Autumnal rain has sent a surge of Chinook salmon swimming up
Bay Area creeks, a sharp reversal in fortune for an iconic
species that has struggled after years of drought. A living
link between our mountains and coast, the fish responded to
late October’s fierce atmospheric river by rushing up the
region’s once-parched rivers, say biologists, frequenting spots
where they’ve never been seen. … In recent years, populations
of Chinook, also known as king salmon, have collapsed with
astonishing speed — and even this current run is unlikely to
end well if more rain doesn’t come.
Every drop matters, when [Ventura] county is experiencing
‘exceptional drought’ — essentially when you look at the U.S.
Drought Monitor map, it’s the most severe drought The city of
Moorpark is part of the Calleguas Municipal Water District.
Other cities like Oxnard, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley also
get their water from Calleguas. It adds up to 75 percent of the
county’s residents — that’s over 650,000 people. But that
water supply is challenged.
This year’s mega-fires may be contained, the fire fronts
extinguished and late flareups tamed by early season rain. But
a secondary disaster has only just begun among the acres and
acres of dead trees left behind. While the giant firestorms of
2017 and 2018 destroyed more homes and killed more people, the
wildfires in 2020 and 2021 killed more trees. And those losses
pose an existential threat to 32 million acres of territory
blanketed by forests and the people who live and work there.
In fields on the Arizona-California border, farmers draw water
from the nearby Colorado River to grow alfalfa, irrigating
crops as they have for decades. That could change soon. An
investment company has purchased nearly 500 acres of farmland
and wants to strip it of its
water and send it 200 miles across the
desert to a Phoenix suburb, where developers plan to build
thousands of new houses. Similar deals could follow as the
demand for water in the growing Southwest outpaces the
Delegates and activists from nearly 200 countries returned from
the COP26 global environmental forum in Glasgow, Scotland, with
a long list of climate-related promises and targets to discuss
and implement. While many countries made a renewed commitment
to climate-resilient and sustainable agricultural systems, some
groups accused leaders at COP26 of not doing enough to improve
water security globally …. California’s persistent
droughts, for instance, give water conservation methods new
urgency — as the state’s massive agricultural industry accounts
for 80 percent of California’s water usage.
Consumers should prepare to pay more than usual for live and
fake Christmas trees this year because of climate change and
supply chain issues, according to the American Christmas Tree
Association. The real Christmas tree harvest was impacted by
wildfires, floods and extreme weather in Oregon, which is the
number one producer of Christmas trees in the nation and where
many West Coast sellers buy their trees.
Amy Cordalis is a fisherwoman, attorney, mother, and member of
the Yurok Tribe, the largest federally recognized Tribe in
California. From 2014-2016, she was General Counsel for the
Tribe, the first woman and first Yurok tribal member to serve
in that position. She is also the principal of the Ridges to
Riffles Conservation Fund, a non-profit fund representing
Native American tribes in natural and cultural resource
After a year of extreme drought, massive wildfires, and even a
brief spate of record-breaking rainfall, Californians no longer
question whether the climate is changing—climate change is
here. The escalating crises add urgency to the issue of how
Californians manage their water. From November 15–17, the PPIC
Water Policy Center convened three expert panels (as part of
our annual water priorities conference) to discuss how we can
“seize the drought” to meet the challenges we’re already
Drought has tightened its grip on the Western U.S., as dry
conditions tick on into their second decade and strain a river
that supplies 40 million people. Experts agree that things are
bad and getting worse. But how exactly do you measure a
drought, and how can you tell where it’s going? Brad Udall is
an expert on the subject, studying water and climate at
Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center. Lately, his
forecasts for the basin haven’t been particularly uplifting.
A profound reduction in the Colorado River water earmarked for
Arizona’s crops has at last triggered the rationing that
irrigation farmers have dreaded. The Tier 1 shortage will
prompt a 512,000-acre-foot reduction in Arizona’s Colorado
River deliveries. That amounts to about 30% of Central Arizona
Project’s normal supply. … Farmers will need to expand
their horizons and tighten down their faucets, even more than
they have done over the last three decades, as they
successfully cut average per-acre water use by a fifth. -Written by Gary Paul Nabhan, the W.K., Kellogg
endowed chair for food and water security at the University of
Oil companies that blast water and chemicals into the earth to
extract fossil fuels are having trouble getting new permits for
their California operations even sooner than expected. Gov.
Gavin Newsom pledged the state would stop issuing new permits
for fracking by 2024, but California has already begun to ban
the controversial oil extraction method in practice by denying
permits in droves with little fanfare. … [Fracking has]
long been a controversial method because of what climate
activists see as unacceptable dangers, including the
possibility that it can contaminate groundwater.
