Drought— an extended period of limited or no precipitation— is a fact of life in California and the West, with water resources following boom-and-bust patterns.
No portion of the West has been immune to drought during the last century and drought occurs with much greater frequency in the West than in other regions of the country.
Most of the West experiences what is classified as severe to extreme drought more than 10 percent of the time, and a significant portion of the region experiences severe to extreme drought more than 15 percent of the time, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Experts who have studied recent droughts say a drought occurs about once every 10 years somewhere in the United States. Droughts are believed to be the most costly of all natural disasters because of their widespread effects on agriculture and related industries, as well as on urbanized areas. One of those decennial droughts could cost as much as $38 billion, according to one estimate.
Because droughts cannot be prevented, experts are looking for better ways to forecast them and new approaches to managing droughts when they occur.
Warnings of doomsday on the river are nothing new. Too many people, farms and factories depend on too little water, which is why the Colorado now rarely flows to its end point at the Gulf of California. The sprawling Southwest has sucked the river dry. Yet the region has thrived in spite of the naysayers. Until now, it appears.
It’s not just skiers who have been whipsawed this season between fear of another dry winter and delight over the epic January snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. Also paying close attention: water wonks. Why? Because melting Sierra snow provides somewhere between one-third and one-half of California’s water supply. What determines just how much water is derived from that snow is called the “snowpack.”
The Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, have lands that stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. The tribe’s right to divert nearly 720,000 acre-feet from the river is more than twice the water that is allocated to the state of Nevada. By law, that water is to be used on the reservation. But if CRIT convinces Congress to allow off-reservation leasing, the change would free up a large volume of water that would be highly desirable for cities and industries.
The history of the planet can be found inside a sediment core at the bottom of the ocean, or the cake-like layers of a soil pit, or in the strata of the Grand Canyon. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that the climatic history of water — and a hint about its future — can sometimes be found by digging into a pit of snow.
A federal appellate court decision issued on January 25, 2019 will affect the relicensing of hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River and efforts to accomplish dam removal under an existing settlement agreement.
Go deep into one of California’s most pressing issues – groundwater – by visiting an extensometer that measures subsidence, an active aquifer storage and recovery well, a recycling facility that recharges water into the ground and more.
Avoiding a long-expected crisis on the Colorado River, a water source for 40 million people, is coming down to a final few days of frenzied negotiations. A 19-year drought and decades of overuse have put a water shortfall on the horizon. If California and six other states, all with deeply entrenched interests, can’t agree on a plan to cut their water consumption by Jan. 31, the federal government says it will step in and decide the river’s future.
Tucked inside PG&E’s mammoth bankruptcy filing is a company request that the judge in the case approve payment of $130 million in cash incentive bonuses to thousands of PG&E employees, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records made public on Tuesday.
Terms were revealed this week for a developing water sales agreement between the Montecito Water District and City of Santa Barbara. The 50-year water sales agreement provides 1,430 acre-feet of water a year to Montecito, at a cost of about $2,700 per acre-foot. The terms of agreement allow for the possibility to purchase and receive 445 acre-feet of additional water each year.
Unable to cope with wildfire claims, PG&E made good on its vow to file for bankruptcy Tuesday, launching a perilous journey with major implications for ratepayers, investors, state officials and the thousands of California wildfire victims who are suing the utility. Citing “extraordinary financial challenges” and a rapidly deteriorating cash position, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and its parent PG&E Corp. sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an electronic filing shortly after midnight.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to levy water cuts to seven Western states in order to prevent the river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement, the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse….
City leaders met with Oregon state legislators this past week to discuss the earliest stages of funding an $80 million plan to fortify the city’s water system and ensure drinking water is free from harmful algal toxins. The need for cleaning out cyanotoxins and developing a backup water system became apparent to city officials last summer when Salem experienced a month-long drinking water crisis.
Saying they feel an urgency to act fast, California officials this week will launch the main phase of wildfire debris removal in Butte County, scene of November’s devastating Camp Fire. But a potential problem has emerged: Nearly half of the property owners in the hill country around Paradise have not given the government permission to enter their properties to do the work. The main work, involving a complete scraping and clearing of burned-out properties, is scheduled to begin later this week.
A new NASA study shows that warming of the tropical oceans due to climate change could lead to a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme rain storms by the end of the century. The study team, led by Hartmut Aumann of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, combed through 15 years of data acquired by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument over the tropical oceans to determine the relationship between the average sea surface temperature and the onset of severe storms.
Water conservation in the Las Vegas Valley is imperative as the city continues to grow. The resources provided by the Colorado River are stretched thin, as the river is responsible for supplying the majority of the water to Southern Nevada, six other states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado—and Mexico. Combine these existing allotments with drought conditions that have reduced the river’s average flows by 30 percent annually, and it’s clear that Las Vegas must be proactive in its conservation efforts.
A federal court of appeals ruled Friday that PacifiCorp, which currently owns and operates several dams along the Klamath River, can no longer continue to use a controversial tactic which has allowed the company to avoid implementing mandatory requirements meant to protect the health of the Klamath River for over a decade. The decision marks a victory for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, who filed the lawsuit, and may expedite the removal of several Klamath River dams.
The Trump administration is laying the groundwork to enlarge California’s biggest reservoir, the iconic Shasta Dam, north of Redding, by raising its height. It’s a saga that has dragged on for decades, along with the controversy surrounding it. But the latest chapter is likely to set the stage for another showdown between California and the Trump administration.
Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman has drawn a line in the sand for Arizona and other Western states: Finish a deal to take less water from the Colorado River by Thursday, or the federal government will be forced to step in and decide how to prevent reservoirs from falling to critical levels. … The plan’s success or failure will turn on the actions of a few key players, including leaders of the Legislature, tribes, farmers, cities and the state’s water managers.
