Topic: Water Supply

Overview

Water Supply

California’s climate, characterized by warm, dry summers and mild winters, makes the state’s water supply unpredictable. For instance, runoff and precipitation in California can be quite variable. The northwestern part of the state can receive more than 140 inches per year while the inland deserts bordering Mexico can receive less than 4 inches.

By the Numbers:

  • Precipitation averages about 193 million acre-feet per year.
  • In a normal precipitation year, about half of the state’s available surface water – 35 million acre-feet – is collected in local, state and federal reservoirs.
  • California is home to more than 1,300 reservoirs.
  • About two-thirds of annual runoff evaporates, percolates into the ground or is absorbed by plants, leaving about 71 million acre-feet in average annual runoff.
Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

Can a Grand Vision Solve the Colorado River’s Challenges? Or Will Incremental Change Offer Best Hope for Success?
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: With talks looming on a new operating agreement for the river, a debate has emerged over the best approach to address its challenges

Photo of Lake Mead and Hoover DamThe 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.

Western Water Jenn Bowles Jennifer Bowles

Exploring Different Approaches for Solving the Colorado River’s Myriad Challenges
EDITOR’S NOTE: We examine a debate that emerged from our Colorado River Symposium over whether incrementalism or grand vision is the best path forward

Jenn Bowles, Water Education Foundation Executive DirectorEvery other year we hold an invitation-only Colorado River Symposium attended by various stakeholders from across the seven Western states and Mexico that rely on the iconic river. We host this three-day event in Santa Fe, N.M., where the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed, as part of our mission to catalyze critical conversations to build bridges and inform collaborative decision-making.

Post

2019 Class Report

Members of the 2019 Water Leaders class examined the emerging issue of wildfire impacts on California’s water supply and quality. Read their policy recommendations in the class report, Fire and Water: An Emerging Nexus in California, to learn more.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Can a New Approach to Managing California Reservoirs Save Water and Still Protect Against Floods?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Pilot Projects Testing Viability of Using Improved Forecasting to Guide Reservoir Operations

Bullards Bar Dam spills water during 2017 atmospheric river storms.Many of California’s watersheds are notoriously flashy – swerving from below-average flows to jarring flood conditions in quick order. The state needs all the water it can get from storms, but current flood management guidelines are strict and unyielding, requiring reservoirs to dump water each winter to make space for flood flows that may not come.

However, new tools and operating methods are emerging that could lead the way to a redefined system that improves both water supply and flood protection capabilities.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Layperson's Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources Gary PitzerDouglas E. Beeman

As Wildfires Grow More Intense, California Water Managers Are Learning To Rewrite Their Emergency Playbook
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Agencies share lessons learned as they recover from fires that destroyed facilities, contaminated supplies and devastated their customers

Debris from the Camp Fire that swept through the Sierra foothills town of Paradise  in November 2018.

By Gary Pitzer and Douglas E. Beeman

It’s been a year since two devastating wildfires on opposite ends of California underscored the harsh new realities facing water districts and cities serving communities in or adjacent to the state’s fire-prone wildlands. Fire doesn’t just level homes, it can contaminate water, scorch watersheds, damage delivery systems and upend an agency’s finances.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Lessons From the Flames: Advice From Water Managers Who Have Lived Through Disaster

California water managers who have lived through a devastating wildfire and its aftermath have shared key lessons from their experiences.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Understanding Streamflow Is Vital to Water Management in California, But Gaps In Data Exist
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: A new law aims to reactivate dormant stream gauges to aid in flood protection, water forecasting

Stream gauges gather important metrics such as  depth, flow (described as cubic feet per second) and temperature.  This gauge near downtown Sacramento measures water depth.California is chock full of rivers and creeks, yet the state’s network of stream gauges has significant gaps that limit real-time tracking of how much water is flowing downstream, information that is vital for flood protection, forecasting water supplies and knowing what the future might bring.

That network of stream gauges got a big boost Sept. 30 with the signing of SB 19. Authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the law requires the state to develop a stream gauge deployment plan, focusing on reactivating existing gauges that have been offline for lack of funding and other reasons. Nearly half of California’s stream gauges are dormant.

Foundation Event University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law Jenn Bowles Nick Gray

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond

The Water Education Foundation’s Water 101 Workshop, one of our most popular events, offered attendees the opportunity to deepen their understanding of California’s water history, laws, geography and politics.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop held on Feb. 20, 2020 covered the latest on the most compelling issues in California water. 

McGeorge School of Law
3327 5th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
Western Water California Groundwater Map Gary Pitzer

Recharging Depleted Aquifers No Easy Task, But It’s Key To California’s Water Supply Future
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: A UC Berkeley symposium explores approaches and challenges to managed aquifer recharge around the West

A water recharge basin in Southern California's Coachella Valley. To survive the next drought and meet the looming demands of the state’s groundwater sustainability law, California is going to have to put more water back in the ground. But as other Western states have found, recharging overpumped aquifers is no easy task.

Successfully recharging aquifers could bring multiple benefits for farms and wildlife and help restore the vital interconnection between groundwater and rivers or streams. As local areas around California draft their groundwater sustainability plans, though, landowners in the hardest hit regions of the state know they will have to reduce pumping to address the chronic overdraft in which millions of acre-feet more are withdrawn than are naturally recharged.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Often Short of Water, California’s Southern Central Coast Builds Toward A Drought-Proof Supply
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Water agencies in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo counties look to seawater, recycled water to protect against water shortages

The spillway at Lake Cachuma in central Santa Barbara County. Drought in 2016 plunged its storage to about 8 percent of capacity.The southern part of California’s Central Coast from San Luis Obispo County to Ventura County, home to about 1.5 million people, is blessed with a pleasing Mediterranean climate and a picturesque terrain. Yet while its unique geography abounds in beauty, the area perpetually struggles with drought.

Indeed, while the rest of California breathed a sigh of relief with the return of wet weather after the severe drought of 2012–2016, places such as Santa Barbara still grappled with dry conditions.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

How Private Capital is Speeding up Sierra Nevada Forest Restoration in a Way that Benefits Water
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: A bond fund that fronts the money is expediting a headwaters restoration project to improve forest health, water quality and supply

District Ranger Lon Henderson with Tahoe National Forest points toward an overgrown section of forest within the Blue Forest project area. The majestic beauty of the Sierra Nevada forest is awe-inspiring, but beneath the dazzling blue sky, there is a problem: A century of fire suppression and logging practices have left trees too close together. Millions of trees have died, stricken by drought and beetle infestation. Combined with a forest floor cluttered with dry brush and debris, it’s a wildfire waiting to happen.