In many places, including Southern California, climate change
has increased the threat of drought and the need for new and
continuous water resources. Higher salinity water streams, and
sometimes seawater, come into consideration to alleviate such
scarcity, but require higher energy investment due to the need
to desalinate these streams. The proximity of some desalination
facilities to wastewater reclamation facilities provides an
opportunity to coordinate the two different water
As the first winter storms rolled through this month, a King
Air C90 turboprop aircraft contracted by the hydropower company
Idaho Power took to the skies over southern Idaho to make it
snow. Flying across the cloud tops, the aircraft dropped flares
that burned as they descended, releasing plumes of silver
iodide that caused ice crystals to form and snow to fall over
the mountains. In the spring, that snow will melt and run
downstream, replenishing reservoirs, irrigating fields and
potentially generating hundreds of thousands of additional
megawatt hours of carbon-free hydropower for the state.
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. … The hope, shared by stakeholders who have
traditionally fought over water and land, is to rebuild habitat
for fish, birds and other wildlife while simultaneously
providing benefits, like improved flood protection and
groundwater recharge, for towns and farms.
The megafire era gripping the West isn’t just a threat to human
development. Fires now burn so intensely that they literally
reshape forests, shift tree species, and turn calm waterways
into devastating mudflows. A 2017 University of Colorado study
analyzing 15 burn scars left from fires in Colorado and New
Mexico found that as many as 80% of the plots did not contain
Today’s Great Salt Lake bears little resemblance to how it’s
depicted on maps, which show a familiar blue footprint
spreading across northwest Utah. The maps conceal the urgency
of our water woes by drowning out how climate change and
allocation issues have impacted one of the West’s iconic bodies
of water. The Salt Lake Tribune and AccuWeather will update
their Utah maps to show the lake as it really is, a puddle of
its former self, rimmed by vast reaches of exposed lake bed.
I’m your host Michela Tindera, and this is Priceless. In this
episode, we’re headed West to the epicenter of one of the most
productive farming regions in the world—California’s Central
Valley—where the area is in the throes of a megadrought that
has been drying up wells and damaging crops across the western
United States. It’s there in the Central Valley, where a
billionaire couple own a majority stake in one of California’s
largest water storage facilities.
Many water management and regulation decisions require an
understanding of current and future hydrology. These
include regulatory decisions on new water rights, plans and
design for habitat restoration projects, long-lived water
infrastructure (conveyance, storage, and levees, etc.), water
demands (orchards and vines), groundwater sustainability plans
and policies, negotiating long-term agreements and contracts
among water agencies and water users, etc.
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.
The amount of fire activity in the Sierra Nevada region may be
on track to considerably increase, according to new research on
the effects of the hottest summer days on fire risk. In an
article published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances,
researchers predicted the ramifications associated with hotter
summer days increasing in frequency. They estimate the number
of fires in the Sierra Nevada could increase by at least 19%
and as much as 83% by the 2040s.
At the top of Donner Summit, an old cabin rests in a thicket of
tall trees. … The cabin is the home of an obscure laboratory,
called the Central Sierra Snow Lab, that holds records of
snowfall on Donner Summit dating back to 1878. That makes the
laboratory’s measurements one of the longest sets of data on
snowfall in the world — and many of those records were written
by hand, in long-form cursive penned on dated entries in small
Farmers, ranchers, and community resource managers know all too
well that climate change can contribute to increased drought in
the western United States. A new web-based platform called
OpenET puts NASA data on water in 17 western states into the
hands of users, helping them better calculate crop water
requirements, use water more efficiently, and better plan
irrigation. The “ET” in OpenET stands for evapotranspiration,
which is the process through which water leaves plants, soils,
and other surfaces and returns to the atmosphere.
Keeping salmon in her children’s diet is “an entire job,” says
Georgiana Gensaw, a Yurok Tribe member and mother of four in
Klamath Glen, a community whose only easily accessible food
store is a fried chicken shop attached to a gas station a few
miles away. … The salmon [the Yurok people
have] long depended on as both dietary staple and cultural
cornerstone have become scarce. Combined with the lack of food
sovereignty, it has prompted the need to fight for their main
sources of nutrition and for their very way of life, they say.
Wildfires spread by strong winds tore across Wyoming, Montana
and Colorado, rocking the mountain states even as they prepare
for winter. … In decades past, fire season in the
mountainous west wrapped up in the months before the winter
storms, typically concluding its siege by August or September.
But the climate crisis has delivered hotter days and drier
landscapes, with the risks extending deeper into spring and
The global water desalination equipment market size is
expected to reach USD 22.79 billion by 2028, according to a new
report by Grand View Research, Inc. It is expected to expand at
a CAGR of 7.1% from 2020 to 2028. Increasing water scarcity,
depletion in freshwater reserves, and fast-paced advancements
in desalination technologies are anticipated to have a positive
impact on the market growth.
Guidelines for how cities and local agencies should adapt
roads, railways and water systems to accommodate rising
seas were unanimously approved Wednesday by the state
Coastal Commission. The 230-page document sets a controversial
benchmark by urging communities to prepare for the Pacific
Ocean to rise 10 feet by 2100, a projection so far beyond
current calculations that climate scientists haven’t yet
determined the probability of it occurring. … Ten of the 16
public speakers, including representatives of eight
environmental groups, called on the commission to include
desalination plants as among the “critical infrastructure”
addressed, particularly since the guidance was designed to
address water facilities.
