Stretching along the eastern edge of the state, the Sierra Nevada
region incorporates more than 25 percent of California’s land
area and forms one of the world’s most diverse watersheds.
It features granite cliffs, lush forests and alpine meadows on
the westside, and stark desert landscapes at the base of the
eastside. Wildlife includes bighorn sheep, mule deer, black bear
and mountain lions, hawks, eagles, and trout.
The majority of total annual precipitation – in the form of rain
and snow – falls in the Sierra Nevada. Snowmelt from the Sierra
provides water for irrigation for farms that produce half of the
nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables, and also is a vital source
for dairies, which have made California the largest milk producer
in the country.
In addition, Sierra snowmelt provides drinking water to Sierra
Nevada residents and a portion of drinking water to 23 million
people living in cities stretching from the Bay Area to Southern
More rain and snow area headed to Northern California on
Tuesday, although the storm won’t be nearly enough to make up
for what’s been a relatively dry January. … The Department of
Water Resources’ precipitation index was at 63 percent of
normal for the Valley and Sierra. The Sierra snowpack is 82
percent of normal.
The deaths of the trees, some of which lived through the rise
and fall of hundreds of empires, caliphates and kingdoms – not
to mention the inauguration of every US president – have
shocked researchers in their speed and novelty.
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
Last year, with those recent calamities haunting the state,
officials took some unprecedented steps to avert a devastating
repeat. Did they work? Well, judging by the results tallied at
the end of the year, something went right.
UC Merced researchers outline solutions to the severe wildfire
problems in California’s mountain forests and closely linked
water resource challenges in a documentary premiering on KVIE,
the Sacramento affiliate of PBS, later this month. The new film
“Beyond the Brink: California’s Watershed” highlights the
critical need to reverse a century of fire suppression in
Sierra Nevada forests…
The fires raging in Australia present a sadly recognizable
scenario, a new normal that, after two years of devastating
wildfires in California, we in the United States have become
all too familiar with. Policies intended to return forests to a
more “natural” state with less proactive human management have
created disastrous conditions…
Heavy snow in November and December means Northern Nevada’s
seasonal snowpack is off to a strong start in 2020. …
Snowpack in the Lake Tahoe Basin is 102 percent of normal for
the date. In the Truckee River Basin it’s at 99
percent of normal. The region with the strongest snowpack in
the state is in the Owyee River Basin, which is at
123 percent of normal. The area with the thinnest snowpack
is the Walker River Basin at 87 percent.
As of Thursday, the statewide Sierra Nevada snowpack — a major
source of California’s water supply — stood at 90% of its
historical average. That’s the highest total in early January
in four years, when it came in at 101% on Jan. 2, 2016.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is set to
conduct the first snow survey of 2020 on Thursday. … The
information is critical to the water managers who allocate
California’s natural water resources to regions downstream.
The House has torpedoed a proposal to allow limited boating on
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park. Critics
feared the plan could introduce contaminants to the reservoir
that supplies famously pure drinking water for 2.7 million
people in the Bay Area. Boating on its waters has been banned
for nearly a century.
Those who are the most politically correct among those that
lecture the rest of the state from their perches atop the 40
plus hills of San Francisco about the environmental
shortcomings of the rest of California should take a long hard
look in the mirror. They thrive on some of the original — and
most hideous — environmental sins ever committed in the Golden
A Placerville development company that illegally discharged
sediment and stormwater from its construction site has agreed
to pay $171,000 in a settlement with the Central Valley
Regional Water Quality Control Board,
Nitrogen pollution, largely from burning fossil fuels,
industrial agriculture and wildfire can reduce drinking water
quality and make air difficult to breathe. Thanks to a $1.1
million grant from the National Science Foundation, we will
soon have a better understanding of how much nitrogen arid
ecosystems can absorb before they produce negative effects.
The people who guard the gulls that nest on Mono Lake’s islets
in the eastern Sierra Nevada have used dynamite, electric
fences and lawsuits to protect the birds from wily coyotes and
diversions of water to Los Angeles. … Now, the gulls are
facing a botanical invader they may not be able to overcome:
thickets of invasive weeds that have engulfed most of their
The manipulation of rivers in California is jeopardizing the
resilience of native Chinook salmon. It compresses their
migration timing to the point that they crowd their habitats.
They may miss the best window for entering the ocean and
growing into adults, new research shows. The good news is that
even small steps to improve their access to habitat and restore
natural flows could boost their survival.
Researchers from the University of California’s Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, in partnership with the Yuba Water
Agency and California Department of Water Resources, will
launch the first in a series of weather balloons near
Marysville Thursday. The research is aimed at better
understanding atmospheric river events, or “epic storms,” that
have created deadly flood events in previous generations.
Skiers and snowboarders already know this: California’s recent
storms have lifted the state’s precipitation totals to the
respectable range in the northern part of the state, and to
well above normal in the south…
With the new strategy, land management agencies will increase
the pace and scale of restoration actions, including forest
thinning, prescribed fire, and meadow, aspen, and stream
restoration. It will also provide a science-based framework to
guide continued forest and watershed restoration over the next
Nevada County has released the results of a state water board
investigation into the mysterious yellow sediment plume that
closed off the South Yuba River in September. A historic mine
property on Kilham Mine Road, initially targeted as the
suspected source of the discharge, was cleared by the Central
Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in late October.
Last year, the Camp Fire blazed through the town of Paradise,
California, and burned a Christmas tree farm to the ground. The
fire occurred just months after three other Christmas tree
farms were wiped out in Northern California.
By practicing careful and sustainable water management
practices, the tribe has cultivated wild plants, including
taboose, nahavita, as well as fruit trees and other vegetables.
… However, starting in the mid-1800s with the arrival of
European settlers making a claim to water rights in the Owens
Valley, this once-lush area was transformed dramatically into a
virtual desert in just decades.
