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2007 U.S. Regional Water News


December, 2007

Colorado seeks water from Arkansas River under compact with Kansas

Kansas authorities are reviewing a request by Colorado for water to supplement agricultural wells in dry years and to supply a permanent pool for wildlife at John Martin Reservoir on the Arkansas River in southeast Colorado. Kansas authorities pledged to meet with Coloradans on the issue next month, said Steve Witte, a Colorado water division engineer. Colorado has until March 31 to complete the purchase of the water and has already spent $700,000 on engineering. The two states created the Arkansas River Compact in 1949. In 2005, Colorado let the John Martin Reservoir shrink to just 2 percent of capacity in order to meet water obligations to Kansas. AP/Denver Post_ 12/19/07

Michigan legislators move to  protect Great Lakes water from being shipped elsewhere

Michigan legislators moved a step closer to enacting a measure that could prevent states outside the region from raiding the area's most valuable resource -- the Great Lakes. Committees in the Senate and House approved the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact on Wednesday. The legislation, once approved by all eight of the Great Lakes states and the U.S. Congress, would put authority over water diversions in the hands of those states. Illinois and Minnesota have passed the Great Lakes compact, while New York officials are closing in on full approval. The remaining states are at various stages in the process. Similar legislation is in the works on the Canadian side of the lakes in Ottawa and Quebec. Detroit News_ 12/6/07

Stricter water rules considered for South Florida

Regional water managers raised the possibility of more stringent water restrictions for business and development Tuesday during a summit on water conservation. The South Florida Water Management District held the summit in West Palm Beach, as years of drought conditions are prompting a new look at landscaping, development patterns, delivery, metering and billing for water use. It was the first of five meetings to be held until recommendations for new rules are presented to district's governing board in April. Jeff Pearson, director of Charlotte County Utilities, said his area has achieved a low rate of water use per person - about 72 gallons a day. In southeast Florida, water managers said the rate is more like 170 gallons a day. South Florida Business Journal/Orlando Business Journal_ 12/5/07

Scientists call for more cleanup of water draining into Florida's Lake Okeechobee

Clean up more of the dirty water pouring into Lake Okeechobee and find ways to better target a wider range of pollutants, a team of scientists told South Florida water managers in a report issued this month. A review by scientists from the Netherlands to Montana took a look at the district's yearly environmental report, which found mixed results in meeting pollution guidelines. The "peer review" by the independent scientists included a recommendation to find the cause of increased phosphorus in areas north of the lake, draining into South Florida's primary backup water supply. Taking a new regional assessment of water conditions and integrating state agency performance measures and science plans are some of the ways to keep the work north of the lake connected with efforts to restore natural water flows to the south, said Jeffrey Jordan, a University of Georgia professor who led the scientific panel. District governing board member Michael Collins said the agency welcomed scientific suggestions, but he warned the panel not to weigh into policy decisions by recommending how to spend district money. "That's not your job," Collins told Jordan at a governing board meeting this month. "That's not a science issue. That's a policy issue." South Florida Sun-Sentinel_ 11/24/07

Southern California to buy water from farmers in Central California

Southern California water officials said on Tuesday that they plan to purchase large amounts of water from Central Valley farmers, a move designed to ease an anticipated water shortage but likely to increase customers' bills. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California hopes that by purchasing the water, it can maintain regular supplies despite a federal judge's ruling that is expected to reduce the amount of water Southern California receives from the Sacramento Delta by up to 30%. But because the farmers' market-rate water is more expensive than the water the MWD normally imports, officials said, residents can expect their bills to rise in 2009. The MWD, which imports water to more than 18 million customers around the Southern California, has been dealing with expected reductions in water supply from three key sources: the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where snow pack levels are down; and the Colorado River, which flows through a region in the midst of a major drought. At the same time, Southern California is experiencing a record dry period, with less than 4 inches of rain falling in downtown Los Angeles during the 2006-07 rain year. Los Angeles Times_ 11/21/07 (logon required)

Great Lakes water compact backers, foes in Ohio stand ground on water diversion

Ohio’s dilemma about a proposed regional compact that would limit Great Lakes water withdrawals has come down to how legislators view state Sen. Tim Grendell’s argument that it could intrude upon private property rights. Gov. Ted Strickland continues to stand behind the proposal, even though he did not have a role in developing it. He is seen as a key political figure who can get legislators past objections raised last fall by Mr. Grendell, a Republican from Chesterland, Ohio, east of Cleveland. Even though the Ohio General Assembly appears unlikely to bring the measure up for another vote in 2007, Mr. Strickland’s support has not wavered since it was disclosed in February that he would endorse it as written, according to Mr. Dailey. The proposal, agreed upon in principle by Great Lakes governors in December, 2005, after more than four years of research, comments, and revisions, would forbid large diversions or transfers of Great Lakes water without consent from a regional water body. That regional water group would be created if the proposed compact is ratified by each of the Great Lakes states and approved by Congress. The intent is to assert regional control over the lakes — the world’s largest source of fresh surface water — before spigots run so dry in other parts of the country that new efforts are mobilized to move the water well beyond the natural Great Lakes basin. Toledo Blade_ 11/19/07

