SoCal water providers sign on for water project...The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES -- Five water providers have signed on for a project that would pump Colorado River water to coastal communities in Southern California.
Cadiz Inc. announced the $200 million underground water storage project Friday. It comes about seven years after environmental concerns undermined a similar plan by Cadiz that the Metropolitan Water District rejected.
The Los Angeles company wants to pump river water into an aquifer near Twentynine Palms and send it through a 44-mile pipeline.
The water will be sold to four public municipal water agencies and Golden State Water Co., which will deliver it to San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.
Cadiz has not announced a timetable for the project.
Lake Mead water level will be trigger for pipeline...HENRY BREAN, Las Vegas Review-Journal
LAS VEGAS -- Opponents of a proposed pipeline to tap groundwater across eastern Nevada now have one more way to fight the project: Pray for the drought to end on the Colorado River.
For the first time, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has established a direct link between its multibillion-dollar pipeline project and the shrinking water level at Lake Mead.
Actually it's more than a link; it's a trigger.
If the surface elevation of the reservoir behind Hoover Dam falls another 21 feet, the water authority board in Las Vegas will be asked to give the go-ahead to construct the pipeline.
Declaring an action point is the newest addition to the authority's Water Resource Plan, which plots how the Las Vegas area's wholesale water supplier expects to keep taps running amid unprecedented drought on the Colorado.
Board members already have approved the pipeline concept and signed off on efforts to secure water rights and environmental permits. But they have never voted to build the project.
That decision will come if, or perhaps when, the surface of Lake Mead sinks to 1,075 above sea level - a low-water mark not seen since 1937 when the reservoir was being filled for the first time.
Water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy doesn't know when that point might be reached.
Current projections by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for Lake Mead to remain above 1,075 for at least the next two years. But the lake level is expected slip below 1,092 feet in elevation in July for the first time since March 1965.
The problem, Mulroy said, is that bureau projections are based on average river flow, and the Colorado has been anything but average for the past 10 years.
From 1999 to 2008, the river had about 66 percent of its normal inflow, most of which comes from melting snow in the Rocky Mountains. Over that same period, lakes Mead and Powell, the two largest man-made reservoirs in the United States, lost about half their total volume.
Elevation 1,075 on Lake Mead could arrive as early as next year if the drought deepens, Mulroy warned.
The trigger point was set at 1,075 to give the agency time to reach its closest groundwater holdings in rural Nevada, Mulroy said.
If the lake level falls to 1,050 feet above sea level, the authority will be forced to shut down one of two intakes it uses to draw drinking water from the reservoir. Las Vegas gets about 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead.
The surface now stands about 1,096 feet above sea level. The last time it was that low was in 1965, when much of the Colorado River's flow was being withheld upstream to fill Lake Powell for the first time.
Mulroy said it will take about three years to build a pipeline from Las Vegas to the Delamar and Dry Lake valleys, the first two Lincoln County basins from which groundwater will be drawn.
From there, the pipeline is expected to push into Cave Valley in Lincoln County and Spring Valley in White Pine County.
The authority also is seeking permits to pump more than 16 billion gallons of groundwater a year from Snake Valley, or enough to serve about 100,000 average Las Vegas homes. A state hearing on those applications is scheduled for September 2011.
The groundwater project is expected to take 10 to 15 years to build, Mulroy said.
When it is done, the network of pipes, pumps and reservoirs is expected to stretch about 300 miles north of Las Vegas and cost from $2 billion to $3.5 billion, according to water authority cost estimates now several years old.
Opponents expect the pipeline plan to cost billions of dollars more and deliver less water than the authority expects. Some fear that large-scale groundwater pumping will threaten wildlife and the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers in the arid valleys of eastern Nevada.
The authority's 2009 Water Resource Plan, which the board adopted May 21, calls for Las Vegas to eventually tap 134,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from eastern Nevada.
The plan calls for that water - enough for almost 270,000 homes - to be put to use by 2020, though it "may be needed sooner if drought conditions persist or intensify," the document states.
Critics argue that the drought is used as a smoke screen for the pipeline's real purpose: to fuel unfettered development in southern Nevada.
"It could be just a Trojan Horse to allow more unrestrained growth in Las Vegas," said Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, an advocacy group that opposes the groundwater development project.
Fulkerson said called the new trigger point "arbitrary" and suspicious.
"If there's going to be a trigger, why not a trigger for curbing irresponsible water waste and growth?" he asked.
