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.
Arizona lawmakers appear on track to pass a Colorado River drought plan, with less than 30 hours to go before a critical federal deadline. A state Senate committee voted 6-1 Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline how the state would share looming cutbacks on the river’s water and work with other states to take less. The bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline.
Five dams across California – including one in Lake County that forms Lake Pillsbury – have been listed as key for removal by an advocacy group in the effort to stop the extinction of native salmon and steelhead. In response to what it calls a “statewide fish extinction crisis,” which indicates 74 percent of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout species are likely to be extinct in the next century, the fish and watershed conservation nonprofit organization California Trout on Tuesday released its list of the top five dams prime for removal in the golden state.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, have lands that stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. The tribe’s right to divert nearly 720,000 acre-feet from the river is more than twice the water that is allocated to the state of Nevada. By law, that water is to be used on the reservation. But if CRIT convinces Congress to allow off-reservation leasing, the change would free up a large volume of water that would be highly desirable for cities and industries.
The history of the planet can be found inside a sediment core at the bottom of the ocean, or the cake-like layers of a soil pit, or in the strata of the Grand Canyon. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that the climatic history of water — and a hint about its future — can sometimes be found by digging into a pit of snow.
A federal appellate court decision issued on January 25, 2019 will affect the relicensing of hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River and efforts to accomplish dam removal under an existing settlement agreement.
Go deep into one of California’s most pressing issues – groundwater – by visiting an extensometer that measures subsidence, an active aquifer storage and recovery well, a recycling facility that recharges water into the ground and more.
The proposed tunnel path stretches 35 miles from west of Elk Grove to just below Discovery Bay. The tunnels would take water from three intakes along the Sacramento River to existing aqueducts south of Discovery Bay, and then the water will be sent to Southern California. Along the proposed path, there are at least 22 levees that would sit above the tunnels…. The concern is not so much the levees themselves, but the kind of soil that is below the levees.
Avoiding a long-expected crisis on the Colorado River, a water source for 40 million people, is coming down to a final few days of frenzied negotiations. A 19-year drought and decades of overuse have put a water shortfall on the horizon. If California and six other states, all with deeply entrenched interests, can’t agree on a plan to cut their water consumption by Jan. 31, the federal government says it will step in and decide the river’s future.
Tucked inside PG&E’s mammoth bankruptcy filing is a company request that the judge in the case approve payment of $130 million in cash incentive bonuses to thousands of PG&E employees, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records made public on Tuesday.
Terms were revealed this week for a developing water sales agreement between the Montecito Water District and City of Santa Barbara. The 50-year water sales agreement provides 1,430 acre-feet of water a year to Montecito, at a cost of about $2,700 per acre-foot. The terms of agreement allow for the possibility to purchase and receive 445 acre-feet of additional water each year.
Maintaining functional wetlands in a 21st-century landscape dominated by agriculture and cities requires a host of hard and soft infrastructures. Canals, pumps, and sluice gates provide critical life support, and the lands are irrigated and tilled in seasonal cycles to essentially farm wildlife. Reams of laws and regulations scaffold the system.
New data released measure changes in land subsidence in the Sacramento Valley over the past nine years, finding the greatest land surface declines in Arbuckle. According to the Sacramento Valley GPS Subsidence Netwook Report and accompanying fact sheet … land in the Arbuckle area has sunk 2.14 feet compared with baseline measurements recorded in the same location in 2008, according to a press release from the Department of Water Resources.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to levy water cuts to seven Western states in order to prevent the river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement, the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse….
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board, or SWRCB, are extending outreach to the cannabis cultivating community with presentations at four permitting workshops in Northern California. The presentations are ideally suited for cannabis cultivators, consultants and anyone interested in the topic. SWRCB will cover policy and permitting, and other important information. Computers will be available for applicants to apply for water rights and water quality permits.
Unable to cope with wildfire claims, PG&E made good on its vow to file for bankruptcy Tuesday, launching a perilous journey with major implications for ratepayers, investors, state officials and the thousands of California wildfire victims who are suing the utility. Citing “extraordinary financial challenges” and a rapidly deteriorating cash position, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and its parent PG&E Corp. sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an electronic filing shortly after midnight.
The recent burst of winter rains has helped drive endangered coho salmon up to their spawning grounds in Lagunitas Creek, with surveyors counting the highest number of spawners in 12 years. … Lagunitas Creek supports about 20 percent of the remaining coho salmon between Monterey Bay and Fort Bragg, making it a key recovery area for the threatened species.
Water conservation in the Las Vegas Valley is imperative as the city continues to grow. The resources provided by the Colorado River are stretched thin, as the river is responsible for supplying the majority of the water to Southern Nevada, six other states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado—and Mexico. Combine these existing allotments with drought conditions that have reduced the river’s average flows by 30 percent annually, and it’s clear that Las Vegas must be proactive in its conservation efforts.
A new bill would create guidelines for reusing water from beer or wine processing for rinsing equipment and tanks. The bill was introduced by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) directs the State Water Board, in consultation with the California Department of Public Health – Food and Drug Branch, to develop regulations for microbiological, chemical, and physical water quality and treatment requirements for the onsite treatment and reuse of process water at breweries and wineries.
Water well owners in Sonoma County may get billed for their annual water usage under a proposed water-conservation plan up for discussion next week at a community meeting in Santa Rosa. The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is hosting the Jan. 30 meeting to hear feedback on its proposed “groundwater sustainability fee,” which would provide funding to support the new agency.
The City of Lathrop is one step closer to earning a permit that will allow for the discharge of treated wastewater straight into the San Joaquin River. … Currently the City of Lathrop disposes of the effluent that is generated from the Lathrop Consolidated Treatment Facility by storing it in basins during the winter months, and then applying it to urban or agricultural landscapes during the summer months.
The Trump administration is laying the groundwork to enlarge California’s biggest reservoir, the iconic Shasta Dam, north of Redding, by raising its height. It’s a saga that has dragged on for decades, along with the controversy surrounding it. But the latest chapter is likely to set the stage for another showdown between California and the Trump administration.
Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman has drawn a line in the sand for Arizona and other Western states: Finish a deal to take less water from the Colorado River by Thursday, or the federal government will be forced to step in and decide how to prevent reservoirs from falling to critical levels. … The plan’s success or failure will turn on the actions of a few key players, including leaders of the Legislature, tribes, farmers, cities and the state’s water managers.
