California’s rich agricultural productivity comes with a price.
The dry climate that provides the almost year-round growing
season also can require heavily irrigated soils. But such
irrigation can also degrade the local water quality.
Two of the state’s most productive farming areas in particular,
the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and parts of the Imperial
Valley in southern California, have poorly drained and naturally
The Yolo Bypass is central, both geographically and in
importance, to California’s water supply and flood protection
system, according to Bontadelli. However, proposed
modifications to the Bypass to enhance habitat for
out-migrating endangered winter and spring-run young salmon
means the it will be key to the continued pumping of water
south for agriculture and urban users.
The most eco-friendly wastewater treatment plant in the
Northern San Joaquin Valley will be Manteca’s by the time 2020
rolls around. Not only is the treated water returned to the San
Joaquin River meeting the latest standards established by the
state for water quality, but within six months or so methane
gas — a major byproduct of the treatment process that typically
has to be burned — will no longer contribute to valley air
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is researching how
cannabis cultivators who divert water from Mattole River
streams might be impacting the river’s fish and insect
populations… By fall 2019, the researchers will publish
findings on the full environmental effects of cannabis grows.
While the research is intended to “support efforts to
establish” sustainable cultivation levels, the study’s main
focus is analysis, said department representative Janice
Now stripped of its once vast wetlands and nearly sucked dry
from the overpumping of groundwater during the West’s
increasingly common droughts, the fertile valley is in need of
a reboot: Its aquifers have shrunk and the remaining water is
often contaminated with nitrate and salts. Citing a new water
law that will have major effects on water suppliers and
farmers, experts are calling for an “all hands on deck”
approach to fixing the valley’s water woes.
During the past two decades, the federal government’s spending
on sewer projects along the U.S.-Mexico border has declined
dramatically. The decrease in funding has left a long list of
needed sewer fixes unbuilt, while raw sewage and industrial
pollution have continued to pour into the New River, the
Tijuana River and other rivers that flow across the border.
Now, Congress has started to put more money toward combating
water pollution on the border.
The Board of Commissioners for the Humboldt Bay Harbor,
Recreation and Conservation District passed a motion to declare
a countywide state of emergency in light of shoaling, or
increased sedimentation, on Humboldt Bay near the channel
entrance — conditions that could persist for months, officials
said. … The shoaling stems from recent winter storms and has
brought activity on the bay to a halt…
As awful as the constant spills from Tijuana’s broken sewage
infrastructure have been for the Tijuana River and the San
Diego County-Baja California coast, new information suggests
they’re an even scarier health threat than previously thought.
Environmental groups, states, industry and conservatives are
watching the case closely, as its outcome could clarify or
narrow EPA’s historical interpretation of the types of
pollution discharges covered by the Clean Water Act. “This is
the most significant environmental law case in the last few
years,” said Beveridge & Diamond PC attorney John Cruden,
former head of the Justice Department’s environment division.
The Trump administration’s proposal might seem simpler to
follow on wetlands because it wouldn’t protect those that are
dry most of the time and don’t connect to larger downstream
waters. But navigating the definition could be confusing when
it comes to wetlands that do connect to streams that are dry
during parts of the year.
Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office continues to
operate under the 2013 Biological Opinion while a new document
is being created, along with the court-ordered injunction in
place to guide the Klamath Project.
Many no longer recall the Great Midwest Flood despite its
record-breaking precipitation, flooding and $13 billion price
tag. Sure, 1993 seems like a long time ago, but I believe the
reason the flood has left most people’s memory is because, over
the last 25 years, the nation has experienced one devastating,
record-breaking flood after another. Our memories are diluted
by the frequency of such events.
There may be more in the sewage-tainted water that regularly
spills over the border from Tijuana than many San Diegans
realize. The cross-border pollution also contains potentially
dangerous industrial and agricultural chemicals, according to a
draft report compiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
that was circulated to officials throughout the region on
The Siskiyou County Water Users Association received
confirmation that its writ of mandamus, filed with the U.S.
Court of Appeals in November, 2018, has been scheduled for the
docket early next month. The writ asks the court to compel the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to rule on a motion the
SCWUA filed in April, 2018, which attempts to stop the transfer
of the dams’ ownership to the KRRC – the nonprofit formed to
Ominous predictions about the desert lake’s ecological
collapse are beginning to occur. You can see this sea
up close during our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1,
when we will visit the fragile ecosystem and hear from several
stakeholders working to address challenges facing the sea.
Felicia Marcus, whose push for larger river flows angered
farmers and community leaders in the Northern San Joaquin
Valley, won’t continue as chairwoman of the State Water
Resources Control Board. Gov. Gavin Newsom named Joaquin
Esquivel as chairman of the powerful water regulatory board.
… Laurel Firestone, co-founder of the Community Water
Center, was appointed as the replacement for Marcus.
… Firestone has been an advocate for addressing wells
contaminated with nitrates.
Our floodplain reforestation projects are biodiversity hotspots
and climate-protection powerhouses that cost far less than
old-fashioned gray infrastructure of levees, dams and
reservoirs. They provide highly-effective flood safety by
strategically spreading floodwater. Floodplain forests combat
the effects of drought by recharging groundwater and increasing
The Klamath Tribes have made it clear that we are not
interested in engaging in water settlement discussions.
However, we are very interested in discussions that will
protect and enhance our treaty resources.
A year after Colorado River imports were diverted to urban
areas from farms draining into the lake, dire predictions about
what would occur are coming to pass. A long-predicted, enormous
ecological transition is occurring this winter.
While unfamiliar to many consumers, dry farming is an age-old
practice that entails carefully managing soils to lock winter
rainfall into the top layers until it’s time to begin growing
crops during the spring and summer. As little as 20 inches of
rain – roughly the same amount that the Central Coast receives
each winter on average – can sustain crops in the months
without rainfall, with no need to add any extra water.
For generations, residents of the Southern California border
town of Calexico watched with trepidation as their river turned
into a cesspool, contaminated by the booming human and
industrial development on the other side of the border in
Mexico. As Washington debates spending billions to shore
up barriers along the 2,000-mile southwest border, many
residents in California’s Imperial Valley feel at least some of
that money could be spent to address the region’s public health
The coring project is the initial phase of a multiyear analysis
in partnership with the Utah Department of Environmental
Quality, the National Park Service and the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation. The agencies have set aside $1.3 million for the
study, about half going toward extracting the cores.
Numbers released by the Trump administration Friday show an 80%
drop in some penalties levied against polluters, the latest
sign that the Environmental Protection Agency has become a less
Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission made
Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook salmon a candidate for listing
under the California Endangered Species Act. The decision was
in response to a petition filed last year by the Karuk Tribe
and the Salmon River Restoration Council. A final decision to
list the species will be made within 12 months; in the meantime
Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook will be afforded all the
protections of a listed species.
The latest chapter in the long-running dispute over how to
manage water in the Klamath Basin is playing out in northern
California communities. … About two dozen protesters are
standing along Main Street in Yreka, the seat of Siskiyou
County, which lies just across Oregon’s southern border.
They’re holding signs saying “Stop The Klamath Dam Scams.”
The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday will
consider a petition to list spring run Chinook salmon on the
Upper Klamath-Trinity River as threatened or endangered under
the California Endangered Species Act. The California
Department of Fish and Wildlife is recommending the Fish and
Game commission accepts the petition, which was submitted by
the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in
After more than a decade of drafting and editing, California is
poised to finally update its wetlands regulations this spring.
The effort, which began after a pair of Supreme Court decisions
limited federal wetlands protections, could be finalized just
in time to insulate the state from a Trump administration
proposal restricting which wetlands and waterways are protected
by the Clean Water Act.
President Donald Trump on Monday nominated David Bernhardt, the
former top lobbyist for a powerful Fresno-based irrigation
district, to run the Department of the Interior, raising
renewed questions about whether he’d try to steer more
California water to his former clients. … Bernhardt is a
former lobbyist for Westlands Water District, which serves
farmers in Fresno and Kings counties and is one of the most
influential customers of the federal government’s Central
California’s Imperial Irrigation District will get the
last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency
Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the
badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea. Thursday, as the
clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal
official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there
approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours
to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California
agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a
last-minute monkey wrench into the process.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s Western
water bureaucracy that saw its dam-building heyday in the
1960s, has risen in stature once again in the Trump
administration. Reclamation has flexed its muscles on Colorado
River drought management plans… And it has been the
administration’s key player in trying to fulfill President
Trump’s campaign promise to deliver more water to California
farmers, squeezing the state and forging ahead on a dam project
California says it doesn’t want.
Maintaining functional wetlands in a 21st-century landscape
dominated by agriculture and cities requires a host of hard and
soft infrastructures. Canals, pumps, and sluice gates provide
critical life support, and the lands are irrigated and tilled
in seasonal cycles to essentially farm wildlife. Reams of laws
and regulations scaffold the system.
