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 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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
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
A federal appellate court decision issued on January 25, 2019
will affect the relicensing of hydroelectric dams on the
Klamath River and efforts to accomplish dam removal under an
existing settlement agreement.
Go deep into one of California’s most pressing issues –
groundwater – by visiting an extensometer that
measures subsidence, an active aquifer storage and recovery
well, a recycling facility that recharges water into the ground
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.
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 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.
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 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
Arizona’s water leaders and lawmakers are running out of time
to complete the state’s Drought Contingency Plan, a
blueprint for how Arizona water users would share a likely
shortage on the Colorado River. … There are a lot of
moving parts to understand and a lot of concepts that may seem
overwhelming. Here are the things you need to know in advance
of the Jan. 31 deadline to finish the plan.
Zone 7 Water Agency directors have voted to renew their
participation in two water storage projects so that the water
wholesaler can continue to plan for more alternative water
sources during droughts. The board voted unanimously to
participate in phase 2 of the Sites Reservoir project, a JPA
formed in 2010 to create a reservoir 75 miles northwest of
Sacramento. … Also, by a unanimous vote, directors
committed up to $355,000 for a second phase of participation in
the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in southeastern Contra
Arizona lawmakers and the governor are under the gun to come up
with a Drought Contingency Plan to deal with possible Colorado
River water shortages. Get an update from Kathleen Ferris of
the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s
Morrison Institute for Public Policy. This Arizona Horizon
segment is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a
multimedia collaboration between public radio and public
television stations in Arizona, California and Colorado.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District made a grave
miscalculation in suing the State Water Board over
the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. By alienating the
remnants of the environmental community who have supported them
in recent years, they are jeopardizing future projects and
funding measures that will require voter approval.
Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump
blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s,
the world’s largest berry company. In late 2018, I traveled to
the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a
Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening
view into how this family-owned company has become an
agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and
why they are so committed to water conservation.
The restoration site is one of three south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last
miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small
amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to
an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been
claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through
an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites,
another source is increasingly important for restoring these
patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed flow
requirements for rivers that feed the Delta based on a
percentage of ‘unimpaired flows… If approved, this
‘unimpaired flows’ approach would have significant impacts on
farms, communities throughout California and the environment.
We join many other water agencies in our belief that
alternative measures …
Technology already exists to treat reused water to levels
meeting or exceeding health standards. But adequate technical
capacity is not sufficient. Water reuse can trigger revulsion,
especially when water is reused for drinking or other potable
purposes. This note explores outreach and engagement strategies
to overcome the “yuck factor” and achieve public support for
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Up against a federal deadline to approve a Colorado River
drought plan — a “generational change” in Arizona water
management — four key legislators say they’re optimistic
they’ll meet it. Led by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa
Republican, they see the Legislature as ready — finally — to
officially endorse the plan. That’s even though competing water
interest groups still have highly visible disagreements about
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.
Southern California’s native scrublands are famously tough. …
They evolved along with long, hot summers, at least six
rainless months a year and intense wildfires. But not this much
fire, this often. The combination of too-frequent wildfires and
drought amplified by climate change poses a growing threat to
wildlands that deliver drinking water to millions.
Last week, the relicensing effort reached a milestone when FERC
issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement. The
environmental document essentially looks at what changes a
licensee has proposed for a specific project, the impacts of
those changes and provides conditions they must meet if awarded
a new license.
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday that — intriguingly — fell along gender
lines, the Phoenix City Council approved an increase in water
rates, starting next month. “I thank the women to have the
leadership and courage to do the right thing. 5-3,”
Interim Mayor Thelda Williams said. … Wednesday’s
vote overturned the council’s previous rejection of
the proposed increase, on December 12, that was also 5-3.
Every winter, forest managers in places like California take a
step back, analyze their budgets and plan on how to deal with
the next fire season. But the government shutdown has shuttered
a lot of those efforts, because federal lands like the U.S.
Forest Service— which has been furloughed since December 22 —
plays a huge role. For example, crews in Redwood National Park
are “just sitting on their hands,” according to University of
California fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt
County, because they can’t work on federal land during the
With a federal deadline to sign a Colorado River drought deal
three weeks away, Arizona water managers are still
grappling with several unresolved issues that could get in the
way of finishing an agreement. The outstanding issues,
some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’
concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up
funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to
pump more groundwater.
