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 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.
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.
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”
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.
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
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
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 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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
Twenty-three early to mid-career water professionals
from across California have been chosen for the
2019 William R. Gianelli Water Leaders Class, the Water
Education Foundation’s highly competitive and respected career
development program. The class will spend the year examining
the impact wildfires have on the supply and quality
of water resources in California.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s Western
water bureaucracy that saw its dam-building heyday in the
1960s, has risen in stature once again in the Trump
administration. Reclamation has flexed its muscles on Colorado
River drought management plans… And it has been the
administration’s key player in trying to fulfill President
Trump’s campaign promise to deliver more water to California
farmers, squeezing the state and forging ahead on a dam project
California says it doesn’t want.
Communities along the Colorado River are facing a new era of
drought and water shortages that is threatening their future.
With an official water emergency declaration now possible,
farmers, ranchers, and towns are searching for ways to use less
water and survive. Third in a series.
These red-state GOP governors are not taking aim at
greenhouse-gas emissions like their blue-state Republican
counterparts. Still, environmentalists should not dismiss their
momentum on water. In several states won by Trump, water,
literally a chemical bond, is also proving a bond that brings
disparate people, groups, and political parties together around
shared concerns for the Everglades, the Great Lakes, the
Colorado River, and other liquid life systems.
The strongest Pacific storm of the season will lash California
through Saturday with high winds, feet of Sierra snow, and
heavy rain that could trigger flash flooding, debris flows and
rockslides. If that wasn’t enough, another colder storm is
waiting in the wings behind this first system.
By this time next year, 21 critically over-drafted groundwater
basins in California must submit plans to the state’s
Department of Water Resources for how to bring their basins
back into balance. With this major deadline looming, it’s
crunch time for water managers and their consultants – some of
whom will begin releasing draft plans in the next six to eight
months seeking required public comments.
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.
Five dams across California – including one in Lake County that
forms Lake Pillsbury – have been listed as key for removal by
an advocacy group in the effort to stop the extinction of
native salmon and steelhead. In response to what it calls a
“statewide fish extinction crisis,” which indicates 74 percent
of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout species are
likely to be extinct in the next century, the fish and
watershed conservation nonprofit organization California Trout
on Tuesday released its list of the top five dams prime for
removal in the golden state.
Warnings of doomsday on the river are nothing new. Too many
people, farms and factories depend on too little water, which
is why the Colorado now rarely flows to its end point at the
Gulf of California. The sprawling Southwest has sucked the
river dry. Yet the region has thrived in spite of the
naysayers. Until now, it appears.
The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the
history of the river’s development; negotiations over division
of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and
a chronology of significant Colorado River events.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, have lands that
stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. The tribe’s
right to divert nearly 720,000 acre-feet from the river is more
than twice the water that is allocated to the state of Nevada.
By law, that water is to be used on the reservation. But if
CRIT convinces Congress to allow off-reservation leasing, the
change would free up a large volume of water that would be
highly desirable for cities and industries.
Natalie van Doorn, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest
Service, said that many of the trees commonly planted in urban
areas in California are temperate species that require a lot of
water to survive in hot and dry conditions. … Across the
U.S., metropolitan areas may lose an average of 6 percent of
their tree species as warming trends
continue. … Alison Berry, a professor of plant
sciences at the University of California-Davis, said that
drought stress was likely a bigger factor than heat.
California wildland managers said Tuesday they want to speed up
logging and prescribed burns designed to slow wildfires that
have devastated communities in recent years. After the
deadliest and most destructive blazes in state history,
officials are scrapping 12 years of efforts and starting anew
on creating a single environmental review process to cover
projects on private land, such as cutting back dense stands of
trees and setting controlled fires to burn out thick
After many years of hard work, North Coast dam removal efforts
are now rapidly accelerating. On Friday, Pacific Gas and
Electric Co. announced that it is pulling the application to
relicense the Potter Valley Project, a series of two dams and a
large diversion on the Upper Eel River. On Feb. 6, the
California Water Resources Control Board is coming to Arcata to
take comments on their final 401 (Clean Water Act) permit to
remove four dams on the Klamath River. What does this all mean?
Are we really about to see the Eel and Klamath River dams come
It’s not just skiers who have been whipsawed this season
between fear of another dry winter and delight over the epic
January snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. Also paying close
attention: water wonks. Why? Because melting Sierra snow
provides somewhere between one-third and one-half of
California’s water supply. What determines just how much water
is derived from that snow is called the “snowpack.”
