Water users in California for years have chafed under an administrative system that some people believe is too often tilted in favor of the State Water Resources Control Board.
A bill making its way through the Legislature aims to change that.
Carried by Merced Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray, AB 313 would create a new Water Rights Division within the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings to act as a referee in cases where alleged water use violations issued by the State Water Board are challenged.
During drought, people conserve water. That’s a good thing for public water agencies and the state as a whole but the reduction in use ultimately means less money flowing into the budgets of those very agencies that need funds to treat water to drinkable standards, maintain a distribution system, and build a more drought-proof supply.
“There are two things that can’t happen to a water utility – you can’t run out of money and you can’t run out of water,” said Tom Esqueda, public utilities director for the city of Fresno. He was a panelist at a June 16 discussion in Sacramento about drought resiliency sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
Before dams were built on the upper Sacramento River, flood water regularly carried woody debris that was an important part of the aquatic habitat.
Deprived of this refuge, salmon in the lower parts of the upper Sacramento River have had a difficult time surviving and making it down the river and out to the ocean. Seeing this, a group of people, including water users, decided to lend a hand with an unprecedented pilot project that saw massive walnut tree trunks affixed to 12,000-pound boulders and deposited into the deepest part of the Sacramento River near Redding to provide shelter for young salmon and steelhead migrating downstream.
California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird said Tuesday that the February crisis with the broken spillway at Oroville Dam offers an “important opportunity” to assess the safety of the more than 1,400 dams in the state.
“We really want to use the focus on this to look at the issue of dam safety in California,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. “We have the best inspection program of the 50 states but it is clear we can do better.”
California has entered a “yo-yo” reality, where climate change-driven drought and flooding have become real challenges that will reshape consideration of state water issues. Drought and flood “can’t be taken separately. We need to consider both,” said Fran Spivy-Weber, a stalwart presence for decades in the state’s water world.
Recently retired as vice chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, she made her last public presentation during the Water Education Foundation’s annual Executive Briefing on March 23, offering a retrospective on her esteemed career and providing insight into California’s water future.
In the wake of a near disaster at Oroville Dam caused by heavy runoff and a damaged spillway, the former chief of flood operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week it may be time to reconsider how the reservoir is operated to avert such dilemmas
The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee passed a proposed $3.5 billion water and parks bond measure Tuesday, with members calling for an assurance that if approved by California voters in 2018, the funds would be equitably distributed throughout the state.
Work crews repairing Oroville Dam’s damaged emergency spillway are dumping 1,200 tons of rock each hour and using shotcrete to stabilize the hillside slope, an official with the Department of Water Resources told the California Water Commission today.
The pace of work is “round the clock,” said Kasey Schimke, assistant director of DWR’s legislative affairs office.
A statewide program that began under a 2015 law to help low-income people with their water bills would cost about $600 million annually, a public policy expert told the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) at a meeting last week.
California agriculture is going to have to learn to live with the impacts of climate change and work toward reducing its contributions of greenhouse gas emissions, a Yolo County walnut grower said at the Jan. 26 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.
“I don’t believe we are going to be able to adapt our way out of climate change,” said Russ Lester, co-owner of Dixon Ridge Farms in Winters. “We need to mitigate for it. It won’t solve the problem but it can slow it down.”
About this time last month I was on the other side of the world, leading an international journalism workshop on how to cover water issues. I didn’t think I’d ever go to Tehran, but when UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) called, I didn’t hesitate.
A critical aspect of California’s drive to create new water storage is in place after the California Water Commission approved regulations governing how those potential storage projects could receive public funding under Prop. 1.
The Dec. 14 decision potentially paves the way for new surface water projects, such as Sites Reservoir, and expansion of Los Vaqueros reservoir in Contra Costa County.
California state water regulators poised to boost instream flows to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta acknowledged the difficulty in finding the right measure of applied science to benefit the ecosystem.
“We need to look at multiple stressors,” said Dorene D’Adamo, one of five members of the State Water Resources Control Board who convened for a public meeting last Wednesday on the science behind the proposed update of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. “The one knob we are looking at is flows and I’d like to see a way to integrate those other stressors in the discussion.”
Understanding the importance of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and working to restore it means grasping the scope of what it once was.
That’s the takeaway message of a report released Nov. 14 by the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
The report, “A Delta Renewed,” is the latest in a series sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). Written by several authors, the report says there is “cause for hope” to achieving large-scale Delta restoration in a way that supports people, farms and the environment. SFEI calls itself “one of California’s premier aquatic and ecosystem science institutes.”
If there is a positive outcome of five years of drought in California, it’s the lessons learned about how to manage water during a shortage in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. On the up-side, farmers got creative to cut back their water diversions by 32 percent through a volunteer program. On the learning-curve side, complex water rights confound who gets water during shortage.
The potential for California’s growing cannabis cultivation industry to harm streams, creeks and groundwater is the focus of emerging State Water Resources Control Board regulations slated for adoption next year.
The timing of the rules is critical; voters could be on the cusp of making California the fifth state to legalize cannabis for recreational use when they go to the polls Nov. 8 and cast ballots for or against Prop. 64. The state authorized medical use through Prop. 215 in 1996.
Years of drought have sapped California’s water supply, creating an accumulated deficit exacerbated by increasingly warmer temperatures, a top researcher said at a recent briefing.
Michael Dettinger, research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said parts of California have fallen more than two years behind where they should be in terms of receiving “normal” precipitation. The situation augurs what would be expected under projected climate change conditions as average annual temperatures warm and the snow level declines.
John Fleck has spent a lifetime covering Western water issues. For 25 years, he reported on science and the environment for The Albuquerque Journal. Since 2000 he has penned the acclaimed water blog Inkstain while working as the writer-in residence at the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program.
Fearing an imminent public health threat, the director of the University of California, Irvine’s Salton Sea Initiative said the State Water Resources Control Board should step in and regulate the rate of water transferred from the Imperial Valley to coastal California as part of the Quantification Settlement Agreement.