Topic: Wetlands



Wetlands are among the most important ecosystems in the world. They produce high levels of oxygen, filter toxic chemicals out of water, reduce flooding and erosion and recharge groundwater. They also serve as critical habitat for wildlife, including a large percentage of plants and animals on California’s endangered species list.

As the state has grown into one of the world’s leading economies, Californians have developed and transformed the state’s marshes, swamps and tidal flats, losing as much as 90 percent of the original wetlands acreage—a greater percentage of loss than any other state in the nation.

While the conversion of wetlands has slowed, the loss in California is significant and it affects a range of factors from water quality to quality of life.

Wetlands still remain in every part of the state, with the greatest concentration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watershed, which includes the Central Valley. The Delta wetlands are especially important because they are part of the vast complex of waterways that provide two-thirds of California’s drinking water.

Aquafornia news The Press Democrat

Sensational, ‘misleading’ NASA image of Clear Lake is hurting tourism

The calls to Clear Lake State Park come in steadily now from people saying they’ve heard the lake may no longer be safe for swimming…. It’s pretty clear why. A composite satellite image produced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Earth Observatory depicting a nasty-looking, solid green lake has been circulated widely over the past two weeks, republished by news agencies around the nation and posted all over social media, to the chagrin of Lake County tourism interests.

Aquafornia news SF Gate

Newest Calif. state park saved this tiny town from disaster

Under a shaded refuge adjacent to a still pond in the Central Valley, dozens of California State Parks officials and nonprofit leaders assembled Wednesday to laud the first state park to open in a decade. Among the beaming faces was Lilia Lomeli-Gil, a community leader representing the tiny town 5 miles away that, thanks to the park’s debut, is being transformed. If Merced is the “Gateway to Yosemite,” then Grayson is the gateway to Dos Rios State Park. The 1,600-acre property lies within the floodplains outside Modesto and features the intersection of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers. The park’s proximity to Grayson offers the town a sense of renewal. Dos Rios will lure visitors off Interstate 5 and provide residents with a communal backyard haven. Efforts to restore the floodplain have already shown signs of success in protecting Grayson from disaster. The town owes part of its livelihood to restoring the original habitat and defending itself from flooding.

Aquafornia news San Francisco Chronicle

Yosemite meadow is largest restoration project in park history

Less than a decade ago, the largest mid-elevation meadow at Yosemite National Park, nestled in foothills near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, was privately owned rangeland. It was widely trampled on by cattle, dried up and of little or no interest to visitors. Today, the area is a whole different place. An $18 million makeover of what’s known as Ackerson Meadow, which was recently acquired by the National Park Service, is transforming this dusty tract on the park’s western edge into a vibrant hub of wildflowers, songbirds and water-loving grasses — an effort billed as the biggest restoration project in Yosemite history. …  The hope is that the revived meadow, like a sponge, will hold more water for native plants, wildlife and downstream communities that depend on the region for water supplies.

Aquafornia news Audubon

Blog: Explore the habitats along the Lower Colorado River

The Colorado River and its tributaries—which support 40 million people, sacred Tribal lands, a $1.4 trillion economy, more than five million acres of farms and ranches, and thousands of species of wildlife—are shrinking due to climate change and overuse.   Important habitats exist and have been intentionally reestablished along more than 400 miles of the Colorado River as it flows south of Hoover Dam. To raise awareness of these gems in the desert that support 400 species of birds, Audubon Southwest launched a visually-appealing  StoryMap website created by Elija Flores and myself called Lower Colorado River Habitats: Exploring important habitats of the Lower Colorado River and what they mean for birds and people.    

Aquafornia news KPBS Public Media - San Diego

Study says water transfer deal is raising dust and draining the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is a terminal saltwater lake. It’s a flooded basin with no natural outlet, similar to the Great Salt Lake or the Aral Sea. And the Salton Sea is shrinking. One of the reasons for that is the Imperial Water Transfer deal that has brought hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water to San Diego over the last two decades. The deal, signed 21 years ago, meant the Imperial Valley began transferring excess water from the valley’s farm fields to San Diego’s water taps. That meant a lot less farm runoff that had been sustaining the Salton Sea. San Diego State University economics professor Ryan Abman said the biggest effects of that conservation plan were seen about eight years into the agreement. “So really, after 2011, we see a noticeable increase in the rate of decline of the water level and that leads to an increase in the increased rate of playa exposure. So more of this dust-emitting surface is being exposed every single year,” Abman said.

