The Sacramento River is California’s largest river, providing 35 percent of the state’s developed water supply. The river helps support the valley’s millions of acres of irrigated agriculture and is home to wildlife and a range of aquatic species, including rearing habitat for 70 percent of all salmon caught off the California coast.
Once called “the Nile of the West,” the Sacramento River drains the inland slopes of the Klamath Mountains, the Cascade Range, the Coast Ranges and the western slopes of the northern Sierra Nevada. The river stretches some 384 miles from its headwaters near Mount Shasta to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
In the month since Governor Newsom announced that he does not support a dual-tunnel Delta water supply conveyance, activity in the more than 20 state and federal lawsuits challenging California WaterFix and other administrative approval processes related to the “twin tunnels” has slowed or been briefly stayed. The stays reflect the uncertainty surrounding the project in light of the Governor’s comments…
The Trump administration has fast-tracked a process to deliver more water to farms. But an investigation by KQED reveals those changes are raising alarm among federal employees. In this interview, we speak with KQED science reporter Lauren Sommer about why, and what’s at stake.
Good news for state water contractors: The State Water Project allocation just doubled from last year’s estimate for the 2019 water year. The California Department of Water Resources announced that the allocation has increased from 35 to 70 percent for most state water contractors. The department transports state water to 29 contractors, including the Kern County Water Agency.
Move over global warming or cooling, California has a new environmental disaster called groundwater. And where there’s an emergency, we have ambulance-chasing regulators and lawmakers with bureaucratic fixes. Why are we having groundwater problems? It’s plain and simple: Groundwater is replacing surface water.
West Side agriculture, the diverse industry which is the background of the local economy, faces an array of challenges in the year ahead. … Water continues to be an uncertainty for growers served by federal agencies such as the Del Puerto Water District which runs along the I-5 corridor, despite heavy snow packs and filling reservoirs.
Ventura has released reports detailing the environmental impacts of two sizable projects expected to increase the city’s water supply and reliability… One involves tapping into the city’s long-held investment into state water. The other project would capture effluent from Ventura’s wastewater treatment plant, treat it and turn it into drinking water.
Political leaders responsible for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin are launching discussions about which multi-million-dollar water projects could help solve the aquifer’s woes—and how basin pumpers will pay for them. In the future, the basin, which serves much of Paso Robles wine country, could start receiving water from the State Water Project, Lake Nacimiento, and/or the Salinas Dam.
The Bureau of Reclamation announced that the water allocation for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) agricultural water contractors has been increased from 35 percent to 55 percent. The increase is an improvement for the farmers and farmworkers in the Westlands Water District, but, given the healthy hydrological conditions throughout the state, today’s announcement is a disappointment.
Pretty soon, the next phase of life for the Sacramento River waterfront could become evident — with help from the public needed to make it happen. … The Waterfront Idea Makers contest that the City of Sacramento commissioned to breathe new life into its riverfront enters a critical stretch this month. On March 13, the city will host an open house at the Hall, Luhrs & Co. building in Old Sacramento to showcase the design teams’ work and submissions from the public and kids.
Recent rains have left the San Joaquin Valley’s reservoirs in better shape, but groundwater depletion and the resulting ground subsidence continue to beset farmers and water managers. What will this year hold? … Your best opportunity to understand the challenges and opportunities of this vital resource in the nation’s breadbasket is to join us on our Central Valley Tour April 3-5.
Hundreds of Bakersfield agriculture, oil and political leaders came together March 7 to examine the challenges and opportunities associated with providing California residents and businesses with a secure, reliable supply of clean water. Lest the wet winter create a sense of complacency around one of the state’s most vital needs, specialists from various fields urged collective attention to the costly and increasingly complex problems that surround sourcing, storing and conveying water.
A bill from Sen. Bill Dodd that would increase legislative oversight of the controversial Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta WaterFix project and allow for more public scrutiny has cleared its first committee hurdle. The action comes less than a month after Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wants to scale back the project proposed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to a single tunnel.
Every spring, a group called the Pacific Fishery Management Council gets together and looks at the salmon forecasts from the Puget Sound all the way down to the Sacramento River in California….The Sacramento River runs are expected to rebound a bit, but the Klamath and Columbia River forecasts are lower than last year.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a $35 million contract to continue the Sutter Basin Project – strengthening a stretch of Sutter County levees. The project will allow repairs to continue on approximately five more miles of the Feather River west levee between Tudor Road and Cypress Avenue in south Sutter County, according to a press release from the corps.
Bills introduced last week by Bakersfield Republicans in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., would redirect money from the state’s high-speed rail project toward reservoir projects, as well as repairs to Friant-Kern Canal. … The proposals by U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy and state Assemblyman Vince Fong seize upon a common frustration among many valley Republicans that billions of state and federal dollars dedicated to high-speed rail would be better spent on capturing water from wet years…
When then-candidate Donald Trump swung through California in 2016, he promised Central Valley farmers he would send more water their way. Allocating water is always a fraught issue in a state plagued by drought, and where water is pumped hundreds of miles to make possible the country’s biggest agricultural economy. Now, President Trump is following through on his promise by speeding up a key decision about the state’s water supply. Critics say that acceleration threatens the integrity of the science behind the decision, and cuts the public out of the process.