The Colorado River is not meeting its obligations. Its Lake Powell bank account is in danger of running dry. A 97-year-old agreement demands that the river deliver 5.2 trillion gallons of water to seven states and Mexico each year. That isn’t happening, and now — in the age of climate change — the chance of ever meeting that demand is fading. As a result, Utah’s plan to take more of its Colorado River water — by building a pipeline from Lake Powell to St. George — may be fading, too.
Droughts and floods have always tested water management, driven water systems improvements, and helped water organizations and users maintain focus and discipline. California’s 2012-2016 drought and the very wet 2017 water year were such tests.
Arizona’s water leaders and lawmakers are running out of time to complete the state’s Drought Contingency Plan, a blueprint for how Arizona water users would share a likely shortage on the Colorado River. … There are a lot of moving parts to understand and a lot of concepts that may seem overwhelming. Here are the things you need to know in advance of the Jan. 31 deadline to finish the plan.
Zone 7 Water Agency directors have voted to renew their participation in two water storage projects so that the water wholesaler can continue to plan for more alternative water sources during droughts. The board voted unanimously to participate in phase 2 of the Sites Reservoir project, a JPA formed in 2010 to create a reservoir 75 miles northwest of Sacramento. … Also, by a unanimous vote, directors committed up to $355,000 for a second phase of participation in the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in southeastern Contra Costa County.
Water issues are notoriously difficult for California governors. Just look at former Gov. Jerry Brown’s floundering tunnels proposal for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Yet two factors suggest that Gov. Gavin Newsom must make water a priority.
Arizona lawmakers and the governor are under the gun to come up with a Drought Contingency Plan to deal with possible Colorado River water shortages. Get an update from Kathleen Ferris of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. This Arizona Horizon segment is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between public radio and public television stations in Arizona, California and Colorado.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District made a grave miscalculation in suing the State Water Board over the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. By alienating the remnants of the environmental community who have supported them in recent years, they are jeopardizing future projects and funding measures that will require voter approval.
Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company. In late 2018, I traveled to the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening view into how this family-owned company has become an agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and why they are so committed to water conservation.
The restoration site is one of three south of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites, another source is increasingly important for restoring these patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor: groundwater.
Governor Newsom’s first proposed state budget, released earlier this month, addresses several critical water and natural resource management challenges. Here are highlights from his plans to mitigate problems with safe drinking water, improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires, and encourage healthy soils to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase drought resilience.
Coachella Valley Water District board members on Tuesday debated issuing a $40 million bond to pay for an extension of the Oasis pipeline to bring imported water to about 40 farmers and others in the irrigation district, who would pay the costs back over 30 years. A small rate increase could be imposed as well. The 17-mile pipeline and three pump stations would provide Colorado River water to mostly longtime farmers in the valley who already obtain much of their water from the river via the All-American Canal, but get some from wells.
Water is becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Water tables have been falling in many regions for decades, particularly in areas with intensive agriculture. Wells are going dry and there are few long-term solutions available — a common stopgap has been to drill deeper wells. This is exactly what happened in California’s Central Valley. The recent drought there prompted drilling of deeper and deeper water wells to support irrigated agriculture.
In an unprecedented move, the Water Resources Control board voted in December to require water users to leave more water in the lower San Joaquin River to improve water quality and help fish. “This decision represents the water board taking its job to protect the public trust and our fisheries more seriously,” said Regina Chichizola, salmon and water policy analyst for the Institute for Fisheries Resources.
The Gila River Indian Community is threatening to blow up the drought-contingency plan because of efforts it says will undermine its claim to water rights. House Speaker Rusty Bowers is proposing changes to state laws in a way he said will protect the rights of farmers in the Safford Valley who have been “scratching it out” to water from the Gila River. But attorney Don Pongrace, who represents the Gila River Indian Community, said … courts have ruled those rights — and the water that goes with it — belong to the tribe.
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question: Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough water?
The Alameda County Water District is proposing to raise customers’ bills 8 percent over the next two years to cover infrastructure costs as well as salary increases, benefits and pensions for its employees. The district also wants to create an emergency pricing schedule that kicks in during water shortages, such as in droughts.
California American Water’s Monterey Peninsula desalination project is in the midst of another critical phase even as a Carmel River pumping cutback order milestone requiring the start of construction looms later this year. … The city of Marina is on schedule to consider the project’s coastal development permit application covering mostly proposed desal plant feeder slant wells on the CEMEX sand mining plant by mid-March, according to a senior city planning official.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman today named Ernest A. Conant director of the Mid-Pacific Region. Conant has nearly 40 years of water law experience and previously served as senior partner of Young Wooldridge, LLP.
Heavy rains this week left Lake Mendocino, the North Bay region’s second-largest reservoir, with an extra 2 billion gallons of water that until now officials would have been obliged to release into the Russian River and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to a $10 million program that blends high-tech weather forecasting with novel computer programming, the Army Corps has the latitude to retain an additional 11,650 acre feet of water, and Lake Mendocino has now impounded a little more than half that much.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed flow requirements for rivers that feed the Delta based on a percentage of ‘unimpaired flows… If approved, this ‘unimpaired flows’ approach would have significant impacts on farms, communities throughout California and the environment. We join many other water agencies in our belief that alternative measures …
Technology already exists to treat reused water to levels meeting or exceeding health standards. But adequate technical capacity is not sufficient. Water reuse can trigger revulsion, especially when water is reused for drinking or other potable purposes. This note explores outreach and engagement strategies to overcome the “yuck factor” and achieve public support for water reuse.
