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Category Archives: ‘Water’


Oroville Dam update: Fracture likely caused by ‘multiple factors’

JUNE 01, 2017 11:18 AM



If you’re expecting a quick and easy answer on what caused the spillway failure at Oroville Dam, think again.

The leader of the independent forensics team studying the Oroville crisis said Thursday that the crack in the dam’s main flood-control spillway likely was caused by a combination of problems.

“We do anticipate there will be multiple contributory factors, no single factor,” said dam safety consultant John France in a conference call with reporters.

France, an independent consultant from Denver, added that it will take months before his team gets to the bottom of what went wrong in Oroville, comparable to the lengthy probes that follow major airplane or train crashes. His team will delve into the earliest design work performed on Oroville Dam, which was completed in 1968.

“We’re looking at the full span of the dam’s life, including its gestation period,” he said.

He said investigation is being closely watched by dam operators worldwide.

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Water Authority Floats a Radical Idea in Strange Public Poll

The San Diego County Water Authority paid for a poll last month that asked voters whether they would support the state seizing control of water supplies across the region, including much of the water used in San Diego. The $31,000 poll is part of an aggressive campaign the Water Authority is waging against another public water agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.


Photo by Sam Hodgson

Interested in Water narrative? Follow

By Ry Rivard | May 29, 2017

The San Diego County Water Authority is floating a radical idea to upend how 19 million Southern Californians get their water.

The agency paid for a poll last month that asked voters whether they would support the state seizing control of water supplies across the region, including much of the water used in San Diego.

The $31,000 poll is part of an aggressive $220,000 campaign the Water Authority is waging against another public water agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The Water Authority is a member of Metropolitan’s board and its biggest customer, but the two agencies have long been at odds. Water Authority officials blame Metropolitan for failing to prepare for a drought in the early-1990s and screwing San Diego then and now.

Most of the poll’s 62 questions were designed to test various messages that might turn voters against Metropolitan, a tactic typical of political polling. That alone is strange. One public agency does not usually poll to figure out how to damage another public agency’s reputation.

Beyond that, one question in the poll floated a policy shift that would affect the water supply of nearly everyone in California south of Bakersfield.

The poll asked whether “The state should step in and purchase water for our region until the MWD [Metropolitan] can correct its fiscal mismanagement.”

For the Water Authority to make such a suggest is bizarre: For the past two years, the agency has been criticizing Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration for trying to micromanage local water agencies during the drought. Now, it suggests some form of state control is the way to go.

Metropolitan is often seen as distinct force acting on behalf of Southern California, including San Diego, in the endless power struggles over water in this state. If the state were suddenly in charge, it’s possible other political interests – like Northern California environmentalists or powerful cliques of Central Valley farmers – could use their influence in Sacramento to gain more control.

During a board meeting last week, a few Water Authority board members wondered about the poll, which many of them had not seen before.

Water Authority assistant general manager Dennis Cushman told everyone not to take the question about state control too seriously.

“They don’t represent specific proposals that we’re recommending pursuing,” Cushman said.

Gary Arant, a member of the Water Authority’s board who was not involved in crafting the poll questions, told Cushman that even floating such ideas was dangerous.

“I’m just concerned sometimes these ideas take life and the next thing you know … ” he said.

Arant said he worried the state might decide to take control not only of Metropolitan but also of the Water Authority. The Water Authority has a governance structure nearly identical to Metropolitan’s.

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Jerry Brown sends a message to water agencies on the Delta tunnels – and it’s direct

MAY 31, 2017 4:23 PM



Jerry Brown took an Old English turn from his Latin wisdom in 2012 by declaring: “I want to get s--- done,” a reference to his vision for building two tunnels 30 miles long to move Sacramento River water south from the Delta to the rest of the state.

And in 2015, addressing California water agencies, he offered pithy advice to naysayers: “Until you put a million hours into it, shut up.” Critics of the $15 billion project were greatly offended.