For a region so crucial to the growth of California as we know it today, you might think there would be libraries full of books about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And yet, as UC Merced scholar Gregg Camfield wrote several years ago, the most obvious thing about the literature of the Delta “is how little there is.” Advocates of the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas are trying to collect those scattered bits and pieces in a new anthology of the Delta.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy introduced legislation Thursday to repurpose federal funding for the high-speed rail project. The Repurposing Assets to Increase Long-term Water Availability and Yield (RAILWAY) Act would take funding from the high-speed rail project and use it for water infrastructure projects in California and the West… McCarthy’s proposed legislation is cosponsored by every Republican member of the California Congressional Delegation.
Recent plans to enlarge California’s Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet have raised concerns over possible cultural and ecological implications on wildlife among the Winnemem Wintu people and environmental groups alike. … The change in flood patterns would likely affect vital sacred sites for the Winnemen Wintu Puberty Ceremony for young women, according to the Winnemem Wintu website. The project would also relocate roads, railroads, bridges and marinas, according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Trump Administration has ordered federal biologists to speed up critical decisions about whether to send more water from Northern California to farmers in the Central Valley, a move that critics say threatens the integrity of the science and cuts the public out of the process. The decisions will control irrigation for millions of acres of farmland in the country’s biggest agricultural economy, drinking water for two-thirds of Californians from Silicon Valley to San Diego, and the fate of endangered salmon and other fish.
The extra water from Shasta Lake would raise the lake by an estimated 20 feet, inundating the McCloud River, which is protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. That piece of legislation was designed to protect the trout that heavily populate those waters. And it’s not just state law that speaks out. One of the provisions of the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act is to protect fisheries up and down the state’s major rivers. Raising Shasta Dam now would only be possible by overturning those two laws.
The Sacramento Valley’s flood management system is a good example where a portfolio of actions has greatly reduced flood damages and deaths, with relatively little management expense and attention in a highly flood-prone region. This case also illustrates how the many individual flood management options presented in the table can be assembled into a diversified cost-effective strategy involving the many local, state, and federal parties concerned with floods.
During our three-day Central Valley Tour April 3-5, you will meet farmers who will explain how they prepare the fields, irrigate their crops and harvest the produce that helps feed the nation and beyond. We also will drive through hundreds of miles of farmland and visit the rivers, dams, reservoirs and groundwater wells that provide the water.
The real-world implications of Gov. Newsom’s rejection of the twin tunnels project became more apparent last week as the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requested and were granted a 60-day stay of hearings with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).
The current dilemmas boil down to this: As the state punishes cannabis growers in the Emerald Triangle for environmental degradation, it is simultaneously pursuing an aqueduct project in the Central Valley that environmental groups claim will cause ecological harm of massive proportions. This project stands to benefit the “big ag” industry, which California’s newly legal cannabis companies are increasingly participating in.
If California is going to prevent further depletion of aquifers and survive droughts like the one that afflicted it from 2011 to 2017, the state will need to manage its groundwater usage. In the central valley, a group of organizations is working on a project that could stem the tide by combining two technologies: the internet of things (IoT) and Blockchain.
One tunnel or two, neither idea adds a drop of the water to needs of the nearly 40 million people who call California home. The tunnels simply divert existing water supplies while putting in severe jeopardy the largest freshwater estuary west of the Mississippi River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that juts into the western edge of Stockton. Clearly, there must be better solutions. Three approaches leap to mind: storage, conservation and desalination.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, working with Republican Doug LaMalfa of the First District, have introduced the Sites Reservoir Protection Act to support building the reservoir and other water infrastructure in the Central Valley. The act, also known as House Resolution 1453, would direct the Bureau of Reclamation to complete a feasibility study for the project in Colusa and Glenn counties.
Four new voting members, each appointed by representatives of the Delta region, would be added to the Delta Stewardship Council if a bill authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier becomes law. … Frazier introduced Assembly Bill 1194 this week. It would increase the voting membership of the council to 11 members.
Complaints are mounting against Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt over allegations he used his position to help the interests of his former lobbying client, California’s powerful Westlands Water District. The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint accusing Bernhardt of ethics violations by partaking in decisions directly related to his past lobbying work, resulting in rules that would free up more river water to Fresno-based Westlands and weakening protections for certain endangered fish populations.
Yuba Water Agency is presenting a collaborative framework to the State Water Resources Control Board today, a detailed plan to improve fish and wildlife habitat conditions in the San Francisco/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary watershed (Bay-Delta), including fisheries enhancement measures on the lower Yuba River.
When California’s new governor announced during his February 12 State of the State address that he didn’t support WaterFix as a two-tunnel behemoth, he received a loud burst of applause. Yet, in the next breath, when Newsom added he supported a one-tunnel version, no applause followed. That’s partly because the one-tunnel announcement hasn’t alleviated fears of people living on the north side of the estuary. Hood, Clarksburg and Courtland property owners still face the very real possibility of being hit with eminent domain.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, introduced the Sites Reservoir Protection Act Thursday to provide federal support for the building of Sites Reservoir and other water infrastructures in the Central Valley. The act, also known as House Resolution 1453, would direct the Bureau of Reclamation to complete a feasibility study for the project Colusa and Glenn counties.
Local groundwater regulatory agencies set up under 2014 legislation in California are discussing future rationing schemes with irrigators as they scramble to submit long-term aquifer sustainability plans to the state by a deadline of early next year. Local regulators are discussing a combination of new supplies and land-use conversions, says David Orth, a principal at the Fresno-based New Current Water and Land, LLC, a strategic planning firm.
