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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 E&E News

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: Tribes turn to Congress to seal $5B Colorado River settlement

Tribal leaders in the Colorado River Basin are urging Congress to quickly sign off on a $5 billion settlement that would cap four decades of negotiations and speed construction of a new pipeline to deliver water from Lake Powell to reservation lands. The Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement would ensure flows from the Colorado River, its tributaries and aquifers to the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe and San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe. 

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Madera farmers and groundwater agency in limbo waiting for court decision on fees

The end of a two-year legal fight over who should pay, and how much, to replenish the groundwater beneath Madera County could be in sight. A motion to dismiss the lawsuit by a group of farmers against the county is set to be heard June 18.  The outcome could determine whether Madera County, which acts as the groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) for hundreds of thousands of acres across three water subbasins, can finally move forward on a host of projects to improve the water table per the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). From the farmers’ point of view, the outcome of this case could make or break their farms, some that have been in their families for generations.

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Aquafornia news Maven's Notebook

Water right enforcement in California

In August 2022, amidst a severe drought, the State Water Board ordered ranchers and farmers in Siskiyou County to cease irrigation.  Initially facing fines starting at $500 per day, escalating to $10,000 after 20 days or a hearing, they chose to continue irrigating due to economic pressures.  This decision led to a significant reduction in the Shasta River’s flow, endangering local salmon populations. The incident underscored the State Water Board’s limited enforcement capabilities and the minor penalties for water rights violations compared to water quality infringements.  As a result, there is now proposed legislation aimed at empowering the State Water Board to enforce water rights more effectively and impose deterrent fines for violations. Navigating California’s complex water rights landscape has always been contentious. 

Aquafornia news Eureka Times-Standard

Environmental group concerned draft application for dam removal delay will slow project

Pacific Gas and Electric Company has requested a roughly six-month extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the process of decommissioning two dams on the Eel River. Friends of the Eel River, a conservation non-profit founded to advocate for the dams’ removal, is concerned about the impact this delay will have on the timeline of getting the Eel undammed. The final draft of the decommissioning plan would come out in June of 2025 rather than January of that year. Alicia Hamann, executive director of the Friends, said “a delay of six months could mean another year of those really dangerous conditions for native fish,” when reached by phone Monday. She noted the dangerous conditions were created by variances in the way the dams release water. PG&E has to get approval for the water it releases every year from FERC, and in 2023 the approval was delayed to the point that no cold water was there for fish by the time it was worked out, said Hamman. She said this impacted fish on the river.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: Where can Californians turn when their water is brown?

Imagine growing up in a home where tap water consistently runs a stomach-churning brown, sometimes with an odor. You hate to bathe in it, and you certainly aren’t going to drink it. You’re not in some remote hinterland, either. You’re in Los Angeles County. Brown tap water was a feature of my childhood. No one outside our poorly managed and financially challenged Sativa Water District in Compton and Willowbrook seemed to understand or care that we feared our own water. My mom purchased bottled water for drinking and cooking, shouldering the cost like an extra tax. Still, we had to climb into the murky stuff in the bathtub. Sometimes our clothes came out of the wash more stained than when they went in.
-Written by Oralia Avila, who works in customer services for Suburban Water Systems and lives in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

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Aquafornia news Wine Industry Advisor

Drip drop: California’s water supply is replenishing — but unevenly

… All might be well in Lodi, but some other regions reported cuts in their 2024 water supply. In the Westlands Water District, which manages the water supply on the westside of Fresno and Kings counties, a Westlands spokeswoman said the agency was allocated less water than it had contracted for: “[It’s] an incredibly disappointing and unjustifiably low allocation for our district water users,” she said.  How is this possible, given the state’s historic rain and snow in the 2023 water year and optimistic forecasts for the 2024 water year? As of May 31, precipitation stood at 104% of normal for the state, while major reservoirs are at 118% of normal, according to figures compiled by California Water Watch.

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Aquafornia news Mercury News

Fire season 2024: What’s in store for the Bay Area and beyond

Grass, meet spark. Bay Area residents, meet fire. The explosive start to the 2024 fire season — the Corral Fire near Livermore that tore through rolling grasslands and rapidly scorched more acreage than the 1,253 previous California wildfires this year combined — heralds the types of blazes experts say residents of the Bay Area and elsewhere in Northern California can expect in coming weeks: fast-moving grass fires. What comes later depends largely on the weather. … The Sierra Foothills and Sacramento Valley are also facing normal wildfire threat levels.

