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Executive Summary for May 25th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including worsening drought conditions in the Southwest, legislation to change control of California’s Department of Water Resources and a bump in water allocations.

Published on May 25, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Southwest Drought Intensifies

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that drought conditions across southern California and into New Mexico have intensified.

“Satellite-derived vegetation health data indicated conditions have deteriorated rapidly across the region, with the worst vegetation indices with respect to normal noted from Arizona southeastward into southern New Mexico,” the Drought Monitor reported.

Two-thirds of Arizona is now experiencing extreme drought and 10 percent is in exceptional drought, the most severe rating. Two-thirds of New Mexico is also experiencing extreme drought and in the past week the figure for exceptional drought has jumped from 10 to 20 percent.

Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska, called it “alarming, to say the least.”

Two of the West’s biggest river systems have been impacted by drought conditions across the region. On the Colorado River, only 43 percent of average flow is expected to reach Lake Powell. And this week, New Mexico enacted drought restrictions on two reservoirs on the Rio Grande.

“On Sunday, New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions as storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs dropped below 400,000 acre-feet,” wrote N.M. Political Report. “Under Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact, that means Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any upstream reservoirs built after 1929.”

Bill Would Remove DWR’s Control of State Water Project

A bill in the California legislature seeks to take control of the State Water Project from the Department of Water Resources (DWR).

Assembly Bill 3045 was introduced by Republican Assembly member James Gallagher and coauthored by Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen. It would move authority over the State Water Project from DWR to a new nine-member commission within the Natural Resources Agency that would be appointed by the governor, with approval by the Senate.

The bill unanimously cleared the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and is now before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“With this latest bill, Gallagher said he hopes to bring transparency to the project and eliminate the conflict he sees in its structure,” reported Capitol Weekly. “Putting the State Water Project under an appointed commission that holds open meetings would give the public the opportunity to see how decisions are reached governing the project’s operations.”

State Water Allocation Rises

California’s Department of Water Resources announced this week that contractors will see a slight bump in their allocation.

Public water agencies will now receive 35 percent of their water allocations, a 5 percent jump from last month and more than double an initial allocation projected at 15 percent in December. The State Water Project (SWP) sends water to 27 million people in California and about 750,000 acres of farmland.

“The ‘climate whiplash’ we’re experiencing between wet and dry extremes is the new norm, requiring public water agencies to carefully manage and conserve supplies,” said Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors. “It also means we must continue investing in and maintaining our SWP infrastructure while concurrently expanding our local supply projects and conservation efforts.”

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