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 Inside Climate News

Corpus Christi sold its water to Exxon, gambling on desalination. So far, it’s losing the bet

Five years ago, when ExxonMobil came calling, city officials eagerly signed over a large portion of their water supply so the oil giant could build a $10 billion plant to make plastics out of methane gas.  A year later, they did the same for Steel Dynamics to build a rolled-steel factory.  Never mind that Corpus Christi, a mid-sized city on the semi-arid South Texas coast, had just raced through its 50-year water plan 13 years ahead of schedule. Planners believed they had a solution: large-scale seawater desalination. According to the plan in 2019, the state’s first plant needed to be running by early 2023 to safely meet industrial water demands that were scheduled to come online. But Corpus Christi never got it done.

Aquafornia news Press Democrat

Lake Sonoma at lowest level in history, but there’s still enough to get us through another year

Lake Sonoma, the region’s largest water storage reservoir, has reached the lowest level in its history after three years of punishing drought with no end in sight. But there remains plenty of water to get regional users through this winter and even into next, said Sonoma Water Deputy Chief Engineer Don Seymour. … Lake Sonoma currently holds less than 42% of its water storage capacity after falling continuously since Jan. 21, when it held 152,474 acre feet of water. (An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons or enough water to flood most of a football field a foot deep in water. Estimates vary, but it can serve roughly one to three average homes for a year, depending how careful they are with their water use.)

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Aquafornia news Salt Lake Tribune

The Great Salt Lake’s brine flies are in crisis mode. What does that mean for birds?

As the Great Salt Lake continues to shrink to unprecedented levels, a key component of its landscape and food web is missing. The lake is known for thick, black clusters of brine flies by the billions, which pupate in its salty water then gather in dense mats to reproduce on shore. The insectile masses occasionally gross out beachgoers, but the bugs are harmless to humans. Crucially, they provide a nutrient-rich feast for millions of migrating birds. This year, however, the fly swarms are gone. And something’s off about the few bugs that remain. Scientists say it’s a sign the lake’s ecological demise is here.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Massive storm to lash Southern California with rain and snow

Southern California’s first significant winter storm is expected to usher in three days of rain, mountain snow and gusty winds before tapering off Wednesday. The storm that originated in the Gulf of Alaska moved into the region Monday, with the first band of rain reaching San Luis Obispo County by the afternoon before moving south the rest of the day, according to the National Weather Service. Showers are light to moderate for most of Monday. Snow could fall Tuesday at elevations of at least 7,000 feet and Wednesday at 4,000 feet. … The storm is expected to peak Tuesday before winding down Wednesday morning to scattered showers. Los Angeles County is expected to see 1 to 3 inches of rain in the lower elevations; mountains will get between 2 to 3 inches.

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Aquafornia news Manteca Bulletin

Congress members seek to open up Hetch Hetchy to water recreation

A move is afoot in Congress to increase the annual “rent” the City of San Francisco pays for the privilege of flooding Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park from $30,000 to at least $2 million. The bill by Rep. Connie Conway, who represents much of the southern San Joaquin Valley, is designed to require the City of San Francisco to not only pay fair market for renting the only land ever flooded for a reservoir in a national park, but also to force the city to comply to terms they agreed to in the 1913 Raker Act.

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Aquafornia news Communications Earth & Environment

New research: International demand for food and services drives environmental footprints of pesticide use

Over the past five decades, modern agriculture, driven by the Green Revolution, has achieved unprecedented high yields through irrigation and the extensive use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. Unfortunately, this strategy of intensive food production is not currently sustainable because it deteriorates terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, depletes water resources, and contributes towards climate change. To date, efforts to quantify the environmental footprints of global production and consumption have covered a wide range of indicators, including greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, biodiversity, nitrogen pollution, acidification, land use, and others, but they have largely missed to represent the environmental pressures exerted by pesticide use. 