In the forecast stretching from Tuesday through Friday are
plummeting temperatures, hurricane-force gusts that could reach
or exceed 100 mph in some locations, giant waves of up to 37
feet, as much as four feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada and
heavy rain in lower elevations between San Diego and Salem.
A constellation of factors has primed California to burn big:
more development in the forests, undergrowth that’s no longer
cleared out by natural fires—and, importantly, climate change,
which has been drying out the land and making fires bigger and
the fire season longer.
The system is carrying sufficient moisture to bring moderate to
locally heavy precipitation and, with the cold air aloft, may
generate isolated thunderstorms. … Winds may gust as high as
50 mph in the mountains, and snow levels could drop as low as
2,000 feet. Significant snow accumulations are expected at
Many of California’s watersheds are
notoriously flashy – swerving from below-average flows to jarring
flood conditions in quick order. The state needs all the water it
can get from storms, but current flood management guidelines are
strict and unyielding, requiring reservoirs to dump water each
winter to make space for flood flows that may not come.
However, new tools and operating methods are emerging that could
lead the way to a redefined system that improves both water
supply and flood protection capabilities.
Water experts are still finding traces of harmful chemicals in
parts of the water systems burned by the Camp Fire and in
interior plumbing more than a year after the disaster, but the
cases are rare. … An outside team of researchers … has
found only a few cases where volatile organic compounds that
are harmful to human health seeped into home plumbing from the
water system. Most of those cases tested largely below unsafe
UC Davis forest biologist Patricia Maloney is now leading an
effort to plant thousands of seedlings descended from
drought-surviving sugar pines from around Lake Tahoe, hoping
they carry genes that make them more resilient to drought,
waning snowpack and other impacts of global warming.
After touring film festivals in two dozen cities across the
country, the documentary, Visions of the Lost Sierra, will be
released online Wednesday for all to view. … Visions is a
short film exploring how the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork
Feather River has connected communities and inspired outdoor
enthusiasts for generations.
Scientists are breeding the trees that survived California’s
historic drought to make the forests of tomorrow more
resilient. A greenhouse full of 10,000 baby trees descended
from 100 of those survivors will eventually be planted around
the Lake Tahoe area. The researchers hope efforts like this can
buy ecosystems time to adapt to the planet’s rapidly changing
One year after the devastating Camp Fire sparked, a diverse
group of land, water and environmental managers who have not
always seen eye to eye announced … a plan to reduce the risk
of catastrophic wildfire in the North Yuba watershed. The
announcement Thursday includes a Memorandum of Understanding
… to thin and restore 275,000 acres of forest on a pace and
scale that will prioritize community safety, forest health and
The lessons gained from the 2018 wildfires that swept through
Paradise, in Northern California, and along the Los
Angeles-Ventura County border in Southern California are still
being absorbed by water managers around California as they
recognize that the old emergency preparedness plans of
yesterday may not be adequate for the new wildfire reality of
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.
El Dorado Irrigation District has been making preparations for
these power shutoffs since 2018. After analyzing areas in our
system that would need to be bolstered in the event of
large-scale power outages — pump stations or other facilities
without backup power — we asked the EID Board of Directors to
approve $800,000 to purchase generators that could be utilized
across our 220-square-mile service area.
It’s been a year since two devastating wildfires on opposite ends
of California underscored the harsh new realities facing water
districts and cities serving communities in or adjacent to the
state’s fire-prone wildlands. Fire doesn’t just level homes, it
can contaminate water, scorch watersheds, damage delivery systems
and upend an agency’s finances.
On a secluded corner of Marywood Drive in Paradise sit two
vacant lots, side by side. The empty space used to hold
single-family residences surrounded by Ponderosa pines. That
was until the November 2018 Camp Fire — California’s deadliest
and most destructive wildfire — leveled the Butte County town
and destroyed more than 13,000 homes. Now, one year later,
these lots are being rebuilt by two Paradise natives, Christine
and Dave Williams, who bought the properties after the fire.
Plans to exercise federal county-of-origin rights to tap New
Melones waters are in the works. According to documents for
next Tuesday’s Tuolumne Utilities District board of directors
meeting, staff will be recommending the board authorize General
Manager Ed Pattison to submit a formal letter of request to the
United States Bureau of Reclamation for a water supply
Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken to making public statements almost
daily about PG&E’s shortcomings. Yet some elected officials
and other experts believe the state itself — specifically the
Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the company —
should take some blame for the PG&E crisis. These critics
say the commission hasn’t been aggressive enough about cracking
down on PG&E’s safety flaws.
The study of whether it makes sense to build a pipe to carry
water from Paradise to Chico has died, at least for now. …
The idea was that Cal Water’s Chico Division would buy Paradise
Irrigation District water, and reduce its total dependence on
wells. … The pipe would also provide a buyer for PID water,
something the district needs to survive. Most of its customers
were burned out by the Camp Fire.
Wildfire risk will remain substantial in much of California
through at least this month, the National Interagency Fire
Center said Nov. 1 in its monthly National Significant Wildfire
Potential Outlook. Risk will persist into December in some
The Oct. 28 meeting of the El Dorado Irrigation District Board
of Directors included an update on the effect of power outages
on the district and a legislative update with a focus on
protecting the area’s water rights.
In the long run, the biggest news from Monday’s Bishop City
Council meeting may be that Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power could consider selling the land being used for waste
water discharge by both the City of Bishop and the Eastern
Sierra Community Service District.
Even a little forest management significantly increases water
runoff in the Central Sierra Nevada and other semi-arid
regions, while drier forests need more extensive treatments,
according to a new study published recently in the journal
Nearly a year later, crews are working to clean up the last
toxic remains from the Camp Fire. The household and industrial
chemicals in the soil and airborne ash are mostly gone, carried
away by the truckload as part of debris removal. The
contamination that does persist is mostly hyper-local and is
being removed after additional, costly steps.
