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Executive Summary for August 19th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought including a fast-moving wildfire. We also look at shortage predictions for the Colorado River and water supplier stress tests.

Published on Aug. 19, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Colorado River Trouble Brewing

There is trouble ahead for the Colorado River as AP reported this week that the water level behind Hoover Dam in Lake Mead is expected to fall short in 2018, which would trigger cuts to water deliveries.

After 16 years of drought and increasing stress on water supplies in the Colorado River Basin, the news does not come as a surprise. In June, the lake fell to its lowest level on record, and there has been talk among the lower Colorado River Basin states about what to do if a shortage does result in coming years. The Colorado River Compact, signed in 1922, gives priority to California and would first curtail allocations to Nevada and Arizona.

Arizona farmers would likely be the hardest hit. “A shortage declaration would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s promised 2.8 million acre-feet (3.5bn cubic meters), and 4.3 percent of Nevada’s allotted 300,000 acre-feet. The amount of water at stake would, combined, serve more than 625,000 homes,” AP reported. “Even if a shortage is declared, drought-stricken California will be able to draw its full 4.4 million acre-foot allocation of Colorado River water.” Around 19 million Californians get some of their water from the river.

Stress Tests Result in Little Conservation

The results of the new “stress tests” where urban water suppliers submit plans showing a three-year water supply, have resulted in the vast majority declaring no water conservation goals.

Some 84 percent of the state’s 411 urban water supplies have set a zero conservation goal – this comes on the heels of the state’s mandatory 25 percent mandate being suspended. Agencies say this means they are in a good position and have resilient water supplies. Critics worry that the state is abandoning conservation when still in the midst of a now five-year-long drought.

As the East Bay Times reported, among those reporting zero targets were some of the biggest water suppliers in the state, including East Bay Municipal Utility District, San Francisco, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, San Diego and Sacramento.

Fires Raging

Another large wildfire erupted this week in California, around 60 miles (97km) east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County. The fast-moving Blue Cut fire, as it has been dubbed, has prompted evacuations for 82,000 residents.

A state of emergency was declared in the area by the governor as portions of Interstate 15 were closed to traffic.

This fire comes just after the Clayton fire in Lower Lake in Northern California, which burned 4,000 acres (16 sq km), was about 50 percent contained.

Drought and climate change are playing a role in California’s wildfire season.

“Experts have blamed several factors, including rising temperatures that more quickly dry out forests and vegetation,” reported AP. “Decades of aggressively knocking down small fires also have led to the buildup of flammable fuel. On top of that, more people are moving into fire-prone regions, complicating firefighting efforts.”

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