California has not built enough new reservoirs, desalination
plants and other water projects because there are too many
delays, too many lawsuits and too much red tape. That’s the
message from a growing coalition of Central Valley farmers and
Southern California desalination supporters who have begun
collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would
fast-track big water projects and provide billions of dollars
to fund them — potentially setting up a major political
showdown with environmentalists next year shaped by the state’s
President Biden on Monday signed a historic $1-trillion
bipartisan bill that he said will overhaul the nation’s
infrastructure and boost the nation’s economy, which has been
battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Touting the legislation as a
job creator, the president said it was also an example of him
fulfilling a campaign promise to reach across the aisle to get
things done. … California is set to receive about $3.5
billion to eliminate lead water pipes and take other steps to
improve drinking water. It should also receive more than $80
million to help mitigate wildfires and other natural disasters.
Foster City has completed the first year of construction of its
Levee Improvement Project, a milestone for the major
infrastructure project being built to protect the city during
storms and high tides and from future sea level rise.
… The project also includes redevelopment and widening
of the Levee/Bay Trail, which will provide the community with
an enhanced, more inviting recreation destination. The overall
project timeline is from October 2020 through 2023. Measure P,
the $90 million general obligation bond for the project, was
overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018.
Naturalists have long noted isolated examples of tree roots
boring far down through loose soil and into the unforgiving
bedrock below—rare incursions that were deemed a mere
curiosity. But in 2013 hydrologist Daniella Rempe probed deep
into a northern California hillside and found tree roots
extracting substantial amounts of moisture from pores and
crannies in the rock, where groundwater had seeped in and
The Sierra Nevada mountains are the source of more than 60% of
California’s water, with much of that originating in small
headwater streams. Unfortunately, the water supply and water
quality coming from these streams is at risk from record
setting wildfires, climate change, loss of riparian habitats,
and the extensive network of forest roads.
An estimated 40 million people rely on water that originates in
the Colorado River Basin, but the river can no longer keep up
with demand, and it’s raising serious questions about the
future of water in the west. Surrounded by bright orange
pumpkins and empty shanks of corn outside his store east of
Pueblo, Shane Milberger surveys his field.
A 22-foot-high floodwall was supposed to protect Aqua
Pennsylvania’s water-treatment facility near the Schuylkill
River from a 100-year storm. But when the remains of Hurricane
Ida barreled through the area near Philadelphia in September,
the 18-inch-thick wall proved no match for the record
rains. Waters breached the barrier and inundated the
plant. Mud and debris coated offices. Employees rushed to shut
down the facility. They barely got out in time, some rolling
down car windows in case they got caught in the rising waters
and had to leap out…
For California, the arrival of winter means the beginning of
our rainy season, at least relatively speaking. However much
precipitation California is going to receive in a year, the
bulk of it typically falls between December and March. And
given the severity of our state’s ongoing drought, the amount
of rain we get this winter couldn’t be of more importance. A
recent outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration suggests that the northern and southern halves
of the state may experience diverging water fortunes this
winter because of something you may already be familiar with:
As I write this on an October weekend, rain is falling steadily
in Davis and has been for most of the day. This is the first
real rain we have had in over seven months. But it is not the
end of the drought. Multiple storms are needed. The landscape
is a dry sponge, reservoirs are empty, water rationing is in
place or expected to be, and aquatic species are in decline.
Hurricanes, tornadoes and even atmospheric river storms are
ranked, based on their intensity, to help people prepare. Now,
legislation that’s expected to be proposed in Sacramento would
add heat waves to that list of dangerous-weather
rankings. State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said
Friday that he will sponsor a proposal by two Southern
California legislators to develop a scale for heat waves with
categories based on heat intensity and health impacts.
Crenshaw is one of at least 47 communities where the worsening
impacts of climate change will be felt most acutely, according
to a groundbreaking new L.A. County report, which outlines in
stark detail how some of the Southland’s most vulnerable
residents could bear the brunt of extreme heat, wildfires,
drought and floods. … Many of those communities are home
to low-income people and people of color.
Countries across the world are coming together in Glasgow for
COP26 to discuss how the world will address our climate crisis.
…The time for action is now, and as the largest historical
contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the United States has
a moral and practical responsibility to reach net zero
emissions by or before 2050. … In California, we are
facing a nearly year-round threat of wildfires that has been
exacerbated by the effects of climate change. This year, we are
entering a new drought, which will only increase the threat of
these fires. -Written by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, a
Democrat from Santa Monica representing the 50th Assembly
Don’t be surprised if the citrus you find at the grocery store
this season is smaller than in years past. Growers say early
navel varieties generally are running smaller this year,
putting a premium on larger offerings. Matt Fisher, a
Central California farmer who has citrus groves from Orange
Cove to Bakersfield, said multiple factors come into play,
including the state’s ongoing drought and triple-digit heat
Lake Mendocino, once a plentiful reservoir nourishing the vines
and villas of Sonoma and Mendocino counties, today is little
more than a large pond, cowering beneath the coastal hills.
