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.
In the midst of the wet winter storms bringing rain and snow to
California this year, you might not expect drought preparations
to be among the state’s current priorities. And yet, they need
to be. In this post, I’ll explore why to set the stage for a
blog series that explores what the state can do to prepare for
the more frequent and intense droughts we expect in
California’s future. The series draws on work my colleagues and
I did for California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment.
Subsidence and socialism are two “S” words that wouldn’t seem
to have much in common, especially here in the San Joaquin
Valley. Nevertheless, for insiders in the Valley’s intricate
water game, the words are inextricably linked.
The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to
shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board
voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the
drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water
than anyone else. That agency, the Imperial Irrigation
District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal
government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton
Every spring, a group called the Pacific Fishery Management
Council gets together and looks at the salmon forecasts from
the Puget Sound all the way down to the Sacramento River in
California….The Sacramento River runs are expected to rebound
a bit, but the Klamath and Columbia River forecasts are lower
than last year.
A process is underway that’s extremely important, and likely to
be way over most of our heads. The Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act was passed in 2014, which set deadlines for
local agencies to come up with plans to manage the water
beneath them “… without causing undesirable results.”
This particular California winter has unfolded in good news/bad
news fashion. Courtesy of a string of recurring atmospheric
rivers, potent storms have caused flooding, power outages and
canceled flights. But they have also lifted all but a thin
slice of the state near the Oregon border completely out of
It’s a growing problem many say cannot be solved by
firefighters alone. Enter the Cal Poly W.U.I. F.I.R.E
Institute. It stands for the Wildland Urban Interface Fire
Information Research and Education Institute. Turner is working
with Cal Poly staff like forest management professor Chris
Dicus to create a collaborative space for research, training,
It seems like a simple question: How many people can Southern
Nevada support with the water it has now? But the answer is far
from easy. The number can swing wildly depending on a host of
variables, including the community’s rates of growth and
conservation and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
(Last in the paper’s Water
California is now the lone holdout on an emergency drought plan
for the Colorado River, and the other river states are turning
up the heat to get the deal done. Representatives from Nevada
and five other Western states sent a letter to California on
Saturday urging water officials there to set aside their
concerns and “and immediately and unconditionally approve” the
so-called Drought Contingency Plan.
San Luis Obispo County supervisors are exploring what it’d take
to bolster the county’s authority in issuing groundwater well
permits. Following a report about groundwater conditions in the
Adelaida region of the North County on Feb. 26, the Board of
Supervisors voted unanimously to have its staff look at how it
could increase the level of review and discretion the county
has over approving or denying well applications.
Months of record rain and snowfall has officially lifted the
Central Valley — and much of the state — out of official
drought conditions. Just 1 percent of California is
experiencing moderate drought conditions, according to the U.S.
Drought Monitor. That’s a far cry from 2014 when 54 percent of
the state was in severe drought. With the drought declared dead
in California, will Tulare County cities begin to ease
restrictions on residential watering?
There’s still a lot scientists don’t know about the yin-yang
interaction between fire and water. Of particular interest is
better understanding how the heat intensity of wildfires
changes the the water content of burned soil. The science
behind such work is known as hydrology, which studies the
properties, distribution and circulation of water on or below
the earth’s surface.
When then-candidate Donald Trump swung through California in
2016, he promised Central Valley farmers he would send more
water their way. Allocating water is always a fraught issue in
a state plagued by drought, and where water is pumped hundreds
of miles to make possible the country’s biggest agricultural
economy. Now, President Trump is following through on his
promise by speeding up a key decision about the state’s water
supply. Critics say that acceleration threatens the integrity
of the science behind the decision, and cuts the public out of
When it opened in 1951, the Friant-Kern Canal carried at least
4,000 cubic feet of water per second along its route from
Millerton Lake, north of Fresno, to Bakersfield. Then something
unfortunate happened. A 25-mile stretch of land between Terra
Bella and Pixley began to sink, and kept sinking, to the point
that the canal’s gravity-powered water flow has slowed to about
1,700 cubic feet per second. … Federal and state officials
would like to restore the canal to its original capacity, as
would the seven municipalities and 18,000 family farms using
the canal. But how? And where would money for repairs come
The San Joaquin Valley is in a time of great change. Decades of
groundwater overuse have caused drinking water and irrigation
wells to go dry, increased the amount of energy required to
pump water, harmed ecosystems, and reduced the reserves
available to cope with future droughts. Groundwater overdraft
has also caused land to sink, damaging major regional
infrastructure, including canals that deliver water across the
Bills introduced last week by Bakersfield Republicans in
Sacramento and Washington, D.C., would redirect money from the
state’s high-speed rail project toward reservoir projects, as
well as repairs to Friant-Kern Canal. … The proposals by U.S.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy and state Assemblyman Vince Fong seize upon
a common frustration among many valley Republicans that
billions of state and federal dollars dedicated to high-speed
rail would be better spent on capturing water from wet years…
Recycled water’s been such a good deal for Orange County, the
water district is spending $140 million to expand its capacity
to purify wastewater by 30 percent. It starts in Fountain
Valley where the water district operates a 24-acre facility
that takes sewage fom the sanitation plant next door and
converts it into millions of gallons a day of pure H2O. OC
Water District President Shawn Dewane said the cost is 30
percent cheaper than imported water.
Much of the United States could be gripped by significant water
shortages in just five decades’ time, according to predictions
made in a new study. … In the researchers’ projections, water
supply is likely to be under threat in watersheds in the
central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central
Rocky Mountain States, California, and areas in the South
(especially Florida) and the Midwest.
The Colorado River’s federal managers have projected that if
dry conditions continue, they could be unable to deliver any
water at all to downstream users (including Phoenix, Tucson,
Los Angeles, and San Diego) within five years. That’s the
doomsday scenario that has led the Colorado River’s water
managers and users to the cusp of adopting the Drought
Contingency Plan, a temporary yet broad agreement to reduce
water use and ensure that the reservoirs continue to provide a
reliable water supply.
