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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Aquafornia news Fresh Water News

Lake Powell loses 40,000 acre feet of water in accidental release

As the drought-strapped Colorado River struggled to feed water into Lake Powell to keep its massive storage system and power turbines from crashing in 2021 and 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, its operator, was scrambling to bring in extra water from Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa reservoirs. Since the return of healthier flows in 2023, water levels in Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa have been restored, as required under a 2019 Colorado River Basin drought response plan. But the subsequent shifting of water in 2023 to balance the contents of lakes Powell and Mead, required under a set of operating guidelines approved in 2007, resulted in an accidental release of 40,000 acre-feet of water that will not be restored to the Upper Basin because it is within the margin of error associated with such balancing releases, according to Alex Pivarnik, supervisory hydrologist with Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Region.

Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: Registration now open for popular Northern California Tour; join our team as Operations Manager

Registration is now open for our popular Northern California Tour October 16-18, and seats always fill quickly! This 3-day, 2-night excursion across the Sacramento Valley travels north from Sacramento to Oroville, Redding and Shasta Lake. Experts will talk about the history of the Sacramento River as the tour winds through riparian woodland, rice fields, wildlife refuges and nut orchards. …. We’re hiring! Join the Water Education Foundation as its full-time operations manager and play a central role in supporting our operations, programs and fundraising efforts. We are seeking someone who is organized, detail-oriented and energetic with the ability to manage changing priorities. See the full job posting.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Yosemite meadow is largest restoration project in park history

Less than a decade ago, the largest mid-elevation meadow at Yosemite National Park, nestled in foothills near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, was privately owned rangeland. It was widely trampled on by cattle, dried up and of little or no interest to visitors. Today, the area is a whole different place. An $18 million makeover of what’s known as Ackerson Meadow, which was recently acquired by the National Park Service, is transforming this dusty tract on the park’s western edge into a vibrant hub of wildflowers, songbirds and water-loving grasses — an effort billed as the biggest restoration project in Yosemite history. …  The hope is that the revived meadow, like a sponge, will hold more water for native plants, wildlife and downstream communities that depend on the region for water supplies.

Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Self-Help Enterprises to administer emergency water program in Tulare County

Self-Help Enterprises has launched a partnership with three groundwater sustainability agencies in the Kaweah Subbasin to expand assistance for rural residents who lose water due to lowering groundwater levels.  The East Kaweah, Greater Kaweah and Mid-Kaweah groundwater sustainability agencies will invest up to $5.8 million annually to ensure that water users in the area will receive emergency water supplies if their wells go dry. The big picture: Along with the emergency water supplies, Self-Help Enterprises will also provide a long-term drinking water solution through its water support program. Self-Help Enterprises has over a decade of experience operating its water support program to provide emergency water supply, interim supply – which includes tanks and hauled water – and long-term solutions, such as working with well drillers to replace failed wells.

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Aquafornia news San Diego Union-Tribune

Want to help fix neighbors’ flood-ravaged homes? There’s a volunteer opportunity for that

San Diegans who want to volunteer to help clean and rebuild homes destroyed by the catastrophic January floods can still pitch in, including at two restoration efforts happening this weekend. Since Jan. 22, volunteer groups have stepped in to provide critical support in mucking out homes, helping with mold suppression and assisting thousands of displaced residents rebuild. Volunteer-led cleanups are held just about every week and weekend in affected neighborhoods. “The community members who have been doing this work since Jan. 22 deserve reinforcements, they deserve support from the broader community… and they deserve for us to do more,” said San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who along with Councilmembers Henry Foster III and Vivian Moreno put out a call to action for volunteers ahead of this weekend’s events. 

Aquafornia news Bloomberg Law

PFAS filtration plant shows costs, challenge of water treatment

The Yorba Linda Water District in Orange County, Calif., is so proud of its $28 million PFAS filtration plant, considered the largest in the US, that it hosts regular tours of Boy Scouts, school groups, and on Monday, a group from South Korea. The need for the filtration plant is representative of the widespread PFAS contamination in groundwater and stream water in Southern California, and it symbolizes the costs that the YLWD and 14 other drinking water utilities in the region are suing to recoup from manufacturers of PFAS-containing firefighting foam or its components. Unlike nearby Los Angeles, the Yorba …

Aquafornia news Sacramento News & Review

Save California Salmon advocates for the species and clean water rights

Commercial and recreational salmon fishing off the coast of California was banned for the second year in a row in April due to low numbers of salmon. The Chinook salmon, which enter the Sacramento River system on four runs throughout the year, have been declining for decades due to pollution, water management, dams and drought. With salmon decreasing and fishing off the California coast banned, Save California Salmon is dedicated to helping restore and protect salmon and rivers. Save California Salmon is a nonprofit organization built on creating community power around water issues in Northern California while also working to save salmon through advocacy for policy change. The organization is run by Native American people from California and has an entirely Indigenous board. According to Executive Director Regina Chichizola, the organization began in 2017 and was born out of the movement to remove the current dam on the Klamath River.

