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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 Chris Bowman.

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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 Los Angeles Times

How much worse will extreme heat get in U.S. by 2050?

The next quarter of a century will bring considerable climate danger to millions of Americans living in disadvantaged communities, who will not only experience increased exposure to life-threatening extreme heat but also greater hardships from reduced energy reliability, a new nationwide report has found. The report, published Wednesday by the ICF Climate Center, examines global warming projections in Justice40 communities — those identified by the federal government as marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution. The Justice40 Initiative was established under President Biden’s strategy to tackle the climate crisis, which aims to funnel 40% of benefits from certain federal climate, energy and housing investments into these communities. 

Aquafornia news KJZZ - Tempe, AZ

Water is for fighting: Partisanship increases in Arizona politics as groundwater drops

In Arizona, water used to be a bipartisan area of politics, albeit a contentious one. But partisanship and tension have increased as water has drained away. Kathleen Ferris is a water policy expert of more than 40 years who helped craft Arizona’s monumental 1980 Groundwater Management Act. “Everybody keeps saying that water is bipartisan, and in fact it’s not. It’s not anymore, let’s put it that way. It used to be. You could say that back in 1980, when we passed the Groundwater Management Act, but you can’t say that anymore,” she said. Ferris believes Arizona’s prospects have darkened over the years, largely due to rural communities resisting conservation efforts. “Willcox, for example, did not want any part of the Groundwater Management Act. And yet here they are today, desperate for help,” Ferris said. 

Aquafornia news Fast Company

In Southern Utah, a bold approach to water conservation

The Virgin River cuts through a towering red rock gorge flanked by forested plateaus as it meanders through Washington County in southern Utah. The river is the primary source of water for the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., which includes the city of St. George. Washington County is the largest employment center in southwest Utah, with a population of 200,000 that is expected to double by 2060.  It’s also the hottest and driest county in Utah, and it’s dependent on a singular water source: the Virgin River Basin. But the Virgin’s waters are thinning from climate-change induced drought and overuse. Water conservation is necessary to meet the increasing demands of growth, and Washington County boasts some of the toughest measures in Utah—including a bold program to “buy” residents’ grass as a way to get them to swap in less water-dependent plants. 

Aquafornia news E&E News

Reclamation sounds off on Western water bills

The Bureau of Reclamation supports “the intent” of four bills moving through the House Natural Resources Committee to shore up operations of major Western waterways, including the Colorado and Klamath river basins. The Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee on Wednesday met to discuss the four bills targeting hydropower and aging water infrastructure. All four bills received a rosy reception from David Palumbo, Reclamation’s deputy commissioner of operations. Palumbo said Reclamation supports Rep. Susie Lee’s (D-Nev.) H.R. 7776, the “Help Hoover Dam Act,” which would provide an additional $45 million in operating funds for the Hoover Dam.

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

UC Davis study says lakes impacted by California wildfires

Nearly every Californian can remember wildfire smoke bathing Sacramento, the Bay Area and other locations in orange hues two years ago or the smell of burned wildlands wafting into their neighborhoods. Now, researchers say the smoke could have adversely affected the state’s freshwater ecosystems. Ashy plumes gusting from conflagrations should not be characterized as an “event” but rather now as a seasonal weather phenomenon, said Adrianne Smits, a UC Davis aquatic ecologist who studies at the university’s Tahoe Environmental Research Center. In 2020 and 2021, at least 70% of the Golden State was shrouded in smoke. Wildfire activity has quintupled since the 1970s, according to UC Davis.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Western Fram Press

Commentary: A grower’s grower – Organic farms are all natural

Innovations and improvements are ongoing in the field of agriculture as immortalized by a poet centuries ago who wrote, “Nothing stays the same, save eternal change.” Fortunately for farmers, something creative is always on the horizon that will make things faster, easier, and sometimes even cheaper.  One such evolution involves organic growing and how it differs from conventional farming. Developed in the early 1900s, the concepts of organic agriculture included use of animal manures, cover crops, rotation of crops, and biologically based pest controls.  Encyclopaedia Britannica calls it, “A sustainable agriculture system that evolved as a response to the environmental harm caused by chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Compared with conventional agriculture, organic farming uses less pesticide, reduces soil erosion, decreases nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water, and recycles animal wastes.”
-Written by contributing writer Lee Allen. 

