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Executive Summary for January 26th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including a dam proposal in Wyoming, snow drought in the West and trouble for new water storage projects in California.

Published on Jan. 26, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Snow Drought Across the West

When it comes to snowpack accumulation in Western mountains in the winter, temperatures play as key a role as precipitation, as this year has demonstrated so far in the Sierra Nevada and Rockies.

Both areas are seeing below-average snowpack in many places. Typically, that’s caused by a lack of precipitation, but warmer temperatures also contribute to the problem. California has seen both below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures in many places. And it’s something the West is likely to see more of in coming decades with climate change.

“As the climate grows warmer and more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, we are seeing that we can have an average or above-average precipitation year and still have a well-below-average snowpack,” Benjamin Hatchett, a postdoctoral fellow in meteorology and climatology at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

It’s a similar story in Utah, which is facing one of its lowest snowfalls in four decades.

“As long as we keep putting CO2 and nitrous oxide into the environment at the rate we are […] that amount of additional CO2 is like a warm blanket over the atmosphere and that’s changing the weather patterns as we speak,” National Weather Service’s Brian McInerney told KUTV in Salt Lake City.

Dam Money in Jeopardy

California’s 2014 water bond included money for new water storage, but the California Water Commission, which allocates the storage money, announced last week that none of the proposals met the requirements.

The commission is scheduled to vote in July on which projects would get a share of the $2.7 billion allocated in the bond for new water storage, with 11 proposed projects in the running. But it “announced that nearly half of the projects have no public benefits that meet the ballot measure’s rules for getting money, and the rest fall significantly short of providing as much benefit to the public as they would cost,” the Mercury News reported.

Some of the projects have been discussed for years, including building Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat and raising the height of Los Vaqueros Dam. According to the Mercury News, more details will be shared by the Water Commission on February 2.

Wyoming Dam Proposal Moves Forward

A proposal to build a dam in Wyoming on a tributary of the Yampa River inched forward, but more funds still need to be identified for the project, Wyoming Public Media reported.

State lawmakers budgeted $40 million for the dam, whose main benefit would be to store irrigation water for ranchers, but the project is still short of another $40 million. The project would be sited on Battle Creek, which joins the Yampa River in Colorado. Further downstream, the Yampa flows into the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River.

Advocates for the dam say that it’s needed because future droughts will mean there’s less water in the river, but opponents counter that the Colorado River basin is already overallocated and it would take more water out of the watershed.

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