… State officials warn that Lake Mendocino could be the
first major reservoir in modern times to go dry. While rain
over the past few weeks has lifted the lake above its October
low, the reservoir, a few miles northeast of Ukiah, remains at
less than 20% capacity. Officials worry that the looming wet
winter season won’t bring enough inflow to meet next year’s
On November 5, 2021, the U.S. Congress
passed President Biden’s major infrastructure bill, HR
3684, the $1.2 trillion ‘‘Infrastructure Investment
and Jobs Act.” The President is expected to sign
the bill into law. The bill is the largest
single federal investment in infrastructure in a
generation, with the funds to be expended over five
years. It aims to rebuild and
replace failing, aging, and outdated water,
energy, transportation, and communications
Amid the unpredictable impacts of climate change, UC Davis has
been recently awarded $10 million in grant funding by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and
Agriculture. Researchers from a wide range of fields — from
socioeconomics to agricultural groundwater and soil health —
will collaborate to optimize groundwater and agricultural
irrigation sustainability in the Southwest for farmers to
improve crop yield and cost efficiency.
This year alone Texas froze over and the Sierra Nevada forests
that help sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere burned
on and on from the Caldor Fire – two sure signs of the need to
better predict extreme events caused by climate change, and the
effect these events have on ecosystem services, such as carbon
sequestration by plants and soils. Doing so requires
realistic, high-resolution simulations of environmental changes
taking place across oceans, land, and ice generated by Earth
system models running on the most powerful, advanced computers.
Mountain snowpacks around the world are in decline. And as the
planet continues to warm, climate models forecast that
snowpacks will shrink dramatically and possibly even disappear
altogether on certain mountains, including in the western
United States. A new study by researchers at several
institutions, including UC Santa Barbara and Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), analyzes the likely timing
of a low-to-no-snow future, what it will mean for water
management, and opportunities for investments now that could
stave off catastrophic consequences.
States in the Colorado River Basin are adjusting to the reality
that their rights outstrip the available water by nearly
one-third, state and tribal leaders told a congressional panel
last month. The situation is likely only to worsen as the
climate changes, leaving states and tribes in competition for
their most vital resource.
You probably know that California’s recent torrential storms
were not enough to end the drought. The state has been so
parched for so long that the rains, while welcome, did not
provide much more than a few drops in the metaphorical bucket.
But the downpour did help quash two of the year’s worst fires
and nourish lands that had been tinder-dry for months. So, you
might be wondering, did the showers at least save us from a
severe fall fire season?
Arizona, California and Nevada are moving forward with a plan
to save another 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead
annually until 2026. We’re talking 500,000 acre-feet over and
above the mandatory cuts that are spelled out in the 2019
Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Each year. For five years. Just
to keep the lake from tanking. -Written by columnist Joanna Allhands.
John Cushman knows that succulents have tricks up their
sleeves. He believes those tricks could shape the future of
farming. Geneticists have long tried to understand the
biochemical marvel of the succulent, and there is still much
they don’t know. But these botanical curiosities have two
important things in common. They’re really good at storing
water. And they work at night. Now, Cushman and his team
want to build off the lines of genetic code that give desert
plants their superpowers. He wants to make soybeans
behave a little more like succulents.
Former UC Berkeley postdoctoral scholar Max Lambert is part of
a team of wildlife experts who spent much of the pandemic
checking in on the health of the Bay Area’s Western pond
turtles, including a population living right next door in
Tilden Regional Park. Despite being California’s only
native freshwater turtle, the Western pond turtle is struggling
to survive the combined effects of climate change, habitat
destruction and urban development — not to
mention competition with the larger, more aggressive
red-eared slider turtle, an invasive species.
As an environmental officer in Samoa, Violet Wulf-Saena worked
with the Lano and Saoluafata Indigenous peoples to restore
coastline mangrove ecosystems that could slow incoming waves
and protect communities from storm and flood damage. Two
decades later, in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, she’s
the director of a nonprofit called Climate Resilient
Communities that works on the same issue: restoring marshlands
and wetlands to better protect vulnerable neighborhoods in
low-lying areas from sea level rise.
Climate change is raising temperatures and increasing the
frequency and intensity of droughts in those high-elevation
alpine environments, where mines typically are located. A
growing body of research links these hotter, drier conditions
to increasingly acidic water, which causes rocks to shed more
minerals into waterways. And the list of what’s entering those
waters continues to grow. These trends could potentially
compromise water quality in watersheds anywhere in the world
where mountains contain high concentrations of minerals…
In the arid West, saline lakes and their wetlands form an
irreplaceable network of habitats that support millions of
migrating shorebirds, waterfowl and other waterbirds throughout
their annual travels. These lakes and their wetlands – from
emergent marshes to playas and mudflats – are part of the
habitat mosaic essential to many bird species. Saline lakes are
sometimes referred to as terminal lakes because they are
situated at the bottom of a watershed basin. -Written by Marcelle Shoop, Audubon’s Saline Lakes
As world leaders meet in Scotland this week to discuss efforts
to address the climate crisis, experts are urging greater focus
on adapting to fundamental shifts in the planet’s water
supplies — and they’re pointing to the Colorado River as a
prime example. The river, a vital water source for about 40
million people from Denver to Los Angeles, has continued to
shrink and send reservoirs declining toward critically low
levels after years of extremely dry conditions compounded by
hotter temperatures. … [T]he river’s plight stands out as one
of the world’s starkest cases of a major water source that is
being ravaged by the altered climate…
In recent years, rising global temperatures and shifting
weather patterns have created water scarcity in many places. In
2020 and 2021, for example, California has experienced
record-breaking droughts and dry spells that have emptied river
beds and forced people to make some hard choices about water
usage. River’s End is a documentary that explores the root
causes of California’s water problems and the influence of the
agricultural industry in relation to them.
