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.
There is water here in the Mojave Desert. A lot of it. Whether
to tap it on a commercial scale or leave it alone is a
decades-old question the Trump administration has revived and
the California legislature is visiting anew. … Soon after the
2016 election, the Trump transition team included Cadiz as
No. 15 on its priority list of “emergency and national
security” projects. Less than a year later, the administration
exempted the project from a federal review that the Obama
administration required because of the federal land involved in
the pipeline construction.
The top state agencies that manage water and wildlife resources
in California submitted a package of voluntary agreements with
water districts to the State Water Resources Control Board on
Friday, as an alternative to controversial flow requirements
approved in December for the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced
rivers. … The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts issued
statements Friday in support of the tentative agreements.
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of
water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by
agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing,
and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and
recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life
as haven for artists.
Plans to give Nevada’s top water official more flexibility to
wade into water rights disputes got a rough reception in the
state Legislature. Farmers, conservationists and American
Indians from Nevada and Utah turned out in opposition to the
proposals in two bills. No one spoke in support of measures
critics say would direct more water toward urban and suburban
development at the expense of farming, ranching and the
environment in rural valleys.
We hope the move by MWD — which in 2016 had played
hardball of its own by linking its support of the Colorado
River drought plan to federal and state support of a Delta
water project — doesn’t again sidetrack true federal
involvement at the Salton Sea.
The aging, leaking Combie Canal, a concrete flume located along
a steep hillside above the Bear River, received the OK for a
nearly $20 million replacement Wednesday. The canal is a
“critical piece of infrastructure” that serves two water
treatment plants, Nevada Irrigation District staff say, with
more than half of the district’s flows for deliveries made
through the nearly 50-year-old system.
California is drenched and its mountains are piled high with
snow amid a still-unfolding winter of storms that was
unimaginable just a few months ago. Drought conditions have
almost been eliminated, hills blackened by huge wildfires are
sporting lush coats of green, and snow has fallen in the
usually temperate suburbs of Southern California. … The
California Department of Water Resources reported Thursday that
the Sierra snowpack is now 153 percent of average to date.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, introduced the Sites Reservoir
Protection Act Thursday to provide federal support for the
building of Sites Reservoir and other water infrastructures in
the Central Valley. The act, also known as House Resolution
1453, would direct the Bureau of Reclamation to complete a
feasibility study for the project Colusa and Glenn counties.
Arizona state water regulators have confirmed that here may not
be enough water underground for dozens of planned developments
in Pinal County, new subdivisions that, if built, would bring
more than 139,000 homes. That finding is based on data the
Arizona Department of Water Resources has compiled that shows a
long-term groundwater shortage in the area is possible. The
data … raises red flags about growthand the water supply in
one of the fastest growing parts of the state.
Complaints are mounting against Acting Interior Secretary David
Bernhardt over allegations he used his position to help the
interests of his former lobbying client, California’s powerful
Westlands Water District. The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center
filed a complaint accusing Bernhardt of ethics violations by
partaking in decisions directly related to his past lobbying
work, resulting in rules that would free up more river water to
Fresno-based Westlands and weakening protections for certain
endangered fish populations.
Funding awarded for the new Temperance Flat Dam may have fallen
short, but hopes for construction are still very much alive.
Jason Phillips, Director of Friant Water Authority and alumni
of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, has
insight as to why those involved with the project are still
Yuba Water Agency is presenting a collaborative framework to
the State Water Resources Control Board today, a detailed plan
to improve fish and wildlife habitat conditions in the San
Francisco/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary watershed
(Bay-Delta), including fisheries enhancement measures on the
lower Yuba River.
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.)
What a difference a winter can make. On Jan. 1, three-quarters
of California was in drought. Just eight weeks later, however,
a succession of storms have washed drought conditions away from
all but a splotch at the far north edge of the state, according
to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
California has been blessed with a wet winter this year. That’s
been good news for the California plants, animals, and humans
that rely on water to survive and recreate. But lots of
precipitation now doesn’t necessarily mean that California will
have lots of water when it needs it. That’s because what
matters is not only how much water we get, but when and how we
To help build leadership capacity and acquire water management
tools for valley communities, Self-Help Enterprises invites
water board members and staff, water leaders, and residents
from rural communities to participate in the 2019 Rural
Communities Water Managers Leadership Institute. The six-month
program is scheduled for March through August, with sessions
held one Saturday per month at Self-Help Enterprises in
With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a
seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by
contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of
the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is
seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger
said he had no choice.
Winter storms have blanketed the mountains on the upper
Colorado River with snow. But even this year’s above-average
snowpack won’t be nearly enough to make up for the river’s
chronic overallocation, compounded by 19 years of drought and
the worsening effects of climate change.
It has occurred to me that the rush to remove the dams on the
Klamath River is lacking in a whole host of ways, and I commend
city Councilman Jason Greenough for being at least open to the
notion that the dam removal might not be in the best interests
of the community.
Local groundwater regulatory agencies set up under 2014
legislation in California are discussing future rationing
schemes with irrigators as they scramble to submit long-term
aquifer sustainability plans to the state by a deadline of
early next year. Local regulators are discussing a combination
of new supplies and land-use conversions, says David Orth, a
principal at the Fresno-based New Current Water and Land, LLC,
a strategic planning firm.
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 Yolo Bypass is central, both geographically and in
importance, to California’s water supply and flood protection
system, according to Bontadelli. However, proposed
modifications to the Bypass to enhance habitat for
out-migrating endangered winter and spring-run young salmon
means the it will be key to the continued pumping of water
south for agriculture and urban users.
Mono County hasn’t won the war, but it did win the first battle
in its lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power’s decision to withdraw water allotments to its Long
Valley area grazing leases. Last Friday, the Alameda County
civil court indicated LADWP’s request to dismiss the suit was
The new administration has signaled a shift in water policy by
specifically talking about turning salty water potable after
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he would support only a single
tunnel as part of the project known as WaterFix. … But
talking up desalination is much easier than making it a
reality. In the four years since California updated its
desalination regulations, none of the eight applications for
new or expanded facilities has been approved. Meanwhile, the
costs for the projects keep rising and the state has few
details about its plans.
Follow along on our water tour of the Lower Colorado
River – and keep up with any of our
tours and events –
through our social media channels. We’ll post updates on our
Twitter account @WaterEdFdn about
people, issues and places as we travel along the Lower Colorado
River from Hoover Dam to the Coachella Valley Feb. 27 through
The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region
and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in
a time of great change. The valley produces more than half of
the state’s agricultural output. Irrigated farming is the
region’s main economic driver and predominant water user.
Stress on the valley’s water system is growing. Local water
supplies are limited, particularly in the southern half of the
The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the
Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of
Los Angeles created when the Colorado River breached a dike in
1905 and flooded a dry lake bed. The district says if the
federal government doesn’t commit to giving California the
money, it won’t sign off on a multistate plan to preserve the
river’s two largest reservoirs amid a prolonged drought.
The wildfire that swept through Northern California this past
November was one of the deadliest and most destructive in the
state’s history. … While it may take a long time for these
communities to rebuild after these natural disasters, what is
often missed is how the forest will rebuild itself. It turns
out forests are struggling to come back, and climate change
might have something to do with it.
The Pismo Beach City Council wants to build a $28 million
facility that will purify Pismo Beach and South San Luis Obispo
County Sanitation District wastewater and inject it into the
Santa Maria groundwater basin. If completed, it will prevent
salt water from seeping into one of South County’s water
sources and provide more water to South County residents.
All eyes have been on the Colorado River recently with
headlines across the west announcing the progress – or lack
thereof – of the efforts of the seven basin states to reach
agreement on the Drought Contingency Plan. So is the Colorado
River in crisis? At the 2019 California Irrigation Institute
conference, Dr. Brad Udall’s keynote presentation focused on
answering that question.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is researching how
cannabis cultivators who divert water from Mattole River
streams might be impacting the river’s fish and insect
populations… By fall 2019, the researchers will publish
findings on the full environmental effects of cannabis grows.
While the research is intended to “support efforts to
establish” sustainable cultivation levels, the study’s main
focus is analysis, said department representative Janice
A comprehensive bill addressing ocean concerns will call for
improving the quality of ocean water and wetlands, better
salmon habitats, and rules that would protect whales from being
hit by ships. … Other potential legislation ranges from
a move to end the practice of pumping treated sewage into the
ocean to a law that would eliminate most paper shopping
receipts to a smoking ban on all California state beaches.
On their to-do list is determining how to spread costs from
wildfires in “an equitable manner” and considering whether the
state should create a special find to cover wildfire costs.
They face a tricky task with an array of competing interests,
chief among them how to balance wildfire costs between
utilities, their shareholders and their customers.
For the next 75 days, Cindy Berglund will be traveling around
Southern California in her motor home, lugging rain barrels
with her. Last weekend, her company, Rain Barrels
International, joined with the city’s Office of Sustainability
to offer a free class on rainwater harvesting. More than 80
people signed up in advance for the class at Recreation Park
but the presentation ended up being to a standing room only
Hundreds of thousands of threatened red coho and hook-jawed
Chinook salmon used to swim here, nearly 200 miles from where
the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean. … But by the
2000s, their numbers had dwindled to just a few dozen adults
each year. Since size largely determines whether juvenile fish
survive, conservation organizations have been interested in
this particular property, which includes the entire 2.2-mile
length of the Big Springs Creek and 7.5-miles of the Shasta
River, for decades.
The most eco-friendly wastewater treatment plant in the
Northern San Joaquin Valley will be Manteca’s by the time 2020
rolls around. Not only is the treated water returned to the San
Joaquin River meeting the latest standards established by the
state for water quality, but within six months or so methane
gas — a major byproduct of the treatment process that typically
has to be burned — will no longer contribute to valley air
The San Diego County Water Authority’s General Manager notified
the region’s water board on Wednesday that she is retiring.
Maureen Stapleton has held the top job at the agency for more
than two decades. She led the Water Authority through the
complicated settlement negotiations surrounding the Colorado
River. Stapleton also encouraged projects like the Carlsbad
Desalination plant as a way to diversify the region’s water
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s references to water in his first State of
the State address were brief and a bit patchy, but they were
enough to make fiercely competing factions each believe the new
governor had their backs. But water policy in California is
never that easy.
This is among the hottest of Napa County’s hot potatoes. That’s
because it strikes such nerves as possible, further constraints
on new vineyard development in local hills and a perceived need
in some quarters to do more to protect water quality in local
Arizona’s efforts to finish a Colorado River drought plan are
moving forward after leaders of the Gila River Indian
Community announced that they will proceed with their
piece of the deal. … The Gila River Indian Community’s
involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a
fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona
Project Canal, and it has offered to kick in some water to make
the drought agreement work.
Dated Feb. 20, 2019, and addressed to the Indian Wells Valley
Ground Water Authority Board of Directors, the letter states
that it is intended as a formal communication that “Commander
Navy Region Southwest (CNRSW), in consultation with U.S. Navy
commands located within the Indian Wells Valley, deems
groundwater resources as the number one encroachment
concern/issue which has the potential to impact missions
enabled on and around Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.”
Three property owners in Shasta County face thousands of
dollars in fines due to violations involving cannabis grows.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued
the fines over water quality violations at two properties one
in Ono, the other near Cottonwood Creek.
Now stripped of its once vast wetlands and nearly sucked dry
from the overpumping of groundwater during the West’s
increasingly common droughts, the fertile valley is in need of
a reboot: Its aquifers have shrunk and the remaining water is
often contaminated with nitrate and salts. Citing a new water
law that will have major effects on water suppliers and
farmers, experts are calling for an “all hands on deck”
approach to fixing the valley’s water woes.
Overall, the total number of birds in the study area increased
during the drought period and the models project similarly high
numbers in response to warmer future climate conditions. …
However, many of the species that benefit from increased
temperature were also sensitive to high water deficit and tree
mortality. Thus, their positive response to increasing
temperatures could be offset by drought or habitat change.
If you stand on a fragile levee of the Sacramento River these
days and watch the chocolate brown water rushing toward the
delta only a few feet under your boots, one can’t help but
wonder why the state and federal governments aren’t capturing
more of this precious resource. Why is all but a tiny fraction
heading out to sea?
Since 2006, California has been releasing periodic reports on
how the state should adapt to the potential impacts of climate
change. The most recent report is unique in that it also looks
at key climate risks from a regional perspective. Our news
director Alice Daniel recently spoke with Joshua Viers, a
watershed scientist at UC Merced and one of the authors of the
San Joaquin Valley assessment.
This year, the water agency plans to inform farmers and the
community about not only the amount of water the Tuolumne River
Watershed has received so far this year, but also will provide
information regarding the final license application for Don
Pedro, which first began eight years ago, and the ongoing legal
battle surrounding the State Water Resources Control Board’s
decision to implement 40 percent unimpaired flows along the San
Joaquin River and its tributaries for the betterment of fish.
With stepped-up stormwater capture programs, the Pacific
Institute said in a 2014 study, Southern California and the Bay
Area could boost the state’s water supply by 420,000 acre-feet
annually. That’s enough water to meet the needs of
A dominate weather pattern featuring a southward dip in the jet
stream, or upper-level trough over the western U.S., has
allowed a series of precipitation-rich storm systems to track
through the region, especially over the last month.
Noting the Klamath River’s history as the West Coast’s
third-largest salmon-producing river, the City Council’s letter
states that they believe a “free-flowing Klamath will
revitalize” both the commercial and recreational fisheries,
creating jobs and bringing revenue to the community.
In December, the city began delivering recycled water through
its purple pipeline to the Tulare Irrigation District (TID)
following approval by the Department of Drinking Water (DDW).