A federal court of appeals ruled Friday that PacifiCorp, which currently owns and operates several dams along the Klamath River, can no longer continue to use a controversial tactic which has allowed the company to avoid implementing mandatory requirements meant to protect the health of the Klamath River for over a decade. The decision marks a victory for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, who filed the lawsuit, and may expedite the removal of several Klamath River dams.
The Colorado River is not meeting its obligations. Its Lake Powell bank account is in danger of running dry. A 97-year-old agreement demands that the river deliver 5.2 trillion gallons of water to seven states and Mexico each year. That isn’t happening, and now — in the age of climate change — the chance of ever meeting that demand is fading. As a result, Utah’s plan to take more of its Colorado River water — by building a pipeline from Lake Powell to St. George — may be fading, too.
Over the past two decades, the San Diego County Water Authority has paid $25 million to a single law firm. The firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, is known for its water law practice across the West. Locally, though, few people know of its influence. The firm and two of its attorneys – Chris Frahm and Scott Slater – have been involved in major Water Authority decisions since the mid-1990s, decisions that affect the cost and availability of water in San Diego.
Droughts and floods have always tested water management, driven water systems improvements, and helped water organizations and users maintain focus and discipline. California’s 2012-2016 drought and the very wet 2017 water year were such tests.
With bankruptcy looming, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is citing “challenging financial circumstances” as one of the reasons why it’s backing off from renewing its federal license for two of its hydroelectric dams. PG&E told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday that it would no longer try to renew the license for its Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project on the Eel River in Mendocino and Lake counties. The move raises a fresh set of questions about how the company plans to maintain its aging network of 169 hydroelectric dams in California amid its financial crisis.
On our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1, we will visit this fragile ecosystem that harbors 400 bird species and hear from several stakeholders working to address challenges facing the sea, including managers of the Imperial Irrigation District, the Salton Sea Authority and California’s appointed “Sea Czar,” assistant secretary on Salton Sea policy Bruce Wilcox.
Arizona’s water leaders and lawmakers are running out of time to complete the state’s Drought Contingency Plan, a blueprint for how Arizona water users would share a likely shortage on the Colorado River. … There are a lot of moving parts to understand and a lot of concepts that may seem overwhelming. Here are the things you need to know in advance of the Jan. 31 deadline to finish the plan.
This is not quite anyone’s vision of the California dream, popularly imagined as variations based on building a safe, secure and successful life. … Instead, Imperial County is emblematic of life for millions of people around the state who live under an umbrella of bad air quality or who have contaminated soil or lack access to clean water.
Doing surgery on San Francisco’s water system is no simple task. Replacing one mile of distribution main costs about $3.8 million dollars. That’s just the direct cost of installing a section of drinking water pipe. There are also side effects: disruptions to traffic, sidewalks, and businesses when streets are pried open. In one of the nation’s densest and highest-cost cities the expense amounts to an incentive for well-informed decisions about what to dig up and when.
Recent research has identified a genetic variation in Klamath-Trinity spring-run Chinook salmon which is upending prevailing scientific narratives about the fish. Scientists are calling it the “run time gene,” as it appears to be the factor which controls whether the salmon will migrate in the spring, or fall. The research, spearheaded by Daniel Prince and Michael Miller of UC Davis, is being utilized by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council in a renewed effort to list the Spring Chinook Salmon under the state’s Endangered Species Act.
Zone 7 Water Agency directors have voted to renew their participation in two water storage projects so that the water wholesaler can continue to plan for more alternative water sources during droughts. The board voted unanimously to participate in phase 2 of the Sites Reservoir project, a JPA formed in 2010 to create a reservoir 75 miles northwest of Sacramento. … Also, by a unanimous vote, directors committed up to $355,000 for a second phase of participation in the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in southeastern Contra Costa County.
A long-standing feud over who should pay a $650 million bill for state water infrastructure reared its head Tuesday, as board members of Santa Clara County’s regional water district weighed whether to raise water bills or ramp up reliance on property taxes.
Even in the depths of winter it’s easy to bite into a plump blackberry or a delicate red raspberry, thanks to Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company. In late 2018, I traveled to the Pajaro Valley, west of Santa Cruz, for a tour of a Driscoll’s research facility, which provided an eye-opening view into how this family-owned company has become an agriculture leader selling berries every month of the year, and why they are so committed to water conservation.
The restoration site is one of three south of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites, another source is increasingly important for restoring these patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor: groundwater.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District made a grave miscalculation in suing the State Water Board over the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. By alienating the remnants of the environmental community who have supported them in recent years, they are jeopardizing future projects and funding measures that will require voter approval.
The Groundwater Authority has a little over a year left to create the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, and the Indian Wells Valley Water District is doing everything it can to ensure that happens. The IWV Water District had its first workshop of the year on Wednesday morning, where future plans and goals of the water district were discussed. The main objective was to ensure that every decision and action that the water district makes is in tune with what the GA is trying to achieve.
Water customers in Chico and Oroville could soon be paying more. California Water Service is asking the Public Utilities Commission to approve a rate hike. … Cal Water says the extra revenue is needed to improve infrastructure, including replacing water main piping.
Water issues are notoriously difficult for California governors. Just look at former Gov. Jerry Brown’s floundering tunnels proposal for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Yet two factors suggest that Gov. Gavin Newsom must make water a priority.
Arizona lawmakers and the governor are under the gun to come up with a Drought Contingency Plan to deal with possible Colorado River water shortages. Get an update from Kathleen Ferris of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. This Arizona Horizon segment is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between public radio and public television stations in Arizona, California and Colorado.
Angelenos bearing gifts have elicited skepticism in Owens Valley since the early 1900s, when city agents posed as ranchers and farmers to buy land and water rights and then built dams and diversions that turned much of the region into an acrid dust bowl. Now, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is extending an olive branch. The department has proposed selling some of the commercial property it leases … to dozens of lessees in the financially struggling towns along a rustic, 112-mile stretch of Highway 395 between the eastern Sierra Nevada range and the White-Inyo Mountains.
Citing impacts to water, soil and people, Jackson County commissioners are asking the state to block a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon. The Oregon Department of State Lands is taking comments until Feb. 3 as it considers whether to grant a key permit for the controversial 239-mile pipeline that would stretch through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to a proposed export terminal north of Coos Bay.