Of course, authority board members could vote against building the pipeline when the time comes.
Mulroy said the board's decision will come down to a question of whether the community can risk losing access to some of its Lake Mead supply before the pipeline goes on line.
Elevation 1,075 is significant for another reason. It is the legal threshold for a shortage on the Colorado River - a federal designation that would force Nevada and Arizona to reduce the amount of water they draw from the river.
Nevada would lose 13,000 acre-feet a year, roughly the amount used by 26,000 average households. Arizona would lose more than 10 times that amount.
Water authority officials long have said the pipeline is not about sustaining growth, but protecting the community from extended drought.
In that respect, the new trigger means the pipeline project might never be built if the river rebounds and Lake Mead remains above 1,075.
Mulroy isn't optimistic about that. As chief of the agency charged with keeping water flowing to Las Vegas, she gets paid to plan with pessimism.
"If we can avoid building it, we won't build it," Mulroy said of the pipeline. "But we haven't had a lot of luck on the Colorado River lately."
EPA sued over air pollution claims...SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being sued by an environmental group that claims the agency has failed to safeguard public health in the West by not limiting the transmission of air pollution across state lines.
The EPA requires states to have plans aimed at addressing the interstate transport of ozone pollution, the primary component of smog, and fine particles or soot, but WildEarth Guardians claims New Mexico, California and a handful of other Western states do not have such plans.
"EPA is two years late in fulfilling its mandatory duty to prepare federal good neighbor plans protecting the public from interstate soot and smog," according to the lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in San Francisco.
EPA regional spokeswoman Wendy Chavez said the agency has not had a chance to review the lawsuit and she would not be able to comment further on the pending litigation.
WildEarth Guardians warned in March it would take the agency to court if it failed to enforce the interstate transport requirements of the federal Clean Air Act. The group is concerned because the state plans were due in May 2007, but New Mexico, California, Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Oregon still lack approved plans.
The lawsuit claims the EPA has neither approved the plans for the states nor implemented a federal plan. If a state fails to submit a plan, federal law requires the agency to prepare one for that state.
New Mexico environment officials have said they turned in their plan in 2007 but EPA has yet to approve it.
WildEarth Guardians argues that pollution problems in the West are on the rise. The group said Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and other cities have violated clean air standards limiting ozone, and the problem is popping up in rural areas such as the Four Corners - where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet.
The Four Corners region is home to two coal-fired power plants and the San Juan Basin, one of the largest natural gas fields in the nation.
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians' climate and energy program director, said the lawsuit is aimed at prodding the EPA to enact regional air pollution controls that will ensure residents are not affected by smog or soot that is produced in neighboring states.
Nichols said ozone should be dealt with on both local and regional levels before it becomes a problem big enough to force Western states to change the way they operate.
"Clearly, where we're at now is everybody wants to point the finger at everybody else, but nobody really wants to take responsibility for their own impacts," he said. "Hopefully, this is part of chipping away at that mindset and part of bringing people together to come up with collaborative solutions on this issue."
California legislators reject cuts to Cal Grants, Hastings law school...Jim Sanders
California took a multimillion-dollar step backward Friday in cutting its budget.
Assembly and Senate members in a budget conference committee balked at derailing the Cal Grant program of college aid or stripping Hastings College of the Law of nearly all its state funding.
By rejecting the two proposals by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, the committee created a new $235 million headache in its bid to fix a gaping fiscal hole.
The panel is rushing to balance the state's recession-wracked budget by curing a projected $24.3 billion shortfall.
But the 10-member panel simply couldn't stomach the Cal Grant and Hastings proposals.
Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, said the state can't turn its back on 77,000 students who are poised to enter college this summer and are counting on the financial aid.
The Cal Grant program provides grants to low- and moderate-income college students to help pay for tuition, room and board, fees, books, supplies and other college expenses.
The portion of Schwarzenegger's proposal that was rejected Friday would have stopped the award of future Cal Grants, eliminated aid targeting vocational education, and ended competitive Cal Grants that often target older students who are not recent high school graduates.
The committee vote was 6-4, with Republicans expressing support for Cal Grants but voting against killing the governor's proposal without identifying $226 million in cuts elsewhere in the budget.
"The idea of eliminating Cal Grants is beyond comprehension to me – and I can't go there," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills.
