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 Las Vegas Review-Journal

Southern Nevada Water Authority seeks power to limit water use

While western states work to hash out a plan to save the crumbling Colorado River system, officials from Southern Nevada are preparing for the worst — including possible water restrictions in the state’s most populous county. The Nevada Legislature last week introduced Assembly Bill 220, an omnibus bill that comes from the minds of officials at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Most significantly, the legislation gives the water authority the ability to impose hefty water restrictions on individual homes in Southern Nevada, where three-quarters of Nevada’s 3.2 million residents live and rely on the drought-stricken Colorado River for 90 percent of their water. … The bill, if approved and signed into law in its current form, would stand as another substantial step toward conserving Nevada’s water … 

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Farmers expected to get increased water allocations

Winter storms that bolstered the Sierra Nevada snowpack and added to California reservoirs prompted federal and state water managers to announce increases in anticipated water allocations for the 2023 growing season. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation last week announced an initial allocation of 35% of contracted water supplies for agricultural customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The announcement brought a measure of certainty for farmers, ranchers and agricultural water contractors, after officials provided zero water allocations for agriculture from the federal Central Valley Project in 2021 and 2022.

Aquafornia news KSBW - Monterey

Record rainfall out to sea has water agencies talking about tapping the potential

The Carmel River Watershed has seen record rainfall this winter beating out 1998 for the wettest year to date and the rain is not done yet. But most of that water won’t end up in your tap instead it’s flowing out to the ocean. … That 91,000 acre-feet is equivalent to roughly 29.6 million gallons of water going out to sea or nine years’ worth of drinking water for the Peninsula. … Not every drop of rainwater this winter went out to the Pacific. To date his water year the Peninsula’s water utility California American Water has banked about 500 acre-feet of water off the Carmel River, less than a tenth of what the Peninsula will use in a year, the water’s been piped to the Seaside Basin and stored in injection wells.

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Aquafornia news Quartz

US coastal wetlands are disappearing. Here’s how to save them

As the effects of heat-trapping pollution continue to raise sea levels, wetlands dotting American coastlines could drown — or they could flourish. Their fate will depend upon rates of sea-level rise, how quickly the plants can grow, and whether there’s space inland into which they can migrate. Climate Central modeled how American coastal wetlands will respond to sea level rise in an array of potential scenarios. It found that conserving land for wetlands to migrate into is a decisive factor in whether wetlands will survive or drown. Wetlands and development have long been in conflict, with ecological values weighed against waterfront economic opportunities. As seas rise, benefits of conserving areas inland for wetland migration are creating new tensions. And as climate change intensifies storms and elevate high tides and storm surges, the economic values of wetlands are growing.

Aquafornia news KCRA - Sacramento

El Dorado Irrigation District crews tend to canals in winter weather

Crews with the El Dorado Irrigation District are working to clear snow and debris from the flumes and canals that deliver water to its customers throughout the latest round of winter weather. Matt Heape, a hydro operations and maintenance supervisor for the district, said the focus Tuesday was taking care of a 22-mile canal system. … To do that, he explained, crews used snowcats to get to remote, wooden locations, sometimes having to snowshoe in further to reach the canals and the surrounding walkways. Much of the day included clearing walkways, plowing snow and keeping systems clear, Heap said.

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Pollutants were released into Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek from construction firm, lawsuit claims

A well-known Bay Area construction materials firm has unleashed harmful pollutants into Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek, threatening sensitive species of fish, frogs and salamanders, a newly filed lawsuit alleges. The Santa Clara County District Attorney claims that Graniterock, an over-century-old Watsonville-based corporation, has discharged stormwater from two of its San Jose facilities that contain above-level pH values, cement, sand, concrete, chemical additives and other heavy metals. Those pollutants have endangered steelhead trout, the California Tiger Salamander and the California Red Legged frog — animals that live in and around the South Bay waterways, the suit alleges. The complaint does not specify when or how much of the pollutants were apparently found discharged into the waterways.

