The Bureau of Reclamation analyzes a California recycled water project and a linking of reservoirs in Washington state. President Obama opposes Keystone XL legislation. Texas assesses an oil spill, while the Food and Drug Administration releases new draft rules for irrigation water. Scientists begin a California weather study. And 2014 was hot, hot, hot in the U.S. West.
By the Numbers
59,000 acre-feet: Amount of recycled water that would be available to farmers and wildlife refuges in California’s Central Valley if a proposed pipeline is built (Bureau of Reclamation)
1.8 degrees F: Margin by which California set a new record for hottest year, at an average temperature of 61.4 degrees Fahrenheit (National Climatic Data Center)
Reports and Studies
Record Heat in the West
Seven states in the American West recorded a top-ten hottest year in 2014, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Leading the pack was California, which had its hottest year on record, a startling 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the old record, from 1934. Most states had relatively average precipitation, though the record heat meant that drought conditions held in much of the West.
California Recycled Water
Two cities in California’s Central Valley, a farming hot spot, are investigating a pipeline to send recycled water to a farm district and to wildlife refuges. The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program supply as much as 59,000 acre-feet of recycled municipal water to farmers and wetlands each year from Modesto and Turlock. According to the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft environmental review, the project would not significantly affect flows in the San Joaquin River, where the recycled water is now discharged. Comments on the review should be sent by March 10 to Ben Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bureau of Reclamation proposes to link two reservoirs in Washington state’s Yakima River Basin, in order to make more water available to fish and farmers during droughts. The Bureau would build a pumping plant at one reservoir, to reach water from the lake depths, and a pipeline connecting the two water bodies, to capture more snowmelt, according to a draft environmental review. Comments on the 842-page review should be sent by March 10 to email@example.com.
As members of Congress from both parties staked out their battle positions, President Obama issued a veto threat against the nation’s most notorious oil pipeline. On Friday, the House again passed a bill to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, setting the stage for the Senate to act this week.
Irrigation Water and Food Safety
The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a less strict standard and more flexibility for farmers to meet a new standard for harmful microbes in irrigation water. The original standard was proposed in January 2013 but it was loudly criticized within the agriculture industry for its lack of scientific support, its ignorance of harvesting practices, and its potential to increase pressure on groundwater resources (because surface water is more likely to be contaminated).
The FDA will hold a public meeting February 10 in College Park, Maryland to discuss the new draft rule. Register before February 3 by emailing Rick Williams at RWilliams@jmt.com.
On the Radar
California Weather Research
Data collection will begin this week for an investigation into the causes of California’s weather. Scientists from several federal agencies and academic institutions will use all manner of instruments to observe two important yet poorly understood phenomena: aerosols, the small particles that form the nucleus of a raindrop, and atmospheric rivers, the ribbons of tropical moisture that provide California with its biggest storms. Called CalWater2, the experiment will use data collected from aircraft, ships, and land-based equipment.
To prepare a restoration plan, the state of Texas is assessing damages from a March 2014 oil spill that released some 4,000 barrels (168,000 gallons) into Galveston Bay. The spill, which occurred when a cargo ship collided with a barge, affected 258 kilometers (160 miles) of shoreline, according to preliminary estimates.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton