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.
The Soquel Creek Water District board met … voted unanimously
to approve an agreement with the city of Santa Cruz to build a
tertiary treatment plant for its Pure Water Soquel project
onsite at the city’s Wastewater Treatment Facility, which also
will supply the water supply for the project.
Groundwater pumping has caused stream flow in U.S. rivers to
decline by as much as half over the last century, according to
new research by a University of Arizona hydrologist that
strengthens the connection between groundwater and surface
At the same time the snowpack is dwindling, droughts are
expected to become more severe. One example: scientists predict
a strong likelihood that the Colorado River Basin will
experience a megadrought of 20 to 50 years in duration during
The new study capitalized on the unique data set available from
Yosemite’s Illilouette Basin, which is the only watershed in
the U.S. West with a restored fire regime where enough
hydrological data have been collected to allow model
validation. The results demonstrate how large-scale forest
restorations may affect water resources, a topic of
considerable interest across much of the region.
A long-awaited Montecito Water District rate study, planned for
release this May, will not be finished until later this year,
officials said this week. The study can’t proceed until the
district finishes negotiating the terms of an agreement for
buying into Santa Barbara’s desalination plant.
When Gov. Gavin Newsom called for constructing and maintaining
delivery systems to get water to at-risk communities in his
State of the State address, he received widespread support. But
the fight over funding for the project got divisive – and fast.
As a small business owner who leads fishing tours for anglers
from within and beyond the region, I understand that taking
these dams out may lead to a short-term dip in business. But
the long-term benefits of dam removal outweigh the near-term
costs to my family and my livelihood.
The project is a part of the restoration of salmon habitat
stemming from the Central Valley Improvement Act and will take
place on the left bank of the Sacramento River at the East Sand
Slough… It reconnects the East Sand Slough to the Sacramento
River during minimal flows by excavating the main channel and
The city’s evolving relationship with water is the subject of
the Historical Society of Long Beach’s new exhibit “Water
Changes Everything.” The free exhibit, which opened Friday and
runs through June 2020, shows how “water has determined the
history of Long Beach,” said Kaye Briegel, the long-time board
member who helped put the show together.
More effective use of green water – rainfall stored in soil –
could mitigate irrigation demand for some of California’s most
important perennial crops. So say US researchers who simulated
13 years’ growth of alfalfa, grapes, almonds, pistachios and
walnuts under different irrigation strategies.
After objections from the public and lengthy discussions,
Ramona Municipal Water District Board of Directors approved
four types of rate increases recommended by staff. … Water
rates have not been adjusted for three years.
The latest update of the California Water Plan was released
this past week. You may not have heard the news. You may not
even know there is a California Water Plan. And that’s just
fine, because it doesn’t mean a darn thing.
Key parts of the case were dismissed in April by U.S. District
Court Judge Jesus Bernal, who ruled that the tribe did not have
a claim of harm because it has always had enough water… Now,
the federal government intends to make its case that this
ruling should be reversed.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently
notified Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency that its Basin
Management Plan (BMP) was approved and considered functionally
equivalent to a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).
Nearly 7,000 customers who live in the old Sativa Water
District complained for months about murky brown water with a
foul odor coming from their pipes. … Los Angeles County,
which now has control of the water district, is taking old
wells offline and connecting them to a neighboring water
Lake Tahoe is the fullest it’s been in nearly two decades.
Officials say the alpine lake on the California-Nevada line is
approaching the legal limit after snowmelt from a stormy winter
left enough water to potentially last through three summers of
One evening, at a community center in the Sacramento Valley, a
teacher, a civil engineer, a tomato farmer and a local
foundation board member found themselves standing above a
table, feverishly competing to scoop the most glass beads from
a large, communal bowl. But there was a catch.
Residents of a small Southern California desert community hit
hard by this month’s big earthquakes no longer need to boil tap
water. San Bernardino County authorities announced Wednesday
the boil-water notice for Trona and neighboring areas has been
lifted and citizens do not need to rely on bottled water.
California Landscape Contractors Association’s Sandra Giarde
… points out that parts of California are already teetering
back on the edge of a drought again. Laws have yet to change
that were put into place to conserve water during the drought,
such as rules against hosing down concrete sidewalks. Those
bans will only slowly be lifted by each municipality over time,
if they’re even lifted at all.
Winter-run Chinook’s need for cool temperatures has meant
recent catastrophic losses when temperatures got too high, but
a few recent studies have altered our understanding of this
species’ temperature tolerance. This new knowledge may allow
water managers to actually release less cold water overall,
while still improving winter-run survival.
For around 20 years, Los Angeles has shipped a large portion of
“biosolids” from its toilets to fertilize a farm it owns just
west of Bakersfield. Bakersfield, in return, has been providing
an annual load of 18,000 acre-feet of free water to the farm.
However, after passage of the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act, the value of treated wastewater increased.
While California contemplates new dams for its thirsty future,
it’s also thinking about taking out old ones. Along with
advancing plans to demolish three dams atop the Klamath River,
there’s a movement to rethink and possibly take out a water and
power dam in the Mendocino County back country.
District Fire Chief Todd McNeal, who proposed the project, said
the draft point will allow firefighters to pull raw water from
the reservoir during an emergency and take pressure off the
Scientists at UC Davis have developed five new types of the
berry set to hit the market this fall. … Researchers say
these new strawberries are the best of both worlds: the
strawberries will use less water, fertilizer and pesticides and
still produce more, healthier, higher-quality strawberries.
State Department of Water Resources officials emphasized they
aren’t claiming well water use is harming the subterranean
reservoir beneath the Napa Valley floor. Rather, they said a
more than 1,000-page basin report submitted by Napa County
doesn’t allow them to make a judgement.
