In general, regulations are rules or laws designed to control or
govern conduct. Specifically, water quality regulations under the
federal and state Clean Water Act “protect the public health or
welfare, enhance the quality of water and serve the purposes of
A California appellate court recently continued the trend of
legislative and judicial expansion of the prevailing wage law’s
scope in Kaanaana v. Barrett Business Services, Inc. The Second
District Court of Appeal found that … any tasks
involving some form of labor done under contract (and not
performed by agency employees) for irrigation, utility,
reclamation and improvement districts, and other districts of
this type is, except for public works projects of $1,000 or
less and operation of the irrigation or drainage system of any
irrigation or reclamation district, potentially subject to
prevailing wage requirements.
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.
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 …
For decades, the New River has flowed north across the
U.S.-Mexico border carrying toxic pollution and the stench of
sewage. Now lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento are pursuing
legislation and funding to combat the problems. “I feel very
optimistic that we’re going to be able to get some things done
on the New River issue,” said Assemblymember Eduardo
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.
The Trump administration’s bid to restrict the Clean Water
Act’s reach over streams and wetlands is backed by an …
assumption that 29 states “may” or are “likely” to bolster
dredge and fill regulations as federal oversight retreats.
… Thus far, only California has made moves toward
beefing up its wetlands protections.
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.
When it comes to water, the lifeblood of the Central Valley,
Democrats don’t have all the answers. So says freshman
Representative Josh Harder, suddenly one of the most powerful
Democrats in these parts. … “We need to make sure we’re
all working together to advance the agenda of the Central
Valley,” continued Harder, 32, of Turlock. “I was very
encouraged to see some of the measures the Trump
administration put forward on water.”
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.
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.
California’s new governor looked at the rainfall and saw
millions of dollars in uncollected water taxes going right down
the drain. In one of his first moves as chief executive, Newsom
declared that he wants to tax the state’s drinking water, in
order to give poor people access to safe and affordable water.
I guess this is his idea of trickle-down economics.
Because of the potential of massive flooding, the Army Corps of
Engineers is rushing to begin a $500-million repair project for
Whittier Narrows Dam, classified as the highest priority of any
of the 13 “high risk” dams in the country. Nearly three
years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers elevated the
risk of failure from “high urgency” to “very high urgency”
after a re-inspection revealed a greater threat of erosion and
breach that would cause massive downstream flooding to one
million Southern California residents in the event of a severe
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
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.
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.
Top managers of the environmental engineering firm Tetra Tech
directed their employees to commit widespread fraud in the
cleanup of America’s largest Superfund waste site, according to
new legal complaints by the U.S. Department of Justice.
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.
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.
The work to provide Yuba-Sutter with the highest level of flood
protection possible isn’t yet complete, but the levees are much
better today, having had the oversight expertise of the head of
the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency. After more than seven
years with the agency, SBFCA Executive Director Mike Inamine
announced he would be leaving this week for a job with the
California Department of Water Resources.
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 budget specifically calls out funding for Safe and
Affordable Drinking Water. It discusses the need to find a
stable funding source for long-term operation and maintenance
of drinking water systems in disadvantaged communities, stating
that existing loan and grant programs are limited to capital
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
A Bureau of Reclamation program awards grants to water
districts and other project sponsors seeking to reuse water and
add to supplies. From 1992 through 2017, it awarded about $715
million for 46 construction projects and 71 studies. Nearly all
of the funding—about $703 million—went for construction
projects that recycled water.
Specific details have not yet emerged on Newsom’s plan, but
it’s expected to be similar to a rejected 2018 proposal from
state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, to tax residential customers
95 cents a month to help fund water improvements in rural
farming communities in the Central Valley and throughout the
state. It would raise about $110 million to get clean water to
what the McClatchy News Service estimated last year to be
360,000 people without such access. Others looking at the
problem see it as much worse.
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.
While most Californians believe strongly that all Californians
should have safe drinking water, most Californians don’t
understand the breadth of contaminants that impact communities
throughout the state, and how significant those impacts are.
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
A bipartisan bill in Congress would designate PFAS
chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund program,
allowing federal agencies to clean up sites contaminated
by harmful fluorinated compounds. Health officials
have said continued exposure to
certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water could harm
human health. Studies link exposure to developmental effects on
fetuses, cancer and liver and immunity function, among other
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.
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.
