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Executive Summary for July 13th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including why fires are so bad after California’s drought ended, the continued fight over Hetch Hetchy reservoir, and new insight in predicting weather.

Published on July 13, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Wildfires Rage Post-Drought

Since California’s five-year drought ended, wildfire season hasn’t let up – in fact, the state’s seen some of the most destructive fires on record, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The 2017 fire season was the most expensive across the country, with the U.S. federal government spending $2.39 billion on firefighting. For California, the season stretched all the way to December and was the deadliest in history.

And this year is off to bad start with 231,000 acres burned in nearly 3,000 wildfires already – more than this time last year.

“Fire behavior this year is more aggressive earlier in the year,” Scott McLean, a Cal Fire deputy chief, told the Chronicle. And while heavy rains in 2017 helped refill depleted drinking water reservoirs, it made wildfire conditions worse in some places by fueling the growth of grasses that turn to tinder in the warm, dry months.

The cumulative drought impact on forests has also increased fire danger in the Sierra Nevada, with 129 million dead trees.

While the situation is bad in California, Colorado has fared the worst this year, with 15 active wildfires, which is nearly one-third of all fires burning across the country, according to the Denver Post.

Hetch Hetchy Removal Roadblock

An environmental organization’s hope to drain Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park hit another roadblock this week.

On Monday, the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno voted 3-0 to uphold a lower court ruling, which rejected the argument presented by the nonprofit Restore Hetch Hetchy for why the reservoir should be drained and the dam removed.

Hetch Hetchy serves as a primary reservoir for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which provides drinking water to 2.7 million customers in four Bay Area counties, including San Francisco.

Restore Hetch Hetchy believes the agency can use other water storage options and the iconic valley should be ecologically restored. But it’s been an unpopular position for most in the region.

“The ruling is the latest in a series of defeats for the environmental group,” reported the Mercury News. “In 2012, Restore Hetch Hetchy placed a measure on the San Francisco ballot that would have required the city to conduct an $8 million study on the impacts of draining the reservoir. It lost in a landslide, 77–23 percent.”

Restore Hetch Hetchy will next take its fight to the California Supreme Court.

New Insight Into West’s Weather

Scientists may have found a new way to help them predict precipitation in the Southwest U.S. by looking at a faraway patch of water, Outside Magazine reports.

The research was published last month in Nature Communications and shows how scientists have found a connection between warmer water in the southwestern Pacific Ocean near New Zealand and drier winters in the Southwest U.S.

“Researchers have named this connection the New Zealand Index (NZI), and it means scientists may have found the atmospheric equivalent of a crystal ball that will allow them to predict precipitation in the southwestern United States,” Outside reported.

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