The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in a time of great change. The valley produces more than half of the state’s agricultural output. Irrigated farming is the region’s main economic driver and predominant water user. Stress on the valley’s water system is growing. Local water supplies are limited, particularly in the southern half of the region.
The Yolo Bypass is central, both geographically and in importance, to California’s water supply and flood protection system, according to Bontadelli. However, proposed modifications to the Bypass to enhance habitat for out-migrating endangered winter and spring-run young salmon means the it will be key to the continued pumping of water south for agriculture and urban users.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s references to water in his first State of the State address were brief and a bit patchy, but they were enough to make fiercely competing factions each believe the new governor had their backs. But water policy in California is never that easy.
Now stripped of its once vast wetlands and nearly sucked dry from the overpumping of groundwater during the West’s increasingly common droughts, the fertile valley is in need of a reboot: Its aquifers have shrunk and the remaining water is often contaminated with nitrate and salts. Citing a new water law that will have major effects on water suppliers and farmers, experts are calling for an “all hands on deck” approach to fixing the valley’s water woes.
Since 2006, California has been releasing periodic reports on how the state should adapt to the potential impacts of climate change. The most recent report is unique in that it also looks at key climate risks from a regional perspective. Our news director Alice Daniel recently spoke with Joshua Viers, a watershed scientist at UC Merced and one of the authors of the San Joaquin Valley assessment.
If you stand on a fragile levee of the Sacramento River these days and watch the chocolate brown water rushing toward the delta only a few feet under your boots, one can’t help but wonder why the state and federal governments aren’t capturing more of this precious resource. Why is all but a tiny fraction heading out to sea?
When it floods in California, the culprit is usually what’s known as an atmospheric river—a narrow ribbon of ultra-moist air moving in from over the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric rivers are also essential sources of moisture for western reservoirs and mountain snowpack, but in 1861, a series of particularly intense and prolonged ones led to the worst disaster in state history: a flood that swamped the state. What would happen if the same weather pattern hit the state again?
Although ending groundwater overdraft will bring long-term benefits, it entails near-term costs. We find that only about a quarter of the Valley’s groundwater deficit can be filled with new supplies at prices farmers can afford. The rest must come from managing demand. We estimate that ending the overdraft will require taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of production.
A single tunnel would perform almost as well as two tunnels, particularly when operated in tandem with the existing pumps in the south Delta. It would cost substantially less. And it would give assurances to environmental groups and Delta residents that the project would not create the large impacts many fear. Environmental groups should take this opportunity to sign on to a new approach for managing the Delta.
If the Trump administration wanted to increase California’s water supply by the most cost-effective means possible, it would immediately drop its attempt to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet. It would instead put $1.5 billion — the cost of the proposed Shasta enlargement, in 2019 dollars — toward a completely different approach to water supply: watershed and forest restoration.
When operating, Sites Reservoir will provide significantly more water during drier periods, to become a new drought-management tool to address California’s water management challenges into the 21st century and beyond. Innovative and environmentally sound, Sites Reservoir will provide water to enhance the environment when it can provide greater benefits and provide a resilient and reliable supply of water for our communities, farms and businesses.
It’s shaping up as a wetter-than-usual winter in California, putting to rest fears of another drought hitting anytime soon. Depending on where you live, though, you will still likely face some limitations on how much you can water your lawn this summer.
At the end of 2017, several local rice farmers teamed up with researchers for a pilot program known as “Fish in the Fields” through the Resource Renewal Institute, a nonprofit research and natural resource policy group, to see what would happen when fish were introduced to flooded rice fields. Now in its second year of experiments, researchers have concluded that it works, with methane – a climate-changing byproduct of rice agriculture much more detrimental than carbon dioxide – being reduced by about two-thirds, or 65 percent, in flooded fields that had fish in them.
Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said … the agency intends to work constructively with the Newsom administration on developing a WaterFix project “that addresses the needs of cities, farms and the environment.” But Kightlinger expressed frustration that the project will be delayed even more.
Over the past two years, scared off by the anticipated costs of storing water there, Valley agricultural irrigation districts have steadily reduced their ownership shares of Sites. The powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California … is nearly as big an investor in Sites as all of the Sacramento Valley farm districts combined. Metropolitan agreed Tuesday to contribute another $4.2 million to help plan the project.
At long last, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta twin-tunnels boondoggle is dead. Good riddance. Gov. Gavin Newsom made that official Tuesday during his State of the State address, calling instead for a smaller, single-tunnel approach that would include a broad range of projects designed to increase the state’s water supply. Bravo. It’s a refreshing shift from Gov. Jerry Brown’s stubborn insistence that California spend $19 billion on a project that wouldn’t add a drop of new water to the state supply.
Two experts from Stanford’s Water in the West program explain the potential impacts on the future of water in California of the proposed plan to downsize the $17 billion Delta twin tunnels project. … Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Stanford’s Water in the West program, and Timothy Quinn, the Landreth Visiting Fellow at Water in the West, discussed the future of water in California and potential impacts of a tunnel system.
The wet weather broke a daily rainfall record in Sacramento, with 1.6 inches of rain recorded at the Sacramento Executive Airport over 24 hours. But the state’s network of flood-control dams and levees appeared to handle the deluge without major problems. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning Wednesday morning for the Sacramento Valley, and it was expected to remain in place until 6 p.m. Thursday as heavy and moderate rainfall was forecast to continue through Thursday.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy led his California colleagues in sending letters to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation requesting a substantial initial water supply allocation to Central Valley Project contractors using authorities under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act. Additionally, he and his colleagues from California also sent a letter to the California Department of Water Resources calling for an increase to the existing water supply allocation to State Water Project contractors given current hydrological conditions.
