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 The New York Times

Mapping California’s ‘zombie’ forests

A warming climate has left a fifth of the conifer forests that blanket California’s Sierra Nevada stranded in habitats that no longer suit them, according to a study published last week by researchers at Stanford University. In these “zombie forests,” older, well-established trees — including ponderosa pines, Douglas firs and sugar pines — still tower overhead, but few young trees have been able to take root because the climate has become too warm and dry for them to thrive.

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Aquafornia news Mendocino Voice

Regional salmon regulatory body hears scary salmon science at meetings all this week

One of biggest meetings of the year for ocean fishermen in the northwest states is underway at the Doubletree Hotel in Seattle today. The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s deliberations started Sunday and will continue  through March 10.  Salmon issues are on the agenda every day. Several leading fishing organizations have called for salmon seasons to be closed in California, based on low numbers in predicted California salmon returns. The forecast is far less bleak in Oregon and Washington, the PFMC heard on Sunday. On Sunday, discussions of the halibut and salmon fisheries were underway. The commission will  make recommendations for fishing seasons and take input on fish that are commonly taken for recreation or commercial use.

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Aquafornia news Bay City News

Water districts aim to go greener by cutting out ornamental grass

Though recent snow and rainfall have certainly improved drought conditions, California water officials still want to make every drop of water count. That means cutting out the watering of decorative grass — also known as non-functional turf – frequently landscaped at traffic medians or office parking lots. Decorative grass is becoming a bigger problem for Western water agencies to address as policymakers look to cut back its water usage in statewide bans, proposed legislation and local ordinances. Right before last summer’s sweltering heat, the California Water Resources Control Board set a statewide ban on irrigating non-functional turf with potable water in commercial, institutional and industrial sectors, also known as CII sites. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Editorial: All that rain and snow! How can California still be in drought?

After more than two months of atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones, amid a supersized Sierra snowcap, and with more precipitation forecast for the rest of the month, isn’t California’s drought over? The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that yes, 17% of California is now out of drought. Most of the rest of the state is quite wet as well, although it remains in some level of “drought” as the term is defined by the Drought Monitor. Only 17%? How is that possible? …. Drought was never the right word to apply to this state’s dry streaks. Californians need a term that describes not just how much water is coming in, but how much we use every day and how much we save for later.

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Aquafornia news Nature

New research: Flash floods – why are more of them devastating the world’s driest regions?

Last year, around two-thirds of Pakistan was affected by widespread flash flooding, with more than 1,500 people killed and around 33 million made homeless. Almost 2,000 people died in flash floods across Africa, and parts of the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Yemen were inundated with water. Flash floods are a growing threat in some of the world’s driest regions. Deluges can trigger sudden and rapid torrents of run-off that flow down dry river beds and rocky channels. Because parched soils repel water rather than allowing it to soak in, flash floods can be more devastating in drylands than in wetter areas. Surges can result from relatively small amounts of rain, as little as 10 millimetres in one hour. By comparison, floods in wetter regions typically follow more prolonged bouts of rainfall.

Aquafornia news Vox

Who’s really using up the water in the American West?

The Western United States is currently battling the most severe drought in thousands of years. A mix of bad water management policies and manmade climate change has created a situation where water supplies in Western reservoirs are so low, states are being forced to cut their water use. It’s not hard to find media coverage that focuses on the excesses of residential water use: long showers, swimming pools, lawn watering, at-home car washes. Or in the business sector, like irrigating golf courses or pumping water into hotel fountains in Las Vegas. But when a team of researchers looked at water use in the West, they uncovered a very different story about where most Western water goes. Only 14 percent of all water consumption in the Western US goes to residential, commercial, and industrial water use. 

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Central Valley farmworkers struggle to recover after floods

In 1910, the Los Angeles real estate developer J. Harvey McCarthy decided that this small agricultural town in the Central Valley would be his “city beautiful,” a model community and an automobile stop along the road to Yosemite. An infusion of money brought Planada a bank, hotel, school, church and its own newspaper, the Planada Enterprise, by the following year. A celebration for the town’s first anniversary drew an estimated 10,000 people (though Planada had only several hundred residents) as the city had become the best-known place in Merced County. But McCarthy eventually abandoned the community, located nine miles east of Merced, leaving its settlers to pick up the pieces. It remained a farming town and is now home to 4,000 mostly low-income and Spanish-speaking residents who work at nearby orchards.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