Now, with Brown’s tenure in the corner office ticking away, decision time is upon California. Yes, I have written that before. But in the coming days, the U.S. Interior Department is expected to issue its final assessment of the impact of the tunnels on the Delta’s ecology and associated fisheries.

In anticipation of that, Brown, through his top aide Nancy McFadden, very recently summoned representatives of the main consumers of Northern California water to Sacramento. The unmistakable message to come of the meetings: fish or cut bait, or some more pungent variation of that saying.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Westlands Water District and the Kern County Water Agency, along with agencies in the Silicon Valley and East Bay, must decide if they’re in or out and whether they’ll pay their proportionate share.


“The governor’s office has sent a very clear signal,” said Tom Birmingham, director of the 600,000-acre Westlands Water District, the second largest consumer after MWD. “The time to make a decision is now. The governor is absolutely correct. The welfare of the state of California is going to depend on the outcome of this decision.”

“We’re on the verge,” said Jeff Kightlinger, executive director of the Metropolitan Water District. The MWD board, like other the water boards, would need to decide whether to buy into the project, a step that would require a rate increases. “It may be expensive but it is needed.”

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He plowed his field and got hit with a $2.8 million fine. Will Trump rescind it?

MAY 31, 2017 12:58 PM



John Duarte spent five years fighting the Obama administration’s Justice Department over charges that he broke environmental laws by harming wetlands while planting a wheat crop on his Northern California farm. He lost his case, and faces a $2.8 million fine.

Now Duarte, whose case has become a national rallying cry among farmers and conservatives, is hoping President Donald Trump will wipe the penalties away. Last week, the Republicans who head the House agriculture and judiciary committees asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reconsider the government’s case against Duarte.

“I will be surprised if the Trump administration wants to own this prosecution,” Duarte said Wednesday. “I’ll be very surprised. I don’t believe it’s consistent with what they campaigned on and with what their conservative values are.”

Duarte’s case began five years ago, when the federal government accused him of illegally tearing through fragile wetlands on his 450-acre Tehama County farm in violation of the Clean Water Act. A judge in Sacramento last summer sided with the feds, who are pressing for a $2.8 million fine and an order requiring Duarte to restore the wetlands on his property and elsewhere. Duarte, who owns a Modesto-area nursery business, said the final payout could cost him more than $20 million.

“We’ve got the federal government attempting to ruin our business and destroy 600 jobs … because we planted wheat in a wheat field,” said Duarte, who said his legal bills run to $2 million.

Trump’s election has changed the equation, however. The president has already scaled back implementation of the Clean Water Act, reversing a decision by former President Barack Obama. While a spokesman for the Justice Department declined comment on the letter to Sessions, some believe the playing field is tilting in favor of Duarte and other farmers. Environmental advocates are aghast.

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Michigan’s new water battle: How much of it should Nestle bottle?

A SHIFT IN THOUGHT The company says pumping more groundwater won't hurt the environment. But public opposition is significant, amplified in part by the Flint crisis.

  1. Simon Montlake
    Staff writer | @sjmontlake

MAY 31, 2017 DETROIT—Three years after state-appointed officials began piping contaminated water to households in Flint, eventually triggering a national outcry, another drawn-out fight over water management is roiling the Great Lakes state.

This time the battle is over the bottling of Michigan groundwater by Nestle, the Swiss multinational food company. Nestle is seeking permission to extract more water from an existing well about 100 miles from Flint, for sale in the Midwest. As long as it passes review, the expansion would only incur a nominal permit fee, to the dismay of critics who argue that Michigan is handing over its natural resources to a corporation for a song.

There is no direct link between Flint’s municipal water crisis and Nestle’s pumping permit. But the emotions stirred by the mismanagement in Flint, and concern over how regulators failed to stop it, have combined to make Nestle a lightning rod for environmentalists and a potential test case for how that most basic of natural resources – groundwater – should be managed.

