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.
Manteca is preparing to spend $14.3 million to make sure ground
water from five wells meet higher standards implemented by the
state of California when it comes to acceptable levels of
1,2,3-Trichloroprane — a Shell Oil and Dow Chemical product
used in certain soil fumigants area farmers used between 1950
and 1980 — that is found in drinking water.
Water is coming out from Friant Dam into the San Joaquin River.
The dam is at about 82 percent of capacity, and the warm
weather is melting the mountain snow. Michael Jackson, area
director for the Bureau of Reclamation, says the flow out of
the dam is being increased. Flood releases don’t usually start
until April, so the extra water is good news for valley
growers, with extra irrigation water available.
It’s done. The Colorado River Board of California voted 8-1-1
Monday to sign on to a multi-state drought contingency plan,
which, somewhat ironically, might not be needed for two years
because of an exceptionally wet winter. The Imperial Irrigation
District, a sprawling rural water district in the southeastern
corner of California, refused to sign on until the federal
government pledged to provide $200 million to clean up the
Salton Sea, which has not occurred.
Beginning in the 19th century, technological developments were
opening our access to groundwater as advancements in drilling
for extracting petroleum were spun off and developed for the
water well industry. Still, even into the 1940s, most pumping
reached only shallow depths of less than 30 feet, removing
water at modest rates. That changed radically after World War
II … Today, a little more than a half-century later, the
world gets about 35 percent of its fresh water this way, making
it a sizable—and quite new—development in world history.
It is interesting to go to water district meetings and see
diametrically opposite sides using the same arguments they have
used for years. No one is changing what they say even though an
election changed the political landscape quite a bit. … But
there are things we can do to intelligently frame the
discussion of what is feasible — based on our actual needs.
Our rules, cobbled over time from various state water right
decisions or federal biological opinions, are too rigid. …
Things are done by an aging book. We are not adapting our
management based on testing new hypotheses collaboratively
advanced by stakeholders who are willing to celebrate the
results regardless of outcome.
While high drama plays out in nations across the planet,
California has also been having a bit of drama — torrential
rains turning communities into isolated islands up north,
mudslides and flooding down south. So, it seems to make sense
that state officials have officially declared the latest
drought to be over, finished, soaked.
The view from my window here in central California is of a
front lawn almost as dried out as the fairways at Carnoustie,
Scotland. Like many of my neighbours I’m concerned about
climate change and with it the exorbitant price of water. After
my monthly bill tripled, I decided it was time for a new
strategy. I shut down the sprinkler system and tested a new
aesthetic. To my delight, I discovered that brown is beautiful.
Feasibility of a potential public buyout of California American
Water’s local water system should be based on a consulting
team’s advice on an acquisition plan that could succeed in a
public necessity court trial while seeking cost savings for
local ratepayers… That’s according to a recommendation from
Monterey Peninsula Water Management District general manager
Dave Stoldt to be considered on Monday.
The Bureau of Reclamation announced that the water allocation
for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) agricultural
water contractors has been increased from 35 percent to 55
percent. The increase is an improvement for the farmers and
farmworkers in the Westlands Water District, but, given the
healthy hydrological conditions throughout the state, today’s
announcement is a disappointment.
For the moment, Mother Nature is smiling on the Colorado River.
Enough snow has piled up in the mountains that feed the river
to stave off a dreaded shortage declaration for one more year,
according to federal projections released Friday afternoon.
A pending transfer in ownership of the Contra Costa Canal will
allow for upgrades in its water quality and safety, but it
could also make for changes for hikers and cyclists along some
of its trails. A bipartisan package of public lands bills
President Donald Trump signed Tuesday moves the Contra Costa
Water District a step closer to gaining ownership of the aging
Contra Costa Canal system.
A state environmental group is calling for the removal of an
old dam on the Eel River, contending it threatens the future of
protected salmon and steelhead while acknowledging it is a key
part of the North Bay’s water supply. Scott Dam, a 138-foot
concrete dam erected in 1922, is one of five aging dams
California Trout asserts are “ripe for removal” to benefit
their natural surroundings and communities.
The city of Oceanside is receiving more than $2.6 million in
federal funding to increase its local water supply and to
reduce brine discharge into the ocean. The city will receive
$2.623 million in funding from the Bureau of Reclamation’s
WaterSMART’s Desalination Construction Projects under the Water
Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN), subject
to federal appropriations.
Full and rising reservoirs from this winter’s storms have the
Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors poised to terminate
the drought-caused emergency declaration, although South Coast
purveyors are worried a water shortage will persist for an
extended time, according to a county staff report.
It may be a unique situation when a dam removal might mean more
water for farmers instead of less, but the Klamath Basin is a
unique place. A report released last summer by the Bureau of
Reclamation (BOR) is leading more and more Basin farmers and
ranchers to believe that dam removal may have something big to
On Thursday, Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) introduced
bipartisan legislation (H.R.1764) to support local water
infrastructure projects. … Congressman Garamendi’s
legislation would extend the maximum term for National
Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permits
issued under the federal Clean Water Act from 5 to 10 years, to
better reflect the construction schedules for public agencies.
West Side agriculture, the diverse industry which is the
background of the local economy, faces an array of challenges
in the year ahead. … Water continues to be an uncertainty for
growers served by federal agencies such as the Del Puerto Water
District which runs along the I-5 corridor, despite heavy snow
packs and filling reservoirs.
Climate change is having a profound effect on the millions of
migrating birds that rely on annual stops along the Pacific
Flyway as they head from Alaska to Patagonia each year. They
are finding less food, saltier water and fewer places to breed
and rest on their long journeys, according to a new paper in
Nature’s Scientific Reports.
For the first time in eight years, California is drought-free.
According to the United States Drought Monitor, which uses data
from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parts of
the most northern and southern counties are still “abnormally
dry,” but the state has no drought conditions to show. Could
the drought’s end mark the return of practices such as
excessive lawn-watering? Not necessarily.
Political leaders responsible for the Paso Robles Groundwater
Basin are launching discussions about which
multi-million-dollar water projects could help solve the
aquifer’s woes—and how basin pumpers will pay for them. In the
future, the basin, which serves much of Paso Robles wine
country, could start receiving water from the State Water
Project, Lake Nacimiento, and/or the Salinas Dam.
Ventura has released reports detailing the environmental
impacts of two sizable projects expected to increase the city’s
water supply and reliability… One involves tapping into the
city’s long-held investment into state water. The other project
would capture effluent from Ventura’s wastewater treatment
plant, treat it and turn it into drinking water.
Poseidon is a bad deal for ratepayers. The study by the experts
at MWDOC ranked Poseidon dead last among local water projects
based on cost. Even after demanding a $400 million subsidy
financed by Southern California water users, Poseidon’s water
is still overpriced, costing twice per gallon as much as some
of the conservation, recycling and rainwater projects already
in development around our region.
As the Trump administration moves toward a drought contingency
plan for the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is
pushing legislation that would exempt its work from
environmental reviews. That includes potential impacts on what
has emerged as a major sticking point in the drought
negotiations: Southern California’s Salton Sea, a public health
and ecological disaster.