If Fifth District residents passively let development interests
lead the way, expanded viticulture and associated sales,
planned communities, depletion of groundwater, traffic, gravel
mining, etc, will overtake our landscape. We will lose the
beauty of open space, natural habitat and the bit of solitude
still left to very early risers. The bridge now being built
over Scotty Creek at Gleason Beach is a glaring example of
things to come, as cement and pavement, rather than natural
methods for shoreline stabilization, is apparently the County’s
preferred solution—economically and politically—to sea level
rise. -Written by local activists Richard Retecki and Laura
To date, the discussion around companies and governments moving
to net-zero has mostly centered on greenhouse gas emissions
goals. … But there is another environmental pledge that
several companies are now taking, focused on water. Often
called “water positive,” it centers on making water-intensive
processes more efficient and putting more water back into a
geographic area where a company operates than it takes out …
A delegation of 15 state lawmakers is joining a conference of
world leaders in Scotland to discuss climate change solutions.
As leaders of the world’s 5th largest economy, their
participation is important, but it’s more urgent for them to
act once they return. … The climate is already changing.
This summer was California’s hottest on record, after the
2010s were the hottest decade ever. California just
experienced its driest year in a century. Every corner of
the state faces severe drought. -Written by Mike Young, the political and
organizing director for California Environmental
In the first decade of the Cold War, California was in a
drought. The coastline north of Los Angeles retreated inland by
several hundred feet. Less water flowing to the ocean meant
less sediment swept down rivers to replenish the beaches that
the waves, left to their own devices, would eat away over time.
… [R]esearch published last year by earth scientists Julie
Zurbuchen, Alexander Simms, and Sebastien Huot
… revealed that on timescales of decades, the southern
California coastline often grew and shrank with natural cycles
of drier and wetter periods …
Baseflow (groundwater flowing to streams) is estimated to
contribute over 50% of the total streamflow in the Upper
Colorado River Basin and is thus crucial for sustaining
ecological and human water needs in this highly managed area.
Baseflow may be sensitive to changing climate, but the
sensitivity is not well constrained. To estimate baseflow
response to climate change, we tested how warm/wet, median, and
hot/dry future climate scenarios affect baseflow in the basin
using a hydrologic model.
It seems as though the two things the Bay Area has the least of
are housing and water. The region has a shortfall of 699,000
housing units, which has driven housing costs to astronomical
heights, and pushed 35,000 of our neighbors into temporary
housing or onto the streets. Our colleagues at San Francisco
Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR),a
public policy think tank, have found that the region needs to
build an astonishing 2.2 million homes by 2070 to meet future
demand and make up for the present shortfall. -Written by Laura Feinstein, sustainability and
resilience policy director at SPUR, a Bay Area public policy
think tank; and Anne Thebo, a senior researcher for
Pacific Institute, a global water think tank.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has extended the drought emergency statewide
and called on all Californians to redouble their efforts to
conserve water. His call to action is critical even with the
storms that recently soaked California, because we know that a
lot more rain and snow will be needed to lift the state out of
the drought. The Governor’s approach to statewide conservation
is laudable, as well, because it continues to empower water
managers with matching local water supply conditions with
conservation, rather than relying on statewide mandates. -Written by Steve LaMar, President of the
Association of California Water Agencies; and Sean
Bigley, chair of the Regional Water Authority and
Assistant Environmental Utilities Director for the City of
It’s a Saturday in September and [Yvette] Hudson can expect to
sell all her fish, as she does three times a week. It’s good
money, but it isn’t enough, and by the end of the year she and
her husband, Mike, will be quitting the commercial fishing
business after 25 years. … Water diversion and habitat
loss continue to threaten the population of wild salmon
migrating between freshwater and saltwater. An even more
serious problem is looming. This year’s heat wave and extended
drought imperiled the Chinook population as warm rivers killed
As heat and wildfires ravaged the US in the summer of 2020,
Wall Street spotted an opportunity. In December last year,
Nasdaq and the CME Group launched a new futures index that
allowed farmers, hedge funds and municipalities to bet on the
forward cost of water in California — and hedge against any
While Las Vegas residents watch nervously as the water level
falls at Lake Mead, our fellow Nevadans are also seeing the
alarming effects of climate change on Lake Tahoe. In both
cases, it’s a call for action on reducing global warming.
