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 Cronkite News

Ranchers hail, environmentalists fear Supreme Court clean water ruling

Ranchers and Republican lawmakers are welcoming a Supreme Court ruling that narrows the range of waters subject to federal regulation, calling it a win for private property rights that reins in overeager regulators. … But environmental groups said the ruling in Sackett v. EPA will be “disastrous for Arizona, where water is rare and protecting it is critically important to both people and endangered species.” “It leaves almost all of Arizona’s creeks, springs and washes without any federal protections against water pollution.” said Taylor McKinnon, Southwest director for the Center for Biological Diversity. … The ruling earlier this month ends a long-running dispute between Michael and Clara Sackett, who wanted to build a house on land they bought near Priest Lake, Idaho, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the property contained wetlands. 

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Westlands Water District lets bounty of flood water flow to the ocean instead of maximizing groundwater recharge

Groundwater recharge – or the lack of it – was a driving force behind the sweep of new board members who took over the behemoth Westlands Water District last fall. “Urgently develop groundwater recharge,” was the top plank in the platform of four candidates who won election in November. And the district has, indeed, built a 30,000-acre network of grower-owned recharge ponds with enough capacity to recharge, or absorb, 3,300 acre feet a day into the overtapped aquifer. So, it was surprising that the district showed it was only recharging a total of about 572 acre feet per day through April 30, according to a report at Westlands’ May 16 board meeting. A map presented at the meeting shows only a small fraction of recharge ponds in use.

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Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Climate change adds questions to Supreme Court case on Navajo water

News of water shortages, exacerbated by climate change, population growth, mining and other development, is everywhere these days in the American Southwest. But on the Navajo Reservation, a sovereign tribal nation that sits on about 16 million acres in northeast Arizona, southern Utah and western New Mexico, nearly 10,000 homes have never had running water. How that can and should be resolved is one aspect of a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20, with the justices’ decision due any day now.

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Aquafornia news High Country News

Can retiring farmland make California’s Central Valley more equitable?

The people of Fairmead, California, in the Central Valley, have struggled to gain reliable access to drinking water for years. The unincorporated community of around 1,300 — “mostly people of color, people of low income, people struggling and trying to make it,” according to Fairmead resident Barbara Nelson — relies on shallow wells to meet its needs. But in recent years, the combination of drought and excessive agricultural pumping has caused some domestic wells to go dry, and one of the town wells is currently very low. Last year, Fairmead received a grant to help plan for farmland retirement in order to recharge groundwater under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA. 

Aquafornia news Associated Press

Nevada fight over leaky irrigation canal and groundwater more complicated than appears on surface

Water conflicts are nothing new to the arid West, where myriad users long have vied for their share of the precious resource from California’s Central Valley to the Colorado and Missouri rivers. But few have waded into the legal question playing out in rural Nevada: To what extent can local residents, farmers and ranchers claim the water that is soaking into the ground through the dirt floor of an antiquated, unlined irrigation canal? A federal appeals court recently breathed new life into litigation that has entangled the U.S. government and the high-desert town of Fernley ever since a 118-year-old canal burst and flooded hundreds of homes in 2008. This year the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began work on a plan to line parts of the 31-mile (50 kilometer) canal with concrete.

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Sunnyvale celebrates milestone in 20-year Cleanwater Program

Having secured $635 million in federal loans for Sunnyvale’s 20-year Cleanwater Program, city staff on May 24 took the opportunity to show federal and local environmental officials what they’ve achieved with the funding so far. The low-interest loans are being used to rebuild Sunnyvale’s aging wastewater treatment plant, which was originally built in 1956 and is one of the oldest on the West Coast. … The tour highlighted projects that have received federal funds through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014. Radhika Fox, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for water, said Sunnyvale is a “power user” of federal funding.

Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Blog: A conversation about flood risk with Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara

As California contends with floods this year, PPIC Water Policy Center director Ellen Hanak spoke with Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara about how to better protect the state’s residents from flood risk, which is growing in our changing climate. How many people are insured for floods in California? There are two important things to know about the flood insurance landscape in California. First, Californians have an insurance protection gap: only 2% of Californians have flood insurance. The vast majority don’t have it, even though flooding is expensive and common. Second, we have a knowledge gap: most people don’t know that home insurance doesn’t cover floods, or that much of the state is at risk of flooding. 