“The judiciary is the safeguard of our liberty and of our property under the Constitution,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes in Elimra, New York in 1907. That quote exemplifies the reason that five irrigation districts on tributaries to the San Joaquin River as well as the city of San Francisco filed lawsuits recently against the State Water Resources Control Board. They are defending their water rights.
Making water conservation a way of life – that was the topic during a symposium, Tuesday, sponsored by the Water Association of Kern County. The discussion focused on the challenges of complying with new state laws that will set water conservation targets for homeowners and businesses.
The Alameda County Water District is proposing to raise customers’ bills 8 percent over the next two years to cover infrastructure costs as well as salary increases, benefits and pensions for its employees. The district also wants to create an emergency pricing schedule that kicks in during water shortages, such as in droughts.
In an unprecedented move, the Water Resources Control board voted in December to require water users to leave more water in the lower San Joaquin River to improve water quality and help fish. “This decision represents the water board taking its job to protect the public trust and our fisheries more seriously,” said Regina Chichizola, salmon and water policy analyst for the Institute for Fisheries Resources.
The Gila River Indian Community is threatening to blow up the drought-contingency plan because of efforts it says will undermine its claim to water rights. House Speaker Rusty Bowers is proposing changes to state laws in a way he said will protect the rights of farmers in the Safford Valley who have been “scratching it out” to water from the Gila River. But attorney Don Pongrace, who represents the Gila River Indian Community, said … courts have ruled those rights — and the water that goes with it — belong to the tribe.
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question: Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough water?
With four straight days of rain, the Los Angeles River has come alive. Thanks to Measure W, which was passed by voters last November, projects will be funded and infrastructure will be built to capture, treat and recycle all this rain water. Measure W is predicted to raise $300 million per year for L.A. County off a new property tax for what is called impermeable areas. That would be the driveway of your house, concrete patio or anything that stops water from going into the ground.
A Dallas-based engineering firm is being tapped to help design California’s plan to bolster its water supply system. Jacobs’ initial $93 million contract is for preliminary and final engineering design of a 15-year program known as California WaterFix. The Golden State’s largest water conveyance project carries a $17 billion pricetag. WaterFix, slated to begin this year, will upgrade 50-year-old infrastructure dependent on levees, which the state said puts clean water supplies at risk from earthquakes and sea-level rise.
Storms that soaked California during the first half of January did more than bring tons of snow to Sierra Nevada ski resorts. They also helped to significantly boost the state’s water supplies. Over the three weeks from Jan. 1 until this Tuesday, 47 key reservoirs that state water officials closely monitor added 580 billion gallons of water — as much as roughly 9 million people use in a year, according to an analysis by this newspaper.
Coachella Valley Water District board members on Tuesday debated issuing a $40 million bond to pay for an extension of the Oasis pipeline to bring imported water to about 40 farmers and others in the irrigation district, who would pay the costs back over 30 years. A small rate increase could be imposed as well. The 17-mile pipeline and three pump stations would provide Colorado River water to mostly longtime farmers in the valley who already obtain much of their water from the river via the All-American Canal, but get some from wells.
Water is becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Water tables have been falling in many regions for decades, particularly in areas with intensive agriculture. Wells are going dry and there are few long-term solutions available — a common stopgap has been to drill deeper wells. This is exactly what happened in California’s Central Valley. The recent drought there prompted drilling of deeper and deeper water wells to support irrigated agriculture.
For decades, the New River has flowed north across the U.S.-Mexico border carrying toxic pollution and the stench of sewage. Now lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento are pursuing legislation and funding to combat the problems. “I feel very optimistic that we’re going to be able to get some things done on the New River issue,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia.
California American Water’s Monterey Peninsula desalination project is in the midst of another critical phase even as a Carmel River pumping cutback order milestone requiring the start of construction looms later this year. … The city of Marina is on schedule to consider the project’s coastal development permit application covering mostly proposed desal plant feeder slant wells on the CEMEX sand mining plant by mid-March, according to a senior city planning official.
Longstanding urban-rural tensions over a proposed drought plan have escalated after Pinal County farmers stepped up their request for state money for well-drilling to replace Colorado River water deliveries. “Enough is enough,” responded 10 Phoenix-area cities through a spokesman. They say the state has already pledged millions to the farms for well drilling, and plenty of water to boot.
Heavy rains this week left Lake Mendocino, the North Bay region’s second-largest reservoir, with an extra 2 billion gallons of water that until now officials would have been obliged to release into the Russian River and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to a $10 million program that blends high-tech weather forecasting with novel computer programming, the Army Corps has the latitude to retain an additional 11,650 acre feet of water, and Lake Mendocino has now impounded a little more than half that much.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed flow requirements for rivers that feed the Delta based on a percentage of ‘unimpaired flows… If approved, this ‘unimpaired flows’ approach would have significant impacts on farms, communities throughout California and the environment. We join many other water agencies in our belief that alternative measures …
One in seven Americans drink from private wells, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Nitrate concentrations rose significantly in 21% of regions where USGS researchers tested groundwater from 2002 through 2012, compared with the 13 prior years. … “The worst-kept secret is how vulnerable private wells are to agricultural runoff,” says David Cwiertny, director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination.
More water storage projects will not solve the basic fact that the state’s finite amount of water is incapable of meeting all of the demands. This deficit has been created primarily by the transformation of a semi-arid area— the Central Valley — by an infusion of water from northern California.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman today named Ernest A. Conant director of the Mid-Pacific Region. Conant has nearly 40 years of water law experience and previously served as senior partner of Young Wooldridge, LLP.
Snowpack across California is about 110 percent of normal for this time of year, thanks in no small part to an atmospheric river that brought heavy snowstorms to the Sierra range, the state Department of Water Resources’ most recent data show. Statewide snowpack is more than quadruple what it was by this time last year.
When it comes to water, the lifeblood of the Central Valley, Democrats don’t have all the answers. So says freshman Representative Josh Harder, suddenly one of the most powerful Democrats in these parts. … “We need to make sure we’re all working together to advance the agenda of the Central Valley,” continued Harder, 32, of Turlock. “I was very encouraged to see some of the measures the Trump administration put forward on water.”
Since taking office Jan. 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom has not indicated how he intends to approach one of the state’s most pressing issues: water. Newsom should signal that it’s a new day in California water politics by embracing a more-sustainable water policy that emphasizes conservation and creation of vast supplies of renewable water. The first step should be to announce the twin-tunnels effort is dead.