Registration is now open for the Santa Ana River Watershed
Conference set for March 29 in Fullerton. The daylong
event will be held at Cal State Fullerton. Join us to discuss
the importance of the Santa Ana River Watershed and how,
through powerful partnerships, resilient solutions can be found
to improve the quality and reliability of
the region’s water supply.
The city of San Francisco is not standing down in California’s
latest water war, joining a lawsuit against the state on
Thursday to stop it from directing more of the Sierra Nevada’s
cool, crisp flows to fish instead of people.
Trump’s latest tweet drew a sharp reaction from state
Republican legislators representing the area around the town of
Paradise, which was mostly incinerated in a wildfire that
killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes. State
Senator Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher said
Trump’s threat to withhold FEMA funds ”is wholly
unacceptable. He made a commitment to the people who have
lost everything in these fires, and we expect the federal
government to follow through with his promise.”
The U.S. Interior Department is facing three lawsuits filed by
three environmental groups who allege its plans for the
200,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex
along the Oregon-California border violates several federal
laws. A fourth complaint from six farms and agricultural
groups alleges the agency has unlawfully exceeded its authority
by restricting leases of refuge land for agricultural purposes.
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought
Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete
proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal
with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado
River. Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal
government is squeezing these negotiators.
Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public
Policy Institute of California, spoke recently about
managing freshwater systems with ecosystem water budgets. “I
will argue that drought, because of the way we have modified
this system, is the major bottleneck ecologically,” he said.
“Step 1 has to be thinking about drought: how to mitigate
drought and how to deal with drought – that is plan for,
respond to, and recover from drought. We don’t do that at
all, even though we just had this big drought.”
A lawsuit seeking a new environmental report for the
controversial Poseidon desalination plant proposed for
Huntington Beach was rejected by a Sacramento Superior Court
judge on Tuesday. Judge Richard Sueyoshi found the
supplemental report met legal requirements while noting the
2010 study had never been legally challenged.
The Groundwater Resources Association, in collaboration with the
California Department of Water Resources and the Center for
Western Weather and Water Extremes, is hosting a unique
event bringing together experts in weather, weather forecasting,
reservoir operations and Flood-MAR to discuss how to use
these tools to more effectively manage California’s water
The Water Education Foundation is a cooperating organization.
The Dana on Mission Bay
1710 W. Mission Bay Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
As his term as governor drew to a close, Jerry Brown brokered a
historic agreement among farms and cities to surrender billions
of gallons of water to help ailing fish. He also made two big
water deals with the Trump administration. It added up to
a dizzying display of deal-making. Yet as Gavin Newsom takes
over as governor, the state of water in California seems as
unsettled as ever.
Cloud seeding has existed for decades, and has significant
traction in other western states such as California, Idaho
and Wyoming. Colorado has only recently joined the cloud
seeding game as the state’s snowpack has declined and the
Colorado River runs dry.
Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to
exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River
water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution
is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s simple: Arizona
and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado
River than Mother Nature puts back,” the governor told his
audience. “And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick
the can any further.”
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is seeking to auction off its
Potter Valley Project hydropower plant, which contains two
reservoirs and dams, to a new operator. PG&E cited
increasing operation costs, a competitive energy market and
lower energy generation needs as reasons for its
decision. Questions remain as to what extent Marin County
water supplies will be affected by a potential change in
ownership and operation of the 110-year-old hydropower
plant more than 100 miles to the north.
In December, Frank Gehrke retired as chief snow surveyor for
the California Department of Water Resources. He spent much of
his 31 years with the department on skis and snowshoes, in
remote corners of the Sierra Nevada, measuring the “frozen
reservoir” that ultimately provides about a third of
California’s water supply.
The paper, published in the Journal of Environmental
Management, suggests that eliminating outdoor landscaping and
lawns could reduce water waste by 30 percent.
It recommends importing water only when Los Angeles is not
in a drought, to build a surplus of water for dry years. The
paper also argues that groundwater basins that catch stormwater
could be used to recycle water. However, making these
improvements would require the cooperation of more than 100
Forecasters are not being paid. Weather models are not being
maintained, launched or improved. The main impact has been on
the current Global Forecast System, the premier weather model
in the U.S., which is running poorly, and there’s no one on
duty to fix it.
At Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s
Planning & Stewardship Committee, officials said that with no
Drought Contingency Plan in place (Arizona being the hold out),
they are beginning to draw down their storage in Lake
Mead. “If there is no Drought Contingency Plan, we don’t
want to leave potentially half a million acre-feet or more
locked up in Lake Mead if we go into shortage,”
said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
Jon Rosenfield: Last month the State Water Resources Control
Board finally required increased flows from three San Joaquin
River tributaries, as the first step in a process to update
water quality standards for the San Francisco Bay
estuary. The board opted for weaker environmental
protections in order to reduce impacts to agribusiness and San
Francisco, ignoring the potential for changed agricultural
practices and investment in sustainable water use to ease or
eliminate the impact of reduced water diversions.
Southern Nevadans will see few noticeable consequences from a
soon-to-be-finalized drought contingency plan for states
that get most of their water supply from the Colorado River,
according to a Southern Nevada water resources expert.
A team of researchers concludes that the ongoing drought across
the western U.S. rivals most past “megadroughts” dating as far
back as 800 A.D. — and that the region is currently in a
megadrought. Using tree ring data as a proxy for drought
conditions, the researchers say the current drought ranks
fourth worst among comparable 19-year periods of megadroughts
of the past 1,200 years.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
California’s top snow surveyors, in the Sierra Nevada on
Thursday with measuring poles and electronic sensor data,
concluded that the state’s frozen water supply is just
adequate, at best. The water content of the snowpack is 67
percent of the long-term average for this time of year,
according to the first official measurements of 2019
taken by the California Department of Water Resources.
Each year, several thousand weather forecasters, researchers
and climate scientists from all over the world gather for the
American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting to exchange
ideas to improve weather prediction and understanding of
climate change. This year, due to the partial federal
government shutdown, hundreds of scientists will not attend the
conference set to begin this weekend in Phoenix.
New California Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously said he
favors a scaled-down Delta tunnel project. Whether he
reappoints state water board chair Felicia Marcus will signal
whether he wants the board to stand firm or back down on the
flow requirements. His picks for top posts in the Natural
Resources Agency will determine whether his administration goes
along with a potential weakening of delta protections by the
Trump administration — or fights it.
Due to rising average temperatures, snowpacks in the Great
Basin appear to be transitioning from seasonal, with a
predictable amount and melt rate, to “ephemeral,” or
short-lived, which are less predictable and only last up to 60
days. “We might not get as much water into the ground, throwing
off the timing of water for plant root systems, reducing our
supply and use, and even affecting businesses such as tourism,”
says lead researcher Rose Petersky.
In the latter half of 2018, both the federal and state
governments released new climate change assessments that
outline the projected course of climate change and its
potential effects on water resources. At the December meeting
of the California Water Commission, staff from the Department
of Water Resources and the Delta Stewardship Council were on
hand to present an overview of the newly released assessments.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive,
but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming
border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry
up. Now seeking water rights from the Green
River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he
has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty,
Colorado River water managers were supposed to finish drought
contingency plans by the end of the year. As it looks now,
they’ll miss that deadline. If the states fail to do their job,
the federal government could step in. Luke Runyon, a
reporter with KUNC who covers on the Colorado River Basin
recaps what’s been happening and why it’s so important.
Hemp production legalized under the 2018 farm bill could go
beyond offering a new crop option for farmers facing drought in
Western states—it also could save them water. Arizona,
California, and New Mexico are among the states allowing hemp
production in 2019 after the federal government removed the
marijuana relative from its list of controlled substances.
Supporters say the change comes at the right time as the region
grapples with how agriculture fits into a drier future.
The tenth annual performance report evaluates what the
state water boards do and how the environment is responding to
its actions. The report presents numerous performance
measures for specific outputs and outcomes.
The report issued by California’s State Water Resources Control
Board marks a key step in a decade-long effort to remove four
hydroelectric dams and restore the health of the Klamath River.
The dam-removal project is part of a broader effort by
California, Oregon, federal agencies, Klamath Basin tribes,
water users and conservation organizations to revitalize the
basin, advance recovery of fisheries, uphold trust
responsibilities to the tribes, and sustain the region’s
farming and ranching heritage.