This magical garden in L.A. will make you rethink turf

As 5-year-old Stella Penn and her sister, Maxine, 3, enthusiastically play hide-and-seek in the backyard of their Eagle Rock home, the girls are accompanied by a merry band of lizards, butterflies and birds drawn to the yard’s low-water California natives, abundant fruit trees and the fragrance of Cleveland sage and Champaca trees. Oblivious to the rainfall on an overcast morning in Los Angeles, the sisters move to a chunky wood stump in the front yard where, unprovoked, they assemble a “pizza” with a large sycamore leaf and locally sourced bits of gravel, California buckwheat and blue bush acacia as toppings. … Soon after the two bought the property, Claire’s father came and laid sod in the backyard so that his granddaughters would have a place to run around. Although his heart was in the right place, the couple felt that it was “ridiculous” to try to keep the lawn alive in the face of California’s ongoing drought and eventual water restrictions.

Aquafornia news Farm Progress

Editorial: Can the Colorado River be saved without cutting Calif.’s cord?

This winter will be one for the record-books in California. It looks like the winter I spent playing on 40-feet of snow in Mammoth Lakes in the mid-1990s will be topped by this year’s epic snowfall. So where will all that water go when it melts? Living in Bishop at the time, we had flooding in August as the runoff came off the mountains and made it to the Owens River – or as some might call it: the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Here’s my thought on this. Follow along. Los Angeles gets much of its water from the Sierra Nevada and runoff in various places in California. Yes, it gets water too from the State Water Project, but the mismanagement of that system tends to push more water out to sea than for human use.

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Aquafornia news Newsweek

Invasive fish may swarm Colorado River as water levels decline

An invasive fish species could begin swarming more areas of the Colorado River, officials have warned. In a report released in February by the Bureau of Reclamation, concerns are raised that smallmouth bass—an invasive species established in Colorado River reservoir Lake Powell—could escape into other reaches of the river, below the dam. Lake Powell, formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, is seeing some of its lowest water levels ever. Officials are concerned that the low water levels will cause the smallmouth bass to escape past the dam, which has so far served as a barrier for the fish. When water levels are high, the report said it prevents the fish passing through.

Aquafornia news FishBio

Blog: A deeper dive into thiamine deficiency

Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency complex (TDC) has become a widespread affliction in fisheries around the world. During the 2022 annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, a special symposium on TDC included presentations from researchers describing findings addressing the root causes of thiamine deficiency. TDC is not isolated to California’s Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) it also occurs in lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) in the Great Lakes, and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in Europe and in the northeastern United States, among other important fisheries. However, this symposium was not the first time scientists came together to understand TDC, as Dr. Dale Honeyfield – professor emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) – spoke about meetings sponsored by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission during the mid-1990s.

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Opinion: Newsom made the right call on delaying Delta water flows

Over the past 10 years, California has seen two of the most severe droughts in a millennium separated by two of the wettest years on record. This erratic weather, volatile even by California standards, shattered heat records, killed millions of trees, fueled explosive wildfires and caused significant flooding. As California’s changing climate pushes us deeper into uncharted climate waters, past records are becoming a less reliable tool for predicting current and future weather patterns. That’s why Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent decision to delay the release of 700,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply nearly 7 million people for a year, from state reservoirs into the Sacramento-San Joaquin-River Delta was the right call. Snowpack from early storms can be lost to dry, hot weather later this spring.
-Written by Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. ​

Aquafornia news BNamericas

Blog: Could a new Mexican desal proposal run into old problems?

Israeli firm IDE Technologies’ proposal to build a US$5.5bn desalination plant in Puerto Peñasco in northern Mexico’s Sonora state and then sell the water to Arizona is not a new idea and was previously rejected due to several problems.  In December, IDE presented Arizona’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) with a proposal to supply treated 1 billion cubic meters per year of seawater from the Sea of Cortez through a 328km system of pumps and pipes. WIFA was reported to have been analyzing the initiative, but no further updates have been announced.  The project would also provide water to Sonora state “without impacting the amount of water committed to Arizona,” according to the proposal. However, IDE needs a purchasing commitment from the US state’s authorities before moving forward with the project.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: California’s snowpack is approaching an all-time record, with more on the way

A remarkably wet winter has resulted in some of the deepest snowpack California has ever recorded, providing considerable drought relief and a glimmer of hope for the state’s strained water supply. Statewide snowpack Friday measured 190% of normal, hovering just below a record set in the winter of 1982-83, officials with the Department of Water Resources said during the third snow survey of the season…. In the Southern Sierra, snowpack reached 231% of average for the date, nearing the region’s benchmark of 263% set in 1969 and trending ahead of the winter of 1983. With just one month remaining in the state’s traditional rainy season, officials are now voicing cautious optimism over the state’s hydrologic prospects.

