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 U.S. Geological Survey

Low-flying helicopter to survey the Coalinga and Pyramid Hills areas for groundwater research

Starting around November 17, 2022 and lasting up to a month, a helicopter towing a large hoop from a cable will make low-level flights over areas of the western San Joaquin Valley in Fresno, Kings, and Kern Counties near Coalinga and the Pyramid Hills, with limited surveying near Lost Hills. Residents of these areas may see a low-flying helicopter towing a large hoop hanging from a cable. USGS scientists will use the data to improve understanding of groundwater salinity and below-ground geology to better understand groundwater conditions near California’s oil fields. The helicopter will tow a sensor that resembles a large hula-hoop about 100-200 feet above the ground to measure small electromagnetic signals. 

Aquafornia news Nossaman

California sues alleged PFAS manufacturers for hundreds of millions of dollars

On November 10, 2022, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that he had filed a lawsuit against 3M, DuPont, and sixteen other companies for their roles in manufacturing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The lawsuit seeks money damages, which could reach hundreds of millions of dollars, for damages, penalties, and restitution, as well as injunctive relief and abatement. Some consider the lawsuit the broadest of its kind brought by any state. PFAS is an umbrella term that covers dozens of types of man-made chemicals. PFAS were used for a variety of purposes, including in nonstick cookware and firefighting foam, although their usage has been phased out voluntarily by companies in the United States over the past 20-25 years.

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Aquafornia news jfleck at inkstain

Blog: A century ago in Colorado River Compact negotiations: How much water to send past Lee’s Ferry?

Colorado River Commission Chairman Herbert Hoover gathered the seven states’ representatives at opened at 11:00 a.m. Nov. 15, 1922, for the 17th meeting in their efforts to forge an agreement to share the Colorado River. They had been holed up at Bishop’s Lodge outside Santa Fe for five days, wrestling with how to divide the river. By that point in the negotiations they had settled on a general framework, dividing the river into an “upper” and “lower” basin, but were stuck on the question of how much water the upper states would be required to send each year to the lower states. Hoover intentionally set a later starting time that day to give the upper river states plenty of time to caucus among themselves to consider his proposal from the previous day that the Upper Basin deliver 82 million acre-feet every ten years plus a 4 and ½ million acre foot minimum annual flow.

Aquafornia news NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Blog: 5 things to know about how SWOT will look at the world’s water

On Dec. 12, NASA will launch the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite into Earth orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The mission is a collaborative effort between NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) – with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the UK Space Agency – that will survey water on more than 90% of the planet’s surface. The satellite will measure the height of water in Earth’s freshwater bodies and the ocean, providing insights into how the ocean influences climate change; how a warming world affects lakes, rivers, and reservoirs; and how communities can better prepare for disasters, like floods.

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

UC expert helps save water, increase supply

Earlier this year, officials in Southern California declared a water shortage emergency resulting in restrictions such as limiting outdoor water use to one day of the week. While mandatory restrictions vary across the region, Amir Haghverdi, University of California Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor of agricultural and urban water management at UC Riverside, is using research to pinpoint irrigation strategies that will help communities reduce their demand for water and increase supply. Haghverdi and his team are responding to a hotter and drier California by working to identify changes that can make a substantial difference in water savings. 

Aquafornia news Monterey County Weekly

Opinion: This is a big week for water in Monterey County.

[On Thursday, Nov. 17 at 9am the Public Utilities Commission] will consider whether to grant a permit to Cal Am to build a 4.8 million-gallons per day (mgd) desalination project that would draw its source water through subsurface slant wells from under the beach in Marina, on property owned by Cemex, whose sand mine on the property has now been shut down.  One elephant in the room, which is completely omitted from the Coastal Commission’s staff report—which recommends that the commission approve the project, with conditions—is that it doesn’t address who would pay for the unused capacity of the desal plant. Right now, if Pure Water Monterey expansion is approved, there is no projected demand for more water for at least 20 years.
-Written by David Schmalz, Monterey County Weekly columnist.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: Another step toward agreement on California’s water

For at least a decade, off and on, state water managers and local water agencies have pursued the holy grail of a master agreement to improve the environmental health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by increasing its water flows. At any given moment, California’s water supply is a zero sum game. Therefore, increasing flows through the Delta to improve habitat for salmon and other species would require local water agencies, particularly those serving farmers, to take less from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries. That’s not only a hard sell, but also could interfere with water rights, some of which stretch back to the 19th century. State officials have hoped that so-called “voluntary agreements” would forestall direct action that could touch off a legal donnybrook over those rights.
-Written by CalMatters columnist Dan Walters.