California’s failure to provide safe, affordable drinking water
to the remaining roughly 1% of residents is probably the most
solvable and affordable of California’s many difficult water
problems. There will always be isolated small systems
with vexing problems, but the number of Californians currently
without access to safe affordable drinking water is
embarrassing and irresponsibly high.
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.
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
A day after proposing a tax on drinking water, Gov. Gavin
Newsom took a “surprise” road trip to meet with Stanislaus
County residents in a community known for having unsafe wells.
Newsom and his cabinet made their first stop at the Monterey
Park Tract in Ceres, where he held a roundtable discussion with
people who for years had to use bottled water for drinking and
cooking because their community’s two wells were
long-contaminated with nitrates and arsenic.
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.
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.
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.
Tackling what promises to be a controversial issue, Gov. Gavin
Newsom proposed a tax on drinking water Thursday to help
disadvantaged communities clean up contaminated water systems.
Newsom’s plan for a “safe and affordable drinking water fund,”
included in the new governor’s first budget proposal, attempts
to revive an idea that died in the Legislature last year.
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.
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.
The two-week-old shutdown has halted one of the federal
government’s most important public health activities, the
inspections of chemical factories, power plants, oil
refineries, water treatment plants, and thousands of other
industrial sites for pollution violations.
One of the Water Education Foundation’s most popular
events, Water 101 offers a once-a-year opportunity for anyone
new to California water issues or newly elected to a water
district board – and anyone who wants a refresher — to
gain a deeper understanding of the state’s most precious
natural resource. It will be held Feb. 7 at McGeorge School of
Law in Sacramento.
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.
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.
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.
To subsidize drinking water bills for poor households,
California regulators recommend new taxes on bottled water and
incomes above $1 million a year, according to a draft proposal
released by the State Water Resources Control Board. If the
$606 million proposal, or an alternate version, is accepted by
the Legislature, California would be the first state in the
country to run a water bill assistance program.
The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research has spent
five years drafting a comprehensive update to 30 sections of
the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
guidelines. Several changes to the Guidelines address two
hot button topics: global climate change and statewide
affordable housing shortages. Many of the changes will
significantly alter the application of CEQA to future projects.
Saying it will continue to protect environmentally sensitive
waterways such as wetlands in California, even if federal
protections on waters of the U.S. are limited, the State Water
Resources Control Board has unveiled a final draft on how it
plans to regulate dredge-and-fill activities in the state.
Los Angeles resident Cindy Baker claimed in her April
2018 federal class action lawsuit that the
Switzerland-based company intentionally and recklessly
concealed facts about the quality and purity of its Pure Life
purified water. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips said
in a seven-page order that Baker’s concerns about water
quality and microplastics in Nestle water should be addressed
by the Food and Drug Administration, not by the courts.
The State Water Resources Control Board will accept public
comments on the draft report on Options for Implementation of a
Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. The report
analyzes options for the design, funding, and administration of
a program as well as other options to improve water
affordability. Comments are due Feb. 1.
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.
The long road to recovery in the town of Paradise starts with
removing millions of tons of charred rubble left in the Camp
Fire’s wake. But the question remains: Where will it all go?
Disaster officials are scrambling to secure a place to sort and
process the remnants of nearly 19,000 structures destroyed in
the wildfire that began on Nov. 8 and killed 86 people. The
mammoth undertaking has been slowed by staunch opposition in
nearby communities eyed as potential sites for a temporary
scrapyard, which would receive 250 to 400 truckloads of
concrete and metal each day.
As more people build homes in fire-prone areas, and as climate
change and other factors increase the frequency of fires, there
is a growing risk to life and property throughout the West —
and a lesser known risk to the region’s already endangered
water supply. At least 65 percent of the public water supply in
the Western U.S. comes from fire-prone areas.
Crescent City Harbormaster Charlie Helms said he and
commissioners are worried about sediment being deposited in the
marina and the potential impact it could have on the commercial
fleet. A new environmental document predicts the level of
sediment released as a result of dam removal will be similar to
what the river carries downstream during an average year.
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.
Butte County may soon have a better idea of what lies beneath
its surface. Starting in late November, a helicopter took off
for several days from the Orland airport to fly a pattern over
an area between Chico and Orland, and southeast into Butte
Valley. Dangling beneath the helicopter was a hoop loaded with
devices that created a weak magnetic field and instruments that
measured how that interacted with layers beneath the soil.
