NEWS WORTH NOTING: Report: Addressing institutional vulnerabilities in CA’s drought water allocation; DWR Division of Safety of Dams updates information on dams; State Water Contractors announces new science manager; Los Angeles dewatering sparks more than controversy

Report: Addressing institutional vulnerabilities in California’s drought water allocation

From UC Berkeley Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment:

“California droughts are likely to become more frequent, longer, and more intense in the future, posing increasing challenges for water management, and raising the stakes for effective drought response.  Past droughts have stress tested California’s water management institutions, revealing vulnerabilities that could impair effective adaptation to climate change. The State Water Resources Control Board (Board) is a key water decision maker whose actions affect how scarce water resources are allocated among different human and environmental uses during droughts.  In a pair of reports published as part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, we examine how the Board has carried out its water rights responsibilities during past droughts and offer recommendations for improving the agency’s future drought response. …

In the first report, we analyze the strategies the Board used for water rights administration and oversight during the last four major statewide droughts. … The second report builds on the retrospective analysis in Part 1 by offering specific recommendations for improving the Board’s drought response capabilities.  …”

Click here for more information and to download the reports.

California Department of Water Resources Division of Safety of Dams Updates Information on California Dams

From the Department of Water Resources:

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) today released updated information on the 1,246 dams under the state’s jurisdiction, listing each dam’s downstream hazard classification, condition assessment, and reservoir restriction status.

The 2018 update reflects several changes, including adjustments to some hazard classifications based on inundation maps submitted by dam owners as required by Senate Bill 92 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review). The downstream hazard is based solely on potential downstream impacts to life and property should the dam fail when operating with a full reservoir. This hazard is not related to the condition of the dam or its appurtenant structures.

DSOD engineers and engineering geologists assess dam conditions based on annual physical inspections and comprehensive re-evaluation studies, as well as technical analyses submitted by dam owners. This information can change from year to year as new deficiencies are identified and others are remediated. If DSOD identifies an issue that presents a significant dam safety concern, it may place restrictions on a reservoir’s operations until deficiencies are corrected.

“Public safety is the foundation of DSOD’s independent dam safety oversight,” said Sharon Tapia, Chief of DSOD. “With California’s infrastructure aging, we take our job very seriously, inspecting each jurisdictional dam annually and working closely with dam owners to correct identified issues on an ongoing basis.”

The 2018 update also includes dams taken out of, or brought into DSOD’s jurisdiction. Over the past year, five dams became non-jurisdictional by either being completely removed or reduced to less than jurisdictional size. Two existing dams were added into DSOD’s inventory.

California continues its efforts in the statewide bolstering of dam safety. New legislation requires inundation maps and emergency action plans for all significant, high, and extremely high hazard dams and their critical appurtenant structures. In addition to continuous re-evaluations since the 1960’s, currently underway is a focused re-evaluation of spillways of  93 dams similar to Oroville. DSOD also continues its efforts on seismic re-evaluations of dams and their appurtenances, which located near active faults and in densely populated areas. More comprehensive than physical inspections, re-evaluations are used to identify dam deficiencies, which often take many years and hundreds of millions of dollars to address. Recently, the seismic rehabilitation of DWR’s Perris Dam was completed after four years of construction at a cost of $122 million. The project resulted in the dam’s condition assessment improving from fair to satisfactory.

State Water Contractors Announces New Science Manager

Science Manager to Serve as Lead Technical Expert on Biological Issues

The State Water Contractors (SWC) is pleased to announce the hire of Darcy Austin in the organization’s newly created role of Science Manager. As Science Manager, Ms. Austin will oversee the SWC Science Program, including continued partnership with other organizations dedicated to research-based management, engagement in collaborative science activities, and investment in cutting-edge technologies and research approaches to advance our collective knowledge on Delta ecosystems.

The SWC is part of the scientific community, directly investing over $2 million annually in science and research. Together with state and federal agencies, academic institutions and experts in the private sector, the SWC and its members are contributing to California’s knowledge bank on estuarine and freshwater environments and best practices in water supply management.

“Advancing science is crucial for California’s water future,” said Jennifer Pierre, General Manager of the SWC. “The creation of this new position and our ability to attract such a qualified leader in Darcy marks an exciting new chapter for our organization.”

With more than 20 years of public- and private-sector experience in water, Ms. Austin joins the SWC from the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Science Program, where she managed the science-based adaptive management unit. Prior to that, Ms. Austin served as the Acting Chief of Science Communications for the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) California Water Science Center. She has a master’s of public health degree in environmental health from California State University, San Diego, and a bachelor’s of science in biology from Colorado State University.

In her role, Ms. Austin will be responsible for soliciting proposals for research and supporting authoring articles to be published in professional, scholarly and scientific journals. In addition, she will be selecting and managing consultant contracts, giving presentations to scientific and technical audiences, policymakers, boards of directors and stakeholders, and working collaboratively with biologists and scientists from other resource and regulatory agencies and stakeholder groups.