Aquafornia news The Guardian

The farmers fretting over Colorado River water even before latest cuts

Nancy Caywood worries about water constantly. Water – or the uncertainty of it – has kept the 69-year-old Arizona farmer awake at night since supplies began dwindling about two decades ago due to chronic overuse and drought in the American west. During one particularly low point in late 2021, every field on the 255-acre family farm was either fallow, shrivelled or dormant. … [It] is now surrounded by fallow fields, tumbleweed and solar farms. … About half the irrigated farmland will be left unplanted in Pinal county this year, and hundreds of rural jobs have already been lost. Farms are having to rely almost exclusively on groundwater, further depleting the aquifers. … The region’s water crisis isn’t new and cuts were not entirely unexpected, yet most farmers have continued to farm the same water-guzzling crops using the same wasteful irrigation techniques …

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Aquafornia news Fox 5 - San Diego

San Diego County Water Authority: Colorado River agreement won’t impact supply

In a historic consensus, California, alongside the six other states that rely on the Colorado River for survival, announced an agreement last week for a plan to cut back water usage over the next three years. The proposal drafted by the three lower basin states – California, Arizona and Nevada – would cut water use from the river by at least 3 million acre-feet by the end of 2026 through conservation to prevent the river’s reservoirs from falling to critically low levels.  Of that total, 1.5 million acre-feet at minimum will be conserved by the end of next year under the proposal. One acre-foot of water supplies enough water for about 2.5 households of four people per year.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

An easy and affordable way to track home water usage in L.A.

Last fall, before the epic, near-biblical rains of early 2023 pushed California’s historic drought off our collective radar, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced a pilot water-conservation program that sounded too good to be true. According to the announcement, for just $24, single-family homeowners in the city would be able to track real-time water usage, detect leaks and create a water budget from a smartphone app using a Wi-Fi-enabled, easy-to-install Flume water-meter sensor. Both eager to conserve water where I could and cynical that the gadget would end up being as affordable, user-friendly and effective as described, I took the plunge and ordered one.

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Aquafornia news SouthTahoeNow

Meadows at Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek flooding, just as restoration projects wanted

Most of the meadows around South Lake Tahoe have had a lot of standing water over them this spring, and those surrounding Trout Creek and the Upper Truckee River have seen more water than they’ve experienced in years. Both waterways went over their banks weeks ago, and it may be several weeks until water moves back into its normal flow pattern. Extensive restoration has occurred on both the Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek, and what is occurring now is exactly as planned and more natural.

Aquafornia news AP News

Facing sweltering summers, California’s Newsom floats plan for state to buy energy

For most of the year, California’s quest to rid itself of fossil fuels seems on track: Electric cars populate highways while energy from wind, solar and water provides much of the power for homes and businesses. Then it gets hot, and everyone in the nation’s most populous state turns on their air conditioners at the same time. That’s when California has come close to running out of power in recent years, especially in the early evenings when electricity from solar is not as abundant. … Another area ripe for new energy development is the Salton Sea, a large saltwater lake in Southern California that has been slowly drying up. Beneath the surface of the lakebed, heat from the Earth warms underground water. Geothermal power plants use steam from this water to spin turbines that generate electricity. 

Aquafornia news CBS - San Francisco

USGS report predicts rising sea levels threaten California’s coast

As the Earth’s ice melts and sea levels rise, cities along the coast are considering ways to hold back the rising waters. But a new government study predicts that many of California’s most iconic beaches are in danger of disappearing. As he takes one of his regular walks along the sidewalk overlooking the Santa Cruz coastline, Pat Terrault says the evidence of climate change is there for everyone to see. … West Cliff Drive was battered by a massive storm on January 5th. Now there is caution tape in places and warning signs at the cliff’s edge. University of California, Santa Cruz earth sciences professor Gary Griggs says a seven-foot swell and 27-foot waves rose up over the cliffs, flooding the street and eroding the natural sea wall.

