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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 Associated Press

Friday Top of the Scroll: Drought-hit California cities to get little water from state

California water agencies that serve 27 million people will get just 5% of what they requested from the state to start 2023, water officials announced Thursday. The news of limited water comes as California concludes its driest three-year stretch on record and as water managers brace for a fourth year with below-average precipitation. But if the winter is wetter than expected, the state could boost how much supply it plans to give out — as it did last year when allocations started at 0% and ended the winter at 5%. Absent an end to the drought, water-saving measures are poised to continue, including calls for people to rip up decorative grass, limit outdoor watering, take shorter showers and run dishwashers only when full. 

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Tahoe was pummeled with snow. Will the winter storm impact the drought?

The winter storm that dropped rain across the Bay Area dumped snow on the Sierras and ski resorts across Tahoe. Heavy snow and slick roads also made for dangerous driving conditions but the precipitation is a boon for California’s water supply. Building on gains during a storm in early November, this latest storm brought statewide snowpack up to 106% of normal for December 1, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The snow is beneficial but it’s still early in the season, said Andrew Schwartz, the lead scientist at UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory. The previous water year, for example, started out with plentiful rains during October and December 2021 but were followed by an extremely dry start to 2022.

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Aquafornia news National Integrated Drought Information System

Blog: Western snow season 2022-23 preview: a look at water supplies and the winter outlook in 10 maps

It’s hard to overstate how crucial this snow season is for the western United States. Regions such as the West that receive a great deal of their precipitation in the form of snow face a number of challenges when snow droughts occur, including shrinking water supplies. And western water supplies are truly shrinking as some states are facing their second or third drought year in a row and a large part of the region is stuck in a 20+ year megadrought. Hanging over all of this is climate change–influenced aridification in the Southwest that is increasing evaporative demand, causing water supplies to dwindle from rising temperatures even when there is adequate precipitation.

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Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: Apply for California’s Preeminent Water Leadership Program by Dec. 7

There is less than a week left to apply for our 2023 Water Leaders class and be considered for the new cohort of California’s preeminent water leadership program. Launched in 1997, the Water Leaders program is aimed at providing a deeper understanding of California water issues, building leadership skills and preparing class members to take an active, cooperative approach to decision-making about water resources by studying a water-related topic in-depth and crafting policy recommendations.

And, if you work for a member of the Association of California Water Agencies, you can apply to have tuition and some travel expenses covered under the John P. Fraser Water Leaders Fellowship.

Aquafornia news Salt Lake Tribune

Great Salt Lake and other shrinking salty lakes get $5M in funding

A bipartisan bill meant to address declining saline lakes in the West, including the Great Salt Lake, passed the U.S. Senate with unanimous approval Wednesday. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced and co-sponsored the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act with Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Roy Wyden of Oregon and Diane Feinstein of California. The bill earmarks $5 million each year over five years for the U.S. Geological Survey to study saline lakes throughout the Great Basin…. Owens and Mono lakes in California are also named, which water diversions have turned into sources of toxic and dangerous blowing dust. 

Aquafornia news Dredging Today

DWR completes removal of drought salinity barrier from West False River

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has completed the removal of a drought salinity barrier from the West False River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The barrier was installed in June 2021 to prevent saltwater intrusion with less fresh water from upstream reservoirs and streams flowing into the Delta during California’s ongoing extreme drought conditions.  DWR was required to remove the structure by November 30 to comply with environmental permits. … The barrier was initially constructed in response to Governor Newsom’s April 21, 2021 state of emergency proclamation directing the Department to initiate actions necessary to prepare for and address potential Delta salinity issues during prolonged drought conditions.

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Start of the water year reveals below-average precipitation for Kern River watershed

The first of seven monthly Kern River Snow and Water reports put out by water watcher Scott Williams arrived in email boxes Dec. 1 and the news was, fairly, well – “eh.” The watershed is below average in terms of precipitation but not that below average, according to Williams’ report, which uses a compilation of data from multiple public websites. He typically publishes the monthly updates based on water data from Nov. 1 through May 31. The North Fork of the Kern has 3.71 inches of precip, or 86% of average, and the South Fork has 1.82 inches, or 73 percent of average, according to the report. With storms arriving this week, there’s a glimmer of hope for more. But Williams’ report also notes there’s a 76% chance of a La Niña winter this year, which typically means drier weather.