Under an agreement signed in 2013, the city is obligated to
deliver 11,000 acre feet of recycled water to TID per year in
exchange for 5,500 acre feet of surface water used to recharge
the city’s groundwater. Since 2016, the city has received
enough surface water from TID to off set one year of
groundwater pumping for the entire city.
One week after an atmospheric river storm pounded Northern
California, causing flooding, mudslides and traffic headaches,
another one appears to be forming in the Pacific and is set to
arrive early next week. Computer models show the storm
hitting Monday or Tuesday, with the North Bay and parts of
California farther north taking the brunt, although that could
change, experts say.
In 2014 Santa Monica embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. … The
switch has been accomplished through an extensive plan that
encompasses small measures like toilet replacements, household
rain harvest barrels and aggressive conservation to large
measures like cleaning up contaminated groundwater, capturing
street runoff and recycling water.
State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside and Assemblywoman Laura
Friedman, D-Glendale last week introduced SB 307, which seeks
to ensure “that any future water transfers from groundwater
basins underlying desert lands do not adversely affect the
California desert’s natural or cultural resources,” according
to a bill fact sheet.
Although ending groundwater overdraft will bring long-term
benefits, it entails near-term costs. We find that only about a
quarter of the Valley’s groundwater deficit can be filled with
new supplies at prices farmers can afford. The rest must come
from managing demand. We estimate that ending the overdraft
will require taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated
cropland out of production.
NRDC is sponsoring legislation this year by Senator Hertzberg
and Senator Wiener (SB 332, the Local Water Reliability Act)
designed to help sustain water reliability and protect the
environment. … The bill challenges water supply agencies
and wastewater treatment plant operators to undertake a joint
effort to plan and implement a conservation and discharge
reduction strategy that reduces wasteful and polluting
discharges to the ocean by 95% in 20 years.
The furrows in a 60-acre patch of dirt on Rodney and Tiffany
Shedd’s Arizona farm still hold cotton scraps from last year’s
crop. This year, that patch will stay barren for the first time
in recent memory, thanks to the decline in Colorado River water
for farms across Pinal County, one of America’s cotton-growing
In another sign Southern California is having its wettest
winter in years, Mystic Lake has risen again in the rural,
agricultural valley between Moreno Valley and San Jacinto. The
ephemeral body of water was largely absent the past decade
Lake Oroville, currently at 773-foot elevation, could rise to
780-785 feet by the end of the month based on current
projections. DWR and crews with Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.,
the contractor for the spillways construction project, would
remove equipment from the main spillway if the lake elevation
reached 780 feet.
February storms have almost eliminated drought conditions from
California. The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that
just over 67 percent of the state is totally free of any level
of dryness. Just under 30 percent is classified as abnormally
dry, and less than 4 percent remains in either moderate or
At the March 29th Santa Ana River Watershed Conference in
Orange County, the PPIC’s Ellen Hanak will put the
top managers of the watershed’s five major water districts
on the hot seat to uncover the region’s latest innovations and
find out what the next generation of integrated water
management planning looks like.
The city currently has six groundwater pumping stations that
were used during the drought. But the stations have the ability
to pump water back into the aquifer as well. The Folsom Dam
currently has three gates open to release enough water so it
has room to capture flood water. Roseville Utility officials
say it’s just the right time to do a larger scale test of its
water injection strategy.
At a Town Hall Tuesday night, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael)
told the large crowd filling nearly every available seat in the
Ukiah Valley Conference Center about a possible future for the
Potter Valley Project that would remove the controversial dam,
but preserve the water supply the Ukiah Valley has depended on
for more than a century.
The Pismo Beach City Council wants to build a $28 million
facility that will purify Pismo Beach and South San Luis Obispo
County Sanitation District wastewater and inject it into the
Santa Maria groundwater basin. If completed, it will prevent
salt water from seeping into one of South County’s water
sources and provide more water to South County residents.
If the Trump administration wanted to increase California’s
water supply by the most cost-effective means possible, it
would immediately drop its attempt to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5
feet. It would instead put $1.5 billion — the cost of the
proposed Shasta enlargement, in 2019 dollars — toward a
completely different approach to water supply: watershed and
Southern California has been emerging from its most recent
drought cycle thanks to one of the wettest winters the
long-parched southern half of the Golden State has experienced
in years — 18 trillion gallons of rain have fallen in February
alone. … But don’t expect these storms to come to the
rescue when — not if — more intense droughts return to the
San Diego’s water department is going through the second
major shakeup in less than a year. At least five senior
officials are out, including one who once tried to waive off an
audit of the city’s troubled “smart” meter program. In January
2018, the department’s assistant director, Lee Ann
Jones-Santos, said auditing the city’s effort to replace
280,000 water meters might make that $70 million program look
The odds are looking increasingly poor that Arizona and other
Western states will meet a March 4 federal deadline for
wrapping up Colorado River drought plans. That’s not just
because of the ongoing conflict over a now-shelved water rights
bill for Eastern Arizona that prompted a threat from the Gila
River Indian Community to bolt this state’s drought plan. It’s
also not just because of a Southern California irrigation
district’s efforts to secure $200 million in U.S. funds to
shore up the dying Salton Sea.
At our current rate of climate change, many cities in western
Oregon could come to feel a lot like the Central Valley of
California over the next 60 years. A new
analysis looking at climate projections for urban areas
across the United States and Canada predict substantial changes
in local temperatures and precipitation rates for
A single tunnel would perform almost as well as two tunnels,
particularly when operated in tandem with the existing pumps in
the south Delta. It would cost substantially less. And it would
give assurances to environmental groups and Delta residents
that the project would not create the large impacts many fear.
Environmental groups should take this opportunity to sign on to
a new approach for managing the Delta.
As we all know, Los Angeles and the surrounding areas have had
lots and lots and lots of rain this winter. So much rain, in
fact, that this week, Southern California Edison announced
they’re lifting mandatory conservation requirements for
residents and businesses on Catalina Island. … Water
rationing on Catalina Island began in 2014, when residents were
asked to adopt mandatory conservation efforts.
In Paradise, California, thousands of residents are trying to
cope with disruption and displacement resulting from November’s
devastating Camp Fire. Children attend school in a repurposed
hardware store, where counselors try to help them manage their
trauma. Meanwhile, amidst millions of tons of toxic debris,
finding safe and stable housing is a challenge. Special
correspondent Cat Wise reports.
Under the fee structure, there are two types of water use:
agricultural and “all others.” Ag users will be assessed a
$4.79/acre fee and other users will be assessed $2.26 per
service connection. (Ag accounts for more than 90 percent of
the pumping from the basin.) The new fees are part of
California’s effort to regulate groundwater, which has
historically been treated as a “pump as you please” resource,
not subject to the same restrictions as surface water, like the
Carmel River that largely supplies the Monterey Peninsula.