Fires devastate the Sierra watersheds upon which millions of Californians depend — scorching the ground, unleashing a battering ram of debris and turning hillsides into gelatinous, stream-choking mudflows. 

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

A Rancher-Led Group Is Boosting the Health of the Colorado River Near Its Headwaters
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: A Colorado partnership is engaged in a river restoration effort to aid farms and fish habitat that could serve as a model across the West

Strategic placement of rocks promotes a more natural streamflow that benefits ranchers and fish. High in the headwaters of the Colorado River, around the hamlet of Kremmling, Colorado, generations of families have made ranching and farming a way of life, their hay fields and cattle sustained by the river’s flow. But as more water was pulled from the river and sent over the Continental Divide to meet the needs of Denver and other cities on the Front Range, less was left behind to meet the needs of ranchers and fish.

“What used to be a very large river that inundated the land has really become a trickle,” said Mely Whiting, Colorado counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We estimate that 70 percent of the flow on an annual average goes across the Continental Divide and never comes back.”

Announcement

Registration Now Open for the 36th Annual Water Summit; Take Advantage of Early Bird Discount by Registering Today
Join us Oct. 30 for key conversations on water in California and the West

Registration opens today for the Water Education Foundation’s 36th annual Water Summit, set for Oct. 30 in Sacramento. This year’s theme, Water Year 2020: A Year of Reckoning, reflects fast-approaching deadlines for the State Groundwater Management Act as well as the pressing need for new approaches to water management as California and the West weather intensified flooding, fire and drought. To register for this can’t-miss event, visit our Water Summit event page.

Registration includes a full day of discussions by leading stakeholders and policymakers on key issues, as well as coffee, materials, gourmet lunch and an outdoor reception by the Sacramento River that will offer the opportunity to network with speakers and other attendees. The summit also features a silent auction to benefit our Water Leaders program featuring items up for bid such as kayaking trips, hotel stays and lunches with key people in the water world.

Western Water California Water Map

Your Don’t-Miss Roundup of Summer Reading From Western Water

Dear Western Water reader, 

Clockwise, from top: Lake Powell, on a drought-stressed Colorado River; Subsidence-affected bridge over the Friant-Kern Canal in the San Joaquin Valley;  A homeless camp along the Sacramento River near Old Town Sacramento; Water from a desalination plant in Southern California.Summer is a good time to take a break, relax and enjoy some of the great beaches, waterways and watersheds around California and the West. We hope you’re getting a chance to do plenty of that this July.

But in the weekly sprint through work, it’s easy to miss some interesting nuggets you might want to read. So while we’re taking a publishing break to work on other water articles planned for later this year, we want to help you catch up on Western Water stories from the first half of this year that you might have missed. 

Announcement

2019 Water Summit Theme Announced – Water Year 2020: A Year of Reckoning
Join us October 30 in Sacramento for our premier annual event

Sacramento RiverOur 36th annual Water Summit, happening Oct. 30 in Sacramento, will feature the theme “Water Year 2020: A Year of Reckoning,” reflecting upcoming regulatory deadlines and efforts to improve water management and policy in the face of natural disasters.

The Summit will feature top policymakers and leading stakeholders providing the latest information and a variety of viewpoints on issues affecting water across California and the West.

Announcement

Explore a Scenic But Challenged California Landscape on Our Edge of Drought Tour
August 27-29 Tour Examines Santa Barbara Region Prone to Drought, Mudslides and Wildfire

Pyramid LakeNew to this year’s slate of water tours, our Edge of Drought Tour Aug. 27-29 will venture into the Santa Barbara area to learn about the challenges of limited local surface and groundwater supplies and the solutions being implemented to address them.

Despite Santa Barbara County’s decision to lift a drought emergency declaration after this winter’s storms replenished local reservoirs, the region’s hydrologic recovery often has lagged behind much of the rest of the state.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to California Wastewater Gary Pitzer

As Californians Save More Water, Their Sewers Get Less and That’s a Problem
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Lower flows damage equipment, concentrate waste and stink up neighborhoods; should water conservation focus shift outdoors?

Corrosion is evident in this wastewater pipe from Los Angeles County.Californians have been doing an exceptional job 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.

Western Water Colorado River Bundle Gary Pitzer

150 Years After John Wesley Powell Ventured Down the Colorado River, How Should We Assess His Legacy in the West?
WESTERN WATER Q&A: University of Colorado’s Charles Wilkinson on Powell, Water and the American West

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

Explorer John Wesley Powell and Paiute Chief Tau-Gu looking over the Virgin River in 1873.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.

Announcement

Headwaters Tour Explores the Role of Forest Management in Watershed Health From Research to Application
June 27-28 tour will include stops at forest research station and a pilot project aimed at forest restoration

Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada, making the state’s water supply largely dependent on the health of Sierra forests. But those forests are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality.

On our Headwaters Tour June 27-28, we will visit Eldorado and Tahoe national forests to learn about new forest management practices, including efforts to both prevent wildfires and recover from them.

With Drought Plan in Place, Colorado River Stakeholders Face Even Tougher Talks Ahead On The River’s Future
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Talks are about to begin on a potentially sweeping agreement that could reimagine how the Colorado River is managed

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. 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.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

California’s New Natural Resources Secretary Takes on Challenge of Implementing Gov. Newsom’s Ambitious Water Agenda
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Wade Crowfoot addresses Delta tunnel shift, Salton Sea plan and managing water amid a legacy of conflict

Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Secretary.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.

Western Water Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map Gary Pitzer

Bruce Babbitt Urges Creation of Bay-Delta Compact as Way to End ‘Culture of Conflict’ in California’s Key Water Hub
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Former Interior secretary says Colorado River Compact is a model for achieving peace and addressing environmental and water needs in the Delta

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt gives the Anne J. Schneider Lecture April 3 at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum.  Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor and secretary of the Interior, has been a thoughtful, provocative and sometimes forceful voice in some of the most high-profile water conflicts over the last 40 years, including groundwater management in Arizona and the reduction of California’s take of the Colorado River. In 2016, former California Gov. Jerry Brown named Babbitt as a special adviser to work on matters relating to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Delta tunnels plan.

Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

As Deadline Looms for California’s Badly Overdrafted Groundwater Basins, Kern County Seeks a Balance to Keep Farms Thriving
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Sustainability plans required by the state’s groundwater law could cap Kern County pumping, alter what's grown and how land is used

Water sprinklers irrigate a field in the southern region of the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County.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.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

‘Mission-Oriented’ Colorado River Veteran Takes the Helm as the US Commissioner of IBWC
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Jayne Harkins’ duties include collaboration with Mexico on Colorado River supply, water quality issues

Jayne Harkins, the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission.For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.

Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the commission’s 129-year history.

Lower Colorado River Tour 2020
Field Trip - March 11-13

This tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour. 

Silverton Hotel
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Flood Management Gary Pitzer

Southern California Water Providers Think Local in Seeking to Expand Supplies
WESTERN WATER SIDEBAR: Los Angeles and San Diego among agencies pursuing more diverse water portfolio beyond imports

The Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad last December marked 40 billion gallons of drinking water delivered to San Diego County during its first three years of operation. The desalination plant provides the county with more than 50 million gallons of water each day.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.)

Western Water Groundwater Education Bundle Gary Pitzer

Imported Water Built Southern California; Now Santa Monica Aims To Wean Itself Off That Supply
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Santa Monica is tapping groundwater, rainwater and tighter consumption rules to bring local supply and demand into balance

The Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) treats dry weather urban runoff to remove pollutants such as sediment, oil, grease, and pathogens for nonpotable use.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 imported water.

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.

Key California Ag Region Ponders What’s Next After Voters Spurn Bond to Fix Sinking Friant-Kern Canal
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Subsidence chokes off up to 60% of canal’s capacity to move water to aid San Joaquin Valley farms and depleted groundwater basins

Water is up to the bottom of a bridge crossing the Friant-Kern Canal due to subsidence caused by overpumping of groundwater. The whims of political fate decided in 2018 that state bond money would not be forthcoming to help repair the subsidence-damaged parts of Friant-Kern Canal, the 152-mile conduit that conveys water from the San Joaquin River to farms that fuel a multibillion-dollar agricultural economy along the east side of the fertile San Joaquin Valley.

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Douglas E. Beeman

Women Leading in Water, Colorado River Drought and Promising Solutions — Western Water Year in Review

Dear Western Water readers:

Women named in the last year to water leadership roles (clockwise, from top left): Karla Nemeth, director, California Department of Water Resources; Gloria Gray,  chair, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Brenda Burman, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner; Jayne Harkins,  commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S. and Mexico; Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission.The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.

These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.

We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

As Colorado River Stakeholders Draft a Drought Plan, the Margin for Error in Managing Water Supplies Narrows
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Climate report and science studies point toward a drier Basin with less runoff and a need to re-evaluate water management

This aerial view of Hoover Dam shows how far the level of Lake Mead has fallen due to ongoing drought conditions.As stakeholders labor to nail down effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times ahead.

The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving, when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the cause.

Central Coast Tour 2019
Field Trip - November 6-7

This 2-day, 1-night tour offered participants the opportunity to learn about water issues affecting California’s scenic Central Coast and efforts to solve some of the challenges of a region struggling to be sustainable with limited local supplies that have potential applications statewide.

Western Water California Water Map Water & the Shaping of California Gary Pitzer

No Longer a ‘Boys Club’: In the World of Water, Women Are Increasingly Claiming Center Stage
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Since late 2017, women have taken leading roles at Reclamation, DWR, Metropolitan Water District and other key water agencies

Women named in the last year to water leadership roles (clockwise, from top left): Karla Nemeth, director, California Department of Water Resources; Gloria Gray,  chair, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Brenda Burman, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner; Jayne Harkins,  commissioner, International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S. and Mexico; Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission.The 1992 election to the United States Senate was famously coined the “Year of the Woman” for the record number of women elected to the upper chamber.

In the water world, 2018 has been a similar banner year, with noteworthy appointments of women to top leadership posts in California — Karla Nemeth at the California Department of Water Resources and Gloria Gray at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Post

2018 Class Report

The 2018 Water Leaders class examined ways to improve water management through data. Read their recommendations in the class report, Catch the Data Wave: Improving Water Management through Data.

Western Water California Water Map Layperson's Guide to the State Water Project Gary Pitzer

As He Steps Aside, Tim Quinn Talks About ‘Adversarialists,’ Collaboration and Hope For Solving the State’s Tough Water Issues
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Tim Quinn, retiring executive director of Association of California Water Agencies

ACWA Executive Director Tim Quinn  with a report produced by Association of California Water Agencies on  sustainable groundwater management.  (Source:  Association of California Water Agencies)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.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

As Shortages Loom in the Colorado River Basin, Indian Tribes Seek to Secure Their Water Rights
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: A study of tribal water rights could shed light on future Indian water use

Aerial view of the lower Colorado RiverAs the Colorado River Basin becomes drier and shortage conditions loom, one great variable remains: How much of the river’s water belongs to Native American tribes?

Native Americans already use water from the Colorado River and its tributaries for a variety of purposes, including leasing it to non-Indian users. But some tribes aren’t using their full federal Indian reserved water right and others have water rights claims that have yet to be resolved. Combined, tribes have rights to more water than some states in the Colorado River Basin.

Announcement

Can El Niño Tell Us Anything About What’s Ahead for Water Year 2019?
Learn what is and isn't known about forecasting Water Year 2019 at Dec. 5 workshop in Irvine

Nimbus Dam winter releasesJust because El Niño may be lurking off in the tropical Pacific, does that really offer much of a clue about what kind of rainy season California can expect in Water Year 2019?

Will a river of storms pound the state, swelling streams and packing the mountains with deep layers of heavy snow much like the exceptionally wet 2017 Water Year (Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017)? Or will this winter sputter along like last winter, leaving California with a second dry year and the possibility of another potential drought? What can reliably be said about the prospects for Water Year 2019?

At Water Year 2019: Feast or Famine?, a one-day event on Dec. 5 in Irvine, water managers and anyone else interested in this topic will learn about what is and isn’t known about forecasting California’s winter precipitation weeks to months ahead, the skill of present forecasts and ongoing research to develop predictive ability.

