Topic: Climate Change


Climate Change

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Colorado statewide snowpack tops 140%, reservoirs still low

Colorado is awash in white this spring, with statewide snowpack topping 140% of average this week, well above the reading a year ago, when it stood at just 97% of normal. … Like other Western states, mountain snowpacks in Colorado are closely monitored because as they melt in the spring and summer, their runoff delivers much of the state’s water. A drought considered to be the worst in at least 1,200 years has devastated water supplies across the West. While no one is suggesting the dry spell is over, Colorado water officials said 2023 will likely allow for a significant recovery in reservoirs and soil moisture.

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Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

Could carbon removal be California’s next big boom industry?

Shaun Kinetic rests his hand on what looks like an out-of-place pile of hay bales. The bales, which are actually the leftovers from a corn harvest, sit under a shade structure in a parking lot in an industrial area of San Francisco sandwiched between highways. Those corn stalks, leaves and cobs would normally get plowed back into the field they came from in Half Moon Bay, or be left to decompose, releasing the carbon inside them back into the atmosphere. Only some of these leftovers are needed to maintain soil health and prevent erosion. … Unlike carbon capture, which involves trapping polluting greenhouse gasses at their source of emissions, carbon removal entails pulling the gas out of the atmosphere through either nature-based approaches, like conserving existing wetlands, or technological methods, like that used by Charm.

Aquafornia news 12 News - Maricopa, County AZ

Frequent future Arizona floods likely, 700 years of data shows

Snowstorms froze the High Country while floods drenched the Valley. Arizona is leaving behind a very wet winter in 2023, with numerous parts of the state reporting above-average rain and snow over the past few months, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). This year landed in the top five winters for record snowfall for Flagstaff, Willaims and the Grand Canyon. Arizona’s Verde River is also at a record-setting amount of snow water equivalent this year. The numbers are still dwarfed by Arizona’s wettest year on record from July 1992 to June 1993. Both Phoenix and Flagstaff saw around 10 more inches of water precipitation accumulation than we’ve seen this year, according to NWS data. 

Aquafornia news The Hill

California’s desert trees can’t take the heat: study

A study in Functional Ecology offers evidence that desert ecosystems, long perceived as the most resilient to climate change, may be hitting their limits. Researchers at the University of California Riverside found that rising temperatures and protracted drought have driven piñon pines and juniper trees to seek refuge at higher elevations in the deserts north of Palm Springs. In the place of these slow-growing, iconic forests is rising an empire of weeds.  That is part of a wholesale transition in arid landscapes caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the scientists said. … While the piñon pines and junipers are often seen as hardier, they nonetheless depend on ready access to underground water. That’s in ever-shorter supply thanks to the West’s long drought, though this year’s record rainfall has provided a brief respite.

Aquafornia news Grist

Rising groundwater threatens clean air and water across the US

Places in the United States where the water table is inching higher — along the coasts, yes, but also inland, in parts of the Midwest — are already beginning to experience problems with infrastructure. Cracks in aging and poorly maintained pipes are being inundated, leaving plumbing unable to carry away stormwater and waste. Pavement is degrading faster. Trees are drowning as the soil becomes soupier, starving their roots of oxygen. During high tides and when it rains, groundwater is even reaching the surface and forming temporary ponds where there never used to be flooding. … In the San Francisco Bay Area, rising groundwater threatens to spread contamination that can evaporate and rise into the air inside homes, schools, and workplaces.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: Water supply benefits of Delta tunnel need closer look

The California Department of Water Resources is using the winter storms to claim that the proposed Delta Conveyance project would help ensure a more reliable water supply for the State Water Project in light of how climate change will alter seasonal patterns of rain and drought. In reality, the benefits of the conveyance project are speculative at best. The Delta Counties Coalition demonstrated for over 15 years that resources slated for the tunnel would be better spent on sustainable, resilient water infrastructure around the state (such as groundwater recharge, storage, recycled water expansion, desalination) instead of further increasing reliance on Sacramento River freshwater flows, which is in direct conflict with a Delta Reform Act requirement to reduce reliance on the Delta.
-Written by Oscar Villegas, chair of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors; and Patrick Kennedy, a member of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and Delta Counties Coalition.

Aquafornia news CBS - Los Angeles

Southern California cities adjusting to worsening King Tides

The crashing waves can be a calming force on the California coast but the mighty Pacific Ocean is nothing to turn your back on.  Reina Sharkey’s daughter lives along a stretch of sand in Seal Beach where the frequent “King Tides” and storms have forced the city to give them a winter wall of sand.  “I can’t see the ocean because of that hill there,” said Sharkey.  The city said that the berms are a necessary safety measure to protect the nearby homes from the surf and high tides. … The sea levels are rising because of Thermal Expansion, a product of climate change. The process has caused ice to melt into the ocean, which in turn caused the sea levels to rise and making higher waves, flooding in low-lying areas, washed-away roads and coastal erosion will become more common. 

Aquafornia news KVPR - Bakersfield

In Corcoran, some fear a ticking time bomb lurks in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada

From his pickup truck, Fernando Estrada sees an ocean of water. … A dozen feet ahead of his truck, the asphalt disappears into seemingly endless blue, interrupted only by a lone shed or occasional power pole jutting from the surface. Estrada is witnessing the return of Tulare Lake. … Some Corcoran residents fear the Sierra’s majestic, snow-capped peaks have become a ticking time bomb – waiting to explode over the life many have created for themselves on the lakebed. As the weather warms, biblical amounts of water are waiting to gush into already-overloaded dams and rivers. That’s why Rosie Garza says she purchased a home flood-insurance policy on Friday. … Garza says “a lot of people” in Corcoran are scared of what’s to come, and are buying flood insurance fast.

Aquafornia news Union of Concerned Scientists

Blog: Repurposing cropland in California: a solution for everyone?

[A]gricultural practices, especially in California, must be updated to survive the future. One powerful change that is growing momentum is strategic cropland repurposing. Doing cropland repurposing right can benefit many, including landowners. … Cropland retirement has direct negative effects on agricultural revenues and farmworker employment, with ripple effects in other sectors that depend on agriculture (such as transportation and agricultural services). But cropland retirement also means a decrease in pesticide, synthetic fertilizers, and water use that can bring significant environmental and local public health benefits. How do we weigh these scenarios and decide if cropland repurposing makes sense?

Aquafornia news The New Republic

Opinion: Why is Arizona using precious water to grow alfalfa for Saudi Arabia?

To understand the virtual water trade, let’s start with cows. In recent years, public attention and anger has grown over the way water in the rapidly drying Colorado River Basin is used to grow food for cattle, whose emissions are driving climate change, which is exacerbating this drought in the first place. And part of why people are irritated is that some of the water isn’t even going to American cows, but rather Saudi dairy cows. … In the 17 Western States, 7 percent of water is used in people’s homes according to a recent study in Nature; commercial and industrial use account for another 5 percent. But a whopping 86 percent of water is consumed by crop irrigation, including the 32 percent of water used to grow crops that humans don’t even eat directly, such as alfalfa, hay, and corn silage for livestock.
-Written by Noah J. Gordon, acting co-director of the Sustainability, Climate, and Geopolitics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.​

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Groundwater report could ease residents’ concerns about future East Bay wetland

A planned wetland in far eastern Contra Costa County is not likely to affect the nearby groundwater, a new report concludes – but it remains to be seen if that will sway some neighbors who fear the project could harm their drinking water drawn from wells. The 645-acre wetland project aims to curb potential flooding and poor stormwater quality while fending off encroaching development and improving habitat for threatened wildlife such as red-legged frogs, fairy shrimp and burrowing owls. The undertaking, officially called the Knightsen Wetland Restoration Project, is spearheaded by the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservancy and the East Bay Regional Parks District, which bought the land in 2016.

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Opinion: California must provide a global model for coastal resiliency

This winter’s atmospheric river storms, coastal flooding, erosion, sea level rise, saltwater intrusion into rivers, and sedimentation dumping thousands of tons of soil into the ocean were only the most recent of the state’s disasters. The year 2022 alone brought a massive red tide in San Francisco Bay, the continued die-off of 95% of northern California’s kelp forest between the Golden Gate and Cape Mendocino, and a spike of gray whale deaths along the entire coast. Climate impacts threaten communities, both human and wild, ranging from whales and their ice-dependent Arctic prey to the 26 million people living in the state’s 19 coastal counties that, as of 2021, generated around 85% of the state’s $3.3 trillion dollar GDP.
-Written by David Helvarg, author and executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group. 

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Map shows unusual impact of California storms on the ocean

While the world’s oceans have hit a record high temperature, the Pacific Ocean off the California coast remains colder than average. In fact, in virtually no place in the world is the ocean so much colder than normal, according to a map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. … The stormy weather is clearly a factor. The winds associated with storms have pushed water from the north to the south. The weather has also brought upwelling, when frigid water from the depths is pulled to the surface. San Francisco Bay has also been unusually cool.

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Earlier, warmer spring is bad news for Arizona, West’s water supply

Spring is arriving sooner and warming up faster than ever before, new research shows. And that means more than just early wildflower blooms across Arizona. A longer, warmer spring can stress water supplies in the West. The longer spring season may also produce ripple effects on agriculture as water demand will likely increase, and growing seasons may shift. On average spring temperatures have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit across the U.S., according to research by the USA National Phenology Center…. Scientist are concerned that an early start to spring could cause snowpack, which plays a key function in the water cycle in the West, to melt faster and earlier than usual.

Aquafornia news The Durango Herald

Heavy snowfall a boon to cloud seeding in Southwest Colorado – until it isn’t

The wet, and some would argue onerously prolonged winter weather affecting the Southwest this year, has left the region in a strong position from a drought-mitigation perspective. And when it snows, it pours, thanks to Eric Hjermstad, co-owner of Western Weather Consultants. The series of storms has meant Hjermstad has been planting snow seeds in the passing clouds. He is the operator for the San Juan Mountains weather modification program, meaning he and his employees operate 33 seeding generators across the region. Not only is cloud seeding useful even in winters, such as this one, that bring ample snow, the program is more successful in these years, Hjermstad said, and just as necessary.

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Aquafornia news Scientific American

Climate change is destabilizing insurance industry

The president of one of the world’s largest insurance brokers warned Wednesday that climate change is destabilizing the insurance industry, driving up prices and pushing insurers out of high-risk markets. Aon PLC President Eric Andersen told a Senate committee that climate change is injecting uncertainty into an industry built on risk prediction and has created “a crisis of confidence around the ability to predict loss.”

Aquafornia news Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom

News release: Governor Newsom announces appointments

Governor Gavin Newsom today announced the following appointments: Samantha Arthur, of Sacramento, has been appointed Assistant Secretary for Salton Sea Policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. Appointed to the Colorado River Board were Gloria Cordero, of Long Beach, Jordan D. Joaquin, of Fort Yuma, Quechan Indian Reservation, and Frank Ruiz, of Riverside. In addition, Sandra Matsumoto, of Davis, was reappointed to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, where she has served since 2018. 

Aquafornia news Nature Communications

New research: Satellites reveal hotspots of global river extent change

Rivers are one of the most dynamic water cycle components of the earth surface and hold fundamental economic and ecological significance for the development of human societies, ecosystem sustainability, and regional climate. Yet, their natural balance has been threatened by a wide range of anthropogenic stressors and ongoing climate change. With increasing demands for economic and social development, human disturbances in the form of dam construction, aquaculture, and irrigation have resulted in large-scale and rapid transformations of river channels.