Schwarzenegger's Hastings proposal would have eliminated about $10.3 million in state funding for the University of California law school, leaving it with only $7,000 in general fund support and $153,000 from lottery revenue.
Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, argued Friday that the cut was much deeper than those targeting other UC programs and would raise Hastings' annual tuition from $28,600 to about $36,600.
Leno said the cut could launch a costly court fight over terms of the law school's creation, which called for Judge S.C. Hastings to donate $100,000 to support the campus – and for the state to pay his heirs that sum, plus interest, if the state ever abandoned its financial support.
Leno said the governor is attempting to "privatize" the law school, and if the Hastings heirs sued, the state could wind up owing more from 130 years of accumulated interest than it could save from its budget-cutting proposal.
The committee voted unanimously to cut Hastings' state funding by 10 percent, about $1 million, and to identify alternative savings of $9.3 million.
'Guns, religion and water'...Alex Breitler's blog
A sampling of comments in response to yesterday's salmon news:
“This federal biological opinion puts fish above the needs of millions of Californians and the health and security of the world’s eighth largest economy." -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
"Today's report is a breath of fresh air for Californians who have grown used to water policies based on politics rather than science." U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa Valley.
"Today we are one significent step closer to importing foreign produce to feed the United States... We cannot solve the challenges of the Delta ecosystem by continuing to curtail pumping." -- U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.
"If this decision stands, Valley agriculture will collapse -- taking away jobs and a vital food source for the nation." -- State Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto. (Fact check: His press release says the National Marine Fisheries Service released a new opinion that will "continue the shut down of federal and state water pumps in the Delta"; the pumps, however, are not shut down.)
"The BO (biological opinion) is a long overdue but welcome initial step in protecting species hovering on the brink of extinction. However, it is only a first step. It is not a recovery plan that will restore seriously degraded fisheries; much more will be required." -- Bill Jennings, Stockton-based head of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
"Every time we get hit with new cutbacks, it's like closing another lane on the water supply freeway. Pretty soon, the only way we'll be able to move water is by helicopter." -- Laura King Moon, assistant general manag erof the State Water Contractors (group of public agencies that receives water pumped from the Delta).
"We are committed to building a future water system in the Delta that dramatically reduces the conflicts with fish species while restoring thousands of acres of needed aquatic habitat." -- Timothy Brick, chairman of the Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors. The "system" he refers to includes a peripheral canal, part of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.
"Judging from his actions, President Obama does not understand the importance of agriculture to California's Central Valley. Clearly, President Obama doesn't understand rural farmers and farm-workers who cherish their guns, religion and water." -- U.S. Rep. George Radonovich, R-Mariposa
"What this underscores is the absolute urgency to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan that restores the Delta ecosystem, includes Delta communities, and provides a stable water supply -- and that affected parties need to come to an agreement on a preferrerd alternative solution this year." -- U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her statement goes on to say she supports "new conveyance," in other words, a canal.
Next week we'll zero in on a couple of key aspects to the biological opinion, at least locally: The water supply impact for Stockton, and the prospect of someday allowing fish passage over New Melones Dam.
San Francisco Chronicle
The Number of New Dams Built in California in the Past 50 (or 40 or 30 or 20) Years is Not Zero...Dr. Peter Gleick, President, Pacific Institute
Californians love (or hate) to fight about water in part because there are no easy solutions left, just hard decisions about priorities, money, and philosophy. Amid all of the different pieces of the debate, a number of misleading statements, misinformation, hyperbole, and just plain errors of fact keep resurfacing. Progress in solving our water problems will be hindered if these errors of fact are not corrected, or even worse, are repeated in the press over and over and come to be believed by the public or our policy makers. Every so often, I will address one of these in my posts to this Water Numbers blog, like today's.
Water Number: Not Zero. Some water pundits would like to argue that NO new water storage has been built in California in the past few decades. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. The next time you hear someone make this argument, correct him or her.
For example, just a couple of weeks ago, in an NPR piece on the California drought, former Congressman Tony Coelho (and a farmer in the Central Valley) responded to the statement that California's population has gone from 15 to 30 million in the past 50 years by adding: "And we haven't added one bit of water, storage, conveyance, dams - anything."
Even worse, the Governor himself has repeated this falsehood. On July 23, 2007 he said "But right now, the water system is extremely vulnerable. For one thing, we haven't built anything, like I said, in 30 years." The very next day, he said, "For one thing, we haven't built a reservoir for the last 30 years."
