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 Orange County Register

Hundreds of deserted oil and gas wells in Southern California could soon get plugged

One apparently is hiding under the driveway of a million-dollar home in Placentia. Another lurks beneath a parking lot at Ontario International Airport. And another is under a commercial building in Culver City — much to the surprise of the upscale window company doing business there. Thanks to its once expansive, 150-year-old oil and gas industry, Southern California has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of so-called “orphan wells,” or wells that companies abandoned without first plugging them up for safety. The state has documented nearly 2,000 orphan wells in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties alone, while estimating that thousands more could be paved over, unrecorded, and waiting to be rediscovered.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

California homeless at risk in storms

Rebekah Rohde, 40, and Steven Sorensen, 61, are two of at least 14 people killed by the recent storms — and both were unhoused. The Sacramento County Coroner reported Monday that both were found with trees collapsed onto their tents. It’s a tragic — and telling — convergence of two California crises: extreme weather and worsening homelessness. The current series of storms (“parade of cyclones” is the latest National Weather Service warning) pummeled communities with as much as 8 inches of rain and wind gusts of nearly 70 mph, causing power outages, school shutdowns and flood risks, especially in coastal regions and areas burned by wildfires. They include the coastal enclave of Montecito in Santa Barbara County, where evacuations were ordered on Monday, five years to the day that mudslides killed 23 people and destroyed 130 homes.   

Aquafornia news ASU News

Study of California groundwater prompts a wake-up call for Arizona

A team of scientists that pioneered methods to observe changes in global groundwater stores over the past two decades using a specialized NASA satellite mission has made a surprising discovery about the aquifers that supply California’s Central Valley region. Despite the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act adopted in 2014 to prevent overpumping and stabilize the aquifers, the groundwater depletion rate has accelerated to a point where groundwater could disappear over the next several decades. The act gives the state’s local groundwater management districts until 2042 to reach sustainability goals. Renowned water scientist Jay Famiglietti is the lead researcher of a scientific team that published a paper in Nature Communications in December 2022 that details their analysis.

Aquafornia news Imperial Irrigation District

News release: IID Director Gina Dockstader appointed to California Farm Water Coalition

The Imperial Irrigation District is pleased to announce director Gina Dockstader’s appointment to the California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC). According to a press release from the IID, Director Dockstader was selected by her fellow IID board members to serve as a liaison between IID and the California Farm Water Coalition. The CFWC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit directed by a volunteer board of directors, representing agriculture across the state. Its mission is to increase public awareness of agriculture’s use of water and provide a common, unifying voice for agricultural water users by serving as the voice for agricultural water users, representing irrigated agriculture in the media and educating the public about the benefits of irrigated agriculture, the release states.

Aquafornia news WyoFile

Plans for 264-foot dam above Little Snake River spur conflict

As officials this week outline plans for a 264-foot-high concrete dam proposed for a wooded canyon in the Medicine Bow National Forest, irrigators and critics remain divided over the project’s benefits and impacts. The two sides disagree whether the estimated $80-million structure and accompanying 130-acre reservoir are pork or progress, boon or bane. Federal officials begin receiving public comments on the proposed dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek in Carbon County as ranchers and environmentalists disagree over whether 450,000 cubic yards of concrete should plug a forested gorge and whether federal and state agencies are conducting environmental examinations appropriately. In what one official admitted is a complex process with parallel reviews, two federal agencies will make key findings to resolve the project’s fate.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Editorial: California is leading the nation on cutting plastic trash. But it still needs to do more

Last year was a good one for trash. Or, rather, for the prospects of reducing it. For the last several years, lawmakers have passed new laws aimed at curbing plastic, from the 2014 ban on single-use plastic grocery bags to restrictions on use of plastic straws. But in 2022, they went big and broad, enacting Senate Bill 54, a revolutionary law that will start phasing out all varieties of single-use plastic in 2025 — basically everything on the shelves of grocery and other retail stores — through escalating composting and recycling requirements on consumer products packaging. Most importantly, the law puts the onus on the producers of the packaging to figure out how to make it happen rather than on consumers or state and local governments.

