Colorado mtns snow

EL CENTRO — The water and electrical divisions of the Imperial Irrigation District presented positive and negative reports respectively to the IID Board at the Tuesday, Jan. 18, regular meeting.

IID Water Manager Tina Shields gave a hydrology report about the recent, “nice little snowpack” brought by the recent storm. She said the Bureau of Reclamation had been having operational discussions of moving waters to Lake Powell to keep its water levels from falling below the minimum level necessary for the lake’s Glen Canyon Dam turbines to generate hydroelectricity. The snowpack will keep the water level high enough for the turbines to intake water for producing electricity.

According to Shields, the IID and other Colorado River water users have bought themselves time for Lake Powell. For the lower Lake Mead, there was little impact as it mostly depends on water from Lake Powell releases. 

In 2007, the Colorado Basin States and the federal government agreed to the first Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), called the 2007 Guidelines, to govern water allotments in the event of a water shortage to run until 2026. There are three tiers of Lake Mead elevations in the 2007 Guidelines, each marker triggering water cutbacks. All of the junior water rights holders in Arizona, Nevada, and parts of California are subject to lower water rations in the first tier, the drought would have to become dire before the Imperial Valley would give up its senior allotment.

For the first time, Lake Mead’s levels dipped down into the first tier in 2021, triggering junior water partners’ water cutbacks. 

Recently, the water elevation barely dipped into the second tier, triggering more water rationing. Because of the recent storm, Mead’s levels are one foot above the second tier.

Shields was optimistic, saying the recent storm wiped out the doomsday forecast. Elevation stands at 1,067, keeping the tier one guidelines in play. The problem with water availability is still a long-term issue, she said. The annual yield of the Colorado River has recently been about 14.5 million acre/feet, the problem lays with the 16.5 million acre/feet allocated to river users — junior and senior.

“The last 20 years, the drought sucked out about 5 million acre/feet from the system. The Bureau of Reclamation has readjusted its river volume average to a more realistic number,” Shields said.

General Services Department Manager Jennifer Goodsell had not such an uplifting report to give to the board concerning the district’s efforts to convert its fleet to zero-emissions vehicles.

To achieve California’s air quality and climate goals, the Air Resources Board developed a medium and heavy-duty zero emission (electric) fleet regulation that would affect the Imperial Irrigation District. Governor Gavin Newsom, through executive order, has mandated 100 percent zero emission vehicles (ZEV) for public utilities by 2035. The mandates include big rigs, drayage trucks, terminal tractors, forklifts, and other industrial equipment.

The IID will be required to purchase 50 percent ZEV of the 2024-26 model years and 100 percent of 2027 and newer model years. Besides the purchase, the IID will need charging stations for the fleet to cover the considerable service area of the district.

Goodsell told the board the pandemic has impacted the automotive, equipment, and truck industries by noticeably delaying equipment deliveries. She said the IID fleet is severely impacted by the pandemic’s unprecedented interruption in supply chains. 

“The interruptions include manufacturing and distribution of computer microchips; manufacturing plants have shut down; there is a world-wide shortage of raw materials and an astonishing cost increase in steel, aluminum, and petroleum-based products,” Goodsell said.

To compound the problem, charging infrastructure has to be ordered, built, and placed strategically to best suit IID’s emergency response teams, with no idea when supplies would become available. 

Henry Martinez, IID general manager, spoke about the challenges presented by the push for electric vehicles, especially for its utility vehicles at the April 13, 2021, regular board meeting. 

“When power goes out, fleet electrification is not suitable,” Martinez told the board. “We have rapid response emergency scenarios, and the state does not recognize utility fleets as emergency response vehicles.”

He said specialized utility vehicles must operate as long as they are needed to complete the job at hand. They travel long distances over difficult terrain, they go to remote areas and operate for extended times, all obstacles for an electric vehicle which needs frequent charging.

Charging stations may not be available in remote areas where the emergency exists, and vehicles are operating for unending hours, according to Martinez. 

Goodsell predicted the delay in acquiring vehicles might impede meeting state deadlines as the supply chain disruption is predicted until 2023. The staff will continue to submit purchase orders for needed vehicles to get in line for an unknown future delivery, she said.

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