Aquafornia news Smithsonian Magazine

Are floating solar panels the future of clean energy production?

Floating solar panels placed on reservoirs around the world could generate enough energy to power thousands of cities, according to a study published last week in the journal Nature Sustainability. Called floating photovoltaic systems, or “floatovoltaics,” these solar arrays function the same way as panels on land, capturing sunlight to generate electricity. … The new research shows this buoyant technology has the potential to create vast amounts of power and conserve water—without taking up precious space on land. … A handful of countries are already answering that question by using floating solar panels in a limited capacity… California plans to test a similar idea in which solar panels will be placed above irrigation canals.

Aquafornia news Nature

New research: U.S. West Coast droughts and heat waves exacerbate pollution inequality and can evade emission control policies

Droughts reduce hydropower production and heatwaves increase electricity demand, forcing power system operators to rely more on fossil fuel power plants. However, less is known about how droughts and heat waves impact the county level distribution of health damages from power plant emissions. Using California as a case study, we simulate emissions from power plants under a 500-year synthetic weather ensemble. We find that human health damages are highest in hot, dry years. Counties with a majority of people of color and counties with high pollution burden (which are somewhat overlapping) are disproportionately impacted by increased emissions from power plants during droughts and heat waves.

Aquafornia news NPR

Thursday Top of the Scroll: Why California’s drought won’t really end, even though it’s raining

The state has been deluged by storms this winter, hit by 12 atmospheric rivers that have led to evacuation orders, rising rivers and broken levees. In some parts of the Sierra Nevada, more than 55 feet of snow have fallen. With reservoirs filling up, many Californians are eager to put the severe, 3-year drought behind them. A major water supplier in Southern California recently lifted mandatory conservation rules that limited outdoor watering. Large parts of the state are now free of drought, according to the federal government’s Drought Monitor, which looks at rainfall and soil moisture. But in California, water shortages aren’t just due to a lack of rain, and the state’s chronic water problems are far from over.

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Aquafornia news Axios

What a deluged California means for farmworkers

As the latest storm associated with a strong atmospheric river sweeps through California, already strained farmworkers across the state are bracing for yet another setback. The big picture: The rounds of atmospheric river events have decimated crops and reduced work opportunities for many of the state’s farmworkers, who lack access to social safety nets. What they’re saying: Hernan Hernandez, executive director of the nonprofit California Farmworker Foundation, tells Axios that lasting structural damages from the rounds of storms are compounding with the loss of work for farmworkers, particularly in Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

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Aquafornia news UC Santa Cruz

Scientists, policy leaders, and insurance experts meet to address climate risks

The March 16 Coastal Climate Resilience Symposium at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center focused on the role of insurance and nature-based solutions in reducing the risks of flooding and other natural disasters, which are being exacerbated by climate change and rising sea levels. Coastal scientists, insurance industry experts, and representatives of state and federal agencies came together at the meeting to address challenges and opportunities for building coastal resilience to climate change. The flooding from a levee breach in nearby Pajaro served as a somber reminder of the urgency of the issues they had gathered to discuss.

Aquafornia news Associated Press

California faces more flooding after strong Pacific storm

A strong late-season Pacific storm that brought damaging winds and more rain and snow to saturated California was blamed for two deaths and forecasters said additional flooding was possible Wednesday in parts of the state. Tuesday’s storm focused most of its energy on central and southern parts of the state, bringing threats of heavy runoff and mountain snowfall. In the north, intense hail was reported in Sacramento, the state capital. Locally heavy rain and snowmelt may cause flooding Wednesday in southern California and central Arizona, the National Weather Service warned.

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Aquafornia news Somach Simmons & Dunn

Blog: USDA announces new framework to help guide investments in projects addressing water supply, climate change in the West

In furtherance of its efforts to address the considerable challenges related to water scarcity in the West, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled the Western Water and Working Lands Framework for Conservation Action (Framework) on February 13, 2023, a blueprint designed to help individuals and entities navigate the complexities of resource conservation and climate change resilience. Developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Framework provides guidance and strategic support for programs that address impacts from drought and climate change, and defines clear goals and strategies that communities can use to respond to threats to agricultural productivity and environmental quality.

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: ‘Fighting this clear into June.’ Epic snowpack means flooding problems are only beginning

The winter of 2022-23 has piled a record snowpack onto the southern Sierra Nevada range on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. And water officials — already dealing with floods wrought by a series of storms that have drenched central California over the past few weeks — are also facing the likelihood that even more flooding could happen when all that snow inevitably melts. Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes, a farmer in the Riverdale area of southwestern Fresno County, says he’s keeping a wary eye on channels that in normal years are dry, but this year are being pushed to their limits as operators of foothill dams release water to make room for more rain and snow.

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Aquafornia news Associated Press

Drought in Spain’s northeast empties reservoirs

The medieval church of Sant Romà disappeared from view in the 1960s, when the town of Vilanova de Sau, an hour north of Barcelona, was flooded to create a reservoir. In the past three decades, its spectral belltower has broken the surface several times, serving as a punctual reminder of Spain’s fragile water resources. But today the church’s tower, its nave and the building’s foundations are all exposed. The bare, steep ridges of the Sau reservoir show how far its levels have receded, and the cracked earth around the remaining pool of water is trodden by tourists attracted by the ghost village’s reappearance. Drought in Spain’s northeast reached “exceptional” levels last month, menacing access to drinking water for 6 million people in the Barcelona metropolitan area.

Aquafornia news ABC News

Amid extreme climate and natural disasters, is California still a desirable place to live and vacation? Experts weigh in.

Earthquakes, snow, wildfires, flooding, smog, fog, heat, drought — these are just some of extreme natural disasters and climate conditions experienced in the Golden State in any given year. California is notoriously the “land of extremes,” Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ABC News. Snowpack from the winter could quickly melt into flooding come spring. Heat waves in the summer pave the way for wildfires in the fall. Now, intense moisture from atmospheric rivers is walloping the West Coast with an inundation of precipitation — oftentimes too much at once. A pervasive megadrought has been plaguing the region for decades and to top it off, tectonic shifts could cause an earthquake at almost any given moment.

Aquafornia news The Guardian

‘A living pantry’: How an urban food forest in Arizona became a model for climate action

Near downtown Tucson, Arizona, is Dunbar Spring, a neighborhood unlike any other in the city. The unpaved sidewalks are lined with native, food-bearing trees and shrubs fed by rainwater diverted from city streets. One single block has over 100 plant species, including native goji berries, desert ironwood with edamame-like seeds and chuparosa bushes with cucumber-flavored flowers. This urban food forest – which began almost 30 years ago – provides food for residents and roughage for livestock, and the tree canopy also provides relief to residents in the third-fastest warming city in the nation. … The plan, headed up by Lancaster, was to plant multi-use drought-tolerant shade trees in street-side basins that could capture rainwater and create “a more liveable community” …

Aquafornia news Desert Sun

Newsom touts lithium development near Salton Sea, counters rural fears

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday hailed the state’s rapid transformation to renewables from a unique spot: a lithium processing project in impoverished Imperial County, at the state’s sunbaked southern end that he and others say is part of a “transformational” industry that will bring good new jobs here while also preserving the environment for young people and aiding public health. … He brushed off concerns about global economic volatility and fears of massive renewables slicing through rural communities to power far-off cities, saying in an interview with The Desert Sun/USA Today that what is being done here is a template for vital, sustainable economic projects.

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Aquafornia news ABC 10 - Sacramento

El Niño expected to develop later in the year

La Niña is finally over after three years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This winter has not acted like a typical La Niña winter with California getting drenched, especially in Southern California where La Niña typically signals a drier than average winter…. Climate models are nearly certain El Niño will develop later this summer or fall. California is typically wetter during El Niño conditions, although the signal becomes murkier from Sacramento northward.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Earth to hit critical warming threshold by early 2030s, climate panel says

Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a major new report released on Monday. The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, offers the most comprehensive understanding to date of ways in which the planet is changing. It says that global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels sometime around “the first half of the 2030s,” as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas.

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Aquafornia news Water Talk

Podcast – Episode 45: Atmospheric rivers

A conversation with Dr. Katerina Gonzales (EPA Climate Adaptation Advisor) and Dr. Daniel Swain (UCLA) about atmospheric rivers, climate extremes and futures, and climate science communication. Rereleased March 17, 2023 with original recordings from June 30, 2020.

Aquafornia news CNN

The plastic water bottle industry is booming. Here’s why that’s a huge problem

The bottled water industry is a juggernaut. More than 1 million bottles of water are sold every minute around the world and the industry shows no sign of slowing down, according to a new report. Global sales of bottled water are expected to nearly double by 2030. But the industry’s enormous global success comes at a huge environmental, climate and social cost, according to the report published Thursday by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, which analyzes the industry’s global impacts. Groundwater extracted to help fill billions of plastic bottles a year poses a potential threat to drinking water resources and feeds the world’s plastic pollution crisis, while the industry’s growth helps distract attention and resources away from funding the public-water infrastructure desperately needed in many countries, according to the report.

Aquafornia news Farm Progress

Calif. strawberry fields devastated by flooding

The winter of 2022-23 has been devastating for California’s strawberry industry. After storms in December and January caused over $200 million in crop damage from wind, rain and floods, damage from recent flooding from the Pajaro and Salinas rivers in Monterey County has caused hundreds of millions of dollars more in losses, the California Strawberry Commission reports. The latest disaster comes as farmers had borrowed money to prepare the fields and were weeks away from beginning to harvest, said Rick Tomlinson, the commission’s president. As soon as the cleanup is complete, farmers will begin the process of preparing the fields and starting over, he said.

Aquafornia news Salt Lake Tribune

LDS Church to permanently donate thousands of acre-feet of water to the Great Salt Lake

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the wealthiest and most influential institutions in Utah, plans to donate a pool of water to help save the Great Salt Lake. The Utah Department of Natural Resources, which helps manage the lake, announced the gift Wednesday morning. The donation amounts to about 20,000 acre-feet worth of shares that the church holds in the North Point Consolidated Irrigation Co. … Although the lake is the nation’s largest saline system, it has run a water deficit of about 1.2 million acre-feet in recent years. This winter’s substantial snowpack, however, will likely raise its elevation by at least a few feet. It currently sits at about 4,190 feet above sea level but needs to rise to around 4,200 feet to reach an elevation that’s sustainable for wildlife, recreation and lake-based industries like brine shrimp and mineral harvesting.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Editorial: Restore California’s floodplains to capture more stormwater

The southern Sierra Nevada is covered with the deepest snowpack in recorded history, and the rest of the range is not far behind. When all that snow melts, where will it go? You can read the answer in the landscape of the Central Valley. To the eye it is nearly flat, covered by layers of gravel, silt and clay washed from the mountains over the eons by rain and melting snow. … The solution is shockingly simple, relatively cheap — compared with the cost of cataclysmic floods — and surprisingly non-controversial. We just haven’t yet done it on the scale that’s needed. California needs to restore its floodplains. Not the whole valley floors, and not as they were in the pre-development era. But it needs to have many more acres of land reserved for floodwater.

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Aquafornia news Newsweek

Biden says climate change could dry up Colorado River. Is it possible?

President Joe Biden has given a dire warning that the Colorado River will dry up if climate change efforts do not ramp up. He made the comments while speaking to the Democratic National Committee in Las Vegas, Nevada this week, Fox News reported. “You’re not going to be able to drink out of the Colorado River,” Biden said. The president added that climate change was “serious stuff.” … But is this actually possible? Could the Colorado River dry up and will it be as bad as Biden says? Well, the Colorado River has already reached the lowest water levels seen in a century. Experts believe this is down to climate change-caused drought which will only get worse in the coming years.

