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Executive Summary for June 15th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including security threats at major dams, wildfires across the West and toxic algae in Oregon’s drinking water.

Published on June 15, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Fires Across West Result in Forest Closures

Across the West, wildfire season is in full effect, with fires and dry conditions causing the closure of forests in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

In Colorado, a fire north of Durango that grew to nearly 26,000 acres by Wednesday has resulted in officials closing the San Juan National Forest to visitors and caused the evacuation of more than 2,100 homes.

“The closure order will remain in effect until the forest receives sufficient moisture to improve conditions,” reported the Denver Post, which said it was the first time in the more than 100-year history of the National Forest that it had been closed to the public.

NPR reported that the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico was closed because of fire danger and, just to the south, fire risk was also closing parts of the Cibola National Forest. USA Today reported closures in areas of the Tonto, Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino and Kaibab national forests in Arizona.

“Because so much of the West’s economy depends on tourists who hike, fish and camp on public lands, private businesses are eyeing the closures with concern,” USA Today reported. “But what’s worse, they know, are wildfires that could destroy neighboring forests and prompt tourists to stay away for decades until the trees grow back.”

Oregon Drinking Water at Risk From Toxic Algae

A drinking water crisis emerged last month in Salem, Oregon, when the local reservoir and tap-water system was found to contain cyanotoxins from an algae bloom. Now other areas may be at risk.

State health officials have now said 41 water systems in Oregon may be at risk from toxic algae blooms. Of particular concern are those using water from the Rogue, Umpqua, Clackamas, McKenzie, Santiam and upper Willamette basins.

Testing for cyanotoxins is not required under the Safe Drinking Water Act. “It’s unclear what may be required of any systems found to be at risk for toxic algae blooms in regards to testing or treatment,” the Salem Statesman Journal reported. “[Oregon Health Authority] director Pat Allen said last week that his agency will implement temporary rules requiring testing for cyanotoxins, but those conversations are still ongoing. Any permanent rules would have to go through a more laborious process later on.”

Security Risks to Western Dams

An inspector general report released this week cited two U.S. dams in the West that are important to national security but are at risk from “insider threats,” according to the Associated Press.

While the two dams weren’t named, they are among a list of five critical infrastructure projects: Folsom and Shasta dams in California, Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, Grand Coulee Dam in Washington and Hoover Dam in Nevada.

“The inspector general’s report found the two dams are at low risk of outside cyber infiltration – but at high risk of threats from within,” the AP reported. “They’re run remotely through a computer system that controls generators, valves and gates at the dams from a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operations center.”

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