Called WEDEW (wood-to-energy deployed water), it is a
collaboration between Skysource and ALL Power Labs and uses
local biomass gasification… It converts the biomass into
biochar, hot humid air and electricity. Water is condensed out
of the hot humid air in a process that mimics the way clouds
are formed (the hot humid air hits cold air and forms droplets
of rain) and stored in a tank
Adam Livingston is the Director of Planning and Policy at the
Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT). … Clean Water Action’s
Communication’s Manager, Nina Foushee, interviewed Adam about
the role of land trusts in sustainable groundwater management.
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
Almost 50 years after the Lahontan cutthroat trout was listed
under the Endangered Species Act, agencies are investing in a
game-changing, fish-friendly infrastructure project at Derby
Dam to help bring back the legendary fish to the Truckee River.
Announced on Sept. 11, 2019, construction of a fish passage
structure will allow Lahontan cutthroat trout to complete their
natural migration, swimming back and forth between Pyramid Lake
and historic spawning grounds.
Last year, the worst wildfire in California history nearly
leveled a town called Paradise. Since then, residents have
scattered and a lawsuit simmers. Can recovery efforts ever
return a community to its old self?
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board heard
from a panel of researchers and ranchers last week describing
how the unique characteristics of upper watershed irrigated
pastures may call for a separate set of regulations that would
reduce the regulatory burden on Nevada County farmers.
Tuesday, another text message warning came in from Pacific Gas
& Electric that power outages are imminent. Again. Couple that
with a same-day heads-up message from the El Dorado Irrigation
District that when the power is out, they cannot pump water to
homes and businesses, and California is feeling more like an
emerging market economy in a developing nation.
Scientists examined 33 El Ninos — natural warming of equatorial
Pacific that triggers weather extremes across the globe — since
1901. They found since the 1970s, El Ninos have been forming
farther to the west in warmer waters, leading to stronger El
Ninos in some cases.
A capital improvement project that’s been on the table for 17
years was finally approved at the Georgetown Divide Public
Utility District’s Oct. 8 meeting. The project consists of
removing vegetation and debris from the canal and lining three
sections of the Main Canal with gunite. The canal takes water
from Stumpy Meadows Reservoir to the Auburn Lake Trails Water
A recent “Sunday Morning” Moment of Nature highlighted brook
trout in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California (see below).
With their bright red and orange abdomens, orange fins trimmed
in black, and sides sprinkled with yellow and red dots, they
flash through the water like little jewels.
Community members, supported by staff from the League to Save
Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Resource Conservation District and California
State Parks, have wrapped up a three-year effort to survey the
Upper Truckee River for aquatic invasive plants.
When California’s historic five-year drought finally relented a
few years ago the tally of dead trees in the Sierra Nevada was
higher than almost anyone expected: 129 million. … But some
trees did survive the test of heat and drought. Now, scientists
are racing to collect them, and other species around the globe,
in the hope that these “climate survivors” have a natural
advantage that will allow them to better cope with a warming
The court denied the petitioner’s challenge, which questioned
the validity of the county’s Environmental Impact Report,
according to the Statement of Decision. Crystal Geyser
purchased the former Coca Cola water bottling facility on Ski
Village Drive in 2013 with hopes of bottle sparkling spring
water and eventually producing Juice Squeeze drinks there.
Almost a year after wildfire ravaged the small wooded town,
residents are still advised not to drink or bathe with tap
water. Crews have hauled away more debris than workers took
from the World Trade Center after 9/11. They’re nearly done.
The number of wildfires burning across the western United
States over the past 6 decades has been steadily increasing,
and those fires are growing larger and more severe, especially
in mountain areas where more than 65% of clean water resources
for the West’s 75 million people originate. What happens when
fires intersect water resources is the subject of two new
papers in Hydrological Processes.
The preemptive power outages, set to begin early Wednesday and
extend for several days, could hamper firefighting efforts if
blazes were to erupt in a blacked-out Bay Area community. That
danger prompted fire departments and water districts on Tuesday
to fill their tanks and water tenders, put backup generators in
place and prepare for the worst.
The National Marine Fisheries Service owes an explanation for
why it decided that two dams on the Yuba River do not adversely
affect threatened Chinook salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon,
three Ninth Circuit judges ruled Thursday.
In July of 2015, California’s forests began to crumple. Parched
from more than three years of severe drought, trees died in
droves, transforming entire swaths of the Sierra Nevada from
vibrant green to dull, lifeless red. … But as Mukesh Kumar
and his colleagues would discover, California’s trees had
sounded a subtle death knell long before they breathed their
Hotter-burning wildfires are transforming California’s forests,
and not for the better. A new study from UC Davis finds
high-intensity fires leave fewer trees and a less diverse
population of plants behind. … Those intense fires transform
forest into shrubland. And according to Richter, the more
frequent and the larger the area burned at these high-severity
sites, the larger the shrub fields left behind.
Scientists have increasingly found that loss of property and
life from fire is overwhelmingly the result of precariously
placed housing in and bordering wildland areas — residential
developments that are, themselves, a major driver sparking
PG&E has installed more than 600 weather stations at
locations all across the Sierra foothills in Northern
California and plans to more than double that in the next three
years. … The weather stations provide multiple sets of eyes
on an area that has very dry vegetation with a real danger of
wildfires. They also give PG&E a better handle on when it
may be necessary to de-energize the power lines.
Excessive grazing harmed the Paiute’s habitat, and the
introduction of invasive species such as rainbow trout drove
the fish out of the river. “It has been gone from this
landscape for a really long time,” said Chuck Bonham, director
of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. And it might
have never returned without the unlikely intervention of Basque
shepherd Joe Jaunsaras.
Officials said in a news release that a property in the 13000
block of Kilham Mine Road in Nevada City was likely the source
of the plume that moved downstream into Englebright Lake. …
Investigators discovered multiple code violations on the
property and county code enforcement is working with the
property owner to rectify the violations.