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Aquafornia news The Los Angeles Times

Opinion: Why rain-on-snow floods from atmospheric rivers could get much worse

California’s latest atmospheric rivers are sending rainfall higher into the mountains and onto the state’s crucial snowpack. The rain alone is a problem for low-lying areas already dealing with destructive flooding, but the prospect of rain on the deep mountain snow has triggered widespread flood warnings. When rain falls on snow, it creates complex flood risks that are hard to forecast. Those risks are also rising with climate change. For much of the United States, storms with heavy rainfall can coincide with seasonal snow cover. When that happens, the resulting runoff of water can be much greater than what is produced from rain or snowmelt alone. The combination has resulted in some of the nation’s most destructive and costly floods, including the 1996 Midwest floods and the 2017 flood that damaged California’s Oroville Dam.
-Written by Keith Musselman, an assistant professor in geography, mountain hydrology and climate change at the University of Colorado Boulder. ​

Aquafornia news Scientific American

Landslides kill and hurt thousands, but science largely ignores these disasters

This winter devastating floods and mudslides in California killed at least 17 people, closed roads for days and caused thousands to be evacuated. Mud and water ripped through the hillside town of Montecito five years to the day after a 2018 slide there killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes. Between 1998 and 2017 landslides and mudslides affected nearly five million people worldwide and took the lives of more than 18,000, according to the World Health Organization. In contrast, wildfires and volcanic activity killed 2,400. In the U.S. alone, slides and other debris flows kill 25 to 50 people every year. Yet by and large we don’t hear very much about hazardous slides. Tornadoes, volcanoes, wildfires and hurricanes get more headlines. They get more scientific attention, too.

Aquafornia news The Sacramento Bee

How do Sacramento atmospheric river storms compare to January?

“Atmospheric river storm” is becoming part of Californians’ everyday vocabulary in 2023. Kicking off the year, these systems have been unrelenting. Floods, broken levees and record rain have berated communities across the state. There have been not one, two or five of these storms this year — but at least 10, the National Weather Service told The Bee. A silver lining: Drought conditions have improved dramatically. In Sacramento, the most notorious of these storms hit in early January, with the latest round the first two weeks of March.

Aquafornia news Grist

How rising temperatures are intensifying California’s atmospheric rivers

California is no stranger to big swings between wet and dry weather. The “atmospheric river” storms that have battered the state this winter are part of a system that has long interrupted periods of drought with huge bursts of rain — indeed, they provide somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of all precipitation on the West Coast.  The parade of storms that has struck California in recent months has dropped more than 30 trillion gallons of water on the state, refilling reservoirs that had sat empty for years and burying mountain towns in snow. But climate change is making these storms much wetter and more intense, ratcheting up the risk of potential flooding in California and other states along the West Coast. 

Aquafornia news PBS NewsHour

Scientists confirm global floods and droughts worsened by climate change

The intensity of extreme drought and rainfall has “sharply” increased over the past 20 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Water. These aren’t merely tough weather events, they are leading to extremes such as crop failure, infrastructure damage and even humanitarian crises. The big picture on water comes from data from a pair of satellites known as GRACE, or Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, that were used to measure changes in Earth’s water storage — the sum of all the water on and in the land, including groundwater, surface water, ice, and snow. … The researchers say the data confirms that both the frequency and intensity of rainfall and droughts are increasing due to burning fossil fuels and other human activity that releases greenhouse gases.

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

This map shows the Sierra snowpack’s record levels

The Southern Sierra snowpack is now the biggest on record, at a whopping 247% of average for April 1, according to charts from the California Department of Water Resources. “There is a whole hell of a lot of water up there right now, stored in the snowpack,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the Nature Conservancy, during an online presentation on Monday. … Late last week, California was on the receiving end of a warm atmospheric river, a band of tropical moisture originating from waters near Hawaii. The event raised concerns of rain-on-snow events, when runoff from rain combines with snowmelt to overwhelm watersheds. Such flooding happened over the weekend on the Kern and Tule rivers, triggering evacuations and badly damaging homes. But at higher elevations, the precipitation only added to the Sierra snowpack.

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Aquafornia news NPR

Climate change is moving too fast for these trees to keep up

Some of the tall, stately trees that have grown up in California’s Sierra Nevada are no longer compatible with the climate they live in, new research has shown. Hotter, drier conditions driven by climate change in the mountain range have made certain regions once hospitable to conifers — such as sequoia, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir — an environmental mismatch for the cone-bearing trees. … Although there are conifers in those areas now, Hill and other researchers suggested that as the trees die out, they’ll be replaced with other types of vegetation better suited to the environmental conditions. The team estimated that about 20% of all Sierra Nevada conifer trees in California are no longer compatible with the climate around them and are in danger of disappearing. They dubbed these trees “zombie forests.”

Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Blog: An epic snowpack may test water management in the San Joaquin Valley

Water policy wonks like us at PPIC spend an extraordinary amount of time analyzing information from the past, trying to understand the present, and modeling or speculating about the future. All this work goes toward identifying policy changes that might help California better manage its water. But for all our efforts, nothing improves our understanding of water like a “stress test,” whether that test is severe drought or extreme wet. And it is starting to look like we are going to get one of those stress tests this spring in the San Joaquin Valley. As news outlets have been reporting for some time, there is an “epic” snowpack in the central and southern Sierra Nevada… And while Californians have been laser focused on managing drought over the past decade, it’s now time to start thinking about what to do with too much water, at least in the San Joaquin River and Tulare Lake basins.

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Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

Arizona rancher takes an old approach to growing crops on Gila River

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management approach with principles that date back to Indigenous farmers. Instead of letting the land fallow or repeating a cycle of planting water-intensive crops that cannot survive the harsh conditions along the lower Gila River, Hansen has worked to develop strategies to make less water go further. He has successfully introduced arid-adapted crops, integrated livestock on his land and used non-traditional farming methods to improve soil health and biodiversity. While regenerative agriculture has been a way to conserve water and grow healthier crops for centuries, the alternate farming method has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years as a way to potentially reverse the effects of climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity, resulting in both carbon drawdown and improvements to the water cycle.

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Aquafornia news MSN

El Niño queues up as three-peat La Liña ends: What it means to California

After enduring historic drought conditions exacerbated by three years of the La Niña weather phenomenon, California is finally free from her clutches, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. However, El Niño may be looming, and with it, comes a whole new set of weather and climate challenges. Unlike the typically dry years La Niña brings to California, El Niño tends to bring increased chances of torrential storms, flooding, mudslides and coastal erosion. It typically occurs every three to five years when surface water in the equatorial Pacific becomes warmer than average. This week, the World Meteorological Organization forecast a 55 percent chance of an El Niño developing heading into autumn.

Aquafornia news The Washington Post

Plastic pollution in the ocean is doubling every 6 years

Humans have filled the world’s oceans with more than 170 trillion pieces of plastic, dramatically more than previously estimated, according to a major study released Wednesday.  The trillions of plastic particles — a “plastic smog,” in the words of the researchers — weigh roughly 2.4 million metric tons and are doubling about every six years, according to the study conducted by a team of international researchers led by Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, based in Santa Monica, Calif. That is more than 21,000 pieces of plastic for each of the Earth’s 8 billion residents. Most pieces are very small.  The study, which was published in the PLOS One journal, draws on nearly 12,000 samples collected across 40 years of research in all the world’s major ocean basins. Starting in 2004, researchers observed a major rise in the material, which they say coincided with an explosion in plastics production. 

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 San Francisco Chronicle

Earth is warming. Why is California having a record-breaking winter?

All this winter weather may seem to be at odds with the hotter, drier California that scientists expect with climate change, as greenhouse gas emissions raise global temperatures. But that trend is taking place over longer timescales, across the entire planet. What happens in California from year to year — or even winter to winter — can vary dramatically and still fit into the bigger story, scientists say. … Some scientists also think that atmospheric warming can change how air masses move around the planet by altering jet streams, strong winds that travel about 5-9 miles above the Earth’s surface. As a result, cold air masses can move farther south, toward California.

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Aquafornia news Patch - San Diego

How San Diego climate action works and what it might cost

San Diego has a dozen years to cut almost 11 million metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions from its economy to meet climate goals set by Mayor Todd Gloria last year. That’s like removing 2.2 million gas-powered cars from the road. Jumpstarting those emissions cuts will cost the city $30 million per year through 2028, according to a new cost analysis produced by the city’s consultant, the Energy Policy Initiatives Center at University of San Diego Law School. And then, it’ll be up to the City Council to prioritize that spending.

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 CNN

La Niña has ended and El Niño will form during hurricane season, forecasters say

After three consecutive years of an unusually stubborn pattern, La Niña has officially ended and El Niño is on the way, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. That could mean a less active Atlantic hurricane season, a more active season in the Pacific – and another spike in global temperatures, forecasters say. … El Niño also significantly impacts California’s weather and could mean a continuation of the current wet pattern already plaguing the state. Traditionally, El Niño brings increased rain and snow across the Golden State, especially in the cool season, leading to flooding, landslides, and coastal erosion. 

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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 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 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 Los Angeles Times

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: California braces for flooding, snowmelt from a warm atmospheric river set to slam state

Another atmospheric river system has set its sights on California, raising considerable concern about flooding and structural damage as warm rain is expected to fall atop the state’s near-record snowpack this week, forecasters say. … Last week, the odds of such a system developing were about 20%. By Monday, the chances had increased to “7 or 8 out of 10, if not higher, for a warm atmospheric river event of some magnitude,” [UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain] said. At least one more storm could follow this month. … Officials said the bounty made a dent in the state’s extreme drought conditions and offered some hope for strained water supplies after three bone-dry years. But heavy snowpack can also become a hazard if it meets with warm rain that melts it too quickly.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

Newsom budget would slash funds that protect coast

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget would cut funding for coastal resilience projects almost in half, eliminating more than half a billion dollars of state funds this year that would help protect the coast against rising seas and climate change. The cuts are part of Newsom’s proposed $6 billion in reductions to California’s climate change programs in response to a projected $22.5 billion statewide deficit. California’s coastal resilience programs provide funding for local governments to prepare coastal plans and pay for some projects that protect beaches, homes and infrastructure at risk from rising sea levels. Greenhouse gases are responsible for warming the planet, which melts ice and causes sea levels to rise.

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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 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 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 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 Los Angeles Times

Is El Niño returning? What it means for California

The stubborn La Niña climate pattern that gripped the tropical Pacific for a rare three years in a row is waning, and the odds of an El Niño system forming later this year are getting stronger, according to recent meteorological reports. The El Niño-La Niña Southern Oscillation, sometimes referred to as ENSO, has a major influence on temperature and rainfall patterns in different parts of the world, with La Niña often associated with drier-than-normal conditions in California, especially the southern part of the state. El Niño, on the other hand, is linked to an enhanced probability of above-normal rainfall in California, along with accompanying landslides, floods and coastal erosion, though it is not a guarantee.

