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
The territory encompassed by the 5th State Senate District has
been a battleground for California’s complex water politics. So
it’s not surprising the two Democrats and three Republicans
running to succeed Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, who is
terming out this year, might tap dance around questions
regarding Tuolumne and Stanislaus river flows and water quality
in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
California increased its efforts Friday to keep the federal
government from allowing oil and gas drilling on more than 1
million acres of public land, suing to block the Trump
administration from issuing new permits in the central part of
Dozens of families in Stanislaus County are fighting against a
proposed dam just west of Patterson. The 800-acre reservoir
would mean a portion of Del Puerto Canyon would be underwater.
… Volunteers and organizers with the Patterson Progressive
Alliance have been working to save Del Puerto Canyon.
A month-long, emergency construction project has moved the
Merced River away from Hills Ferry Road. Merced County
Supervisor Lloyd Pareira said the road was in danger of being
washed out due to erosion which was creeping ever closer to the
shoulder at a bend where the Merced River flows into the San
The landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA,
requires some of the state’s thirstiest areas form local
“Groundwater Sustainability Agencies” and submit long-term
plans by Jan. 31 for keeping aquifers healthy. Together, those
plans will add up to a big reveal, as groundwater managers
finally disclose how badly they believe their aquifers are
Response to Wednesday’s action by the California Department of
Water Resources to initiate an environmental impact report for
a tunnel project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta was
not popular with the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
A $30,000 grant will bring together 20 high school students
from Allensworth and Alpaugh to learn about safe drinking
water, conduct hands-on testing of arsenic treatment, and
present findings… The students will work with a UC Berkeley
lab to test the technology, Electrochemical Arsenic
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
With virtually no public notice, state officials quietly gave
away a significant portion of Southern California’s water
supply to farmers in the Central Valley as part of a deal with
the Trump administration in December 2018. One year later, it
remains unclear why the California Department of Water
Resources signed the agreement…
California’s governor has restarted a project to build a giant,
underground tunnel that would pump billions of gallons of water
from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the southern part of
the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Wednesday
issued a Notice of Preparation for the project, which is the
first step in the state’s lengthy environmental review process.
Lathrop — like any other community — has a homeless problem.
But unlike other communities, the homeless problem could
imperil the community. That’s because a number of homeless in
the Lathrop area have taken to digging holes into the base of
levees designed to hold back the San Joaquin River at high
Since he took the new post in July 2017, Bernhardt’s former
clients have spent a lot of money trying to influence the
Department of Interior. Seventeen of them have coughed up a
combined $29.9 million to lobby the Trump administration since
January 2017, according to a new report from the consumer
advocacy group Public Citizen…. Bernhardt’s former client
Westlands Water District, which has lobbied to weaken
endangered species protections to divert more water for
agriculture… has spent more than $1.5 million lobbying
Interior and Department of Justice since 2017.
The first question asked at the Eastern Tule Groundwater
Sustainability Agency Board meeting on Friday represented the
frustration of growers who are still facing the unknown. “It’s
2020,” the grower said, who went on to ask the board, referring
to growers, “what can they pump?” The board is still working
through the process on how much water growers can pump out of
The courtroom battle over 9,000-acre Staten Island is the
latest conflict in the Delta over farming, wetlands and aging
levees that, besides preventing flooding, preserve a way of
life on the man-made islands. The suit, filed in 2018 by a
group called Wetlands Preservation Foundation, accuses the
California Department of Water Resources and the Nature
Conservancy of failing to adequately protect wildlife or employ
sustainable agricultural practices on the property…The stakes
are high because the channels, islands and marshes that make up
the Delta are a catch basin for most of California’s drinking
Yes, aggregate mining on the San Joaquin has been going on for
more than a century. But with production tapering off and newer
operations opening on the nearby Kings River, it was generally
assumed the poor San Joaquin would finally be given a break…
Unfortunately, a proposal by Cemex threatens to dash those
hopes while ensuring another century of heavy industry on
California’s second-longest river…
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Roger M. Beauchesne issued his
decision Dec. 30 in the lawsuit filed by Andrew Hobbs and Dave
Thomas. Each sued the MID in 2016, and their lawsuits were
combined into one. … Beauchesne ruled the subsidy was an
illegal tax under California law because the MID had not sought
voter approval for electric customers to subsidize irrigation
Consistent with the science developed over the last three
decades, the Newsom administration is pursuing comprehensive,
watershed-wide solutions that address the numerous factors that
limit the abundance of native fish in the Delta. These types of
solutions are the ones that are most likely to achieve the
state’s co-equal goals of the 2009 Delta Reform Act…
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors adopted a plan on
Tuesday meant to maintain groundwater and keep users from
pumping too much from underground basins. … Officials said
the plan also lays out efforts to try to recharge groundwater —
in other words, replace water sucked out from underground.
A duo of bills, at the state and federal level, will likely
determine the fate of the Friant-Kern Canal in a legislative
year that is shaping up to be pivotal for Central Valley
growers and ag communities.
California water policy leaders say balancing the supply of
groundwater by implementing the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act, or SGMA, and addressing policies related to
water supply and water quality, will continue to be priority
issues in 2020.
California is increasing regulations on groundwater. For many
farmers in the state, it is a step too far. The law’s critics
say it could lead to a loss of half a million acres of farmland
in California’s Central Valley. As Kerry Klein of member
station KVPR in Fresno reports, some farmers are so worried,
The new guidelines call for diverting more water from the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to agribusiness and urban
areas further south. Barbara Barrigan-Parilla with the group
Restore the Delta, says despite Newsom indicating he was going
to sue over the new federal guidelines, that hasn’t happened
A broad coalition that includes the California Chamber of
Commerce and labor, business, environmental, community and
water leaders recently announced the formation of Californians
for Water Security (CWS). The mission is to support the
construction of a single tunnel to funnel water from Northern
California through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to users
The governor’s apparent willingness to play into the hands of
monied, agri-business players at the expense of the health of
the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta remains the biggest
mystery of his short tenure. It also threatens to trash his
reputation as a strong protector of California’s environment.
Environmental groups, tribes and upstream water users in
California yesterday sought to block a permanent water delivery
contract between the Interior Department and the Westlands
Water District. At issue is a proposed deal between Westlands,
an agricultural powerhouse in California’s San Joaquin Valley,
and the Bureau of Reclamation in which Westlands pays off its
debt to the government to guarantee deliveries in perpetuity
without future contract renewals.
Environmental groups say they plan to fight a Trump
administration decision that cleared the way for new oil and
gas leases on more than 1 million acres in California. … The
final supplemental environmental report released recently said
the BLM found no adverse impacts of hydraulic fracturing that
could not be alleviated. Several groups and state officials,
however, disagree and have called the
To many West Side residents and others familiar with the [dam]
site, Del Puerto Canyon is a natural gem and one of the
county’s scenic wonders. An environmental impact report
released last week raises some concerns about seismic risks and
impacts on wildlife. But a significant and unavoidable impact
noted in the report is “substantial damage to scenic
resources,” “degradation of the visual character” and “adverse
effect on a scenic vista.”
House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona
wants his committee to give him subpoena authority for multiple
possible investigations, but California Democrat Jim Costa may
vote against that as the panel considers whether Interior
Secretary David Bernhardt improperly influenced a decision to
send more water to his district.
Votes of support by local jurisdictions bring the project one
step closer to reality. Reality is a costly giant tunnel that
would divert Sacramento River water bound for the
Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and transport the water directly
to Central Valley farms and urban users in the Bay Area and
The cities of Ceres and Turlock formed the Stanislaus Regional
Water Authority which is in the process of hiring a
design-build consultant to oversee the project to build the
facility along the Tuolumne River west of the Fox Grove Fishing
Access. Water will be drawn from the river, filtered and piped
to both Turlock and to Ceres. Plans call for the water to be
stored in a large aboveground water storage tank. The surface
water will then be comingled with groundwater for use
throughout the two cities.
The top Democratic and Republican leaders in the House are
pushing for their own home-state projects in this year’s final
spending bills — a spectacular park overlooking San Francisco
Bay and a dam across the largest reservoir in California — but
without agreement from each other in the negotiations’ final
Environmentalists who had high hopes Gavin Newsom would lead
the way to sustainable water use in the San Joaquin Valley are
waking up to the knowledge that the new governor isn’t going to
be any more effective than the old governor. Sustainability is
just too big a lift.
It was welcome news for Kern County farmers, but word last week
that the process of fixing the Friant-Kern Canal has finally
begun may have obscured the fact that a great deal of work lies
ahead — including finding money to complete the job.
The project will deliver water from the Delta-Mendota Canal to
the reservoir, where it will be stored and released on a
managed basis, according to a press release. The reservoir
would allow water to be delivered into storage during wetter
periods and held until needed in drier times for irrigation,
groundwater recharge or beneficial wildlife uses, the release
Farmers are worried… Some feel angry, even betrayed by
lawmakers and the environmental groups that have pressured them
into what they see as ever-tightening regulations on the ag
industry. While many disagree with SGMA, most do acknowledge
that California’s unrestricted groundwater use has been
The state is moving to ramp down oil production while
Washington is expediting it. State officials are taking a
closer look at the environmental and health threats —
especially land, air and water contamination — posed by energy
extraction, while Washington appears to have concluded that
existing federal regulations sufficiently protect its sensitive
landscapes as well as public health.
We face an important opportunity to finally put the seemingly
permanent conflicts that have defined water and environmental
management in California behind us, but not if we let it drift
away. This new era of opportunity springs from a common
recognition that our ways of doing business have failed to meet
the needs of all interests.
I assumed the different local water agencies were in regular
contact with their customers about important issues like
groundwater and that they would be happy to take advantage of
the opportunity to educate the public about what was happening
with SGMA. I learned that that was not the case. This is not a
subject that engages people who don’t already have some reason
to be concerned about it.
The fracas over California’s scarce water supplies will tumble
into a San Francisco courtroom after a lawsuit was filed this
week claiming the federal government’s plan to loosen previous
restrictions on water deliveries to farmers is a blueprint for
wiping out fish.
In my current research, I have been studying the implementation
of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, commonly known
as SGMA, in California. SGMA is one of the world’s
largest-scale policy experiments on collective action to manage
natural resources. At the same time, pervasively disparate
access to water resources in the Central Valley made SGMA the
perfect case study to test some of the power asymmetry theories
I have been working on with my colleagues.
Federal authorities are considering a plan to repair a
California canal in the San Joaquin Valley that lost half its
capacity to move water because of sinking ground. … The U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation Dec. 3 published an environmental
assessment detailing plans to repair, raise, and realign the
Friant-Kern Canal, which it began building in 1949.
Cities like Huron, with a population of 6,926 and a $22,802
median household income, are often too small to expand water
access projects that could lower utility rates. While cities
like Delano are too big to qualify for rural development
projects from the federal government. But a new proposal could
soon alleviate those pains.
The complaint says the Trump administration did not fully
consider scientific facts or logic, and arbitrarily concluded
that the projects would not have a damaging effect on
endangered fish species, including salmon and steelhead. …
The projects at issue divert water from the Sacramento and San
Joaquin Rivers to the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin
River Delta, primarily for agricultural and municipal uses.