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Aquafornia news 10 News - San Diego

What’s going on with San Diego? A climate scientist weighs in on winter weather

From record rain, flooding and snowfall – to chilly temperatures, hail and windy conditions, it’s been more “wintery” than some San Diegans would like. So what’s going on? ABC 10News sat down with Julie Kalansky, a climate scientist and Operations Manager for the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Aurora cuts lawn watering down to two days, adds outdoor surcharge

Aurora Water just issued an urgent reminder that a Westerner’s outlook can change dramatically just by jumping over into the next river basin.  Skiers can be reveling in ridiculous powder at Steamboat and feeling good about how much water the Yampa and White rivers will contribute to the dry Colorado River come spring.  At the same time, Aurora sits with half-empty reservoirs and a dwindling snowpack in one of its key resource basins, the Arkansas River watershed. Already fearing water levels for Colorado’s third-largest city may approach emergency conditions this summer, the city council voted Monday to cut one day from allowed lawn watering schedules and add a surcharge for outdoor use. 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Opinion: How California’s Big Ag wants you to think about all this rain

Despite the continued heavy winter rain and snow throughout California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently extended his executive orders from 2022 that declared a drought emergency statewide. He also asked the state water board to waive water flow regulations intended to protect salmon and other endangered fish species, as well as San Francisco Bay and Delta estuary overall. Some viewed these moves as pragmatic steps to avoid “wasting” the bounty of California’s rains out to sea. Others saw them as a declaration of war against the health of the bay.  In fact, a war against the bay has been going on for decades. Newsom’s order was merely the latest skirmish. The war’s primary aggressors are agricultural interests in the Central Valley.
-Written by Howard V. Hendrix, the author of six novels as well as many essays, poems and short stories. 

Aquafornia news Reuters

Phytoplankton blooms see two-decade surge along world’s coastlines

Huge blooms of phytoplankton — microscopic algae floating on the ocean’s surface — have become larger and more frequent along the world’s coastlines, according to new research, bringing benefits to fisheries but also potentially causing harm. Between 2003 and 2020, coastal phytoplankton blooms increased by about 13% in extent, covering an additional 4 million square kilometres of the global ocean, the Nature study found. And the blooms occurred more often, up by 59% during that period. … [Phytoplankton can starve] the ocean of oxygen and leading to “dead zones” that wreak chaos on the food chain and fisheries. … While some regions saw weaker blooms over the past two decades, including the California Current, blooms strengthened in the northern Gulf of Mexico and the East and South China Seas. … Fertilizer runoff from agriculture can spike nutrient loads in the ocean, leading to blooms.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: Yet more rain is expected to hit California in March. But warmer storms could melt snow

Soggy, snow-capped California faces the likelihood of yet another month of wet weather, but what remains uncertain is whether this late winter precipitation will augment weeks of record-setting snowpack, or cause it to vanish should warmer rains arrive. Last week, a frigid storm transformed portions of the state into a white landscape while toppling trees, prompting power outages, spurring water rescues and leaving some residents trapped by heavy snow. Now, with forecasts calling for more rain and snow in March — including the potential for at least one more atmospheric river system — California is girding for what comes next. … Typically, California’s snowpack provides about one-third of the state’s water supply and has long been relied upon for its steady, slow melting during the hot, dry months of summer. A deluge of warm rain, however, could cause melting snow to fill rivers too quickly and trigger widespread flooding.

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Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

California ducks demand to review local wastewater discharge permits

The California State Water Resources Control Board can’t be forced to evaluate the “reasonableness” of locally issued permits to discharge treated wastewater, a state appeals court ruled, because state law doesn’t impose this obligation on the agency. The Los Angeles-based Second Appellate District on Monday overturned a trial judge’s order for the agency to evaluate the reasonableness of the permits that were renewed in 2017 by its regional board in LA, allowing four treatment plants to discharge millions of gallons of treated wastewater in the LA River and the Pacific Ocean every day. LA Waterkeeper, an environmental watchdog, had challenged the permits arguing the regional board and the state board should have considered better uses of the water, such as recycling, rather than dumping it in the ocean.

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Aquafornia news The Washington Post

A California tunnel could save stormwater for millions. Why is it so divisive?

As drought-weary Californians watched trillions of gallons of runoff wash into the Pacific Ocean during recent storms, it underscored a nagging question: Why can’t we save more of that water for not-so-rainy days to come? But even the rare opportunity to stock up on the precious resource isn’t proving enough to unite a state divided on a contentious idea to siphon water from the north and tunnel it southward, an attempt to combat the Southwest’s worst drought in more than a millennium. The California Department of Water Resources said such a tunnel could have captured a year’s supply of water for more than 2 million people. The proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration — one that would cost $16 billion to help 27 million water customers in central and southern California — is spurring fresh outrage from communities that have fended off similar plans over four decades, including suggestions to build other tunnels or a massive canal. 

