In the early days, these pot farms were small and scattered.
But in recent years the industry has intensified. A wave of
newcomers planted larger farms, using greenhouses and
artificial lights to extend the growing season and yield up to
three marijuana crops in a single year. The cannabis boom has
polluted waters with fertilizers, fuels and pesticides,
triggered erosion that buries the rocky habitats where salmon
and trout spawn and grow, and drained streams of water in the
This commentary is based on speakers notes from an ACWA Talk
given by Anecita Agustinez at the ACWA Fall Conference 2019.
This talk was prepared for the first TED-talk inspired workshop
and was presented in San Diego, California to a large audience
from many backgrounds.
In the early years of the 20th century, leaders across the West
had big dreams for growth, all of which were tied to taking
water from the Colorado River and moving it across mountains
and deserts. In dividing up the river, they assigned more water
to users than the system actually produces.
Federal water managers are about to start reexamining a
12-year-old agreement among Western states that laid down rules
for dealing with potential water shortages along the Colorado
River. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the
Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of
2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline
under the existing agreement.
Federal water managers are about to start reexamining a
12-year-old agreement among Western states that laid down rules
for dealing with potential water shortages along the Colorado
River. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the
Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of
2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline
under the existing agreement.
The Colorado River is arguably one
of the hardest working rivers on the planet, supplying water to
40 million people and a large agricultural economy in the West.
But it’s under duress from two decades of drought and decisions
made about its management will have exceptional ramifications for
the future, especially as impacts from climate change are felt.
States in the U.S. West that have agreed to begin taking less
water next month from the drought-stricken Colorado River got
praise and a push for more action Thursday from the nation’s
top water official. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that
abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring
that more painful cuts aren’t required.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said
Wednesday that Nevada has been a national leader in water
conservation by reducing demand on the Colorado River and
investing in infrastructure over the past two decades. In Las
Vegas for the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual
conference, Burman declined to say, however, whether she sees
Nevada’s share of the river’s water increasing…
There are two things already baked into the desert’s cake
guaranteed to inject a bit of what ails the rest of the state —
the full flowering of the regulatory scheme mandated by the
state’s 2014 Groundwater Sustainability Act and reductions in
Colorado River allocations made necessary by a drying Colorado
River Basin that is already badly over allocated.
The planned downtown Palm Springs entertainment arena, like
many desert projects, is a thirsty one, requiring almost 12
million gallons of water each year to accommodate an American
Hockey League affiliate team and other visitors.
The Supreme Court today will weigh in a closed-door conference
whether to take up a dispute over states’ role in water
permitting for pipelines, hydroelectric dams, and other
projects. … The question in the case is whether states
unlawfully extended their review time for a hydropower project
on the Klamath River. It’s an issue that has cropped up in
litigation over pipelines and other projects.
As conventional wisdom has it, the states were relying on bad
data when they divided up the water. But a new book challenges
that narrative. Turn-of-the-century hydrologists actually had a
pretty good idea of how much water the river could spare, water
experts John Fleck and Eric Kuhn write in Science be Dammed:
How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.
They make the case that politicians and water managers in the
early 1900s ignored evidence about the limits of the river’s
A new federal program hopes to fill knowledge gaps on how water
moves through the headwaters of arguably the West’s most
important drinking and irrigation water source. The U.S.
Geological Survey announced the next location for its Next
Generation Water Observing System will be in the headwaters of
the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. It’s the second watershed in
the country to be part of the program…
During days when solar panels feed more energy into the grid
than utilities want to buy, the projects would use the excess
power to pump water from Walker Lake or Pyramid Lake into the
newly constructed reservoirs. Once there, the water would sit
as a giant pool of potential energy. When demand for power
increased at night as solar production waned, the water could
be released downhill and run through a power plant.
Exactly what the Potter Valley Project will look like in the
future is not set in stone. The partnership is committed to
identifying solutions that meet the needs of the communities
and wildlife affected by the project’s operations.
The water coalition has been meeting since 2018 and started
under the facilitation of Alan Mikkelsen, senior adviser to
Secretary of the Interior on water and western resources. …
The coalition aims to address challenges to fisheries, water
supply, and waterfowl and forest health.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spent months working with the
National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to mitigate potential harm to endangered sucker fish in
Upper Klamath Lake, as well as threatened coho salmon in the
lower Klamath River. … However, the bureau now says it
received “erroneous data” from an outside source during
consultation, meaning it must scrap the plans and start over
For the past two centuries, California has relied heavily on
the natural resources of the North Coast region, exploiting its
pristine watersheds for agriculture and its forests for timber.
… Now the Yurok are working with local and state
organizations to revitalize the forests, rivers and wildlife, a
comprehensive feat requiring collaboration among community
leaders up and down the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.
Ambiguity exists in the language of the river’s foundational
document, the Colorado River Compact. That agreement’s language
remains unclear on whether Upper Basin states, where the
Colorado River originates, are legally obligated to deliver a
certain amount of water over a 10-year period to those in the
Lower Basin: Arizona, California, and Nevada.
Native American tribal water rights are guaranteed by the
federal government to the extent that endangered species, like
salmon in the Klamath River, aren’t placed in danger, according
to a court decision on Thursday.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation declaring
October 14, 2019 “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in California. … I
thank the governor for the proclamation. However, last month –
on California Native American Day — the governor also vetoed
legislation, Senate Bill 1, that could have helped the state
protect our salmon from Trump’s environmental rollbacks. This
The problem in the 1920s was neither the lack of good science
nor the inability of decision-makers to understand the basin’s
hydrology. … In an era driven by politics of competition for
a limited supply of river water and federal dollars, those
decision-makers had the opportunity to selectively use the
available science as a tool to sell their projects and vision
for the river’s future to Congress and the general public.