In November, a wall of flames fueled by dry forests and wooden
structures tore through this Sierra foothill town like the dogs
of Hell. … Beneath the blast furnace heat that incinerated
buildings and vehicles above ground, an intricate network of
drinking water pipes below the surface became so contaminated
with toxic chemicals that many are unusable. The extent of the
damage and exactly how the poisons accumulated in the pipes of
Paradise and in the smaller, neighboring districts served by
Del Oro Water Company is not known.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy introduced legislation
Thursday to repurpose federal funding for the high-speed rail
project. The Repurposing Assets to Increase Long-term Water
Availability and Yield (RAILWAY) Act would take funding from
the high-speed rail project and use it for water infrastructure
projects in California and the West… McCarthy’s proposed
legislation is cosponsored by every Republican member of the
California Congressional Delegation.
California farmer Brenton Kelly still remembers how the Cuyama
Valley used to be. The valley, located in California’s Central
Coast region, has long been home to an abundance of wildlife.
Historically, the land has been used for cattle pastures, and
featured “beautiful rolling grassy hill” and an “amazing
wildflower show,” according to Kelly. These days, however, the
land has been taken over by large commercial farms and
vineyards, Kelly said. … Among some of the corporations that
have expanded into the region in recent years is an unlikely
investor — the Harvard Management Company. HMC, the
University’s investment arm, oversees Harvard’s nearly $40
The question comes up with every dire media report or bleak new
forecast about the Colorado River: How much longer can Nevada’s
largest community continue to rely on a single source of water
to power its prosperity? It’s an important question, maybe the
most important. No Southwestern state gets less water from the
river than Nevada. No major city depends on that water more
than Las Vegas. But the Colorado is in trouble. (Part 1 of 8 in
Conditions are right for spectacular blooms throughout the
California desert this year, experts say. The benefits of rain
are endless, especially in Southern California, where
drought-like conditions often persist for months on end. Thanks
to this year’s significant rainfall, the annual wildflower
blooms are set to be quite spectacular, according to Jorge
Moreno, information officer for California State Parks.
Recent plans to enlarge California’s Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet
have raised concerns over possible cultural and ecological
implications on wildlife among the Winnemem Wintu people and
environmental groups alike. … The change in flood patterns
would likely affect vital sacred sites for the Winnemen Wintu
Puberty Ceremony for young women, according to the Winnemem
Wintu website. The project would also relocate roads,
railroads, bridges and marinas, according to a fact sheet from
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Hundreds of Bakersfield agriculture, oil and political leaders
came together Thursday to examine the challenges and
opportunities associated with providing California residents
and businesses with a secure, reliable supply of clean water.
Lest the wet winter create a sense of complacency around one of
the state’s most vital needs, specialists from various fields
urged collective attention to the costly and increasingly
complex problems that surround sourcing, storing and conveying
water across the Golden State.
The announcement by Mayor Eric Garcetti last month that Los
Angeles will recycle all the wastewater produced at the
Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant by 2035 signals an end to the
era of addressing water shortages by importing water from
far-flung places and initiates a long-anticipated era of
reusing locally available supplies. The shift will require L.A.
residents to understand both the necessity of the plan and the
technology that will produce safe water.
As droughts intensify and the snowpacks diminish, California
will need creative solutions to provide enhanced water supplies
for urban use and agriculture. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratories are working on addressing these problems,
focusing on groundwater recharge, low-cost desalination, and
energy efficient purification.
Environmentalists and rural water users expressed broad support
last week for a bill that would create small water reserves in
aquifers across Nevada. Senate Bill 140, sponsored by
Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea of Eureka, Nev., aims to
prevent regulators from issuing more rights to water than there
is water available, an issue already playing out in more than
100 groundwater basins.
Local growers and others met Friday for a triple tour of Madera
County water users and an on-farm groundwater recharge workshop
Wednesday. Participants visited AgriLand Farming Company in
Chowchilla, Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Fairmead, and
the Ellis Recharge Basin in northeast Madera. These include
farmers struggling “to figure out how to farm” under the
state’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which
requires the formation of local agencies to manage underground
What better way to decompress from a stressful federal
government job than by trekking 2,600 miles on foot from Mexico
to Canada? That’s what Jared Blumenfeld, the new head of the
California Environmental Protection Agency, did three years
ago, setting out on the arduous and beloved Pacific Crest Trail
that traces California’s searing deserts, rugged mountains and
Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin
again, this time more intelligently.” Rules enacted a decade
ago that were intended to protect California’s iconic salmon
and Delta smelt populations aren’t working and federal agencies
are now in the process of modernizing them, this time using
much better science.
Yes, it’s caused traffic jams, power outages and even some
floods. But there’s a big ray of good news behind all the rain
that California has been receiving this year. Soaked by
relentless storms, California as of this week has less land
area in drought status than at any time in the last seven
More than 300 communities across the state and one out of every
four schools in the Central Valley lack access to safe drinking
water, according to the state Water Board. … Responding to
the crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling for a new water tax.
If the proposal passes, the levy will generate $110 million in
annual revenue. But some Californians – many working directly
with the state’s water authorities – oppose the plan. They say
there are better ways to raise the money needed than taxing tap
For California’s salmon fishermen, the downstream effects of
political decisions in Washington are too obvious to ignore.
It’s not merely a question of profit for us. We are the
stewards of the public fisheries resources who rely on their
long-term health for our existence. The viability of our future
can be challenged by who is in power in Washington, no matter
who they are.
You can’t see them. You can’t swim in them. But groundwater
aquifers are one of the most important sources of water in the
North Coast. Aquifers are water-rich underground areas. They
aren’t like lakes or pools but are composed of water-filled
areas between rocks, sands, and gravels. Plants and animals
benefit from groundwater when it’s near the surface, and feeds
creeks and streams. Humans tap into aquifers through wells used
for drinking, irrigating crops and operating businesses.
Deadly severe wildfires in California have scientists
scrutinizing the underlying factors that could influence future
extreme events. Using climate simulations and paleoclimate data
dating back to the 16th century, a recent study looks closely
at long-term upper-level wind and related moisture patterns to
A recently completed study on the cost effectiveness and
financial risk of proposals to meet water supply demands
through 2050 concludes that the controversial Poseidon
desalination project in Huntington Beach would produce more
water than the Orange County basin needs and cost ratepayers
far more than alternatives such as recycling and capturing
Lawmakers in Colorado want the U.S. state to study the
potential of blockchain technology in water rights management.