Reliable water is critical to every aspect of the economy as
more than 40 percent of the nation’s fruits, nuts and
vegetables are grown in the Central Valley, much of that using
water from the Central Valley Project (CVP) and its largest
reservoir — Shasta Lake.
Just as they did more than two generations ago, Kern County
farmers are looking to another Central Valley river to the
north to refill their groundwater shortfall. But this time
around, natives in the Kings River watershed are “sharpening
their knives” to fight off what they say is a desperate water
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has given environmentalists
much of what they presumably want as it released a 610-page
draft Delta environmental report recently that calls for $1.5
billion in habitat restoration among other environmental
projects. … But as much as they cheered the lawsuit
announcement, environmentalists were aghast at the report
because the state plan will allow some additional water for
Visalia may have received its first drops of rain for the
season, but that doesn’t mean you should start dropping seeds
to bolster your lawn. In fact, it’s now illegal under a
revision of the city’s water conservation code.
City officials gathered Thursday afternoon in Lemoore to break
ground on construction of a new groundwater treatment plant
project. … The City obtains all of its drinking water from
local groundwater resources that are challenged by
naturally-occurring water quality issues. These issues include
elevated levels of arsenic, iron, ammonia, total organic carbon
Lots of stories circulate about the unethical actions of
Bernhardt and Gov. Newsom’s reluctance to fight Trump on water
— stories about Bernhardt’s effort to get rid of scientists who
concluded the new Trump Water Plan jeopardizes endangered
species in the Delta. Then there’s his work to give Westlands a
permanent water contract to irrigate poisoned selenium-ridden
lands… What’s not being covered: the impact these projects
will have on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers, and Newsom’s
reluctance to stop them.
Central Valley agriculture faces a looming existential water
crisis from the interlocking problems of drought, climate
change, and falling underground water tables. Yet the potential
answer to this problem is incredibly simple and only a lack of
political will may defeat it. The solution is to send south to
California the abundant waters of the Columbia River.
California officials sent mixed signals Thursday when they said
they will sue to block a Trump administration rollback of
endangered species protections for imperiled fish — while also
proposing new water operations that mimic parts of the Trump
plan. The state moves reflect political pressure the Newsom
administration has been under as it confronts one of
California’s most intractable environmental conflicts — the
battle over the ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta…
Initially, federal scientists wrote a draft report that found
increasing water exports would harm California’s native salmon
population, a species already imperiled. Those scientists were
reassigned. Now, the Trump administration and David Bernhardt
have released a new proposal, and guess what? Westlands can
grab even more water from the Bay-Delta.
Westlands Water District, Fresno-based agricultural water
district, is set to convert its temporary, renewable water
service agreements with the Federal government into a permanent
contract. And while Westlands is the first of its class to make
the switch, it certainly won’t be the last water agency to do
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is hitched to so many things.
Our estuary is a critical habitat for fish and wildlife, home
to millions of people, and the hub of our state’s water
delivery system. From the Sierra Nevada to the mouth of the San
Francisco Bay, what happens in one part of the Delta watershed
affects the entire estuary.
In a victory for critics of California’s oil drilling industry,
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday stopped the approval of new
hydraulic fracturing in the state until the permits for those
projects can be reviewed by an independent panel of scientists.
Newsom also imposed a moratorium on new permits for
steam-injected oil drilling, another extraction method …
linked to a massive petroleum spill in Kern County over the
Since July, at least a half dozen surface expressions have been
reported into the state spill report database, including one in
early November, totaling more than 2.7 million gallons of oil,
water and mud. … Under strengthened state regulations, these
surface expressions became illegal only in April of this year.
But that doesn’t mean the public knows about all of them or how
close they occur to communities…
California is in trouble. We can’t keep the lights on, the
fires out, or the air clean. Worst of all, from my perspective
as a farmer, is that we’ve failed to keep the water flowing.
That may change, thanks to the Trump administration.
Groundwater in Tulare County, especially in Porterville, has
been a hot topic of discussion for quite sometime. As
groundwater levels have begun to subside, a viable and woking
plan to maintain the groundwater has been state mandated, and
the implementation of this plan is set to be put in action by
January 31, 2020. But what exactly is the plan, and who is at
California’s perpetual, uber-complex conflict over water
progresses much like the tectonic plates that grind against one
another beneath its surface. In much the same way, interest
groups constantly rub on each other in political and legal
venues, seeking greater shares of the state’s water supply,
which itself varies greatly from year to year. And
occasionally, there’s a sharp movement that shakes things up.
California took a historic step forward this summer with the
passage of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. This
fund seeks to provide new targeted investments to end the
state’s drinking water crisis, where one million Californians
are impacted by unsafe water each year. Unfortunately,
successful implementation of the fund is on a potential
collision course with another California law, the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act…
Kern County Water Agency General Manager Curtis Creel will
retire Dec. 7, leaving a very large and important hole to fill.
The agency is the second largest contractor on the State Water
Project and pays 25 percent of the bill for that massive
endeavor, giving it a very big voice on most water issues.
This article will provide readers with a background on why the
2014 SGMA legislation was passed, and what the implications are
for J.G. Boswell which has both surface and groundwater rights
Paul Souza is regional director of the Pacific Southwest
division of the US Fish and Wildlife Service… At the November
meeting of Metropolitan Water District’s Water Planning and
Stewardship Committee, Mr. Souza gave a presentation on the
recently released biological opinions for the long-term
operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water
Westlands has had water service contracts with the Central
Valley Project since 1963. But they were subject to renewal,
when the reclamation bureau could, at least in theory,
renegotiate terms. In contrast, the so-called repayment
contract the bureau now proposes to award Westlands would not
expire, permanently locking in the terms, including the amount
of 1.15 million acre-feet of water.
