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 Patch - Berkeley

UC Berkeley researchers present plan for freshwater conservation

The 30×30 initiative is a global effort to set aside 30% of land and sea area for conservation by 2030, a move scientists hope will reverse biodiversity loss and mitigate the effects of climate change. Now adopted by state and national governments around the world, 30×30 creates an unprecedented opportunity to advance global conservation. When it comes to the water side of 30×30, most programs focus primarily on conservation of oceans, but a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley argues that freshwater ecosystems must not be neglected. Published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the paper urges policy makers to explicitly include freshwater ecosystems like rivers, lakes, and wetlands in 30×30 plans, and outlines how their conservation will be critical to achieving the initiative’s broader goals.

Aquafornia news Audubon

Blog: Who gets harmed as the Colorado River changes?

National and regional media love a good fight, and lately a day doesn’t pass without a major news story or op-ed focused on Colorado River disagreements, particularly amongst the seven states of the Colorado River Basin (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). Which state must bear the brunt of shortages needed as Colorado River flows decline? Which sector of water users takes the hit as climate change continues to diminish the river? Should urban water supplies be protected because that’s where all the people are? (Municipal water supply representatives will quickly remind us that if all urban uses of Colorado River water were cut off, there would still be a shortage). Should agricultural water supplies be protected because we all need to eat? 

Aquafornia news The Business Journal

Blog: We have seen the future of water in California

We have seen the future of water in California this winter and it does not look good. After 200% rainfall and historic snowpack, what do we have? They keep saying we are not out of the drought. But when it starts raining like this, that is — by definition — the end of a drought. How much rainfall do they need? Actually, I probably shouldn’t ask that. I probably won’t like their answer. There are no average rainfall years in California. There are wet years and dry years. We are idiots because we do not catch the rainfall from the wet years and save it for the dry years.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Thursday Top of the Scroll: New storm could bring more peril to California rivers already hit by deadly flooding

A powerful storm barreling toward California from the tropical Pacific threatens to trigger widespread river flooding throughout the state as warm rain melts a record accumulation of snowpack and sends runoff surging down mountains and into streams and reservoirs. Although state officials insist they are prepared to manage runoff from what is now the 10th atmospheric river of a deadly rainy season, at least one expert described the combination of warm rain, epic snowpack and moist soils as “bad news.” … Already, the National Weather Service is warning residents that a number of rivers could surge beyond their flood stage, inundating nearby roads and properties. Likewise, some reservoir managers have already begun releasing water in anticipation of heavy inflows through the weekend.

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Aquafornia news KDRV - Medford

Construction preparation on Klamath River dams underway, removal complete by 2024

Construction to start the removal process of the Klamath River dams will start this month and all four dams are scheduled to be removed from the river by the end of 2024. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the $450 million dam removal project in November of 2022. It will be the largest dam removal project in American history.  The Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), who took over ownership of the dams from Pacific Power, is leading the historic construction project. This month, construction preparation work is underway. Construction on the dams will begin this summer, starting with Copco 2.

Aquafornia news The New Republic

Navajo Nation is taking on three states and the federal government for the right to Colorado River water

…. On March 20 … the entire Colorado River will be looming over the [Supreme Court] justices when they hear oral arguments in Arizona v. Navajo Nation. The case, which dwells at the intersection of Native treaty rights and water rights, will mark the court’s latest foray into the byzantine rules and regulations that govern limited supplies of water in one of the driest parts of the country. For the Navajo Nation, the court’s decision on its 19th-century treaty rights could have serious consequences for its future.

Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo.

Was California consulted in recent Colorado River negotiations?

States that use water from the Colorado River are caught in a standoff about how to share shrinking supplies, and their statements about recent negotiations send mixed messages. California officials say they were not consulted as other states in the region drew up a letter to the federal government with what they called a “consensus-based” set of recommendations for water conservation. Leaders in states that drafted the letter disagree with that characterization. The reality of what happened during negotiations may lie somewhere in between, as comments from state leaders hint at possible differences between their definitions of what counts as “consultation.” The squabble is a microcosm of larger tensions between states that use water from the Colorado River.