Without a change in how the Colorado River is managed, Lake Powell is headed toward becoming a “dead pool,” essentially useless as a reservoir while revealing a sandstone wonderland once thought drowned forever by humanity’s insatiable desire to bend nature to its will. … Absent cutbacks to deliveries to the Lower Basin, a day could come when water managers may have little choice but to lower the waters that have inundated Utah’s Glen Canyon for the past half-century.
Longstanding urban-rural tensions over a proposed drought plan have escalated after Pinal County farmers stepped up their request for state money for well-drilling to replace Colorado River water deliveries. “Enough is enough,” responded 10 Phoenix-area cities through a spokesman. They say the state has already pledged millions to the farms for well drilling, and plenty of water to boot.
Since taking office Jan. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom has not indicated how he intends to approach one of the state’s most pressing issues: water. Newsom should signal that it’s a new day in California water politics by embracing a more-sustainable water policy that emphasizes conservation and creation of vast supplies of renewable water. The first step should be to announce the twin-tunnels effort is dead.
More water storage projects will not solve the basic fact that the state’s finite amount of water is incapable of meeting all of the demands. This deficit has been created primarily by the transformation of a semi-arid area— the Central Valley — by an infusion of water from northern California.
A declining Colorado River in Arizona. Orcas and salmon stocks in Washington state. Forest restoration in Idaho to protect drinking water sources from wildfire. And renewable energy seemingly everywhere. These are some of the water issues that U.S. governors have mentioned in their 2019 State of the State speeches. The speeches, usually given at the beginning of the legislative session, outline budget or policy priorities for the coming year.
With Lake Mead now 39 percent full and approaching a first-ever shortage, Western states that rely on the Colorado River are looking to Arizona to sign a deal aimed at reducing the risk of the reservoir crashing. The centerpiece of Gov. Ducey’s proposed legislation is a resolution giving Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to sign the Drought Contingency Plan. The package of proposed bills also would appropriate $35 million and tweak existing legislation to make the plan work.
Locally, the primary impacts of climate change on people can broadly be broken into four categories: sea level rise, drought, flood and wildfire. The good news is, work and planning are already well underway to mitigate impacts, though it’s hard to say how much of an effect the measures will have, and how much those agencies – and their constituents – will be willing to spend on them. But this much is clear: Local, state and federal agencies are taking climate change seriously, and treating it like the potentially existential threat that it is.
Citing what they say would be a disastrous decision for the region, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts have joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other rivers.
Around the world, vanishing glaciers will mean less water for people and crops in the future. … Glaciers represent the snows of centuries, compressed over time into slowly flowing rivers of ice. … But in a warming climate melting outstrips accumulation, resulting in a net loss of ice.
The never-ending fire season stems largely from a years-long drought that gripped much of California before easing in 2017. An estimated 129 million trees died from a lack of nutrients and infestations from bark beetles, leaving hillsides and forests dappled with kindling. The results have been grim. Record-setting fires have swept across the state, killing more than 100 people in two years. All told, nearly 900,000 acres burned in 2018 on land Cal Fire patrols. That’s more than triple the five-year average.
More than ever, water’s true value as a finite and precious resource is starting to be realised, and a growing number of investors are paying attention. There are plenty of examples of water risk. Campbell Soup Company took a hit in its quarterly earnings recently, due to an acquisition of a California fresh food company that was pummeled by the California drought.
At least one state agency has indicated it will not issue necessary permits to allow federal officials and a Fresno-based water district to begin construction to raise the height of Shasta Dam. In addition to facing opposition from the state, the project could also face fresh hurdles from Congress, which this year came under control of Democrats. In a letter to the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the State Water Resources Control Board says raising the height of Shasta Dam would violate state law.
Members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes will vote Saturday, Jan. 19 on a proposed ordinance to allow for the lease of a portion of the Tribes’ Colorado River water allocation to outside interests. The issue of leasing Tribal water rights has become a contentious issue among Tribal members. Opponents claim this compromises the Tribes’ resources, while supporters point to the economic benefits.
A simple web search will pull up nearly a million articles, videos and photos featuring Frank Gehrke. He’s no fashion icon like Kim Kardashian or a dogged politician like Gov. Jerry Brown. But he has broken a lot of news. … For 30 years, you might have seen Gehrke on TV, the guy trudging through snow with a measuring pole, talking about how deep the pack is each winter on the evening news. He retired from his post as the state’s chief snow surveyor in December, but he’s not letting go of his snowshoes and skis anytime soon.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today released the Delta Conservation Framework as a comprehensive resource and guide for conservation planning in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through 2050. The framework provides a template for regional and stakeholder-led approaches to restoring ecosystem functions to the Delta landscape.
The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee meeting last week. … But the legislation as drafted barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been hashing out for months.
Far less settled is how Newsom will fill his administration’s most important positions regarding state water policy. One of Newsom’s key tests confronts him immediate: State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus’ term expires this week.
As rain continues to pelt Southern California, signs of an abundance of or even too much water are everywhere: Roads are flooded, reservoirs are filling and the wait time for Radiator Springs Racers at the damp Disneyland Resort has been less than a half hour. But as residents of burn areas evacuate and even heavier rain is forecast for Thursday, those who watch the state and local water supplies note that while the drought is technically over, the need to conserve water is not.
Climate change helped fuel the deadly fires that prompted California’s largest power company to announce Monday that it would file for bankruptcy. … In a grim twist, the bankruptcy of PG&E Corp. could now slow California’s efforts to fight climate change.
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over $100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California … began what is being referred to as “defensive withdrawals” from Lake Mead. Remember, Lake Mead is severely low, and if L.A. takes all of the water they’ve been allotted, it will trigger emergency supply restrictions for everyone else. So, why are they doing this with the agreement deadline so close? The Show turned to Debra Kahn who covers California environmental policy and broke the story for Politico Pro.
Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S. are likely headed for another year of low water. That’s according to a new analysis by the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it, simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it.