As populations in the West rise, managers of our precious water
supplies have to figure out how to deal with increasing demand
in the midst of climate change. In Southern Nevada, we rely on
the Colorado River. But the Truckee River is the lifeline in
Northern Nevada, and climate change is affecting them in a much
Authorities have not yet determined the source of contamination
of an E. coli outbreak detected on a stretch of the South Yuba
River in Nevada County, but the water has now returned to a
safe condition, environmental health officials said Tuesday
Nevada County authorities are still working to determine the
source of contamination after discolored water in the South
Yuba River tested positive for “dangerous” levels of E. coli
over the weekend, prompting a no-swim advisory.
Nevada County has issued a no-swim advisory for a nearly
50-mile stretch of the South Yuba River, northeast of
Sacramento, because of dangerous levels of E. coli as well as
unknown sediments in the water.
In a decision hailed by some as a victory for tribal rights and
ecological preservation, the Ninth Circuit on Thursday upheld
voiding 40-year lease extensions for geothermal energy
production on 26 plots of California land deemed sacred by
Individual members of any species can vary dramatically,
something tied to genetic differences. That diversity comes in
handy when environmental conditions change. The drought, heat
and beetle outbreaks in recent years put extreme pressure on
sugar pines, creating a natural experiment that weeded out all
but the toughest.
Ten months after the Camp Fire, the region’s major drinking
water systems — Paradise Irrigation District and Del Oro Water
Company — still contained unsafe levels of cancer-causing
chemicals. … Even today, there is still a general state of
confusion about the safety of residential drinking water.
About 30 Paiute cutthroat trout will be plucked Wednesday from
Coyote Valley Creek in the eastern Sierra Nevada wilderness and
hauled in cans strapped to pack mules about 2 miles west into
Long Valley. State and federal researchers will be on hand as
the fish are dumped into a stretch of Silver King Creek at
about 8,000 feet elevation…
Volunteers are needed for the 11th annual Great Sierra River
Cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 21. Coordinated
by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy along with a variety of local
community groups, and in conjunction with the California
Coastal Cleanup Day, this event focuses on keeping Sierra
waterways clean and promoting community stewardship.
Our fabricators recently constructed two custom weirs
commissioned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Lahontan
National Fish Hatchery Complex… The weirs are part of a
reintroduction program to restore Lahontan cutthroat trout in
the Truckee River watershed on Glen Alpine Creek, a tributary
of Fallen Leaf Lake in El Dorado County, CA.
A major groundwater sustainability study was approved by the
Butte County Board of Supervisors which will look at different
aspects into future water allocations and conservation in Butte
County, including the possibility of building a pipeline from
Paradise to Chico.
Of all the chicken-or-the-egg dilemmas that will determine
Paradise’s recovery from the Camp Fire, water may be the most
critical. To rebuild, the town needs water from the Paradise
Irrigation District. To survive, PID needs the town to rebuild.
One can’t happen without the other, and it’s been tough to
figure out how it’s going to work.
A recent analysis by ECONorthwest, an economic consulting firm
based in Portland, Ore., estimates that a restored Hetch Hetchy
Valley, drained of its water and offering recreation options
and infrastructure in the same vein as Yosemite Valley, could
attract orders of magnitude more visitors.
UC Davis researchers have seized on a new explanation for the
continued dinginess of Lake Tahoe’s blue waters — tiny invasive
shrimp. … To make Tahoe shrimp-free, the researchers are
proposing to remove the crustaceans with trawlers and to mass
market Omega-3 fatty acids extracted from the catch.
The board easily approved a cooperation agreement with Butte
County and the California Water Service Company on an Intertie
feasibility study. … The intertie helps Paradise Irrigation
District restore revenue lost when the Camp Fire destroyed
about 90 percent of its customers.
If you see something hopping around in Big Chico Creek, chances
are it could be the foothill yellow-legged frog. This frog is
currently being evaluated by the California Department of Fish
and Wildlife to possibly be placed on the state’s endangered
Wildfires in California leave behind acres of scorched land
that make snowpack formation easier and more water runoff
downstream from the Sierra Nevada to basins in the Central
Valley, increasing the amount of water stored underground.
That’s the finding from researchers at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory, who discovered that blazes in some parts
of the state could result in more water availability.
A team of scientists has successfully teased out the influence
of human-caused climate change on wintertime precipitation over
the last century, showing that the warming climate altered
wintertime rainfall and snowfall across the Northern
An idea to pipe water from Paradise to Chico took its first
step Wednesday, when the Paradise Irrigation District board
signed off on a feasibility study for the proposal. The plan
might seem far-fetched at first glance, but it would solve a
couple of problems.
A new study by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory uses a numerical model of an important watershed in
California to shed light on how wildfires can affect
large-scale hydrological processes, such as stream flow,
groundwater levels, and snowpack and snowmelt. The team found
that post-wildfire conditions resulted in greater winter
snowpack and subsequently greater summer runoff as well as
increased groundwater storage.
California’s 2018 Camp Fire was the deadliest blaze in state
history. … From all that destruction, a mysterious threat has
emerged for those who appeared to have gotten by unscathed:
household water supplies with concentrations of toxic
benzene—including one sample that had 923 times what the state
considers safe. More than nine months after the fire, the
Paradise Irrigation District still has a “do not drink” order
unless individual parcels have been cleared.
There are a lot of reasons our watershed is unique. It’s a high
elevation terminal watershed, what could be more special? Well,
another contributing factor is that the terminus of the Truckee
River watershed exists on the largest Native American
Reservation in Nevada.
More and more land in California is going up in flames. The
area in the state burned by wildfires has increased by a factor
of five since 1972, according to a recent study, which
identified human-caused warming the likely culprit. So what’s
to be done? The Karuk Tribe wants to fight fire with fire.
