The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the
world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of
much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego,
Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its
water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting
system used by major farmers and entire states. … This
month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan
Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
Climate models using SNOTEL data predict a decline in Western
snowpack. … In December, University of Arizona researchers
presented new on-the-ground findings supporting these
predictions. … In parts of the West, annual snow mass has
declined by 41 percent, and the snow season is 34 days shorter.
Scripps Institute of Oceanography climatologist Amato Evan told
the San Diego Union-Tribune that “climate change in the Western
U.S. is not something we will see in the next 50 years. We can
see it right now.”
Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public
Policy Institute of California, spoke recently about
managing freshwater systems with ecosystem water budgets. “I
will argue that drought, because of the way we have modified
this system, is the major bottleneck ecologically,” he said.
“Step 1 has to be thinking about drought: how to mitigate
drought and how to deal with drought – that is plan for,
respond to, and recover from drought. We don’t do that at
all, even though we just had this big drought.”
The U.S. Interior Department is facing three lawsuits filed by
three environmental groups who allege its plans for the
200,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex
along the Oregon-California border violates several federal
laws. A fourth complaint from six farms and agricultural
groups alleges the agency has unlawfully exceeded its authority
by restricting leases of refuge land for agricultural purposes.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has named Jared Blumenfeld, a
former Obama administration official and longtime environmental
advocate as the new secretary of the California Environmental
Protection Agency. Blumenfeld, 49, of San Francisco, will run
the agency, known as Cal-EPA, which oversees a broad range of
environmental and public health regulations statewide, on
topics that include air pollution, water pollution, toxics
regulation, pesticides and recycling.
The paper, published in the Journal of Environmental
Management, suggests that eliminating outdoor landscaping and
lawns could reduce water waste by 30 percent.
It recommends importing water only when Los Angeles is not
in a drought, to build a surplus of water for dry years. The
paper also argues that groundwater basins that catch stormwater
could be used to recycle water. However, making these
improvements would require the cooperation of more than 100
The announcement finalizes prioritization of 458 basins,
identifying 56 that are required to create groundwater
sustainability plans under the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act. For most basins, the results are a confirmation
of prioritizations established in 2015. Fifty-nine basins
remain under review with final prioritization expected in late
Butte County may soon have a better idea of what lies beneath
its surface. Starting in late November, a helicopter took off
for several days from the Orland airport to fly a pattern over
an area between Chico and Orland, and southeast into Butte
Valley. Dangling beneath the helicopter was a hoop loaded with
devices that created a weak magnetic field and instruments that
measured how that interacted with layers beneath the soil.
At issue is the proper interpretation of the law’s central
provision barring the discharge of “any pollutant to navigable
waters from any point source” without a permit. The term
navigable waters, broadly defined as “waters of the United
States,” does not generally include groundwater.
As more people build homes in fire-prone areas, and as climate
change and other factors increase the frequency of fires, there
is a growing risk to life and property throughout the West —
and a lesser known risk to the region’s already endangered
water supply. At least 65 percent of the public water supply in
the Western U.S. comes from fire-prone areas.
At stake is an important rule that defines which waters are
protected under the Clean Water Act. It’s also poised to
be a year of reckoning on the Colorado River, which supplies
water to 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of farmland.
And it could also be a landmark year for water management in
California, with several key issues coming to a head.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
At the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, a few
miles west of Modesto, work crews removed or broke several
miles of levee last spring and replanted the land with tens of
thousands of native sapling trees and shrubs. It’s part
of a growing emphasis on reconnecting floodplains to
rivers so they can absorb floodwaters. This shift in
methodology marks a U-turn from past reliance on levees to
protect cities and towns.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s
persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert
worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s
Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource
challenges. Catch up on these stories and more in Western
Water Year in Review.
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released a
scoping report on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas
development on approximately 400,000 acres of BLM-administered
public land and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate
lands on tribal and privately held lands in Fresno, Kern,
Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and
The USDA estimates gross cash receipts for the dairy industry
to be down 9 percent from the previous year but estimates
poultry receipts to be 7 percent higher. After several years of
strong production, gross receipts for tree fruit and nuts are
expected to be slightly lower. Likewise, vegetable gross
receipts are expected to be down slightly, though consumption
At the end of the last century, the Sierra Nevada captured an
average of 8.76 million acre-feet of water critical to the
nation’s largest food-producing region. By mid-century, a new
study projects, the average will fall to 4 million acre-feet;
and by century’s end, 1.81 million acre-feet.
Prompted by the collapse of fish populations, the State Water
Resources Control Board is trying to prevent humans from
totally drying up these rivers each year. The regulators’
lodestar for how much water the rivers need is the amount of
water a Chinook salmon needs to migrate.
Montgomery is known for fostering collaborative relationships
among stakeholders and as a leader in protecting and restoring
water quality within California and throughout the Southwest
and the Pacific Islands. He is currently serving as the
Assistant Director of the Water Division in the US
Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).