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 JDSupra

Blog: California court refuses to dismiss ESA challenge to Corps’ operation of Coyote Valley Dam on Russian River

Recently, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a concerned citizen against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) alleging Endangered Species Act (ESA) violations in connection with the Corps’ operation of the Coyote Valley Dam on the Russian River in Northern California. The court opined that federal defendants cannot avoid having to defend their prior actions simply by initiating the consultation process under section 7(a)(2) of the ESA, and the equities weighed against a stay of the litigation while the consultation process unfolds.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: How California’s winter rains will revive Tulare Lake

Spanish soldier and California explorer Pedro Fages was chasing deserters in 1772 when he came across a vast marshy lake and named it Los Tules for the reeds and rushes that lined its shore. Situated between the later cities of Fresno and Bakersfield, Tulare Lake, as it was named in English, was the nation’s largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. It spread out to as much as 1,000 square miles as snow in the Sierra melted each spring, feeding five rivers flowing into the lake. Its abundance of fish and other wildlife supported several Native American tribes, who built boats from the lake’s reeds to gather its bounty.
-Written by Dan Walters, a CalMatters columnist. 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: Atmospheric river-fueled storm arrives in California. Here’s which areas will be in the bull’s-eye

California is once again bearing the brunt of inclement weather, as a low-pressure system off the coast rapidly intensifies and becomes a storm, tapping into another atmospheric river that’s flowing between Hawaii and California. The storm that started Monday night is forecast to raise powerful winds along the coast that will spread to all corners of the Bay Area, Central Coast and Central Valley and peak just before sunrise on Tuesday. These winds will ferry heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and the risk for more flooding across most of the California coast and eventually Southern California. 

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Aquafornia news The Associated Press

EPA to limit toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed limiting the amount of harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water to the lowest level that tests can detect, a long-awaited protection the agency said will save thousands of lives and prevent serious illnesses, including cancer. The plan marks the first time the EPA has proposed regulating a toxic group of compounds that are widespread, dangerous and expensive to remove from water. PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated substances, don’t degrade in the environment and are linked to a broad range of health issues, including low birthweight babies and kidney cancer. The agency says drinking water is a significant source of PFAS exposure for people.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Age, drought, rodents and neglect weaken California levees, heightening flood danger

The levee breach that left an entire California town underwater this weekend is putting a spotlight on how the state’s vital flood control infrastructure is being weakened by age, drought, climate change, rodents and neglect — leaving scores of communities at risk. On Friday night, the swollen Pajaro River burst through the worn-down levee, flooding the entire town of Pajaro and sending its roughly 3,000 residents into what officials are now estimating to be a multi-month-long exile. A second breach was reported on Monday…. Experts say similar weaknesses plague levee systems across California and the nation. As climate change threatens to intensify and exacerbate extreme weather events — such as flooding and even drought — the unease and desperation of residents and emergency responders in communities near these crumbling systems is growing.

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

This map shows the Sierra snowpack’s record levels

The Southern Sierra snowpack is now the biggest on record, at a whopping 247% of average for April 1, according to charts from the California Department of Water Resources. “There is a whole hell of a lot of water up there right now, stored in the snowpack,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the Nature Conservancy, during an online presentation on Monday. … Late last week, California was on the receiving end of a warm atmospheric river, a band of tropical moisture originating from waters near Hawaii. The event raised concerns of rain-on-snow events, when runoff from rain combines with snowmelt to overwhelm watersheds. Such flooding happened over the weekend on the Kern and Tule rivers, triggering evacuations and badly damaging homes. But at higher elevations, the precipitation only added to the Sierra snowpack.

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Aquafornia news PBS NewsHour

Scientists confirm global floods and droughts worsened by climate change

The intensity of extreme drought and rainfall has “sharply” increased over the past 20 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Water. These aren’t merely tough weather events, they are leading to extremes such as crop failure, infrastructure damage and even humanitarian crises. The big picture on water comes from data from a pair of satellites known as GRACE, or Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, that were used to measure changes in Earth’s water storage — the sum of all the water on and in the land, including groundwater, surface water, ice, and snow. … The researchers say the data confirms that both the frequency and intensity of rainfall and droughts are increasing due to burning fossil fuels and other human activity that releases greenhouse gases.

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Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Blog: An epic snowpack may test water management in the San Joaquin Valley

Water policy wonks like us at PPIC spend an extraordinary amount of time analyzing information from the past, trying to understand the present, and modeling or speculating about the future. All this work goes toward identifying policy changes that might help California better manage its water. But for all our efforts, nothing improves our understanding of water like a “stress test,” whether that test is severe drought or extreme wet. And it is starting to look like we are going to get one of those stress tests this spring in the San Joaquin Valley. As news outlets have been reporting for some time, there is an “epic” snowpack in the central and southern Sierra Nevada… And while Californians have been laser focused on managing drought over the past decade, it’s now time to start thinking about what to do with too much water, at least in the San Joaquin River and Tulare Lake basins.

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Aquafornia news Record Searchlight

Will Shasta Dam open spillway gates as more rain, snowmelt raise Lake Shasta water level?

It may be hard to believe after all the snow and rain that fell ― and keeps falling ― on the North State this winter, but Lake Shasta water levels are still lower than normal for this time of year. That could change with more storms on the way this week. Predictions about the amount of water released through Shasta Dam later in the year, as snow melts, could also change. … So, could it be that Shasta Dam will make history again? Will it open its gates at the top of the spillway to let water flow? … There’s plenty of space for more rainwater and snowmelt, said Donald Bader​, area manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam.

Aquafornia news Deseret News

More moisture is headed to Utah, the West. Will it help Lake Powell?

Lake Powell is currently close to 180 feet below full pool and coming off a summer last year where several boat ramps were closed and owners were advised to retrieve their houseboats from the docks. Releases from a couple of upstream reservoirs, including Flaming Gorge, were made last summer to help the nation’s second largest reservoir and its Glen Canyon Dam, which provides power generation to Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Nebraska. A Monday briefing from the drought integrated information center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there is wet relief on the way for Lake Powell, which typically gets its maximum flows well into July.

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Damage from “severe breach” of Friant-Kern Canal construction at Deer Creek difficult to assess

An unfinished section of the new Friant-Kern Canal suffered a “severe breach” at Deer Creek in Tulare County Friday night as the normally dry creek swelled with rain and snowmelt and overran its banks into the construction zone. “This was worse than the one before,” said Johnny Amaral, Chief Operating Officer of the Friant Water Authority, at the authority’s executive committee meeting on Monday. “We haven’t gotten a handle on it yet but it’s tough to do anything out there right now with what we’re expecting tomorrow.”

Aquafornia news Record Searchlight

Low Sacramento River salmon forecast to close ocean salmon fishing

Federal officials have proposed closing commercial chinook salmon fishing off the coast of California over concerns for expected low numbers of fall-run chinook salmon returning to the Sacramento River this year. The Pacific Fishery Management Council announced its three alternatives for recreational and commercial fishing Friday. Ocean recreational fishing from the Oregon-California border to the U.S.-Mexico border will be closed in all three proposals, “given the low abundance forecasts for both Klamath and Sacramento River fall chinook.” the council said in a news release issued Friday. Commercial salmon fishing off the coast of California also will be closed, the council said. Ocean fishing restrictions were also announced for Oregon and Washington.

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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.

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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.

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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.