Preliminary analyses of water samples collected by researchers
at the Desert Research Institute in Reno revealed the presence
of particles of synthetic fiber and bits of red and blue
plastic no bigger than the head of a pin. “On one level, we’re
heartbroken and disappointed by this discovery,” said Monica
Arienzo, an assistant research professor at the institute and
leader of the investigation.
The iconic image of Lake Tahoe is of a clear, blue lake
surrounded by stunning snow-capped mountains. But that
picturesque sight could look very different by the end of the
century due to climate change. Those snowy mountains we’re used
to seeing could lose their white tips. And this would mean a
major transformation for life in Tahoe and beyond.
Firefighters and rural residents have been on edge about
wildfires all year, after the Camp Fire, the deadliest in the
United States in 100 years, obliterated the town of Paradise in
Butte County last November, killing 86 people… Yet in a run
of much-needed good fortune, California has been spared this
year — at least so far.
Local and professional foresters say they support a new
proposal by the U.S. Forest Service that would speed up logging
and cut some environmental review processes. The Forest Service
is proposing a sweeping amendment of The National Environmental
The Forest Resilience Bond uses private capital to finance
forest restoration activities. Beneficiaries, including the
U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry
and Fire Protection, reimburse investors over time. Yuba Water
has pledged $1.5 million toward the project and the state of
California has committed $2.6 million in grant funding, with
additional funding from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.
After four years, San Francisco Zoo officials wrapped up a
successful reintroduction program Monday by releasing the last
of more than 1000 red-legged frogs into Yosemite National Park.
The zoo began partnering with the National Park Service and
Yosemite Conservancy in 2015 to reintroduce the threatened
frogs back into Yosemite National Park…
Before electric refrigeration brought cheap and available ice
in the early 20th century, ice was harvested along Truckee’s
lakes and rivers. Truckee’s cold mountain air and readily
available clear streams created an ideal environment for ice
companies to create and harvest ice.
The majestic beauty of the Sierra
Nevada forest is awe-inspiring, but beneath the dazzling blue
sky, there is a problem: A century of fire suppression and
logging practices have left trees too close together. Millions of
trees have died, stricken by drought and beetle infestation.
Combined with a forest floor cluttered with dry brush and debris,
it’s a wildfire waiting to happen.
Fires devastate the Sierra watersheds upon which millions of
Californians depend — scorching the ground, unleashing a
battering ram of debris and turning hillsides into gelatinous,
California’s forests aren’t healthy. After a century of
preventing and putting out fires, millions of acres of trees
are overcrowded, drought-stressed, and more than ready to burn.
A couple of hours from the Oregon border, one community is
asking how to do better.
“These are federal lands, and they are being systematically
destroyed through clear-cutting, stream diversion, chemicals
and pesticides,” said U.S. Atty. McGregor Scott at a news
conference, where he was joined by federal, state and local
officials who were part of the investigation. “It’s a vitally
Law enforcement officials on Tuesday announced a major
operation underway targeting illegal marijuana-growing sites in
the Sierra Nevada allegedly being operated by Mexican citizens
who are using a pesticide banned in the United States.
For a moment as columns of sunlight drifted through the pines
with the cobalt surface of Lake Tahoe in the background, it
seemed as though the partisan rancor so characteristic of this
political moment might temporarily evaporate. But such
congeniality was short lived, if it ever lived at all.
Although prescribed burns have been part of federal fire policy
since 1995, last year the Forest Service performed them on just
one per cent—some sixty thousand acres—of its land in the
Sierra Nevada. “We need to be burning close to a million acres
each year, just in the Sierras, or it’s over,” said Jeff Brown,
manager of a field station in the Tahoe National Forest.
In a joint statement, the local utility providers announced
that the Chili Bar Hydroelectric Project — a dam, reservoir,
spillway and powerhouse that generates electricity north of
Placerville on the South Fork of the American River — would be
changing hands after SMUD’s board of directors voted Thursday
evening to greenlight the purchase.
A dozen conservationists gathered eagerly around the edges of
some shallow pools above a waterfall in the Angeles National
Forrest. They watched with anticipation as about a thousand
Southern mountain yellow-legged frog tadpoles and three adult
frogs enjoyed their first few minutes of life in the wild.
The California Tahoe Conservancy had planned to get started on
their $9 million, multi-stage Upper Truckee River project to
restore and enhance over 500 acres of floodplain this fall, but
that has been postponed until 2020. They will be redirecting
the Upper Truckee River flows to a historical network of
channels through the current Marsh while creating new channels
for the river in the vicinity of the Silverwood neighborhood.
It was happy hour at the “Frog Shack,” a tiny building at the
Los Angeles Zoo offering all the amenities that Southern
California’s rarest — and perhaps fussiest — amphibians might
need to survive. … This is where Ian Recchio, the zoo’s
curator of reptiles and amphibians, is performing what some
call miracle work in keeping alive a federally endangered
species, one of the rarest vertebrates on Earth.
As the sun sets across Lake Tahoe, UC Davis researcher Brant
Allen and his team lower their sonar machine into the lake.
Thousands of little purple dots rise across the screen as they
cross the lake. … It’s not fish or Tahoe Tessie; it’s a horde
of tiny mysis shrimp, which researchers think have been making
the lake murkier since they were introduced in the 1960s.
Nowadays there’s about a 7 percent chance that snowy areas in
the western U.S. will get two really bad snow years in a
row—years with snowpack lower than a quarter of the long-term
average. But within a few decades, if climate change continues
apace, those bookending “snow droughts” could occur about 40
percent of the time, according to work published in August in
Geophysical Research Letters.
For five decades, PG&E paid for and operated the Colgate
Powerhouse in exchange for the revenue generated by the
hydroelectric generation. But now, instead of tens of millions
of dollars flowing out to the utility, that agreement has
expired and the revenue, potentially as much as $30 million per
year, is flowing back into the Yuba Water Agency.