Five northern Idaho counties urge governor to temporarily suspend water rights talks

Kootenai County commissioners are joining leaders from four other northern Idaho counties in urging Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to temporarily suspend adjudicating water rights in the region. The commissioners say they want to slow the process that will be overseen by the Idaho Department of Water Resources because too many unresolved questions remain. Other counties joining the request are Shoshone, Benewah, Bonner and Boundary. Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “We collectively said there are more questions than answers, so let’s back off here and get some questions answered before we move ahead on this." In 2006, state lawmakers approved legislation to catalog and define north Idaho’s water rights, including in the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane River drainages. Lawmakers allocated about $17 million over nine years to pay for the work. AP/Coeur d’Alene Press/Ag Weekly_ 11/4/07

Thirsty states, particularly in the West, eye Great Lakes' water

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic candidate for president, gave voice to his water lust this month by suggesting that water from the five Great Lakes could be piped to the rapidly growing -- and increasingly dry -- Southwest. "States like Wisconsin are awash in water," Richardson told the Las Vegas Sun. Richardson soon backed off after swift protests from the Midwest, including a resounding "no" from Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm. That won't be the end of it. With fresh water supplies dwindling in the West and South, the Great Lakes are the natural-resource equivalent of the fat pension fund, and some politicians are eager to raid it. The lakes contain nearly 20% of the world's fresh water. Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times_ 10/28/07 (logon required)

Indiana environmental coalition urges lawmakers to help ban Great Lakes water diversion

A coalition of northwestern Indiana environmentalists and businesses are urging state lawmakers to approve a multistate Great Lakes agreement that would ban most diversions of water from the lakes to water-hungry states. State groups and supporters of the Great Lakes Compact expect to have legislation for the Indiana General Assembly to consider next spring. The proposed compact would ban — with limited exceptions — new and increased water diversions from the Great Lakes unless approved by the governors of the eight Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Lawmakers in those states and provinces are considering approval of the agreement at a time when the Great Lakes’ water levels are near historic lows. And with droughts in the Southeast and Southwest, the pressure is growing to turn to the Great Lakes as a fresh water source. AP/News Sentinel_ 10/27/07

Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska wrestle with water sharing issues

More farmers and other water users in northeastern Colorado could see their wells shut down if new rules to bring the state into compliance with an interstate water compact on the Republican River are approved. Colorado and Nebraska, both struggling with drought, have been using more water from the river than they're allowed under an agreement with Kansas, which says it will act soon to force compliance. Draft rules by the Colorado state engineer's office that would shut down wells and possibly halt surface-water diversions in part of the Republican River basin are intended to stave off a lawsuit by Kansas. Water users in Nebraska face similar predicaments as Kansas presses its case for compliance with a compact first signed in 1943 to divvy up use of the Republican River: 49 percent to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado. Nebraska and Colorado have acknowledged exceeding their shares of river water as outlined in a 2002 settlement of a lawsuit by Kansas, which argued that the increasing number of wells was sapping the river and its tributaries. AP/Casper Star-Tribune_ 10/6/07

Del., Md. '07 summer 2nd-driest in 100 years
Delaware and Maryland experienced their second-driest summer in more than 100 years, federal science agency records show, and the latest forecast offers little hope for relief.  Although the state has so far not called for voluntary conservation or other more direct efforts to control water consumption, officials have stepped up their monitoring of the drinking water supply.  Since 1895, only the parched summer of 1964 rivaled current conditions across Delaware, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Newly updated outlooks released by NOAA on Thursday put all of Delaware and Maryland in an area where moderate-to-severe drought conditions are likely to persist or worsen in coming weeks.  Delawareonline.com_10/5/07

GOP lawmakers demand water bond include dams
With California reservoirs low and a second dry winter sure to trigger rationing, Republican lawmakers demanded Wednesday that California's next water bond include new dams.  Like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican legislators insist that California needs to immediately begin the eight-to-15-year process of dam construction to supply millions of additional residents as global warming shrinks the all-important Sierra snowpack.  That puts the Republicans at odds with Democratic lawmakers, who say less grand projects can capture more water more cheaply. If Democrats don't budge in the coming weeks, the Legislature could fail to craft a water bond for the February ballot to fund projects that would stretch the state's water supplies, because Republican lawmakers said they would rather have no bond than one without new or expanded reservoirs.  The legislative debate comes as the state's biggest reservoirs are 30% or more below normal levels.  Los Angeles Times_10/4/07

