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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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Thursday Top of the Scroll: Slew of water bills swirl around Sacramento

Senior water rights holders have arguably the sweetest deal in California water. They often have ironclad deals and some even get access to substantial water during the worst of drought.  But three new bills in the state legislature are taking aim at senior water rights in an attempt to level the playing field. The bills propose expanding the authority of the state Water Resources Control Board. Senior water rights date back to before 1914, when there was no permitting or state water authority yet. For years, advocacy groups have decried the water rights system and demanded changes. Some of those changes could become reality if legislators and the governor approve the current bills. 

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Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Phoenix will voluntarily reduce Colorado River usage by 30% to combat low reservoir levels

Phoenix will leave 150,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell over the next three years as part of a multi-state effort to protect the Colorado River, whose water levels have dropped to dangerously low levels after decades of severe regional drought.The move, unanimously approved by the City Council on May 31, reduces the city’s typical Colorado River allocation by 30% for 2023 and adds to a 9,300 acre-feet reduction already enacted as a result of the state’s drought contingency plan. Phoenix will receive $60 million in exchange for leaving the water in the lakes. 

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Central Valley flooding offers birds bountiful water. Will it also poison them?

After struggling through years of punishing drought, California waterfowl and flocks of migrating birds are now enjoying a rare bounty of water as winter storms and spring snowmelt submerge vast tracts of Central Valley landscape. But even as birders celebrate the return of wet conditions along portions of the Pacific Flyway, experts worry that this liquid bonanza could ultimately poison tens of thousands of the avians as temperatures rise and newly formed lakes and ponds begin to evaporate. The concern: botulism. … [John Carlson, president of the California Wildfowl Association], estimates there is a “high probability” of a die-off this summer. That grim prognosis has added to the emotional whiplash bird lovers and wildlife officials have experienced in recent years as extreme climate variability has gripped the West Coast, alternately parching and starving waterfowl and providing them with a surfeit of habitat.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

California to send $95 million to undocumented flooding victims – months after promising ‘rapid response’

California will send $95 million to flood victims in a long-awaited program to assist undocumented residents suffering hardship and damage from the recent months of storms. The money will be available in many affected counties starting in June, according to the state’s Department of Social Services.  The announcement comes two months after Gov. Gavin Newsom promised flood victims that help would come from the state’s Rapid Response Fund. Since then his office provided few details despite repeated queries and criticism.  Alex Stack, a spokesperson for Newsom, said state officials were trying to ensure the program would be accessible to a population that is often hard to reach, while also protecting taxpayer funds from fraud.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Majority of Californians fear worsening weather swings due to climate change, poll finds

As California continues to experience swings from one weather extreme to another, a majority of residents say they are increasingly concerned about the state’s changing climate, and some worry that weather impacts could force them to move in the future. Nearly 70% of registered voters say they expect that volatile fluctuations between severe drought and periods of heavy rain and snow — what some call weather whiplash — will become more common in the future due to climate change, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. The poll comes on the heels of a shockingly wet winter that ended three years of drought, killed nearly two dozen people and flooded the long-dry Tulare Lake Basin.

Aquafornia news Mono Lake Committee

Blog: Mono Lake’s exciting rise may well disappear

The incredibly wet winter of 2023 has us anticipating an exciting 5½-foot rise in Mono Lake’s level by fall. That gain will boost the lake 30% of the way to the mandated healthy level that will protect the lake, its ecosystem and wildlife, air quality, cultural resources, and more. But this important progress toward the long-overdue management level will be lost if stream diversions by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) continue unchanged.

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Aquafornia news Maven's Notebook

Sturgeon arose during the Jurassic—can they survive the Anthropocene?