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.
Arizona’s portion of the Drought Contingency Plan became a
unique example in the basin of tribal leaders asserting
themselves in broader discussions about the river’s management.
… With the drought plan done, some tribal leaders say their
water rights can’t be ignored any longer.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Las Vegas water grab and
pipeline –– which has been in various stages of development
since 1989 –– would forever tarnish public lands and waters in
Eastern Nevada and Western Utah. The idea is a direct
descendant to the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
Here’s the nut: Water supply in the Colorado River could drop
so far in the next decade that the ability of the Upper
Colorado River Basin states – Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New
Mexico – to meet their legal obligations to downstream users in
Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico would be in grave
The nation’s largest water agency signed an agreement that
legally bars it from participating in a controversial plan to
raise Shasta Dam, a move applauded by environmental groups that
fiercely opposed the proposal out of fears enlarging the
state’s biggest reservoir would swamp a stretch of a protected
Northern California river and flood sites sacred to a Native
The Goshute, Ely and Duckwater Shoshone tribes all consider the
site, known as the swamp cedars, sacred and believe the trees
are threatened by a proposal to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas.
… Tribal members are pushing for greater recognition of
the site in order to strengthen their case against Southern
Nevada Water Authority’s proposal to pipe groundwater
from the area to Las Vegas.
Prior to a commission meeting earlier this year, the Commission
hadn’t met since 2010, according to Curtis Anderson, commission
member representing the California side of the river. …
“We’re seeing if we can be helpful by at least providing
information and providing an opportunity for people to raise
concerns concerning the Compact itself,” Anderson said.
Prescribed burns have to become a central component of forest
management if humans want to effectively battle the climate
crisis, the vice chairman of the Yurok Tribe told members of
Congress on Tuesday.
It was on the Colorado River that González, now 82, taught her
children, just like her parents and grandparents taught her, to
fish with canoes and traps made from willow trees which
flourished on the riverbanks. Now, the river stops at the
US-Mexico border and the lakes are dry and native vegetation is
confined to reforestation projects.
A set of water rules that has fueled rapid growth in Arizona’s
suburbs is riddled with weaknesses, according to a new report
by researchers at Arizona State University, who argue the
system needs to be overhauled to protect homeowners from rising
costs and to ensure sufficient water supplies for the future.
In Arizona, the mountainous city of Flagstaff normally gets 8.3
inches of rain in monsoon season but had 2.08 inches — the
driest in more than 120 years of record keeping. The Grand
Canyon airport, Teec Nos Pos on the Navajo Nation and Show Low
also had record low rainfall.
Alicyn Gitlin, conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club’s
Grand Canyon Chapter, said the project would threaten an
endangered species, interfere with the Grand Canyon’s already
degraded hydrology and damage sites held sacred by two Arizona
Arizona’s top water official presented new long-term
projections Friday showing that Pinal County doesn’t have
enough groundwater to provide for the fast-growing area’s
cities, farms and many planned subdivisions over the coming
Pumped Hydro Storage LLC is seeking approval from the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission to study the sites east of Grand
Canyon National Park over three years. None of it will move
forward without permission from the Navajo Nation. Navajo
President Jonathan Nez said he’s been briefed by tribal
economic development officials about the proposals — but hasn’t
talked with anyone from Pumped Hydro Storage.
For E. Joaquin Esquivel, California has made great strides in
fighting climate change and transitioning to a cleaner energy
sector. Now, he said, it’s water’s turn. “Water, I think, is
ready for that moment,” said Esquivel, the chairman of the
California State Water Resources Control Board who took over
from longtime chair Felicia Marcus in February.
Environmental groups that have long pushed to bring down a huge
dam along the Colorado River are suing the federal government,
alleging it ignored climate science when approving a 20-year
operating plan for the dam near the Arizona-Utah border.
President Trump’s political feud with California has spread
collateral damage across more than a dozen other states, which
have seen their regulatory authority curtailed and their
autonomy threatened by a Trump administration intent on
weakening the environmental statutes of the country’s most
Giving legal rights to a river helps compensate for the fact
that the rights of those living along it are frequently being
violated. Even with all the executive orders and legislation on
the books, companies exploiting the environment rarely pay for
its destruction in the way local communities do.
Lake Powell’s long decline may be on hiatus after this year’s
snowy winter, but activists still are raising concerns that
climate change could render Glen Canyon Dam inoperable. This
time, they are taking their concerns to court, asking a federal
judge to invalidate the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 20-year
operating plan for the towering dam..
The Oregon Court of Appeals won’t resolve a dispute over the
impact of Klamath basin wells on surface waters due to newly
imposed regulations in the area. The appellate court has
dismissed the case because it’s moot and unworthy of review
after the Oregon water regulators adopted different rules
governing surface water interference from wells in the Upper
Klamath basin earlier this year.
Although the Water Board made clear that they are not, at this
time, issuing notices of violation, the letters serve as a shot
across the bow to an industry that is beginning to appreciate
the importance of compliance with environmental regulations and
portends more significant enforcement efforts in the near
Thousands of fall-run salmon have returned to Battle Creek in
Shasta County. The Coleman National Fish Hatchery opened the
fish ladder Tuesday morning so the salmon will begin to flow
into their holding ponds. However, local native American tribes
are not exactly praising the return to the hatchery, saying the
population is still at risk.
A Native American tribe has granted personhood to a river in
northern California making it the first known River in North
America to have the same legal rights as a human, at least
under tribal law. The Yurok Tribe based near the southern
border of Oregon confirmed the new status on the Klamath River.
Following losses in court, a Fresno-based irrigation district
has backed off its plans to do an environmental study on
raising the height of Shasta Dam. The Westlands Water District
announced Monday that it has stopped working on the report
because it could not meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s
schedule for the project.
