After nearly a year of gridlocked negotiations on the future of
the stressed Colorado River, Arizona, California, and Nevada
reached a breakthrough last week, uniting behind a voluntary
proposal to further curtail their water use. Some observers
call the proposal “historic.” But how significant is it? Since
the news broke, others have described the Lower Basin agreement
as overhyped. It’s still just a proposal, and only a short-term
one for managing critically low reservoirs, which threaten
hydropower and water supplies for millions of people.
The tremendous rains over the winter have filled California’s
reservoirs, blessed the snowpack and brought waterfalls and
ancient lakes back to life. In some parts of the state, the
precipitation has also revived something that was thought to
have been a thing of the past: green lawns. Last spring, when
California was still in a worsening drought, Jeff Fox and Amy
Bach let the grass in their San Francisco backyard go dry. They
covered their desiccated lawn with bark chips, added some
succulents and well-placed rocks, and welcomed their new,
drought-friendly landscaping. They were among the thousands of
people who abandoned the California dream of a single-family
home surrounded by a lush, neatly kept lawn. Then this winter,
the Bay Area, like much of the state, was battered with
enormous amounts of rain.
Phoenix will leave 150,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead and
Lake Powell over the next three years as part of a multi-state
effort to protect the Colorado River, whose water levels have
dropped to dangerously low levels after decades of severe
regional drought.The move, unanimously approved by the City
Council on May 31, reduces the city’s typical Colorado River
allocation by 30% for 2023 and adds to a 9,300 acre-feet
reduction already enacted as a result of the state’s drought
contingency plan. Phoenix will receive $60 million in exchange
for leaving the water in the lakes.
In a historic consensus, California, alongside the six other
states that rely on the Colorado River for survival, announced
an agreement last week for a plan to cut back water usage over
the next three years. The proposal drafted by the three lower
basin states – California, Arizona and Nevada – would cut water
use from the river by at least 3 million acre-feet by the end
of 2026 through conservation to prevent the river’s reservoirs
from falling to critically low levels. Of that total, 1.5
million acre-feet at minimum will be conserved by the end of
next year under the proposal. One acre-foot of water supplies
enough water for about 2.5 households of four people per year.
News of water shortages, exacerbated by climate change,
population growth, mining and other development, is everywhere
these days in the American Southwest. But on the Navajo
Reservation, a sovereign tribal nation that sits on about 16
million acres in northeast Arizona, southern Utah and western
New Mexico, nearly 10,000 homes have never had running
water. How that can and should be resolved is one aspect
of a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20,
with the justices’ decision due any day now.
Water conflicts are nothing new to the arid West, where myriad
users long have vied for their share of the precious resource
from California’s Central Valley to the Colorado and Missouri
rivers. But few have waded into the legal question playing out
in rural Nevada: To what extent can local residents, farmers
and ranchers claim the water that is soaking into the ground
through the dirt floor of an antiquated, unlined irrigation
canal? A federal appeals court recently breathed new life into
litigation that has entangled the U.S. government and the
high-desert town of Fernley ever since a 118-year-old canal
burst and flooded hundreds of homes in 2008. This year the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation began work on a plan to line parts of the
31-mile (50 kilometer) canal with concrete.
Last fall, before the epic, near-biblical rains of early 2023
pushed California’s historic drought off our collective radar,
the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced a pilot
water-conservation program that sounded too good to be true.
According to the announcement, for just $24, single-family
homeowners in the city would be able to track real-time water
usage, detect leaks and create a water budget from a smartphone
app using a Wi-Fi-enabled, easy-to-install Flume water-meter
sensor. Both eager to conserve water where I could and cynical
that the gadget would end up being as affordable, user-friendly
and effective as described, I took the plunge and ordered one.
Two Tucson water utilities will take new voluntary reductions
on their allotment of Colorado River water, part of a wider
effort by federal water managers to shore up supplies in the
drought-stricken system. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero signed an
agreement Wednesday with the Bureau of Reclamation to leave
110,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead over the next three years.
Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District, or Metro
Water, which serves over 50,000 people and hundreds of
businesses in the Tucson area, signed a similar agreement for
15,000 acre-feet. Tucson and Metro Water will take the
reduction through 2025 and will be compensated with $400 per
acre-foot. Tucson had already offered to leave 60,000 acre-feet
in the system between 2022 and 2023.