With the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Board of
Directors set to pass an ordinance requiring mandatory
groundwater well registration on Aug. 15, a looming question
remains: how to notify residents in the valley.
The tactic is considered one of the best ways to prevent the
kind of catastrophic destruction that has become common from
wildfires, but its use falls woefully short of goals in the
U.S. West. A study published in the journal Fire in April found
prescribed burns on federal land in the last 20 years across
the West has stayed level or fallen despite calls for more.
The proposal would upend long-held environmental practices that
have been in place since 1970, and make it easier for timber
harvesting and bulldozing forest roads in all 20 of
California’s federal forests…
In a newly published study, my colleagues and I analyze
year-to-year variations of future snowpack to see how
frequently western states can expect multiple years in a row of
snow drought, or very low snow. We find that if climate change
continues relatively unabated, consecutive years with snow
drought conditions will become much more common…
During the past 107 years, daily air temperatures measured in
Tahoe City have increased. The average daily maximum
temperature has risen by 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit, and the
average daily minimum temperature has risen by 4.43 degrees.
According to the report, the number of days when air
temperatures averaged below freezing has declined by about 30
days since 1911, though year-to-year variability is high.
From the infamous “Garbage Patch” islands of floating plastic
to the guts of fish and bellies of birds, plastics of all sizes
are ubiquitous and well-documented in the ocean. But little
data exists on microplastics in lakes. If Katie Senft’s
preliminary research at one of the clearest, cleanest lakes in
the world is any indication, the problem is widespread in
freshwater systems, as well.
Litigation over water rights in western Nevada began as early
as 1864 on the Carson River and just a bit later the Truckee
River when the first retaining dam was built at Lake Tahoe’s
outlet. It was just the beginning of bi-state water wars
between the Silver State and California, a volatile conflict
that continued for well more than a century.
Tammy Waller thought she was one of the lucky ones after her
home in Magalia survived California’s most destructive wildfire
ever, but her community remains a ghostly skeleton of its
former self. Hazmat crews are still clearing properties, and
giant dump trucks haul away toxic debris. Signs on the water
fountains in the town hall say, “Don’t drink.”
In Jamestown work has begun on a new $13.73-million wastewater
treatment facility that should be operational by September of
2021. The facility is being built on property along Karlee Lane
that was purchased by the Jamestown Sanitary District in 1993
for the sole purpose of constructing a future plant.
It’s been over 150 years since the rivers in Yosemite National
Park flowed freely to the ocean without interruption by dams
and reservoirs. … But, as a study by researchers from the
National Marine Fisheries Service and UC Santa Cruz revealed,
even after a century and a half, the ocean-run legacy of
Yosemite’s rainbow trout lives on in their DNA…
Lake Tahoe, with its iconic blue waters straddling the borders
of Nevada and California, continues to face a litany of threats
related to climate change. But a promising new project to
remove tiny, invasive shrimp could be a big step toward
climate-proofing its famed lake clarity.
People may want to think twice before taking a dip in the
green-tinted water near the Parrotts Ferry Bridge at New
Melones Reservoir, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
officials. The water’s greenish hue is due to a cyanobacteria
bloom that was first detected in the Middle Fork of the
Stanislaus River upstream of the reservoir on July 17.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has joined with a Montana
Republican to craft a bill that would expedite logging and
other forest management projects near electrical transmission
lines and roads in an effort to head off catastrophic
wildfires. The bill is also aimed at slowing or stopping
lawsuits that block logging projects on federal land.
Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley was dammed and flooded nearly
100 years ago, but the prospect of draining the reservoir
continues to inspire romantic imaginings… The fantasy of
Hetch Hetchy’s grand return was recently given new dimensions
with the release of an economic assessment concluding that the
valley represents a sunken treasure trove of tourism revenue.
A caravan of scientists, staffers and water watchers wound its
way through the maze of roads on Owens Lake last week in search
of answers: Are the dust control measures working and will this
project ever be done? The answers are yes and probably not,
Water is indeed the most precious natural resource in the arid
West and from that perspective it should come as no surprise
that water-rights issues on Lake Tahoe and Truckee River have
been at the center of negotiation and controversy since
pioneers first settled the region.
On Monday, the state of California and a coalition of fishing
groups and environmentalists asked a judge to bar Westlands
from completing a crucial environmental report in hopes of
stalling the project. “Everything we see looks to be illegal,”
said deputy attorney general Russell Hildreth. At issue is a
stretch of the McCloud River that both sides agree would be
inundated by the project.
The water cycle is the movement of water on the planet — from
falling as precipitation, such as rain, ice or snow, to being
absorbed in the soil or flowing into groundwater and streams
and then being evaporated to start all over again. Research by
scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey shows water has been
moving more quickly and intensely through the various stages of
the cycle, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory.
Registration opens today for the
Water Education Foundation’s 36th annual Water
Summit, set for Oct. 30 in Sacramento. This year’s
theme, Water Year 2020: A Year of Reckoning,
reflects fast-approaching deadlines for the State Groundwater
Management Act as well as the pressing need for new approaches to
water management as California and the West weather intensified
flooding, fire and drought. To register for this can’t-miss
event, visit our Water Summit
Registration includes a full day of discussions by leading
stakeholders and policymakers on key issues, as well as coffee,
materials, gourmet lunch and an outdoor reception by the
Sacramento River that will offer the opportunity to network with
speakers and other attendees. The summit also features a silent
auction to benefit our Water Leaders program featuring
items up for bid such as kayaking trips, hotel stays and lunches
with key people in the water world.
After a few horrific years of extreme wildfires, California has
been taking steps to reduce future risks with new programs,
increased funding, and new policy efforts. We talked to Van
Butsic—a land use scientist at UC Berkeley and an adjunct
fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center—about these efforts.