The Desert Water Agency board voted 5-0 on Tuesday to move from
at-large to elections by division, or district, beginning in
November 2020. The move comes nearly eight months after a
Mailbu law firm asked the agency to switch in order to comply
with the California Voting Rights Act.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti Tuesday nominated a longtime
water-resources expert for a seat on the Metropolitan Water
District Board of Directors. Tracy Quinn serves as the
California director of water efficiency for the Natural
Resources Defense Council and has almost two decades of water
Water hidden beneath the earth’s surface comprises 98% of the
planet’s fresh water. On average, this groundwater provides a
third of all total water consumed… Before we even start to
improve groundwater management, we must better understand and
measure it, says international groundwater expert Craig
Simmons, from Flinders University in Adelaide.
A coalition of 55 environmental, fishing, and water policy
groups has written Gov. Gavin Newsom, backing his Water
Portfolio planning process, and announcing that they plan to
take an active part with their own proposals for the plan.
Many Delta problems are worsening. Climate change is raising
sea levels and temperatures, making floods and droughts more
extreme and will likely further alter the mix of species. State
legislation to end overdrafting of groundwater will increase
demands for water from the Delta from farmers in the San
Joaquin Valley struggling (mostly in vain) to find replacement
Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot discussed the
Governor’s water resilience portfolio and reiterated the Newsom
administration’s support for modernized conveyance in the
Delta. That was followed by a robust discussion that included
Delta conveyance, water storage, emerging contaminants and
PFAS, among other things.
Following extensive technical review, DWR approved seven
existing groundwater management plans and two 10-year
sustainable yield analyses as alternatives under SGMA. One
existing groundwater management plan and five 10-year
sustainable yield analyses were not recommended for approval as
Federal biologists worked frantically this year to meet a
deadline to assess the environmental impacts of Trump
administration plans to send more water to Central Valley
farmers. But the biologists’ conclusion — that increased
deliveries would harm endangered Chinook salmon and other
imperiled fish — would foil those plans.
If PG&E shuts down power as part of its plan to prevent
fires in northern California, the water will keep flowing in
the Valley, thanks to Zone 7 Water Agency’s preparations. …
Zone 7 has two plants for water treatment and distribution …
Both have backup generators in case power stops. Each has
a three-day supply of fuel, but the agency also has contracts
with other generator suppliers who can each roll out at least
three days of juice.
The Bureau of Reclamation announced that 30 projects will
receive $5.1 million from the Desalination and Water
Purification Research Program to develop improved and
inexpensive ways to desalinate and treat impaired water.
Brokered in large part by rookie state senator for California’s
14 Senate District, Melissa Hurtado, the southern portion of
the Valley has gained tens of millions of dollars of investment
in drinking water, asthma mitigation, aging and disability
resource centers and Valley Fever research.
Initially, farmers had been contracted $285 per acre/feet for
conserved water and the IID welcomed all participants. However,
due to the farmers’ innovation and ingenuity, the total
acre/feet saved the past three years exceeded the amount needed
for the QSA transfer.
The rebate for Malibu residents who remove grass landscaping
has been increased from $4 to $5 per square foot of turf
removed, the City of Malibu announced Monday. The incentive is
part of the Malibu Smart water conservation program offered by
the City of Malibu, County of Los Angeles and West Basin
Municipal Water District.
The Eel River—once home to the state’s third-largest salmon and
steelhead runs, all of which are now listed as threatened―may
see the return of healthy fisheries in coming years. A unique
opportunity to remove a dam that blocks fish from reaching
spawning habitat has arisen. We talked to Curtis Knight,
executive director of CalTrout, about the situation.
Groundwater overdraft is a major problem globally and has been
a persistent and growing problem in California for decades.
This overdraft is predominantly driven by the economic value of
water for agricultural production and cities.
The Clovis City Council has approved landmark water deals with
the Fresno Irrigation District that officials say will secure
the city’s growth for decades to come. According to the Clovis
General Plan, the city expects 280,000 residents in 2083 — 2.5
times its 110,000 population. Plans call for Clovis to grow
northeast and southeast.
Update 2018 presents a vision for greater collaboration and
alignment among water sectors and institutions, sound
strategies, and long-term investments needed for the
sustainable management of the California’s water supply.
Requirements to balance supplies in California groundwater
basins have refocused attention on how best to achieve
recharge, and on what’s known as the conjunctive use of surface
and groundwater supplies. Some irrigation districts have been
recharging groundwater in that manner for years or even
New research shows that the extreme weather and fires of recent
years, similar to the flooding that has struck Louisiana and
the Midwest, may be making Americans sick in ways researchers
are only beginning to understand.
Californians may feel like they’re enduring an epidemic of
fire. The past decade has seen half of the state’s 10 largest
wildfires and seven of its 10 most destructive fires, including
last year’s Camp Fire, the state’s deadliest wildfire ever. A
new study, published this week in the journal Earth’s Future,
finds that the state’s fire outbreak is real—and that it’s
being driven by climate change.
Keystone projects for the midcounty planning effort, mandated
by the state for all groundwater-dependent agencies, include
stormwater runoff management, Soquel Creek Water District’s
Pure Water Soquel advanced water treatment plant, and the city
of Santa Cruz’s ongoing efforts to develop a supplemental water
supply that would primarily make use of unused winter river
runoff, likely through new storage options.
Tashiana Osborne is a PhD student with the Scripps Institution
for Oceanography at UC San Diego where she works within the
Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes on atmospheric
river research: As a graduate student, you already have an
incredible amount of experience, including working as a storm
chaser and intern at NASA. Can you tell us a little more about
your current research?
Summers in San Francisco may soon feel more like the warmer
East Bay. The East Bay may soon feel more like Sacramento. And
Sacramento — well, it might just be too hot to stick around any
longer. One of the most detailed studies on rising temperatures
suggests that few places in the United States will be
unaffected by extreme heat by the middle of this century.