The Biden Administration is finalizing agreements to pay an
estimated $1.2 billion in taxpayer dollars to prop up the
Colorado River system that provides 40 million people with
water. California desert water districts who are entitled to
the most river water are vying for nearly $900 million of those
funds, according to interviews with key negotiators and funding
announcements to date. In exchange, they would leave nearly 1.4
million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead, one of two massive
reservoirs along the river. That’s almost half of the nearly
trillion gallons that California, Nevada and Arizona officials
on Monday told federal authorities they could collectively
conserve through 2026. That proposal and related
environmental reviews must still be approved by federal
The Mountain View City Council on Tuesday lifted restrictive
water conservation measures in effect for nearly a
year. The council rescinded a stage 2 water emergency in
place since June 28, 2022 that had included limiting outdoor
irrigation to two days per week citywide. ”Although this
most recent water shortage emergency is officially over, the
city continues to support long-term water use efficiency
efforts,” according to an update from the city on
Wednesday. As of April 2023, California water supply
conditions have improved, with the state’s snowpack exceeding
250% and many reservoirs reaching historic high levels.
The state’s new czar overseeing all things Great Salt Lake has
a lot of work ahead while an environmental time bomb continues
to tick. Last week, Gov. Spencer Cox tapped Brian Steed to fill
a new slot as lake commissioner. If confirmed by the Senate,
Steed will coordinate the many state agencies overseeing the
Great Salt Lake’s water supply, water quality, wildlife and
industries, all while preparing a strategic plan on how to keep
the lake from shriveling up, and delivering it to lawmakers by
November. That’s no small feat for any state employee, and
Steed’s also going to juggle it with his current job as
executive director of the Institute for Land, Water and Air at
Utah State University. Record-breaking snowpack may have bought
Steed a little breathing room — it has already raised the
lake’s elevation more than four feet from its record low in
In 2021, at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas, the
Southern Nevada Water Authority laid out an ambitious and
detailed plan to lower per capita water use through
conservation. The presentation quantified why deep municipal
conservation — limits on decorative grass, pool sizes, golf
courses, septic tanks and landscaping — was necessary to
adapt to a far drier future. It was a signal that Las
Vegas planned to go all-in on conservation. Part of this was
necessity. Of the seven states that rely on the Colorado River,
Nevada has by far the smallest allocation. It is also one of
the urban centers most reliant on the river, the source of 90
percent of its water supply. Part of the plan was to shore up
water for more growth.
After nearly a year wrestling over the fate of their water
supply, California, Arizona and Nevada — the three key states
in the Colorado River’s current crisis — have
coalesced around a plan to voluntarily conserve a major portion
of their river water in exchange for more than $1 billion
in federal funds, according to people familiar with the
A sweeping water conservation bill that would give Las Vegas
Valley water managers the unprecedented ability to limit how
much water single-family residential homes in Southern Nevada
could use continues to make its way through the state
Legislature. Assembly Bill 220 would give the Southern Nevada
Water Authority the power to limit residential water use to 0.5
acre-feet per home per year in Clark County during times when
the federal government has declared a water shortage along the
drought-stricken Colorado River that supplies about 90 percent
of Southern Nevada’s water. If approved, Nevada would be the
first state to give a water agency the power to cap the amount
of water that flows into individual homes.
Two years ago, Napa County’s cities imposed strict water-use
curbs in response to the encroaching pressure of California’s
historic drought. The city of Napa, for
instance, limited most outdoor residential irrigation to
only two days a week, prevented residents from irrigating for
much of the day and restricted the trucking of water from city
hydrants, all in an effort to cut community water use in 2021
by 20% compared to the year before. But in recent weeks,
following a wintertime deluge of rain and snow across the state
— which refilled dry reservoirs and packed mountain ranges with
unprecedented levels of snow — California’s drought emergency
has lifted. Napa’s cities have pulled back their water
restrictions as a result.
It may seem like the most natural thing to do, even a great use
of rain water: collecting it. But did you know it could be
illegal to do it in your state? While collecting rainwater is
not federally illegal, many states have restrictions in place,
and water laws are primarily handled on the state level.