The recent burst of winter rains has helped drive endangered
coho salmon up to their spawning grounds in Lagunitas Creek,
with surveyors counting the highest number of spawners in 12
years. … Lagunitas Creek supports about 20 percent of
the remaining coho salmon between Monterey Bay and Fort Bragg,
making it a key recovery area for the threatened species.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State
Water Resources Control Board, or SWRCB, are extending outreach
to the cannabis cultivating community with presentations at
four permitting workshops in Northern California. The
presentations are ideally suited for cannabis cultivators,
consultants and anyone interested in the topic. SWRCB will
cover policy and permitting, and other important information.
Computers will be available for applicants to apply for water
rights and water quality permits.
The San Diego City Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to
join a California lawsuit against the International Boundary
Water Commission (IBWC) over sewage flow from Tijuana, Mexico
into the United States. … The lawsuit alleges millions
of gallons of waste, including untreated sewage, trash,
pesticides and heavy metals have been discharged from the
IBWC’s treatment facilities in violation of the Clean Water
The City of Lathrop is one step closer to earning a permit that
will allow for the discharge of treated wastewater straight
into the San Joaquin River. … Currently the City of
Lathrop disposes of the effluent that is generated from the
Lathrop Consolidated Treatment Facility by storing it in basins
during the winter months, and then applying it to urban or
agricultural landscapes during the summer months.
Recent research has identified a genetic variation in
Klamath-Trinity spring-run Chinook salmon which is
upending prevailing scientific narratives about the
fish. Scientists are calling it the “run time gene,” as it
appears to be the factor which controls whether the salmon will
migrate in the spring, or fall. The research, spearheaded by
Daniel Prince and Michael Miller of UC Davis, is being utilized
by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in
a renewed effort to list the Spring Chinook Salmon under the
state’s Endangered Species Act.
This is not quite anyone’s vision of the California dream,
popularly imagined as variations based on building a safe,
secure and successful life. … Instead, Imperial County is
emblematic of life for millions of people around the state who
live under an umbrella of bad air quality or who have
contaminated soil or lack access to clean water.
On our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1, we will
visit this fragile ecosystem that harbors 400 bird species and
hear from several stakeholders working to address challenges
facing the sea, including managers of the Imperial Irrigation
District, the Salton Sea Authority and California’s appointed
“Sea Czar,” assistant secretary on Salton Sea policy Bruce
Last week, in the third meeting of the Board of Directors of
the San Lorenzo Valley Water District … the board voted 4-1
for a permanent ban on the use of glyphosate pesticides by the
district, keeping a campaign promise that remained
controversial right up to the board’s vote. “The residents in
our district have spoken — they do not want glyphosate … and we
don’t really know the true effects of glyphosate — how it will
affect all the little creatures in sensitive habitat,” said
Louis Henry, the newly appointed board chair.
The restoration site is one of three south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last
miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small
amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to
an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been
claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through
an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites,
another source is increasingly important for restoring these
patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor:
More than 1,000 birds died at a lake in Southern California
earlier this month, state wildlife officials announced Tuesday.
The birds – primarily migratory water fowls such as Ruddy
Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Black-necked Stilts and Gulls – died
at the Salton Sea after contracting a contagious bacterial
disease known as avian cholera
A California appellate court recently continued the trend of
legislative and judicial expansion of the prevailing wage law’s
scope in Kaanaana v. Barrett Business Services, Inc. The Second
District Court of Appeal found that … any tasks
involving some form of labor done under contract (and not
performed by agency employees) for irrigation, utility,
reclamation and improvement districts, and other districts of
this type is, except for public works projects of $1,000 or
less and operation of the irrigation or drainage system of any
irrigation or reclamation district, potentially subject to
prevailing wage requirements.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman today named
Ernest A. Conant director of the Mid-Pacific Region. Conant has
nearly 40 years of water law experience and previously served
as senior partner of Young Wooldridge, LLP.
For decades, the New River has flowed north across the
U.S.-Mexico border carrying toxic pollution and the stench of
sewage. Now lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento are pursuing
legislation and funding to combat the problems. “I feel very
optimistic that we’re going to be able to get some things done
on the New River issue,” said Assemblymember Eduardo
One in seven Americans drink from private wells, according to
the U.S. Geological Survey. Nitrate concentrations rose
significantly in 21% of regions where USGS researchers tested
groundwater from 2002 through 2012, compared with the 13 prior
years. … “The worst-kept secret is how vulnerable
private wells are to agricultural runoff,” says David Cwiertny,
director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects
of Environmental Contamination.
