SRP 2014 Snowmelt Sparse, Winter Outlook Uncertain
The Salt River Project (SRP) announced that this year’s five-month snowmelt season produced only 148,000 acre-feet of runoff, making it the eighth-driest winter season since SRP started keeping records 116 years ago. It is also the fourth consecutive year with below-median winter inflows into the SRP reservoirs. The watersheds received just 2.85 inches of precipitation from December 2013 through March 2014; that is 37 percent of normal. SRP is the largest raw water supplier in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, delivering about one million acre-feet in normal years.
When the announcement was made in July, an El Niño event appeared likely for the coming fall and winter. El Niño is characterized by warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures in the equatorial eastern Pacific. During El Niño events, a combination of factors interact, affecting weather in the southwestern United States, including the Salt and Verde watersheds. When these factors are favorable, greater-than- normal precipitation is often the result.
On September 15, the reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers were 48 percent full with 1.11 million acre-feet stored—7 percent lower than one year ago. The reservoir system was able to supply water customers with their full allocations in 2014 because of relatively high runoff in 2013. The first five months of that year were the most productive since the same period in 2010, although still lower than the 30-year median runoff.
A lot is riding on the outlook for the coming season. Until June, warming of the Tropical Pacific Ocean led to high hopes for an El Niño winter. Since then, however, ocean temperature has decreased and conditions have trended toward neutral. Even so, international climate model outlooks suggest perhaps a 60 percent chance for El Niño to become established between September and November, rising as high as 70 percent for the November to February period. A weak El Niño is much more likely than a strong one.
Tucson Water Plans for Recycled Drinking Water
On July 10, Tucson Water announced that it had completed a master plan for the development of recycled water as a future drinking water source. In Tucson’s December 2013 Recycled Water Master Plan, Tucson Water was charged with preparing a phased multi-year implementation plan for the new indirect potable reuse (IDR) program envisioned in the Plan. IDR uses advanced treatment and aquifer recharge before recovering the water and blending it with other potable supplies.
Development of the recycled water program will take several years, but because of ongoing drought and climate change, the program is a priority. The new program’s most cost-efficient design would bring recycled water from the new 32-million-gal-per-day (mgd) Water Reclamation Campus (scheduled for completion in 2015) approximately 25 miles to a North CAVSARP location. Another potential location in southeast Tucson would require 35 miles of conveyance and three booster stations to lift the water 1,200 feet. By 2030, Tucson could be recycling as much as 29,000 acre-feet each year in this way. Tucson Water is confident that available purification technology can ensure safe drinking water. Although the plan specifies the use of IDR only, Tucson is not ruling out the possibility of putting water recycled through advanced treatment directly into the potable distribution system at some time in the future.
California Moves Ahead with Historic Water Legislation
The historic drought in California has prompted legislative actions that are designed to ameliorate the state’s deteriorating water situation.
A $7.5 billion water bond known as Proposal 1 will be on the ballot this fall for voters in a state beleaguered by drought, funding an array of water infrastructure projects in California. Dam and reservoir construction would claim 36 percent of the bond as authorized by the CA Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Act of 2014. More than a billion dollars is to be allocated to competitive grants for watershed ecosystem protection and restoration by conservancies and state departments. Of the remaining allocations, nearly a billion dollars is earmarked for groundwater sustainability for places like the heavily polluted San Fernando Valley aquifer in Los Angeles to prevent and reduce groundwater contamination and to fund groundwater planning and implementation.
Water recycling, flood management and integrated regional water management also appear in the legislation. Lastly, $520 million is earmarked for safe drinking water to help supply all Californians, especially those in disadvantaged communities, with clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. This includes a State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund, Small Community Grant Fund. The bond is ‘tunnel neutral’ regarding Governor Jerry Brown’s promotion of building massive tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento delta to benefit Southern California.
Groundwater is also receiving unprecedented attention in the state. On September 16, Governor Brown signed into law a trio of bills for the statewide regulation of California’s groundwater, marking the first time in the state’s history that groundwater will be managed on a large scale. Underground basins supply 40 percent of the water used in California in an average year, and that use has gone up to 65 percent during the current drought. This groundbreaking legislation requires that “groundwater sustainability agencies” oversee the management of basins designated as at-risk and be held responsible for the adoption of “groundwater sustainability plans” to improve groundwater conditions by 2040. These plans require local agencies to regularly monitor water levels and set goals for sustainable groundwater management. The state is authorized to step in when basins are deemed to be out of compliance after the specified time limits.
Fairness issues can be expected to complicate planning because the legislation does not deal with water rights. This can be particularly troublesome where surface water is affected by groundwater pumping. An additional measure stipulates that the state’s actions may be postponed for these localities.