Executive Summary for March 30th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including Delta Tunnel costs in Southern California, New Mexico’s fire season and a near failure of a California dam.

Published on March 30, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Cost to Southern California for Delta Tunnels

Metropolitan Water District is exploring whether it will try to front a substantial portion of the bill for the proposed Delta Tunnels, and has revealed new figures on how much it would cost ratepayers.

The plan to build two water conveyance tunnels, known as California Water Fix, took a big hit last fall when several major water agencies, including agricultural giant Westlands, balked at chipping in their share for the $17 billion project. The state then floated the idea of a cheaper version of the project with only one tunnel.

A two-tunnel project seemed like it might be dead in the water until Metropolitan Water District, the state’s largest water wholesaler that supplies water across Southern California, began investigating whether it could pay even more for the project. The agency had already agreed to pay $4.3 billion. Now they could pay substantially more.

“The staff is planning to offer two options for a board vote next month: Add $1 billion more to the MWD’s 2017 funding commitment and move ahead with one tunnel, or throw roughly $5.5 billion more into the WaterFix pot and build two tunnels,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “The latter would push the agency’s total financing to nearly $11 billion.”

If Metropolitan fronts the $11 billion it means an extra cost to ratepayers across Southern California of just under $5 a month on water bills.

Fire Season Takes Off in New Mexico

Officials are warning that New Mexico’s fire season this year may be a particularly bad one, as all the factors for severe conditions are coming together.

Spring winds are strong and conditions are dry. More than one-third of the state is experiencing extreme drought, and two-thirds are in exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor on March 29.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that 140 fires already this year have burned through 50 square miles of land, more than in all of last year. In March there were 80 reported fires.

“We’re real behind the curve with moisture,” Lt. Brian Fox, who heads the Albuquerque Fire Department’s wildland unit, told the New Mexican. “Without the snowfall packing down the grasses, we’re going to see a lot of these fast-moving grass fires taking the flames from the surface up to the tree tops quickly.”

Dam Near Disaster

Officials are working to figure out what went wrong last Thursday when a dam in the Sierra foothills owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission nearly failed.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Moccasin Reservoir, west of Yosemite, is usually used to help manage water levels between bigger reservoirs, but rainfall triggered large amounts of water and debris, which overwhelmed the reservoir’s earthen dam, causing it to leak. Downstream evacuations were ordered.

While nowhere near the magnitude of last year’s near disaster at Oroville, officials are still working to figure out what went wrong. “Dam experts who had not been to the site would not speculate on a specific cause,” the Chronicle reported. “But they said problems like the one at 60-foot-tall Moccasin Dam generally occur when operators fail to anticipate high water and don’t adjust reservoir levels accordingly or result from a structural problem that has gone unaddressed or was unknown.”

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