New Mexico works to make up water debt to Texas

Farmland to be retired, left fallow

A 10-mile-long pipeline that will help New Mexico pay its Pecos River water debt to Texas is about half finished, and officials expect the work to be completed by December.  The $12 million Seven Rivers pipeline about 15 miles northwest of Carlsbad is designed to deliver about 20,000 gallons of water per minute from 13 wells to Brantley Dam, according to the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.  The project will help augment Pecos River flows by about 15,750 acre-feet a year, and is one of several actions New Mexico is taking to make up an estimated 10,000-acre-feet-a-year water deficit to Texas under the 1947 Pecos River Compact that assured both states part of the water.  Texas sued New Mexico in 1974, claiming New Mexico was keeping too much water.  The U.S. Supreme Court in 1988 ordered New Mexico to deliver water to Texas, ruling that it hadn't sent enough water downstream for 34 years. The court also ordered New Mexico to pay back its water debt.  Chron.com_10/3/07

In the western U.S., experts keen on refilling aquifers

Artificially refilling aquifers - even with treated wastewater - may be the best answer for the West's strained water supplies, according to water supply experts. Still, hidden and complex subterranean geology makes aquifer storage an inexact science, said water officials at the American Groundwater Water Trust forum in Colorado Springs, Colorado last week. Rapidly growing cities throughout the West are looking to groundwater supplies to offset shortfalls in streams, the primary water source for most municipalities. Water levels in major aquifers are falling at alarming levels, water officials say. Pools in the massive Denver Basin are dropping as much as an inch a day in some areas, for example, requiring ever-deeper wells and prompting concerns over whether there are adequate long-term supplies for municipalities. In places as varied as Orange County, Calif., and the San Luis Valley, officials have found success injecting excess water back into the ground during wet years to replenish aquifers and even bolster aboveground streams. Denver Post_ 10/2/07

New York City agrees to help regulate Delaware River by releasing water from reservoirs

Under intense pressure from anglers, environmentalists and angry residents of downstream communities devastated by floods three years in a row, New York City has agreed to change the way it operates its huge Delaware River reservoirs. The city started a practice yesterday that is to continue at least through the next three years, releasing up to a total of 35 million gallons a day from three of its largest reservoirs into the Delaware River to maintain regular temperatures and water levels in the river. But many residents of riverside communities in four states along the 330 miles of the Delaware are unhappy with the plan and critical of the way the changes were accepted in secret at a meeting last week of representatives of New York City and the four states: New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. They said the plan would do little to prevent or even mitigate the kind of catastrophic floods that swept down the river in 2004, 2005 and 2006, causing several deaths and millions of dollars in property damage. Under the terms of a 1954 decree by the United States Supreme Court, New York City is allowed to take up to 800 million gallons of water a day from the Delaware River. But the decree also requires the city to ensure that there is enough water left in the Delaware to adequately supply downstream communities like Trenton and Philadelphia, which also draw drinking water from the river. New York Times_ 10/2/07 (logon required)

September, 2007

South Florida water woes could mean more limits

Unless a tropical storm or hurricane reverses a growing deficit in Lake Okeechobee, the region's water barrel, the South Florida Water Management District warned Monday that the rainy season will likely fall short. And while it won't change water restrictions for now, it could mean tougher, earlier and longer irrigation and water-use cutbacks next year. Miami Herald_ 9/10/07

Contingency plans drawn up for possible Southern California water rationing

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, serving 18 million people in six counties, warned Wednesday that mandatory rationing could become necessary for the first time since 1991. The district imports about two-thirds of its water from Northern California and the Colorado River. Last week, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno ruled water imports from the north must be cut up to 30 percent to protect the delta smelt, a small fish threatened with extinction. Although it's unclear how much water will move south, the district is preparing an allocation plan on how much it might be able to provide the 26 cities and water agencies it serves, assistant general manager Roger Patterson said. Los Angeles Daily News/Fresno Bee_ 9/6/07

Federal judge's ruling to protect endangered delta smelt may force water rationing in California's San Francisco Bay area

Cities around the Bay Area face the possibility of mandatory water rationing next year as a result of a federal court decision Friday to protect a rare fish found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, state officials and water experts said. The decision, which could cut by up to a third the amount of water drawn from the delta, will definitely force conservation measures and, in the end, could be the most far-reaching decision ever made under endangered species laws, according to experts. The ruling, made Friday evening by U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger, was an attempt to help the delta smelt, a tiny fish once plentiful but now facing extinction. Environmentalists insist the huge Tracy-area pumps used by the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project suck up smelt, killing huge numbers of them. Those water systems redistribute delta water to parts of the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. "This is the most drastic cut ever to California water supplies," said Tim Quinn, the executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, a lobbying group that represents more than 400 agencies that deliver 90 percent of the state's water. "It is the most significant decision ever made in the implementation of either the state or federal Endangered Species Act. It's the biggest impact anywhere, nationwide." San Francisco Chronicle_ 9/1/07