Aquafornia news Arizona Daily Star

Water board member with Tucson ties explains desalination plant vote

Tucson Assistant City Manager Tim Thomure joined a unanimous vote last month by a state water board that will allow for state-run discussions with an Israeli firm over its proposal for a $5.5 billion desalination plant in Puerto Peñasco on the Gulf of California. The Water Infrastructure Authority of Arizona voted 9-0 on Dec. 20, following a fierce, afternoon-long debate, to authorize its staff to prepare an analysis of the project. If the analysis finds the proposal meets state requirements, the board chairman can negotiate an agreement with the company to deliver desalted water to Arizona at agreed upon terms including costs.

Aquafornia news Colorado Public Radio

Three things about Colorado Springs’ growth that we’re watching this week

Colorado Springs will be making decisions this week that will impact its growth and development for decades to come. The following issues will be discussed by local leaders this week. Check back here for updates on how they voted. Water supply The city is considering an ordinance that would impact how and where Colorado Springs extends its water service. The city wants to make sure there’s enough water as it continues to grow. Currently, Colorado Springs Utilities is required to maintain a surplus water supply. But there’s no definition of how much extra that actually is. So what they want to do is define it as a 30 percent buffer between supply and demand, calculated on a five-year rolling average. … Half the city’s water comes from the Colorado River Basin, which is threatened by drought and overuse.

Aquafornia news Grand Junction Sentinel

Opinion: What a long, strange trip to kill four dams

Finally, after a 50-year effort, four massive dams on the Klamath River in northern California and Oregon will start coming down this July. For the Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa, Shasta and Klamath tribes living along this river since time immemorial, there’s much to celebrate. They have long fought for the lives of the salmon that are harmed by these dams, and for their right to fish for them. Even PacifiCorp, which marketed the electricity of the four hydroelectric-producing dams, will also have something to cheer about. PacifiCorp, which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, won’t have pricey fish ladders to install and its share of the cost of dam removal has been passed to ratepayers in both states.
Written by Rocky Barker, a contributor to Writers on the Range

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

Opinion: Will current storms be an opportunity lost?

California is on the cusp of an opportunity squandered. The atmospheric river and “cyclone bomb” projections suggest well over 10 inches of rain and as many feet of snow could fall on the state within a week’s time. What is California doing, amidst the governor’s declared state of emergency, to squirrel away as much of that runoff and flood water as the state’s infrastructure will allow? With all this known water coming into the system, why isn’t the State of California moving as much water as can physically be moved into San Luis Reservoir? Roughly half of the reservoir’s water at full pool is owned by the federal government, with the other half controlled by the state. A full San Luis Reservoir means more water for Central Valley farmers and more available water for the State Water Project. 
-Written by Todd Fitchette.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: ‘The worst of it still in front of us’ as new storms set to pound a rain-weary California

California is bracing for another week of destructive storms that will probably bring flooding and hazardous winds Monday to an already battered state. A series of atmospheric rivers that pummeled coastal communities last week and left more than 400,000 without power in California on Sunday will be followed by particularly brutal weather as rivers reach flood levels and powerful winds wreak havoc, forecasters fear…. For days, forecasters had warned of a “relentless parade of cyclones” barreling out of the Pacific toward California, and continuing until about Jan. 19, intensifying the risk of flooding in parts of the state this week. A flood watch remains in effect for the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys and nearby foothills until 4 p.m. Wednesday. 

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Aquafornia news The New York Times

How did a normally dry La Niña winter become so rainy?

As rain has deluged our parched state since New Year’s Eve, many Californians have found themselves asking a familiar question: Is this somehow because of El Niño? In the California imagination, the climate pattern known as El Niño has an almost mythological status as a harbinger of prolonged wet spells, while its counterpart, La Niña, is associated with drought. The past three years have been La Niña years. The continuing procession of storms this winter has drawn comparisons to the famed wet winter of 1997-98, when rain driven by El Niño drenched the Golden State. Californians are bracing for one of the season’s most intense storms to date on Monday and Tuesday. But Daniel L. Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that El Niño hasn’t taken over — yet.

Aquafornia news NPR

Why we can — and cannot — collect rainwater in places like California

A bomb cyclone hit California this week, knocking out power, downing trees, dumping massive amounts of water. Now, that last one, massive amounts of water – it’s interesting because all that rain is hitting in a state that has been stricken with drought. Some California residents are watching this precious resource wash away and wondering, why can’t we save the water for later, for times when we desperately need it? Well, Andrew Fisher, hydrogeologist and professor at UC Santa Cruz, attempted to answer that question in an op-ed for The LA Times. And we have brought him here to try to answer it for us. Professor Fisher, welcome.