Republican senator Jack Tate, along with representatives Jeni
James Arndt (Democratic) and Marc Catlin (Republican), filed
senate bill 184 on Tuesday, proposing that the Colorado Water
Institute should be granted authority to study how blockchain
technology can help improve its operations.
After a months-long delay, key negotiators say Congress is
closing in on a deal to pass a disaster relief package,
including billions in funding for California wildfire
recovery that has been hanging in limbo. Still, it remains
unclear when any bill will advance, and lawmakers say political
fights have been holding up the process.
People interested in state-mandated plans to manage local
groundwater can get an update Thursday evening in Chico. …
The meeting 6-8 p.m Thursday at the Masonic Family Center, 1110
W. East Ave., is focused on a newly approved planning area that
includes Chico and Durham, and stretches north and west to the
Tehama County line and the Sacramento River, and south and east
to Butte Valley and the northern border of the Western Canal
California’s largest lake has long attracted visitors. Many go
there year-round to see thousands of birds congregating around
the lake and its nearby habitats, but the lake is changing and
that’s changing bird populations.
Dam by dam, owners of smaller hydroelectric projects around the
West look at them with a cold eye as relicensing looms. Created
with optimism a century ago, dams are now seen as fish-killers
and river-distorters. New energy sources are getting cheaper.
After decades of operation, owners approach relicensing knowing
that, if they are to continue generating a single watt of
electricity, they must fix the problems.
Office of Emergency Management Director Robert Lewin
recommended that the county Board of Supervisors terminate its
proclamation of a local emergency due to drought conditions,
which has been renewed every 60 days since January 2014. South
Coast water agencies don’t like the messaging of ending the
drought emergency, and said they have ongoing drought impacts,
including water shortages, and will need customers to keep
One of the key challenges facing newly formed local government
agencies responsible for groundwater management is to establish
and implement quantitative metrics for sustainability. To help
local agencies do this, a new report from Water in the West
examines how four special districts in California have
used quantitative thresholds to adaptively manage groundwater.
These case studies provide valuable insights on the development
and implementation of performance metrics and will be important
in guiding local agencies.
With another deadline missed Monday, the head of the Bureau of
Reclamation is now looking for the governors in the states in
the Colorado River basin to tell her what they think she should
do to keep water levels from dropping even lower. But there’s
just two weeks for them to do that.
Gov. Gavin Newsom should immediately allow the thinning of
vegetation on almost 94,000 acres of state land in a bid to
keep more than 200 communities safe, California fire officials
said Tuesday as they released a list of the state’s 35 most
critical fuel-reduction projects.
The real-world implications of Gov. Newsom’s rejection of the
twin tunnels project became more apparent last week as the
Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation requested and were granted a 60-day stay of
hearings with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).
In some California basins, sustainable groundwater management
can mean the difference between whether a species goes extinct
or a community’s drinking water becomes contaminated. The
stakes are high. Felice Pace, an activist who works for the
North Coast Stream Flow Coalition, talks to Clean Water Action
about salmon, surface flows, and the importance of community
involvement in the Smith and Scott River Groundwater
During our three-day Central Valley Tour April 3-5, you will
meet farmers who will explain how they prepare the fields,
irrigate their crops and harvest the produce that helps feed
the nation and beyond. We also will drive through hundreds of
miles of farmland and visit the rivers, dams, reservoirs and
groundwater wells that provide the water.
The dramatic shift from dry to wet this winter hints at what’s
to come. Scientists predict that California’s total
precipitation will remain close to constant in the future, but
it will fall in a shorter window of time, with more of it as
rain. The state will also experience greater variability—more
very wet and more very dry years. These findings highlight the
need to capture rainfall and improve aging infrastructure.
Here’s what to expect from California’s wet seasons, now and in
The big fear in the world of water management is that this big
gulp of wet weather will lead some Californians to think that
the drought is dead. … In a few weeks, the state’s Department
of Water Resources will be sending out its new water-saving
messages, and Niki Woodard, who is No. 2 in the department’s
public affairs office, sizes up how her department can navigate
around that waterlogged state of mind.
Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday that managers at the city’s
wastewater plant have been forced to release at least 250
million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the
nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa amid record inflow to the facility
that began in last week’s storm. The three-day deluge pushed
more than five times the normal flow of wastewater and runoff
into the city’s Laguna de Santa Rosa plant. It was the highest
inflow ever recorded at the site, according to the city.
The extra water from Shasta Lake would raise the lake by an
estimated 20 feet, inundating the McCloud River, which is
protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. That piece of
legislation was designed to protect the trout that heavily
populate those waters. And it’s not just state law that speaks
out. One of the provisions of the 1992 Central Valley Project
Improvement Act is to protect fisheries up and down the state’s
major rivers. Raising Shasta Dam now would only be possible by
overturning those two laws.
About half the Sycuan Indian tribe relies heavily on a single
groundwater well for water. The whole tribe now wants access to
the same water most San Diegans enjoy – Colorado River water,
Northern California water and desalinated Pacific Ocean water.
Most of San Diego’s state legislative delegation is pushing a
bill that could make it happen.
Dr. Ellen Bruno is an Assistant Cooperative Extension
Specialist in quantitative policy analysis at UC Berkeley. Her
research evaluates the effectiveness of different policy
instruments for improving the management of our increasingly
scarce water resources.
Scientists found that wet winter weather, historically a
predictor of more modest California fire seasons, is no longer
linked to less damaging fires. The link between more rain and
less fire fell apart thanks to modern fire management and
accelerating climate change, the study said. “It’s going to be
a problem for people, for firefighters, for society,” said
study co-author Alan Taylor, a Pennsylvania State University
Just months before the Woolsey Fire, Las Virgenes Mutual Water
District had joined CalWARN, a mutual assistance system set up
for water utilities. General manager Dave Pedersen had heard
about it from a neighboring agency. Before dawn Nov. 9, the
district requested emergency generators. Within a few hours,
they had gotten a response.
Working under a less-than-four-year deadline, Soquel Creek
Water District is fine-tuning the ‘where’ of its planned water
recycling plant construction. On Tuesday, district officials
will recommend the board split the Pure Water Soquel project
between two sites, with tertiary treatment at the city of Santa
Cruz’s Wastewater Treatment Facility and advanced purification
at the controversial new site in Live Oak.
