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Executive Summary for August 27th

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on Aug. 27, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

How Do You Start Building a New Dam? With Offices, of Course

Building a new reservoir is an enormous undertaking. As infrastructure projects go, few are bigger. And it raises the question: where to begin?

Colusa County plans to answer that question for the Sites Reservoir project in a pretty mundane way: by creating office space.

The Marysville Appeal-Democrat newspaper reports the county plans to allocate money to restore an old Wells Fargo Bank building in the small town of Maxwell to become the new paper-shuffling headquarters for the Sites project.

The building was donated to the county more than a decade ago after Wells Fargo cleared out. Since then, it has been used as a sheriff’s substation, a meeting place, an election precinct and for general storage.

There is no estimate on what the renovations will cost. But it will surely be less than building the reservoir itself.

The $3.4 billion Sites Reservoir proposal in Colusa County is considered by many to be the front-runner in new dam-building projects in California. That’s because it would store more usable water than other proposals – Temperance Flat reservoir on the San Joaquin River, and a Shasta Dam raise – and it because it is an “off-stream” reservoir. That means it won’t block any existing fish runs, and will instead be filled with water pumped in from the Sacramento River

None of these projects has been approved for construction yet. But they are named in Proposition 1, the water bond approved by California voters in 2014, as among the few potential recipients of public funding for water storage projects.

Judge Won’t Block Additional Klamath River Water Releases

A group of agricultural water users recently filed suit in an attempt to block the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from releasing additional water into the Klamath River to help imperiled salmon survive California’s drought. The water began flowing this week. But the judge refused to allow the lawsuit to proceed.

The suit was filed by Westlands Water District and San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, both agricultural water users located in the distant San Joaquin Valley. They rely on Klamath water diverted through a tunnel in a mountain range that links the Trinity River, a Klamath tributary, with the Sacramento River.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill in Fresno, California, on Wednesday ruled the parties were unlikely to win the case.

Importantly, O’Neill also said the potential harm to salmon far outweighed the harm to farmers, who were far from certain to get any more water, according to the Associated Press.

This outcome is notably different from events that became highly politicized during a previous drought. In 2001, Reclamation had to shut off water to a federal irrigation district straddling the Oregon-California border to leave water for threatened coho salmon in the Klamath. When the Bush administration intervened to restore irrigation in 2002, causing river flows to diminish, an estimated 60,000 adult salmon died in the lower river from parasites, which spread best in low, warm water conditions.

Crystal Geyser Under Fire for Water Bottling Plan

A community group in Siskiyou County has filed suit against a plan approved by county officials that would allow Crystal Geyser to tap spring water that fills the drought-shrunken Sacramento River. The county and the water bottling company are both named in the suit.

The group, which calls itself We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review, says the company failed to get proper permits and will be violating land-use provisions if it carries out its plan this fall to tap Big Springs, which burbles out through lava tubes at the base of California’s largest volcano, the newspaper reported.

Bruce Hillman, the group’s president, said the goal is to require a full environmental impact report for the project.

“We don’t know what the effect of this plant will be on the local environment, so we are asking for an injunction until these issues have been decided,” Hillman said.

The county claims it has no legal authority to require an EIR for the project.

Coincidentally, the Wall Street Journal reports today that there seems to be no end in sight to consumer demand for bottled water. Sales are on track to surpass those of sugary soda drinks by 2017.

Top Photo: The valley west of Maxwell, Calif., in Colusa County, where the proposed Sites Reservoir project would be located (by Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

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