On the morning of Aug. 21, 2018, David Bernhardt, then the
deputy interior secretary, wanted to attend a White House
meeting on the future of a threatened California fish, the
delta smelt — an issue upon which Mr. Bernhardt had been paid
to lobby until he joined the Trump administration a year
before. … “I see nothing here that would preclude my
involvement,” he wrote ahead of the meeting…
Kern County is seeing a drop in agricultural property value.
The water crisis plaguing the state is also affecting the value
of farms here in Kern County. Michael Ming, Lead Appraiser for
Alliance Ag Services, said groundwater sustainability efforts
have proven to be a big challenge.
The city’s fate is linked inextricably with the San Joaquin
River… Much of the water upstream is diverted for
agriculture, although a legal settlement ensures that the river
no longer runs dry. Additional diversions at the downriver end
… greatly reduce the amount of water that actually makes it
through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the San
Francisco Bay and then the Pacific. It is as if one of the
state’s two great arteries … is detached from its heart.
Based on DWR’s own documents, it appears that an aerial snow
observator is the most important science- and data-focused
program that needs to be expanded statewide, so that the
integral aquifer recharge program can play its role in Governor
Newsom’s Water Resiliency Portfolio.
The Interior Department is proposing to award one of the first
contracts for federal water in perpetuity to a powerful rural
water district that had employed Secretary David Bernhardt as a
lawyer and lobbyist. … Environmental groups say a permanent
deal would let California’s water contractors forgo future
negotiations before the public and environmental groups,
further threatening the survival of endangered native fish and
other wildlife that also need the water.
By looking at how to manage levels of salt, mercury and
nutrients heading into the San Joaquin River, researchers are
aiming to boost water quality and reduce impacts on fish and
other aquatic life in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
… The project will examine wetlands — about 40 miles
southwest of UC Merced’s campus — that drain into the San
The effects of the last drought are still obvious in
California’s agricultural belt. … From this perspective, the
federal government’s plan to increase the storage capacity of
Lake Shasta, created by the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River,
is both sensible and compassionate.
In October, the Trump Administration released politically
manipulated “biological opinions” under the federal Endangered
Species Act that dramatically weaken protections for the
Bay-Delta, endangered fish species and commercially valuable
salmon runs. … However, in an uncharacteristically subdued
response, the Newsom Administration stated that it “will
evaluate the federal government’s proposal, but will continue
to push back if it does not reflect our values.”
Eight-hundred pages into the text of a lengthy new report,
federal biologists have quietly granted government water
managers permission to nearly exterminate an endangered run of
Sacramento River salmon so they can send more water south from
the river’s delta to farmers in the arid San Joaquin Valley.
If California goes into another drought and Kern County needs
an extra supply of water, Santa Barbara is open to partnering
with communities like Kern County. “We’re able to do exchanges
with people, so you could in theory have someone in the Central
Valley be a partner in desal,” said Joshua Haggmark, water
resource manager for Santa Barbara.
The thinking started small and then grew much bigger at a
gathering Tuesday in Bakersfield intended to provide a
“survival toolkit” for farmers and water managers facing
drastic restrictions on Central Valley groundwater pumping. …
By the end of the day, however, isolationism gave way to calls
for unity as speakers asserted that the only real solution was
to increase the region’s water supply by as much as 10 million
acre-feet per year on average by diverting water south from the
Welcome to the Two States of California: one boasts one of the
largest economies in the world while another is shamed with
water rationing, third-world power outages, uncontrolled
wildfires, an ever-expanding homeless population riddled with
medieval diseases. This is the tale of the latter California
and the continued alarmism about its water.
Freshman Democratic Rep. TJ Cox represents some of the farmers
who would likely benefit from the additional water. … Facing
what could be a tough reelection fight in 2020, Cox’s future in
Congress could depend on whether Bernhardt’s former client gets
what it wants.
As the state focuses on providing clean and affordable drinking
water for millions of residents, those on private wells
typically face an uphill battle. Private well owners confront
significant financial challenges digging new wells, and
connecting to a public water system involves a daunting local
and state bureaucratic process…
In order to keep up with the state’s underground water recharge
laws, sooner or later, local water rates will likely need to
increase. That was the message local water management officials
gave in a joint presentation at the Oct. 21 Selma City Council.
An environmental group, highly critical of a federal agency’s
newly proposed recommendations to protect endangered species in
the Delta, states that they would seriously harm those species
and their habitat. The new recommendations, released Oct. 22 by
the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, are to be
used as guidelines for operating the federal pumping plant in
At a time when building anything large and important — like
roads, dams and bridges — can be tied up in red tape and take
forever, the optimism of this reservoir’s supporters is
audacious. And unless opponents emerge with impressive
arguments, the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir deserves the area’s
The Trump administration last week launched an attack on the
health of San Francisco Bay and Delta and California’s salmon
fishing industry with new rules allowing big increases in water
diversions from this teetering, vulnerable ecosystem. … The
new Trump administration rules replace prior ones that weren’t
strong enough to protect salmon and other wildlife in the last
drought. They only make the situation worse.
A tiny community on the outskirts of the City of Sanger,
Tombstone is a bellwether for groundwater issues… Most of the
community’s 40 or so homes get their drinking water from
shallow domestic wells, which can be vulnerable to both aquifer
contaminants and falling groundwater levels.
