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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 The Park Record

Utah water conditions update: Nearly full reservoirs, rushing streams and a healthier Great Salt Lake

It’s officially summer, and the Utah Water Conditions Update is here from the Utah Division of Water Resources, and the headlines are positive. Reservoirs are at 92% capacity, 88% of streams are flowing at normal to above-normal and Great Salt Lake has risen 6.5 feet since its historic low in 2022. According to the report, most of Utah’s snowpack has melted. Streams and reivers and running high, fast and cold, which creates dangerous conditions. The Park Record reported earlier this week that Wasatch County Search and Rescue has been called in to the Provo River frequently in the last two weeks due to recreationists falling in the rushing river, which has picked up due to snowpack melt.

Aquafornia news U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

News release: Reclamation selects Rain Emerson as deputy area manager for South-Central California Area Office

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced the selection of Rain Emerson to assume the role of deputy area manager for the South-Central California Area Office for the California-Great Basin Region. The role will serve as a deputy to the SCCAO area manager and advise on planning, coordinating, managing and directing of program activities. The office encompasses the San Francisco Bay-Delta, San Joaquin Valley, and the south coast area including Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Aquafornia news Washington Post

See how this green hydrogen plant converts water into clean fuel

The tangle of pipes at this industrial plant [in Corpus Christi, Texas] doesn’t stand out in this city built around the carbon-heavy business of pumping oil and refining it into fuel for planes, ships, trucks and cars. But this plant produces fuel from a different source, one that doesn’t belch greenhouse pollution: hydrogen. Specifically, hydrogen made from water using renewable electricity, also known as green hydrogen. This process could represent the biggest change in how fuel for planes, ships, trains and trucks is made since the first internal combustion engine fired up in the 19th century. … Turning hydrogen into liquid fuel could help slash planet-warming pollution from heavy vehicles, cutting a key source of emissions that contribute to climate change. But to fulfill that promise, companies will have to build massive numbers of wind turbines and solar panels to power the energy-hungry process. Regulators will have to make sure hydrogen production doesn’t siphon green energy that could go towards cleaning up other sources of global warming gases, such as homes or factories.

Aquafornia news University of California

News release: Climate Action research grants assist Tribal nations with resource management

In 2022–23, the state of California allocated $100 million to the University of California to fund research grants supporting climate change resilience in communities across the state. Three of the California Climate Action Seed Grant-funded research projects are establishing collaborations between academic institutions and Tribal nations to support climate change resilience through tribal resource management. The projects involve investigating pinyon pine forest ecology and cultural values in the Eastern Sierra, monitoring fisheries on the North Coast, and surveying the changing landscapes of California Indian Public Domain Lands.

Aquafornia news The Press

County receives $1.5 million from state to develop Contra Costa Resilient Shoreline Plan

Contra Costa County received $1,499,285 from the California Ocean Protection Council’s Senate Bill 1 Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning Grant Program, which aims to provide funding for coastal communities to develop plans to combat sea level rise and projects to build resilience along the entire coast of California and the San Francisco Bay, according to a press release from the state. The Contra Costa Resilient Shoreline Plan will create a comprehensive roadmap to address sea level rise across the entire 90-miles of the county’s shoreline with a focus on impacted communities. It will serve a coordinating and organizational role for local plans in alignment with Bay Conservation and Development Commission guidelines and explore natural and constructed infrastructure improvements.

Aquafornia news SF Examiner

East Palo Alto groundwater risks offer vital lessons to San Francisco

New research further magnifies the growing risk rising groundwater poses to San Francisco and other low-lying Bay Area cities. The nonprofit SPUR (the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association) and the East Palo Alto community organization Nuestra Casa released a study earlier this week analyzing the impacts groundwater rise could have on East Palo Alto. The research centered on the Peninsula city because of its proximity to the water, making it one of the Bay Area jurisdictions most susceptible to groundwater rise. But the findings, researchers said, can be applied to all of the Bay Area’s at-risk cities, including San Francisco. Groundwater is rainwater that is stored underground in soils. It provides 50% of Americans’ drinking water and is a key resource for crop irrigation and agricultural production. But as sea levels rise due to climate change, groundwater is pushed up further towards the surface. The closer the groundwater table gets to the surface, the less capacity the soil has to absorb rain and, consequently, the more likely heavy precipitation will cause flooding, damage infrastructure and mobilize soil pollutants like pesticides and asbestos.

Aquafornia news myMotherLode.com

$42-million TUD wastewater treatment plant overhaul completed

The Tuolumne Utilities District held a ceremonial ribbon cutting marking the completion of the successful overhaul/replacement of the Sonora Regional Wastewater Treatment facility. The project commenced in October of 2021 and the updated operation, on the outskirts of Sonora, now has the ability to treat an average of two million gallons of wastewater per day. The $42-million project replaces an outdated plant built in the 1970s. The project site was strategically contained within the footprint of the existing treatment plant on Southgate Drive.

