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
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.
The Bureau of Reclamation updated its 2019 allocation for the
Central Valley Project South-of-Delta, increasing the westside
water allocation to 70 percent of the contract total. Said
Mid-Pacific Regional Director Ernest Conant: “The late storms
provided an added boost to the already above average
precipitation for 2019. Snowpack throughout the state is still
about 150% of average for this time of year.”
Barbara Vlamis is smiling. Often, the executive director of the
Chico-based advocacy group AquAlliance wears a steely
expression, as her work involves David-versus-Goliath battles
against powerful interests—namely, government agencies and
water brokers. Now, she’s satisfied, even a bit celebratory.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and his allies have
filed a lawsuit to stop Federal water users from participating
in the raising of Shasta Dam, a federal dam. … Plain and
simple, this is a lawsuit waged against Central Valley farmers.
As part of efforts by Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California (MWD) to assess its 2014-2016 turf replacement
program during the California drought, we evaluated how yards
changed after converting a lawn through a MWD rebate in LA
County. We also evaluated trends in participation across
The big conflicts are deeply interconnected and appear to be
reaching their climactic phases. How they are resolved over the
next few years will write an entirely new chapter in
California’s water history, changing priorities and perhaps
shifting water from agriculture to urban users and
Like everyone else in Santa Clara Valley who uses wells,
farmers will see their groundwater production charges go up 6.8
percent this year. But unlike the others, they’ll continue to
receive substantial subsidies. In approving the increased
charges for well users, the Santa Clara Valley Water District
board left intact for at least two years the current structure
that allows farmers to pay only 6 percent of the amount
residents and businesses pay.
Five years ago, Deb Fallows and I made the first of what became
many visits to the farming town of Winters, California. …
When we first visited five years ago, the main question for the
area’s nut-tree farmers, and for California’s agricultural
economy as a whole, was whether the state’s drought-ravaged
water supplies could support such commercially valuable but
In reality, the WaterFix could not increase water exports while
protecting the Delta ecosystem. That’s because California’s
snow and rainfall are highly variable, making it unlikely that
existing supplies can meet increasing water demands reliably
into the future. Plus, the science demonstrates that San
Francisco Bay’s fish and wildlife need more water, not less, to
flow from the Central Valley to the Bay.
With the administration’s leadership, representatives of
farmers, cities and conservation groups are having productive
negotiations on a complex package of actions that would
increase river flows and improve fish habitats, collectively
called a “voluntary agreement.” A possible final agreement is
months away, but we are making progress.
The lawsuit against the Fresno-based Westlands Water District
was filed in Shasta County Superior Court on Monday. State
officials have for years maintained that raising the height of
the dam would violate the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act because a
higher dam would further inundate the McCloud River, in
violation of state law.
When people think of natural disasters in California, they
usually think of earthquakes, drought or wildfire. But the
worst disaster to ever hit the Golden State was the Great Flood
of 1862. When people of European descent first arrived in
California, the native people told them tales of great deluges
in which the rivers overran their banks and large areas of land
were inundated. The newcomers paid little heed to these
stories, and often settled in low-lying areas with easy access
to water sources.
In response to a story that aired Thursday night on CBS13, the
City of Sacramento is now responding and creating a task force
to combat a growing public safety concern. Homeless campers are
carving into levees that protect Sacramento from flooding, a
break in the levee could be devastating.
Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to withdraw permits for
the proposed Twin Tunnels project in favor of a smaller single
tunnel, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, issued a letter to the
governor expressing support for the decision while also
outlining alternative water plans.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Central
Valley Project, may update its 65% allocation for
south-of-delta agricultural contractors later this month. But
Lon Martin, general manager of the Los Banos-based San Luis
Water District, said landowners who are planting crops and must
secure water for the remainder of the year “cannot wait until
May and June to make decisions.”