Amid horrific wildfires and rolling blackouts, the Trump
Administration this week brought welcome relief to the Golden
State by allowing more water to be sent to farmers and folks in
the south. Will California liberals accept the deregulatory
In today’s Film Friday, we follow the evolution of Honolulu Bar
in the Stanislaus River through a restoration and floodplain
enhancement project. The project including leveling an
intstream island to create more flooded rearing habitat,
sorting gravel to create improved spawning habitat, clearing
invasive plants and planting native ones. Watch the
Nationwide, more than a dozen utilities have started developing
renewable natural gas production through partnerships with
farmers, wastewater treatment plants and landfill operators,
while nine have proposed price premiums for customers who
choose it as a fuel, according to the American Gas Association.
The East Tule Groundwater Sustainability Water Agency is racing
the clock when it comes to meeting the state’s requirements by
next year but the message is this: Those who use groundwater
will have to prepare for the possibility of pumping 10 percent
less than they have in the past, beginning as soon as next
President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out an
aggressive plan Tuesday to ship more water from the Delta to
farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, a move that’s certain to
trigger lawsuits by environmentalists concerned about
endangered fish species.
In a move that would boost water deliveries to San Joaquin
Valley agriculture and Southern California cities, federal
fishery agencies are weakening decade-old endangered species
protections for some of the state’s most imperiled native fish
Change is hard. It’s human nature to resist it. So it’s not
surprising that some Central Valley farmers and water managers
are raising alarm bells about the most sweeping change to state
water law in a century, saying in a recent Fresno Bee series
that the consequences will be “excruciating” and
The Delta smelt is such a small and translucent fish that it
often disappears from view when it swims in the turbid waters
of its home in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. However, it’s
also been disappearing from the Delta entirely.
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
The California State Board of Food and Agriculture called out
San Luis Obispo County in a letter expressing concern about
irrigated agriculture’s “limited” involvement in crafting
groundwater plans over the Paso Robles basin.
Under an agreement to “bank” water outside of the Santa Clarita
Valley, local water officials … and their water banking
partners, Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District and Irvine
Ranch Water District, opened six new groundwater wells and a
conveyance system to the Cross Valley Canal in Kern County.
Thousands of gallons of crude petroleum began spouting out of
the ground near a part of Chevron’s steam injection well
network in a Kern County oil field over the weekend … in the
same area where a larger uncontrolled release of 234,000
gallons of oil has taken place since August.
Dennis Hutson worries small farmers may not have the resources
to adapt to the potentially strict water allocations and
cutbacks that might be coming. Their livelihoods and identities
may be at stake. “You grow things a certain way, and then all
of a sudden you don’t have access to as much water as you would
like in order to grow what you grow,” he says, “and now you’re
kind of out of sorts.”
Access to safe and affordable water is a basic human right.
Many of our communities have been without safe water for years
or even decades because of contamination of our drinking water
sources. Living in communities without safe water is a public
health crisis. It is also a crisis of basic justice and equity.
Later this week, the State Water Resources Control Board will
vote on a long-anticipated plan to reduce some of the
pollutants flowing into Central Valley water. However, not
everyone agrees on the details.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota
Water Authority announced the environmental reports, which
“analyze potential impacts of approving water transfers to
increase water reliability for those suffering shortages during
Kings County’s groundwater management will begin a 20-year
transformation in 2020. Five local groundwater agencies
presented more information behind the groundwater
sustainability plan in a public outreach meeting Thursday
While many hail the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act as a
success in state legislation and others say the law represents
government overreach, most seem to agree: It could change
agriculture and the economy in the San Joaquin Valley in a very
big way. In this interview, we talk about the nuts and bolts of
SGMA with Stephanie Anagnoson, Director of Water and Natural
Resources with Madera County.
Agriculture is part of what makes our state’s economy strong
and helps provide for all our families, which is why it is
crucial that we do absolutely everything we can to protect our
state’s farms and allow them to operate without the fear of
major obstacles. California agriculture nearly faced such an
obstacle with Senate Bill 1, which would have placed harsh
regulations on water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin
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
Building the capacity to resolve disputes and work together is
critical for a sustainable water future. However, recent
analysis conducted by Water in the West … suggests that
alternative dispute resolution processes are rarely used even
when included in water management agreements.
California’s Central Valley is one of the most productive
agricultural regions in the United States… But a seven-year
drought has threatened the viability of the valley’s farmland,
and many rural communities have suffered greatly as a result.
Joris Debeij’s short documentary When a Town Runs Dry offers a
window into the front lines of the water crisis.
A staggering number of Chinook salmon are returning to a
California river that hasn’t sustained salmon for decades due
to agricultural and urban demands, giving biologists hope that
threatened fish are finally spawning in their native
grounds without human help.
A big part of the reason for Fresno County falling short of the
No. 1 ranking those years was due to California’s five-year
drought that began in late 2011— the worst in the state’s
recorded history — causing major water shortages in the western
end of Fresno County that forced farmers there to limit their
farming or let fields go fallow.
Success Dam is now Richard L. Schafer Dam. The dam, which has
shielded the San Joaquin Valley floor from Sierra snowmelt
while providing much-needed irrigation water to Tulare County
farmers since 1961, was rechristened in a crowded ceremony
along Lake Success last week. Schafer has served as the Tule
River Water Master since 1963.
Here in Kern County, state-mandated water budgets presented by
several large ag water districts and groundwater sustainability
agencies have painted a far rosier groundwater picture. So
rosy, the numbers simply couldn’t be believed…
The Trump administration’s latest effort to dramatically boost
oil and gas production is landing in California, with the
Interior Department on Friday opening up 720,000 acres between
the Bay Area and Fresno to potential drilling.
