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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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Aquafornia news SF Gate

California beaches close after 1 million gallon sewage spill

More problems arose on the Central Coast following a wild storm Monday that flooded the region and transformed the runways at the Santa Barbara Airport into a flooded plain. The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department announced Thursday that it was closing two beaches in the county indefinitely, after waterways were contaminated by thousands of gallons of sewage spilling from a sewer line and manhole that were damaged due to the storm. Goleta Beach is closed from 1 mile east to 0.5 mile west of the Goleta Slough outfall after “a release of approximately 500,000 gallons of sewage from a damaged force main sewer line near the Santa Barbara Airport to the Goleta Slough during the recent rain event,” the department wrote in a media release. 

Aquafornia news Napa Valley Register

Napa County preserve becomes home to rare frog

A rare frog that is California’s state amphibian and likely the species featured in a famous Mark Twain short story is thriving in its new Napa County home. The Land Trust of Napa County’s Wragg Ridge preserve near Lake Berryessa has ponds well-suited for the California red-legged frog, but as of two years ago, no known frog population. Today, there are frogs by the hundreds. The Land Trust worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring frogs to the ponds.

Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

Friday Top of the Scroll: February’s storms doubled California snowpack, March could bring more wet weather

At the start of the year, the California snowpack sat at an abysmal 25% of average, but after a series of storms, the Sierra is glittering white — over the last week, storms added up to 4 feet of snow to the range. … Statewide, the snowpack is now 86% of normal for this time of year. And 70% of the April 1 average, which is the end of the water year and the typical height of the state’s frozen reservoir. Storms over the last month more than doubled the size of the snowpack. At his lab north of Lake Tahoe, over the past week, more than 3 1/2 feet of snow fell during three February storms.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Experts urge California to avoid water pitfalls in the delta

Some of the thorniest debates over water in California revolve around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where pumps send water flowing to farms and cities, and where populations of native fish have been declining…. State water regulators are considering … “voluntary agreements” in which water agencies pledge to forgo certain amounts of water while also funding projects to improve wetland habitats. … To learn more about these issues, I spoke with Felicia Marcus and Michael Kiparsky, two experts who wrote a report outlining what they say should be “guiding principles for effective voluntary agreements.” … Marcus said if voluntary agreements go forward without adequate standards in place, “the ecosystem will continue to collapse and more species will go extinct.”

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Aquafornia news Today's News-Herald

U.S. Court decision could upend Central Arizona water deal on Colorado River

For five years, a $24 million water transfer agreement has threatened to establish a potentially dangerous precedent, and turn the Colorado River into a commodity. Now that deal will be put on hold under a decision in U.S. District Court. U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi ruled against that water transfer agreement on Wednesday. It was a decision made on the grounds that federal Reclamation officials’ approval of the agreement last year, absent an environmental impact study in that agreement, may have been “arbitrary and capricious.”

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

California’s polluted communities could miss out on billions under state’s flawed system

The system that California uses to screen neighborhoods at risk of environmental harm is highly subjective and flawed, resulting in communities potentially missing out on billions of dollars in funding, according to new research. The study, by researchers who began the project at Stanford University, investigated a tool that the California Environmental Protection Agency developed in 2013 as the nation’s “first comprehensive statewide environmental health screening tool” to identify communities disproportionately burdened by pollution. … CalEnviroScreen evaluates 21 environmental, public health and demographic factors to identify which neighborhoods are most susceptible to environmental harm. Among the factors considered: air pollution and drinking water contaminants, pesticide usage, toxic releases, low birth weight infants, poverty and unemployment rates.

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Aquafornia news Associated Press

New study: Hilary was not a tropical storm when it entered California, yet it had the same impact, study shows

Former Hurricane Hilary was actually no longer a tropical storm but essentially had the same impact when its destructive remnants entered California last August, according to a new National Hurricane Center report. Damage from Hilary was estimated at $900 million in the United States. Three deaths were directly related to the storm, including two in Mexico and one that occurred in California when a woman was washed away in her home. Hurricane Hilary moved north off Mexico’s Pacific coast and weakened to a tropical storm before making landfall in northern Baja California in Mexico, where its center became less defined as it encountered mountainous terrain and other atmospheric conditions, the report said.

