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 Growing Produce

California’s blueprint for ag growth rooted in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

The atmospheric rivers that flowed over California in January dumped about a foot of rain — equal to an entire year’s average — in many parts of the state’s parched Central Valley, which encompasses only 1% of U.S. farmland but produces 40% of the nation’s table fruits, vegetables, and nuts. With February, ordinarily the second wettest month, still to be counted, talks of all the land that will have to fallowed as a result of the drought have quieted for now. But most Golden State growers have come to realize that droughts will simply be a part of farming going forward, and the safety net is gone. That safety net was groundwater pumping. For more than a half-century, farmers in the Central Valley, the multi-faceted state’s chief production area, have been pumping more water from aquifers than can be replenished, causing wells to be drilled deeper and deeper.

Aquafornia news Modern Farmer

To cultivate modern sustainability, a California wine region is turning to very old methods

Ask any of the wine grape growers planting own-rooted stock why they’re farming these massively risky grapevines and they’ll all tell you the same thing: They just want to make really great wine. But there’s another benefit to the gamble, too—unlike most American wine grapes, which are overwhelmingly grown on grafted rootstock, own-rooted vines are especially drought-tolerant, produce a more predictable crop and use significantly fewer resources. There’s a huge downside to using own-rooted vines, though. If they get attacked by phylloxera, the entire crop will die. It won’t be a loss of just one season’s grapes—the entire vineyard itself will be totally destroyed. And the invasive species is present in the soil in vineyards throughout America.

Aquafornia news ABC 15 - Arizona

What it takes to import Harquahala Valley groundwater during water crisis

Mark Sigety has owned land in the Harquahala Valley near Tonopah since 2003. Since then, he says several investors have reached out to buy his half-acre plot along with other parcels in western Maricopa County. … The Harquahala Groundwater Basin is one of three in rural Arizona set aside specifically to import water to the Valley once water gets scarce. It’s known as an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area, or INA. It’s a place where the state or political subdivisions that own land eligible to be irrigated can pump groundwater and transport it into areas where groundwater is regulated in Arizona, known as AMAs, or Active Management Areas. The Phoenix AMA is one of them and covers land from west of Buckeye to Superior.

Aquafornia news Fairfield Daily Republic

Delta tunnel project up for Solano County board review

Solano County supervisors are scheduled Tuesday to receive an update on the latest Delta tunnel project. “The Delta Conveyance Project is the latest iteration of an isolated conveyance by the state Department of Water Resources to remove freshwater flows from the Delta for use in central and Southern California,” the staff report to the board states. “The (Delta Conveyance Project) includes constructing a 45-mile long, 39-foot diameter tunnel under the Delta with new diversions in the North Delta that have a capacity to divert up to 6,000 cubic feet (of water) per second and operating new conveyance facilities that would add to the existing State Water Project infrastructure.” 

Aquafornia news KTLA - Los Angeles

EPA looking to shut down cesspools at Southern California mobile home park

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has filed a complaint against the operator of a mobile home park in Acton, alleging that the park is using two large unlawful cesspools to collect untreated raw sewage. The complaint identifies Eric Hauck as the operator of Cactus Creek Mobile Home Park in Acton. He’s also identified as a trustee of Acton Holding Trust. The EPA alleges that Hauck has two illegal cesspools on the property, despite large capacity cesspools being banned by the environmental agency more than 15 years ago. Cesspools, according to the EPA, collect and discharge waterborne pollutants like untreated raw sewage into the ground. The practice of using cesspools can lead to disease-causing pathogens to be introduced to local water sources, including groundwater, lakes, streams and oceans.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news NPR

Climate change is moving too fast for these trees to keep up

Some of the tall, stately trees that have grown up in California’s Sierra Nevada are no longer compatible with the climate they live in, new research has shown. Hotter, drier conditions driven by climate change in the mountain range have made certain regions once hospitable to conifers — such as sequoia, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir — an environmental mismatch for the cone-bearing trees. … Although there are conifers in those areas now, Hill and other researchers suggested that as the trees die out, they’ll be replaced with other types of vegetation better suited to the environmental conditions. The team estimated that about 20% of all Sierra Nevada conifer trees in California are no longer compatible with the climate around them and are in danger of disappearing. They dubbed these trees “zombie forests.”

