Executive Summary for February 9th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including a new California Water Fix plan, a lawsuit over the Clean Water Rule and diminished flows on the Colorado River.

Published on Feb. 9, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

California’s One Tunnel Plan

On Wednesday, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that it was now seeking a phased approach to building its twin tunnels, known as California Water Fix.

After the agency this fall failed to confirm the necessary funding from water districts for the $17 billion project for two tunnels, interest was renewed for a one-tunnel plan. The state had yet to officially weigh in until this week when DWR formally announced that they would plan to build phase one, which would have one tunnel with a total capacity of 6,000 cubic-feet per second, two intakes, one intermediate forebay and one pumping station. The cost for phase one would be $10.7 billion.

If money could be scraped together for an expansion, a second tunnel would later be added with another intake, 3,000 cubic-feet per second of capacity and another pumping station.

The new plan will also mean more delays. “And shrinking the project won’t quiet criticism that big tunnel diversions on the Sacramento River will hurt migrating salmon and worsen water quality in the delta,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The project also has yet to finish the permitting process, which could throw still more hurdles in its path.”

California Joins Suit Over Clean Water Rule

Ten states and the District of Columbia are suing the Trump administration in a battle over implementation of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, meant to increase protection for waterways.

This week, California joined with New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., in a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York over a decision to suspend the Waters of the U.S. Rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule.

The rule was an Obama-era policy meant at setting definitions for rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands that are protected by the Clean Water Act.

“California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said the lawsuit alleges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acted without authority in suspending the rule, did not provide a rational explanation and did not provide required notice and opportunity for public comment,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Dry Winter’s Toll on Lake Powell

It’s been a tough winter for accumulation of snowpack in parts of the West so far this season, with Lake Powell projected to get only half its average runoff.

Lake Powell, a key reservoir on the Colorado River and the second largest in the country, is projected to get just 47 percent of average inflow, according to a researcher from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lake Powell is now at 56 percent of capacity, and Lake Mead, the largest reservoir, is at 41 percent, thanks to a cumulation of years of decreased flows on the Colorado.

The immediate impact may not be that bad, though. “Lackluster runoff into Lake Powell this spring is not likely to have an immediate impact on water users because most reservoirs upriver from Powell filled up after last winter’s healthy snowfall,” Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Powell, Mead and other reservoirs, told the Associated Press. “But consecutive dry winters could mean some water users won’t get their normal allotment in future years.”

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