Larry N. Olinger, the tribal council vice chairman and a former
chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, died
Monday morning, the tribe said. He was 80 and lived in Palm
Springs. … While on the tribal council, Olinger worked to
resolve a longstanding dispute between the tribe and the
Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency.
Monterey County supervisors voted Monday to let California
American Water start construction on its desalination plant
even before the state Coastal Commission makes a decision on
the technology involved.
They’ll use less water, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides –
and they will probably be cheaper. The Public Strawberry
Breeding Program at UC Davis just announced five new strawberry
varieties that will be on the market in the fall and are
expected to benefit farmers, sellers and consumers alike.
Fish die-offs in freshwater lakes are an increasing threat in
California, and experts say climate change is to blame. … In
a 2014-2017 report, the California Department of Fish and
Wildlife found that high summer temperatures were not only
worsening the quality of the water, but drying out freshwater
bodies that hosted endangered species.
Just days before federal biologists were set to release new
rules governing the future of endangered salmon and drinking
water for two-thirds of Californians, the administration
replaced them with an almost entirely new group … to “refine”
and “improve” the rules, according to an email obtained by
KQED. Environmental groups said the Department of
Interior is interfering with the science…
Only 15 out of the thousands of desalination plants operating
today worldwide are powered by nuclear. A small one is at the
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant in California, slated to be closed
soon. The plant could power several huge desalination plants
for decades that could desalinate its own cooling water,
removing the most commonly stated problem with the plant.
Colorado was the last Western state to legalize greywater usage
in 2013. Officials say that by 2050, our water supply could
fall short for over one million people. … Colorado’s Water
Plan wants to close the gap and recognizes greywater as one
tool to help make that happen. However, not a single
state-approved greywater system has been built since it was
Benthic macroinvertebrates, including insect larvae, worms,
snails, and other backbone-lacking creatures, often rule the
alpine waterways. However, their high-altitude homes put them
on the front lines of climate change, which threatens to have
major impacts on mountain streams. This is particularly true of
streams in the Sierra Nevada of California…
In the 1990s, he played a central role in some of the country’s
biggest environmental decisions. … He could have chosen to
wrap up his career when he left office at the end of the
Clinton administration in 2001. But Babbitt has
remained actively engaged in issues he cares about.
In black and white, John Trotter documents the use of water
from the Colorado River, tackling the social, political, and
environmental impact of the way it’s dealt with. Spanning over
years and kilometres, his ongoing essay is a dire political
Seeking to implement updated scientific methods to its
operations in the Golden State, the Bureau of Reclamation
released a draft environmental impact report on the coordinated
operations between the federal Central Valley Project and
California’s State Water Project on Thursday.
A longtime court case involving the shutoff of water to
multiple water users in the Klamath Basin in 2001 attracted
wide-ranging attention from Pacific Northwest-based
organizations and those within the legal community in
Washington, D.C. Nearly 90 minutes of oral arguments were heard
Monday at the U.S. Court of Appeals at the Federal Circuit.
The drought may be over, but Arcadia residents and businesses
must restrict their irrigation and water consumption yet again
this summer as the city’s mandatory water conservation program
continues to push through its first of eight phases.
A bill sponsored by U.S. Sens. Martha McSally and Kyrsten
Sinema would put aside hundreds of millions of dollars for
water storage projects, water recycling, and desalination
plants. … The bill is also sponsored by California Democratic
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Colorado Republican Senator Cory
A project to pump billions of gallons of water out from under
the Mojave Desert and sell it to people in Southern California
could be slowed by a bill approved for the first time on
Thursday by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Proponents have said SB 1 will keep Trump from delivering more
water to farms, thereby harming endangered fish. That sentiment
is exactly what makes SB 1 so dangerous. It relies on the
worn-out trope that California’s water issues boil down to
“farms versus fish.”
Summer is a good time to take a
break, relax and enjoy some of the great beaches, waterways and
watersheds around California and the West. We hope you’re getting
a chance to do plenty of that this July.
But in the weekly sprint through work, it’s easy to miss
some interesting nuggets you might want to read. So while we’re
taking a publishing break to work on other water articles planned
for later this year, we want to help you catch up on
Western Water stories from the first half of this year
that you might have missed.
The golf course property, now earmarked by its nonprofit owner
the Trust For Public Land for “rewilding” after a fierce
community battle over its future, sits in the headwaters of the
Lagunitas Creek watershed. The watershed … is a spawning and
rearing ground for coho salmon and steelhead trout, both of
which are on the endangered species list.
The $650 million project involves a joint financial partnership
between Padre Dam, Helix, San Diego County and the city of El
Cajon. The Helix board voted 4-1 last week to continue funding
the Advanced Water Purification project, which is expected to
have reclaimed water flowing into faucets by 2025.
What is at stake is the water supply for the Monterey
Peninsula. Consuming water drawn from the Carmel River is no
longer feasible, neither ecologically nor legally. But the
power to decide on an alternative supply is largely vested in
the hands of public officials from outside the region.
To better understand groundwater markets, attendees at the
meeting played a groundwater market game, which was developed
by the Environmental Defense Fund and the University of
Michigan to teach players about the challenges of managing
scarce groundwater resources.
An irrigation district may adopt and enforce reasonable rules
related to water service, and may terminate water delivery for
failure to comply with such rules, a California appellate court
ruled. Although this case involved an irrigation district, the
decision may also strengthen other water providers’ authority
to adopt and enforce rules relating to water service.
A new study, just published in Nature Geoscience, reveals an
elegant formula to explain why some trees died and others
didn’t — and it suggests more suffering is in store for forests
as the climate heats up.
New to this year’s slate of water
tours, our Edge of
Drought Tour Aug. 27-29 will venture into the Santa
Barbara area to learn about the challenges of limited local
surface and groundwater supplies and the solutions being
implemented to address them.