DWR has not yet disclosed whether it intends to withdraw the
WaterFix bond resolutions, which are subject to numerous
challenges in litigation DWR filed to validate the bonds. It
remains unclear what will happen with the validation action now
that the project and cost estimates these items are based on no
Paddlers of every skill and age from the U.S. and abroad will
be making their way down the Sacramento River on May 26 in the
California River Quest. … The course flows through riparian
forests and oak woodlands “teaming with wildlife and plants” as
well as a section that runs through a lava canyon, said
Gov. Gavin Newsom killed the divisive twin tunnels project
Thursday, calming fears that have roiled the delta communities
and dominated California water politics for more than a decade.
It is a signature decision for the young administration.
The Newsom administration announced it is withdrawing permit
applications that the Brown administration had submitted to the
State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of
Fish and Wildlife, and several federal agencies. Instead, the
administration said it will begin environmental studies on a
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration officially pulled the plug
Thursday on the twin Delta tunnels, fullfilling Newsom’s pledge
to downsize the project to a single pipe as he attempts to
chart a new course for California’s troubled water-delivery
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call on Monday for a new comprehensive
water plan for California looks like a smart timeout on one of
the state’s trickiest and most intractable battlefronts. As
with many political hot potatoes, there is no way to make
everyone happy when it comes to water management, because the
sides have mutually exclusive goals…
Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center,
testified today (April 30, 2019) before the Assembly
Subcommittee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, at a hearing on
balancing water needs into the future in the San Joaquin
Valley. Here are her prepared remarks.
Yes, some fish died — including endangered Chinook salmon — but
overall rebuilding the Fremont Weir has done its job and saved
hundred of others. That was the response of Allen Young, public
information officer for the California Department of Water
Resources, after reports surfaced last week that at least 13
Chinook salmon and other fish couldn’t make it through the weir
designed to get them safely into the Sacramento River and died.
Local officials have put a renewed focus on making sure one of
the area’s crown recreational jewels – the San Joaquin River
Delta – is clear and operational. Over the weekend the
California Department of Boating and Waterways, in conjunction
with the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Office boating unit,
removed a sunken vessel from the San Joaquin River that has
been underwater for the past three years.
It’s an exceptional year for Sierra snowpack — 150 to 200% in
some places. Mountain snow is the main water source for
agriculture on the Valley’s west side. But those farmers are
getting just 65% of their allocation… Fresno County Farm
Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen says it’s frustrating that in a water
year this good, some farmers still can’t get enough of it to
Part of sustaining salmon populations is improving the survival
and fitness of young salmon as they grow for weeks to months
before out-migrating to the Ocean. … This year, UC Davis
Center for Watershed Sciences and California Trout have four
different studies over approximately 100 miles using floating
cages with baby salmon inside.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday ordered key state agencies to
develop a blueprint for meeting California’s 21st-century water
needs in the face of climate change.The executive order
includes few details and doesn’t appear to set a dramatic new
water course for the state. Rather, it reaffirms Newsom’s
intentions to downsize the controversial twin tunnels project
in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, use voluntary agreements
to meet new river flow requirements and provide clean drinking
water to impoverished communities.
Senate Bill 1 … would encourage state agencies, such as
regional water quality control boards, Fish & Wildlife, the Air
Resources Board, and CalOSHA, to resist Trump administration
rollbacks by allowing them to consider applying federal
standards for protection in effect as of January 19, 2017, the
day before Donald Trump took office, and maintain them in case
he is re-elected next year.
An automated gate was supposed to open once water levels got
high enough to overflow into the bypass, allowing fish to swim
back into the Sacramento River. But in February … too much
water was pouring through the passage, eroding the structure.
Officials had to close the gate almost entirely, meaning fewer
fish could escape. The Department of Water Resources is now
facing an expensive upgrade to an already multimillion
structure to make it ready for the next rainy season.
One of California Gov. Gavin
Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade
Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within
weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that
Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.
That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach”
on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded
floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.
Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, thinks there is a better way to
find water solutions for California’s Central Valley and to
stop squandering water in wet years that’s needed in dry years.