At stake is an important rule that defines which waters are
protected under the Clean Water Act. It’s also poised to
be a year of reckoning on the Colorado River, which supplies
water to 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of farmland.
And it could also be a landmark year for water management in
California, with several key issues coming to a head.
At issue is the proper interpretation of the law’s central
provision barring the discharge of “any pollutant to navigable
waters from any point source” without a permit. The term
navigable waters, broadly defined as “waters of the United
States,” does not generally include groundwater.
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:
An arbiter has sided with five local tribes in a dispute over
what San Diego County water officials argued was a request that
left them with an unexpected $2.1 million budget deficit after
the tribes won back lost water rights. The dispute arose after
the federal government restored water rights to the San Luis
Rey Indian Water Authority, which represents the tribes.
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.
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released a
scoping report on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas
development on approximately 400,000 acres of BLM-administered
public land and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate
lands on tribal and privately held lands in Fresno, Kern,
Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and
For two decades, the Hutchinsons and their neighbors in this
rural enclave of Banning Heights tucked above the I-10 freeway
have fought to have Southern California Edison repair a
century-old system that carries water down the San Gorgonio
mountains to their homes.
Calls for the federal government to regulate polyfluoroalkyl
and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been unsuccessful.
Last year the Trump administration tried to block a study
urging a much lower threshold of exposure. Harvard
University researchers say public drinking-water supplies
serving more than 6 million Americans have tested for the
chemicals at or above the EPA’s threshold — which many experts
argue should be far lower to safeguard public health.
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. Catch up on these stories and more in Western
Water Year in Review.
Everyone who diverts water is required to report to the State
Water Board the amount they used. But Louis and Darcy Chacon
reported an amount that just didn’t make sense. The Chacons
reported they used more than 1 trillion acre-feet of water
annually from 2009 to 2013, more than is available on the
When the water was still fluoridated in Juneau, Alaska, kids on
average had about 1 1/2 cavity-related procedures per year.
After fluoride was gone, that went up to about 2 1/2 procedures
a year. And that got expensive.
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.
CANCELED: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold one hearing to
provide interested parties the opportunity to present data,
views, or information concerning the proposed rule changes
affecting wetlands and ephemeral waters.
As all eyes turn to the State Water Resources Control Board on
Wednesday, the board won’t have complete settlement agreements
with Modesto-area irrigation districts to consider at a crucial
meeting. At most, the districts and negotiators with the state
Natural Resources Agency will have the basic framework of an
agreement that’s an alternative to a state plan for river flows
that is fiercely opposed by water users and local agencies in
The Trump administration laid out plans Tuesday to roll back
Obama-era rules protecting isolated streams and wetlands from
industrial pollution, a move that conservation groups said
could harm creeks and impact drinking water in the Bay Area and
throughout California. The move by the Environmental Protection
Agency to roll back the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, known as
WOTUS, was hailed by farmers and industry, which have long
sought to rewrite the rules.
The Trump administration is expected to put forth a proposal on
Tuesday that would significantly weaken a major Obama-era
regulation on clean water, according to a talking points memo
from the Environmental Protection Agency that was distributed
to White House allies this week.
Participants of this tour snake 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.
The federal government and the state of California seem to love
suing each other, and have done so dozens of times in the past
two years without causing anyone much damage. But President
Donald Trump is now threatening to sue the state over control
of water. This could harm a lot of people, because water is the
source of the most contentious and enduring battles in
America’s largest state.
President Donald Trump’s memorandum on western water, which
ordered federal agencies to look for ways to remove regulatory
burdens on federal water projects, has caused waves in
California. But what will it actually do? … The USA TODAY
Network in California asked experts on California water,
farming and environmental issues to break down what’s
known at this point.
President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the government to
speed up environmental reviews and streamline regulations that
he says are hindering work on major water projects in
California and other Western states. Trump signed a memorandum
aimed at helping the Central Valley Project and the California
State Water Project in California, the Klamath Irrigation
Project in Oregon and California and the Columbia River Basin
system in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling extended the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that feed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves were not. The ruling marked a dramatic shift in water law and forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from those creeks in the Eastern Sierra to preserve the lake.
Now, a state appellate court has for the first time extended that same public trust doctrine to groundwater that feeds a navigable river, in this case the Scott River flowing through a picturesque valley of farms and alfalfa in Siskiyou County in the northern reaches of California.
