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Executive Summary for November 17th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including factoring climate change into groundwater plans, a Texas-New Mexico water war and the overdrafting of the Ogallala aquifer.

Published on Nov. 17, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Climate Change and Groundwater

California is in the process of implementing its Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, but climate change impacts may not always be factored into that process, says a new white paper.

The paper, a joint effort of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Stanford University’s Water in the West program, looked at 24 local groundwater sustainability plans and found that half didn’t include climate change impacts in its analysis – even though that’s a state requirement.

Even in a good year, California may get 40 percent of its water supply from groundwater, and there are already 127 groundwater basins in the state that are overdrafted. A reduced snowpack in the future, resulting from higher temperatures, could further restrict the state’s water supply.

The new paper makes recommendations for how improvements can be made to help make climate science a part of the groundwater planning process.

“Management choices that do not take severe climate change scenarios into account may not be robust enough to protect communities and water users from severe water shortages and other problems,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists and a co-author of the paper.

Rural Colorado Faces Falling Aquifer

Many rural communities in eastern Colorado depend on groundwater from the massive Ogallala aquifer, but overpumping has taken a significant toll, according to a recent Denver Post story.

“The drawdown has become so severe that highly resilient fish are disappearing, evidence of ecological collapse,” the paper reported. “A Denver Post analysis of federal data shows the aquifer shrank twice as fast over the past six years compared with the previous 60.”

The Ogallala aquifer is crucial to the farm economies of the eight states it underlies – Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, South Dakota and Wyoming – which produce nearly one-fifth of the country’s wheat, corn and cattle, according to United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which started an Ogallala Aquifer Initiative to try and help reduced overpumping.

New Mexico-Texas Water Fight in Supreme Court

A battle over how much groundwater New Mexico pumps near the Texas border will go before the U.S. Supreme Court, unless the parties can reach a settlement, which could be possible, according the AP.

The case dates back to 2013, when Texas wanted to curtail pumping in New Mexico to increase Rio Grande waters flowing over the states’ border near El Paso.

But a recent Associated Press story said that a resolution may still be possible.

“Lawyers involved in the case say the court could schedule arguments early next year, but New Mexico is still open to settlement talks,” the AP reported. “Separately, the farmers, municipalities and commercial users that would be affected by a ruling have been meeting regularly to build a framework for a possible settlement.”

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