President Trump’s political feud with California has spread
collateral damage across more than a dozen other states, which
have seen their regulatory authority curtailed and their
autonomy threatened by a Trump administration intent on
weakening the environmental statutes of the country’s most
Based on the most detailed data they have available, the East
Kaweah has a supply of 125,000 acre feet per year of ground
water available for use without threatening overdraft. However,
Hagman notes that the East Kaweah has overdrafted their portion
of the basin by 28,000 acre feet on average, per year.
The paper is intended to help groundwater managers avoid
inadvertently contaminating water supplies as they change
management practices to comply with California’s Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act. It focuses on natural contaminants
such as arsenic, chromium, and uranium, as well as contaminants
that can pose a threat to human and ecosystem health…
Just how far will Gov. Gavin Newsom go in his high-profile
fight with the Trump administration over environmental
protections? The next few months will provide an answer, as
Newsom is forced to take a stand on Trump rollbacks in a
long-contested battleground — the Northern California Delta
that helps supply more than half the state’s population with
drinking water and fills irrigation canals on millions of acres
A new study released Wednesday says that diminishing
groundwater is causing the level of streams and rivers to fall
as well. Like the shrinking aquifers, surface water is critical
to farms, towns and cities for everything from food to trade to
energy production. … In watersheds such as California’s
Central Valley, the Midwestern U.S.’s high plains, the Upper
Ganges and the Indus in South Asia, groundwater is already
There simply isn’t enough water in any given year to support
all of the crops and livestock, so farmers and ranchers depend
on groundwater pumped from deep, underground aquifers.
Groundwater, like oil, is a limited resource, and in California
it’s consumed at an alarming rate.
The Westlands Water District on Sept. 30 formally stopped its
environmental review of a $1.4 billion U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation plan to raise the 602-foot dam by another 18.5
feet. It is unclear what Westlands’ decision will mean for the
future of the project…
The Trump administration has retreated on a plan to push more
water through the Delta this fall after protests from
California officials on the harmful impacts on endangered
Chinook salmon and other fish.
Although the $750 million represents a personal gift to Caltech
rather than a corporate gift from the Resnicks’ principal
corporate entity, The Wonderful Company, they’re engaged
through that company in some arguably unsustainable
Bakersfield residents deserve a round of applause, at least in
terms of the city’s water usage. So far in 2019, city residents
have saved 3,348 acre feet of water compared to 2013
quantities. Cumulatively, the city has cut water usage by
nearly 12 percent since 2013, an average year before drought
struck the state.
On the Changala family farm in Tulare County, the past and
future are separated by a dirt road and a barbed-wire fence. On
the south side sits a wheat field. On the north, a solar farm,
built three years ago, sending electricity to thousands of
Southern Californians. Alan Changala sees little difference
between the two.
Over the last five years, more than 250 groundwater
sustainability agencies have formed to manage groundwater at
the local level and dozens of groundwater sustainability plans
are in progress. … So what do we still need to make the
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act a success?
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a letter to the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the federal plan would harm
the nearly-extinct Delta smelt and other species. The state
said the plan would also hurt the mostly urban water agencies
that belong to the State Water Project, which might have to
surrender some of its supplies to compensate for the federal
A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey concludes oilfield
activity has lowered the quality of groundwater in western Kern
County, making it saltier and possibly affecting nearby
irrigation sources but not harming drinking water.
Aurelia Skipwith, who is already a top official at the interior
department, formerly worked at the agrochemical giant Monsanto.
New revelations show she also has ties to the Westlands Water
District, a political powerhouse with a history of chafing
against Endangered Species Act regulations that can interfere
with farmers’ demands for water in California.
Water shortages, already the scourge of the Valley, are about
to get worse. A powerful state law called the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act will curb access to water and shrink
agriculture’s footprint in the next two decades. Thousands of
acres will be turned into solar-energy farms and other
non-agricultural uses. The long-term effect of climate change,
meanwhile, will squeeze water supplies even more.
Starting next January, the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act will require farmers to gradually rein in the amount of
groundwater they pump from their wells. It could devastate the
economy of the entire San Joaquin Valley. In a region where
agriculture is king — and the ability to extract the water
beneath one’s soil has been practically a birthright — a
difficult reckoning is coming.
Most farmers haven’t heard about the recent report from the UN,
even though it deals with climate change and land use and
features agriculture prominently. But we don’t need to read the
science — we are living it.
When you walk through Jeannie Williams’s sunny orchard, you
don’t notice anything wrong. But the problem’s there,
underfoot. The land around her — about 250 square kilometres —
is sinking. “It’s frightening,” Williams says. “Is the land
going to come back up? I don’t know.”
Newsom has said he won’t approve Senate President Pro Tem Toni
Atkins’ bid for a legal backstop against environmental
rollbacks by the Trump administration. And Washington is poised
to reduce protections for endangered fish species in the
state’s largest watersheds. The result may be the heightened
regulatory uncertainty that opponents of the bill said they
hoped to avoid…
Recent years have brought severe droughts that have forced
farmers to become more efficient with water use. With nearby
Silicon Valley teeming with the promise of efficiency and
data-fueled intelligence, a natural relationship between
technology and agriculture has developed.
In 2019, at long last, justice was finally achieved; it was
secured through the combined power of the people and allies who
said it was finally time to bring safe water to all
Californians. On July 24, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation
that will make sure all Californians have access to safe,
affordable drinking water.
Whatever satisfaction might be gained by telling the president
to pound sand is nowhere near as important as protecting the
water supply of Modesto and thousands of farmers depending on
the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.
