In this week’s installment, several bloggers look at cases of conflict between urban, rural, and wild interests. Meanwhile, others look at two California projects: the BDCP and Salton Sea restoration. Rounding things out are a preview of the new Congress and a series on water in El Paso.
State lacks tools to sort out water question
Writing for the Albuquerque Journal, John Fleck argues that the ongoing conflict over a proposed pipeline to bring water from a rural area to New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley shows that the decision-making system for setting water priorities is inadequate. Currently, the project is mired in legal wrangling centered on administrative matters. Fleck says the legislature should step in and deliberate on the underlying questions: are rural-urban water transfers and private pipelines the right approach to New Mexico’s water issues?
Don’t leave Colorado River Basin farmers out to dry
Demand for water exceeds supply in the Colorado River Basin, and the situation is not going to improve over time. Writing for the Pagosa Daily Post, Aaron Citron argues that people need to go beyond the default response of reallocating agricultural water to meet urban demand. Citron suggests improving irrigation efficiency, but also points out that cities can significantly reduce their water needs through conservation and reuse.
Water vs. wildlife part II: The Delta smelt and California’s water supply
Hydrowonk Blog’s Jeff Simonetti returns with the second part of his series on the intersection of drought and wildlife in California, this time examining the Delta smelt. Smelt, which are listed as an endangered species, can be killed by the pumps that extract water from the Sacramento Delta. As a result, the pumps are occasionally shut down by regulators; Simonetti references one case in 2012, before the scale of the drought was apparent, that resulted in the loss of 718,000 acre-feet of water. Court challenges to pumping restrictions are common, which Simonetti says highlights the ongoing debate about the best ways to use water in the state.
Changes in Congress affect California’s water interests
The shakeup caused by the 2014 midterm elections will bring numerous changes to Congress, including in water issues. John Freshman of Best, Best and Krieger notes California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, will lose their positions as chairs of the Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee and the Environment and Public Works Committee, respectively. Freshman says these and other changes in Congress will likely affect the nature of water legislation passed through Congress.
IID to state of California on Salton Sea restoration: “But you guys promised!”
John Fleck recaps recent events regarding the management of the Salton Sea. The Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is asking the State Water Resources Control Board to force the state of California to work to restore the Salton Sea. The IID warns that the state’s failure to act may threaten the district’s water transfer to San Diego. (See also Imperial Irrigation District Petitions State Board for Salton Sea Restoration in JOW Corner).
Is the BDCP doable—Redux, part 1
Dr. Rodney Smith, writing for the Hydrowonk Blog, critiques the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission’s recent report on the cost of the Bay Delta Conservation Project (BDCP), which claims BDCP water will be cheap compared to recycling and desalination projects. Smith notes that the report derives the per acre-foot cost of BDCP water by dividing costs by the total output of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project, rather than by the amount of new water the BDCP will generate, which results in a lower cost. The study also fails to factor in the cost of conveying the water and the unreliable nature of BDCP water. Ultimately, Smith concludes that the BDCP is “at best marginal” when compared to alternatives.
Quenching Our Future
This ongoing series from the El Paso Times examines water management on the Rio Grande and searches for new solutions. Going beyond the Southwest, the series also looks at how Australia has coped with its recent history of severe drought.
Southwest water issues are complex and critical: Marty Schladen of the El Paso Times reflects on his experience working on the Quenching our Future series. He says that while water management in the West has been marked by many mistakes, most have been well-intentioned. The region’s fickle water supply has bested humans before, and a new management paradigm is necessary to ensure future prosperity.
Southwest can learn from Australia’s drought: Even before a severe drought from 2003-2009, Australia had implemented several significant reforms to reduce water use. Irrigation diversions from the Murray River, a major aquifer, were capped. Additionally, water rights were separated from property titles, paving the way for a market for agricultural water. A government program pays farmers a premium if they sell their water, which is then used to enhance environmental flows. Some of these practices could be used in the American Southwest.
Australia’s city dwellers become water conscious: In addition to large policy initiatives, household measures are an important element of conservation. A common feature in Melbourne is the household rain barrel, which residents use to top up pools and water gardens. Rain barrels may be less useful in El Paso, which receives just a third of the rainfall that Melbourne does.
City of El Paso to wean itself from river water: Facing a future with little or even no river water, El Paso is planning a plant to recycle 10 million gallons of wastewater per day and return the water directly to the city’s water supply. El Paso has an existing treatment plant for processing wastewater, but that water is pumped into a nearby groundwater basin before it rejoins the city supply. Officials hope more recycling will ease the pressure on the city’s existing water sources.
Protecting the Rio Grande Basin’s dwindling water: El Paso and other communities along the Rio Grande are adjusting to the fact that the wet era that allowed their development may be coming to an end, with a drier future in store. While El Paso has cut per capita water use by 41% over the last 40 years, more drastic measures will be necessary to ensure water for the future.
Written by Stratecon Staff