Aquafornia news Stockton Record

Changes to sturgeon fishing regulations supported by anglers

Fishing for white sturgeon has been relatively productive on the West Delta and Suisun Bay over the past two weeks, but some anglers and prominent scientists are supporting changes in fishing regulations to preserve the prehistoric fish for the future. Hundreds of white sturgeon and some green sturgeon perished in San Francisco and San Pablo bays in late August in a massive fish kill spurred by a red tide algae bloom, but the exact number of fish killed is unknown. Captain Zack Medinas of Gatecrasher Fishing Adventures reported “very good” sturgeon fishing on his latest few trips, but ponders how long this fishery will last at current rates of harvest.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: The Monterey area may get a huge desalination plant. Is this the future of California’s water supply?

With California butting up against 840 miles of ocean, desalination seems an obvious solution to the state’s water woes. However, the cost, energy demands and environmental impacts have made the technology largely unworkable. Three years of drought may be changing the calculus. The latest push for desalination is on the Monterey Peninsula, where a plan for a plant, which has faced more than a decade of hurdles, is poised to win approval this week from the California Coastal Commission. The $300 million-plus proposal calls for pumping seawater from wells beneath Monterey Bay, near the city of Marina, and piping it ashore to the popular tourist region to help relieve a longtime water shortage…  the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, which works with Cal Am to ensure water for the area, said the new supply could run as much as $7,000 per acre foot. 

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Aquafornia news Reuters

California tries to harness megastorm floods to ease crippling droughts

The land along the Arroyo Pasajero Creek, halfway between Sacramento and Los Angeles, is too dry to farm some years and dangerously flooded in others. Amid the cycles of wet and dry — both phenomena exacerbated by climate change — a coalition of local farmers and the nearby city of Huron are trying to turn former hemp and tomato fields into massive receptacles that can hold water as it percolates into the ground during wet years. This project and others like it across California’s Central Valley breadbasket aim to capture floodwaters that would otherwise rush out to the sea, or damage towns, cities and crops. … The project near Huron is one of about 340 recharge systems that have been proposed by water agencies in California – enough to store 2.2 million acre-feet by 2030 if they all are built …

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Microplastics rife in these Monterey Bay fish and seabirds, study finds

Microplastic particles are widespread in Monterey Bay anchovies and the diving seabirds that eat them as a main food source - which could possibly impact the birds’ reproductive systems, according to a new study. Scientists at UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance studied microplastic pollution in Monterey Bay by testing microplastic particles in the water and in anchovies and common murres, a bird species found in abundance in the region. … The study also comes two months after California became the first state in the United States to begin requiring water agencies to test for microplastics, which can be found everywhere from clothing, food packaging, drinking water and the ocean.

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Aquafornia news Delta Stewardship Council

News release: Superior Court of California reaffirms the Council’s broad authority as Delta stewards

For the second time since the Delta Stewardship Council’s establishment in 2010, its regulatory authority has been upheld by California’s judicial branch, clearing the way for the Council to continue to apply its expertise and exercise its broad authority in determining how to accomplish the goals and objectives of the Delta Reform Act. On November 4, the Superior Court of California ruled in favor of the Council regarding lawsuits filed by 17 parties challenging two amendments to the Delta Plan and the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) prepared pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Aquafornia news Santa Monica Daily Press

Next generation water project comes online Thursday

Santa Monica has found itself on the cutting edge of modern water infrastructure in California, and the latest example of that innovation is SWIP, the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project (SWIP), four years in the making, that is set to open with a community celebration on Thursday morning, Nov. 17. The project features some key innovations: a massive, 1.5-million gallon stormwater harvesting tank that stores water prior to treatment (meaning the city is far less limited in the amount of water it can process during storm events); can simultaneously treat stormwater runoff and wastewater generated in Santa Monica; is enabled to provide water for irrigation, dual-piped buildings and groundwater replenishment; and is poised to convert to potable water supply if and when state regulations permit.

Aquafornia news Utah Public Radio

Las Vegas has strict outdoor water restrictions, with fines! Should Utah do the same?