“Flint has changed the conversation,” says Liz Kirkwood, director of FLOW, an advocacy group in Traverse City, Mich., that has contested Nestle’s application.

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Oroville Dam spillway shutting down for summer repairs

MAY 17, 2017 4:40 PM



Water will stop flowing from Oroville Dam’s badly damaged spillway on Friday, in the hopes it’s the last time it will be used before the next rainy season.

Even with a heavy snowpack waiting to melt in the mountains above Lake Oroville, state officials say they’ve drained the reservoir down to the point where they can manage its level through the dam’s primary powerplant outlet. The lake was at 74 percent of its total capacity Wednesday.

Department of Water Resources officials say they have a contingency plan in place to use the spillway one more time in case their snowmelt runoff calculations are incorrect.

With no more water gushing down the spillway, contractors working for DWR will start working full-time to shore up the spillway before next winter.

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‘Lethal arrogance’? Oroville Dam crisis sprang from Pat Brown’s towering ambition

MAY 14, 2017 4:00 AM


America’s tallest dam was built from earth, stone and concrete – and the towering ambition of Gov. Pat Brown.

Sixty years before a crisis at Oroville Dam sent thousands fleeing for their lives in February, the late governor brought an almost evangelical zeal to erecting the structure that would hold back the Feather River to deliver water to the parched southern half of the state.

Hundreds of pages of state archives, oral history interviews and other documents reveal a portrait of a man hell-bent on building Oroville and the rest of the State Water Project. Determined to leave a personal legacy, Brown misled voters about the State Water Project’s costs, ignored recommendations to delay Oroville’s construction and brushed aside allegations that substandard building materials were being used at the dam. His administration steamrolled past a land-speculation scandal, relentless labor strife and the deaths of 34 workers to get Oroville built on time.

“I didn’t want anything to stop the California Water Project,” Brown said years later, using an earlier name for the project.

Oroville Dam was an extraordinary achievement. It remains America’s highest dam, rising 770 feet from its base and 922 feet above sea level. In 1964, when it was just half built, it prevented a monstrous flood. It came through an earthquake, measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale, in 1975 with “minor superficial damage,” according to a state report. As the linchpin of the state’s water delivery network, capable of holding 3.5 million acre-feet of water, Lake Oroville has played a critical role in California’s meteoric economic and population growth since its completion in 1968.

But now Pat Brown’s son, current Gov. Jerry Brown, finds himself cleaning up a mess that engineering experts believe was caused at least in part by design and construction problems from his father’s day.

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Legislature must act to protect California school kids from lead in drinking water


Special to The Bee

Dr. Lauren Gambill is a Sacramento pediatrician and a member of the State Government Affairs Committee for the American Academy of Pediatrics, California. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @renkate.


Drinking water contaminated by toxic levels of lead has been discovered at several California schools this year. This is unacceptable.

Schools in San Ysidro, San Marcos and San Diego have found elevated lead levels in their water. Sacramento State recently shut down 43 drinking fountains, bottle filling stations and sinks because of lead-contaminated water. These cases are likely indicative of a much larger problem.

Because testing for lead is not mandatory, most schools in California do not take this step to protect our children. Here in Sacramento County, only 7 percent of public schools have signed up for free lead tests offered by the local water district this year.

What we don’t know can hurt us, and in this case, hurt our kids.

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Dithering must end in California’s too-long desalination debate

MAY 09, 2017 3:21 PM



Last winter’s extreme storms notwithstanding, water remains scarce in this state. Between climate change and ongoing growth, California can’t afford to squander a single gallon. Yet in Orange County, a project that could increase water supply by 50 million potable gallons daily has been awaiting approval since 1998.

There are pros and cons aplenty to the $1 billion desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach by Poseidon Water. And in the nearly 20 years during which state and local authorities mulled it, all have been masticated thoroughly.

Like the plant Poseidon recently opened to the south in Carlsbad, the Huntington Beach facility would add a critical, if pricey, source of freshwater in drought years. Would it be a silver bullet? No. Would it pose some environmental risks? Yes.