Despite Santa Barbara County’s decision to lift a drought
emergency declaration after this winter’s storms replenished
local reservoirs, the region’s hydrologic recovery often has
lagged behind much of the rest of the state.
Agricultural water suppliers must develop annual water budgets
and drought plans that meet requirements of recently enacted
legislation, and are meeting with state officials to comply
with the updated law—a process that could ultimately affect
water costs for California farmers and ranchers.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is an
historic opportunity to achieve long-term sustainable
groundwater management and protect drinking water supplies for
hundreds of small and rural low-income communities, especially
in the San Joaquin Valley.
Remember the parade of atmospheric-river storms that deluged
the Bay Area last winter, giving us the wettest rainy season in
20 years? There are a lot more of those on the way, scientists
say. But California will also experience more periods of
extreme dryness, according to a new study led by Scripps
Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
Despite being on opposite sides of the immigration debate,
environmental groups who oppose border barriers generally
mirror cattle rancher John Ladd’s concerns about the river.
They say a wall or fence across the San Pedro could have
devastating consequences to its hydrology, as well as the
endangered species that call the river home.
If you want to dam rivers, as we were inclined across much of
the 20th century, the location of the current Parker Dam on the
Lower Colorado River makes sense – a narrow gap just downstream
from the confluence of the Colorado and Bill Williams rivers on
the Arizona-California border.
The plan is historic: It acknowledges that southwestern states
need to make deep water use reductions – including a large
share from agriculture, which uses over 70% of the supply – to
prevent Colorado River reservoirs from declining to critically
low levels. But it also has serious shortcomings. It runs for
less than a decade. And its name suggests a response to a
We estimate that nearly 20%—or 840,000 acres—of irrigated
cropland in the valley has no access to surface water. … With
groundwater cuts looming and no other water supply to fall back
on, groundwater-only areas are on the front line of the effort
to bring basins into balance.
Industry veteran Gloria Gray took the helm at the Metropolitan
Water District of Southern California. In this interview, Gray
shares how she plans to steer the largest water supplier in the
nation through changing political priorities and climate
conditions to continue safeguarding the future of California’s
The California Water Commission held the first listening
session at its June meeting with a panel of water management
experts offering their perspectives on what a climate-resilient
water portfolio might look like.
Utilities, including several in the Bay Area, simply don’t have
the backup power to replace the electricity that Pacific Gas
and Electric Co. normally provides for water delivery and
sewage treatment. The agencies are trying to make their
operations more energy efficient and adding alternative power
sources in case the cord is cut, but it may not be enough.
A governing document called the Winterhaven Neighborhood
Standards and Landscaping Guidelines make the desired effect
clear: “Winterhaven’s dominant use of green lawns and
non-native trees creates a Midwestern environment that is
unique in Tucson …”
A new study will explore the viability of a regional pipeline
to transfer water from the Colorado River to benefit multiple
users in San Diego County and across the Southwest. The San
Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors approved
funds for the two-year study at its June 27 Board meeting.
A bold move by farmers to form the South San Joaquin Irrigation
District 110 years ago literally changed the economic fortunes
of Manteca, Ripon and Escalon. And no way else did SSJID have
as big as an impact as it did on Manteca.
The bill that will provide support for necessary repairs to the
Friant-Kern Canal is continuing to make forward progress in the
California legislature. Senate Bill 559 (SB-559) … was voted
through the Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee in the
Assembly on July 2. The bill itself is seeking $400 million to
make important upgrades and repairs to the Friant-Kern Canal.
The Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District’s pilot program,
set for testing later this summer or early fall, would allow
certain landowners to buy or sell groundwater to or from
another property owner within the district.
The survival of a tiny, unique desert neighborhood is
threatened because more than 60 years ago the community decided
to form a small water district instead of digging individual
wells. Borrego Air Ranch is built around a private air strip
where residents’ garages double as airplane hangers.
Pure Water Monterey, the highly touted recycled water project,
is in default on a water purchase agreement with California
American Water after failing to meet a Monday deadline for
delivering potable water even as the project’s costs rise amid
We need a broad portfolio of solutions that includes storage
above and below ground, conservation, and other options such as
traditional recycled and potable reuse to help ensure we can
better manage this vital resource when the next inevitable
drought comes along. … One part of that solution is the
proposed Sites Reservoir.
Pistachio trees require somewhere between one-third and
one-half as much water as almond trees. Unlike almond trees,
pistachio trees don’t die during extended droughts. Their
metabolism merely slows and when water returns, they start
producing nuts again. … Pistachios can also handle, as
Duarte’s team discovered, levels of salt that have already
killed many an almond tree.
On the last Saturday in June, a road in Butte County was
opened. That in itself isn’t anything unusual. Roads are opened
and closed regularly around here. But it was the significance
of this road that makes it a remarkable occurrence. It was the
road over Oroville Dam.
On June 28, farmers gathered in Los Banos to ask questions of
President Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue. GV Wire
took the opportunity to ask growers if they believed Trump was
doing enough to bring water to farmers. Generally, they said
they like how things are progressing.
The original treaty was implemented before the 1970 National
Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act and a
host of legal shifts that bolstered Indigenous rights… These
hallmarks of change emphasize the need to include environmental
protection and equity in an updated treaty.
In 2016 California’s rainy season kicked off right on schedule,
at the beginning of October. … By February there was so much
water filling Northern California’s rivers that Oroville Dam,
the tallest in the country, threatened to break after its
spillway and emergency spillways both failed. It was a wake-up
call. In just a few months California had gone from
five-year-drought to deluge, ending up with the second wettest
year on record for the state.
Each of the selected projects strike at the heart of the Sierra
Nevada watershed improvement program, SNC’s large-scale
restoration initiative designed to improve ecosystem and
community resilience in the region.