The ruling also may cut into Southern California's water supply

Official says the decision could force a one-third reduction in shipments from the delta to the Southland. The decision comes in a suit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice against the Department of Interior and water agencies, among others. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides drinking water to nearly 17 million people, obtains 60% of its water from the delta. The district has already warned local farmers to expect a 30% cutback Jan. 1. In anticipation of a water shortage, the authority in recent years struck a deal for more Colorado River water from the water-rich Imperial Irrigation District, began planning for a seawater-to-fresh water project, and designed storage improvements. Concerns about the effect of the ruling reverberated in San Diego too. Fern Steiner, chairwoman of the San Diego County Water Authority, said the decision could require rationing. The authority, which provides water to 24 local agencies, recently asked residents to reduce daily usage by 20 gallons per person. Los Angeles Times_ 9/1/07 (logon required)

San Diego County Water Authority predicts ruling will have "serious impact"

For San Diego County, supplies from the Bay-Delta in recent years have provided more than one-third of all water used in the county. A significant reduction in supplies from the State Water Project could have serious impacts in San Diego County. News Release_ 8/31/07

Dredging causes huge Great Lakes water loss, report says

Erosion caused by dredging and other human activities on the St. Clair River is causing Lakes Huron and Michigan to lose 2.5 billion gallons of water daily, says a private Canadian study released Tuesday. Like a bathtub drain, the artificially deepened river is funneling vast amounts of water into Lake Erie, where it flows east to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River before eventually being lost to the Atlantic Ocean, the study says. Sponsored by the Georgian Bay Association, the report acknowledges that drought, evaporation and other factors have contributed to a steep dropoff in water levels on the three upper Great Lakes _ Huron, Michigan and Superior _ since the late 1990s. Huron and Michigan, considered hydrologically the same lake, are 21 inches below normal and Superior could hit a record low this fall. "But the erosion in the St. Clair River stands out among these problems as a man-made issue that can be corrected fairly easily and within a relatively short timetable," the report says. It suggests covering the eroding areas with rock and installing gates to regulate water flow southward from Lake Huron. U.S. officials said they were conducting a five-year study that would recommend what to do. The Canadian group and environmentalists in both nations said waiting that long would severely damage wetlands, fish habitat, water quality and Great Lakes cargo shipping. AP/The Times of Northwest Indiana_ 8/14/07

South Florida Water Management District board votes against pumping farm runoff into Lake Okeechobee

Agriculture's water fears took a back seat to protecting the environmental health of Lake Okeechobee on Thursday, when water managers rejected pumping in polluted stormwater to boost the drought-strained lake. The South Florida Water Management District governing board rejected "back-pumping," which redirects water that falls on agricultural land back into the lake, but also brings in fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants. The district also rejected a last-minute compromise to pump in less of the water than was proposed. As an alternative to back-pumping, the district agreed to explore storing water on more than 700 acres in Clewiston, old rock pits west of West Palm Beach and the 30,000-acre Holey Land and Rotenberger properties in southwest Palm Beach County. The board called for coming up with more long-term solutions, such as widening and deepening canals to store more water. Agriculture faces an immediate crisis, and back-pumping provides the only immediate relief, said board member Malcolm Wade Jr., who works in the sugar industry and abstained from voting. Sun-Sentinel_ 8/9/07

See also Lake O Won't Get Polluted Water AP/Yahoo! 8/9/07

Segments of Texas' Rio Grande Valley waters have pollution problems

The Rio Grande Valley’s mighty river, winding waterway and environmentally sensitive bay all have segments with pollution problems that could impact people and marine life, according to a state list of impaired water bodies. Portions of the Rio Grande, the Arroyo Colorado and the Laguna Madre have low dissolved oxygen and high bacteria levels, and in some areas the problem is growing, says a report released in June by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The agency issues its Texas Water Quality Inventory every two years, along with a list of water bodies that have segments out of compliance with federal water-quality standards. In the latest inventory, TCEQ used water-sampling data from 1999 to 2004 to determine which waterways were out of compliance, said Brenda Archer, water-quality monitoring team leader for TCEQ. Valley Morning Star_ 7/22/07

June, 2007

Lake Superior feeling the water pinch; World's biggest freshwater lake is down 16 trillion gallons in the past decade
All along its 1,800-mile coast, you can see land where there used to be water, CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports. In the past decade, Lake Superior has lost 2.5 feet in depth and at 18 inches below normal, the lake looks different — above and below the water level. At nearly 32,000 square miles, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. But water levels are down across the entire Great Lakes Basin, and experts are racing to find out why. Two big factors are a drought that is dumping 20 percent less rain into the lake, and warmer winter temperatures that mean less ice cover and more evaporation. "Within a couple of years, they should be rising again," said Doug Wilcox, ecologist and branch chief of the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center. "If they continue to go lower and lower, that would indicate to me that we're outside the bounds of the natural pattern." CBS_ 6/21/07

