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 Courthouse News Service

Feds inch toward listing California, Oregon Chinook salmon as threatened

The Biden administration said Tuesday it will consider adding Chinook salmon in Oregon and Northern California to the endangered or threatened species lists. “Based on information provided by the petitioners, as well as information readily available in our files, we find that hatcheries and climate change may be posing threats to the continued existence of SONCC Chinook salmon,” the notice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Department of Commerce, said. … The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will now conduct a longer review, expected to be concluded in August of this year, before deciding whether or not the species — the largest of the salmonids — is eligible for protected status. 

Aquafornia news The Washington Post

California storms, droughts expected to intensify as planet warms

It wasn’t so long ago that California prayed for rain. Something to quench the climate-change-fueled drought — the worst in at least 1,200 years — that has caused farm fields to wither and wells to run dry…. Now, the water that Californians so desperately wanted is pummeling them like a curse….The recent onslaught of atmospheric rivers has underscored the perils of California’s climate paradox: Rising global temperatures are making the region drier, hotter and more fire-prone, but they also increase the likelihood of sudden, severe rainfall. Experts say the state is not prepared for periods of too much water, even as it struggles to make do without enough.

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Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Billion dollar climate change disasters growing in Colorado, West

Record drought in the American West contributes to a growing number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters across the country, and the quickening pace of large-scale events makes recovery slower and pricier, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Drought covered 63% of the contiguous United States on Oct. 25, the largest such footprint since the severe drought of 2012, according to the report, released Tuesday at Denver’s national convention for the American Meteorological Society.  Forty percent or more of the lower 48 states has been in drought for the past 119 weeks, a record in more than 20 years of the U.S. Drought Monitor reports. That’s approaching double the previous record of 68 weeks begun in 2012’s drought.

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Aquafornia news Wyoming Public Media

State legislators look to create a commission for Wyoming’s stake in the Colorado River

The Wyoming State Legislature begins its lawmaking session this week. One bill, called the “Colorado River Authority of Wyoming Act,” would create a board and commissioner to manage Wyoming’s water in the Colorado River Basin. The system drains about 17 percent of the Cowboy State’s land area and is critical for agriculture, energy development and residential use in cities. The entire Colorado River Basin is currently under stress due to drought conditions and human development in the Southwest. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) and Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is similar to those previously passed in several other states that depend on the Colorado River.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Opinion: It’s flooding in California. But the 1938 flood was worse

My umbrella was wide and sturdy, my rain slicker insulated and as yellow as a Minion. I wore thick Dickies and my good pair of Doc Martens. It didn’t matter. Just minutes after I stepped out of my Yukon to walk around Parque de los Niños in Placentia’s Atwood barrio last week, I was thoroughly soaked. A strong wind made the rain whip at a 45-degree angle. Drops hit the baseball diamond with such force that mud leaped into the air. … Eighty-five years ago this March, this historic Mexican American neighborhood took the brunt of the deadliest flood in Southern California history. Five days of heavy storms caused all of the region’s major rivers — the Los Angeles, the San Gabriel and especially the Santa Ana — to overflow their banks.
-Written by Gustavo Arellano, columnist for the Los Angeles Times. 

Aquafornia news LAist

Willowbrook Park, fed by rainwater, is an example of LA’s stormwater treatment future

The prevailing goal in Southern California has been to get water that falls from the sky away from our roads and buildings as quickly as possible. Much of the rain washes out to the ocean — often carrying trash and other pollutants. The L.A. Times reported up to 10 billion gallons poured into the Los Angeles Basin in recent storms and only about 20% will be captured. L.A. County has plans to double the amount of rainwater currently captured every year and use it to provide nearly two-thirds of the county’s drinking water. Voters approved a new property tax in 2018 meant to raise up to $300 million a year to fund the capture and treatment of stormwater.

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Aquafornia news The American Prospect

Floods’ worst ravages will be visited upon California’s poorest

California’s vulnerability to destructive flooding is anything but a secret. Meteorologists and climatologists have been warning of the enhanced risk for years, as climate change drives the state through cycles of extreme drought and then warms the winter air to produce violent downpours like the bomb cyclone and atmospheric river events of the past few weeks. The effects are felt up and down the map, including in key agricultural areas and low-lying rural patches. But they are not felt equally—another reality experts have been speaking about for some time. The worst of California’s flood woes, both this month and into the long future, will be visited upon the state’s poorest residents.

