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 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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

State Water Board Seeks Solid Scientific Basis for Update of Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan

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 ecosystem.

“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.”

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Delta Report Highlights Need to Restore Legacy Processes

Understanding the importance of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and working to restore it means grasping the scope of what it once was.

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.”

Western Water Susan Lauer

Farming in the Delta with Less Water

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 during shortage.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

State Water Board Refining Rules for Medical Cannabis Cultivation

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.