Alternatively, some states even offer incentives for those who
collect rainwater. States that have some level of
rainwater collection restrictions include: Arkansas,
California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, North
Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia,
Washington, and Wisconsin.
Three of western Colorado’s biggest irrigation districts are
not participating on a large scale in a federally funded
program to conserve water, and the amount of water saved by the
program overall won’t be enough to rescue depleted
reservoirs. The rebooted System Conservation Program was
one of the legs of the Upper Colorado River Commission’s
5-Point Plan, announced in July and aimed at protecting
critical elevations in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which have
fallen to record-low levels in recent years because of overuse,
drought and climate change. … The total water estimated to be
saved across the upper basin for this year of the restarted,
temporary and voluntary System Conservation Program is nearly
39,000 acre-feet. By comparison, Lake Powell when full holds
more than 23 million acre-feet.
When Joe Seaman-Graves, the city planner for the working class
town of Cohoes, New York, Googled the term “floating solar,” he
didn’t even know it was a thing. What he did know is that his
tiny town needed an affordable way to get electricity and had
no extra land. But looking at a map, one feature stood out. …
Seaman-Graves soon found the reservoir could hold enough solar
panels to power all the municipal buildings and streetlights,
saving the city more than $500,000 each year. He had stumbled
upon a form of clean energy that is steeply ramping up.
Floating solar panel systems are beginning to boom in the
United States after rapid growth in Asia. They’re attractive
not just for their clean power and lack of a land footprint,
but because they also conserve water by preventing evaporation.
The 2023 Colorado lawmaking session was one of “incremental
steps” on water issues, which means Coloradans have to wait
until next year to see if legislators can find policy solutions
to key water security questions. Colorado, like the six
other Western states in the Colorado River Basin, is facing an
uncertain water future as a two-decade drought and overuse
threaten the basin’s water supply. This year, state officials
started the 120-day lawmaking session saying water was going to
be the “centerpiece” of Democratic environmental policy. …
Fewer than 20 bills specifically addressed water issues,
although several other bills could have indirectly
impacted the state’s water system.
Fountain Valley has declared an end to a water supply shortage
it had been observing for the past 11 months. The City Council,
at its May 2 meeting, voted unanimously to adopt a resolution
restoring the normal water supply conditions for the community.
Gov. Gavin Newsom had declared a state of emergency concerning
drought for all of California on Oct. 19, 2021. The California
State Water Resources Control Board subsequently implemented
emergency measures on May 24, 2022, including required water
supply and demand assessments, implementation of water use
reduction measures, and a prohibition on the use of potable
water to irrigate nonfunctional turf at commercial, industrial
and institutional facilities.
Out in Utah’s barren West Desert, past the hazardous-waste
landfill and the military bombing range, on the far side of the
Great Salt Lake, sits a silent, mysterious structure that will
make a great ruin someday. Scratch that: it already is one. The
three-story industrial building was hastily erected in the late
1980s, at a cost of $60 million, to house a pumping station
with an urgent task: to suck water out of the Great Salt Lake
and spew it into the desert flats farther west. The lake was
then at record-high levels, threatening to flood railway lines,
interstate highways, and farmland. The pumps were in operation
for about two years before nature took over and the lake
receded on its own. More than three decades later, the Great
Salt Lake has the opposite problem—too little water.
The first few months of 2023 brought with it to California
months of rain, atmospheric rivers and the deepest snowpack the
Sierra has seen in decades. The state’s water supply is looking
better than it has in the past several years. In
Sacramento County, officials are encouraging people to continue
saving water. The problem is that much of the water from the
storms flows into the Pacific Ocean, but the county is
encouraging you to save the water and points to residents
already committed to the process. One such resident is
Elder Yehudah, whose backyard is a plentiful place filled with
citrus trees, vegetables, plants and bees. He also has plenty
The 8 News Now Investigators ran a four-part series on the
“California Water Hogs,” with a special focus on the water used
to irrigate farmland in the Imperial Valley, water storage,
water recycling, and desalinating seawater. However, officials
in Los Angeles County said they are doing more there than
people in Las Vegas might think. … In addition to pointing
out that Los Angeles water customers have lowered their water
consumption by 30% in the last 15 years, … L.A. County is
offering residents rebates to tear out their lawns and replace
them with sustainable landscapes.