Western Water Klamath River Watershed Map Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

California Leans Heavily on its Groundwater, But Will a Court Decision Tip the Scales Against More Pumping?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Pumping near the Scott River in Siskiyou County sparks appellate court ruling extending public trust doctrine to groundwater connected to rivers

Scott River, in Siskiyou County. In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling extended the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that feed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves were not. The ruling marked a dramatic shift in water law and forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from those creeks in the Eastern Sierra to preserve the lake.

Now, a state appellate court has for the first time extended that same public trust doctrine to groundwater that feeds a navigable river, in this case the Scott River flowing through a picturesque valley of farms and alfalfa in Siskiyou County in the northern reaches of California.

Northern California Tour 2019
Field Trip - October 2-4

This tour explored the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as participants learned about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.

All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants got an on-site update of Oroville Dam spillway repairs.

Water Year 2019: Feast or Famine?
Dec. 5th workshop in Irvine focused on ability to predict winter precipitation

The Carr Fire devastated land around Keswick Dam, nine miles downstream of Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River“Dry, hot and on fire” is how the California Department of Water Resources described Water Year 2018 in a recent report.

Water Year 2018 – from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018 - marked a return to dry conditions statewide following an exceptionally wet 2017, according to DWR’s Water Year 2018 report. But 2017 was exceptional as all but two of the water years in the past decade experienced drought.

Was Water Year 2018 simply a single dry year or does it signal the beginning of another drought? And what can reliably be said about the prospects for Water Year 2019? Does El Niño really mean anything for California or is it all washed up as a predictor?

Attendees found out at this one-day event Dec. 5 in Irvine, Water Year 2019: Feast or Famine?

Eventbrite - Water Year 2019: Feast or Famine?

Beckman Center
Auditorium - Huntington Room
100 Academy Way
Irvine, California 92617

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
One-day workshop included optional groundwater tour

One of our most popular events, our annual Water 101 Workshop details the history, geography, legal and political facets of water in California as well as hot topics currently facing the state.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop on Feb. 7 gave attendees a deeper understanding of the state’s most precious natural resources.

 Optional Groundwater Tour

On Feb. 8, we jumped aboard a bus to explore groundwater, a key resource in California. Led by Foundation staff and groundwater experts Thomas Harter and Carl Hauge, retired DWR chief hydrogeologist, the tour visited cities and farms using groundwater, examined a subsidence measuring station and provided the latest updates on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

McGeorge School of Law
3327 5th Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95817
Western Water Douglas E. Beeman Douglas E. Beeman

What Would You Do About Water If You Were California’s Next Governor?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Survey at Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit elicits a long and wide-ranging potential to-do list

There’s going to be a new governor in California next year – and a host of challenges both old and new involving the state’s most vital natural resource, water.

So what should be the next governor’s water priorities?

That was one of the questions put to more than 150 participants during a wrap-up session at the end of the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

In Water-Stressed California and the Southwest, An Acre-Foot of Water Goes a Lot Further Than It Used To
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK-As households get stingier with water, a common guide for describing how much they need gets a refresh

The Antioch/Oakley Regional Shoreline park displays a sign announcing their water conservation efforts at the park in 2014.People in California and the Southwest are getting stingier with water, a story that’s told by the acre-foot.

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 a year.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map California Water Map Gary Pitzer

Despite Risk of Unprecedented Shortage on the Colorado River, Reclamation Commissioner Sees Room for Optimism
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Commissioner Brenda Burman, in address at Foundation’s Water Summit, also highlights Shasta Dam plan

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda BurmanThe Colorado River Basin is more than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously” underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of California water industry people.

During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees that agreement can be reached.

ON THE ROAD: Picturesque Northern California Valley Could Become the State’s Next Major Reservoir
Sites Reservoir site is a stop on our Northern California Tour Oct. 10-12

The proposed Sites Reservoir is in a rural cattle-grazing area west of the Sacramento Valley town of Maxwell. An hour’s drive north of Sacramento sits a picture-perfect valley hugging the eastern foothills of Northern California’s Coast Range, with golden hills framing grasslands mostly used for cattle grazing.

Back in the late 1800s, pioneer John Sites built his ranch there and a small township, now gone, bore his name. Today, the community of a handful of families and ranchers still maintains a proud heritage.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

When Water Worries Often Pit Farms vs. Fish, a Sacramento Valley Farm Is Trying To Address The Needs Of Both
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: River Garden Farms is piloting projects that could add habitat and food to aid Sacramento River salmon

Roger Cornwell, general manager of River Garden Farms, with an example of a refuge like the ones that were lowered into the Sacramento River at Redding to shelter juvenile salmon.  Farmers in the Central Valley are broiling about California’s plan to increase flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems to help struggling salmon runs avoid extinction. But in one corner of the fertile breadbasket, River Garden Farms is taking part in some extraordinary efforts to provide the embattled fish with refuge from predators and enough food to eat.

And while there is no direct benefit to one farm’s voluntary actions, the belief is what’s good for the fish is good for the farmers.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River Gary Pitzer

New Leader Takes Over as the Upper Colorado River Commission Grapples With Less Water and a Drier Climate
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission

Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River CommissionAmy 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.

Headwaters Tour 2018

Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality.

Headwaters tour participants on a hike in the Sierra Nevada.

We headed into the foothills and the mountains to examine water issues that happen upstream but have dramatic impacts downstream and throughout the state. 

GEI (Tour Starting Point)
2868 Prospect Park Dr.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670.
Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

As Decision Nears On California Water Storage Funding, a Chairman Reflects on Lessons Learned and What’s Next
WESTERN WATER Q&A: California Water Commission Chairman Armando Quintero

Armando Quintero, chair of the California Water CommissionNew water storage is the holy grail primarily for agricultural interests in California, and in 2014 the door to achieving long-held ambitions opened with the passage of Proposition 1, which included $2.7 billion for the public benefits portion of new reservoirs and groundwater storage projects. The statute stipulated that the money is specifically for the benefits that a new storage project would offer to the ecosystem, water quality, flood control, emergency response and recreation.