The announcement by Mayor Eric Garcetti last month that Los
Angeles will recycle all the wastewater produced at the
Hyperion plant by 2035 signals an end to the era of addressing
water shortages by importing water from far-flung places and
initiates a long-anticipated era of reusing locally available
supplies. The shift will require L.A. residents to understand
both the necessity of the plan and the technology that will
produce safe water.
If California is going to prevent further depletion of aquifers
and survive droughts like the one that afflicted it from 2011
to 2017, the state will need to manage its groundwater usage.
In the central valley, a group of organizations is working on a
project that could stem the tide by combining two technologies:
the internet of things (IoT) and Blockchain.
The problem started on Feb. 17, when Paonia’s water operators
noted a loss of water in a 2 million gallon storage tank. A
team went out looking for a leak, but could not locate it. As
the leak continued, the town’s water system lost enough
pressure that the state of Colorado imposed a boil order. In
response, town officials declared a state of emergency.
San Diego County remains one of the few parts of the state to
still be labeled as abnormally dry, according to the drought
monitor. While rainfall this winter has already exceeded
average, the region is still recovering from a severe deficit
in precipitation, and researchers say impacts to vegetation and
reservoirs linger. Still, the San Diego region, which imports
nearly 80 percent of its water, has more than adequate supplies
to meet urban and agricultural demands.
The current dilemmas boil down to this: As the state punishes
cannabis growers in the Emerald Triangle for environmental
degradation, it is simultaneously pursuing an aqueduct project
in the Central Valley that environmental groups claim will
cause ecological harm of massive proportions. This project
stands to benefit the “big ag” industry, which California’s
newly legal cannabis companies are increasingly participating
A spectacular snowpack and a series of storms in the San
Joaquin Valley are bringing smiles to valley farmers’ faces. On
Friday, the Fresno Irrigation District started moving water to
farms in the cities of Fresno, Clovis, and their surrounding ag
land. While this isn’t an early start compared to typical
years, the water is especially welcome after several drought
Days after Imperial Irrigation District officials said there
had been a breakthrough in negotiations with federal
officials to commit to the restoration of the Salton Sea
in a mammoth Colorado River drought plan, a top federal
official offered a different assessment. … The
Reclamation statement said it’s up to IID to decide when they
want to join the drought plan, indicating a possible avenue for
them to join later that would not stymie the entire agreement.
Four new voting members, each appointed by representatives of
the Delta region, would be added to the Delta Stewardship
Council if a bill authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier becomes
law. … Frazier introduced Assembly Bill 1194 this week. It
would increase the voting membership of the council to 11
Oceanside announced it will receive a $2.6 million federal
grant to build two more of the wells that the city has used for
more than 20 years to supply a portion of its drinking water.
The wells pump brackish water from what’s called the Mission
Basin, an area near the airport, the old swap meet property and
the San Luis Rey River. The city filters the water using the
same reverse osmosis process used on a much larger scale in
Carlsbad to desalinate seawater.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, working with Republican
Doug LaMalfa of the First District, have introduced the Sites
Reservoir Protection Act to support building the reservoir and
other water infrastructure in the Central Valley. The act, also
known as House Resolution 1453, would direct the Bureau of
Reclamation to complete a feasibility study for the project in
Colusa and Glenn counties.
Imperial Irrigation District officials announced at a special
board meeting late Friday that the federal Bureau of
Reclamation has agreed to their condition that the drought
contingency plan package include restoration of the Salton Sea.
They said federal officials will write a strong letter of
support backing IID’s requests for $200 million in Farm Bill
funding for wetlands projects around the shrinking sea, which
is California’s largest inland water body.
There is water here in the Mojave Desert. A lot of it. Whether
to tap it on a commercial scale or leave it alone is a
decades-old question the Trump administration has revived and
the California legislature is visiting anew. … Soon after the
2016 election, the Trump transition team included Cadiz as
No. 15 on its priority list of “emergency and national
security” projects. Less than a year later, the administration
exempted the project from a federal review that the Obama
administration required because of the federal land involved in
the pipeline construction.
The top state agencies that manage water and wildlife resources
in California submitted a package of voluntary agreements with
water districts to the State Water Resources Control Board on
Friday, as an alternative to controversial flow requirements
approved in December for the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced
rivers. … The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts issued
statements Friday in support of the tentative agreements.
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of
water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by
agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing,
and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and
recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life
as haven for artists.
It’s a treasure that is all too easy for Palo Alto to take for
granted — an abundant supply of pristine water that flows from
the Sierra Nevada snowpacks and passes through the Hetch Hetchy
system before splashing out of local showers and faucets. Palo
Alto is one of 25 cities that belong to the Bay Area Water
Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), which manages the
member cities’ supply agreement with the San Francisco Public
Utilities Commission. … Even so, the cities don’t always know
which projects they’re helping to fund.
After three difficult years when Chinook salmon population
numbers were down and fishing opportunities were limited,
commercial fishermen are hoping the upcoming season will
be better. “What we’re seeing is a better forecast of salmon in
the ocean this year than we saw last year,” said Harry Morse,
public information officer for the California Department of
Fish and Wildlife. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
Think California should build a lot more dams to catch these
deluges? Forget it. … There’s one dam being planned north of
Sacramento in Colusa County that makes sense: Sites. There are
also some dam expansion projects that could work. But
California is already dammed to the brim. Every river worth
damming has been. And some that weren’t worth it were dammed
Climate change plus population growth are setting the stage for
water shortages in parts of the U.S. long before the end of the
century, according to a new study in the AGU journal Earth’s
Future. Even efforts to use water more efficiently in municipal
and industrial sectors won’t be enough to stave off shortages,
say the authors of the new study. The results suggest
reductions in agricultural water use will probably play the
biggest role in limiting future water shortages.
The winter wonderland conditions are in stark contrast to what
they were a year ago, when the outlook for California’s
reservoirs looked bleak. Sierra snowpack was at 19 percent of
historical levels and many parts of the state were experiencing
drought conditions. “Right now we’re not concerned about
drought at all,” Pete Fickenscher, a senior hydrologist at
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather
One tunnel or two, neither idea adds a drop of the water to
needs of the nearly 40 million people who call California home.
The tunnels simply divert existing water supplies while putting
in severe jeopardy the largest freshwater estuary west of the
Mississippi River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that
juts into the western edge of Stockton. Clearly, there must be
better solutions. Three approaches leap to mind: storage,
conservation and desalination.
This tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour.
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
California is drenched and its mountains are piled high with
snow amid a still-unfolding winter of storms that was
unimaginable just a few months ago. Drought conditions have
almost been eliminated, hills blackened by huge wildfires are
sporting lush coats of green, and snow has fallen in the
usually temperate suburbs of Southern California. … The
California Department of Water Resources reported Thursday that
the Sierra snowpack is now 153 percent of average to date.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, introduced the Sites Reservoir
Protection Act Thursday to provide federal support for the
building of Sites Reservoir and other water infrastructures in
the Central Valley. The act, also known as House Resolution
1453, would direct the Bureau of Reclamation to complete a
feasibility study for the project Colusa and Glenn counties.
Arizona state water regulators have confirmed that here may not
be enough water underground for dozens of planned developments
in Pinal County, new subdivisions that, if built, would bring
more than 139,000 homes. That finding is based on data the
Arizona Department of Water Resources has compiled that shows a
long-term groundwater shortage in the area is possible. The
data … raises red flags about growthand the water supply in
one of the fastest growing parts of the state.
Complaints are mounting against Acting Interior Secretary David
Bernhardt over allegations he used his position to help the
interests of his former lobbying client, California’s powerful
Westlands Water District. The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center
filed a complaint accusing Bernhardt of ethics violations by
partaking in decisions directly related to his past lobbying
work, resulting in rules that would free up more river water to
Fresno-based Westlands and weakening protections for certain
endangered fish populations.
Funding awarded for the new Temperance Flat Dam may have fallen
short, but hopes for construction are still very much alive.
Jason Phillips, Director of Friant Water Authority and alumni
of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, has
insight as to why those involved with the project are still
Yuba Water Agency is presenting a collaborative framework to
the State Water Resources Control Board today, a detailed plan
to improve fish and wildlife habitat conditions in the San
Francisco/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary watershed
(Bay-Delta), including fisheries enhancement measures on the
lower Yuba River.
Plans to give Nevada’s top water official more flexibility to
wade into water rights disputes got a rough reception in the
state Legislature. Farmers, conservationists and American
Indians from Nevada and Utah turned out in opposition to the
proposals in two bills. No one spoke in support of measures
critics say would direct more water toward urban and suburban
development at the expense of farming, ranching and the
environment in rural valleys.
We hope the move by MWD — which in 2016 had played
hardball of its own by linking its support of the Colorado
River drought plan to federal and state support of a Delta
water project — doesn’t again sidetrack true federal
involvement at the Salton Sea.
The aging, leaking Combie Canal, a concrete flume located along
a steep hillside above the Bear River, received the OK for a
nearly $20 million replacement Wednesday. The canal is a
“critical piece of infrastructure” that serves two water
treatment plants, Nevada Irrigation District staff say, with
more than half of the district’s flows for deliveries made
through the nearly 50-year-old system.
Although Santa Monica may be the most aggressive Southern California water provider to wean itself from imported supplies, it is hardly the only one looking to remake its water portfolio.
In Los Angeles, a city of about 4 million people, efforts are underway to dramatically slash purchases of imported water while boosting the amount from recycling, stormwater capture, groundwater cleanup and conservation. Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014 announced a plan to reduce the city’s purchase of imported water from Metropolitan Water District by one-half by 2025 and to provide one-half of the city’s supply from local sources by 2035. (The city considers its Eastern Sierra supplies as imported water.)
With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a
seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by
contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of
the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is
seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger
said he had no choice.
Winter storms have blanketed the mountains on the upper
Colorado River with snow. But even this year’s above-average
snowpack won’t be nearly enough to make up for the river’s
chronic overallocation, compounded by 19 years of drought and
the worsening effects of climate change.
It has occurred to me that the rush to remove the dams on the
Klamath River is lacking in a whole host of ways, and I commend
city Councilman Jason Greenough for being at least open to the
notion that the dam removal might not be in the best interests
of the community.
Local groundwater regulatory agencies set up under 2014
legislation in California are discussing future rationing
schemes with irrigators as they scramble to submit long-term
aquifer sustainability plans to the state by a deadline of
early next year. Local regulators are discussing a combination
of new supplies and land-use conversions, says David Orth, a
principal at the Fresno-based New Current Water and Land, LLC,
a strategic planning firm.
What a difference a winter can make. On Jan. 1, three-quarters
of California was in drought. Just eight weeks later, however,
a succession of storms have washed drought conditions away from
all but a splotch at the far north edge of the state, according
to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
California has been blessed with a wet winter this year. That’s
been good news for the California plants, animals, and humans
that rely on water to survive and recreate. But lots of
precipitation now doesn’t necessarily mean that California will
have lots of water when it needs it. That’s because what
matters is not only how much water we get, but when and how we
To help build leadership capacity and acquire water management
tools for valley communities, Self-Help Enterprises invites
water board members and staff, water leaders, and residents
from rural communities to participate in the 2019 Rural
Communities Water Managers Leadership Institute. The six-month
program is scheduled for March through August, with sessions
held one Saturday per month at Self-Help Enterprises in
Imported water from the Sierra
Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as
drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those
supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped
up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on
Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of
Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s,
Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it
derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.
Follow along on our water tour of the Lower Colorado
River – and keep up with any of our
tours and events –
through our social media channels. We’ll post updates on our
Twitter account @WaterEdFdn about
people, issues and places as we travel along the Lower Colorado
River from Hoover Dam to the Coachella Valley Feb. 27 through
The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region
and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in
a time of great change. The valley produces more than half of
the state’s agricultural output. Irrigated farming is the
region’s main economic driver and predominant water user.
Stress on the valley’s water system is growing. Local water
supplies are limited, particularly in the southern half of the
The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the
Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of
Los Angeles created when the Colorado River breached a dike in
1905 and flooded a dry lake bed. The district says if the
federal government doesn’t commit to giving California the
money, it won’t sign off on a multistate plan to preserve the
river’s two largest reservoirs amid a prolonged drought.
The Yolo Bypass is central, both geographically and in
importance, to California’s water supply and flood protection
system, according to Bontadelli. However, proposed
modifications to the Bypass to enhance habitat for
out-migrating endangered winter and spring-run young salmon
means the it will be key to the continued pumping of water
south for agriculture and urban users.
