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Executive Summary for April 6th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including an update on Metropolitan’s WaterFix financing, a new report on the future of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, and the arrival of a late-season atmospheric river.

Published on April 6, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Back to One Tunnel

A plan to have a large Southern California water agency front most of the bill for California WaterFix, the state’s plan to build two water conveyance tunnels under the Delta, has been scrapped.

Last week we reported that the board of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the state’s largest water wholesaler, was reviewing a plan to chip in nearly $11 billion of the $17 billion needed for the two tunnels, at a possible cost to ratepayers of nearly $5 a month.

Then the Sacramento Bee reported that the plan “died suddenly” on Monday. “The district ultimately decided the financing plan contained too many risks,” the Bee reported. “Metropolitan general manager Jeff Kightlinger said Monday he wanted to build both tunnels at once, but his agency couldn’t secure commitments from cost-wary San Joaquin Valley farmers to repay Metropolitan in the coming years.”

Metropolitan now supports the state’s most recent plan, which was billed as a “phased approach” to construct one tunnel first, then see if more money could be secured later for a second tunnel. The state looks to have enough backers at this point for a one-tunnel project.

Grim Future Snowpack Projections

The long-term outlook for snowpack, and water supply, in the Sierra Nevada is concerning, according to findings released this week in a new report from UCLA’s Center for Climate Science.

Two of the report authors wrote an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times in which they described the Sierra Nevada in coming decades as a “snowpack on life support.” Their research found that without efforts to curb global climate emissions, a typical spring Sierra snowpack would be 64 percent smaller by the next century.

“In simple terms: We’re going to lose a lot of snow to climate change,” Alex Hall and Katharine Davis Reich wrote in the L.A. Times. “Equally worrisome, California’s water infrastructure is not resilient enough to make up for the loss.”

April Showers Arrive

Northern California is gearing up for an atmospheric river that could dump a substantial amount of rain at a time of year when the state doesn’t usually see many big storms. However, it’s unlikely to add much to snowpack.

The precipitation is coming along with warm weather, which will bring mostly rain, and not the needed snow. The Sacramento Bee reported that the Bay Area, South Lake Tahoe and Sacramento could get up to 3in of rain, and the Sierra possibly 2–4in of snow.

UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said the storm will likely result in heavy rain falling on top of the snowpack in much of the mountains. “Whatever the snowpack reading is for [this week], there’s a pretty good chance it will be lower in a week,” he said. “It will have melted because of a very heavy and extremely warm storm.”

As of April 3, the snow-water equivalent (how much water content is in the snow), was just 52 percent of the long-term average statewide and 41 percent of the average in the northern Sierra Nevada.

The storm could also be the first time state officials use the newly reconstructed spillway at Oroville Dam, the Sacramento Bee reported.

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