A letter from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein could have helped
lead to Felicia Marcus’s ouster as State Water Resources
Control Board chair last week. Surprised? Don’t be: The
moderate Democratic senator has a long alliance with Central
When operating, Sites Reservoir will provide significantly more
water during drier periods, to become a new drought-management
tool to address California’s water management challenges into
the 21st century and beyond. Innovative and environmentally
sound, Sites Reservoir will provide water to enhance the
environment when it can provide greater benefits and provide a
resilient and reliable supply of water for our communities,
farms and businesses.
Rising temperatures can lower flow by increasing the amount of
water lost to evaporation from soil and surface water, boosting
the amount of water used by plants, lengthening the growing
season, and shrinking snowpacks that contribute to flow via
meltwater. … The researchers found that rising
temperatures are responsible for 53% of the long-term decline
in the river’s flow, with changing precipitation patterns and
other factors accounting for the rest.
Drought has long been a part of California’s history.
There is archeologic evidence that shows periods of
below-normal rainfall have lasted for more than 50 years in the
past. A Cal Poly professor is looking back at those
so-called mega-droughts to see what we might be able to learn
about the area’s climate in the future.
It’s shaping up as a wetter-than-usual winter in California,
putting to rest fears of another drought hitting anytime soon.
Depending on where you live, though, you will still likely face
some limitations on how much you can water your lawn this
When people need more water, they often build dams to increase
supply. But can dams increase water use in an unsustainable
way, leading communities to live beyond their water means? That
appears to often be the case, according to the authors of a
recent paper in Nature Sustainability. Las Vegas is a textbook
House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Tuesday withdrew his bill that
would repeal state laws on when farmers forfeit their water
rights — legislation that the Gila River Indian Community said
would cause it to withdraw from the multi-state drought
contingency plan. But Bowers’ move did not get the tribe to
sign the papers agreeing to provide Arizona with the 500,000
acre-feet of water it needs to make the drought plan a reality.
We find that the occurrence of both extreme wet and extreme dry
events in California—and of rapid transitions between the
two—will likely increase with atmospheric greenhouse gas
concentrations. The rising risk of historically unprecedented
precipitation extremes will seriously test California’s
existing water storage, distribution, and flood protection
This failure is twofold. First, the DCP has limited provisions
for actually conserving water — only $2 million for groundwater
conservation programs in active management areas. … Second,
the DCP fails to address conservation for Arizona’s rivers,
streams and springs, even in the face of warming and drying
The Metropolitan Water District last week re-upped its
turf-removal program, providing greater incentives for
homeowners to replace thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant
plants. In Utah, the state’s Division of Water Resources is
encouraging residents to use more water so it can justify
spending $3 billion on a pipeline that will take more water
from Lake Powell… This tale of two states brings up an
interesting question: Is water conservation de rigueur or
What may be the nation’s largest dam removal project—delayed
for years by regulatory and legal disputes of a utility,
stakeholders and states over licensing and environmental
permits—now may have new momentum after a hard-hitting January
federal appeals court ruling. Kiewit Infrastructure West,
Granite Construction and Barnard Construction are shortlisted
for the $400-million project to design and deconstruct four
hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in California and
Newsom has embraced an idea that has previously failed to gain
traction in Sacramento: new taxes totaling as much as $140
million a year for a clean drinking water initiative. Much of
it would be spent on short- and long-term solutions for
low-income communities without the means to finance operations
and maintenance for their water systems. … But the money
to change that — what’s being called a “water tax” in state
Capitol circles — is where the politics get complicated.
Colorado will launch a far-reaching $20 million conservation
planning effort this spring designed to ensure the state can
reduce water use enough to stave off a crisis in the
drought-choked Colorado River Basin.
In increasingly arid regions such as the western U.S., water
managers are learning that careful management and restoration
of watershed ecosystems, including thinning trees and
conducting prescribed burns, are important tools in coping with
a hotter, drier climate.
When growth skyrocketed in Phoenix and the East Valley
during the 1990s and 2000s, housing developments started
replacing decades-old farms. Now, it’s the west side’s turn. In
2000, Maricopa County had 510 square miles of agricultural land
and 180 square miles of residential land west of Interstate 17.
By 2017, farmland had dropped to 350 square miles while
agricultural residential land grew to cover 280 square miles,
according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.
The City of Ventura and its water customers have relied on the
Ventura River as a primary source of drinking water for more
than a century. Today, however, the region’s water supply is
changing as the Ventura River watershed faces new, complex
challenges. To protect our local water resources and safeguard
the watershed for the future, we must change our approach to
managing it now.
A federal environmental analysis recommends relicensing the Don
Pedro hydroelectric project and accepts a Modesto and Turlock
irrigation district plan for well-timed flows to boost salmon
in the Tuolumne River. The flows, combined with other measures
to assist spawning and outmigrating young salmon, would commit
less water to the environment than a State Water Resources
Control Board plan that’s unpopular in the Northern San Joaquin
Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said
… the agency intends to work constructively with the
Newsom administration on developing a WaterFix project “that
addresses the needs of cities, farms and the
environment.” But Kightlinger expressed frustration that
the project will be delayed even more.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey steered away from the term “climate
change” in order to garner political support for the
state’s Colorado River drought plan, he indicated Friday in an
interview with a Pima Community College newspaper. In that
interview, he also avoided making any connection between
climate change and the “drier future” (his preferred phrase)
that Arizona faces. His omission bordered on a denial of the
established links between the two.
As Californians, I believe we must look west to the Pacific
Ocean, where seawater desalination offers a proven, climate
change-resilient solution. No longer do we need verification
from Israel, the Middle East and Australia, where desalination
facilities have literally helped save lives and fend off
debilitating droughts due of climate change. Now, we can look
much closer to home — in San Diego.
A landslide that dumped about 6 million cubic yards of rock and
debris across California Highway 1 near near Big Sur,
California, in May 2017 was the result of drought followed by
deluge, a team of scientists say. … The
researchers determined that water replaces air in the tiny
spaces between soil particles, which greatly increased the
pressure on those particles, speeding up the rate of collapse.
The Coachella Valley Water District has overhauled and
modernized its IT infrastructure, as part of a $16 million
capital improvement plan that will improve data management,
simplify payments and boost conservation.
At the end of 2017, several local rice farmers teamed up with
researchers for a pilot program known as “Fish in the Fields”
through the Resource Renewal Institute, a nonprofit research
and natural resource policy group, to see what would happen
when fish were introduced to flooded rice fields. Now in its
second year of experiments, researchers have concluded that it
works, with methane – a climate-changing byproduct of rice
agriculture much more detrimental than carbon dioxide – being
reduced by about two-thirds, or 65 percent, in flooded fields
that had fish in them.