For years, the Interior Department resisted proposals to raise
the height of its towering Shasta Dam in Northern California.
The department’s own scientists and researchers concluded that
doing so would endanger rare plants and animals in the area…
But the project is going forward now, in a big win for a
powerful consortium of California farmers that stands to profit
The river is carrying year-round flows down a stretch on the
Tohono O’odham Nation’s San Xavier District that until recently
was dry for more than 70 years except after big rains. And
here, unlike through downtown Tucson, the water is once again
coming up from the aquifer naturally — not being added
artificially through effluent.
A Phoenix company wants to build two hydroelectric dams less
than five miles from the eastern border of Grand Canyon
National Park, submerging several miles of the Little Colorado
River and the endangered fish habitat it protects.
Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill on Friday that would have
allowed California to preserve Obama-era endangered species
protections and water-pumping restrictions for the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta should they be dismantled by the
Trump administration, a move scorned by environmental groups
that have been among the governor’s most important political
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
A plan to remove four dams on the Klamath River – one of the
most ambitious river restoration projects ever attempted – is
either mocked or praised depending on the audience. It will
expand salmon habitat or destroy a fishery. The only certainty
is that lives will change forever.
An improved understanding of cannabis cultivators’ water use
practices is a particularly pressing need. Given the propensity
of cannabis growers to establish farms in small, upper
watersheds, where streams that support salmonids and other
sensitive species are vulnerable to dewatering, significant
concerns have been raised over the potential impacts of
diverting surface water for cannabis cultivation.
In essence, the Yurok resolution means that if the river is
harmed, a case can be made in Yurok tribal court to remedy the
problem. Currently, says Yurok Tribe General Counsel Amy
Cordalis, laws like the Clean Water or Endangered Species acts
can be used to protect rivers by addressing symptoms of
problems like diseased fish or pollution. But the Yurok
resolution seeks to address the river’s problems directly and
holistically, including the impacts of climate change.
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
Free water is available to Needles residents who happen to live
in one of the areas the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has
determined to have earned prior perfected water rights (PPR):
Well-drilling, pumping, piping and treating not included.
Neighbors within an area must agree on an equitable plan for
distribution of the water.
I’m writing to express our tribe’s dismay at Gov. Gavin
Newsom’s announcement that he plans to veto Senate Bill 1. …
Vetoing this bill will green-light President Trump’s plan to
divert even more water from our struggling rivers for
industrial agriculture. Many well-respected fish biologists and
environmentalists have concluded Trump’s attempt to ignore the
best science and rewrite the rules will essentially be an
“extinction plan” for Chinook salmon and other threatened fish.
Our beaches, bays and waterways are central to who we are as
San Diegans and to our unique way of life. But in a heavily
urbanized region clean water doesn’t just happen; it takes hard
work and stewardship.
Newsom has said he won’t approve Senate President Pro Tem Toni
Atkins’ bid for a legal backstop against environmental
rollbacks by the Trump administration. And Washington is poised
to reduce protections for endangered fish species in the
state’s largest watersheds. The result may be the heightened
regulatory uncertainty that opponents of the bill said they
hoped to avoid…
There is not enough water to support important wetlands and
springs in a semi-arid desert ecosystem that straddles the
Nevada-Utah border if all permitted and proposed groundwater
rights are put to use, according to a U.S. Geological Survey
study of the Snake Valley. There also may not be enough
groundwater to satisfy the desires of the Las Vegas area, whose
water agencies have eyed the valley for decades…
Through a $3 million contract with the California State Water
Resources Board, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation will
conduct a statewide drinking water needs analysis to identify
risks and solutions for water systems and private wells
throughout the state.
Whatever satisfaction might be gained by telling the president
to pound sand is nowhere near as important as protecting the
water supply of Modesto and thousands of farmers depending on
the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.
Salmon and steelhead that were once abundant in this great
watershed are now at risk of extinction, a preventable disaster
that can be averted by moving forward with the planned removal
of four aging hydroelectric dams. While the Klamath River was
once the third-largest salmon producer on the west coast, its
fish runs have been declining for decades.
Some 45,000 to 50,000 spring-summer Chinook spawned here in the
1950s. These days, the average is about 1,500 fish, and
declining. And not just here: Native fish are in free-fall
throughout the Columbia River basin, a situation so dire that
many groups are urging the removal of four large dams to keep
the fish from being lost.
The state’s moves open up more opportunities for extension of
drinking water service, operations and maintenance for domestic
wells, and even demands action for Salton Sea conservation. The
myriad issues east valley residents face are exacerbated by the
public health impacts of the receding Salton Sea.
Removing the four aging hydroelectric dams from the river would
significantly improve ecological and geomorphic conditions
throughout the Klamath watershed and play a key role in
returning salmon to stable population levels.
Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to veto a bill passed by California
lawmakers that would have allowed the state to keep strict
Obama-era endangered species protections and water pumping
restrictions for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Newsom’s
intentions … comes less than 24 hours after state lawmakers
passed the sweeping legislation.
It didn’t take long for the completion of the Drought
Contingency Plan to create value to Arizona and the Colorado
River Basin. Its focus on stabilizing Lake Mead and creating
incentives to “bank” water in the reservoir already are paying
The Colorado River Basin’s 20 years of drought and the dramatic
decline in water levels at the river’s key reservoirs have
pressed water managers to adapt to challenging conditions. But
even more extreme — albeit rare — droughts or floods that could
overwhelm water managers may lie ahead in the Basin as the
effects of climate change take hold, say a group of scientists.
Facing fierce lobbying from well-financed water districts, the
bill’s author, Senate President Toni Atkins, D-San Diego,
acknowledged Tuesday that the bill might get pulled from
consideration until next year.