Without a change in how the Colorado River is managed, Lake Powell is headed toward becoming a “dead pool,” essentially useless as a reservoir while revealing a sandstone wonderland once thought drowned forever by humanity’s insatiable desire to bend nature to its will. … Absent cutbacks to deliveries to the Lower Basin, a day could come when water managers may have little choice but to lower the waters that have inundated Utah’s Glen Canyon for the past half-century.
Most of the first American settlers of the Delta came to California to quickly acquire a pile of gold. Few succeeded in the placers, but some recognized the agricultural potential and decided to build farms and futures in the Golden State. One such visionary was my great great grandfather, Reverend Daniel Shaw Stuart.
At least one state agency has indicated it will not issue necessary permits to allow federal officials and a Fresno-based water district to begin construction to raise the height of Shasta Dam. In addition to facing opposition from the state, the project could also face fresh hurdles from Congress, which this year came under control of Democrats. In a letter to the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the State Water Resources Control Board says raising the height of Shasta Dam would violate state law.
Around the world, vanishing glaciers will mean less water for people and crops in the future. … Glaciers represent the snows of centuries, compressed over time into slowly flowing rivers of ice. … But in a warming climate melting outstrips accumulation, resulting in a net loss of ice.
Members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes will vote Saturday, Jan. 19 on a proposed ordinance to allow for the lease of a portion of the Tribes’ Colorado River water allocation to outside interests. The issue of leasing Tribal water rights has become a contentious issue among Tribal members. Opponents claim this compromises the Tribes’ resources, while supporters point to the economic benefits.
The never-ending fire season stems largely from a years-long drought that gripped much of California before easing in 2017. An estimated 129 million trees died from a lack of nutrients and infestations from bark beetles, leaving hillsides and forests dappled with kindling. The results have been grim. Record-setting fires have swept across the state, killing more than 100 people in two years. All told, nearly 900,000 acres burned in 2018 on land Cal Fire patrols. That’s more than triple the five-year average.
Because of the potential of massive flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers is rushing to begin a $500-million repair project for Whittier Narrows Dam, classified as the highest priority of any of the 13 “high risk” dams in the country. Nearly three years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers elevated the risk of failure from “high urgency” to “very high urgency” after a re-inspection revealed a greater threat of erosion and breach that would cause massive downstream flooding to one million Southern California residents in the event of a severe storm event.
A group of Lake Nacimiento residents is suing Monterey County for $120 million, claiming officials ignored the needs of recreational users by releasing more water from the reservoir than necessary. The lawsuit, filed in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court in Paso Robles, alleges the county agency has mismanaged the reservoir and “operated the lake in a manner that renders it almost unusable by property owners and visitors for recreation.”
Locally, the primary impacts of climate change on people can broadly be broken into four categories: sea level rise, drought, flood and wildfire. The good news is, work and planning are already well underway to mitigate impacts, though it’s hard to say how much of an effect the measures will have, and how much those agencies – and their constituents – will be willing to spend on them. But this much is clear: Local, state and federal agencies are taking climate change seriously, and treating it like the potentially existential threat that it is.
Citing what they say would be a disastrous decision for the region, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts have joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other rivers.
A declining Colorado River in Arizona. Orcas and salmon stocks in Washington state. Forest restoration in Idaho to protect drinking water sources from wildfire. And renewable energy seemingly everywhere. These are some of the water issues that U.S. governors have mentioned in their 2019 State of the State speeches. The speeches, usually given at the beginning of the legislative session, outline budget or policy priorities for the coming year.
The biggest storm of the year packed the punch forecasters called for, walloping the Sierra Nevada with several feet of snow, and wreaking havoc on local highways and roads. Earlier in the week, the National Weather Service Office in Reno issued a blizzard warning for the greater Tahoe area, a rare report since 2008. Regional ski resorts, which had seen scant snow until recent storms swept through earlier this month, reported several feet of fresh snow in the past few days.
With Lake Mead now 39 percent full and approaching a first-ever shortage, Western states that rely on the Colorado River are looking to Arizona to sign a deal aimed at reducing the risk of the reservoir crashing. The centerpiece of Gov. Ducey’s proposed legislation is a resolution giving Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to sign the Drought Contingency Plan. The package of proposed bills also would appropriate $35 million and tweak existing legislation to make the plan work.
More than ever, water’s true value as a finite and precious resource is starting to be realised, and a growing number of investors are paying attention. There are plenty of examples of water risk. Campbell Soup Company took a hit in its quarterly earnings recently, due to an acquisition of a California fresh food company that was pummeled by the California drought.
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.
Far less settled is how Newsom will fill his administration’s most important positions regarding state water policy. One of Newsom’s key tests confronts him immediate: State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus’ term expires this week.
Land subsidence from overpumping of San Joaquin Valley groundwater sank portions of the Friant-Kern Canal, the 152-mile conduit that conveys water from the San Joaquin River to farms that help fuel a multibillion-dollar agricultural economy. A plan to fix it helped sink the $8.8 billion Proposition 3 bond measure last November. Now San Joaquin Valley water managers are trying to figure out another way to restore the canal, not only to keep farmers farming, but to aid the valley’s overtaxed groundwater aquifers. By Gary Pitzer in Western Water.
A simple web search will pull up nearly a million articles, videos and photos featuring Frank Gehrke. He’s no fashion icon like Kim Kardashian or a dogged politician like Gov. Jerry Brown. But he has broken a lot of news. … For 30 years, you might have seen Gehrke on TV, the guy trudging through snow with a measuring pole, talking about how deep the pack is each winter on the evening news. He retired from his post as the state’s chief snow surveyor in December, but he’s not letting go of his snowshoes and skis anytime soon.
As rain continues to pelt Southern California, signs of an abundance of or even too much water are everywhere: Roads are flooded, reservoirs are filling and the wait time for Radiator Springs Racers at the damp Disneyland Resort has been less than a half hour. But as residents of burn areas evacuate and even heavier rain is forecast for Thursday, those who watch the state and local water supplies note that while the drought is technically over, the need to conserve water is not.
The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee meeting last week. … But the legislation as drafted barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been hashing out for months.