Arizona lawmakers appear on track to pass a Colorado River
drought plan, with less than 30 hours to go before a critical
federal deadline. A state Senate committee voted 6-1
Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline
how the state would share looming cutbacks on the
river’s water and work with other states to take less. The
bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are
expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could
stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline.
New snow measurements to be taken Thursday are expected to
confirm that snow levels in the Sierra Nevada are on par with
the long-term average, thanks to a series of storms that
thrashed California in January. Those results may sound pretty
ho hum, but getting to average is a pretty big thing in today’s
topsy turvy world of snow analysis, where the absence of
pending disaster due to too little snow is something to
Go deep into one of California’s most pressing issues –
groundwater – by visiting an extensometer that
measures subsidence, an active aquifer storage and recovery
well, a recycling facility that recharges water into the ground
The history of the planet can be found inside a sediment core
at the bottom of the ocean, or the cake-like layers of a soil
pit, or in the strata of the Grand Canyon. So it shouldn’t be
too surprising that the climatic history of water — and a hint
about its future — can sometimes be found by digging into a pit
Terms were revealed this week for a developing water sales
agreement between the Montecito Water District and City of
Santa Barbara. The 50-year water sales agreement
provides 1,430 acre-feet of water a year to Montecito, at
a cost of about $2,700 per acre-foot. The terms of agreement
allow for the possibility to purchase and receive 445
acre-feet of additional water each year.
Avoiding a long-expected crisis on the Colorado River, a water
source for 40 million people, is coming down to a final few
days of frenzied negotiations. A 19-year drought and decades of
overuse have put a water shortfall on the horizon. If
California and six other states, all with deeply entrenched
interests, can’t agree on a plan to cut their water consumption
by Jan. 31, the federal government says it will step in and
decide the river’s future.
A federal appellate court decision issued on January 25, 2019
will affect the relicensing of hydroelectric dams on the
Klamath River and efforts to accomplish dam removal under an
existing settlement agreement.
Tucked inside PG&E’s mammoth bankruptcy filing is a company
request that the judge in the case approve payment of $130
million in cash incentive bonuses to thousands of PG&E
employees, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records made
public on Tuesday.
Unable to cope with wildfire claims, PG&E made good on its
vow to file for bankruptcy Tuesday, launching a perilous
journey with major implications for ratepayers, investors,
state officials and the thousands of California wildfire
victims who are suing the utility. Citing “extraordinary
financial challenges” and a rapidly deteriorating cash
position, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and its parent PG&E
Corp. sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an electronic
filing shortly after midnight.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now
hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to
levy water cuts to seven Western states in order to prevent the
river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but
after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines
parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement,
the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal
buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse….
Water conservation in the Las Vegas Valley is imperative as the
city continues to grow. The resources provided by the Colorado
River are stretched thin, as the river is responsible for
supplying the majority of the water to Southern Nevada, six
other states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah,
Colorado—and Mexico. Combine these existing allotments with
drought conditions that have reduced the river’s average flows
by 30 percent annually, and it’s clear that Las Vegas must be
proactive in its conservation efforts.
Saying they feel an urgency to act fast, California officials
this week will launch the main phase of wildfire debris removal
in Butte County, scene of November’s devastating Camp Fire. But
a potential problem has emerged: Nearly half of the property
owners in the hill country around Paradise have not given the
government permission to enter their properties to do the work.
The main work, involving a complete scraping and clearing of
burned-out properties, is scheduled to begin later this week.
A new NASA study shows that warming of the tropical oceans due
to climate change could lead to a substantial increase in the
frequency of extreme rain storms by the end of the century. The
study team, led by Hartmut Aumann of NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California, combed through 15 years of
data acquired by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS)
instrument over the tropical oceans to determine the
relationship between the average sea surface temperature and
the onset of severe storms.
City leaders met with Oregon state legislators this past week
to discuss the earliest stages of funding an $80 million
plan to fortify the city’s water system and ensure drinking
water is free from harmful algal toxins. The need for
cleaning out cyanotoxins and developing a backup water
system became apparent to city officials last summer when Salem
experienced a month-long drinking water crisis.
A federal court of appeals ruled Friday that PacifiCorp, which
currently owns and operates several dams along the Klamath
River, can no longer continue to use a controversial tactic
which has allowed the company to avoid implementing mandatory
requirements meant to protect the health of the Klamath River
for over a decade. The decision marks a victory for the Hoopa
Valley Tribe, who filed the lawsuit, and may expedite the
removal of several Klamath River dams.
Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman has drawn a line
in the sand for Arizona and other Western states: Finish a deal
to take less water from the Colorado River by Thursday, or the
federal government will be forced to step in and decide how to
prevent reservoirs from falling to critical levels. … The
plan’s success or failure will turn on the actions of a
few key players, including leaders of the Legislature, tribes,
farmers, cities and the state’s water managers.
Droughts and floods have always tested water management, driven
water systems improvements, and helped water organizations and
users maintain focus and discipline. California’s
2012-2016 drought and the very wet 2017 water year were such
The Colorado River is not meeting its obligations.
Its Lake Powell bank account is in danger of running
dry. A 97-year-old agreement demands that the river
deliver 5.2 trillion gallons of water to seven states and
Mexico each year. That isn’t happening, and now — in the age of
climate change — the chance of ever meeting that demand is
fading. As a result, Utah’s plan to take more of its
Colorado River water — by building a pipeline from Lake Powell
to St. George — may be fading, too.
The Trump administration is laying the groundwork to enlarge
California’s biggest reservoir, the iconic Shasta Dam,
north of Redding, by raising its height. It’s a saga that has
dragged on for decades, along with the controversy surrounding
it. But the latest chapter is likely to set the stage for
another showdown between California and the Trump
Zone 7 Water Agency directors have voted to renew their
participation in two water storage projects so that the water
wholesaler can continue to plan for more alternative water
sources during droughts. The board voted unanimously to
participate in phase 2 of the Sites Reservoir project, a JPA
formed in 2010 to create a reservoir 75 miles northwest of
Sacramento. … Also, by a unanimous vote, directors
committed up to $355,000 for a second phase of participation in
the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in southeastern Contra
Arizona’s water leaders and lawmakers are running out of time
to complete the state’s Drought Contingency Plan, a
blueprint for how Arizona water users would share a likely
shortage on the Colorado River. … There are a lot of
moving parts to understand and a lot of concepts that may seem
overwhelming. Here are the things you need to know in advance
of the Jan. 31 deadline to finish the plan.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District made a grave
miscalculation in suing the State Water Board over
the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. By alienating the
remnants of the environmental community who have supported them
in recent years, they are jeopardizing future projects and
funding measures that will require voter approval.
Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump
blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s,
the world’s largest berry company. In late 2018, I traveled to
the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a
Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening
view into how this family-owned company has become an
agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and
why they are so committed to water conservation.
The restoration site is one of three south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last
miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small
amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to
an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been
claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through
an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites,
another source is increasingly important for restoring these
patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor:
Governor Newsom’s first proposed state budget, released earlier
this month, addresses several critical water and natural
resource management challenges. Here are highlights from his
plans to mitigate problems with safe drinking water, improve
forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires, and encourage
healthy soils to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase
Water issues are notoriously difficult for California
governors. Just look at former Gov. Jerry Brown’s floundering
tunnels proposal for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Yet two factors suggest that Gov. Gavin Newsom must make water
Arizona lawmakers and the governor are under the gun to come up
with a Drought Contingency Plan to deal with possible Colorado
River water shortages. Get an update from Kathleen Ferris of
the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s
Morrison Institute for Public Policy. This Arizona Horizon
segment is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a
multimedia collaboration between public radio and public
television stations in Arizona, California and Colorado.
Coachella Valley Water District board members on Tuesday
debated issuing a $40 million bond to pay for an extension of
the Oasis pipeline to bring imported water to about 40 farmers
and others in the irrigation district, who would pay the costs
back over 30 years. A small rate increase could be imposed as
well. The 17-mile pipeline and three pump stations would
provide Colorado River water to mostly longtime farmers in the
valley who already obtain much of their water from the river
via the All-American Canal, but get some from wells.
The Gila River Indian Community is threatening to blow up the
drought-contingency plan because of efforts it says will
undermine its claim to water rights. House Speaker Rusty Bowers
is proposing changes to state laws in a way he said will
protect the rights of farmers in the Safford Valley who have
been “scratching it out” to water from the Gila River. But
attorney Don Pongrace, who represents the Gila River Indian
Community, said … courts have ruled those rights — and the
water that goes with it — belong to the tribe.
In an unprecedented move, the Water Resources Control board
voted in December to require water users to leave more water in
the lower San Joaquin River to improve water quality and help
fish. “This decision represents the water board taking its job
to protect the public trust and our fisheries more seriously,”
said Regina Chichizola, salmon and water policy analyst for the
Institute for Fisheries Resources.
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate
change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and
users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question:
Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough
The Alameda County Water District is proposing to raise
customers’ bills 8 percent over the next two years to cover
infrastructure costs as well as salary increases, benefits and
pensions for its employees. The district also wants to
create an emergency pricing schedule that kicks in during water
shortages, such as in droughts.
Water is becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the world.
Water tables have been falling in many regions for decades,
particularly in areas with intensive agriculture. Wells are
going dry and there are few long-term solutions available — a
common stopgap has been to drill deeper wells. This is exactly
what happened in California’s Central Valley. The recent
drought there prompted drilling of deeper and deeper water
wells to support irrigated agriculture.
Heavy rains this week left Lake Mendocino, the North Bay
region’s second-largest reservoir, with an extra 2 billion
gallons of water that until now officials would have been
obliged to release into the Russian River and eventually the
Pacific Ocean. Thanks to a $10 million program that blends
high-tech weather forecasting with novel computer programming,
the Army Corps has the latitude to retain an additional 11,650
acre feet of water, and Lake Mendocino has now impounded a
little more than half that much.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman today named
Ernest A. Conant director of the Mid-Pacific Region. Conant has
nearly 40 years of water law experience and previously served
as senior partner of Young Wooldridge, LLP.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed flow
requirements for rivers that feed the Delta based on a
percentage of ‘unimpaired flows… If approved, this
‘unimpaired flows’ approach would have significant impacts on
farms, communities throughout California and the environment.
We join many other water agencies in our belief that
alternative measures …
More water storage projects will not solve the basic fact that
the state’s finite amount of water is incapable of meeting all
of the demands. This deficit has been created primarily by the
transformation of a semi-arid area— the Central Valley — by an
infusion of water from northern California.
California American Water’s Monterey Peninsula desalination
project is in the midst of another critical phase even as
a Carmel River pumping cutback order milestone requiring the
start of construction looms later this year. … The city of
Marina is on schedule to consider the project’s coastal
development permit application covering mostly proposed desal
plant feeder slant wells on the CEMEX sand mining plant by
mid-March, according to a senior city planning official.
Longstanding urban-rural tensions over a proposed drought plan
have escalated after Pinal County farmers stepped up their
request for state money for well-drilling to replace Colorado
River water deliveries. “Enough is enough,” responded 10
Phoenix-area cities through a spokesman. They say the state has
already pledged millions to the farms for well drilling, and
plenty of water to boot.
Since taking office Jan. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom has not
indicated how he intends to approach one of the state’s most
pressing issues: water. Newsom should signal that
it’s a new day in California water politics by embracing
a more-sustainable water policy that emphasizes
conservation and creation of vast supplies of renewable
water. The first step should be to announce the
twin-tunnels effort is dead.
Without a change in how the Colorado River is managed, Lake
Powell is headed toward becoming a “dead pool,” essentially
useless as a reservoir while revealing a sandstone wonderland
once thought drowned forever by humanity’s insatiable desire to
bend nature to its will. … Absent cutbacks to deliveries
to the Lower Basin, a day could come when water managers may
have little choice but to lower the waters that have inundated
Utah’s Glen Canyon for the past half-century.
Technology already exists to treat reused water to levels
meeting or exceeding health standards. But adequate technical
capacity is not sufficient. Water reuse can trigger revulsion,
especially when water is reused for drinking or other potable
purposes. This note explores outreach and engagement strategies
to overcome the “yuck factor” and achieve public support for
At least one state agency has indicated it will not issue
necessary permits to allow federal officials and a Fresno-based
water district to begin construction to raise the height of
Shasta Dam. In addition to facing opposition from the
state, the project could also face fresh hurdles from Congress,
which this year came under control of Democrats. In a
letter to the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the State
Water Resources Control Board says raising the height of Shasta
Dam would violate state law.
Locally, the primary impacts of climate change on people can
broadly be broken into four categories: sea level rise,
drought, flood and wildfire. The good news is, work and
planning are already well underway to mitigate impacts, though
it’s hard to say how much of an effect the measures will have,
and how much those agencies – and their constituents – will be
willing to spend on them. But this much is clear: Local, state
and federal agencies are taking climate change seriously, and
treating it like the potentially existential threat that it is.
More than ever, water’s true value as a finite and precious
resource is starting to be realised, and a growing number of
investors are paying attention. There are plenty of examples of
water risk. Campbell Soup Company took a hit in its quarterly
earnings recently, due to an acquisition of a California fresh
food company that was pummeled by the California drought.