After more than three years, 104 days of testimony, and over twenty-four thousand pages of hearing transcripts, the hearing before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on the proposal to construct two tunnels to convey water under the Delta (aka California WaterFix) is almost completed. Probably, that is: there could be more if the project changes again to a degree that requires additional testimony and/or environmental review.
Wells are going dry and there are few long-term solutions available — a common stopgap has been to drill deeper wells. This is exactly what happened in California’s Central Valley. The recent drought there prompted drilling of deeper and deeper water wells to support irrigated agriculture. Groundwater supplies around the world are being threatened by excessive pumping, but drilling deeper wells is not a long-term solution. A better solution is to manage water use and avoid excessive declines in groundwater levels.
A section of the museum will also be dedicated to water, teaching visitors how much water it takes to grow crops, how California farmers lead the world in conservation, and how the state’s complicated water storage and delivery system works, said Mike Wade, the executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. The Coalition is the title sponsor for the exhibits and has drawn on several farming organizations, including Farm Credit, to help build and maintain the exhibits.
California began 2019 with lower-than-average snowpack measurements — just 67 percent of the year-to-date average. Recent storms pushed that total to 90 percent as of Friday. With more precipitation on the horizon, forecasters predict snowpack measurements will “meet or exceed” the year-to-date average by the end of the week.
Urban water conservation took a sharp drop in November in California, with savings of just 7.8 percent compared to November 2013, the benchmark pre-drought year. That’s down from 13.4 percent savings in October. Statewide, the average was 86 gallons per capita. In the Sacramento River watershed, everyone used on average 101 gallons per day; in the Bay Area, 67 gallons; on the South Coast, 86 gallons.
Everywhere you look new homes, hotels and master-planned developments are appearing. It is wise to ask whether we have enough water for these future desert residents and visitors. Permits for new projects are under the jurisdiction of cities or the county — not under the purview of water agencies. Water agencies are tasked with supplying the water. Balancing growth and water supplies is nothing new to desert communities. It has always been a fact of life in our desert and is one of Desert Water Agency’s most important responsibilities.
In an attempt to block the state’s plan to divert more water toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and away from the Bay Area, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has filed a lawsuit arguing the project could significantly reduce the local water supply. If the plan advances, the water district might have to spend millions of dollars to obtain alternate water supplies and pull up more groundwater.
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought, the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water may be cut off.
Arizona legislators and staff are attending closed-door primers on water policy in advance of a critical January 31 federal deadline for the state to approve the Drought Contingency Plan. The first of three meetings occurred on Friday afternoon and lasted two and a half hours. The session was led by Central Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, if he is to successfully steer the state into the future, has to bring to his water agenda the same steely-eyed, reality-based drive that the two previous governors brought to limiting carbon emissions. It is time for the state to respond to its water challenge with the same sense of urgency with which it adopted Assembly Bill 32, the landmark law capping greenhouse gas emissions, in 2006.
Gov. Doug Ducey will use his fifth State of the State speech Monday, Jan. 14, to try to corral the votes to approve a drought-contingency plan in the next 17 days or risk federal intervention. “We’re in a position now where we have a sense of urgency and focus on Arizona’s water situation,” the governor told the business community Friday in previewing the speech that kicks off the legislative session.
Climate models using SNOTEL data predict a decline in Western snowpack. … In December, University of Arizona researchers presented new on-the-ground findings supporting these predictions. … In parts of the West, annual snow mass has declined by 41 percent, and the snow season is 34 days shorter. Scripps Institute of Oceanography climatologist Amato Evan told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “climate change in the Western U.S. is not something we will see in the next 50 years. We can see it right now.”
When the grapefruit and lemon trees bloom on Jim Seley’s farm, the white blossoms fill the air with their sweet scent. He and his son, Mike, manage the business, and they hope to pass it on to the next generation of Seleys. But the farms of Borrego Springs, like the town and its golf courses, rely completely on groundwater pumped from the desert aquifer. And it’s unclear whether farming will be able to survive in this part of the Southern California desert west of the Salton Sea in San Diego County.
The State Water Resources Control Board proved back on Dec. 12 that it wasn’t listening to a single thing anyone from our region was saying. By voting to impose draconian and scientifically unjustifiable water restrictions on our region, four of the five board members tuned out dozens of scientists, water professionals and people who live near the rivers.
The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego, Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting system used by major farmers and entire states. … This month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
Southern California’s native scrublands are famously tough. … They evolved along with long, hot summers, at least six rainless months a year and intense wildfires. But not this much fire, this often. The combination of too-frequent wildfires and drought amplified by climate change poses a growing threat to wildlands that deliver drinking water to millions.
Up against a federal deadline to approve a Colorado River drought plan — a “generational change” in Arizona water management — four key legislators say they’re optimistic they’ll meet it. Led by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa Republican, they see the Legislature as ready — finally — to officially endorse the plan. That’s even though competing water interest groups still have highly visible disagreements about it.
The city of San Francisco is not standing down in California’s latest water war, joining a lawsuit against the state on Thursday to stop it from directing more of the Sierra Nevada’s cool, crisp flows to fish instead of people.
Last week, the relicensing effort reached a milestone when FERC issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement. The environmental document essentially looks at what changes a licensee has proposed for a specific project, the impacts of those changes and provides conditions they must meet if awarded a new license.
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday that — intriguingly — fell along gender lines, the Phoenix City Council approved an increase in water rates, starting next month. “I thank the women to have the leadership and courage to do the right thing. 5-3,” Interim Mayor Thelda Williams said. … Wednesday’s vote overturned the council’s previous rejection of the proposed increase, on December 12, that was also 5-3.
