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 Maven's Notebook

Sturgeon arose during the Jurassic—can they survive the Anthropocene?

Sturgeon have been around far longer than humans—a jaw-dropping 200 million years to our comparatively short 6 million—and survived the cataclysm that terminated the age of dinosaurs. But can these ancient fish survive the age of people? New insights into the secret lives of these little-known fish, as well as into their increasing vulnerability, suggest ways of strengthening protections for sturgeon in California. All 27 remaining species of sturgeon live in the northern hemisphere and all are at risk. Threats include overfishing, poaching for their caviar, and dams that block access to their spawning grounds. Fish in the San Francisco Bay are also threatened by harmful algal blooms called red tides, which release toxins that can kill aquatic life.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Opinion: California’s snow is melting and it’s a beautiful thing

My fellow Californians often remark that the weather in this state feels like it has been reduced to two seasons, both defined by natural disasters: In summer and fall, huge, intense wildfires rip their way across dry land, while winter and early spring bring intense atmospheric rivers with heavy rainfall, floods and landslides along with winds that take down trees. The weather extremes here are so common, and climate change is so in your face, that many people now just expect to jump from one natural disaster to the next. And this pessimism means it’s hard to enjoy it when — for once — nature deals us a good hand. But this year, after several brutal years of fighting drought, we finally got the water that we have so sorely needed for so long. We damn well better enjoy it. 
-Written by Andrew Schwartz, lead scientist and station manager at the University of California, Berkeley, Central Sierra Snow Lab.

Aquafornia news Morgan Hill Times

Judge’s ruling delays Pacheco Dam expansion plans

Plans to build a new dam for Pacheco Reservoir in southeast Santa Clara County are on hold after a superior court judge in May ruled that the project developer had incorrectly claimed it is exempt from state environmental laws.  Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Theodore Zayner on May 18 ruled that the project applicant, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, had filed a “notice of exemption” that was not in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The ruling was issued in response to a lawsuit filed in June 2022 by Stop the Pacheco Dam Project Coalition, and later amended to include the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the Sierra Club.  Valley Water has proposed building a larger dam that would expand Pacheco Reservoir’s water storage capacity from 5,500 to 140,000 acre feet. 

Aquafornia news High Country News

In search of answers at the Salton Sea

As the temperature on an early April afternoon crept above 80 degrees, Cruz Marquez, a member of the Salton Sea Community Science Program, stood at a folding table under a blue tent, scrubbing a small glass vial with the cloth of his T-shirt. … Over the last 25 years, the Salton Sea has lost a third of its water due to an over-allocated Colorado River. As it shrinks, the sea’s salts plus pollutants from agricultural runoff reach higher concentrations. All those extra nutrients fuel algae blooms that then decay in the sulfate-rich sea, resulting in a rotten-egg smell that can extend for miles. As temperatures rise and the water retreats further, locals suspect that the contaminated sediments in the exposed lakebed are worsening air quality; the area’s childhood asthma rate is one of the highest in the state.

Aquafornia news KCRA - Sacramento

Sen. Alex Padilla focuses on water affordability in hearing

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., convened his first hearing as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, on Wednesday. Sen. Padilla appeared on the KCRA News morning show on My58 and said the hearing will focus on how rising water rates, aging infrastructure and extreme weather events have affected access and affordability of clean water across the country. … According to a state audit in 2022, California required an estimated $64.7 billion to upgrade its water infrastructure. In April, the EPA awarded a fraction of that, $391 million. To hear more about the subcommittee’s initiatives, watch the attached video.

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: What’s the dam problem with deadbeat dams?

(Editor’s Note: This is a repost of a blog originally published in June 2020).

Damming rivers was once a staple of public works and a signal of technological and scientific progress. Even today, dams underpin much of California’s public safety and economy, while having greatly disrupted native ecosystems (Quiñones et al. 2015, Moyle et al. 2017), displaced native peoples (Garrett 2010), and deprived residents of water access when streamflow is transported across basins. California’s dams are aging and many will require expensive reconstruction or rehabilitation. Many dams were built for landscapes, climates and economic purposes that no longer exist. California’s current dams reflect an accumulation of decisions over the past 170 years based on environmental, political, and socio-economic dynamics that have changed, sometimes radically.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Blog: Saving endangered fish one weir at a time

Protecting and responding to threats of the Colorado River endangered fishes (Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub) are an important part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s mission. Threats such as fish entrainment in water diversions, have long been recognized by resource managers as a threat to native, especially endangered and threatened fish in the Colorado River Basin. Fish entrainment is the unwanted passage and loss of fish through a water intake, for example, when fish are transported with the flow of streams, creeks or rivers that are being diverted for irrigation and other uses.

Aquafornia news KCRA - Sacramento

City of Roseville stored more groundwater than ever this year

Thanks to this year’s big winter rain and snow season, City of Roseville officials say they have been able to store more groundwater than ever before. Improving groundwater storage is an important part of the greater Sacramento region’s plans to increase the security of the drinking water supply. During times of drought, groundwater acts as a water savings account for when surface water from reservoirs is less available. In recent decades, groundwater has been significantly overdrawn throughout California. For the past several weeks, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been making increased releases at Folsom Lake. Thanks to a contract with the City of Roseville, some of that excess water is being stored in aquifers below the city.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Can Californians keep their lawns?

