Topic: San Joaquin Valley


San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley stretches from across mid-California between coastal ranges in west and the Sierras on the east. The region includes large cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield, national parks such as Yosemite and Kings and fertile farmland and multi-billion dollar agriculture industry.

The federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project (about 30 percent of SWP water is used for irrigation) helped deliver water to the valley. Today, San Joaquin Valley crops include grapes, tomatoes, hay, sugar beets, nuts, cotton and a multitude of other fruits and vegetables. At the same time, water used to grow these crops has led to the need for agricultural drainage.


Aquafornia news GV Wire

One of CA’s ‘largest almond growers’ goes bankrupt. It owes millions to local companies.

A private equity farming giant with more than 1,500 acres of land in Fresno and Tulare counties and 8,600 acres statewide declared bankruptcy Monday. Even with “extremely favorable water rights and competitive water costs,” Redwood City-based Trinitas Partners could not keep up with high borrowing costs and consistently low almond prices, according to bankruptcy filings. The firm owes $190 million in secured and unsecured debt. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Northern District of California. … Trinitas Partners began buying land in the Central Valley in 2015. It focused on land with superior water rights and young almonds, making the orchards more valuable for long-term growth, according to court filings.

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Aquafornia news CalMatters

California’s polluted communities could miss out on billions under state’s flawed system

The system that California uses to screen neighborhoods at risk of environmental harm is highly subjective and flawed, resulting in communities potentially missing out on billions of dollars in funding, according to new research. The study, by researchers who began the project at Stanford University, investigated a tool that the California Environmental Protection Agency developed in 2013 as the nation’s “first comprehensive statewide environmental health screening tool” to identify communities disproportionately burdened by pollution. … CalEnviroScreen evaluates 21 environmental, public health and demographic factors to identify which neighborhoods are most susceptible to environmental harm. Among the factors considered: air pollution and drinking water contaminants, pesticide usage, toxic releases, low birth weight infants, poverty and unemployment rates.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Experts urge California to avoid water pitfalls in the delta

Some of the thorniest debates over water in California revolve around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where pumps send water flowing to farms and cities, and where populations of native fish have been declining…. State water regulators are considering … “voluntary agreements” in which water agencies pledge to forgo certain amounts of water while also funding projects to improve wetland habitats. … To learn more about these issues, I spoke with Felicia Marcus and Michael Kiparsky, two experts who wrote a report outlining what they say should be “guiding principles for effective voluntary agreements.” … Marcus said if voluntary agreements go forward without adequate standards in place, “the ecosystem will continue to collapse and more species will go extinct.”

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Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Farmers regroup after storms batter state

With a respite from stormy weather, farmers say they are surveying for any damage and waiting for the ground to dry so they can access fields and orchards to make repairs or do other practices. Historic and deadly storms that brought two weeks of rain and powerful winds to California led to mudslides, flooding and widespread power outages and related evacuations. A state of emergency was declared for eight Southern California counties. In Santa Barbara County, farm manager Sheldon Bosio of Goleta-based Terra Bella Ranches said three mudslides affected about 40 avocado trees or about half an acre, which is half of what was lost from mudslides caused by storms last year.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Water district between two counties and two subbasins forges its own groundwater sustainability path

The small Kern-Tulare Water District moved forward recently in breaking away from two other groundwater agencies to form its own independent groundwater sustainability agency (GSA). As the state’s historic Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) turns 10 this year and the 2040 deadline to bring aquifers into balance edges closer, groundwater agencies have splintered and reformed throughout the southern San Joaquin Valley. Most notably, the Kern Groundwater Authority which initially had 16 water district members,  reorganized as most of those members have broken off to form their own, or regional GSAs. Kern-Tulare, which covers 19,600 acres, and straddles two water subbasins and two counties, had always planned to go independent …

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Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

California releases formal proposal to end fracking in the state

California oil and gas regulators have formally released their plan to phase out fracking three years after essentially halting new permits for the practice. The California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) wrote that they would not approve (PDF) applications for permits for well stimulation treatments like fracking to “prevent damage to life, health, property, and natural resources (PDF)” in addition to protecting public health and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. … Hydraulic fracturing injects liquids, mostly water, underground at high pressure to extract oil or gas. Oil companies say fracking has been done safely for years under state regulation and that a ban should come from the Legislature, not a state agency.