Aquafornia news The Hill

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: Wildfire smoke has covered up to 70 percent of California in recent years, affecting land and water: Study

Wildfire smoke covered as much as 70 percent of California in recent years — wreaking havoc not only on land, but also in the state’s vast freshwater ecosystems … according to [a UC Davis] study published on Wednesday in Communications: Earth & Environment. … What [researchers] found was that while wildfire smoke does change light, water temperature and oxygen levels, it does so to a different extent — depending on lake size, depth, smoke cover and nutrient levels. Subsequent decreases in photosynthesis and respiration rates can then influence everything else, [said Adrianne Smits, the lead author of the study] “Food webs, algal growth, the ability to emit or sequester carbon — those are dependent on these rates,” she added. “They’re all related, and they’re all being changed by smoke.”

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Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Water agencies, feds agree to new drought resilience program

Major Central Valley water agencies have signed an agreement with the federal government to establish a new drought resiliency framework.  The partnership is funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. The big picture: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Friant Water Authority, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority all signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to establish a South of Delta Drought Resiliency Framework. The MOU establishes an approach to implement drought resiliency projects and framework, which includes a drought plan that allows the agencies to conserve and store or exchange a portion of their water deliveries for use in future years with lower supplies.

Related Central Valley water infrastructure articles:  

Aquafornia news Aspen Daily News

The ‘academic proposal’ for the Colorado River

Two groups of states submitted conflicting proposals in March describing how federal officials should manage reservoirs on the Colorado River after 2026. Former Colorado River Water Conservation District General Manager Eric Kuhn, along with two other water experts, have their own idea to pitch. Kuhn and his co-authors, University of New Mexico professor John Fleck and Utah State University professor Jack Schmidt want to add more flexibility to dam operations to address environmental and recreation concerns in the Grand Canyon below Glen Canyon Dam (the dam that forms Lake Powell). Kuhn presented what has been called the “academic proposal” during a Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting in Glenwood Springs on Monday. He said the document is not a “proposal” akin to the states’ proposals, describing it as more of an “approach” that can be incorporated with other proposals.

Related Colorado River stories: 

Aquafornia news Fox 40 - Sacramento

Northern California river receives endangered salmon for first time in 80 years

For the first time in 80 years, a Northern California river welcomed an endangered species of salmon to its waters. Currently, spring-run and winter-run Chinook Salmon are listed at the state and federal level as “threatened” and “endangered,” which means they are considered at critical risk of extinction. Since the 1940s, the winter-run Chinook salmon have been blocked from accessing the McCloud River area in California because of the Shasta and Keswick dams. Because of the restriction, the California Department of Water Resources, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association Fisheries Service said they partnered together to “save the salmon” and help the fish [migrate] to areas of the McCloud River.

Related Sacramento River salmon article: 

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

California water officials mostly cleared in drought-related water rights saga

Three California companies pushing back against state emergency regulations and water curtailment orders saw most of their claims dismissed by a federal judge Tuesday. Los Molinos Mutual Water Company, Stanford Vina Ranch Irrigation Company and Peyton Pacific Properties LLC challenged the restrictions, which were in response to 2021 and 2022 drought conditions. … However [U.S. District Court Judge Dale Drozd] kept intact the Endangered Species Act claim against water board members and staff while tossing all claims against the [state] Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Microplastics discovered in human and dog testes

Researchers have located one more anatomical organ where microplastics — of all shapes and constituents — are found: human testes. And although they can’t say for sure, they suspect the presence of these jagged bits and strands of polymers such as polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene could be — in part — behind a global trend in diminishing sperm quality and quantity. … Asked what the major route of exposure was for dogs and people, [Xiaozhong Yu, a professor of environmental health at the University of New Mexico] said “microplastics are everywhere — in the air, in the drinking water, in the food, in our clothes. We don’t exactly know what is the most probable route. But they are everywhere.”

Related microplastic and PFAS articles: 

Aquafornia news Washington Post

Sites with radioactive material more vulnerable as climate change increases wildfire, flood risks

As Texas wildfires burned toward the nation’s primary nuclear weapons facility, workers hurried to ensure nothing flammable was around buildings and storage areas. When the fires showed no sign of slowing, Pantex Plant officials urgently called on local contractors, who arrived within minutes with bulldozers to dig trenches and enlarge fire breaks for the sprawling complex where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled and dangerous plutonium pits — hollow spheres that trigger nuclear warheads and bombs — are stored. … There’s the 40-square-mile Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where a 2000 wildfire burned to within a half mile (0.8 kilometers) of a radioactive waste site. The heavily polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Southern California, where a 2018 wildfire burned 80% of the site, narrowly missing an area contaminated by a 1959 partial nuclear meltdown. 