One way to save massive amounts of water from the drying
Colorado River — state and federal officials had hoped — was to
effectively buy water this year from farmers and ranchers with
a $125 million conservation program. But very few are taking
the offer. Or those willing to sell were turned away. …
Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, which make up the
river’s upper basin, launched the System Conservation Pilot
Program late last year, offering money to farmers and others
willing to forgo their water use this year, restarting a
water-saving initiative that ran just a few years ago. This
time around, though, the program is slated to spend twice as
much to save a fifth less water, Colorado River officials say.
Known around the world as an oasis of overindulgence, the
desert city of Las Vegas has emerged as a surprising model of
austerity and prudence when it comes to water. Some 2.3
million people live in the arid Las Vegas Valley, and 40
million tourists are drawn each year to its giant casinos and
hotels. Yet because Nevada is allowed to use less than two
percent of the drought-hit Colorado River’s total water,
it has taken drastic action, from banning lawns to capping the
size of swimming pools. Even as the region’s population
has exploded by more than half in the past two decades, use of
the mighty but dwindling river—by far Las Vegas’s main water
source—has declined by almost a third.
Middle and high school students from San Diego and Imperial
counties showcased their creativity and innovation in water
technology at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering
Fair. Winning students at the March event presented
multi-faceted water technology designed for use in agriculture,
water conservation, safety and treatment, creating solutions to
some of the San Diego region’s most pressing water issues. For
decades, the San Diego County Water Authority has partnered
with the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair to
inspire students to pursue water industry careers and
experiment with sustainable water designs.
Even after a record-setting winter of heavy rainfall that
filled local reservoirs, the City of Santa Maria is still
encouraging everyone in the community to continue water
conservation efforts. On Tuesday night at the Santa Maria City
Council meeting, Mayor Alice Patino officially proclaimed May
as Water Awareness Month. … Water Awareness Month is an
annual observation throughout California that was created to
help educate residents about the efficient use of water
resources. This year, unlike in the recent previous years
when the state was gripped by continued dry weather, Water
Awareness Month comes following heavy rainfall throughout the
Over the last four decades, global water use has increased by
about 1 percent per year. This rise is driven by many factors,
including population growth, changing consumption patterns, and
socioeconomic development. By 2050, the United Nations Water
estimates urban water demand to increase by 80 percent. As
freshwater needs continue to rise in cities, the sustainable
management of urban water supply becomes even more critical.
… In general, Zuniga-Teran says the reasons for urban
water crises are, to an extent, caused by “a consequence of
uncontrolled urban growth and the unsustainable use of water
The latest update from the official U.S. Drought Monitor shows
that more areas of the Golden State are no longer in a drought,
including all of Los Angeles County. Drought conditions have
continued to retreat across the state after the winter season
brought heavy rain and historic snowfall. The data, released on
April 27, shows that more than 60% of California is free from
any drought classification, a percentage that has continued to
increase since March when researchers found that more than 50%
of the state was out of a drought, which was the first time
that happened in three years.
The American lawn has become the latest front-line issue in
neighborhoods across the country: Some are shelling out to
maintain lush greens while others forgo mowing and chemical
treatments. Why it matters: Environmental campaigns like “No
Mow May,” the “anti-lawn” movement, “Food Not Lawns” and
“Climate Victory Gardens” are gaining steam — but prompting
homeowner associations and other traditionalists to dig in
their heels. The issue pits property values, aesthetics and
“curb appeal” against concerns about drought, gas-powered
mowers and biodiversity. Even among those who prize
sustainability, there’s debate over lawn care techniques — but
agreement that too much mowing is bad for pollinators. Driving
the news: As spring gardening season begins, homeowners are
wrestling with personal decisions about how to tackle lawn
care: To mow or not to mow? Irrigate? Fertilize?