Aquafornia news Utah Public Radio

Here’s how water moves through Lake Powell

The Colorado River plays a pivotal role in the lives of many western state residents as a major municipal and agricultural water source. Lake Powell, a reservoir on the border of Utah and Arizona, is fed by the Colorado River. Water then flows from Lake Powell into the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead downstream. While the Colorado Rockies did not get quite the snow year seen in Utah, Colorado did see above-average snowpack. This year’s projections of water flow into Lake Powell are nearing the 21st century record high flows of 2011. Lake Powell is a reservoir, unlike Great Salt Lake which is terminal, so snowpack and water flow into Lake Powell greatly impact numerous communities downstream.

Aquafornia news Natural Resources Defense Council

Blog: Making our water safe and affordable

Every community needs safe drinking water to protect public health and to sustain the local economy. And every single person needs access to safe water just to survive—for drinking, cooking, bathing, sanitation, and, as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted, simply keeping our hands and homes clean to prevent disease.  Yet, in many communities, water fails to meet safe drinking water standards, which are often too weak to begin with and must be strengthened. This exposes millions of people to toxic chemicals like lead and the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. Communities of color and lower-income communities disproportionately bear the brunt.  At the same time, in every community, there are people—often many people—who struggle to afford their water and sewer bills and face severe consequences.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

What does Supreme Court water decision mean for California?

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision scaling back federal protections for many wetlands and streams has drawn criticism from scientists and environmental advocates, who say the gutting of safeguards will jeopardize water quality throughout the arid West. California’s water regulators say the ruling will be harmful for protections nationwide, but the more stringent state protections of wetlands won’t be affected. To examine the implications of the ruling, The Times spoke with Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, about the potential effects of limiting federal protections under the Clean Water Act and how the board will continue to regulate wetlands and streams under the state’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

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Aquafornia news Associated Press

Judge says fire retardant drops are polluting streams but allows use to continue

The U.S. government can keep using chemical retardant dropped from aircraft to fight wildfires, despite finding that the practice pollutes streams in western states in violation of federal law, a judge ruled Friday. Halting the use of the red slurry material could have resulted in greater environmental damage from wildfires, said U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Montana. The judge agreed with U.S. Forest Service officials who said dropping retardant into areas with waterways was sometimes necessary to protect lives and property.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

State asked to stop diverting iconic Mono Lake’s water to Los Angeles

As trickling snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada slowly raises Mono Lake —  famed for its bird life and outlandish shoreline mineral spires — advocates are pressuring state water officials to halt diversions from the lake’s tributaries to Los Angeles, which has used this clean mountain water source for decades.  Environmentalists and tribal representatives say such action is years overdue and would help the iconic lake’s ecosystem, long plagued by low levels, high salinity and dust that wafts off the exposed lakebed. The city of Los Angeles, they argue, should simply use less water, and expand investments in more sustainable sources – especially recycled wastewater and uncaptured stormwater. This, they say, could help wean the city off Mono basin’s water for good.

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Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

6 common misconceptions about El Niño and its impact on California weather

After a four-year hiatus, El Niño is widely expected to make a grand reentrance this summer, ushering in the possibility of yet another wet, stormy winter. “It looks like it’s full steam ahead,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said in a live YouTube interview last week, in which he placed the likelihood of a strong El Niño event at greater than 50% — even as projections still vary widely. … [El Niño] can reposition the jet stream and funnel storms toward the West Coast, often resulting in increased rainfall across thousands of miles, said John Monteverdi, emeritus professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University. But a wet winter is not at all guaranteed, he said, noting that only one out of about six current models predicts a strong El Niño as this year progresses.

Aquafornia news North Bay Business Journal

Tribe taps Sonoma County wineries, farms to save Russian River water

To hear water stakeholders tell their stories, the connection to the Russian River is every bit as personal and spiritual as it is professional in nature. Take, for instance, Dry Creek Rancheria Tribal Chairman Chris Wright. The Pomo Indians tribal leader is spearheading a major grant-funded, multi-million-dollar, drought-resistant water capture plan. He hopes it will spark interest from Healdsburg-area wineries and farms in a 7,000-acre area to help with the water supply that keeps the Russian River economic microcosm going. … The phased-in project aims to replenish the groundwater basin with up to 9,000-acre feet of water savings annually, when the Russian River increases to high flows. Traditionally, that stormwater runoff represents a wasted supply.

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