Blockbuster claims in a lawsuit that a racist, sexist, corrupt
culture contributed to the near-catastrophic failure of
Oroville Dam two years ago can go forward, a Sacramento judge
ruled Thursday. The decision … sets the stage for what
plaintiffs’ attorneys vow will be a deep dive into claims of a
poisonous work culture that nearly disastrously compromised the
nation’s tallest dam.
For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her
energy to issues associated with management of the Colorado
River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the
Colorado River Commission of Nevada. Now her career is taking a
different direction. Harkins was appointed last August to take
the helm of the United States section of the International
Boundary and Water Commission, the U.S.-Mexico agency that
oversees myriad water matters between the two countries…
The Glory Hole’s inlet is 72 feet in diameter and the outlet
shrinks down to 28-feet wide. Right now, the water is coming
out at 3,800 cubic feet per second. Just in case you are
wondering, that is enough water to fill an Olympic-sized pool
every 23.2 seconds.
North County political leaders responsible for the health of
the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin are launching discussions
about which multi-million-dollar water projects could help
solve the aquifer’s woes—and how basin pumpers will pay for
A week after the Marina Planning Commission unanimously
rejected a key desalination project permit, California American
Water has filed an appeal of the decision to the Marina City
Council. On Wednesday, Cal Am filed the appeal to the council,
arguing the planning commission erred in its denial of a
coastal development permit for parts of the proposed desal
Thanks to a wet winter across the state, the entirety of
California is free of drought for the first time since 2011,
according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s Thursday update. Don’t
confuse that with former Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 2017
announcement that the statewide drought had officially ended.
The 2018 Farm Bill is an example of bipartisanship and what can
be accomplished when leaders from both sides of the aisle work
together for a common cause. The Farm Bill is America’s food
bill and for years it has given support to farming communities.
It also serves as a safety net for the old, young and working
If, as being widely reported, the Colorado River basin states
… ultimately decide to proceed with a Lower Colorado River
Basin Drought Contingency Plan that cuts out the Imperial
Irrigation District (IID), no one should be surprised. It’s
simply continuing a long, and perhaps successful, tradition of
basin governance by running over the “miscreant(s)”.
The chances for passage this year of legislation to jump-start
serious water planning in New Mexico, including by pumping
millions of dollars into the effort, evaporated last week when
a Senate committee tabled a key bill.
On March 6, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issued a public
Environmental Assessment on the Operations Plan for the Klamath
Irrigation Project. … It will definitely decide how many
Chinook salmon people have for harvest for Tribal members and
commercial fishermen. It could also return us to the days where
84-92 percent of the juvenile salmon died in the Klamath River
and reignite the Klamath River water wars…
Recent rains have left the San Joaquin Valley’s reservoirs in
better shape, but groundwater depletion and the resulting
ground subsidence continue to beset farmers and water managers.
What will this year hold? … Your best opportunity to
understand the challenges and opportunities of this vital
resource in the nation’s breadbasket is to join us on our
Central Valley Tour April 3-5.
A system that transfers and diverts water from the Eel River
basin has been in Pacific Gas and Electric’s control for over
35 years, but the utility’s bankruptcy filing in January —
coupled with its interest in either selling or abandoning the
project — has Humboldt County officials intent on closely
following what happens next.
Sacramento law makers have shown little interest in helping the
Valley solve its water problems yet the only path forward is to
get them to take interest in the area that grows most of the
state, and the nation’s food. A panel discussion last Wednesday
at the Citrus Showcase, an industry conference for growers
hosted by Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual (CCM),
discussed the looming deadline for local governments to comply
with the Groundwater Sustainability Management Act (SGMA).
Bonds to continue the next phase of an improvement program are
critical to the Tahoe Basin. That was the message delivered to
the Nevada Assembly Government Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks, said the $8 million in
this biennium’s bonding package will cover Nevada’s share of
the Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program for two years.
Hundreds of Bakersfield agriculture, oil and political leaders
came together March 7 to examine the challenges and
opportunities associated with providing California residents
and businesses with a secure, reliable supply of clean water.
Lest the wet winter create a sense of complacency around one of
the state’s most vital needs, specialists from various fields
urged collective attention to the costly and increasingly
complex problems that surround sourcing, storing and conveying
A bill introduced by a state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San
Francisco) that will address ocean acidification and water
quality issues has been introduced and it’s being supported by
a wide variety of stakeholders. Senate Bill 69, authored by
Wiener, is aimed at reducing land-based sources of pollutants,
the restoration of wetlands and the sequestration of greenhouse
gases and to protect wildlife and keystone species.
The city of Sacramento has approved a $2.9 million contract
that will allow construction of a new sewage vault underneath
McKinley Park. The goal of the project is to provide a place to
store sewage during wet weather, when stormwater runoff — and
wastewater — can end up in the same place, and overflow can
send it all into East Sacramento’s streets.
Imperial Valley officials are reportedly close to finishing an
important habitat restoration project at the Salton Sea. The
remake of Red Hill Bay was supposed to be a model for a
management plan around the shrinking lake, but the effort is
two years overdue and still months away from completion. The
Salton Sea needs a management plan because water is evaporating
faster than it’s being replaced…
Implementing the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act—which requires overdrafted groundwater basins to achieve
balance between supply and demand by the 2040s—could require
taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of
production in the San Joaquin Valley. … We talked to Soapy
Mulholland, president and CEO of Sequoia Riverlands Trust,
about this impending challenge.
A bill from Sen. Bill Dodd that would increase legislative
oversight of the controversial Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
WaterFix project and allow for more public scrutiny has cleared
its first committee hurdle. The action comes less than a month
after Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wants to scale back the project
proposed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to a single tunnel.
Local officials have received an OK to divert more water into
Lake Casitas, years after prolonged drought conditions shrunk
the reservoir to historic lows. But the new measures were in
effect just a matter of days and just for one storm.
When an atmospheric river meets mountainous terrain like the
Sierra Nevada, the water vapor condenses and becomes rain or
snow. Strong atmospheric rivers can bring about floods and
landslides, but the water and snowpack they leave behind
provide California with 25 to 50 percent of its yearly
precipitation in just a few days.
It won’t arrive in time for this wet winter, but hopes are
rising that Central Valley politicians will soon deliver on one
of their top political goals in recent years: investment in
California water storage. Bills introduced last week by
Bakersfield Republicans in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.,
would redirect money from the state’s high-speed rail project
toward a series of reservoir projects, as well as repairs to a
canal serving Kern County farmers.
Rebuffed by an Arizona House panel, a Globe lawmaker convinced
a Senate committee Tuesday that Pinal County farmers should get
$20 million more to help drill new wells to replace Colorado
River water they will give up. The 6-3 vote by the Senate
Appropriations Committee came after Republican Rep. David Cook
argued the farmers were promised the cash as part of the
drought contingency plan enacted by in January.
A project offering to triple Santa Barbara County’s oil
production continues stirring debate. Environmentalists believe
a proposal to add dozens of oil wells in Cat Canyon could
trigger the next oil spill and contaminate the Santa Maria
Groundwater Basin, while supporters insist it would boost the
local economy by adding jobs and tax revenue.
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.
California’s recent drought may have officially ended, but the
state’s water data drought remains in full effect. Shockingly,
we don’t always know the answers to basic questions such as how
much water is available in our state, let alone where and when.