Aquafornia news Newsweek

California water warning as ‘critical’ tech has ‘concerning gaps’

California’s water supply could be in trouble, as a new study has found that the state’s rivers and streams are severely under monitored, posing serious risks to effective water management. The study, published in Nature Sustainability, stresses that while the state relies heavily on its rivers and streams for water supply, flood control, biodiversity conservation and hydropower generation, only 8 percent of California’s rivers and streams are monitored by stream gauges, devices used to measure water flow. The lack of monitoring not only makes it difficult to manage water resources efficiently but also hinders the ability to understand the effects of climate change and conserve freshwater biodiversity. … The study found that only 9 percent of California’s large dams had stream gauges upstream or downstream to measure water flow. The lack of monitoring hampers the ability to manage water supply and control floods effectively, the researchers said.

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Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

California escalates legal battle against oil companies

California Attorney General Rob Bonta intensified his legal fight against five of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies Monday, filing an amended complaint that accuses Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute of engaging in a prolonged campaign of deception about the realities of climate change and the environmental damage caused by fossil fuels. In the amended complaint, filed Monday afternoon in San Francisco County Superior Court, the attorney general introduces new evidence of false advertising and greenwashing by the companies and seeks the disgorgement remedy provided by Assembly Bill 1366, which was enacted earlier this year. The remedy would require the defendants to surrender profits obtained through their alleged illegal activities, with the funds being directed to the newly established Victims of Consumer Fraud Restitution Fund. Related article:

Aquafornia news Legal Planet

Blog: A brazen California water heist revealed, prosecuted & punished

Recently, former Panoche Drainage District general manager Dennis Falaschi pled guilty in federal district court in Fresno to having conspired to steal  millions of gallons of publicly-owned water from California’s Central Valley Project (CVP) for private gain. This surreptitious water theft apparently had been going on for well over two decades before Falaschi was finally brought to justice. … Unfortunately, the Falaschi case and conviction are not isolated incidents.  To the contrary, illegal diversion, use and black market sales of the public’s finite and precious water supplies have quite likely gone on for decades, if not centuries. 

Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

California’s new 1600-acre state park set to open this week

Californians can soon enjoy a new state park at the heart of the Central Valley, the first in about a decade. The Dos Rios preserve, about 90 minutes east of San Francisco, is a lush floodplain filled with green grass, shrubs and native trees like cottonwood, willows and valley oaks. Visitors can hike through miles of trail beginning this Wednesday, June 12. The park is located eight miles east of Modesto near the convergence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers. Until about a decade ago, Dos Rios was a dairy and cattle ranch owned by farmers who grew tomatoes and almonds. But year after year, floods swept through, damaging the crops. In 2012, the owners sold all 1,600 acres to River Partners, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to conservation.

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Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Are regional waterways plagued by rowdy crowds with alcohol?

As crowds head to cool off in the water early this summer, authorities at Discovery Park, Folsom Lake and other capital region waterways are taking steps to prevent incidents such as the ones that have occurred recently at other Northern California watering holes. There have been various incidents reported since Memorial Day involving fights and other unruly crowds at Northern California waterways that have led to arrests, injuries, and even death. … In Stanislaus County on Sunday, 75 to 80 people had a confrontation with deputies who were patrolling near Woodward Reservoir. At least six people were arrested.

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Aquafornia news Fresno Bee

Madera sinkhole swallows trailer. 2nd hole in two weeks

A sinkhole opened in the roadway in Madera on Monday, causing a trailer of fertilizer to fall into the hole, according to the California Highway Patrol. A truck driver suffered minor injuries in the crash about 10:25 a.m. on Avenue 13 west of Granada Drive, and the street was expected to be closed for weeks as piping below ground was damaged, according to the CHP and city officials. The city of Madera also asked its residents to reduce water use to aid workers trying to fix the pipe, which does not carry drinking water, officials said on social media. “This is NOT a drinking water issue; drinking water remains safe and unaffected,” the city said on the Madera police Facebook page. “However, to assist in the repair efforts and prevent further complications, which could result in sewage backup, we ask that you please refrain from non-essential water use.”

