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
As a Science Fellow placed in the California Natural Resources
Agency, I hear a lot about these snow surveys; however, it’s
one thing to read about the data and the program, and another
thing entirely to go outside and participate in sampling. It
was fascinating to survey the snow course and follow the same
techniques that surveyors have been using for decades to track
and manage the snow.
At a virtual event last week, PPIC researcher Henry McCann
described how improved management can make Sierra forests more
resilient and avoid major wildfire-related disasters, and
summarized the findings of a new report that identifies the
benefits and beneficiaries of such management practices.
The American Water Works Association has recognized the Tahoe
Water Suppliers Association with the 2020 Exemplary Source
Water Protection Award for its high level of protection and
preservation of the Lake Tahoe watershed, the region’s primary
water source for residents.
The Truckee Town Council has approved a resolution to accept
$2.31 million in funds from the California Department of Fish
and Wildlife for the restoration of Trout Creek The money will
be used as part of the project extending Church Street, which
is part of the larger Truckee Railyard Master Plan.
Expanding and intensifying drought in Northern California
portends an early start to the wildfire season, and the
National Interagency Fire Center is predicting above-normal
potential for large wildfires by midsummer. Mountain snowpack
has been below average across the High Sierra, southern
Cascades and the Great Basin, and the agency warns that these
areas need to be monitored closely as fuels continue to dry
The last Sierra Nevada snowpack measurement of the season on
Thursday confirmed what California officials have feared for
months: The state has suffered through a dry winter. … A
broader measurement taken by 130 electronic sensors throughout
the Sierra revealed an average snow water equivalent of 8.4
inches, or 37 percent of average for this time of year.
Point Blue Conservation Science is excited to share a new
climate-smart resource for Sierra meadow restoration: the
Sierra Meadow Planting Palette Tool and Tool User Guide . The
purpose of this tool is to help restoration practitioners plan
for climate change by identifying plant species that have
traits that will increase the likelihood that they will
survive, recruit, and continue to provide additional
co-benefits under projected future conditions.
The largest wetland restoration project in the history of the
Lake Tahoe Basin is now underway in the Upper Truckee River
Marsh. The major project to restore the marsh in South Lake
Tahoe has been years in the making to fix the environmental
damage done by the creation of the Tahoe Keys.
On April 30, 2020, DWR will conduct the fifth and final
Phillips Station snow survey of the season. Due to the COVID-19
pandemic, DWR will conduct the snow survey with limited staff
and without media present. Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow
Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Section, will provide the
survey results via Facebook Live.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced that it
will be upgrading the Lower Bucks Lake Dam this year by
attaching a waterproof membrane to the upstream surface of the
dam to prevent seepage and extend the dam’s service life.
It has been 30 years since the last time a dam was seriously
considered on the East Fork [of the Carson River] as a means to
reduce flooding and increase water for agriculture and other
uses. … The East Fork begins near the base of Sonora Peak in
California. The river’s upper gorge was carved out by a 16-mile
glacier coming off the 11,500-foot high mountain. It is one of
only two major free-flowing rivers in the Eastern Sierra.
The US Bureau of Reclamation is to resume a seismic safety
modification project at Boca Dam near Truckee in California
today, following its seasonal closure in November 2019, with
social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention and other COVID-19 precautions
to be followed during construction.
The U.S. Forest Service has suspended controlled burns on
public lands in wildfire-prone California because of the
coronavirus pandemic, upsetting officials who see the program
as key to preventing seasonal infernos like those that
devastated parts of the state in 2018.
The California Fish and Game Commission’s unanimous vote over
another teleconference will allow Charlton Bonham, director of
the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, to postpone the
spring trout season, which opens April 25, in a few eastern
Sierra counties at the request of local officials.
Federal and state officials are scrambling to develop plans to
fight the West’s wildfires during a pandemic, before a fire
season forecast to be worse than normal flares up next month.
One thing is clear: The coronavirus will put a “hard stop” to
the traditional way federal agencies attack wildfires, with
large groups in close quarters, said Kerry Greene, public
information officer for the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting
More than three dozen atmospheric rivers made landfall on the
West Coast from fall through early spring, but a lack of strong
events in California led to the development of drought
conditions in parts of the state.