Every winter, forest managers in places like California take a step back, analyze their budgets and plan on how to deal with the next fire season. But the government shutdown has shuttered a lot of those efforts, because federal lands like the U.S. Forest Service— which has been furloughed since December 22 — plays a huge role. For example, crews in Redwood National Park are “just sitting on their hands,” according to University of California fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt County, because they can’t work on federal land during the shutdown.
Registration is now open for the Santa Ana River Watershed Conference set for March 29 in Fullerton. The daylong event will be held at Cal State Fullerton. Join us to discuss the importance of the Santa Ana River Watershed and how, through powerful partnerships, resilient solutions can be found to improve the quality and reliability of the region’s water supply.
With a federal deadline to sign a Colorado River drought deal three weeks away, Arizona water managers are still grappling with several unresolved issues that could get in the way of finishing an agreement. The outstanding issues, some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’ concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to pump more groundwater.
A lawsuit seeking a new environmental report for the controversial Poseidon desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach was rejected by a Sacramento Superior Court judge on Tuesday. Judge Richard Sueyoshi found the supplemental report met legal requirements while noting the 2010 study had never been legally challenged.
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado River. Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal government is squeezing these negotiators.
The U.S. Interior Department is facing three lawsuits filed by three environmental groups who allege its plans for the 200,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex along the Oregon-California border violates several federal laws. A fourth complaint from six farms and agricultural groups alleges the agency has unlawfully exceeded its authority by restricting leases of refuge land for agricultural purposes.
Trump’s latest tweet drew a sharp reaction from state Republican legislators representing the area around the town of Paradise, which was mostly incinerated in a wildfire that killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes. State Senator Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher said Trump’s threat to withhold FEMA funds ”is wholly unacceptable. He made a commitment to the people who have lost everything in these fires, and we expect the federal government to follow through with his promise.”
Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California, spoke recently about managing freshwater systems with ecosystem water budgets. “I will argue that drought, because of the way we have modified this system, is the major bottleneck ecologically,” he said. “Step 1 has to be thinking about drought: how to mitigate drought and how to deal with drought – that is plan for, respond to, and recover from drought. We don’t do that at all, even though we just had this big drought.”
The Groundwater Resources Association, in collaboration with the California Department of Water Resources and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, is hosting a unique event bringing together experts in weather, weather forecasting, reservoir operations and Flood-MAR to discuss how to use these tools to more effectively manage California’s water supplies.
The Water Education Foundation is a cooperating organization.
The Dana on Mission Bay
1710 W. Mission Bay Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
Cloud seeding has existed for decades, and has significant traction in other western states such as California, Idaho and Wyoming. Colorado has only recently joined the cloud seeding game as the state’s snowpack has declined and the Colorado River runs dry.
As his term as governor drew to a close, Jerry Brown brokered a historic agreement among farms and cities to surrender billions of gallons of water to help ailing fish. He also made two big water deals with the Trump administration. It added up to a dizzying display of deal-making. Yet as Gavin Newsom takes over as governor, the state of water in California seems as unsettled as ever.
Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s simple: Arizona and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado River than Mother Nature puts back,” the governor told his audience. “And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick the can any further.”
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is seeking to auction off its Potter Valley Project hydropower plant, which contains two reservoirs and dams, to a new operator. PG&E cited increasing operation costs, a competitive energy market and lower energy generation needs as reasons for its decision. Questions remain as to what extent Marin County water supplies will be affected by a potential change in ownership and operation of the 110-year-old hydropower plant more than 100 miles to the north.
At Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s Planning & Stewardship Committee, officials said that with no Drought Contingency Plan in place (Arizona being the hold out), they are beginning to draw down their storage in Lake Mead. “If there is no Drought Contingency Plan, we don’t want to leave potentially half a million acre-feet or more locked up in Lake Mead if we go into shortage,” said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
Jon Rosenfield: Last month the State Water Resources Control Board finally required increased flows from three San Joaquin River tributaries, as the first step in a process to update water quality standards for the San Francisco Bay estuary. The board opted for weaker environmental protections in order to reduce impacts to agribusiness and San Francisco, ignoring the potential for changed agricultural practices and investment in sustainable water use to ease or eliminate the impact of reduced water diversions.
In December, Frank Gehrke retired as chief snow surveyor for the California Department of Water Resources. He spent much of his 31 years with the department on skis and snowshoes, in remote corners of the Sierra Nevada, measuring the “frozen reservoir” that ultimately provides about a third of California’s water supply.
The paper, published in the Journal of Environmental Management, suggests that eliminating outdoor landscaping and lawns could reduce water waste by 30 percent. It recommends importing water only when Los Angeles is not in a drought, to build a surplus of water for dry years. The paper also argues that groundwater basins that catch stormwater could be used to recycle water. However, making these improvements would require the cooperation of more than 100 agencies.
Forecasters are not being paid. Weather models are not being maintained, launched or improved. The main impact has been on the current Global Forecast System, the premier weather model in the U.S., which is running poorly, and there’s no one on duty to fix it.
A team of researchers concludes that the ongoing drought across the western U.S. rivals most past “megadroughts” dating as far back as 800 A.D. — and that the region is currently in a megadrought. Using tree ring data as a proxy for drought conditions, the researchers say the current drought ranks fourth worst among comparable 19-year periods of megadroughts of the past 1,200 years.
Southern Nevadans will see few noticeable consequences from a soon-to-be-finalized drought contingency plan for states that get most of their water supply from the Colorado River, according to a Southern Nevada water resources expert.
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:
New California Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously said he favors a scaled-down Delta tunnel project. Whether he reappoints state water board chair Felicia Marcus will signal whether he wants the board to stand firm or back down on the flow requirements. His picks for top posts in the Natural Resources Agency will determine whether his administration goes along with a potential weakening of delta protections by the Trump administration — or fights it.