Aquafornia news Bay Nature

The meaning of Dos Rios, California’s newest state park

On Wednesday, June 12, the state of California officially opens Dos Rios, the first new state park in more than a decade. It’s a riparian forest restoration at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, in the Central Valley, about an hour from San Jose—and the subject of Bay Nature’s Spring 2024 cover story, “The Everything Park,” by H.R. Smith. We dubbed Dos Rios the Everything Park because a modern state park has an astonishing number of jobs to do—among them groundwater storage, wildlife habitat, and climate adaptation. 

Aquafornia news KQED - San Francisco

California’s new 1600-acre state park set to open this week

Californians can soon enjoy a new state park at the heart of the Central Valley, the first in about a decade. The Dos Rios preserve, about 90 minutes east of San Francisco, is a lush floodplain filled with green grass, shrubs and native trees like cottonwood, willows and valley oaks. Visitors can hike through miles of trail beginning this Wednesday, June 12. The park is located eight miles east of Modesto near the convergence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers. Until about a decade ago, Dos Rios was a dairy and cattle ranch owned by farmers who grew tomatoes and almonds. But year after year, floods swept through, damaging the crops. In 2012, the owners sold all 1,600 acres to River Partners, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to conservation.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news The New York Times

California’s new state park opens this week

California officials will formally open the state’s 281st state park on Wednesday, and it’s an unusual one. Dos Rios is a riverfront oasis in the San Joaquin Valley that offers a window into what the region was like before it was transformed into an agricultural powerhouse. The 1,600-acre property, eight miles west of Modesto at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers, for decades housed dairy farms and almond orchards. It has now been restored to a broad natural floodplain, where visitors will be able to hike, watch birds and other wildlife, and have a picnic along the riverbanks. Officials hope to eventually add trails for bicycling and more river access for swimming, angling and boating.

Related public land conservation article:

Aquafornia news BBC

Brazil wildfires: Parts of Pantanal wetlands ablaze amid drought

Firefighters are battling wildfires in Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland. The Pantanal is home to jaguars, giant anteaters and giant river otters. Close to 32,000 hectares have already been destroyed by the fires in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, local media report. Climate experts say this year’s wildfire season has started earlier and is more intense than in previous years. Firefighters said their efforts to extinguish the flames were being hampered by high winds over the weekend. The region has also seen less rain than in other years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread.

Aquafornia news Del Mar Times

San Dieguito wetlands restoration enters the home stretch

The second phase of the San Dieguito Lagoon restoration reached a significant milestone last week. On June 6, a collection of SANDAG and Caltrans engineers and biologists gathered to witness the active release of berm at the restoration project site, opening up the saltwater marsh inlet to the tidal flow. Rather than sending an epic torrent of water into the lagoon, an excavator simply moved some dirt aside and the water slowly began to trickle in. Kim Smith, SANDAG senior regional planner, said while it may have appeared anticlimactic, it was an incredibly exciting moment for staff to see on a project about 12 years in the making. … Water will flow through the new inlet as the construction continues in its final months of a three and a half year process, anticipated to be complete in September. Eventually water will flow nearly all the way to El Camino Real, stopping near the SDG&E utility corridor that runs through the site.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Fresh Water News

Colorado wetlands protections national leader

One year after the U.S. Supreme Court removed federal regulations protecting wetlands and streams from development pressures in its Sackett v. the EPA decision, Colorado is the first state in the nation to pass legislation replacing those regulations, according to a new national report. The report, by the Clean Water For All coalition and Lawyers for Good Government, shows that eight other states have taken action to restore some level of protection or are trying; five launched failed attempts to impose further cutbacks; and one state, Indiana, rolled back protections further. Thirty-five states have taken no action. Environmentalists say the spotty response is a clear indication that Congress must intervene to create consistent, clearly defined protections that work for all states, and which protect rivers and wetlands that cross state boundaries.

Aquafornia news UC Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Resources

Blog: Water in California’s streams is poorly monitored, impeding effective management

California relies on its rivers and streams for a plethora of services—water supply, flood control, biodiversity conservation, and hydropower generation, to name a few. As a result, understanding the flow of water through the state’s stream network is critical for supporting California’s economy and ecosystems. A new study published by UC Berkeley researchers in Nature Sustainability finds, however, that California’s rivers and streams are critically under-monitored, making it difficult to properly manage water supply and control floods, monitor changes in freshwater biodiversity, and understand how climate change is affecting water supplies.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Valley Ag Voice

Placing Central Valley’s dairy industry and wetlands in focus 

Wetlands are the Earth’s largest natural source of methane — a potent greenhouse gas roughly 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere — according to the Department of Energy’s Larence Berkeley National Laboratory.   Methane is a key point of controversy among dairy producers and the environmental justice community given that dairy and livestock are responsible for over half of California’s methane emissions, according to the California Air Resources Board.   However, a peer-reviewed paper recently published by CABI Biological Sciences argues that the state’s dairy sector can reach climate neutrality in the coming years through aggressive methane mitigation which almost no other sector can achieve.  

