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 Salt Lake Tribune

What improved snowpack means for Lake Powell and a resurfacing Glen Canyon

… Keeping [Lake] Powell full enough to generate hydropower is a strategy the U.S. Department of Interior signaled it will prioritize — even if it comes at the expense of other natural, recreational and cultural assets on the Colorado River — until at least the end of 2026. That’s when the federal government and seven states that rely on the river will have to re-imagine what to do in a drier, hotter and less water-secure future. The river remains overallocated and has lost about a third of its flow in recent years. For now, motorized boaters who love Lake Powell are breathing a sigh of relief that the federal government intends to keep the reservoir full enough that at least some of the marinas remain open. 

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Aquafornia news U.S. Geological Survey

New study: Habitat restoration for native fish populations in California’s Central Valley

In a new report, U.S. Geological Survey scientists working in collaboration with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) have laid the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of how habitat restoration can significantly benefit native fish populations in California’s Central Valley. The study focuses on the Central Valley Project, one of the largest water projects in the nation. … The report outlines ideas related to habitat restoration and channel modifications that could enhance conditions for native fishes with minimal or no additional water cost beyond what is already allocated for other management actions

Aquafornia news Western Water Notes

Blog: Nevada tries new approach for water law cases

Nevada state courts have long grappled with settling water conflicts and defining the terms upon which water is managed in the nation’s driest state. Who gets priority to water when there is a conflict or in times of scarcity? What is the public’s interest in water? What is the state’s responsibility in protecting water for the public alongside those with water rights? These are all questions the court has had to grapple with. … In January, the Supreme Court’s water commission began a three-year pilot program that requires district court judges, certified as specialty water law judges, to hear water cases.

Aquafornia news U.S. Geological Survey

New study: USGS supports effort to understand impacts on water quality caused by 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California

During November 2018, the Camp Fire burned more than 150,000 acres in Butte County, California, including the Town of Paradise. The fire was the deadliest and most destructive in California history, causing at least 85 fatalities and destroying more than 18,000 structures. In the fire’s aftermath, understanding of the impact on connected ecosystems, including the regional watershed, will inform how we may prepare for and respond to fire events in the future. This was prime focus of a multi-year research effort led by faculty at Chico State University and supported by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the USGS, and other research institutions. 

Aquafornia news Chico Enterprise-Record

Butte County supervisors to consider groundwater recharge plan

After sending a letter of intention to the California Department of Water Resources last June to begin collecting flood water, Butte County is looking to set a plan in motion. Butte County Water and Resource Conservation Assistant Director Christina Buck is set to give a presentation about the proposed Recharge Action Plan before the Board of Supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting. According to the item attachment, the presentation will go over the plan’s recharge goal along with recommended actions. Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to simplify local jurisdictions’ abilities to claim floodwater for groundwater storage. The letter issued by the county to DWR was the first step in coming up with a long-term plan for the county to do just that.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

California’s war on plastic bag use seems to have backfired

It was a decade ago when California became the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags, ushering in a wave of anti-plastic legislation from coast to coast. But in the years after California seemingly kicked its plastic grocery sack habit, material recovery facilities and environmental activists noticed a peculiar trend: Plastic bag waste by weight was increasing to unprecedented levels. … Plastic has been found everywhere scientists have looked: From the deepest oceanic trenches to the highest alpine peaks. Petroleum-based plastics do not biodegrade. Over time, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces — known as microplastics, microfibers and nanoplastics — and have been found in household dust, drinking water and human tissue and blood.

Aquafornia news Grist

Intensifying atmospheric rivers are leading to a surge in Valley fever cases in California

The flooding caused by intensifying winter rainstorms in California is helping to spread a deadly fungal disease called coccidioidomycosis, or Valley fever. “Hydro-climate whiplash is increasingly wide swings between extremely wet and extremely dry conditions,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at University of California, Los Angeles. Humans are finding it difficult to adapt to this new pattern. But fungi are thriving, Swain said. Valley fever, he added, “is going to become an increasingly big story.” Cases of Valley fever in California broke records last year after nine back-to-back atmospheric rivers slammed the state and caused widespread, record-breaking flooding. 

Aquafornia news NBC - Bay Area

Lawmakers propose measure they believe would save Bay from future flooding

Lawmakers want Californians to have the chance to vote on a new measure they believe would save the Bay from future flooding. On Friday, lawmakers and climate advocates on the Peninsula proposed a vote to help protect people, homes and businesses near the water. “Low-lying communities are all at risk but the impacts of sea level rise will soon be felt by all residents of the Bay Area,” said Assemblymemebr Damon Connolly. Specifically, they’re pushing for a $16 billion climate resiliency bond. It covers many issues, including wildfire prevention, and clean energy – but it would also fund some of the projects that non-profit Save the Bay says are urgently needed.