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Farm delegation advocates for ag in nation’s capital

As the nation learned that the midterm election led to a change in the balance of power in the next U.S. Congress, a delegation of California Farm Bureau leaders met with representatives during an advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss pressing issues affecting agriculture. … Farm Bureau executives, the organization’s Leadership Farm Bureau class and county leaders were joined by the organization’s federal policy team and met face to face with lawmakers Nov. 14-17 in the nation’s capital. Discussions focused on issues including California’s ongoing drought, water, labor and trade, as well as the next federal farm bill.

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Aquafornia news Arizona Daily Star

Opinion: The Colorado River won’t obey our rules

The Colorado River Compact is 100 years old. A University of Arizona conference and the upcoming Colorado River Water Users Association will mark the anniversary. But there’s no reason to celebrate. Twenty-two years into a drought and with reservoirs at all-time lows, the federal government may soon intervene in the states’ management of the river. The Compact has failed. Don’t blame the river. We need a new system that manages with the river and provides all users with fair shares. In 1922, the seven Colorado Basin states used an optimistic estimate of the river’s annual flow to allocate the waters. The states chose the biggest estimate because that made it easy to agree. Everyone could pretend the river could satisfy all anticipated demands. That was the first mistake.
-Written by Karl Flessa, an Arizona resident since 1977 and an emeritus professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona.

Aquafornia news Digital Journal

Glen Canyon Reservoir: The Colorado River’s descent into ‘dead pool’

A long-standing drought in the American Southwest is getting worse by the day, threatening reservoirs and groundwater supplies. And the first sign of “serious damage” could be a whirlpool, according to the operators of the nation’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell, reports the Washington Post. Lake Powell is already a quarter of its size and a drop in the water level of another 38 feet down the concrete face of the 710-foot Glenn Canyon Dam would put the surface of the reservoir close to the tops of eight underwater openings that allow river water to pass through the hydroelectric dam.

Aquafornia news Civil Eats

Climate-driven drought is stressing the Hopi tribe’s foods and traditions

Corn goes back to their very creation story. As the Hopi people emerged into this world, the Creator gave them three things: a gourd of water, a planting stick and a short ear of blue corn. … Clark grows heirloom Hopi blue, gray, red and white corn in the valley between First Mesa and Second Mesa in the middle of the 2,532 square mile Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona. The seeds that he plants have been cultivated over countless generations to grow in this dry climate of the high desert. He, like most Hopi farmers, uses traditional dryland farming methods in which, rather than irrigating crops, he relies solely on snowmelt and the rain that falls directly on his fields. … But now, more than two decades into the worst drought in the southwestern United States in a millennia, making the desert bloom is harder than ever.

Aquafornia news US Environmental Protection Agency

News release: EPA announces proposal to protect tribal reserved rights in water quality standards and best practices for tribal treaty and reserved rights

Today, during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan announced a proposal to revise the federal water quality standards regulations to better protect Tribal rights under the Clean Water Act (CWA). With this action, EPA is working to ensure that state and federal water quality standards will protect tribal rights such as the right to fish or gather aquatic plants—that are reserved through treaties, statutes, executive orders, or other sources of federal law. 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Popular California park that abruptly closed last spring reopens in Delta

One of the most popular places to boat, fish and camp in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has finally reopened after abruptly closing last spring. Brannan Island State Park, a 336-acre jut of scrubby land across the water from Antioch, shut down in April nearly overnight after its longtime concessionaire ended its month-to-month lease with the state Department of Parks and Recreation to operate the park. Brannan Island, in Isleton, reopened fully on Thursday after the department announced it had secured an agreement with a new concessionaire.

Aquafornia news Cronkite News

Xeriscaping conserves water for Arizona homeowners

Kelly Gleave converted his grass lawn to xeriscape in April. In June, he and his wife saw a 3,000 gallon reduction in their water use. “For me, it was less about maintaining the grass and it was more about the fact that the Valley is getting a lot of people and we need to do more to conserve water,” said Gleave, who’s one of 450 Mesa homeowners who have taken advantage of the city’s grass-to-xeriscape incentive. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced in August that deliveries of Colorado River water – the majority of which is used for agriculture – to Arizona would be cut an additional 21% next year. According to the bureau, megadrought and low runoff conditions accelerated by climate change have resulted in record low water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs in the country.