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Money available for wetland owners, applications closing soon

There’s a new opportunity for private wetland owners to make money from their land. The BirdReturns program pays wetland owners to flood their land and provide habitat for birds in the Central Valley. The program offers seasonal participation and is currently accepting applications for fall participation. Applications close on June 9.  The program is funded through a $15 million grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife which will keep the program running through 2026.  The program, “aims to fill in all the other gaps throughout the rest of the year when, in the natural cycle, there would be habitat for birds,” said Ashley Seufzer, senior project coordinator for Audubon California.  This is the second year of the fall program. In the past, there have been participating landowners in the San Joaquin Valley but the number changes every season, said Seufzer. 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Monday Top of the Scroll: Water decision by Los Angeles expected to help Mono Lake

City leaders in Los Angeles have announced plans to take a limited amount of water from creeks that feed Mono Lake this year, a step that environmentalists say will help build on a recent rise in the lake’s level over the last year. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said it plans to export 4,500 acre-feet of water from the Mono Basin during the current runoff year, the same amount that was diverted the previous year, and enough to supply about 18,000 households for a year. Under the current rules, the city could take much more — up to 16,000 acre-feet this year. But environmental advocates had recently urged Mayor Karen Bass not to increase water diversions to help preserve recent gains and begin to boost the long-depleted lake toward healthier levels. They praised the decision by city leaders as an important step.

Related Sierra Nevada watershed stories: 

Aquafornia news Desert Sun

Opinion: We’re here, and we want our Salton Sea protected

The Salton Sea is more than a district priority, and it is disheartening to learn that many state officials view it as a problem for only our local officials to solve. Over the next few weeks Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Assembly and the Senate will make crucial decisions about our state budget and a potential Climate Resilience Bond. It is vital for them to understand that protecting the Sea is a statewide priority. The Salton Sea is surrounded by several unique and rapidly growing communities across Riverside and Imperial counties, ranging in size from 231 residents in Bombay Beach to approximately 44,000 residents in El Centro. All these communities face significant health risks and environmental justice concerns related to the Salton Sea and a number of other issues in the region.
-Written by Dora Cecilia Armenta, who has lived with her family of four in Salton City for 29 years. She is an active community partner with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability; and Mariela Loera, the Eastern Coachella Valley Regional Policy Manager with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. 

Aquafornia news Audubon Magazine

Tricolored blackbirds once faced extinction—here’s what’s behind their exciting comeback

… The vast majority of Tricolored Blackbirds spend their whole lives in California. A handful breed in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Baja California, and at least 20 of the birds were spotted last year in Idaho. Most, however, nest in the San Joaquin Valley, and many are known to breed a second time in the early summer months—often 50 to 100 miles north in the wetlands and willows of the Sacramento Valley. It’s here, too, that the birds feed on rice in the fall. They often browse the paddies alongside other blackbirds—including the very similar Red-winged Blackbird—that farmers can legally cull as pests. This has inevitably led to losses of Tricolors over the years.      Although the species’ native nesting habitat has been almost entirely removed from California, they’ve adapted with varying success to shifting land use. Where vineyards and orchards have replaced grassland and marsh, the blackbirds have mostly disappeared.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news The Revelator

Blog: Water and cooperation breathe new life into Klamath Basin wildlife refuges

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, located in far Northern California, harbors what remains of a once vast, shallow lake. On a recent April morning, I toured the area with John Vradenburg, supervisory fish and wildlife biologist for the Klamath Basin Refuges. … The Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges are a complex of six refuges straddling the Oregon-California border — remnants of vast wetlands that once expanded and contracted with the seasons, breathing an almost unfathomable abundance of life into the dry region. A century or so ago, flocks of geese and swans darkened the sky. There were masses of white pelicans; hordes of grebes, ducks, and ibises; eagles and hawks in profusion. On Lower Klamath Lake, which sprawled nearly 100,000 acres, boats conveyed tourists from the Klamath River to the lake’s southern tip.