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Aquafornia news Newsweek

How much rain does California need to get out of drought?

The torrential rainfall across much of central and northern California may have helped to pull a tiny piece of the state out of drought. Data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that while 97.93 percent of California is experiencing some degree of drought, the remaining 2.07 percent is only classified as “abnormally dry.” … However, a lot more rain would be needed to drag California out of its decades-long megadrought, as short-term fluctuations in how dry an area is at a given time is drastically different to the long-term trend of dryness across the state.

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Aquafornia news High Country News

Researchers solve one of the Borderlands’ biggest water puzzles

The U.S. and Mexico share underground water basins that span more than 121,500 square miles of the Borderlands. But the two countries have no regulations for managing those common aquifers, in part, because historically very little was known about them. That’s changing. On Dec. 28, researchers released the first complete map of the groundwater basins that span the U.S.-Mexico boundary…. With water becoming an increasingly precious resource in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, the researchers hope the new map will provide a basis for developing a binational legal framework to regulate the underground waters’ management…. It shows five shared aquifers between Baja California and California, 26 between Sonora and Arizona, and 33 between Texas and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas.

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Drought and the Colorado River: Localizing water in Los Angeles

In October 2022, water agencies in Southern California with Colorado River water rights announced plans to reduce water diversions. The agencies offered voluntary conservation of 400,000 acre-feet per year through 2026. This annual total is nearly 10% of the state’s total annual usage rights for the Colorado River. The cutbacks help prepare for long-term implications of climate change for the river’s management, which are starting to be acknowledged. In urban Southern California, an important aspect of this need is reducing imported water reliance through investments in local water resources. … What would happen if Southern California lost access to Colorado River water for an extended period?

Aquafornia news Bloomberg

California rain brings limited relief to dried-out almond farms

Usually, bouts of rain are a good thing for drought-stricken farmers. But in California, where a downpour has triggered widespread flooding, much of the water will end up in the sea rather than helping crops, like the state’s famed almond groves. The recent deluge highlights a decades-long dilemma: A lack of infrastructure to store and shuttle water to growers who produce three-quarters of US fruits and nuts and more than one-third of its vegetables. … While the rain and snow are desperately needed after the driest three-year stretch on record and billions of dollars in crop losses, much of the precipitation will likely end up as runoff.

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Storms bring river flows, frustration for San Joaquin Valley water managers

The string of wet storms streaming over California since the end of 2022 have brought the San Joaquin Valley both relief and frustration, depending on location. In the Fresno area, flows out of Millerton Lake into the San Joaquin River have nearly tripled from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 1,600 cfs.  In the coming days the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Millerton’s Friant Dam, expects releases to exceed 4,500 cfs.  That’s great for agricultural water districts that take Millerton water on the northern end of the Friant system. And it’s great for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, which aims to bring back native spring Chinook salmon runs. … Meanwhile, water managers on the southern end of the Friant system are watching those flows with more than a little frustration.

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Aquafornia news Monterey Herald

Marina, 3 water agencies sue Coastal Commission

Elected officials in Marina have joined forces with three water agencies in a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission over its tentative permitting in November of California American Water Co.’s desalination project. The lawsuit, filed in Monterey County Superior Court, cites plaintiffs as the city of Marina, the Marina Coast Water District, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and the Marina Coast Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency. The complaint alleges the desal project is a “sprawling, expensive and unnecessary” project that the Coastal Commission erroneously and conditionally permitted that would have far-reaching negative impacts on Marina and surrounding ecosystems.

Aquafornia news Fox 40 - Sacramento

The Sacramento Weir has helped the capital city avoid flooding for more than 100 years

During Sacramento’s centuries-long history of battling flood waters, inhabitants have devised nearly every possible method of slowing or diverting water, and one of those methods is using the Sacramento Weir. Completed in 1916, the more than 1,900-foot long weir featuring 48 gates sits along the west bank of the Sacramento River about three miles north of the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers. However, the placement and purpose of the Sacramento weir differs from typical weirs found along other streams and rivers.