A lawsuit over the El Dorado Irrigation District’s plan to pipe
the Upper Main Ditch was denied by Superior Court Judge Dylan
Sullivan in a final ruling issued March 27. The lawsuit filed
by a Pollock Pines-based group called Save the Canal challenged
approval of the project and certification of the project’s
Environment Impact Report…
Lower Battle Creek in Tehama County is one of the 19 waterways
to be part of the Wildlife Conservation Board $24.3 million
grant program set to help enhance flows in streams throughout
California. … The project will dedicate water rights to
instream flow in the lower 7.3 miles of Battle Creek to restore
dwindling Chinook salmon and steelhead
An analysis led by Stanford University found that temperatures
rose about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit statewide while precipitation
dropped 30% since 1980. That doubled the number of autumn
days—when fire risk is highest—with extreme conditions for the
ignition of wildfires.
A slow-moving storm system will bring more rain and mountain
snow to parts of California through Thursday, and could trigger
flash flooding in the Mojave Desert, including some of
America’s typically driest places.
So much for the March Miracle. Despite a few March storms, the
Sierra Nevada snowpack remains well below average, California
officials reported Wednesday, suggesting that water supplies
will be tight this summer and fall.
The Narrows Project was marginally economic for PG&E and is
far from PG&E’s regional hydropower headquarters. Yuba
Water, however, is a natural buyer as the agency also owns the
nearby Narrows No. 2 Powerhouse just upstream. For decades, the
two entities closely coordinated the operations of these
facilities, including the flows.
As the climate changes, forests have figured out a way to adapt
to drought, a new study shows. … The results indicate that
tree communities, particularly in more arid regions, have
become more drought tolerant, primarily through the death of
less hardy trees.
Snow surveyors will head into the Sierra on Wednesday to take
the most important measurements of the season. … Statewide,
the snowpack and the water it holds is just 53% of average,
according to the daily report on the California Data Exchange.
On April 1, 2020, DWR will conduct the fourth Phillips Station
snow survey of the season. Due to the novel coronavirus
(COVID-19) pandemic and California Department of Public Health
guidance to limit gatherings, DWR will be conducting the April
Phillips Station snow survey without media present and will be
providing video of the survey and the results via Facebook
In March 2020 the most substantial review article to date
focusing on atmospheric rivers (AR) was published in the first
volume of the new journal Nature Reviews: Earth and
Environment. The article, led by Ashley Payne (Univ. of
Michigan) focuses on climate change dimensions, and was
prepared by an international group of scientists…
CAL FIRE last week awarded $43.5 million to local organizations
to reduce the risk of wildfires to homes and communities across
California. Fifty-five local fire prevention projects are
receiving funding for hazardous fuel reductions, wildfire
preparedness planning and fire prevention education.
A pair of low-pressure systems will bring rain and mountain
snow to the West, including communities in worsening drought,
in the early part of the week ahead. The first of the
low-pressure systems arrived on the California coast Sunday.
The second system, the larger of the two storms geographically,
will swing southward from the Gulf of Alaska through midweek.
Under a plea agreement with the Butte County district
attorney’s office, PG&E will pay the maximum fine of
approximately $4 million. It has agreed to fund efforts to
restore access to water for the next five years for residents
impacted by the loss of the Miocene Canal, which was destroyed
by the fire.
A lull in storms is forecast late this week to this weekend,
but a new series of storms is destined to impact much of the
West next week with more rain and mountain snow from Monday to
Wednesday. “It looks like a general 1 to 3 inches of rain
during the first half of the week for California alone,”
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.
California mountains are blanketed in snow and much of the
state has had plenty of rain in a remarkable March turnabout
from the extremely dry first two months of the year. The most
recent statewide storm started during the weekend and, despite
diminishing, snowfall and showers were still occurring here and
There is now plenty of evidence that as the atmosphere warms,
the planet is experiencing more wildfires. … Understandably,
much of the media surrounding these incidents focuses on the
immediate damage to forests, homes, people and wildlife, but
one potentially dangerous long-term impact has received less
attention – the effect of fires on water.
While disruptive, the storm has helped replenish a depleted
snowpack after an exceptionally dry winter. The water stored in
the snowpack is critical for the region’s water supply and for
moistening vegetation before fire season.
Snow has finally diminished a bit after California’s Sierra
Nevada picked up several feet of snow, part of a “Miracle
March” weather pattern helping to replenish vital,
water-providing snowpack after a record-dry February. … Some
lingering mainly light to moderate snow is expected Tuesday in
the Sierra. Heavier amounts are possible in far northeast
California, including Mt. Shasta, where winter storm warnings
remain in effect.
After a prolonged period of mostly dry conditions, the Tahoe
Basin finally reported impressive 24-hour snowfall totals
Sunday morning: As of 8:30 a.m., Squaw Valley had recorded 18
inches at its base and up to 30 inches at its highest peaks.