The Round Valley Indian Tribes announced this week that they
have signed an agreement to join with users of both the Eel
River and Russian River to seek a “Two-Basin Solution” for the
re-licensing of the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project, which
diverts water from the Eel River into the Russian River.
This delivery, on top of water already being provided, comes at
a critical time for fall waterfowl migration, and has become
available through extensive coordination and efforts by Klamath
When the salmon are healthy, the world is healthy. That means
the waters are clean and fast-running and the bottom gravel is
clean. It means the rivers … are pouring as they should into
our oceans, bringing nutrients and sediments into the salt- and
“We never were a people that would fight fire,” said William
Tripp, the Karuk Tribe’s eco-cultural restoration specialist.
“We worked with fire. Fire was inevitable and still is and
forever will be on this landscape and many landscapes like it.”
That’s why the Karuk Tribe is making the use of fire a central
component of its climate adaptation plan.
Senate Bill 1 has strong support from some of California’s most
influential environmental and labor organizations, including
some that helped get Gov. Gavin Newsom elected. But several of
California’s water suppliers and agricultural interests …
oppose the measure. This includes the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California, which has made SB 1 a top
Nevada and Arizona, concerned that a 20-year drought has dried
up much of the river, are trying to rein in water use in an
effort to save the disappearing river. The river’s water levels
next year are projected to be just below the threshold of 1,090
feet laid out in the Drought Contingency Plan that was signed
earlier this year…
Crowfoot oversees a sprawling agency of 19,000 employees
engaged in the stewardship of the state’s forests and natural
lands, rivers and waterways, coast and ocean, fish and wildlife
and energy development. Now in its 36th year, the Water Summit
features a variety of policymakers, experts and stakeholders
discussing important topics in water across California and the
A few years ago, Paul Kehmeier did something unusual: He
decided not to water about 60% of his fields. He was one of a
few dozen farmers and landowners in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah,
and New Mexico who volunteered for a pilot program meant to
test out a new water-conservation strategy: Paying farmers to
temporarily leave their fields dry, to save the Colorado River.
Water users in the Colorado River Basin have survived the
drought through a combination of water storage infrastructure
and voluntary actions to protect reservoir storage and water
supply. Adoption of drought contingency plans this summer,
developed over years of collaborative negotiation, takes the
next step by implementing mandatory action to reduce risk and
protect limited water supplies.
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.
A mobile home park on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation in
Thermal had elevated levels of arsenic in the water system,
prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to direct
the park’s owner to make fresh water available to residents and
find ways to mitigate the contaminants, the federal agency said
At the 2019 California Water Law Symposium, Professor Dave Owen
from UC Hastings gave the following overview presentation of
California water rights, including types of water rights,
governing agencies, and sources of regulatory authority, as
well as a brief overview of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater
ASU Now spoke to Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for
Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy,
about the cutbacks and what they will mean for Arizona’s
agriculture and the state’s roughly 7 million residents.
Environmental groups are raising concerns over a provision in
draft legislation they believe could exempt the Las Vegas
pipeline — a proposal to pump eastern Nevada groundwater about
300 miles to Southern Nevada — from further litigation and
federal environmental review.
Rocky Mountain water managers worried about climate-driven
depletion across the Colorado River Basin are mulling a “grand
bargain” that would overhaul obligations among seven
southwestern states for sharing the river’s water. This
reflects rising concerns that dry times could turn disastrous.
A new legislative audit has concluded Washington County water
bosses will likely be able to generate sufficient revenue to
pay the massive costs of building and operating the proposed
Lake Powell pipeline, but only through large fee, rate and tax
increases and if the county triples its population during the
next 50 years.
Just a few months after completing the Drought Contingency Plan
for the Colorado River states, water managers in the southwest
will likely have to implement it starting in 2020. That’s
according to new projections for the levels of key reservoirs
in the southwestern river basin, and Arizona is first in line
to take water cutbacks.
The headwaters of Blue Creek is also among the tribe’s most
sacred sites, said Gene Brundin, a member of the tribe’s
cultural committee. The stream begins at a place called Elk
Valley near Chimney Rock and its cold water ensures the
viability of the salmon runs, he said.
Westlands Water District says a preliminary injunction ordering
it to stop work on an environmental impact report may prevent
it from helping to pay for raising the height of the dam,
according to the appeal filed last week.
Although more fundamental ESA reform is needed, last week’s
action yielded modest and common-sense improvements to
implementation of an imperfect law. New efficiencies, clarity,
and transparency will serve the purposes of the ESA and the
The proposed rule would re-write EPA’s existing Section 401
implementing regulations and significantly narrow the authority
of states and Indian tribes when acting on Section 401
The Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP) proposal arose from a belief
that Utah has an unused share of the Colorado River and a fear
of water shortages stifling Washington County’s rapid
population growth. Although many leaders across the state say
southern Utah needs the LPP, this statement is not based on
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be required to take less water
from the Colorado River for the first time next year under a
set of agreements that aim to keep enough water in Lake Mead to
reduce the risk of a crash.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday will release its
projections for next year’s supply from Lake Mead, a key
reservoir that feeds Colorado River water to Nevada, Arizona,
California and Mexico. After a wet winter, the agency is not
expected to require any states to take cuts to their share of
water. But that doesn’t mean conditions are improving long
On Monday, Aug. 19, the Yurok Tribe, Green Diamond Resource
Company and Western Rivers Conservancy will celebrate a
decade-long, hard-won effort to preserve and place into tribal
ownership approximately 50,000 acres of forest surrounding four
salmon sustaining streams, including Blue Creek, according to
Removing four hydroelectric dams along the lower Klamath River
in Southern Oregon and Northern California is expected to cost
just under $434 million and could happen by 2022, according to
a new filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The recently adopted Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) was an
important step toward addressing the Colorado Basin’s chronic
water shortages, but more work is needed to prepare for a
hotter, drier future. We talked to Doug Kenney, director of the
Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado and
a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network,
about managing the basin for long-term water sustainability.