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 USA Today

What’s the solution to West’s water crisis? Desperate ideas explained

As western water woes continue, some experts and authorities say a national-level problem like this requires an innovative solution.  The U.S. has plenty of drinking water — it’s simply in the wrong place. That’s a seemingly fixable problem that has inspired a number of creative ideas.  Unfortunately, everything except conserving water has proven to be a longshot proposal riddled with logistical, legal or cost problems. The problem: The Colorado River is drying up from drought and overuse. It’s the literal lifeblood of the West. A rainy year doesn’t solve the water crisis: Rain and snow, particularly in California, has offered temporary relief to water worries. But experts say the water demand in the west is set to keep exceeding supply — unless major conservation efforts successfully roll out.

Aquafornia news Fox Weather

Past wildfires still melting California’s mountain snowpack years after flames doused, study finds

Summer wildfires are reaching higher into the California mountains in recent years, and a new study finds the charred forests are having a dire effect on winter snowpacks long after the flames have been doused. NOAA researchers found that the loss of tree canopy is leading to snow melting at much greater rates than average and wiping out snowpacks – a crucial ingredient to the region’s water supply – sooner than usual. Of particular interest that sparked the research were two weeks-long dry periods in California’s mountains during the winters of 2012-2013 and 2020-2021. The latter winter came on the heels of two of the worst fire seasons in state history which featured a 10-fold increase in wildfires over the previous 20 years’ average.  

Aquafornia news UCI News

Blog: Flood watchers

Floods in California rarely attract the sort of attention that earthquakes, wildfires or even shark attacks do. Perhaps it has something to do with the severity of an unprecedented, years-long drought that is far from over. This winter’s deluge — particularly in the northern and central regions — was a jolting reminder that rainfall remains a deadly, destructive force to be reckoned with, though it has been many decades since the Golden State experienced truly catastrophic flooding. Climate scientists, however, note that higher temperatures due to global warming mean the air can hold more moisture, resulting in more of the atmospheric rivers that have brought heavy rain to the state. It’s only a matter of time, they warn, before a sufficiently massive storm arrives to add to California’s legacy of devastating floods.

Aquafornia news U.S. Geological Survey

New research: Climate warming is likely to cause large increases in wetland methane emissions

A new USGS study shows that a warming climate is likely to cause freshwater wetlands to release substantially more methane than under normal conditions. This finding has big implications for climate mitigation strategies focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from people. … Methane is a gas that produces a strong greenhouse effect in our atmosphere. It’s estimated to be contributing about 25% to warming temperatures from climate change. But it works very differently than carbon dioxide—the better-known greenhouse gas.

Aquafornia news Quartz

US coastal wetlands are disappearing. Here’s how to save them

As the effects of heat-trapping pollution continue to raise sea levels, wetlands dotting American coastlines could drown — or they could flourish. Their fate will depend upon rates of sea-level rise, how quickly the plants can grow, and whether there’s space inland into which they can migrate. Climate Central modeled how American coastal wetlands will respond to sea level rise in an array of potential scenarios. It found that conserving land for wetlands to migrate into is a decisive factor in whether wetlands will survive or drown. Wetlands and development have long been in conflict, with ecological values weighed against waterfront economic opportunities. As seas rise, benefits of conserving areas inland for wetland migration are creating new tensions. And as climate change intensifies storms and elevate high tides and storm surges, the economic values of wetlands are growing.

Aquafornia news 10 News - San Diego

What’s going on with San Diego? A climate scientist weighs in on winter weather

From record rain, flooding and snowfall – to chilly temperatures, hail and windy conditions, it’s been more “wintery” than some San Diegans would like. So what’s going on? ABC 10News sat down with Julie Kalansky, a climate scientist and Operations Manager for the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Rain-on-snow could present fresh risks to California’s snowpack. Here’s why

The gargantuan California snowpack, over twice the normal size for this time of year in some parts of the Sierra, just keeps growing. On Tuesday, yet another storm unloaded several feet of snow in the Lake Tahoe area, completely burying the Sugar Bowl Resort office. Ideally, the snowpack gradually melts during the spring and summer, releasing water when reservoirs aren’t capped by flood control limitations and can maximize storage. All the snow right now is fantastic news for the state’s enduring drought. … But the overabundance also presents potential flood risks. … A spring heat wave, for example, could drive an early melt that results in flooding. A warm atmospheric river aimed at snowcapped mountains could also rapidly melt snow and overload watersheds.

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Aquafornia news

Wastewater sector emits nearly twice as much methane as previously thought

Municipal wastewater treatment plants emit nearly double the amount of methane into the atmosphere than scientists previously believed, according to new research from Princeton University. And since methane warms the planet over 80 times more powerfully than carbon dioxide over 20 years, that could be a big problem. … Zondlo led one of two new studies on the subject, both reported in papers published in Environmental Science & Technology. One study performed on-the-ground methane emissions measurements at 63 wastewater treatment plants in the United States; the other used machine learning methods to analyze published literature data from methane monitoring studies of various wastewater collection and treatment processes around the globe.

Aquafornia news Arizona Republic

A snowpack to remember is piling up in the Arizona high country

Meteorologist Bo Svoma hopped down into the 4-foot-deep pit he had shoveled and grinned like a school kid on a snow day. “Bo is happy!” shouted one of his Salt River Project colleagues working snow survey duty on Tuesday. There’s a lot for the metro Phoenix water supplier to be happy about this winter. What was supposed to be an unusually dry winter because of the return of the ocean and atmospheric phenomenon known as La Nińa has instead shaped up as the Arizona rim country’s second-snowiest season in 30 years. The ocean conditions that usually would push the jet stream and its storms toward the Pacific Northwest instead have driven storm after storm into the Southwest.

Aquafornia news Reuters

Extreme Yosemite rain eases drought but disrupts wildlife habitats

After a winter of epic storms in California, Yosemite National Park’s famous waterfalls are in full flow, its reservoirs are brimming, and the snowpack in the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains is well above average. In drought-stricken California, that is cause for celebration, but wildlife experts warn that weather extremes driven by climate change can also change habitats too quickly for wildlife to adapt. … [Beth Pratt, California regional director for the National Wildlife Federation] has been studying Yosemite Valley wildlife for 25 years, including the more than 400 species of vertebrates that call the 1,200 square-mile (3,100 square-kilometer) park home. … In his 27 years as a Yosemite park ranger, Scott Gediman has never seen so much winter snow and water in the park.

Aquafornia news USC News

The water wars of the future are here today

Once hailed as the “American Nile,” the Colorado River spans 1,450 miles and supplies nearly 40 million people across seven states plus northern Mexico with drinking water, irrigation for farmland and hydroelectric power. But after decades of drought and overuse, major reservoirs along the river are drying up. As the Colorado River levels drop to historic lows, tensions are rising between the seven states that depend on its flow — Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Their original agreement for distributing the river water lacked foresight and failed to account for dire circumstances like long-term drought. The American Southwest now faces a crisis it knew was coming. 

Aquafornia news Public Policy Institute of California

Testimony: Adapting California’s water rights system to the 21st century climate

The climate shifts that California is experiencing—with warmer temperatures, less reliable snowpack, and more intense droughts—have exposed critical weaknesses in the administration of our water rights system under conditions of scarcity. In particular, there are challenges curtailing diversions when supplies are inadequate. And on the flip side, this system also needs the capacity to better facilitate the management of abundance, by permitting the capture of more water from large storms to recharge groundwater basins. In our remarks today we recap some of the key challenges the changing climate is posing for California’s water rights system in both dry and wet times, illustrate how these issues are playing out in the state’s largest watershed, and offer some recommendations for how the legislature could help strengthen the water rights system to better respond to water scarcity and abundance.

Aquafornia news UC Santa Cruz

New research: Shrinking age distribution of spawning salmon raises climate resilience concerns

By returning to spawn in the Sacramento River at different ages, Chinook salmon lessen the potential impact of a bad year and increase the stability of their population in the face of climate variability, according to a new study by scientists at UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries. Unfortunately, spawning Chinook salmon are increasingly younger and concentrated within fewer age groups, with the oldest age classes of spawners rarely seen in recent years. The new study, published February 27 in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, suggests changes in hatchery practices and fishery management could help restore the age structure of the salmon population and make it more resilient to climate change.

Aquafornia news The Guardian

The parched metropolis: can eco architecture save LA from megadrought?

After weeks of record-breaking rainfall have seen freeways flood, hillsides collapse and the dry concrete gutter of the Los Angeles River transform into a raging torrent, you may have assumed that California’s water-shortage woes were beginning to ease. With many areas receiving their usual annual rainfall in just three weeks, surely the multiyear megadrought is finally abating. Sadly, no. Decades of building concrete gutters – driven by the mindset that stormwater is a threat to be banished, not an asset to be stored – have meant that the vast majority of that rain was simply flushed out into the ocean. Of the billions of gallons that have fallen on the LA area, only a tiny fraction were absorbed into the ground.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday Top of the Scroll: Is California’s drought finally over? Here’s the impact of the latest storms

If there’s concern about California’s wet winter turning dry, consider it shushed. The heaps of snow over the past week on top of the parade of deluges in early January have been extraordinary and left much of the state with well-above-average precipitation for the season. The winter storms, which account for the bulk of the state’s rain and snow, are forecast to continue into next month, virtually ensuring a good water year for California. But just how far one year will go to relieving what has been one of the West’s most excruciating droughts is less clear. While many parts of the state are benefiting from brimming rivers and reservoirs, the three previous years, which saw record low precipitation, as well as several painfully dry years over the past two decades, have burdened the state with a gaping water deficit.

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Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Will more wildfire and precipitation extremes mussel-out California’s freshwater streams?

Apocalyptic scenes of wildfires and floods are now familiar to Californians. However, the ecological impacts from these events remain understudied in California and across the world. Gaps in awareness and understanding on the issue are especially intense for freshwater mussels, whose cryptic and sedentary life-histories belie their importance to freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity (see previous post on freshwater mussels). One difficulty in studying effects of wildfire on freshwater ecosystems is that there is often a “right time in the right place” factor to appropriately conduct the science. For example, researchers and biologists often need to be studying a population or ecosystem before a burn so effects afterwards can be quantified – ideally alongside nearby unaffected control sites. Yet such natural experiments are rare because we never know when and where major wildfires will strike.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Why it’s hard for California to store more water underground

Despite the storms that have deluged California this winter, the state remains dogged by drought. And one of the simplest solutions — collecting and storing rainfall — is far more complicated than it seems. Much of California’s water infrastructure hinges on storing precipitation during the late fall and winter for use during the dry spring and summer. The state’s groundwater aquifers can hold vast quantities of water — far more than its major reservoirs. But those aquifers have been significantly depleted in recent decades, especially in the Central Valley, where farmers have increasingly pumped out water for their crops. And as Raymond Zhong, a New York Times climate journalist, recently reported, the state’s strict regulations surrounding water rights limit the diversion of floodwaters for storage as groundwater, even during fierce storms …

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Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Jill Biden sees East Africa drought up close, seeks more aid

U.S. first lady Jill Biden got an up-close look Sunday at the historic East Africa drought as she walked along arid land and listened as some Maasai women described how their children and livestock are going hungry. She appealed for more countries to join the United States to help alleviate the suffering. Some areas of the Horn of Africa have endured five consecutive failed rainy seasons, meaning there was no rainfall or an insufficient amount to help farmers with their crops and livestock. An upcoming sixth rainy season, beginning in March, is expected to be about the same or worse.

Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

Climate fix: How the Bay Area is preparing for sea level rise

Scientists have warned for decades that due to climate change water levels are rising throughout the Bay Area. The first place excess water will show up is underground. As we saw from recent storms, shallow groundwater can cause flooding in streets and low-lying areas and can overwhelm wastewater systems. Local planners and policy makers are analyzing how the region should adapt to the problem of a rising water table and how to design buildings, freeways and sewer infrastructure in response. In our next installment of “Climate Fix: Rethinking Solutions for California,” a collaboration between the KQED’s Forum and Science teams, we’ll discuss what’s happening with groundwater levels as the Bay Area prepares for sea level rise in the next several decades. Have you experienced flooding in your home and how did you handle it?

Aquafornia news Sacramento News & Review

Balancing the water needs of people and the environment: Water Forum brings diverse interests together to tackle tough issues on the Lower American River

Come drought or deluge, how can we develop a lasting water agreement for the greater Sacramento area? That’s the challenging task before the Water Forum, a unique consortium of business and agricultural leaders, citizen groups, environmentalists, water managers and local governments, including the City of Roseville. With eyes particularly on Folsom Lake and the Lower American River, as well as weather, Water Forum members work on water issues both near- and long-term. Recent winter storms, following years of drought, added extra complexity to that job.

Aquafornia news

Climate change, urbanization drive major declines in L.A.’s birds

Climate change isn’t the only threat facing California’s birds. Over the course of the 20th century, urban sprawl and agricultural development have dramatically changed the landscape of the state, forcing many native species to adapt to new and unfamiliar habitats. In a new study, biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, use current and historical bird surveys to reveal how land use change has amplified—and in some cases mitigated—the impacts of climate change on bird populations in Los Angeles and the Central Valley.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Southern California faces rare blizzard warning

Southern California has only gotten a taste of the powerful winter storm system that forecasters say will bring an extended period of cold temperatures, high winds and snow, prompting what officials called the region’s first blizzard warning since 1989. The blizzard warning, which is in effect Friday and Saturday for Southern California’s highest mountain ranges, is likely only the second on record for the Los Angeles area, according to the National Weather Service, Officials initially called this week’s warning the first on record, then later confirmed a blizzard warning was also issued in 1989, when a strong winter storm brought rare snowfall to Southern California, from Palm Springs to the hillsides of Malibu.

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Aquafornia news NPR

Climate change has forced thousands to relocate in the U.S.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: We tell stories all the time about climate-fueled disasters that uproot people’s lives – fires in California, hurricanes in Louisiana. Well, Jake Bittle’s new book is about what happens in the years after those events. It’s called “The Great Displacement: Climate Change And The Next American Migration.” It goes from drought-hit farms in Arizona to flooded coastlines in Virginia. Jake Bittle, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. … SHAPIRO: Even though the patterns of displacement are chaotic and unpredictable, there are certain consistent themes. Like, you say climate displacement exacerbates income inequality. And one place that’s really apparent is Northern California. You write about the Tubbs Fire, which roared through Santa Rosa. What happened after that? 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Wednesday Top of the Scroll: With all this rain and snow, can California really still be in a drought? Look deeper

Only weeks after a series of atmospheric rivers deluged California, the state is once again bracing for powerful winter weather that could deliver heaps of rain and snow, including fresh powder at elevations as low as 1,500 feet. But as worsening climate extremes and water supply challenges continue to bedevil the state, officials cautioned residents Tuesday not to assume that the recent moisture signaled an end to the drought. The entire state remains under a drought emergency declaration that Gov. Gavin Newsom issued in 2021, with millions of residents still under strict watering restrictions.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Opinion: Shrinking water supply will mean more fallow fields in the San Joaquin Valley

Downpours or drought, California’s farm belt will need to tighten up in the next two decades and grow fewer crops. There simply won’t be enough water to sustain present irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley. Groundwater is dangerously depleted. Wells are drying up and the land is sinking in many places, cracking canals. Surface water supplies have been cut back because of drought, and future deliveries are uncertain due to climate change and environmental regulations. … Agriculture is water intensive. And water is becoming increasingly worrisome in the West, particularly with overuse of the Colorado River. There’s plenty of water off our coast, but we’ve only begun to dip our toe into desalination.
-Written by columnist George Skelton.

Aquafornia news KTLA - Los Angeles

Winter storm to boost California’s snowpack at the right time

A significant winter storm is expected to deliver heavy rain and snow to a wide swath of the United States this week, from the West Coast to the Northeast. Cold air from Canada will interact with a pair of fronts, causing “numerous weather hazards” and abnormal temperatures while “almost all of the country [experiences] some form of notable weather,” the National Weather Service said. Snow accumulation of 1 to 2 feet is expected for most mountain ranges across the West, where the storm is arriving at an ideal time to lift the region’s already impressive snowpack. As of Tuesday, snowpack in California was sitting at 174% of normal for Feb. 21, according to the California Department of Water Resources. Regionally, the Southern Sierra was at 208%, Central Sierra at 176% and the Northern Sierra/Trinity at 144%.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Q & A: What California’s winter storms mean for future – UCSC professor weighs in

For three weeks after Christmas, California was pounded with a series of nine atmospheric river storms. The drenching rains replenished reservoirs that had been seriously depleted during three years of severe drought. But they also caused flooding from the Central Valley to Santa Barbara, triggering mudslides, sinkholes and power outages, and left 22 people dead. Along the coast, big waves ripped a 40-foot hole in the Capitola Wharf, destroyed facilities at Seacliff Beach State Park, flooded homes, wrecked businesses and caused millions of dollars in erosion. For the past 55 years, Gary Griggs, a Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at UC Santa Cruz, has studied big storms, sea level rise and California’s changing coastline. UCSC’s longest-serving professor, he is one of the nation’s experts in the ways oceans reshape the land. 

Aquafornia news Pacific Institute

Blog: How onsite water systems can contribute to regional water resilience

Across the United States and the world, communities are facing more severe and frequent extreme weather events. Companies undertaking new development projects are considering ways to make their sites more resilient to disruptions caused by these extreme events. From floods to droughts, fires, heat waves, and super storms, developers are investing in alternative water and energy supplies to better prepare for what’s being referred to as “weather weirdification.” Many are familiar with distributed strategies for energy— this can include things like rooftop solar panels, solar battery systems, and backup generators. When there’s a storm or other extreme weather event, sites with these systems are better equipped for power outages, ensuring continuity of operations, which makes them more resilient. 

Aquafornia news KCRA - Sacramento

Trees can help shade Sacramento from climate change, but which are most likely to survive?

A team of researchers at UC Davis this year will study 10 different species of trees in Sacramento to determine which have the best chance of thriving as global average temperatures rise. On a hot summer day, highly populated cities can be much hotter than surrounding rural areas. Suburban neighborhoods tend to have far more shade-producing trees, which act as natural air conditioners. Multiple studies have shown that communities with a healthy tree population can be anywhere from 5 to 12 degrees cooler than more exposed urban centers. As climate change threatens to make our hottest days even hotter in the years ahead, scientists want to make sure that people living in cities have trees that are strong enough to withstand the challenges of heat waves and intensifying drought.

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Aquafornia news Utah Public Radio

Utah legislature considers changing approach to saving Great Salt Lake

A bill that will be introduced in the Utah State Legislature will task one person with overseeing efforts to save the Great Salt Lake. The position, currently titled the “Great Salt Lake Commissioner,” will coordinate with government agencies, environmental, tribal and industry groups and come up with a master plan for the future of the lake. … The bill is expected to be made public in the Utah State Legislature soon. It would be a significant change in approach to how the state is responding to the lake shrinking to historic lows and the environmental catastrophe it presents with toxic dust storms, reduced snowpack and harms to wildlife and public health.

In One of the Snowiest Places in the West, A Scientist Hunts for Clues to the Sierra Snowpack’s Future
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Central Sierra Snow Lab Manager Andrew Schwartz Aims to Help Water Managers Improve Tracking of Snowpack Crucial to California's Drought-Stressed Water Supply

Photo of Andrew Schwartz, manager and lead scientist at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory.Growing up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, Andrew Schwartz never missed an opportunity to play in – or study – a Colorado snowstorm. During major blizzards, he would traipse out into the icy wind and heavy drifts of snow pretending to be a scientist researching in Antarctica.  

Decades later, still armed with an obsession for extreme weather, Schwartz has landed in one of the snowiest places in the West, leading a research lab whose mission is to give California water managers instant information on the depth and quality of snow draping the slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

As Colorado River Flows Drop and Tensions Rise, Water Interests Struggle to Find Solutions That All Can Accept
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Chorus of experts warn climate change has rendered old assumptions outdated about what the Colorado River can provide, leaving painful water cuts as the only way forward

Photo shows Hoover Dam’s intake towers protruding from the surface of Lake Mead near Las Vegas, where water levels have dropped to record lows amid a 22-year drought. When the Colorado River Compact was signed 100 years ago, the negotiators for seven Western states bet that the river they were dividing would have ample water to meet everyone’s needs – even those not seated around the table.

A century later, it’s clear the water they bet on is not there. More than two decades of drought, lake evaporation and overuse of water have nearly drained the river’s two anchor reservoirs, Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border and Lake Mead near Las Vegas. Climate change is rendering the basin drier, shrinking spring runoff that’s vital for river flows, farms, tribes and cities across the basin – and essential for refilling reservoirs.

The states that endorsed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 – and the tribes and nation of Mexico that were excluded from the table – are now straining to find, and perhaps more importantly accept, solutions on a river that may offer just half of the water that the Compact assumed would be available. And not only are solutions not coming easily, the relationships essential for compromise are getting more frayed.

A Colorado River Veteran Moves Upstream and Plunges into The Drought-Stressed River’s Mounting Woes
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Chuck Cullom, a longtime Arizona water manager, brings a dual-basin perspective as top staffer at the Upper Colorado River Commission

Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. With 25 years of experience working on the Colorado River, Chuck Cullom is used to responding to myriad challenges that arise on the vital lifeline that seven states, more than two dozen tribes and the country of Mexico depend on for water. But this summer problems on the drought-stressed river are piling up at a dizzying pace: Reservoirs plummeting to record low levels, whether Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam can continue to release water and produce hydropower, unprecedented water cuts and predatory smallmouth bass threatening native fish species in the Grand Canyon. 

“Holy buckets, Batman!,” said Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “I mean, it’s just on and on and on.”

As New Deadline Looms, Groundwater Managers Rework ‘Incomplete’ Plans to Meet California’s Sustainability Goals
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: More than half of the most critically overdrawn basins, mainly in the San Joaquin Valley, are racing against a July deadline to retool their plans and avoid state intervention

A field in Kern County is irrigated by sprinkler.Managers of California’s most overdrawn aquifers were given a monumental task under the state’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act: Craft viable, detailed plans on a 20-year timeline to bring their beleaguered basins into balance. It was a task that required more than 250 newly formed local groundwater agencies – many of them in the drought-stressed San Joaquin Valley – to set up shop, gather data, hear from the public and collaborate with neighbors on multiple complex plans, often covering just portions of a groundwater basin.

As Drought Shrinks the Colorado River, A SoCal Giant Seeks Help from River Partners to Fortify its Local Supply
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Metropolitan Water District's wastewater recycling project draws support from Arizona and Nevada, which hope to gain a share of Metropolitan's river supply

Metropolitan Water District's advanced water treatment demonstration plant in Carson. Momentum is building for a unique interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern California homes and business into relief for the stressed Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water agencies.  