Tahoe City measured 23 inches, Homewood 33 and Incline Village
22. … Between Sunday and Monday, the Cascades and northern
Sierra could see another one to three feet of snow.
Much-needed snow will blanket California’s Sierra Nevada high
country this weekend into next week, bringing hope of a
“Miracle March” that could replenish vital, water-providing
snowpack after a record-dry February.
Tuolumne Utilities District announced on Tuesday that it has
entered into exclusive negotiations with Pacific Gas and
Electric Co. to acquire the Phoenix Hydroelectric Project,
which would include pre-1914 water rights on the South Fork of
the Stanislaus River…
Forecasting snowfall and determining long-term trends of snow
climatology are inherently challenging, but the research team
at Climate Central has produced an analysis of snowfall trends
across the United States. While no single overall national
trend in snowfall can be discerned from the results, clear
regional and seasonal patterns do emerge. In almost all areas
of the country, snow is decreasing in the “shoulder”
seasons—fall and spring.
The Sierra Nevada Conservancy Governing Board approved
$13,555,224 in grants to 27 different projects focused on
forest health, land conservation, and community resilience
throughout the vital 25-million-acre region.
The scramble for water has intensified as global warming has
battered much of the West during the last 20 years with heat
waves, droughts and wildfires. With projections for declining
snowpack and river flows, cloud seeding is becoming a regional
climate adaptation measure costing several million dollars each
The lack of snow and rain in February comes after a January
that was also drier than average, and a record dry autumn for
much of Northern California. A series of storms dumped a
considerable amount of snow in late December, raising hopes
that this winter might proceed normally. But that now seems
Forecasters and water managers keeping a close eye on
precipitation are hopeful that a wet month, a phenomenon known
by weather experts as “miracle March,” may help bolster
lackluster winter rain totals.
Amidst much anguish and gnashing of teeth, the El Dorado
Irrigation District Board of Directors unanimously approved a
$42.7 million dollar project on Monday that’s been on EID’s to
do list since 2011. Called the Folsom Lake Intake Improvement
Project, EID plans to replace the existing pump station that
has been in service since the late 1950s and considered to be
at the end of its useful life.
It is well known that warm water fish (bass and bluegill) have
diminished wild trout populations at Lake Tahoe. … However,
getting rid of the illegally planted warm water fish isn’t
altogether realistic, and the real agenda is only hinted at:
Protection for recently planted Cutthroat trout, declared as
the only ‘worthy’ fish allowed in the lake.
Paradise Irrigation District has completed sampling service
lines to all standing structures in the town for possible water
contamination and is expecting to finish repairs by the end of
spring. The completion of the testing marks a milestone in the
area’s recovery after the Camp Fire.
As the real globe warms, one trend is clear: Winter is
shrinking and snow is melting. In the past 50 years, the frozen
mantle that caps the Northern Hemisphere in the dark months has
lost a million square miles of spring snowpack. Winter warming
has tripled in the U.S. West since 1970; the length of winter
is projected to decline at ski areas across the country, in
some locations by more than 50% by 2050 and by 80% by 2090.
A warming planet has major ramifications on winter snowpack
across the globe, including a long-term drying trend for many.
That’s a concern for winter sports enthusiasts and communities
that depend on snow throughout the year.
Officials at Phillips Station recorded a snow-water equivalent
of 11.5 inches, only 47 percent of average for the end of
February, according to Sean de Guzman, chief of snow surveys
for the California Department of Water Resources… DeGuzman
called the month’s minuscule rain and snow totals “quite
disappointing,” noting that it will almost certainly go down as
the driest February ever measured by DWR officials in the
Northern Sierra Nevada range over 99 years of recorded history.
Plumas supervisors reminded the state that the best way to
protect natural resources is by not depleting them, especially
when other natural resources are available, such as the Pacific
Ocean. Supervisors encourage the state’s Natural Resources
Agency to support developing technology to promote practical
ways to use ocean water.
The Folsom Lake Intake Improvement Project delivers district
water supplies available at Folsom Lake to the El Dorado Hills
Water Treatment Plant and is critical to service reliability
for the El Dorado Hills service area. In service since the late
1950s, significant portions of the pump station have reached
the end of their useful life.
The National Weather Service tweeted satellite images of the
Sierra on Tuesday, showing the stark difference between this
year and the above-average snowfall from 2019. The mountain
snowpack — a crucial element in the state’s annual water supply
— is 53 percent of normal for this time of year, according to
the Department of Water Resources.
