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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 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 Nature Reviews Earth & Environment

New research: Accumulation, transformation and transport of microplastics in estuarine fronts

Millions of tons of riverine plastic waste enter the ocean via estuaries annually. The plastics accumulate, fragment, mix and interact with organisms in these dynamic systems, but such processes have received limited attention relative to open-ocean sites. In this Perspective, we discuss the occurrence and convergence of microplastics at estuarine fronts, focusing on their interactions with physical, geochemical and biological processes. Microplastic transformation can be enhanced within frontal systems owing to strong turbulence and interactions with sediment and biological particles, exacerbating the potential ecosystem impacts. The formation of microplastic hotspots at estuarine fronts could be a target for future plastic pollution mitigation efforts. 

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Efforts to protect groundwater are tested by drought

Balancing the state’s groundwater supplies for a sustainable future may not be easy due to severe drought and ongoing economic challenges facing farmers. “We’ve got the lowest prices and highest production costs and the least-reliable water supply that we’ve had since I’ve been farming,” said Bill Diedrich of Firebaugh, who farms row crops and permanent crops on the west side in Madera and Fresno counties…. Diedrich, who relies on groundwater for irrigating farmland in Madera County and surface water for ground in Fresno County, said farming at this time “is very difficult.” He said the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which tasks local agencies to balance groundwater supplies in affected basins by 2040 and 2042, means farmland must come out of production.

Aquafornia news Newsweek

Lake Mead’s dire drought-stricken future foreshadowed at deadpool reservoir

Operations at one of Spain’s largest hydropower plants have been halted due to drought-like conditions, foreshadowing the future of the rapidly receding Lake Mead. Electric utility company Endesa SA has shut down its facility in Mequinenza, Zaragoza, Spain after its water levels receded below 23 percent capacity, Bloomberg reported. This is below the minimum required to produce electricity. The plant first opened in 1966, and until now, has never been shut down. Spain is suffering one of the most severe droughts seen in more than a decade, with around 32 percent of the country affected due to rising temperatures and lack of rainfall.

Aquafornia news Stanford News

New research: Beaver dams buffer rivers against climate extremes

As climate change worsens water quality and threatens ecosystems, the famous dams of beavers may help lessen the damage. That is the conclusion of a new study by Stanford University scientists and colleagues, publishing Nov. 8 in Nature Communications. The research reveals that when it comes to water quality in mountain watersheds, beaver dams can have a far greater influence than climate-driven, seasonal extremes in precipitation. The wooden barriers raise water levels upstream, diverting water into surrounding soils and secondary waterways, collectively called a riparian zone. These zones act like filters, straining out excess nutrients and contaminants before water re-enters the main channel downstream.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Tiny, rural Allensworth takes on climate change with help from state grant

The state awarded $300,000 to the Allensworth Progressive Association, a local nonprofit, to “implement neighborhood-level projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve public health and the environment and expand economic opportunity for residents,” according to a press release from the Governor’s office. The money will be used, in part, for planning flood control and infrastructure for wastewater management. … Funding comes from the state’s Transformative Climate Communities program, which awarded $96 million to 10 disadvantaged communities throughout the state last month. The projects aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 64,000 metric tons, according to the press release.

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

Water is essence of carbon sequestration

Carbon sequestration garners a lot of attention from those interested in climate change and sustainable agriculture. The piece that should be added to much of the conversation, however, is the relationship of water and carbon. “We should be considering that carbon sequestration and plant growth doesn’t happen without water,” says Nick Goeser, Principal and co-founder of Carbon A List … Goeser, who co-founded Carbon A List with Christophe Jospe, adds that raising public awareness that carbon sequestration and sustainability don’t happen without water is important.

Aquafornia news News West Publishing

Things aren’t getting any better on the water front

City officials recently met with the Bureau of Reclamation about the current and forecasted conditions of the Colorado River Basin. Needles City Manager Rick Daniels, at the Nov. 1 Public Utilities Board meeting, said that as of Oct. 16 Lake Powell is 25% full and Lake Mead is at 28% — for a total system storage capacity of 33%. … BOR, he said, is forecasting that by the end of the year the Lower Colorado River Basin will be in a Level 1 shortage with a high possibility of being in a Level 2 shortage, which would mean “further cutbacks particularly in the more junior water rights states.”