Domino Effect: As Arizona Searches For a Unifying Voice, a Drought Plan for the Lower Colorado River Is Stalled
EDITOR'S NOTE: Finding solutions to the Colorado River — or any disputed river —may be the most important role anyone can play

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 California.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

As Colorado River Levels Drop, Pressure Grows On Arizona To Complete A Plan For Water Shortages
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: A dispute over who speaks for Arizona has stalled work with California, Nevada on Drought Contingency Plan

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

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.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

Could the Arizona Desert Offer California and the West a Guide to Solving Groundwater Problems?
WESTERN WATER SPOTLIGHT: Environmental Defense Fund report highlights strategies from Phoenix and elsewhere for managing demands on groundwater

Skyline of Phoenix, ArizonaAs 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.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Gary Pitzer

Novel Effort to Aid Groundwater on California’s Central Coast Could Help Other Depleted Basins
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Michael Kiparsky, director of UC Berkeley's Wheeler Water Institute, explains Pajaro Valley groundwater recharge pilot project

Michael KiparskySpurred by drought and a major policy shift, groundwater management has assumed an unprecedented mantle of importance in California. Local agencies in the hardest-hit areas of groundwater depletion are drawing plans to halt overdraft and bring stressed aquifers to the road of recovery.

Along the way, an army of experts has been enlisted to help characterize the extent of the problem and how the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 is implemented in a manner that reflects its original intent.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law Gary Pitzer

Amid ‘Green Rush’ of Legal Cannabis, California Strives to Control Adverse Effects on Water
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: State crafts water right and new rules unique to marijuana farms, but will growers accustomed to the shadows comply?

A marijuana plant from a growing operationFor decades, cannabis has been grown in California – hidden away in forested groves or surreptitiously harvested under the glare of high-intensity indoor lamps in suburban tract homes.

In the past 20 years, however, cannabis — known more widely as marijuana – has been moving from being a criminal activity to gaining legitimacy as one of the hundreds of cash crops in the state’s $46 billion-dollar agriculture industry, first legalized for medicinal purposes and this year for recreational use.

Western Water Jenn Bowles Jennifer Bowles

EDITOR’S NOTE: Assessing California’s Response to Marijuana’s Impacts on Water

Jennifer BowlesAs we continue forging ahead in 2018 with our online version of Western Water after 40 years as a print magazine, we turned our attention to a topic that also got its start this year: recreational marijuana as a legal use.

State regulators, in the last few years, already had been beefing up their workforce to tackle the glut in marijuana crops and combat their impacts to water quality and supply for people, fish and farming downstream. Thus, even if these impacts were perhaps unbeknownst to the majority of Californians who approved Proposition 64 in 2016, we thought it important to see if anything new had evolved from a water perspective now that marijuana was legal.

Tour

Lower Colorado River Tour 2018

Lower Colorado River Tour participants at Hoover Dam.

We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
Announcement

Learn What New Tree-Ring Studies Reveal about Drought Patterns in Southern California
Also hear about efforts to improve weather forecasting, drought preparedness at April 19th workshop in San Pedro

University of Arizona research professor removes tree core sample from bigcone Douglas fir tree.Learn what new tree-ring studies in Southern California watersheds reveal about drought, hear about efforts to improve subseasonal to seasonal weather forecasting and get the latest on climate change impacts that will alter drought vulnerability in the future.

At our Paleo Drought Workshop on April 19th in San Pedro, you will hear from experts at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Arizona and California Department of Water Resources.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

One Year In, A New State Policymaker Assesses the Salton Sea, Federal Relations and California’s Thorny Water Issues
WESTERN WATER Q&A: State Water Board member Joaquin Esquivel

State Water Resources Control Board member E. Joaquin EsquivelJoaquin Esquivel learned that life is what happens when you make plans. Esquivel, who holds the public member slot at the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, had just closed purchase on a house in Washington D.C. with his partner when he was tapped by Gov. Jerry Brown a year ago to fill the Board vacancy.

Esquivel, 35, had spent a decade in Washington, first in several capacities with then Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and then as assistant secretary for federal water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. As a member of the State Water Board, he shares with four other members the difficult task of ensuring balance to all the uses of California’s water. 

Foundation Event University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

Water 101 Workshop: The Basics and Beyond
Event included optional Delta Tour

One of our most popular events, Water 101 details the history, geography, legal and political facets of water in California as well as hot topics currently facing the state.

Taught by some of the leading policy and legal experts in the state, the one-day workshop gives attendees a deeper understanding of the state’s most precious natural resource.

McGeorge School of Law
3285 5th Ave, Classroom C
Sacramento, CA 95817
Western Water Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law Gary Pitzer

Does California’s Environment Deserve its Own Water Right?
IN-DEPTH: Fisheries and wildlife face growing challenges, but so do water systems competing for limited supply. Is there room for an environmental water right?

Sunset in Sacramento-San Joaquin DeltaDoes California need to revamp the way in which water is dedicated to the environment to better protect fish and the ecosystem at large? In the hypersensitive world of California water, where differences over who gets what can result in epic legislative and legal battles, the idea sparks a combination of fear, uncertainty and promise.

Saying that the way California manages water for the environment “isn’t working for anyone,” the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shook things up late last year by proposing a redesigned regulatory system featuring what they described as water ecosystem plans and water budgets with allocations set aside for the environment.

‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,’ Climate Change and the Future of California’s Water
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Climate scientist Daniel Swain

Daniel SwainEvery day, people flock to Daniel Swain’s social media platforms to find out the latest news and insight about California’s notoriously unpredictable weather. Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, famously coined the term “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” in December 2013 to describe the large, formidable high-pressure mass that was parked over the West Coast during winter and diverted storms away from California, intensifying the drought.

Swain’s research focuses on atmospheric processes that cause droughts and floods, along with the changing character of extreme weather events in a warming world. A lifelong Californian and alumnus of University of California, Davis, and Stanford University, Swain is best known for the widely read Weather West blog, which provides unique perspectives on weather and climate in California and the western United States. In a recent interview with Western Water, he talked about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, its potential long-term impact on California weather, and what may lie ahead for the state’s water supply. 

Announcement

2017 Water Leaders Class Releases Policy Recommendations for California’s Water Storage Future

The 2017 Water Leaders class organized by the Water Education Foundation completed its year with a report outlining policy recommendations for the future of water storage in California.

The class of 20 from various stakeholder groups and backgrounds that hailed from cities and towns across the state had full editorial control to chose recommendations. While they did not endorse a specific storage proposal, they recommended that California:

Announcement

Deepen Your Knowledge of California Water and Visit the Delta
Popular Water 101 Workshop includes optional one-day Delta Tour

Deepen your knowledge of California water issues at our popular Water 101 Workshop and jump aboard the bus the next day to visit the  Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that supports the state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and ecological resource.