A plan to raise and expand California’s largest reservoir is on
hold as federal officials look for partners to share in the
$1.4 billion cost. The federal Bureau of Reclamation also must
grapple with opponents who have sued, saying the Shasta Dam
project violates state law.
Ivan Soto has aspired to produce research with a positive
impact on the public — not just to benefit the academic
community. … His research examines the power dynamics of
infrastructure and water politics through an environmental
history of southernmost California’s Imperial Valley along the
California’s Secretary of Environmental Protection Jared
Blumenfeld joins Forum to discuss how the state is responding
to the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks and what
he sees as the state’s top priorities and challenges.
Next spring, the Yurok Tribe will begin its Redwood Canoe
Adventure Tour and it will utilize six hand-crafted redwood
canoes made using traditional tribal tools and techniques. …
According to the tribe, it’s an opportunity you won’t find
anywhere else in the world due to the unique relationship
between the Yurok people and the Klamath River.
Across the United States, more than 460,000 households, or
nearly 1.5 million people, lack a plumbed connection to
drinking water or sewers. … A new study in the Annals of the
American Association of Geographers takes a detailed look at
the persistence of “plumbing poverty” in the U.S. …
Klamath River Renewal Corporation announced last week the
selection of Resource Environmental Solutions, LLC to perform
restoration work after the proposed removal of four Klamath
dams, and on Monday, KRRC announced it had filed with Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission the answers to a plethora of
questions brought forward by a Board of Consultants in December
A new federal management plan for the Klamath River is proving
to be a disaster for salmon, a lawsuit alleges. The Yurok Tribe
and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations
filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation and the
National Marine Fisheries Service on Wednesday because the new
plan has led to drought-level flows in the lower Klamath River
and an increase in salmon with a potentially lethal parasite…
The Westlands Water District, which provides irrigation water
to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, was
working on a report assessing the environmental impacts of
raising the height of the dam. But a judge ruled Wednesday that
Westlands’ work violated a state law that prohibited local and
state agencies from participating in any projects that would
have an adverse impact on the McCloud River.
County and tribal officials are reporting that new testing at
sites around Clear Lake have revealed half a dozen areas with
cyanobacteria levels that trigger health warnings. Water
monitoring is regularly done by the Big Valley Band of Pomo
Indians and Elem Indian Colony, a valuable service that helps
facilitate safe lake use.
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.
If you’ve read stories about the disaster afflicting Flint,
Michigan, you are probably grateful we still have good drinking
water in Humboldt County. But the agency that provides water to
a majority of county residents is increasingly worried about
the future and going head-to-head with the county Planning and
Building Department to protect water quality.
Water managers on the Colorado River are facing a unique
moment. With a temporary fix to the river’s scarcity problem
recently completed, talk has begun to turn toward future
agreements to manage the water source for 40 million people in
the southwestern U.S. … Some within the basin see a window of
opportunity to argue for big, bold actions to find balance in
During a recent trip to the Trinity River, I learned about the
many challenges facing its salmon and steelhead populations.
… But there is hope and evidence of progress in realizing
ecological benefits of the past. A holistic approach to habitat
restoration doesn’t rely on a single silver bullet solution,
but applies a comprehensive set of actions that rely on
collaboration between local tribes, federal and state agencies,
and local government agencies…
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board of
directors took the first step Thursday to require all
groundwater wells in the valley to be registered by Oct. 1. …
That first step also included a pumping fee to pay for the
required groundwater sustainability plan due to the Department
of Water Resources by Jan. 31, 2020.
Groundwater pumping has caused stream flow in U.S. rivers to
decline by as much as half over the last century, according to
new research by a University of Arizona hydrologist that
strengthens the connection between groundwater and surface
The state drought plans move gingerly toward encouraging
transfers of water by using clever euphemisms that avoid any
mention of water marketing. … These euphemisms are tools that
usher in a new frontier in western water law that will increase
resilience in the face of droughts, floods and forest fires
fueled by climate change.
A judge has rejected a San Joaquin Valley irrigation district’s
request to move a lawsuit against raising the height of Shasta
Dam to Fresno County. Westlands Water District, based in
Fresno, wanted to move the lawsuit against it to its home
county, but a judge has ruled the case will remain in Shasta
As a small business owner who leads fishing tours for anglers
from within and beyond the region, I understand that taking
these dams out may lead to a short-term dip in business. But
the long-term benefits of dam removal outweigh the near-term
costs to my family and my livelihood.
Key parts of the case were dismissed in April by U.S. District
Court Judge Jesus Bernal, who ruled that the tribe did not have
a claim of harm because it has always had enough water… Now,
the federal government intends to make its case that this
ruling should be reversed.
While California contemplates new dams for its thirsty future,
it’s also thinking about taking out old ones. Along with
advancing plans to demolish three dams atop the Klamath River,
there’s a movement to rethink and possibly take out a water and
power dam in the Mendocino County back country.
Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot discussed the
Governor’s water resilience portfolio and reiterated the Newsom
administration’s support for modernized conveyance in the
Delta. That was followed by a robust discussion that included
Delta conveyance, water storage, emerging contaminants and
PFAS, among other things.
The Eel River—once home to the state’s third-largest salmon and
steelhead runs, all of which are now listed as threatened―may
see the return of healthy fisheries in coming years. A unique
opportunity to remove a dam that blocks fish from reaching
spawning habitat has arisen. We talked to Curtis Knight,
executive director of CalTrout, about the situation.
Larry N. Olinger, the tribal council vice chairman and a former
chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, died
Monday morning, the tribe said. He was 80 and lived in Palm
Springs. … While on the tribal council, Olinger worked to
resolve a longstanding dispute between the tribe and the
Coachella Valley Water District and the Desert Water Agency.
In the 1990s, he played a central role in some of the country’s
biggest environmental decisions. … He could have chosen to
wrap up his career when he left office at the end of the
Clinton administration in 2001. But Babbitt has
remained actively engaged in issues he cares about.
In black and white, John Trotter documents the use of water
from the Colorado River, tackling the social, political, and
environmental impact of the way it’s dealt with. Spanning over
years and kilometres, his ongoing essay is a dire political
A longtime court case involving the shutoff of water to
multiple water users in the Klamath Basin in 2001 attracted
wide-ranging attention from Pacific Northwest-based
organizations and those within the legal community in
Washington, D.C. Nearly 90 minutes of oral arguments were heard
Monday at the U.S. Court of Appeals at the Federal Circuit.
The plan is historic: It acknowledges that southwestern states
need to make deep water use reductions – including a large
share from agriculture, which uses over 70% of the supply – to
prevent Colorado River reservoirs from declining to critically
low levels. But it also has serious shortcomings. It runs for
less than a decade. And its name suggests a response to a
The original treaty was implemented before the 1970 National
Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act and a
host of legal shifts that bolstered Indigenous rights… These
hallmarks of change emphasize the need to include environmental
protection and equity in an updated treaty.
The unusually wet winter (with an assist from new Colorado
River Drought Contingency Plan water reduction rules) has
substantially reduced the near-term scare-the-crap-out-of-me
risks on the Colorado River for the next few years, according
to new Bureau of Reclamation modeling.
From sea to shining sea may take on a new meaning in
California, as state officials are reviewing billion dollar
plans to import water from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez to help raise
water levels at the Salton Sea.
In the long-term puzzle of ensuring that the Colorado River —
the main artery of the American West — provides water to the
millions of people in the basin who depend on it, the
challenges are mounting. Does 2019’s water stand a chance of
making a meaningful impact? Water experts say the answer is:
Sadly, not likely.
Tribal leaders urged House lawmakers Wednesday to support a
handful of bills that would guarantee water to their tribes in
Arizona, Utah and New Mexico and fund the water treatment
plants and pipelines to deliver it.
Keith Parker’s groundbreaking biology research regarding a new
subspecies of Pacific lamprey, recently published in the
science journal Molecular Ecology, may be the key to saving his
tribe’s way of life. … Parker hopes that his research will
open the door to further investigation of the lamprey, because
the future of his tribe lies with this bizarre-looking,
We salute Rep. Jared Huffman and Sen. Kamala Harris for their
recent introduction of the Northwest California Wilderness,
Recreation and Working Forests Act, which would better protect
and restore lands and streams vital for water supply, salmon
and steelhead and the growing outdoor recreation economy in
A plan to underground about 2.5 miles of the Escondido Canal
through and near the San Pasqual Indian reservation has moved
forward with an agreement reached recently for Escondido to pay
the tribe for an easement through its land. The 14-mile-long
Escondido Canal transports water from Lake Henshaw to Lake
Wohlford where it is stored for use by Escondido and Vista
Irrigation District consumers.
May 24, 2019, marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of
John Wesley Powell’s ambitious expedition through the
canyonlands of Utah, Colorado, and Arizona, including the Grand
Canyon. … In a new USGS story map, readers can follow
Powell’s epic journey from a remote sensing perspective.
It is hard to fathom how the fifth-largest economy in the world
can settle for letting public water systems serve up
contaminated water. How will our economy continue to grow and
how will we attract new businesses and new workers if the state
can’t provide a basic human need?
Rather than unquestioningly celebrating Powell and his legacy,
this year gives us the chance to think about a couple of
points: First, how are we telling Powell’s story now, and how
have we told it in the past? Is it, and has it been, accurate
and useful? Second, whose stories have we excluded, ignored,
and forgotten about in the focus on Powell?
Nevada ranchers, environmental groups and American Indian
tribes are sounding the alarm over legislation they say could
drain the water supply from rural areas throughout the state.
They’re worried about Assembly Bill 30 in the Nevada
Legislature after negotiations over arcane language in the bill
broke down in recent days.
University of Colorado Professor Emeritus Charles Wilkinson …
described the Western icon and one-armed Civil War veteran as a
complex character, a larger-than-life person and an early
visionary of wise water use in an arid West. Wilkinson spoke
recently with Western Water about Powell and his legacy, and
how Powell might view the Colorado River today.
We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! We may conjecture many things.
~John Wesley Powell
Powell scrawled those words in his journal as he and his expedition paddled their way into the deep walls of the Grand Canyon on a stretch of the Colorado River in August 1869. Three months earlier, the 10-man group had set out on their exploration of the iconic Southwest river by hauling their wooden boats into a major tributary of the Colorado, the Green River in Wyoming, for their trip into the “great unknown,” as Powell described it.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and his allies have
filed a lawsuit to stop Federal water users from participating
in the raising of Shasta Dam, a federal dam. … Plain and
simple, this is a lawsuit waged against Central Valley farmers.
Recently-appointed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has
rescinded a letter of support that Obama-era Interior Secretary
Sally Jewell wrote in 2016. … Matt Cox is with the Klamath
River Renewal Corporation, the non-profit formed to implement
the dam removal agreement. He says rescinding Jewell’s letter
has no legal effect.