Southern Nevadans are well aware of the situation at Lake Mead,
which has reached historically low levels, but they may not be
as familiar with the problems at Lake Tahoe. In a nutshell,
climate change has disrupted weather patterns there to the
point of causing the lake to drop below its natural rim
On a ridge overlooking [Lake Irwin], a lone, cylindrical
contraption — perched atop a steel tower — periodically belches
out flames. The device is a remotely operated cloud seeding
generator. When the conditions are right, it shoots a vaporized
chemical solution into the atmosphere, catalyzing ice crystal
formation and, subsequently, snowfall. The generator at Lake
Irwin, along with its 15 counterparts around Gunnison County,
together contributed an estimated 19 billion gallons of water
into the Colorado River watershed last season.
It had been completely dry in Sacramento for six months. Then
the heavens opened and a record-breaking amount of rain fell in
one day. Such extreme shifts are becoming more frequent in
California and are a harbinger of what is to come for the rest
of a warming planet, scientists say.
The Paiute tribes of eastern California have a deeply alarming
insight into the future. We must listen to their story, for
soon it may be our story too. The indigenous people here are
being encircled by three inter-connected threats: drought, dust
storms and wildfires. The history of the Paiute is already one
of heartbreak and betrayal. In the 19th century, their land was
stolen. In the 20th century, their water was stolen. Now in the
21st century, their environment is being stolen – by the
relentless forces of climate change and by political
indifference to their plight.
As scientists have been predicting, climate change is causing
more dramatic extremes in weather — both wet and dry — and that
pendulum swung very dramatically to the wet side over the
weekend. Consequently, it’s critical we prepare now to capture
and store water during these shorter, intense wet periods so
that more water is available during the inevitable increasingly
severe drought years ahead.
In drought years and when marine heat waves warm the Pacific
Ocean, late-migrating juvenile spring-run Chinook salmon of
California’s Central Valley are the ultimate survivors. They
are among the few salmon that survive in those difficult years
and return to spawning rivers to keep their populations alive,
according to a study published October 28 in Nature Climate
It may look like a weedy mud flat, and yes, sometimes it
burps a bit of sulfuric-scented gas, but the
Kendall-Frost marsh in Mission Bay could be
worth millions in terms of its ability to help slow global
warming. New research ascribes a
dollar value to one of San Diego’s
remaining coastal wetland’s ability to suck carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere and bury it underground, a
process known as carbon sequestration. Viewing
ecosystems this way could help governments like the
city of San Diego weigh the cost and benefits of rebuilding
wetlands over developed land it once occupied.
A historic moisture-packed atmospheric river that swept
California on Sunday into Monday delivered much-needed rain and
snow to a drought-plagued state that could face severe
challenges if it sees another dry winter. The question on
everyone’s minds now is, could this be the start to a wet
winter? Here’s what three experts had to say:
Flooding, particularly on coasts, threatens families and
communities. In a recent study published in the academic
journal Earth’s Future, researchers looked at the costs of
coastal flooding through an equity lens, finding that flooding
comes with both monetary and social risks, suggesting that many
people who own or rent homes at risk from rising sea levels may
not have enough money to pay for the associated damages.
… The study, which analyzed counties in the San
Francisco Bay Area, projected flooding impacts from 2020 to
2060, determining that coastal flooding disproportionately
impacts lower-income households.
Despite the historic rainfall totals from the weekend, that
much rain in such a short amount of time caused problems for
some Central Valley farmers. Bruce Blodgett with the
San Joaquin County
Farm Bureau said the record rainfall from last
weekend was encouraging but it’s not enough to move the
needle on the statewide drought. … According to the farm
bureau, growers won’t know the true impact of the rain for
It rained so hard in California in 1862 that a 300-mile-long
lake was created in the Central Valley, stretching from
Bakersfield to Red Bluff. … Yes, climate change is
distressingly real. The melting Arctic ice cap and rising seas
are evidence enough. So are higher average summer temperatures.
The warming is exacerbated by humans burning fossil
fuels. That doesn’t mean global warming is the mother of
every freak of nature. Not all major events are caused by
climate change, regardless of what Gov. Gavin Newsom repeatedly
asserts about the extremes of wetter and windier storms, dryer
droughts and hotter wildfires. -Written by LA Times columnist George Skelton.
Wouldn’t you know it? Just like washing your car, almost the
moment I finished writing this article, the skies opened
up. I’d write one every day if it meant ending our water
woes. But it tells you everything you need to know about
California’s dire water situation – that the atmospheric river
that recently pummeled Northern California and other parts of
the state doesn’t even begin to make a dent in our drought. And
it highlights the urgency for California to create more water.