Aquafornia news ABC 10 - Sacramento

How River Partners finds climate solutions in river restoration, funded by public-private partnerships

We often talk about water infrastructure as it relates to reservoirs, aqueducts, levees, and other means of water storage and flood protection. But California’s water infrastructure isn’t just made of concrete. Floodplain restoration is fast becoming a key part of California’s water puzzle. Dos Rios Ranch Preserve – near Modesto at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers – became Dos Rios Ranch State Park in April, and officially opens to the public in June. It’s California’s newest state park, and the first since 2014. It’s what’s known as a multi-benefit project; Dos Rios supports wildlife from fish to birds, is a place for recreation, and also a place for floodwater to go during wet winters.

Related floodplain restoration article: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

A scientist aims to save habitats that rely on groundwater

California is recognized as one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity, with more species of plants and animals than any other state. And a significant number of the state’s species, from frogs to birds, live in habitats that depend on groundwater. … Spotting threats to vulnerable natural areas has become a mission for Melissa Rohde, a hydrologist who has spent years analyzing satellite data and water levels in wells to come up with strategies for preventing ecosystems from being left high and dry. … California is the only state with a groundwater law that includes provisions intended to protect groundwater-dependent ecosystems. But the law, adopted in 2014, gives considerable leeway to local agencies in developing water management plans that prevent “significant and unreasonable adverse impacts.”

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Audubon

Blog: Colorado River flowing in its Delta again, but restoration hangs in the balance

The Colorado River is flowing again in its delta. While this is welcome news for birds and people, the long-term progress to keep the Colorado River alive in Mexico with habitat restoration and water deliveries depends on high stakes negotiations currently underway. For the third time since 2021, the United States and Mexico are collaborating to deliver water to improve conditions in the long-desiccated delta. Environmental water deliveries began mid-March and will continue into October …

Aquafornia news KneeDeep Times

Marin County: 100+ easements for one flood wall?

Gina Solomon bought her house in part for what lies just outside the back door. The property in [the] northern San Rafael [community of Santa Venetia] includes a small private dock extending out over marshland into Gallinas Creek, a winding tidal slough that meets San Pablo Bay about a mile and a half away. … But for Solomon and many of her neighbors, Santa Venetia’s greatest asset is also its greatest threat. All that protects her home and hundreds of others from Gallinas Creek waters that rise and fall twice a day – and by extension the whole of San Pablo Bay – is a short, timber-reinforced earthen berm constructed in 1983. Already well past its useful life and failing in numerous spots, the berm is also increasingly threatened by storm surge and sea level rise. 

Aquafornia news Redheaded Blackbelt

Blog: Rodents of unusual size – Beavers are back in Humboldt County

In recent years a few folks who pay attention to the wild critters have been whispering of sighting beavers in the Eel River of Humboldt County and even dams in a few tributaries. In 2015 we even posted about a local wildlife tracker finding beaver footprints.

Aquafornia news Audubon California

Blog: California’s revised budget highlights critical need for a climate bond

California has prided itself on its bold leadership on climate change. In the past twenty years, it has made unprecedented commitments and investments to reduce emissions and build climate resilience. Unfortunately, amid a dire state budget crisis, California leaders are struggling to ensure that the state will continue its leadership in meeting the challenge of climate change. Immediate and large-scale climate action is essential to protect people and birds. Audubon’s Survival by Degrees report found that 389 species of North American birds are likely to see significant population declines due to climate change if global temperature increased beyond 3 degrees Celsius, which now seems almost unavoidable. As the world’s fifth largest economy and a global leader on climate policy, California’s climate action will have direct impacts on birds and their habitats well beyond the state’s borders.

Aquafornia news Audubon Southwest

Blog: The Gila River west of Phoenix

Pronounced “He La,” the Gila Rivers’ headwaters originate in New Mexico, where it is a wild and scenic mountain river. The path of the Gila settles into broad valleys as it enters Arizona, providing water for rural towns and agriculture along the way. The Gila’s flow is interrupted by Coolidge Dam and San Carlos Reservoir on the San Carlos Indian Reservation west of Safford, Arizona. Water from the reservoir is managed by the San Carlos Irrigation District for communities, farms, and ranches downstream. The Ashurst-Hayden and Florence diversion dams in Pinal County send what remains of the Gila River water to Central Arizona farms, after which the river is a dry channel except when there are high flows from rain and snow melt.   The combination of dams, diversions, and drought earned the Gila River the title of Most Endangered River in 2019 from American Rivers, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news The New York Times