When it comes to water, the lifeblood of the Central Valley,
Democrats don’t have all the answers. So says freshman
Representative Josh Harder, suddenly one of the most powerful
Democrats in these parts. … “We need to make sure we’re
all working together to advance the agenda of the Central
Valley,” continued Harder, 32, of Turlock. “I was very
encouraged to see some of the measures the Trump
administration put forward on water.”
Citing what they say would be a disastrous decision for the
region, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts
have joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries
Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to
arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other
Far less settled is how Newsom will fill his administration’s
most important positions regarding state water policy. One of
Newsom’s key tests confronts him immediate: State Water
Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus’ term expires this
Anticipating years of drought, officials built the Yuma
Desalting Plant in 1992 to treat agricultural runoff and
conserve water in Lake Mead. Over the past 26 years, however,
the plant has operated just three times while costing millions
of dollars to maintain.
Many Americans know the name Kesterson as the California site
where thousands of birds and fish were discovered with gruesome
deformities in 1983, a result of exposure to selenium-poisoned
farm runoff. Thirty-five years later, it is one of the oldest
unresolved water problems in the state.
For decades, cannabis has been grown
in California – hidden away in forested groves or surreptitiously
harvested under the glare of high-intensity indoor lamps in
suburban tract homes.
In the past 20 years, however, cannabis — known more widely as
marijuana – has been moving from being a criminal activity to
gaining legitimacy as one of the hundreds of cash crops in the
state’s $46 billion-dollar agriculture industry, first legalized
for medicinal purposes and this year for recreational use.
The manager of a San Joaquin Valley water district seen as a
model for how to manage toxic agricultural runoff was jailed
last week in Fresno on charges of embezzlement and burying 86
drums of toxic waste on the water district’s property.
A key deadline has passed to solve the irrigation drainage
problem that caused massive bird deaths and deformities at
Kesterson wildlife refuge. But a Westlands Water District
official said Congress is still on track to pass legislation
benefiting both the district, which delivers water to farms
over an area the size of Rhode Island, and the federal
This year, the annual bill governing national defense policy
almost settled a three-decades-old conflict in California over
the drainage of toxic water from farm fields. Lawmakers
finished resolving the differences between the House and Senate
versions of the military bill, legislation that addresses troop
numbers and overseas operations, on Nov. 8.
His name is David Longly Bernhardt, and he’s worked as the top
lobbyist for California’s Westlands Water District, the largest
agricultural entity of its kind in the nation. … On Friday,
the Trump administration announced it was nominating Bernhardt
to serve as deputy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
On a mostly party-line 23-16 vote, the House Natural Resources
Committee approved the bill to settle the irrigation dispute
between the mammoth Westlands Water District and the federal
government. The measure relieves Westlands of a big
construction debt, and in turn shifts the burden for solving
the toxic drainage problem from the government to the water
A reported federal investigation that’s stalled part of a
California irrigation-drainage deal does not extend to the
small San Luis Water District in western Fresno and Merced
counties, a top district official said Wednesday.
The political terrain appears favorable for a
mega-million-dollar irrigation drainage deal, with Congress
still fully in Republican hands and California’s sprawling
Westlands Water District with influential allies. But there are
A key House committee on Wednesday approved a big irrigation
drainage deal with California’s politically potent Westlands
Water District, opening another front in the state’s ongoing
conflict over water, money and power.
The federal government and farmers on the west side of the San
Joaquin Valley may be close to signing off on another
controversial deal to clean up toxic runoff which, if left
unabated, could threaten the downstream Delta.
In an election year, despite the usual suspects rallying
against anything that would help Valley agriculture, the House
of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources has taken an
important step to advance bipartisan legislation codifying a
settlement between the federal government and the Westlands
A proposal to solve a long-running San Joaquin Valley
irrigation drainage dispute between the Westlands Water
District and the federal government is roiling a Congress
already hung up on other California water fights.
The politics of California water is becoming three-dimensional
chess in Congress as lawmakers balance competing anti-drought
ideas with a proposed San Joaquin Valley irrigation drainage
settlement that’s going to get bigger.
Clout can be defined in many ways. In California’s parched
Central Valley farmlands, it’s the ability to secure water. By
that measure, the giant Westlands Water District has just set a
whole new standard.