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Aquafornia news San Luis Obispo Tribune

Los Osos CA could end longtime building moratorium

Los Osos is one step closer to lifting its 35-year building moratorium. Since 1988, construction in the coastal town of 15,500 people has been effectively banned due to a limited water supply, habitat constraints and ineffective wastewater treatment infrastructure. The Los Osos Community Plan, however, seeks to solve those challenges by setting rules for development that protect sensitive habitats and the water supply. On Thursday, the California Coastal Commission is poised to approve the Los Osos Community Plan with a handful of revisions. If the commission supports the plan, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will vote on the modifications in September or October, according to SLO County Supervisor Bruce Gibson. After that, the commission would vote on the plan one last time in December — clearing the way for the county to start issuing building permits for Los Osos early next year, Gibson said.

Related growth and urban water supply article:

Aquafornia news KPBS Public Media - San Diego

Study says water transfer deal is raising dust and draining the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is a terminal saltwater lake. It’s a flooded basin with no natural outlet, similar to the Great Salt Lake or the Aral Sea. And the Salton Sea is shrinking. One of the reasons for that is the Imperial Water Transfer deal that has brought hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water to San Diego over the last two decades. The deal, signed 21 years ago, meant the Imperial Valley began transferring excess water from the valley’s farm fields to San Diego’s water taps. That meant a lot less farm runoff that had been sustaining the Salton Sea. San Diego State University economics professor Ryan Abman said the biggest effects of that conservation plan were seen about eight years into the agreement. “So really, after 2011, we see a noticeable increase in the rate of decline of the water level and that leads to an increase in the increased rate of playa exposure. So more of this dust-emitting surface is being exposed every single year,” Abman said.

Aquafornia news Audubon

Blog: Explore the habitats along the Lower Colorado River

The Colorado River and its tributaries—which support 40 million people, sacred Tribal lands, a $1.4 trillion economy, more than five million acres of farms and ranches, and thousands of species of wildlife—are shrinking due to climate change and overuse.   Important habitats exist and have been intentionally reestablished along more than 400 miles of the Colorado River as it flows south of Hoover Dam. To raise awareness of these gems in the desert that support 400 species of birds, Audubon Southwest launched a visually-appealing  StoryMap website created by Elija Flores and myself called Lower Colorado River Habitats: Exploring important habitats of the Lower Colorado River and what they mean for birds and people.    

Aquafornia news Oaklandside

California has had a wet two years. What does that mean for Oaklanders and their environment?

The wet weather of the past two years has been a stark contrast to the drought conditions that California has become accustomed to. Floods, landslides, and overflowing streets were a winter staple as storms from atmospheric rivers–so named for their shape and the amount of moisture they carry–dumped buckets of rain on the Golden State.  Now that we’ve moved out of the rainy season into the drier, warmer summer months, we can begin to take stock of the effects of the wet years. These include filled groundwater supplies and lush hills, along with worse allergies and more fuel for wildfires, to say nothing of the considerable toll taken on road infrastructure. Here’s a look at some of the ways that the statewide effects of the rain might show up for Oakland residents.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Commentary: DWP’s new leader wants to shake things up. It won’t be easy

An honest-to-goodness map of the American West would show L.A.’s tentacles everywhere. You’d see canals — the Los Angeles Aqueduct, running along the base of the Sierra Nevada, carrying water from the Owens River; the State Water Project, meandering through the San Joaquin Valley, supplying many Southern California cities and farms; and the Colorado River Aqueduct, cutting through the desert on its mission to deliver water from desert to coast. You’d see electric lines too — a sprawling network of wires that over the decades have furnished Angelenos with power from coal plants in Nevada, Utah and Montana; from nuclear reactors in Arizona; and from hydropower dams in the Pacific Northwest. Los Angeles has reshaped the West. And the city’s Department of Water and Power has been the agent of change. Last month, Janisse Quiñones took the helm as the agency’s new leader, after being recommended by L.A. Mayor Karen Bass and confirmed unanimously by City Council.
-Written by Sammy Roth, climate columnist for the LA Times. 