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Landslides are wreaking havoc in California. Here’s how they work

Downpours from an atmospheric river storm triggered landslides in the Santa Cruz Mountains Monday, burying highways in heaps of mud and trapping residents in place. The damage is the consequence of weeks of rain fueled by atmospheric rivers. … Rain is one of the primary forces that trigger landslides. As water trickles into the tiny gaps between soil and rocks, it adds pressure, which makes soils more unstable. … The New Year’s Eve storm produced hundreds of landslides across the Bay Area, with a focus in the East Bay, Collins said. This week in the Santa Cruz Mountains, waterlogged soil from weeks of frequent rain is breaking free from deeper layers of earth and slipping down slopes onto roads.

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Aquafornia news FOX31 News - Denver

Which Colorado ski area has seen the most snow this season?

The recent atmospheric river that brought record rainfall and snow to parts of the west coast also boosted Colorado’s mountain snowfall totals. Several rounds of heavy snowfall like the mountains have recently seen is the dream of every skier and snowboarder, and it’s also a big help to the state’s drought conditions. This boost helped Steamboat Springs become the first resort of the season to surpass the benchmark. It now has 225 inches so far this season. Ski areas like Silverton and Winter Park aren’t too far from hitting 200 with about 167 inches so far. Places like Wolf Cree, Breckenridge, and Keystone have also seen some impressive totals for this point in the season.

Aquafornia news Lexology

Blog: California institutes new microplastics regulations

On September 7, California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approved initial requirements for testing microplastics in drinking water, becoming the first government in the world seeking to establish health-based guidelines for acceptable levels of microplastics in drinking water. … Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, less than five millimeters in length, that occur in the environment because of plastic production from a wide range of manufactured products. … The SWRCB’s implementation of Senate Bill 1422, will now require select public water systems to monitor for microplastics over a four year period—a daunting task as there is no EPA-approved method to identify the many types of microplastics in drinking water, and no standardized water treatment method for removing microplastics from the public water supply. 

Aquafornia news Scientific Reports

New research: Nitrate contamination in drinking water and adverse reproductive and birth outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Exposure to low levels of nitrate in drinking water may have adverse reproductive effects. We reviewed evidence about the association between nitrate in drinking water and adverse reproductive outcomes published to November 2022. … Nitrogen is very important for plant nutrition and growth, being incorporated by plants into amino acid synthesis, and is therefore commonly used in inorganic fertilizers. However, because nitrate is highly water soluble, it leaches through soils and into groundwater very easily, particularly after heavy rainfall. … The increasing use of artificial fertilizers, the disposal of wastes, particularly from animal farming, and changes in land use have become significant contributors to the progressive increase in nitrate levels in groundwater supplies.

Aquafornia news The Land Desk

Blog: Decoupling consumption from population on the Colorado River

When we think about the Colorado River water shortage, it’s natural to blame it on the burgeoning population in desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas and Los Angeles. … And as more people move to these cities, their overall water consumption increases proportionally …  This pattern held true for eight decades after the 1922 signing of the Colorado River Compact: The number of people relying on the river’s waters shot up from less than 1 million to nearly 40 million, and overall water consumption climbed consistently as well, peaking at just under 20 billion cubic meters in 2000. But then, according to a new study in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management by Brian Richter, the pattern was broken. Even as the population of the region continued to shoot up, consumption of Colorado River water actually dropped and then plateaued. 

Aquafornia news Newsweek

California flooding could bring deluge of snakes

As torrential rainfall continues to batter the West coast, you may be wondering how all of this wet weather is affecting California’s wildlife. In Australia at the end of last year, heavy rain and floods caused snake sightings to soar across the country—could the same thing happen in California? “Rapidly rising flood water from heavy rain can displace wildlife, including rattlesnakes,” Bryan Hughes, owner of Arizona-based snake rescue service Rattlesnake Solutions, told Newsweek. “This can mean that in some areas, there will be a temporary increase of the likelihood of random encounters.”