Level of the Great Salt Lake is higher than past years, but still low

Two years ago, the Great Salt Lake became an omen for the risks of climate change: The water level dropped to a record low, threatening the ecosystem, economy and even the air quality of the area around Salt Lake City, home to a majority of Utah’s population. Now, after two unusually wet winters and a series of conservation measures, the lake has gained about six feet. Despite that increase the lake is still below the minimum levels considered healthy. And environmentalists and policymakers are concerned that the increase might reduce the pressure to save the lake. “I worry about complacency,” said Bonnie Baxter, director of the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster University. “We need to really be cautious about being optimistic.” Increased water levels in the lake are primarily the result of higher-than-normal snowfall, according to Hayden Mahan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

Aquafornia news California Rice News

News release: Application deadline approaching for new waterbird habitat program

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California is taking applications for the Migratory Bird Resurgence Initiative (MBRI). California has $500,000 available. Please call or visit your local NRCS office to apply.  Due to the current compressed planting season, we have confirmed with NRCS that you can register your interest in the opportunity with just a phone call by May 24, but then you will still need to sign your application in person by May 31.

Related rice and wetland article: 

Aquafornia news Western Farm Press

Opinion: Cowabunga – Irrigated farms, ranches good for critters

Taking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at its word to employ a “robust public engagement process”, a coalition of over a dozen national and state farm and water organizations have engaged the agency on its proposal to list the northwestern and southwestern pond turtles under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The litigious Center for Biological Diversity has been pushing for stronger protection for the pond turtles for over a decade. The proposed listing of the turtle could potentially impact producers and water managers in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. … For example, millions of acre-feet of stored water in the past decade have been directed away from farmland and flushed out to the sea to “protect” delta smelt in California and coho salmon on the Klamath River.
-Written by Dan Keppen is executive director of the Family Farm Alliance.

Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

The biggest water measures passed by Colorado lawmakers this year

Colorado lawmakers gave the thumbs-up to 10 water measures this year that will bring millions of dollars in new funding to help protect streams, bring oversight to construction activities in wetlands and rivers, make commercial rainwater harvesting easier and support efforts to restore the clarity of Grand Lake. Money for water conservation, planning and projects was a big winner, with some $50 million approved, including $20 million to purchase the Shoshone water rights on the Colorado River. Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Frisco, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, expressed gratitude for the legislature’s focus on water issues and for funding the Shoshone purchase.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Civil Eats

Bird flu may be driven by this overlooked factor

As federal officials grapple with how to contain the highly contagious strain of avian flu that has infected chickens, turkeys, and dairy cattle on farms across the U.S., a number of scientists are pointing to one factor that could be driving the spread of its virus and its spillover from wild birds to farm animals. Waterfowl—ducks, geese, and swans—are the primary host of the viruses, and large animal agriculture facilities are often found in close proximity to their remaining wetland habitats. For instance, California’s Central Valley and the East Coast’s Delmarva Peninsula are both critical wintering grounds for waterfowl, along major North American bird migration routes, and epicenters of U.S. poultry production. As a result, some scientists who track waterfowl question whether this geographic overlap—alongside the shrinkage of waterfowl habitats—creates more opportunities for the virus to spread between infected waterfowl and the animals in agricultural facilities.

Related article: 

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Opinion: Californians love our parks. We just don’t know they’re state parks

When Dos Rios Ranch opens to visitors next month in the San Joaquin Valley, California will have 280 state parks — making it one of the nation’s largest systems, as well as one of its most popular, with about 70 million visitors a year. Who knew? The short answer is: hardly anyone. Over the past 20 years I’ve asked several thousand Californians to name five state parks. Fewer than 5% can do so. And most of these baffled respondents are outdoorsy folks — the kind of people I meet on the trail or at my talks about hiking. This lack of awareness is more than surprising right now. It’s dangerous. If Californians can’t name a handful of state parks, they won’t recognize the threat when Sacramento defers investment in the system or — as is inevitably happening again — attempts to cut funding.
-Written by John McKinney, author of “Hike California’s State Parks” and two dozen other hiking-themed books, has visited all 280 state parks.​

Aquafornia news The Pew Charitable Trusts

Blog: Coastal wetlands offer needed haven for imperiled birds

Imagine a world devoid of bird calls, with mountains, rivers, beaches, and forests missing a soundtrack that has sustained for 150 million years. Although such a scenario, reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s influential book “Silent Spring,” remains highly unlikely, scientists are sounding alarms about the dramatic decline in bird populations worldwide. A 2019 study published in Science documented those declines, including the loss of nearly 3 billion birds in North America alone since 1970. Habitat loss and degradation, driven by coastal disturbance, pollution, and rising sea levels, are the primary culprits. And along the world’s shorelines, coastal wetlands play an outsize role in sustaining bird populations. By providing feeding, breeding, and nesting areas for a wide variety of avian species, these ecosystems—in particular salt marshes and mangroves—are sanctuaries for migratory birds facing significant challenges. 