Aquafornia news Reuters

Extreme Yosemite rain eases drought but disrupts wildlife habitats

After a winter of epic storms in California, Yosemite National Park’s famous waterfalls are in full flow, its reservoirs are brimming, and the snowpack in the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains is well above average. In drought-stricken California, that is cause for celebration, but wildlife experts warn that weather extremes driven by climate change can also change habitats too quickly for wildlife to adapt. … [Beth Pratt, California regional director for the National Wildlife Federation] has been studying Yosemite Valley wildlife for 25 years, including the more than 400 species of vertebrates that call the 1,200 square-mile (3,100 square-kilometer) park home. … In his 27 years as a Yosemite park ranger, Scott Gediman has never seen so much winter snow and water in the park.

Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Testimony: Adapting California’s water rights system to the 21st century climate

The climate shifts that California is experiencing—with warmer temperatures, less reliable snowpack, and more intense droughts—have exposed critical weaknesses in the administration of our water rights system under conditions of scarcity. In particular, there are challenges curtailing diversions when supplies are inadequate. And on the flip side, this system also needs the capacity to better facilitate the management of abundance, by permitting the capture of more water from large storms to recharge groundwater basins. In our remarks today we recap some of the key challenges the changing climate is posing for California’s water rights system in both dry and wet times, illustrate how these issues are playing out in the state’s largest watershed, and offer some recommendations for how the legislature could help strengthen the water rights system to better respond to water scarcity and abundance.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

State will pay some valley farmers not to farm in attempt to save groundwater

More state money is flowing to the valley to take land out of production in an attempt to ease demand on groundwater. The state Department of Water Resources (DWR) is starting a new program called LandFlex which will pay up to $25 million in incentives to farmers to fallow crops.  On February 23, DWR announced three grants from the program, all of which are going to San Joaquin Valley groundwater agencies.  Madera County groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) will receive $9.3 million, Greater Kaweah GSA will receive $7 million and Eastern Tule GSA will receive $7 million. 

Aquafornia news USC News

The water wars of the future are here today

Once hailed as the “American Nile,” the Colorado River spans 1,450 miles and supplies nearly 40 million people across seven states plus northern Mexico with drinking water, irrigation for farmland and hydroelectric power. But after decades of drought and overuse, major reservoirs along the river are drying up. As the Colorado River levels drop to historic lows, tensions are rising between the seven states that depend on its flow — Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Their original agreement for distributing the river water lacked foresight and failed to account for dire circumstances like long-term drought. The American Southwest now faces a crisis it knew was coming. 

Aquafornia news

Wastewater sector emits nearly twice as much methane as previously thought

Municipal wastewater treatment plants emit nearly double the amount of methane into the atmosphere than scientists previously believed, according to new research from Princeton University. And since methane warms the planet over 80 times more powerfully than carbon dioxide over 20 years, that could be a big problem. … Zondlo led one of two new studies on the subject, both reported in papers published in Environmental Science & Technology. One study performed on-the-ground methane emissions measurements at 63 wastewater treatment plants in the United States; the other used machine learning methods to analyze published literature data from methane monitoring studies of various wastewater collection and treatment processes around the globe.

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

A snowpack to remember is piling up in the Arizona high country

Meteorologist Bo Svoma hopped down into the 4-foot-deep pit he had shoveled and grinned like a school kid on a snow day. “Bo is happy!” shouted one of his Salt River Project colleagues working snow survey duty on Tuesday. There’s a lot for the metro Phoenix water supplier to be happy about this winter. What was supposed to be an unusually dry winter because of the return of the ocean and atmospheric phenomenon known as La Nińa has instead shaped up as the Arizona rim country’s second-snowiest season in 30 years. The ocean conditions that usually would push the jet stream and its storms toward the Pacific Northwest instead have driven storm after storm into the Southwest.

Aquafornia news Law360

Feds say new Trinity River flows support fish populations

A new winter water flow management project implemented in California’s Trinity River is best for the region’s fish populations, the U.S. Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Reclamation said …