Aquafornia news Brownstein

Blog: Untangling water affordability – policy challenges and community impacts

From water infrastructure failures in Jackson, Mississippi, to a political and financing puzzle in California, water affordability is an emerging policy concern for an industry already facing huge challenges. Tune is as Brownstein’s Jessica Diaz speaks to industry experts Jennifer Capitolo and April Ballou about how the issue of water affordability and fragmentation is playing out among providers, the potential and pitfalls that come with federal assistance programs and the critical balance of providing affordable water without sacrificing safety or reliability. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Mistaken flash-flood warning sent in L.A. amid heavy rain

A flash-flood warning mistakenly went out to a far larger area than intended Tuesday as a heavy storm continued to lash Southern California, killing at least one person and forcing multiple swift-water rescue attempts. The warning, which was meant for about 1,500 people in the Fish fire burn area east of Duarte, went wide when a “glitch” changed the small, targeted area to all of L.A. County, according to the National Weather Service. The warning was canceled, and a corrected warning was sent to those in the burn scar area. Although the weather service issues such warnings, the alerts that are sent to cellphones come from a separate, federally managed system that the weather service does not control, said John Dumas, a meteorologist with the Oxnard office.

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Aquafornia news KTLA - Los Angeles

Southern California beaches under high bacteria warning after heavy rainfall

Beaches across Southern California have been placed under a high bacteria and high surf warning after heavy rainstorms covered the southland on Tuesday. The public is being advised to stay out of the water across all Los Angeles County beaches due to possible heightened levels of bacteria caused by “storm drainage, chemicals, debris, trash, and other public health hazards,” said the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The advisory for all L.A. County beaches will last until Thursday at 3 p.m. People who enter the ocean water during this period could become ill, officials warned.  The bacteria and debris typically seep from nearby city streets and mountain areas, likely contaminating ocean waters around discharging storm drains, creeks and rivers after rainstorms, officials said.

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Commentary: Our farmers are conserving to help Colorado River

With a harsh desert climate fed only by a river over 80 miles away, water conservation is always on the minds of our Imperial Valley farmers, who demonstrate on a daily basis how to maximize water-use efficiencies while increasing their yields. Since 2003, IID has implemented and managed large-scale conservation programs that have yielded over 7.2 million acre-feet of conserved water to fulfill the obligations of the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water conservation and transfer program…. IID believes that the key to accomplishing Reclamation’s call for 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of Colorado River reductions to protect critical reservoir elevations is to develop cooperative solutions that respect the Law of the River, existing agreements and the water-rights priority system. 
-Written by Tina Shields, water department manager for the Imperial Irrigation District, which supplies Imperial Valley agriculture. 

Aquafornia news Daily Republic

Solano board supports moving Highway 37 plan forward

The Solano County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to send a letter to Caltrans supporting the Highway 37 Interim Project for interim and long-term solutions to congestion and sea rise issues. One of those solutions, Supervisor Erin Hannigan said, will eventually be making the highway a toll road, which she said many of the motorists using Highway 37 have indicated they support if it means less congestion. “Due to current and projected traffic congestion and flooding of the (Highway 37) corridor, the region requires both an interim and long-term solution to address these pressing concerns, including balancing a variety of transportation needs with enhancing recreational opportunities and protecting and enhancing sensitive marshland habitats,” …

Aquafornia news Long Beach Post News

John Allen takes lead in bid for reelection to Water Replenishment District

Incumbent John Allen is leading two challengers in his quest for a third term representing Long Beach on the Water Replenishment District Board of Directors. With mail-in ballots counted, Allen had 52% of the vote, while challengers Mike Murchison has 23% and Gerrie Schipske has 25% in the race for the Area 3 board seat. The Area 3 seat represents 800,000 residents in seven cities: Long Beach, Signal Hill, San Pedro, Lakewood, Hawaiian Gardens, Artesia and Cerritos.