Aquafornia news KTLA - Los Angeles

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: California snowpack soars to nearly 200% of normal

While many areas of California are coping with the destructive impact of relentless rainfall, the news is nothing but good when it comes to the state’s snowpack. As of Monday, California’s snow water equivalent was 199% of normal for the date (January 9), according to the California Department of Water Resources. … Water experts are reluctant to signal too much optimism since last winter California also saw snow accumulate to above-average levels through December, only to see January, February and March become the driest on record.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Intense storm hits Southern California with flooding threats

A powerful winter storm barreled into Southern California on Monday, forcing the mass evacuation of Montecito and other communities exactly five years after mudslides in the same area left 23 people dead. Pounding rain wreaked havoc throughout the coastal counties north of Los Angeles, bringing flooding, road closures and tragedy, including the death of a motorist who entered a flooded roadway and the presumed death of a 5-year-old boy who was swept away by flood waters in San Luis Obispo County. The storm, which was expected to move through Los Angeles, Orange and other southern counties through Tuesday, dumped more than 16 inches of rain in some mountain areas Monday and prompted pleas for people to stay indoors.

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Aquafornia news Newsweek

What Lake Mead needs to get water levels back up at drought-hit reservoir

Lake Mead will need more than just rainfall to replenish itself, an expert has told Newsweek. Spread between Nevada and Arizona—Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the U.S.—is best known for its rapidly declining water levels due to the ongoing megadrought gripping the western states. The lake is integral to surrounding communities, as it is also formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River—which generates electricity for thousands of people. If the water levels continue to decline, the consequences could be catastrophic. Water levels at the lake have risen slightly thanks to heavy rainfall sweeping across the region.

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Aquafornia news CNN

California’s dilemma: How do you harness an epic amount of rain in a water-scarce state? Let it flood, scientists say.

California has gone from extreme drought to extreme flooding in a matter of days. On Monday, 90% of the state’s population was under a flood watch as another round of storms rolled through. Yet it was just last week when several counties in the state were experiencing the exact opposite – exceptional drought, which the US Drought Monitor considers the most severe category. … But the abrupt shift from drought warnings to flood warnings highlights the dilemma California faces: How do you manage an overwhelming amount of rain in a water-scarce state? And is it possible to harness that water so it’s available in the dry summer months? Part of the solution, climate scientists told CNN, is drawing levees back to allow rivers more room to flood safely into surrounding land.

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Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Blog: Adapting to a water-scarce California

With the arrival of a series of atmospheric rivers in recent weeks, drought-weary Californians are now confronting the weather whiplash that is a hallmark of our state’s climate. Flooding, power outages, and downed trees are now dominating the news. It’s a remarkable shift from the past few years, which saw the driest three-year period in the state’s recorded history. And while it’s tempting to think the drought is now over, it’s not—and if anything, the recent shift in conditions highlights just how much Californians need to prepare for wetter wets and drier dries. The past year was very important for California water. Water managers found ways to innovate and adapt. 

Aquafornia news CNN

NOAA’s hurricane hunters are now targeting the West Coast’s atmospheric rivers

NOAA’s hurricane hunters might be just as busy now as they were during hurricane season. However, it’s not hurricanes they are flying through, but the atmospheric river systems plaguing California since Christmas week. Atmospheric rivers may not make headlines in the same way hurricanes do, but they can have extreme consequences. “Atmospheric rivers can span the whole Pacific. They are long and narrow, but they’re way larger than hurricanes,” Atmospheric River Reconnaissance Coordinator Anna Wilson said. They are crucial to the West Coast. Half the rain and snow the West gets comes from atmospheric rivers, which are plumes of moisture coming in from the Pacific Ocean. And they cross an area with very few observation sites, making them challenging to forecast.

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Aquafornia news The Washington Post

How stormwater technology could help California’s rain ease drought

California could get 22 trillion gallons of rain in the coming days. But what does that mean for the state’s drought? In a perennial problem that even when California does get rain, much of it runs off into the ocean or is otherwise uncollected. But there’s new storm water technology that could help change that, scientists say, as the decades-old discipline shifts to help water managers collect rainwater, purify it and store it for times of drought. Much of the new technology is often referred to as “green infrastructure,” … To learn more, The Washington Post talked with Andrew Fisher, a professor of hydrogeology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, and David Feldman, the director of the University of California Irvine’s water institute.

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