After years of historic drought in California, water recycling
has become a pressing issue – but just how much can be done
with what we’ve got? A water-recycling company is seeking to
answer that question, with help from a local brewery. The
result is a beer made from wastewater, and I can tell you from
personal experience that it’s pretty good. Epic OneWater Brew,
from Epic Cleantec and Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company, is made
from greywater recycled from showers, laundry and bathroom
sinks in a 40-story San Francisco apartment building, where
Epic has onsite equipment to capture, treat and reuse water for
A drought emergency declaration in place over the past two
years was lifted in the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors
meeting Tuesday. “Current conditions are not beyond the control
of the services, personnel equipment and facilities of the
county” after a stormy winter and spring helped replenish local
water reserves, the resolution states. The board voted
unanimously to approve the item as part of this week’s consent
calendar. Governor Gavin Newsom lifted some drought provisions,
such as emergency water deliveries, around the state last
month. The measure maintained the ban on wasteful water uses
like ornamental lawns and preserved emergency orders focused on
groundwater supply, among other responses to drought.
The delegation of Utah officials, lawmakers and researchers
have been impressed with what Israel has accomplished when it
comes to water. … Lake Kinneret (also known as the Sea
of Galilee) was once a major part of Israel’s water supply.
That’s no longer the case as the country has created other
sources of water using desalination and water
reuse. Israel’s advances in technology and water
development are something state leaders are looking at closely
as they try to deal with drought and the shrinking Great Salt
Stanford researchers have designed an irrigation optimization
tool that could help farmers slash water use. The tool rapidly
estimates water loss from soils due to “evapotranspiration,” a
process that involves the evaporation of water into the
atmosphere and the uptake of water by plants. Compared to
state-of-the-art ways of getting such evapotranspiration
estimates, the new Stanford modeling tool works 100 times
faster while maintaining high levels of accuracy. In practice,
the tool could dramatically reduce the time needed to devise
strategic, efficient irrigation schedules that best position
watering and sensing equipment across entire farms.
On April 14, Orange County, Calif.’s Water District (OCWD) and
Sanitation District (OC San) announced that together, they had
accomplished something that has never been done anywhere else,
ever. They are purifying and recycling 100 percent of the
county’s reclaimable wastewater. The county’s Groundwater
Replenishment System (GWRS), operational and expanding
continuously since 2008, is the largest indirect potable water
reuse facility in the world…. The GWRS now provides 130
million gallons of water a day, enough to meet the daily needs
of a million residents.
Since “every drop” of water counts a $2 million grant awarded
to the Lower Tule River and Pixley Irrigation Districts will
help those districts preserve as much of their water as
possible. On Friday the Bureau of Reclamation announced the
districts were awarded the $2 million grant. The funding was
part of $140 million announced by President Joe Biden’s
administration. The Department of the Interior is providing the
funding for water conservation and efficiency projects. There
were 84 projects in 15 western states that received the funding
from the Infrastructure Bill. In addition the Tule
Hydroelectric Rehabilitation Project for a facility above
Springville was awarded a $500,000 grant as part of the $140
Following a unanimous 7-0 vote by its Board of Directors, the
East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has moved to a
stage 0, further easing drought restrictions, while continuing
to urge customers to conserve water. The April 25, 2023 Board
action ends the water shortage emergency that began in April
2021, and suspends a District-wide voluntary 10 percent water
use reduction. Drought restrictions issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom
in a March executive order remain in place. They include no
irrigation within 48 hours of rainfall, no irrigation of
ornamental turf on non-residential sites, no irrigation runoff,
no spraying sidewalks and driveways, and only allowing hoses
with shut-off nozzles when washing vehicles. All changes went
into immediate effect on April 25.
After a drought-stricken California lifted a year of mandatory
water-use cuts that were effective in 2015 and 2016, urban
water use crept back up somewhat, but the overall lasting
effect was a more waterwise Golden State, a University of
California, Riverside, study has found. Published Tuesday,
April 25, in the journal Water Resources Research, the UCR
study found that water use by 2019 was still lower than it was
in 2013, thanks in large part to water use changes by larger
water users. The water-reduction mandate imposed in 2015
by then-Gov. Jerry Brown also spurred Californians to develop
better water-saving habits, such as irrigating their lawns and
gardens during cooler morning hours when less water is lost to
evaporation, the researchers found. The study analyzed about
half a billion records of hourly water use data.
The states of the Lower Colorado
River Basin have traditionally played an oversized role in
tapping the lifeline that supplies 40 million people in the West.