Aquafornia news Bakersfield Californian

Opinion: Water management toolkit and playbook for the Kern

Few know it, but Kern County is one of the most progressive water management regions in the state, if not the world, drawing interest from those looking for creative ways to manage variable and often unpredictable water supplies. There are numerous examples of locally developed water management projects that allow water managers to deal with California’s highly variable hydrology more effectively. The crown jewel among these is the Kern Water Bank. This project, like all water banks, captures wet-year water (like 2023) and recharges it in the underground. This stored or banked water is recovered with wells and used to meet agricultural and urban demands during periods of drought.
-Written by Harry Starkey, a local water management professional with more than 30 years of experience. 

Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

Years after a Newsom order, California is finally set to ban oil and gas fracking

Nearly three years after Gov. Gavin Newsom directed it, California’s oil and gas industry regulator kickstarted a process to outright ban hydraulic fracturing, the fossil fuel extraction method known as ‘fracking.’ Fracking permits have not been issued in the state since 2021, but environmentalists celebrated the move as a win in the fight against climate change. Oil industry groups called it yet another example of regulatory overreach and argued it could lead to higher oil prices. … As the practice exploded in the mid-2000s, research gave fracking a reputation for pollution and public health dangers. Fracking not only is water intensive, it releases potent greenhouse gases such as methane and benzyne and can contaminate groundwater basins with chemical additives.

Aquafornia news Grist

Intensifying atmospheric rivers are leading to a surge in Valley fever cases in California

The flooding caused by intensifying winter rainstorms in California is helping to spread a deadly fungal disease called coccidioidomycosis, or Valley fever. “Hydro-climate whiplash is increasingly wide swings between extremely wet and extremely dry conditions,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at University of California, Los Angeles. Humans are finding it difficult to adapt to this new pattern. But fungi are thriving, Swain said. Valley fever, he added, “is going to become an increasingly big story.” Cases of Valley fever in California broke records last year after nine back-to-back atmospheric rivers slammed the state and caused widespread, record-breaking flooding. 

Aquafornia news The Sun-Gazette Newspaper

Costa, Valadao introduce measures to help Valley farmers

Two Congressmen representing the Central Valley have introduced measures to assist California communities ravaged by drought and extreme heat, as well as to advance and promote policies essential to U.S. agriculture. On Feb. 1, California Congress Member David Valadao, R-22nd District, and Nevada Congress Member Dina Titus, D-1st District, introduced the Water Conservation Economic Adjustment Act (Act). According to a press release from Valadao’s office, the bill “aims to make additional resources available for regions experiencing adverse economic changes caused by drought and extreme heat.” The Act amends the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965 by adding environmental conditions that contribute to increased water supplies, including drought and extreme heat, to the list of events that may make communities eligible for financial assistance.

Aquafornia news Ag Info

Almonds use less water than you think

Danielle Veenstra is an almond grower as well as the senior manager for reputation management and sustainability communications for the Almond Board of California. She comments on how the production of almonds uses much less water than you think.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Farmers in Tulare County to test groundwater market they hope could help keep them in business and replenish the aquifer

How will selling groundwater help keep more groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley’s already critically overtapped aquifers? Water managers in the Kaweah subbasin in northwestern Tulare County hope to find out by having farmers tinker with a pilot groundwater market program. Kaweah farmers will be joining growers from subbasins up and down the San Joaquin Valley who’ve been looking at how water markets might help them maintain their businesses by using pumping allotments and groundwater credits as assets to trade or sell when water is tight.

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Aquafornia news Manteca Bulletin

Commentary: Climate change flooding irony: Manteca, Lathrop taking real action; SF & LA aren’t

 … [T]here is no looming mandate banning new construction of any type — from the foundation up or adding on to homes, retail concerns, employment centers and such — hanging over Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland when it comes to flooding predicted from climate change. There is on large swaths of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento Valley. If physical work hasn’t at least started to protect 200-year floodplains by 2030, the state has mandated that no new construction — or adding square footage to existing structures — can take place. The mandate impacts 24 cities, including six in the San Joaquin Valley: Manteca, Lathrop, Stockton, Tracy. Dos Palos, and Firebaugh. The largest city impacted is Sacramento. It is a mandate put in place in 2007 via Senate Bill 7.
-Written by Manteca Bulletin opinion editor Dennis Wyatt.​