Aquafornia news Ag Alert

Waterfowl flock again to valley rice fields

The return of fully planted rice crops to the Sacramento Valley following years of drought has restored another essential feature of the region. After harvest, reservoirs replenished by last year’s historic storms enabled farmers to flood more of their fields this winter, creating wetland habitat for migrating waterfowl. … Today, around 300,000 acres of the valley’s rice paddies are flooded each winter to provide food and shelter for 7 million ducks and geese, according to the California Rice Commission. More than 200 species of wildlife, including threatened species such as Sandhill Cranes, rely on the fields. Especially over the past decade, state and federal programs have been developed to incentivize winter flooding, defraying some of the cost, and rice farmers have embraced their role in wildlife conservation.

Western Water California Groundwater Map Layperson's Guide to Groundwater By Nick Cahill

New California Law Bolsters Groundwater Recharge as Strategic Defense Against Climate Change
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: State Designates Aquifers 'Natural Infrastructure' to Boost Funding for Water Supply, Flood Control, Wildlife Habitat

Groundwater recharge in Madera CountyA new but little-known change in California law designating aquifers as “natural infrastructure” promises to unleash a flood of public funding for projects that increase the state’s supply of groundwater.

The change is buried in a sweeping state budget-related law, enacted in July, that also makes it easier for property owners and water managers to divert floodwater for storage underground.

California Water Agencies Hoped A Deluge Would Recharge Their Aquifers. But When It Came, Some Couldn’t Use It
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: January storms jump-started recharge projects in badly overdrafted San Joaquin Valley, but hurdles with state permits and infrastructure hindered some efforts

An intentionally flooded almond orchard in Tulare CountyIt was exactly the sort of deluge California groundwater agencies have been counting on to replenish their overworked aquifers.

The start of 2023 brought a parade of torrential Pacific storms to bone dry California. Snow piled up across the Sierra Nevada at a near-record pace while runoff from the foothills gushed into the Central Valley, swelling rivers over their banks and filling seasonal creeks for the first time in half a decade.    

Suddenly, water managers and farmers toiling in one of the state’s most groundwater-depleted regions had an opportunity to capture stormwater and bank it underground. Enterprising agencies diverted water from rushing rivers and creeks into manmade recharge basins or intentionally flooded orchards and farmland. Others snagged temporary permits from the state to pull from streams they ordinarily couldn’t touch.

California Spent Decades Trying to Keep Central Valley Floods at Bay. Now It Looks to Welcome Them Back
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Floodplain restoration gets a policy and funding boost as interest grows in projects that bring multiple benefits to respond to climate change impacts

Land and waterway managers labored hard over the course of a century to control California’s unruly rivers by building dams and levees to slow and contain their water. Now, farmers, environmentalists and agencies are undoing some of that work as part of an accelerating campaign to restore the state’s major floodplains.

Western Water By Alastair Bland

SIDEBAR: Creating A Floodplain Buffet for Salmon Smolts

Biologists have designed a variety of unique experiments in the past decade to demonstrate the benefits that floodplains provide for small fish. Tracking studies have used acoustic tags to show that chinook salmon smolts with access to inundated fields are more likely than their river-bound cohorts to reach the Pacific Ocean. This is because the richness of floodplains offers a vital buffet of nourishment on which young salmon can capitalize, supercharging their growth and leading to bigger, stronger smolts.

Water-Starved Colorado River Delta Gets Another Shot of Life from the River’s Flows
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Despite water shortages along the drought-stressed river, experimental flows resume in Mexico to revive trees and provide habitat for birds and wildlife

Water flowing into a Colorado River Delta restoration site in Mexico.Water is flowing once again to the Colorado River’s delta in Mexico, a vast region that was once a natural splendor before the iconic Western river was dammed and diverted at the turn of the last century, essentially turning the delta into a desert.