Mono County hasn’t won the war, but it did win the first battle
in its lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power’s decision to withdraw water allotments to its Long
Valley area grazing leases. Last Friday, the Alameda County
civil court indicated LADWP’s request to dismiss the suit was
The new administration has signaled a shift in water policy by
specifically talking about turning salty water potable after
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he would support only a single
tunnel as part of the project known as WaterFix. … But
talking up desalination is much easier than making it a
reality. In the four years since California updated its
desalination regulations, none of the eight applications for
new or expanded facilities has been approved. Meanwhile, the
costs for the projects keep rising and the state has few
details about its plans.
On their to-do list is determining how to spread costs from
wildfires in “an equitable manner” and considering whether the
state should create a special find to cover wildfire costs.
They face a tricky task with an array of competing interests,
chief among them how to balance wildfire costs between
utilities, their shareholders and their customers.
For the next 75 days, Cindy Berglund will be traveling around
Southern California in her motor home, lugging rain barrels
with her. Last weekend, her company, Rain Barrels
International, joined with the city’s Office of Sustainability
to offer a free class on rainwater harvesting. More than 80
people signed up in advance for the class at Recreation Park
but the presentation ended up being to a standing room only
Hundreds of thousands of threatened red coho and hook-jawed
Chinook salmon used to swim here, nearly 200 miles from where
the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean. … But by the
2000s, their numbers had dwindled to just a few dozen adults
each year. Since size largely determines whether juvenile fish
survive, conservation organizations have been interested in
this particular property, which includes the entire 2.2-mile
length of the Big Springs Creek and 7.5-miles of the Shasta
River, for decades.
The most eco-friendly wastewater treatment plant in the
Northern San Joaquin Valley will be Manteca’s by the time 2020
rolls around. Not only is the treated water returned to the San
Joaquin River meeting the latest standards established by the
state for water quality, but within six months or so methane
gas — a major byproduct of the treatment process that typically
has to be burned — will no longer contribute to valley air
The wildfire that swept through Northern California this past
November was one of the deadliest and most destructive in the
state’s history. … While it may take a long time for these
communities to rebuild after these natural disasters, what is
often missed is how the forest will rebuild itself. It turns
out forests are struggling to come back, and climate change
might have something to do with it.
The Pismo Beach City Council wants to build a $28 million
facility that will purify Pismo Beach and South San Luis Obispo
County Sanitation District wastewater and inject it into the
Santa Maria groundwater basin. If completed, it will prevent
salt water from seeping into one of South County’s water
sources and provide more water to South County residents.
All eyes have been on the Colorado River recently with
headlines across the west announcing the progress – or lack
thereof – of the efforts of the seven basin states to reach
agreement on the Drought Contingency Plan. So is the Colorado
River in crisis? At the 2019 California Irrigation Institute
conference, Dr. Brad Udall’s keynote presentation focused on
answering that question.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is researching how
cannabis cultivators who divert water from Mattole River
streams might be impacting the river’s fish and insect
populations… By fall 2019, the researchers will publish
findings on the full environmental effects of cannabis grows.
While the research is intended to “support efforts to
establish” sustainable cultivation levels, the study’s main
focus is analysis, said department representative Janice
A comprehensive bill addressing ocean concerns will call for
improving the quality of ocean water and wetlands, better
salmon habitats, and rules that would protect whales from being
hit by ships. … Other potential legislation ranges from
a move to end the practice of pumping treated sewage into the
ocean to a law that would eliminate most paper shopping
receipts to a smoking ban on all California state beaches.
Now stripped of its once vast wetlands and nearly sucked dry
from the overpumping of groundwater during the West’s
increasingly common droughts, the fertile valley is in need of
a reboot: Its aquifers have shrunk and the remaining water is
often contaminated with nitrate and salts. Citing a new water
law that will have major effects on water suppliers and
farmers, experts are calling for an “all hands on deck”
approach to fixing the valley’s water woes.
Overall, the total number of birds in the study area increased
during the drought period and the models project similarly high
numbers in response to warmer future climate conditions. …
However, many of the species that benefit from increased
temperature were also sensitive to high water deficit and tree
mortality. Thus, their positive response to increasing
temperatures could be offset by drought or habitat change.
If you stand on a fragile levee of the Sacramento River these
days and watch the chocolate brown water rushing toward the
delta only a few feet under your boots, one can’t help but
wonder why the state and federal governments aren’t capturing
more of this precious resource. Why is all but a tiny fraction
heading out to sea?
Since 2006, California has been releasing periodic reports on
how the state should adapt to the potential impacts of climate
change. The most recent report is unique in that it also looks
at key climate risks from a regional perspective. Our news
director Alice Daniel recently spoke with Joshua Viers, a
watershed scientist at UC Merced and one of the authors of the
San Joaquin Valley assessment.
This year, the water agency plans to inform farmers and the
community about not only the amount of water the Tuolumne River
Watershed has received so far this year, but also will provide
information regarding the final license application for Don
Pedro, which first began eight years ago, and the ongoing legal
battle surrounding the State Water Resources Control Board’s
decision to implement 40 percent unimpaired flows along the San
Joaquin River and its tributaries for the betterment of fish.
With stepped-up stormwater capture programs, the Pacific
Institute said in a 2014 study, Southern California and the Bay
Area could boost the state’s water supply by 420,000 acre-feet
annually. That’s enough water to meet the needs of
A dominate weather pattern featuring a southward dip in the jet
stream, or upper-level trough over the western U.S., has
allowed a series of precipitation-rich storm systems to track
through the region, especially over the last month.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s General Manager notified
the region’s water board on Wednesday that she is retiring.
Maureen Stapleton has held the top job at the agency for more
than two decades. She led the Water Authority through the
complicated settlement negotiations surrounding the Colorado
River. Stapleton also encouraged projects like the Carlsbad
Desalination plant as a way to diversify the region’s water
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s references to water in his first State of
the State address were brief and a bit patchy, but they were
enough to make fiercely competing factions each believe the new
governor had their backs. But water policy in California is
never that easy.