Much more. -Written by Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of
the Bay Area Council, a nonprofit public policy
California has always been a state known for its weather
variability. There have been other instances of intense
precipitation, like the heavy rainfall in 2017 that led to the
Oroville dam crisis. But [UCLA climate scientist Daniel]
Swain said that particularly intense precipitation during
periods of dryness are expected to become the norm due to
Atmospheric rivers can bring dangerous flooding, but, without
them, California can head into drought. Improving forecasts for
these huge storms is a focus for the Center for Western Weather
and Water Extremes to keep water flowing in the state. Marty
Ralph remembers living in Los Angeles in the 1980s when a huge
rainstorm dropped nearly half the rainfall for the whole year
in 12 hours. It was at that moment he realized he wanted to
study these kind of storms
For farmers in California’s San Joaquin Valley—the Saudi Arabia
of nuts—2021 brought many challenges. Scant snowfall in the
Sierra Nevada mountain range delivered almost no irrigation
water to the region’s vaunted complex of dams and aqueducts.
Record-high temperatures baked farm fields. Before this past
weekend’s furious storms, California endured its driest year in
recorded history. Yet the region’s ever-expanding and
very thirsty almond and pistachio operations are thriving
anyway. -Written by Tom Philpott, food and ag correspondent
for Mother Jones.
With so many extremes hitting California, the state is now
talking about Climate Insurance. The next disaster – combined
with a lack of insurance that many can’t afford and is getting
even more expensive – has the state considering a new
community-based approach to lower risk, and make sure more
people are protected against catastrophic weather events.
… Ideas to lower risk include building wetlands to store
water in floods, creating statewide hazard maps so residents
are clear on the risks where they live, and naming heatwaves
like hurricanes so people properly prepare.
Far from being rescued from drought by recent storms, the state
needs to prepare for a “new normal” of restricted water
supplies, California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot
said Tuesday, Oct. 26. To do that, Crowfoot said
California must accelerate conservation efforts to deal with
current drought conditions and continue to build on long-term
water-management strategies, such as the $5.2 billion Water and
Drought Resilience Package announced in September by
Gov. Gavin Newsom. Crowfoot made his case to the executive
committee of the Metropolitan Water District …
Eight white shipping containers, instruments spouting from the
tops of some and a generator humming away in another, sit in
the East River valley, on the outskirts of this mountain town
[Crested Butte], pulling data out of the air. The containers, a
“mobile atmospheric observatory,” will gather bits of
information over the next two years about the winds and clouds
and rain and snow and heat and cold above the silvery and
serpentine waterway as it slides past the gray granite dome of
Gothic Mountain on its way to the Colorado River.
For over 30 years, I’ve been a climate scientist who has
focused intensely on the causes and consequences of drought and
climate change. I’ve done my research all over the planet, but
my No. 1 focus has been on interactions of drought and climate
change in the Southwest United States and on how drought and
climate change are impacting the Colorado River. Seven states
in the U.S. and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for water,
yet I worry most about one state: Arizona. -Written by Jonathan Overpeck, Ph.D., is a
climate scientist, professor and dean of the School for
Environment and Sustainability at the University of
Mountain snowpacks around the world are on the decline, and if
the planet continues to warm, climate models forecast that
snowpacks could shrink dramatically and possibly even disappear
altogether on certain mountains, including in the western
United States, at some point in the next century. A new study
led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
(Berkeley Lab) analyzes the likely timing of a low-to-no-snow
future, what it will mean for water management, and
opportunities for investments now that could stave off
California has a reputation as a leader on climate and
environmental policy. So it doesn’t advertise the fact that it
allows the oil and gas industry to store wastewater produced
during drilling and extraction in unlined pits in the ground, a
practice that began in the early 1900s. Now, though,
researchers have revealed the environmental costs of
California’s failure to regulate how its $111 billion oil and
gas industry manages the wastewater, known as produced
This past week, California declared a statewide drought
emergency. It follows the first-ever federal shortage
declaration on the Colorado River, triggering cuts to water
supplies in the Southwest. The Colorado is the lifeblood of the
region. It waters some of the country’s fastest-growing cities,
nourishes some of our most fertile fields and powers $1.4
trillion in annual economic activity.
California bore the brunt on Sunday of what meteorologists
referred to as a “bomb cyclone” and an “atmospheric river,” a
convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of
rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, flash
floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada.
… The convergence of storms comes at a challenging time
for California, which has been besieged by wildfires and
drought, the result of extreme weather brought on by climate
While wildfires and droughts dominate California
weather, residents have to prepare for another kind of disaster
— flooding. Sacramento is no stranger to seeing flooding of
epic proportions. It happened during the Great Flood of 1862
that completely submerged Old Town, and the evidence is still
right below our feet. Floodwaters have plagued the Central
Valley several more times before, happening again in 1986,
1995, 1997, 2006 and 2017, but new research by the organization
Climate Central suggests that in 100 years, flooding in the
Sacramento and Central valleys could reach levels
never seen before.
Julian Meisler stood on a human-made levee at low tide along
the shore of San Pablo Bay, surveying 1,000 acres of a dark
brown, mostly barren mud flat. … [Meisler] is the
project manager of Sonoma Land Trust’s 15-year campaign to
restore wetlands intended to protect the Highway 37 corridor —
with both a roadway and rail line — from flooding exacerbated
by sea level rise. And now the levee, a victim of erosion from
wind waves, is being fortified by an unprecedented restoration
project using hundreds of trees — some salvaged from wildfire
burn areas — to blunt the waves and promote wildlife habitat.