That’s why improving California’s woefully deficient stream
gage network should be a top priority for the state.
Environmental groups Monday asked a federal appeals court to
reconsider a ruling that struck down part of a high-profile
removal plan for four dams on the Klamath River in California
and Oregon, saying it set a precedent that would exempt dozens
of dams nationwide from meeting water quality standards.
Rising temperatures, rising sea levels and a disappearing
snowpack were part of a scary story told to SCV Water Agency
officials recently as they learned the effects of climate
change over the next 100 years. … The latest climate
assessment was intended to advance “actionable science” that
would serve the growing needs of state and local-level
decision-makers from a variety of sectors.
In the midst of the wet winter storms bringing rain and snow to
California this year, you might not expect drought preparations
to be among the state’s current priorities. And yet, they need
to be. In this post, I’ll explore why to set the stage for a
blog series that explores what the state can do to prepare for
the more frequent and intense droughts we expect in
California’s future. The series draws on work my colleagues and
I did for California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment.
The sandy playa that used to be underwater is now being baked
by the sun and blown around by the winds that frequently scour
the desert floor here. The dust is tiny and can easily get
airborne. That is a public health crisis for a region already
suffering from some of California’s highest asthma rates.
California’s Central Valley is already the bread basket for the
nation. But now a new Oakdale company — in partnership with the
University of California, Davis — wants to help make it the
hemp capital of the country. The California Hemp Corporation
was formed by Oakdale residents Jeff McPhee and Kent Kushar
last year… “We want to grow hemp up and down the San Joaquin
Valley, just like every other one of our crops,” McPhee said.
“This crop will change California.”
California’s state water agency is set to appeal a federal
determination that some of the Oroville Dam’s reconstruction
costs are ineligible for reimbursement. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency last week approved an additional $205 million
for the project, on top of the $128.4 million it sent last
year, according to the state Department of Water Resources. But
FEMA officials told the state they likely won’t fund some
portions of the 2-year, estimated $1.1 billion rebuilding
effort that followed the Oroville Dam’s near-failure in
A proposal to add 187 new steam-injected oil wells and a new
natural gas pipeline in West Cat Canyon will be considered by
the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission when it meets
Wednesday in Santa Maria. Project opponents have said they
intend to stage a demonstration outside and speak against the
project that would have significant impacts on biological,
surface water and groundwater resources and would increase
noise, according to the environmental impact report.
California has faced an unprecedented series of mega-wildland
fires over the past decade – some of the most destructive and
deadly in American history. On Wednesday, a joint hearing of
the Senate Governance and Finance Committee and the Senate
Natural Resources and Water Committee will review residential
development in some of the Golden State’s most fire prone
regions and how state and local governments can keep residents
safe in communities that are within the Wildland Urban
A central tension for Paradise in the coming months is the
health of the water system. … The fire, however, unleashed
benzene and other volatile chemicals into the water system. The
chemicals are not in the water coming from the treatment plant.
They’re in the pipes beneath the town. The Paradise Irrigation
District is the utility that serves Paradise. It’s trying to
isolate the contamination in the system, but turning water on
to returning residents makes that process even harder.
It’s not often that communities in California and Louisiana
face similar water challenges. California is better known for
having too little water and Louisiana too much – both
challenges exacerbated by climate change. But record-setting
wet winter weather led both states last week to release
significant amounts of water from reservoirs and rivers to
prevent flooding, underscoring the need for new approaches to
build climate-resilient communities across the country.
Santa Monica will experience more frequent droughts and coastal
flooding, hotter temperatures and poorer air quality as the
world’s climate changes throughout the next century. However,
officials said the city’s geography and the City of Santa
Monica’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP) will shield
residents from some of the impacts of climate change. The plan,
released last month, describes how the city will ensure
residents have affordable water during droughts, contain sea
level rise and deal with high heat days.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on
Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark
Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder
more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead
from falling to dangerously low levels. With California signed
on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the
multi-state agreement before it takes effect. The MWD board
took the step over the objections of the Imperial
Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest
allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.
This particular California winter has unfolded in good news/bad
news fashion. Courtesy of a string of recurring atmospheric
rivers, potent storms have caused flooding, power outages and
canceled flights. But they have also lifted all but a thin
slice of the state near the Oregon border completely out of
It’s a growing problem many say cannot be solved by
firefighters alone. Enter the Cal Poly W.U.I. F.I.R.E
Institute. It stands for the Wildland Urban Interface Fire
Information Research and Education Institute. Turner is working
with Cal Poly staff like forest management professor Chris
Dicus to create a collaborative space for research, training,
On February 14, 2019, the California Office of the State Fire
Marshall (“OSFM”) published long awaited draft regulations to
reduce the volume of pipeline oil spills in coastal areas. The
proposed regulations, which implement AB 864 (2015), will
impose substantial and costly burdens on companies that own and
operate pipelines within California near environmentally and
ecologically sensitive areas
It started with the desert lilies in December. Since then a
wave of wildflower blooms has been crescendoing across Southern
California’s Anza-Borrego desert in a burst of color so vivid
it can be seen from mountain tops thousands of feet above.
The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to
shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board
voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the
drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water
than anyone else. That agency, the Imperial Irrigation
District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal
government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton
Every spring, a group called the Pacific Fishery Management
Council gets together and looks at the salmon forecasts from
the Puget Sound all the way down to the Sacramento River in
California….The Sacramento River runs are expected to rebound
a bit, but the Klamath and Columbia River forecasts are lower
than last year.
The Trump administration released its 2020 budget request on
Monday, proposing major cuts to federal government spending.
While the cuts are unlikely to become reality — Congress has
rejected many of Trump’s previous requests — the budget is an
important signal of the administration’s priorities and
suggests a major funding fight in October.
A process is underway that’s extremely important, and likely to
be way over most of our heads. The Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act was passed in 2014, which set deadlines for
local agencies to come up with plans to manage the water
beneath them “… without causing undesirable results.”
In this edition of In Depth we take on two water topics. First,
there’s growing concern that a lot of the rainwater we’ve been
getting is just going down the drain and out to sea. We plumb
the depths of California’s water system to find out where it’s
coming up short and what can be done to fix it. Then, new
research suggests that the historical link between wet winters
and less severe fire seasons has broken down. We discuss why
even in the rainiest of years, we still can’t count out
It seems like a simple question: How many people can Southern
Nevada support with the water it has now? But the answer is far
from easy. The number can swing wildly depending on a host of
variables, including the community’s rates of growth and
conservation and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
(Last in the paper’s Water
San Luis Obispo County supervisors are exploring what it’d take
to bolster the county’s authority in issuing groundwater well
permits. Following a report about groundwater conditions in the
Adelaida region of the North County on Feb. 26, the Board of
Supervisors voted unanimously to have its staff look at how it
could increase the level of review and discretion the county
has over approving or denying well applications.
The Napa County Planning Commission is sending the
controversial, draft Water Quality and Tree Protection
Ordinance back to the Board of Supervisors with a few
recommended changes, but no sea change in direction.
Commissioners heard from about 50 speakers on Wednesday. Some
warned that too many additional environmental restrictions will
hurt farming. Some said that bold action is needed to protect
drinking water and combat climate change.
