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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: 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 Desert Sun

Michael Abatti asks U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case against IID

The fight between Imperial Valley farmer Michael Abatti and the Imperial Irrigation District over control of the district’s massive allotment of Colorado River water could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court if Abatti gets his way. He and his lawyers have announced that they have petitioned the nation’s highest court to take up the litigation that has dragged on since 2013….Abatti is seeking to have the country’s apex court hand control of IID’s water over to landowners, a move that would leave most of the valley’s water with a few larger agricultural operations.

Related article:

Aquafornia news Downey Brand LLP

Blog: Latest California State Water Board investigative order for PFAS targets bulk fuel storage terminals and refineries

Last week, the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) officially released an order (the Order) to investigate and sample for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at over 160 bulk fuel storage terminals and refineries throughout California. The State Water Board’s Order is the latest action in a series of investigative orders over the last two years to study and identify industrial and municipal sources of PFAS in California including at airports, landfills, manufacturing facilities, chrome platers, and wastewater treatment facilities.

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Aquafornia news Pacific Institute

Blog: Biden infrastructure plan – Water components

President Biden announced the first components of his proposed $2 trillion national infrastructure plan to rebuild failing, aging, and outdated water, energy, transportation, and communications systems. While the current information provides only the broadest outlines of his proposals, and the details will have to be worked out in specific legislation to be debated in Congress, it is clearly the most ambitious plan to have been put forward in many years.

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Aquafornia news Maven's Notebook

Delta lead scientist report: California’s rainy season is becoming shorter and sharper

At the March meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Dr. Laurel Larsen discussed a new research paper on the changing timing of precipitation during California’s wet season. … She began by noting that precipitation totals for this water year are now hovering at just around 50% of typical cumulative precipitation received by this time of year, and drought has become the main topic of discussion. … [T]he models used to project these future scenarios also suggest that even during normal years when the wet season delivers an average amount of precipitation, that precipitation will fall during a shorter amount of time, such that the rainy season is shorter and sharper.

Aquafornia news Western City Magazine

Cities of San José and Ukiah lead the way on critical water infrastructure projects

Much of the state’s water infrastructure was designed decades ago and was built to serve half the size of our current population. Faced with aging infrastructure, California cities have taken innovative approaches to modernizing water treatment and recycling systems to meet the needs of a growing population and a changing climate. One infrastructure need that many residents take for granted is wastewater treatment. … The San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility is the largest advanced wastewater treatment facility in the Western United States. Originally built in 1956, today it serves more than 1.4 million residents and 17,000 businesses in eight cities in Silicon Valley and unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County. Using a treatment process that simulates the way nature cleans water, the facility treats an average of 110 million gallons of wastewater per day.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Orange County Water District works to clean polluted groundwater from decades of manufacturing

Underneath Orange County is a hidden arterial highway that groundwater moves through before eventually finding its way into homes. More than 70% of the water served in Orange County is from groundwater. But some of that water has become contaminated from industrial manufacturing when harmful chemicals that weren’t properly disposed of seeped down into the ground. … The Orange County Water District is tasked with determining the extent of the pollution, and containing it before more drinking water wells need to be shut down and contaminants spread to the principal aquifer, which is directly pumped by production wells for drinking water.

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Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

Judge likely to advance PG&E suit over century-old pollution

Rejecting arguments that a utility can’t be sued over century-old pollution, a federal judge signaled Wednesday that he will likely advance a lawsuit seeking to hold Pacific Gas and Electric liable for contamination that occurred more than 100 years ago. … [Plaintiff and San Francisco resident Dan] Clarke claimed groundwater contamination stemming from the site of PG&E’s former gas plant “is intermittently discharged into the bay.” He said seasonal, tidal and other factors result in groundwater passing the former plant site and intermixing with contaminants before leaking into the San Francisco Bay.