Sturgeon have been around far longer than humans—a jaw-dropping 200 million years to our comparatively short 6 million—and survived the cataclysm that terminated the age of dinosaurs. But can these ancient fish survive the age of people? New insights into the secret lives of these little-known fish, as well as into their increasing vulnerability, suggest ways of strengthening protections for sturgeon in California. All 27 remaining species of sturgeon live in the northern hemisphere and all are at risk. Threats include overfishing, poaching for their caviar, and dams that block access to their spawning grounds. Fish in the San Francisco Bay are also threatened by harmful algal blooms called red tides, which release toxins that can kill aquatic life.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Opinion: California’s snow is melting and it’s a beautiful thing

My fellow Californians often remark that the weather in this state feels like it has been reduced to two seasons, both defined by natural disasters: In summer and fall, huge, intense wildfires rip their way across dry land, while winter and early spring bring intense atmospheric rivers with heavy rainfall, floods and landslides along with winds that take down trees. The weather extremes here are so common, and climate change is so in your face, that many people now just expect to jump from one natural disaster to the next. And this pessimism means it’s hard to enjoy it when — for once — nature deals us a good hand. But this year, after several brutal years of fighting drought, we finally got the water that we have so sorely needed for so long. We damn well better enjoy it. 
-Written by Andrew Schwartz, lead scientist and station manager at the University of California, Berkeley, Central Sierra Snow Lab.

Aquafornia news Morgan Hill Times

Judge’s ruling delays Pacheco Dam expansion plans

Plans to build a new dam for Pacheco Reservoir in southeast Santa Clara County are on hold after a superior court judge in May ruled that the project developer had incorrectly claimed it is exempt from state environmental laws.  Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Theodore Zayner on May 18 ruled that the project applicant, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, had filed a “notice of exemption” that was not in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The ruling was issued in response to a lawsuit filed in June 2022 by Stop the Pacheco Dam Project Coalition, and later amended to include the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the Sierra Club.  Valley Water has proposed building a larger dam that would expand Pacheco Reservoir’s water storage capacity from 5,500 to 140,000 acre feet. 

Aquafornia news High Country News

In search of answers at the Salton Sea

As the temperature on an early April afternoon crept above 80 degrees, Cruz Marquez, a member of the Salton Sea Community Science Program, stood at a folding table under a blue tent, scrubbing a small glass vial with the cloth of his T-shirt. … Over the last 25 years, the Salton Sea has lost a third of its water due to an over-allocated Colorado River. As it shrinks, the sea’s salts plus pollutants from agricultural runoff reach higher concentrations. All those extra nutrients fuel algae blooms that then decay in the sulfate-rich sea, resulting in a rotten-egg smell that can extend for miles. As temperatures rise and the water retreats further, locals suspect that the contaminated sediments in the exposed lakebed are worsening air quality; the area’s childhood asthma rate is one of the highest in the state.

Aquafornia news KCRA - Sacramento

Sen. Alex Padilla focuses on water affordability in hearing

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., convened his first hearing as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, on Wednesday. Sen. Padilla appeared on the KCRA News morning show on My58 and said the hearing will focus on how rising water rates, aging infrastructure and extreme weather events have affected access and affordability of clean water across the country. … According to a state audit in 2022, California required an estimated $64.7 billion to upgrade its water infrastructure. In April, the EPA awarded a fraction of that, $391 million. To hear more about the subcommittee’s initiatives, watch the attached video.

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: What’s the dam problem with deadbeat dams?

(Editor’s Note: This is a repost of a blog originally published in June 2020).

Damming rivers was once a staple of public works and a signal of technological and scientific progress. Even today, dams underpin much of California’s public safety and economy, while having greatly disrupted native ecosystems (Quiñones et al. 2015, Moyle et al. 2017), displaced native peoples (Garrett 2010), and deprived residents of water access when streamflow is transported across basins. California’s dams are aging and many will require expensive reconstruction or rehabilitation. Many dams were built for landscapes, climates and economic purposes that no longer exist. California’s current dams reflect an accumulation of decisions over the past 170 years based on environmental, political, and socio-economic dynamics that have changed, sometimes radically.

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Aquafornia news U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Blog: Saving endangered fish one weir at a time

Protecting and responding to threats of the Colorado River endangered fishes (Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub) are an important part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s mission. Threats such as fish entrainment in water diversions, have long been recognized by resource managers as a threat to native, especially endangered and threatened fish in the Colorado River Basin. Fish entrainment is the unwanted passage and loss of fish through a water intake, for example, when fish are transported with the flow of streams, creeks or rivers that are being diverted for irrigation and other uses.

Aquafornia news KCRA - Sacramento

City of Roseville stored more groundwater than ever this year

Thanks to this year’s big winter rain and snow season, City of Roseville officials say they have been able to store more groundwater than ever before. Improving groundwater storage is an important part of the greater Sacramento region’s plans to increase the security of the drinking water supply. During times of drought, groundwater acts as a water savings account for when surface water from reservoirs is less available. In recent decades, groundwater has been significantly overdrawn throughout California. For the past several weeks, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been making increased releases at Folsom Lake. Thanks to a contract with the City of Roseville, some of that excess water is being stored in aquifers below the city.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Can Californians keep their lawns?