In a major shift in one of the largest proposed public works projects in state history, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday announced he does not support former Gov. Jerry Brown’s $19 billion plan to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move water from the north to the south. “Let me be direct about where I stand,” Newsom said. “I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done. That’s why I do support a single tunnel.”
As a lobbyist and lawyer, David Bernhardt fought for years on behalf of a group of California farmers to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for a finger-size fish, the delta smelt, to gain access to irrigation water. As a top official since 2017 at the Interior Department, Mr. Bernhardt has been finishing the job: He is working to strip away the rules the farmers had hired him to oppose.
Questions about financial liability and concerns over weighted votes among member agencies of the Central Coast Water Authority prompted the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to take no action on transferring the state water contract to that joint-powers agency. … CCWA has been trying to have the contract reassigned since it was formed in 1991, but the Department of Water Resources would not agree to the request because it was unclear if a joint-powers agency could levy a property tax if a member defaulted on financial obligations.
Despite many high priority issues on his plate, one of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first tests will be how he deals with California’s water challenges and opportunities. Unfortunately, in the last days of his term Gov. Jerry Brown made a bad bargain with the Trump administration and special interests. It’s yet another mess for the new governor to mop up.
While campaigning for president in 2016, Donald Trump promised a cheering Fresno crowd he would be “opening up the water” for Central Valley farmers… Trump took one of the most aggressive steps to date to fulfill that promise Tuesday by proposing to relax environmental regulations governing how water is shared between fish and human uses throughout the Central Valley.
President Donald Trump on Monday nominated David Bernhardt, the former top lobbyist for a powerful Fresno-based irrigation district, to run the Department of the Interior, raising renewed questions about whether he’d try to steer more California water to his former clients. … Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for Westlands Water District, which serves farmers in Fresno and Kings counties and is one of the most influential customers of the federal government’s Central Valley Project.
The tiny town of Arbuckle in Northern California sank more than two feet in nine years. The revelation comes from a new survey that tracked subsidence — the gradual sinking of land — in the Sacramento Valley between 2008-17. Located about 50 miles north of Sacramento, Arbuckle (pop. 3,028) sank more than any other surveyed area. … Subsidence has long been an issue in California, but its recent acceleration was likely fueled by an extreme drought that plagued California between 2012-16.
Details of the Sacramento River portion of the SWRCB’s plan are still preliminary, but we expect the required water releases to be higher for the Sacramento River, and its tributaries, than they are for the San Joaquin River. SWRCB staff is currently recommending that between 45 and 65 percent of the natural runoff of northern California rivers be allowed to flow to the ocean unimpeded.
A group of Northern California lawmakers seeking more sway over a mammoth $17 billion water project introduced a proposal Friday that would require new construction contracts to be reviewed by the Legislature. The Legislative Delta Caucus says because of the scope of the California WaterFix, the project should require more scrutiny from both the public and lawmakers now that former Gov. Jerry Brown has left office.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s Western water bureaucracy that saw its dam-building heyday in the 1960s, has risen in stature once again in the Trump administration. Reclamation has flexed its muscles on Colorado River drought management plans… And it has been the administration’s key player in trying to fulfill President Trump’s campaign promise to deliver more water to California farmers, squeezing the state and forging ahead on a dam project California says it doesn’t want.
New data released measure changes in land subsidence in the Sacramento Valley over the past nine years, finding the greatest land surface declines in Arbuckle. According to the Sacramento Valley GPS Subsidence Netwook Report and accompanying fact sheet … land in the Arbuckle area has sunk 2.14 feet compared with baseline measurements recorded in the same location in 2008, according to a press release from the Department of Water Resources.
The proposed tunnel path stretches 35 miles from west of Elk Grove to just below Discovery Bay. The tunnels would take water from three intakes along the Sacramento River to existing aqueducts south of Discovery Bay, and then the water will be sent to Southern California. Along the proposed path, there are at least 22 levees that would sit above the tunnels…. The concern is not so much the levees themselves, but the kind of soil that is below the levees.
Maintaining functional wetlands in a 21st-century landscape dominated by agriculture and cities requires a host of hard and soft infrastructures. Canals, pumps, and sluice gates provide critical life support, and the lands are irrigated and tilled in seasonal cycles to essentially farm wildlife. Reams of laws and regulations scaffold the system.
Early last year, construction started on a $90 million project to build seven miles of setback levees and floodplains to protect Hamilton City from floods on the Sacramento River. … The new barriers are much farther from the riverbanks—as far as a mile away in places. In some respects, the concept is absurdly simple: During heavy rains or spring snowmelt, rivers need room to expand; moving levees back from riverbanks provides it. Setback levees not only reduce the need for newer and larger dams and levees, but also restore the natural habitat.
The Trump administration is laying the groundwork to enlarge California’s biggest reservoir, the iconic Shasta Dam, north of Redding, by raising its height. It’s a saga that has dragged on for decades, along with the controversy surrounding it. But the latest chapter is likely to set the stage for another showdown between California and the Trump administration.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District made a grave miscalculation in suing the State Water Board over the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. By alienating the remnants of the environmental community who have supported them in recent years, they are jeopardizing future projects and funding measures that will require voter approval.