Aquafornia news Bay Area Monitor

Regional planning for sea-level rise is key to environmental justice

As shoreline communities in the San Francisco Bay Area scramble to prepare for rising seas, they should also be mindful that protecting themselves could worsen flooding elsewhere. This is because seawalls can reflect and amplify tides. “Decisions in one location could affect hazards in another,” said environmental engineer Michelle Hummel, who began studying the bay while at UC Berkeley and is now at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her latest research reveals that building seawalls along relatively small sections of shore could raise water levels enough to have far reaching effects, even all the way across the bay. … But building seawalls in other places could, especially in the wide alluvial valleys where rivers flow into the bay.

Aquafornia news The Times-Independent

State: Moab could safely use more water

Preliminary estimates from Utah’s Division of Water Rights show that the Spanish Valley Watershed, which includes Moab, can safely withdraw 50-100% more water than it currently uses each year. The range of uncertainty in part has to do with the difficulties that come with accounting for groundwater and in part from the range of possibilities in how much climate change affects water availability in the valley. State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen praised research by the U.S. Geological Survey that she said “provides a wealth of information on movement of water between the various components of the aquifer system” in Moab.

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Aquafornia news KPBS

Oceanside officials counter lawn care firm’s claim on drinking water quality

City officials in Oceanside described their drinking water as consistently “high-quality, safe and reliable” Wednesday in the hope of reassuring residents after a lawn care company ranked Oceanside’s water at 198 out of 200 cities nationwide. Rosemarie Chora, the city’s water utilities division manager, said a March 23 report from LawnStarter “hit big” as residents expressed alarm on social media. Based in Austin, Texas, LawnStarter vets gardeners and pest control companies and connects them online with homeowners in about 120 cities nationwide, according to its website. It dinged the city in multiple ways.

Aquafornia news Galt Herald

Groundwater status, plan discussed at meeting

Seven agencies that have been working together to sustain the groundwater in the Cosumnes Subbasin, which includes the communities of Galt, Herald, Wilton and Rancho Murieta South, held a workshop March 24. The presentation was intended to help residents understand how groundwater will be used in the next two decades in the Cosumnes Subbasin. The group has until Jan. 31, 2022 to submit its plan to the state on how it intends to meet its target of replacing 20,000-acre feet per year (AFY) in underground basins called aquifers to sustain the groundwater. One of the takeaways from meeting is the plan will cost $2.25 million in the early years. 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Underwater meadows of California seagrass found to reverse symptom of climate change

Eelgrass, a plant that grows in “underwater meadows” along the California coast and emerges like a floating carpet at low tide, is already known to be an important habitat for fish, birds and baby Dungeness crabs. It turns out it can also reduce seawater’s acidity back to preindustrial levels, creating refuges for animals who can’t tolerate that byproduct of climate change. … [S]eagrass meadows, which have shrunk in number and size globally because of pollution and development … may support wildlife as well as the production of farmed oysters, mussels and abalone. … The state already has efforts in place to protect its eelgrass habitat. The California Ocean Protection Council has a goal of preserving the state’s existing 15,000 acres of seagrass beds and adding another 1,000 acres by 2025.

Related article:

Aquafornia news National Review

Opinion: Reform California’s water policies

As California emerged from a historically tough five-year drought in 2017, then-governor Jerry Brown signed two new laws that required local water agencies to limit water use to 55 gallons per person per day, with water-use allotments dropping to 50 gallons by 2030. Despite some misreporting to the contrary, these limits on individuals were not enforceable. Instead, the state imposed fines on districts that failed to meet the new targets. It was pretty clear what direction the state was taking: Since then, California has gone all in for extreme conservation measures that could eventually lead to rationing as water-use allotments drop. Unless something changes, it may be only a matter of time before such policies lead to personal restrictions on lawn-watering, car-washing, and even showering.
-Written by Steven Greenhut, the western-region director for the R Street Institute and a columnist for the Southern California News Group.