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Aquafornia news Legislative Analyst's Office

Report: Overview of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

Report details importance of groundwater to California’s water resources and poses questions on funding and policies for the Legislature to consider in moving forward with implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

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Aquafornia news Fox Weather

Grape vines love pace of California’s atmospheric river storms this year while people suffer

Amid all the tragedy wrought by the series of atmospheric river-fueled storms this winter in the West, there is a silver lining. California’s winemakers are expecting a “bumper” crop. “With the rainfall from last year and the high vigor of the canopy in 2023, we are expecting even bigger yields for 2024,” said Jordan Lonborg, Vineyard Manager at Tablas Creek Vineyard. “The rainfall we have received thus far will go a long ways in supporting the crop that will most likely be what we call a ‘bumper’!” The winery is in Paso Robles on the Central Coast of California. Tablas Creek’s owner, Jason Haas shared his vineyard manager’s optimism for the vines but said people have been hit hard.

Aquafornia news USA Today

Podcast: Restoring the Klamath River and a way of life

According to a 1908 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as the Winters Doctrine, Native American reservations are entitled to enough water to meet their tribe’s needs. That doctrine was recently invoked during a push by tribes to restore the Klamath River, which flows through Oregon and California. The goal, in part, is to restore the spawning grounds for fish for the first time in more than 100 years. Indigenous Affairs Reporter Debra Krol from the Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, joins The Excerpt to discuss the ongoing battle over Indigenous water rights.

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Aquafornia news Oregon State University

New study: Cooler, wetter parts of Pacific Northwest likely to see more fires, new simulations predict

Forests in the coolest, wettest parts of the western Pacific Northwest are likely to see the biggest increases in burn probability, fire size and number of blazes as the climate continues to get warmer and drier, according to new modeling led by an Oregon State University scientist. Understanding how fire regimes may change under future climate scenarios is critical for developing adaptation strategies, said the study’s lead author, Alex Dye. Findings were published today in JGR Biogeosciences. … Forests in all of the affected areas are linchpins of multiple socio-ecological systems in the Northwest, Dye said, meaning more fire will likely put pressure on everything from drinking water sources and timber resources to biodiversity and carbon stocks.

Aquafornia news Times of San Diego

State awards $1M to workforce partnership to support San Diego flood victims

A local agency has been awarded nearly $1 million in emergency funding by the state to provide assistance to residents hit hard by January’s storms, it was announced Thursday. With this award, from the California Employment Development Department and Workforce Development System, the San Diego Workforce Partnership will collaborate with the county, city and San Diego Labor Council on temporary job-creation projects. San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nora Vargas said the funding will provide “essential aid, including rental assistance, legal services, transportation and childcare support” to individuals and businesses in need. … According to the workforce partnership, an estimated 20,000 employers and 80,000 jobs stand at risk from temporary or permanent damages, the majority of which was to small businesses.

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Aquafornia news Monterey Herald

State lawmakers urge continued prioritization of Pajaro River levee project

Four California lawmakers recently advocated for sustained federal investment in the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project in a letter to the Biden Administration. U.S. Representatives Jimmy Panetta, CA-19, and Zoe Lofgren, CA-18, along with U.S. Senators Alex Padilla, D-CA, and Laphonza Butler, D-CA, urged the continued prioritization of the flood risk reduction project critical to protecting disadvantaged communities along California’s Central Coast. The Pajaro River’s levees are about 12-miles long, were built in 1949 and have broken several times in the decades since, causing flooding and damage to communities and farmland. The Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project is the $599 million effort to reduce flood risk from the lower Pajaro River and Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks.