A Dallas-based engineering firm is being tapped to help design California’s plan to bolster its water supply system. Jacobs’ initial $93 million contract is for preliminary and final engineering design of a 15-year program known as California WaterFix. The Golden State’s largest water conveyance project carries a $17 billion pricetag. WaterFix, slated to begin this year, will upgrade 50-year-old infrastructure dependent on levees, which the state said puts clean water supplies at risk from earthquakes and sea-level rise.
In an unprecedented move, the Water Resources Control board voted in December to require water users to leave more water in the lower San Joaquin River to improve water quality and help fish. “This decision represents the water board taking its job to protect the public trust and our fisheries more seriously,” said Regina Chichizola, salmon and water policy analyst for the Institute for Fisheries Resources.
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.
More water storage projects will not solve the basic fact that the state’s finite amount of water is incapable of meeting all of the demands. This deficit has been created primarily by the transformation of a semi-arid area— the Central Valley — by an infusion of water from northern California.
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 …
At least one state agency has indicated it will not issue necessary permits to allow federal officials and a Fresno-based water district to begin construction to raise the height of Shasta Dam. In addition to facing opposition from the state, the project could also face fresh hurdles from Congress, which this year came under control of Democrats. In a letter to the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the State Water Resources Control Board says raising the height of Shasta Dam would violate state law.
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it, simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it.
After more than three years, 104 days of testimony, and over twenty-four thousand pages of hearing transcripts, the hearing before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on the proposal to construct two tunnels to convey water under the Delta (aka California WaterFix) is almost completed. Probably, that is: there could be more if the project changes again to a degree that requires additional testimony and/or environmental review.
The McCormack-Williamson Tract restoration project, a 1,500 acre site, lowers the levees on the north side of the island to allow the river to overtop into the site. On the south side, DWR will alleviate the surge flows that pose a risk to neighbors by opening small holes in the levee. 2018 saw the completion of construction of a levee to protect existing infrastructure on the site, as well as progress on habitat restoration plans. For the next phase, DWR will strengthen the interior levees and take steps toward opening the site up to tidal flows.
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 section of the museum will also be dedicated to water, teaching visitors how much water it takes to grow crops, how California farmers lead the world in conservation, and how the state’s complicated water storage and delivery system works, said Mike Wade, the executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. The Coalition is the title sponsor for the exhibits and has drawn on several farming organizations, including Farm Credit, to help build and maintain the exhibits.
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.
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.
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:
Gloria Gray became chairwoman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Jan. 1 and made history, though not for the first time. She has two big goals: seeing through a controversial public works project to build two new California water tunnels and ensuring her agency is represented by a more diverse group of people.
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 entire planet.
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.
At the end of the last century, the Sierra Nevada captured an average of 8.76 million acre-feet of water critical to the nation’s largest food-producing region. By mid-century, a new study projects, the average will fall to 4 million acre-feet; and by century’s end, 1.81 million acre-feet.
State officials said today [Oct. 18] they are “racing” to implement erosion control measures before the start of the rainy season on hills left bare by the Carr Fire. … [Clint] Snyder [assistant executive officer, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board] said the erosion control is focused on protecting human life and property, preserving drinking water sources in the Sacramento River and wildlife.
Explore the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as we learn about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.
All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants will get an on-site update of Oroville Dam spillway repairs.
Sites Reservoir, the largest new water storage proposal in California, recently won a commitment of $816 million in state funds to help with construction. It promises to deliver enough water every year, on average, to serve 1 million homes. But regulatory realities looming in the background may mean the project has substantially less water at its disposal.
The rare spring-run chinook salmon is rarer than usual this year, according to counts in the three streams that support the bulk of the wild fish left in the Sacramento River system. In Butte Creek, a snorkel survey counted 2,118 fish this year, according to Colin Purdy, who supervises the count for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. That’s less than half the average since 1989 of 4,427 fish.
The Colorado River Basin is more than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously” underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of California water industry people.
During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees that agreement can be reached.
Dave Vogel already knew that levees and dams had devastated the coastal salmon population in California’s longest river. The surprise for the fisheries scientist arrived when he saw the video footage of young salmon clustered beneath bridges in the watery depths.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that a farming company has agreed to pay $5.3 million in civil penalties and costs to perform work to repair disturbed streams and wetlands on property near the Sacramento River. … “Like the Duarte settlement last year, today’s agreement serves the public interest in enforcement of the Clean Water Act and deterrence of future violations,” said Jeffrey H. Wood, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
An hour’s drive north of Sacramento sits a picture-perfect valley hugging the eastern foothills of Northern California’s Coast Range, with golden hills framing grasslands mostly used for cattle grazing.
Back in the late 1800s, pioneer John Sites built his ranch there and a small township, now gone, bore his name. Today, the community of a handful of families and ranchers still maintains a proud heritage.
Farmers in the Central Valley are broiling about California’s plan to increase flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems to help struggling salmon runs avoid extinction. But in one corner of the fertile breadbasket, River Garden Farms is taking part in some extraordinary efforts to provide the embattled fish with refuge from predators and enough food to eat.
And while there is no direct benefit to one farm’s voluntary actions, the belief is what’s good for the fish is good for the farmers.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers are the two major Central Valley waterways that feed the Delta, the hub of California’s water supply network. Our last water tours of 2018 will look in-depth at how these rivers are managed and used for agriculture, cities and the environment. You’ll see infrastructure, learn about efforts to restore salmon runs and talk to people with expertise on these rivers.