A Congress that has stumbled over a California water bill amid
record drought now faces a challenging new fight over
irrigation drainage. … In a federal court filing Wednesday,
the Justice Department provided both details and a roadmap for
the irrigation drainage settlement formally agreed to by
federal and Westlands officials the day before.
A top Interior Department official next Tuesday will sign a San
Joaquin Valley irrigation settlement with the Westlands Water
District, signaling the end of a long-running legal battle, but
marking the start of a hot new political fight.
As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea
regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its
elevation of 237 feet below sea level.
The most recent version of the Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when
the Colorado River broke
through a series of dikes and flooded the seabed for two years,
creating California’s largest inland body of water. The
Salton Sea, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, includes 130
miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe.
Salt. In a small amount, it’s a gift from nature. But any doctor
will tell you, if you take in too much salt, you’ll start to have
health problems. The same negative effect is happening to land in
the Central Valley. The problem scientists call “salinity” poses
a growing threat to our food supply, our drinking water quality
and our way of life. The problem of salt buildup and potential –
but costly – solutions are highlighted in this 2008 public
television documentary narrated by comedian Paul Rodriguez.
A 20-minute version of the 2008 public television documentary
Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley. This
DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking
engagements to help the public understand the complex issues
surrounding the problem of salt build up in the Central Valley
potential – but costly – solutions. Narrated by comedian Paul
This issue of Western Water examines that process. Much
of the information is drawn from discussions that occurred at the
November 2005 Selenium Summit sponsored by the Foundation and the
California Department of Water Resources. At that summit, a
variety of experts presented findings and the latest activities
from areas where selenium is of primary interest.
With irrigation projects that import water, farmers have
transformed millions of acres of land into highly productive
fields and orchards. But the dry climate that provides an almost
year-round farming season can hasten salt build up in soils. The
build-up of salts in poorly drained soils can decrease crop
productivity, and there are links between drainage water from
irrigated fields and harmful impacts on fish and wildlife.
30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes
extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of
dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern
Water truly has shaped California into the great state it is
today. And if it is water that made California great, it’s the
fight over – and with – water that also makes it so critically
important. In efforts to remap California’s circulatory system,
there have been some critical events that had a profound impact
on California’s water history. These turning points not only
forced a re-evaluation of water, but continue to impact the lives
of every Californian. This 2005 PBS documentary offers a
historical and current look at the major water issues that shaped
the state we know today. Includes a 12-page viewer’s guide with
background information, historic timeline and a teacher’s lesson.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, features
a map of the San Joaquin River. The map text focuses on the San
Joaquin River Restoration Program, which aims to restore flows
and populations of Chinook salmon to the river below Friant Dam
to its confluence with the Merced River. The text discusses the
history of the program, its goals and ongoing challenges with
A companion to the Truckee River Basin Map poster, this 24×36
inch poster, suitable for framing, explores the Carson River, and
its link to the Truckee River. The map includes Lahontan Dam and
Reservoir, the Carson Sink, and the farming areas in the basin.
Map text discusses the region’s hydrology and geography, the
Newlands Project, land and water use within the basin and
wetlands. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, Lahontan Basin
Southern California’s Imperial Valley is home to California’s
drainage success story, one that converted a desert landscape
to an agricultural one, but at the same time created far reaching
Evaporation ponds contain agricultural drainage water and are
used when agricultural growers do not have access to rivers for
Drainage water is the only source of water in many of these
ponds, resulting in extremely high concentrations of salts.
Concentrations of other trace elements such as selenium are also
elevated in evaporation basins, with a wide degree of variability
Such ponds resemble wetland areas that birds use for nesting and
feeding grounds and may pose risks to waterfowl and shorebirds.
Agriculture drainage issues date back to the earliest farming. In
ancient times, farmers let fields stay fallow hoping rain would
flush out salt.
Today, salt and other contaminants continue to cause agricultural
drainage problems, particularly in California. Whether a field is
adequately drained, or saturated with water, the water still has
to be removed.
The disposal of this often-contaminated water continues to be a
challenge in California, with the environmental effects of
selenium and other drainage-related elements changing the course
of drainage planning.
California’s rich agricultural productivity comes with a price.
The dry climate that provides the almost year-round growing
season also can require heavily irrigated soils. But such
irrigation can degrade the local water quality.
Two of the state’s most productive farming areas in particular,
the west side of the San
Joaquin Valley and parts of the Imperial Valley in Southern
California, have poorly drained and naturally saline soils.