Too often, entrenched conflicts that pit water user against
water user block efforts to secure a sustainable, equitable,
and democratic water future in California. Striking a balance
involves art and science, compassion and flexibility, and
adherence to science and the law. Felicia Marcus is a public
servant unknown to many Californians. But as she concludes her
tenure as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, we
owe her a debt of gratitude for consistently reaching for that
Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office continues to
operate under the 2013 Biological Opinion while a new document
is being created, along with the court-ordered injunction in
place to guide the Klamath Project.
When 2019 started, California’s snowpack was at 67%. Now it’s
at over 136% and rising. The atmospheric rivers that are
dumping rain along coastal California are also dumping massive
amounts of snow in the state’s Sierra Nevada.
Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
announced that El Niño — the periodic warming of the tropical
Pacific Ocean, with weather consequences worldwide — has
officially arrived. El Niño typically peaks between October and
March, so it’s pretty late in the season for a new one to form.
This year’s El Niño is expected to remain relatively weak, but
that doesn’t mean this one won’t be felt — in fact, its
cascading consequences already in motion.
Two experts from Stanford’s Water in the West program explain
the potential impacts on the future of water in California of
the proposed plan to downsize the $17 billion Delta twin
tunnels project. … Leon Szeptycki, executive director
of Stanford’s Water in the West program, and Timothy
Quinn, the Landreth Visiting Fellow at Water in the West,
discussed the future of water in California and potential
impacts of a tunnel system.
The strategy of turning to groundwater pumping will
test the limits of Arizona’s regulatory system for its desert
aquifers, which targets some areas for pumping
restrictions and leaves others with looser rules or no
regulation at all. In Pinal County, which falls under
these groundwater rules, the return to a total reliance on
wells reflects a major turning point and raises the possibility
that this part of Arizona could again sink into a pattern
of falling groundwater levels — just as it did decades
ago, before the arrival of Colorado River water.
Over the past two years, scared off by the anticipated costs of
storing water there, Valley agricultural irrigation districts
have steadily reduced their ownership shares of Sites. The
powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California …
is nearly as big an investor in Sites as all of the Sacramento
Valley farm districts combined. Metropolitan agreed Tuesday to
contribute another $4.2 million to help plan the project.
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by
reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving
ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to
revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat
for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said
in a statement Thursday that a decision by House Speaker Rusty
Bowers to move forward with a contentious water bill threatens
the community’s plan to support the drought agreement. The
Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because it’s
entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that
passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal.
At long last, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
twin-tunnels boondoggle is dead. Good riddance. Gov.
Gavin Newsom made that official Tuesday during his State of the
State address, calling instead for a smaller, single-tunnel
approach that would include a broad range of projects designed
to increase the state’s water supply. Bravo. It’s a
refreshing shift from Gov. Jerry Brown’s stubborn insistence
that California spend $19 billion on a project that wouldn’t
add a drop of new water to the state supply.
Salinas Valley farmers would cover the bulk of administrative
costs for a state-mandated groundwater sustainability agency
charged with balancing use and recharge in the agriculture-rich
region under a proposal to be considered Thursday. Farmers
would pay about 90 percent of the Salinas Valley Basin
groundwater sustainability agency’s proposed $1.2 million
annual budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year or about $1.08
million through a $4.79 per acre annual “regulatory” fee under
the proposal, while public water system customers would
contribute about $120,000 per year through a $2.26 annual fee.
The interrelated nature of water issues has given rise to a
management approach that integrates flood control,
environmental water, and water supply. The Yuba Water Agency
manages its watershed in this kind of coordinated manner. We
talked to Curt Aikens, the agency’s general manager, about the
lessons they’ve learned from this “integrated management”
The Siskiyou County Water Users Association received
confirmation that its writ of mandamus, filed with the U.S.
Court of Appeals in November, 2018, has been scheduled for the
docket early next month. The writ asks the court to compel the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to rule on a motion the
SCWUA filed in April, 2018, which attempts to stop the transfer
of the dams’ ownership to the KRRC – the nonprofit formed to
The hottest and driest summers in state history have occurred
within the last 20 years … Her bill, if passed, would
allocate $2 million in funding from the Office of Planning and
Research for a competitive grant program designed to develop
“specified planning tools for adapting to climate change in the
Metropolitan’s Board of Directors voted Tuesday (Feb. 12) to
double the rebate the agency offers for replacing turf,
increasing it to $2 a square foot of grass removed. The board
also adopted other changes to make it easier to participate in
Congressman Kevin McCarthy led his California colleagues in
sending letters to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a
substantial initial water supply allocation to Central Valley
Project contractors using authorities under the Water
Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.
Additionally, he and his colleagues from California also sent a
letter to the California Department of Water Resources calling
for an increase to the existing water supply allocation to
State Water Project contractors given current hydrological
Farmers, water managers and government agencies agree:
Groundwater sustainability is critical for California. But
achieving it could bring significant changes to the state’s
agricultural landscape, according to speakers at a Sacramento
gathering of water professionals.
The wet weather broke a daily rainfall record in Sacramento,
with 1.6 inches of rain recorded at the Sacramento Executive
Airport over 24 hours. But the state’s network of flood-control
dams and levees appeared to handle the deluge without major
problems. The National Weather Service issued a flood
warning Wednesday morning for the Sacramento Valley, and it was
expected to remain in place until 6 p.m. Thursday as heavy and
moderate rainfall was forecast to continue through Thursday.
If you try to figure out the total water stored in the Sierras,
you run into a methodological wall. There’s no good way to get
there directly. Starting about two decades ago, a small
group of scientists suggested a new solution: What if they
could measure the water cycle from space?
Assembly Bill 533 exempts any rebates, vouchers, or other
financial incentives issued by a local water agency or supplier
for expenses incurred to participate in a water efficiency or
storm water improvement program from state or corporate income
Of the handful of speakers at the California Water Service
hearing Tuesday, none supported the proposed rate increases for
Chico, objecting to high costs, compensation to
high-level executives and profit made by shareholders.
Felicia Marcus, whose push for larger river flows angered
farmers and community leaders in the Northern San Joaquin
Valley, won’t continue as chairwoman of the State Water
Resources Control Board. Gov. Gavin Newsom named Joaquin
Esquivel as chairman of the powerful water regulatory board.
… Laurel Firestone, co-founder of the Community Water
Center, was appointed as the replacement for Marcus.
… Firestone has been an advocate for addressing wells
contaminated with nitrates.
In a recent paper, Stephanie Pincetl, director of the
California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA, and
co-authors argue that investments made over the years to
fortify the city’s supply with additional imported water have
not solved LA’s water shortages. … The paper asserts that LA
could become water self-reliant by strategically investing in
local supplies, and offers several concrete strategies for
improving LA’s water security.
In a major shift in one of the largest proposed public works
projects in state history, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on
Tuesday announced he does not support former Gov. Jerry Brown’s
$19 billion plan to build two massive tunnels under the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move
water from the north to the south. “Let me be direct about
where I stand,” Newsom said. “I do not support the twin
tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already
been done. That’s why I do support a single tunnel.”