Idaho water director curtails junior ground water user rights in south-central area of the state

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director David Tuthill today issued orders curtailing the junior water rights of ground-water users in the Thousand Springs area of south-central Idaho. The curtailment comes in response to water delivery calls made in 2005 by senior water right holders Blue Lakes Trout Farm and Clear Springs Foods’ Snake River Farm. The curtailment will take effect on July 6 unless sufficient mitigation is provided. Water calls and curtailment orders are necessary to satisfy the director’s duty under Idaho law to administer water rights in accordance with the Idaho Constitution and statutes in times of shortage. “We are more interested in water solutions than water confrontations," Tuthill said. "Unfortunately, the parties involved so far have not presented an acceptable solution to get through 2007, so I have no choice but to issue these curtailment orders." A water call is made when the holder of a senior water right experiences a shortfall in water they are beneficially using and are entitled to receive. The call is made on the water source. Under the conjunctive management rules, the Department will then require the holders of junior water rights to either mitigate the effects of their diversions or stop diverting water in order to satisfy the senior right. Ag Weekly_ 6/15/07

Federal judge declares Florida violates U.S. Clean Water Act by back-pumping polluted water into Lake Okeechobee without a permit

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga ordered the South Florida Water Management District to apply for permits “forthwith” but did not set a deadline, most likely because even the judge acknowledged in a December finding that there was no quick fix to the decades-old practice. The ruling has no real teeth because it does not preclude the state from back-pumping water into the lake tomorrow should the need arise. A permit request would eventually go through the state Department of Environmental Protection. Since the 1970s, Florida water managers have pumped water from canals carrying pollutants from adjacent sugar-growing lands and cities into the lake for flood control and to bolster water reserves that could be used during drought. Several groups, including the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, which considers the lake and the Everglades part of its ancestral home, sued the district, claiming that back-pumping of polluted water into the lake was putting Everglades restoration in jeopardy. The groups also claimed the polluted water contains harmful nitrogen which creates toxic algae blooms and byproducts that can be dangerous to humans. Lake Okeechobee serves as a backup drinking water supply for millions in South Florida. At 730 square miles, it is the second-largest freshwater lake in the continental U.S. AP/Naples Daily News_ 6/15/07

California governor wades into politically risky waters; endorses a peripheral canal to carry water around the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supported building a canal to pipe water around the environmentally fragile delta because the state is running low on supplies. The governor made the comments before a gathering of business leaders and farmers in Bakersfield, who this year have had their water allocations cut because of drought conditions and shutdowns of the state's main water pumps. It's the first time Schwarzenegger has publicly called for a canal. The statements evoked the bitter debate over the so-called Peripheral Canal that consumed California a generation ago. Politicians have avoided the topic since voters overwhelmingly rejected such a canal in 1982. At the time, Northern California voters characterized the proposal as a Southern California water grab. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 6/14/07

Editor's Note: The Omaha World Herald has produced a six-part series "The Irrigation Empire" which traces the history and impact of irrigation pumping on groundwater supplies. Nebraska sits atop the eight-state High Plains Aquifer. As the World Herald reported in its opening piece, "Nowhere in America is there a freshwater sea as large as the aquifer under Nebraska. Nowhere in America is more water pumped from the ground for crops than in Nebraska. And no other Western state has waited until now to slow the drought-driven push by irrigation farmers - a tiny fraction of Nebraskans - to overuse groundwater." Read the entire series. Parts 1-5. Part 6.

California's Delta water pumps to be turned back on Sunday but at 10% of normal levels

The massive pumps that provide drinking water from San Francisco Bay's delta to two-thirds of California's population will be restarted Sunday - 10 days after the Schwarzenegger administration ordered them shut down to protect a two-inch-long endangered fish. On May 31, Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources, ordered the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant near Tracy to be idled after delta smelt, a tiny endangered fish, were being sucked in and killed in significant numbers. The smelt migrate every year from San Francisco Bay up into the Sacramento River to spawn then return in late spring to the bay. But this year, they appeared to stop near the pump intakes on their way back. The federal and state endangered species acts make it illegal to kill endangered fish and wildlife, so the state temporarily shut down California's most important water system, hoping the fish would swim by. No cities or farms faced water cutbacks or rationing, however. That's because most had groundwater they could pump or local reservoirs they could draw from while the delta supply was turned off. San Jose Mercury_ 6/9/07

California Senate Committee kills water supply act

Senate Bill 59, the Reliable Water Supply Bond Act of 2008 as sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger, was defeated on a party-line vote with 4 Democrats voting against the bill, one Democrat abstaining and 3 Republicans supporting it. The measure would have proposed improvements to California’s aging and insufficient water system as a continuation to the Infrastructure Bonds approved of by voters last November. If approved of by the Legislature, SB 59 would have gone on the ballot in 2008 for voter approval.  SB 59 garnered immense support from a variety of organizations from the water, business, and labor communities, as well as from a host of local governments throughout the State. The bill was granted reconsideration, meaning that it can be heard again at a later date by the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. California Chronicle_4/25/07