At the Groundwater Resources Association’s Western Groundwater
Congress, a panel of experts discussed emerging issues as
agencies work to develop their plans to comply with the
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which became law in
California in 2014.
Prompted by the collapse of fish populations, the State Water
Resources Control Board is trying to prevent humans from
totally drying up these rivers each year. The regulators’
lodestar for how much water the rivers need is the amount of
water a Chinook salmon needs to migrate.
Montgomery is known for fostering collaborative relationships
among stakeholders and as a leader in protecting and restoring
water quality within California and throughout the Southwest
and the Pacific Islands. He is currently serving as the
Assistant Director of the Water Division in the US
Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).
There’s every reason to expect that 2019 will be far better,
largely because of Measure W, which was passed by voters in
November. The initiative imposes a Los Angeles County parcel
tax that will generate $300 million per year to reduce
pollution from runoff and capture storm water to add to the
At the end of the last century, the Sierra Nevada captured an
average of 8.76 million acre-feet of water critical to the
nation’s largest food-producing region. By mid-century, a new
study projects, the average will fall to 4 million acre-feet;
and by century’s end, 1.81 million acre-feet.
When it comes to California’s water supply, 2018 will end with
a whimper. California’s two largest reservoirs are not even
half full. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which functions as an
additional set of reservoirs, is below normal for this time of
year. And there’s not a major storm in sight.
As stakeholders labor to nail down
effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado
River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is
increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times
The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving,
when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate
Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly
compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred
throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the
As stakeholders labor to nail down effective and durable
drought contingency plans for the Colorado River Basin, they
face a stark reality: Scientific research is increasingly
pointing to even drier, more challenging times ahead. That
reality could pose daunting challenges for Colorado River water
managers and others who are already confronting the likelihood
of near-term shortages, and looking ahead to longer-term
concerns about the river’s sustainability. By Gary Pitzer in
As persistent drought and the warming climate are making
wildfire a more frequent and severe threat, the vast extent of
vulnerable communities shows the need for action by state and
local governments, and the communities themselves, to reduce
Water managers from seven Southwestern states that depend on
the Colorado River are close but haven’t finalized an
unprecedented drought contingency plan they may have to enact
in 2020. The federal government’s top water official, Brenda
Burman, is expected to urge action Thursday at a Colorado River
Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas where a pact
was supposed to be signed.
Experts with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and the National
Weather Service on Thursday said the epicenter of the nation’s
drought has been center for months now over the region where
Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet.
More wet and windy weather is expected to hit Northern
California this week, helping fill the state’s half-empty
reservoirs and lift rainfall totals closer to average for the
young but dry winter season.
Bigger, more dangerous wildfires. Coastlines threatened by
rising sea levels. Less water. More heat-related illnesses.
These are some of the ways climate change is rapidly changing
California and the West, with conditions only expected to
worsen, according to a landmark federal report, the first of
its kind under the Trump administration.
The Latest on drought contingency plans being considered by
states that rely on the Colorado River … Las Vegas-area water
managers have become the first to advance a multi-state drought
contingency plan that officials hope will ease the effects of
Colorado River water shortages.
In the universe of California water, Tim Quinn is a professor emeritus. Quinn has seen — and been a key player in — a lot of major California water issues since he began his water career 40 years ago as a young economist with the Rand Corporation, then later as deputy general manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and finally as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. In December, the 66-year-old will retire from ACWA.
The California Supreme Court will weigh in on whether
environmental review is required for each new water well
project. The issue of groundwater extraction heightened during
California’s prolonged drought.
President Trump took to Twitter to blame bad forest management.
Gov. Jerry Brown pointed to climate change. Their arguments
about the cause of disastrous wildfires roaring across the
state have turned a California catastrophe into the latest
political cudgel in the ongoing slugfest between Washington and
This is a wet place by California standards. It averages about
55 inches of rain a year, thanks to its prime location in the
verdant foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which wrings rain out
of Pacific storms. But when the Camp fire sparked last
Thursday, Paradise was parched. … Across California, the lack
of autumn rain is having dire consequences.
This tour ventured through California’s Central
Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an
imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering
about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state,
the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40
percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout
Just because El Niño may be lurking
off in the tropical Pacific, does that really offer much of a
clue about what kind of rainy season California can expect in
Water Year 2019?
Will a river of storms pound the state, swelling streams and
packing the mountains with deep layers of heavy snow much like
the exceptionally wet 2017 Water Year (Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30,
2017)? Or will this winter sputter along like last winter,
leaving California with a second dry year and the possibility of
another potential drought? What can reliably be said about the
prospects for Water Year 2019?
At Water Year
2019: Feast or Famine?, a one-day event on Dec. 5 in Irvine,
water managers and anyone else interested in this topic will
learn about what is and isn’t known about forecasting
California’s winter precipitation weeks to months ahead, the
skill of present forecasts and ongoing research to develop
With a deadline approaching for Arizona to finish a deal that
would divvy up cutbacks in Colorado River water deliveries, the
state’s cities, tribes and agricultural irrigation districts
are entering what should be the final stretch of negotiations.
President Trump claimed Tuesday that California mismanages its
water resources, dismissing the possibility of drought and
accusing the state of sending water out to sea that could be
used to help farmers in the Central Valley. Trump also
threatened to withhold federal disaster dollars from
California, which he incorrectly claimed is impeding
firefighters’ access to water during wildfires.
The likelihood this winter of an El Niño — the weather pattern
marked by warm Pacific Ocean waters that can affect
California’s rainfall — is increasing. But so far,
this El Niño looks more like a lamb than a lion. The
probability of El Niño conditions being present by
December is now 70 to 75 percent, up from 50 percent five
months ago, according to a new report Thursday from the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other
states that take water from the lower Colorado River are
nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal
shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway. Under the
proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would
reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the
lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking
Seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed
Colorado River have reached landmark agreements on how to
manage the waterway amid an unprecedented drought, including a
commitment by California to bear part of the burden before it
is legally required to do so, officials said Tuesday. The
agreements are tentative and must be approved by multiple
states and agencies as well as the U.S. government.
One of the report’s contributors said predicted temperature
increases will be greater in the semi-arid climate of the
American West. Diana Liverman, a professor of geography and
development at the University of Arizona, said this would lead
to even more intense heat waves, droughts, fires and downpours
than California is already experiencing.
“Dry, hot and on fire” is how the
California Department of Water Resources described Water Year
2018 in a recent report.
Water Year 2018 – from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018 -
marked a return to dry conditions statewide following an
exceptionally wet 2017, according to DWR’s Water
Year 2018 report. But 2017 was exceptional as all but two of
the water years in the past decade experienced drought.
Was Water Year 2018 simply a single dry year or does it
signal the beginning of another drought? And what can
reliably be said about the prospects for Water Year 2019? Does El
Niño really mean anything for California or is it all washed up
as a predictor?
Attendees found out at this one-day event Dec. 5 in
Irvine, Water Year 2019: Feast or
Auditorium - Huntington Room
100 Academy Way
Irvine, California 92617
Snowmelt is shrinking and runoff is coming earlier on the Upper
Colorado River, the source of 90 percent of water for 40
million people in the West. This is leading to vegetation
changes, water quality issues and other concerns. But it may be
possible to operate reservoirs differently to ease some of
these effects. In September’s episode of Deeply Talks, we spoke
with two experts about the consequences and opportunities of
these changes on the river.
People in California and the
Southwest are getting stingier with water, a story that’s told by
For years, water use has generally been described in terms of
acre-foot per a certain number of households, keying off the
image of an acre-foot as a football field a foot deep in water.
The long-time rule of thumb: One acre-foot of water would supply
the indoor and outdoor needs of two typical urban households for
After a short respite from drought conditions thanks to a
historically wet 2017 in the San Joaquin Valley, the conclusion
of the 2018 water year shows that California may not be out of
the woods just yet when it comes to lacking water.
Whether fire or earthquake, mudslide or drought, natural
disaster is an inextricable part of the California experience.
And just as it upended Francis’s life, disaster threatens to
snarl the next governor’s plans. Emergency response is rarely
discussed as a campaign issue, but once in office, a governor’s
on-the-ground handling of unexpected catastrophe and its
immediate aftermath can define his legacy, for good or bad.
The Colorado River Basin is more
than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could
force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously”
underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of
California water industry people.
During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s
Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is
opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their
destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees
that agreement can be reached.
As California begins handing out $2.5 billion in state funds
for several new water management projects, a shift is taking
place in the ways officials are considering storing water. To
contend with the likelihood of future extreme droughts, some of
these new strategies rely on underground aquifers — an approach
far removed from traditional dam-based water storage.
[Mayor Jackie] Biskupski says Salt Lake feels the effects of
climate change with low snowpack, drought conditions and
wildfire smoke. She plans to join other mayors to sign the
“Deadline 2020” pledge to reduce global emissions.
Heat waves will grow more severe and persistent, shortening the
lives of thousands of Californians. Wildfires will burn more of
the state’s forests. The ocean will rise higher and faster,
exposing California to billions in damage along the
coast. These are some of the threats California will face
from climate change in coming decades, according to a new
statewide assessment released Monday by the California Natural
As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames. The
years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the
hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and
weather data found.
Two top officials of the Trump administration, winding up a
tour of fire-ravaged Redding, insisted Monday that removing
dead trees and thinning forests, not addressing climate change,
are the keys to dealing with California wildfires.
Amy Haas recently became the first non-engineer and the first woman to serve as executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission in its 70-year history, putting her smack in the center of a host of daunting challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Yet those challenges will be quite familiar to Haas, an attorney who for the past year has served as deputy director and general counsel of the commission. (She replaced longtime Executive Director Don Ostler). She has a long history of working within interstate Colorado River governance, including representing New Mexico as its Upper Colorado River commissioner and playing a central role in the negotiation of the recently signed U.S.-Mexico agreement known as Minute 323.
Much of the heat that’s gripped California and hastened the
spread of deadly wildfires recently is due to a strange but
familiar shift in the jet stream — one that’s haunted the West
with threatening fire conditions in the past and could cause
more hot, dry spells in the future, especially with a changing
As fire crews struggled to gain containment on more than a
dozen wildfires raging across California on Wednesday, Gov.
Jerry Brown told reporters that large, destructive fires would
probably continue and cost the state billions of dollars over
the next decade.
As flames from the Ferguson Fire burn closer to some of the
world’s oldest and largest trees, firefighters are racing to
protect ancient sequoias on Yosemite National Park’s western
edge. About 25 Yosemite firefighters have surrounded Merced
Grove — whose immense trees tower more than 200 feet tall and
date back 1,000 years — with fire hoses.
If the Ferguson Fire currently burning in Mariposa County
spreads to Yosemite National Park, a tiny bug resembling a
mouse dropping would share some of the blame. An epidemic of
bark beetles is devastating billions of pine trees across the
West in what has been described as the largest forest insect
outbreak ever recorded.
On either side of the Merced River, hillsides are filled with
trees that have been killed by five years of drought and a bark
beetle infestation, according to state maps. The ground is
carpeted with bone-dry pine needles, which are highly
Eighty percent of Colorado is experiencing some form of drought
or dryness. … It’s also prompting a closer look by historians
into how communities have survived and triumphed over water
scarcity — instead of the old Western yarn that “water is for
fighting.” … Historians at the University of Colorado
Boulder’s Center of the American West want to know
why some communities rally around water resources, and others
An erratic wildfire charging through extremely dry land in the
heart of Colorado ski country destroyed three homes and forced
people to flee, authorities said Thursday. … Fires
exploded in Northern California, Utah and other areas, where a
prolonged and severe drought has desiccated forests.
Sixteen days into summer, with wildfires raging over the
bone-dry landscape and more scorching hot days ahead, it might
feel as if California is on the verge of another drought. The
official word from weather authorities shows much of the state
trending in that direction.
Nowhere is the domino effect in
Western water policy played out more than on the Colorado River,
and specifically when it involves the Lower Basin states of
California, Nevada and Arizona. We are seeing that play out now
as the three states strive to forge a Drought Contingency Plan.
Yet that plan can’t be finalized until Arizona finds a unifying
voice between its major water players, an effort you can read
more about in the latest in-depth article of Western Water.
Even then, there are some issues to resolve just within
It’s high-stakes time in Arizona. The state that depends on the
Colorado River to help supply its cities and farms — and is
first in line to absorb a shortage — is seeking a unified plan
for water supply management to join its Lower Basin neighbors,
California and Nevada, in a coordinated plan to preserve water
levels in Lake Mead before
they run too low.
If the lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet above sea level,
the secretary of the Interior would declare a shortage and
Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water would be reduced by
320,000 acre-feet. Arizona says that’s enough to serve about 1
million households in one year.
The frantic phone calls to the Community Water Center began in
the summer of 2014. In the 7,000-strong unincorporated
community of East Porterville, nestled against California’s
Sierra Nevada mountains, homeowners’ wells were failing amid a
The U.S. record $18 billion wildfire season of 2017 was
triggered by the coincidence of three primary factors that came
into play or persisted longer than anticipated, according to a
new study led by a researcher at the University of
Colorado. Those “switches,” according to study leader
Jennifer Balch, were ignition, aridity and fuel.
The Colorado River has for years been locked in a pattern
of chronic overuse, with much more water doled out to cities
and farmlands than what’s flowing into its reservoirs. The
river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been
drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest
19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.
Climatologists and other experts on Wednesday provided an
update on the situation in the Four Corners region — where
Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. They say the area
is among the hardest hit and there’s little relief expected,
and even robust summer rains might not be enough to replenish
the soil and ease the fire danger.
Rivers are drying up, popular mountain recreation spots are
closing and water restrictions are in full swing as a
persistent drought intensifies its grip on pockets of the
American Southwest. … With the region’s water resources
strained, a top federal official has resumed pressure on states
in the Southwest to wrap up long-delayed emergency plans for
potential shortages on the Colorado River, which serves 40
million people in the U.S. and Mexico.
After two heavy winters following five years of drought, grass
and brush are thick in the Tahoe Basin, putting local
firefighting agencies on high alert for the fire season ahead.
“We will see more intense fire because there is more fuel.
That’s the message we’re getting from our fire behavior
analysts and fuel specialists,” said Brice Bennett, spokesman
for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s
Amador/El Dorado Unit.
A new study from NASA reinforces the idea that droughts are
getting worse and could become more frequent in the Western
U.S. The culprit is human-caused climate change. Droughts
aren’t just about precipitation, said NASA scientist and the
study’s co-author Benjamin Cook.
The last time water was this scarce in the Klamath Basin, a
rugged agricultural area straddling the California-Oregon
border, farmers clashed with U.S. marshals and opened locked
canal gates with blowtorches so they could irrigate. … Now
the stage is set for another round of conflict on the Klamath
River, the result of a dry winter and a court ruling by a
federal judge in San Francisco.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the [Colorado]
river, released projections showing a 52 percent chance the
river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada,
will fall low enough in 2020 to trigger cutbacks under
agreements governing the system. … The shortage
projection prompted Bureau of Reclamation Chief Brenda Burman
to prod the seven river states to finish long-delayed
contingency plans for worsening conditions.
There may not have been a “March Miracle” when it came to the
snowpack in the state, but there was sure one when it came to
water conservation. The State Water Resources Control reported
that in March urban Californians used 24.8 percent less water
than in March 2013, the benchmark year considered to be before
Usually open from at least May to September, this year’s
California commercial salmon season is very
limited because the current batch of adult salmon were
born during the drought in 2015, which made their Sacramento
River spawning grounds too warm and killed off many juvenile
Anticipating years of drought, officials built the Yuma
Desalting Plant in 1992 to treat agricultural runoff and
conserve water in Lake Mead. Over the past 26 years, however,
the plant has operated just three times while costing millions
of dollars to maintain.
Arizona’s largest water provider tried Tuesday to defuse a
multi-state dispute over the Colorado River, saying it
regretted the belligerent-sounding words it used to describe
its management strategy for the critical, over-used waterway.
… It also pledged to cooperate on drawing up a
multi-state plan for possible shortages in the river, which
appear more and more likely because of the drought and climate
Now that the water level in Lake Mead has dropped — some 140
feet since the current drought began — St. Thomas is back on
dry land, a ghost town that is gaining popularity among hikers
and history buffs. … The story of St. Thomas is a cautionary
tale of the scarcity of water in the Southwest and the vagaries
of state boundaries during America’s westward expansion.