Western Water has provided
in-depth coverage of critical water issues facing California and
the West since 1977, first as a printed magazine and now as an
online newsroom. Articles explore the science, policy and
debates centered around drought, groundwater,
sustainability, water access and affordability, climate change
and endangered species involving key sources of supply such as
the Colorado River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and more.
Western Water news is produced by a team of veteran
journalists at the Water Education Foundation:
Despite the heat that often
accompanies debates over setting aside water for the environment,
there are instances where California stakeholders have forged
agreements to provide guaranteed water for fish. Here are two
examples cited by the Public Policy Institute of California in
its report arguing for an environmental water right.
Every day, people flock to Daniel
Swain’s social media platforms to find out the latest news and
insight about California’s notoriously unpredictable weather.
Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the
Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, famously coined the
term “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” in December 2013 to describe
the large, formidable high-pressure mass that was parked over the
West Coast during winter and diverted storms away from
California, intensifying the drought.
Swain’s research focuses on atmospheric processes that cause
droughts and floods, along with the changing character of extreme
weather events in a warming world. A lifelong Californian and
alumnus of University of California, Davis, and Stanford
University, Swain is best known for the widely read Weather West blog, which provides
unique perspectives on weather and climate in California and the
western United States. In a recent interview with Western
Water, he talked about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, its
potential long-term impact on California weather, and what may
lie ahead for the state’s water supply.
While it may not warrant the official designation of “reservoir,” tiny Mendota Pool at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Kings rivers in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley played an historic role in California water and remains a vital link in distributing water to farmers’ fields.
Located about 40 miles west of Fresno, Mendota Pool is created by Mendota Dam and holds about 3,000 acre-feet with a surface area of about 1,200 acres. By comparison, about 40 miles upstream, Millerton Lake, which sits behind Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River, has a capacity of 520,528 acre-feet and a surface area of 4,900 acres.
For as long as agriculture has existed in the Central Valley,
farmers have pumped water from the ground to sustain their
livelihood and grow food consumed by much of the nation. This has
caused the ground in certain places to sink, sometimes
dramatically, eliminating valuable aquifer storage space that can
never be restored.
In a state with such topsy-turvy weather as California, the
ability of forecasters to peer into the vast expanse of the
Pacific Ocean and accurately predict the arrival of storms is a
must to improve water supply reliability and flood management
The problem, according to Jeanine Jones, interstate resources
manager with the state Department of Water Resources, is
that “we have been managing with 20th century
technology with respect to our ability to do weather
Architects of the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer in
the nation’s history gave their blessing Sept. 7 to the State
Water Resources Control Board’s latest plan to aid the
beleaguered Salton Sea.
Against a backdrop of widespread subsidence caused by increased
groundwater pumping in the San Joaquin Valley, the general
manager of one large irrigation district detailed ways growers
are teaming with the district to overcome the diminishing
groundwater supplies in the heart of California’s bread basket.
Chris White, general manager of the Central California Irrigation
District (CCID), talked about the use of groundwater recharge
basins on farmland during wet years during a special
Aug. 16 briefing sponsored by the California Department of
Water Resources and the Water Education Foundation held at Fresno
The phrase “groundwater management” has become commonplace in
news headlines throughout California as implementation of the
state’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)
moves into high gear. Following the state’s severe drought, the
value of groundwater has become even more apparent so it seemed
like a good time to chat about the groundwater story with the
husband and wife team of William (Bill) Alley, the director of
science and technology for the National Ground Water Association
and former chief of the Office of Groundwater for the U.S.
John Callaway, the incoming lead scientist of the Delta Science
Program, was forthright in describing his initial reaction to the
idea of his new job.
“When I saw the position, I guess I can say my first reaction
was, ‘No way, I don’t want to get involved with all the crazy
overwhelming issues of the Delta,’” he said. “But I thought about
it more and thought it would be a great opportunity to get more
involved in the science/management interface.”
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
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
“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
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
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 it may be
time to reconsider how the reservoir is operated to avert such
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
“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.”