The McCormack-Williamson Tract restoration project, a 1,500 acre site, lowers the levees on the north side of the island to allow the river to overtop into the site. On the south side, DWR will alleviate the surge flows that pose a risk to neighbors by opening small holes in the levee. 2018 saw the completion of construction of a levee to protect existing infrastructure on the site, as well as progress on habitat restoration plans. For the next phase, DWR will strengthen the interior levees and take steps toward opening the site up to tidal flows.
The budget specifically calls out funding for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water. It discusses the need to find a stable funding source for long-term operation and maintenance of drinking water systems in disadvantaged communities, stating that existing loan and grant programs are limited to capital improvements.
Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S. are likely headed for another year of low water. That’s according to a new analysis by the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.
Arcadis has announced it will partner with Kiewit Infrastructure West and PERC Water to serve as the progressive design-build team for the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project (SWIP) in the City of Santa Monica, Calif. Currently, the city partially relies on imported water to meet its water needs. This project will allow the city to take a major step toward water independence, supporting existing programs designed to create a sustainable water supply
After more than three years, 104 days of testimony, and over twenty-four thousand pages of hearing transcripts, the hearing before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on the proposal to construct two tunnels to convey water under the Delta (aka California WaterFix) is almost completed. Probably, that is: there could be more if the project changes again to a degree that requires additional testimony and/or environmental review.
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it, simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it.
Another Pacific storm was set to hit California on Wednesday, bringing a threat of mudslides to the site of the deadliest wildfire in state history and a rare blizzard warning in the Sierra Nevada. An evacuation warning was in place into Thursday morning for Pulga, a canyon community in Northern California. Its neighbor, the town of Paradise, was virtually incinerated two months ago by the Camp Fire that killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 15,000 homes.
The new majority on the Escondido City Council appears poised to rescind the former council’s 2017 decision to locate a $44 million recycled water plant in the middle of a residential area. “It’s the wrong location,” newly elected Mayor Paul “Mac” McNamara said of the site in the center of the city at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Ash Street. ”It might cost us a few more bucks, but in the long term, it’s better to have it where it needs to be.”
Wells are going dry and there are few long-term solutions available — a common stopgap has been to drill deeper wells. This is exactly what happened in California’s Central Valley. The recent drought there prompted drilling of deeper and deeper water wells to support irrigated agriculture. Groundwater supplies around the world are being threatened by excessive pumping, but drilling deeper wells is not a long-term solution. A better solution is to manage water use and avoid excessive declines in groundwater levels.
Nasdaq, along with Veles Water and WestWater Research, has announced the launch of the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index (NQH2O), the first of its kind water index that benchmarks the price of water in a way that supports price discovery and enables the creation of a tradable financial instrument.
Climate change helped fuel the deadly fires that prompted California’s largest power company to announce Monday that it would file for bankruptcy. … In a grim twist, the bankruptcy of PG&E Corp. could now slow California’s efforts to fight climate change.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California … began what is being referred to as “defensive withdrawals” from Lake Mead. Remember, Lake Mead is severely low, and if L.A. takes all of the water they’ve been allotted, it will trigger emergency supply restrictions for everyone else. So, why are they doing this with the agreement deadline so close? The Show turned to Debra Kahn who covers California environmental policy and broke the story for Politico Pro.
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over $100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
A Bureau of Reclamation program awards grants to water districts and other project sponsors seeking to reuse water and add to supplies. From 1992 through 2017, it awarded about $715 million for 46 construction projects and 71 studies. Nearly all of the funding—about $703 million—went for construction projects that recycled water.
Urban water conservation took a sharp drop in November in California, with savings of just 7.8 percent compared to November 2013, the benchmark pre-drought year. That’s down from 13.4 percent savings in October. Statewide, the average was 86 gallons per capita. In the Sacramento River watershed, everyone used on average 101 gallons per day; in the Bay Area, 67 gallons; on the South Coast, 86 gallons.
You can now register for our full slate of water tours for 2019, including a new tour along California’s Central Coast to view a river’s restoration following a major dam removal, check out efforts to desalt ocean water, recycle wastewater and manage groundwater and seawater intrusion.
Everywhere you look new homes, hotels and master-planned developments are appearing. It is wise to ask whether we have enough water for these future desert residents and visitors. Permits for new projects are under the jurisdiction of cities or the county — not under the purview of water agencies. Water agencies are tasked with supplying the water. Balancing growth and water supplies is nothing new to desert communities. It has always been a fact of life in our desert and is one of Desert Water Agency’s most important responsibilities.
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought, the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water may be cut off.
In an attempt to block the state’s plan to divert more water toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and away from the Bay Area, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has filed a lawsuit arguing the project could significantly reduce the local water supply. If the plan advances, the water district might have to spend millions of dollars to obtain alternate water supplies and pull up more groundwater.
A bipartisan bill in Congress would designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund program, allowing federal agencies to clean up sites contaminated by harmful fluorinated compounds. Health officials have said continued exposure to certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water could harm human health. Studies link exposure to developmental effects on fetuses, cancer and liver and immunity function, among other issues.
Arizona legislators and staff are attending closed-door primers on water policy in advance of a critical January 31 federal deadline for the state to approve the Drought Contingency Plan. The first of three meetings occurred on Friday afternoon and lasted two and a half hours. The session was led by Central Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, if he is to successfully steer the state into the future, has to bring to his water agenda the same steely-eyed, reality-based drive that the two previous governors brought to limiting carbon emissions. It is time for the state to respond to its water challenge with the same sense of urgency with which it adopted Assembly Bill 32, the landmark law capping greenhouse gas emissions, in 2006.
A section of the museum will also be dedicated to water, teaching visitors how much water it takes to grow crops, how California farmers lead the world in conservation, and how the state’s complicated water storage and delivery system works, said Mike Wade, the executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. The Coalition is the title sponsor for the exhibits and has drawn on several farming organizations, including Farm Credit, to help build and maintain the exhibits.
The century-old PG&E—which employs 20,000 workers and is slated to play an integral role in California’s clean energy future—also has a checkered history and little goodwill to spare with the public. On Thursday, the PUC launched an investigation into the utility’s safety record and corporate structure, as Bay Area residents shouted, protested and urged commissioners not to give them a bailout.
California began 2019 with lower-than-average snowpack measurements — just 67 percent of the year-to-date average. Recent storms pushed that total to 90 percent as of Friday. With more precipitation on the horizon, forecasters predict snowpack measurements will “meet or exceed” the year-to-date average by the end of the week.
