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Executive Summary for November 24th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including climate impacts to groundwater, a legal challenge to a desalination plant and seawater intrusion into a key agricultural aquifer.

Published on Nov. 24, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Climate Change Impacts to Groundwater

new study from the University of Arizona found that there will be varying impacts on groundwater in states across the West from climate change. And it’s bad news for already water-stressed areas.

The study focused on impacts that would be felt in two different time periods: 2021–50 and 2070–2100.

Researchers found that northern portions of the region will see an increase in groundwater recharge and southern areas will see a decrease. This means that Arizona, New Mexico and the plains of Texas, where water resources are already stretched thin, will see further reductions in water supply from decreased groundwater recharge.

Changes in precipitation are not the only factors in determining future impacts on recharge.

“Changes in recharge don’t necessarily map onto changes in precipitation even at a very local scale,” said Thomas Meixner, senior author and University of Arizona professor and associate department head of hydrology and atmospheric sciences. “The geology and the ecology of the landscape have an effect.”

Legal Challenge for Desal Plant

A decades-long fight over a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, California, is dragging on after a new legal challenge by a coalition of environmental groups, the Orange County Register reported.

Proponents have been fighting to build the plant for 20 years. It would produce 50 million gallons a day of drinking water for Orange County residents at a cost of nearly $1 billion to build. The latest lawsuit, filed by California Coastkeeper Alliance, California Coastal Protection Network and Orange County Coastkeeper, claims that the State Lands Commission didn’t adequately assess the environmental impacts.

“The State Lands Commission approval of this project without reviewing whether it was needed and without considering how the water would be distributed is a clear violation of the law, and – absent intervention – could doom this community to pay for high-priced water for decades,” said Sean Bothwell, policy director for the California Coastkeeper Alliance.

Even despite this legal challenge, the project’s sixth one, it still needs signoff from the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Coastal Commission, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Seawater Intrusion Threatens Aquifers

Water officials in California’s Monterey County are scrambling to protect aquifers from seawater intrusion that appears to be getting worse, leading to calls for a moratorium on new wells.

“After agency staff predicted continued growth over the last two years of ‘islands’ of salty water impinging on critical underground freshwater supplies in parts of the agriculture-rich valley, water agency board members said there needed to be rapid action to head off potentially irreversible damage to those supplies,” the Monterey Herald reported.

Overpumping of aquifers in the agriculturally productive Salinas Valley has led to a drawdown of groundwater for decades and has allowed seawater to be pulled into aquifers, especially the shallow ones. Of particular concern now is the valley’s deepest aquifer, which is not quickly replenished and contains vital freshwater supplies.

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