Environmental and Policy Focus

California needs 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from the drought

Los Angeles Times - Jan 17

A series of recent rainstorms helped deposit needed moisture to California, but it’s going to take 11 trillion gallons of water in storage to recover from the drought, NASA scientists said this week. California must receive three seasons of above-average rainfall to get back to a “manageable situation,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water-cycle scientist of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, scientists developed a first-of-its-kind calculation to determine the volume of water needed to end California’s drought. A team of scientists found water storage was 11 trillion gallons below normal seasonal levels in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins. That was at the height of California’s three-year drought earlier this year. The scientists estimated that, due to evaporation and runoff, the increase in reservoir storage attributable to last week's heavy rainstorms was limited to about 3 percent.

States in parched Southwest take steps to bolster a crucial reservoir

New York Times - Dec 17

With a 14-year drought in the Colorado River basin showing few signs of breaking, states along the river’s path are taking new steps this month to ensure that Lake Mead — the Colorado River reservoir near Las Vegas that is a prime water source for much of the Southwest — does not fail them. Officials from water agencies in Arizona, California, and Nevada signed an agreement last week to add as much as three million acre-feet of water to Lake Mead by 2020, mostly through conservation and changes in water management that would reduce the amount the states draw from the lake. The agreement is aimed at forestalling further drops in the level of the lake that could endanger not just the water supply for 40 million people, but also the electricity generated by dams there and upstream at Lake Powell. Many outsiders have suggested that the drought could set off a legal battle over the allocation of the Colorado River’s dwindling water that could reach the Supreme Court. But for now, at least, the states appear to have decided to share the pain.

CEQA can't derail high-speed rail, says federal agency

Courthouse News Service - Jan 16

The federal agency that oversees the nation's rail lines dealt a potential blow to challenges to California's high-speed rail project by declaring that federal law pre-empts the state's stringent environmental review standards. In a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled last week the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, is "categorically preempted" by the federal Interstate Commerce Act. The preemption provision of that Act, broadened by Congress in 1995, gives the Board exclusive jurisdiction over all aspects of rail transportation, from switches to tracks to terminals, the Board found. Since the Board had already approved another portion of the California high-speed rail project last year, and that portion will be linked to the interstate rail system, the Board held that attempts to stall the project with dozens of CEQA lawsuits fail under federal law. Exactly how the Board's decision will affect the seven Fresno-Bakersfield line lawsuits, currently pending before the Sacramento County Superior Court, or other environmental challenges to the project, remains unknown.

Devil’s Gate Dam project challenged by area environmentalists

Pasadena Star-News - Dec 15

Two local environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court challenging the Board of Supervisors’ recent approval of the controversial Devil’s Gate Reservoir Sediment Removal Project. The lawsuit, filed by lawyers representing the Arroyo Seco Foundation and the Pasadena Audubon Society, alleges that the county violated CEQA and the City of Pasadena’s General Plan and land use ordinances in approving the project, which will remove 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment accumulated behind the Devil’s Gate Dam due to the 2009 Station Fire. Officials said the plan is necessary to protect downstream communities from flooding.