This is among the hottest of Napa County’s hot potatoes. That’s
because it strikes such nerves as possible, further constraints
on new vineyard development in local hills and a perceived need
in some quarters to do more to protect water quality in local
Arizona’s efforts to finish a Colorado River drought plan are
moving forward after leaders of the Gila River Indian
Community announced that they will proceed with their
piece of the deal. … The Gila River Indian Community’s
involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a
fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona
Project Canal, and it has offered to kick in some water to make
the drought agreement work.
Dated Feb. 20, 2019, and addressed to the Indian Wells Valley
Ground Water Authority Board of Directors, the letter states
that it is intended as a formal communication that “Commander
Navy Region Southwest (CNRSW), in consultation with U.S. Navy
commands located within the Indian Wells Valley, deems
groundwater resources as the number one encroachment
concern/issue which has the potential to impact missions
enabled on and around Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.”
Three property owners in Shasta County face thousands of
dollars in fines due to violations involving cannabis grows.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued
the fines over water quality violations at two properties one
in Ono, the other near Cottonwood Creek.
In another sign Southern California is having its wettest
winter in years, Mystic Lake has risen again in the rural,
agricultural valley between Moreno Valley and San Jacinto. The
ephemeral body of water was largely absent the past decade
Lake Oroville, currently at 773-foot elevation, could rise to
780-785 feet by the end of the month based on current
projections. DWR and crews with Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.,
the contractor for the spillways construction project, would
remove equipment from the main spillway if the lake elevation
reached 780 feet.
February storms have almost eliminated drought conditions from
California. The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that
just over 67 percent of the state is totally free of any level
of dryness. Just under 30 percent is classified as abnormally
dry, and less than 4 percent remains in either moderate or
At the March 29th Santa Ana River Watershed Conference in
Orange County, the PPIC’s Ellen Hanak will put the
top managers of the watershed’s five major water districts
on the hot seat to uncover the region’s latest innovations and
find out what the next generation of integrated water
management planning looks like.
The city currently has six groundwater pumping stations that
were used during the drought. But the stations have the ability
to pump water back into the aquifer as well. The Folsom Dam
currently has three gates open to release enough water so it
has room to capture flood water. Roseville Utility officials
say it’s just the right time to do a larger scale test of its
water injection strategy.
At a Town Hall Tuesday night, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael)
told the large crowd filling nearly every available seat in the
Ukiah Valley Conference Center about a possible future for the
Potter Valley Project that would remove the controversial dam,
but preserve the water supply the Ukiah Valley has depended on
for more than a century.
The Pismo Beach City Council wants to build a $28 million
facility that will purify Pismo Beach and South San Luis Obispo
County Sanitation District wastewater and inject it into the
Santa Maria groundwater basin. If completed, it will prevent
salt water from seeping into one of South County’s water
sources and provide more water to South County residents.
Noting the Klamath River’s history as the West Coast’s
third-largest salmon-producing river, the City Council’s letter
states that they believe a “free-flowing Klamath will
revitalize” both the commercial and recreational fisheries,
creating jobs and bringing revenue to the community.
In December, the city began delivering recycled water through
its purple pipeline to the Tulare Irrigation District (TID)
following approval by the Department of Drinking Water (DDW).
Under an agreement signed in 2013, the city is obligated to
deliver 11,000 acre feet of recycled water to TID per year in
exchange for 5,500 acre feet of surface water used to recharge
the city’s groundwater. Since 2016, the city has received
enough surface water from TID to off set one year of
groundwater pumping for the entire city.
One week after an atmospheric river storm pounded Northern
California, causing flooding, mudslides and traffic headaches,
another one appears to be forming in the Pacific and is set to
arrive early next week. Computer models show the storm
hitting Monday or Tuesday, with the North Bay and parts of
California farther north taking the brunt, although that could
change, experts say.
In 2014 Santa Monica embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. … The
switch has been accomplished through an extensive plan that
encompasses small measures like toilet replacements, household
rain harvest barrels and aggressive conservation to large
measures like cleaning up contaminated groundwater, capturing
street runoff and recycling water.
State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside and Assemblywoman Laura
Friedman, D-Glendale last week introduced SB 307, which seeks
to ensure “that any future water transfers from groundwater
basins underlying desert lands do not adversely affect the
California desert’s natural or cultural resources,” according
to a bill fact sheet.
Although ending groundwater overdraft will bring long-term
benefits, it entails near-term costs. We find that only about a
quarter of the Valley’s groundwater deficit can be filled with
new supplies at prices farmers can afford. The rest must come
from managing demand. We estimate that ending the overdraft
will require taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated
cropland out of production.
NRDC is sponsoring legislation this year by Senator Hertzberg
and Senator Wiener (SB 332, the Local Water Reliability Act)
designed to help sustain water reliability and protect the
environment. … The bill challenges water supply agencies
and wastewater treatment plant operators to undertake a joint
effort to plan and implement a conservation and discharge
reduction strategy that reduces wasteful and polluting
discharges to the ocean by 95% in 20 years.
The furrows in a 60-acre patch of dirt on Rodney and Tiffany
Shedd’s Arizona farm still hold cotton scraps from last year’s
crop. This year, that patch will stay barren for the first time
in recent memory, thanks to the decline in Colorado River water
for farms across Pinal County, one of America’s cotton-growing
At our current rate of climate change, many cities in western
Oregon could come to feel a lot like the Central Valley of
California over the next 60 years. A new
analysis looking at climate projections for urban areas
across the United States and Canada predict substantial changes
in local temperatures and precipitation rates for
A single tunnel would perform almost as well as two tunnels,
particularly when operated in tandem with the existing pumps in
the south Delta. It would cost substantially less. And it would
give assurances to environmental groups and Delta residents
that the project would not create the large impacts many fear.
Environmental groups should take this opportunity to sign on to
a new approach for managing the Delta.
As we all know, Los Angeles and the surrounding areas have had
lots and lots and lots of rain this winter. So much rain, in
fact, that this week, Southern California Edison announced
they’re lifting mandatory conservation requirements for
residents and businesses on Catalina Island. … Water
rationing on Catalina Island began in 2014, when residents were
asked to adopt mandatory conservation efforts.
In Paradise, California, thousands of residents are trying to
cope with disruption and displacement resulting from November’s
devastating Camp Fire. Children attend school in a repurposed
hardware store, where counselors try to help them manage their
trauma. Meanwhile, amidst millions of tons of toxic debris,
finding safe and stable housing is a challenge. Special
correspondent Cat Wise reports.
