this month in California’s wine country.

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