The tremendous rains over the winter have filled California’s reservoirs, blessed the snowpack and brought waterfalls and ancient lakes back to life. In some parts of the state, the precipitation has also revived something that was thought to have been a thing of the past: green lawns. Last spring, when California was still in a worsening drought, Jeff Fox and Amy Bach let the grass in their San Francisco backyard go dry. They covered their desiccated lawn with bark chips, added some succulents and well-placed rocks, and welcomed their new, drought-friendly landscaping. They were among the thousands of people who abandoned the California dream of a single-family home surrounded by a lush, neatly kept lawn. Then this winter, the Bay Area, like much of the state, was battered with enormous amounts of rain. 

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Aquafornia news Salt Lake Tribune

Two Utah sites will get over $19 million in federal funds to restore public lands. Here’s where it’s going.

The federal government is putting $160 million in public lands — including over $19 million to two sites in Utah — to restore the landscapes, restore wildlife habitats and improve water on public lands. The effort is part of President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda. In a news conference Wednesday, Bureau of Land Management leaders announced a total of 21 sites would receive funding for restoration. Among those sites were two in the Beehive State — the Upper Bear River in northeastern Utah and for Color Country in southwestern Utah. The Upper Bear will receive $9.6 million in funding, while Color Country will receive $9.73 million. … Southwest Utah’s booming population is in large part why the BLM chose to focus part of the funding on that region of the country, said BLM Senior Policy Advisor Tomer Hasson during the news conference. 

Aquafornia news Coastal View

Advanced water purification coming to a town near you

Each and every day, the Carpinteria Sanitary District sends over one million gallons of highly treated water through our outfall pipeline and into the Pacific Ocean. In 2016 we began working in partnership with the Carpinteria Valley Water District on a plan to recapture this valuable resource and create a new, drought-proof water supply for our community. The Carpinteria Advanced Purification Project, or CAPP, has now moved into the final design stage. We are just a few short years away from having a reliable source of highly purified water that will augment our local groundwater aquifer and meet a quarter of Carpinteria’s demand for potable water.
-Written by Craig Murray, General Manager of the Carpinteria Sanitary District. 

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Opinion: California must realign its priorities for water usage

To achieve water stability and sustainability, the state must realign its priorities by putting people and communities over the profiteering industries that are driving the water and climate crisis. … Our water crisis is inextricably tied to climate change, which is ironically being driven by two industries very familiar to California: fossil fuels and industrial agriculture. The science is very clear: In order to stave off unthinkable climate chaos we must move off fossil fuels, and very quickly transition our economy to a near future of completely clean, renewable energy. … Yet just this year, under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s watch, the state has approved nearly 1,000 new fossil fuel extraction permits.
-Written by Chirag G. Bhaka, the California Director of Food & Water Watch.

Related article:

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: Facing California’s future of flooding and droughts

In recent years, it is the dry side of California that has captured headlines: dwindling reservoirs where boat ramps lead only to sand, almond orchards ripped up for lack of irrigation water, catastrophic wildfires that rage through desiccated forests and into towns. In the longer view, though, the state’s water problems have come just as often from deluge as from drought. Other parts of the country can count on reasonably steady precipitation, but California has always been different, teetering between drenching winters and blazing summers, between wet years and dry ones — fighting endlessly to exert control over a flow of water that vacillates, sometimes wildly, between too much and too little.

Aquafornia news San Luis Obispo Tribune

CA steelhead trout population drops due to drought, wildfires

It’s a fickle fish — one that evades even the most experienced anglers and darts for cover when curious passersby try to spot its freckled body against the backdrop of a gravel-lined stream. Despite capturing the attention of many local scientists and conservationists, California’s Central Coast steelhead trout remain listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to the latest review of the species released in May by the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The population segment on the south-central California coast reviewed by the federal agency, which has a range stretching from the Pajaro River in Monterey Bay to Arroyo Grande Creek, was first listed as threatened in 1997. It hasn’t appeared to improve since then.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Map shows epic amounts of water gushing through California rivers

This year’s historic snowpack has meant epic amounts of water flowing through California’s rivers, streams and creeks. … That’s more than the capacity of four standard 40-foot shipping containers rushing by each second. Around 40% of the roughly 500 stream gauges across the state are running above normal, provisional data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows. A few dozen are registering record highs for this time of year, especially along the central and southern Sierra. With peak melt season expected in the coming weeks, this means plentiful amounts of water running into reservoirs, but also dangerously fast flows and the risk for potential flooding.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: Headwaters Tour explores role of forest management in watershed health

Much of California’s developed water supply originates in the Sierra Nevada, making the state’s water supply largely dependent on the health of forests. But those forests are suffering from widespread tree mortality and other ecosystem degradation resulting largely from the growing frequency of severe droughts and wildfires. On our Headwaters Tour June 22-22, we will visit Eldorado and Tahoe national forests to learn about new forest management practices, including efforts to both prevent wildfires and recover from them.

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.

Related article: 

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.