Topic: Legislation — California and Federal

Overview

Legislation — California and Federal

Today Californians face increased risks from flooding, water shortages, unhealthy water quality, ecosystem decline and infrastructure degradation. Many federal and state legislative acts address ways to improve water resource management, ecosystem restoration, as well as water rights settlements and strategies to oversee groundwater and surface water.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

California climate programs would lose billions in Newsom’s budget

Democratic lawmakers and environmental advocates are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to support a bond measure to help pay for billions of dollars in climate programs endangered by the state’s record deficit and deepening budget cuts. … Climate and public health advocates say cutting or delaying spending on programs that reduce greenhouse gases or help California adapt to climate change will exacerbate natural disasters and weather emergencies and allow air pollution to continue for years to come. California’s climate spending includes programs to enhance coastal resilience as sea levels rise, prepare for wildfires, ensure water security and develop solar and wind energy projects.

Related climate change/water scarcity articles: 

Aquafornia news Reuters

Mexico front-runner Sheinbaum aims to reform water-heavy agriculture sector

Claudia Sheinbaum, front-runner in Mexico’s presidential race, aims to overhaul water governance in the agriculture sector, the top user of the country’s scarce supply, with a potential investment of 20 billion pesos ($1.2 billion) per year. Julio Berdegue, a member of Sheinbaum’s campaign team focused on water and the agricultural sector, told Reuters the candidate’s six-year plan will review existing water concessions, crack down on illegal use, update irrigation technology and revamp national water entity CONAGUA. He cautioned the plan, details of which have not previously been reported, was still in development and could change. Sheinbaum has said she plans to reform the National Water Law and develop a strategy to confront pervasive issues in Mexico, which is suffering from crippling drought, widespread water shortages, and heat waves in recent days so severe that howler monkeys are dropping dead from trees.

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Water bill aims to bolster protections for electric utilities, others

Lawmakers aim to amp up protections for water used by Colorado’s largest electric utilities with a broadly supported bill based on recommendations from water experts around the state. Senate Bill 197 would help electric utilities hold onto water rights that could otherwise be declared “abandoned” as the state transitions to clean energy. It would also enhance protections for environmental and agricultural water, and ease access to funding for tribes. The bill grew out of water policy recommendations developed by the Colorado River Drought Task Force in 2023. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, is the legislature’s main effort this year to address those recommendations — and to help Colorado address its uncertain water future. Polis has until June 7 to sign the bill, allow it to become law without his endorsement or veto it.

Aquafornia news KJZZ - Tempe, AZ

Water is for fighting: Partisanship increases in Arizona politics as groundwater drops

In Arizona, water used to be a bipartisan area of politics, albeit a contentious one. But partisanship and tension have increased as water has drained away. Kathleen Ferris is a water policy expert of more than 40 years who helped craft Arizona’s monumental 1980 Groundwater Management Act. “Everybody keeps saying that water is bipartisan, and in fact it’s not. It’s not anymore, let’s put it that way. It used to be. You could say that back in 1980, when we passed the Groundwater Management Act, but you can’t say that anymore,” she said. Ferris believes Arizona’s prospects have darkened over the years, largely due to rural communities resisting conservation efforts. “Willcox, for example, did not want any part of the Groundwater Management Act. And yet here they are today, desperate for help,” Ferris said. 

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Northern Colorado wins $250M for new dams, water projects

Fast-growing Northern Colorado won approval for two major water loans from the state this month that will help finance a new dam outside Loveland and a major regional water project northwest of Fort Collins. Vetted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and approved by a bipartisan group of lawmakers May 1, the $155 million for Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the $100 million for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, are among the largest financing packages the state has approved in recent years, according to the board. … The projects are not without controversy, however. Federal permitting for both began 20 years ago, according to Stahla, and each has been delayed numerous times after environmentalists sued over concerns about the impact on the drought-strapped Colorado River, the supply that will eventually fill Chimney Hollow, and the equally stressed Cache la Poudre River, whose flows will be used by NISP.

Related infrastructure articles: 

Aquafornia news E&E News

Reclamation sounds off on Western water bills

The Bureau of Reclamation supports “the intent” of four bills moving through the House Natural Resources Committee to shore up operations of major Western waterways, including the Colorado and Klamath river basins. The Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee on Wednesday met to discuss the four bills targeting hydropower and aging water infrastructure. All four bills received a rosy reception from David Palumbo, Reclamation’s deputy commissioner of operations. Palumbo said Reclamation supports Rep. Susie Lee’s (D-Nev.) H.R. 7776, the “Help Hoover Dam Act,” which would provide an additional $45 million in operating funds for the Hoover Dam.

Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Water agencies, feds agree to new drought resilience program

Major Central Valley water agencies have signed an agreement with the federal government to establish a new drought resiliency framework.  The partnership is funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. The big picture: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Friant Water Authority, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority all signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to establish a South of Delta Drought Resiliency Framework. The MOU establishes an approach to implement drought resiliency projects and framework, which includes a drought plan that allows the agencies to conserve and store or exchange a portion of their water deliveries for use in future years with lower supplies.

