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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 Chris Bowman.

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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 SJV Water

State allegedly ghosted Merced’s attempts to get permission to clear creeks for months before the floods

Evidence is stacking up against the state in one of multiple lawsuits over last year’s devastating floods in Merced County. One of the most stunning new pieces of evidence is a string of 12 emails from Merced County staff that went ignored by the state for more than four months before last year’s floods. The lawsuit was filed against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) on behalf of the City of Merced, a local elementary school and 12 agricultural groups. All the plaintiffs took significant damage from flooding after water backed up in clogged waterways and broke through, or overtopped creek banks and levees. The flooding came primarily from Bear Creek and Black Rascal Creek, both of which have flooded before. Flooding from Miles Creek also damaged nearly every home in the small, rural town of Planada.

Related flood control article: 

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

Irrigators clash with US government and Yurok Tribe over Klamath water rights at Ninth Circuit

The Klamath Water Users Association, along with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other plaintiff appellants asked a Ninth Circuit appeals panel Wednesday morning to reverse summary judgment from a case that confirmed the bureau and other actors must comply with the Endangered Species Act when operating the Klamath Irrigation Project. Managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Klamath Irrigation Project supplies water to over 225,000 acres of farmland and two wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin along the Oregon-California border. The project, however, decimated the local Chinook and Coho salmon population, which the Yurok tribe rely on to survive. Dams are currently being removed from the upper Klamath Basin, allowing the river to flow freely for the first time in 100 years. In a victory for the fish and the tribe, U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled in 2023 that the federal government must follow its own laws, such as the Endangered Species Act…

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Petition asks California’s highest court to wade into Kern River legal fracas

Plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit over the Kern River filed a petition asking the California Supreme Court to review an order that tossed out an injunction many had anticipated would guarantee a flowing river through Bakersfield. Specifically, the petition asks the Supreme Court to direct the 5th District Court of Appeal to explain why it stayed the injunction that had required enough water in the river to keep fish in good condition. The Supreme Court petition was filed June 11. The 5th District issued what’s known as a “writ of supersedeas” May 3 setting aside the injunction and staying all legal actions surrounding the injunction, which had been issued by Kern County Superior Court Judge Gregory Pulskamp last fall.

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

PFAS in Tucson: EPA orders cleanup by US Air Force, Air National Guard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is demanding the U.S. Air Force and Arizona National Guard take action as concentrations of toxic “forever chemicals” are increasing in the groundwater in a historically contaminated area on Tucson’s south side. The EPA found the pollution came from the nearby military properties and ordered them to clean up the contamination. High concentrations of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, were detected in Tucson’s groundwater near the Tucson International Airport at the National Guard base and at a property owned by the U.S. Air Force. The contaminants threaten the groundwater extracted at a water treatment run by Tucson Water in the Tucson Airport Remediation Project area, known as TARP. That water was intended for drinking, the EPA said in its May 29 order.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Opinion: CA voters to decide if clean air, water are human right

In the Golden State, we pride ourselves on our future-facing environmental values and our climate leadership. At the same time, nearly 1 million residents, primarily in disadvantaged communities, are without access to clean drinking water, and California cities such as Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno are burdened year after year by some of the dirtiest, most polluted air in the nation. This glaring duality underscores the failure of our current legal framework to ensure the fundamental rights of all Californians to clean air, water and a healthy environment. It’s time for a change. It’s time for California to enshrine this right into our state constitution. The inalienable rights of life, liberty, safety and happiness guaranteed in the state constitution are under threat by a climate crisis that negatively impacts the health and well-being of all Californians.
-Written by Terry Tamminen and James Strock, former secretaries of the California Environmental Protection Agency. Alan Lloyd, who also contributed to this piece, is also a former secretary of the California EPA.​

Aquafornia news California Trout

Blog: Building a climate-resilient and drought-prepared future with Assembly Bill 1272

… Last year, Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) introduced a pivotal piece of legislation to enhance drought preparedness and climate resiliency for North Coast watersheds. Supported by a coalition of organizations and Tribal Nations, and co-sponsored by CalTrout, AB 1272 promises a better future for North Coast communities and the iconic species that live there.  North Coast communities are deeply connected to salmon populations and rivers. Declining salmon numbers due to severe droughts and water management challenges have led to the closure of salmon fishing in 2023 and again this year.