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday Top of the Scroll: California reservoir managers could sharply limit water to farms and cities this year

Even after all the rain and snow in California this month, state and federal water managers announced Wednesday that they’re planning to limit deliveries from the state’s biggest reservoirs this year because seasonal precipitation has lagged. Their plans, however, don’t fully account for the recent storms. The State Water Project, with Lake Oroville as its centerpiece, expects to ship 15% of the water that was requested by the mostly urban water agencies it supplies, including many in the Bay Area. The estimate is up from 10% in December but still low. The federally run Central Valley Project, which counts Shasta Lake among the many reservoirs it operates primarily for agriculture, expects to send 15% of the water requested by most irrigation agencies in the San Joaquin Valley and 75% to most in the Sacramento Valley.

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Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Colorado snowpack to 96% of normal after February snowstorms

After this winter’s faltering start, the snowstorms in January and February boosted Colorado’s snowpack from around 10% to nearly 100% of normal accumulation for this time of year. … The Colorado River Basin, which provides water to 40 million people across the West, receives much of its water supply from the mountain snowpack in Colorado and other Upper Basin states. The snowpack conditions generally range between 75% and 105% of normal across the Upper Basin, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Modeling of the Lower Colorado River Basin — Arizona, California and Nevada — indicates that snowpack conditions are much higher than usual, ranging from 120% to 250% of normal.

Aquafornia news E&E News

California water regulator declines implementing river diversion limits

The State Water Resources Control Board handed environmental and fishing groups a surprise loss Friday when it denied their petition for permanent instream flow restrictions on the drought-stricken Shasta River in Northern California. The denial came as a surprise because both the water agency and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom have said they want to prioritize making some emergency drought rules for rivers permanent this year in order to better insulate the state from recurring drought. The board already extended the emergency limits it put on the Scott and Shasta rivers during the drought in a December decision, but the temporary rules run out in February 2025.

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Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: Agenda posted for Water 101 Workshop in April; optional groundwater tour nearly full

Don’t miss a once-a-year opportunity to attend our Water 101 Workshop on April 5 to gain a deeper understanding of California’s most precious natural resource. One of our most popular events, the daylong workshop at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento offers anyone new to California water issues or newly elected to a water district board — and really anyone who wants a refresher — a chance to gain a solid statewide grounding on California’s water resources. Some of state’s leading policy and legal experts are on the agenda for the workshop that details the historical, legal and political facets of water management in the state. 

Aquafornia news Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom

News release: How California has captured water from storms

California is taking advantage of this year’s storms to expand water supplies, building off of last year’s actions to capture stormwater. Last year, the Newsom Administration’s actions resulted in three times more groundwater recharge capacity than would have otherwise occurred. Since 2019, the Governor has allocated $1.6 billion for flood preparedness and response, part of the historic $7.3 billion investment package and to strengthen California’s water resilience. Here’s what the state is doing this year to capture water:

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

California Forever: Analyzing billionaire promises for new city

… [CEO Jan] Sramek said California Forever has secured enough water for the 50,000 initial residents of the proposed community, and maybe even the first 100,000. The water rights came from the land the company has bought, he said, and are sourced from groundwater and the Sacramento River. The company could buy more water to supplement that, but wouldn’t need it for the first buildout, he said.

Aquafornia news Capital Public Radio

Nevada County rejects controversial gold mining project

After years of controversy, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors unanimously struck down a Grass Valley gold mining project. … Rise Gold first submitted an application to resume gold mining operations at the Idaho Maryland Mine, which is in Grass Valley, in 2019. The site had been inactive since its closure in the 1950s, but Rise Gold said it had untapped potential.  But the company was quickly met with mass opposition. Christy Hubbard, a Grass Valley resident and volunteer for a couple local groups opposing the project … said she was particularly concerned with the potential for mining operations to contaminate or otherwise negatively impact local groundwater supply. As a member of the Wells Coalition, a local group of well owners, and an owner of a well herself, she worried mining could reduce water flows or contaminate them.