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Aquafornia news Cronkite News

Sustainable cattle ranching is a time-honored tradition at Date Creek Ranch in Arizona

Savannah Barteau dropped out of college to become a rancher nearly nine years ago. Now, the 26-year-old Flagstaff native runs the beef business at Date Creek Ranch outside Wickenburg with her husband.  … Date Creek Ranch still uses Knight’s grazing management techniques. It sells beef locally instead of transporting cattle out of state. It uses water from the creek instead of relying on groundwater or the Colorado River. The ranch’s herd is only 120 head because the fewer cattle on pastures, the better. In addition, Date Creek Ranch recently installed solar panels that provide power to structures on the property, irrigation and beef freezers.

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Aquafornia news San Diego Magazine

Old drought, new wines

Things are popping in Baja’s emerging wine scene. Earlier this century, there were only a dozen or so wineries. Now, there are almost 200. By all indications, Valle de Guadalupe is ready to take its place among the world-class gastronomic destinations. But, under the surface, there’s something larger lurking. “The big problem today is lack of water,” says Camillo Magoni, the 82-year-old winemaker of Casa Magoni, who’s worked 58 harvests in Baja. … San Diego County’s own winegrowers are also facing a water crisis. … With all the crises facing the world, some might dismiss the issue of growing grapes for premium wine to be a minor, bougie, first-world problem. But wine has always been a window into much larger farming issues.

Aquafornia news Yale Climate Connections

An idea that could help replenish California’s groundwater supplies

When drought strikes, California farmers often pump water from underground aquifers to water their crops. But increasingly dry conditions are straining that resource. … [David Freyberg of Stanford University] says many people are looking at ways to replenish the state’s dwindling groundwater supplies. In California, a lot of water typically comes from winter snow that falls high in the mountains. During warmer months, that snow melts and trickles down to farmland. But as the climate warms, more precipitation is falling as rain instead of snow. So it rushes into rivers and runs past many areas where it’s needed.

Aquafornia news Valley Water News

Blog: A successful flood protection project

Each winter, thousands of homes, businesses and schools in Sunnyvale are susceptible to flooding from the Sunnyvale East and West channels overtopping during major storms. These channels were constructed in the 1960s as local storm drains, but a combination of heavy storm events, land subsidence and inadequate drainage has caused the area to flood five times in the last 60 years. That’s why Valley Water is embarking on the Sunnyvale East and West Channels Flood Protection Project to provide enhanced flood protection to more than 1,600 neighboring properties and approximately 47 acres of valuable industrial and government lands. Construction is set to begin in 2024.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Opinion: Desert hikes are stunning, thanks to invisible waterways

I know a lot of people think of deserts as big, empty, lifeless wastelands — that’s one of the reasons it can be tough to get folks to care about protecting them. But when I moved to Southern California from New England, my desert enchantment was immediate and deep. One of the things that struck me most about exploring the deserts here was that the slower I went, the more I saw. … Take the Amargosa River, which flows for 185 miles and drains a 5,500-square-mile basin in Nevada and California before feeding the aquifer remnants of ancient Lake Manly in Death Valley. It’s the seventh-longest river in California, but you could be forgiven for not noticing it, since it spends almost all its time underground. Its water provides habitat for the improbable Devil’s Hole pupfish …
-Written by Casey Schreiner, a writer, producer, presenter and author who has taken over The Wild newsletter for the next few months. 

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

Thursday Top of the Scroll: Northern California bracing for much-needed rain, snow

It’s looking likely December will bring a series of storms to Northern California, raising hopes for a wetter winter than last year. … The southern Cascades including Mount Shasta could see 10 to 30 inches of snow, while the Sierra Nevada range could see one to three feet…. The state is still looking to narrow the gap from the last dismal water year. The California Drought Monitor map updated Nov. 23 shows most of California in severe drought or worse, with a significant portion of most of the Central Valley and Southern California at exceptional drought….[Eric Kurth, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento,] said compared to last year, when the state had received around 16 inches of total precipitation by this time, this year is very behind — measuring at just 4.3 inches or half of normal precipitation as of Wednesday. 

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