In December 2008, State Assemblyman Ted Gaines said, "We haven't added a new water storage facility in decades."
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Data on California dams are readily available on the internet, so people should stop repeating this falsehood.
Over the past 50 years (since 1959), California has added a whopping 21 million acre-feet of storage, including some of the largest reservoirs in the State. Over the past 40 years (since 1969), we have added over 8,600,000 AF of storage (including massive New Melones Dam). Since 1979, we have added over 1,600,000 acre-feet (including New Spicer Meadows Dam and Warm Springs Dam). Since 1989, we have added over a million acre-feet (including Diamond Valley and Los Vaqueros). And these numbers don't include new groundwater storage systems or the vast "reservoirs" of saved water we've created through conservation and efficiency programs.
Are we adding new traditional storage more and more slowly? Yes. We've built on all the good dam sites (and some would argue, some not-so-good sites) and the economic, environmental, and political cost of finding and building on new ones has grown.
I'm not going to debate the value of adding even more here and now: I'm on the record about this, arguing that other options are cheaper, faster, and less environmentally disruptive. Let's save our arguing for the real disagreements. There are enough of them so that we don't need to argue about the facts.
Los Angeles Times
UCLA appeals state findings in fatal lab fire
Cal/OSHA had cited workplace-safety violations in the December death of staff research assistant Sheri Sangji. The school says it has made required changes and paid more than $31,000 in fines...Kim Christensen
UCLA has appealed state regulators' findings of serious workplace-safety violations in the fatal burning of a staff research assistant last year in a lab fire.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found last month that Sheri Sangji, 23, was not properly trained and was not wearing protective clothing Dec. 29 when an experiment with air-sensitive chemicals burst into flames.
University officials say they have made the required changes and have paid the more than $31,000 in fines assessed by regulators.
Kevin Reed, vice chancellor for legal affairs, said the May 26 appeal will allow UCLA to stipulate that it admits no fault in connection with Cal/OSHA's findings, a move aimed at limiting the university's liability.
The appeal is necessary to make clear "that there was no citation or finding that can be used against the university in any future proceeding," Reed said in a statement.
Such proceedings might include lawsuits by labor unions or criminal action by prosecutors, Reed said in an interview. Cal/OSHA officials have said they routinely present their findings in death cases to district attorneys for review.
Workers' compensation rules may limit the family's legal options. But Sangji's sister, Naveen, said the family is pushing for an investigation by the district attorney. More than 1,300 people have signed an online petition urging one.
"We would like to see the district attorney take this up," said Naveen Sangji, a Harvard medical student who has been critical of the investigations by UCLA and Cal/OSHA. "It is time for an independent party to step up, someone who is not affiliated with UCLA."
Among other things, Cal/OSHA cited UCLA for not addressing deficiencies noted in an internal safety inspection two months before the fatal fire in professor Patrick Harran's organic chemistry laboratory, where Sheri Sangji worked, including a finding that workers were not wearing lab coats.
When the lab fire occurred, Sangji was transferring about 2 ounces of t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another when a plastic syringe came apart in her hands, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air.
The flash fire set ablaze her rubber gloves and synthetic sweater, causing serious burns over nearly half of her body. She died 18 days later.
Cal/OSHA's $31,875 fine included $18,000 for Sangji's lack of a lab coat, which might have kept her highly flammable sweater from catching fire.
Reed said in his statement that many of the corrective measures ordered by UCLA inspectors had been completed before the Dec. 29 fire but were not properly documented.
"Accordingly, the campus filed a technical appeal on these limited grounds," he said.
Although UCLA's appeal asserts that none of the safety orders cited by Cal/OSHA were violated, Reed said the legal maneuver "does not question the serious nature of the issues" the safety regulators raised.
"On the contrary," he said, "it is UCLA's goal to operate a laboratory safety program that is a model for other universities, and the campus implemented multiple and far-reaching improvements as a result of the comprehensive review ordered by the chancellor after the accident."
Is Solar Power Dead in the Water?...Robert Glennon. Robert Glennon is the author of "Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It."
Congress's rush to embrace solar power is having some unintended consequences. It will turn over a large chunk of federal land to private energy companies, and it may involve withdrawing billions of gallons of water from sensitive desert habitat.
