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Executive Summary for November 10th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including the Salton Sea agreement, the latest climate assessment and the latest figures on our water use.

Published on Nov. 10, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Salton Sea Agreement Approved

On November 7, California’s State Water Resources Control Board approved a 10-year plan to manage the shrinking Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake, found in inland Southern California.

The plan will cost $380 million, $80 million of which the state already has in hand. Another $200 million could come from a water and parks bond that will be voted on by Californians in the June 2018 election.

The Salton Sea is maintained by agricultural runoff, mostly from the Imperial Irrigation District, and has no outlet. A water transfer agreement that went into effect in 2003 sent Colorado River water to the San Diego area and Coachella Valley from the Imperial Irrigation District. As part of that agreement, mitigation water was sent to the Salton Sea to make up for the reduced inflows into the Sea from the Imperial Irrigation District’s land fallowing and efficiency improvements. But the mitigation water stops at the end of 2017 and mitigation efforts from there will be in the hands of the state.

The state’s Salton Sea Management Plan expects the reduced inflows in the next 10 years to result in a total of 48,300 acres of dry lakebed, or playa, to be exposed to desert winds, creating respiratory hazards for residents. The management plan would aim to construct nearly 30,000 acres of habitat over the next decade on the edges of the lake, to reduce some playa dust and provide refuge for millions of migratory birds that depend on the lake.

Climate Assessment Released

The newly released Fourth National Climate Assessment detailed the challenges that the country will face. Parts of the West will see declining snowpack and streamflows, more drought and increased wildfire risk.

Published every four years, the report found that globally average temperatures have increased 1.8 degrees F (1C) in the last 115 years thanks mostly to human-generated greenhouse gases.

For the Southwest region the report found that “Climate changes pose challenges for an already parched region that is expected to get hotter and, in its southern half, significantly drier.”

The West can also expect more frequent and severe atmospheric rivers, reductions in winter and spring snowpack and an increase in the incidence of large forest fires, according to the report.

Water Use in the West

There’s good news and bad in a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey that detailed water use across the country in 2015. Mostly, water use is falling, but several western states have seen increases.

“For people served by public and private utilities, water use for cooking, drinking, showering, lawn-watering, car-washing and other household tasks dropped to an average of 83 gallons per person per day in 2015, down 7 percent compared to 2010,” Circle of Blue reported. “Household use was 105 gallons per person per day in 1990.”

This follows trends in the use of more efficient fixtures and appliances, which have reduced water consumption in many cities in the last several decades, even as populations have continued to rise.

However, the study also found that a handful of states including the western states of Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, saw per-capita water use rise.

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