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Aquafornia
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 Pleasanton Weekly

Zone 7 constructs new monitoring wells at Ken Mercer Sports Park

The Zone 7 Water Agency completed the construction of two new monitoring wells at the Ken Mercer Sports Park in Pleasanton in early January that representatives said will help the agency detect PFAS contamination before it spreads any further. While there haven’t been any contaminants found in the area around the sports park along Hopyard Road, having these two wells will help warn the water agency before any contaminants seep into any wells with actual drinking water.

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Aquafornia news Delta Protection Commission

News release: Delta NHA Management Plan released for public comment

The Delta Protection Commission today released a public-comment draft of the Management Plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area (Delta NHA). … The Delta NHA was created in 2019 by Congress (PDF). It is California’s first, and so far only, National Heritage Area. … The Delta Protection Commission is scheduled to vote on the plan March 7, 2024, after which it will be submitted to the Secretary of the Interior for approval. After approval, implementation of the plan can begin.

Aquafornia news The Salt Lake Tribune

Opinion: Moab unites to fight a floodplain development

Moab is a growing town of 5,300 that up to 5 million people visit each year to hike nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks, ride mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles, or raft the Colorado River. Like any western resort town, it desperately needs affordable housing. What locals say it doesn’t need is a high-end development on a sandbar projecting into the Colorado River, where groves of cottonwoods, willows and hackberries flourish. “Delusional,” shameful” or “outrageous” is what many locals call this Kane Creek Preservation and Development project.
- Written by Mary Moran, a contributor to Writers on the Range

Aquafornia news Jefferson Public Radio

Scientists find two previously unknown species of lamprey in California

It’s not like lampreys showed up yesterday. They’ve been around in the water of our region for something like 350 million years. But the eel-like fish have not gotten the attention of the more glamorous fish, like, say, chinook salmon. California scientists recently put some work into researching lampreys, and found two distinct species–in California–that scientists had not previously noted. It’s important because lamprey are so important to ecosystems, that it really helps to know what’s out there. Grace Auringer, a PhD candidate at the University of California-Davis led the study team. She visits to further illuminate the findings.

Aquafornia news KJZZ - Phoenix

Cattle are a part of Arizona’s history. Climate change, overgrazing concerns cloud their future

When you drive through parts of rural Arizona, it’s hard to imagine that cattle ranchers once came here for the grass. But Eduardo Pagan, a history professor at Arizona State University, says the state looked different a couple of centuries ago. … Cattle ranching helped shape rural Arizona into what it is today. It was one of the five C’s that once formed the backbone of the state’s economy, along with copper, citrus, cotton and climate.  But many ideas we have about the history of grazing are wrong, and researchers say that cattle have emerged as a major driver of climate change. Conservationists say it’s time to re-examine grazing on public lands. … Ranching has changed the way wildfire moves across the landscape. Ranching also helped introduce invasive plants, as new grasses were planted to offset overgrazing. Grasslands have been turned into deserts. Streambeds that once nourished shady cottonwoods and willows bake in the sun after cows eat the young trees. Wildfires burn bigger and hotter. 

Aquafornia news KCRW - Los Angeles

Extracting lithium in Imperial Valley: What are the costs to environment, health, culture?

Trillions of dollars worth of lithium could be bubbling up from the ground in the Imperial Valley, which is one of the hottest and poorest areas of California. Lithium ion batteries power everything from cell phones to electric cars, and they store power generated from solar and wind farms when it’s not sunny or windy. Tapping the so-called “white gold” officially began a little over a week ago. Charles Zukoski, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at USC and host of the podcast series Electric Futures, tells KCRW that the advantage of a lithium ion battery, as opposed to a sodium ion battery, is that it has higher energy density. It’s the best technology currently available for electric cars, he emphasizes. 

Aquafornia news Marin Independent Journal

Corte Madera marsh menaced by invasive plants

Invasive weeds are threatening a recently restored section of Corte Madera marsh and officials say they’re dealing with it before the problem plants spread. Since the marsh restoration, which was completed in 2021, workers have found invasive plants in the 9 to 12 acres surrounding the 4 acres of restored tidal wetlands along San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which owns the land, approved a treatment plan in August that includes plant removal and site monitoring through 2028. An addendum was approved at the board’s Jan. 25 meeting to allow for manual weed removal instead of herbicides. With these new approvals, the project cost has escalated by more than $800,000, to $3.3 million.

