CVIndependent

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Environment

21 Jul 2015
If you tuned into the debate on a drought bill in the House earlier this month, you would have gotten a bleak picture of the agriculture industry in a state that fills the produce aisles in much of the rest of the country. You also would have heard the water shortage blamed on radical environmentalists who sacrificed farms to protect fish in California, and the failure to build any new dams over the last 40 years. The Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, written to correct those problems, passed 245-176 on Thursday, July 16, with only five Democrats joining nearly all Republicans to support it. “We’ve watched our lawns turn brown; we’ve watched our water bills skyrocket; we’ve watched businesses shut down; we’ve watched thousands of farm workers thrown out of work,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, a co-sponsor of the bill. “We will not solve our…
14 Jul 2015
The water-energy nexus spans the world of electricity generation and water movement, particularly in Western states. It takes water to produce steam for coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, and they usually need water to cool them down. Huge amounts of electricity are needed to pump water across the desert; the Southern Nevada Water Authority is Nevada’s biggest user of electricity, and the Central Arizona Project relies heavily on the Navajo Generating Station to keep water moving through the canals. Surely the most obvious link between water and energy, and between climate and electricity generation, though, is found at the West’s numerous hydroelectric generation stations, and here in California—deep in a nasty drought—we’re feeling that link in a painful way. The relationship is pretty simple: More water in a reservoir or river equals more potential for generating electricity by releasing that water to turn turbines. All of California’s reservoirs…
07 Jul 2015
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When the Hoover Dam was built in 1936, it was the largest concrete structure—and the largest hydropower plant—in the world, a massive plug in the Colorado River, as high as a 60-story building. For nearly 80 years, the dam has been producing dependable, cheap electricity for millions of people in the Southwest, but as water levels in Lake Mead continue to drop, the future of “the greatest dam in the world” is more precarious than it ever has been, and utilities across the desert—including local power provider Southern California Edison—are taking notice. Lake Mead, the 112-mile reservoir created by the dam, was recently projected to hit 1,074.73 feet above sea level, the lowest it has been since it was filled in 1937. Thanks to a 16-year drought and serious over-allocation, Lake Mead is now just 37 percent full. Although a “miracle May” of rain means the water level will rise…
17 Jun 2015
A Senate committee has voted to overturn a new rule that defines which waters and wetlands the federal government can protect from bulldozing and pollution. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the bill, 11-9, on a party-line vote with only Republicans voting in favor. A new federal rule would protect tributaries, no matter how seldom they hold water. The vote came just two weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the new clean water rule, which would protect tributaries and wetlands, no matter how seldom they hold water. As previously reported, it also would offer protection for certain regional waters, such as vernal pools in California. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the bill to block that rule was part of his mission to prevent “EPA regulatory overreach.” But California Democrat Barbara Boxer,…
13 Jun 2015
The oil and gas industry has long claimed that there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water. But a new, major Environmental Protection Agency assessment has determined that fracking and another widely used drilling technique called horizontal drilling have the potential to contaminate drinking water. The study also identified the greatest risks to drinking water, including spills, water withdrawals, wastewater releases and migration of gas and oil underground. The nearly 1,000-page EPA study—a draft awaiting public comment and scientific review—found no evidence that “widespread” pollution of drinking water has occurred from these drilling techniques, which have driven a renaissance of the U.S. oil and gas industries over recent years. The number of known cases of well contamination and other impacts to drinking water sources was small compared to the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 new wells that were drilled and hydraulically fractured between 2011 and 2014, and the…
02 Jun 2015
The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a long-awaited rule in late May that defines which streams and wetlands will be protected under the federal Clean Water Act. “Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.” Congressional Republicans and some industry groups attacked the rule as an overreach by the administration that would hurt businesses and job growth. But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said given the impacts of climate change on water resources, such as drought in the West, “it’s more important than ever to protect the clean water that we have.” Significantly for the arid West, the rule protects…
22 May 2015
The board of directors of the Coachella Valley Water District—the agency that provides water to much of the east end of the Coachella Valley—met on Tuesday, May 12, to issue a final set of emergency water usage restrictions. When it was all over, CVWD customers were facing a much less onerous set of restrictions than residents elsewhere in the valley. After more than an hour of public comments from an audience of roughly 120 residents and business owners, the CVWD issued mandates including: The watering of outdoor landscapes within 48 hours of measurable rainfall is prohibited. The irrigation of ornamental turf on public street medians is no longer allowed. The use of water in decorative fountains is prohibited unless there is a recirculation system. Restaurants must serve water only on request. Runoff flows from outdoor watering are now a no-no. However, the CVWD did not follow the lead of the…
19 May 2015
There are around 760 million acres of public land scattered across the 11 Western states and Alaska, managed by several different entities, each with its own set of rules and regulations. This can be a bit confusing, even for experienced wanderers, so we've put together these (general, playful, by no means set in stone) guidelines to help you figure out what kind of public land you're on, and exactly what you can do on it. All you have to do is look around! This originally appeared in High Country News.
01 May 2015
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California has been taking strong measures to deal with extreme drought. Gov. Jerry Brown recently ordered cities to cut water use, and approved new regulations to limit the flow of water in toilets, urinals and faucets. But some economists think that there are more efficient and effective ways to mitigate drought—so they’re starting to dust off the idea of water markets. Putting financial tools to work in the world of water management, they believe, could free up more water for use, overcoming some of the major problems associated with dry spells, and avoiding the need for some crisis measures. Proponents say markets can tell us where water is scarce and where it isn’t, and could help address one of the more nefarious aspects of water-wasting: how cheap water seems compared to how important it is. “Drought is a train moving at us at three miles per hour,” Jennifer Pitt, director…
24 Apr 2015
On March 17, the California State Water Resources Control Board made it clear: Californians need to escalate the battle against the continuing, disastrous drought that’s plaguing our state. Gov. Jerry Brown first held a press conference to reiterate the need for increased voluntary water conservation. Soon after, though, he went on the offensive: In an executive order issued April 1, he delivered the first list of state-mandated water-use restrictions in California’s history—mandates which will remain in effect until at least Feb. 28, 2016, although most people believe they’ll remain in effect well beyond that date. The order means the two main water-management agencies in the Coachella Valley—the Desert Water Agency (DWA) on the west end, and the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) on the east end—have been charged with creating, implementing and following local water-usage-reduction programs. The CVWD held a board meeting to solicit public input on April 14. “I’d…