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Federal Water Tap, December 16: Climate Change and Water Supplies for Two Western U.S. River Basins

Dropping When It’s Hot
The Santa Ana watershed, home to 6 million people in Southern California, faces a number of threats to its water supply because of climate change, according to a comprehensive Bureau of Reclamation study. River flows and precipitation will decrease, as will the amount of water infiltrating the basin’s aquifers, which provide 54 percent of total water supply in an average year.

At the same time, demand for groundwater will increase, requiring managers to move supplies within the basin to maximize recharge and consider water recycling, desalination, and the collection of rainwater. The risk of flooding will increase inland – because of more severe storms – and along the coasts due to rising seas.

Upper Rio Grande Assessment
Water flows in the Upper Rio Grande Basin are expected to drop by one-third by the end of the 21st century, while the frequency of droughts and floods will increase, according to Bureau of Reclamation analysis. Temperatures in the upper basin, already increasing at double the global rate, will also shoot up, increasing evaporation and adding to a precarious water supply situation. The upper basin covers the river’s headwaters in Colorado to Caballo reservoir in southern New Mexico.

The study, funded through the bureau’s WaterSMART program, assessed only the basin’s hydrology. A more detailed study that includes options for reconciling supply and demand could be a next step. Basin stakeholders would have to agree to share the cost.

Rio Grande Levee
The commission that manages rivers shared by the U.S. and Mexico is planning to move the Rio Grande. To improve flood control, the International Boundary and Water Commission will relocate the river channel and build new levees along a 1.6-kilometer (1-mile) stretch of the Rio Grande near Vado, New Mexico, just north of the border. Public comments are due by January 11 and can be emailed to wayne.belzer@ibwc.gov.

Texas v. New Mexico
The federal government’s representative to the U.S. Supreme Court contends that Texas has shown enough evidence in its complaint against New Mexico that the nation’s highest court is justified in taking up the matter.

Donald Verrilli, the solicitor general, also shot down New Mexico’s claims that two pending cases, one in state court and one in federal court, would adequately resolve the interstate dispute. Texas argues that groundwater pumping in New Mexico is reducing the amount of water that should, by law, flow to Texas.

Yet Verrilli also submitted to the Supreme Court that New Mexico should be allowed to proceed in civil court with its attempt to dismiss Texas’s claims as groundless. Either way, the dispute is still unresolved.

California’s Bay-Delta
The 120-day public comment period for the $US 25 billion Bay-Delta Conservation Plan opened last Friday. A series of 12 public meetings will be held in California in January and February to discuss the environmental effects of the plan’s two goals: reviving the largest estuary on the West Coast and sending more water to farms and cities in Southern California. Submit comments by April 14, 2014.

CASA-1000
The U.S. State Department committed $US 15 million to an electricity transmission line in Central Asia, a small financial contribution to a project that U.S. diplomats have championed as a means for regional economic growth. The CASA-1000 transmission line will connect hydroelectric dams in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the national grids in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Superfund
Two sites in Indiana where industrial chemicals have contaminated groundwater are among nine new additions to the federal hazardous waste remediation program known as Superfund. Eight more sites have been proposed for listing. Public comments are being accepted for 60 days and can be emailed to superfund.docket@epa.gov, referencing the docket identification number near the end of this link.

Ethanol
A bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators introduced a bill that would chuck the federal ethanol mandate, CNBC reported. Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reduced the 2014 mandate by 16 percent compared to the original baseline, set in 2007.

Great Lakes Study
A study assessing ways to prevent invasive species such as the Asian carp from moving up the Mississippi River Basin and into the Great Lakes will be released in January 2014, the Army Corps of Engineers announced.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

Author: Brett Walton  is a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue. He writes our Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. Interests: Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Pricing, Infrastructure.

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