Southern California’s native scrublands are famously tough. … They evolved along with long, hot summers, at least six rainless months a year and intense wildfires. But not this much fire, this often. The combination of too-frequent wildfires and drought amplified by climate change poses a growing threat to wildlands that deliver drinking water to millions.
Gov. Doug Ducey will use his fifth State of the State speech Monday, Jan. 14, to try to corral the votes to approve a drought-contingency plan in the next 17 days or risk federal intervention. “We’re in a position now where we have a sense of urgency and focus on Arizona’s water situation,” the governor told the business community Friday in previewing the speech that kicks off the legislative session.
Up against a federal deadline to approve a Colorado River drought plan — a “generational change” in Arizona water management — four key legislators say they’re optimistic they’ll meet it. Led by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa Republican, they see the Legislature as ready — finally — to officially endorse the plan. That’s even though competing water interest groups still have highly visible disagreements about it.
A day after proposing a tax on drinking water, Gov. Gavin Newsom took a “surprise” road trip to meet with Stanislaus County residents in a community known for having unsafe wells. Newsom and his cabinet made their first stop at the Monterey Park Tract in Ceres, where he held a roundtable discussion with people who for years had to use bottled water for drinking and cooking because their community’s two wells were long-contaminated with nitrates and arsenic.
California’s failure to provide safe, affordable drinking water to the remaining roughly 1% of residents is probably the most solvable and affordable of California’s many difficult water problems. There will always be isolated small systems with vexing problems, but the number of Californians currently without access to safe affordable drinking water is embarrassing and irresponsibly high.
Climate models using SNOTEL data predict a decline in Western snowpack. … In December, University of Arizona researchers presented new on-the-ground findings supporting these predictions. … In parts of the West, annual snow mass has declined by 41 percent, and the snow season is 34 days shorter. Scripps Institute of Oceanography climatologist Amato Evan told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “climate change in the Western U.S. is not something we will see in the next 50 years. We can see it right now.”
The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego, Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting system used by major farmers and entire states. … This month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
When the grapefruit and lemon trees bloom on Jim Seley’s farm, the white blossoms fill the air with their sweet scent. He and his son, Mike, manage the business, and they hope to pass it on to the next generation of Seleys. But the farms of Borrego Springs, like the town and its golf courses, rely completely on groundwater pumped from the desert aquifer. And it’s unclear whether farming will be able to survive in this part of the Southern California desert west of the Salton Sea in San Diego County.
The State Water Resources Control Board proved back on Dec. 12 that it wasn’t listening to a single thing anyone from our region was saying. By voting to impose draconian and scientifically unjustifiable water restrictions on our region, four of the five board members tuned out dozens of scientists, water professionals and people who live near the rivers.
Standing on a stone bridge overlooking Lagunitas Creek in west Marin County, giddy onlookers observed a male coho salmon swimming upstream toward a nesting area guarded by a female. … This year’s salmon spawning season so far appears to be a mixed bag, with some locations, such as Lagunitas Creek, showing robust activity, and others, including the Russian River in Sonoma County, falling short of expectations.
There is plenty of water on Mars, but it’s frozen, locked in water-rich minerals, tucked away below the surface — or a combination of those challenges, which is why we still don’t know where it all is. That’s a problem for Rick Davis, assistant director for science and exploration in the planetary science division at NASA, because he is heading the agency’s project to evaluate potential human base sites on the Red Planet.
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday that — intriguingly — fell along gender lines, the Phoenix City Council approved an increase in water rates, starting next month. “I thank the women to have the leadership and courage to do the right thing. 5-3,” Interim Mayor Thelda Williams said. … Wednesday’s vote overturned the council’s previous rejection of the proposed increase, on December 12, that was also 5-3.
The city of San Francisco is not standing down in California’s latest water war, joining a lawsuit against the state on Thursday to stop it from directing more of the Sierra Nevada’s cool, crisp flows to fish instead of people.
Every winter, forest managers in places like California take a step back, analyze their budgets and plan on how to deal with the next fire season. But the government shutdown has shuttered a lot of those efforts, because federal lands like the U.S. Forest Service— which has been furloughed since December 22 — plays a huge role. For example, crews in Redwood National Park are “just sitting on their hands,” according to University of California fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt County, because they can’t work on federal land during the shutdown.
Last week, the relicensing effort reached a milestone when FERC issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement. The environmental document essentially looks at what changes a licensee has proposed for a specific project, the impacts of those changes and provides conditions they must meet if awarded a new license.
A coalition of groups interested in salmon recovery — California Sea Grant’s Russian River Salmon and Steelhead Monitoring Program (CSG), Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program and Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District (RCD) — are working together and with local landowners to see if unexplored areas of these local watersheds might hold the key to the recovery of native coho salmon populations.
With a federal deadline to sign a Colorado River drought deal three weeks away, Arizona water managers are still grappling with several unresolved issues that could get in the way of finishing an agreement. The outstanding issues, some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’ concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to pump more groundwater.
Registration is now open for the Santa Ana River Watershed Conference set for March 29 in Fullerton. The daylong event will be held at Cal State Fullerton. Join us to discuss the importance of the Santa Ana River Watershed and how, through powerful partnerships, resilient solutions can be found to improve the quality and reliability of the region’s water supply.
Tackling what promises to be a controversial issue, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a tax on drinking water Thursday to help disadvantaged communities clean up contaminated water systems. Newsom’s plan for a “safe and affordable drinking water fund,” included in the new governor’s first budget proposal, attempts to revive an idea that died in the Legislature last year.
Plans for the removal of three dams on the Klamath River in California cleared another regulatory hurdle when state officials released a draft environmental impact report that found no significant long-term water quality concerns.
California will be under a siege of storm systems through next week that will send rounds of soaking rain across the state and snow into the Sierra Nevada. The storms will be guided toward California through a strong jet stream over the Pacific Ocean. It’s possible the Golden State could be affected by three or four separate weather systems through the end of next week.
A lawsuit seeking a new environmental report for the controversial Poseidon desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach was rejected by a Sacramento Superior Court judge on Tuesday. Judge Richard Sueyoshi found the supplemental report met legal requirements while noting the 2010 study had never been legally challenged.