Related Central Valley water infrastructure articles:  

Aquafornia news Grand Junction Sentinel

Government coalition opposes Dolores monument

A coalition of Northwest Colorado governments has come out in opposition to designating the Dolores Canyon region as a national monument. The board of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado this week approved a resolution urging “President Biden, federal agencies and legislative bodies to consider the adverse impacts such designation would have on local governance, economy, access, and national security.” The board’s action came the same week Mesa County commissioners passed a resolution opposing the monument designation. … [The AGNC] worries about potential impacts to things such as farming/ranching and recreational access, and to potential mining of uranium and lithium in the region that “represents a critical matter of national security, particularly considering the current state of global affairs.”

Related land use and conservation article: 

Aquafornia news Valley Ag Voice

Revised state budget cuts $500 million for water storage, Sites Reservoir slowly inching forward

Governor Gavin Newsom’s May Revision of the state budget plan released on May 10, aims to address a “sizable deficit” of roughly $56 billion into 2026. The multi-billion-dollar deficit is in stark contrast to the $97.5 billion budget surplus that Newsom projected in the 2022-23 state budget. Several budget cuts, amounting to over $30 billion were announced, including a $500 million cut to water storage projects. These discretionary spending cuts delay certain funding sources for water-storage projects such as the planned Sites Reservoir north of Sacramento. While funding awarded under Proposition 1 — a voter-approved 2014 ballot initiative to support various water projects — will not be affected by the budget crisis, the California Farm Bureau explained in a press release that $500 million in discretionary funding to support the project would be cut.

Related state budget article: 

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

The biggest water measures passed by Colorado lawmakers this year

Colorado lawmakers gave the thumbs-up to 10 water measures this year that will bring millions of dollars in new funding to help protect streams, bring oversight to construction activities in wetlands and rivers, make commercial rainwater harvesting easier and support efforts to restore the clarity of Grand Lake. Money for water conservation, planning and projects was a big winner, with some $50 million approved, including $20 million to purchase the Shoshone water rights on the Colorado River. Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Frisco, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, expressed gratitude for the legislature’s focus on water issues and for funding the Shoshone purchase.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Desert Sun

Colorado River: Bill would allow killing of rare species to get deal done

Imperial Irrigation District officials have figured out how to surmount a key hurdle to complete a Colorado River conservation deal worth nearly $800 million: pushing to have California legislators quickly pass a bill that would immediately give them the power to kill endangered fish and birds. District staff, the bill’s sponsor and environmentalists say that likely wouldn’t occur, thanks to funding to create habitat elsewhere, and due to backstop federal species protections that are actually stronger than the state’s. But it is a counter-intuitive piece of lawmaking that has upset one longtime critic. What’s driving the legislation are a tiny desert pupfish and two types of birds, all nearing extinction, which have found unlikely refuge in the Imperial Valley’s concrete drainage channels and marshy areas by the fast-drying Salton Sea.

Related Salton Sea and endangered species articles: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Newsom touts billions in climate spending through California’s cap-and-trade program

Over the past decade, a signature California program that charges polluters for their planet-heating emissions has generated billions of dollars for state initiatives, and Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that these revenues are effectively helping to reduce pollution and combat climate change. … The program has also supported projects intended to reduce wildfire risk by thinning vegetation and restoring degraded forests. … Another issue that has generated criticism is the fact that about 65% of the annual cap-and-trade revenues must be dedicated each year to several programs, with 25% going to high-speed rail and the remainder split between affordable housing, transit and rail, low-carbon transit operations, and safe drinking water.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news Fresno Bee

Opinion: A water bond could protect Californians in drought years

Last year, California experienced weather whiplash. After years of severe drought, 2023 saw heavy rainfall and snowpack that flooded the state, recharged groundwater and filled our reservoirs. While desperately needed, we cannot pretend that the good times are here to stay. Increasingly dry years are in our future, and it will not be long until we find ourselves facing drought conditions once again. The time to prepare our water infrastructure for the future is now. Currently, lawmakers in Sacramento are working to close a $37.9 billion deficit. While we have made progress at the state level in recent years — including allocating $8.6 billion in state funding for water projects — pulling back on water infrastructure funding now could jeopardize further federal and local funding sources for key projects already underway.
-Written by Senator Anna M. Caballero and Ric Ortega, general manager of the Grassland Water District.  

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Agencies race to fix plans to sustain groundwater levels

Seeking to prevent the California State Water Resources Control Board from stepping in to regulate groundwater in critically overdrafted subbasins, local agencies are working to correct deficiencies in their plans to protect groundwater. With groundwater sustainability agencies formed and groundwater sustainability plans evaluated, the state water board has moved to implement the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA. … Under probation, groundwater extractors in the Tulare Lake subbasin face annual fees of $300 per well and $20 per acre-foot pumped, plus a late reporting fee of 25%. SGMA also requires well owners to file annual groundwater extraction reports.

Aquafornia news Fresh Water News

Colorado voters may be asked to send more sports betting money to water projects

Colorado voters may be asked to let more money flow to water projects by allowing the state to keep all of the sports betting tax revenue it collects, if a measure referring the issue to the November ballot is approved by lawmakers. House Bill 1436 … collects a 10% tax on the proceeds of licensed sports betting. Some of the money is used to cover the cost of regulating betting and the rest, up to $29 million total, is funneled toward water projects. In the event tax collections exceed $29 million, the legislature decides how to refund the money under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Aquafornia news E&E News

Biden admin vows to restore 8M acres of wetlands

The Biden administration announced a goal Tuesday to protect and restore 8 million acres of wetlands over the next six years in an effort to counter development pressures and recently weakened federal regulations. The bold new target seeks to reverse the ongoing loss of U.S. wetlands, which help keep pollutants out of rivers and streams and act as a natural buffer against flooding. Over 60 percent of wetlands now lack protections under the Clean Water Act for the first time in decades after the Supreme Court curtailed the law’s scope last year. In addition to wetlands, the administration committed to “reconnect, restore and protect” 100,000 miles of rivers and streams nationwide by 2030, including by removing impediments such as dams and by restoring stream banks experiencing erosion.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Editorial: Let Californians vote on green constitutional amendment

California may be a leader in the fight against climate change, but the state is years, even decades, behind other states when it comes to granting environmental rights to its citizens. While a handful of other state constitutions, including those of New York and Pennsylvania, declare the people’s rights to clean air, water and a healthy environment, California’s does not. That could change as soon as November. Under a proposal moving through the Legislature, voters would decide whether to add one sentence to the state constitution’s Declaration of Rights: “The people shall have a right to clean air and water and a healthy environment.”

Aquafornia news Mercury News

Opinion: Sites Reservoir project is huge boondoggle with harmful effects

When Californians voted for Proposition 1 in 2014, they had every reason to expect sound investments in climate-resilient water projects. And all but one of the projects selected to receive the proposition’s $2.7 billion in water supply funding fulfill those criteria.They replenish groundwater basins and enhance the storage capacity of existing reservoirs to better withstand droughts — benefits that are realized by all people across the state. Unfortunately, the one project that does not measure up — the Sites Reservoir Project — would be publicly funded to the tune of nearly $900 million. 
-Written by Max Gomberg, a former California State Water Resources Control Board climate adviser and a senior policy consultant and board member of the California Water Impact Network.

Aquafornia news Washington Examiner

Arizona Democrats stray from abortion message and focus on water in rural areas

Arizona Democrats are looking to capture voters mindful of one resource that is sparse in the desert state: water. As political battles over abortion and the southern border hit close to home for some Arizonans, record-setting high-temperature summers and droughts worry many. Democrats look to rein in rural voters who have turned on the party by framing water as a “life or death” matter going into the 2024 elections. … In tandem, Mayes and Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ) have cracked down on controversial farms that had unlimited access to the state’s limited groundwater supply. Last year, the pair ended a contract with a Saudi Arabian company, Fondomonte, that grew alfalfa in Arizona and then shipped the hay back to the Middle East. Under the contract from former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, the company was given unlimited access to groundwater in Arizona.

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Breaking down new rules about ‘forever chemicals’

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, can be found in those items and hundreds of other household products. the chemicals have made their way into our showers, sinks and drinking glasses — a 2023 study detected PFAS in nearly half of the nation’s tap water. … For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is regulating PFAS. This month, the E.P.A. announced that it would require municipal water systems to remove six forever chemicals from tap water. Lisa Friedman, a reporter on the Climate desk at The New York Times, wrote about the new rules.

Related articles: 

Aquafornia news KCRW - Los Angeles

Listen: Clean air and water could become a fundamental right in CA

CA Assemblymember Isaac Bryan’s Green Amendment would ensure Californians have the right to clean air and water. Would it bring real changes?

Aquafornia news SkyHi News

Opinion: Restoring protections to wetlands, waterways is vital to the livelihood of Grand County

In one of the biggest rollbacks of the Clean Water Act since its inception five decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court last year abolished protections for tens of thousands of acres of wetlands in Colorado. And unless the state legislature passes a measure to create a permitting plan and restore the protections that existed before the Supreme Court’s decision, Grand County’s waterways are at risk. In every area of the state, Colorado’s wetlands lacking a permanent surface flow – along with intermittent streams that run seasonally and ephemeral streams that only flow in response to rain or snow – are in jeopardy. In essence, the ruling means wetlands that were previously protected can now be filled, paved over and destroyed with impunity.
-Written by Kirk Klanke, Colorado Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: California wants to harness more than half its land to combat climate change by 2045. Here’s how

California has unveiled an ambitious plan to help combat the worsening climate crisis with one of its invaluable assets: its land. Over the next 20 years, the state will work to transform more than half of its 100 million acres into multi-benefit landscapes that can absorb more carbon than they release, officials announced Monday. … The plan also calls for 11.9 million acres of forestland to be managed for biodiversity protection, carbon storage and water supply protection by 2045, and 2.7 million acres of shrublands and chaparral to be managed for carbon storage, resilience and habitat connectivity, among other efforts.

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Aquafornia news Grand Junction Sentinel

Bill would protect Yampa Valley coal plants’ water from abandonment

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would let two energy companies with coal-fired power plants in northwest Colorado hang on to their water rights even after the plants’ planned closures in 2028. Senate Bill 197 says that industrial water rights held by Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. will be protected from abandonment through 2050. Under Colorado law, a water right that is not being used could end up on an abandonment list, which is compiled every 10 years. Abandonment is the official term for one of Colorado’s best-known water adages: Use it or lose it. It means that the right to use the water is essentially canceled and ceases to exist. The water goes back into the stream where another water user can claim it.

Aquafornia news Pasadena Now

Local senator’s bill mandating microplastic study in drinking water advances in California Senate committee

State Sen. Anthony J. Portantino, who represents Pasadena, has authored a bill mandating the study of microplastics’ health impacts in drinking water. The Senate Environmental Quality Committee approved the bill this week. By filing SB 1147, Portantino seeks to emphasize the need for further research and action in addressing the pervasive presence of microplastics in various environmental elements. … The bill’s provisions include a requirement for all water-bottling plants producing bottled water for sale to provide an annual report to the State Department of Public Health’s Food and Drug branch on microplastic levels found in their source water. This data, as mandated by the bill, aims to enhance transparency and consumer awareness regarding the presence of microplastics in bottled water, a product consumed widely across California.

Aquafornia news The Guardian

Friday Top of the Scroll: US lawmakers Elizabeth Warren and Ro Khanna seek to ban trade in water rights

With private investors poised to profit from water scarcity in the west, US senator Elizabeth Warren and representative Ro Khanna are pursuing a bill to prohibit the trading of water as a commodity. The lawmakers will introduce the bill on Thursday afternoon, the Guardian has learned. “Water is not a commodity for the rich and powerful to profit off of,” said Warren, the progressive Democrat from Massachusetts. … Water-futures trading allows investors – including hedge funds, farmers and municipalities – to trade water and water rights as a commodity, similar to oil or gold. The practice is currently limited to California, where the world’s first water futures market was launched. So far, the market hasn’t taken off, dampened by the reality that the physical trade of water in the state has been limited. After a couple of wet years in California, the price of water futures has also plummeted.

Related article:

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Arkansas Valley water district opposes Aurora farm water purchase

A major southern Colorado water district voted unanimously last week to oppose an $80.4 million agricultural water purchase by Aurora in the Arkansas Valley, saying the deal violates a 2003 agreement that prohibits the fast-growing city from taking more water out of the valley. Aurora would lease the water back to Arkansas Valley farmers in most years, using it periodically in dry periods. During a special meeting April 9, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District said it had numerous concerns with the purchase, which is set to close this month. Southeastern manages the federally owned Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which includes the Pueblo Reservoir.

Aquafornia news Arizona Daily Star

Opinion: Delivering water to the West

… The federal government’s current approach to this imbalance is the equivalent of trying to cure cancer with a Band-Aid. Instead of pursuing a long-term solution, Washington is using federal funds to pay states and tribal nations to leave water in the river instead of taking their full allocation. Mostly, that means paying farmers to stop farming. That is not a viable long-term solution, and strategically, we need to be encouraging MORE local farming and food production, not less. It does make sense to assist local farmers in switching to crops that require less water, but it does not make sense to put American farmers out of business and make us more reliant on food trucked or shipped thousands of miles before it arrives on our tables.
-Written by Arizona Republican Kari Lake, who is running for the U.S. Senate.​

Aquafornia news The Washington Post

Missouri could crack down on water exports to drought-weary West

Missouri lawmakers say water has almost always been plentiful in their state, giving no reason to think twice about a concept known as riparian rights — the idea that, if you own the land, you have broad freedoms to use its water. But that could change under a bill advancing quickly in a state legislature that is normally sharply divided. The measure would largely forbid the export of water across state lines without a permit, even though there is no evidence that is happening on any large scale. … lawmakers are wary of the West, and the chance that thirsty communities facing dwindling water supplies will look east for lakes and rivers to tap. 

Aquafornia news KPBS - Public Media

‘Forever chemicals’: Water supplies throughout California will exceed new national limits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [last week] unveiled the first nationwide limits on dangerous “forever chemicals” in drinking water, setting standards that will have sweeping, costly effects throughout California. … In California alone, traces of the compounds have been detected in water systems serving more than 25 million people, nearly a third in disadvantaged communities, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Congresswoman Norma Torres' Office

News release: Congresswoman Torres and Congressman Valadao introduce bipartisan “Removing Nitrate and Arsenic in Drinking Water Act”

Today, Congresswoman Norma Torres and Congressman David Valadao – members of the House Appropriations Committee – announced the introduction of the bipartisan Removing Nitrate and Arsenic in Drinking Water Act. This bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to provide grants for nitrate and arsenic reduction, by providing $15 million for FY25 and every fiscal year thereafter. The bill also directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take into consideration the needs of economically disadvantaged populations impacted by drinking water contamination. The California State Water Resources Control Board found the Inland Empire to have the highest levels of contamination of nitrate throughout the state including 82 sources in San Bernardino, 67 sources in Riverside County, and 123 sources in Los Angeles County.

Aquafornia news The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah looks to other states for more water under new bill

A much-anticipated water bill brought by one of the most powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill became public Thursday. Senate President Stuart Adams’s SB 211, titled “Generational Water Infrastructure Amendments,” seeks to secure a water supply for decades to come. It forms a new council comprised of leadership from the state’s biggest water districts that will figure out Utah’s water needs for the next 50 to 75 years. It also creates a new governor-appointed “Utah Water Agent” with a $1 million annual budget that will “coordinate with the council to ensure Utah’s generational water needs are met,” according to a news release. But combing through the text of the bill reveals the water agent’s main job will be finding an out-of-state water supply. … The bill also notes the water agent won’t meddle with existing water compacts with other states on the Bear and Colorado rivers.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Office of Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria

News release: Assemblywoman Soria introduces bill to boost groundwater recharge

Last week, Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria introduced AB 2060 to help divert local floodwater into regional groundwater basins. AB 2060 seeks to streamline the permitting process to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in support of Flood-MAR activities when a stream or river has reached flood-monitor or flood stage as determined by the California Nevada River Forecast Center or the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). This expedited approval process would be temporary during storm events with qualifying flows under the SWRCB permit.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Western Water

California to uncloak water rights as it moves records online

… In California, just figuring out who holds a water right requires a trip to a downtown Sacramento storage room crammed with millions of paper and microfilmed records dating to the mid-1800s. Even the state’s water rights enforcers struggle to determine who is using what. … Come next year, however, the board expects to have all records electronically accessible to the public. Officials recently started scanning records tied to an estimated 45,000 water rights into an online database. They’re also designing a system that will give real-time data on how much water is being diverted from rivers and streams across the state. … Proponents say the information technology upgrade will help the state and water users better manage droughts, establish robust water trading markets and ensure water for fish and the environment.

Related article: 

JD Supra: Water regulation in the Western states: California’s 2023 legislative proposal highlights

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Commentary: Can California reject a ’scarcity mindset’ on water?

… Without more investment and regulatory relief, Californians face a future of chronic water scarcity. Our system of water storage and distribution is in trouble. We have depleted aquifers, nearly empty reservoirs on the Colorado River, and a precarious network of century-old levees that are one big earthquake away from catastrophic failure. Then there’s always the next severe drought. Even if the governor aggressively pushes for more investment in water supply infrastructure and more regulatory relief so projects can go forward, the state is again staring down a budget deficit. Bonds to fund water infrastructure projects are going to have a hard time getting approval from voters already overburdened with among the highest taxes in America.
- Written by Edward Ring, senior fellow with the California Policy Center.

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Summit tackles water challenges facing California

Below-average precipitation and snowpack during 2020-22 and depleted surface and groundwater supplies pushed California into a drought emergency that brought curtailment orders and calls for modernizing water rights. At the Water Education Foundation annual water summit last week in Sacramento, Eric Oppenheimer, chief deputy director of the California State Water Resources Control Board, discussed what he described as the state’s “antiquated” water rights system. He spoke before some 150 water managers, government officials, farmers, environmentalists and others as part of the event where interests come together to collaborate on some of the state’s most challenging water issues.

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Tour Nick Gray

San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2022
Field Trip - November 2-3

This tour traveled along the San Joaquin River to learn firsthand about one of the nation’s largest and most expensive river restoration projects.

The San Joaquin River was the focus of one of the most contentious legal battles in California water history, ending in a 2006 settlement between the federal government, Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environmental groups.

Hampton Inn & Suites Fresno
327 E Fir Ave
Fresno, CA 93720

New EPA Regional Administrator Tackles Water Needs with a Wealth of Experience and $1 Billion in Federal Funding
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Martha Guzman says surge of federal dollars offers 'greatest opportunity' to address longstanding water needs, including for tribes & disadvantaged communities in EPA Region 9

EPA Region 9 Administrator Martha Guzman.Martha Guzman recalls those awful days working on water and other issues as a deputy legislative secretary for then-Gov. Jerry Brown. California was mired in a recession and the state’s finances were deep in the red. Parks were cut, schools were cut, programs were cut to try to balance a troubled state budget in what she remembers as “that terrible time.”

She now finds herself in a strikingly different position: As administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9, she has a mandate to address water challenges across California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii and $1 billion to help pay for it. It is the kind of funding, she said, that is usually spread out over a decade. Guzman called it the “absolutely greatest opportunity.”

Western Water By Gary Pitzer

Explainer: The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act: The Law, The Judge And The Enforcer

The Resource

A groundwater pump in the San Joaquin Valley. Groundwater provides about 40 percent of the water in California for urban, rural and agricultural needs in typical years, and as much as 60 percent in dry years when surface water supplies are low. But in many areas of the state, groundwater is being extracted faster than it can be replenished through natural or artificial means.

Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

With Sustainability Plans Filed, Groundwater Agencies Now Must Figure Out How To Pay For Them
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: California's Prop. 218 taxpayer law and local politics could complicate efforts to finance groundwater improvement projects

A groundwater monitoring well in Colusa County, north of Sacramento. The bill is coming due, literally, to protect and restore groundwater in California.

Local agencies in the most depleted groundwater basins in California spent months putting together plans to show how they will achieve balance in about 20 years.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Understanding Streamflow Is Vital to Water Management in California, But Gaps In Data Exist
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: A new law aims to reactivate dormant stream gauges to aid in flood protection, water forecasting

Stream gauges gather important metrics such as  depth, flow (described as cubic feet per second) and temperature.  This gauge near downtown Sacramento measures water depth.California is chock full of rivers and creeks, yet the state’s network of stream gauges has significant gaps that limit real-time tracking of how much water is flowing downstream, information that is vital for flood protection, forecasting water supplies and knowing what the future might bring.

That network of stream gauges got a big boost Sept. 30 with the signing of SB 19. Authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the law requires the state to develop a stream gauge deployment plan, focusing on reactivating existing gauges that have been offline for lack of funding and other reasons. Nearly half of California’s stream gauges are dormant.

Western Water Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map Gary Pitzer

Bruce Babbitt Urges Creation of Bay-Delta Compact as Way to End ‘Culture of Conflict’ in California’s Key Water Hub
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Former Interior secretary says Colorado River Compact is a model for achieving peace and addressing environmental and water needs in the Delta

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt gives the Anne J. Schneider Lecture April 3 at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum.  Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor and secretary of the Interior, has been a thoughtful, provocative and sometimes forceful voice in some of the most high-profile water conflicts over the last 40 years, including groundwater management in Arizona and the reduction of California’s take of the Colorado River. In 2016, former California Gov. Jerry Brown named Babbitt as a special adviser to work on matters relating to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Delta tunnels plan.

Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

As Deadline Looms for California’s Badly Overdrafted Groundwater Basins, Kern County Seeks a Balance to Keep Farms Thriving
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Sustainability plans required by the state’s groundwater law could cap Kern County pumping, alter what's grown and how land is used

Water sprinklers irrigate a field in the southern region of the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County.Groundwater helped make Kern County the king of California agricultural production, with a $7 billion annual array of crops that help feed the nation. That success has come at a price, however. Decades of unchecked groundwater pumping in the county and elsewhere across the state have left some aquifers severely depleted. Now, the county’s water managers have less than a year left to devise a plan that manages and protects groundwater for the long term, yet ensures that Kern County’s economy can continue to thrive, even with less water.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

California Officials Draft a $600M Plan To Help Low-Income Households Absorb Rising Water Bills
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: State Water Board report proposes new taxes on personal and business income or fees on bottled water and booze to fund rate relief program

Filling a glass with clean water from the kitchen tap.Low-income Californians can get help with their phone bills, their natural gas bills and their electric bills. But there’s only limited help available when it comes to water bills.

That could change if the recommendations of a new report are implemented into law. Drafted by the State Water Resources Control Board, the report outlines the possible components of a program to assist low-income households facing rising water bills.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman

What Would You Do About Water If You Were California’s Next Governor?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Survey at Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit elicits a long and wide-ranging potential to-do list

There’s going to be a new governor in California next year – and a host of challenges both old and new involving the state’s most vital natural resource, water.

So what should be the next governor’s water priorities?

That was one of the questions put to more than 150 participants during a wrap-up session at the end of the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

Novel Effort to Aid Groundwater on California’s Central Coast Could Help Other Depleted Basins
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Michael Kiparsky, director of UC Berkeley's Wheeler Water Institute, explains Pajaro Valley groundwater recharge pilot project

Michael KiparskySpurred by drought and a major policy shift, groundwater management has assumed an unprecedented mantle of importance in California. Local agencies in the hardest-hit areas of groundwater depletion are drawing plans to halt overdraft and bring stressed aquifers to the road of recovery.

Along the way, an army of experts has been enlisted to help characterize the extent of the problem and how the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 is implemented in a manner that reflects its original intent.

Western Water California Water Bundle Gary Pitzer

Statewide Water Bond Measures Could Have Californians Doing a Double-Take in 2018
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Two bond measures, worth $13B, would aid flood preparation, subsidence, Salton Sea and other water needs

San Joaquin Valley bridge rippled by subsidence  California voters may experience a sense of déjà vu this year when they are asked twice in the same year to consider water bonds — one in June, the other headed to the November ballot.

Both tackle a variety of water issues, from helping disadvantaged communities get clean drinking water to making flood management improvements. But they avoid more controversial proposals, such as new surface storage, and they propose to do some very different things to appeal to different constituencies.

Tour

San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2018

Participants of this tour snaked along the San Joaquin River to learn firsthand about one of the nation’s largest and most expensive river restoration projects.

Fishery worker capturing a fish in the San Joaquin River.

The San Joaquin River was the focus of one of the most contentious legal battles in California water history, ending in a 2006 settlement between the federal government, Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environmental groups.

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)

A man watches as a groundwater pump pours water onto a field in Northern California.A new era of groundwater management began in 2014 with the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which aims for local and regional agencies to develop and implement sustainable groundwater management plans with the state as the backstop.

SGMA defines “sustainable groundwater management” as the “management and use of groundwater in a manner that can be maintained during the planning and implementation horizon without causing undesirable results.”

Publication

The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
A Handbook to Understanding and Implementing the Law

This handbook provides crucial background information on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, signed into law in 2014 by Gov. Jerry Brown. The handbook also includes a section on options for new governance.

Water Conservation

Drought-tolerant landscaping reduces the amount of water used on traditional lawns

Water conservation has become a way of life throughout the West with a growing recognition that water supply is not unlimited.

Drought is the most common motivator of increased water conservation. However, the gradual drying of the West due to climate change means the amount of fresh water available for drinking, irrigation, industry and other uses must be used as efficiently as possible.

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Salton Sea

As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its elevation of 237 feet below sea level.

The most recent version of the Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through a series of dikes and flooded the seabed for two years, creating California’s largest inland body of water. The Salton Sea, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, includes 130 miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe

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Safe Drinking Water Act

Safe Drinking Water Act

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act sets standards for drinking water quality in the United States.

Launched in 1974 and administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Safe Drinking Water Act oversees states, communities, and water suppliers who implement the drinking water standards at the local level.

The act’s regulations apply to every public water system in the United States but do not include private wells serving less than 25 people.

According to the EPA, there are more than 160,000 public water systems in the United States.

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California Environmental Quality Act

The California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA, is foundational to the state’s environmental protection efforts. The law requires proposed developments with the potential for “significant” impacts on the physical environment to undergo an environmental review. 

Since its passage in 1970, CEQA (based on the National Environmental Policy Act) has served as a model for similar legislation in other states.

Western Water Magazine

Changing the Status Quo: The 2009 Water Package
January/February 2010

This printed issue of Western Water looks at some of the pieces of the 2009 water legislation, including the Delta Stewardship Council, the new requirements for groundwater monitoring and the proposed water bond.

Western Water Magazine

Overdrawn at the Bank: Managing California’s Groundwater
January/February 2014

This printed issue of Western Water looks at California groundwater and whether its sustainability can be assured by local, regional and state management. For more background information on groundwater please refer to the Founda­tion’s Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater.

Western Water Magazine

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Quality: A Cause for Concern?
September/October 2012

This printed issue of Western Water looks at hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in California. Much of the information in the article was presented at a conference hosted by the Groundwater Resources Association of California.

Western Water Magazine

Water Policy 2007: The View from Washington and Sacramento
March/April 2007

This issue of Western Water looks at the political landscape in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento as it relates to water issues in 2007. Several issues are under consideration, including the means to deal with impending climate change, the fate of the San Joaquin River, the prospects for new surface storage in California and the Delta.

Western Water Magazine

Are We Keeping Up With Water Infrastructure Needs?
January/February 2012

This printed issue of Western Water examines water infrastructure – its costs and the quest to augment traditional brick-and-mortar facilities with sleeker, “green” features.

Western Water Magazine

Dollars and Sense: How We Pay for Water
September/October 2009

This printed issue of Western Water examines the financing of water infrastructure, both at the local level and from the statewide perspective, and some of the factors that influence how people receive their water, the price they pay for it and how much they might have to pay in the future.

Western Water Magazine

Making the Connection: The Water/Energy Nexus
September/October 2010

This printed issue of Western Water looks at the energy requirements associated with water use and the means by which state and local agencies are working to increase their knowledge and improve the management of both resources.

Western Water Magazine

Mimicking the Natural Landscape: Low Impact Development and Stormwater Capture
September/October 2011

This printed issue of Western Water discusses low impact development and stormwater capture – two areas of emerging interest that are viewed as important components of California’s future water supply and management scenario.

Western Water Magazine

A Call to Action? The Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study
November/December 2012

This printed issue of Western Water examines the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study and what its finding might mean for the future of the lifeblood of the Southwest.

Western Water Magazine

Nitrate and the Struggle for Clean Drinking Water
March/April 2013

This printed issue of Western Water discusses the problems of nitrate-contaminated water in small disadvantaged communities and possible solutions.

Video

The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages (20 min. DVD)

20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues related to complex water management disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances Fisher.

Video

The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages (60 min. DVD)

For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and California border has faced complex water management disputes. As relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp, farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists – all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water. After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the documentary here.

Video

Shaping of the West: 100 Years of Reclamation

30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern day issues.

Maps & Posters

San Joaquin River Restoration Map
Published 2012

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, features a map of the San Joaquin River. The map text focuses on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, which aims to restore flows and populations of Chinook salmon to the river below Friant Dam to its confluence with the Merced River. The text discusses the history of the program, its goals and ongoing challenges with implementation. 

Maps & Posters

Carson River Basin Map
Published 2006

A companion to the Truckee River Basin Map poster, this 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, explores the Carson River, and its link to the Truckee River. The map includes Lahontan Dam and Reservoir, the Carson Sink, and the farming areas in the basin. Map text discusses the region’s hydrology and geography, the Newlands Project, land and water use within the basin and wetlands. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, Lahontan Basin Area Office.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law
Updated 2020

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of California water rights.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Water Recycling
Updated 2013

As the state’s population continues to grow and traditional water supplies grow tighter, there is increased interest in reusing treated wastewater for a variety of activities, including irrigation of crops, parks and golf courses, groundwater recharge and industrial uses.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing
Updated 2005

The 20-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing provides background information on water rights, types of transfers and critical policy issues surrounding this topic. First published in 1996, the 2005 version offers expanded information on groundwater banking and conjunctive use, Colorado River transfers and the role of private companies in California’s developing water market. 

Order in bulk (25 or more copies of the same guide) for a reduced fee. Contact the Foundation, 916-444-6240, for details.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project
Updated 2013

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project provides an overview of the California-funded and constructed State Water Project.

The State Water Project is best known for the 444-mile-long aqueduct that provides water from the Delta to San Joaquin Valley agriculture and southern California cities. The guide contains information about the project’s history and facilities.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Klamath River Basin
Published 2023

The Water Education Foundation’s second edition of the Layperson’s Guide to The Klamath River Basin is hot off the press and available for purchase.

Updated and redesigned, the easy-to-read overview covers the history of the region’s tribal, agricultural and environmental relationships with one of the West’s largest rivers — and a vast watershed that hosts one of the nation’s oldest and largest reclamation projects.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water Management
Published 2013

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication that provides background information on the principles of IRWM, its funding history and how it differs from the traditional water management approach.

Publication California Groundwater Map

Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater
Updated 2017

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication that provides background and perspective on groundwater. The guide explains what groundwater is – not an underground network of rivers and lakes! – and the history of its use in California.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Flood Management
Updated 2009

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to Flood Management explains the physical flood control system, including levees; discusses previous flood events (including the 1997 flooding); explores issues of floodplain management and development; provides an overview of flood forecasting; and outlines ongoing flood control projects. 

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project
Updated 2021

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project explores the history and development of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), California’s largest surface water delivery system. In addition to the project’s history, the guide describes the various CVP facilities, CVP operations, the benefits the CVP brought to the state and the CVP Improvement Act (CVPIA).

Publication Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map

Layperson’s Guide to the Delta
Updated 2020

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta, its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex issues with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural drainage, fish and wildlife, and water distribution.

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Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Litigation

For more than 30 years, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been embroiled in continuing controversy over the struggle to restore the faltering ecosystem while maintaining its role as the hub of the state’s water supply.

Lawsuits and counter lawsuits have been filed, while environmentalists and water users continue to clash over  the amount of water that can be safely exported from the region.

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National Environmental Policy Act

Passed in 1970, the federal National Environmental Policy Act requires lead public agencies to prepare and submit for public review environmental impact reports and statements on major federal projects under their purview with potentially significant environmental effects.

According to the Department of Energy, administrator of NEPA:

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Judge Wanger Rulings

Federal Judge Oliver Wanger overturned a federal scientific study that aimed to protect Delta smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

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Groundwater Legislation

California has considered, but not implemented, a comprehensive groundwater strategy many times over the last century.

One hundred years ago, the California Conservation Commission considered adding  groundwater regulation into the Water Commission Act of 1913.  After hearings were held, it was decided to leave groundwater rights out of the Water Code.

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Federal Reserved Rights

Federal reserved rights were created when the United States reserved land from the public domain for uses such as Indian reservations, military bases and national parks, forests and monuments.  [See also Pueblo Rights].

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Federal Endangered Species Act

Federal Endangered Species Act

The federal government passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, following earlier legislation. The first, the  Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, authorized land acquisition to conserve select species. The Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 then expanded on the 1966 act, and authorized “the compilation of a list of animals “threatened with worldwide extinction” and prohibits their importation without a permit.”

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California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

North Fork of the American River,  a section deemed wild and scenic. California’s Legislature passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1972, following the passage of the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by Congress in 1968. Under California law, “[c]ertain rivers which possess extraordinary scenic, recreational, fishery, or wildlife values shall be preserved in their free-flowing state, together with their immediate environments, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the state.”

Rivers are classified as:

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California Endangered Species Act

California was the first state in the nation to protect fish, flora and fauna with the enactment of the California Endangered Species Act in 1970. (Congress followed suit in 1973 by passing the federal Endangered Species Act. See also the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.)

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Area-of-Origin and California Water

The legal term “area-of-origin” dates back to 1931 in California.

At that time, concerns over water transfers prompted enactment of four “area-of-origin” statutes. With water transfers from Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley to supply water for San Francisco and from Owens Valley to Los Angeles fresh in mind, the statutes were intended to protect local areas against export of water.

In particular, counties in Northern California had concerns about the state tapping their water to develop California’s supply.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Changing the Status Quo: The 2009 Water Package
January/February 2010

It would be a vast understatement to say the package of water bills approved by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last November was anything but a significant achievement. During a time of fierce partisan battles and the state’s long-standing political gridlock with virtually all water policy, pundits at the beginning of 2009 would have given little chance to lawmakers being able to reach com­promise on water legislation.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Thirty Years of the Clean Water Act
Nov/Dec 2002

This year marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most significant environmental laws in American history, the Clean Water Act (CWA). The law that emerged from the consensus and compromise that characterizes the legislative process has had remarkable success, reversing years of neglect and outright abuse of the nation’s waters.

Western Water Excerpt Rita Schmidt Sudman

The Davis Administration and California Water
Mar/Apr 1999

In January, Mary Nichols joined the cabinet of the new Davis administration. With her appointment by Gov. Gray Davis as Secretary for Resources, Ms. Nichols, 53, took on the role of overseeing the state of California’s activities for the management, preservation and enhancement of its natural resources, including land, wildlife, water and minerals. As head of the Resources Agency, she directs the activities of 19 departments, conservancies, boards and commissions, serving as the governor’s representative on these boards and commissions.

Western Water Excerpt Rita Schmidt Sudman

CVP Improvement Act Update
May/Jun 1997

Two days before our annual Executive Briefing, I picked up my phone to hear “The White House calling… .” Vice President Al Gore had accepted the foundation’s invitation to speak at our March 13 briefing on California water issues. That was the start of a new experience for us. For in addition to conducting a briefing for about 250 people, we were now dealing with Secret Service agents, bomb sniffing dogs and government sharpshooters, speech writers, print and TV reporters, school children and public relations people.