Western Water News


Western Water News

Western Water: Your Trusted News Source Since 1977

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:

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Western Water Layperson's Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources Gary Pitzer

The Drought May Be Over, But California Still Wants Residents to Act Like It’s On Forever
State considers adopting permanent wise water use rules starting in April

For decades, no matter the weather, the message has been preached to Californians: use water wisely, especially outdoors, which accounts for most urban water use.

Enforcement of that message filters to the local level, where water agencies routinely target the notorious “gutter flooder” with gentle reminders and, if necessary, financial penalties.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to the State Water Project Land Subsidence Gary Pitzer

State Taking Steps to Manage Subsidence-Related Impacts to California Aqueduct
Department of Water Resources to spend $5 million for quick fixes, as it assesses longer-term repairs

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.

Marysville flooding
Western Water Gary Pitzer

Better Forecasting Is Key to Improved Drought and Flood Response

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 planning.

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 forecasting.”

Western Water Gary Pitzer

New Plan to Aid Salton Sea Gets Green Light from Main Water Parties

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.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Susan Lauer

How San Joaquin Valley Growers are Helping to Address Land Subsidence
A local response was highlighted at a forum in Fresno

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 State.

Groundwater is the ‘neglected child’ of the water world, these authors say
Talking groundwater with authors William and Rosemarie Alley

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

New Delta Lead Scientist Seeks Improved Knowledge of Bay-Delta Interface

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.”

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Bill Seeks Reform of State Water Board Hearings Process
Legislature to consider proposal Monday

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Drought’s Impact on Fiscal Planning Highlights PPIC Report
Suppliers need “proactive” drought pricing to prevent cash crunch

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).

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Habitat Renewal Project Aims to Boost Sacramento River Salmon
Salmon shelters installed in early May to help fry and juvenile salmon

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Legislative Committee Spotlights Need for Improved Dam Oversight

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.”

Western Water Susan Lauer

Fran Spivy-Weber: “Water, a Past and Future Perspective”

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Crisis at Oroville May Be Basis for Renewed Operations Criteria
Coming snowmelt poses a problem in San Joaquin Valley

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 dilemmas

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Senators Call For Equity and Competitiveness in New Water Bond Allocation

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Crews Race to Stabilize Vulnerable Oroville Dam Spillway
Crews dumping "super" sand bags, filling four gouges in the hillside as storm expected tonight

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Millions of Dollars Needed to Help Low-Income Ratepayers with Water Bills, State Water Board Told
Five million Californians have affordability issues

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Climate Change Impacts Here to Stay for California Farmers, Grower Says

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.”

Western Water Rita Schmidt Sudman

Remembering Kevin Starr
Rita Schmidt Sudman remembers Starr and his connection to California water and the Water Education Foundation

To the many tributes to Kevin Starr, I add mine.

So many of us, his associates and friends, want to express our thoughts on the exuberance and talent we witnessed in the larger-than-life man.

Western Water Jenn Bowles Jennifer Bowles

Teaching About Water on the Other Side of the World

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Rules Set for Prop. 1 Funding for New Water Storage Projects

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.