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

New study: California’s water woes are uniquely dire — but there’s also good news

… In a study published January 24 in the journal Nature, scientists produced the first global record of groundwater evolution over the last half-century. They found that water stores across the world are evaporating faster and faster, and that California is a global hotspot for groundwater decline. … When the map was complete, it clearly showed that aquifers the world over are depleting at alarming and increasing rates. The data, which is finer-scale than previous, satellite-based studies, reveals how local differences in management and climate can lead to dry wells only miles away from flourishing ones. Differences across our state demonstrate this. The Cuyama Valley, in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, ranked 34th among the world’s most precipitous declines in the study. The farmland around Sacramento, however, is faring much better, since water pumped out for consumption by people and crops is largely replenished by seasonal precipitation.

Aquafornia news Manteca Bulletin

SSJID turns snow into quality drinking water

Snow falling on the upper reaches of the Stanislaus River Basin near Sonora Pass this winter could be flowing through Manteca faucets as water this summer. It’s because roughly 60 percent of the 4.5 billion gallons of water Manteca uses in a typical year is not taken from the 17 wells dispersed throughout the city. It comes from surface sources secured nearly 115 years ago by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. But it wasn’t until 2007 that SSJID’s water captured to irrigate farms was tapped to help deliver safe and reliable water for Manteca as well as Lathrop and Tracy. The snow that melts into water to make what could be a meandering trip of over 100 miles can pick up a lot of stuff that isn’t good for you.

Aquafornia news

Over $500K awarded to the Water Institute at Fresno State

A $569,000 grant was awarded to the California Water Institute’s Research and Education Division at Fresno State for a project that addresses drought and flooding by planning for sustainable use of surface groundwater, officials announced on Wednesday. Officials say the grant was awarded by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. The project, “Climate Resiliency through Regional Water Recharge in the San Joaquin Valley,” will educate rural communities on groundwater recharge and establish a collaborative response team, as well as a plan for effective floodwater management, ensuring vulnerable communities are prioritized.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

“Where’s the river?” Bakersfield lowers required Kern River flows pending interim flow agreement

Required flows down the Kern River channel were lowered by the City of Bakersfield on Monday as officials have collected more data on how much water is actually needed for the river to get west of town, according to an email from the City Water Resources Department. The move is part of a larger effort to re-water the river through town per an ongoing lawsuit against Bakersfield by several public interest groups.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

State nitrate program expands but public participation is still lacking

After three years, more of the Central Valley is being folded into the state’s nitrate control program. But program managers and environmental justice advocates say there are still serious problems with outreach.  The state’s nitrate control program launched in 2021. It offers free well testing and water deliveries for residents whose wells test over the limit for nitrates. The program is mandated by the State Water Resources Control Board and funded by nitrate polluters throughout the valley. Nitrates can be harmful to pregnant women and infants. Nitrates have infiltrated drinking water supplies in the valley from farming fertilizers, septic tanks, dairies and other wastewater sources.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Thursday Top of the Scroll: California ranks high worldwide for rapidly depleted groundwater

In a sign of the ongoing threats to its precious groundwater stores, half a dozen regions in California rank among the world’s most rapidly declining aquifers, according to research published [Wednesday]. Globally, lack of local water drives migration, poverty, starvation and violence — while in California, it drives decades-long regulatory battles over how to stop over-pumping by growers. … The research revealed that rapidly declining groundwater basins are virtually non-existent in places with no farming. Heavily-farmed regions in drier climates, such as the San Joaquin Valley, Iran and parts of India, are especially hard hit. 

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Local agencies need more than “words on paper” from the state to help fight drought and flood

A Tulare County official who’s faced multiple droughts and devastating floods over the past decade appreciated the California Water Commission’s latest “policy paper” on how best to respond to such calamities but she had some advice of her own for the state: Locals need resources – money, equipment, personnel – not just “words on paper.” Beyond immediate response needs, valley communities need state help to build more water storage and conveyance, said Denise England, water resources director in Tulare County.  Tulare has been ground zero for dry wells during the state’s two most recent crippling droughts. Entire communities, such as Teviston, East Porterville, Tooleville and others, have lost water for months on end and, in fact, some areas of the rural county are still relying on delivered water.

Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Watch: Bill Maher, Gavin Newsom tee off on almond farmers over water use

During an interview on Saturday’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO, Gov. Gavin Newsom and host-comedian Bill Maher took a moment to knock California’s almond production for its excessive use of water.

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Aquafornia news California Water Boards

News release: Central Valley Water Board expands innovative safe drinking water program to eight more geographic zones

Three years after the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board launched a novel program that has brought replacement drinking water to more than 1,200 households with nitrate-impacted wells in designated areas of the Central Valley, the regional board is expanding the program to new areas in eight groundwater basins. The Central Valley Water Board recently mailed 938 Notices to Comply to permit holders in these areas, known as Priority 2 management zones within its Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS) program. Collectively, these notices affect dischargers – growers, dairies, industrial facilities and wastewater plants – in the following basins: Delta-Mendota, Eastern San Joaquin, Madera, Merced, Kern County (Poso), Kern County (West-side South), Tulare Lake and Yolo. These entities are now required to begin testing potentially impacted domestic wells and to provide free replacement drinking water where nitrates are found to exceed health standards.

Aquafornia news The Guardian

‘It smells bad’: the US farmworkers grappling with unsafe water at home

It’s easy to identify the residences of the farm workers who tend crops in the San Joaquin Valley, one of California’s agricultural hubs. They tend to be small homes. Sometimes, location is a giveaway – a trailer set between a dust-choked highway and groves of pistachio trees. Sometimes, the tell is water. “I see the difference between the green yards in east Fresno [a city in California] and the yellow yards in west Fresno,” said Leticia Compañ. The farm equipment operator is referring to the divide between the tonier, whiter part of the city on one side of Route 41 and the largely Latino, lower-income population on the other, where she lives with her family. Too little water creates more than eyesore lawns. Research, including in the journal Environmental Justice, shows farm workers across the United States – who hail mostly from Mexico and Central America – contend with consistently contaminated, unaffordable and/or insufficient water in their homes. It’s a finding echoed by farm workers themselves.

Aquafornia news SJV Sun

Westlands Water District hires new Assistant General Manager

Westlands Water District announced Monday that Jeff Payne has been hired as Assistant General Manager.  Payne comes to the nation’s largest agricultural water district with previous experience working in the Central Valley. The big picture: In his new role, Payne will primarily oversee Westlands’ legislative and regulatory affairs. He was most recently the Deputy Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s California Great-Basin Region. Before that, Payne worked at Friant Water Authority as the Director of Water Policy. What they’re saying: Westlands General Manager Allison Febbo said Payne has a unique background in both policy and water resources management that will make him an excellent fit with the district.

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Aquafornia news SJV Water

Dairies in Tulare and Kings counties still struggling with damage in wake of last year’s flooding

When flood water swamped dairies in Tulare and Kings counties last spring, it destroyed equipment, drowned crops and left a trail of salt-laden muck that farmers are still grappling with.  The ongoing damage is so bad, some dairies may never recover. The biggest problem is the loss of crops and cropland. Farmers lost an entire year’s worth of wheat, used for feed, that was submerged as the Tule River and other creeks swelled and water gushed over thousands of acres. That lost crops and cropland, led to a chain of other problems, said Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairies. The price of wheat skyrocketed, but one of the bigger challenges was where to put all the cow manure.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Opinion: Clean water is a human right. Why are so many California communities without it?

Barely a month after he took office in 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom journeyed to a rural school in the Central Valley … Riverview Elementary School, in Parlier, to dramatize his first bill-signing, an interim fix to provide tens of millions of dollars to buy bottled water for communities with contaminated wells. … Finding the money has turned out to be the easy part. Five years after the governor’s visit, students at Riverview still drink bottled water. …Faced with attitudes toward state government that range from distrust to low expectations, Sacramento officials have struggled to forge partnerships in communities divided by class and race. For once, the state has money, along with increased authority to force changes. What’s missing is leadership to disrupt a process where intolerable delays are accepted as inevitable.
-Written by Miriam Pawel, author of, among other books, “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography.” She is at work on a history of the University of California. 