With Lake Mead now 39 percent full and approaching a first-ever
shortage, Western states that rely on the Colorado River are
looking to Arizona to sign a deal aimed at reducing the risk of
the reservoir crashing. The centerpiece of Gov. Ducey’s
proposed legislation is a resolution giving Arizona Department
of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to
sign the Drought Contingency Plan. The package of proposed
bills also would appropriate $35 million and
tweak existing legislation to make the plan work.
Around the world, vanishing glaciers will mean less water for
people and crops in the future. … Glaciers represent the
snows of centuries, compressed over time into slowly flowing
rivers of ice. … But in a warming climate melting outstrips
accumulation, resulting in a net loss of ice.
The never-ending fire season stems largely from a years-long
drought that gripped much of California before easing in 2017.
An estimated 129 million trees died from a lack of nutrients
and infestations from bark beetles, leaving hillsides and
forests dappled with kindling. The results have been grim.
Record-setting fires have swept across the state, killing more
than 100 people in two years. All told, nearly 900,000 acres
burned in 2018 on land Cal Fire patrols. That’s more than
triple the five-year average.
Citing what they say would be a disastrous decision for the
region, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts
have joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries
Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to
arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other
Members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes will vote Saturday,
Jan. 19 on a proposed ordinance to allow for the lease of a
portion of the Tribes’ Colorado River water allocation to
outside interests. The issue of leasing Tribal water
rights has become a contentious issue among Tribal members.
Opponents claim this compromises the Tribes’ resources, while
supporters point to the economic benefits.
A declining Colorado River in Arizona. Orcas and salmon stocks
in Washington state. Forest restoration in Idaho to protect
drinking water sources from wildfire. And renewable energy
seemingly everywhere. These are some of the water issues that
U.S. governors have mentioned in their 2019 State of the State
speeches. The speeches, usually given at the beginning of the
legislative session, outline budget or policy priorities for
the coming year.
Far less settled is how Newsom will fill his administration’s
most important positions regarding state water policy. One of
Newsom’s key tests confronts him immediate: State Water
Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus’ term expires this
The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water
Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the
measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee
meeting last week. … But the legislation as drafted
barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more
complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been
hashing out for months.
As rain continues to pelt Southern California, signs of an
abundance of or even too much water are everywhere: Roads are
flooded, reservoirs are filling and the wait time for Radiator
Springs Racers at the damp Disneyland Resort has been less than
a half hour. But as residents of burn areas evacuate and
even heavier rain is forecast for Thursday, those who watch the
state and local water supplies note that while the drought is
technically over, the need to conserve water is not.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today
released the Delta Conservation Framework as a comprehensive
resource and guide for conservation planning in the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through 2050. The framework
provides a template for regional and stakeholder-led approaches
to restoring ecosystem functions to the Delta landscape.
A simple web search will pull up nearly a million articles,
videos and photos featuring Frank Gehrke. He’s no fashion icon
like Kim Kardashian or a dogged politician like Gov. Jerry
Brown. But he has broken a lot of news. … For 30 years,
you might have seen Gehrke on TV, the guy trudging through snow
with a measuring pole, talking about how deep the pack is each
winter on the evening news. He retired from his post as the
state’s chief snow surveyor in December, but he’s not letting
go of his snowshoes and skis anytime soon.
Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the
Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S.
are likely headed for another year of low water. That’s
according to a new analysis by the Western Water Assessment at
the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who
authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the
Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished
streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs
left depleted at the end of 2018.
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento
and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West
Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it,
simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is
essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it.
After more than three years, 104 days of testimony, and over
twenty-four thousand pages of hearing transcripts, the hearing
before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on
the proposal to construct two tunnels to convey water under the
Delta (aka California WaterFix) is almost completed.
Probably, that is: there could be more if the project changes
again to a degree that requires additional testimony and/or
Wells are going dry and there are few long-term solutions
available — a common stopgap has been to drill deeper wells.
This is exactly what happened in California’s Central Valley.
The recent drought there prompted drilling of deeper and deeper
water wells to support irrigated agriculture. Groundwater
supplies around the world are being threatened by excessive
pumping, but drilling deeper wells is not a long-term solution.
A better solution is to manage water use and avoid excessive
declines in groundwater levels.