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 Colorado River just got a boost that’s likely to prevent
its depleted reservoirs from bottoming out, at least for the
next several years. Representatives of seven Western states and
the federal government signed a landmark deal on Monday laying
out potential cuts in water deliveries through 2026 to reduce
the risks of the river’s reservoirs hitting critically low
It takes more than one wet year to not only refill reservoirs
but also recharge aquifers and return moisture in parched soils
to normal levels. … All this upstream snowpack and rain is
predicted to boost Powell to 47% of capacity by the end of the
year, another three or four feet, but there’ll still be plenty
of the “bathtub ring” visible. It’s been 36 years since Powell
was full. It’s not likely it’ll ever fill again.
After months of tense, difficult negotiations, a plan to spread
the effects of anticipated cutbacks on the drought-stricken
Colorado River is nearing completion. On Monday,
representatives of the seven states that rely on the river will
gather for a formal signing ceremony at Hoover Dam, the real
and symbolic center of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
The Colorado River — of which the Green is the biggest
tributary — is the main water source for 40 million people.
It’s already overallocated, and climate change is predicted to
shrink flows by up to 50 percent by the end of the century.
We’re finally coming to grips with those forecasts and
beginning to heed Powell’s century-and-a-half-old warnings. But
it’s taken drought and desperation to get us there, and we have
to do better.
Mission Springs Water District alleged that Desert Water
Agency, which also provides water to more than 100,000 Palm
Springs and Cathedral City residents, made a board decision
that violated a previous settlement between the two agencies.
… Last month, the issue over groundwater management in Desert
Hot Springs picked up steam when a study group
formed by Mission Springs published a 16-page report that
lambasted Desert Water Agency’s actions…
Insisting the state made a commitment, a central Arizona
lawmaker and farmers he represents are making a last-ditch
pitch for $20 million from taxpayers to drill new wells and
water delivery canals. Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said Thursday
the farmers in Pinal County agreed to give up their right to
Colorado River water to help the state come up with a plan to
deal with the drought. In exchange they were given the right to
take additional water out of the ground.
Halting plans to remove four dams on the Klamath River was the
theme of a well-attended fundraising event hosted May 4 by the
Siskiyou County Water Users Association. Guest speakers,
including Congressman Doug LaMalfa, Siskiyou County Supervisor
Brandon Criss, former Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams
and Attorney James Buchal, author of “The Great Salmon Hoax”
discussed problems they foresee with dam removal which they
believe is far from a done deal.
Oregon Water Resources Department is in the process of
validating a call on Upper Klamath Lake tributaries, including
the Wood River, filed by senior water right holders — the
Klamath Tribes — on April 18. … Water users that irrigate can
call the watermaster’s office if they believe someone with a
junior water right to theirs is irrigating with water that
should be coming to them.
The Yurok Tribal Council recently voted in favor of a
resolution to establish the Rights of the Klamath River.
According to the Yurok Tribe, the resolution “establishes the
Rights of the Klamath River to exist, flourish, and naturally
evolve; to have a clean and healthy environment free from
pollutants; to have a stable climate free from human-caused
climate change impacts; and to be free from contamination by
genetically engineered organisms.”
At the 28th California Water Policy conference held in April of
2019, a panel discussed how tribal lands and tribal
representatives, as independent nations, can be integrated into
SGMA implementation, what some of the obstacles to doing so
are, and how those hurdles might be transcended.
When asked about his priorities, California’s recently
appointed Natural Resources Secretary quickly rattles off a
range of topics: climate change; strengthening water supply
resilience; and building water capacity for communities,
agriculture, and the environment, among them.
Stakeholders throughout the Colorado River Basin just wrapped
up arduous negotiations on a drought plan. There’s little time
to rest, however. Stakeholders are expected to begin the even
more difficult task of hammering out sweeping new guidelines
for delivering water and sharing shortages that could
re-imagine how the overworked river is managed.
What happens when there is not enough surface water to go
around in a watershed? California water rights law says that
certain water users must curtail their water diversions — in
other words, reduce the amount of water they divert or stop
diverting water altogether. … But following water right
priorities is not always straightforward, and other aspects of
state and federal law complicate the picture …
The DCP … provides assurance against curtailments for water
stored behind Hoover Dam. This is especially important for the
Southern California water agencies, whose ability to store
water in Lake Mead is crucial for managing seasonal demands.
Some significant challenges must still be addressed, however.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially added the
Copper Bluff Mine in Hoopa to the Superfund National Priorities
list, one of seven sites added across the county and the only
one in California. … In the meantime, the mine continues to
leak acid drainage. Anywhere from 3 to 500 gallons of
contaminants are leaked into the Trinity River per minute…
The lawsuit against the Fresno-based Westlands Water District
was filed in Shasta County Superior Court on Monday. State
officials have for years maintained that raising the height of
the dam would violate the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act because a
higher dam would further inundate the McCloud River, in
violation of state law.
Various parties have recently claimed that the Klamath River
Compact Commission has authority over the proposal to remove
four dams in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. … This
argument, while creative, is wrong. The Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (or FERC) will decide whether the
proposed dam removal is in the public interest.
The West is still in the midst of a long-term water shortage in
Lake Powell and Lake Mead, primary reservoirs that serve 40
million people. For that reason, the Upper Basin states —
Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — have to also come up
with their own drought contingency plans. That means Colorado
might be heading into choppy waters as one of the requirements
of a drought contingency plan — demand management — could pit
communities and regions against each other …
To get access to Colorado River water, the tribe is hoping its
federal water settlement will finally become law. Earlier this
month, Arizona’s congressional delegation sponsored another
settlement bill after similar efforts in 2017 and 2016. If a
water rights settlement became law, the Hualapai Tribe would
get 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water each year.
Even as stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin celebrate the recent completion of an unprecedented drought plan intended to stave off a crashing Lake Mead, there is little time to rest. An even larger hurdle lies ahead as they prepare to hammer out the next set of rules that could vastly reshape the river’s future.