Aquafornia news Valley Voice

Tule River Tribe reintroducing beavers to Tulare County

Some time this spring, beavers will return to the ancestral lands of the Tule River Tribe in the Southern Sierra Nevada. It will be a moment tribal leaders have spent a decade preparing for, hoping the once thriving and now missing aquatic rodent can help return the forest’s natural drought resistance … Beaver dams naturally filter silt that otherwise clogs streams, while creating wetlands that preserve water on the land for longer periods. As beavers were wiped out, the waterways no longer reached ancient floodplains. This has led to increasing pollution and erosion, as well as more flooding and drought.

Aquafornia news Fresnoland

Most of state’s unsafe water systems in California’s Central Valley

… A state audit from the California Water Resources Control Board released last year found that over 920,000 residents faced an increased risk of illness–including cancer, liver and kidney problems–due to consuming unsafe drinking water. A majority of these unsafe water systems are in the Central Valley. The matter has prompted community leaders to mobilize residents around water quality as politicians confront imperfect solutions for the region’s supply. Advocates point out that impacted areas, including those in Tulare County, tend to be majority Latino with low median incomes. … This year’s extreme weather has only worsened the valley’s problems. The storms that hit California at the start of this year caused stormwater tainted with farm industry fertilizer, manure and nitrates to flow into valley aquifers. 

High-Tech Mapping of Central Valley’s Underground Blazes Path to Drought Resilience
Aerial Surveillance Reveals Best Spots to Store Floodwater for Dry Times but Delivering the Surplus Remains Thorny

Helicopter towing an AEM loopA new underground mapping technology that reveals the best spots for storing surplus water in California’s Central Valley is providing a big boost to the state’s most groundwater-dependent communities.

The maps provided by the California Department of Water Resources for the first time pinpoint paleo valleys and similar prime underground storage zones traditionally found with some guesswork by drilling exploratory wells and other more time-consuming manual methods. The new maps are drawn from data on the composition of underlying rock and soil gathered by low-flying helicopters towing giant magnets.

The unique peeks below ground are saving water agencies’ resources and allowing them to accurately devise ways to capture water from extreme storms and soak or inject the surplus underground for use during the next drought.

“Understanding where you’re putting and taking water from really helps, versus trying to make multimillion-dollar decisions based on a thumb and which way the wind is blowing,” said Aaron Fukuda, general manager of the Tulare Irrigation District, an early adopter of the airborne electromagnetic or AEM technology in California.

California Water Agencies Hoped A Deluge Would Recharge Their Aquifers. But When It Came, Some Couldn’t Use It
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: January storms jump-started recharge projects in badly overdrafted San Joaquin Valley, but hurdles with state permits and infrastructure hindered some efforts

An intentionally flooded almond orchard in Tulare CountyIt was exactly the sort of deluge California groundwater agencies have been counting on to replenish their overworked aquifers.

The start of 2023 brought a parade of torrential Pacific storms to bone dry California. Snow piled up across the Sierra Nevada at a near-record pace while runoff from the foothills gushed into the Central Valley, swelling rivers over their banks and filling seasonal creeks for the first time in half a decade.    

Suddenly, water managers and farmers toiling in one of the state’s most groundwater-depleted regions had an opportunity to capture stormwater and bank it underground. Enterprising agencies diverted water from rushing rivers and creeks into manmade recharge basins or intentionally flooded orchards and farmland. Others snagged temporary permits from the state to pull from streams they ordinarily couldn’t touch.

Tour Nick Gray

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

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

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

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

Central Valley Tour 2022
Field Trip - April 20-22

Central Valley Tour participants at a dam.This tour ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.

In the Heart of the San Joaquin Valley, Two Groundwater Sustainability Agencies Try to Find Their Balance
WESTERN WATER SPECIAL REPORT: Agencies in Fresno, Tulare counties pursue different approaches to address overdraft and meet requirements of California’s groundwater law

Flooding permanent crops seasonally, such as this vineyard at Terranova Ranch in Fresno County, is one innovative strategy to recharge aquifers.Across a sprawling corner of southern Tulare County snug against the Sierra Nevada, a bounty of navel oranges, grapes, pistachios, hay and other crops sprout from the loam and clay of the San Joaquin Valley. Groundwater helps keep these orchards, vineyards and fields vibrant and supports a multibillion-dollar agricultural economy across the valley. But that bounty has come at a price. Overpumping of groundwater has depleted aquifers, dried up household wells and degraded ecosystems.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Douglas E. Beeman

Water Resource Innovation, Hard-Earned Lessons and Colorado River Challenges — Western Water Year in Review
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK-Our 2019 articles spanned the gamut from groundwater sustainability and drought resiliency to collaboration and innovation

Smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire as viewed from Lake Oroville in Northern California. Innovative efforts to accelerate restoration of headwater forests and to improve a river for the benefit of both farmers and fish. Hard-earned lessons for water agencies from a string of devastating California wildfires. Efforts to drought-proof a chronically water-short region of California. And a broad debate surrounding how best to address persistent challenges facing the Colorado River. 