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

California could get hit with new atmospheric river this week, and consequences could be concerning

Northern California could be in for a new atmospheric river storm by the end of the week, potentially blasting the Bay Area with substantial rain, and the Sierra with even more heavy snow, but likely not as fierce as the wet storms that wreaked damage across the region at the start of the year, forecasters say…. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the Nature Conservancy, said Sunday evening that an atmospheric river could be a concern regarding the state’s snowpack, which on Friday reached its highest level this century for the start of March. Such rain-on-snow events — when heavy rain falls on snow in higher elevations — could result in snow melting faster, flooding downstream areas, overwhelming rivers and overloading buildings with heavy slush, weather experts say.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

California’s antiquated water rights system faces new scrutiny

It’s an arcane system of water law that dates back to the birth of California — an era when 49ers used sluice boxes and water cannons to scour gold from Sierra Nevada foothills and when the state government promoted the extermination of Native people to make way for white settlers. Today, this antiquated system of water rights still governs the use of the state’s supplies, but it is now drawing scrutiny like never before. In the face of global warming and worsening cycles of drought, a growing number of water experts, lawmakers, environmental groups and tribes say the time has finally come for change. Some are pushing for a variety of reforms, while others are calling for the outright dismantling of California’s contentious water rights system.

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

Could feds and farmers join forces to put groundwater back in Central Valley aquifers?

Jennifer Peters signed on to have her Madera ranch become the site of an experiment in replenishing groundwater in California’s Central Valley. Though this pilot program led by a subdivision of the United States Department of Agriculture is far from the first effort to address the depletion of groundwater stores, it offers farmers like Peters hope for the future of agriculture in the region. … Peters is a fourth-generation farmer who operates Markarian Family LP with her father and son. They cultivate wine grapes and almonds, crops that require irrigation to grow in the Central Valley. … The search for water has led growers to dig deep into underground water supplies. Many aquifers, geological structures that hold groundwater, are so depleted in the Central Valley that they are considered at an “all time low” or “much below normal,” … 

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Aquafornia news The Associated Press

Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ about to get their first US limits

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose restrictions on harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water after finding they are dangerous in amounts so small as to be undetectable. But experts say removing them will cost billions, a burden that will fall hardest on small communities with few resources. Concerned about the chemicals’ ability to weaken children’s immune systems, the EPA said last year that PFAS could cause harm at levels “much lower than previously understood.”

Aquafornia news The Associated Press

In dry West, farmers balk at idling land to save water

Tom Brundy, an alfalfa grower in California’s Imperial Valley, thinks farmers reliant on the shrinking Colorado River can do more to save water and use it more efficiently. That’s why he’s installed water sensors and monitors to prevent waste on nearly two-thirds of his 3,000 acres. But one practice that’s off-limits for Brundy is fallowing — leaving fields unplanted to spare the water that would otherwise irrigate crops. It would save plenty of water, Brundy said, but threatens both farmers and rural communities economically. … Many Western farmers feel the same, even as a growing sense is emerging that some fallowing will have to be part of the solution to the increasingly desperate drought in the West, where the Colorado River serves 40 million people.

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Aquafornia news Las Vegas Review-Journal

States struggle to find Colorado River cuts as Lake Mead shrinks

The last time the Colorado River Basin agreed to a set of reductions to address drought conditions and dropping levels at Lake Mead was in 2019. … Now, states are looking to cut far more water than the 2019 agreement yielded, and on a much shorter negotiation timeline. After the seven states that rely on the Colorado River to provide water to roughly 40 million Americans missed two deadlines from the federal government to work out a consensus plan, there are two proposals from the basin states on the table that offer different paths for how to meet the target. The two proposals arrive at a similar number of potential new cuts to water use across the basin, but draw a clear line in the sand between California’s desire to protect its senior water rights, much of which are tied up in the agriculture sector, and the desire of the other six states to have California, Nevada and Arizona share the cuts more equitably.

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