Get an up-close look at some of California’s key water reservoirs and learn about farming operations, habitat restoration, flood management and wetlands in the Sacramento Valley on our Northern California Water Tour Oct. 10-12.
Each year, participants on the Northern California Water Tour enjoy three days exploring the Sacramento Valley during the temperate fall. Join us as we travel through a scenic landscape along the Sacramento and Feather rivers to learn about issues associated with storing and delivering the state’s water supply.
A Modesto councilman called on the city to contribute toward efforts to resist a state water grab that’s become an emotionally charged issue in the region. Councilman Mani Grewal said at Tuesday’s council meeting the state plan to take large amounts of Tuolumne River water to rejuvenate the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta would create a “regulatory drought” in Stanislaus County.
The framework of a plan for the Sacramento River watershed released Friday by the state Water Resources Control Board calls for an increase in the amount of water running into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and out to sea, but it leaves the question of where that water would come from largely unanswered.
A final draft plan for the San Joaquin River system has been released by state water regulators. … But Friday the State Water Board also released a “framework” for a similar plan being prepared for the Sacramento River watershed, which would see even larger reductions of diversions in the north valley.
New water storage is the holy grail primarily for agricultural interests in California, and in 2014 the door to achieving long-held ambitions opened with the passage of Proposition 1, which included $2.7 billion for the public benefits portion of new reservoirs and groundwater storage projects. The statute stipulated that the money is specifically for the benefits that a new storage project would offer to the ecosystem, water quality, flood control, emergency response and recreation.
The West Sacramento City Council voted 4-1 last month to begin a process that would convert an independent district in charge of levee management into a subsidiary of West Sacramento, and allow the council to replace the district’s board of directors with appointees or the council members themselves. Reclamation District 900 has operated independently since 1911, managing 13.6 miles of levees that provide flood protection along the Sacramento River.
For more than 100 years, invasive species have made the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta their home, disrupting the ecosystem and costing millions of dollars annually in remediation.
The latest invader is the nutria, a large rodent native to South America that causes concern because of its propensity to devour every bit of vegetation in sight and destabilize levees by burrowing into them. Wildlife officials are trapping the animal and trying to learn the extent of its infestation.
Chinook salmon, steelhead, and green sturgeon will soon have an easier path to the Sacramento River, and eventually their spawning grounds. Construction has begun on the Fremont Weir, which will allow the fish to travel from the Pacific Ocean back to their birthplace during spawning season, which takes place in early spring and ends just before the summer.
We traveled deep into California’s water hub and traverse the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that supports the state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. The tour made its way to San Francisco Bay, and included a ferry ride.
The NOR-CAL Guides and Sportsmen’s Association and other fishing groups had spent more than a year pressuring state dam and fish-hatchery managers to raise extra fish to make up for the ones the fishing groups say were lost after the Oroville Dam spillway collapsed in February 2017.
Along the banks of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Oakley, about 50 miles southwest of Sacramento, is a park that harkens back to the days when the Delta lured Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French fur trappers, and later farmers to its abundant wildlife and rich soil.
That historical Delta was an enormous marsh linked to the two freshwater rivers entering from the north and south, and tidal flows coming from the San Francisco Bay. After the Gold Rush, settlers began building levees and farms, changing the landscape and altering the habitat.
Seeking to stave off the extinction of a storied species, state and federal wildlife officials are releasing 200,000 hatchery-raised salmon into a restored High Sierra creek where once-magnificent winter runs were wiped out over the past century.
A third straight year of low king salmon runs is expected to deliver another blow to one of the North Coast’s most iconic and lucrative fisheries, wildlife managers indicated Thursday, as both regulators and fishermen faced the prospect of a federally mandated plan to reverse the trend and rebuild key stocks.
Despite the heat that often accompanies debates over setting aside water for the environment, there are instances where California stakeholders have forged agreements to provide guaranteed water for fish. Here are two examples cited by the Public Policy Institute of California in its report arguing for an environmental water right.
Does California need to revamp the way in which water is dedicated to the environment to better protect fish and the ecosystem at large? In the hypersensitive world of California water, where differences over who gets what can result in epic legislative and legal battles, the idea sparks a combination of fear, uncertainty and promise.
Saying that the way California manages water for the environment “isn’t working for anyone,” the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shook things up late last year by proposing a redesigned regulatory system featuring what they described as water ecosystem plans and water budgets with allocations set aside for the environment.
The view from Don Murphy’s expansive backyard is breathtaking. The Sacramento River rolls gently past as birds float in the mid-winter fog. It is nearly silent, except for the infrequent car driving along a delta road across the river. … Now a fight is heating up over who should have access to that serenity.
Faced with a shortage of money and political support after seven years of work, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is working on a plan to scale back one of his key legacy projects, a $17 billion proposal to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move water from Northern California to the south.
In a new study published this week in Biological Conservation, researchers from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, NOAA Fisheries, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used salmon otolith (“earstone”) chemistry to reveal the migration patterns and secret hang out spots used by juvenile winter run on their way to the ocean.
A Sacramento River side channel in Tehama County has been restored to improve salmon rearing habitat on the Sacramento River. The project is the result of a collaborative partnership of state and federal agencies, local water districts, and conservation groups, and marks the 14th project completed over the last two years to benefit salmon in the Sacramento Valley. Construction at the project site, which is located just south of the gated Lake California community between river mile 269 and 270, has been completed but monitoring of the site will be ongoing.