Salvador Polanco-Gamez is a “water waste investigator” for the Las Vegas Valley Water District. It’s a government job where they are tasked with finding and enforcing violations of water waste under Nevada’s strict conservation laws. Those strict laws regulating water waste are working — southern Nevada recorded a 26% drop in water use since 2002 — and could become one possible path forward for Utah’s own efforts to save water and preserve the Great Salt Lake. Gamez and his fellow investigators are part of that water-saving success. “We look for water waste which is prohibited in southern Nevada,” he said. … Technically, any water that hits a gutter is considered “wasted.” The Southern Nevada Water Authority has mandatory restrictions on time of day, day of week and length of watering.

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Aquafornia news Lake Powell Chronicle

Blog: Stanislaus – It’s never too late to save a river

Consider California’s Stanislaus River. In the 1970s, people of all ages and abilities reveled in running its 13 miles of rapids bearing scary names like Widowmaker and Devil’s Staircase. Not far from Sacramento and San Francisco, the limestone canyon offered renewal and adventure to people nearly year-round. But back in 1944, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation authorized 625-foot-high New Melones Dam for the Stan, though filling it would drown the beloved canyon…. Now, with New Melones logging its fourth decade of broken promises in water delivery, flood control and energy production, hundreds of river advocates from the old campaign hope to reclaim the Stan. In their teens and 20s back then, and today in their 60s and 70s, they believe the timing has never been better. 

Aquafornia news California Fisheries Blog

Blog: How did winter-run salmon do in summer 2022? Not good.

First the bad news. The production in 2022 of winter-run salmon fry in the upper Sacramento River near Redding was at record low levels, similar to the disaster years 2014 and 2015, maybe worse (Figure 1). Next, more bad news (there is no good news). Most of the fry are now in the 100-mile reach below Red Bluff, with only a small proportion to date (November 7) reaching Knights Landing below Chico (Figure 2). Flows (Figure 3) remain too low for good fry survival, with little flow increase following late October and early November rains. Clear water conditions make it easy for the tens of thousands of striped bass and smallmouth bass residing in the 100-mile reach to pick off migrating juvenile salmon. Up till late October, water temperatures above 60ºF kept bass active (also Figure 3).

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Aquafornia news Tahoe Daily Tribune

Tahoe’s largest wetland restoration wraps up construction after 3 years

Major construction is complete for the multi-year Upper Truckee Marsh Restoration project, Lake Tahoe’s largest ever wetland restoration, the California Tahoe Conservancy announced Monday.  The Conservancy has completed steps to repair damage caused by 20th century development, restoring and enhancing hundreds of acres of wetland habitat. A new trail offers improved access for all to experience and enjoy the lake’s shoreline. 

Aquafornia news ABC 10 - Sacramento

California Drought: A look into snowpack data at the ’snow lab’

The latest drought monitor, released Thursday, showed some minor improvements in drought status. Most of these improvements came along California’s northern coast but the areas experiencing the worst of the drought, like the San Joaquin Valley, saw no improvement. The monitor stops collecting data for its weekly updates at 4 a.m. Pacific time, so much of the rain that fell from the early week storm was not accounted for on this week’s update. This means the state may be in a bit better shape on next week’s monitor, but still has a long way to go to escape drought.

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

These SF projects work to protect Embarcadero from earthquakes

There are worlds of difference between a rotting structure at Fisherman’s Wharf, the iconic drama of the Ferry Building and the shadowed concrete underneath the Bay Bridge where two piers meet the aged Embarcadero seawall. What they share is a vulnerability to earthquakes and sea level rise along an artificial shoreline that’s more than a century old. They also have a common owner — the Port of San Francisco, which has the costly job of preparing that shoreline for a host of 21st century challenges where the learning curve seems to get steeper each year. Now, nearly four years after voters approved a $425 million bond to prepare the seawall and the structures along it for what the future might bring, the port has selected the first six projects to pursue. 

Aquafornia news jfleck at inkstain

Blog: A century ago in Colorado River Compact negotiations: Storage, yes. But in the compact?

When the Colorado River Compact Commission’s members returned to negotiations on the morning of Nov. 14 , 1922, they were presented with three important questions – one which survived as language in the final compact and two which did not, but all three of which remain important to the river’s management today. As they convened that morning at Bishop’s Lodge, outside Santa Fe, Commission Chairman Herbert Hoover laid out what he called “our three main propositions” – a division of the use of the water between an upper and lower basin the term of a multi-year upstream-to-downstrom flow commitment (flow at Lee’s Ferry)and a minimum delivery for any one year the question of whether the compact should be made contingent on construction of large storage reservoirs on the river.