The U.S. Interior Department is facing three lawsuits filed by three environmental groups who allege its plans for the 200,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex along the Oregon-California border violates several federal laws. A fourth complaint from six farms and agricultural groups alleges the agency has unlawfully exceeded its authority by restricting leases of refuge land for agricultural purposes.
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado River. Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal government is squeezing these negotiators.
Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California, spoke recently about managing freshwater systems with ecosystem water budgets. “I will argue that drought, because of the way we have modified this system, is the major bottleneck ecologically,” he said. “Step 1 has to be thinking about drought: how to mitigate drought and how to deal with drought – that is plan for, respond to, and recover from drought. We don’t do that at all, even though we just had this big drought.”
Cloud seeding has existed for decades, and has significant traction in other western states such as California, Idaho and Wyoming. Colorado has only recently joined the cloud seeding game as the state’s snowpack has declined and the Colorado River runs dry.
This month’s second annual Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies “Women in Water – Exploring Career Pathways” symposium will provide a good opportunity for women and girls to learn about a career in the field. Cuyamaca’s Center for Water Studies opened in the fall of 2018. A renovated complex with new classrooms, it also has a water quality analysis laboratory and a workshop, and offers related skills-based courses. Last year’s event drew nearly 200 participants. This year’s all-day conference starts at 8 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 17.
As his term as governor drew to a close, Jerry Brown brokered a historic agreement among farms and cities to surrender billions of gallons of water to help ailing fish. He also made two big water deals with the Trump administration. It added up to a dizzying display of deal-making. Yet as Gavin Newsom takes over as governor, the state of water in California seems as unsettled as ever.
Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s simple: Arizona and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado River than Mother Nature puts back,” the governor told his audience. “And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick the can any further.”
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is seeking to auction off its Potter Valley Project hydropower plant, which contains two reservoirs and dams, to a new operator. PG&E cited increasing operation costs, a competitive energy market and lower energy generation needs as reasons for its decision. Questions remain as to what extent Marin County water supplies will be affected by a potential change in ownership and operation of the 110-year-old hydropower plant more than 100 miles to the north.
In December, Frank Gehrke retired as chief snow surveyor for the California Department of Water Resources. He spent much of his 31 years with the department on skis and snowshoes, in remote corners of the Sierra Nevada, measuring the “frozen reservoir” that ultimately provides about a third of California’s water supply.
The paper, published in the Journal of Environmental Management, suggests that eliminating outdoor landscaping and lawns could reduce water waste by 30 percent. It recommends importing water only when Los Angeles is not in a drought, to build a surplus of water for dry years. The paper also argues that groundwater basins that catch stormwater could be used to recycle water. However, making these improvements would require the cooperation of more than 100 agencies.
Jon Rosenfield: Last month the State Water Resources Control Board finally required increased flows from three San Joaquin River tributaries, as the first step in a process to update water quality standards for the San Francisco Bay estuary. The board opted for weaker environmental protections in order to reduce impacts to agribusiness and San Francisco, ignoring the potential for changed agricultural practices and investment in sustainable water use to ease or eliminate the impact of reduced water diversions.
At Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s Planning & Stewardship Committee, officials said that with no Drought Contingency Plan in place (Arizona being the hold out), they are beginning to draw down their storage in Lake Mead. “If there is no Drought Contingency Plan, we don’t want to leave potentially half a million acre-feet or more locked up in Lake Mead if we go into shortage,” said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
Los Angeles resident Cindy Baker claimed in her April 2018 federal class action lawsuit that the Switzerland-based company intentionally and recklessly concealed facts about the quality and purity of its Pure Life purified water. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips said in a seven-page order that Baker’s concerns about water quality and microplastics in Nestle water should be addressed by the Food and Drug Administration, not by the courts.
Forecasters are not being paid. Weather models are not being maintained, launched or improved. The main impact has been on the current Global Forecast System, the premier weather model in the U.S., which is running poorly, and there’s no one on duty to fix it.
A team of researchers concludes that the ongoing drought across the western U.S. rivals most past “megadroughts” dating as far back as 800 A.D. — and that the region is currently in a megadrought. Using tree ring data as a proxy for drought conditions, the researchers say the current drought ranks fourth worst among comparable 19-year periods of megadroughts of the past 1,200 years.
As more people build homes in fire-prone areas, and as climate change and other factors increase the frequency of fires, there is a growing risk to life and property throughout the West — and a lesser known risk to the region’s already endangered water supply. At least 65 percent of the public water supply in the Western U.S. comes from fire-prone areas.
Featuring artists, photographers, first-person narratives, historical and scientific essays, long-form journalism and fiction, the magazine revolves around the fascinating people and wonders that make up the greater Bay – Delta region of California.
California’s lawns receded during past droughts: Homeowners reduced their water use by adding flower beds and walkways where turf had previously been. But this last drought, which ended in early 2017, was different. Thousands of homeowners took advantage of “cash for grass” programs to remove their lawns entirely.
At stake is an important rule that defines which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. It’s also poised to be a year of reckoning on the Colorado River, which supplies water to 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of farmland. And it could also be a landmark year for water management in California, with several key issues coming to a head.
Southern Nevadans will see few noticeable consequences from a soon-to-be-finalized drought contingency plan for states that get most of their water supply from the Colorado River, according to a Southern Nevada water resources expert.
A coalition of environmental groups has called on California members of Congress to prioritize the San Luis (B.F. Sisk) Dam seismic remediation over federal funding for new California dams. San Luis Dam is in a very seismically active area. Independently reviewed risk assessments for Reclamation have shown that a large earthquake could lead to crest settlement and overtopping of the dam, which would result in large uncontrolled releases and likely dam failure.
At issue is the proper interpretation of the law’s central provision barring the discharge of “any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source” without a permit. The term navigable waters, broadly defined as “waters of the United States,” does not generally include groundwater.
If you live on the West Coast, you may hear the term “atmospheric river” thrown around. These massive, fast-moving storm systems can transport more than 25 times the moisture as flows through the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Butte County may soon have a better idea of what lies beneath its surface. Starting in late November, a helicopter took off for several days from the Orland airport to fly a pattern over an area between Chico and Orland, and southeast into Butte Valley. Dangling beneath the helicopter was a hoop loaded with devices that created a weak magnetic field and instruments that measured how that interacted with layers beneath the soil.