If the Trump administration wanted to increase California’s
water supply by the most cost-effective means possible, it
would immediately drop its attempt to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5
feet. It would instead put $1.5 billion — the cost of the
proposed Shasta enlargement, in 2019 dollars — toward a
completely different approach to water supply: watershed and
Southern California has been emerging from its most recent
drought cycle thanks to one of the wettest winters the
long-parched southern half of the Golden State has experienced
in years — 18 trillion gallons of rain have fallen in February
alone. … But don’t expect these storms to come to the
rescue when — not if — more intense droughts return to the
San Diego’s water department is going through the second
major shakeup in less than a year. At least five senior
officials are out, including one who once tried to waive off an
audit of the city’s troubled “smart” meter program. In January
2018, the department’s assistant director, Lee Ann
Jones-Santos, said auditing the city’s effort to replace
280,000 water meters might make that $70 million program look
The odds are looking increasingly poor that Arizona and other
Western states will meet a March 4 federal deadline for
wrapping up Colorado River drought plans. That’s not just
because of the ongoing conflict over a now-shelved water rights
bill for Eastern Arizona that prompted a threat from the Gila
River Indian Community to bolt this state’s drought plan. It’s
also not just because of a Southern California irrigation
district’s efforts to secure $200 million in U.S. funds to
shore up the dying Salton Sea.
It’s shaping up as a wetter-than-usual winter in California,
putting to rest fears of another drought hitting anytime soon.
Depending on where you live, though, you will still likely face
some limitations on how much you can water your lawn this
When people need more water, they often build dams to increase
supply. But can dams increase water use in an unsustainable
way, leading communities to live beyond their water means? That
appears to often be the case, according to the authors of a
recent paper in Nature Sustainability. Las Vegas is a textbook
House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Tuesday withdrew his bill that
would repeal state laws on when farmers forfeit their water
rights — legislation that the Gila River Indian Community said
would cause it to withdraw from the multi-state drought
contingency plan. But Bowers’ move did not get the tribe to
sign the papers agreeing to provide Arizona with the 500,000
acre-feet of water it needs to make the drought plan a reality.
We find that the occurrence of both extreme wet and extreme dry
events in California—and of rapid transitions between the
two—will likely increase with atmospheric greenhouse gas
concentrations. The rising risk of historically unprecedented
precipitation extremes will seriously test California’s
existing water storage, distribution, and flood protection
Under the fee structure, there are two types of water use:
agricultural and “all others.” Ag users will be assessed a
$4.79/acre fee and other users will be assessed $2.26 per
service connection. (Ag accounts for more than 90 percent of
the pumping from the basin.) The new fees are part of
California’s effort to regulate groundwater, which has
historically been treated as a “pump as you please” resource,
not subject to the same restrictions as surface water, like the
Carmel River that largely supplies the Monterey Peninsula.
A letter from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein could have helped
lead to Felicia Marcus’s ouster as State Water Resources
Control Board chair last week. Surprised? Don’t be: The
moderate Democratic senator has a long alliance with Central
When operating, Sites Reservoir will provide significantly more
water during drier periods, to become a new drought-management
tool to address California’s water management challenges into
the 21st century and beyond. Innovative and environmentally
sound, Sites Reservoir will provide water to enhance the
environment when it can provide greater benefits and provide a
resilient and reliable supply of water for our communities,
farms and businesses.
Rising temperatures can lower flow by increasing the amount of
water lost to evaporation from soil and surface water, boosting
the amount of water used by plants, lengthening the growing
season, and shrinking snowpacks that contribute to flow via
meltwater. … The researchers found that rising
temperatures are responsible for 53% of the long-term decline
in the river’s flow, with changing precipitation patterns and
other factors accounting for the rest.
Drought has long been a part of California’s history.
There is archeologic evidence that shows periods of
below-normal rainfall have lasted for more than 50 years in the
past. A Cal Poly professor is looking back at those
so-called mega-droughts to see what we might be able to learn
about the area’s climate in the future.
Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said
… the agency intends to work constructively with the
Newsom administration on developing a WaterFix project “that
addresses the needs of cities, farms and the
environment.” But Kightlinger expressed frustration that
the project will be delayed even more.
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
When growth skyrocketed in Phoenix and the East Valley
during the 1990s and 2000s, housing developments started
replacing decades-old farms. Now, it’s the west side’s turn. In
2000, Maricopa County had 510 square miles of agricultural land
and 180 square miles of residential land west of Interstate 17.
By 2017, farmland had dropped to 350 square miles while
agricultural residential land grew to cover 280 square miles,
according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
The City of Ventura and its water customers have relied on the
Ventura River as a primary source of drinking water for more
than a century. Today, however, the region’s water supply is
changing as the Ventura River watershed faces new, complex
challenges. To protect our local water resources and safeguard
the watershed for the future, we must change our approach to
managing it now.
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
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey steered away from the term “climate
change” in order to garner political support for the
state’s Colorado River drought plan, he indicated Friday in an
interview with a Pima Community College newspaper. In that
interview, he also avoided making any connection between
climate change and the “drier future” (his preferred phrase)
that Arizona faces. His omission bordered on a denial of the
established links between the two.
A federal environmental analysis recommends relicensing the Don
Pedro hydroelectric project and accepts a Modesto and Turlock
irrigation district plan for well-timed flows to boost salmon
in the Tuolumne River. The flows, combined with other measures
to assist spawning and outmigrating young salmon, would commit
less water to the environment than a State Water Resources
Control Board plan that’s unpopular in the Northern San Joaquin
A landslide that dumped about 6 million cubic yards of rock and
debris across California Highway 1 near near Big Sur,
California, in May 2017 was the result of drought followed by
deluge, a team of scientists say. … The
researchers determined that water replaces air in the tiny
spaces between soil particles, which greatly increased the
pressure on those particles, speeding up the rate of collapse.
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.
As Californians, I believe we must look west to the Pacific
Ocean, where seawater desalination offers a proven, climate
change-resilient solution. No longer do we need verification
from Israel, the Middle East and Australia, where desalination
facilities have literally helped save lives and fend off
debilitating droughts due of climate change. Now, we can look
much closer to home — in San Diego.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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