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Aquafornia news Wall Street Journal

The Great Salt Lake is full of lithium. A startup wants to harvest it.

America’s biggest saltwater lake may hold a key to the country’s energy future. This summer, a California startup plans to start construction on a project to suck up water from the Great Salt Lake to extract one of its many valuable minerals: lithium, a critical ingredient in the rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles. The water will then be reinjected back into the lake, which Lilac Solutions says addresses concerns about the damaging effects of mineral extraction.

Aquafornia news Roseburg News-Review

Opinion: Klamath restoration – A dam shame

The environmental devastation occurring due to the Klamath River dams being breached is appalling. If anyone but “environmentalists” did what Klamath River Renewal Corporation is doing, they would be fined out of existence. Silt being released all at once from behind the breached dams is most certainly degrading the salmon spawning grounds downstream. Years ago, a Pacific Power employee told me they were ordered to quit lifting their gates annually to release sediment behind the Umpqua dams for fear it would adversely affect spawning. … Yet releasing a 100 years’ of sediment accumulated behind four Klamath dams all at once is not supposed to be a problem for spawning salmon?
-Written by Carol Lovegren Miller, who has a bachelors degree in forest management from Oregon State University.

Aquafornia news CNN

Friday Top of the Scroll: ‘Super El Niño’ is here, but La Niña looks likely. What’s in store for the coming months

The current El Niño is now one of the strongest on record, new data shows, catapulting it into rare “super El Niño” territory, but forecasters believe that La Niña is likely to develop in the coming months. …  But this so-called super El Niño’s strength won’t last long – it has reached its peak strength and is headed on a downward trend, said Michelle L’Heureux, a climate scientist with the Climate Prediction Center. … A La Niña watch is now in effect, meaning conditions are favorable for a La Niña to form within the next six months, according to a forecast released by the CPC Thursday.

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Aquafornia news The Hill

Western US lawmakers push to protect watersheds from impacts of wildfires

A bipartisan team of lawmakers from Colorado and Utah are urging Congress to help safeguard the nation’s watersheds by considering a new bill aimed at expediting the cleanup of contamination caused by wildfires. The Watershed Protection and Forest Recovery Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), would accelerate watershed recovery efforts on federal land, while also protecting private property and water resources downstream. 

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Aquafornia news Stanford Magazine

The weather man: Daniel Swain studies extreme floods. And droughts. And wildfires. Then he explains them to the rest of us.

The moment Daniel Swain wakes up, he gets whipped about by hurricane-force winds. “A Category 5, literally overnight, hits Acapulco,” says the 34-year-old climate scientist and self-described weather geek, who gets battered daily by the onslaught of catastrophic weather headlines: wildfires, megafloods, haboobs (an intense dust storm), atmospheric rivers, bomb cyclones. Everyone’s asking: Did climate change cause these disasters? And, more and more, they want Swain to answer. … His ability to explain science to the masses—think the Carl Sagan of weather—has made him one of the media’s go-to climate experts. He’s a staff research scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability who spends more than 1,100 hours each year on public-facing climate and weather communication, explaining whether (often, yes) and how climate change is raising the number and exacer­bating the viciousness of weather disasters.

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Aquafornia news Bureau of Reclamation

News release: Reclamation publishes overview of Colorado River evaporation history

The Bureau of Reclamation today published an overview of historical natural losses along the lower Colorado River. The Mainstream Evaporation and Riparian Evapotranspiration report looks at water surface evaporation, soil moisture evaporation, and plant transpiration. It will be used by Reclamation as a source of data as it manages regional water operations and to improve the agency’s modeling efforts. … The report provides an overview of average mainstream losses from both river and reservoir evaporation, as well as the evaporation and transpiration associated with vegetation and habitats along the river. The report states that approximately 1.3-million-acre feet of losses occur annually along the lower Colorado River mainstream. Based on data from 2017 to 2021, approximately 860,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water is lost to evaporation occurring annually from Lake Mead to the border with Mexico. A further 445,000 acre-feet is lost to evaporation and transpiration from natural vegetation and habitats.  