California, Nevada and Arizona were quicker to build major canals
and dams and negotiated a landmark deal that requires the Upper
Basin to send predictable flows through the Grand Canyon, even
during dry years.
But with the federal government threatening unprecedented water
cuts amid decades of drought and declining reservoirs, the Upper
Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are
muscling up to protect their shares of an overallocated river
whose average flows in the Upper Basin have already dropped
20 percent over the last century.
They have formed new agencies to better monitor their interests,
moved influential Colorado River veterans into top negotiating
posts and improved their relationships with Native American
tribes that also hold substantial claims to the river.
It was exactly the sort of deluge
California groundwater agencies have been counting on to
replenish their overworked aquifers.
The start of 2023 brought a parade of torrential Pacific storms
to bone dry California. Snow piled up across the Sierra Nevada at
a near-record pace while runoff from the foothills gushed into
the Central Valley, swelling rivers over their banks and filling
seasonal creeks for the first time in half a decade.
Suddenly, water managers and farmers toiling in one of the
state’s most groundwater-depleted regions had an opportunity to
capture stormwater and bank it underground. Enterprising agencies
diverted water from rushing rivers and creeks into manmade
recharge basins or intentionally flooded orchards and farmland.
Others snagged temporary permits from the state to pull from
streams they ordinarily couldn’t touch.
When the Colorado River Compact was
signed 100 years ago, the negotiators for seven Western states
bet that the river they were dividing would have ample water to
meet everyone’s needs – even those not seated around the table.
A century later, it’s clear the water they bet on is not there.
More than two decades of drought, lake evaporation and overuse of
water have nearly drained the river’s two anchor reservoirs, Lake
Powell on the Arizona-Utah border and Lake Mead near Las Vegas.
Climate change is rendering the basin drier, shrinking spring
runoff that’s vital for river flows, farms, tribes and cities
across the basin – and essential for refilling reservoirs.
The states that endorsed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 – and
the tribes and nation of Mexico that were excluded from the table
– are now straining to find, and perhaps more importantly accept,
solutions on a river that may offer just half of the water that
the Compact assumed would be available. And not only are
solutions not coming easily, the relationships essential for
compromise are getting more frayed.
Momentum is building for a unique
interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern
California homes and business into relief for the stressed
Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a
river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being
shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water
Las Vegas, known for its searing summertime heat and glitzy casino fountains, is projected to get even hotter in the coming years as climate change intensifies. As temperatures rise, possibly as much as 10 degrees by end of the century, according to some models, water demand for the desert community is expected to spike. That is not good news in a fast-growing region that depends largely on a limited supply of water from an already drought-stressed Colorado River.
When you oversee the largest
supplier of treated water in the United States, you tend to think
Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California for the last 15 years, has
focused on diversifying his agency’s water supply and building
security through investment. That means looking beyond MWD’s
borders to ensure the reliable delivery of water to two-thirds of
Californians have been doing an
reducing their indoor water use, helping the state survive
the most recent drought when water districts were required to
meet conservation targets. With more droughts inevitable,
Californians are likely to face even greater calls to save water
in the future.
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.
One of California Gov. Gavin
Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade
Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within
weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that
Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.
That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach”
on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded
floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.
Groundwater helped make Kern County
the king of California agricultural production, with a $7 billion
annual array of crops that help feed the nation. That success has
come at a price, however. Decades of unchecked groundwater
pumping in the county and elsewhere across the state have left
some aquifers severely depleted. Now, the county’s water managers
have less than a year left to devise a plan that manages and
protects groundwater for the long term, yet ensures that Kern
County’s economy can continue to thrive, even with less water.
Although Santa Monica may be the most aggressive Southern California water provider to wean itself from imported supplies, it is hardly the only one looking to remake its water portfolio.
In Los Angeles, a city of about 4 million people, efforts are underway to dramatically slash purchases of imported water while boosting the amount from recycling, stormwater capture, groundwater cleanup and conservation. Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014 announced a plan to reduce the city’s purchase of imported water from Metropolitan Water District by one-half by 2025 and to provide one-half of the city’s supply from local sources by 2035. (The city considers its Eastern Sierra supplies as imported water.)