The EPA is pushing back its timetable for repealing a landmark
Obama-era waters jurisdiction rule by at least four months, a
move that could prolong the confusion about how and where to
implement it in the interim.
One of our most popular events, our annual Water 101 Workshop
details the history, geography, legal and political facets
of water in California as well as hot topics currently facing the
Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the
state, the one-day workshop on Feb. 7 gave attendees a
deeper understanding of the state’s most precious natural
Optional Groundwater Tour
On Feb. 8, we jumped aboard a bus to explore groundwater, a key
resource in California. Led by Foundation staff and groundwater
Harter and Carl Hauge, retired DWR chief hydrogeologist, the
tour visited cities and farms using groundwater, examined a
subsidence measuring station and provided the latest updates
on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
McGeorge School of Law
3327 5th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dissolve its
Office of the Science Advisor, a senior post that was created
to counsel the E.P.A. administrator on the scientific research
underpinning health and environmental regulations, according to
a person familiar with the agency’s plans.
Despite pleas for immediate action from Michigan and New
Hampshire residents who live in communities with
PFAS-contaminated groundwater, officials from multiple federal
agencies testified at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing that
regulatory responses and health studies will take years to
Hundreds of California farmers rallied at the Capitol on Monday
to protest state water officials’ proposal to increase water
flows in a major California river, a move state and federal
politicians called an overreach of power that would mean less
water for farms in the Central Valley. … Environmentalists
and fishermen offered a different take on the other side of the
Capitol to a much smaller audience.
The Fish and Wildlife Service today [July 27] killed an Obama
administration environmental mitigation policy that aimed to
improve or, at a minimum, maintain the status of affected
natural resources when considering permits and projects. The
much-anticipated rollback of the “net conservation gain” goal
also includes restoring an overall mitigation policy from the
The Department of the Interior issued a blistering attack
against the state’s proposed water grab, saying it would
“cripple the Central Valley’s economy, farms and community.”
The comments late Friday afternoon came a week after Secretary
of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Don Pedro and New Melones
reservoirs at the request of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock.
The lawyer nominated to run the Superfund toxic cleanup program
is steeped in the complexities of restoring polluted rivers and
chemical dumps. He spent more than a decade on one of the
nation’s most extensive cleanups, one involving Dow Chemical’s
sprawling headquarters in Midland, Mich.
[California Atty. Gen. Xavier] Becerra is still awaiting a
judgment on a lawsuit that challenged the Trump administration
over the repeal of restrictions on hydraulic fracturing oil
extraction, known as fracking, on federal lands. …
Another legal challenge was filed against the EPA over its
suspension of the 2015 Clean Water Rule aimed at protecting
lakes and streams from pollutants. The court has not yet ruled
in that case.
The U.S. drinking water standard for nitrate was set decades
ago at a level to prevent infant deaths. But recent research
suggests that the standard, decided in 1991, is out of date.
Scientists are accumulating evidence that the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency’s nitrate limit may need to be
lowered because it does not account for potential long-term
health damage, including the risk of cancer, that harms people
into their adult years.
The Department of the Interior announced Thursday controversial
plans to roll back core provisions of the Endangered Species
Act, a move aimed at reducing the burdens of such safeguards on
landowners, industry and governments.
The Trump administration on Wednesday eased rules for handling
toxic coal ash from more than 400 U.S. coal-fired power plants
after utilities pushed back against regulations adopted under
former President Barack Obama. … U.S. coal plants
produce about 100 million tons annually of ash and other waste,
much of which ends up in unlined disposal ponds prone to leak.
Democratic lawmakers joined scores of scientists, health
providers, environmental officials and activists Tuesday in
denouncing an industry-backed proposal that could limit
dramatically the scientific studies the Environmental
Protection Agency considers in shaping protections for human
Less than two weeks after state regulators announced sweeping
new water allocation limits, the GOP-controlled House is
expected this week to pass spending legislation that would
block federal funding for that allocation plan. It also
includes measures that would bar legal challenges to major
water infrastructure projects in the state.
