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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 KUNC - Greeley, Colorado

Thursday Top of the Scroll: Negotiators from all 7 Colorado River states gather for conference

The people who decide the fate of the Colorado River are gathering in Boulder this week for an annual conference. Their meeting comes at a pivotal time for negotiations on the river’s future. Negotiators from all seven states that use the river will be speaking publicly at the two-day conference. They’re in the middle of tense talks about how to cut back on demand as climate change is shrinking water supplies. They’ve got to come up with new rules for sharing the river before the current guidelines expire in 2026. … This week’s conference will also feature speakers from tribes, cities and farm districts.

Related Colorado basin water supply articles: 

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Commentary: How can California overcome water wars to create a resilient supply?

California is a semi-arid state in which the availability of water determines land use, and in turn shapes the economy. That, in a nutshell, explains why Californians have been jousting over water for the state’s entire 174-year history. The decades of what some have dubbed “water wars” may be approaching a climactic point as climate change, economic evolution, stagnant population growth and environmental consciousness compel decisions on California’s water future. A new study, conducted by researchers at three University of California campuses, projects that a combination of factors will reduce California’s water supply by up to 9 million acre-feet a year – roughly the equivalent of all non-agricultural human use.
-Written by CalMatters columnist Dan Walters.

Related water supply articles: 

Aquafornia news ABC7 - San Francisco

Stanford study examines the lasting effects wildfires have on soil, posing new problems

The grey smoky skies can be seen for hundreds of miles. But now researchers are on the trail of wildfire threats that are invisible to the naked eye. The result of intense heat, from wildfires burning longer and hotter. “When we start getting really severe fires, we see a transformation where the really, really intense fires leave these lasting impacts on the soil,” says Professor Scott Fendorf, Ph.D., of Stanford’s Doerr School of Sustainability. Fendorf is leading a multi-year study. The team examined soils in forest areas that have been slow to recover from recent wildfires in the Sierra and elsewhere. Although early research has pointed to cycles of drought, Fendorf and his colleagues identified toxic concentrations of chemicals in the soil which could also be slowing regrowth. … Researchers say another key concern moving forward will be the safety of drinking water. And they’re hoping to learn more about the effects of runoff from contaminated soils.

Related watershed articles: 

Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: 2024’s first major heat wave highlights the important topic of Sierra snowpack during July Headwaters Tour

With temperatures spiking across California this week, now is a great time to reserve your spot on our Headwaters Tour July 24-25 when we’ll explore the role of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in the state’s water supply and how heatwaves can accelerate snowmelt. The state’s critical ‘frozen reservoir’ was slightly above average at the end of the 2024 snow survey season, following an epic snowpack in 2023 that prompted widespread flooding and the resurrection of Tulare Lake. During the July tour, we’ll also learn how snowpack is measured and translated into forecasts of California’s water supply for the year. … The 2-day, 1-night tour with an overnight in Lake Tahoe travels up the Sierra foothills and into the mountains within the American River and Yuba River watersheds. Meadow restoration, climate change, wildfire impact and more will be discussed as we pass through Eldorado and Tahoe national forests.

Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Report: Replenishing groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley: 2024 update

Strategies to replenish groundwater basins—long used in some areas of the San Joaquin Valley—have increasingly come into focus as the region seeks to bring its overdrafted groundwater basins into balance under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). In late 2023, following a very wet winter and spring, we conducted a repeat survey of local water agencies about their recharge activities and perspectives, building on a similar survey at the end of 2017, a year with similar levels of precipitation. We found signs of progress on recharge since 2017, as well as areas where more work is needed to take full advantage of this important water management tool.

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Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Commentary: California’s salmon are in trouble from many human causes

… California and the life cycle of salmon have been linked for centuries, beginning when only indigenous people lived in the state. California’s rivers and streams benefit from the nutrients salmon bring with them from the ocean. Salmon create jobs. Salmon are our shared living heritage. … [S]almon are on the brink despite California having some of the strictest environmental laws on the planet. The government’s ability to regulate this species to safety is dubious at best. Consider that the state’s primary plan to protect the Delta by balancing the uses of water has not been updated by the State Water Resources Control Board since Bill Clinton was in office. It’s a telling example of water’s political and regulatory paralysis. There is no shared sense of responsibility to save the salmon because we have devised such self-centered regulatory systems.
-Written by Tom Philp, reporter with the Sacramento Bee. 