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: Amid budget shortfall, lobbyists push for multibillion-dollar climate bond

Dozens of environmental groups, renewable energy companies, labor unions, water agencies and social justice advocates are lobbying state lawmakers to place a multibillion dollar climate bond on the November ballot. Sacramento lawmakers have been bombarded with ads and pitches in support of a ballot proposal that would have the state borrow as much as $10 billion to fund projects related to the environment and climate change. “Time to GO ALL IN on a Climate Bond,” says the ad from WateReuse California, a trade association advocating for projects that would recycle treated sewage and storm runoff into drinking water. … Negotiations are ongoing in closed-door meetings, but details emerged recently when two spreadsheets of the proposed spending, one for an Assembly bill known as AB 1567 and the other for the Senate’s SB 867, were obtained by the news organization Politico. The two plans, which would be combined into a single ballot measure, include money for wildlife and land protection, safe drinking water, shoring up the coast from erosion and wildfire prevention.

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Aquafornia news The New York Times

California’s new state park opens this week

California officials will formally open the state’s 281st state park on Wednesday, and it’s an unusual one. Dos Rios is a riverfront oasis in the San Joaquin Valley that offers a window into what the region was like before it was transformed into an agricultural powerhouse. The 1,600-acre property, eight miles west of Modesto at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers, for decades housed dairy farms and almond orchards. It has now been restored to a broad natural floodplain, where visitors will be able to hike, watch birds and other wildlife, and have a picnic along the riverbanks. Officials hope to eventually add trails for bicycling and more river access for swimming, angling and boating.

Related public land conservation article:

Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo.

The future of the Colorado River won’t be decided soon, states say

The future of the Colorado River is in the hands of seven people. They rarely appear together in public. [Last week], they did just that – speaking on stage at a water law conference at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The solution to the Colorado River’s supply-demand imbalance will be complicated. Their message in Boulder was simple: These things take time. “We’re 30 months out,” said John Entsminger, Nevada’s top water negotiator. “We’re very much in the second or third inning of this baseball game that we’re playing here.” The audience was mostly comprised of the people who will feel the impact of their decisions most sharply – leaders from some of the 30 Native American tribes that use Colorado River water, nonprofit groups that advocate for the plants and animals living along its banks, and managers of cities and farms that depend on its flows.

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Aquafornia news The Willits News

Federal officials give update on Two-Basin Solution during visit to Ukiah

In the form of a grant described as coming from a “brand-new” source of infrastructure funding, the group hoping to continue diversions from the Eel River to the Russian River in Mendocino County has received $2 million from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, federal officials announced during a visit to Ukiah Friday. “Your success is reclamation’s success, and we are committed to that,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner M. Camille Calimlim Touton told the group gathered at Coyote Valley Dam along Lake Mendocino June 7 to hear Rep. Jared Huffman (D – San Rafael) announce the award of $2 million to the Eel-Russian River Authority to help the group of regional stakeholders study how best to approach the possible continued diversion of Eel River water to the Russian River once the dams created for the Potter Valley Project have been removed, a plan being called the Two-Basin Solution.

Aquafornia news Bakersfield Californian

Bakersfield, Cal Water lift 5-day-old water advisory

The city of Bakersfield and California Water Service Co. on Sunday lifted the do-not-drink, do-not-use advisory issued Tuesday to 42 commercial customers south of Lake Truxtun after an oil company reportedly allowed pressurized natural gas and crude oil into the municipal water system.

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Aquafornia news The Press Democrat

Sonoma Water installs inflatable dam on Russian River

Sonoma Water has begun the annual multiday task of inflating the rubber dam located in the Russian River to prepare for summer water demands. The agency began work after the 95-degree temperatures in the June 4 and 5 heat wave led to a spike in water use, said Andrea Rodriguez, communications manager with Sonoma Water. The rubber dam, downstream of the Wohler Bridge near Forestville, is vital to the county’s water supply system, which supplies naturally filtered drinking water to more than 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties. The dam creates a pool of water that allows the agency to refill nearby infiltration ponds, which are then used to recharge groundwater.

Aquafornia news Civil Eats

‘Plasticulture’ in farming persists, potentially impacting food safety

Today, it’s common to see farms covered in plastic. It lines the sides of greenhouses, blankets fields as “plastic mulch,” covers hoop houses, and winds through farms as irrigation tubes, among other forms. In satellite images, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has observed the typically golden and green agricultural fields turned white, as though dusted in snow, from all of the plastic. Agriculture is responsible for 3.5 percent of global plastic production, a figure that may seem small until you consider the sheer volume of plastics produced: around 400 million metric tons per year. … Microplastics pervade every part of the Earth, from the bottom of the ocean floor to all forms of drinking water to the human placenta. 

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