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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 The Nevada Independent

Monday Top of the Scroll: Colorado River users, facing historic uncertainty, are set to meet in Las Vegas next month

As Colorado River water users prepare to meet in Las Vegas next month, the reality they face is one of growing uncertainty with few simple options left on the negotiating table. The math is well understood: There are more demands for the river than there is water coming into its reservoirs.  But cutting back at the scale necessary — and on a voluntary basis — has proven painstakingly difficult this year as top officials from across the Colorado River watershed have failed to reach a settlement. If the cuts are inevitable based on physical realities, questions remain about what form they will take. Will they be voluntary? Mandatory? Both? And how would they be enforced?

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Aquafornia news Fresno Bee

Westlands boss Thomas Birmingham retiring after ‘change coalition’ elected to board

Thomas Birmingham, general manager of the massive Westlands Water District since 2000, Wednesday announced plans to step down at the end of 2022. His announcement follows the election of four new members to the Westlands Board of Directors on Nov. 8 who would give a so-called “change coalition” a solid majority of six seats on the nine-member board. The top priority for the coalition is “a change in leadership,” according to Sarah Woolf, who along with Jon Reiter helped coordinate a group of increasingly frustrated Westlands farmers to run the slate of change candidates, SJV Water reported. 

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Ecosystems and rural communities bear brunt of drought

Drought, human-caused climate change, invasive species and a “legacy” of environmental issues are permanently altering California’s landscape and placing some communities and ecosystems at increasing risk, a panel of experts told water officials recently. Invasive species and decades of disruptions from massive land and water developments are partly responsible for a continuous decline in native California species, experts told the California Water Commission on Nov. 16. Also, rural communities, many of whom are lower income and rely on privately owned wells, are disproportionately contending with water contamination and scarcity amid recurring cycles of drought, experts said. 

Aquafornia news KTLA - Los Angeles

California drought: Google Earth images show state’s reservoir levels through the years

A lot has changed for California’s reservoirs over the last five years. In April 2017, then-Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that declared California’s drought state of emergency over in most counties (Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne counties were initially excluded). The emergency order had been in place since 2014 following several years of historic drought conditions. … Shasta is currently at 31% capacity, down from its historical capacity of 57% this time of year. Storage level graphs from the California Department of Water Resources show today’s water level hovering above 2014’s historically low levels.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Climate change drives, hotter more frequent heat waves

As California awakens to the worsening risk of extreme climate events, researchers are shedding new light on last year’s anomalous and extreme Pacific Northwest heat wave. One study published this week said such heat waves could become 20 times more likely to occur if current carbon emissions continue unabated. … The nine-day event in late June and early July 2021 seared parts of Northern California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, where Canada saw its highest temperature on record, 121.3 degrees. The heat wave claimed hundreds of lives, sparked several devastating wildfires and killed an estimated 1 billion sea creatures. … In California and other parts of the western United States, increasing heat, drought and aridification are contributing to long-term drying of soils, which means there’s less water to be evaporated into the air.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

A massive effort – restoring the San Joaquin River

The San Joaquin River is a vital source of water for agriculture and the environment and it is also home to a unique program that hopes to restore native fish runs. It is a complex program and SJV Water was fortunate to take advantage of a tour offered through the Water Education Foundation Nov. 2-3 that helps break down the various aspects of restoration efforts. The restoration program is a nearly one billion dollar endeavor to restore spring-run Chinook salmon to the river which went extinct there after Friant Dam and other obstructions were built.

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Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

Study: California drought causes economic losses

As California prepares for a fourth consecutive year of drought and farmland across the Golden State increasingly goes idle, growers continue to face mounting economic challenges. In a new report about the financial toll of the state’s extreme drought conditions, researchers estimated that the state’s irrigated farmland dropped by 752,000 acres, or nearly 10%, from 2019 to 2022. Fields meant to harvest rice, almonds and other crops are instead going unplanted, causing the level of fallowed land across California to surpass the prior peak seen during the state’s last drought that ran from 2012 to 2016. As a result, the researchers found, California crop revenues fell by $1.7 billion, or 4.6%, during that time …

