Water news you need to know

A collection of top water news from around California and the West compiled each weekday. Send any comments or article submissions to Foundation News & Publications Director Doug Beeman.

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Please Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing. Also, the headlines below are the original headlines used in the publication cited at the time they are posted here, and do not reflect the stance of the Water Education Foundation, an impartial nonprofit that remains neutral.

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Friday Top of the Scroll: Before and after: Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, has risen 182 feet

One of the best places to see how dramatically big storms this winter have changed California’s water picture is three hours north of the Bay Area, in the foothills east of Sacramento Valley. There, Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in California and a key component of the state’s water system, has undergone a breathtaking transformation. Sixteen months ago, the reservoir was so parched from severe drought that it was just 22% full. For the first time since it opened in 1967, its power plant had shut down because there wasn’t enough water to spin the turbines and generate electricity. Now Oroville reservoir is 65% full. Since its lowest point on Sept. 30, 2021, the massive lake’s level has risen 182 feet, boosted by nine atmospheric river storms in January.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

At the heart of Colorado River crisis, the mighty ‘Law of the River’ looms large

It’s a crisis nearly 100 years in the making: Seven states — all reliant on a single mighty river as a vital source of water — failed to reach an agreement this week on how best to reduce their use of supplies from the rapidly shrinking Colorado River. At the heart of the feud is the “Law of the River,” a body of agreements, court decisions, contracts and decrees that govern the river’s use and date back to 1922, when the Colorado River Compact first divided river flows among the states. But as California argues most strongly for strict adherence to this system of water apportionment, the other states say it makes little sense when the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, continues to decline toward “dead pool” level, which would effectively cut off the Southwest from its water lifeline. The Law of the River, they say, is getting in the way of a solution.

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Aquafornia news Associated Press

15 Native American tribes to receive $580 million in federal money for water rights settlement

Fifteen Native American tribes will get a total of $580 million in federal money this year for water rights settlements, the Biden administration announced Thursday. The money will help carry out the agreements that define the tribes’ rights to water from rivers and other sources and pay for pipelines, pumping stations, and canals that deliver it to reservations. “Water rights are crucial to ensuring the health, safety and empowerment of Tribal communities,” U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement Thursday that acknowledged the decades many tribes have waited for the funding. Access to reliable, clean water and basic sanitation facilities on tribal lands remains a challenge across many Native American reservations.

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Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: 2023 Water Leaders Class examines ways to leverage green infrastructure to help manage California’s water

Twenty-two early to mid-career water professionals from across California have been chosen for the 2023 William R. Gianelli Water Leaders Class, the Water Education Foundation’s highly competitive and respected career development program. This Water Leaders cohort includes engineers, lawyers, resource specialists, scientists and others from a range of public and private entities and nongovernmental organizations from throughout the state. The roster for the 2023 class can be found here. The Water Leaders program, led by Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Bowles, deepens knowledge on water, enhances individual leadership skills and prepares participants to take an active, cooperative approach to decision-making about water resource issues. Leading experts and top policymakers serve as mentors to class members.

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

California forking out $34 million to clean up New and Tijuana rivers

The State Water Resources Control Board will spend $34 million for six projects to improve the water quality of the New River and the Tijuana River along the U.S.-Mexico border. The New River starts south of the city of Mexicali, and runs through Calexico on the U.S. side of the border and through Imperial County to the Salton Sea. The Tijuana River runs from Baja California into San Diego. Both rivers are heavily polluted by sewage, trash, industrial and agricultural waste, and other sediment and pollutants.

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

California storms recovery difficult for those in hardest hit areas

Moldering houses, sodden with rainwater. Muddy back roads awaiting bulldozers to clear away debris. Families without flood insurance wondering how they will afford to repair their wrecked homes and replace belongings. This is the reality for many low-income and working-class residents in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, the bull’s-eye of a series of historic atmospheric river storms that began on Dec. 26 and lasted through Jan. 18. The storms dumped as much as 3 feet of water in parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains, flooding homes, blocking critical access roads and trapping communities. Across the state, at least 21 people died in the deluges. The floodwaters have receded, but one month later, residents are still struggling to move forward with scant resources while navigating bureaucratic labyrinths to procure promised federal aid.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Wetlands get treated as the ugly duckling of L.A.’s natural spaces. It’s time to change that

Happy World Wetlands Day from the driest big city in the world. OK, that’s not true. We may think of our city as arid, but Los Angeles harbors its very own rich wetlands (plus, Yuma beats us on aridity any year). The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, between Playa del Rey to the south and Marina del Rey and Venice Beach to the north, represents the past, present and future of our city. These ancestral waterways once harbored a fertile ecosystem with which the Tongva coexisted, but the area was recklessly defaced by Marina del Rey construction and continues to struggle with fires and trash from local encampments.

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Aquafornia news Chemical & Engineering News

US EPA seeks to protect salmon from 4 pesticides

The US Environmental Protection Agency has put restrictions on four pesticides to save endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead species from extinction. The new mitigation measures, announced Feb. 1, aim to protect 28 salmon species in Washington, Oregon, and California from pesticide runoff and spray drift. The four targeted pesticides are three herbicides—bromoxynil, prometryn, and metolachlor—and the soil fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene. The EPA put the measures in place after the National Marine Fisheries Service found in 2021 that such restrictions are needed to protect endangered and threatened salmon species. The measures require no-spray vegetative buffers between waters where salmon live and agricultural fields. They also require retention ponds and vegetated drainage ditches. All of these measures are intended to capture pesticides that otherwise could seep into the water.

Aquafornia news California Department of Water Resources

News release: DWR awards $46 million to help communities statewide improve water supply reliability, groundwater recharge and water use efficiency

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced grant awards to nine projects in six counties through the Urban Community Drought Relief Grant program. The $46 million in financial assistance will provide critical support to implement drought relief projects that build long-term drought and climate resilience in communities across the State, and help advance efforts outlined in Governor Newsom’s strategy to adapt California’s water supply for a hotter and drier future. While recent storms have improved conditions and helped fill many of the state’s reservoirs to average or above average levels, California may see a return to dry conditions in the months ahead, and much of the state continues to experience drought impacts following the three driest years on record.

Aquafornia news High Country News

What happens when an affluent Arizona suburb’s main water supply is cut off?

The Rio Verde Foothills look like any other slice of desert suburbia, a smattering of roughly 2,000 stucco homes in a cactus-studded neighborhood just outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, one of Phoenix’s booming satellite cities. An affluent community with a median home price of $825,000, it offered homebuyers cheap land, good schools and mountain views — but not, as many residents recently discovered, a stable water supply. No municipal water pipes reach the Rio Verde Foothills, so about 25% to 35% of the residents rely on a longstanding arrangement in which private water trucks deliver water supplied by Scottsdale. When the city began threatening to cut off the community’s access to Scottsdale water in 2015, saying it had to conserve for its own residents, many Rio Verde Foothills residents did not believe it would actually happen.

Aquafornia news NPR

Climate change and a population boom could dry up the Great Salt Lake in 5 years

Trekking along the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake — the largest remaining saltwater lake in the western hemisphere — can feel eerie and lonely. … [Carly Biedul, a biologist with the Great Salt Lake Institute], is bundled up in an orange puffy jacket, gloves and hat. Most important she’s wearing, thick, sturdy, rubber boots. The mud with a frozen, slick layer of ice on top gets treacherous. One thing that’s hard to prepare for though, is the stench: A pungent odor like sulfur and dead fish. But it’s actually a good thing, a sign of a biologically healthy saline lake. “People have been saying that they miss the lake stink because it just makes them feel like home,” Biedul says. “It’s just not here [much] anymore, so you’re lucky that it gets to smell so bad.” Lucky? Maybe one small bright spot in an otherwise grim story of a looming ecological disaster. The lake doesn’t really stink anymore because it’s drying … and dying.

Aquafornia news E&E News

History emerges as Lake Mead recedes

Looking out at a vast, dusty valley, Alan O’Neill nods at a long concrete ramp that hasn’t seen a motorized boat launch in nearly 20 years. … Approaching one edge of Las Vegas Bay Marina Overlook — now more than 1.5 miles from the water’s edge — O’Neill points out the picnic tables shaded by green metal gazebos near the abandoned boat ramp, a nearby campsite that still draws visitors, and the dry ground that once used to be part of Lake Mead. … The plummeting water levels at Lake Mead receive national attention because of the reservoir’s key role in supplying water to municipal and agricultural users in Arizona, Nevada and California, forcing state and federal officials to make difficult decisions about how to keep the water flowing after more than two decades of drought.

Aquafornia news Planetizen News

Blog: A new paradigm for stormwater management

A program that installed green infrastructure in Los Angeles alleyways got its first real test last month as massive storms pummeled the region, bringing rain that overwhelmed much of Southern California’s stormwater infrastructure. As Alissa Walker writes in Curbed, thanks to the “green alleys” installed as part of a 2015 project in South Los Angeles, “the resulting stormwater had more opportunities to sink back into the earth: filtering through a row of permeable pavers, directing to pocket planters where creeping fig vines twirl up garage walls, or vanishing into grates labeled ‘drains to groundwater.’”