Three new directors representing the cities of Fullerton and
Santa Ana, and the Inland Empire Utilities Agency were seated
today on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California.
American Canyon will continue looking to the proposed, massive
Sites reservoir in Colusa County to someday help slake its
thirst. The city of about 20,000 residents is the only Napa
County city without a local reservoir. It depends on the
state’s North Bay Aqueduct that pumps water out of Barker
Slough, a dead-end slough in the Solano County portion of
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Lawmakers from both parties said the bill’s most important
provision was to permanently reauthorize the federal Land and
Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and
outdoor recreation projects across the country. The program
expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to
Ominous predictions about the desert lake’s ecological
collapse are beginning to occur. You can see this sea
up close during our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1,
when we will visit the fragile ecosystem and hear from several
stakeholders working to address challenges facing the sea.
Climate change is fundamentally transforming the way we manage
water in the Western U.S. The recent Fourth California Climate
Change Assessment lays out the many pressures facing water
managers in California in detail. One key take-away of that
Assessment is that past climate conditions will not be a good
proxy for the state’s water future, and smarter strategies are
needed to manage California’s water.
It’s all up to the Imperial Irrigation District. The fate of a
seven-state plan to address dwindling Colorado River water
supply now appears to rest squarely with the sprawling
southeastern California water district. Its neighbor to the
north, the Coachella Valley Water District, voted unanimously
on Tuesday to approve interstate agreements that would conserve
water for use by 40 million people and vast swaths of
Of the 517 groundwater basins and subbasins in California,
local agencies submitted 43 requests for basin modifications
for either scientific or jurisdictional reasons. … In the
draft decision, DWR approved 33, denied seven, and partially
approved three modification requests.
Two years after California’s historic drought came to an end,
the sweeping die-off of the state’s forests has slowed, yet
vast tracts of dry, browning trees continue to amplify the
threat of wildfire, federal officials reported Monday. About
18.6 million trees died in 2018, mainly the result of
dehydration and beetle infestation, according to new estimates
from the U.S. Forest Service. That pushes the total number of
dead since 2010, shortly before the five-year drought began, to
147 million. It’s a toll not seen in modern times.
A powerful “atmospheric river” storm is expected to pummel
Northern California starting Tuesday night and deliver heavy
rain, gusty winds, downed trees, power outages and rough
driving conditions Wednesday and Thursday. … The storm
should bring up to 5 feet of new snow in the Sierra Nevada,
forecasters said. The National Weather Service announced
flash-flood and high-wind warnings for the Bay Area, along with
Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
The Klamath Tribes have made it clear that we are not
interested in engaging in water settlement discussions.
However, we are very interested in discussions that will
protect and enhance our treaty resources.
Back in 2015, the city of San Diego expected it would get about
a third of its drinking water from recycled sewage within 20
years and could do so for about $3 billion in construction
costs. Now, the city is looking to spend no less than $4.8
billion and perhaps as much as $9 billion on the project,
according to city financial documents, including previously
undisclosed internal estimates from the Public Utilities
Cove, which is launching later this month, is packaged in a
bottle made from a biopolymer called PHA. If the bottle
ends up in a compost bin or landfill–or even the ocean–it will
fully biodegrade. … The company, which is a public
benefit corporation, has guidelines that say it won’t source
from areas that are currently in a drought.
Our floodplain reforestation projects are biodiversity hotspots
and climate-protection powerhouses that cost far less than
old-fashioned gray infrastructure of levees, dams and
reservoirs. They provide highly-effective flood safety by
strategically spreading floodwater. Floodplain forests combat
the effects of drought by recharging groundwater and increasing
The new report, “Sustainable Landscapes on Commercial and
Industrial Properties in the Santa Ana River Watershed,”
explores how landscape conversion on commercial and industrial
properties can reduce water use, increase stormwater capture
and groundwater recharge, improve water quality, and reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide use.
As a lobbyist and lawyer, David Bernhardt fought for years on
behalf of a group of California farmers to weaken Endangered
Species Act protections for a finger-size fish, the delta
smelt, to gain access to irrigation water. As a top official
since 2017 at the Interior Department, Mr. Bernhardt has been
finishing the job: He is working to strip away the rules the
farmers had hired him to oppose.
An effort is underway to hire a full-time watershed coordinator
focused on forest management projects in the Yuba River
Watershed and a grant from the Yuba Water Agency could help.
… The coordinator would work with public and private
landowners to plan and coordinate projects within the
watershed, including a biomass facility in Camptonville and a
forest health project in the north Yuba Watershed.
Scientific monitoring in the Pacific Ocean, using buoys to take
seawater temperatures, screeched to a halt when the government
recently shut down for 35 days. But those efforts to monitor El
Nino, the warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that affects
global weather patterns, are just some of the shutdown’s
impacts on science that Kevin Trenberth describes.
Don’t be fooled by the precipitation, the snowpack, the
wildflowers. When winter ends, it’s unlikely that California’s
iconic landscape will sustain the moisture to withstand the
100-degree summer and fall. … State fire officials are
already amassing new aircraft that drop thousands of gallons of
bright red flame retardant. Emergency responders are
pre-positioning fire crews in high-threat areas even before a
About 1 million Californians can’t safely drink their tap
water. Approximately 300 water systems in California
currently have contamination issues ranging from arsenic to lead
to uranium at levels that create severe health issues. It’s a
disgrace that demands immediate state action.
As PG&E Corp. plunged into bankruptcy last month, S&P
Global Ratings slashed credit grades almost to junk status for
California’s two other big electric utilities, owned by Sempra
Energy and Edison International, and said they could go lower.
The reason: inverse condemnation. Under the state’s view of
this legal doctrine, utilities can be held liable for any fires
sparked by their equipment, even if they follow every safety
The Colorado river crisis ought to be upsetting markets. The
U.S. waterway supports some $4 trillion in GDP and at least
$1.3 trillion in stock value across seven U.S. states. The
river was already virtually tapped out last century, and
continuing troubles have now led the federal government to step
in to help manage its water use. Yet investors have barely
caused a ripple.
Just over half the city’s infrastructure needs are in the
city’s Public Utilities Department, which is responsible for
sewage, water and the city’s ambitious water recycling program,
Pure Water. The city expects to have all the money it needs in
those areas because they are funded by water and sewer rates.
The picture is far less rosy for infrastructure that has less
reliable revenue sources. The city is short $719.8 million for
stormwater infrastructure — by far the biggest unfunded capital
need in the city.
The Imperial Irrigation District holds among the oldest and
largest rights to water from the Colorado River and is using
that as leverage to get what it sees as a better deal in
current drought contingency plan negotiations involving states
that draw from the river. Among the hardball tactics IID
is putting in play: A demand that the federal government
provide $200 million for efforts to bolster the beleaguered
While unfamiliar to many consumers, dry farming is an age-old
practice that entails carefully managing soils to lock winter
rainfall into the top layers until it’s time to begin growing
crops during the spring and summer. As little as 20 inches of
rain – roughly the same amount that the Central Coast receives
each winter on average – can sustain crops in the months
without rainfall, with no need to add any extra water.
