Federal Water Tap, June 22: California Drought Bill Submitted for Public Review

The Rundown

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is forecasted to be average. Good news for Lake Mead — more water — but bad news for Lake Shasta: a miscalculation means less cold water for salmon. California drought bill gets a public airing while the Delta tunnels project gets another review. The U.S. Forest Service will rethink its groundwater directive.

“We don’t want to lose temperature control at the end of the year.” — David Murillo, mid-Pacific regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation, talking about the agency’s plan to reduce water releases this summer from Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir. The water cuts are to preserve the amount of cold water in the lake, which is important for salmon that spawn in August and September.

By the Numbers

$US 4 million: Federal fine that Enbridge will pay for its 2010 oil spill in Michigan. (Justice Department)
15 percent: Reduction in water releases from California’s Shasta Lake this summer, compared to a plan announced in April. (Bureau of Reclamation)

Reports and Studies

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone
Hail is measured in units of sports equipment; the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, in New England states. This year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the annual low-oxygen, aquatic-life killing zone is forecasted to be the size of Connecticut, which is average.

The forecast is based on nutrient runoff and stream data from the U.S. Geological Survey. The confirmed size of the 2015 dead zone will be released in early August.

News Briefs

Lake Shasta
Endangered salmon runs in California are at risk from warm, depleted streams. To conserve what little cold water is left in Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir, managers at the Bureau of Reclamation will cut water releases by 15 percent this summer, compared to a management plan that was approved in the spring.

The reason for the cut: a faulty temperature probe gave inaccurate readings and there is 30 percent less cold water in the reservoir than managers assumed in April. Salmon need river temperatures below 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) to survive.

Good News for Lake Mead
A wet May boosted water levels in Lake Mead and might delay by a year the declaration of the first ever shortage on the lower Colorado River Basin. The latest forecast from the Bureau of Reclamation shows water levels at the nation’s largest reservoir at 1,083 feet in January 2016, up 6 feet from last month’s projection, the Las Vegas Sun reports. If water levels are forecasted to dip below 1,075 feet in January, it triggers water cuts in Arizona and Nevada.

Forest Service Cancels Groundwater Plan
After an outcry from representatives of western states, who claimed it infringed on state authority to manage water, the U.S. Forest Service is withdrawing a proposed groundwater plan. The plan would have required evaluations of groundwater use on agency land and assessments of how new development would affect groundwater.

The Forest Service will consult with the states on a revised plan.

Bay-Delta Plan Review…Again
Another round of environmental reviews will begin for a state and federal effort to reroute water flows in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The plan envisions a pair of tunnels that would be 50 kilometers (30 miles) in length, stretch wider than a four-lane city street, and cost many billions of dollars.

State officials announced in April that they will seek a slimmed down version of the plan. The rebuilding of streams and wetlands will be pushed into a separate program while the number of pumping stations for the tunnels will be reduced from five to three.

Public Review of California Drought Bill
Before submitting his drought bill to Congress, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) is airing the bill in public. Huffman, in a rare move, posted the bill’s text online and is asking for suggestions. The unusual openness is a counterbalance to the legislative process last year, when California’s senators were accused of negotiating a drought bill behind closed doors.

The scope of Huffman’s $US 1.2 billion draft bill extends well beyond California. It allocates money to federal programs that address water infrastructure, water pollution cleanup, rural communities, and water management. It incorporates pieces of legislation already introduced in Congress: a bill by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) to establish a watershed protection program within the U.S. Forest Service, and Huffman’s own bill to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to manage reservoirs more dynamically in order to conserve water. Full text of the 140-page draft bill, which Huffman plans to introduce by the end of the month, is here.

Obama in California
While in the Golden State for a series of fundraisers, speeches, and a round of Palm Springs golf that drew a bit of drought shaming, the president met with Governor Jerry Brown to discuss drought and wildfire, according to press secretary Eric Schultz.

On the Radar

August Liftoff for Ocean Satellite
A new ocean-monitoring satellite arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, on Thursday. Scheduled for an August 8 launch, the Jason-3 satellite will measure changes in sea levels as well as provide data for weather forecasting and tides.

Nanotechnology Grand Challenge
Reducing the cost of desalination is a potential endeavor for a government-sponsored nanotechnology competition. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is seeking suggestions for its “grand challenge” — a set of targets that will guide the federal nanotech research agenda over the next decade. Send ideas by July 16 to NNIChallenges@nnco.nano.gov with the subject line “Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges.”

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.

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