Drought conditions intensify in western Nevada, Sierras
A lackluster winter and higher than normal temperatures are causing significant drought conditions in western Nevada and the Sierra, experts said.  While urban water needs in the Reno area will be adequate thanks to two previous wet winters and reservoir storage on the Truckee River, drought conditions in the high country and outlying regions will be severe, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.  Such conditions are expected to persist or intensify, the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration forecast said in its latest seasonal outlook.  This year's dismal winter finished with a Sierra snowpack less than half of what it should be. Dry conditions were exacerbated by above normal temperatures this spring that led to an early, rapid snowmelt.  That means less water will flow from a melting snowpack into the region's rivers and streams during the remainder of the spring and early summer.  According to recent projections by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, stream runoff in the Lake Tahoe Basin is expected to be 26 percent of normal. Runoff in the Carson River Basin could drop as low as 18 percent, the lowest in the state.  Rocky Mountain News_4/26/07

Nevada's water engineer approves scaled-back version of Las Vegas plan to pipe in rural groundwater

A plan to pump billions of gallons of groundwater from a rural Nevada valley to thirsty, booming Las Vegas was cut to less than half the requested amount and approved Monday by the state's water engineer. An order issued by state Engineer Tracy Taylor says the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which requested about 91,000 acre-feet of water yearly from Spring Valley, can pump 40,000 acre-feet of water per year for 10 years. After that, Taylor said SNWA can pump an additional 20,000 acre-feet of water from the valley, near the Utah border in White Pine County, providing that monitoring shows no adverse impacts from the first 10 years of pumping. Taylor also said that pumps will have to be shut off if existing wells and other existing water rights in Spring Valley suffer from the SNWA activity. The engineer rejected requests by opponents for more study before any pumping starts, but did order annual monitoring reports. SNWA spokesman Scott Huntley said no appeal of the order was planned, adding, "We find the decision is conservative but very reasonable" and the big water agency will "definitely" move forward with its water-pipeline project. Susan Land of the Great Basin Water Network, which had opposed the original pumping request, termed the decision "a victory of sorts" and questioned whether the massive pumping project remained financially feasible. During hearings, critics likened the SNWA proposal to a Los Angeles water grab that parched California's Owens Valley. The water authority countered that there's no way a repeat of that early-1900s water grab could occur. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 4/16/07

Montana water negotiations with Blackfeet tribal leaders expected to resume

Days after Blackfeet tribal leaders walked out of water rights talks with the state, a tribal representative, Don Wilson, the tribe’s water representative, says he expects negotiations to resume. ‘‘That’s the hope.’’ The tribe and the state are negotiating rights to flows from the St. Mary, Two Medicine and Milk rivers and Birch, Badger and Cut Bank creeks, which together produce about 1.5 million acre-feet of water flow annually. The negotiations involve quantifying the tribe’s water rights while trying to limit the impact development of those rights would have on downstream users. The walkout followed tension about pending federal legislation by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., that would authorize $140 million to repair the aging St. Mary Canal. A Senate committee approved it last month, but the bill hasn’t been heard by the full Senate. Tribal officials were upset that they hadn’t been consulted about the bill, and said they were assured by then-Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, last summer that the canal fixes wouldn’t precede settlement of tribal water rights. AP/Helena Independent Record_ 4/15/07

Florida officials: No more water from the Everglades

The new Regional Water Availability Rule prevents South Florida water users from tapping the River of Grass for any new or additional water supplies. That means utilities will now be forced to develop alternative means of production, such as reusing water on a larger scale or desalination. It is the first time in history that Everglades water has been deemed off-limits. Existing water supply permits will not be revoked, but new permits for Everglades water to meet the needs of population growth won't be approved. Tampa Bay's 10_ 4/3/07

March, 2007

First look at upcoming study of Great Basin groundwater rallies opponents of Las Vegas pipeline proposal

Opponents of Las Vegas' bid to take water from along the Utah-Nevada border say the first scientific peek at the proposal backs up their contention that it's a bad deal for Utah. The U.S. Geological Survey offered a sneak preview Monday of the agency's upcoming study of groundwater resources in the Great Basin. Ranchers, conservationists and local government officials have been eagerly awaiting the report because of what it may portend for the proposal by southern Nevada water officials to tap aquifers in the state's eastern valleys and pump it to Las Vegas via a pipeline network. The preliminary findings: There is more groundwater in the Snake Valley - which straddles Utah and Nevada - than originally thought. But there is also apparently more water flowing between Great Basin aquifers than has been historically assumed, meaning Snake Valley could eventually be impacted by groundwater pumping in neighboring Spring Valley, and perhaps elsewhere. Kimball Goddard, director of the USGS's Nevada Water Science Center, told a gathering of water officials, geologists and local and state
government leaders in Salt Lake City that a draft of the Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer System Study is essentially finished and now undergoing peer review. It is scheduled to be released around June 1. Salt Lake Tribune_ 3/27/07