Aquafornia news Investigate Midwest

How Seaboard Foods rebuilt the Oklahoma Panhandle’s economy, ushering in a new era of groundwater depletion

Mike Shannon’s city hall office is a “war room” for water. Maps of wells and charts of usage rates cover the beige room’s meeting table and desk. A large television screen mounted on the wall displays satellite images of a future groundwater well project. Coworkers visit throughout the day, often to talk about those plans to pump more water.  As city manager of Guymon — a town of about 13,000 in the state’s panhandle — Shannon oversees a network of 17 groundwater wells, all operating near capacity to draw water from the Ogallala Aquifer, the only water source in this arid region of tumbleweeds and sand dunes. … At the top of the list was Seaboard, a pork processing plant on the north side of town that slaughtered more than 20,000 hogs daily. The plant used 3,500 gallons of water a minute, three times the amount used by all the homes in Guymon combined. 

Aquafornia news Politico

Thursday Top of the Scroll: California’s largest water agency to consider firing general manager

The board of the agency that delivers water to nearly half of Californians will consider firing its top leader over claims of retaliation, harassment and cultivating a toxic work environment at a special meeting Thursday morning, according to an agenda and three people with knowledge.The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California plans to consider whether to discipline or dismiss its general manager and CEO, Adel Hagekhalil, at a Thursday morning board meeting, according to an agenda posted Tuesday. 

Aquafornia news E&E News

California lawmaker drops plan to regulate senior water rights holders

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks is killing her proposal to increase state regulators’ authority over the owners of California’s oldest, most senior water rights amid intense opposition from water agencies, farmers and business groups. Wicks’ legislative director Zak Castillo-Krings confirmed Tuesday that she was pulling the bill, A.B. 1337, which passed the Assembly last year but has been awaiting a hearing in the Senate. The decision comes after water users reached a deal last week with Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan on a bill, A.B. 460, to increase fines for water theft. Both bills emerged last year after three years of historic drought exposed the state’s limits in overseeing water use.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Grand jury report faults San Francisco climate threat plans

As climate change unleashes ever-more powerful storms, worsening floods and rising sea levels, San Francisco remains woefully unprepared for inundation, a civil grand jury determined in a report this week. The critical assessment — written by 19 San Franciscans selected by the Superior Court — found that the city and county lacked a comprehensive funding plan for climate adaptation and that existing sewer systems cannot handle worsening floods. Among other concerns, the report also concluded that efforts toward making improvements have been hampered by agency silos and a lack of transparency. Members of the volunteer jury serve yearlong terms and are tasked with investigating city and county government by reviewing documents and interviewing public officials, experts and private individuals.

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Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

Western US faces snow drought as summer heats up

Another winter without enough snow and rain has left much of the western United States parched for water, according to scientists monitoring a snow drought.  Thanks to below-normal precipitation during the water season, snow drought conditions persist across most of the West, according to a June 12 report from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While some regions such as the Sierra Nevada range, improved over the winter, scientists say many places will see further drought development or intensification this summer. Many locations in Washington and the northern Rocky Mountains received less than 15% of the average rainfall, with eight weather stations in Montana and two in Washington reporting record low rainfall values. In Idaho, Montana and Washington, snow drought developed early in the season and persisted, bringing snow water equivalent — the water contained in a mountain’s snowpack — to 55 to 75% of the normal amount.

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Aquafornia news The North Bay Business Journal

‘California Forever’ measure qualifies for November ballot

The billionaire proponents of a brand-new city that would rise from the rolling prairie northeast of the San Francisco Bay cleared their first big hurdle Tuesday, when the Solano County Registrar of Voters certified the group had enough signatures to put its proposal before local voters in November. The group backing the measure, called California Forever, must now convince voters to get behind the audacious idea of erecting a walkable and environmentally friendly community with tens of thousands of homes, along with a sports center, parks, bike lanes, open space and a giant solar farm on what is now pastureland. … But the proposal faces opposition from some local leaders, along with environmental groups concerned about the loss of natural habitat. Project opponents said a recent poll they conducted found that 70% of the people surveyed were skeptical.

Aquafornia news E&E News

Tribal officials: Colorado River talks ‘nowhere near sufficient’

Native American tribal leaders with a stake in the Colorado River Basin have regular meetings with top Interior Department officials, can claim progress toward major water rights settlements, and often appear on panels at key conferences with federal and state leaders. It’s a significant improvement compared to decades of exclusion of Indigenous people on decisions over the 1,450-mile-long river that supports 40 million people across seven states. But it’s also not enough, according to officials from some of those tribes — who argue their role still falls short of equal footing with states.

Aquafornia news Bay City News

Report shows some progress on groundwater storage

The good news is that the San Joaquin Valley has managed to store a little more groundwater since the drought of 2016. The bad news is that it is hard to keep account of what’s working and what’s not. On Tuesday, the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit policy research organization, released an update report on the replenishment of groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the areas of the state that is heavily dependent on groundwater. The report also identified those basins best suited to accept water recharge operations, with the highest number being in the eastern and southern regions of the valley. 

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