In Paradise, which was nearly leveled by the fire, many water
lines were declared unsafe to drink from… The local
irrigation district has worked to replace the pipes. When it
asked for more help across the state, Rancho California Water
District answered from more than 500 miles away, sending a
caravan of trucks, tools and equipment — along with five
employees — to the charred Sierra Nevada foothills.
Lake Tahoe is the fullest it’s been in nearly two decades.
Officials say the alpine lake on the California-Nevada line is
approaching the legal limit after snowmelt from a stormy winter
left enough water to potentially last through three summers of
The new study capitalized on the unique data set available from
Yosemite’s Illilouette Basin, which is the only watershed in
the U.S. West with a restored fire regime where enough
hydrological data have been collected to allow model
validation. The results demonstrate how large-scale forest
restorations may affect water resources, a topic of
considerable interest across much of the region.
This month, a group of researchers working out of San Francisco
State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus received funding
for a five-year study to determine if restoring degraded
meadows to their former, more lush state could make these
ecosystems more effective tools for slowing the pace of climate
District Fire Chief Todd McNeal, who proposed the project, said
the draft point will allow firefighters to pull raw water from
the reservoir during an emergency and take pressure off the
State and local officials believe benzene contamination in the
water systems in areas burned by the Camp Fire is limited to
isolated pockets after ongoing testing, they said at a
community meeting on Monday. … A no-drink advisory in the
Paradise Irrigation District will be lifted at each location as
testing confirms no unsafe levels of the chemicals in the
Californians may feel like they’re enduring an epidemic of
fire. The past decade has seen half of the state’s 10 largest
wildfires and seven of its 10 most destructive fires, including
last year’s Camp Fire, the state’s deadliest wildfire ever. A
new study, published this week in the journal Earth’s Future,
finds that the state’s fire outbreak is real—and that it’s
being driven by climate change.
Benthic macroinvertebrates, including insect larvae, worms,
snails, and other backbone-lacking creatures, often rule the
alpine waterways. However, their high-altitude homes put them
on the front lines of climate change, which threatens to have
major impacts on mountain streams. This is particularly true of
streams in the Sierra Nevada of California…
Fish die-offs in freshwater lakes are an increasing threat in
California, and experts say climate change is to blame. … In
a 2014-2017 report, the California Department of Fish and
Wildlife found that high summer temperatures were not only
worsening the quality of the water, but drying out freshwater
bodies that hosted endangered species.
If we can make things just a bit easier and provide reliable
water and habitat, salmon in California can and will recover.
This understanding informed the State Water Resources Control
Board’s recent approval of a legally-required water management
plan to reverse the ecological crisis that threatens an
important coastal industry, drinking water for millions, and
the natural heritage of California.
People in Paradise lost their homes and most of their town, and
then came more shocking news: Paradise’s water is contaminated
with benzene, which is known to cause cancer. … Now there is
legislation that will likely cause an increase in the cost of
bottled water at precisely a time when these communities are
trying to rebuild.
The Kern County Public Health Services Department recently
received water samples from eight different locations in Lake
Isabella, and two water samples indicated the presence of
blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, at a cautionary level. This
type of algae can be considered potentially harmful.
A new study, just published in Nature Geoscience, reveals an
elegant formula to explain why some trees died and others
didn’t — and it suggests more suffering is in store for forests
as the climate heats up.
The water is coming straight from the Sierra Nevada Mountains
and is very cold, which is causing some concerns people hoping
to get into the water. But, the water itself, when used what
it’s intended for, has a great impact in our Central Valley.
Our 36th annual
happening Oct. 30 in Sacramento, will feature the theme “Water
Year 2020: A Year of Reckoning,” reflecting upcoming regulatory
deadlines and efforts to improve water management and policy in
the face of natural disasters.
The Summit will feature top policymakers and leading stakeholders
providing the latest information and a variety of viewpoints on
issues affecting water across California and the West.
Each of the selected projects strike at the heart of the Sierra
Nevada watershed improvement program, SNC’s large-scale
restoration initiative designed to improve ecosystem and
community resilience in the region.
Between 2012 and 2015, very little rain and snow fell on
California. Aquifers shrank and the land dried out. … New
research suggests the loss of deep-soil water best explains why
the mountain range’s trees were unable to withstand the drought
Signs of the strong winter that the Central Sierra experienced
in 2018-19 are all around Tuolumne County two weeks into
summer, from a record tying late opening for Tioga Pass in the
High Sierra on Monday to the nearly brimful New Melones
Reservoir in the foothills.
A catastrophic forest die-off in California’s Sierra Nevada
mountain range in 2015-2016 was caused by the inability of
trees to reach diminishing supplies of subsurface water
following years of severe drought and abnormally warm
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality.
As the 2018-19 water year came to a close Sunday,
record-setting snowpack in the Sierras and above-average rain
means several reservoirs are near full capacity heading into
the dry summer months. Here’s a look at the past 12 months of
Heavy snowfall in winter and spring in the Sierra Nevada,
followed by relatively cool then rising temperatures in June,
has led to an ongoing risk of avalanches into the summer —
posing a threat to long-distance hikers on the famed Pacific
Crest Trail, experts say.
As another fire season looms, here in the small city of Grass
Valley, as in much of Gold Country where historic mining towns
nestle up to sprawling, wooded mountains, things are different
this year. What used to be a leisurely wind down to summer,
marked by high school graduations and the excitement of
vacation, has become a rush to action.
The polling firm FM3 Research found that a plurality of
California voters surveyed (27 percent) said climate change is
behind state wildfires. Another 17 percent of voters believe
that human error is the leading cause of wildfires, 12 percent
believe it’s forest mismanagement and 11 percent believe it’s
When the Camp Fire struck last November, the upper Miocene
Canal, constructed mostly of wooden flumes, was destroyed. Now,
the most important part of the canal, receiving water from the
Feather River to the north, cannot convey water down through
the rest of the canal system.