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Aquafornia news Northern California Water Association

Blog: Adapting to California’s “weather whiplash” with Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations

California already has one of the most variable climates in the United States, and it’s getting more extreme. Our “weather whiplash,” as it’s becoming known, is increasingly marked by long periods of warm, dry conditions punctuated by stronger and wetter atmospheric river storms. … Recognizing the influence of atmospheric rivers on California’s changing climate, Yuba Water is working with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at UC San Diego, the California Department of Water Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others to implement Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations in the Yuba and Feather river watersheds. FIRO is a flexible water management strategy that uses improved weather and water forecasts …

Aquafornia news Forbes

Opinion: Can the Mississippi learn from the Colorado’s failure?

The entire Mississippi River basin is experiencing drought conditions that are being compared to the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. The scenes — from exposed shipwrecks to sand dunes cropping up where the river used to flow — are surreal, and people from New Orleans to the Upper Midwest are getting nervous. I’m increasingly being asked: Is this the future of the Mississippi? And what would that mean for the world’s food supply — 92% of all U.S. agricultural exports are produced in the Mississippi River basin? Underpinning these questions is the same fear: Will the Mississippi turn into a new Colorado River—which is so oversubscribed it never reaches its historic delta anymore? 
-Written by John Sabo, director of ByWater Institute at Tulane University, avid fly fisherman. 

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Beavers returning to San Francisco Bay Area creeks and streams

In a deep muddy creek near Silicon Valley’s busiest freeway, a large furry head pokes up. And then quickly submerges. The brief sighting, along with a growing collection of video footage, confirms something remarkable: After being hunted to extinction in the 1800s, the North American beaver is returning to the creeks of the San Francisco Bay Area. Ecosystem explorers, beavers were re-introduced to Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos about four decades ago, and made homes in upper Los Gatos Creek. Since then, they’ve expanded their range north along the edge of the Bay to the Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek, San Tomas Aquino Creek in the wetlands by Sunnyvale’s Water Pollution Control Plant – and, now, Palo Alto’s Matadero Creek.

Aquafornia news CNBC

On the job: What it takes to earn $70K as a water operator in California

The promise of job security and work-life balance drew Fernando Gonzalez to become a water operator. Now that he’s worked as one for a few years, he sees his job as much more than fining people for using too much water. On a given day, he’s patrolling neighborhoods spanning from farmland to Malibu mansions, looking for evidence that residents are wasting water. He hands out notices of leaky sprinklers or when residents run sprinklers right after a rainstorm, sure, but the most rewarding part of his job is interacting with customers about how they can save water, and why it’s so important. … Here’s how Gonzalez earns $70,000 a year, or nearly $100,000 with overtime, as a water operator in Calabasas, Calif.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Editorial: Disconnecting water, power when poor can’t pay is cruel

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has made a radical but logical decision: The utility will no longer shut off service when low-income residents and seniors can’t pay their bills. Instead, those customers will be put on payment plans that can stretch over several years, offered incentives to help lower their water and power use and, if they qualify, be enrolled in federal programs to help households in poverty pay for utilities. It’s an important change, recognizing that water and power are essential services. It’s cruel to cut people off if they fall behind on their bills due to financial hardship.

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Aquafornia news East County Magazine

Opinion: Sweetwater drains Loveland Reservoir to dead pool level to save its ratepayers money– at the expense of rural residents, wildlife, and fire protection

Without any regard to impacts on wildlife, fire danger, rural residents or recreational users at Loveland Reservoir near Alpine in San Diego’s East County, the Sweetwater Water Authority (SWA) on November 16 began draining down the lake with an intent to reduce it to “dead pool” level – less than one-half of one percent of the reservoir’s capacity, once draining is completed over the next couple of weeks or so. The water is being piped to Sweetwater Reservoir in Otay Mesa. From there, it will be used to provide drinking water and other water needs to residents in the South Bay communities of Chula Vista, National City and Bonita.
-Written by Miriam Raftery.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

Lawsuit looms over tiny rare fish in drought-stricken West

Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delinquent decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week over the Fish Lake Valley tui chub near the California-Nevada line and the least chub in southwest Utah. Utah and Nevada are the driest states in the country, and the planned lawsuits are among the many fronts on which conservationists are battling water districts and the users they cater to over plans to siphon water to either maintain or expand consumption.