These were among the issues Western Water explored in 2019, and are still worth taking a look at in case you missed them.

Western Water California Groundwater Map Gary Pitzer

Recharging Depleted Aquifers No Easy Task, But It’s Key To California’s Water Supply Future
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: A UC Berkeley symposium explores approaches and challenges to managed aquifer recharge around the West

A water recharge basin in Southern California's Coachella Valley. To survive the next drought and meet the looming demands of the state’s groundwater sustainability law, California is going to have to put more water back in the ground. But as other Western states have found, recharging overpumped aquifers is no easy task.

Successfully recharging aquifers could bring multiple benefits for farms and wildlife and help restore the vital interconnection between groundwater and rivers or streams. As local areas around California draft their groundwater sustainability plans, though, landowners in the hardest hit regions of the state know they will have to reduce pumping to address the chronic overdraft in which millions of acre-feet more are withdrawn than are naturally recharged.

Western Water Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map Gary Pitzer

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

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

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

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

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

Key California Ag Region Ponders What’s Next After Voters Spurn Bond to Fix Sinking Friant-Kern Canal
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Subsidence chokes off up to 60% of canal’s capacity to move water to aid San Joaquin Valley farms and depleted groundwater basins

Water is up to the bottom of a bridge crossing the Friant-Kern Canal due to subsidence caused by overpumping of groundwater. The whims of political fate decided in 2018 that state bond money would not be forthcoming to help repair the subsidence-damaged parts of Friant-Kern Canal, the 152-mile conduit that conveys water from the San Joaquin River to farms that fuel a multibillion-dollar agricultural economy along the east side of the fertile San Joaquin Valley.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman

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

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

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

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


Examine Key California Rivers on the Last Two Water Tours of 2018
Join us as we explore the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers; hear from farmers, water managers, environmentalists

Northern California Tour participants pose in front of Shasta Dam.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.

Early bird prices are still available!

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

Vexed by Salt And Nitrates In Central Valley Groundwater, Regulators Turn To Unusual Coalition For Solutions
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Left unaddressed, salts and nitrates could render farmland unsuitable for crops and family well water undrinkable

An evaporation pond in Kings County, in the central San Joaquin Valley, with salt encrusted on the soil. More than a decade in the making, an ambitious plan to deal with the vexing problem of salt and nitrates in the soils that seep into key groundwater basins of the Central Valley is moving toward implementation. But its authors are not who you might expect.

An unusual collaboration of agricultural interests, cities, water agencies and environmental justice advocates collaborated for years to find common ground to address a set of problems that have rendered family wells undrinkable and some soil virtually unusable for farming.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

As Decision Nears On California Water Storage Funding, a Chairman Reflects on Lessons Learned and What’s Next
WESTERN WATER Q&A: California Water Commission Chairman Armando Quintero

Armando Quintero, chair of the California Water CommissionNew 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.

Western Water California Water Bundle Gary Pitzer

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

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

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


Central Valley Tour Offers Unique View of San Joaquin Valley’s Key Dams and Reservoirs
March 14-16 tour includes major federal and state water projects

Get a unique view of the San Joaquin Valley’s key dams and reservoirs that store and transport water on our March Central Valley Tour.

Our Central Valley Tour, March 14-16, offers a broad view of water issues in the San Joaquin Valley. In addition to the farms, orchards, critical habitat for threatened bird populations, flood bypasses and a national wildlife refuge, we visit some of California’s major water infrastructure projects.


San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2018

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

Fishery worker capturing a fish in the San Joaquin River.

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


San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2017

The 2-day, 1-night tour traveled along the river from Friant Dam near Fresno to the confluence of the Merced River. As it weaved across an historic farming region, participants learn about the status of the river’s restoration and how the challenges of the plan are being worked out.