Aquapedia background Layperson's Guide to Flood Management

Atmospheric Rivers

A massive 1986 Northern California flood near Marysville, north of Sacramento, caused the south levee of the Yuba River to breach, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes.Atmospheric rivers are relatively narrow bands of moisture that ferry precipitation across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast and are key to California’s water supply.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources Gary Pitzer

The Drought May Be Over, But California Still Wants Residents to Act Like It’s On Forever
State considers adopting permanent wise water use rules starting in April

For decades, no matter the weather, the message has been preached to Californians: use water wisely, especially outdoors, which accounts for most urban water use.

Enforcement of that message filters to the local level, where water agencies routinely target the notorious “gutter flooder” with gentle reminders and, if necessary, financial penalties.

Headwaters Tour 2019
Field Trip - June 27-28

Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Our water supply is largely dependent on the health of our Sierra forests, which are suffering from ecosystem degradation, drought, wildfires and widespread tree mortality. 

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2019

This three-day, two-night tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.

The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour. 

Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Northern California Tour 2018

This tour explored the Sacramento River and its tributaries through a scenic landscape as participants learned about the issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.

All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour participants got an on-site update of repair efforts on the Oroville Dam spillway. 

Tour

San Joaquin River Restoration Tour 2018

Participants of this tour snaked along the San Joaquin River to learn firsthand about one of the nation’s largest and most expensive river restoration projects.

Fishery worker capturing a fish in the San Joaquin River.

The San Joaquin River was the focus of one of the most contentious legal battles in California water history, ending in a 2006 settlement between the federal government, Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environmental groups.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to the State Water Project Land Subsidence Gary Pitzer

State Taking Steps to Manage Subsidence-Related Impacts to California Aqueduct
Department of Water Resources to spend $5 million for quick fixes, as it assesses longer-term repairs

For as long as agriculture has existed in the Central Valley, farmers have pumped water from the ground to sustain their livelihood and grow food consumed by much of the nation. This has caused the ground in certain places to sink, sometimes dramatically, eliminating valuable aquifer storage space that can never be restored.

Western Water Excerpt Jenn Bowles

Enhancing California’s Water Supply: The Drive for New Storage
Spring 2017

One of the wettest years in California history that ended a record five-year drought has rejuvenated the call for new storage to be built above and below ground.

In a state that depends on large surface water reservoirs to help store water before moving it hundreds of miles to where it is used, a wet year after a long drought has some people yearning for a place to sock away some of those flood flows for when they are needed.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Rules Set for Prop. 1 Funding for New Water Storage Projects

A critical aspect of California’s drive to create new water storage is in place after the California Water Commission approved regulations governing how those potential storage projects could receive public funding under Prop. 1.

The Dec. 14 decision potentially paves the way for new surface water projects, such as Sites Reservoir, and expansion of Los Vaqueros reservoir in Contra Costa County.

Western Water Magazine

Is California’s Water Supply Resilient and Sustainable?
January/February 2015

This issue looks at sustainability and resiliency and what the terms mean for California’s water.

Publication

The Lower Yuba Accord: From Controversy to Consensus
Published 2009

This 24-page booklet details the conflict between environmentalists, fish organizations and the Yuba County Water Agency and how it was resolved through the Lower Yuba River Accord – a unique agreement supported by 18 agencies and non-governmental organizations. The publication details the history and hydrology of the Yuba River, past and present environmental concerns, and conflicts over dam operations and protecting endangered fish is included.

Video

Overcoming the Deluge: California’s Plan for Managing Floods (DVD)

This 30-minute documentary, produced in 2011, explores the past, present and future of flood management in California’s Central Valley. It features stories from residents who have experienced the devastating effects of a California flood firsthand. Interviews with long-time Central Valley water experts from California Department of Water Resources (FloodSAFE), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Central Valley Flood Management Program and environmental groups are featured as they discuss current efforts to improve the state’s 150-year old flood protection system and develop a sustainable, integrated, holistic flood management plan for the Central Valley.

Video

The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages (20 min. DVD)

20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues related to complex water management disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances Fisher.

Video

The Klamath Basin: A Restoration for the Ages (60 min. DVD)

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 documentary here.

Video

Restoring a River: Voices of the San Joaquin

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 agreed to.

Video

A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

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.

Video

Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley

Salt. In a small amount, it’s a gift from nature. But any doctor will tell you, if you take in too much salt, you’ll start to have health problems. The same negative effect is happening to land in the Central Valley. The problem scientists call “salinity” poses a growing threat to our food supply, our drinking water quality and our way of life. The problem of salt buildup and potential – but costly – solutions are highlighted in this 2008 public television documentary narrated by comedian Paul Rodriguez.

Video

Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley (20-minute DVD)

A 20-minute version of the 2008 public television documentary Salt of the Earth: Salinity in California’s Central Valley. This DVD is ideal for showing at community forums and speaking engagements to help the public understand the complex issues surrounding the problem of salt build up in the Central Valley potential – but costly – solutions. Narrated by comedian Paul Rodriquez.

Video

Stormwater Management: Turning Runoff into a Resource

20-minute DVD that explains the problem with polluted stormwater, and steps that can be taken to help prevent such pollution and turn what is often viewed as a “nuisance” into a water resource through various activities.

Video

Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (60-minute DVD)

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 Wendie Malick. 

Video

Drinking Water: Quenching the Public Thirst (30-minute DVD)

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.

Video

Delta Warning

15-minute DVD that graphically portrays the potential disaster should a major earthquake hit the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. “Delta Warning” depicts what would happen in the event of an earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale: 30 levee breaks, 16 flooded islands and a 300 billion gallon intrusion of salt water from the Bay – the “big gulp” – which would shut down the State Water Project and Central Valley Project pumping plants.

Video

Shaping of the West: 100 Years of Reclamation

30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern day issues.

Video

Water on the Edge (60-minute DVD)

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.

Video

Two Sides of a River (60-minute DVD)

California’s little-known New River has been called one of North America’s most polluted. A closer look reveals the New River is full of ironic twists: its pollution has long defied cleanup, yet even in its degraded condition, the river is important to the border economies of Mexicali and the Imperial Valley and a lifeline that helps sustain the fragile Salton Sea ecosystem. Now, after decades of inertia on its pollution problems, the New River has emerged as an important test of binational cooperation on border water issues. These issues were profiled in the 2004 PBS documentary Two Sides of a River.