Nevada bill requires Las Vegas to report on its water pipeline

The Southern Nevada Water Authority argued Monday against a bill that calls for more disclosure of information about its proposed 250-mile-long pipeline that would draw water from rural Nevada to thirsty Las Vegas. While proponents of AB325 said the agency has not been forthcoming with its information on the massive project, a water authority representative said the agency won't release information until it knows that it is accurate. AB325 has bipartisan support, with most of Nevada's rural Republicans and Las Vegas Democrats signed on as sponsors. It requires SNWA make monthly reports on its investigation into the feasibility of water rights transfers to commissioners in affected counties, the state engineer, the U.S. Department of Interior and to the public upon request. AP/Mohave Daily News_ 3/26/07

February, 2007

Minnesota is first to adopt Great Lakes compact on water use

Minnesota became the first state to adopt what's meant to be a multistate compact on Great Lakes water use on Tuesday when Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed legislation next to the Duluth harbor on Lake Superior. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact isn't expected to have much effect on Minnesota since the state already has stricter regulations on water use and only about 15 percent of its area is part of a Great Lakes watershed. It could make a bigger difference in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, which depend more on Great Lakes water. The compact would require states to approve any major water diversion outside the Great Lakes watershed and regulate new commercial uses of water. In some states, the agreement faces criticism from environmental groups who say it falls short of protecting the five lakes. On the other side of the issue, opponents in Ohio and Wisconsin argue that it could trump local control of water use and hurt industries and cities. The compact needs the approval of all eight Great Lakes states and Congress to take effect. Ontario and Quebec are also considering whether to sign on. AP/Star-Tribune_ 2/20/07

Nebraska aquifer: Rolling back years of pumping groundwater

Nowhere in America is there a freshwater sea as large as the aquifer under Nebraska. Nowhere in America is more water pumped from the ground for crops than in Nebraska. And no other Western state has waited until now to slow the drought-driven push by irrigation farmers - a tiny fraction of Nebraskans - to overuse groundwater. As a result, significant declines plague parts of Nebraska, rivers are being sapped, mighty Lake McConaughy is shrinking, and now all the state's taxpayers are being presented with a multimillion-dollar repair bill. Gov. Dave Heineman wants to create a $128 million cash fund to address the state's water challenges. Lawmakers are considering a halt to new irrigation wells statewide and paying landowners to reduce irrigation. Omaha World-Herald_ 2/18/07

Every drop of Rio Grande water is spoken for, from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico; Texas environmental groups worry about state's water supply

Every drop of the Rio Grande belongs to a city, an irrigation district, an industry, a landowner. Officials refer to the river as “overappropriated,” meaning that more water is allotted for use than actually exists in the waterway. Because of the growing demand, over time less water could be available to preserve what habitat and aquatic life remain in and around the Rio Grande, environmental advocates say. Smaller environmental flows also could mean poorer water quality. A bill currently under discussion in the Texas House’s Committee on Natural Resources calls for increased protection of environmental flows in Texas’ rivers, bays and estuaries. The bill adds language to the Texas Water Code requiring that in rivers or waterways with unappropriated water, some water should be set aside for environmental purposes. In rivers with no spare water, like the Rio Grande, the state must explore other options, the bill says. Brownsville Herald_ 2/18/07

Utah not ready to sign away water rights to Las Vegas

The Utah Legislature on Monday unanimously declared that Utah needs to gather all of the facts before signing away rights to ground water in Snake Valley on the Nevada/Utah border. The legislative resolution, which is nonbinding but has the support of Gov. John Huntsman Jr., culminates more than two years of efforts by so-called Western Desert residents - primarily beef cattle ranchers - to protect their aquifer water from being drilled, pumped and piped to Las Vegas. The resolution may have the effect of delaying the pipeline project. Southern Nevada water officials say the Utah resolution is intended to give direction to Huntsman and should not affect ongoing pipeline negotiations between the Nevada state engineer and the Utah Natural Resources Department. Under federal law, Utah officials must sign off on the application for 50,000 acre-feet of water annually - more than 16 billion gallons - from Snake Valley before the Southern Nevada Water Authority can build the infrastructure to deliver it to metropolitan Clark County. The Snake Valley aquifer is the smaller of two components of the Water Authority's plan to build a massive pipeline that also would pump ground water from Spring Valley in eastern Nevada to Las Vegas. Las Vegas Sun_ 2/14/07