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Aquafornia news Water Education Foundation

Announcement: Visit groundwater’s epicenter on April Central Valley Tour; check out groundwater resources

Explore the epicenter of groundwater sustainability on our Central Valley Tour April 26-28 and engage directly with some of the most important leaders and experts in water storage, management and delivery, agriculture, habitat, land use policy and water equity. The tour focuses on the San Joaquin Valley, which has struggled with consistently little to no surface water deliveries and increasing pressure to reduce groundwater usage to sustainable levels while also facing water quality and access challenges for disadvantaged communities. Led by Foundation staff and groundwater expert Thomas Harter, Chair for Water Resources Management and Policy at the University of California, Davis, the tour explores topics such as subsidence, water supply and drought, flood management, groundwater banking and recharge, surface water storage, agricultural supply and drainage, wetlands and more. Register here!

Aquafornia news State Water Resources Control Board

News release: Petition approved to capture flood flows, recharge groundwater

To capitalize on strong flows resulting from higher-than-average snowpack, the State Water Resources Control Board approved a petition by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to divert over 600,000 acre-feet of San Joaquin River flood waters for wildlife refuges, underground storage and recharge. With this approval, the State Water Board has authorized nearly 790,000 acre-feet in diversions for groundwater recharge and other purposes since late December 2022 – the amount of water used by at least 1.5 million households in a single year.

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Aquafornia news Wall Street Journal

In California, a race to capture the water before it escapes

Neil McIsaac has something many other dairy farmers here don’t: a storm-runoff capture system that can provide backup water for his herd when local reservoirs go dry, as they did last year. Already, he and others involved in the project say it has proven its worth. It has captured 670,000 gallons so far this winter, enough to slake the thirst of his 700 cows for a month, Mr. McIsaac said.

Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Blog: Helping the San Joaquin Valley find new uses for fallowed farmland

In Sarge Green’s 40-plus year career, he’s worn an astonishing number of hats. Now a water management specialist with California State University, Fresno, Sarge has worked on water quality issues at the regional water board, served as general manager of an irrigation district, and managed two resource conservation districts (RCDs). He’s also a director for the Tule Basin Land and Water Conservation Trust and the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District. He’s been a long-time partner with the PPIC Water Policy Center in our San Joaquin Valley work as a trusted member of our research network. Sarge remains deeply involved in efforts to help San Joaquin Valley farms and communities cope with the challenges of implementing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. We spoke with him about a pressing issue in the valley: how to manage farmland that will be transitioning out of intensive irrigation.

Aquafornia news SF Gate

It’s officially the snowiest season to date in Lake Tahoe

It’s officially the snowiest year to date in Lake Tahoe.  Following a nearly two-week series of storms that dropped more than 15 feet of snow in parts of the Sierra Nevada, the official numbers are in. Lake Tahoe has received more snowfall as of March 6 than in any other season — or at least any season since 1971-72, the earliest year for which the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab on Donner Summit has daily measurements. As of March 6, the Snow Lab has measured 580 inches, or just over 48 feet, of snow since Oct. 1.

Aquafornia news Newsweek

Has rain helped Lake Mead water levels?

A particularly wet season has swept across the southwestern U.S., a region that has suffered under a severe megadrought for over two decades. But what has this meant for Colorado River reservoir Lake Mead? Storms of rain and snow have hit California particularly badly in recent months, and have spread into neighboring states like Nevada. Reservoirs like Lake Mead rely on seasonal snowmelt and rainfall. Because of the drought, these weather patterns have been less frequent and harder to predict in recent. This means water levels at the largest man-made lake in the U.S., Lake Mead, are rapidly declining.

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Aquafornia news Greenbiz

Microplastics are everywhere. Here’s what we can do about it

While images of discarded plastic bottles and bags dominate news headlines, in reality most plastics contaminating Earth’s lands and waters are barely visible to the naked eye. And these microplastics (fragments less than 5 millimeters in diameter) have become a problem too big to ignore. They are ubiquitous, found in nearly every environment around the world, and threatening ecosystems and animals ranging in size from plankton to whales. They are also in drinking water, food and our bodies — posing serious questions about the long-term impacts to human and planetary health. From skin care products and paint to plastic containers and car tires, these microplastics originate from almost every industry. However, many people don’t realize that their clothing is also made from plastic. When we wash and wear synthetic textiles, they shed microplastics, called microfibers.