The San Joaquin Valley is in a time of great change. Decades of
groundwater overuse have caused drinking water and irrigation
wells to go dry, increased the amount of energy required to
pump water, harmed ecosystems, and reduced the reserves
available to cope with future droughts. Groundwater overdraft
has also caused land to sink, damaging major regional
infrastructure, including canals that deliver water across the
Months of record rain and snowfall has officially lifted the
Central Valley — and much of the state — out of official
drought conditions. Just 1 percent of California is
experiencing moderate drought conditions, according to the U.S.
Drought Monitor. That’s a far cry from 2014 when 54 percent of
the state was in severe drought. With the drought declared dead
in California, will Tulare County cities begin to ease
restrictions on residential watering?
When congress passed the CWA in 1972, they made it clear in
documents accompanying the legislation that they supported “the
broadest possible constitutional interpretation” of protected
waters of the United States.
Much of the United States could be gripped by significant water
shortages in just five decades’ time, according to predictions
made in a new study. … In the researchers’ projections, water
supply is likely to be under threat in watersheds in the
central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central
Rocky Mountain States, California, and areas in the South
(especially Florida) and the Midwest.
When then-candidate Donald Trump swung through California in
2016, he promised Central Valley farmers he would send more
water their way. Allocating water is always a fraught issue in
a state plagued by drought, and where water is pumped hundreds
of miles to make possible the country’s biggest agricultural
economy. Now, President Trump is following through on his
promise by speeding up a key decision about the state’s water
supply. Critics say that acceleration threatens the integrity
of the science behind the decision, and cuts the public out of
There’s still a lot scientists don’t know about the yin-yang
interaction between fire and water. Of particular interest is
better understanding how the heat intensity of wildfires
changes the the water content of burned soil. The science
behind such work is known as hydrology, which studies the
properties, distribution and circulation of water on or below
the earth’s surface.
Bills introduced last week by Bakersfield Republicans in
Sacramento and Washington, D.C., would redirect money from the
state’s high-speed rail project toward reservoir projects, as
well as repairs to Friant-Kern Canal. … The proposals by U.S.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy and state Assemblyman Vince Fong seize upon
a common frustration among many valley Republicans that
billions of state and federal dollars dedicated to high-speed
rail would be better spent on capturing water from wet years…
Oregon’s dam safety regulations are getting an overhaul, for
the first time in nearly a century. A bill pending in the
Legislature would rewrite the laws governing construction,
inspections and enforcement authority for hundreds of
state-regulated dams. The bill would increase the state’s power
to force owners of aging, dangerous dams to do maintenance and
make repairs. And it would require state approval and oversight
of all new dam construction and removal of old dams.
Plenty of snow in the Sierra and lots of rain just about
everywhere else in California have helped alleviate drought
conditions across the state. But there’s also another positive
byproduct of the wet winter — a likely boost in the amount of
hydroelectricity in California’s energy mix.
Recycled water’s been such a good deal for Orange County, the
water district is spending $140 million to expand its capacity
to purify wastewater by 30 percent. It starts in Fountain
Valley where the water district operates a 24-acre facility
that takes sewage fom the sanitation plant next door and
converts it into millions of gallons a day of pure H2O. OC
Water District President Shawn Dewane said the cost is 30
percent cheaper than imported water.
The story behind the salmon success on the Mokelumne goes back
to the 1970s when the Commercial Salmon Fishing Association
petitioned the state to increase salmon production via a tax on
the commercial fishermen. The idea was to assure a viable
commercial fishery into the future and the commercial anglers
would be willing to pay the cost of extra production. Their
funds went into the hatchery system as well as habitat
Millions of Californians could end up with higher water bills
after the Trump administration on Friday announced that federal
emergency officials aren’t going to reimburse the state for
$306 million in repairs to Oroville Dam stemming from the 2017
spillway crisis. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said
federal taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for problems that
existed prior to a massive hole forming in the dam’s concrete
spillway in February 2017…
Political disputes, interstate suspicion and funding concerns
have long been a fact of life when it comes to the Colorado
River. Those same factors now are delaying a final agreement on
how to handle drought in the river basin. But, at least none of
the states involved has called out its navy. Arizona did that
85 years ago to prevent completion of Parker Dam, the concrete
structure on the Colorado River that backs up Lake Havasu on
the border between California and Arizona.
When it opened in 1951, the Friant-Kern Canal carried at least
4,000 cubic feet of water per second along its route from
Millerton Lake, north of Fresno, to Bakersfield. Then something
unfortunate happened. A 25-mile stretch of land between Terra
Bella and Pixley began to sink, and kept sinking, to the point
that the canal’s gravity-powered water flow has slowed to about
1,700 cubic feet per second. … Federal and state officials
would like to restore the canal to its original capacity, as
would the seven municipalities and 18,000 family farms using
the canal. But how? And where would money for repairs come
The Colorado River’s federal managers have projected that if
dry conditions continue, they could be unable to deliver any
water at all to downstream users (including Phoenix, Tucson,
Los Angeles, and San Diego) within five years. That’s the
doomsday scenario that has led the Colorado River’s water
managers and users to the cusp of adopting the Drought
Contingency Plan, a temporary yet broad agreement to reduce
water use and ensure that the reservoirs continue to provide a
reliable water supply.
Rescues of unhealthy seals and sea lions have nearly tripled
for this time of year in Orange County, according to the
Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which this week took in its 41st
pinniped since the year began. … While the exact reason for
the increase in the number of strandings this year is unknown,
Higuchi said it could be tied to warmer ocean waters caused by
an El Nino weather pattern or excess stormwater runoff from all
of this winter’s rains.
California is now the lone holdout on an emergency drought plan
for the Colorado River, and the other river states are turning
up the heat to get the deal done. Representatives from Nevada
and five other Western states sent a letter to California on
Saturday urging water officials there to set aside their
concerns and “and immediately and unconditionally approve” the
so-called Drought Contingency Plan.
The question comes up with every dire media report or bleak new
forecast about the Colorado River: How much longer can Nevada’s
largest community continue to rely on a single source of water
to power its prosperity? It’s an important question, maybe the
most important. No Southwestern state gets less water from the
river than Nevada. No major city depends on that water more
than Las Vegas. But the Colorado is in trouble. (Part 1 of 8 in
The Crossroads Open Space soccer field in Santa Maria is filled
with water thanks to the most recent storm. Located on S.
College Dr., the field also serves as a basin to collect storm
runoff. The city says the water will soak into the ground,
recharging the groundwater basin.
Local growers and others met Friday for a triple tour of Madera
County water users and an on-farm groundwater recharge workshop
Wednesday. Participants visited AgriLand Farming Company in
Chowchilla, Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Fairmead, and
the Ellis Recharge Basin in northeast Madera. These include
farmers struggling “to figure out how to farm” under the
state’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which
requires the formation of local agencies to manage underground
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved $205 million
to reimburse California for the Oroville Dam spillway
reconstruction costs, the state Department of Water Resources
announced Thursday. … However, FEMA has notified DWR that it
doesn’t think some of the reconstruction costs are eligible for
California farmer Brenton Kelly still remembers how the Cuyama
Valley used to be. The valley, located in California’s Central
Coast region, has long been home to an abundance of wildlife.