Tour of the San Joaquin River is Almost Sold Out
Our final 2017 tour dives deep into river restoration

A few tickets are still available for our Nov. 1-2 San Joaquin River Restoration Tour, a once-a-year educational opportunity to see the program’s progress first-hand. The tour begins and ends in Fresno with an overnight stay in Los Banos. 


Agricultural History and Habitat Restoration Come to Life on San Joaquin River Tour
Our two-day tour in November takes you into the heart of California's San Joaquin Valley

Explore more than 100 miles of Central California’s longest river while learning about one of the nation’s largest and costliest river restorations. Our San Joaquin River Restoration Tour on Nov. 1-2 will feature speakers from key governmental agencies and stakeholder groups who will explain the restoration program’s goals and progress.


Explore Key California Rivers on the Last Two Water Tours of the Year
Join us as we meander along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers

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.

Western Water Excerpt Jenn Bowles

Preservation and Restoration: Salmon in Northern California
Winter 2017

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.


Explore Diverse Wildlife Habitat on Central Valley Tour
See how water is managed in ecologically fragile areas

Our water tours give a behind-the-scenes look at major water issues in California. On our Central Valley Tour, March 8-10, you will visit wildlife habitat areas – some of which are closed to the public – and learn directly from the experts who manage them, in addition to seeing farms, large dams and other infrastructure.


Winter Rain Increases Flows on the San Joaquin River
March Central Valley water tour will analyze drought impacts

The recent deluge has led to changes in drought conditions in some areas of California and even public scrutiny of the possibility that the drought is over. Many eyes are focused on the San Joaquin Valley, one of the areas hardest hit by reduced surface water supplies. On our Central Valley Tour, March 8-10, we will visit key water delivery and storage sites in the San Joaquin Valley, including Friant Dam and Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River.

Aquapedia background Layperson's Guide to Flood Management


Sacramento's K Street during the 1862 flood that inundated the Central Valley.ARkStorm stands for an atmospheric river (“AR”) that carries precipitation levels expected to occur once every 1,000 years (“k”). The concept was presented in a 2011 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) intended to elevate the visibility of the very real threats to human life, property and ecosystems posed by extreme storms on the West Coast.

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Contaminants exist in water supplies from both natural and manmade sources. Even those chemicals present without human intervention can be mobilized from introduction of certain pollutants from both point and nonpoint sources.  

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Arsenic Contamination

Both the drought and high nitrate levels in shallow groundwater have necessitated deeper drilling of new wells in the San Joaquin Valley, only to expose water with heightened arsenic levels. Arsenic usually exists in water as arsenate or arsenite, the latter of which is more frequent in deep lake sediments or groundwater with little oxygen and is both more harmful and difficult to remove.

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Whiskeytown Lake

Photo Credit: Jenn Bowles, Executive Director

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. 

Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)

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

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

Western Water Magazine

Rewriting History: California’s Epic Drought
September/October 2015

This issue examines the impacts of California’s epic drought, especially related to water supplies for San Joaquin Valley rural communities and farmland.


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

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

Tour Images from the Central Valley Tour

Central Valley Tour 2015
Field Trip (past)

This 3-day, 2-night tour, which we do every spring, travels the length of the San Joaquin Valley, giving participants a clear understanding of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project.


Water & the Shaping of California
Published 2000 - Paperback

The story of water is the story of California. And no book tells that story better than Water & the Shaping of California.


Water & the Shaping of California
Published 2000 - hardbound

The story of California is the story of water. And no book tells that story better than Water & the Shaping of California.


Restoring a River: Voices of the San Joaquin

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.


A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.


Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley

Salt. In a small amount, it’s a gift from nature. But any doctor will tell you, if you take in too much salt, you’ll start to have health problems. The same negative effect is happening to land in the Central Valley. The problem scientists call “salinity” poses a growing threat to our food supply, our drinking water quality and our way of life. The problem of salt buildup and potential – but costly – solutions are highlighted in this 2008 public television documentary narrated by comedian Paul Rodriguez.


Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley (20-minute DVD)

A 20-minute version of the 2008 public television documentary Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues surrounding the problem of salt build up in the Central Valley potential – but costly – solutions. Narrated by comedian Paul Rodriquez.