Related stream restoration articles: 

Aquafornia news Daily Breeze

Struggling Angelenos get $253M in relief to pay late DWP and garbage bills

Some $253 million helped Angelenos pay back utility bills from March 2020 through December 2022, city officials announced on Wednesday, June 12. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, Councilmember Heather Hutt, state Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Yana Garcia, Water Resources Control Board Chair Joaquin Esquivel, and officials with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and L.A. Environment and Sanitation celebrated the distribution of federal funding at a news conference. Officials said the aid was automatically applied to about 204,500 DWP customer accounts. The California Water and Wastewater Arrearage Payment Program was the source of the funds, administered by the state water board using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: Should clean air and water be the right of every Californian?

A contentious proposal to amend California’s Constitution to enshrine environmental rights for all citizens has been delayed for at least another year after it failed to gain traction ahead of a looming deadline. ACA 16, also known as the green amendment, sought to add a line to the state Constitution’s Declaration of Rights affirming that all people “shall have a right to clean air and water and a healthy environment.” The single sentence sounds straightforward enough, but by the start of this week, the proposal had not yet made it through the state Assembly or moved into the state Senate. Both houses would need to pass the proposal by June 27 in order to get it on voter ballots this fall. … The [Chamber of Commerce] said compliance costs could lead to economic impacts for businesses, communities and local governments. …”

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Sparks fly as Tulare County agency is accused of being “unable and unwilling” to curb over pumping

Fireworks were already popping between board members of a key Tulare County groundwater agency recently over an 11th hour attempt to rein in pumping in the severely overdrafted area. The main issue at the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) meeting June 6 was whether to require farmers in subsidence prone areas to install meters and report their extractions to the agency, which is being blamed for almost single handedly putting the entire subbasin in jeopardy of a state takeover. … In the end, the Eastern Tule board voted 6-0 to require all landowners in the subsidence management area along the canal to meter their wells and report extractions by January 1.

Related groundwater articles: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

California gets federal funding for climate-ready workforce

California is among nine U.S. states and territories selected to receive $60 million in federal funding as part of a significant effort to build a nationwide climate-ready workforce. The investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will support job development efforts in coastal and Great Lakes communities around the country, including $9.5 million to establish the Los Angeles County Climate Ready Employment Council at Long Beach City College. … U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo [said in a statement,] “Climate change accelerates the need for a new generation of skilled workers who can help communities address a wide range of climate impacts including sea level rise, flooding, water quality issues and the need for solutions such as renewable energy.”

Related climate equity articles:

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Chemical makers sue over rule to rid water of ‘forever chemicals’

Chemical and manufacturing groups sued the federal government late Monday over a landmark drinking-water standard that would require cleanup of so-called forever chemicals linked to cancer and other health risks. The industry groups said that the government was exceeding its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act by requiring that municipal water systems all but remove six synthetic chemicals, known by the acronym PFAS, that are present in the tap water of hundreds of millions of Americans. The Environmental Protection Agency has said that the new standard, put in place in April, will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses. 

Related article: 

Aquafornia news California Department of Water Resources

News release: California and tribal partners secure critical water supply to support Native American farmers

Working together to support local Tribal farmers, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut Tribe have expedited two water transfers to meet immediate water supply needs and to address long-term demands north of the Tulare Lake area. Working with the Tulare Lake Irrigation District, DWR and the Tachi Yokut Tribe entered into a contractual agreement to institute both a temporary and permanent transfer of water resulting in over 600-acre feet of additional water for the area. 

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Which California beaches have the most bacteria? Is water safe?

California is home to three of the most bacteria-ridden beaches in the country, according to the Surfrider Foundation. The nonprofit organization recently released its 2023 Clean Water Report to “build awareness of issues that affect water quality at the beach.” The report … highlights 10 beaches across the United States and Puerto Rico where high bacteria levels consistently exceed state health standards, putting public health at risk. … [The nonprofit said in the report], “Surfrider Foundation volunteers test beaches that are not covered by agencies, and also monitor potential sources of pollution, such as stormwater outlets, rivers and creeks that discharge onto the beach.”

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Bay Nature

The meaning of Dos Rios, California’s newest state park

On Wednesday, June 12, the state of California officially opens Dos Rios, the first new state park in more than a decade. It’s a riparian forest restoration at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, in the Central Valley, about an hour from San Jose—and the subject of Bay Nature’s Spring 2024 cover story, “The Everything Park,” by H.R. Smith. We dubbed Dos Rios the Everything Park because a modern state park has an astonishing number of jobs to do—among them groundwater storage, wildlife habitat, and climate adaptation. 