By 2015, Congress wants the Interior and Energy Departments to place, on federal land, renewable energy projects that can generate at least 10,000 megawatts of electricity. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 has set off a frantic land grab as solar and wind energy companies rush to obtain permits for projects in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
As of mid-March, the Bureau of Land Management had received 158 applications for permits for solar power plants, covering more than one million acres of land -- an area larger than Rhode Island. Most of the proposed plants are located near the border of Arizona, California and Nevada. This area of the Mojave Desert seems perfect for solar power; it's hot and flat and vast. What the Mojave Desert doesn't have is water.
Most people think of solar power as the flat panels on a neighbor's roof that are used to heat water. This photovoltaic system directly converts the sun's waves into electricity. But so far, it's not commercially feasible. The power is costly and there's no juice at night, but utilities want cheap power 24/7. On the plus side, photovoltaic solar uses almost no water.
In contrast, most large solar power projects use a system called concentrating solar power, or CSP, that heats a fluid that boils water to turn a turbine. CSP, just like any thermal power plant, produces waste heat as a byproduct. In most cases, cooling towers release the heat to the atmosphere through evaporation, a process that uses gobs of water. In fact, CSP uses four times as much water as a natural gas plant and twice as much as a coal or nuclear plant.
It is possible to use an air-cooled system, but CSP plants in the Mojave Desert face an obvious problem: It's hot outside, which makes air cooling inefficient. According to a 2007 DOE report, dry-cooled CSP plants take up more space, cost almost 10 percent more to build and generate 5 percent less electricity. Given that solar power is competing with low-cost natural gas and coal-fired plants, power companies would naturally prefer to use wet-cooling systems.
To date, only a few CSP plants have been permitted on federal land, but that will change soon. The Obama administration is now evaluating the impact of solar power development, a process that may be completed next year. The National Park Service, which is concerned about the impact of wet-cooled plants on endangered species in southern Nevada, wants the federal government to deny permits for water-cooled plants. Air-cooling would cut the water use by 80 to 90 percent.
The Park Service is right. As the process moves forward, the administration should insist that CSP plants embrace air-cooling. There is no reason to permit hundreds of new groundwater wells to be drilled in the Mojave Desert. It doesn't have the water.
If solar companies want to use wet-cooling towers, they can purchase land and water rights from the private sector. Over the last year, Arizona Public Service Company, the state's largest electric utility, has partnered with solar power companies to build two large-scale CSP projects on private land. The land, more than six square miles, has been used to grow alfalfa and cotton. These wet-cooled plants will use less water than the farms are already using.
This reallocation of water -- from farming to power generation -- offers a lesson for the country as a whole. As the United States confronts inevitable water shortages, we need to insist that power companies, developers and others who need water offset the impact of their new uses by persuading existing water customers to use less. That's a lot smarter than trying to squeeze water from the stones of the Mojave.
Regional bank in Illinois fails
Bank of Lincolnwood becomes the 37th bank to be closed by regulators this year...Ben Rooney
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Bank of Lincolnwood was shuttered by Illinois regulators Friday, bringing the number of failed banks this year to 37 and costing the Federal Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s deposit insurance fund $83 million.
The two offices of Lincolnwood, Ill.-based bank will reopen Saturday as branches of Republic Bank of Chicago. Bank of Lincolnwood customers will retain their deposit insurance coverage, the FDIC said.
As of late last month, Bank of Lincolnwood had total assets of about $214 million and total deposits of $202 million. Republic Bank agreed to purchase about $162 million in assets, leaving $52 million for the FDIC to sell.
"We want our new customers to understand that their insured and uninsured deposits are safe and covered," said William Sperling, president and chief executive of Republic Bank, in a statement.
Republic Bank also said it expects the two banks to be integrated by the end of October and that it will preserve jobs despite a difficult economic environment.
The number of bank failures in 2009 has already exceeded last year's total of 25, with an average of 7 failures per month. Bank of Lincolnwood was the sixth Illinois bank to be closed this year.
This year's failures have cost the FDIC a total of $11.4 billion, compared with $17.6 billion in 2008.
Over the next 5 years, the FDIC expects roughly $70 billion in losses due to the failures of insured institutions.
The FDIC, which is funded primarily by fees paid by banks, insures individual deposits up to $250,000. The amount was increased from $100,000 late last year in response to concerns about the stability of the nation's banks.
Separately, the FDIC confirmed to CNNMoney.com Friday that it was unable to find a buyer for the assets of wholesale banking operator Silverton Bank, which went under May 1. It was the fifth largest bank failure during the current recession in terms of assets, and cost the FDIC $1.3 billion.