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Executive Summary for March 2nd

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including water pollution in Santa Rosa following the North Bay wildfires, a new dam inspection bill and a lawsuit over the California tunnels project.

Published on March 2, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Dam Inspection Bill Signed

Just over a year after near catastrophe at California’s Oroville Dam, Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed a new bill that will increase inspection of risky dams.

Prior to the new law, the Department of Water Resources was required to inspect dams and reservoirs for safety “from time to time.” But Assembly Bill 1270 now states that all dams and reservoirs considered “significant, high or extremely high” hazard will get inspections annually. Low hazard dams will be inspected every two years.

As a result of the legislation, dam inspection reports will be considered public records and subject to the state’s public records act.

“The bill will take effect immediately and gets the ball rolling on improving dam safety protocols,” the bill’s author, Assembly member James Gallagher, told The Union. “I think it’s definitely a good first step, but we still have other things we’d like to see happen.”

Lawsuit Filed Over Tunnel Talks

In the latest stage in the fight over California’s proposed twin tunnels, the state is being sued by groups alleging regulators have been having secret meetings to discuss the project.

Courthouse News reports that groups, led by Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, turned up records of emails that show talks between water board staff and those involved in the state’s California Water Fix project. “The emails show at least 12 separate instances of private talks from 2015 to 2016, with topics ranging broaching ‘preparation of the final environmental impact report’ to ‘modeling’ that was eventually presented to the water board,” Courthouse News reports.

The water board, which is in the middle of holding hearings on the tunnels, dismissed any wrongdoing in the meetings.

“Based on the evidence before us, we conclude that no off-the-record information was indirectly passed by water board staff from the Department of Water Resources to us or to any other member of the water board,” a letter signed by water board chair Felicia Marcus stated.

Santa Rosa Looking for Source of Water Pollution

It’s not surprising that there might be water contamination problems in Santa Rosa following this fall’s deadly wildfires, but finding the source is not as easy.

KQED reports that unsafe water was detected in the city’s Fountaingrove neighborhood that was hard hit by the fire, with more than 300 homes destroyed. The water department found 87 cases of carcinogenic benzene that exceeded health and safety standards and are working to determine the source so it can be contained and fixed.

The best theory at this time is that the benzene is coming from burned polyethylene plastic that came from water lines that connected homes to main lines, which melted during the fire. As far as local officials know, “Plastic pipes spreading water contamination after a catastrophic fire event is unprecedented,” KQED reported. So, if the source is confirmed, it make have implications for other cities in wildfire-prone regions and could have significant costs for Santa Rosa.

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