His bipartisan water legislation unveiled Wednesday promises
federal support for storage and innovation projects to address
shortages that too often plague Valley agriculture and
In court, the California Environmental Quality Act is a
familiar obstacle to projects large and small — housing
developments, solar projects, even bike lanes. It’s also lately
become a weapon in the state’s major water conflicts.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is taking unprecedented
steps to combat President Donald Trump’s efforts to ship more
water to his agricultural allies in the San Joaquin Valley.
Saying Trump’s water plans are scientifically indefensible and
would violate the state’s Endangered Species Act, the state
Department of Water Resources on Friday began drawing up new
regulations governing how water is pumped from the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the southern half of the state.
While all other Central Valley Project contractors’ allocations
were previously increased to 100% of their contract totals in
recent months, the Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday
that agricultural districts South-of-Delta will receive only
65% percent of their historic water allocation. … In light of
current hydrologic and reservoir conditions, Westlands Water
District officials said this minor increase in water allocation
California is a wonderful place to study water. So many
interesting and important problems, thoughtful and insightful
authors, and much to be learned. Here is a selection of
readings (updated from a 2012 post) on California water.
Despite a decades-long rescue effort, the tiny delta smelt
appears closer than ever to vanishing from its only natural
home, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Now, some worry it
won’t be long before the only place the once-abundant species
exists is within the confines of an artificial tank.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt began working on policies
that would aid one of his former lobbying clients within weeks
of joining the Trump administration, according to a POLITICO
analysis of agency documents … Newly disclosed schedule
“cards” prepared by Interior officials for Bernhardt show more
than three dozen meetings with key players on California water
issues, including multiple lengthy meetings on specific
endangered species protections at the heart of his previous
For centuries, the Delta was a dynamic and rich ecosystem of
tidal wetlands, riparian forests, and vast seasonal
floodplains. But about 98 percent of the native habitat
disappeared after the Gold Rush and a population boom across
the Golden State.
In SB1, State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins provides a
compelling case to protect California’s air, navigable water,
drinking water and workers. … However, despite our
recognition that some in our state feel recent administrative
rulings and legislative changes to federal law may not be the
right prescription for California, we believe this legislation
is overbroad, duplicative and unworkable.
Assessing populations of fall-run Chinook salmon in
California’s Central Valley isn’t as simple as counting how
many adults have returned to a given stream to spawn. A process
known as “source-sink dynamics” may be concealing the fact that
certain populations are not self-sustaining.
The Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday that it will
supply South-of-Delta growers with 65% of their contracted
water total. … Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who is a grower and
one of the top water policy experts in Congress, said that he
expected the initial west-side allocation in February to be
50%, followed by a 75% revise.
The California Farm Bureau delegation met last week with more
than 20 members of the California congressional delegation,
with a particular emphasis on members newly elected in 2018.
They met with U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, two days
before the Senate confirmed his appointment as the Cabinet’s
newest member. For the first time in several years, they
conducted a briefing for congressional staff members, to
describe key issues facing California farmers and ranchers.
Federal and state water managers have coordinated operations of
the CVP and the parallel State Water Project for many decades.
… But this intergovernmental water policy Era of Good Feeling
(relatively speaking) has come to a sudden and dramatic end
with the ascension of the Trump Administration.
A total of 300,000 salmon were released into the Sacramento
River on Saturday. Half were dropped at their usual location at
Coleman Fish Hatchery near Anderson in Shasta County, and the
other half were released 75 miles downstream, at Scottys
Landing on River Road near Chico. Surgeons fit the fish with
tiny radio transmitters so they can more easily study their
survival chances and homing instincts.
At least 11 Democratic senators asked the inspector general to
investigate a range of claims against Bernhardt … The
inspector general also received a request from Democratic Sens.
Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of
Connecticut, asking the office to examine whether Bernhardt
played a role in the department’s handling of endangered
species in the San Francisco Bay Delta…
Even as winter and early-spring storms have filled reservoirs
to the brim and piled snow on Sierra Nevada mountaintops, state
and federal officials say they’re limited in how much water
they can send south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Bernhardt has a roster to fill, with gaping vacancies in key
positions. He’s got, by his own account, a departmental ethics
program to fix and an ambitious reorganization scheme that
critics decry or simply dismiss. He’ll have to cope with a
multibillion-dollar national parks maintenance backlog and
thread the needle with an offshore drilling plan. And as he’s
already discovered during his short stint as acting secretary,
he faces opposition from Democratic lawmakers in control of the
Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona
governor and secretary of the Interior, has been a thoughtful,
provocative and sometimes forceful voice in some of the most
high-profile water conflicts over the last 40 years, including
groundwater management in Arizona and the reduction of
California’s take of the Colorado River. In 2016, former
California Gov. Jerry Brown named Babbitt as a special adviser to
work on matters relating to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and
the Delta tunnels plan.
Will hatchery-raised salmon have a better chance of surviving
their journey to the Pacific Ocean and back if they get a
75-mile head start? That’s the question a three-year study
hopes to answer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and four
partner organizations. The plan Saturday is to release 180,000
salmon fry into the Sacramento River 75 miles downriver from
the Coleman National Fish Hatchery.
Assemblyman Jim Frazier spoke out in frustration Wednesday when
his bill to increase local representation on the Delta
Stewardship Council died Tuesday in a committee hearing. Unable
to get his bill past the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife
Committee, Frazier blamed Southern California water special
When Babbitt speaks, people take notice, and he didn’t
disappoint before a packed house at the annual Anne J.
Schneider Lecture April 3 in Sacramento, offering thoughts on
some of California’s thorniest water issues and proposing a
Bay-Delta Compact, a kind of grand bargain to end persistent
conflict surrounding the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District, or ACID, Canal was
covered in tree debris after the snow and rain storms. The
workload was enough that Congressman Doug Lamalfa called in the
California Conservation Corps.
For the millions of Californians who live and work far from the
Delta, it can be easy to overlook the splendor of the largest
estuary in western North America. Whether you are one mile or
hundreds of miles from the Delta, however, all Californians
have a stake in the survival and preservation of this fragile,
dynamic ecosystem that is also the keystone of the state’s
water supply system.
How can state and federal agencies help California’s largest
agricultural region address its difficult water management
problems? This was the theme of an event last week that brought
together PPIC experts with top officials working on issues
related to water, agriculture, and natural resources.
Our rules, cobbled over time from various state water right
decisions or federal biological opinions, are too rigid.
Pumping rules in the Delta on Nov. 30, for example, are very
different than those 24 hours later, regardless of the weather.
… Simply put, we are stuck in yesterday’s way of regulating
People living in flood-prone areas throughout Shasta County
seemed to be breathing easier Friday after a long winter
dealing with high water threats. For months, many have been
watching the rivers and creeks around their homes, in case the
waters started to rise. However, despite wet weather and
increased water releases from Keswick Dam this week, the
residents we spoke with Friday say their waterways are staying
at manageable levels.
Administered by the National Park Service (NPS), NHAs are
defined by NPS as a grassroots, community-driven approach to
heritage conservation and economic development. They differ
from national parks in several significant ways. Primarily, NPS
does not take ownership of the land encompassed within an NHA
and no land-use restrictions are placed upon landowners.
Tehama and Butte counties teamed up Friday to host a Northern
Sacramento Valley forum on sustainable groundwater held at
Rolling Hills Casino. … The forum was a chance to look at
neighboring agencies and see similarities and differences as
well as how they are progressing in the planning, Fulton said.
It was a place to connect with the agency in their area so they
would know where to go if they had questions.
So just what would a one-tunnel project look like? A workshop
for Metropolitan Water District board members compared a single
tunnel project at both 3000 cfs and 6000 cfs to the California
WaterFix project, looking at water delivery capability, the
ability to divert stormwater flows, water quality benefits,
reverse flows, seismic events, and project costs.