Like the coastal power plant it would replace, it would be an oceanfront eyesore. Also it could hog energy, discharge brine and suck mass quantities of seawater, potentially endangering marine life.

On the other hand, oil well-studded Huntington Beach isn’t exactly Point Reyes, and the desalination plant would be smaller and less aesthetically offensive than the ugly smokestacks and boilers that occupy the site now.


Its operator, acquired in recent years by the publicly traded Brookfield Infrastructure Partners of Boston, has put forth many volumes of plans for mitigation. Poseidon says it will protect nearby wetlands, minimize energy consumption, make the plant carbon neutral, deal with the brine and filter intake to protect sea life.

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‘We are very, very sorry.’ State water officials face frustrated Oroville crowd

MAY 03, 2017 1:45 PM




Cindy Messer apologized Tuesday to several hundred grim Oroville residents who had been ordered to run from their homes three months earlier.

They sat rigidly in their seats inside the Oroville Municipal Auditorium at the first public meeting Messer’s agency, the Department of Water Resources, has hosted in Oroville since the February crisis at the dam. Some sternly crossed their arms as they stared Messer down.

“We are very, very sorry for the disruption of your lives for the fear and the anger and the uncertainty I believe that you have lived with for the last several months – for all of the heartache and the stress that you went through during the emergency and the evacuation that followed,” said Messer, a chief deputy director at the DWR. “Our hope is for these types of meetings is that we can begin to build some degree of trust with the community. I know that is going to be a big ask on our part.”

Trust is going to be hard to come by for many who spoke to DWR officials Tuesday night, including Don Fultz, a 63-year-old retiree from Oroville.

“I thought it interesting how many people had something to say about transparency when you’ve got all the roads and even walking trails blocked off so nobody can even see what’s going on up there,” Fultz said. “There was a comment that you’ve all gone through this with us – all the fear and the anger. None of you were in harm’s way. None of you. That’s BS. It angers me to hear you stand up here and say that.”

In early February, DWR officials had assured residents that everything was going to be fine, despite the gaping chasm that formed in Oroville Dam’s spillway and the water rushing down its emergency spillway for the first time in the dam’s nearly 50-year history. The state initially insisted here was no risk that the unfathomable amounts of water stored in the flooded canyons just above town would come rushing down, flooding everything – and everyone – in its path.

Those assurances vanished on the evening of Feb. 12, when the hillside below the emergency spillway nearly washed away and everyone in town was told to run for their lives because a 30-foot “wall of water” was on its way. Residents in Oroville and downstream communities were unable to return to their homes for two days.

Now, the DWR is hosting a series of community meetings to hear concerns and assure residents that both spillways will be shored up and ready to use by November, at the start of the next rainy season. The first of the seven meetings was held last week in Gridley. The last will take place May 15 in Sacramento.

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These startups sow cutting-edge tech to save water on California farms

By Emma Foehringer Merchant on May 2, 2017 6:04 am

First in a series on lessons from California’s water crisis.

When George McFadden sits at his computer to analyze crop photos, he looks like a doctor pointing out trouble spots on an X-ray. He identifies unnatural lines, “blob-like” patterns, and streaks clouding a field. All can indicate a troubling diagnosis.

“Can you see these little dots?” McFadden asks, pointing at a thermal shot of a tomato field that has suffered from a defective irrigation system. The dots on the image revealed that the system’s drip line had tears in it, he says. Watering the field became “like taking a straw, putting a bunch of pinholes in it, and trying to pump water through it.” The tomato grower used the image to show the manufacturer that the irrigation line was defective.

“Pretty striking,” McFadden says, still examining the screen. The 32-year-old field agronomist works for Ceres Imaging, a start-up in Oakland, California, that uses aerial imagery to help farmers optimize water and fertilizer application. The company is part of a growing contingent of technology start-ups vying to transform one of the state’s most powerful industries — agriculture — for a future in which its most important input grows increasingly scarce, and every drop counts.