Aquafornia news New York Times

Millions in Houston are told to boil water

Millions of Houston residents were told Sunday night to boil their water before drinking it after a power outage at a water purification plant caused water pressure to dip and triggered a mandatory boil-water notice, officials said. The order prompted officials in Texas’s largest city to close public schools for at least one day. Officials said the orders were issued out of an abundance of caution and that they had not received any reports of customers getting sick from drinking contaminated water. … Erin Jones, a spokeswoman for Houston Public Works, said that the agency, which serves about 2.3 million customers, is following state protocols and testing water samples. The boil order is likely to remain in effect until at least Tuesday morning, she said.

Aquafornia news The San Diego Union-Tribune

Mayor Serge Dedina, a leading voice for the South Bay, returns to his environmental activism

“The sewage is killing us.” Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina did not mince words in 2017 after yet another spill from Tijuana’s broken wastewater system contaminated local beaches. He also did not waste time. Dedina pushed for answers from U.S. and Mexico officials, and got none that were satisfying. So he sued the federal government in 2018 and was later joined in the lawsuit by Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego. … Imperial Beach has long been a beach town beset by water contamination due to sewage spilling from Mexico. The battle for clean water has sometimes turned neighbor against neighbor, such as when Imperial Beach officials criticized their more affluent neighbor Coronado for not joining the 2018 lawsuit. 

Aquafornia news Business Wire

News release: AWS makes water positive commitment to return more water to communities than it uses by 2030

Today at AWS re:Invent, Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), an Amazon.com, Inc. company (NASDAQ: AMZN), announced it will be water positive (water+) by 2030, returning more water to communities than it uses in its direct operations. The company also announced its 2021 global water use efficiency (WUE) metric of 0.25 liters of water per kilowatt-hour, demonstrating AWS’s leadership in water efficiency among cloud providers. AWS is already well on the path to becoming water+ and as part of this new commitment will report annually on its WUE metric, new water reuse and recycling efforts, new activities to reduce water consumption in its facilities, and advancements in new and existing replenishment projects.

Aquafornia news Whittier Daily News

Historic mining town plagued by arsenic gets federal funds for cleanup effort

To many of the 100 or so full-time residents of Red Mountain, a historic mining town on the northwestern tip of San Bernardino County’s desert, John Hall is unofficially known as mayor. Hall, 75, isn’t quite sure why. Maybe it’s because he’s lasted more than 30 years in this hard-scrap place, where locals truck in water to avoid the arsenic that decades of mining left in the ground and their tap water. … It’s estimated the state has about 47,000 abandoned mines. And of the roughly 24,400 sites on BLM-managed land, some 84% present physical hazards, such as open mine shafts, while 11% present environmental hazards such as contamination. Red Mountain has both. Soil testing has found as much as 10,000 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram in some parts of Red Mountain.

Aquafornia news

Happy Thanksgiving from Aquafornia!

Dear Aquafornia readers,

Aquafornia is off for the Thanksgiving weekend.

We will return with a full slate of water news on Monday, Nov. 28.

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter where we post breaking news and on Facebook and LinkedIn, where we post Foundation-related news. 

We are grateful for our readers! The team at the Water Education Foundation wishes everyone a safe holiday weekend!

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: ‘It’s a disaster.’ Drought dramatically shrinking California farmland, costing $1.7 billion

In the fall, rice fields in the Sacramento Valley usually shine golden brown as they await harvesting. This year, however, many fields were left covered with bare dirt. “It’s a disaster,” said rice farmer Don Bransford. “This has never happened. Never. And I’ve been farming since 1980.” … California has just gone through the state’s driest three-year period on record, and this year the drought has pushed the fallowing of farmland to a new high. In a new report on the drought’s economic effects, researchers estimated that California’s irrigated farmland shrank by 752,000 acres, or nearly 10%, in 2022 compared with 2019 — the year prior to the drought. That was up from an estimated 563,000 acres of fallowed farmland last year.

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