Historically, the land has been used for cattle pastures, and
featured “beautiful rolling grassy hill” and an “amazing
wildflower show,” according to Kelly. These days, however, the
land has been taken over by large commercial farms and
vineyards, Kelly said. … Among some of the corporations that
have expanded into the region in recent years is an unlikely
investor — the Harvard Management Company. HMC, the
University’s investment arm, oversees Harvard’s nearly $40
Hundreds of Bakersfield agriculture, oil and political leaders
came together Thursday to examine the challenges and
opportunities associated with providing California residents
and businesses with a secure, reliable supply of clean water.
Lest the wet winter create a sense of complacency around one of
the state’s most vital needs, specialists from various fields
urged collective attention to the costly and increasingly
complex problems that surround sourcing, storing and conveying
water across the Golden State.
The announcement by Mayor Eric Garcetti last month that Los
Angeles will recycle all the wastewater produced at the
Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant by 2035 signals an end to the
era of addressing water shortages by importing water from
far-flung places and initiates a long-anticipated era of
reusing locally available supplies. The shift will require L.A.
residents to understand both the necessity of the plan and the
technology that will produce safe water.
Environmentalists and rural water users expressed broad support
last week for a bill that would create small water reserves in
aquifers across Nevada. Senate Bill 140, sponsored by
Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea of Eureka, Nev., aims to
prevent regulators from issuing more rights to water than there
is water available, an issue already playing out in more than
100 groundwater basins.
What better way to decompress from a stressful federal
government job than by trekking 2,600 miles on foot from Mexico
to Canada? That’s what Jared Blumenfeld, the new head of the
California Environmental Protection Agency, did three years
ago, setting out on the arduous and beloved Pacific Crest Trail
that traces California’s searing deserts, rugged mountains and
Congressman Kevin McCarthy introduced legislation
Thursday to repurpose federal funding for the high-speed rail
project. The Repurposing Assets to Increase Long-term Water
Availability and Yield (RAILWAY) Act would take funding from
the high-speed rail project and use it for water infrastructure
projects in California and the West… McCarthy’s proposed
legislation is cosponsored by every Republican member of the
California Congressional Delegation.
Recent plans to enlarge California’s Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet
have raised concerns over possible cultural and ecological
implications on wildlife among the Winnemem Wintu people and
environmental groups alike. … The change in flood patterns
would likely affect vital sacred sites for the Winnemen Wintu
Puberty Ceremony for young women, according to the Winnemem
Wintu website. The project would also relocate roads,
railroads, bridges and marinas, according to a fact sheet from
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin
again, this time more intelligently.” Rules enacted a decade
ago that were intended to protect California’s iconic salmon
and Delta smelt populations aren’t working and federal agencies
are now in the process of modernizing them, this time using
much better science.
Yes, it’s caused traffic jams, power outages and even some
floods. But there’s a big ray of good news behind all the rain
that California has been receiving this year. Soaked by
relentless storms, California as of this week has less land
area in drought status than at any time in the last seven
In November, a wall of flames fueled by dry forests and wooden
structures tore through this Sierra foothill town like the dogs
of Hell. … Beneath the blast furnace heat that incinerated
buildings and vehicles above ground, an intricate network of
drinking water pipes below the surface became so contaminated
with toxic chemicals that many are unusable. The extent of the
damage and exactly how the poisons accumulated in the pipes of
Paradise and in the smaller, neighboring districts served by
Del Oro Water Company is not known.
Former Interior Secretary and Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt
will be the distinguished speaker at the 2019 Anne J. Schneider
Memorial Lecture on April 3 at the Crocker Art Museum in
downtown Sacramento. Babbitt’s talk is titled “Parting the
Waters — Will It Take a Miracle?”
The Success Dam Enlargement Project, headed by the US Army
Corps of Engineers, has been working its way towards
construction since October 2018. … On Tuesday morning the
timeline was published, and it reveals that construction on the
Success Dam Enlargement Project will begin in mid 2020. Until
then, plenty of work is scheduled to happen before construction
The Trump Administration has ordered federal biologists to
speed up critical decisions about whether to send more water
from Northern California to farmers in the Central Valley, a
move that critics say threatens the integrity of the science
and cuts the public out of the process. The decisions will
control irrigation for millions of acres of farmland in the
country’s biggest agricultural economy, drinking water for
two-thirds of Californians from Silicon Valley to San Diego,
and the fate of endangered salmon and other fish.
Deadly severe wildfires in California have scientists
scrutinizing the underlying factors that could influence future
extreme events. Using climate simulations and paleoclimate data
dating back to the 16th century, a recent study looks closely
at long-term upper-level wind and related moisture patterns to
For California’s salmon fishermen, the downstream effects of
political decisions in Washington are too obvious to ignore.
It’s not merely a question of profit for us. We are the
stewards of the public fisheries resources who rely on their
long-term health for our existence. The viability of our future
can be challenged by who is in power in Washington, no matter
who they are.
Swollen rivers and creeks fed by atmospheric-river storms
caused flooding with both short-term and long-term impacts for
California farmers. Mary Ann Renner, a dairy farmer in the
Humboldt County town of Ferndale, said the flood from the Eel
River was not the worst she’s seen—but was close.
A recently completed study on the cost effectiveness and
financial risk of proposals to meet water supply demands
through 2050 concludes that the controversial Poseidon
desalination project in Huntington Beach would produce more
water than the Orange County basin needs and cost ratepayers
far more than alternatives such as recycling and capturing
Heavy rains this winter will help replenish groundwater
aquifers and benefit projects that use excess surface water to
recharge groundwater basins. At the California Department of
Water Resources, planners focus on a voluntary strategy known
as Flood-MAR, which stands for “managed aquifer recharge.” The
strategy combines floodwater operations and groundwater
management in an effort to benefit working landscapes, and
could also aid local groundwater agencies as they implement the
state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Water is starting to seep down the rebuilt Oroville Dam
spillway. California Department of Water Resources officials
said Wednesday this is common and will not affect the operation
of the dam’s gates, which are not watertight. … Both
spillways at the 770-foot earthen dam, the nation’s tallest,
collapsed in February 2017, forcing nearly 200,000 people
downstream to evacuate.
Residents of Allensworth, a historic town established by a
former slave, have struggled with clean water access for
decades. … The community’s water system comes from two
blended wells, serving 521 residents with 156 connections. A
chlorination process removes most harmful bacteria, but the
water still tests high for arsenic, a known carcinogen that
damages the kidneys.
People interested in state-mandated plans to manage local
groundwater can get an update Thursday evening in Chico. …
The meeting 6-8 p.m Thursday at the Masonic Family Center, 1110
W. East Ave., is focused on a newly approved planning area that
includes Chico and Durham, and stretches north and west to the
Tehama County line and the Sacramento River, and south and east
to Butte Valley and the northern border of the Western Canal
Cleaning up and protecting U.S. drinking water from a class of
toxic chemicals used in many household items could cost in the
tens of billions of dollars nationally, witnesses testified
Wednesday before a House panel urging the federal government to
move more quickly on the cleanup. … The compounds, called
perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have
been used for decades. Water sampling shows the contaminant …
has seeped into many public water systems in the United States
and globally, including around military bases and industries.