We all know it’s important to conserve water, but are we still
in a drought? California water officials say “no!” But a number
of residents in Selma got a notice on their door telling them
we are in a drought and that’s why stage 3 water restrictions
are in place.
Through a $3 million contract with the California State Water
Resources Board, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation will
conduct a statewide drinking water needs analysis to identify
risks and solutions for water systems and private wells
throughout the state.
The administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed a de-facto
moratorium on hydraulic fracturing while it studies permitting
procedures for the politically controversial oil
well-completion technique better known as fracking.
There’s no certain answer as to how the nutria population
re-emerged after being declared eradicated in California
decades ago but the population is spreading and causing serious
concern. The Department of Fish and Wildlife was recently
awarded $10 million to wipe out the large, invasive rodents and
that effort is now well underway.
Commodity prices across some crops, record cotton yields and
ample water supplies combined to catapult Fresno County’s gross
crop value to a record $7.88 billion in 2018, eclipsing last
year’s figure by over 12 percent, and besting the previous
record by nearly as much.
Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to veto a bill passed by California
lawmakers that would have allowed the state to keep strict
Obama-era endangered species protections and water pumping
restrictions for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Newsom’s
intentions … comes less than 24 hours after state lawmakers
passed the sweeping legislation.
The Exeter City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to scrap
plans to connect Exeter’s water system with Tooleville, a rural
community of about 80 households that has struggled for years
with dirty water.
Senate Bill 513, authored by Senator Melissa Hurtado
(D-Sanger), is headed towards Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for
approval. The bill, which received bi-partisan support, will
provide relief for families without reliable access to water by
delivering a temporary alternative source of water supply.
Fresno County farmers and ranchers shattered the yearly record
for the value of what they produced by nearly a billion dollars
in 2018. Despite below-average surface water supplies, their
crops and livestock totaled $7.888 billion last year, according
to the Fresno County Department of Agriculture’s annual report
In March, newly-elected Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger)
proposed a $400 million windfall to finance repairs for the
canal under Senate Bill 559… But the bipartisan bill, much
like canal it was designed to fix, is sunk — for now. The bill
failed to reach the Senate floor for a vote before the Sept. 13
Why do farmers pump the water under their land (which
California law clearly states belongs to them) in the first
place? Unfortunately, you’ll rarely read the answer to this
question in the press, but it is the most important part of the
In 2012, California became the first state in the country to
declare that “Every human being has the right to safe, clean,
affordable and accessible water” when the state legislature
inserted that statement into its state water code. Now, a new
UCLA study finds, the state may be making progress on turning
that goal into a reality.
Despite new California regulations banning surface spills in
the state’s vast oil fields, at least eight spills connected to
Chevron have occurred in just one Kern County oil field since
the new rules took effect in April, state regulators say.
The ”surface expression” spills have spewed more than
1.26 million gallons of oil and wastewater in five
months, with some still not contained.
We applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom’s efforts in leading discussions
with the United States Department of the Interior, public water
agencies and environmental groups to craft voluntary agreements
that will restore the ecological health of the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta while providing California with clean, reliable
Valley farmers and water districts will be facing a new reality
of pumping less water and are worried about the land that will
be taken out of crop production. But the water and agriculture
industries are drafting a large-scale plan to fill the gap with
more dams and water deliveries from the Delta. Vic Bedoian
reports from Fresno.
The Friant-Kern Canal, which delivers water to farms and
communities on the east side of the Valley, is literally
sinking in some areas due to groundwater pumping. And with one
week to go before the California legislature wraps up its 2019
session, many hope the state will help fund the canal’s repair.
Using dairy lagoon water to irrigate silage corn is standard
practice. Running the thick, nutrient-rich water through
subsurface drip systems could someday be just that as two
California dairy farms, an irrigation company, and an
environmental organization are working together to solve the
challenges involved in the water thrifty practice.
Senate Bill 1 has strong support from some of California’s most
influential environmental and labor organizations, including
some that helped get Gov. Gavin Newsom elected. But several of
California’s water suppliers and agricultural interests …
oppose the measure. This includes the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California, which has made SB 1 a top
At its Aug. 5 meeting, the Visalia City Council unanimously
approved a letter of support for California Water Service’s
effort to eliminate water suppliers’ liability due to
wildfires. California Water Service, which operates Visalia and
22 other municipal water systems throughout the state, says the
threat of legal action against water suppliers is “arcane”
legal reasoning and could actually put water users at risk.
Keyes’ problems with unacceptable high levels of arsenic arose
in late 2006 when the district was issued a Notice of
Non-Compliance from the California Department of Public Health.
… The quality of Keyes’ drinking water had not deteriorated
but the Environmental Protection Agency had lowered the maximum
allowable contaminant level for arsenic from 50 parts per
billion to 10 parts per billion. Three of four Keyes wells were
testing at 12 to 14 parts per billion.
As the old saying goes, if you can’t go through something, go
around it. And at an estimated cost of $357 million, the Friant
Water Authority is contemplating a 30-mile parallel canal to
circumvent the portion of the Friant Kern Canal that has been
negatively affected by subsidence.
A jury has ordered Shell Oil Company to pay the City of Atwater
a total of $63 million in damages in a groundwater pollution
suit. The decision, reached Friday after a four-month trial in
Merced County Superior Court, awarded Atwater $53 million in
compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages,
according to a news release from the city.
Senate Bill 1 is seen as a pre-emptive strike by California
lawmakers before the Trump administration ushers in new
biological opinions to alter water deliveries through the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Water deliveries in the Fresno Irrigation District typically
end in September, but they could last until November this year.