Aquafornia news U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service

News release: Exploring water solutions for a better future

Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Southwest Climate Hub and California Climate Hub have developed a browsable map-based tool that addresses water scarcity in the U.S. Southwest. The Water Adaptation Techniques Atlas (WATA) consolidates over 200 case studies on research and practices that water managers and producers can use to find location-specific and topical information to make informed decisions regarding water management. … water scarcity has become a pressing issue with extremely hot temperatures and severe prolonged droughts in a region already challenged by its arid and semi-arid conditions. As reservoir and aquifer levels drop, information about strategies to adapt to this new reality is urgently needed. WATA provides information based on research from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and other sources about practices for lessening the gap between water demand and available supply, with an emphasis on cropping and irrigation practices across the Southwest, including Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

Aquafornia news Bay Nature

The creek cleanups will continue indefinitely

It’s around 9:30am on the banks of Penitencia Creek in San Jose, and Santa Clara Valley Water is here for creek clean-up. This public agency that provides water to county residents is charged with keeping water sources clean and preventing floods. … Valley Water is getting $3 million in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to ramp up the cleanups across nine of the county’s creeks, and undo other ecological damage—like fixing up human-dug caves and stairways along river banks, or removing rafts of entangled trash that are clogging salmonid streams. But with no long-term housing solution for the people living in the camps, trash and damage tends to reappear rapidly. Most camps are cleaned up on a monthly or quarterly basis. The whole operation (trash compactor, laboring crew, police escort, and all) is as expensive as it looks. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

California tribe welcomes beavers back to Tule River after 100 years

A family of beavers — three adults, one subadult and three babies, known as “kits” — were released into the South Fork Tule River watershed on June 12, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said. Two other beavers were released into Miner Creek on June 17. … A decade ago, tribal leaders called for the animals to be returned, driven by traditional Indigenous knowledge about beavers’ importance to the ecosystem — and inspired by the 500-to-1,000-year-old beaver images left at the Yokuts village site known as Painted Rock. In 2022, Fish and Wildlife received state funding to start a restoration program to prepare sites in California for the semiaquatic animals. Beavers aid the environment by building dams that help to keep landscapes well-hydrated and more resilient in droughts and wildfires. That enhanced water retention could also protect the Tule River Indian Tribe’s drinking water supply — 80% of which comes from the river’s watershed, the CDFW said.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Thursday Top of the Scroll: Chaos continues to reign among Kings County water agencies following state action

It’s been two and a half months since the state brought the hammer down on water managers in Kings County for lacking an adequate plan to stem overpumping in the region and the situation is, in a word – chaotic. One groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) has imploded, leaving the county to potentially pick up the pieces. Another doesn’t have enough money in the bank to pay its newly hired manager. One GSA has repeatedly canceled meetings, others appear to be crafting their own plans and one is banking on being exempted as a “good actor,” despite the state’s repeated insistence that there will be no such exemptions in San Joaquin Valley basins now under scrutiny. Oh, and the Farm Bureau is suing the state Water Resources Control Board over its vote April 16 to put the region, the Tulare Lake subbasin, into probation – the first step toward a possible state pumping takeover. All this while a deadline is rapidly approaching July 15 for all Kings County pumpers to register their wells and begin tracking their groundwater consumption.

Related articles:

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

California Democrats approve budget closing spending deficit. Why they still want billions from voters

… The budget battle is not over … Legislators are still working out two bond measures that will ask voters in November to allow California to borrow even more money for school facilities and climate change-related programs. Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, on Monday confirmed lawmakers will seek to extend the deadline for adding measures to the November ballot from June 27 to July 3. Lawmakers have sliced budget dollars for climate change and school facilities, an indication they’re hoping to use bond money to fill those holes. The spending plan agreement includes hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to water storage projects, climate resilience initiatives and dam safety as well as a handful of other related reductions. … Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, have climate bonds, both of which seek more than $15 billion for water quality and conservation, wildfire prevention, coastal preservation, clean energy projects and more. 

Related political and water infrastructure stories:

Aquafornia news The Associated Press

Water-rich Gila River tribe near Phoenix flexes its political muscles in a drying West

Stephen Roe Lewis grew up seeing stacks of legal briefs at the dinner table — often, about his tribe’s water. His father, the late Rodney Lewis, was general counsel for the Gila River Indian Community and fought for the tribe’s rights to water in the Southwest, eventually securing in 2004 the largest Native American water settlement in U.S. history. Years later, Stephen would become governor of the tribe, whose reservation is about a half-hour south of downtown Phoenix. Amid his tenure, he’s been pivotal in navigating a water crisis across the seven-state Colorado River basin caused by existential drought made worse by climate change and decades of Western states overdrawing from the river. Lewis, 56, has leveraged the Gila River tribe’s water abundance to help Arizona, making his tribe a power player in the parched region. His fingerprints are on many recent, high-stakes decisions made in the West about the future of the river that supports 40 million people, and the tribe’s influence is only growing.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news California Department of Water Resources

Blog: Climate Readiness – Using advanced lasers and sonar to determine if Lake Oroville has lost capacity

With California experiencing extreme swings between severe drought to torrential rain, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) wanted to see if the State Water Project’s largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, had shrunk (or lost storage capacity) due to weather swings and almost six decades of service. DWR utilized the latest terrain-mapping technology to determine if there have been any changes in the lake’s volume to optimize how the reservoir is operated and ensure accuracy in estimating California’s water supply availability. … Starting with an airplane-mounted LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser system, DWR took advantage of the lake’s historically low water levels in 2021 to first map portions of the basin that would typically be under water during normal years. Then a boat outfitted with multibeam-sonar bathymetry instruments spent weeks in 2022 sending sonar pulses into the depths of Lake Oroville to map its underwater surface terrain. What resulted were highly detailed 3D topographic terrain models of the bottom of the lake, which DWR engineers used to calculate a new storage capacity of 3,424,753 acre-feet, approximately 3 percent less than previously estimated.