Aquafornia news Water Finance & Management

Santa Cruz water director to retire

Rosemary Menard, water director for the City of Santa Cruz, California, announced in January she is retiring after a 43-year career in local government and water utilities … During her time at Santa Cruz, Menard helped guide the water department through multiple droughts, wildfires, repair and replacement of aging infrastructure, a treatment plant upgrade, meter replacements and a plan to supplement the city’s water supply and prepare for the ongoing effects of climate change.

Aquafornia news CleanTechnica

OpenET study helps water managers & farmers put NASA data to work

As the world looks for sustainable solutions, a system tapping into NASA satellite data for water management has passed a critical test. Called OpenET, the system uses an ensemble of six satellite-driven models that harness publicly available data from the Landsat program to calculate evapotranspiration (ET)—the movement of water vapor from soil and plant leaves into the atmosphere. OpenET does this on a field-level scale that is greatly improving the way farmers, ranchers, and water resource managers steward one of Earth’s most precious resources. Researchers have now conducted a large-scale analysis of how well OpenET is tracking evapotranspiration over crops and natural landscapes. The team compared OpenET data with measurements from 152 sites with ground-based instruments across the United States. In agricultural areas, OpenET calculated evapotranspiration with high accuracy, especially for annual crops such as wheat, corn, soy, and rice.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: ‘Extremely dangerous situation’: Hollywood Hills hit by major mudslides, flooding, record rain

An “extremely dangerous situation” was unfolding in the Hollywood Hills area and around the Santa Monica Mountains Monday, as a powerful, slow-moving storm triggered mud flows and debris flows that damaged some homes and forced residents to evacuate. Damage reports piled up early Monday as the storm system steadily pummeled Southern California, and downtown L.A. broke a 97-year-old rainfall record. On Sunday, downtown had seen 4.1 inches of rain, which broke the record for the calendar day set on Feb. 4, 1927, when 2.55 inches of rain was recorded. Sunday was the third wettest February day on record and tied for the 10th wettest day for any time of year since record keeping began in 1877, the National Weather Service said.

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Aquafornia news KRCR - Redding, Calif.

Shasta Lake jumps 1 foot in 24 hours, 5 feet in 7 days as rainstorms continue

The continued wet weather in the Northstate has left quite an impact at Shasta Lake. California’s largest reservoir rose a foot from Thursday to Friday, and 5 feet from January 26 to February 2. Currently, Shasta Lake sits at 1,035 feet, roughly 30 feet from capacity. That’s an increase of 47 feet from this date last year. … Overall, the weather station at Shasta Dam has reported 36.56 inches of rain since the water year began on October 1. 

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Aquafornia news Aspen Journalism

Colorado Senate favors limiting nonfunctional turf

Colorado legislators in 2022 passed a bill that delivered $2 million to programs across the state for removal of turf in urban areas classified as nonfunctional. By that, legislators mean Kentucky bluegrass and other thirsty-grass species that were meant to be seen but rarely, if ever, otherwise used. Now, they are taking the next step. The Colorado Senate on Tuesday, Jan. 30 voted in favor of a bill, Senate Bill 24-005, that would prevent thirsty turf species from being planted in certain places that rarely, if ever, get foot traffic, except perhaps to be mowed.

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Farmers in Tulare County to test groundwater market they hope could help keep them in business and replenish the aquifer

How will selling groundwater help keep more groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley’s already critically overtapped aquifers? Water managers in the Kaweah subbasin in northwestern Tulare County hope to find out by having farmers tinker with a pilot groundwater market program. Kaweah farmers will be joining growers from subbasins up and down the San Joaquin Valley who’ve been looking at how water markets might help them maintain their businesses by using pumping allotments and groundwater credits as assets to trade or sell when water is tight.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

As climate hazards converge, health risks rise in California

State health officials know that extreme heat can cost lives and send people to the hospital, just like wildfire smoke. Now, new research finds that when people are exposed to both hazards simultaneously — as is increasingly the case in California — heart and respiratory crises outpace the expected sum of hospitalizations compared to when the conditions occur separately. … The study joins a growing body of research about the intersection of different climate risks. Last month, California-based think-tank the Pacific Institute published a report about how converging hazards — including wildfires, drought, flooding, sea level rise and intensifying storms — are harming access to drinking water and sanitation in California and other parts of the world. The deadly 2018 Camp fire in Butte County impacted an estimated 2,438 private wells, the report said.