Conservative groups and jurists, including U.S. Supreme Court
nominee Brett Kavanaugh, have long advocated restricting the
latitude of the Environmental Protection Agency and other
federal agencies to set rules and regulations, beyond what
Congress has specifically authorized. They may have that chance
Andrew Wheeler, the new acting chief of the Environmental
Protection Agency, signaled a more inclusive approach at the
agency, telling staffers roiled by months of ethics allegations
against his predecessor, “You will find me and my team ready to
listen.” … When President Donald Trump called him last
week about the job change, the president told him to “clean up
the air, clean up the water, and provide regulatory relief,”
In all, the Trump administration has targeted at least 45
environmental rules, including 25 at EPA, according to a
rollback tracker by Harvard Law School’s energy and environment
program. The EPA rule changes would affect regulation of air,
water and climate change, and transform how the EPA makes its
Bowing out after months of scandals, Scott Pruitt is turning
the Environmental Protection Agency over to a far less flashy
deputy who is expected to continue Pruitt’s rule-cutting,
business-friendly ways as steward of the country’s environment.
… EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal
industry lobbyist, will take the helm as acting administrator
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply
originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water
supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests,
which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought,
wildfires and widespread tree mortality.
We headed into the foothills and the mountains to examine
water issues that happen upstream but have dramatic impacts
downstream and throughout the state.
GEI (Tour Starting Point)
2868 Prospect Park Dr.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670.
Imposing new regulations on an existing industry comes with
challenges, and in Humboldt, environmental concerns are among
them. Earlier this month, the environmental nonprofit Friends
of the Eel River, which works to protect fisheries and
watersheds in the region, filed a lawsuit against Humboldt
County’s Board of Supervisors.
The Trump administration’s ideas for revamping which
agencies are tasked with certain energy and
environmental responsibilities – such as managing the
nation’s fisheries and flood infrastructure – are part of
a broader reorganization plan that calls for sweeping
changes such as merging the Labor and Education
The Trump administration, after heavy lobbying by the chemical
industry, is scaling back the way the federal government
determines health and safety risks associated with the most
dangerous chemicals on the market, documents from the
Environmental Protection Agency show.
In his [Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt]
first address to career employees last year he told the
gathered room at the EPA, “Regulators exist to give certainty
to those that they regulate. Those that we regulate ought to
know what we expect of them, so that they can plan and allocate
resources to comply.” He’s cited this in his efforts to delay,
repeal or roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the
U.S. Rule, and a string of other measures.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke yesterday huddled with more than
two dozen conservation group leaders, including some of his
staunchest critics, in his latest bid to generate both ideas
and support for his ambitious departmental reorganization
plans. … Also in attendance were Deputy Secretary David
Bernhardt; Susan Combs, the acting assistant secretary for
fish, wildlife and parks; and Greg Sheehan, the principal
deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (Greenwire,
Spurred 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
Western Water writer Gary Pitzer explored how California water
regulators are trying to address the impacts on water quality
and supply from this newly regulated industry, how federal
officials are approaching it and what other states that have
legalized marijuana have done. And he addressed the question
that remains on many minds: Will growers that have
operated in the shadows for years accept the new regulations or
shrug them off as too burdensome.
The Trump administration launched an attack on the science
behind many of the nation’s clean air and clean water rules,
announcing a proposal Tuesday that would in effect prevent
regulators from considering a wide range of health studies when
they look at new regulations.
A decision by California’s largest water supplier on April 10
ended months of uncertainty over its role in the funding of
California Water Fix, the state’s plan to build new water
conveyance infrastructure in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
… Financing is not the only issue that needs to be addressed.
There is still a long list of regulatory and legal hurdles the
project needs to clear.
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.
Battlefronts fell along party lines at a Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee hearing yesterday about whether EPA
should regulate pollutants that make it to surface water via
groundwater. … The hearing was the first since EPA requested
public comment on whether it should regulate such pollutants
earlier this winter. The input is due by May 21.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who
has been methodically weakening air pollution rules over the
past year, is now taking control of key decision-making on the
protection of streams and wetlands from the agency’s regional
administrators, an internal memo shows. At issue is something
known as “geographic jurisdiction,” agency speak for which
bodies of water do, or do not, fall under the Clean Water Act.
New state rules adopted in March allow purified water to be
sent right from sewage treatment plants to drinking water
reservoirs, but Sacramento area residents shouldn’t expect to
be swimming in or drinking water that recently swirled through
local sewers any time soon.
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a major
change to the way it assesses scientific work, a move that
would severely restrict the research available to it when
writing environmental regulations. Under the proposed policy,
the agency would no longer consider scientific research unless
the underlying raw data can be made public for other scientists
and industry groups to examine.
