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.
The rise of wind and solar power, coupled with the increasing
social, environmental and financial costs of hydropower
projects, could spell the end of an era of big dams. But even
anti-dam activists say it’s too early to declare the demise of
A new $50 million California American Water pipeline is
officially in use. According to Cal Am engineering manager
Chris Cook, the pipeline began conveying water from the Carmel
River to the Seaside basin as part of the aquifer storage
and recovery program last week, allowing the company to start
reversing the historic flow of water from northward to
southward and save money and energy in the process.
Six years after it was stricken by a wasting disease off the
northern California coast, the sunflower sea star – one of the
most colorful starfish in the ocean – has all but vanished, and
the domino effect threatens to unravel an entire marine
ecosystem. The cause of the sea star’s demise is a
mystery, but it coincided with a warming event in the Pacific
Ocean, possibly tied to the climate, that lasted for two years
ending in 2015. … Scientists are wondering if the freak
warming anomaly, disease and their adverse effects are sign of
things to come.
All eyes were on Arizona this week as state lawmakers took a
last-minute vote on their part of the pact. They approved the
plan Thursday afternoon, just hours before the deadline, but
Arizona officials still haven’t finalized a variety of
documents. In addition, a California irrigation district with
massive river rights has yet to sign off on the
agreement. On Friday, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman … said the agency would start the
formal legal process of soliciting comments on how it should
The winter rains have caused the biggest surge of coho salmon
in a dozen years in the celebrated spawning grounds of western
Marin County, one of California’s last great strongholds for
the embattled pink fish. At least 648 coho this winter made
their way against the current up meandering, forested Lagunitas
Creek and its many tributaries on the northwestern side of
Mount Tamalpais, according to a new census by biologists.
San Diego is in the midst of spending roughly $3 billion on a
massive new water treatment system, but city officials can’t or
won’t tell customers how that will affect their water bills.
New water recycling plants will eventually purify enough sewage
to provide a third of the city’s drinking water. In
December, Voice of San Diego asked the city to estimate how
much customers’ bills will increase because of the Pure Water
project. The city, after weeks of delay, finally declined
last week to offer any estimate because “there is no simple
calculation” they could perform.
In a step to secure water supplies well into the future, the
Palmdale Water District Board of Directors unanimously approved
extending the contract for water imported from Northern
California for another 50 years, to 2085. The contract with the
state Department of Water Resources for State Water Project
water … accounts for 50% or more of the district’s water
supply. It is becoming especially important as a result of
the court settlement that sets limits on groundwater pumping
for the Antelope Valley.
Details of the Sacramento River portion of the SWRCB’s plan are
still preliminary, but we expect the required water releases to
be higher for the Sacramento River, and its tributaries, than
they are for the San Joaquin River. SWRCB staff is currently
recommending that between 45 and 65 percent of the natural
runoff of northern California rivers be allowed to flow to the
A partnership between Monterey One Water and the Monterey
Peninsula Water Management District, the project is designed to
produce up to 3,500 acre-feet of highly treated water per year
to the Peninsula for injection into the Seaside basin and later
extraction and use by California American Water for its
Peninsula customers. … The recycled water project is a
key part of the proposed replacement water supply
portfolio for the Peninsula to offset the state water board’s
Carmel River pumping cutback order.
A $500,000 program to mitigate for destruction of artificial
habitat created by Placer County Water Agency canal leaks has
ended. The Water Agency started working in the mid-2000s to fix
ongoing leaks along its canals and confronted a problem of its
own doing. The leaks had created what state Environmental
Quality Act standards defined as artificially established
wetlands and habitat for wildlife.
Agricultural and environmental leaders spoke at the Water
Market Exchange Symposium in the Satellite Student Union on
Jan. 24 to share their perspectives on a water market exchange
program. The symposium featured speakers from water agencies,
environmental interests, disadvantaged community interests and
water market administrators.
A group of Northern California lawmakers seeking more sway over
a mammoth $17 billion water project introduced a proposal
Friday that would require new construction contracts to be
reviewed by the Legislature. The Legislative Delta Caucus
says because of the scope of the California WaterFix, the
project should require more scrutiny from both the public and
lawmakers now that former Gov. Jerry Brown has left office.
The tiny town of Arbuckle in Northern California sank more than
two feet in nine years. The revelation comes from a new survey
that tracked subsidence — the gradual sinking of land — in the
Sacramento Valley between 2008-17. Located about 50 miles north
of Sacramento, Arbuckle (pop. 3,028) sank more than any other
surveyed area. … Subsidence has long been an issue in
California, but its recent acceleration was likely fueled by an
extreme drought that plagued California between 2012-16.
Solar and wind companies, concerned that PG&E will be
paying them less or even nothing in the future, have launched a
preemptive strike, asking federal regulators to step in to
protect their deals with PG&E. PG&E is one of the
largest buyers of renewable energy in the country, driven by
the ambitious climate change goals California has adopted.
By this time next year, 21 critically over-drafted groundwater
basins in California must submit plans to the state’s
Department of Water Resources for how to bring their basins
back into balance. With this major deadline looming, it’s
crunch time for water managers and their consultants – some of
whom will begin releasing draft plans in the next six to eight
months seeking required public comments.