A moisture-rich atmospheric river is forecast to hit California
on Sunday and Monday, delivering a much needed drenching of
rain to a drought-plagued state at a time of year when big
storms are unusual…. We checked in with Marty Ralph, the
director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes
with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San
Diego…”When we’re in a drought and we get a good atmospheric
river, it can break the drought. It might be what’s sort of
happening right now. At least, we’re hopeful that if this isn’t
the only one we get this year, it’s the start of a wetter
As aspen leaves blazed across the Colorado Rockies this fall,
NOAA scientists were busy installing a state-of-the-art
observing network in a remote basin near Crested Butte to study
how precipitation forms in the complex, high-altitude terrain
of the West Elk Mountains. Their goal: improving weather and
river flow prediction in a watershed critical to the region’s
The Sonoma Water Board of Directors today approved its
first-ever Climate Adaptation Plan (CAP) that … identifies
threats to Sonoma Water’s water supply, flood control, and
sanitation infrastructure and operations and develops
adaptation strategies to reduce vulnerabilities and risks that
will be exacerbated by climate change. Development of the plan
assumes that climate change is inevitable, it is already
occurring, and the agency must adapt quickly to protect its
It’s workplace giving season, the time of year when anyone in
the workplace can show their support for the organizations and
causes they love. All state, federal and private workplace
giving programs are now open, allowing donations through
payroll deductions. If you have come on one of our water tours,
participated in our Water Leaders program or are a loyal reader
of our Western Water articles or weekday Aquafornia water news
feed, you can now support us though a payroll deduction at your
workplace, whether it’s a federal or state agency or in
the private sector.
On the heels of Governor Newsom’s historic $15 billion climate
investment, the state today released a draft of the 2021
California Climate Adaptation Strategy to continue the state’s
work to confront the climate crisis head-on. The draft strategy
is designed to accelerate climate adaptation action across
regions and sectors in California; identify how key state
agency actions fit together to achieve these priorities; and
build on the successes and lessons learned since the first
climate adaptation strategy in 2009.
Vice President Kamala Harris stood before the record-low water
levels of Nevada’s Lake Mead on Monday and made the case for
the Biden administration’s climate change agenda … The
vice president pitched the administration’s infrastructure and
social safety net agenda as critical to tackling the effects of
climate change — which scientists say intensify extreme weather
events such as heatwaves and droughts. … Harris made the
case for the package by connecting human-caused climate change
to the scene she stood near, saying emissions are “part of what
is contributing to these drought conditions.”
While we’re thinking about the drought and environmental
changes, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss the
perils animals face while dealing with our changing climate.
This list is, of course, not comprehensive, but I do think
these examples show how when one organism is affected, others
face consequences too. Baby salmon are dying by the thousands
in one California river. Earlier this year, the Associated
Press reported that the deaths at Northern California’s Klamath
River are being caused by low water levels brought on by
drought. -Written by Justin Ray, staff writer for the LA
The number of abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States
is much higher than previously thought, according to an
exclusive analysis shared with The Climate 202. The
analysis, which was done by the Environmental Defense Fund and
McGill University, found that there are 81,283 documented
orphan wells across the country that were drilled and then
improperly abandoned by oil and gas companies. … Each
orphan well is a major climate problem: It spews methane, a
potent greenhouse gas.
In a new push to stop further depletion of California’s
shrinking aquifers, state regulators are turning to technology
once used to count Soviet missile silos during the Cold War:
satellites. Historically, California’s farmers could pump as
much as they wanted from their wells. But as a consequence of
that unrestricted use, the underground water table has sunk by
hundreds of feet in some areas, and the state is now trying to
stabilize those aquifers. Regulators need to calculate just how
much water each farmer is using …
Climate change is putting California’s water system to the
test. Facing increasingly frequent and intense droughts,
shorter wet seasons, and rising temperatures, Californians are
struggling to maintain a stable water supply that can meet the
needs of our population while keeping our ecosystems intact.
The state’s aging, 20th-century water infrastructure—including
dams and levees—urgently needs an upgrade to cope with a
21st-century climate. We need to increase groundwater storage
and restore flows to suffering ecosystems and the wildlife that
depends on them.
Amid worsening drought in the West that threatens the region’s
water and food supplies, Vice President Kamala Harris went to
Lake Mead on Monday to pitch the Biden administration’s
infrastructure and climate change plans, saying they would
create jobs and respond to climate change. … The vice
president’s visit comes as the West’s parched conditions have
hit bleak milestones. The Nevada reservoir, which provides
water to 25 million people in California, Arizona, Nevada and
Mexico, has seen its levels decline every year since 2000 and
now is at it lowest level since its creation more than 86 years
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
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.)
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.
Just 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
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
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
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
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
Amy 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
Every 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
Climate change involves natural and man-made changes to weather
patterns that occur over millions of years or over multiple
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.