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.
For fishery regulators, it is official: The Sacramento River’s
fall-run Chinook salmon are “overfished.” … Now, as
regulators discuss drastically shortening this year’s fishing
season to reduce pressures on the population, embittered
fishers are contesting the overfished status.
The State Water Resources Control Board’s proposal to impose
permanent conservation rules – such as prohibiting hosing down
driveways, watering lawns less than two days after it rains and
washing a car without attaching a shut-off nozzle to the hose –
ran into a cascade of opposition.
California is well behind the curve on groundwater regulation.
With a few exceptions, groundwater extraction has never been
regulated in the state or even monitored with
any precision. However, a 2014 law, the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), at last will require
groundwater basins in the state to reverse longstanding
As Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt jetted
around the country last year, regularly flying first or
business class at hefty taxpayer expense, his stated mission
was often a noble one: to hear from Americans about how
Washington could most effectively and fairly enforce the Clean
On February 20, California’s State Water Resources Control
Board postponed a decision on the adoption of new statewide
regulations meant to curb wasteful water practices. The
regulations would make permanent some rules California enacted
temporarily during the recent drought, which ended
With nearly half the state back in drought, California’s water
regulator held a contentious hearing in Sacramento on Tuesday
on whether to make permanent the temporary water bans enacted
by Governor Jerry Brown during the 2014-2017 drought. The board
announced it will revisit the proposed measures in March while
it makes some minor revisions to the draft proposals.
A proposal to make California’s drought-era water restrictions
permanent could allow the state to chip away at long-held water
rights in an unprecedented power grab, representatives from
water districts and other users told regulators Tuesday.
Recognizing California’s increasing propensity for parched
weather — this winter being no exception — state water
officials are planning to resurrect many of the temporary water
restrictions that were enacted during the recent five-year dry
spell and make them permanent.
To ensure that tap water in the United States is safe to drink,
the federal government has been steadily tightening the health
standards for the nation’s water supplies for decades. But over
and over again, local water systems around the country have
failed to meet these requirements.
The State Water Resources Control Board is expected to adopt
regulation coming before the board on Feb. 20 that would
make it a crime to commit any of seven wasteful water practices
— from lawn over watering to street median irrigation. Those
rules would take effect April 1.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said the
Trump administration is “righting the wrongs” of President
Barack Obama by reversing a host of regulations designed to
“weaponize” the agency and punish the fossil fuel industry.
California’s attorney general sued the Trump administration yet
again Wednesday, this time for rolling back a fracking rule
that the state says is designed to protect public health and
the environment. The suit challenges the federal Bureau of Land
Management’s move against the rule that requires drilling
companies to disclose what chemicals they’ve used for fracking.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that the White House still hasn’t
filled this job: San Francisco is not an inviting place for the
Make America Great Again administration. But the
administration’s effort to fill one of its most important
environmental jobs — chief of the Environmental Protection
Agency’s headquarters for California and the rest of the
Pacific Southwest — keeps going sideways.
In its first act to shield California from the Trump
administration’s repeal of regulations, the state’s water board
has prepared its own rules protecting wetlands and other
waters. The proposed new rules, scheduled for a vote by the
board this summer, could insulate the state from President
Donald Trump’s executive order to roll back the reach of the
Clean Water Act.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will replace Obama-era
carbon and clean water regulations and open up a national
debate on climate change in 2018, part of a list of priorities
for the year that also includes fighting lead contamination in
public drinking water.
President Trump delivered an economic victory lap during a
speech to farmers on Monday in which he vastly overstated the
size of the tax cuts passed by Congress late last year and
played up a rollback of regulations on American businesses. …
The president drew thunderous applause by celebrating the
reversal of a regulation known as the Waters of the United
States, which many rural landowners had opposed.
At a state briefing on environmental rules that await growers
entering California’s soon-to-be-legal marijuana trade, organic
farmers Ulysses Anthony, Tracy Sullivan and Adam Mernit
listened intently, eager to make their humble cannabis plot a
model of sustainable agriculture in a notoriously destructive
industry dominated by the black market. … Complying with
water laws alone would mean daily record-keeping, permit
applications, inspections and more, state officials said.