California is the country’s top agricultural producer, growing two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of its vegetables. Golden State farms and ranches constitute a $54 billion annual industry. The state’s ag-focused economy means growers have historically been power players in politics, especially in discussions about apportioning water.

But as growth, drought, and climate change have increased scarcity and led to louder calls for conservation, the industry’s clout has been waning.

In 2015, during a record-setting drought, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered cities and towns to reduce water use by 25 percent — the first such mandatory cutback in state history. It prompted some to criticize the agriculture sector’s consumption — which makes up 80 percent of state use — and question why the industry was spared.

Brown defended the decision, saying farmers were already among those hardest hit. Many faced huge cuts to water allotments from state and federal systems and had to pay overblown sums for the water they could access. This was particularly hard on farmers because they operate with narrow profit margins, and more than 80 percent of California farms are small and family-owned. A few months after the order for cities, as the drought slid into its fourth year, some farmers were slammed with further restrictions.

A study released last summer estimated that the drought would cost California’s agricultural industry more than $600 million in 2016. For 2015, the estimate was $2.7 billion.

And though much of the state has gotten drenched this winter — over 70 percent of California is now out of drought — the long-term forecast for severe water shortages remains unchanged. In April, Brown ended the state of emergency for most parts of California; it had been in effect since January 2014. But climate change will continue tightening the state’s water supply. To keep crop yields high, or even just to stay in business, farmers will have to become more calculating.

That’s where technology comes in.

Silicon Valley, the nation’s most powerful tech hub, sits in the middle of California’s most productive farmland. To the east lies the Central Valley, growing crops like almonds and walnuts; to the north is Napa Valley, with its world-famous grapes; and to the south is the Central Coast, the “salad bowl of the world.”

Despite their proximity, the agriculture and technology sectors haven’t had much interaction. Though both are powerful forces in the state — ag a long-time influencer, tech a newer one — the cultural divide between the two is vast.

But bridging that gap could help solve one of agriculture’s most pernicious problems: water scarcity. Technologists are betting their solutions will ensure a steady stream of revenue for both industries in an increasingly dry world.

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Oklahoma task force seeks to reduce earthquakes and reuse wastewater

Posted by ryanhandy
Date: April 27, 2017
As a part of a state initiative to address a future water shortage, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board released a report on Thursday offering solutions to Oklahoma’s newfound earthquake problem: instead of injecting wastewater from oil and gas operations back into the ground, companies should find ways to reuse it.
In recent years earthquakes in Oklahoma have been tied to wastewater injection, a process used by oil and gas operators to dispose of extra, chemical-laced water by injecting it deep underground. In 2014, nearly 1.5 billion barrels of wastewater were injected in Oklahoma; by 2016, following a rash of earthquakes, state regulators limited the volumes of wastewater that companies can inject. But the state has been looking for an alternative use for the water, and has considered recycling it for drilling or treating it for crop irrigation.
The report, part of a statewide initiative to reduce the consumption of fresh water, found that reusing wastewater in drilling would be the cheapest option for oil and gas companies. But it also suggested treating the water and using it other industrial operations.
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Another giant California dam has downstream residents worried

APRIL 29, 2017 11:56 AM


Bee Correspondent



Deep in the Trinity Alps, 130 miles northwest of the troubled Oroville Dam, local officials are raising alarms about another earthen dam with documented weaknesses and limited capacity for releasing the water that has poured in from storms and melting snow.

Trinity Lake, the state’s third-largest reservoir, was filled to 97 percent of its storage capacity Tuesday, and a snowpack estimated at 150 percent of normal still looms over the watershed.

If the reservoir were to overtop the dam, the results would be catastrophic, said Keith Groves, a Trinity County supervisor representing the district that includes Trinity Dam.