California’s top snow surveyors, in the Sierra Nevada on Thursday with measuring poles and electronic sensor data, concluded that the state’s frozen water supply is just adequate, at best. The water content of the snowpack is 67 percent of the long-term average for this time of year, according to the first official measurements of 2019 taken by the California Department of Water Resources.
Each year, several thousand weather forecasters, researchers and climate scientists from all over the world gather for the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting to exchange ideas to improve weather prediction and understanding of climate change. This year, due to the partial federal government shutdown, hundreds of scientists will not attend the conference set to begin this weekend in Phoenix.
Due to rising average temperatures, snowpacks in the Great Basin appear to be transitioning from seasonal, with a predictable amount and melt rate, to “ephemeral,” or short-lived, which are less predictable and only last up to 60 days. “We might not get as much water into the ground, throwing off the timing of water for plant root systems, reducing our supply and use, and even affecting businesses such as tourism,” says lead researcher Rose Petersky.
In the latter half of 2018, both the federal and state governments released new climate change assessments that outline the projected course of climate change and its potential effects on water resources. At the December meeting of the California Water Commission, staff from the Department of Water Resources and the Delta Stewardship Council were on hand to present an overview of the newly released assessments.
Colorado River water managers were supposed to finish drought contingency plans by the end of the year. As it looks now, they’ll miss that deadline. If the states fail to do their job, the federal government could step in. Luke Runyon, a reporter with KUNC who covers on the Colorado River Basin recaps what’s been happening and why it’s so important.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive, but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry up. Now seeking water rights from the Green River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty, growing population.
Hemp production legalized under the 2018 farm bill could go beyond offering a new crop option for farmers facing drought in Western states—it also could save them water. Arizona, California, and New Mexico are among the states allowing hemp production in 2019 after the federal government removed the marijuana relative from its list of controlled substances. Supporters say the change comes at the right time as the region grapples with how agriculture fits into a drier future.
Prompted by the collapse of fish populations, the State Water Resources Control Board is trying to prevent humans from totally drying up these rivers each year. The regulators’ lodestar for how much water the rivers need is the amount of water a Chinook salmon needs to migrate.
At the Groundwater Resources Association’s Western Groundwater Congress, a panel of experts discussed emerging issues as agencies work to develop their plans to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which became law in California in 2014.
There’s every reason to expect that 2019 will be far better, largely because of Measure W, which was passed by voters in November. The initiative imposes a Los Angeles County parcel tax that will generate $300 million per year to reduce pollution from runoff and capture storm water to add to the water supply.
The report issued by California’s State Water Resources Control Board marks a key step in a decade-long effort to remove four hydroelectric dams and restore the health of the Klamath River. The dam-removal project is part of a broader effort by California, Oregon, federal agencies, Klamath Basin tribes, water users and conservation organizations to revitalize the basin, advance recovery of fisheries, uphold trust responsibilities to the tribes, and sustain the region’s farming and ranching heritage.
At the end of the last century, the Sierra Nevada captured an average of 8.76 million acre-feet of water critical to the nation’s largest food-producing region. By mid-century, a new study projects, the average will fall to 4 million acre-feet; and by century’s end, 1.81 million acre-feet.
Montgomery is known for fostering collaborative relationships among stakeholders and as a leader in protecting and restoring water quality within California and throughout the Southwest and the Pacific Islands. He is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Water Division in the US Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).
The tenth annual performance report evaluates what the state water boards do and how the environment is responding to its actions. The report presents numerous performance measures for specific outputs and outcomes.
When it comes to California’s water supply, 2018 will end with a whimper. California’s two largest reservoirs are not even half full. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which functions as an additional set of reservoirs, is below normal for this time of year. And there’s not a major storm in sight.
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.
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. That reality could pose daunting challenges for Colorado River water managers and others who are already confronting the likelihood of near-term shortages, and looking ahead to longer-term concerns about the river’s sustainability. By Gary Pitzer in Western Water
As persistent drought and the warming climate are making wildfire a more frequent and severe threat, the vast extent of vulnerable communities shows the need for action by state and local governments, and the communities themselves, to reduce the risk.
Water managers from seven Southwestern states that depend on the Colorado River are close but haven’t finalized an unprecedented drought contingency plan they may have to enact in 2020. The federal government’s top water official, Brenda Burman, is expected to urge action Thursday at a Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas where a pact was supposed to be signed.
Experts with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and the National Weather Service on Thursday said the epicenter of the nation’s drought has been center for months now over the region where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet.
More wet and windy weather is expected to hit Northern California this week, helping fill the state’s half-empty reservoirs and lift rainfall totals closer to average for the young but dry winter season.
Bigger, more dangerous wildfires. Coastlines threatened by rising sea levels. Less water. More heat-related illnesses. These are some of the ways climate change is rapidly changing California and the West, with conditions only expected to worsen, according to a landmark federal report, the first of its kind under the Trump administration.
The Latest on drought contingency plans being considered by states that rely on the Colorado River … Las Vegas-area water managers have become the first to advance a multi-state drought contingency plan that officials hope will ease the effects of Colorado River water shortages.
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.
The California Supreme Court will weigh in on whether environmental review is required for each new water well project. The issue of groundwater extraction heightened during California’s prolonged drought.
President Trump took to Twitter to blame bad forest management. Gov. Jerry Brown pointed to climate change. Their arguments about the cause of disastrous wildfires roaring across the state have turned a California catastrophe into the latest political cudgel in the ongoing slugfest between Washington and Sacramento.
This is a wet place by California standards. It averages about 55 inches of rain a year, thanks to its prime location in the verdant foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which wrings rain out of Pacific storms. But when the Camp fire sparked last Thursday, Paradise was parched. … Across California, the lack of autumn rain is having dire consequences.
This tour ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.
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 predictive ability.