The Interior Department is working on possible Endangered
Species Act changes, in a move that alarms environmentalists
but could gratify Westerners and others unhappy with the
current law. While the details and timing remain under wraps,
Interior officials made public their general intentions as part
of the Trump administration’s Unified Agenda issued Thursday.
For months, staffers in the Office of Water had been in
help-desk mode, fielding calls from states implementing a
federal rule that set new limits on water-borne pollution
released by coal-fired power plants. The rule on what is known
as “effluent” had been hammered out over a decade of scientific
study and intense negotiations involving utility companies,
White House officials and environmental advocates.
The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pledged
that lead regulations will be a prominent feature of the
agency’s work in 2018 — but that work will take longer than
anticipated. The agency expects that a revision to federal
rules that are designed to reduce the risk of lead in drinking
water will be published in draft form in August 2018, a
seven-month delay from a timetable announced this summer.
Laura Bliss turned to Joan Didion today to help make sense of
Santa Anas, and fires, in our beloved Southern California: For
all the praise of its “perfect weather,” L.A. is often seen as
a city created in defiance of the laws of nature. …
President Donald Trump’s administration announced Friday that
it won’t require mining companies to prove they have the
financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution, despite an
industry legacy of abandoned mines that have fouled waterways
across the U.S.
The city of San Diego recently cleared a major legal hurdle in
its effort to force chemical giant Monsanto to pay tens of
millions to clean up local waterways polluted with a class of
cancer-linked chemicals, known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or
PCBs. Federal and state regulators have in recent years
tightened standards for cleaning up PCBs in bays, rivers and
For decades, no matter the weather, the message has been
preached to Californians: use water wisely, especially
outdoors, which accounts for most urban water use. Enforcement
of that message filters to the local level, where water
agencies routinely target the notorious “gutter flooder” with
gentle reminders and, if necessary, financial
penalties. The situation turned critical during the 2012
to 2016 drought, when reservoirs sank to alarmingly low
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply
originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water
supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests,
which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought,
wildfires and widespread tree mortality.
The state of California is looking to crack down on water
wasters and make saving water a way of life — no matter how
much it rains. California’s restrictions on water use in
September were effective, As a result, the state saw a 15
percent drop in water use.
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.
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
There will be no cannabis cappuccinos or drone deliveries in
California under the new pot rules state officials released
Thursday that regulate everything from who can legally sell and
deliver marijuana to how it must be packaged and transported.
When 50,000 acre-feet of water went gushing out of the
Sacramento River last month, it fast became a test of
California’s ability to protect its environmental policies from
an increasingly hostile Trump administration. The episode
On October 17, the California State Water Resources
Control Board adopted new environmental policies to regulate
how marijuana growing operations will impact California’s
already limited water resources. … Cannabis cultivation can
impact local water by reducing flows in streams and creeks or
polluting waterways with pesticides and other agricultural
With the marijuana legalization date of Jan. 1, 2018 rapidly
approaching in California, the state is getting serious about
regulations. On Tuesday, the State Water Board adopted new
environmental rules for cannabis cultivation to protect water
flows and water quality in rivers and streams.
Despite the Trump administration’s claims that deregulation
will lead to economic growth, an analysis of three of his most
significant proposed deregulatory efforts shows that they will
result in tremendous societal cost. In Executive Order 13778,
Trump directed agencies to review the Waters of the United
States rule, which provides protections for streams and
Since taking office in February, Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. chief
[Scott Pruitt] has held back-to-back meetings, briefing
sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top
corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic
sectors that he regulates — and almost no meetings with
environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates,
according to a 320-page accounting …
California consumers will soon have two choices in cannabis:
clean, legal and pricey — or dirty, illicit and cheap. Think
Whole Foods vs. El Chapo. The big difference will be the amount
of pesticides in your weed.
Two weeks before Harvey’s flood waters engulfed much of
Houston, President Donald Trump quietly rolled back an order by
his predecessor that would have made it easier for
storm-ravaged communities to use federal emergency aid to
rebuild bridges, roads and other structures so they can better
withstand future disasters. … [Former President Barack]
Obama’s now-defunct order also revamped Federal Flood Risk
Management Standards, calling for tighter restrictions on new
construction in flood-prone areas.
Even after the Flint scandal reawakened the nation to the
dangers posed by lead drinking water pipes, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency appears to be in no rush to
strengthen federal health standards.