Reportedly a number of Mariposa County residents don’t believe
the Mariposa Public Utility District’s (MPUD) decades-old
sewage management system could provide service to potential new
motels or hotels and multi-family housing units. … In fact,
upon completion of the current retrofit and upgrade, MPUD
officials say the wastewater treatment facility could easily
handle three times as much capacity as it now processes.
The changes, mandated by Senate Bill 998, mean customers will
have at least 60 days to settle their bill before becoming
delinquent. The changes also require water utilities to provide
written notice at least seven days before service
discontinuation, which must contain information on how to avoid
an interruption of service as well as procedures for contesting
or appealing a bill.
Local reservoirs and municipal water supplies might become so
polluted from the fires that the current water supply
infrastructure will be challenged or could no longer treat the
water. … But most of the fire-prone areas in North America
lack large-scale vulnerability assessments of their municipal
A report recently published by the Lawrence Livermore National
Lab, Getting to Neutral, suggests that power plants across the
state could profitably convert wood from forests and orchards
into liquid or hydrogen fuels, all while capturing their
California’s alarmingly dry winter continues, with no
meaningful snow or rain in sight. Although it’s far too soon to
predict a drought, experts said wildfire risks could worsen
this summer as a result of the shortage of precipitation.
Meteorologists say much of Northern California likely will not
see a drop of rain in February, heightening concerns that
summer will arrive with below-average rainfall and tinder-dry
hillsides susceptible to wildfire.
In the waning moments of 2019, San Francisco’s Water Department
persuaded Congress to deny long-promised access to unreachable
areas of Yosemite National Park. This power play would ban
environmentally benign boating on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The
move reverses the guarantees of improved access and recreation
which San Francisco made in 1913, when it pleaded with Congress
to pass the Raker Act and allow it to build the reservoir in
Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.
Owens Valley Indian Water Commission is pleased to announce the
Commission awarded the Big Pine Tribe a $100,000 Agriculture
Assistance Grant torepair segments of the Tribe’s irrigation
system to ensure tribal members have access to water for
agricultural and general purposes.
In fall of 2018, Desert Research Institute scientists Monica
Arienzo, Zoe Harrold, and Meghan Collins were formulating a
project to search for microplastic pollution in the surface
waters of Lake Tahoe and in stormwater runoff into the lake.
But the team was not satisfied in seeking to identify the
presence of microplastic alone—they also wanted to make
connections with community members at Tahoe.
Overpumping of groundwater has led to a variety of negative
effects including reduced groundwater levels, seawater
intrusion, and degraded water quality. It has also led to
subsidence, which causes damage to critical water
infrastructure. In some cases, years of overpumping have left
entire California communities and farms without safe and
reliable local water supplies.
Placer County, along with the U.S. Forest Service will continue
restoration efforts at the French Meadows reservoir, 30 miles
south of Soda Springs, with plans to treat over 3,800 acres of
forest this year. … This year they expect to remove 9 million
board feet of timber, three times the amount removed last year,
and 15,000 green tons of biomass that will be chipped, hauled
and used for energy production.
The California Department of Water Resources conducted the
second monthly snow survey of the year Thursday morning at
Phillips Station snow course in the Sierra Nevada, south of
Lake Tahoe. Snowpack across the state is averaging 72 percent
of what’s normal for the start of February.
Wildfires are feasting on overgrown, overcrowded and
undermanaged forests, warmer temperatures have created longer
fire seasons and officials are trying to prevent another
environmental catastrophe. That was all just part of the
discussion Monday during Operation Sierra Storm, a national
weather conference sponsored by the Lake Tahoe Visitors
Assemblyman James Gallagher introduced new legislation Monday
that will help expedite construction of the Paradise Irrigation
District intertie project. PID said after the Camp Fire, a
rough estimate of customers lost was around 9,000, nearly its
entire customer base. The District is searching for new revenue
streams to sustain itself …
January’s rainfall has been unimpressive to date, and Jan Null,
veteran meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services, agrees
that the last week of the month looks relatively dry. Seasonal
precipitation totals for Northern and Central California
continue to fall behind normal.
There hasn’t been enough moisture this year so far to keep up
with what’s normal. The Southern Sierra 6-station index which
covers the Tulare Basin, stood at 78 percent of normal as of
Tuesday as far as the precipitation level.
Landowners are afraid of going bankrupt if a prescribed burn
escapes control, the interviewees told researchers. Meanwhile,
state and federal workers see little praise for successful
controlled burns, and face fears and possible backlash from a
risk-averse public, wary of wildfire smoke and mishaps. The
Stanford experts suggested those perceptions among the public
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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,
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.