Imported water from the Sierra
Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as
drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those
supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped
up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on
Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of
Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s,
Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it
derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.
In the universe of California water, Tim Quinn is a professor emeritus. Quinn has seen — and been a key player in — a lot of major California water issues since he began his water career 40 years ago as a young economist with the Rand Corporation, then later as deputy general manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and finally as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. In December, the 66-year-old will retire from ACWA.
People in California and the
Southwest are getting stingier with water, a story that’s told by
For years, water use has generally been described in terms of
acre-foot per a certain number of households, keying off the
image of an acre-foot as a football field a foot deep in water.
The long-time rule of thumb: One acre-foot of water would supply
the indoor and outdoor needs of two typical urban households for
Amy Haas recently became the first non-engineer and the first woman to serve as executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission in its 70-year history, putting her smack in the center of a host of daunting challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Yet those challenges will be quite familiar to Haas, an attorney who for the past year has served as deputy director and general counsel of the commission. (She replaced longtime Executive Director Don Ostler). She has a long history of working within interstate Colorado River governance, including representing New Mexico as its Upper Colorado River commissioner and playing a central role in the negotiation of the recently signed U.S.-Mexico agreement known as Minute 323.
Nowhere is the domino effect in
Western water policy played out more than on the Colorado River,
and specifically when it involves the Lower Basin states of
California, Nevada and Arizona. We are seeing that play out now
as the three states strive to forge a Drought Contingency Plan.
Yet that plan can’t be finalized until Arizona finds a unifying
voice between its major water players, an effort you can read
more about in the latest in-depth article of Western Water.
Even then, there are some issues to resolve just within
It’s high-stakes time in Arizona. The state that depends on the
Colorado River to help supply its cities and farms — and is
first in line to absorb a shortage — is seeking a unified plan
for water supply management to join its Lower Basin neighbors,
California and Nevada, in a coordinated plan to preserve water
levels in Lake Mead before
they run too low.
If the lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet above sea level,
the secretary of the Interior would declare a shortage and
Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water would be reduced by
320,000 acre-feet. Arizona says that’s enough to serve about 1
million households in one year.
As California embarks on its unprecedented mission to harness groundwater pumping, the Arizona desert may provide one guide that local managers can look to as they seek to arrest years of overdraft.
Groundwater is stressed by a demand that often outpaces natural and artificial recharge. In California, awareness of groundwater’s importance resulted in the landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 that aims to have the most severely depleted basins in a state of balance in about 20 years.
California voters may experience a sense of déjà vu this year when they are asked twice in the same year to consider water bonds — one in June, the other headed to the November ballot.
Both tackle a variety of water issues, from helping disadvantaged communities get clean drinking water to making flood management improvements. But they avoid more controversial proposals, such as new surface storage, and they propose to do some very different things to appeal to different constituencies.
The message is oft-repeated that
water must be conserved and used as wisely as possible.
The California Water Code calls water use efficiency “the
efficient management of water resources for beneficial uses,
preventing waste, or accomplishing additional benefits with the
same amount of water.”
From the Greek “xeros” and Middle Dutch “scap,”
xeriscape was coined
in 1978 and literally translates to “dry scene.”
Xeriscaping, by extension, is making an environment which can
tolerate dryness. This involves installing drought-resistant and
slow-growing plants to reduce water use.
Irrigation is the artificial supply
of water to grow crops or plants. Obtained from either surface or groundwater, it optimizes
agricultural production when the amount of rain and where it
falls is insufficient. Different irrigation
systems are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but in
practical use are often combined. Much of the agriculture in
California and the West relies on irrigation.
This card includes information about the Colorado River, who uses
the river, how the river’s water is divided and other pertinent
facts about this vital resource for the Southwest. Beautifully
illustrated with color photographs.
For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and
California border has faced complex water management disputes. As
relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary
narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range
from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp,
farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists
– all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water.