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2023
Field Trip - March 8-10

This tour explored the lower Colorado River firsthand where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to some 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Colorado River Basin Map By Douglas E. Beeman

As the Colorado River Shrinks, Can the Basin Find an Equitable Solution in Sharing the River’s Waters?
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Drought and climate change are raising concerns that a century-old Compact that divided the river’s waters could force unwelcome cuts in use for the upper watershed

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, a key Colorado River reservoir that has seen its water level plummet after two decades of drought. Climate scientist Brad Udall calls himself the skunk in the room when it comes to the Colorado River. Armed with a deck of PowerPoint slides and charts that highlight the Colorado River’s worsening math, the Colorado State University scientist offers a grim assessment of the river’s future: Runoff from the river’s headwaters is declining, less water is flowing into Lake Powell – the key reservoir near the Arizona-Utah border – and at the same time, more water is being released from the reservoir than it can sustainably provide.

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2022
Field Trip - March 16-18

The lower Colorado River has virtually every drop allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139

A Colorado River Veteran Takes on the Top Water & Science Post at Interior Department
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Tanya Trujillo brings two decades of experience on Colorado River issues as she takes on the challenges of a river basin stressed by climate change

Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Interior Secretary for Water and Science For more than 20 years, Tanya Trujillo has been immersed in the many challenges of the Colorado River, the drought-stressed lifeline for 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles and the source of irrigation water for more than 5 million acres of winter lettuce, supermarket melons and other crops.

Trujillo has experience working in both the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River, basins that split the river’s water evenly but are sometimes at odds with each other. She was a lawyer for the state of New Mexico, one of four states in the Upper Colorado River Basin, when key operating guidelines for sharing shortages on the river were negotiated in 2007. She later worked as executive director for the Colorado River Board of California, exposing her to the different perspectives and challenges facing California and the other states in the river’s Lower Basin.

California Spent Decades Trying to Keep Central Valley Floods at Bay. Now It Looks to Welcome Them Back
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Floodplain restoration gets a policy and funding boost as interest grows in projects that bring multiple benefits to respond to climate change impacts

Land and waterway managers labored hard over the course of a century to control California’s unruly rivers by building dams and levees to slow and contain their water. Now, farmers, environmentalists and agencies are undoing some of that work as part of an accelerating campaign to restore the state’s major floodplains.

Water-Starved Colorado River Delta Gets Another Shot of Life from the River’s Flows
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Despite water shortages along the drought-stressed river, experimental flows resume in Mexico to revive trees and provide habitat for birds and wildlife

Water flowing into a Colorado River Delta restoration site in Mexico.Water is flowing once again to the Colorado River’s delta in Mexico, a vast region that was once a natural splendor before the iconic Western river was dammed and diverted at the turn of the last century, essentially turning the delta into a desert.

In 2012, the idea emerged that water could be intentionally sent down the river to inundate the delta floodplain and regenerate native cottonwood and willow trees, even in an overallocated river system. Ultimately, dedicated flows of river water were brokered under cooperative efforts by the U.S. and Mexican governments.

Tour Nick Gray Jenn Bowles Layperson's Guide to the Delta

Bay-Delta Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - September 9

This tour guided participants on a virtual journey deep into California’s most crucial water and ecological resource – the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The 720,000-acre network of islands and canals support the state’s two major water systems – the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. The Delta and the connecting San Francisco Bay form the largest freshwater tidal estuary of its kind on the West coast.

As Climate Change Turns Up The Heat in Las Vegas, Water Managers Try to Wring New Savings to Stretch Supply
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Rising temperatures are expected to drive up water demand as historic drought in the Colorado River Basin imperils Southern Nevada’s key water source

Las Vegas has reduced its water consumption even as its population has increased. Las Vegas, known for its searing summertime heat and glitzy casino fountains, is projected to get even hotter in the coming years as climate change intensifies. As temperatures rise, possibly as much as 10 degrees by end of the century, according to some models, water demand for the desert community is expected to spike. That is not good news in a fast-growing region that depends largely on a limited supply of water from an already drought-stressed Colorado River.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law By Gary Pitzer

California Weighs Changes for New Water Rights Permits in Response to a Warmer and Drier Climate
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: State Water Board report recommends aligning new water rights to an upended hydrology

The American River in Sacramento in 2014 shows the effects of the 2012-2016 drought. Climate change is expected to result in more frequent and intense droughts and floods. As California’s seasons become warmer and drier, state officials are pondering whether the water rights permitting system needs revising to better reflect the reality of climate change’s effect on the timing and volume of the state’s water supply.

A report by the State Water Resources Control Board recommends that new water rights permits be tailored to California’s increasingly volatile hydrology and be adaptable enough to ensure water exists to meet an applicant’s demand. And it warns that the increasingly whiplash nature of California’s changing climate could require existing rights holders to curtail diversions more often and in more watersheds — or open opportunities to grab more water in climate-induced floods.

Western Water Colorado River Bundle By Gary Pitzer

Milestone Colorado River Management Plan Mostly Worked Amid Epic Drought, Review Finds
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Draft assessment of 2007 Interim Guidelines expected to provide a guide as talks begin on new river operating rules for the iconic Southwestern river

At full pool, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume. but two decades of drought have dramatically dropped the water level behind Hoover Dam.Twenty years ago, the Colorado River Basin’s hydrology began tumbling into a historically bad stretch. The weather turned persistently dry. Water levels in the system’s anchor reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead plummeted. A river system relied upon by nearly 40 million people, farms and ecosystems across the West was in trouble. And there was no guide on how to respond.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to the Delta By Gary Pitzer

Is Ecosystem Change in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Outpacing the Ability of Science to Keep Up?
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Science panel argues for a new approach to make research nimbler and more forward-looking to improve management in the ailing Delta

Floating vegetation such as water hyacinth has expanded in the Delta in recent years, choking waterways like the one in the bottom of this photo.Radically transformed from its ancient origin as a vast tidal-influenced freshwater marsh, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem is in constant flux, influenced by factors within the estuary itself and the massive watersheds that drain though it into the Pacific Ocean.

Lately, however, scientists say the rate of change has kicked into overdrive, fueled in part by climate change, and is limiting the ability of science and Delta water managers to keep up. The rapid pace of upheaval demands a new way of conducting science and managing water in the troubled estuary.

Western Water Colorado River Bundle By Gary Pitzer

The Colorado River is awash in data vital to its management, but making sense of it all is a challenge
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Major science report that highlights scientific shortcomings and opportunities in the Basin could aid water managers as they rewrite river's operating rules

The Colorado River threading its way through a desert canyon near Lee Ferry, Arizona. Practically every drop of water that flows through the meadows, canyons and plains of the Colorado River Basin has reams of science attached to it. Snowpack, streamflow and tree ring data all influence the crucial decisions that guide water management of the iconic Western river every day.

Dizzying in its scope, detail and complexity, the scientific information on the Basin’s climate and hydrology has been largely scattered in hundreds of studies and reports. Some studies may conflict with others, or at least appear to. That’s problematic for a river that’s a lifeline for 40 million people and more than 4 million acres of irrigated farmland.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

Questions Simmer About Lake Powell’s Future As Drought, Climate Change Point To A Drier Colorado River Basin
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: A key reservoir for Colorado River storage program, Powell faces demands from stakeholders in Upper and Lower Basins with different water needs as runoff is forecast to decline

Persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin combined with the coordinated operations with Lake Mead has left Lake Powell consistently about half-full. Sprawled across a desert expanse along the Utah-Arizona border, Lake Powell’s nearly 100-foot high bathtub ring etched on its sandstone walls belie the challenges of a major Colorado River reservoir at less than half-full. How those challenges play out as demand grows for the river’s water amid a changing climate is fueling simmering questions about Powell’s future.

Lower Colorado River Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - May 20

This event explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour. 

Can Carbon Credits Save Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Islands and Protect California’s Vital Water Hub?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: An ambitious plan would use carbon credits as incentives to convert Delta islands to wetlands or rice to halt subsidence and potentially raise island elevations

Equipment on this tower measures fluctuations in greenhouse gas emissions for managed wetlands on Sherman Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.The islands of the western Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are sinking as the rich peat soil that attracted generations of farmers dries out and decays. As the peat decomposes, it releases tons of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere. As the islands sink, the levees that protect them are at increasing risk of failure, which could imperil California’s vital water conveyance system.

An ambitious plan now in the works could halt the decay, sequester the carbon and potentially reverse the sinking.

Foundation Event

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
Virtual Workshop Occurred Afternoons of April 22-23

Our Water 101 Workshop, one of our most popular events, offered attendees the opportunity to deepen their understanding of California’s water history, laws, geography and politics.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the workshop was held as an engaging online event on the afternoons of Thursday, April 22 and Friday, April 23.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Meet the Veteran Insider Who’s Shepherding Gov. Newsom’s Plan to Bring Climate Resilience to California Water
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Former journalist Nancy Vogel explains how the draft California Water Resilience Portfolio came together and why it’s expected to guide future state decisions

Nancy Vogel, director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program, highlights key points in the draft Water Resilience Portfolio last month for the Water Education Foundation's 2020 Water Leaders class. Shortly after taking office in 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom called on state agencies to deliver a Water Resilience Portfolio to meet California’s urgent challenges — unsafe drinking water, flood and drought risks from a changing climate, severely depleted groundwater aquifers and native fish populations threatened with extinction.

Within days, he appointed Nancy Vogel, a former journalist and veteran water communicator, as director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program to help shepherd the monumental task of compiling all the information necessary for the portfolio. The three state agencies tasked with preparing the document delivered the draft Water Resilience Portfolio Jan. 3. The document, which Vogel said will help guide policy and investment decisions related to water resilience, is nearing the end of its comment period, which goes through Friday, Feb. 7.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

Can a Grand Vision Solve the Colorado River’s Challenges? Or Will Incremental Change Offer Best Hope for Success?
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: With talks looming on a new operating agreement for the river, a debate has emerged over the best approach to address its challenges

Photo of Lake Mead and Hoover DamThe Colorado River is arguably one of the hardest working rivers on the planet, supplying water to 40 million people and a large agricultural economy in the West. But it’s under duress from two decades of drought and decisions made about its management will have exceptional ramifications for the future, especially as impacts from climate change are felt.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Can a New Approach to Managing California Reservoirs Save Water and Still Protect Against Floods?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Pilot Projects Testing Viability of Using Improved Forecasting to Guide Reservoir Operations

Bullards Bar Dam spills water during 2017 atmospheric river storms.Many of California’s watersheds are notoriously flashy – swerving from below-average flows to jarring flood conditions in quick order. The state needs all the water it can get from storms, but current flood management guidelines are strict and unyielding, requiring reservoirs to dump water each winter to make space for flood flows that may not come.

However, new tools and operating methods are emerging that could lead the way to a redefined system that improves both water supply and flood protection capabilities.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Layperson's Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources Gary PitzerDouglas E. Beeman

As Wildfires Grow More Intense, California Water Managers Are Learning To Rewrite Their Emergency Playbook
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Agencies share lessons learned as they recover from fires that destroyed facilities, contaminated supplies and devastated their customers

Debris from the Camp Fire that swept through the Sierra foothills town of Paradise  in November 2018.

By Gary Pitzer and Douglas E. Beeman

It’s been a year since two devastating wildfires on opposite ends of California underscored the harsh new realities facing water districts and cities serving communities in or adjacent to the state’s fire-prone wildlands. Fire doesn’t just level homes, it can contaminate water, scorch watersheds, damage delivery systems and upend an agency’s finances.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Understanding Streamflow Is Vital to Water Management in California, But Gaps In Data Exist
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: A new law aims to reactivate dormant stream gauges to aid in flood protection, water forecasting

Stream gauges gather important metrics such as  depth, flow (described as cubic feet per second) and temperature.  This gauge near downtown Sacramento measures water depth.California is chock full of rivers and creeks, yet the state’s network of stream gauges has significant gaps that limit real-time tracking of how much water is flowing downstream, information that is vital for flood protection, forecasting water supplies and knowing what the future might bring.