Oscar Meinzer (1942) credits Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) with
having advocated the infiltration theory slightly before
Palissy’s time, basing his theories on observations made when
he was in charge of canals in the Milan area. … Such a
scenario might explain why California DWR staff and like-minded
academics and nonprofits have all jumped on the bandwagon of
managed aquifer recharge.
With a big collective sigh of relief, Californians rejoiced
that we have largely recovered from 2012-2016 drought. But this
is not a time for complacency… This should thus be a time to
develop new and better strategies for reducing impacts of
severe drought on both natural and developed systems.
Santa Barbara County’s water supply outlook has improved
significantly with a winter of strong rains, and this is
reflected in a noticeably fuller Lake Cachuma. However, the
effects of the years-long drought will take several years for
some water sources to recover…
Signs of the strong winter that the Central Sierra experienced
in 2018-19 are all around Tuolumne County two weeks into
summer, from a record tying late opening for Tioga Pass in the
High Sierra on Monday to the nearly brimful New Melones
Reservoir in the foothills.
An important blueprint for the success of farming in the
Central Valley is being developed to present to California
government officials. This blueprint outlines what must be done
to get water to the eight counties south of the delta. The
blueprint is a critical step to help keep farmers in business
due to the pressure from the Sustainable Groundwater Management
The experiment to super-energize water recharging efforts at
Fresno’s Leaky Acres appears to be working. … Tommy Esqueda,
then the director of Public Utilities, described the system to
me as “putting ‘unique’ straws in the ground. The depth and
spacing of these ‘straws’ are designed to maximize groundwater
Between 2012 and 2015, very little rain and snow fell on
California. Aquifers shrank and the land dried out. … New
research suggests the loss of deep-soil water best explains why
the mountain range’s trees were unable to withstand the drought
The unusually wet winter (with an assist from new Colorado
River Drought Contingency Plan water reduction rules) has
substantially reduced the near-term scare-the-crap-out-of-me
risks on the Colorado River for the next few years, according
to new Bureau of Reclamation modeling.
Colorado officials are planning to build multiple large
reservoirs on the prairie northeast of Denver to capture more
of the South Platte River’s Nebraska-bound water, then pump it
back westward to booming metro suburbs struggling to wean
themselves off dwindling underground aquifers.
Greg Dion, Cal Fire’s regional urban forester for the San
Joaquin Valley, said Modesto used outdated research in
calculating the cost of buying, planting and maintaining the
5,000 trees. … Modesto also started planting trees while the
region still was in the grip of a devastating drought.
A catastrophic forest die-off in California’s Sierra Nevada
mountain range in 2015-2016 was caused by the inability of
trees to reach diminishing supplies of subsurface water
following years of severe drought and abnormally warm
From sea to shining sea may take on a new meaning in
California, as state officials are reviewing billion dollar
plans to import water from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez to help raise
water levels at the Salton Sea.
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality.
SGMA inevitably means less water for irrigating farms. … On
one path, the valley could become a patchwork of dusty barren
fields, serving a huge blow to the agriculture sector and rural
communities and further impairing already poor air quality. …
On another path, the valley could transform into a pioneering
agricultural region that not only puts food on our nation’s
plates but also supports thriving wildlife habitat, outdoor
recreation, soil health, groundwater recharge and flood
Tribal leaders urged House lawmakers Wednesday to support a
handful of bills that would guarantee water to their tribes in
Arizona, Utah and New Mexico and fund the water treatment
plants and pipelines to deliver it.
In the long-term puzzle of ensuring that the Colorado River —
the main artery of the American West — provides water to the
millions of people in the basin who depend on it, the
challenges are mounting. Does 2019’s water stand a chance of
making a meaningful impact? Water experts say the answer is:
Sadly, not likely.
As the United States moves into the summer months, a recent
study examines whether a drought in California can be linked to
one in the Midwest. The Stanford-led study published in
Geophysical Research Letters finds that regions may fall victim
to water scarcity like dominos across the nation, the
university news service reported.
As another fire season looms, here in the small city of Grass
Valley, as in much of Gold Country where historic mining towns
nestle up to sprawling, wooded mountains, things are different
this year. What used to be a leisurely wind down to summer,
marked by high school graduations and the excitement of
vacation, has become a rush to action.
The facility would serve two main purposes. In addition to
weaning Camarillo customers off imported water from Calleguas
Municipal Water District, it would also help filter out the
everincreasing amount of salt found in the plumes of water
beneath much of the eastern half of the city.
The update reported an excellent May in terms of Colorado River
Basin run-off, yet Central Arizona Water Conservation District
board members underscored that still-half-full reservoirs point
to the need for continued conservation.
Keith Parker’s groundbreaking biology research regarding a new
subspecies of Pacific lamprey, recently published in the
science journal Molecular Ecology, may be the key to saving his
tribe’s way of life. … Parker hopes that his research will
open the door to further investigation of the lamprey, because
the future of his tribe lies with this bizarre-looking,
As the 2018-19 water year came to a close Sunday,
record-setting snowpack in the Sierras and above-average rain
means several reservoirs are near full capacity heading into
the dry summer months. Here’s a look at the past 12 months of
The polling firm FM3 Research found that a plurality of
California voters surveyed (27 percent) said climate change is
behind state wildfires. Another 17 percent of voters believe
that human error is the leading cause of wildfires, 12 percent
believe it’s forest mismanagement and 11 percent believe it’s
Enjoy the days of long, endless hot showers while you may. …
Eventually all households will be required to stay within a 55
gallon per day per resident indoor water usage for showers,
baths, laundry and dishwashing.
After the Freeway Complex Fire, the Yorba Linda Water District
was slapped with a lawsuit and ultimately had to pay a $69
million judgment. Even though the court determined the district
didn’t ignite the fire or act inappropriately, the district was
still held liable for fire damages because the fire
incapacitated the pumps needed to push water to the fire
hydrants in one neighborhood.