Aquafornia news Inside Climate News

Lawsuits targeting plastic pollution pile up as frustrated citizens and states seek accountability

 … [I]n California, a two-year-old investigation by Attorney General Rob Bonta into the plastics industry and its claims about recycling shows signs of concluding, potentially resulting in a case pitting the largest state in the nation against one of the largest plastic makers in the world, ExxonMobil, and powerful industry trade associations such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Plastics Industry Association (PIA). 

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Aquafornia news Capital Public Radio

Solano County will determine this month if California Forever project qualifies for the November ballot

Solano County has announced next steps for the controversial California Forever development.  The proposal, backed by tech and finance billionaires, would build a new city of up to 400,000 people between Fairfield and Rio Vista.  Officials will announce by June 12 whether the project gained enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Bill Emlen, Solano County Administrator, said there’s not a lot of information yet about how this new city could impact roadways and water supplies. 

Aquafornia news Community Water Center

Blog: Water affordability possible through Senate Bill 1255

Today, Senator Durazo amended Senate Bill 1255, which will provide an avenue for universal water affordability rate assistance for public water systems with more than 3,300 connections. As water rates continue to rise three times faster than inflation, a water affordability program is necessary for low-income families statewide.  

Aquafornia news San Diego Reader

Del Mar forges levees to lessen flood damage

A series of living levees — earthen embankments — along the San Dieguito River could help protect affordable housing at the fairgrounds and homes in Del Mar’s North Beach. As part of its sea rise planning, Del Mar has completed a preliminary conceptual plan for three living levees; structures that slope gently to combine flood protection with habitat restoration. … The levees will reduce, but not eliminate flood risk. 

Aquafornia news E&E News by POLITICO

Utah lithium project near Green River faces setback

Utah state officials reversed course this week on a key water permit for a major lithium extraction project in the state, agreeing with conservation advocates who asked for further review of the project. In a decision issued Tuesday, Utah State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen said her office would suspend its earlier approval of nearly 4.6 billion gallons of water to be used by a mining company as part of a “direct lithium extraction project” near the Green River. The office will continue consideration of the proposal. Wilhelmsen’s ruling came at the behest of conservation advocates who had raised concerns about the location of the proposed wells — which would draw water from an aquifer system 10,000 feet below the surface — including the proximity to waste left by a former uranium mining facility.

Aquafornia news The Hill

California almond crop forecasts up 21 percent after wet and mild winter

Thanks to favorable weather conditions, California’s almond crop for 2024 is expected to be 21 percent greater than last year’s final output, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports. The almond crop should amount to about 3 billion pounds, as opposed to the 2.47 billion pounds generated in 2023, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Pacific Regional Office, based in Sacramento. … Mature almond trees in the southern Sacramento Valley can consume 41 to 44 inches of water in an average year when water use is unrestricted, while those in Central California’s San Joaquin Valley can use as much as 50 to 54 inches, according to data from the University of California, Davis.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Commentary: Do California wine grapes use more water than almonds and other crops?

Making wine requires water. But how much? Water is a precious resource in drought-prone California, and its use in agriculture is rightfully a contentious topic. … While a wine glut is compelling some grape growers to remove their vineyards, some readers are suggesting that this might be a good thing from a water use perspective. So I wanted to understand: Just how big of a water suck are California grapevines, really? The TLDR here is that California wine grapes don’t gulp nearly as much water as crops like almonds, pistachios and alfalfa. But the real story here is much more complex … 

Aquafornia news Bakersfield.com

Oil in water system prompts advisory in west Bakersfield

An accidental release of crude oil into Bakersfield’s municipal water system has temporarily shut down businesses and prompted an advisory for about 40 commercial customers to avoid tap water in the area south of Lake Truxtun. Signs of a possible problem first appeared Monday afternoon, when pipes in the area started shaking and spurting water from faucets. 