The moment a lone duck was sucked into a 200ft-deep drain at a
reservoir in northern California – and reportedly survived –
has been captured on video. Known locally as the “Glory Hole”,
the giant spillway is designed to capture excess water at Lake
Berryessa reservoir in Napa County. Rick Fowler, the lake’s
water resources manager, filmed the bird as it drifted towards
the fast-swirling vortex and dropped down into the hole.
Lawmakers in Colorado want the U.S. state to study the
potential of blockchain technology in water rights management.
Republican senator Jack Tate, along with representatives Jeni
James Arndt (Democratic) and Marc Catlin (Republican), filed
senate bill 184 on Tuesday, proposing that the Colorado Water
Institute should be granted authority to study how blockchain
technology can help improve its operations.
Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday that managers at the city’s
wastewater plant have been forced to release at least 250
million gallons of treated sewage into two creeks and the
nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa amid record inflow to the facility
that began in last week’s storm. The three-day deluge pushed
more than five times the normal flow of wastewater and runoff
into the city’s Laguna de Santa Rosa plant. It was the highest
inflow ever recorded at the site, according to the city.
In some California basins, sustainable groundwater management
can mean the difference between whether a species goes extinct
or a community’s drinking water becomes contaminated. The
stakes are high. Felice Pace, an activist who works for the
North Coast Stream Flow Coalition, talks to Clean Water Action
about salmon, surface flows, and the importance of community
involvement in the Smith and Scott River Groundwater
Dam by dam, owners of smaller hydroelectric projects around the
West look at them with a cold eye as relicensing looms. Created
with optimism a century ago, dams are now seen as fish-killers
and river-distorters. New energy sources are getting cheaper.
After decades of operation, owners approach relicensing knowing
that, if they are to continue generating a single watt of
electricity, they must fix the problems.
During our three-day Central Valley Tour April 3-5, you will
meet farmers who will explain how they prepare the fields,
irrigate their crops and harvest the produce that helps feed
the nation and beyond. We also will drive through hundreds of
miles of farmland and visit the rivers, dams, reservoirs and
groundwater wells that provide the water.
The state Department of Water Resources announced that releases
from the powerplant were being increased from 1,750 cubic feet
per second to 5,000 cfs. Ten-day projections show the lake
reaching 835 feet on March 14, according to DWR. The department
has said it does not anticipate that it will utilize the
rebuilt Oroville Dam spillway anytime soon; however, crews have
been making preparations in case its use becomes necessary. The
spillway becomes usable once water reaches its gates at 813
feet, which should happen Tuesday morning.
The dramatic shift from dry to wet this winter hints at what’s
to come. Scientists predict that California’s total
precipitation will remain close to constant in the future, but
it will fall in a shorter window of time, with more of it as
rain. The state will also experience greater variability—more
very wet and more very dry years. These findings highlight the
need to capture rainfall and improve aging infrastructure.
Here’s what to expect from California’s wet seasons, now and in
With another deadline missed Monday, the head of the Bureau of
Reclamation is now looking for the governors in the states in
the Colorado River basin to tell her what they think she should
do to keep water levels from dropping even lower. But there’s
just two weeks for them to do that.
The extra water from Shasta Lake would raise the lake by an
estimated 20 feet, inundating the McCloud River, which is
protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. That piece of
legislation was designed to protect the trout that heavily
populate those waters. And it’s not just state law that speaks
out. One of the provisions of the 1992 Central Valley Project
Improvement Act is to protect fisheries up and down the state’s
major rivers. Raising Shasta Dam now would only be possible by
overturning those two laws.
The real-world implications of Gov. Newsom’s rejection of the
twin tunnels project became more apparent last week as the
Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation requested and were granted a 60-day stay of
hearings with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).
Office of Emergency Management Director Robert Lewin
recommended that the county Board of Supervisors terminate its
proclamation of a local emergency due to drought conditions,
which has been renewed every 60 days since January 2014. South
Coast water agencies don’t like the messaging of ending the
drought emergency, and said they have ongoing drought impacts,
including water shortages, and will need customers to keep
One of the key challenges facing newly formed local government
agencies responsible for groundwater management is to establish
and implement quantitative metrics for sustainability. To help
local agencies do this, a new report from Water in the West
examines how four special districts in California have
used quantitative thresholds to adaptively manage groundwater.
These case studies provide valuable insights on the development
and implementation of performance metrics and will be important
in guiding local agencies.
The big fear in the world of water management is that this big
gulp of wet weather will lead some Californians to think that
the drought is dead. … In a few weeks, the state’s Department
of Water Resources will be sending out its new water-saving
messages, and Niki Woodard, who is No. 2 in the department’s
public affairs office, sizes up how her department can navigate
around that waterlogged state of mind.
Gov. Gavin Newsom should immediately allow the thinning of
vegetation on almost 94,000 acres of state land in a bid to
keep more than 200 communities safe, California fire officials
said Tuesday as they released a list of the state’s 35 most
critical fuel-reduction projects.
Days after Imperial Irrigation District officials said there
had been a breakthrough in negotiations with federal
officials to commit to the restoration of the Salton Sea
in a mammoth Colorado River drought plan, a top federal
official offered a different assessment. … The
Reclamation statement said it’s up to IID to decide when they
want to join the drought plan, indicating a possible avenue for
them to join later that would not stymie the entire agreement.
About half the Sycuan Indian tribe relies heavily on a single
groundwater well for water. The whole tribe now wants access to
the same water most San Diegans enjoy – Colorado River water,
Northern California water and desalinated Pacific Ocean water.
Most of San Diego’s state legislative delegation is pushing a
bill that could make it happen.
Dr. Ellen Bruno is an Assistant Cooperative Extension
Specialist in quantitative policy analysis at UC Berkeley. Her
research evaluates the effectiveness of different policy
instruments for improving the management of our increasingly
scarce water resources.
Scientists found that wet winter weather, historically a
predictor of more modest California fire seasons, is no longer
linked to less damaging fires. The link between more rain and
less fire fell apart thanks to modern fire management and
accelerating climate change, the study said. “It’s going to be
a problem for people, for firefighters, for society,” said
study co-author Alan Taylor, a Pennsylvania State University
Just months before the Woolsey Fire, Las Virgenes Mutual Water
District had joined CalWARN, a mutual assistance system set up
for water utilities. General manager Dave Pedersen had heard
about it from a neighboring agency. Before dawn Nov. 9, the
district requested emergency generators. Within a few hours,
they had gotten a response.
Working under a less-than-four-year deadline, Soquel Creek
Water District is fine-tuning the ‘where’ of its planned water
recycling plant construction. On Tuesday, district officials
will recommend the board split the Pure Water Soquel project
between two sites, with tertiary treatment at the city of Santa
Cruz’s Wastewater Treatment Facility and advanced purification
at the controversial new site in Live Oak.
The announcement by Mayor Eric Garcetti last month that Los
Angeles will recycle all the wastewater produced at the
Hyperion plant by 2035 signals an end to the era of addressing
water shortages by importing water from far-flung places and
initiates a long-anticipated era of reusing locally available
supplies. The shift will require L.A. residents to understand
both the necessity of the plan and the technology that will
produce safe water.
If California is going to prevent further depletion of aquifers
and survive droughts like the one that afflicted it from 2011
to 2017, the state will need to manage its groundwater usage.