Most of the seven states that get water from the Colorado River
have signed off on plans to keep the waterway from crashing
amid a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands.
But California and Arizona have not, missing deadlines from the
The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical
exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land
managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental
studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no
severe impacts or degradation to the land.
California regulators have approved allowing utilities to cut
off electricity to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers
to avoid catastrophic wildfires like the one sparked by power
lines last year that killed 85 people and largely destroyed the
city of Paradise.
On the ground, it’s hard to get a fix on the Central Valley; it
flashes by as dun-colored monotony — a sun-stunned void beyond
the freeway berms. … But in “The Dreamt Land,” former L.A.
Times reporter Mark Arax makes a riveting case that this
expanse … as much as the world cities on its coast, holds the
key to understanding California.
Of all the issues that have crossed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk
during his first 100 days in office, water might very well be
the most complex. … I am an almond grower from Merced County,
and we in the California almond community are all rooting for
the governor, his fellow policymakers and regulators to succeed
in finding viable solutions and common ground.
First adopted in 2013 amid drying wells over the basin, the
county offset ordinance put a theoretical moratorium on
agricultural pumping. But the policy is set to expire later
this year when North County leaders adopt a basin-wide
sustainability plan—even though that plan could take another
several years to fully take effect.
In my 40 years at the California Department of Water Resources,
I have seen changes in climate that have convinced me that the
full picture is changing and our extrapolation methods are
losing value rapidly. This is especially true in extreme years,
wet or dry – such as 2015, when the statistics are just not
going to be accurate enough to meet our growing water
Earlier this month the governor’s Drought Interagency
Coordinating Group unanimously voted to inform the governor
that Arizona’s long-running drought declaration should
continue. This means Arizona has been in a state of drought for
more than 20 years, surpassing the worst drought in more than
110 years of record keeping. Now that our drought has been
extended yet again, it leaves many to wonder what it will take
to get us out of this drought.
The study, published in the journal Ecological
Applications, found that thinning and prescribed fire
treatments reduced the number of trees that died during the
bark beetle epidemic and drought that killed more than 129
million trees across the Sierra Nevada between 2012-2016.
California’s rich landscape of rolling hills and steep canyons
has potentially hundreds of thousands of microclimates, which
makes fire prediction an incredible challenge. That’s why
PG&E wants to build a dense network of weather stations,
which they hope will illuminate the humidity, wind speed, and
temperature of Northern California’s varied landscape.
The largest water agency in Silicon Valley has been secretly
negotiating to purchase a sprawling cattle ranch in Merced
County that sits atop billions of gallons of groundwater, a
move that could create a promising new water source — or spark
a political battle between the Bay Area and Central Valley
A congressional bill includes almost $14 million in funding for
water projects in the Central Valley and Northern California.
Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, said he was successful in working
the funding into an Energy and Water Development appropriations
bill that includes spending for infrastructure across the
Despite years of scientific research pointing to prescribed or
“controlled” burns as a successful method of clearing brush and
restoring ecosystems, intentional fire-setting by federal
agencies has declined in much of the West over the last 20
years, the study found. “This suggests that the best available
science is not being adopted into management practices…” the
Steve Frattini, mayor of Herrin, Ill., went to a water
conference a few years ago in California amid a severe drought.
So he started working on a plan to send water to the area. The
water is from the city’s wastewater treatment plant … The
Wastewater Treatment Plant has a rail line nearby that would be
used to transport the water… Initially, Frattini said the
water would go to the area near the Salton Sea in southern
California, a sea that’s been drying up for years.
Even though the Russian River watershed has received roughly
130 percent of the average rainfall this season, it is time to
discuss the impacts of overwatered landscapes as the dry
weather returns and irrigation controllers turn on.
The southernmost portion of Southeast Alaska, including
Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Wrangell and Metlakatla, has
been in a drought for the last two years… Last week, though,
the drought was updated to a D3, or “extreme” drought, the
second-highest category the U.S. Drought Monitor measures. It’s
the first time those conditions have ever been recorded in
Alaska, according to the Drought Monitor.
Rather than unquestioningly celebrating Powell and his legacy,
this year gives us the chance to think about a couple of
points: First, how are we telling Powell’s story now, and how
have we told it in the past? Is it, and has it been, accurate
and useful? Second, whose stories have we excluded, ignored,
and forgotten about in the focus on Powell?
As the Colorado River’s flow declines, water supplies in seven
states are imperiled by potential shortages. That includes
Arizona, which passed legislation outlining steps it would take
if water from the river continues to decrease. But what does a
water shortage mean for Phoenix?
Cadiz is using Three Valleys Municipal Water District in
eastern Los Angeles County and the Jurupa Community Services
District in Riverside County to co-sponsor what they’re calling
a “peer review” of its groundwater plan, written by four
After much speculation about whether Janet Nguyen might run for
one of Orange County’s hotly contested congressional seats in
2020, the Republican former state senator has thrown her hat in
a surprising ring. And she’s not alone. Nguyen is one of seven
people vying to fill a board of directors seat with the
Municipal Water District of Orange County.
In an effort to combat climate change and reduce smog, former
Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a landmark law that requires
California’s utilities to produce 60 percent of their
electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2030.
But hydroelectric power from large dams doesn’t qualify as
renewable, because of another state law, passed nearly 20 years
ago, that aimed to protect salmon and other endangered fish.
That’s not right, says State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.
The Kern County Water Agency supports the state’s “reset” to a
one-tunnel approach because it is more cost effective and still
prepares California’s water system for earthquakes and climate
change while protecting the Delta’s fish and communities.
It’s hard to respond effectively to a crisis when you don’t
have clearly defined priorities. This is true for sudden-onset
crises, like floods and wildfires, and also for slow-onset
crises, like droughts.