Aquafornia news Civil Eats

New Mexico farmers face a choice: pray for rain or get paid not to plant

As the summer of 2022 began, 90 percent of New Mexico was in a severe drought. The largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history raged in the northern part of the state. Snowpack melted weeks early, leaving reservoirs throughout the Southwest running low. In late May, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD), the authority that manages water for agriculture in the Albuquerque Basin, announced that it would not be able to guarantee farmers any water past June. The outlook for farmers was dire. The conservation district had, over the previous two years, piloted programs to pay some farmers and landowners to stop farming and fallow their fields.

Aquafornia news WaterWorld

EPA boosts Calif. state revolving fund by $609M

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced more than $609 million in capitalization grants, through State Revolving Funds (SRFs), to California for water infrastructure improvements. The grants will supplement the state’s annual base SRF of $144 million. The capitalization grants mark the first significant distribution of water infrastructure investments to California following passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The law allocates more than $50 billion toward water infrastructure. 

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: Why a Central Valley wildlife protection needs reform

Thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed an ambitious California water reform known as the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, or the CVPIA. The bill responded to a drought, crashing salmon runs, threats to Central Valley wetlands and antiquated water policies. California is again suffering from drought and low fish counts. The CVPIA’s successes and failures provide lessons to help ensure a healthy environment and more reliable water supplies. It is time to take the next steps. … Although the CVPIA funded habitat restoration, it failed to provide the river flows salmon needed. This was partly because the law applied to the federal Central Valley Project, not other diverters. 
-Written by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman and former Democratic U.S. Rep. George Miller, who coauthored the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. ​

Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo.

From ‘rubbery’ to ‘grassy,’ we tasted Colorado tap water like fine wine

Every time you turn on the tap, you become the last stop in a complicated journey. Water from snow and streams collects in lakes and reservoirs, and cities pump it through complex filtration systems to make it pure enough to drink. The particular balance of invisible minerals in each pour from your kitchen tap makes for subtle differences in every glass. One might call it the terroir of tap water. In a bustling hotel ballroom, surrounded by exhibition booths showing off the latest pipes, pumps and filters, a panel of judges gathered to spot those differences. I was one of them. … [W]e put tap water to the test, blind tasting samples from six cities across Colorado to crown a winner.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Video: Understanding the Kern River, east to west

Water on the Kern River works hard from start to finish. In this Law of the River video, we continue our journey down the river starting at Truxtun Avenue and Coffee Road in the heart of Bakersfield. 

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: Put solar in California deserts, not fertile farmlands

Successfully coping with severe droughts in California and the Southwest requires tough choices, all of them expensive and none of them perfect. But taking millions of acres out of cultivation and replacing them with solar farms is not the answer. California produces over one-third of America’s vegetables and three quarters of the country’s fruits and nuts – more than half of which is grown in the San Joaquin Valley. According to the California Farmland Trust, the San Joaquin Basin contains the world’s largest patch of Class 1 soil, which is the best there is.
-Written by Edward Ring, co-founder of the California Policy Center and author of the book “The Abundance Choice – Our Fight for More Water in California.” 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: Supreme Court will reconsider Navajos’ claim for more water from the Colorado River

With California and the Southwest facing a historic drought, the Supreme Court agreed Friday to review a 9th Circuit Court decision that held the Navajo Nation has a right to take more water from the Colorado River. The appeals court had pointed to the 1868 treaty in which the U.S. government agreed the Navajos would have a “permanent home” on their reservation, ruling the treaty “necessarily implied rights” to an adequate amount of water to live and farm. … The 3-0 ruling did not say how much extra water the Navajos were entitled to. The sprawling reservation previously used water from the San Juan River in Utah, a tributary of the Colorado, but the 9th Circuit panel said the Navajos were entitled to bring a claim for more water from the lower part of the main river.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

They used to call California ocean desalination a disaster. But water crisis brings new look

For decades, environmentalists have decried ocean desalination as an ecological disaster, while cost-savvy water managers have thumbed their noses at desal’s lofty price tag. But as the American Southwest barrels into a new era of extreme heat, drought and aridification, officials and conservationists are giving new consideration to the process of converting saltwater into drinking water, and the role it may play in California’s future. Although desalination requires significant energy, California’s current extended drought has revived interest in the technology. Experts are already experimenting with new concepts such as mobile desalination units and floating buoys, and at least four major plants will soon be operational along the state’s coastline.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

How can California boost its water supply?