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Arizona rancher takes an old approach to growing crops on Gila River

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management approach with principles that date back to Indigenous farmers. Instead of letting the land fallow or repeating a cycle of planting water-intensive crops that cannot survive the harsh conditions along the lower Gila River, Hansen has worked to develop strategies to make less water go further. He has successfully introduced arid-adapted crops, integrated livestock on his land and used non-traditional farming methods to improve soil health and biodiversity. While regenerative agriculture has been a way to conserve water and grow healthier crops for centuries, the alternate farming method has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years as a way to potentially reverse the effects of climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity, resulting in both carbon drawdown and improvements to the water cycle.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: California must intervene on Mono Lake water dispute with L.A.

Even with winter’s remarkable rainfall, Mono Lake will not rise enough to reduce unhealthy dust storms that billow off the exposed lakebed and violate air quality standards. Nor will it offset increasing salinity levels that threaten Mono Lake Kutzadika’a tribe’s cultural resources and food for millions of migratory birds. Any gain Mono Lake makes surely won’t last due to the [Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's] ongoing diversions….If DWP won’t voluntarily cooperate in finding a way to protect Mono Lake, then the State Water Board needs to step up and save Mono Lake – again.
-Written by Martha Davis, a board member for the Mono Lake Committee.

Aquafornia news CNN

Monday Top of the Scroll: Another atmospheric river is coming for California, where neighborhoods already are flooded and hundreds are in shelters

Still reeling from storms that inundated neighborhoods, forced rescues and damaged roads, storm-battered California is bracing for another atmospheric river that threatens even more flooding Monday. More than 17 million people remain under flood watches across California and Nevada early Monday as the storm makes its menacing approach – the 11th atmospheric river to hit the West this winter season. The new storm, arriving on the heels of another atmospheric river, could exacerbate flooding and damage in some places. Already, those in the central and northern parts of California are crowding into shelters and dealing with flooded neighborhoods, along with mudslides, dangerous rushing rivers, collapsed bridges and unusable roads.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Gavin Newsom waives permits to put California flood water underground

California’s severely depleted groundwater basins could get a boost this spring, after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order waiving permits to recharge them. State water leaders hope to encourage local agencies and agricultural districts to capture water from newly engorged rivers and spread it onto fields, letting it seep into aquifers after decades of heavy agricultural pumping. … To pull water from the state’s network of rivers and canals for groundwater recharge, state law requires a permit from the State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife. Many local agencies lacked the permitting during January storms, but this month’s atmospheric rivers and near record snowpack promises new opportunities to put water underground.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Newsweek

Sierra snowpack hits record levels after recent storms

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains has reached record-breaking levels thanks to the deluge of snow smashing California this week. According to data from the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR), the Southern Sierras—from San Joaquin and Mono counties to Kern county—currently have a snowpack 257 percent greater than the average for this time of year, and 247 percent larger than is average for the usual snowpack peak on April 1. Central Sierra and Northern Sierra also have hugely inflated snowpacks, at 218 percent and 168 percent of the average for early March, respectively…. “As of this weekend, the Southern Sierra now appears to have largest snowpack in recorded history…” tweeted Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the Nature Conservancy.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Colorado River water-saving deals worth $250M planned by Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is finalizing $250 million in water-saving deals that are expected to preserve up to 10 feet of Lake Mead’s declining surface levels this year, agency Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton announced Friday in Tempe. The commissioner attended a discussion of Colorado River water issues at Arizona State University, organized by Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona. The money will pay Lower Colorado River Basin water users, especially farmers, to forego some of their deliveries this year to help keep the reservoir from sinking further toward the point where it no longer flows past Hoover Dam. The initial funding is essentially an emergency measure that pays people not to use water temporarily.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Oroville Dam floodgates opened as storms fill massive reservoir

In another sign that the drought is ending across much of California, state water officials opened the floodgates at Oroville Dam on Friday to let water out of the state’s second-largest reservoir to reduce the risk of flooding to downstream communities. … At noon, water began cascading down the huge concrete spillway for the first time in four years. On Friday, Oroville reservoir was 75% full — or 115% of its historical average for early March. It has risen 180 feet since Dec. 1, and continued to expand steadily with millions of gallons of water pouring in from recent storms.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news MSN

El Niño queues up as three-peat La Liña ends: What it means to California

After enduring historic drought conditions exacerbated by three years of the La Niña weather phenomenon, California is finally free from her clutches, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. However, El Niño may be looming, and with it, comes a whole new set of weather and climate challenges. Unlike the typically dry years La Niña brings to California, El Niño tends to bring increased chances of torrential storms, flooding, mudslides and coastal erosion. It typically occurs every three to five years when surface water in the equatorial Pacific becomes warmer than average. This week, the World Meteorological Organization forecast a 55 percent chance of an El Niño developing heading into autumn.