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Aquafornia news EOS

Extreme wildfires make their own weather

The wrong kind of weather can turn a manageable wildfire into an uncontrollable blaze. In California, Santa Ana winds notoriously fan flames with streams of hot, dry air, and Europe’s 2022 summer of record-breaking heat was also a summer of record-breaking fires. But it isn’t just weather that influences fires—fires can influence weather, too. … New research has suggested that smoke from particularly large blazes can change local weather, making fires even worse. This could be bad news for fire-prone regions experiencing more frequent fires due to climate change. But the study, published in Science, also hinted that building fire-weather interactions into weather forecasts could help direct firefighting resources to where they’ll be most effective.

Aquafornia news Daily Republic

Progress continues in groundwater cleanup from downtown dry cleaner contamination

The state Regional Water Quality Control Board on Wednesday will receive an update on a 2017 mitigation case involving what were three downtown cleaners. The businesses at the time were One Hour Cleaner, which was located at 710 Madison St., Fairfield Cleaners, 625 Jackson St., which is now home to the Republican Party headquarters, and Gillespie Cleaners at 622-630 Jackson St., the state reported. One other business that was not responsible for any contamination, but was affected, is Fairfield Safe & Lock, which is still doing business at 811 Missouri St. … The report states that the Tetrachloroethene – or PCE – plume that was discharged into the groundwater has been reduced by more than 90% since the mitigation plan was approved in September 2017.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

How California storms have improved Lake Tahoe’s water clarity

Weeks of frigid air temperatures in the Sierra have caused Lake Tahoe’s water to “mix” for the first time since 2019, as cold water at the surface sinks to the lake’s 1,600-foot depths, bringing clearer water up. That means that the historically crystal-clear lake, which has grown murkier over the past several decades, is the clearest it has been in four years. The lake’s clarity, which is a sign of its overall health and typically drops to 60 or 70 feet deep, now goes down to 115 feet. … But it won’t last long, said Geoffrey Schladow, a professor and director of the UC Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center. … Water clarity in the lake was at an average depth of 61 feet in 2021, compared with 102 feet in 1968, when it was first studied by UC Davis. It also tends to be clearer in winter than summer, when there is more algae growth and sediment. 

Aquafornia news The Hill

Raw sewage continues to flow from Tijuana into San Diego County

Some 22 billion gallons of raw sewage have flowed from Mexico into San Diego County since the end of December, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) reported on Wednesday. … Acknowledging that sewage flows have dropped to 106 million gallons per day and continue to decrease, the agency noted that two wastewater collectors are out of service due to excessive sediment buildup. Last Thursday, flows reached 800 million gallons per day, according to the IBWC. The wastewater influx is the result of an extended bout of winter weather, which has made a chronic cross-border sewage situation worse over the past few months.

Aquafornia news The Associated Press

EPA proposes stricter limits on coal plant water pollution

The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed tighter limits on wastewater pollution from coal-burning power plants that has contaminated streams, lakes and underground aquifers across the nation. Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency sets pollution standards to limit wastewater discharge from the power industry and other businesses. The Trump administration rolled back pollution standards so utilities could use cheaper technologies and take longer to comply with guidelines for cleaning coal ash and toxic heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and selenium from plant wastewater before dumping it into waterways. The Biden administration’s proposal for stricter standards at coal-burning plants also encourages the plants to retire or switch to other fuels such as natural gas by 2028.

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Opinion: How storms will impact San Jose residents’ water bills

The recent series of storms that swept through the region wrought havoc in many ways, but they did improve water levels in California. Without minimizing widespread storm damage and attending hardship, it is nice to see the hills green again and hope the rainy trend continues. It’s also a great relief to note that statewide Sierra snowpack was registering at nearly 200% of normal levels at the beginning of February, and that preliminary reservoir gauge readings published for the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s 10 local reservoirs at the same time showed five of those reservoirs at or above 80% capacity. And as reported in The Mercury News on Jan. 12: “For the first time in more than two years, the majority of California is in moderate drought, not severe drought.”
-Written by Andy Gere, president and COO of San Jose Water.