Aquafornia news Newsweek

California water officials warn of ‘two-faced creature’

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued a comical warning on Wednesday about a “two-faced creature” known as the nutria, a rodent said to look like a cross between a rat and a beaver. The nutria—recognizable by its vibrant orange teeth—is native to South America and was introduced to the United States in the 1800s as part of the fur trade. However, once the trade plummeted, nutrias began to wreak havoc on U.S. coastal environments they populated and have posed a problem ever since. Maryland spent millions working to eradicate the species, and other states are considering following suit. However, the species isn’t just an East Coast problem. The DWR issued the warning in the form of an educational poster for California Invasive Species Action Week depicting two nutrias. One looks sweet and cuddly and sports a halo with the words “I am so cute” nearby. The other has red eyes and the characteristic vibrant orange teeth with the words “But I am a monster.”

Aquafornia news LAist

Saving stormwater

Stormwater in L.A. and Orange Counties is captured via spreading grounds, or large open areas of gravel and sand that allow pools of water to form and percolate deep into underground reservoirs. Since we’ve largely run out of room for spreading grounds, other solutions are being explored. Slow it down: Before we paved over our cities, water used to percolate through soil across the region. Water agencies use dams to capture and slowly release water over time to utilize spreading grounds even during hot months. Use our yards: The majority of L.A. is private property, meaning there’s a big opportunity for owners to implement water features like swales, which can capture water and allow it to sink into the soil, rather than run out into the street.

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: Sites Reservoir clears environmental challenge in court

California is one step closer to building its largest water storage facility in nearly 50 years, after a court ruled in favor of the Sites Reservoir project following a challenge by environmental groups. The Yolo County Superior Court issued the 65 page ruling late last week, marking a possible end to the project’s environmental litigation. The relatively quick ruling stands in contrast to a typical, multi-year litigation period under the Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Gov. Gavin Newsom accelerated the project’s CEQA litigation period in November under an infrastructure streamlining package passed the previous summer. He celebrated the court’s ruling in a news release Tuesday. … The proposed $4.5 billion reservoir would inundate nearly 14,000 acres of ranch lands in Glenn and Colusa counties to store water diverted from the Sacramento River through new a system of dams, pipelines and a bridge.

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Aquafornia news Eureka Times-Standard

Jared Huffman calls for last year’s salmon relief funds to be expedited

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman co-sent a letter to federal administrators on Tuesday calling for disaster relief funding to be allocated quicker for the state’s salmon fishery closure in 2023. A year later and no disaster funds have been distributed, and fishermen face another closed season. … Historically, federal disaster aid for fishing disasters has taken years to reach the pockets of fishermen. The season was closed this year, the fourth in California’s history, for largely the same conditions in 2023: low salmon counts. In press releases, the Golden State Salmon Association cited the failure of water management to keep fish eggs in 2021 and 2020 cool, while the California Department of Fish and Wildlife pointed to the multi-year drought conditions the now adult fish were reared under.

Related salmon articles:

Aquafornia news The Hill

Opinion: The nation’s weather forecasting must rise to the challenges of climate change

There is a critical need to improve and expand precipitation forecasting in the Western United States. Access to reliable forecasts at timeframes longer than seven days is long overdue, especially in the West, where conditions can rapidly swing between extreme droughts and floods.  Advancing and updating our precipitation forecasts is beyond necessary for our decision-makers, water agencies, agricultural producers, energy suppliers, tribes and others, so they can take accurate and necessary mitigation actions and put contingency plans in place to protect our cities and our local communities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for weather forecasts, provided through the National Weather Service (NWS) and weather and climate research produced by the Office of Atmospheric Research. Together, these agencies support the National Weather Service’s goal of having a “weather-ready nation,” preparing communities for extreme weather, water, and climate events.
-Written by Rep. Grace Napolitano, who serves as the representative for California’s 31st District.   

Aquafornia news The Guardian

The end of the great northern forests? The tiny tree-killing beetle wreaking havoc on our ancient giants

The giant sequoia is so enormous that it was once believed to be indestructible. High in California’s southern Sierra Nevada mountains, the oldest trees – known as monarchs – have stood for more than 2,000 years. Today, however, in Sequoia national park, huge trunks lie sprawled on the forest floor, like blue whale carcasses stranded on a beach. Many of these trees were felled by a combination of drought and fire. But among the factors responsible for the rising toll is a tiny new suspect: the bark beetle. Along with wildfires and rising temperatures, scientists fear that the insects could contribute to the breakdown of Earth’s northern conifer forests, including the potential dieback of the taiga, the vast ecosystem that stretches across Canada, Scandinavia, Siberia and Alaska.

Related wildfire and watershed article: