The Durango Herald’s 2015 photograph was instantly recognized
as a scene of environmental disaster: three kayakers paddling
down the Animas River in southwest Colorado, the water below
them as orange and radiant as a Creamsicle. A containment pond
near Silverton, Colo., had been accidentally breached at the
Gold King Mine and 3 million gallons of metal-laden sludge were
released into the Animas, flowing downstream into the San Juan
AT&T’s Pac Bell subsidiary has settled a lawsuit
conservationists filed under a U.S. law more typically cited in
Superfund cases, agreeing to spend up to $1.5 million to remove
8 miles of toxic telephone cables that were abandoned on the
bottom of Lake Tahoe decades ago. A U.S. judge in Sacramento
recently signed the consent decree in the suit the California
Sportfishing Protection Alliance filed in January. The
abandoned cables — replaced with fiber optic ones in the 1980s
— contain more than 65 tons of toxic lead that is polluting the
lake, the lawsuit said.
Unless climate change is slowed significantly, more than three
feet of sea level rise (SLR) is expected in California by the
end of the century, potentially flooding communities that are
currently home to more than 145,000 residents. In addition to
the threat to residential neighborhoods, new research suggests
sea level rise will expose over 400 industrial facilities and
contaminated sites in California, including power plants,
refineries, and hazardous waste sites, to increased risk of
Sacramento County is once again embroiled in a hypocritical
trap of its own making. An environmental group is suing the
region’s largest government for allegedly dumping sewer waste
into local waterways — even as the county has blamed its
unsheltered population for rising E. coli levels along the
American River. -Written by Robin Epley, an opinion writer for
The Sacramento Bee, with a focus on Sacramento County
The U.S. and Mexican governments met today in Tijuana to
discuss transboundary water pollution challenges along the
shared border. … Recognizing the critical importance of
addressing water pollution for the benefit of citizens on both
sides of the border, the U.S. and Mexican delegations reviewed
the important progress made toward reducing pollution
levels. Mexico highlighted their $46 million dollars of
investment by local, state, and federal authorities completed
between 2019 to 2021 in water sanitation projects for the
Tijuana River …
Oil companies that blast water and chemicals into the earth to
extract fossil fuels are having trouble getting new permits for
their California operations even sooner than expected. Gov.
Gavin Newsom pledged the state would stop issuing new permits
for fracking by 2024, but California has already begun to ban
the controversial oil extraction method in practice by denying
permits in droves with little fanfare. … [Fracking has]
long been a controversial method because of what climate
activists see as unacceptable dangers, including the
possibility that it can contaminate groundwater.
Eight miles of abandoned telephone cable laid off the West
Shore of Lake Tahoe were ordered removed under a settlement,
according to a federal court decree. Pac Bell stopped using the
cables in the 1980s. In a suit filed by California Sportfishing
Protection Alliance, the cables are leaching lead into the
lake. Besides concerns over the lead in fish, the lake is a
source of drinking water for residents living along its shores.
A big southern Nevada sewage pumping facility failed last year,
spewing an estimated 500,000 gallons of wastewater and leaking
into a creek that leads toward the Lake Mead reservoir on the
Colorado River, a television station investigation found.
Officials want to spend $40 million to rehabilitate the Clark
County Water Reclamation District wastewater lift station,
where the January 2020 spill was blamed on a corroded
underground pipe, KLAS-TV in Las Vegas reported.
Lake Tahoe’s water quality and clarity are in good condition
following this summer’s devastating Caldor Fire, new research
showed. According to the League to Save Lake Tahoe, citizen
volunteers from its Pipe Keepers program collected stormwater
samples during an atmospheric river storm on Oct. 24. The
samples came from 25 sites on Tahoe’s south shore, including 16
storm water pipes and eight stream sites that drain the areas
burned by the Caldor Fire.
Flowserve US Inc., a provider of industrial pumps, seals and
valves, was hit with an environmental lawsuit Monday in
California Central District Court. The complaint, filed by
California Coastkeeper on behalf of Los Angeles Waterkeeper,
accuses the defendant of discharging metal-polluted water into
the Los Angeles River without authorization in violation of the
Clean Water Act. Counsel have not yet appeared for the
defendant. The case is 2:21-cv-08950, Los Angeles Waterkeeper
v. Flowserve US, Inc.
AT&T-owned Pacific Bell will remove two large, defunct
telephone cables from the bottom of Lake Tahoe, following an
agreement reached in federal court in response to a California
environmental nonprofit’s legal complaint. The California
Sportfishing Protection Alliance filed a complaint this January
against Pacific Bell Telephone Co., arguing that the presence
of PacBell submarine telephone lines on the west side of Lake
Tahoe violates federal and state environmental rules.
Waterways within the densely populated, heavily developed Los
Angeles metropolitan area often suffer from multiple water
quality impairments, particularly as a result of dry weather
runoff. At the same time, the Los Angeles region relies heavily
on imported water sources, in some cases from hundreds of miles
away. In a bid to address these problems, on at least a small
scale, the city of Los Angeles and several local partners have
teamed up on a novel approach.
California’s largest groundwater agency has sued 3M Co, Corteva
Inc, the Chemours Co and other manufacturers and sellers of
industrial and consumer products over claims they contain a
toxic chemical that polluted drinking water in Los Angeles. The
Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD),
which oversees drinking water supplied to 43 cities in Los
Angeles County, alleges in a complaint made public Tuesday that
the companies knew products ranging from firefighting foam to
textiles and non-stick cookware would pollute groundwater …
Top federal environmental regulators in California laid out
a $630-million plan on Monday to capture and treat
sewage-tainted water that routinely flows over the border from
Tijuana into Imperial Beach and up the
coast. The blueprint focuses largely on
installing a pumping system in the Tijuana River north of the
U.S.-Mexico border to suck polluted flows out of the channel
before they can foul shorelines in San Diego. Trash booms would
be installed directly upstream of the intake.
For those who live near the briny shores of California’s Mono
Lake, October can be a dreaded month. That’s when turbulent
winds scour Mono’s exposed lake bed, or “bathtub ring,” and
launch clouds of fine dust that blanket homes, ranch lands and
scenic trails….Now, after two years of punishing drought,
Mono County conservationists, tribal leaders and air regulators
have launched a campaign to raise the level of the lake. They
hope to accomplish this by stopping the Los Angeles Department
of Water and Power from diverting water from the lake’s feeder
In a lawsuit over century-old pollution from a defunct gas
plant, two lawyers urged a federal judge Wednesday to adopt
their interpretations of what historic business records say
about Pacific Gas and Electric’s liability for potential
groundwater contamination. … [Attorney Stuart] Gross
represents plaintiff Dan Clarke, a former San Francisco
resident seeking a court order that would force PG&E to
investigate and clean up contamination allegedly left by the
Cannery gas plant, which was owned and operated by PG&E’s
predecessors from 1899 to 1903.
What do clothes dryers and car tires have in common? Both
release microplastic pollution into the environment, according
to a new investigation by scientists at the San Francisco
Estuary Institute. Building on SFEI’s major finding that
storm-driven runoff from cities is a major pathway for
microplastics to enter California’s aquatic ecosystems, this
new report synthesizes available information on sources of
microplastics to urban runoff, including textile, cigarette
filter, and other types of fibers; single-use plastic foodware;
and vehicle tires.
Water rising beneath the ground, pushed up by intruding salt
water as sea levels rise, now impacts thousands of toxic waste
sites throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. A six-month
investigation by NBC Bay Area found that the threat from rising
groundwater isn’t decades in the future but, in some cases, may
be imminent. In many hot spots from the North Bay to the South
Bay, UC Berkeley scientists told the Investigative Unit they’ve
recorded groundwater already at or near the surface.
In California’s Tomales Bay, Hog Island Oyster Co. uses marine
biology to sustainably farm shellfish. It’s a zero-input crop
that is helping to restore the water quality of the bay. The
company founders are both marine biologists who focus on
growing oysters in a manner that enhances the health of the
ecosystem. Existing infrastructure is used when possible—many
buildings from the 1860s and 1870s have been restored and
incorporated into the farm.
The San Joaquin Valley farm town of Teviston has two wells. One
went dry and the other is contaminated. The one functioning
well failed just at the start of summer, depriving the hot and
dusty hamlet of running water for weeks. … But for
years, probably decades, the water coming from Teviston taps
has been laced with the carcinogen 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, or
1,2,3-TCP, the legacy of pesticides.
The big storm brought a lot of much-needed moisture to the Bay
Area, but it also brought a lot of stuff into the San Francisco
Bay that doesn’t belong in the bay. … [Sajel
Choksi-Chugh, the executive director for San Francisco
Baykeeper] and her team scooped up visible trash and debris
from the bay on Wednesday. This is something that typically
happens after a big storm, according to Choksi-Chugh.
The Biden administration today moved to rescind Trump
administration policies that crimped the designation of
critical habitat to protect threatened or endangered species.
In a pair of long-anticipated moves, the Fish and Wildlife
Service and NOAA Fisheries proposed getting rid of a Trump-era
definition of critical habitat under the Endangered Species
Act. FWS is also proposing to end a policy that made it easier
to exclude territory. Taken together, the two proposed rule
changes could significantly alter the much-litigated ESA
landscape and, supporters say, enhance conservation and
recovery of vulnerable animals or plants.
The 257-acre Hopkins Fire burned dozens of structures along the
Russian River last month, but cleanup efforts move slower than
rain. So when the National Weather Service (NWS) in Eureka
forecast four to six inches of precipitation in seven days for
the Ukiah valley, county personnel recognized the Hopkins burn
scar as an impending environmental crisis.
[A] suite of federal, state, and local laws ostensibly
protect California’s watersheds from pollution, and volumes of
codes are dedicated specifically to safeguarding streams and
rivers from cattle. Yet through a variety of loopholes and
exemptions, and possibly agency languor, roaming cows have
access to many of the state’s waterways. Here, the animals
denude riverbanks, eliminate riparian habitat, and degrade
water quality. High concentrations of manure-born bacteria are
known to flow from Marin County cattle ranches into the waters
surrounding Point Reyes.
Wherever you get your drinking water, there’s a good chance it
contains some amount of tiny plastic pieces. There aren’t a lot
of rules or regulations around this particular pollutant
because it is considered an emerging contaminant, but that is
changing. Scott Coffin, a research scientist who works for
the State Water Resources Control Board, is proud of a recent
accomplishment: an official, streamlined process to monitor
microplastics in drinking water.
Nitrogen inputs to the San Francisco Bay are among the highest
of estuaries worldwide, yet so far have not caused harmful
impacts like extreme algal blooms, oxygen depletion, and fish
kills. But resistance to this nutrient may not last. Ever since
the Gold Rush, excess sediment from pulverized rock has been
pouring into the Bay, clouding the water and keeping algae in
check by blocking sunlight.
Beginning in 2019, multiple retail water providers in Orange
County, California, elected to shut down several dozen
groundwater wells because they were found to contain low levels
of a class of contaminants known as perfluoroalkyl and
polyfluoroalkyl substances. In a region that depends heavily on
groundwater for its water supplies, the closures have proved
expensive… Following an extensive study of various methods of
removing PFAS from drinking water, the Orange County Water
District recently began operations at the first of more than 30
planned PFAS treatment facilities.
A federal judge on Friday struck down a Trump-era regulation
that limited the ability of states and Native American tribes
to regulate water pollution. For nearly half a century, EPA had
largely given states and tribes the authority to review and
certify Clean Water Act permits for federally approved projects
like dams and pipelines that discharge pollution within their
Between the late 1950s and 2008, Chevron disposed [fracking
wastewater] produced in Lost Hills in eight cavernous
impoundments at its Section 29 facility. Euphemistically called
“ponds,” the impoundments have a combined surface area of 26
acres and do not have synthetic liners to prevent leaking. That
meant that over time, salts and chemicals in the wastewater
could leak into the ground and nearby water sources like the
California Aqueduct, a network of canals that delivers water to
farms in the Central Valley and cities like Los Angeles. And
that’s exactly what happened, according to new research
California has a reputation as a leader on climate and
environmental policy. So it doesn’t advertise the fact that it
allows the oil and gas industry to store wastewater produced
during drilling and extraction in unlined pits in the ground, a
practice that began in the early 1900s. Now, though,
researchers have revealed the environmental costs of
California’s failure to regulate how its $111 billion oil and
gas industry manages the wastewater, known as produced
Shasta Beverages, the California beverage producer, was sued in
the Northern District of California on Friday by an
environmental group for discharge permit violations. EDEN
Environmental Citizens Group sued nearly a year after providing
notice of the defendant’s Clean Water Act violations to the
relevant state and federal agencies. … The complaint alleged
that Shasta discharges storm water into a municipal drain
system as well as a drainage ditch, both of which drain to the
San Francisco Bay by way of the Alameda River.
Polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a
class of man-made chemicals that break down slowly in the
environment, can accumulate in the human body and have been
linked to all manner of negative health effects from cancer to
high cholesterol. But these “forever chemicals” are nearly
impossible to avoid. They are, quite literally, all around us:
in consumer products, from cosmetics and cookware to food
packaging and firefighting foam; in our food supply; in the
soil, air and water; and even running through our veins.
Innovative efforts to accelerate
restoration of headwater forests and to improve a river for the
benefit of both farmers and fish. Hard-earned lessons for water
agencies from a string of devastating California wildfires.
Efforts to drought-proof a chronically water-short region of
California. And a broad debate surrounding how best to address
persistent challenges facing the Colorado River.
These were among the issues Western Water explored in
2019, and are still worth taking a look at in case you missed
It’s been a year since two devastating wildfires on opposite ends
of California underscored the harsh new realities facing water
districts and cities serving communities in or adjacent to the
state’s fire-prone wildlands. Fire doesn’t just level homes, it
can contaminate water, scorch watersheds, damage delivery systems
and upend an agency’s finances.
Blasted by sun and beaten by waves,
plastic bottles and bags shed fibers and tiny flecks of
microplastic debris that litter the San Francisco Bay where they
can choke the marine life that inadvertently consumes it.
Summer is a good time to take a
break, relax and enjoy some of the great beaches, waterways and
watersheds around California and the West. We hope you’re getting
a chance to do plenty of that this July.
But in the weekly sprint through work, it’s easy to miss
some interesting nuggets you might want to read. So while we’re
taking a publishing break to work on other water articles planned
for later this year, we want to help you catch up on
Western Water stories from the first half of this year
that you might have missed.
Each day, people living on the streets and camping along waterways across California face the same struggle – finding clean drinking water and a place to wash and go to the bathroom.
Some find friendly businesses willing to help, or public restrooms and drinking water fountains. Yet for many homeless people, accessing the water and sanitation that most people take for granted remains a daily struggle.
One of California Gov. Gavin
Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade
Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within
weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that
Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.
That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach”
on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded
floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.
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.
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:
For decades, cannabis has been grown
in California – hidden away in forested groves or surreptitiously
harvested under the glare of high-intensity indoor lamps in
suburban tract homes.
In the past 20 years, however, cannabis — known more widely as
marijuana – has been moving from being a criminal activity to
gaining legitimacy as one of the hundreds of cash crops in the
state’s $46 billion-dollar agriculture industry, first legalized
for medicinal purposes and this year for recreational use.
As we continue forging ahead in 2018
with our online version of Western Water after 40 years
as a print magazine, we turned our attention to a topic that also
got its start this year: recreational marijuana as a legal use.
State regulators, in the last few years, already had been beefing
up their workforce to tackle the glut in marijuana crops and
combat their impacts to water quality and supply for people, fish
and farming downstream. Thus, even if these impacts were perhaps
unbeknownst to the majority of Californians who approved
Proposition 64 in 2016, we thought it important to see if
anything new had evolved from a water perspective now that
marijuana was legal.
Joaquin Esquivel learned that life is
what happens when you make plans. Esquivel, who holds the public
member slot at the State Water Resources Control Board in
Sacramento, had just closed purchase on a house in Washington
D.C. with his partner when he was tapped by Gov. Jerry Brown a
year ago to fill the Board vacancy.
Esquivel, 35, had spent a decade in Washington, first in several
capacities with then Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and then as
assistant secretary for federal water policy at the California
Natural Resources Agency. As a member of the State Water Board,
he shares with four other members the difficult task of
ensuring balance to all the uses of California’s water.
A new study could help water
agencies find solutions to the vexing challenges the homeless
face in gaining access to clean water for drinking and
The Santa Ana Watershed Project
Authority (SAWPA) in Southern California has embarked on a
comprehensive and collaborative effort aimed at assessing
strengths and needs as it relates to water services for people
(including the homeless) within its 2,840 square-mile area that
extends from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Orange County
Microplastics – plastic debris
measuring less than 5 millimeters – are an
increasing water quality concern. Entering the water as
industrial microbeads or as larger plastic litter that degrade
into small pellets, microplastics come from a variety of
Contaminants exist in water supplies from both natural and
manmade sources. Even those chemicals present without human
intervention can be mobilized from introduction of certain
pollutants from both
point and nonpoint sources.