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Aquafornia news California Water Impact Network

Blog: The difference between farmers and water privateers

Productive agriculture is essential to civilization, but water privateering – the seizure of public trust water for exorbitant private profit – is not. California’s water privateers often present themselves as farmers. But while they may use the water they’ve commandeered from state and federal water conveyance projects for industrial-scale agribusiness initiatives, they’re not farmers. They’re water brokers. If there’s money to be made in irrigating almonds or pistachios, they’ll do that. If there’s more money to be made by selling their allocated water to cities or other agribusiness operations, they’ll choose that option instead. It’s not about a devotion to agriculture – and certainly not about food security or land stewardship. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: Legacy of dust – How Owens Valley air pollution increases L.A. water bills

Even as worsening drought and aridification force Los Angeles to end its overwhelming dependence on imported water, Angelenos may soon realize that weaning themselves off supplies from the rugged eastern Sierra Nevada doesn’t mean they will stop paying for the city’s long, complicated history there. That’s because, even if the city is able to make good on a pledge by Mayor Eric Garcetti to recycle 100% of its water by 2035 and increase its ability to capture storm water, Los Angeles will still have to pay millions of dollars to control the region’s hazardous dust pollution — an environmental consequence of L.A.’s draining of Owens Lake more than a century ago, as well as recent diversions that have lowered the level of Mono Lake farther north.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

California ranchers face $4,000 fine for drought violation

California’s water officials plan to impose a $4,000 fine on Siskiyou County ranchers for violating orders to cut back their water use during a weeklong standoff last summer.  State officials and the ranchers agree: A $4,000 fine isn’t much of a deterrent to prevent illegal water diversions during California’s droughts. The proposed fine would amount to about $50 per rancher.  A rural water association serving about 80 ranchers and farmers — facing mounting costs from hauling water and purchasing hay to replace dried out pasture — turned on their pumps for eight days in August to divert water from the Shasta River. State and federal officials said the pumping, which violated an emergency state order, threatened the river’s water quality and its salmon and other rare species. 

Aquafornia news Grist

Drought looms over midterm elections in the arid West

Mark Kelly, the incumbent Democratic senator from Arizona, is facing a strong reelection challenge from far-right Republican nominee Blake Masters, in a race that could be key for control of the Senate. Last month, during a televised debate between the two candidates, Masters went on the attack, criticizing Kelly’s positions on several issues.  Toward the end of the debate, after skewering Kelly on inflation and the border, Masters hit him on a more niche issue: federal water cuts on the Colorado River. … it is no surprise that drought has emerged as a key issue in the region ahead of this week’s midterm elections. Senators and representatives in close races have talked about drought in debates and campaign ads …

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Aquafornia news High Country News

When dams come down, fish come home

In October 2021, ecologists shattered the top of a dam on Mill Creek, near Davenport, California, with a hydraulic hammer. Within hours, the entire structure was down. For at least 110 years, the long-obsolete dam had kept threatened steelhead from reaching important spawning habitat just upstream. …. Then, in September 2022, [Ian] Rowbotham’s team spotted juvenile steelhead above the former dam site. To their surprise, they also found 15 juvenile coho salmon downstream. It was the first time coho, an endangered species, had ever been recorded in Mill Creek….The experience adds to a growing body of research documenting the speedy recovery of fish and other species after dams are removed

Aquafornia news Public News Service

Carbon credits versus the Big Gulp

Steve Deverel gazes out over a levee on the San Joaquin River to a buoy where half a dozen sea lions are barking. It’s a loud reminder that even here, 50 miles inland, some of California’s most productive farmland lies perilously close to the Pacific Ocean. At any moment, a weak spot in the more than 1,000 miles of earthen levees protecting islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta could unleash a salty deluge, threatening not just crops, but the drinking water for as many as 27 million Californians. Deverel, a Davis-based hydrologist, refers to this threat as “The Big Gulp,” a breach that would suck in tens of billions of gallons of river water, drawing ocean water in its wake. 

Aquafornia news Audubon

Blog: Surprise bird-rich wetlands emerge on dry lakebed of shrinking Salton Sea

In February 2020, Andrea Jones scrambled up Obsidian Butte, a lava dome on the southeastern corner of Salton Sea. Amid the expanse of dry, exposed lakebed, the result of decades of water diversions and ongoing drought, she also saw a glimmer of green—unexpected reeds and cattails taking hold around the edge of the sea, signs of budding wetlands. … Agricultural drains—dozens of ditches and pipes directing water off nearby farmland—once flowed directly into the sea. But as the sea shrinks, their outflow now trickles and meanders across exposed playa, allowing wetlands to form. They are a happy surprise amid an otherwise desperate scene at the Salton Sea, a 343-square-mile inland saltwater lake and the largest remaining body of water in California.