Delta Warning

15-minute DVD that graphically portrays the potential disaster should a major earthquake hit the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. “Delta Warning” depicts what would happen in the event of an earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale: 30 levee breaks, 16 flooded islands and a 300 billion gallon intrusion of salt water from the Bay – the “big gulp” – which would shut down the State Water Project and Central Valley Project pumping plants.


Shaping of the West: 100 Years of Reclamation

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

Maps & Posters

San Joaquin River Restoration Map
Published 2012

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

Maps & Posters Groundwater Education Bundle

California Groundwater Map
Redesigned in 2017

California Groundwater poster map

Fashioned after the popular California Water Map, this 24×36 inch poster was extensively re-designed in 2017 to better illustrate the value and use of groundwater in California, the main types of aquifers, and the connection between groundwater and surface water.

Maps & Posters

California Water Map, Spanish

Spanish language version of our California Water Map

Versión en español de nuestro mapa de agua de California


Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project
Updated 2013

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


Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water Management
Published 2013

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

Publication California Groundwater Map

Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater
Updated 2017

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


Layperson’s Guide to Flood Management
Updated 2009

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


Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project
Updated 2021

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

Maps & Posters California Water Bundle

California Water Map
Updated December 2016

A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect gift for the water wonk in your life.

Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts – including federally, state and locally funded projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects, wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado River.

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San Joaquin Valley

Located in the middle of California, the San Joaquin Valley is bracketed on both sides by mountain ranges. Long and flat, the valley’s hot, dry summers are followed by cool, foggy winters that make it one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.

The valley stretches from across mid-California between coastal ranges in west and the Sierras on the east. The region includes large cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield, national parks such as Yosemite and Kings, millions of people, and fertile farmland.

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San Joaquin River and San Joaquin River Restoration Program

San Joaquin RiverFlowing 366 miles from the Sierra Nevada to Suisun Bay, the San Joaquin River provides irrigation water to thousands of acres of San Joaquin Valley farms and drinking water to some of the valley’s cities. It also is the focal point for one of the nation’s most ambitious river restoration projects to revive salmon populations.

Aquapedia background California Water Map Layperson's Guide to California Water

Pacific Flyway

The Pacific Flyway is one of four major North American migration routes for birds, especially waterfowl, and extends from Alaska and Canada, through California, to Mexico and South America. Each year, birds follow ancestral patterns as they travel the flyway on their annual north-south migration. Along the way, they need stopover sites such as wetlands with suitable habitat and food supplies. In California, 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost.

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Merced River

The Merced River is one of three major rivers that empty in the San Joaquin Valley from the east, along with the Tuolumne and the Stanislaus rivers. 

With the help of these tributaries, the San Joaquin River irrigates millions of acres of cropland in the San Joaquin Valley.

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Kesterson Reservoir

The former Kesterson Reservoir in the San Joaquin Valley provides a cautionary tale of the environmental impacts of agricultural drainage.

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California Aqueduct

The California Aqueduct, a critical part of the State Water Project, carries water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Deltato the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

Western Water Magazine

Meeting the Co-equal Goals? The Bay Delta Conservation Plan
May/June 2013

This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying California’s long-term water supply reliability.

Western Water Magazine

Viewing Water with a Wide Angle Lens: A Roundtable Discussion
January/February 2013

This printed issue of Western Water features a roundtable discussion with Anthony Saracino, a water resources consultant; Martha Davis, executive manager of policy development with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and senior policy advisor to the Delta Stewardship Council; Stuart Leavenworth, editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee and Ellen Hanak, co-director of research and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Western Water Magazine

How Much Water Does the Delta Need?
July/August 2012

This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they might be provided.

Western Water Magazine

Saving it For Later: Groundwater Banking
July/August 2010

This printed issue of Western Water examines groundwater banking, a water management strategy with appreciable benefits but not without challenges and controversy.

Western Water Magazine

Small Water Systems, Big Challenges
May/June 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines the challenges facing small water systems, including drought preparedness, limited operating expenses and the hurdles of complying with costlier regulations. Much of the article is based on presentations at the November 2007 Small Systems Conference sponsored by the Water Education Foundation and the California Department of Water Resources.

Western Water Magazine

Salt of the Earth: Can the Central Valley Solve its Salinity Problem?
July/August 2007

This Western Water looks at proposed new measures to deal with the century-old problem of salinity with a special focus on San Joaquin Valley farms and cities.