The desalination plant would have seven wells sloping into the
ground and sucking up water underneath the dunes, removing the
salt, and sending it to cities on the Monterey Peninsula …
but not Marina. They wouldn’t get any of the desalinated water
because they’re not served by CalAm. Biala and other Marina
residents oppose the plant because they think it will cause
irreversible damage to their town’s ecosystems.
Giant green stems with budding yellow flowers greeted hikers
along a narrow path beneath the soaring Santa Monica Mountains
on a recent drizzly day. This is where, just seven months ago,
the worst fire in Los Angeles County history swept through,
destroying more than 1,000 homes and blackening miles of
hillsides and canyon. But thanks to one of the wettest seasons
in years, rains have transformed the fire zone back to life
with great speed.
Nevada ranchers, environmental groups and American Indian
tribes are sounding the alarm over legislation they say could
drain the water supply from rural areas throughout the state.
They’re worried about Assembly Bill 30 in the Nevada
Legislature after negotiations over arcane language in the bill
broke down in recent days.
Precipitation in California is highly variable from year to
year, and climate change is increasing this variability. … To
address this and other challenges, the state passed Assembly
Bill (AB) 1668 and Senate Bill (SB) 606 in June 2018. Known
jointly as the Water Conservation Legislation, these bills were
drafted in response of Governor Jerry Brown’s 2016 executive
order to “make water conservation a California way of life.”
There are six key components…
University of Colorado Professor Emeritus Charles Wilkinson …
described the Western icon and one-armed Civil War veteran as a
complex character, a larger-than-life person and an early
visionary of wise water use in an arid West. Wilkinson spoke
recently with Western Water about Powell and his legacy, and
how Powell might view the Colorado River today.
The Bureau of Reclamation updated its 2019 allocation for the
Central Valley Project South-of-Delta, increasing the westside
water allocation to 70 percent of the contract total. Said
Mid-Pacific Regional Director Ernest Conant: “The late storms
provided an added boost to the already above average
precipitation for 2019. Snowpack throughout the state is still
about 150% of average for this time of year.”
The “smart” sprinkler controller … uses the internet to
detect when rain is in the forecast and automatically delays
the system so the homeowner doesn’t even have to think about
it. In addition, the controller syncs to smartphones, allowing
the homeowner to easily adjust watering schedules manually as
The session, “Navigating the Waters,” drew a crowd of about 150
farmers to the International Agri-Center in Tulare last week,
where attendees heard from water-agency leaders, state water
officials, farmers and others on a range of topics with the
goal of helping almond growers make informed water decisions.
On Tuesday, May 21, the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County
Water Agencyand the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved
a plan to offset a fee that is likely to be imposed on
groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain… Under the plan,
the County and Sonoma Water would contribute up to $240,000
annually for three years to the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater
A firm hired by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority
is already in the initial phase to find sources of imported
water for the valley, according to a progress report delivered
at a Thursday board meeting. … Capitol Core Group, retained
in March, is looking at what water supply options are available
and how to secure funding to ultimately purchase and develop
infrastructure to deliver into the valley.
Legislation that would require the state to enhance its river
and stream gauging system has cleared the state Senate. … The
bill requires the Department of Water Resources and Water
Control Board to improve and enhance the monitoring system,
including filling those gaps that are found, as well as assess
a funding source to complete the work.
The California Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would require
additional environmental review for groundwater transfers that
would affect desert areas, which would put a major roadblock in
front of a controversial water project proposed in the Mojave
Desert by Cadiz Inc.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and his allies have
filed a lawsuit to stop Federal water users from participating
in the raising of Shasta Dam, a federal dam. … Plain and
simple, this is a lawsuit waged against Central Valley farmers.
Last fall, a team of researchers at the Public Policy Institute
of California (PPIC) studied the state’s response to the
extreme drought conditions, distilling their findings down to
four essential reforms that will better prepare the state to
adapt to the impacts of climate change. At the Association of
Water Agencies of Ventura County’s Annual Symposium held in
April of 2019, Ellen Hanak, Director of Public Policy Institute
of California’s Water Policy Center gave this recap of their
CSUN students and faculty have long contributed to California’s
efforts to ensure access to clean drinking water, efforts that
have intensified during the recent multi-year drought. A group
of students in CSUN’s Department of Geography and Environmental
Studies is helping in these efforts.
Could a drought in California be linked to a drought in the
Midwest? A recent Stanford-led study published in Geophysical
Research Letters finds that regions may fall victim to water
scarcity like dominos toppling down a line.
I ran down a quick summary this morning of the relevant data,
comparing recent use with the cuts mandated under the DCP. It
shows that, at this first tier of shortage, permitted use is
less than the voluntary cuts water users have been making since
2015. In other words, all of the states are already
using less water than contemplated in this first tier of DCP
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a drought emergency
across nearly half the state. The drought declaration covers
the Olympic peninsula, the North Cascades, the eastern Cascades
and most of southwest Washington. It allows local governments
to tap into $2 million in state funding to respond to hardships
caused by the drought. … Snowpack is now at its fourth-lowest
level in the past 30 years.
Our Headwaters Tour June 27-28 highlights the connection
between fire and water with an up-close look at the critical
role healthy Sierra forests play in water supply and quality
across California. We will also learn about a new initiative
between Yuba Water Agency, the California Department of Water
Resources and University of California, San Diego’s Scripps
Institution of Oceanography to study how atmospheric rivers
affect the location, duration and intensity of storms.
The Colorado River just got a boost that’s likely to prevent
its depleted reservoirs from bottoming out, at least for the
next several years. Representatives of seven Western states and
the federal government signed a landmark deal on Monday laying
out potential cuts in water deliveries through 2026 to reduce
the risks of the river’s reservoirs hitting critically low
Tulare County Supervisors will vote to approve a letter of
support for proposed legislation that will bring up to $3.5
billion for water infrastructure improvements. The money comes
at a cost to California’s biggest undertaking — high-speed
On our August Edge of Drought Tour, we’re venturing into the
Santa Barbara area to learn about the water challenges and the
steps being taken to boost supplies. The region’s local surface
and groundwater supplies are limited, and its hydrologic
recovery often has lagged behind much of the state despite the
recent lifting of a drought emergency declaration following
this winter’s storms.