Water sustainability continues to be a complex issue and will
require young, innovative minds to tackle it. This was the
theme of the 2019 Innovators High Desert Water Summit, held
Friday at High Desert Church. Hosted by the Mojave Water
Agency, the event was titled “How Generation Z Will Save the
Future of Water in California.” About 320 students, parents,
and teachers from schools all over San Bernardino County
The problem with Felicia Marcus is that she never stopped
working for the environmental movement. Yes, she’s paid by the
state to represent all Californians as chairwoman of the State
Water Resources Control Board. Yet, she has utterly failed
in her duties to the state, treating this job as an extension
of her old one – attorney for the Natural Resources Defense
A year after Colorado River imports were diverted to urban
areas from farms draining into the lake, dire predictions about
what would occur are coming to pass. A long-predicted, enormous
ecological transition is occurring this winter.
Arizona and California aren’t done finishing a plan that would
establish how states in the Colorado River Basin will ensure
water for millions of people in the Southwest, said the head of
the agency running the negotiations. … One challenge
comes from the Imperial Irrigation District, a water utility
that serves the Imperial Valley in southeastern California. It
hasn’t signed California’s plan because it wants $200 million
to restore the vanishing Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake.
The coring project is the initial phase of a multiyear analysis
in partnership with the Utah Department of Environmental
Quality, the National Park Service and the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation. The agencies have set aside $1.3 million for the
study, about half going toward extracting the cores.
For the first time, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and collaborating
institutions have documented the transition of a stable,
slow-moving landslide into catastrophic collapse, showing how
drought and extreme rains likely destabilized the slide. The
Mud Creek landslide near Big Sur, California, dumped about 6
million cubic yards (5 million cubic meters) of rock and debris
across California Highway 1 on May 20, 2017.
According to the government, the proposed rule is also
consistent with the statutory authority granted by Congress,
legal precedent, and executive orders. Notably, the proposed
definition would eliminate the process of determining whether a
“significant nexus” exists between a water and a downstream
traditional navigable water.
In the event that water elevation decreases
below 1,050-feet, officials have developed a plan to
address operational needs. Due to the government shutdown,
the public wasn’t able to provide comment on the low water plan
for Lake Mead. So an extension has been provided through
Once criticized for being a profligate user of water,
fast-growing Phoenix has taken some major steps — including
banking water in underground reservoirs, slashing per-capita
use, and recycling wastewater — in anticipation of the day when
the flow from the Colorado River ends.
The latest chapter in the long-running dispute over how to
manage water in the Klamath Basin is playing out in northern
California communities. … About two dozen protesters are
standing along Main Street in Yreka, the seat of Siskiyou
County, which lies just across Oregon’s southern border.
They’re holding signs saying “Stop The Klamath Dam Scams.”
Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission made
Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook salmon a candidate for listing
under the California Endangered Species Act. The decision was
in response to a petition filed last year by the Karuk Tribe
and the Salmon River Restoration Council. A final decision to
list the species will be made within 12 months; in the meantime
Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook will be afforded all the
protections of a listed species.
Questions about financial liability and concerns over weighted
votes among member agencies of the Central Coast Water
Authority prompted the Santa Barbara County Board of
Supervisors to take no action on transferring the state water
contract to that joint-powers agency. … CCWA has been
trying to have the contract reassigned since it was formed in
1991, but the Department of Water Resources would not agree to
the request because it was unclear if a joint-powers agency
could levy a property tax if a member defaulted on financial
A notice published recently in the Federal Register is not
sitting well with Imperial Irrigation District. That
notice, submitted by the Department of Interior through the
Bureau of Reclamation and published on Feb. 1, calls
recommendations from the governors of the seven Colorado River
Basin state for protective actions the Department of Interior
should take in the absence of a completed drought contingency
In 70 years, San Francisco as we know it could look drastically
different. Gentrification, development and the other forces of
urban change we fret about may be mere trifles compared to the
drastic effects of climate change, including the rise of sea
levels and erosion, scientists say. By 2100, rising sea
levels could displace more than 480,000 people along the
California coast and result in property losses upwards of $100
billion if no preventative measures are taken, according to a
2009 study by the California Climate Change Center.
Even with the onslaught of rainy weather, the U.S. Drought
Monitor states San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County
remain in a moderate drought. On Wednesday, the UC Cooperative
Extension held a workshop in Solvang titled “Weather, Grass,
and Drought: Planning for Uncertainty.”
For every one of the nearly two dozen people who spoke at a
public hearing Wednesday in Arcata, removing the dams is both
necessary and overdue. Fishing populations have been depleted
and stretches of the river have become toxic because it doesn’t
flow freely, attendees said at the D Neighborhood Center public
hearing. Members of various state agencies, including the state
Division of Water Rights and the state Water Resources Control
Board, listened and took notes. The agencies’ draft EIR is the
latest step in a process spanning many years.
Extreme wildfires in California threaten more than homes in the
Golden State. … Under California law, a utility is liable for
property damage if its equipment caused a fire, regardless of
whether there was negligence. Given that, some are asking
whether utilities can survive in the nation’s most populous
A major deadline just passed without unanimous agreement among
Western states over the future of the Colorado River, so the
federal government is one step closer to stepping in on the
dwindling river that provides water for 1-in-8 Americans. The
path forward has become murkier for the drought-stricken region
now in its 19th year of low water levels after a January 31
deadline failed to garner signed agreements from Arizona and
Despite many high priority issues on his plate, one of Gov.
Gavin Newsom’s first tests will be how he deals with
California’s water challenges and opportunities. Unfortunately,
in the last days of his term Gov. Jerry Brown made a bad
bargain with the Trump administration and special interests.
It’s yet another mess for the new governor to mop up.
The rain and even a bit of snow keep on
coming. Except for a 10-day dry spell at the end
of January, the San Francisco Bay Area has seen a series
of drenching winter storms that have watered gardens,
fueled waterfalls, recharged reservoirs, and diminished the
possibility of the ever-dreaded drought. In fact, all of
California has been slammed with an onslaught of
unsettled weather unleashing heavy snow and rain.
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They are giant conveyor belts of water in the sky,
moisture-rich storms that roll in from the Pacific Ocean a few
times a year to fill California’s reservoirs… But
distinguishing a good atmospheric river storm — a modest one
that can help end a drought — from a catastrophic one that can
kill people has been elusive. On Tuesday, that changed, as
scientists published the first-ever scale to rank the strength
and impact of incoming atmospheric rivers, similar to the way
hurricanes are classified.