If you drive Highway 99 through California’s Central Valley,
you’ll pass through the heart of farm country, where the
state’s bounty blooms with hundreds of crops – everything from
peaches to pistachios, from tangerines to tomatoes. You’ll also
pass through dozens of communities, large and small, whose
water systems are tainted by a newly regulated contaminant,
1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP), which for decades was used in
agricultural fumigants injected into farmland across
California’s water agency Tuesday agreed to eliminate the cap
on hexavalent chromium in drinking water, the toxic chemical
made famous in the movie “Erin Brockovich.” The State Water
Resources Control Board said it removed the cap after a
Sacramento judge ruled in May that its regulation was invalid.
… as the [Interior] secretary [Ryan Zinke] hopscotches across
millions of acres of Western parks, monuments and wilderness
with his Stetson-sporting swagger, a crew of political
appointees in Washington has begun rolling back the
conservation efforts put in effect over the eight years of the
Obama administration. … Mr. Zinke’s staff on Tuesday filed a
legal proposal to rescind the nation’s first safety regulation
on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The Trump administration moved Tuesday to roll back an Obama
administration policy that protected more than half the
nation’s streams from pollution but drew attacks from farmers,
fossil fuel companies and property-rights groups as federal
EPA, Interior and Energy all have influence over
infrastructure, but possibly the most influential agency is one
that many Americans have never heard of — the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission. … For years, energy industry CEOs
have complained about FERC’s slow pace, partly caused by
multiple public hearings and comment periods, so affected
landowners can express their concerns.
The Trump administration on Monday threw out a new rule
intended to limit the number of endangered whales and sea
turtles caught in fishing nets off the West Coast, saying
existing protections were already working.
Lawmakers concerned about curbing pollution and a warming
planet gave a cool reception to President Donald Trump’s
environmental chief on Thursday as he defended the
administration’s proposal to sharply reduce the budget of his
Three months after Coyote Creek overflowed its banks and
caused $100 million in damage to homes and businesses in San
Jose, a flood control project straddling the city’s northern
edges with Milpitas may be in danger of being shut down because
of red tape. …
The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five
members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal
of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to
shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of
Environmentalists and public health advocates are going to
court to fight the Trump administration’s move to rewrite
Obama-era rules limiting water pollution from coal-fired power
plants. … The rule would have required utilities to cut
the amounts of toxic heavy metals in the wastewater piped from
their plants into rivers and lakes often used as sources of
In a Trump administration beset by lost opportunities, muddled
strategies and frequent missteps in its first 100 days, one
area stands out for its disciplined approach and early
successes: the multi-front assault on environmental
regulations. … Planned action on climate change has been
shelved, national monuments are imperiled, clean air and water
rules have been eroded.
The Trump administration is rolling back an Obama
administration rule requiring companies that drill for oil and
natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in
hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.
A federal appeals court has rejected the Desert Water Agency’s
challenge to a Department of the Interior regulation, denying
the agency’s argument that the rule could prevent it from
collecting millions of dollars in revenue from customers in the
Palm Springs area.
To friends and critics, Mr. [Scott] Pruitt seems intent on
building an E.P.A. leadership that is fundamentally at odds
with the career officials, scientists and employees who carry
out the agency’s missions. That might be a recipe for strife
and gridlock at the federal agency tasked to keep safe the
nation’s clean air and water while safeguarding the planet’s
President Donald Trump has signed an executive order mandating
a review of an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting small streams
and wetlands from development and pollution, fulfilling a
campaign promise while earning the ire of environmental groups.
President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on
Tuesday aimed at rolling back one of former President Barack
Obama’s major environmental regulations to protect American
waterways, but it will have almost no immediate legal effect,
according to two people familiar with the White House plans.
The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed President Donald Trump’s
pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma
Attorney General Scott Pruitt, giving Trump a lieutenant poised
to make deep cuts to the EPA and transfer some if its
enforcement responsibilities to states and localities.
Despite weeks of rain and a growing perception that the
California drought is dead or dying, state officials Wednesday
largely extended the water regulations that have become the new
normal in cities and towns throughout the state.
A crucial deadline passed quietly on January 1 that has big
repercussions for the future of California’s water. It was
the first of several deadlines that enforce new requirements
for water diverters to precisely measure and report the amount
of water they take from the state’s streams. Some 12,000 people
and businesses that hold state water rights, large and small,
are bound by the new rules.