Aquafornia news Vallejo Sun

California Forever says it has enough signatures to qualify for November ballot

California Forever announced today that the group has collected 20,472 petition signatures for their initiative that would change Solano County zoning laws to accommodate a new city of 400,000 people between Fairfield and Rio Vista. The Silicon Valley billionaire-funded development group turned the signatures in to the Solano County Registrar of Voters on Tuesday, according to county records. … Opponents of the project have raised concerns about additional traffic that the project will add to the highways, the potential for the development to interfere with the training and other operations at Travis Air Force Base and where the development is going to source its water. 

Aquafornia news Marin Independent Journal

Marin Municipal Water District looks to update grey water rules

Installing drought-tolerant landscaping or using recycled water for irrigation could become substitutes for grey water systems under a proposal from the Marin Municipal Water District. The district’s communications and water efficiency committee has endorsed a proposal that will overhaul the grey water ordinance that was adopted in 2016. Grey water is wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks and clothes washers. The existing ordinance states that applicants seeking new water service, and projects requesting expanded water service for large residential or commercial remodels, must install a grey water recycling system for landscape irrigation. However, the district allowed customers to self-certify whether a grey water system was feasible, resulting in many owners of eligible sites exempting their properties, staff said.

Aquafornia news San Luis Obispo Tribune

Building moratorium in Los Osos could be lifted after decades

Los Osos could end its building moratorium by the end of the year and see new construction for the first time in decades under a plan led by the California Coastal Commission and San Luis Obispo County. The proposal could eventually bring 1% residential growth to a community that has been under a building ban since 1988. The history of Los Osos’ moratorium began with the septic tank discharge prohibition issued by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in 1983. That agency found that the town’s 5,000 septic tanks were sending millions of gallons of effluent down the drain and into both the groundwater and the bay. The county then carried out a multi-decade struggle to site and fund a new water treatment plant, finally launched in 2012 and put into service in 2016. 

Aquafornia news Audubon California

Blog: California’s revised budget highlights critical need for a climate bond

California has prided itself on its bold leadership on climate change. In the past twenty years, it has made unprecedented commitments and investments to reduce emissions and build climate resilience. Unfortunately, amid a dire state budget crisis, California leaders are struggling to ensure that the state will continue its leadership in meeting the challenge of climate change. Immediate and large-scale climate action is essential to protect people and birds. Audubon’s Survival by Degrees report found that 389 species of North American birds are likely to see significant population declines due to climate change if global temperature increased beyond 3 degrees Celsius, which now seems almost unavoidable. As the world’s fifth largest economy and a global leader on climate policy, California’s climate action will have direct impacts on birds and their habitats well beyond the state’s borders.

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

CDFA wants to streamline reporting regs

California’s agriculture agency has released a concept paper proposing ways to streamline ag-related food safety and water quality reporting requirements. The paper is part of a regulatory alignment study led by the state Department of Food and Agriculture in coordination with the California Environmental Protection Agency and the State Water Resources Control Board. Officials said the objective is to reduce paperwork for farmers and ranchers. Informed by a broad range of interviews and feedback, the proposals presented in the concept paper serve as a foundation and are not final recommendations.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Mexico City has long thirsted for water. The crisis is worsening.

A collision of climate change, urban sprawl and poor infrastructure has pushed Mexico City to the brink of a profound water crisis. The groundwater is quickly vanishing. A key reservoir got so low that it is no longer used to supply water. Last year was Mexico’s hottest and driest in at least 70 years. And one of the city’s main water systems faces a potential “Day Zero” this summer when levels dip so much that it, too, will no longer provide water.

Related urban water supply article: 

Aquafornia news Reuters

Indigenous Brazil community stays on flooded land in dispute with developer

Stranded for nearly three weeks by record flooding in southern Brazil, one tiny Indigenous community is determined not to evacuate what they consider sacred ancestral lands that are in dispute with real estate developers. The Mbya Guarani people have been living since 2018 on a peninsula in far southern Porto Alegre, the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul.  The community has long been at odds with Arado Empreendimentos Imobiliarios, the firm that has been planning a residential development on nearly 426 hectares (1,053 acres) in the area for over a decade, part of which is in dispute. Heavy rains have battered Rio Grande do Sul since late April, causing historic floods that have killed over 160 people, while nearly 100 residents are still missing and more than 500,000 have been displaced. Even with the devastating floods, community leaders say they would not consider leaving.

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