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:
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 last week it
may be time to reconsider how the reservoir is operated to avert
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.”
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
“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
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
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.