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:
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.
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.
Proponents of water storage projects that would be partially
funded by Prop. 1 are concerned that
possible climate change parameters required by the state
could hinder the advance of longstanding proposals.
California should take immediate actions to save the endangered
Delta smelt from extinction, a top fish scientist said recently.
Peter Moyle, distinguished professor emeritus in the Department
of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at the University of
California, Davis, has been studying the health of California’s
native fish since 1969. He told an audience in Sacramento that
it’s time for stepped-up actions to save the Delta smelt, the
population of which has dropped to a historic low level.
Those small, seemingly insignificant bits of plastic in San
Francisco Bay found at nine local sites last year could end up
being the next major water quality problem.
What to do about them is an important next step, said Rebecca
Sutton, senior scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute
(SFEI). During a Thursday seminar sponsored by the State Water
Resources Control Board in Sacramento, Sutton said experts are
embarking on a course of better understanding microplastic
contamination and its effect on the environment and human health.
Photos of brimming lakes and reservoirs, flowing rivers and
raging waterfalls have been splashed across news headlines and in
social media. It’s a welcome change from last year when
California was entering its fifth year of drought.
Yet, the reservoirs are filling because the snow is melting
early, not necessarily because the state has more water that fell
as snow or rain this winter.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct
its final snow survey of the season within the next two weeks,
shining a clearer light on the summer’s water picture and
lingering drought conditions.
The data collection and subsequent
forecasting will provide vital information for water supply
operations and allocations to districts and contractors around
the state. More snow means basically more water for downstream
users – whether city residents or rural farmers.
Sticking a measuring pole into the snow in the Sierra and
crunching the numbers to create a forecast has been done since
1928. Current forecasting efforts and the state’s data network
are the backbone of crafting a drought response and an
early-warning system for flood emergency response.
“Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and
litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water
to supply the land.” Geologist and Explorer John Wesley Powell at an
irrigator convention in 1883.
“In 1883 we had very little understanding of what the flows of
the Colorado River were,
we had less understanding of the incredible changes in the
climate that would be happening over the course of the next 100
years, which we finally came to realize as we entered this
century,” said Pat Mulroy, who served as general manager of the
Southern Nevada Water
Authority from 1989 to 2014.
California had its warmest winter on record in 2014-2015, with
the average Sierra Nevada temperature hovering above 32 degrees
Fahrenheit – the highest in 120 years. Thus, where California
relies on snow to fall in the mountains and create a snowpack
that can slowly melt into reservoirs, it was instead raining.
That left the state’s snowpack at its lowest ever – 5 percent on
April 1, 2015.
Because he relays stats like these, climate scientist Brad Udall
says he doesn’t often get invited back to speak before the same
audience about climate change.