Video

Two Sides of a River (60-minute DVD Spanish)

$25.00

Spanish version of the 60-minute 2004 PBS documentary Two Sides of a River. DVD

Product

Go With the Flow: A Storm Water Pollution Prevention Message

This 7-minute DVD is designed to teach children in grades 5-12 about where storm water goes – and why it is so important to clean up trash, use pesticides and fertilizers wisely, and prevent other chemicals from going down the storm drain. The video’s teenage actors explain the water cycle and the difference between sewer drains and storm drains, how storm drain water is not treated prior to running into a river or other waterway. The teens also offer a list of BMPs – best management practices that homeowners can do to prevent storm water pollution.

Maps & Posters

San Joaquin River Restoration Map
Published 2012

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, features a map of the San Joaquin River. The map text focuses on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, which aims to restore flows and populations of Chinook salmon to the river below Friant Dam to its confluence with the Merced River. The text discusses the history of the program, its goals and ongoing challenges with implementation. 

Maps & Posters

Klamath River Watershed Map
Published 2011

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The map text explains the many issues facing this vast, 15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration; agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement, and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Maps & Posters

Carson River Basin Map
Published 2006

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 Area Office.

Maps & Posters

Truckee River Basin Map
Published 2005

This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas and Indian reservations within the Truckee River Basin, including the Newlands Project, Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe. Map text explains the issues surrounding the use of the Truckee-Carson rivers, Lake Tahoe water quality improvement efforts, fishery restoration and the effort to reach compromise solutions to many of these issues. 

Maps & Posters

Nevada Water Map
Published 2004

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.

Maps & Posters

Water Cycle Poster

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.

Maps & Posters Groundwater Education Bundle

California Groundwater Map
Redesigned in 2017

California Groundwater poster map

Fashioned after the popular California Water Map, this 24×36 inch poster was extensively re-designed in 2017 to better illustrate the value and use of groundwater in California, the main types of aquifers, and the connection between groundwater and surface water.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law
Updated 2020

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of California water rights.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project
Updated 2013

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the State Water Project provides an overview of the California-funded and constructed State Water Project.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Nevada Water
Published 2006

The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Nevada Water provides an overview of the history of water development and use in Nevada. It includes sections on Nevada’s water rights laws, the history of the Truckee and Carson rivers, water supplies for the Las Vegas area, groundwater, water quality, environmental issues and today’s water supply challenges.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water Management
Published 2013

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 management approach.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River
Updated 2018

Cover page for the Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River .

The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles in the southwestern United States. The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the history of the river’s development; negotiations over division of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and a chronology of significant Colorado River events.

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to California Water
Updated 2021

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to California Water provides an excellent overview of the history of water development and use in California. It includes sections on flood management; the state, federal and Colorado River delivery systems; Delta issues; water rights; environmental issues; water quality; and options for stretching the water supply such as water marketing and conjunctive use. New in this 10th edition of the guide is a section on the human need for water. 

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project
Updated 2021

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Central Valley Project explores the history and development of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), California’s largest surface water delivery system. In addition to the project’s history, the guide describes the various CVP facilities, CVP operations, the benefits the CVP brought to the state and the CVP Improvement Act (CVPIA).

Publication

Layperson’s Guide to the Delta
Updated 2020

The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta, its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex issues with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural drainage, fish and wildlife, and water distribution.

Maps & Posters California Water Bundle

California Water Map
Updated December 2016

A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect gift for the water wonk in your life.

Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts – including federally, state and locally funded projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects, wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado River.

Aquapedia background California Water Map Layperson's Guide to California Water

Water Supply in California

SnowmeltCalifornia’s “Mediterranean” climate, characterized by warm, dry summers and mild winters, is considered one of its great attractions, but it also can be unpredictable with flooding followed by drought and few years of “normal” precipitation.  [See also Hydrologic Cycle].

Aquapedia background

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam

The construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1964 created Lake Powell. Both are located in north-central Arizona near the Utah border. Lake Powell acts as a holding tank for outflow from the Colorado River Upper Basin States: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The water stored in Lake Powell is used for recreation, power generation and delivering water to the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada. 

Dams

Folsom Dam on the American River east of Sacramento

Dams have allowed Californians and others across the West to harness and control water dating back to pre-European settlement days when Native Americans had erected simple dams for catching salmon.

Aquapedia background

Conjunctive Use

Conjunctive use is a catch-phrase for coordinated use of surface water and groundwater— literally going with the flow to maximize sufficient yield.

Aquapedia background

Colorado River 2007 Interim Guidelines And Drought Contingency Plans

In 2005, after six years of severe drought in the Colorado River Basin, federal officials and representatives of the seven basin states — California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — began building a framework to better respond to drought conditions and coordinate the operations of the basin’s two key reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

The resulting Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (Interim Guidelines) identified the conditions for shortage determinations and details of coordinated reservoir operations. The 2007 Interim Guidelines remain in effect through Dec. 31, 2025.

California Water Overview

Aerial view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin DeltaCalifornia will always be inextricably linked to its water resources. Water continues to shape the state’s development and no resource is as vital to California’s urban centers, farms, industry, recreation, scenic beauty and environmental preservation.

But California’s relationship to water is also one that continues to generate controversy.

Aquapedia background

Applied Water

Applied water refers to water delivered by an application to a user, either indoors or outdoors. Applied water use typically occurs in an agricultural or urban setting.

In agriculture, applied water is typically supplied through irrigation, which uses such devices as pipes and sprinklers. There are also different types of systems including gravity flow and pressurized systems.

With soil absorbing applied water and being porous (some water can move down below a plant’s root zone), it is necessary to apply more water than a crop might need.

Western Water Magazine

Overdrawn at the Bank: Managing California’s Groundwater
January/February 2014

This printed issue of Western Water looks at California groundwater and whether its sustainability can be assured by local, regional and state management. For more background information on groundwater please refer to the Founda­tion’s Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater.

Western Water Magazine

An Era of New Partnerships on the Colorado River
November/December 2013

This printed issue of Western Water examines how the various stakeholders have begun working together to meet the planning challenges for the Colorado River Basin, including agreements with Mexico, increased use of conservation and water marketing, and the goal of accomplishing binational environmental restoration and water-sharing programs.

Western Water Magazine

Adjusting to the New Reality: Climate Change in the West
July/August 2013

This printed issue of Western Water This issue of Western Water looks at climate change through the lens of some of the latest scientific research and responses from experts regarding mitigation and adaptation.