With a deadline approaching for Arizona to finish a deal that would divvy up cutbacks in Colorado River water deliveries, the state’s cities, tribes and agricultural irrigation districts are entering what should be the final stretch of negotiations.
President Trump claimed Tuesday that California mismanages its water resources, dismissing the possibility of drought and accusing the state of sending water out to sea that could be used to help farmers in the Central Valley. Trump also threatened to withhold federal disaster dollars from California, which he incorrectly claimed is impeding firefighters’ access to water during wildfires.
The likelihood this winter of an El Niño — the weather pattern marked by warm Pacific Ocean waters that can affect California’s rainfall — is increasing. But so far, this El Niño looks more like a lamb than a lion. The probability of El Niño conditions being present by December is now 70 to 75 percent, up from 50 percent five months ago, according to a new report Thursday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other states that take water from the lower Colorado River are nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway. Under the proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking order.
Seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed Colorado River have reached landmark agreements on how to manage the waterway amid an unprecedented drought, including a commitment by California to bear part of the burden before it is legally required to do so, officials said Tuesday. The agreements are tentative and must be approved by multiple states and agencies as well as the U.S. government.
One of the report’s contributors said predicted temperature increases will be greater in the semi-arid climate of the American West. Diana Liverman, a professor of geography and development at the University of Arizona, said this would lead to even more intense heat waves, droughts, fires and downpours than California is already experiencing.
“Dry, hot and on fire” is how the California Department of Water Resources described Water Year 2018 in a recent report.
Water Year 2018 – from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018 – marked a return to dry conditions statewide following an exceptionally wet 2017, according to DWR’s Water Year 2018 report. But 2017 was exceptional as all but two of the water years in the past decade experienced drought.
Was Water Year 2018 simply a single dry year or does it signal the beginning of another drought? And what can reliably be said about the prospects for Water Year 2019? Does El Niño really mean anything for California or is it all washed up as a predictor?
Attendees found out at this one-day event Dec. 5 in Irvine, Water Year 2019: Feast or Famine?
Auditorium - Huntington Room
100 Academy Way
Irvine, California 92617
Snowmelt is shrinking and runoff is coming earlier on the Upper Colorado River, the source of 90 percent of water for 40 million people in the West. This is leading to vegetation changes, water quality issues and other concerns. But it may be possible to operate reservoirs differently to ease some of these effects. In September’s episode of Deeply Talks, we spoke with two experts about the consequences and opportunities of these changes on the river.
People in California and the Southwest are getting stingier with water, a story that’s told by the acre-foot.
For years, water use has generally been described in terms of acre-foot per a certain number of households, keying off the image of an acre-foot as a football field a foot deep in water. The long-time rule of thumb: One acre-foot of water would supply the indoor and outdoor needs of two typical urban households for a year.
After a short respite from drought conditions thanks to a historically wet 2017 in the San Joaquin Valley, the conclusion of the 2018 water year shows that California may not be out of the woods just yet when it comes to lacking water.
Whether fire or earthquake, mudslide or drought, natural disaster is an inextricable part of the California experience. And just as it upended Francis’s life, disaster threatens to snarl the next governor’s plans. Emergency response is rarely discussed as a campaign issue, but once in office, a governor’s on-the-ground handling of unexpected catastrophe and its immediate aftermath can define his legacy, for good or bad.
The Colorado River Basin is more than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously” underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of California water industry people.
During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees that agreement can be reached.
As California begins handing out $2.5 billion in state funds for several new water management projects, a shift is taking place in the ways officials are considering storing water. To contend with the likelihood of future extreme droughts, some of these new strategies rely on underground aquifers — an approach far removed from traditional dam-based water storage.
[Mayor Jackie] Biskupski says Salt Lake feels the effects of climate change with low snowpack, drought conditions and wildfire smoke. She plans to join other mayors to sign the “Deadline 2020” pledge to reduce global emissions.
Heat waves will grow more severe and persistent, shortening the lives of thousands of Californians. Wildfires will burn more of the state’s forests. The ocean will rise higher and faster, exposing California to billions in damage along the coast. These are some of the threats California will face from climate change in coming decades, according to a new statewide assessment released Monday by the California Natural Resources Agency.
As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames. The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found.
Two top officials of the Trump administration, winding up a tour of fire-ravaged Redding, insisted Monday that removing dead trees and thinning forests, not addressing climate change, are the keys to dealing with California wildfires.
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.
Much of the heat that’s gripped California and hastened the spread of deadly wildfires recently is due to a strange but familiar shift in the jet stream — one that’s haunted the West with threatening fire conditions in the past and could cause more hot, dry spells in the future, especially with a changing climate.
As fire crews struggled to gain containment on more than a dozen wildfires raging across California on Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters that large, destructive fires would probably continue and cost the state billions of dollars over the next decade.
As flames from the Ferguson Fire burn closer to some of the world’s oldest and largest trees, firefighters are racing to protect ancient sequoias on Yosemite National Park’s western edge. About 25 Yosemite firefighters have surrounded Merced Grove — whose immense trees tower more than 200 feet tall and date back 1,000 years — with fire hoses.
If the Ferguson Fire currently burning in Mariposa County spreads to Yosemite National Park, a tiny bug resembling a mouse dropping would share some of the blame. An epidemic of bark beetles is devastating billions of pine trees across the West in what has been described as the largest forest insect outbreak ever recorded.
On either side of the Merced River, hillsides are filled with trees that have been killed by five years of drought and a bark beetle infestation, according to state maps. The ground is carpeted with bone-dry pine needles, which are highly combustible.
Eighty percent of Colorado is experiencing some form of drought or dryness. … It’s also prompting a closer look by historians into how communities have survived and triumphed over water scarcity — instead of the old Western yarn that “water is for fighting.” … Historians at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center of the American West want to know why some communities rally around water resources, and others fail.