The tremendous rains over the winter have filled California’s reservoirs, blessed the snowpack and brought waterfalls and ancient lakes back to life. In some parts of the state, the precipitation has also revived something that was thought to have been a thing of the past: green lawns. Last spring, when California was still in a worsening drought, Jeff Fox and Amy Bach let the grass in their San Francisco backyard go dry. They covered their desiccated lawn with bark chips, added some succulents and well-placed rocks, and welcomed their new, drought-friendly landscaping. They were among the thousands of people who abandoned the California dream of a single-family home surrounded by a lush, neatly kept lawn. Then this winter, the Bay Area, like much of the state, was battered with enormous amounts of rain. 

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Aquafornia news Salt Lake Tribune

Two Utah sites will get over $19 million in federal funds to restore public lands. Here’s where it’s going.

The federal government is putting $160 million in public lands — including over $19 million to two sites in Utah — to restore the landscapes, restore wildlife habitats and improve water on public lands. The effort is part of President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda. In a news conference Wednesday, Bureau of Land Management leaders announced a total of 21 sites would receive funding for restoration. Among those sites were two in the Beehive State — the Upper Bear River in northeastern Utah and for Color Country in southwestern Utah. The Upper Bear will receive $9.6 million in funding, while Color Country will receive $9.73 million. … Southwest Utah’s booming population is in large part why the BLM chose to focus part of the funding on that region of the country, said BLM Senior Policy Advisor Tomer Hasson during the news conference. 

Aquafornia news Coastal View

Advanced water purification coming to a town near you

Each and every day, the Carpinteria Sanitary District sends over one million gallons of highly treated water through our outfall pipeline and into the Pacific Ocean. In 2016 we began working in partnership with the Carpinteria Valley Water District on a plan to recapture this valuable resource and create a new, drought-proof water supply for our community. The Carpinteria Advanced Purification Project, or CAPP, has now moved into the final design stage. We are just a few short years away from having a reliable source of highly purified water that will augment our local groundwater aquifer and meet a quarter of Carpinteria’s demand for potable water.
-Written by Craig Murray, General Manager of the Carpinteria Sanitary District. 

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Opinion: California must realign its priorities for water usage

To achieve water stability and sustainability, the state must realign its priorities by putting people and communities over the profiteering industries that are driving the water and climate crisis. … Our water crisis is inextricably tied to climate change, which is ironically being driven by two industries very familiar to California: fossil fuels and industrial agriculture. The science is very clear: In order to stave off unthinkable climate chaos we must move off fossil fuels, and very quickly transition our economy to a near future of completely clean, renewable energy. … Yet just this year, under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s watch, the state has approved nearly 1,000 new fossil fuel extraction permits.
-Written by Chirag G. Bhaka, the California Director of Food & Water Watch.

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Aquafornia news The New York Times

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: Facing California’s future of flooding and droughts

In recent years, it is the dry side of California that has captured headlines: dwindling reservoirs where boat ramps lead only to sand, almond orchards ripped up for lack of irrigation water, catastrophic wildfires that rage through desiccated forests and into towns. In the longer view, though, the state’s water problems have come just as often from deluge as from drought. Other parts of the country can count on reasonably steady precipitation, but California has always been different, teetering between drenching winters and blazing summers, between wet years and dry ones — fighting endlessly to exert control over a flow of water that vacillates, sometimes wildly, between too much and too little.

Aquafornia news San Luis Obispo Tribune

CA steelhead trout population drops due to drought, wildfires

It’s a fickle fish — one that evades even the most experienced anglers and darts for cover when curious passersby try to spot its freckled body against the backdrop of a gravel-lined stream. Despite capturing the attention of many local scientists and conservationists, California’s Central Coast steelhead trout remain listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to the latest review of the species released in May by the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The population segment on the south-central California coast reviewed by the federal agency, which has a range stretching from the Pajaro River in Monterey Bay to Arroyo Grande Creek, was first listed as threatened in 1997. It hasn’t appeared to improve since then.

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