Western Water Magazine

Meeting the Co-equal Goals? The Bay Delta Conservation Plan
May/June 2013

This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying California’s long-term water supply reliability.

Western Water Magazine

Viewing Water with a Wide Angle Lens: A Roundtable Discussion
January/February 2013

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 California.

Western Water Magazine

How Much Water Does the Delta Need?
July/August 2012

This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they might be provided.

Western Water Magazine

Levees and Flood Protection: A Shared Responsibility
May/June 2012

This printed issue of Western Water discusses several flood-related issues, including the proposed Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, the FEMA remapping process and the dispute between the state and the Corps regarding the levee vegetation policy.

Western Water Magazine

The Colorado River Drought: A Sobering Glimpse into the Future
November/December 2010

This printed issue of Western Water examines the Colorado River drought, and the ongoing institutional and operational changes underway to maintain the system and meet the future challenges in the Colorado River Basin.

Western Water Magazine

A ‘New Direction’ for Water Decisions? The California Water Plan
May/June 2010

This printed issue of Western Water examines the changed nature of the California Water Plan, some aspects of the 2009 update (including the recommendation for a water finance plan) and the reaction by certain stakeholders.

Western Water Magazine

Changing the Status Quo: The 2009 Water Package
January/February 2010

This printed issue of Western Water looks at some of the pieces of the 2009 water legislation, including the Delta Stewardship Council, the new requirements for groundwater monitoring and the proposed water bond.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Desalination: A Drought Proof Supply?
July/August 2009

It seems not a matter of if but when seawater desalination will fulfill the promise of providing parts of California with a reliable, drought-proof source of water. With a con­tinuing drought and uncertain water deliveries, the state is in the grip of a full-on water crisis, and there are many people who see desalination as a way to provide some relief to areas struggling to maintain an adequate water supply.

Western Water Magazine

Desalination: A Drought Proof Supply?
July/August 2009

This printed issue of Western Water examines desalination – an issue that is marked by great optimism and controversy – and the expected role it might play as an alternative water supply strategy.

Western Water Magazine

Dealing with the ‘D’ Word: The Response to Drought
November/December 2008

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 it arrive.

Western Water Magazine

A Drought-Proof Supply: The Promise of Recycled Water
July/August 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines recycled water – its use, the ongoing issues and the prospects it holds for extending water supplies.

Western Water Magazine

Small Water Systems, Big Challenges
May/June 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines the challenges facing small water systems, including drought preparedness, limited operating expenses and the hurdles of complying with costlier regulations. Much of the article is based on presentations at the November 2007 Small Systems Conference sponsored by the Water Education Foundation and the California Department of Water Resources.

Western Water Magazine

A Significant Challenge: Adapting Water Management to Climate Change
January/February 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines climate change – what’s known about it, the remaining uncertainty and what steps water agencies are talking to prepare for its impact. Much of the information comes from the October 2007 California Climate Change and Water Adaptation Summit sponsored by the Water Education Foundation and DWR and the November 2007 California Water Policy Conference sponsored by Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform.

Western Water Magazine

The Struggle to Secure Water in the Southwest
May/June 2007

This issue of Western Water asks whether a groundwater compact is needed to manage this shared resource today. In the water-stressed West, there will need to be a recognition of sharing water resources or a line will need to be drawn in the sand against future growth.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Smart Water Use: Stretching the Urban Supply
May/Jun 2005

Despite a winter during which much of California was drenched with plentiful rain and snow, there is no escaping the need for the continued wise use of water, no matter what the change of seasons brings.

Western Water Magazine

Smart Water Use: Stretching the Urban Supply
May/June 2005

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.

Western Water Excerpt Sue McClurgRita Schmidt Sudman

Does California Need More Surface Water Storage?
Sept/Oct 2003

According to political debate and the popular press, the purpose of adding surface water storage reservoirs to California’s existing system is to provide water for urban growth and agricultural crops. But that viewpoint touches only the surface of a more complex policy and operations issue spelled out in the CALFED Record of Decision (ROD): the need to expand storage capacity to increase the existing system’s flexibility, improve water quality and provide water for fish, as well as meet the needs of a growing population.

Western Water Magazine

Does California Need More Surface Water Storage?
September/October 2003

This issue of Western Water explores the question of whether the state needs more surface storage, with a particular focus on the five proposed projects identified in the CALFED 2000 ROD and the politics and funding issues of these projects.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Tapping the World’s Largest Reservoir: Desalination
Jan/Feb 2003

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
For time immemorial, the seas of the Earth have been seen as an enticing but unreachable source of fresh water. Separating the salt from ocean water was always a cost prohibitive process, primarily reserved to wealthy Middle Eastern nations and small-scale operations such as ocean-bound vessels and small islands. Otherwise, through the evolution of modern civilization, man has depended upon lakes, rivers and groundwater – a supply that comprises less than 3 percent of the planet’s total water.

Western Water Magazine

Coping with the Threat of Terrorism
January/February 2002

The events of September 11 brought a new reality to the water world. Since California was the destination of the four hijacked planes, security was immediately tightened at dams, aqueducts and water treatment plants. This issue of Western Water examines the issue of water security and the preparedness of federal, state and local agencies to the threat of terrorism. In addition to physical security and bioterrorism, it focuses on the type of long-term security measures being implemented to ensure a safe water supply.

Western Water Excerpt Gary PitzerRita Schmidt Sudman

Drinking Water Challenges: A Roundtable Discussion
Jan/Feb 2001

Drinking water is the ultimate recycled resource. It is recycled over years, centuries and millenniums. The water we use today is the same supply with which civilization began. The water that once coursed down the Ganges River or splashed into Julius Caesar’s bathing pool may end up running from the tap in your home.

Western Water Excerpt Sue McClurgRita Schmidt Sudman

CALFED and the Delta Fix
January/February 1999

Balance between ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability is key to a Bay-Delta solution. Everyone agrees on this concept. But the demands of the competing interests can tilt the scales. So, too, can the member agencies’ conflicting missions. For more than three years, the joint state-federal CALFED Bay-Delta Program has been searching for equilibrium among the Delta’s complex problems and its contentious stakeholders. In December, it released its latest blueprint for resolving the Delta dilemma — the Revised Phase II Report.

Western Water Magazine

Cutting Colorado River Use: The California Plan
November/December 1998

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.