That network of stream gauges got a big boost Sept. 30 with the signing of SB 19. Authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the law requires the state to develop a stream gauge deployment plan, focusing on reactivating existing gauges that have been offline for lack of funding and other reasons. Nearly half of California’s stream gauges are dormant.

Foundation Event University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law Jenn Bowles Nick Gray

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond

The Water Education Foundation’s Water 101 Workshop, one of our most popular events, offered attendees the opportunity to deepen their understanding of California’s water history, laws, geography and politics.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop held on Feb. 20, 2020 covered the latest on the most compelling issues in California water. 

McGeorge School of Law
3327 5th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
Western Water Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

Could “Black Swan” Events Spawned by Climate Change Wreak Havoc in the Colorado River Basin?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Scientists say a warming planet increases odds of extreme drought and flood; officials say they’re trying to include those possibilities in their plans

Runoff from what some describe as an "epic flood" in 1983 strained the capacity of Glen Canyon Dam to convey water fast enough.  The Colorado River Basin’s 20 years of drought and the dramatic decline in water levels at the river’s key reservoirs have pressed water managers to adapt to challenging conditions. But even more extreme — albeit rare — droughts or floods that could overwhelm water managers may lie ahead in the Basin as the effects of climate change take hold, say a group of scientists. They argue that stakeholders who are preparing to rewrite the operating rules of the river should plan now for how to handle these so-called “black swan” events so they’re not blindsided.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

How Private Capital is Speeding up Sierra Nevada Forest Restoration in a Way that Benefits Water
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: A bond fund that fronts the money is expediting a headwaters restoration project to improve forest health, water quality and supply

District Ranger Lon Henderson with Tahoe National Forest points toward an overgrown section of forest within the Blue Forest project area. The majestic beauty of the Sierra Nevada forest is awe-inspiring, but beneath the dazzling blue sky, there is a problem: A century of fire suppression and logging practices have left trees too close together. Millions of trees have died, stricken by drought and beetle infestation. Combined with a forest floor cluttered with dry brush and debris, it’s a wildfire waiting to happen.

Fires devastate the Sierra watersheds upon which millions of Californians depend — scorching the ground, unleashing a battering ram of debris and turning hillsides into gelatinous, stream-choking mudflows. 

With Drought Plan in Place, Colorado River Stakeholders Face Even Tougher Talks Ahead On The River’s Future
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Talks are about to begin on a potentially sweeping agreement that could reimagine how the Colorado River is managed

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. Even as stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin celebrate the recent completion of an unprecedented drought plan intended to stave off a crashing Lake Mead, there is little time to rest. An even larger hurdle lies ahead as they prepare to hammer out the next set of rules that could vastly reshape the river’s future.

Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could provoke conflict.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

California’s New Natural Resources Secretary Takes on Challenge of Implementing Gov. Newsom’s Ambitious Water Agenda
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Wade Crowfoot addresses Delta tunnel shift, Salton Sea plan and managing water amid a legacy of conflict

Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Secretary.One of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.

That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach” on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.

Lower Colorado River Tour 2020
Field Trip - March 11-13

This tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour. 

Silverton Hotel
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Flood Management Gary Pitzer

Southern California Water Providers Think Local in Seeking to Expand Supplies
WESTERN WATER SIDEBAR: Los Angeles and San Diego among agencies pursuing more diverse water portfolio beyond imports

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad last December marked 40 billion gallons of drinking water delivered to San Diego County during its first three years of operation. The desalination plant provides the county with more than 50 million gallons of water each day.Although Santa Monica may be the most aggressive Southern California water provider to wean itself from imported supplies, it is hardly the only one looking to remake its water portfolio.

In Los Angeles, a city of about 4 million people, efforts are underway to dramatically slash purchases of imported water while boosting the amount from recycling, stormwater capture, groundwater cleanup and conservation. Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014 announced a plan to reduce the city’s purchase of imported water from Metropolitan Water District by one-half by 2025 and to provide one-half of the city’s supply from local sources by 2035. (The city considers its Eastern Sierra supplies as imported water.)

Western Water Groundwater Education Bundle Gary Pitzer

Imported Water Built Southern California; Now Santa Monica Aims To Wean Itself Off That Supply
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Santa Monica is tapping groundwater, rainwater and tighter consumption rules to bring local supply and demand into balance

The Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) treats dry weather urban runoff to remove pollutants such as sediment, oil, grease, and pathogens for nonpotable use.Imported water from the Sierra Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on imported water.

Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s, Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Douglas E. Beeman

Women Leading in Water, Colorado River Drought and Promising Solutions — Western Water Year in Review

Dear Western Water readers:

Women named in the last year to water leadership roles (clockwise, from top left): Karla Nemeth, director, California Department of Water Resources; Gloria Gray,  chair, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Brenda Burman, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner; Jayne Harkins,  commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S. and Mexico; Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission.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:

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

As Colorado River Stakeholders Draft a Drought Plan, the Margin for Error in Managing Water Supplies Narrows
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Climate report and science studies point toward a drier Basin with less runoff and a need to re-evaluate water management

This aerial view of Hoover Dam shows how far the level of Lake Mead has fallen due to ongoing drought conditions.As stakeholders labor to nail down effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times ahead.

The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving, when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the cause.

Western Water California Water Map Layperson's Guide to the State Water Project Gary Pitzer

As He Steps Aside, Tim Quinn Talks About ‘Adversarialists,’ Collaboration and Hope For Solving the State’s Tough Water Issues
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Tim Quinn, retiring executive director of Association of California Water Agencies

ACWA Executive Director Tim Quinn  with a report produced by Association of California Water Agencies on  sustainable groundwater management.  (Source:  Association of California Water Agencies)In the universe of California water, Tim Quinn is a professor emeritus. Quinn has seen — and been a key player in — a lot of major California water issues since he began his water career 40 years ago as a young economist with the Rand Corporation, then later as deputy general manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and finally as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. In December, the 66-year-old will retire from ACWA.


Can El Niño Tell Us Anything About What’s Ahead for Water Year 2019?
Learn what is and isn't known about forecasting Water Year 2019 at Dec. 5 workshop in Irvine

Nimbus Dam winter releasesJust because El Niño may be lurking off in the tropical Pacific, does that really offer much of a clue about what kind of rainy season California can expect in Water Year 2019?

Will a river of storms pound the state, swelling streams and packing the mountains with deep layers of heavy snow much like the exceptionally wet 2017 Water Year (Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017)? Or will this winter sputter along like last winter, leaving California with a second dry year and the possibility of another potential drought? What can reliably be said about the prospects for Water Year 2019?

At Water Year 2019: Feast or Famine?, a one-day event on Dec. 5 in Irvine, water managers and anyone else interested in this topic will learn about what is and isn’t known about forecasting California’s winter precipitation weeks to months ahead, the skill of present forecasts and ongoing research to develop predictive ability.

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
One-day workshop included optional groundwater tour

One of our most popular events, our annual Water 101 Workshop details the history, geography, legal and political facets of water in California as well as hot topics currently facing the state.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop on Feb. 7 gave attendees a deeper understanding of the state’s most precious natural resources.

 Optional Groundwater Tour

On Feb. 8, we jumped aboard a bus to explore groundwater, a key resource in California. Led by Foundation staff and groundwater experts Thomas Harter and Carl Hauge, retired DWR chief hydrogeologist, the tour visited cities and farms using groundwater, examined a subsidence measuring station and provided the latest updates on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

McGeorge School of Law
3327 5th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Douglas E. Beeman

What Would You Do About Water If You Were California’s Next Governor?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Survey at Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit elicits a long and wide-ranging potential to-do list

There’s going to be a new governor in California next year – and a host of challenges both old and new involving the state’s most vital natural resource, water.

So what should be the next governor’s water priorities?

That was one of the questions put to more than 150 participants during a wrap-up session at the end of the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River Gary Pitzer

New Leader Takes Over as the Upper Colorado River Commission Grapples With Less Water and a Drier Climate
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission

Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River CommissionAmy Haas recently became the first non-engineer and the first woman to serve as executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission in its 70-year history, putting her smack in the center of a host of daunting challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Yet those challenges will be quite familiar to Haas, an attorney who for the past year has served as deputy director and general counsel of the commission. (She replaced longtime Executive Director Don Ostler). She has a long history of working within interstate Colorado River governance, including representing New Mexico as its Upper Colorado River commissioner and playing a central role in the negotiation of the recently signed U.S.-Mexico agreement known as Minute 323.

Headwaters Tour 2018

Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality.

Headwaters tour participants on a hike in the Sierra Nevada.

We headed into the foothills and the mountains to examine water issues that happen upstream but have dramatic impacts downstream and throughout the state. 

GEI (Tour Starting Point)
2868 Prospect Park Dr.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670.

Annual Water Summit to Focus on Critical Issues from the Headwaters to the Delta
Registration now open for Sept. 20th event in Sacramento; some sponsorship opportunities still available

Our annual Water Summit, being held Sept. 20, will feature critical conversations about water in California and the West revolving around the theme: Facing Reality from the Headwaters to the Delta. 

As debate continues to swirl around longer-term remedies for California’s water challenges, the theme reflects the need for straightforward dialogue about more immediate, on-the-ground solutions.

Domino Effect: As Arizona Searches For a Unifying Voice, a Drought Plan for the Lower Colorado River Is Stalled
EDITOR'S NOTE: Finding solutions to the Colorado River — or any disputed river —may be the most important role anyone can play

Nowhere is the domino effect in Western water policy played out more than on the Colorado River, and specifically when it involves the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona. We are seeing that play out now as the three states strive to forge a Drought Contingency Plan. Yet that plan can’t be finalized until Arizona finds a unifying voice between its major water players, an effort you can read more about in the latest in-depth article of Western Water.

Even then, there are some issues to resolve just within California.


Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman to be Keynote Speaker at Water Summit
Registration now open for Sept. 20th event in Sacramento

Reclamation Commissioner Brenda BurmanBrenda Burman, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, will give the keynote lunch address at our 35th annual conference, the Water Summit, to be held Sept. 20 in Sacramento.

The daylong event will feature critical conversations about water in California and the West revolving around the theme: Facing Reality from the Headwaters to the Delta.


Lower Colorado River Tour 2018

Lower Colorado River Tour participants at Hoover Dam.

We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118

Learn What New Tree-Ring Studies Reveal about Drought Patterns in Southern California
Also hear about efforts to improve weather forecasting, drought preparedness at April 19th workshop in San Pedro

University of Arizona research professor removes tree core sample from bigcone Douglas fir tree.Learn what new tree-ring studies in Southern California watersheds reveal about drought, hear about efforts to improve subseasonal to seasonal weather forecasting and get the latest on climate change impacts that will alter drought vulnerability in the future.

At our Paleo Drought Workshop on April 19th in San Pedro, you will hear from experts at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Arizona and California Department of Water Resources.


Learn About Efforts to Improve Weather Forecasting at San Pedro Drought Workshop
Agenda for April 19 event just posted; check out other topics, speakers

Dramatic swings in weather patterns over the past few years in California are stark reminders of climate variability and regional vulnerability. Alternating years of drought and intense rain events make long-term planning for storing and distributing water a challenging task.