Aquafornia news Eureka Times-Standard

HAF+WRCF launches new fund for Klamath Basin as dams come down

Amid the historic removal of dams on the Klamath River, the Humboldt Area Foundation and Wild Rivers Community Foundation announced the launch of a new fund to support projects in the drastically changing Klamath Basin. According to a Tuesday news release, the fund will support “grantmaking to bolster community healing, Tribal self-determination, science and restoration, storytelling, climate resilience, regenerative agriculture, environmental stewardship, and more.” Starting with $10 million, the foundations aim to support the health and restoration of the basin and the communities that live in it. At least 60% must go to tribes or Indigenous-led organizations, according to the release, with a focus on climate resilience and restorative justice projects.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: How California climate bond could boost lithium, aid Salton Sea

… The Salton Sea region is facing economic pressure to become a substantial domestic supplier of lithium, placing greater challenges on lower-income communities that already face significant disparities – yet contribute so much to the prosperity and quality-of-life of others. … This year, state leaders have a chance to place a climate bond on the November ballot, which would give voters an opportunity to approve important environmental protections and clean energy projects. This bond can benefit all areas of the state, while also providing $400 million to the Salton Sea region and $15 million to establish a conservancy. 
-Written by Silvia Paz, executive director of Alianza Coachella Valley, and former chair of California’s Lithium Valley Commission.​

Aquafornia news Maven's Notebook

Requiring water users to pay for ecological damage: A conversation with environmental lawyer Karrigan Börk

Water diversions can harm aquatic ecosystems, riparian habitat, and beaches fed by river sediment. But the people who use water don’t bear the cost of this ecological damage. “The public pays for it,” says Karrigan Börk, a University of California, Davis law professor who has a PhD in ecology. He is also Co-Director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center and an Associate Director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. Börk presents a new solution to this problem in a recent Harvard Environmental Law Review paper. His idea was sparked by the fact that developers are required to help pay for the burden that new housing imposes on municipal services. To likewise link water infrastructure and diversions with their costs to society, Börk proposes requiring water users to pay towards mitigating the environmental harm they cause. … …One example is in the upper basin of the Colorado River, where water users pay for their environmental impacts.   

Aquafornia news Popular Science

California’s billionaire utopia may not be as eco-friendly as advertised

Silicon Valley billionaires are still aggressively moving forward with their attempt to create a utopian, sustainable “city of yesterday” near San Francisco atop what they describe as “non-prime farmland.” However, an accredited land trust now claims California Forever’s East Solano Plan is intentionally misleading local residents about the “detrimental harm” it will cause ecosystems, as well as its potential to “destroy some of the most self-reliant farmland and ranchland” in the state. … [A]s CBS Sacramento first reported on June 7, Solano Land Trust’s executive director Nicole Braddock contends California Forever’s aim “really goes against our mission of protecting working farms, natural areas, land and water Solano County.” Additionally, the influx of as many as 400,000 new residents would result in “a detrimental impact on Solano County’s water resources, air quality, traffic, farmland, and natural environment,” according to the trust’s board of directors.

Aquafornia news PBS News Weekend

Listen: What frequent water main breaks say about America’s aging infrastructure

U.S. drinking water is among the world’s safest and most reliable, but aging infrastructure across the country is posing challenges. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there’s a water main break every two minutes. Shannon Marquez, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, joins John Yang to discuss why these problems are so common.

Aquafornia news The Press Democrat

Healdsburg recycled water pipeline project underway

Aiming to make sure that drinkable water isn’t wasted on non-drinking uses, Healdsburg is forging ahead this week with a multimillion-dollar infrastructure project designed around reclaimed H2O. Construction on the first phase of Healdsburg’s new recycled water pipeline will begin on Thursday, June 13, and last through Wednesday, June 19, on Kennedy Lane along the city’s south end. It’s the first of four legs of construction this year. Utilities Engineering Manager Patrick Fuss is warning drivers to expect some delays as a result of the construction, which is the first step in building a 4.7-mile underground line that will haul reclaimed water throughout the city to irrigate parks, the Healdsburg Golf Club, Oak Mound Cemetery and Healdsburg Elementary School. While the line will not provide direct hookups to residents, a public fill station for recycled water, which isn’t potable, will be available at a to-be-determined location along Healdsburg Avenue before the end of the year.