Aquafornia news California Department of Water Resources

AQUAFORNIA BREAKING NEWS: Statewide snowpack well below normal as wet season winds down

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today conducted the fourth snow survey at the Phillips Station snow course. The manual survey recorded 49.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 21 inches, which is 83 percent of average for this location. The SWE measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast. Measurements from DWR’s electronic snow survey stations indicate that statewide the snowpack’s SWE is 16.5 inches, or 59 percent of average for the date. April 1 is typically when California’s snowpack is the deepest and has the highest SWE.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday Top of the Scroll: Little snow and rain mean drought – dry, difficult months lie ahead for California

California’s wet season is coming to a close without a much-sought “March miracle” storm, setting the stage for a painful escalation of drought in the coming months. The April 1 snow survey, which measures the peak accumulation of snow in the Sierra and southern Cascades just before it melts, will show only about 60% of average snowpack. … The grim survey results expected Thursday, which mark a second straight year of significantly dry conditions, reinforce concerns about a difficult fire season ahead and bolster the expanding calls for water conservation.

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Aquafornia news CNN

Here’s what’s in Biden’s infrastructure proposal

Now that his massive coronavirus relief package is law, President Joe Biden is laying out his next big proposal: A roughly $2 trillion plan for improving the nation’s infrastructure  … Biden’s plan allocates $111 billion to rebuild the country’s water infrastructure. It would replace all of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines in order to improve the health of American children and communities of color. The White House says replacing the pipes would reduce lead exposure in 400,000 schools and childcare facilities. The proposal would upgrade the country’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems, tackle new contaminants and support clean water infrastructure in rural parts of the country.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Holtville Tribune

Abatti files petition with U.S. Supreme Court

Imperial Valley grower, landowner, and former elected official Michael Abatti has filed a petition for “writ of certiorari” with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District’s decision in Abatti v. Imperial Irrigation District, according to a press release from Abatti and his legal team. Michael Abatti, Imperial County farmer Abatti is seeking to overturn a previous appellate court ruling that asserts Imperial Irrigation District is the “sole owner” of water rights in the Valley, and farmers do “not (have) an appurtenant water right” but rather are entitled merely to “water service” that is subject to modification by the district at its discretion, the press release states.

Aquafornia news CBS Sacramento

Facing another dry year, California to hire 1,400 additional firefighters

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said the state will hire nearly 1,400 additional firefighters as an unusually dry winter stokes fears of another devastating wildfire season. California depends on snowfall in the mountains for much of its water. But the latest snow survey recorded a statewide “snow water equivalent” of just 15 inches, or about 54% of average for April 1, when the state’s snowpack is the deepest. The state had a similarly dry winter last year. What followed was a record-setting wildfire season where more than 4% of the state’s land burned, destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.

Related article:

Aquafornia news Stanford University and The Nature Conservancy

Report: Mind the Gaps: The case for truly comprehensive sustainable groundwater management

On its face, SGMA appears to promise comprehensive groundwater management. The legislature sought to “provide for the sustainable management of groundwater basins”. SGMA therefore “applies to all groundwater basins in the state”…. DWR has ranked only 18 percent (94 out of 515) of Bulletin 118 groundwater basins as medium or high priority, although these basins account for virtually all of current groundwater pumping in the state. The result is a fragmented regulatory system that leaves significant gaps in the sustainable management of California’s groundwater.

Aquafornia news UC Irvine

Podcast: How drought and climate change threaten California’s water

Rain is scarce in much of California, and most of California’s people live in water-starved regions. And yet the state is, by some measures, the fifth largest economy in the world. How? Because during the last century, California has built a complex network of dams, pumps and canals to transport water from where it falls naturally to where people live. But climate change threatens to upend the delicate system that keeps farm fields green and household taps flowing. In this episode of the UCI Podcast, Nicola Ulibarri, an assistant professor of urban planning and public policy who is an expert on water resource management, discusses how droughts and floods have shaped California’s approach to water…