Related water technology articles:

Aquafornia news Voice of San Diego

San Diego’s water prices face doomsday increase

Thursday [June 27] is doomsday for water prices in San Diego. That’s when the region’s water importer – the San Diego County Water Authority – debates whether to boost its prices a whopping 18 percent come Jan. 1. The price increase is massive compared to previous rate increases, and the Water Authority’s biggest customer, the city of San Diego, is pretty ticked off. … San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria directed his powerful contingent of 10 water board members to fight the increase. We won’t know how hard they’ll fight until the full 33-member board meets Thursday afternoon to vote on it. Gloria’s administration is building a water recycling project, which costs billions of dollars. Once its built, in 2035, San Diego won’t buy as much water from the Water Authority. But for now, San Diegans are saddled with the cost of building water recycling and purchasing expensive water from outside city boundaries.

Aquafornia news Audubon California

Blog: How changes at the Salton Sea might be fueling the smallest migrants

… The role of inland saline lakes like the Salton Sea in providing biofilm to migrating birds is a new and intriguing line of inquiry and emphasizes the already dire need to conserve the limited number of stopover habitats suitable for shorebirds. Saline lakes across the interior western U.S. are at risk of ecological collapse as fresh water is diverted away and salinity rises to unhealthy levels. This puts millions of birds already devastated by habitat loss at further risk and exposes human residents to toxic sediments as shorelines recede and form large dust clouds. Maintaining the ecological function of these lakes is essential to both public health and the recovery of migratory bird populations in the western United States.

Aquafornia news The Week

The US and Mexico are in conflict over the Rio Grande and Colorado River

The U.S. and Mexico are experiencing another border dispute, and this one is about water. The conflict stems from an 80-year-old treaty where the countries agreed to share water from the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. However, because water is in more demand but scarcer than ever, sharing has not been going to plan. The U.S. and Mexico signed a treaty in 1944 stipulating that Mexico send 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the U.S. every five years from the Rio Grande, and the U.S. send 1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico from the Colorado River each year. But water levels are lower than ever, and Mexico has “sent only about 30% of its expected deliveries, the lowest amount at this point of any four- or five-year cycles since 1992,” said Reuters. … The effects are far-reaching. … Texas, in particular, is home to sugar and citrus farms struggling from a lack of water. On the other hand, farmers in Mexico are protesting sending water to the U.S., as they are also suffering from scarcity. 

Aquafornia news Eos

Wildfire smoke affects the function of lake ecosystems

Wildfires are on the rise. The smoke they bring darkens the sky and deposits ash. Ocean research has provided clues about how smoke affects marine ecosystems, but little is known about how it affects freshwater ecosystems like lakes. A new study published in Communications Earth and Environment shows that in some California lakes, smoke can alter physical and biological processes that are key to systems such as nutrient cycling, rates of carbon sequestration, and food web structure. Both the number of smoky days and the extent of smoke coverage have climbed in recent decades, said Adrianne Smits, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Davis, and coauthor of the new study. “Smoke cover in California is really no longer an ephemeral event,” she said, but “could be thought of more as a seasonal phenomenon.”

Related articles:

Aquafornia news KneeDeep Times

Sizing up progress on nature-based infrastructure

It wasn’t the appearance of a flashy, high-ranking California official at the podium, or the review of 35 years of efforts to protect the Bay’s watershed at the beginning of the May 2024 State of the Estuary conference that made me sit up in my red velvet auditorium seat. It was an awards ceremony for outstanding projects. … There to receive each small plaque from Friends of the Estuary were long lines of “collaborators.” As they snaked on and off the stage for a photo and handshake, the line of folk who had helped complete this or that project — from mapping the range of the salt marsh harvest mouse to involving students and teachers in watershed restoration — got longer and longer. … Though the region’s ability to collaborate with other agencies and scientists and managers to protect and restore the San Francisco Estuary has grown exponentially, over the years, these same folks are now tangling with a new challenge: how to make this work relevant to the Bay Area’s most “underserved” communities. 

Aquafornia news KTLA

State officials warn of ‘dangerous’ algae bloom in Southern California lake

Officials from the California Water Resources Control Board are urging people to avoid Lake Elsinore due to an algae bloom that’s created dangerous levels of harmful toxins. Visitors are urged to stay out of the water, keep their pets at a safe distance and do not drink water or eat any fish or shellfish from the lake. Five “distinct areas” of Lake Elsinore were tested and high levels of toxins were detected that officials say pose a significant health risk.