An erratic wildfire charging through extremely dry land in the heart of Colorado ski country destroyed three homes and forced people to flee, authorities said Thursday. … Fires exploded in Northern California, Utah and other areas, where a prolonged and severe drought has desiccated forests.
Sixteen days into summer, with wildfires raging over the bone-dry landscape and more scorching hot days ahead, it might feel as if California is on the verge of another drought. The official word from weather authorities shows much of the state trending in that direction.
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.
It’s high-stakes time in Arizona. The state that depends on the Colorado River to help supply its cities and farms — and is first in line to absorb a shortage — is seeking a unified plan for water supply management to join its Lower Basin neighbors, California and Nevada, in a coordinated plan to preserve water levels in Lake Mead before they run too low.
If the lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet above sea level, the secretary of the Interior would declare a shortage and Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water would be reduced by 320,000 acre-feet. Arizona says that’s enough to serve about 1 million households in one year.
The frantic phone calls to the Community Water Center began in the summer of 2014. In the 7,000-strong unincorporated community of East Porterville, nestled against California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, homeowners’ wells were failing amid a historic drought.
The U.S. record $18 billion wildfire season of 2017 was triggered by the coincidence of three primary factors that came into play or persisted longer than anticipated, according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of Colorado. Those “switches,” according to study leader Jennifer Balch, were ignition, aridity and fuel.
The Colorado River has for years been locked in a pattern of chronic overuse, with much more water doled out to cities and farmlands than what’s flowing into its reservoirs. The river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest 19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.
Climatologists and other experts on Wednesday provided an update on the situation in the Four Corners region — where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. They say the area is among the hardest hit and there’s little relief expected, and even robust summer rains might not be enough to replenish the soil and ease the fire danger.
Rivers are drying up, popular mountain recreation spots are closing and water restrictions are in full swing as a persistent drought intensifies its grip on pockets of the American Southwest. … With the region’s water resources strained, a top federal official has resumed pressure on states in the Southwest to wrap up long-delayed emergency plans for potential shortages on the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico.
After two heavy winters following five years of drought, grass and brush are thick in the Tahoe Basin, putting local firefighting agencies on high alert for the fire season ahead. “We will see more intense fire because there is more fuel. That’s the message we’re getting from our fire behavior analysts and fuel specialists,” said Brice Bennett, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Amador/El Dorado Unit.
A new study from NASA reinforces the idea that droughts are getting worse and could become more frequent in the Western U.S. The culprit is human-caused climate change. Droughts aren’t just about precipitation, said NASA scientist and the study’s co-author Benjamin Cook.
The last time water was this scarce in the Klamath Basin, a rugged agricultural area straddling the California-Oregon border, farmers clashed with U.S. marshals and opened locked canal gates with blowtorches so they could irrigate. … Now the stage is set for another round of conflict on the Klamath River, the result of a dry winter and a court ruling by a federal judge in San Francisco.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the [Colorado] river, released projections showing a 52 percent chance the river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada, will fall low enough in 2020 to trigger cutbacks under agreements governing the system. … The shortage projection prompted Bureau of Reclamation Chief Brenda Burman to prod the seven river states to finish long-delayed contingency plans for worsening conditions.
There may not have been a “March Miracle” when it came to the snowpack in the state, but there was sure one when it came to water conservation. The State Water Resources Control reported that in March urban Californians used 24.8 percent less water than in March 2013, the benchmark year considered to be before the drought.
Usually open from at least May to September, this year’s California commercial salmon season is very limited because the current batch of adult salmon were born during the drought in 2015, which made their Sacramento River spawning grounds too warm and killed off many juvenile salmon.
Anticipating years of drought, officials built the Yuma Desalting Plant in 1992 to treat agricultural runoff and conserve water in Lake Mead. Over the past 26 years, however, the plant has operated just three times while costing millions of dollars to maintain.
Arizona’s largest water provider tried Tuesday to defuse a multi-state dispute over the Colorado River, saying it regretted the belligerent-sounding words it used to describe its management strategy for the critical, over-used waterway. … It also pledged to cooperate on drawing up a multi-state plan for possible shortages in the river, which appear more and more likely because of the drought and climate change.
Now that the water level in Lake Mead has dropped — some 140 feet since the current drought began — St. Thomas is back on dry land, a ghost town that is gaining popularity among hikers and history buffs. … The story of St. Thomas is a cautionary tale of the scarcity of water in the Southwest and the vagaries of state boundaries during America’s westward expansion.
Salmon season is usually open from May 1 to September or October along most of the coast. But this year, lingering drought-related effects will again limit fishing dramatically in California and Oregon.
In a few months, scientists, farmers and water managers will get answers to such questions as: Will a drought occur and if so, where? Which plants die first? Which species are adept at absorbing carbon dioxide, a gas that is overheating our planet? Who will they ask? The space botanist.
A top official from the Southern Nevada Water Authority is calling on states that rely on the Colorado River to resolve their differences before a growing dispute derails decades of cooperation on the river. … The fight comes as Nevada, Arizona and California continue work on a drought contingency plan aimed at keeping Lake Mead out of shortage by voluntarily leaving more water in the reservoir.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) approved reduced recreational and commercial ocean salmon seasons for the West Coast on April 10. The reduction in fishing days this season amounts to cuts of about a third for the ocean sport fishery and over half of the commercial fishery, compared to a normal season.
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
This winter’s wild swings in weather – an early lack of rain, then late-season Sierra snowstorms, followed by a torrent of subtropical moisture – shows the need in California for long-range tools to better manage water supply.
At a Paleo Drought Workshop in San Pedro on April 19, six experts will discuss research on centuries-long precipitation and streamflow records, new forecasting tools and planning strategies to help reduce Southern California’s vulnerability to drought.