“I am passionate about science and its role in facilitating management decisions, and I have a deep appreciation for the Delta,” said Darcy Austin, Science Manager of the SWC. “This position will allow me to use my skills and expertise to increase and expand the role science plays in informing the way we manage our state’s most precious resource.”

The SWC is committed to discovering more about California’s unique ecosystems in order to solve the state’s toughest water supply challenges and strike a balance between meeting the water needs of 25 million Californians, more than 750,000 acres of farmland, and protecting fish and wildlife species that make the state’s waterways their home.

“California’s scientific community is making new discoveries every day to further our understanding of the Delta, its tributaries and native fish and wildlife species,” added Pierre. “We’re honored to be part of this community — and we are thrilled to have Ms. Austin on our team. She is a dynamic, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic scientist and project manager with a proven track record, and she will be instrumental in driving our daily efforts in science.”

For more information on the SWC’s work to advance science, please visit the SWC Science webpage.

The State Water Contractors is a statewide, non-profit association of 27 public agencies from Northern, Central and Southern California that purchase water under contract from the California State Water Project. Collectively the State Water Contractors deliver water to more than 25 million residents throughout the state and more than 750,000 acres of agricultural land. For more information on the State Water Contractors, please visit www.swc.org.

Los Angeles dewatering sparks more than controversy

LADWP Drone Crashes; Fire Ignites on Dewatered Ranch Lands in Southern Mono County

From Mono County:

On Thursday morning a drone flown by a contractor for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) crashed, sparking a fire on ranchlands that LADWP has dewatered as part of a plan to export more water from the Eastern Sierra to the City of Los Angeles.

According to preliminary reports from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s and the Inyo National Forest Service’s Owens Valley Interagency Communications Center, the crash occurred at approximately 11:20 AM starting a fire near McGee Creek northwest of Crowley Lake. The fire continued for more than two hours, burning approximately 10 acres, before being contained at approximately 1:45 PM. As of late Thursday, the fire was still smoldering and smoking and officials were still monitoring the area.

The drone was flying above Los Angeles-owned lands in Long Valley that have historically been leased for ranching. According to local sources, the purpose of the flight was to monitor the effects of LADWP’s dewatering on Bi-State Sage Grouse, a species proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. The helicopter-style drone was approximately nine feet long. By early Friday, the cause of the crash remained unknown.
LADWP’s dewatering has browned and dried the landscape of southern Mono County.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, John Laird, warned LADWP that its actions and failure to perform the requisite environmental review could cause environmental impacts, specifically explaining that LADWP’s dewatering would “significantly increase the risk of wildfires, which would threaten nearby communities.” Yesterday, officials from the Long Valley Fire Protection District confirmed that the ranchlands where the fire occurred is extremely dry.

The removal of water from approximately 6,400 acres in Long Valley, which has been irrigated for at least the past 100 years, has resulted in the drying of vegetation and incursion of invasive plants which make the area more susceptible to ignition increase the threat of wildfire both to adjacent communities and public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “I have lived in the Crowley Lake area since 1991, and I have never seen a fire in that area,” said Mono County Supervisor and former Long
Valley Fire Protection District chief Fred Stump.

On August 15, Mono County filed litigation challenging the decision of the City of Los Angeles and LADWP to alter decades of water and land management policies by dewatering these ranchlands in Long and Little Round Valleys. The lands provide habitat for Bi-State Sage Grouse, enhance scenic, recreational and habitat values in the Eastern Sierra, and serve as pasturelands for agricultural operations which contribute to the Eastern Sierra economy. The County’s lawsuit asserts that LADWP violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by changing its land and water management practices without first analyzing the potential significant effects, including, ironically, the increased threat and risk of wildfire.

For more information and maps of the affected area, a copy of the County’s lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and LADWP, and comments letters on the issue, please visit:
https://monocounty.ca.gov/cao/page/mono-supervisors-ask-ladwp-do-right-thing.

About Mono County:

Set on the eastern slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mono County is a rare environment of natural contrasts and open spaces with only 14,000 residents and a tourism- and agriculture-based economy. Soaring granite peaks and spacious desert vistas, bubbling hot springs and cold mountain streams, winter snows and sunny summer skies, rolling sagebrush hills and vibrant wildflower meadows. “Mono” in Paiute means “beautiful,” which aptly describes this scenic wonderland that stretches 108 miles from the Alpine County border in the north to the Inyo County border in the south. Originally formed in April 1861, Mono County includes the Town of Mammoth Lakes, the northern area communities of Coleville, Topaz, and Walker, and the southern area communities of Crowley Lake, Benton, Chalfant, June Lake, Lee Vining, and Mono City. More than 90 percent (approximately 3,000 square miles) of Mono County consists of federal or state public lands visited annually by more than 4 million people. The City of Los Angeles owns approximately 50 percent of the private land in Mono County.

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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