Aquafornia news Daily Tidings

Klamath dam removals: Loss of Copco Lake leaves some residents reeling

The dam removal projects- aimed at sustaining the salmon population, are underway, with the latest drawdown being three reservoirs on the Klamath River. The removal process has already dramatically changed the landscape in Southern Oregon and far Northern California, along the course of the river. The lowest of the three remaining dams- Iron Gate, was initially breached on January 9, followed by the J.C. Boyle reservoir on January 16. A concrete plug in the tunnel at the base of Copco 1 was blasted away on January 23, with the reservoirs draining quickly, leaving vast expanses of fissured mud that was the consistency and color of chocolate cake batter. Shaping its new course, the Klamath River is winding through the bare landscape, but the transformation has had some unintended consequences and saddened some residents.

Aquafornia news The Arizona Republic

Commentary: Water regulation in Arizona has now devolved into a game of chicken

Water regulation in Arizona has devolved into a game of chicken. The governor and farmers are rivals revving their engines, hoping their opponent will flinch first. Caught in the middle is Gila Bend, a groundwater basin south of Buckeye, where the state could decide to impose its most stringent form of regulation, whether folks like it or not. Both sides are using Gila Bend as a bargaining chip to win support for competing legislative proposals. But to what end?
- Written by Joanna Allhands, Arizona Republic digital opinions editor 

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Aquafornia news JFleck at Inkstain

Blog: Senate hearing Thursday on tribal access to clean water: it takes more than just a pile of money

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee is holding an important hearing Thursday on S. 2385, a bill to refine the tools needed to help Tribal communities gain access to something that most non-Indian communities in the western United States have long taken for granted: federally subsidized systems to deliver safe, clean drinking water to our homes. … This is the sort of bill (there’s a companion on the House side) that makes a huge amount of sense, but could easily get sidetracked in the chaos of Congress. The ideal path is for the crucial vetting to happen in a process such as Thursday’s hearing, and then to attach it to one of those omnibus things that Congress uses these days to get non-controversial stuff done. Clean water for Native communities should pretty clearly be non-controversial.

Aquafornia news Somach Simmons & Dunn

Blog: Delta conveyance project faces stronger headwinds with court ruling rejecting financing scheme and new environmental litigation

Though the Delta Conveyance Project was only recently approved by the Department of Water Resources after completing the lengthy California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, the project faces new obstacles to implementation. Nine lawsuits challenging DWR’s December 21, 2023 approval of the Project were recently filed in Sacramento County Superior Court by a total of thirty-three plaintiffs representing all the Delta counties, the City of Stockton, environmental and other nongovernmental organizations, and tribe[s]. Resolution of that litigation could take several years.

Aquafornia news Nature Communications

New study: Greenhouse gas emissions from US irrigation pumping and implications for climate-smart irrigation policy

Irrigation reduces crop vulnerability to drought and heat stress and thus is a promising climate change adaptation strategy. However, irrigation also produces greenhouse gas emissions through pump energy use. To assess potential conflicts between adaptive irrigation expansion and agricultural emissions mitigation efforts, we calculated county-level emissions from irrigation energy use in the US using fuel expenditures, prices, and emissions factors. Irrigation pump energy use produced 12.6 million metric tonnes CO2e in the US in 2018 (90% CI: 10.4, 15.0), predominantly attributable to groundwater pumping. Groundwater reliance, irrigated area extent, water demand, fuel choice, and electrical grid emissions intensity drove spatial heterogeneity in emissions. … Previous studies have estimated on-farm irrigation pump energy use at 158 PJ nationally and 136 PJ for electricity use in the Western USA, in close agreement with our estimates. 

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Green sturgeon aren’t salmon – Updated life cycle models for management

Over 65 million years ago, as Tyrannosaurus rex roamed the great plains, green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) were already roaming the world’s waters. While these ancient fish survived the fall of dinosaurs, they are now in danger of extinction largely due to habitat degradation and losses from water management infrastructure and its operation (e.g., impairing flow, disrupting thermal regimes). While you would think the potential loss of a prehistoric giant (up to 8 feet long and hundreds of pounds) would capture the world’s attention, the imminent sturgeon extinction has unfortunately been under the public radar. Reasons for the lack of attention include their cryptic behavior (moving unseen through deep murky waters) and their late maturity (not reproducing until around 15 years old). These traits make it harder to notice and document population declines. To combat these challenges, we are working on a life cycle model that could shed some light on sturgeon ecology.