What’s Current? Issue #10 – Eel River, Pacheco Reservoir, PFAS, Salton Sea

This week’s selections focus on water, starting and finishing with reminders of, respectively, complexity and controversy. It’s easy, and perhaps necessary, to sometimes reduce policy recommendations to emphatic, oversimplified prescriptions. More water supply infrastructure! Preserve options for conventional energy solutions! But take a look at our first link, a PFAS tracker. Managing PFAS — microscopic chemicals that don’t break down used in clothing, furniture, food packaging and more — is a challenge impossible to ignore. As for controversy, is our capacity to finance a new reservoir so compromised we need Chinese investors? Is it truly necessary to cut off Eel River diversions to farms along the Russian River? Can the Salton Sea be saved? Lastly, we are obligated to consider a growing contrarian chorus that suggests extreme responses to climate change are unwarranted, and often distract from necessary adaptation such as better forest management, ultra efficient conventional energy and nuclear power.

PFAS Contamination in the U.S. – Interactive Map

Here’s something to bookmark. Zoomable to the actual street and lot level, this U.S. map tracks and shows every observed incidence of PFAS (that’s “Pee-foss”) above the proposed limit. For the uninitiated, PFAS is an acronym for “Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” In plain English, that refers to chemicals used in clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, non-stick cooking surfaces and electric wire insulation. They don’t break down, they’re microscopic and move through soils and water, and they build up in fish and wildlife — and humans. We are just developing understanding of the long-term effects of PFAS. Expect to hear a lot more about PFAS as we treat water and remediate aquifers to higher standards.

Could the Chinese Government Fund Construction of Huge New Dam in Santa Clara County?

The proposed Pacheco Reservoir would supplement Anderson Reservoir (now undergoing seismic retrofit) to offer much needed additional storage and drought resiliency to consumers in the Santa Clara Valley. In a scheme that appears to be going nowhere, the Chinese government may have an interest in helping to fund the project. The cost estimate has grown to $2.8 billion due to “unstable geology found in the area.” Pacheco, along with the Sites and Temperance Flat reservoir proposals, were all approved by voters in 2014. At a cost of $198,000 per acre foot of storage, one must acknowledge that Pacheco doesn’t look very good when compared to Sites, projected to cost $3,333 per acre foot of storage.

Water Managers Propose Pathway for Continued Eel River Diversions

For over a century, the Eel River’s southernmost headwaters have had a portion of their flow diverted during the rainy season to supplement the flow of the Russian River. Thousands of farmers and households in Sonoma and Mendocino counties depend on this water. Now that two small dams on the Eel are being demolished, water managers have a proposal to continue these diversions, but face objections from environmentalists. For perspective: At most, these diversions consume 70,000 acre feet per year, with transfers only during wet months, and only representing 1 percent of the Eel’s average discharge of 7 MAF/year. During January and February, the Eel’s flow averages 188,000 acre feet per day. The river has five major tributaries. Why is there any debate at all over continuing to provide this vital resource to water consumers downstream on the Russian River?

Saving California’s Salton Sea

The dying Salton Sea is one of California’s greatest environmental disasters, and will be one of the hardest to fix. Formed in 1905 when a canal diverting water from the Colorado River to farms in the Imperial Valley breached during heavy rains, barely a century later the massive inland lake is drying up. More than a century of landlocked runoff, mostly from Imperial Valley farms, combined with 1.5 MAF/year of evaporation is slowly turning the lake into a dead sea, with the exposed and windblown playa now saturated with toxins. Starting around 20 years ago, ag runoff was reduced, shrinking the sea from 7.5 MAF to around 4.5 MAF. Read about efforts to save this once magnificent lake.

The Myth of an Overheated Planet

Before delving into this heresy, there is an even bigger myth, which is that the alleged reality of a climate crisis is beyond debate. Is that advisable? Good science, effective journalism, and healthy democracy cannot survive without encouraging skeptical inquiry. Thousands of credible skeptics have reviewed the evidence and conclude the end is not imminent, that moderate warming is mostly good, that extreme weather is not increasing, and that many wildfires and other catastrophes are caused more by mismanagement than by climate change. On the question of warming in particular, inquiring minds may consider this well documented set of facts from the prolific Alex Epstein, whose work on climate and energy deserves serious review.