The extra deliveries will allow growers to not only irrigate
but also to bank some water for future use.
What Public Works Director Mark Houghton touts as “Manteca’s
own refinery” is now converting methane gas generated at the
wastewater treatment plant along with food waste to produce
compressed liquefied gas. And in doing so, Manteca is well on
its way to effectively wiping out all CO2 impacts the
wastewater treatment process creates and then some.
Environmental groups are calling for increased scrutiny of
California’s oil and gas industry after learning that more than
50 million gallons of crude oil flowed out of the ground in an
uncontrolled release near a Chevron facility in Kern County
over the last 16 years.
Friant Water Authority is conducting geotechnical
investigations this summer along the outer banks of the
Friant-Kern Canal in southern Tulare County to determine if the
soil may support construction of a second canal running
parallel to the first. The reason for the research is the
capacity of this key, eastside Valley canal has been reduced
60% due to land subsidence caused by years of vigorous
groundwater pumping …
The latest assault on the Delta, which supplies roughly
one-third of the Bay Area’s water, is the Trump
administration’s efforts to gut the federal Endangered Species
Act. Removing protections in existence for nearly 50 years
threatens not only the Delta’s wildlife but also the quality of
its fresh water.
State oil and gas regulators say they’re launching an
investigation of operations in a Kern County oil field after a
series of large, uncontrolled crude petroleum releases near
Chevron wells — including one that has continued on and off for
more than 16 years and may have spewed out more than 50 million
gallons of crude oil.
Moderator Kathleen Schock spoke with advocates on both sides of
the issue, John Harris of Harris Farms and Kim Delfino with
Defenders of Wildlife. Dr. Lisa Bryant, Assistant Professor of
Political Science at Fresno State also joined the conversation.
While the massive release of crude petroleum from a Chevron oil
well near the town of McKittrick seems to have ended, the
timeline for hauling away soil contaminated by the spill is
unclear. “The full extent of the required site remediation is
not known at this time and will be fully scoped with
appropriate regulatory agencies,” said Eric Laughlin, a
spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife…
Minimal restrictions, ample land and a strong farming tradition
have made Kern the state’s No. 1 hemp-growing county in the
four months since California began registering growers of the
non-psychoactive form of cannabis.
Farmers, experts and lawmakers are working to find more
sustainable ways to droughtproof farms and address the vexed
issue of water allocation. And it turns out many farmers and
water experts in California are looking to Australia for
answers as they face up to the biggest water reforms in the
history of the US.
Trump started promising more water to Central Valley growers
before he was elected. During a campaign stop in Fresno three
years ago, he dismissed the drought, then in its fifth year, as
a hoax and snorted at legal protections for endangered fish in
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
California has long been a top producer of oil. But that may
change. Some hope that change will accelerate under Gov. Gavin
Newsom, who has called for a decrease in the demand and supply
of fossil fuels. A recent massive spill in Chevron’s Cymric
oilfield in Kern County, about 35 miles west of Bakersfield,
prompted a major regulatory shakeup and could bolster that
Solar energy projects could replace some of the jobs and tax
revenues that may be lost as constrained water supplies force
California’s agriculture industry to scale back. However, the
shift from farm to solar is controversial — it can alter the
pastoral landscape and take some of the most fertile soil in
the world out of production at a time when the global
population is soaring.
California’s water regulator voted Tuesday to spend $1.3
billion over the next 10 years to provide safe drinking water
to communities throughout California. The money allocated by
the State Water Resources Control Board comes from the Safe and
Affordable Drinking Water Fund, created last month when Gov.
Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 200.
Outside the walls of the lab lies an environment increasingly
unfit for fish like delta smelt. The Sacramento-San Joaquin
Delta, some 40 miles inland from the San Francisco Bay, is a
1,100-square-mile tidal marsh that for millennia teemed with
salmon, shellfish, tule elk, deer, and waterfowl — all of which
supported a Native American population of about 300,000 people.
The July 1 assessment, obtained by The Times, outlines how
proposed changes in government water operations would harm
several species protected by the Endangered Species Act,
including perilously low populations of winter-run salmon, as
well as steelhead trout and killer whales, which feed on
The Clovis City Council in July approved an amended deal with
the Fresno Irrigation District concerning the conveyance of
Kings River water to the city’s water system. … The agreement
includes “the addition of a new water supply to meet future
City growth and support implementation of the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).”
Westlands Water District says a preliminary injunction ordering
it to stop work on an environmental impact report may prevent
it from helping to pay for raising the height of the dam,
according to the appeal filed last week.
The more than 1 million Californians without access to safe,
affordable drinking water may soon see money flowing for water
districts to regionalize, consolidate, install treatment, or
take other actions to improve water quality.
Ask around and many agree: just the sight of water in the Kern
River on a hot day has its own cooling effect. … Lucky for
us, water is expected to remain in the river for weeks to come,
though it won’t be quite as deep and full as it has been in the
Despite being one of the wettest seasons, Cal Water officials
are saying conservation should be on Californians’ minds. Cal
Water special projects manager, Susan Cordone, said, “It is
important to continue to practice conservation. One wet winter
does not make it, allow us to go back to our old ways of using
water just as we wish.”
California regulators are negotiating an agreement with two
major oil companies that would allow them to keep injecting
millions of gallons of wastewater into potential drinking water
and irrigation supplies in the Central Valley for three years.
Waverly Elementary School has levels of a chemical called TCP
in its drinking water that are above state standards. The
Linden Unified School District, which the school is part of,
tests for water contaminants throughout the year and found that
between April of 2018 and March of 2019 the water violated the