Aquafornia news Fox Weather

Don’t hold the guac: California’s avocado industry poised to take advantage of winter’s historic rains

A Super Bowl party mainstay that nearly every fan can get behind is poised to take advantage of California’s decreasing drought despite early predictions that crop output may come in below the previous season’s totals. The California Avocado Commission recently announced it’s expecting a crop harvest of 257 million pounds of avocados during the 2022-23 fiscal year, which is a drop of around 7% from the 2021-2022 season. Central and Southern California are home to nearly 3,000 farms, with many experiencing years of drought and strict water restrictions. A decrease in the severity of the drought triggered by atmospheric river events that dropped some 32 trillion gallons of water over the state has some hopeful that initial estimates may not capture the full success of farmers.

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Aquafornia news Capital Public Radio

Winter storms in California will become more intense as climate change accelerates, study finds

An estimated 32 trillion gallons of water — in the form of rain and snow — came down on California in a series of nine back-to-back atmospheric rivers between late December and mid-January.  To put this in perspective, that amount is just shy of the quantity of water held within Lake Tahoe, one of the deepest lakes in North America. The lake has, on average, about 37 trillion gallons of water.  These storms were destructive and deadly, claiming the lives of at least 20 people, and the estimated cost is likely to end up being in the billions. And new research is revealing these storms will likely become larger and drop even more rain than what we have experienced so far this winter. Dr. Ruby Leung, an atmospheric scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state, joined CapRadio’s Vicki Gonzalez to discuss what this means for California’s future.

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Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

The newt normal: How will these remarkable animals survive in extreme climates?

Anton Sorokin was hiking in the hills near his home in Berkeley when he came across a pond that was packed full of newts. For a couple of delightful hours, he watched the amphibians swim to the surface for a breath and then plunge underwater again. With a background in herpetology and wildlife photography, Sorokin took some pictures without any particular project in mind. He thought to himself, “Oh, what a great find!” … Like many animals, California’s newts are facing new challenges because of climate change, according to growing evidence. Although the animals evolved to deal with drought by delaying reproduction when conditions were extreme, the region has become drier for longer than in the past. 

Aquafornia news Newsweek

Historic California rain could bring one of the best superblooms for years

The historic rainfall hitting California in recent months could bring a particularly vibrant superbloom in the Spring—the first one to occur in the state since 2019. “Superblooms” in California happen when conditions are just right—when the state, which is in the grips of an ongoing drought, receives a rare influx of rainfall, paired with the right amount of sunshine. When this happens, native wildflowers, that lay dormant in the soil, all bloom at once. This creates a phenomenon where carpets of brightly colored flowers spread across the state, often in the deserts.

Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Opinion: Calif.’s storms are gone. Here’s how much water we flushed to the Pacific.

California’s mandated first flush of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in January resulted in the vast majority of incoming Delta water being sent out into the San Francisco Bay.  Data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the month of January revealed that more than 90 percent of all water that entered the Sacramento Delta was pumped out to the Bay and into the Pacific Ocean.  The backstory: In early January, following weeks of heavy rainfall throughout the Golden State, up to 95 percent of all incoming water to the Delta was being purposefully pumped into the ocean at points.
-Written by SJV Sun reporter Daniel Gligich. 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday Top of the Scroll: California’s Feb. 1 snowpack is at its highest point in nearly 30 years. But will it fill drought-depleted reservoirs?

The snowpack in California’s mountains weighed in Wednesday as the biggest it has been at the start of February in nearly three decades, a product of the recent storms that have flipped the script on drought by lessening water shortages across the state. State water officials conducting their monthly snow survey logged snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades at 205% of the average for the date. At Phillips Station, one of the state’s oldest and most central monitoring sites, where surveyors convened in front of TV cameras for measurements Wednesday morning, the snowpack was 193% of average.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Why is California going it alone in Colorado River talks?

With the recent expiration of a federal deadline, California now finds itself sharply at odds with six other states over how to take less water from the shrinking Colorado River. After rejecting a plan offered by the rest of the region, California has entered a political tug-of-war with high stakes. So why has the state that uses the most Colorado River water decided to go it alone? California appears to be banking on its high-priority senior water rights, while the other states are presenting a united front to show the federal government they support a plan that would have California give up more water. … The parties are at an impasse as the federal government begins to weigh alternatives for rapidly reducing water use and preventing the river’s reservoirs from reaching dangerously low levels.

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