In 2012, the idea emerged that water could be intentionally sent down the river to inundate the delta floodplain and regenerate native cottonwood and willow trees, even in an overallocated river system. Ultimately, dedicated flows of river water were brokered under cooperative efforts by the U.S. and Mexican governments.

Western Water California Water Map By Gary Pitzer

Long Troubled Salton Sea May Finally Be Getting What it Most Needs: Action — And Money
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: California's largest lake could see millions in potential funding to supercharge improvements to address long-delayed habitat and dust suppression needs

A sunset along the shoreline of California's Salton Sea.State work to improve wildlife habitat and tamp down dust at California’s ailing Salton Sea is finally moving forward. Now the sea may be on the verge of getting the vital ingredient needed to supercharge those restoration efforts – money.

The shrinking desert lake has long been a trouble spot beset by rising salinity and unhealthy, lung-irritating dust blowing from its increasingly exposed bed. It shadows discussions of how to address the Colorado River’s two-decade-long drought because of its connection to the system. The lake is a festering health hazard to nearby residents, many of them impoverished, who struggle with elevated asthma risk as dust rises from the sea’s receding shoreline. 

Tour Nick Gray Jenn Bowles Layperson's Guide to the Delta

Bay-Delta Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - September 9

This tour guided participants on a virtual journey deep into California’s most crucial water and ecological resource – the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The 720,000-acre network of islands and canals support the state’s two major water systems – the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. The Delta and the connecting San Francisco Bay form the largest freshwater tidal estuary of its kind on the West coast.

Long Criticized For Inaction At Salton Sea, California Says It’s All-In On Effort To Preserve State’s Largest Lake
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Dust suppression, habitat are key elements in long-term plan to aid sea, whose ills have been a sore point in Colorado River management

The Salton Sea is a major nesting, wintering and stopover site for about 400 bird species. Out of sight and out of mind to most people, the Salton Sea in California’s far southeast corner has challenged policymakers and local agencies alike to save the desert lake from becoming a fetid, hyper-saline water body inhospitable to wildlife and surrounded by clouds of choking dust.

The sea’s problems stretch beyond its boundaries in Imperial and Riverside counties and threaten to undermine multistate management of the Colorado River. A 2019 Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Colorado River Basin was briefly stalled when the Imperial Irrigation District, holding the river’s largest water allocation, balked at participating in the plan because, the district said, it ignored the problems of the Salton Sea.  

Western Water Water Education Foundation

ON THE ROAD: Cosumnes River Preserve Offers Visitors a Peek at What the Central Valley Once Looked Like
Preserve at the edge of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta includes valley oak forests and wintering grounds for cranes

Sandhill cranes gather at the Cosumnes River Preserve south of Sacramento.Deep, throaty cadenced calls — sounding like an off-key bassoon — echo over the grasslands, farmers’ fields and wetlands starting in late September of each year. They mark the annual return of sandhill cranes to the Cosumnes River Preserve, 46,000 acres located 20 miles south of Sacramento on the edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

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

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

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

Western Water Douglas E. Beeman

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

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

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

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

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

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

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

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

Western Water Water Education Foundation

ON THE ROAD: Cosumnes River Preserve Offers Visitors a Peek at What the Central Valley Once Looked Like
Preserve at the edge of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta includes valley oak forests and wintering grounds for cranes

Sandhill cranes gather at the Cosumnes River Preserve south of Sacramento.Deep, throaty cadenced calls — sounding like an off-key bassoon — echo over the grasslands, farmers’ fields and wetlands starting in late September of each year. They mark the annual return of sandhill cranes to the Cosumnes River Preserve, 46,000 acres located 20 miles south of Sacramento on the edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Western Water California Water Bundle Gary Pitzer

Statewide Water Bond Measures Could Have Californians Doing a Double-Take in 2018
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Two bond measures, worth $13B, would aid flood preparation, subsidence, Salton Sea and other water needs

San Joaquin Valley bridge rippled by subsidence  California voters may experience a sense of déjà vu this year when they are asked twice in the same year to consider water bonds — one in June, the other headed to the November ballot.

Both tackle a variety of water issues, from helping disadvantaged communities get clean drinking water to making flood management improvements. But they avoid more controversial proposals, such as new surface storage, and they propose to do some very different things to appeal to different constituencies.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to the Delta

ON THE ROAD: Park Near Historic Levee Rupture Offers Glimpse of Old Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
Big Break Regional Shoreline will be a stop on Bay-Delta Tour May 16-18

Visitors explore a large, three-dimensional map of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. Along the banks of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Oakley, about 50 miles southwest of Sacramento, is a park that harkens back to the days when the Delta lured Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French fur trappers, and later farmers to its abundant wildlife and rich soil.