Biologists assumed baby winter-run Chinook salmon hung out in the Sacramento River where they hatched until they grew large enough to make the trip downstream to the Pacific Ocean. A recently released scientific study challenges that assumption – and may have implications in how fisheries agencies manage Sacramento Valley waterways to protect the critically endangered fish.
This tour explored the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as participants learned about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.
All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants got an on-site update of repair efforts on the Oroville Dam spillway.
This tour travels deep into California’s water hub and traverses the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that supports the state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. The tour will make its way to San Francisco Bay and includes a ferry ride.
Lucas RossMerz, the executive director of the [Sacramento River Preservation] trust, led a conversation on projects and impacts on the Sacramento River in the past year. Topics discussed included the status of the salmon runs, an update on the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, the proposed Sites Reservoir, the Hamilton City “J Levee” project, the Central Valley Salmon partnership, and the Sacramento River Water Trail.
Fisheries officials plan to turn a series of ponds in the Henderson Open Space into a side channel of the Sacramento River that will be used for salmon rearing habitat. The Western Shasta Resource Conservation District plans to excavate the channels and connect them to the river, creating a safe space for young salmon and other fish.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin are the two major rivers in the Central Valley that feed the Delta, the hub of California’s water supply network.
Our last two water tours of 2017 will take in-depth looks at how these rivers are managed and used for agriculture, cities and the environment. You’ll see infrastructure, learn about efforts to restore salmon runs and talk to people with expertise on these rivers.
Each year, participants on the Northern California Water Tour enjoy three days exploring the Sacramento Valley during the temperate fall. Join us as we travel along the Sacramento and Feather rivers through a scenic landscape and learn about issues associated with storing and delivering the state’s water supply.
The federal regulators evaluating Gov. Jerry Brown’s decades-old ambitions to re-engineer the water supplies from California’s largest river are promising a status update Monday, as Brown’s $16 billion proposal to shunt part of the Sacramento through two mammoth tunnels awaits a crucial yes or no from national agencies.
State and federal agencies have big plans to change the way water flows through Anderson River Park. … The test pits are being dug to prepare for a project that would create a place where young salmon can eat, grow and get ready for their migration out to the Pacific Ocean, officials said.
Before dams were built on the upper Sacramento River, flood water regularly carried woody debris that was an important part of the aquatic habitat.
Deprived of this refuge, salmon in the lower parts of the upper Sacramento River have had a difficult time surviving and making it down the river and out to the ocean. Seeing this, a group of people, including water users, decided to lend a hand with an unprecedented pilot project that saw massive walnut tree trunks affixed to 12,000-pound boulders and deposited into the deepest part of the Sacramento River near Redding to provide shelter for young salmon and steelhead migrating downstream.
Before dams were built on the upper Sacramento River, flood water regularly carried woody debris that was an important part of the aquatic habitat. Deprived of this refuge, salmon in the lower parts of the upper Sacramento River have had a difficult time surviving and making it down the river and out to the ocean.
For anyone who wants to get out on the Sacramento River and fish the section of water from Keswick Dam to Highway 44, time is running out. The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday approved permanently closing that section of the river to all fishing from the beginning of April to the end of July every year.
Be careful around rivers the next few weeks. That’s the word from Bureau of Reclamation and other authorities who say that a heavy rain year and scheduled increased releases from Shasta Dam will create high flows on the Sacramento River.
For the past two years fisheries officials — concerned about the plummeting numbers of winter-run chinook salmon — have gone to the state Fish and Game Commission to get an emergency closure of a section of the Sacramento River in Redding.
At the end of the week Shasta County residents may see a brief pause in an otherwise active rainy season, but flooding will continue to pose a threat for many low-lying areas along the Sacramento River and near other tributaries.
Protecting and restoring California’s populations of threatened and endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead trout have been a big part of the state’s water management picture for more than 20 years. Significant resources have been dedicated to helping the various runs of the iconic fish, with successes and setbacks. In a landscape dramatically altered from its natural setting, finding a balance between the competing demands for water is challenging.
Excavators, loaders and dump trucks began moving earth around the Sacramento River this week as part of the latest effort to help endangered chinook salmon. … Money for the project comes from the federal Central Valley Project Improvement Act.
The picture has brightened slightly for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon after two disastrous spawning seasons. The number of juveniles migrating downstream this fall is roughly twice what it was last year, thanks to better temperature conditions in the Sacramento River.
For the past two years state fisheries officials have asked the state Fish and Game Commission to close on an emergency basis a 51/2-mile section of the river to fishing from April 1 to July 31 to protect spawning winter-run chinook salmon.
Signaling a cutback in water supplies for farming and cities, California regulators on Wednesday issued a new scientific analysis that proposes overhauling the management of the Sacramento River and devoting more water to Northern California’s dwindling fish populations. … The proposal comes a month after the water board called for people to take far less water out of the San Joaquin River system.
At this point in the Sacramento River restoration game, one big fix will not change the outlook for endangered and threatened salmon. However, fish scientist Dave Vogel hopes that a series of smaller fixes will make a big difference.
In a move that foreshadows sweeping statewide reductions in the amount of river water available for human needs, California regulators on Thursday proposed a stark set of cutbacks to cities and farms that receive water from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.
Less than 50 miles northeast of Chico, California, begins the 93-mile Butte Creek – a tributary of the Sacramento River. It is named after Butte County, which was in turn named for the nearby volcanic plateaus, or “buttes,” and travels through a massive canyon on its way southwest to the Sacramento Valley.