Climate change helped fuel the deadly fires that prompted
California’s largest power company to announce Monday that it
would file for bankruptcy. … In a grim twist, the bankruptcy
of PG&E Corp. could now slow California’s efforts to fight
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over
$100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect
the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former
governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water
legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey
urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the
proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt
said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a
much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California …
began what is being referred to as “defensive withdrawals” from
Lake Mead. Remember, Lake Mead is severely low, and if L.A.
takes all of the water they’ve been allotted, it will trigger
emergency supply restrictions for everyone else. So, why are
they doing this with the agreement deadline so close? The Show
turned to Debra Kahn who covers California environmental policy
and broke the story for Politico Pro.
Everywhere you look new homes, hotels and master-planned
developments are appearing. It is wise to ask whether we
have enough water for these future desert residents and
visitors. Permits for new projects are under the
jurisdiction of cities or the county — not under the purview of
water agencies. Water agencies are tasked with supplying
the water. Balancing growth and water supplies is nothing new
to desert communities. It has always been a fact of life
in our desert and is one of Desert Water Agency’s most
In an attempt to block the state’s plan to divert more water
toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and away from the
Bay Area, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has filed a
lawsuit arguing the project could significantly reduce the
local water supply. If the plan advances, the water district
might have to spend millions of dollars to obtain alternate
water supplies and pull up more groundwater.
A section of the museum will also be dedicated to water,
teaching visitors how much water it takes to grow
crops, how California farmers lead the world in
conservation, and how the state’s complicated water storage and
delivery system works, said Mike Wade, the executive director
of the California Farm Water Coalition. The Coalition is
the title sponsor for the exhibits and has drawn on several
farming organizations, including Farm Credit, to help build and
maintain the exhibits.
California began 2019 with lower-than-average snowpack
measurements — just 67 percent of the year-to-date
average. Recent storms pushed that total to 90
percent as of Friday. With more precipitation on the horizon,
forecasters predict snowpack measurements will “meet or exceed”
the year-to-date average by the end of the week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, if he is to successfully steer the state
into the future, has to bring to his water agenda the same
steely-eyed, reality-based drive that the two previous
governors brought to limiting carbon emissions. It is
time for the state to respond to its water challenge with the
same sense of urgency with which it adopted Assembly Bill 32,
the landmark law capping greenhouse gas emissions, in 2006.
Urban water conservation took a sharp drop in November in
California, with savings of just 7.8 percent compared to
November 2013, the benchmark pre-drought year. That’s down from
13.4 percent savings in October. Statewide, the average
was 86 gallons per capita. In the Sacramento River watershed,
everyone used on average 101 gallons per day; in the Bay Area,
67 gallons; on the South Coast, 86 gallons.
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought,
the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its
diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must
confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water
may be cut off.
Arizona legislators and staff are attending closed-door primers
on water policy in advance of a critical January 31 federal
deadline for the state to approve the Drought Contingency Plan.
The first of three meetings occurred on Friday afternoon and
lasted two and a half hours. The session was led by Central
Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke and Arizona
Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the
world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of
much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego,
Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its
water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting
system used by major farmers and entire states. … This
month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan
Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
Climate models using SNOTEL data predict a decline in Western
snowpack. … In December, University of Arizona researchers
presented new on-the-ground findings supporting these
predictions. … In parts of the West, annual snow mass has
declined by 41 percent, and the snow season is 34 days shorter.
Scripps Institute of Oceanography climatologist Amato Evan told
the San Diego Union-Tribune that “climate change in the Western
U.S. is not something we will see in the next 50 years. We can
see it right now.”
When the grapefruit and lemon trees bloom on Jim Seley’s farm,
the white blossoms fill the air with their sweet scent. He and
his son, Mike, manage the business, and they hope to pass it on
to the next generation of Seleys. But the farms of
Borrego Springs, like the town and its golf courses, rely
completely on groundwater pumped from the desert aquifer. And
it’s unclear whether farming will be able to survive in this
part of the Southern California desert west of the Salton Sea
in San Diego County.
The State Water Resources Control Board proved back on Dec. 12
that it wasn’t listening to a single thing anyone from our
region was saying. By voting to impose draconian and
scientifically unjustifiable water restrictions on our region,
four of the five board members tuned out dozens of scientists,
water professionals and people who live near the rivers.
Gov. Doug Ducey will use his fifth State of the State speech
Monday, Jan. 14, to try to corral the votes to approve a
drought-contingency plan in the next 17 days or risk federal
intervention. “We’re in a position now where we have a sense of
urgency and focus on Arizona’s water situation,” the governor
told the business community Friday in previewing the speech
that kicks off the legislative session.