In the central valley, a group of organizations is working on a
project that could stem the tide by combining two technologies:
the internet of things (IoT) and Blockchain.
The problem started on Feb. 17, when Paonia’s water operators
noted a loss of water in a 2 million gallon storage tank. A
team went out looking for a leak, but could not locate it. As
the leak continued, the town’s water system lost enough
pressure that the state of Colorado imposed a boil order. In
response, town officials declared a state of emergency.
San Diego County remains one of the few parts of the state to
still be labeled as abnormally dry, according to the drought
monitor. While rainfall this winter has already exceeded
average, the region is still recovering from a severe deficit
in precipitation, and researchers say impacts to vegetation and
reservoirs linger. Still, the San Diego region, which imports
nearly 80 percent of its water, has more than adequate supplies
to meet urban and agricultural demands.
The current dilemmas boil down to this: As the state punishes
cannabis growers in the Emerald Triangle for environmental
degradation, it is simultaneously pursuing an aqueduct project
in the Central Valley that environmental groups claim will
cause ecological harm of massive proportions. This project
stands to benefit the “big ag” industry, which California’s
newly legal cannabis companies are increasingly participating
A spectacular snowpack and a series of storms in the San
Joaquin Valley are bringing smiles to valley farmers’ faces. On
Friday, the Fresno Irrigation District started moving water to
farms in the cities of Fresno, Clovis, and their surrounding ag
land. While this isn’t an early start compared to typical
years, the water is especially welcome after several drought
Around 3,000 Santa Barbara County residents are being told to
evacuate their homes once again this week. Rainstorms
forecasted starting Tuesday are expected to be severe enough to
potentially cause debris flows and mudslides, especially with
One tunnel or two, neither idea adds a drop of the water to
needs of the nearly 40 million people who call California home.
The tunnels simply divert existing water supplies while putting
in severe jeopardy the largest freshwater estuary west of the
Mississippi River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that
juts into the western edge of Stockton. Clearly, there must be
better solutions. Three approaches leap to mind: storage,
conservation and desalination.
Four new voting members, each appointed by representatives of
the Delta region, would be added to the Delta Stewardship
Council if a bill authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier becomes
law. … Frazier introduced Assembly Bill 1194 this week. It
would increase the voting membership of the council to 11
After three difficult years when Chinook salmon population
numbers were down and fishing opportunities were limited,
commercial fishermen are hoping the upcoming season will
be better. “What we’re seeing is a better forecast of salmon in
the ocean this year than we saw last year,” said Harry Morse,
public information officer for the California Department of
Fish and Wildlife. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
A trial date has been set for Apple Valley’s eminent domain
lawsuit against Liberty Utilities, a case that will determine
whether the town will win the right to take the company’s water
system. … Liberty filed its CEQA suit a month after the Town
Council voted to take the company’s water system by eminent
domain. In court documents, the company alleged an “incomplete
and misleading” environmental impact report prepared for
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, working with Republican
Doug LaMalfa of the First District, have introduced the Sites
Reservoir Protection Act to support building the reservoir and
other water infrastructure in the Central Valley. The act, also
known as House Resolution 1453, would direct the Bureau of
Reclamation to complete a feasibility study for the project in
Colusa and Glenn counties.
Think California should build a lot more dams to catch these
deluges? Forget it. … There’s one dam being planned north of
Sacramento in Colusa County that makes sense: Sites. There are
also some dam expansion projects that could work. But
California is already dammed to the brim. Every river worth
damming has been. And some that weren’t worth it were dammed
There is water here in the Mojave Desert. A lot of it. Whether
to tap it on a commercial scale or leave it alone is a
decades-old question the Trump administration has revived and
the California legislature is visiting anew. … Soon after the
2016 election, the Trump transition team included Cadiz as
No. 15 on its priority list of “emergency and national
security” projects. Less than a year later, the administration
exempted the project from a federal review that the Obama
administration required because of the federal land involved in
the pipeline construction.
The winter wonderland conditions are in stark contrast to what
they were a year ago, when the outlook for California’s
reservoirs looked bleak. Sierra snowpack was at 19 percent of
historical levels and many parts of the state were experiencing
drought conditions. “Right now we’re not concerned about
drought at all,” Pete Fickenscher, a senior hydrologist at
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of
water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by
agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing,
and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and
recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life
as haven for artists.
It’s a treasure that is all too easy for Palo Alto to take for
granted — an abundant supply of pristine water that flows from
the Sierra Nevada snowpacks and passes through the Hetch Hetchy
system before splashing out of local showers and faucets. Palo
Alto is one of 25 cities that belong to the Bay Area Water
Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), which manages the
member cities’ supply agreement with the San Francisco Public
Utilities Commission. … Even so, the cities don’t always know
which projects they’re helping to fund.
To make a real structural shift, utilities must engage a
broader group of actors in the process, and that is where cap
and trade comes into play, this time for water systems. … A
smattering of cap-and-trade schemes already aim to address
water pollution in various water bodies. Yet most such trading
programmes have focused on water quality. Now their frameworks
must be expanded to account for water quantity, encouraging
efficiency, reinvestment, and supply diversification.
Oceanside announced it will receive a $2.6 million federal
grant to build two more of the wells that the city has used for
more than 20 years to supply a portion of its drinking water.
The wells pump brackish water from what’s called the Mission
Basin, an area near the airport, the old swap meet property and
the San Luis Rey River. The city filters the water using the
same reverse osmosis process used on a much larger scale in
Carlsbad to desalinate seawater.
Climate change plus population growth are setting the stage for
water shortages in parts of the U.S. long before the end of the
century, according to a new study in the AGU journal Earth’s
Future. Even efforts to use water more efficiently in municipal
and industrial sectors won’t be enough to stave off shortages,
say the authors of the new study. The results suggest
reductions in agricultural water use will probably play the
biggest role in limiting future water shortages.
Imperial Irrigation District officials announced at a special
board meeting late Friday that the federal Bureau of
Reclamation has agreed to their condition that the drought
contingency plan package include restoration of the Salton Sea.
They said federal officials will write a strong letter of
support backing IID’s requests for $200 million in Farm Bill
funding for wetlands projects around the shrinking sea, which
is California’s largest inland water body.
The results of testing 173 water samples were released at last
week’s board meeting of the Paradise Irrigation District and
revealed widespread contamination. Benzene, a known carcinogen,
was found in 32 percent of those samples, with an average level
of 27 parts per billion (the California drinking water standard
is 1 ppb). In the 35 samples that tested for additional
contaminants, over a dozen additional “volatile organic
chemicals” were found.
Yuba Water Agency is presenting a collaborative framework to
the State Water Resources Control Board today, a detailed plan
to improve fish and wildlife habitat conditions in the San
Francisco/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary watershed
(Bay-Delta), including fisheries enhancement measures on the
lower Yuba River.
A long-simmering, multi-million dollar dispute among coastal
Orange County water and sewage districts took a major step
toward resolution Wednesday, when a Superior Court judge issued
a tentative ruling that Moulton Niguel Water District is
obligated to pay outstanding bills to the South Orange County
Betting on water is a risky endeavor. Experts on water in
Arizona say that while it’s easy to start speculating on water,
cashing out is not. Would-be profiteers have to buy water or
land with rights to it. They have to work within the thicket of
laws and regulations governing water in Arizona and contend
with the fraught politics of Western water. The ability to
store water underground has also given rise to a market-like
system in Arizona in which people talk about diverse portfolios
and asset acquisitions.