As a watershed, it drains about 800 square miles, both for agricultural and residential use. The upper watershed is dominated by forests, while the lower watershed is primarily agricultural.
Whiskeytown Lake, a major reservoir in the foothills of the Klamath Mountains nine miles west of Redding, was built at the site of one of Shasta County’s first Gold Rush communities. Whiskeytown, originally called Whiskey Creek Diggings, was founded in 1849 and named in reference to a whiskey barrel rolling off a citizen’s pack mule; it may also refer to miners drinking a barrel per day.
We went deep into California’s water hub and traversed the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that support the state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. The tour made it way to San Francisco Bay, and included a ferry ride.
Water from Northern California flows through the Delta and heads south to provide drinking water for more than 25 million Californians and irrigation to 3 million acres of farmland that contribute to the state’s $46 billion agricultural industry.
The American River, with headwaters in the Tahoe and El Dorado National forests of the Sierra Nevada, is the birthplace of the California Gold Rush. It currently serves as a major water supply, recreational destination and habitat for hundreds of species. The geologically diverse North, Middle and South forks comprise the American River or the Río de los Americanos, as it was called during California’s Mexican rule.
Marking the first full-scale public examination of the [California WaterFix] proposal, the hearings before the State Water Resources Control Board are focused on a comparatively narrow issue: whether California’s giant water-delivery projects should be allowed to carve three new intake points in the north Delta to pull water from the Sacramento River and feed into the proposed tunnels.
Federal officials on June 29 released a temperature management plan for the Sacramento River that schedules releases from Shasta Lake in a way they believe provides adequate temperatures for winter-run Chinook salmon without cutting farm water deliveries.
There may be big problems lurking in the Sacramento River for the young fish that officials want some day to hatch in Battle Creek. That was the message that some river anglers delivered to federal fisheries officials at a meeting in Red Bluff on Tuesday night.
Water from the rain-swollen Sacramento River began flowing over the Fremont Weir and into the Yolo Bypass on Saturday morning, according to monitors at the California Nevada River Forecast Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A few dozen baby salmon that spent the past two weeks contentedly eating – and growing – in the invertebrate stew of a flooded rice field were netted Friday, dumped into coolers and hauled by pickup several miles to a drainage canal and to the Sacramento River.
California drought regulators on Tuesday backed off a controversial plan to withhold water from farms and cities next year in an effort to preserve an endangered species of salmon, instead choosing a more flexible approach they said still could do the trick.
Explore the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as we learn about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply. All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: The State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.
This 3-day, 2-night tour travels across the Sacramento Valley and follows the river north from Sacramento through Chico to Redding and Lake Shasta, where participants take a houseboat ride.
For the second straight year, huge numbers of juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon appear to have baked to death in the Sacramento River because of California’s drought-stretched water supplies, bringing the endangered species a step closer to extinction.
Construction is nearly complete on a $2.5 million fish barrier at the Knights Landing Outfall Gates. The project will block migrating salmon from straying off course as they make their way up the Sacramento River.
Citing drought conditions and low water levels in Lake Shasta, state officials have ordered releases from Keswick Dam into the Sacramento River be reduced to help salmon spawning later this summer and fall.
A UC Davis researcher is studying whether tiny bits of plastic used in face washes, toothpaste and other consumer products are accumulating in Sacramento-area rivers and flowing out to the Pacific Ocean. … Their small size also means they don’t get filtered out of the wastewater that flows from homes to sewage-treatment plants.
A massive new round of levee improvements is ahead for Sacramento over the next decade, this time focusing primarily on the Sacramento River south of downtown. … The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency unveiled the package of projects recently and are planning a series of public meetings in April.
Crews are out working in the Sacramento River in Redding this week repairing a side channel they hope will soon be filled with spawning salmon. But the workers aren’t with one of the state or federal agencies charged with managing fish and wildlife. Instead, the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District out of Willows is spending about $250,000 to improve salmon habitat in the river.
The Water Education Foundation’s popular Northern California Tour features a diverse group of experts talking about groundwater, flood management, the drought, water supplies, agricultural challenges, and the latest on salmon restoration efforts. The tour also includes a houseboat cruise on Lake Shasta. … The tour travels the length of the Sacramento Valley with visits to Oroville and Shasta dams.
This 30-minute documentary-style DVD on the history and current state of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program includes an overview of the geography and history of the river, historical and current water delivery and uses, the genesis and timeline of the 1988 lawsuit, how the settlement was reached and what was agreed to.
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.
30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern day issues.
This beautifully illustrated 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing and display in any office or classroom, focuses on the theme of Delta sustainability.
The text, photos and graphics explain issues related to land subsidence, levees and flooding, urbanization and fish and wildlife protection. An inset map illustrates the tidal action that increases the salinity of the Delta’s waterways. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the California Bay-Delta Authority.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to Flood Management explains the physical flood control system, including levees; discusses previous flood events (including the 1997 flooding); explores issues of floodplain management and development; provides an overview of flood forecasting; and outlines ongoing flood control projects.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to California Water provides an excellent overview of the history of water development and use in California. It includes sections on flood management; the state, federal and Colorado River delivery systems; Delta issues; water rights; environmental issues; water quality; and options for stretching the water supply such as water marketing and conjunctive use.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project explores the history and development of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), California’s largest surface water delivery system. In addition to the history of the project, the guide describes the various CVP facilities, CVP operations, the benefits the CVP brought to the state, and the CVP Improvement Act (CVPIA).