The State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking
Water published guidance for testing the plumbing in buildings
that survived the fire. But that document is drawing criticism
from academic researchers who say that the recommendations,
published on June 14, are not thorough enough to detect all
potential instances of water contamination from plumbing within
The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical
exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land
managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental
studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no
severe impacts or degradation to the land.
The Paradise Irrigation District is still working to restore
clean water to the ridge. So far, the district is making big
strides toward turning non-potable water into drinking water in
the town. The district put a call out for volunteers in the
Camp Fire burn scar that would be willing to let them test
their water for the first two weeks of June.
The marathon stretch of unsettled weather means the reservoirs
are brimming, the rivers are rushing, the waterfalls are
spectacular, and people are still skiing in fresh powder in
Tahoe. But perhaps the most noteworthy outcome is a remarkably
gargantuan snowpack blanketing the mountain range straddling
California and Nevada. Right now, it’s even bigger than the
2017 snowpack that pulled the state out of a five-year drought.
Mono and Inyo counties were handed a reprieve by the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission last Friday. The Commission’s
Division of Hydropower Licensing found Premium Energy’s
application for a closed loop system from reservoirs in the
Owens Gorge to the White Mountains “patently deficient.” That’s
the good news. The FERC did not find the project patently
deficient because of environmental or common sense reasons…
The study, published in the journal Ecological
Applications, found that thinning and prescribed fire
treatments reduced the number of trees that died during the
bark beetle epidemic and drought that killed more than 129
million trees across the Sierra Nevada between 2012-2016.
Dan Efseaff, the parks and recreation director for the
devastated town of Paradise, Calif., looks out over Little
Feather River Canyon in Butte County. The Camp Fire raced up
this canyon like a blowtorch in a paper funnel on its way to
Paradise, incinerating most everything in its path, including
scores of homes. Efseaff is floating an idea that some may
think radical: paying people not to rebuild in this slice of
In my 40 years at the California Department of Water Resources,
I have seen changes in climate that have convinced me that the
full picture is changing and our extrapolation methods are
losing value rapidly. This is especially true in extreme years,
wet or dry – such as 2015, when the statistics are just not
going to be accurate enough to meet our growing water
It took two consulting groups, but a project charter for the
Sierra Valley Flood Hazard Restudy Project is finished and now
approved by members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors
on Tuesday, May 14.
Despite years of scientific research pointing to prescribed or
“controlled” burns as a successful method of clearing brush and
restoring ecosystems, intentional fire-setting by federal
agencies has declined in much of the West over the last 20
years, the study found. “This suggests that the best available
science is not being adopted into management practices…” the
The Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper
sued the Trump administration to force the addition of the
longfin smelt, the Sierra Nevada red fox and six other species
to the Endangered Species List… According to the lawsuit, the
agency had previously found the species worthy of endangered
species protections under the Obama administration but
the Trump administration had slow-walked the process…
Good news, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend: The clarity
of the famed, cobalt-blue waters of Lake Tahoe improved
dramatically last year, with visibility increasing 10 feet from
the year before, a study released Thursday by scientists at UC
Davis found. The jump is the largest annual improvement in 50
years, since measurements at the iconic Sierra Nevada lake
began in 1968.
The proposal is to increase both base and usage rates by
approximately 40% in the first year, and by about 70% of the
current rate by July of 2023. … The last set of rate
increases ended in 2016, yet system costs have been increasing
each year due to inflation and maintenance expenses associated
with an aging system…
Our Headwaters Tour June 27-28 highlights the connection
between fire and water with an up-close look at the critical
role healthy Sierra forests play in water supply and quality
across California. We will also learn about a new initiative
between Yuba Water Agency, the California Department of Water
Resources and University of California, San Diego’s Scripps
Institution of Oceanography to study how atmospheric rivers
affect the location, duration and intensity of storms.
To Eastern Sierra residents, in most years, annual run-off
means the streams and canals rise and pasture lands start to
green-up. For Los Angeles Department of Water and Power,
run-off is the city’s life’s blood… So, how do they figure it
out? Eric Tillemans, LADWP engineer, gave the Inyo County Board
of Supervisors a beginner’s course in Run-Off 101 at a recent
For years fisheries experts have watched the number of
winter-run Chinook salmon dwindle as they suffered through
drought and adverse conditions in the Sacramento River. But
this year a small crop of the endangered salmon have made their
way back from the ocean to return Battle Creek in southern
Shasta County, something that hasn’t happened in some 25 years.
And officials hope the fish are the beginning of a new run of
salmon in the creek.
The Paradise Irrigation District said it plans on testing water
from lot-to-lot instead of in zoned areas. The process will
also give priority to people currently living in their homes or
in temporary housing on their properties in Paradise. Kevin
Phillips, the district’s director, said the majority of testing
they’ve done shows no contamination in the main lines, but
individual services lines are still showing volatile organic
compounds, like benzene.
Over the short life of the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act, Owens Valley has gone from medium to high and now low
priority. That prioritization would have had an impact three
years ago. Medium and high priority basins are required to form
an agency and sustainability plan; low basins are not.
When it rains, it pours. And the Camp Fire just keeps on
pouring. The latest byproduct? Waterways testing positive for
heavy metals, from aluminum to selenium, as well as chemical
contaminants. And the most recent test results, released last
month, show unhealthy levels of both throughout the county,
primarily in Paradise and nearby creeks.
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates
high in the Sierra Nevada, making the state’s water supply
largely dependent on the health of Sierra forests. On our
Headwaters Tour June 27-28, we will visit Eldorado and Tahoe
national forests to learn about new forest management
practices, including efforts to both prevent wildfires and
recover from them.
The district is considering a five-year series of rates
increases — up to 5% per year for sewer and up to 6% per year
for water. … As district staff have explained during public
meetings, much of STPUD’s infrastructure is outdated and in
need of repair or replacement. Additionally, more than 10% of
the STPUD’s water system lacks adequate water capacity to fight
a major fire.