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could provoke conflict.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the snowpack in the
Upper Basin is nearly 140% above average as of April 15 and it
forecasts that seasonal inflow to Lake Powell will be at 128%
of average. … “These developments may lessen the chance of
shortage in 2020,” Terry Fulp, BOR’s Lower Colorado regional
director, said in a prepared statement.
In the past several years, Los Angeles-based Renewable
Resources Group has helped sell 33,000 acres of land to
California’s most powerful water agency, the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California. Documents obtained by Voice of
San Diego raise fresh questions about those deals. Now,
Renewable may be working on another deal that could rearrange
the distribution of water in California forever.
It’s taken four years but fishermen along California’s North
Coast who have seen crab and salmon seasons truncated and even
closed altogether will finally see some relief after $29.65
million in federal disaster relief funding was approved by
Congress. It was in the 2015-16 year the Dungeness crab fishery
and the Yurok Chinook salmon fishery both collapsed due to poor
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water
deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a
multi‐year drought, were designed to prevent disputes that
could provoke conflict. But as the time for crafting a new set
of rules draws near, some river veterans suggest the result
will be nothing less than a dramatic re-imagining of how the
overworked Colorado River is managed…
The giant reservoir, formed by Glen Canyon Dam, was under 40
percent full the last week of April. And a lot of water is
still being released from the reservoir, more demands on the
water are expected, and the water supply above the reservoir,
in the sprawling Colorado River system, is expected to
The drought contingency plan is in the can (well, mostly), and
an unusually wet winter means we’ll likely avoid the water
shortage declaration everyone was expecting in 2020. If this
were the past, we’d take a few months off to revel in our
success. But thank goodness we’re not living in the past.
Arizona’s water leaders know that the drought plan didn’t solve
Earlier this month, the U.S. District Court for the Central
District of California issued a decision … finding that the
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians lacked standing to seek
adjudication of its claim to quantification of its reserved
groundwater right and its claim regarding groundwater quality.
DCP puts safeguards in place to help manage water use now and
better deal with a potential shortage. Utah, Arizona and the
five other Colorado River basin states wisely chose to include
conservation measures in the DCP — and shared in their
sacrifice to avoid costly litigation and imposed cuts. Congress
and the states should be commended for this bipartisan,
As the Klamath River Renewal Corporation announced that they’ve
contracted with a company for removal of four Klamath dams last
week, opponents continue to insist the organization is ill
prepared for the expense and consequences of removal.
Some lawyers say the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, may be
built on shaky legal ground and could be vulnerable to
litigation — depending on how the Bureau of Reclamation
implements it. One California water district has already sued
to block it.
Groundwater levels throughout most of the Coachella Valley have
increased significantly over the past decade, according to an
annual analysis released today by the local water district. …
The report documents “significant increases” in groundwater
levels in the range of 2-50 feet in the past decade in
most of the Indio Subbasin, located under the cities of
Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert,
Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella…
It’s an exceptional year for Sierra snowpack — 150 to 200% in
some places. Mountain snow is the main water source for
agriculture on the Valley’s west side. But those farmers are
getting just 65% of their allocation… Fresno County Farm
Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen says it’s frustrating that in a water
year this good, some farmers still can’t get enough of it to
A federal judge has dismissed portions of a yearslong lawsuit
brought by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians against
the Coachella Valley’s local water districts, ruling against
the tribe’s attempt to quantify its rights to groundwater. The
judge ruled Friday that the tribe’s access to water has not
been sufficiently harmed to adjudicate the matter.
California’s inability to compromise and work together has put
a big question mark on the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
Plan. And that directly impacts Arizona’s ability to
proactively plan for our new, drier water future.
Here’s what we know. The lower Klamath dams and reservoirs do
not provide multipurpose water storage, flood protection, or
irreplaceable energy. What they do provide are major barriers
to fish migration, toxic blue-green algae and fish disease (C.
shasta). The dwindling fish populations are proof. We must move
forward with removing the dams and restoring the Klamath to the
free-flowing river it once was.
Arizona’s top water official says a lawsuit filed Tuesday by
California’s Imperial Irrigation District could pose a threat
to the newly approved multistate drought contingency plan. But
Tom Buschatzke, director of the Department of Water Resources,
said he’s not worried the plan will fall apart — at least not
Congressman Jared Huffman says the Water, Oceans and Wildlife
Subcommittee, which he chairs in the U.S. House of
Representatives, is finally getting to do things “we weren’t
allowed to do” for the past six years when Republicans
controlled the House. Things like protecting public lands,
making climate change part of all environmental programs,
trying to prevent offshore drilling and looking at the state of
the nation’s wildlife and fisheries.
The Colorado River Sustainability Campaign has been an
important behind-the-scenes player for environmentalists
working on the waterway, which provides water to 40 million
people. … When asked who funds his project, Sam Tucker listed
five foundations. Those foundations’ grant databases showed
that his campaign has received at least $8.6 million since
2016. … Almost half — $4 million — of the campaign’s money
came from one source: the Walton Family Foundation. (Second of
There are at least six high-profile projects in Utah, Colorado,
and Wyoming that combined could divert more than 300,000
acre-feet of water from the beleaguered Colorado River. That’s
the equivalent of Nevada’s entire allocation from the river.
These projects are in different stages of permitting and
funding, but are moving ahead even as headlines about the
river’s dwindling supply dominate the news.
An unlikely advocate seems to be around every bend of the
Colorado River these days: the Walton Family Foundation. The
$3.65 billion organization launched by Walmart founder Sam
Walton has become ubiquitous in the seven-state basin that
provides water to 40 million people, dishing out $100 million
in grants in the last five years alone. … The foundation’s
reach is dizzying and, outside the basin, has received scant
attention. (First of two parts.)