Executive Summary for January 19th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including more talk about a one-tunnel project in California, a lawsuit over the Oroville Dam emergency and the latest Colorado River forecast.

Published on Jan. 19, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Renewed Tunnels Talk

A series of stories this week renewed talk about the potential that Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration would scale down its $17 billion twin tunnels proposal, California WaterFix.

Last fall, after two water agencies balked at the price tag, the state’s project to build new water tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta looked to be faltering. But talk intensified recently about cutting the project in half.

“Instead of two tunnels, each 40 feet high and 35 miles long, Brown’s Department of Water Resources has been negotiating with major California water agencies in recent weeks on a revised plan to build just one tunnel at slightly more than half the cost of the original project,” the Mercury News reported in a Jan. 12 story. The story quoted Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, as saying news of the agreement could be announced in the next month.

Days later, the Associated Press reported that the state was now seeking bids from contractors for a one-tunnel project.

However, the administration’s official line on the project currently is that “no decision has been made to change the project,” according to Lisa Lien-Mager, deputy secretary for communications at the California Natural Resources Agency.

Lawsuit Filed Over Oroville Dam Failures

Almost a year after near disaster at Oroville Dam resulted in the evacuation of 188,000 nearby residents, the city of Oroville is suing California’s Department of Water Resources, which operates the dam.

“The City of Oroville blames a culture of cronyism and a priority for low-cost dam repairs over quality maintenance for the crisis,” the Associated Press reported. “The lawsuit alleges that managers ignored maintenance needs and condoned shoddy dam work.”

Earlier this month, an independent team of experts released a lengthy forensic report on the dam crisis, which blamed, in part, long-term systemic failure at DWR.

Colorado River Forecast

There are still a few months left in the winter, but snowpack is historically low across portions of the Colorado River Basin, which will impact Colorado River flows and storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Colorado River flow is likely to be reduced by half of normal during April through July, which would mean that there have been 15 years out of the last 19 with below average flows on the river.

Despite the bad news so far, experts don’t expect a shortage declaration for Lake Mead in 2019 that, if triggered, would mean cuts to water allocations for lower basin states Arizona and Nevada. Further upstream, Lake Powell may see a projected 23-foot drop in lake levels by the end of the year.

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