Recently-appointed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has
rescinded a letter of support that Obama-era Interior Secretary
Sally Jewell wrote in 2016. … Matt Cox is with the Klamath
River Renewal Corporation, the non-profit formed to implement
the dam removal agreement. He says rescinding Jewell’s letter
has no legal effect.
The Colorado River — of which the Green is the biggest
tributary — is the main water source for 40 million people.
It’s already overallocated, and climate change is predicted to
shrink flows by up to 50 percent by the end of the century.
We’re finally coming to grips with those forecasts and
beginning to heed Powell’s century-and-a-half-old warnings. But
it’s taken drought and desperation to get us there, and we have
to do better.
Aidee Guzman is focusing on these small farms to find out
whether, ecologically, this diversity has any positive effects
on soil health. Her work won’t be published for another two
years, but there is already a large body of research that
explains how large monocropping operations strip soils of their
nutrients and make them less capable of storing carbon… As
she works, she is documenting a potential alternative to the
industrial mega-farms of the valley and the West.
The idea was to count the reductions in water consumption
thanks to new irrigation sources, and count that water toward
the city’s water yearly water allowance. After that, the city
would make those excess water credits available for sale to the
residents and businesses that had languished on the city’s
water waiting list, sometimes for years.
Many have gazed across its shimmering expanse and seen an idea
just as big to fix it. … So far, with the exception of
geothermal energy, none have seen the light of day.
But with new interest in Sacramento, the rough
outlines of immediate, medium range and long-term plans to
protect public health and restore wildlife are taking shape.
It takes more than one wet year to not only refill reservoirs
but also recharge aquifers and return moisture in parched soils
to normal levels. … All this upstream snowpack and rain is
predicted to boost Powell to 47% of capacity by the end of the
year, another three or four feet, but there’ll still be plenty
of the “bathtub ring” visible. It’s been 36 years since Powell
was full. It’s not likely it’ll ever fill again.
After months of tense, difficult negotiations, a plan to spread
the effects of anticipated cutbacks on the drought-stricken
Colorado River is nearing completion. On Monday,
representatives of the seven states that rely on the river will
gather for a formal signing ceremony at Hoover Dam, the real
and symbolic center of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
A bill that could block a Los Angeles-based water supply
company from pumping water out of a Mojave Desert aquifer
passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday,
extending the yearslong fight over whether the environmental
impact of groundwater extraction merits additional scrutiny.
When you hear news about ice loss from Greenland or Antarctica,
an aquifer in California that is getting depleted, or a new
explanation for a wobble in Earth’s rotation, you might not
realize that all these findings may rely on data from one
Insisting the state made a commitment, a central Arizona
lawmaker and farmers he represents are making a last-ditch
pitch for $20 million from taxpayers to drill new wells and
water delivery canals. Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said Thursday
the farmers in Pinal County agreed to give up their right to
Colorado River water to help the state come up with a plan to
deal with the drought. In exchange they were given the right to
take additional water out of the ground.
In the ceaseless conflict over how to use the state’s available
water — and maybe then some — a varied group of water users and
lawmakers sang a refrain older than Nevada: “Everyone is going
to court in the end.” … The ghosts of litigation — past,
present and future — loomed over the Thursday Senate Natural
Resources Committee hearing that stretched until 8 p.m. and
offered insight into why it’s so difficult to update Nevada
Arizona relies on groundwater for about 40% of its water
supply, yet groundwater resources outside of the state’s
biggest urban areas are largely unprotected and unregulated…
HB 2467, a bill that passed in the Arizona House and currently
awaiting a final vote in the Senate, takes an important step
forward to address groundwater challenges in Mohave and La Paz
Although they spend their lives hidden beneath the surface,
fish are directly affected by the weather happening outside
their aquatic world. This is particularly true of species that
rely on watersheds in regions like California, where the
availability of water changes dramatically with the seasons.
This river provides water for one-third of Latinos in the
United States. Latinos make up the bulk of agricultural workers
harvesting the produce this river waters. We boat, fish, swim
and recreate along its banks. We hold baptisms in its waters.
Therefore, it is critical to engage the growing Latino
population on water-smart solutions.
California must defend our scarce and sacred resources … The
legislation, authored by Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside,
authorizes state agencies to conduct independent review of the
Cadiz project, restoring safeguards eliminated at the federal
level and ensuring any pumping from underneath Mojave Trails
and protected desert lands is sustainable.
Stakeholders throughout the Colorado River Basin just wrapped
up arduous negotiations on a drought plan. There’s little time
to rest, however. Stakeholders are expected to begin the even
more difficult task of hammering out sweeping new guidelines
for delivering water and sharing shortages that could
re-imagine how the overworked river is managed.
Over the short life of the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act, Owens Valley has gone from medium to high and now low
priority. That prioritization would have had an impact three
years ago. Medium and high priority basins are required to form
an agency and sustainability plan; low basins are not.
The big conflicts are deeply interconnected and appear to be
reaching their climactic phases. How they are resolved over the
next few years will write an entirely new chapter in
California’s water history, changing priorities and perhaps
shifting water from agriculture to urban users and
In reality, the WaterFix could not increase water exports while
protecting the Delta ecosystem. That’s because California’s
snow and rainfall are highly variable, making it unlikely that
existing supplies can meet increasing water demands reliably
into the future. Plus, the science demonstrates that San
Francisco Bay’s fish and wildlife need more water, not less, to
flow from the Central Valley to the Bay.