For years, firefighters and airfield crews trained to ward off
flames by spraying thousands of gallons of foam fire
suppressants, which eventually seeped into groundwater and
could threaten to contaminate the Columbia River and a well
field that supplies drinking water to the city of Portland.
Recent testing uncovered high levels of an unregulated class of
harmful chemicals at two different sites in Northeast
Arizona state water regulators have confirmed that here may not
be enough water underground for dozens of planned developments
in Pinal County, new subdivisions that, if built, would bring
more than 139,000 homes. That finding is based on data the
Arizona Department of Water Resources has compiled that shows a
long-term groundwater shortage in the area is possible. The
data … raises red flags about growthand the water supply in
one of the fastest growing parts of the state.
When California’s new governor announced during his February 12
State of the State address that he didn’t support WaterFix as a
two-tunnel behemoth, he received a loud burst of applause. Yet,
in the next breath, when Newsom added he supported a one-tunnel
version, no applause followed. That’s partly because the
one-tunnel announcement hasn’t alleviated fears of people
living on the north side of the estuary. Hood, Clarksburg and
Courtland property owners still face the very real possibility
of being hit with eminent domain.
Complaints are mounting against Acting Interior Secretary David
Bernhardt over allegations he used his position to help the
interests of his former lobbying client, California’s powerful
Westlands Water District. The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center
filed a complaint accusing Bernhardt of ethics violations by
partaking in decisions directly related to his past lobbying
work, resulting in rules that would free up more river water to
Fresno-based Westlands and weakening protections for certain
endangered fish populations.
The aging, leaking Combie Canal, a concrete flume located along
a steep hillside above the Bear River, received the OK for a
nearly $20 million replacement Wednesday. The canal is a
“critical piece of infrastructure” that serves two water
treatment plants, Nevada Irrigation District staff say, with
more than half of the district’s flows for deliveries made
through the nearly 50-year-old system.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, introduced the Sites Reservoir
Protection Act Thursday to provide federal support for the
building of Sites Reservoir and other water infrastructures in
the Central Valley. The act, also known as House Resolution
1453, would direct the Bureau of Reclamation to complete a
feasibility study for the project Colusa and Glenn counties.
Ventura’s water commission appealed to the City Council this
week for help, citing a list of concerns ranging from stalled
projects to a lack of financial information. In a four-page
letter, the commission described a lack of progress on key
Ventura Water priorities over the past year and a half, saying
residents were left to pay the price for delays.
Plans to give Nevada’s top water official more flexibility to
wade into water rights disputes got a rough reception in the
state Legislature. Farmers, conservationists and American
Indians from Nevada and Utah turned out in opposition to the
proposals in two bills. No one spoke in support of measures
critics say would direct more water toward urban and suburban
development at the expense of farming, ranching and the
environment in rural valleys.
Funding awarded for the new Temperance Flat Dam may have fallen
short, but hopes for construction are still very much alive.
Jason Phillips, Director of Friant Water Authority and alumni
of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, has
insight as to why those involved with the project are still
We hope the move by MWD — which in 2016 had played
hardball of its own by linking its support of the Colorado
River drought plan to federal and state support of a Delta
water project — doesn’t again sidetrack true federal
involvement at the Salton Sea.
California is drenched and its mountains are piled high with
snow amid a still-unfolding winter of storms that was
unimaginable just a few months ago. Drought conditions have
almost been eliminated, hills blackened by huge wildfires are
sporting lush coats of green, and snow has fallen in the
usually temperate suburbs of Southern California. … The
California Department of Water Resources reported Thursday that
the Sierra snowpack is now 153 percent of average to date.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Thursday in
Sonoma County, a day after disastrous flooding from the Russian
River left numerous communities across Northern California
inundated. The governor’s order, which included Lake, Amador,
Glenn and Mendocino counties, allows Caltrans and local
government agencies to request immediate assistance from the
Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program and
the Office of Emergency Services.
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.)
Local groundwater regulatory agencies set up under 2014
legislation in California are discussing future rationing
schemes with irrigators as they scramble to submit long-term
aquifer sustainability plans to the state by a deadline of
early next year. Local regulators are discussing a combination
of new supplies and land-use conversions, says David Orth, a
principal at the Fresno-based New Current Water and Land, LLC,
a strategic planning firm.
What a difference a winter can make. On Jan. 1, three-quarters
of California was in drought. Just eight weeks later, however,
a succession of storms have washed drought conditions away from
all but a splotch at the far north edge of the state, according
to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) said Senate Bill 559,
will “help secure California’s water supply by investing $400
million toward restoring lost (delivery) capacity on the
Friant-Kern Canal, one of the San Joaquin Valley’s most
critical water delivery facilities.” … The $400 million would
be appropriated from the state general fund to the Department
of Water Resources to administer the repairs.
California has been blessed with a wet winter this year. That’s
been good news for the California plants, animals, and humans
that rely on water to survive and recreate. But lots of
precipitation now doesn’t necessarily mean that California will
have lots of water when it needs it. That’s because what
matters is not only how much water we get, but when and how we
With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a
seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by
contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of
the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is
seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger
said he had no choice.
Winter storms have blanketed the mountains on the upper
Colorado River with snow. But even this year’s above-average
snowpack won’t be nearly enough to make up for the river’s
chronic overallocation, compounded by 19 years of drought and
the worsening effects of climate change.
More rain this winter and an improved water outlook promise
California farmers more flexibility in what annual crops to
grow, even if sluggish commodity prices limit their crop
choices. For example, California cotton acreage is expected to
increase this year to 287,000, according to a
planting-intentions survey by the National Cotton Council.
Citing expected water availability, the council reported
California farmers intend to plant 230,000 acres of pima cotton
and 57,000 acres of upland cotton. That’s up 9.7 percent and
14.4 percent, respectively, from last year.
Imported water from the Sierra
Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as
drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those
supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped
up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on
Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of
Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s,
Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it
derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.
The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region
and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in
a time of great change. The valley produces more than half of
the state’s agricultural output. Irrigated farming is the
region’s main economic driver and predominant water user.
Stress on the valley’s water system is growing. Local water
supplies are limited, particularly in the southern half of the
Mono County hasn’t won the war, but it did win the first battle
in its lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power’s decision to withdraw water allotments to its Long
Valley area grazing leases. Last Friday, the Alameda County
civil court indicated LADWP’s request to dismiss the suit was
The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the
Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of
Los Angeles created when the Colorado River breached a dike in
1905 and flooded a dry lake bed. The district says if the
federal government doesn’t commit to giving California the
money, it won’t sign off on a multistate plan to preserve the
river’s two largest reservoirs amid a prolonged drought.
Follow along on our water tour of the Lower Colorado
River – and keep up with any of our
tours and events –
through our social media channels. We’ll post updates on our
Twitter account @WaterEdFdn about
people, issues and places as we travel along the Lower Colorado
River from Hoover Dam to the Coachella Valley Feb. 27 through