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Executive Summary for August 3rd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including growing California wildfires, a new analysis of desert water consumption, and a reaction from the Interior Department to the delta flows plan.

Published on Aug. 3, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

California Wildfires Rage

If California seems smoky these days, that’s because it is. A satellite photo from July 29 shows much of the state covered in wildfire smoke, with more than a dozen blazes still raging.

CNBC reported Monday that there were 12,000 firefighters tackling 17 large wildfires. The fires have already consumed more than 240,000 acres and 1,000 structures. Tuesday another fire broke out near Mendocino National Forest, which is 40 miles north of two fires around the borders of Mendocino and Lake counties.

The two worst wildfires continue to be the Ferguson fire near Yosemite, which has burned more than 63,000 acres since July 13, and the Carr fire in Shasta County, which has burned more than 121,000 acres. Smoke from the Carr fire has caused health advisories in three Oregon counties and impacted air quality as far away as Portland, Oregon.

California’s deadly and destructive wildfire season has also been expensive. CNBC reported that the state has spent a quarter of its annual emergency fund fighting fires, just one month in the fiscal year.

Accounting for Desert Water

An investigative story by the Desert Sun looked at water consumption in the arid Coachella Valley among farms, golf courses and cities. The area relies on groundwater and Colorado River water.

The reporters found that gains have been made in reducing residential consumption, with a drop of 34 percent in 2017 compared to a decade earlier and a reduction of 28 percent in groundwater pumping over the same period.

But, the cuts aren’t across the board. “There has been a sharp contrast, though, between the water savings in desert cities and the amounts flowing to some of the biggest water users: farms and golf courses,” the story reported.

The amount of Colorado River water pumped to farms has remained relatively unchanged in the past 10 years.

And while half of the more than 100 golf courses in the area are now using some mix of recycled or canal water, they still found that golf courses had a 6.6 percent bump in water use since 2010. “The average amount of water used by a single golf course last year was about 307 million gallons,” the Desert Sun reported, and the Coachella Valley has a staggering 121 golf courses.

Feds Weigh in on Delta Flow Issues

Not long after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured two California reservoirs, the Department of the Interior warned the State Water Resources Control Board of possible legal action.

At issue is the water board’s final draft of a plan to require 40 percent unimpaired flows in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers during part of the year in order to protect water quality in the Bay-Delta and address ecological concerns, including endangered fish.

The plan is opposed by many south-of-delta agricultural communities. Zinke visited the area at the request of U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who called the plan a “radical water grab would cripple the Central Valley’s economy, farms and community.”

“According to the letter, the state’s proposal to require 40 percent unimpaired flows from the three rivers between February and June could have a ‘devastating’ effect on recreation in the area and undermine congressionally mandated objectives for the reservoir, a federal asset operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Central Valley Project,” the Union Democrat reported.

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