That historical Delta was an enormous marsh linked to the two freshwater rivers entering from the north and south, and tidal flows coming from the San Francisco Bay. After the Gold Rush, settlers began building levees and farms, changing the landscape and altering the habitat.

Western Water Excerpt Jenn Bowles

Two Countries, One River: Crafting a New Agreement
Fall 2016

As vital as the Colorado River is to the United States and Mexico, so is the ongoing process by which the two countries develop unique agreements to better manage the river and balance future competing needs.

The prospect is challenging. The river is over allocated as urban areas and farmers seek to stretch every drop of their respective supplies. Since a historic treaty between the two countries was signed in 1944, the United States and Mexico have periodically added a series of arrangements to the treaty called minutes that aim to strengthen the binational ties while addressing important water supply, water quality and environmental concerns.


Looking to the Source: Watersheds of the Sierra Nevada
Published 2011

This 28-page report describes the watersheds of the Sierra Nevada region and details their importance to California’s overall water picture. It describes the region’s issues and challenges, including healthy forests, catastrophic fire, recreational impacts, climate change, development and land use.

The report also discusses the importance of protecting and restoring watersheds in order to retain water quality and enhance quantity. Examples and case studies are included.


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

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


A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.


Delta Warning

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


Water on the Edge (60-minute DVD)

Water truly has shaped California into the great state it is today. And if it is water that made California great, it’s the fight over – and with – water that also makes it so critically important. In efforts to remap California’s circulatory system, there have been some critical events that had a profound impact on California’s water history. These turning points not only forced a re-evaluation of water, but continue to impact the lives of every Californian. This 2005 PBS documentary offers a historical and current look at the major water issues that shaped the state we know today. Includes a 12-page viewer’s guide with background information, historic timeline and a teacher’s lesson.

Maps & Posters

San Joaquin River Restoration Map
Published 2012

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

Maps & Posters

Klamath River Watershed Map
Published 2011

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

Maps & Posters

Carson River Basin Map
Published 2006

A companion to the Truckee River Basin Map poster, this 24×36-inch poster, suitable for framing, explores the Carson River, and its link to the Truckee River. The map includes the Lahontan Dam and reservoir, the Carson Sink, and the farming areas in the basin. Map text discusses the region’s hydrology and geography, the Newlands Project, land and water use within the basin and wetlands. Development of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, Lahontan Basin Area Office.

Maps & Posters

Unwelcome Visitors

This 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, explains how non-native invasive animals can alter the natural ecosystem, leading to the demise of native animals. “Unwelcome Visitors” features photos and information on four such species – including the zerbra mussel – and explains the environmental and economic threats posed by these species.


Layperson’s Guide to the Klamath River Basin
Published 2023

The Water Education Foundation’s second edition of the Layperson’s Guide to The Klamath River Basin is hot off the press and available for purchase.

Updated and redesigned, the easy-to-read overview covers the history of the region’s tribal, agricultural and environmental relationships with one of the West’s largest rivers — and a vast watershed that hosts one of the nation’s oldest and largest reclamation projects.

Publication Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map

Layperson’s Guide to the Delta
Updated 2020

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

Aquapedia background Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map


Sacramento National Wildlife RefugeWetlands are among the world’s most important and hardest-working ecosystems, rivaling rainforests and coral reefs in productivity. 

They produce high levels of oxygen, filter water pollutants, sequester carbon, reduce flooding and erosion and recharge groundwater.

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

Pacific Flyway

The Pacific Flyway is one of four major North American migration routes for birds, especially waterfowl, and extends from Alaska and Canada, through California, to Mexico and South America. Each year, birds follow ancestral patterns as they travel the flyway on their annual north-south migration. Along the way, they need stopover sites such as wetlands with suitable habitat and food supplies. In California, 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost.

Aquapedia background

Central Valley Wetlands and Riparian Habitat

In the Central Valley, wetlands—partly or seasonally saturated land that supports aquatic life and distinct ecosystems— provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Western Water Magazine

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

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

Western Water Magazine

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

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

Western Water Magazine

Just Add Water? Restoring the Colorado River Delta
September/October 2008

This printed copy of Western Water examines the Colorado River Delta, its ecological significance and the lengths to which international, state and local efforts are targeted and achieving environmental restoration while recognizing the needs of the entire river’s many users.