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Aquafornia news The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah looks to other states for more water under new bill

A much-anticipated water bill brought by one of the most powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill became public Thursday. Senate President Stuart Adams’s SB 211, titled “Generational Water Infrastructure Amendments,” seeks to secure a water supply for decades to come. It forms a new council comprised of leadership from the state’s biggest water districts that will figure out Utah’s water needs for the next 50 to 75 years. It also creates a new governor-appointed “Utah Water Agent” with a $1 million annual budget that will “coordinate with the council to ensure Utah’s generational water needs are met,” according to a news release. But combing through the text of the bill reveals the water agent’s main job will be finding an out-of-state water supply. … The bill also notes the water agent won’t meddle with existing water compacts with other states on the Bear and Colorado rivers.

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Aquafornia news Arizona Daily Star

Arizona lawmakers advance rural-groundwater-regulation bill

On a party-line vote, an Arizona Senate Committee approved a bill Wednesday to establish a rural groundwater management setup that’s favored by many farming interest groups but opposed by many environmentalists and some rural community leaders. The bill, introduced by Buckeye Republican Sen. Sine Kerr, would establish a complex legal and governmental process to designate groundwater basin management areas with the goal of reducing groundwater depletion while maintaining the area’s economy and agricultural base. The Republican-led Senate Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee voted 4-3 to support the measure. It would allow some mandatory conservation measures while still protecting existing farmers’ groundwater rights, as certified by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. It would also appropriate $40 million to ADWR to pay for unspecified measures for farmers to achieve better water conservation.

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Aquafornia news The Willits News

PG&E drops diversion options from its PVP proposal, Mendocino County officials report

Mendocino County officials said they will continue working on options for maintaining water diversions between the Eel and Russian rivers that were created more than 100 years ago for the Potter Valley Project, despite the announcement by the Pacific Gas and Electric company last week that it will no longer include plans being formulated by a regional group for modification of the hydroelectric plant’s infrastructure in its proposal for decommissioning the facility. “It’s a shock, and we’re still kind of reeling from it,” 1st District Mendocino County Supervisor Glenn McGourty told the Board of Supervisors during its Feb. 6 meeting, describing the announcement from the utility company as “very much like Lucy (pulling the football out from under) Charlie Brown every time we deal with PG&E.” McGourty said the latest sharp turn from PG&E on its long and winding path of decommissioning the Potter Valley Project (which was once an essential provider of electricity to the Ukiah Valley) came the day after the first meeting of the recently formed Eel-Russian River Project Joint Powers Authority …

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Paper or no plastic: New bill may eliminate plastic bags in California entirely

… A bill lawmakers introduced Thursday, Feb. 8, in Sacramento would apply the Trader Joe’s policy statewide, banning stores from offering customers any sort of plastic film bags at checkout. If you’re thinking “didn’t we already do that?” the answer is yes and no. … “If you have been paying attention – if you read the news at all in recent years – you know we are choking our planet with plastic waste,” state senator Catherine Blakespear said. “A plastic bag has an average lifespan of 12 minutes and then it is discarded, often clogging sewage drains, contaminating our drinking water and degenerating into toxic microplastics that fester in our oceans and landfills for up to 1,000 years.”

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Aquafornia news Inside Climate News

Sewage across borders: The Tijuana River is spewing wastewater into San Diego amid historic storms, which could threaten public health

… Winding around 120 miles northward from Mexico to California before reaching the ocean on the U.S. side of the border, the Tijuana River carries millions—at times, billions—of gallons of sewage across the border each day. Extreme weather events like the unprecedented storms currently pummeling the San Diego area can overwhelm California’s and Tijuana’s sewage treatment plants, causing wastewater to overflow in South Bay communities, including San Ysidro, Imperial Beach and Coronado.

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Aquafornia news Yuba Net

Opinion: Unimpaired flow proposal could devastate local agriculture, our community and the environment

While the Nevada Irrigation District (NID) is working hard to ensure the reliability of our water supply, the district is facing potential state regulations that would have dire negative impacts for agriculture, our community, fire protection, wildlife and aquatic habitat. State recommended regulations would affect NID operations and service, decreasing water supply and raising the cost of water to all customers if implemented. The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) is working to update an action plan to improve water quality and save imperiled fish populations, including salmon and delta smelt, in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Bay-Delta). … If adopted, this alternative would effectively negate NID’s long-standing water rights to the Yuba and Bear River systems. A cascading effect would ensure a significant decrease in the amount of water NID has available for its customers while negatively impacting all aspects of the district’s operational and financial viability.
-Written by Rich Johansen, president of the Nevada Irrigation District.