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 and others at the Water Education Foundation:
Along the banks of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Oakley, about 50 miles southwest
of Sacramento, is a park that harkens back to the days when the
Delta lured Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French fur
trappers, and later farmers to its abundant wildlife and rich
That historical Delta was an enormous marsh linked to the two
freshwater rivers entering from the north and south, and tidal
flows coming from the San Francisco Bay. After the Gold Rush,
settlers began building levees and farms, changing the landscape
and altering the habitat.
A new study could help water
agencies find solutions to the vexing challenges the homeless
face in gaining access to clean water for drinking and
The Santa Ana Watershed Project
Authority (SAWPA) in Southern California has embarked on a
comprehensive and collaborative effort aimed at assessing
strengths and needs as it relates to water services for people
(including the homeless) within its 2,840 square-mile area that
extends from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Orange County
Most people see the Grand Canyon from the rim, thousands of feet above where the Colorado River winds through it for almost 300 miles.
But to travel it afloat a raft is to experience the wondrous majesty of the canyon and the river itself while gaining perspective about geology, natural beauty and the passage of time.
Beginning at Lees Ferry, some 30,000 people each year launch downriver on commercial or private trips. Before leaving, they are dutifully briefed by a National Park Service ranger who explains to them about the unique environment that awaits them, how to keep it protected and, most importantly, how to protect themselves.
They also are told about the pair of ravens that will inevitably follow them through the canyon, seizing every opportunity to scrounge food.
Does California need to revamp the way in which water is dedicated to the environment to better protect fish and the ecosystem at large? In the hypersensitive world of California water, where differences over who gets what can result in epic legislative and legal battles, the idea sparks a combination of fear, uncertainty and promise.
Saying that the way California manages water for the environment “isn’t working for anyone,” the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shook things up late last year by proposing a redesigned regulatory system featuring what they described as water ecosystem plans and water budgets with allocations set aside for the environment.
Welcome to the reinvented version of
our Western Water magazine! After more than 40 years of
churning out a printed magazine, which was a quarterly
publication in its last iteration, we turned to the internet this
month to launch Western Water in an online format.
While it’s not easy for veteran journalists like me and others at
the Water Education Foundation to give up the familiar printed
newspaper or magazine, we’ve known for some time that people are
changing the way they get information. In the last few years, we
ramped up our social media efforts, especially on Twitter and Facebook,
to reach people interested in water resource issues.
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.