Crescent City Harbormaster Charlie Helms said he and commissioners are worried about sediment being deposited in the marina and the potential impact it could have on the commercial fleet. A new environmental document predicts the level of sediment released as a result of dam removal will be similar to what the river carries downstream during an average year.
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:
Each year, several thousand weather forecasters, researchers and climate scientists from all over the world gather for the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting to exchange ideas to improve weather prediction and understanding of climate change. This year, due to the partial federal government shutdown, hundreds of scientists will not attend the conference set to begin this weekend in Phoenix.
For two decades, the Hutchinsons and their neighbors in this rural enclave of Banning Heights tucked above the I-10 freeway have fought to have Southern California Edison repair a century-old system that carries water down the San Gorgonio mountains to their homes.
An arbiter has sided with five local tribes in a dispute over what San Diego County water officials argued was a request that left them with an unexpected $2.1 million budget deficit after the tribes won back lost water rights. The dispute arose after the federal government restored water rights to the San Luis Rey Indian Water Authority, which represents the tribes.
New California Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously said he favors a scaled-down Delta tunnel project. Whether he reappoints state water board chair Felicia Marcus will signal whether he wants the board to stand firm or back down on the flow requirements. His picks for top posts in the Natural Resources Agency will determine whether his administration goes along with a potential weakening of delta protections by the Trump administration — or fights it.
Everyone who diverts water is required to report to the State Water Board the amount they used. But Louis and Darcy Chacon reported an amount that just didn’t make sense. The Chacons reported they used more than 1 trillion acre-feet of water annually from 2009 to 2013, more than is available on the entire planet.
Due to rising average temperatures, snowpacks in the Great Basin appear to be transitioning from seasonal, with a predictable amount and melt rate, to “ephemeral,” or short-lived, which are less predictable and only last up to 60 days. “We might not get as much water into the ground, throwing off the timing of water for plant root systems, reducing our supply and use, and even affecting businesses such as tourism,” says lead researcher Rose Petersky.
In the latter half of 2018, both the federal and state governments released new climate change assessments that outline the projected course of climate change and its potential effects on water resources. At the December meeting of the California Water Commission, staff from the Department of Water Resources and the Delta Stewardship Council were on hand to present an overview of the newly released assessments.
Gloria Gray became chairwoman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Jan. 1 and made history, though not for the first time. She has two big goals: seeing through a controversial public works project to build two new California water tunnels and ensuring her agency is represented by a more diverse group of people.
Colorado River water managers were supposed to finish drought contingency plans by the end of the year. As it looks now, they’ll miss that deadline. If the states fail to do their job, the federal government could step in. Luke Runyon, a reporter with KUNC who covers on the Colorado River Basin recaps what’s been happening and why it’s so important.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive, but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry up. Now seeking water rights from the Green River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty, growing population.
Bharat Bhushan’s work focuses on finding nature-inspired solutions to societal problems. In this case, his research team looked to the desert to find life that survives despite limited access to water. The cactus, beetle and desert grasses all collect water condensed from nighttime fog. Bhushan’s team studied each of these living things and realized they could build a similar — albeit larger — system to allow humans to pull water from nighttime fog or condensation.
A broken water main in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles flooded streets and the parking lots of a fast foot restaurant and pharmacy. The rupture sent a torrent of water in the streets and flooded the parking lot of a Jack in the Box and a CVS Pharmacy.
Hemp production legalized under the 2018 farm bill could go beyond offering a new crop option for farmers facing drought in Western states—it also could save them water. Arizona, California, and New Mexico are among the states allowing hemp production in 2019 after the federal government removed the marijuana relative from its list of controlled substances. Supporters say the change comes at the right time as the region grapples with how agriculture fits into a drier future.
The report issued by California’s State Water Resources Control Board marks a key step in a decade-long effort to remove four hydroelectric dams and restore the health of the Klamath River. The dam-removal project is part of a broader effort by California, Oregon, federal agencies, Klamath Basin tribes, water users and conservation organizations to revitalize the basin, advance recovery of fisheries, uphold trust responsibilities to the tribes, and sustain the region’s farming and ranching heritage.
The USDA estimates gross cash receipts for the dairy industry to be down 9 percent from the previous year but estimates poultry receipts to be 7 percent higher. After several years of strong production, gross receipts for tree fruit and nuts are expected to be slightly lower. Likewise, vegetable gross receipts are expected to be down slightly, though consumption remains stable.
A new study out of Stanford University finds that 10 percent of the total carbon dioxide spewed from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho for power generation this century is the result of states turning to fossil fuels when water was too sparse to spin electrical turbines at dams.
Montgomery is known for fostering collaborative relationships among stakeholders and as a leader in protecting and restoring water quality within California and throughout the Southwest and the Pacific Islands. He is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Water Division in the US Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).
Prompted by the collapse of fish populations, the State Water Resources Control Board is trying to prevent humans from totally drying up these rivers each year. The regulators’ lodestar for how much water the rivers need is the amount of water a Chinook salmon needs to migrate.
At the end of the last century, the Sierra Nevada captured an average of 8.76 million acre-feet of water critical to the nation’s largest food-producing region. By mid-century, a new study projects, the average will fall to 4 million acre-feet; and by century’s end, 1.81 million acre-feet.
There’s every reason to expect that 2019 will be far better, largely because of Measure W, which was passed by voters in November. The initiative imposes a Los Angeles County parcel tax that will generate $300 million per year to reduce pollution from runoff and capture storm water to add to the water supply.
When it comes to California’s water supply, 2018 will end with a whimper. California’s two largest reservoirs are not even half full. The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which functions as an additional set of reservoirs, is below normal for this time of year. And there’s not a major storm in sight.
CANCELED: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold one hearing to provide interested parties the opportunity to present data, views, or information concerning the proposed rule changes affecting wetlands and ephemeral waters.
Over the past three years, the State Water Resources Control Board has conducted a public process to increase the water flowing to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta with the intent of improving declining fish populations. However, an increase in river flow means a reduction in supplies for Californians, who are dependent on them for their lives and livelihoods.
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.
Several dozen Northern California and Lane County residents picketed outside Roseburg Forest Products’ Springfield headquarters Tuesday, protesting what they call a water grab and frivolous lawsuit by the wood products company. About 50 people, some from the town of Weed, Calif., held signs … late Tuesday morning, objecting to what Roseburg Forest Products considers its water rights to the Beaughan Springs, which provides the main source of drinking water for Weed.