After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon
settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise
of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the
This 30-minute documentary-style DVD on the history and current
state of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program includes an
overview of the geography and history of the river, historical
and current water delivery and uses, the genesis and timeline of
the 1988 lawsuit, how the settlement was reached and what was
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
Many Californians don’t realize that when they turn on the
faucet, the water that flows out could come from a source close
to home or one hundreds of miles away. Most people take their
water for granted; not thinking about the elaborate systems and
testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to
households throughout the state. Where drinking water comes from,
how it’s treated, and what people can do to protect its quality
are highlighted in this 2007 PBS documentary narrated by actress
A 30-minute version of the 2007 PBS documentary Drinking Water:
Quenching the Public Thirst. This DVD is ideal for showing at
community forums and speaking engagements to help the public
understand the complex issues surrounding the elaborate systems
and testing that go into delivering clean, plentiful water to
households throughout the state.
Water truly has shaped California into the great state it is
today. And if it is water that made California great, it’s the
fight over – and with – water that also makes it so critically
important. In efforts to remap California’s circulatory system,
there have been some critical events that had a profound impact
on California’s water history. These turning points not only
forced a re-evaluation of water, but continue to impact the lives
of every Californian. This 2005 PBS documentary offers a
historical and current look at the major water issues that shaped
the state we know today. Includes a 12-page viewer’s guide with
background information, historic timeline and a teacher’s lesson.
A companion to the Truckee River Basin Map poster, this 24×36
inch poster, suitable for framing, explores the Carson River, and
its link to the Truckee River. The map includes Lahontan Dam and
Reservoir, the Carson Sink, and the farming areas in the basin.
Map text discusses the region’s hydrology and geography, the
Newlands Project, land and water use within the basin and
wetlands. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, Lahontan Basin
This 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, illustrates the
water resources available for Nevada cities, agriculture and the
environment. It features natural and manmade water resources
throughout the state, including the Truckee and Carson rivers,
Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake and the course of the Colorado River
that forms the state’s eastern boundary.
Water as a renewable resource is depicted in this 18×24 inch
poster. Water is renewed again and again by the natural
hydrologic cycle where water evaporates, transpires from plants,
rises to form clouds, and returns to the earth as precipitation.
Excellent for elementary school classroom use.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water
Management (IRWM) is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication
that provides background information on the principles of IRWM,
its funding history and how it differs from the traditional water
Water conservation has become a way of life throughout the West
with a growing recognition that the supply of water is not
Drought is the most common motivator of increased water
conservation but the gradual drying of the West as a result of
climate change means the amount of fresh water available for
drinking, irrigation, industry and other uses must be used as
efficiently as possible.
This printed issue of Western Water features a
roundtable discussion with Anthony Saracino, a water resources
consultant; Martha Davis, executive manager of policy development
with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and senior policy advisor
to the Delta Stewardship Council; Stuart Leavenworth, editorial
page editor of The Sacramento Bee and Ellen Hanak, co-director of
research and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of
This printed issue of Western Water examines the
financing of water infrastructure, both at the local level and
from the statewide perspective, and some of the factors that
influence how people receive their water, the price they pay for
it and how much they might have to pay in the future.
This printed copy of Western Water examines California’s drought
– its impact on water users in the urban and agricultural sector
and the steps being taken to prepare for another dry year should
Perhaps no other issue has rocketed to prominence in such a short
time as climate change. A decade ago, discussion about greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions and the connection to warming temperatures
was but a fraction of the attention now given to the issue. From
the United Nations to local communities, people are talking about
climate change – its characteristics and what steps need to be
taken to mitigate and adapt to the anticipated impacts.
This issue of Western Water examines the continuing practice of
smart water use in the urban sector and its many facets, from
improved consumer appliances to improved agency planning to the
improvements in water recycling and desalination. Many in the
water community say conserving water is not merely a response to
drought conditions, but a permanent ethic in an era in which
every drop of water is a valuable commodity not to be wasted.
Drawn from a special stakeholder symposium held in September 1999
in Keystone, Colorado, this issue explores how we got to where we
are today on the Colorado River; an era in which the traditional
water development of the past has given way to a more
collaborative approach that tries to protect the environment
while stretching available water supplies.
This issue updates progress on crafting and implementing
California’s 4.4 plan to reduce its use of Colorado River water
by 800,000 acre-feet. The state has used as much as 5.2 million
acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, but under pressure
from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the other six states
that share this resource, California’s Colorado River parties
have been trying to close the gap between demand and supply.