Minnesota could be first state to adopt Great Lakes water agreement

The Great Lakes Compact is intended to keep Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes. You can trace the compact back to the mid-1980s, when a coal company proposed to pipe Lake Superior water to Montana to feed a coal slurry pipeline. That never happened. But another idea almost did in 1999. A company wanted to fill tankers with Lake Superior water, and sell the water in Asia. Public outrage killed that project, but that scheme uncovered a weakness in federal law on water diversions. The Great Lakes Compact is a binding document between the eight Great Lakes states to adopt uniform state laws regulating water withdrawals. There's a similar process underway in Canada. Minnesota Public Radio_ 2/11/07

California's Sacramento-San Joaquin delta faces economic, environmental collapse, says public policy group

The Delta is the source of much of the state's drinking water. The public policy group recommended a radical shift away from the water management policies of the past 70 years. The report by the Public Policy Institute of California suggests five possible fixes for the beleaguered delta, a 1,250-square-mile expanse of farmland, sloughs and marshes connected to San Francisco Bay. All alternatives involve abandoning the policy of managing the delta as a freshwater body -- as has been the case for the past seven decades -- to a system that fluctuates between fresh and salty conditions. That could help native species recover, experts said. Investment costs for the alternatives vary from $700 million to "several billion," with annual costs ranging from less than $30 million to $100 million. Weak levees protect croplands and keep fresh water moving toward giant pumps near Tracy that send delta water to south state cities and farms. In general, government attempts to deal with the delta have failed. San Francisco Chronicle_ 2/7/07

January, 2007

Texas' regional water proposal has Oklahoma steaming

A recent proposal by the Tarrant Regional Water District to pump hundreds of millions of gallons of water out of Oklahoma into the taps of North Texas has Oklahoma lawmakers, environmentalists and policymakers threatening a border war. Fueling the anger is a federal lawsuit filed by the water district against two Oklahoma water-control agencies contending that a moratorium on out-of-state water sales is unconstitutional. If it wins in court, the district could take the water and not pay a dime for it. The water district filed permit applications last week to capture water from three basins in south central and southeastern Oklahoma. The district is seeking to divert about 7 percent of the water before it enters the Red River and takes on too much salt to be drinkable. Simultaneously, the district sued the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission to keep the state from dismissing or denying the permit applications while the matter is in court. Any deal to take water out of Oklahoma would have to be approved by several federal agencies, including the Corps of Engineers, a district official said. On Friday, Oklahoma agreed in federal court to take no action on the applications until the case is complete. A federal judge had originally scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on the water district’s request for a temporary restraining order. Star-Telegram_ 1/20/07

Officials in Palm Beach County leery of sharing water with Broward

A proposal to let Broward County share Palm Beach County water threatens to trigger a territorial fight over one of Florida's most coveted resources.  The plan, still in the study phase, would take storm water stored in a reservoir near Wellington and direct some of it south to replenish drinking water supplies in southern Palm Beach County and Broward County.  State water managers project that the reservoir can collect enough water to meet its goal of restoring water flows to the Loxahatchee River and still supplement urban water supplies to the south.  However, with a drought already forcing watering restrictions on western growers and the spread of development threatening to further strain drinking water supplies, Palm Beach County officials and activists alike want to know when to expect "extra" water. 


In New Jersey, development conflicts with a watershed

Hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents caught in this collision between water, money and politics — a familiar face-off being played out in other parts of the country. In deciding to preserve the watershed and the water supply, New Jersey lawmakers made choices that were bound to reduce the value of some privately held land. The Highlands Council, a 15-member body created by the act, is now putting the final details on development guidelines for the 859,000 acres, which covers one-ninth of the state. Developers, farmers and large landholders said they were not opposed to protecting the environment but argued they were being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the cost because they had the misfortune to buy their land before the act passed in 2004 and were now unfairly restricted in what they could do. Preservation debates like this one are raging across the country as sprawling cities and suburbs gobble up more farmland, woodlands and water basins. But rarely have the stakes been as high as in New Jersey, the country’s most densely populated state. Recent droughts have heightened the urgency for watershed protection, especially with the state expected to add 600,000 residents this decade. The Atlantic Highlands, which also stretch into New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, supply water to more than 5 million people in New Jersey, or 65 percent of the state’s residents, as well as some of its biggest employers, including Merck and Prudential Financial. New York Times_ 1/15/07 (logon required)

Oklahoma could fill water needs of North Texas

Searching for water for an exploding population base, the Tarrant Regional Water District wants to pump hundreds of millions of gallons out of Oklahoma creeks and streams into North Texas reservoirs. Jim Oliver, executive director of the water district, met with Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and other state officials Tuesday about plans to file a permit to buy water from several basins in southern Oklahoma. Described as a "robust project" by Oliver and others, the proposal could provide enough water to serve the 4.3 million people who are expected to live in the district's service area in North Central Texas by 2060. The district now provides water to about 1.6 million people. Oklahoma officials, who opposed previous efforts by Texas to buy water, indicated Tuesday that they are now open to further discussions. Star-Telegram_ 1/10/07


US Regional Water News 2007
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