“It would take out bridges … and a big section of (Trinity County) would be wiped off the face of the planet,” Groves said. He said 3,500 people live in the immediate pathway of potential flooding.

More than a month ago, on March 21, the Trinity County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation asking for a public presentation about the safety of Trinity Dam, climate change and the possible need to build another spillway. This week, Groves said the bureau has agreed to make a presentation for the supervisors on June 6.

Bureau officials are aware of the accumulation of snow above the reservoir and the mounting water levels, but they are not concerned about water overtopping the structure, said Russell Grimes, acting public affairs officer for the Bureau’s mid-pacific region in Sacramento.

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New study: California drought increased electricity bills and air pollution


PUBLISHED: April 26, 2017 at 12:01 am | UPDATED: April 26, 2017 at 6:00 am

California’s brutal five-year drought did more than lead to water shortages and dead lawns. It increased electricity bills statewide by $2.45 billion and boosted levels of smog and greenhouse gases, according to a new study released Wednesday.

Why? A big drop-off in hydroelectric power. With little rain or snow between 2012 and 2016, cheap, clean power from dozens of large dams around California was scarce, and cities and utilities had to use more electricity from natural-gas-fired power plants, which is more expensive and pollutes more.


“The drought has cost us in ways we didn’t necessarily anticipate or think about. It cost us economically and environmentally,” said Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit group that researches water issues, and author of the report.

California has 287 hydroelectric dams — from small reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada to massive hydroelectric operations at its largest reservoirs like Shasta, Oroville and Folsom. Water spins turbines and creates electricity as it is released into rivers and creeks, and although dams are expensive to build and can harm salmon and other species, once constructed, their electricity costs less than power from many other sources.

From 1983 to 2013, an average of 18 percent of California’s in-state electricity generation came from hydroelectric power. But during the drought, from 2012 to 2016, that fell nearly in half, to 10.5 percent. In the driest year, 2015, hydroelectric power made up just 7 percent of the electricity generated in California.

Although solar and wind power increased during the drought years, grid operators and other power managers still needed to boost electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. Natural gas generates less pollution than coal, which is nearly entirely phased out in California following decades of laws to reduce smog. But the extra natural gas burned during the drought increased greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in California by about 10 percent, or 24.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2012 and 2016.

That’s the same amount of heat-trapping pollution as adding 2.2 million more cars to the road over that time — or roughly doubling all the cars currently registered in Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.

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Fixing Oroville Dam will cost hundreds of millions. Who should pay the bill?

APRIL 25, 2017 12:01 AM



The damage has been done and the repair contract awarded. Yet more than two months after damaged spillways at the Oroville Dam prompted authorities to order the evacuation of 188,000 people, the question of who will ultimately pay the bill remains murky.

How much will be the responsibility of homeowners, businesses, farmers and other customers of the more than two dozen local and regional agencies that contract with the State Water Project? The 700-mile network of canals, pipelines and lakes, including Lake Oroville, brings water mostly from Northern California to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California.

What will be the cost to state taxpayers, who have approved billions of dollars in borrowing to pay for flood prevention and dam-related work, most of which has already been spoken for? Will the federal government have a role after the Trump administration’s recent approval of $274 million to cover emergency repair costs from mid-February through May?

Government officials and water policy experts say they don’t know who will end up on the hook for a cost some believe ultimately could approach $1 billion. Despite its importance to the lives of millions of Californians, the system exists outside California’s normal state budgeting process.

“That’s a question that even I don’t know the answer to,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, the top Republican on the Senate’s budget subcommittee that oversees the water project and other resources programs, and whose district includes Oroville. “There will be substantial costs.”

27 The number of local and regional water agencies that contract with the State Water Project

Water project costs are allocated under a doctrine that calls for the beneficiary to pay. Contractors and their customers are responsible for water supply-related expenses. Federal, state and local governments have historically shared the water project’s flood-control expenses. And state government and user fees have covered the tab for water project recreation, fish and wildlife costs.

Disagreements regularly arise.

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