A previously unreleased invoice indicates that David Bernhardt,
President Trump’s choice to lead the Interior Department,
continued to lobby for a major client several months after he
filed official papers saying that he had ended his lobbying
activities. The bill for Mr. Bernhardt’s services, dated March
2017 and labeled “Federal Lobbying,” shows, along with other
documents, Mr. Bernhardt working closely with the Westlands
Water District as late as April 2017, the month Mr. Trump
nominated him to his current job, deputy interior secretary.
One video follows Matthew Sligar on a “typical 14-hour workday”
during the planting season. Another offers a step-by-step
explanation of how rice is planted in Butte County. In others,
he takes viewers on virtual tractor rides and demonstrates
important tools, like his autonomous agriculture drone. Sligar
doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, either, such as
weed and pest control management and water usage.
Current water sharing proposals fail to achieve the balance
needed to restore our salmon runs. Meanwhile, additional
massive increases in Delta diversions are planned by the Trump
administration under these agreements, which would make
conditions for salmon even worse. This is a formula for
extinctions and the end of salmon fishing in California. There
is no support for this proposal among fishermen or
An oversight at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery
resulted in the death of some 390,000 fall Chinook salmon this
week. Water was shut off to one of the hatchery’s raceways and
wasn’t turned back on during fish-tagging operations Thursday
Officials predict they might need to open the gates to move
water that accumulated during the wet winter season from the
reservoir down into the Feather River. … Amy Rechenmacher, an
associate professor of engineering practice at USC, said the
spillway’s use is going to be a big test for the agency and
engineers who worked on the project.
Antioch’s plan to build a long-awaited brackish desalination
plant got a major boost this week when the City Council
officially accepted a $10 million state grant that will pay
toward design and construction. The city’s grant was one of
three statewide to be awarded in March 2018 from the Department
of Water Resources for desalination projects under Proposition
The town of roughly 1,000 people is located in the north-east
part of the county and surrounded by active waterways. It has
flooded multiple times in the past. Goals of the study included
reducing the risk of flooding while enhancing habitat
restoration and providing safe access to the river, according
to Sabatini’s presentation.
On our Bay-Delta Tour June 5-7, participants will hear from a
diverse group of experts including water managers,
environmentalists, farmers, engineers and scientists who will
offer various perspectives on a proposed tunnel project that
would carry water beneath the Delta, efforts to revitalize the
Delta and risks that threaten its delicate ecological balance.
A California law that passed in 2014 gave local control to
agencies to manage their groundwater. The Glenn Groundwater
Authority – created in 2017 – is an agency that was formed
under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to regulate
groundwater at a local level. … The GGA was created by
forming a joint exercise of powers agreement which was signed
by nine local agencies. The purpose is to be the groundwater
sustainability agency for the Glenn County portion of the
Any new path on California water must bring Delta community and
fishing interests to the table. We have solutions to offer. We
live with the impacts of state water management decisions from
loss of recreation to degradation of water quality to
collapsing fisheries. For example, how can new and improved
technology be employed to track real time management of
State officials are throwing up legal barriers to some
high-stakes attacks. … They are refusing to issue permits the
federal government needs to build a controversial dam
project… And they can use state water quality standards to
limit Washington’s ability to boost irrigation supplies for
Central Valley agriculture by relaxing federal safeguards for
The state of California declared the drought is over – but
don’t touch your sprinkler programming. Los Angeles Mayor Eric
Garcetti says the city is not easing watering restrictions
because the next “drought is right around the corner,” and
conservation is “the new normal.”
As the Sacramento River rose in late February and early March
due to a series of storms, it spilled over and flooded several
hundred acres of recently planted fields south of Hamilton
City. Just the way it was planned. The river poured through a
gap that had been opened in the old J Levee and flooded a
habitat restoration project between the riverbank and a new
levee that had been built, set back from the river a mile or
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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
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
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.
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 Oroville Dam spillway
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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