Aquafornia news The Washington Post

Las Vegas water agency seeks power to limit residential use

Ornamental lawns are banned in Las Vegas, the size of new swimming pools is capped and much of the water used in homes is sent down a wash to be recycled, but Nevada is looking at another significant step to ensure the water supply for one of the driest major metropolitan areas in the U.S. State lawmakers on Monday are scheduled to discuss granting the power to limit what comes out of residents’ taps to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency managing the Colorado River supply to the city. If lawmakers approve the bill, Nevada would be the first state to give a water agency permanent jurisdiction over the amount of residential use. The sweeping omnibus bill is one of the most significant to go before lawmakers this year in Nevada, one of seven states that rely on the Colorado River.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Cold water releases could thwart invasive bass in Grand Canyon

Federal dam managers are preparing a springtime assault against smallmouth bass on the Colorado River, possibly using cool water from deep in Lake Powell to keep the non-native fish from getting entrenched in Grand Canyon. Environmental and river recreation advocates hope the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will pair cold water with a rush of water from deep behind Glen Canyon Dam, both disrupting bass reproduction around Lees Ferry and restoring eroded sandbars farther downstream. That option, officially under study, is politically sensitive because it would cost hydropower production and move water out of a reservoir that has dropped to about a quarter of its storage capacity. The stakes for humpback chub and other native fishes are high. Young smallmouth bass, which grow into voracious warm-water predators, were found between the dam and Lees Ferry last year…

Aquafornia news CalMatters

State water agency rescinds controversial Delta order that put fish at risk

As storms swell California’s reservoirs, state water officials have rescinded a controversial order that allowed more water storage in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta while putting salmon and other endangered fish at risk. Ten environmental groups had petitioned the board to rescind its order, calling it “arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law, and…not supported by substantial evidence.”  The reason for the state’s reversal, according to the State Water Resources Control Board, is that conditions in the Delta have changed as storms boost the snowpack and runoff used to supply water to cities and farms.

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Explaining water units to real people (who like basketball)

It’s March madness once again as we try to explain water conditions in California to real people in the midst of additional basketball madness. We all enjoy and suffer with basketball.  This commonality can make it a useful unit of volume among the many units of volume used for water. A basketball has the volume of about 1/4 cubic feet (4 basketballs per cubic foot).  So a flow of 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) has a volume equivalent of having 4,000 basketballs coming at you every second.  An acre-foot (af) is a volume one foot deep over an acre of area.  It has a volume of 43,560 cubic feet or 325,850 gallons, or 174,240 basketballs. One cfs flowing for one day (24 hours) discharges almost 2 acre-feet (1.98) of volume (348,480 basketballs/day). A million gallons per day (mgd) has the same volume as 1.87 million basketballs per day. (There are 7.48 gallons per cubic foot)

Aquafornia news Monterey Herald

Monterey Peninsula water district loses key lawsuit

Legal challenges to a Monterey Peninsula water district’s ratepayer fee that dates back a least a decade reached fruition this week when a judge ruled against the district and ordered it to stop collecting the fee. The ruling could have a huge impact on district revenues at a time when the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District is partnering with Monterey One Water to invest in the Pure Water Monterey expansion project, which the district says could supply enough water to the Monterey Peninsula for the next few decades. At issue are two fees. The first is a “user fee” that was collected as a pass-through charge on California American Water Company’s bills. But state regulators in 2011 ordered a halt to it, so the district created another fee called a “water supply fee” that was collected through property taxes. 

Aquafornia news Grid

The Great Salt Lake may turn into a toxic dust bomb. Can we stop it?

In many ways, Owens Lake — which dried up early last century when the city of Los Angeles began diverting the lake’s water supply to a major aqueduct — is a cautionary tale and a harbinger of disasters to come. Climate change is altering patterns of drought and rainfall across the world, and demand for water is growing. Just 500 miles from Owens Lake, Utah’s Great Salt Lake is drying rapidly and creating another stream of toxic dust. And while Owens Lake has finally managed to get its air pollution problems in check, it came at enormous cost. In a sense, it is lucky that there is such an example already out there, if only to demonstrate how important it will be to avoid a similar fate.