Over and over again, drought launches California into a familiar scramble to provide enough water. Cities and towns call for conservation and brace for shortages. Growers fallow fields and ranchers sell cows. And thousands of people discover that they can’t squeeze another drop from their wells. So where can California get enough water to survive the latest dry stretch — and the next one, and the next? Can it pump more water from the salty Pacific Ocean? Treat waste flushed down toilets and washed down drains? Capture runoff that flows off streets into storm drains? Tow Antarctic icebergs to Los Angeles? The Newsom administration unveiled a roadmap for bolstering the state water supply.

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Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Water researcher highlights “disappearing” groundwater

For the past 20 years, two small satellites orbiting 250 miles above Earth have tracked a stark reality about the nation’s groundwater supplies, including across the parched Colorado River Basin: The water underground is vanishing. The NASA satellites began gathering data in 2002. Since then, Colorado River Basin groundwater has depleted much faster than water storage in the nation’s two largest reservoirs, according to research that underscores concerns about the increasingly tight water supply in the drought-stricken West. … [H]ydrologist Jay Famiglietti … highlighted data that showed groundwater depleting at six and a half times the rate of water storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead between 2002 and 2014…. Famiglietti urged more consideration of groundwater depletion in discussions over the future of the Colorado River.

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Aquafornia news KCRA - Sacramento

Northern California forecast: More rain and snow Monday, Tuesday

The first significant storm of the season is forecast to hit Northern California this week, KCRA 3 meteorologist Eileen Javora said, with Monday and Tuesday designated as KCRA 3 Impact Days for travel in the Sierra. The cold front with rain and snow arrives around midnight to 1 a.m. on Monday through the Valley. That’s also when the snow will start to pick up in the Sierra. Both rain and snow in the forecast are making Monday and Tuesday KCRA 3 Impact Days to highlight possible travel issues. Javora says the snow will start above 5,000 feet and will likely lower in elevation by early morning. Officials warn about potentially dangerous driving conditions through the Sierra.

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Proposed Central Valley dam likely to move forward after judge’s ruling

Both sides of a controversial proposed Central Valley dam hailed a Nov. 3 court ruling kicking back the project’s environmental documents as a success. A Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge ruled there was insufficient information about a road relocation that is part of the proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir project, which would sit just above the town of Patterson in the Diablo Range on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.  More definitive information on the proposed realignment of Del Puerto Canyon Road will have to be provided in the Environmental Impact Report by project proponents, the Del Puerto Water District and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractor Authority.

Aquafornia news City News Service

Proposal to place solar panels over LA Aqueduct advances

A proposal to place solar panels over the 370-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct in an attempt to reduce evaporation and add capacity for renewable energy for residents was approved by a council committee this week. Around one-tenth of the water in the aqueduct is lost from evaporation each year due to the length of travel for water to make it through the aqueduct, according to the office of Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who introduced the motion. O’Farrell is the chair of the council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River committee.

Aquafornia news Desert Sun

Lithium Valley: Hundreds comment on state panel’s draft report

At the tail end of another marathon Lithium Valley Commission meeting last Monday, Jared Naimark, an organizer for an environmental nonprofit called Earthworks, asked a question: “When will commissioners discuss the public comments that were received on the draft report?” But the nearly four-hour meeting was adjourned with both that question and earlier comments Naimark made left unanswered. … As the ”blue ribbon” commission pushes toward a self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline to submit its mandated report to the California Legislature with recommendations on the nascent but potential multi-billion dollar industry at the south end of the Salton Sea, it has received hundreds of comments, spanning a wide range of perspectives.