California unveils new water plan, Maryland examines power grid

States from coast to coast are looking for ways to better manage their natural resources and reinforce utility grids following waves of extreme heat and violent weather patterns. Late yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a new plan to bring water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to the rest of the state through a new tunnel system. The Governor hopes that the plan will eventually put an end to the water wars which have plagued the state for years. In Maryland, Governor O’Malley has announced that he will be looking for ways to reinforce the state’s electrical grid after summer storms kept residents without power for days.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a key source of water for much of California, and the Governor’s new plan proposes a multi-billion dollar twin tunnel system that will shuttle water from the delta into more areas of the state. However, the delta region is also a fragile ecosystem home to many different animal species, some of which are endangered, raising questions about potentially irreversible damage to these threatened species if a construction project were to begin there.

The plan will be funded through water use fees, and will include $10 billion for habitat restoration, following the construction. A water bond may also be included on the November ballot. The proposed tunnels are each larger than 33 feet in diameter and would have the capacity to divert about 67,500 gallons of water a second.

So far, the plan has been met with steep opposition from delta residents, environmental scientists and local legislators. Part of the opposition has to do with existing damage to the delta region which locals say has been caused by the giant pumps the state already employs to move water. The pumps have been blamed for fish kills and the deaths of other species including sturgeons.

According to a local press account, the Governor has indicated that an environmental study will go forward before any construction begins, but ultimately, the state may make some environmental sacrifices in order to meet local water demand. “We have so much more science. We’re a lot more sensitive to the species,” Brown said. “We’re going to do as much as we can … to protect these environmental interests. Is there absolute certitude? No.”

In Maryland, Governor O’Malley is also looking at ways to be more responsive to growing resource pressure on the electrical grid in his state. Extreme heat and violent weather patterns caused residents to be without power for several days after the last round of storms downed trees and cut power lines. In an executive order issued yesterday, the Governor announced that he is starting a working group that will make recommendations on how to improve the state electrical grid.

“As a result of climate change, Maryland may continue to suffer violent weather patterns in the months and years ahead. That’s why we must engage in a thoughtful and informed dialogue to strengthen the resiliency of our electric grid,” said Governor O’Malley. “Together, we can create the 21st century infrastructure that a 21st century economy requires – these costs and benefits must be evaluated.”

During his water plan announcement Governor Brown also acknowledged the effect climate change is having on how California manages resources now and will have to into the future. Highlighting that even while Congress fails to take action toward any meaningful energy or climate change planning, states are moving quickly to respond to climate change and its impact.

The New York Times also reported on the increasing damage climate change is doing to state infrastructure from roads to railways, making it harder and harder for state and local officials to ignore and exacerbating an already significant and largely unfunded infrastructure problem nationwide. Data from AccuWeather shows that the summer of 2012 is in the running for one of the top three hottest summers in the past 60 years in the United States and southern Canada.

The data is compiled by Steven A. Root, Certified Consulting Meteorologist and President and CEO of WeatherBank, Inc. who has been examining hourly and daily temperatures in 59 hub cities dating back to Jan. 1, 1950. Root computes the cooling degree days (CDD) for each city, each day of the year. Cooling degree days are the number of degrees that a day’s average temperature is above 65 degrees.

“The summer of 2012 is on pace to finish third hottest on the list of 62 summers since 1950, but is still in the running for number two or one on the list,” Root said. In the U.S. as a whole, seven out of the last 10 summers have been hotter than the 62-year average. This compared to the 1960s and 1970s, when seven out of 10 summers were cooler than the NOAA’s recent 30-year average.

Despite the infrastructure problems and weather data which shows they are likely to get worse, states are having a hard time making renewable energy plans economically viable. As CivSource reported previously, investment in renewables has dropped to its lowest level since 2009. For the California plan, even if the state pushes it through over environmental concerns, fiscal hurdles still remain as the state is notoriously cash poor and multiple cities consider municipal bankruptcy, which may make the idea of water user fees covering the cost moot.