An assortment of groups … joined the legal fray in courts
over the State Water Board decision in December to reduce water
diversions for farms and cities from the Tuolumne, Stanislaus
and Merced rivers. The emotions leading up to the Dec. 12
decision have touched off debate on what exactly could
restore a severely impaired delta estuary and depleted salmon
populations and what it will cost for Central Valley
Imagine Lake Tahoe with no snow year round. Every winter storm
that reaches the basin brings only rain. No skiing. No
snowboarding. No winter sports of any kind. … A dramatic
decline in the Sierra Nevada snowpack will be felt the most in
Northern California by mid century, according to a study
published in December 2018 by the Department of Energy’s
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday will
consider a petition to list spring run Chinook salmon on the
Upper Klamath-Trinity River as threatened or endangered under
the California Endangered Species Act. The California
Department of Fish and Wildlife is recommending the Fish and
Game commission accepts the petition, which was submitted by
the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in
While campaigning for president in 2016, Donald Trump promised
a cheering Fresno crowd he would be “opening up the
water” for Central Valley farmers… Trump took one of the
most aggressive steps to date to fulfill that promise Tuesday
by proposing to relax environmental regulations governing how
water is shared between fish and human uses throughout the
Did the goalposts just move on us? … Media reports suggest
that Reclamation is lumping Arizona with California, which
clearly did not meet the deadline, in its reasoning for taking
an action that we had all hoped to avoid. It’s easy to feel
betrayed by that, to conclude that Arizona was asked to move
mountains and then when we did, we were told it still wasn’t
In September of 2018, the Public Policy Institute of California
(PPIC) released the report, “Managing Drought in a Changing
Climate: Four Essential Reforms”, which asserted there are five
climate pressures affecting California’s water… The report
recommends four policy reforms: Plan ahead, upgrade the water
grid, update water allocation rules, and find the money.
The California Farm Bureau Federation has filed a lawsuit to
block by the State Water Resources Control Board’s plans for
the lower river flow of San Joaquin River. In a press release,
the Farm Bureau said that the Board’s plan , which was adopted
last December, “misrepresents and underestimates the harm it
would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley”.
President Donald Trump on Monday nominated David Bernhardt, the
former top lobbyist for a powerful Fresno-based irrigation
district, to run the Department of the Interior, raising
renewed questions about whether he’d try to steer more
California water to his former clients. … Bernhardt is a
former lobbyist for Westlands Water District, which serves
farmers in Fresno and Kings counties and is one of the most
influential customers of the federal government’s Central
On Tuesday, the Democratic members of the House Committee on
Natural Resources elected Huffman to serve as chair for the
newly established Water, Ocean and Wildlife Subcommittee. The
chair is the result of a long career championing environmental
protections and, for Huffman, it’s both an honor and a welcome
Public meetings seeking comment on a draft Environmental Impact
Report (EIR) for surrender of the Lower Klamath Project license
begin this week, according to a news release from the
California State Water Resources Control Board. The license
surrender is one step toward the proposed removal of four
PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River, three of which are in
The winter rains have caused the biggest surge of coho salmon
in a dozen years in the celebrated spawning grounds of western
Marin County, one of California’s last great strongholds for
the embattled pink fish. At least 648 coho this winter made
their way against the current up meandering, forested Lagunitas
Creek and its many tributaries on the northwestern side of
Mount Tamalpais, according to a new census by biologists.
In a step to secure water supplies well into the future, the
Palmdale Water District Board of Directors unanimously approved
extending the contract for water imported from Northern
California for another 50 years, to 2085. The contract with the
state Department of Water Resources for State Water Project
water … accounts for 50% or more of the district’s water
supply. It is becoming especially important as a result of
the court settlement that sets limits on groundwater pumping
for the Antelope Valley.
A partnership between Monterey One Water and the Monterey
Peninsula Water Management District, the project is designed to
produce up to 3,500 acre-feet of highly treated water per year
to the Peninsula for injection into the Seaside basin and later
extraction and use by California American Water for its
Peninsula customers. … The recycled water project is a
key part of the proposed replacement water supply
portfolio for the Peninsula to offset the state water board’s
Carmel River pumping cutback order.
Details of the Sacramento River portion of the SWRCB’s plan are
still preliminary, but we expect the required water releases to
be higher for the Sacramento River, and its tributaries, than
they are for the San Joaquin River. SWRCB staff is currently
recommending that between 45 and 65 percent of the natural
runoff of northern California rivers be allowed to flow to the
A group of Northern California lawmakers seeking more sway over
a mammoth $17 billion water project introduced a proposal
Friday that would require new construction contracts to be
reviewed by the Legislature. The Legislative Delta Caucus
says because of the scope of the California WaterFix, the
project should require more scrutiny from both the public and
lawmakers now that former Gov. Jerry Brown has left office.
The tiny town of Arbuckle in Northern California sank more than
two feet in nine years. The revelation comes from a new survey
that tracked subsidence — the gradual sinking of land — in the
Sacramento Valley between 2008-17. Located about 50 miles north
of Sacramento, Arbuckle (pop. 3,028) sank more than any other
surveyed area. … Subsidence has long been an issue in
California, but its recent acceleration was likely fueled by an
extreme drought that plagued California between 2012-16.
The rise of wind and solar power, coupled with the increasing
social, environmental and financial costs of hydropower
projects, could spell the end of an era of big dams. But even
anti-dam activists say it’s too early to declare the demise of
All eyes were on Arizona this week as state lawmakers took a
last-minute vote on their part of the pact. They approved the
plan Thursday afternoon, just hours before the deadline, but
Arizona officials still haven’t finalized a variety of
documents. In addition, a California irrigation district with
massive river rights has yet to sign off on the
agreement. On Friday, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman … said the agency would start the
formal legal process of soliciting comments on how it should
A new $50 million California American Water pipeline is
officially in use. According to Cal Am engineering manager
Chris Cook, the pipeline began conveying water from the Carmel
River to the Seaside basin as part of the aquifer storage
and recovery program last week, allowing the company to start
reversing the historic flow of water from northward to
southward and save money and energy in the process.
San Diego is in the midst of spending roughly $3 billion on a
massive new water treatment system, but city officials can’t or
won’t tell customers how that will affect their water bills.
New water recycling plants will eventually purify enough sewage
to provide a third of the city’s drinking water. In
December, Voice of San Diego asked the city to estimate how
much customers’ bills will increase because of the Pure Water
project. The city, after weeks of delay, finally declined
last week to offer any estimate because “there is no simple
calculation” they could perform.
There’s one tempting proposition for western water managers
currently feeling the pressure to dole out cutbacks to users
due to the region’s ongoing aridification — inducing clouds to
drop more snow. The practice showed up in a recent agreement
among Colorado River Basin states, and investment is expanding,
with water agencies in Wyoming and Colorado for the first time
putting funds toward aerial cloud seeding, rather than solely
relying on ground-based generators.
California’s Imperial Irrigation District will get the
last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency
Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the
badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea. Thursday, as the
clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal
official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there
approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours
to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California
agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a
last-minute monkey wrench into the process.