Directly detecting harmful pathogens in water can be expensive,
unreliable and incredibly complicated. Fortunately, certain
organisms are known to consistently coexist with these harmful
microbes which are substantially easier to detect and culture:
coliform bacteria. These generally non-toxic organisms are
frequently used as “indicator
species,” or organisms whose presence demonstrates a
particular feature of its surrounding environment.
Point sources release pollutants from discrete conveyances, such
as a discharge pipe, and are regulated by federal and state
agencies. The main point source dischargers are factories and
sewage treatment plants, which release treated
Problems with polluted stormwater and steps that can be taken to
prevent such pollution and turn what is often viewed as
“nuisance” runoff into a water resource is the focus of this
publication, Stormwater Management: Turning Runoff into a
Resource. The 16-page booklet, funded by a grant from the State
Water Resources Control Board, includes color photos and
graphics, text explaining common stormwater pollutants and
efforts to prevent stormwater runoff through land use/
planning/development – as well as tips for homeowners to reduce
their impacts on stormwater pollution.
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
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
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
Salt. In a small amount, it’s a gift from nature. But any doctor
will tell you, if you take in too much salt, you’ll start to have
health problems. The same negative effect is happening to land in
the Central Valley. The problem scientists call “salinity” poses
a growing threat to our food supply, our drinking water quality
and our way of life. The problem of salt buildup and potential –
but costly – solutions are highlighted in this 2008 public
television documentary narrated by comedian Paul Rodriguez.
A 20-minute version of the 2008 public television documentary
Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley. This
DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking
engagements to help the public understand the complex issues
surrounding the problem of salt build up in the Central Valley
potential – but costly – solutions. Narrated by comedian Paul
20-minute DVD that explains the problem with polluted stormwater,
and steps that can be taken to help prevent such pollution and
turn what is often viewed as a “nuisance” into a water resource
through various activities.
Many Californians don’t realize that when they turn on the
faucet, the water that flows out could come from a source close
to home or one hundreds of miles away. Most people take their
water for granted; not thinking about the elaborate systems and
testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to
households throughout the state. Where drinking water comes from,
how it’s treated, and what people can do to protect its quality
are highlighted in this 2007 PBS documentary narrated by actress
A 30-minute version of the 2007 PBS documentary Drinking Water:
Quenching the Public Thirst. This DVD is ideal for showing at
community forums and speaking engagements to help the public
understand the complex issues surrounding the elaborate systems
and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to
households throughout the state.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays
the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas
and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The
map text explains the many issues facing this vast,
15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration;
agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are
descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement,
and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development
of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
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.
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to California
Wastewater is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication
that provides background information on the history of wastewater
treatment and how wastewater is collected, conveyed, treated and
disposed of today. The guide also offers case studies of
different treatment plants and their treatment processes.
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.
This printed issue of Western Water, based on presentations
at the November 3-4, 2010 Water Quality Conference in Ontario,
Calif., looks at constituents of emerging concerns (CECs) – what
is known, what is yet to be determined and the potential
regulatory impacts on drinking water quality.
This issue of Western Water looks at some of the issues
facing drinking water providers, such as compliance with
increasingly stringent treatment requirements, the need to
improve source water quality and the mission of continually
informing consumers about the quality of water they receive.
This issue of Western Water examines PPCPs – what they are, where
they come from and whether the potential exists for them to
become a water quality problem. With the continued emphasis on
water quality and the fact that many water systems in the West
are characterized by flows dominated by effluent contributions,
PPCPs seem likely to capture interest for the foreseeable future.
This issue of Western Water examines the presence of mercury in
the environment and the challenge of limiting the threat posed to
human health and wildlife. In addition to outlining the extent of
the problem and its resistance to conventional pollution
remedies, the article presents a glimpse of some possible courses
of action for what promises to be a long-term problem.
This issue of Western Water examines the problem of perchlorate
contamination and its ramifications on all facets of water
delivery, from the extensive cleanup costs to the search for
alternative water supplies. In addition to discussing the threat
posed by high levels of perchlorate in drinking water, the
article presents examples of areas hard hit by contamination and
analyzes the potential impacts of forthcoming drinking water
standards for perchlorate.
2002 marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most significant
environmental laws in American history, the Clean Water Act
(CWA). The CWA has had remarkable success, reversing years of
neglect and outright abuse of the nation’s waters. But challenges
remain as attention turns to the thorny issue of cleaning up
nonpoint sources of pollution.