There’s one tempting proposition for western water managers
currently feeling the pressure to dole out cutbacks to users
due to the region’s ongoing aridification — inducing clouds to
drop more snow. The practice showed up in a recent agreement
among Colorado River Basin states, and investment is expanding,
with water agencies in Wyoming and Colorado for the first time
putting funds toward aerial cloud seeding, rather than solely
relying on ground-based generators.
California’s Imperial Irrigation District will get the
last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency
Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the
badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea. Thursday, as the
clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal
official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there
approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours
to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California
agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a
last-minute monkey wrench into the process.
Twenty-three early to mid-career water professionals
from across California have been chosen for the
2019 William R. Gianelli Water Leaders Class, the Water
Education Foundation’s highly competitive and respected career
development program. The class will spend the year examining
the impact wildfires have on the supply and quality
of water resources in California.
The strongest Pacific storm of the season will lash California
through Saturday with high winds, feet of Sierra snow, and
heavy rain that could trigger flash flooding, debris flows and
rockslides. If that wasn’t enough, another colder storm is
waiting in the wings behind this first system.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s Western
water bureaucracy that saw its dam-building heyday in the
1960s, has risen in stature once again in the Trump
administration. Reclamation has flexed its muscles on Colorado
River drought management plans… And it has been the
administration’s key player in trying to fulfill President
Trump’s campaign promise to deliver more water to California
farmers, squeezing the state and forging ahead on a dam project
California says it doesn’t want.
Communities along the Colorado River are facing a new era of
drought and water shortages that is threatening their future.
With an official water emergency declaration now possible,
farmers, ranchers, and towns are searching for ways to use less
water and survive. Third in a series.
These red-state GOP governors are not taking aim at
greenhouse-gas emissions like their blue-state Republican
counterparts. Still, environmentalists should not dismiss their
momentum on water. In several states won by Trump, water,
literally a chemical bond, is also proving a bond that brings
disparate people, groups, and political parties together around
shared concerns for the Everglades, the Great Lakes, the
Colorado River, and other liquid life systems.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed a drought contingency plan Thursday
afternoon, six hours ahead of the deadline set by a key federal
official for the state to act or face having its Colorado River
water supply determined by her.That came despite objections
from some legislators who questioned why the state will allow
Pinal County farmers to once again pump groundwater for their
crops and will also provide cash to help them do it.
The utility company was found liable for dumping hexavalent
chromium (aka chromium-6), a carcinogen used to suppress rust
formation at the Hinkley gas compressor station, into an
unlined pond in the ’50s and ’60s. PG&E hid the crisis and
misled the community on the effects of that specific type of
chromium and its possible connection to health problems in the
town. For those remaining in Hinkley, either by choice or by
circumstance, to continue on, they need to know what’s going on
with their water.
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.
After many years of hard work, North Coast dam removal efforts
are now rapidly accelerating. On Friday, Pacific Gas and
Electric Co. announced that it is pulling the application to
relicense the Potter Valley Project, a series of two dams and a
large diversion on the Upper Eel River. On Feb. 6, the
California Water Resources Control Board is coming to Arcata to
take comments on their final 401 (Clean Water Act) permit to
remove four dams on the Klamath River. What does this all mean?
Are we really about to see the Eel and Klamath River dams come
Natalie van Doorn, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest
Service, said that many of the trees commonly planted in urban
areas in California are temperate species that require a lot of
water to survive in hot and dry conditions. … Across the
U.S., metropolitan areas may lose an average of 6 percent of
their tree species as warming trends
continue. … Alison Berry, a professor of plant
sciences at the University of California-Davis, said that
drought stress was likely a bigger factor than heat.
Warnings of doomsday on the river are nothing new. Too many
people, farms and factories depend on too little water, which
is why the Colorado now rarely flows to its end point at the
Gulf of California. The sprawling Southwest has sucked the
river dry. Yet the region has thrived in spite of the
naysayers. Until now, it appears.
It’s not just skiers who have been whipsawed this season
between fear of another dry winter and delight over the epic
January snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. Also paying close
attention: water wonks. Why? Because melting Sierra snow
provides somewhere between one-third and one-half of
California’s water supply. What determines just how much water
is derived from that snow is called the “snowpack.”
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.
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.
Congressmen John Garamendi and Doug LaMalfa have reintroduced
legislation to provide farmers access to discounted rates under
the National Flood Insurance Program. The
bipartisan Flood Insurance for Farmers Act of
2019 (H.R.830) would also lift the de
facto federal prohibition on construction and repair of
agricultural structures in high flood-risk areas designated by
the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
New snow measurements to be taken Thursday are expected to
confirm that snow levels in the Sierra Nevada are on par with
the long-term average, thanks to a series of storms that
thrashed California in January. Those results may sound pretty
ho hum, but getting to average is a pretty big thing in today’s
topsy turvy world of snow analysis, where the absence of
pending disaster due to too little snow is something to
Before I started my fellowship at the Delta Stewardship
Council, I knew precisely two things about the Sacramento–San
Joaquin Delta: 1) its approximate location and 2) that, in some
way, it involved water. Fortunately for me, the nature of my
fellowship as a science communicator allowed me to learn a
little about a lot over a short period of time.
The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the
history of the river’s development; negotiations over division
of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and
a chronology of significant Colorado River events.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
“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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.