Current weather forecasting capabilities provide details for short time horizons. Attend the Paleo Drought Workshop in San Pedro on April 19 to learn more about research efforts to improve sub-seasonal to seasonal precipitation forecasting, known as S2S, and how those models could provide more useful weather scenarios for resource managers.


Improve Drought Preparedness By Digging into the Past at April 19th Workshop in San Pedro
Learn new details about historic droughts in Southern California watersheds and how they provide insight on water management today

Cracked dirt as in a droughtCalifornia’s 2012-2016 drought revealed vulnerabilities for water users throughout the state, and the long-term record suggests more challenges may lie ahead.  

An April 19 workshop in San Pedro will highlight new information about drought durations in Southern California watersheds dating back centuries.

Foundation Event University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
Event included optional Delta Tour

One of our most popular events, Water 101 details the history, geography, legal and political facets of water in California as well as hot topics currently facing the state.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop gives attendees a deeper understanding of the state’s most precious natural resource.

McGeorge School of Law
3285 5th Ave, Classroom C
Sacramento, CA 95817

‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,’ Climate Change and the Future of California’s Water
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Climate scientist Daniel Swain

Daniel SwainEvery day, people flock to Daniel Swain’s social media platforms to find out the latest news and insight about California’s notoriously unpredictable weather. Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, famously coined the term “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” in December 2013 to describe the large, formidable high-pressure mass that was parked over the West Coast during winter and diverted storms away from California, intensifying the drought.

Swain’s research focuses on atmospheric processes that cause droughts and floods, along with the changing character of extreme weather events in a warming world. A lifelong Californian and alumnus of University of California, Davis, and Stanford University, Swain is best known for the widely read Weather West blog, which provides unique perspectives on weather and climate in California and the western United States. In a recent interview with Western Water, he talked about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, its potential long-term impact on California weather, and what may lie ahead for the state’s water supply. 

Headwaters Tour 2019
Field Trip - June 27-28

Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality. 

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2019

This three-day, two-night tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour. 

Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Layperson’s Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources
Published 2017

Layperson's Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources

Evidence shows that climate change is affecting California with warmer temperatures, less snowfall and more extreme weather events. This guide explains the causes of climate change, the effects on water resources and efforts underway to better adapt to a changing climate. It includes information on both California water and the water of the Colorado River Basin, a widely shared resource throughout the Southwest. 

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Lake Tahoe

World-renowned for its crystal clear, azure water, Lake Tahoe straddles the Nevada-California border, stretching 22 miles long and 12 miles wide and hemmed in by Sierra Nevada peaks.

At 1,645 feet deep, Tahoe is the second-deepest lake in the United States and the 10th deepest in the world. The iconic lake sits 6,225 feet above sea level.


River Report Examines Climate Change Impact on Colorado River Basin

Drought and climate change are having a noticeable impact on the Colorado River Basin, and that is posing potential challenges to those in the Southwestern United States and Mexico who rely on the river.

In the just-released Winter 2017-18 edition of River Report, writer Gary Pitzer examines what scientists project will be the impact of climate change on the Colorado River Basin, and how water managers are preparing for a future of increasing scarcity.

River Reports

Winter 2017-18 River Report
A Warmer Future and Increased Risk

Rising temperatures from climate change are having a noticeable effect on how much water is flowing down the Colorado River. Read the latest River Report to learn more about what’s happening, and how water managers are responding.

Western Water Magazine

The Colorado River: Living with Risk, Avoiding Curtailment
Fall 2017

This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water managers and others are trying to face the future. 

Aquapedia background


The atmospheric condition at any given time or place, measured by wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness and precipitation. Weather changes from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season. Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather, during a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years.

Aquapedia background

Natural Variability

Variations in the statistical analysis of the climate on all time and space scales beyond that of individual weather events is known as natural variability. Natural variations in climate over time are caused by internal processes of the climate system, such as El Niño, and phenomena such as volcanic activity and variations in the output of the sun.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Climate Change Impacts Here to Stay for California Farmers, Grower Says

California agriculture is going to have to learn to live with the impacts of climate change and work toward reducing its contributions of greenhouse gas emissions, a Yolo County walnut grower said at the Jan. 26 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.

“I don’t believe we are going to be able to adapt our way out of climate change,” said Russ Lester, co-owner of Dixon Ridge Farms in Winters. “We need to mitigate for it. It won’t solve the problem but it can slow it down.”

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While less a scientific term than a colloquial one, meadows are defined by their aquatic, soil and vegetative properties.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Average Sierra Nevada Winter Temps at Record Highs
Scientist Brad Udall says climate pattern is new normal for California

Brad Udall

California had its warmest winter on record in 2014-2015, with the average Sierra Nevada temperature hovering above 32 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest in 120 years. Thus, where California relies on snow to fall in the mountains and create a snowpack that can slowly melt into reservoirs, it was instead raining. That left the state’s snowpack at its lowest ever – 5 percent on April 1, 2015.

Because he relays stats like these, climate scientist Brad Udall says he doesn’t often get invited back to speak before the same audience about climate change.

Western Water Magazine

Is California’s Water Supply Resilient and Sustainable?
January/February 2015

This issue looks at sustainability and resiliency and what the terms mean for California’s water.


Overcoming the Deluge: California’s Plan for Managing Floods (DVD)

This 30-minute documentary, produced in 2011, explores the past, present and future of flood management in California’s Central Valley. It features stories from residents who have experienced the devastating effects of a California flood firsthand. Interviews with long-time Central Valley water experts from California Department of Water Resources (FloodSAFE), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Central Valley Flood Management Program and environmental groups are featured as they discuss current efforts to improve the state’s 150-year old flood protection system and develop a sustainable, integrated, holistic flood management plan for the Central Valley.


A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.


Stormwater Management: Turning Runoff into a Resource

20-minute DVD that explains the problem with polluted stormwater, and steps that can be taken to help prevent such pollution and turn what is often viewed as a “nuisance” into a water resource through various activities.


Water on the Edge (60-minute DVD)

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.

Maps & Posters

Water Cycle Poster

Water as a renewable resource is depicted in this 18×24 inch poster. Water is renewed again and again by the natural hydrologic cycle where water evaporates, transpires from plants, rises to form clouds, and returns to the earth as precipitation. Excellent for elementary school classroom use.

Maps & Posters Colorado River Bundle

Colorado River Basin Map
Redesigned in 2017

Redesigned in 2017, this beautiful map depicts the seven Western states that share the Colorado River with Mexico. The Colorado River supplies water to nearly 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the country of Mexico. Text on this beautiful, 24×36-inch map, which is suitable for framing, explains the river’s apportionment, history and the need to adapt its management for urban growth and expected climate change impacts.


Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law
Updated 2020

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of California water rights.


Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project
Updated 2013

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project provides an overview of the California-funded and constructed State Water Project.


Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water Management
Published 2013

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication that provides background information on the principles of IRWM, its funding history and how it differs from the traditional water management approach.

Publication Colorado River Basin Map

Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River
Updated 2018

Cover page for the Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River .

The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles in the southwestern United States. The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the history of the river’s development; negotiations over division of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and a chronology of significant Colorado River events.


Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project
Updated 2021

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project explores the history and development of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), California’s largest surface water delivery system. In addition to the project’s history, the guide describes the various CVP facilities, CVP operations, the benefits the CVP brought to the state and the CVP Improvement Act (CVPIA).

Publication Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map

Layperson’s Guide to the Delta
Updated 2020

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta, its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex issues with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural drainage, fish and wildlife, and water distribution.

Aquapedia background Layperson's Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources

Climate Change

California Department of Water Resources snow survey in the Sierra Nevada.

Climate change involves natural and man-made changes to weather patterns that occur over millions of years or over multiple decades.

In the past 150 years, human industrial activity has accelerated the rate of change in the climate due to the increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, among others). Scientific studies describing this climate change continue to be produced and its expected impacts continue to be assessed.

Western Water Magazine

Overdrawn at the Bank: Managing California’s Groundwater
January/February 2014

This printed issue of Western Water looks at California groundwater and whether its sustainability can be assured by local, regional and state management. For more background information on groundwater please refer to the Founda­tion’s Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater.

Western Water Magazine

Two States, One Lake: Keeping Lake Tahoe Blue
September/October 2013

This printed issue of Western Water discusses some of the issues associated with the effort to preserve and restore the clarity of Lake Tahoe.

Western Water Magazine

Adjusting to the New Reality: Climate Change in the West
July/August 2013

This printed issue of Western Water This issue of Western Water looks at climate change through the lens of some of the latest scientific research and responses from experts regarding mitigation and adaptation.

Western Water Magazine

Meeting the Co-equal Goals? The Bay Delta Conservation Plan
May/June 2013

This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying California’s long-term water supply reliability.

Western Water Magazine

Viewing Water with a Wide Angle Lens: A Roundtable Discussion
January/February 2013

This printed issue of Western Water features a roundtable discussion with Anthony Saracino, a water resources consultant; Martha Davis, executive manager of policy development with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and senior policy advisor to the Delta Stewardship Council; Stuart Leavenworth, editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee and Ellen Hanak, co-director of research and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Western Water Magazine

How Much Water Does the Delta Need?
July/August 2012

This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they might be provided.

Western Water Magazine

Solving the Colorado River Basin’s Math Problem: Adapting to Change
November/December 2011

This printed issue of Western Water explores the historic nature of some of the key agreements in recent years, future challenges, and what leading state representatives identify as potential “worst-case scenarios.” Much of the content for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth panel discussions at the Colorado River Symposium. The Foundation will publish the full proceedings of the Symposium in 2012.

Western Water Magazine

The Colorado River Drought: A Sobering Glimpse into the Future
November/December 2010

This printed issue of Western Water examines the Colorado River drought, and the ongoing institutional and operational changes underway to maintain the system and meet the future challenges in the Colorado River Basin.

Western Water Magazine

Making the Connection: The Water/Energy Nexus
September/October 2010

This printed issue of Western Water looks at the energy requirements associated with water use and the means by which state and local agencies are working to increase their knowledge and improve the management of both resources.

Western Water Magazine

A Significant Challenge: Adapting Water Management to Climate Change
January/February 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines climate change – what’s known about it, the remaining uncertainty and what steps water agencies are talking to prepare for its impact. Much of the information comes from the October 2007 California Climate Change and Water Adaptation Summit sponsored by the Water Education Foundation and DWR and the November 2007 California Water Policy Conference sponsored by Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

A Significant Challenge: Adapting Water Management to Climate Change
January/February 2008

Perhaps no other issue has rocketed to prominence in such a short time as climate change. A decade ago, discussion about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the connection to warming temperatures was but a fraction of the attention now given to the issue. From the United Nations to local communities, people are talking about climate change – its characteristics and what steps need to be taken to mitigate and adapt to the anticipated impacts.

Western Water Magazine

An Inconvenient Future? Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change
September/October 2006

This issue of Western Water looks at climate change and its implications on water management in a region that is wholly dependent on steady, predictable wet seasons to recharge supplies for the lengthy dry periods. To what degree has climate change occurred and what are the scenarios under which impacts will have to be considered by water providers? The future is anything but clear.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

An Inconvenient Future? Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change
Sept/Oct 2006

The inimitable Yogi Berra once proclaimed, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” While the Hall of Fame baseball player was not referring to the weather, his words are no less prophetic when it comes to the discussion of a changing climate and its potential impacts on water resources in the West.