Topic: Wetlands

Overview

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 Audubon

News release: CA Assembly Bill 828 protects vulnerable communities’ drinking water & California’s remaining managed wetlands

Across the diverse landscapes of California, reliable access to water is often an existential issue of survival. Sustainable water management is critical to the future of the state, for numerous vulnerable communities, and in the preservation of some of our most endangered bird habitat. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was enacted to ensure sustainable groundwater supplies for communities, the environment, and other users. However, without proper and additional implementation safeguards, SGMA is on course to deprive small communities of essential water supply and destroy the last remaining wetlands. AB 828 offers a measured and reasonable approach to protect safe and clean water accessibility for all California communities and safeguard the dwindling managed wetland acreage.

Aquafornia news Marin Independent Journal

Editorial: Marin commitment to restoring historic wetlands commendable

Over the years, Marin has taken the initiative to restore its wetlands. The focus and work is a recognition of the importance this soggy acreage plays in the ecological chain that keeps our bays and oceans healthy and thriving. In many cases, it means restoring historic wetlands covered by years of built-up silt and blanketed by landfill. The announcement that work will soon start on two such projects is another sign that progress is being made to restore and revive these shorelines. In Kentfield, work will soon start to lower sections of the tall concrete flood-control walls built along Corte Madera Creek in the 1960s.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

The push to ‘reactivate’ river floodplains in California

California has lost most of its natural wetlands as rivers have been cut off from their natural floodplains. And it’s pretty remarkable what can be achieved when rivers are given space to reconnect with floodplains. I learned more about opening up spaces for rivers to roam while working on an article about floodplain restoration efforts in the Central Valley. These types of projects have received broad-based support in recent years as an effective nature-based solution that can bring various interrelated benefits. They include: reducing the risks of flooding in vulnerable communities downstream; capturing and storing more water underground in aquifers; improving water quality; and helping to repair ecosystems.

Aquafornia news Deseret News

Are artificial wetlands the future of the Great Salt Lake?

Not everyone gets to turn their hobby into a career. But thanks to the Salton Sea, California duck hunting guide Breck Dickinson gets to do just that. He doesn’t even advertise, and yet he has work booked out years in advance. Declining water levels at the Salton Sea, which has lost about a third of its water supply in the past 25 years, jeopardize the future of his business. The ducks remain plentiful, he says, but access to the lake has declined and other species of birds have largely disappeared. All that could change within the next year or two as the state of California nears the completion of the Species Conservation Habitat Restoration Project … to restore 30,000 acres of habitat at the Salton Sea — and one that could have implications for the future of the Great Salt Lake.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

How freeing rivers can help California ease flood risks and revive ecosystems

… Natural floodplains — the lush green lands along rivers that historically flooded, retained water, and nourished life in the heart of the valley — were mostly drained and converted to farmland generations ago as the state’s waters were dammed and diverted. Today, an effort to bring back some of those floodplains is flourishing at the 2,100-acre Dos Rios Ranch Preserve near Modesto, where workers years ago planted native trees on retired farm fields and removed berms to create space for water to spread out again. … By making room for the rivers to overflow, the restoration project has created an outlet for high flows that helps to reduce the risk of dangerous flooding in low-lying communities nearby.

Aquafornia news Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Chanslor Ranch in Bodega Bay now open to the public under Sonoma County ownership

If open space, ocean views and wildlife are your thing, Chanslor Ranch in Bodega Bay should be your next destination. Long a privately owned getaway known primarily for horseback trail rides, the 378-acre ranch across Highway 1 from Bodega Dunes and Salmon Creek state beaches is now in county hands and open to the general public. … [V]isitors are welcome to hike 4.5 miles of trail leading up coastal hills, down to Salmon Creek and around the rugged landscape, which is bounded in part by the creek. The land is known for a diversity of habitat, from wetlands to coastal prairie, as well as many plants and animals. The wetlands are a stopover for migrating birds, as well. 

Aquafornia news The Washington Post

Louisiana wetlands are undergoing an ‘ecosystem collapse,’ scientists say

Rapidly rising seas are wreaking havoc on Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, and could devastate three-quarters of the state’s natural buffer against hurricanes in the coming decades, scientists found in a study published Thursday. The new research documents how a sudden burst of sea level rise over the past 13 years — the type of surge once not expected until later this century — has left the overwhelming majority of the state’s coastal wetland sites in a state of current or expected “drowning,” where the seas are rising faster than wetlands can grow. … The news is dire for a state that has already lost over 2,000 square miles of wetland area since 1932, bringing the ocean ever closer to New Orleans and other population centers and leaving them more vulnerable to storms.

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Aquafornia news Voice of San Diego

San Diego let wetlands take root and complains it can’t remove wetlands to prevent floods

Wetlands, a muddy, weedy and endangered ecosystem, protect coasts from storm surge and sea-level rise. They provide habitat for countless threatened species and they clean rainwater from storms before it flows to the surf.  But they also clog up channelized creeks designed to send flood water into the ocean before it destroys homes and businesses. To prevent devastating floods in the future, the city of San Diego will have to figure out how to better balance its responsibilities to protect them while protecting people and their property.  It is not doing either very well. The city got a lot of heat from residents after record-breaking rain and resulting floods destroyed their homes Jan. 22. The southeastern fork of Chollas Creek topped its banks and flooded houses and apartment buildings with five feet of water in some places.  

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Aquafornia news Colorado Sun

Hundreds of formerly federally regulated Colorado wetlands and streams are unshielded right now

That’s the best way to protect hundreds of acres of wetlands and streams in Colorado, in the absence of federal rules that once did that work? It’s one of the biggest water issues facing state lawmakers this year. But as the legislative session kicks into high gear, there is no consensus yet on how to proceed. Last week, Republican Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, introduced Senate Bill 127 as a first stab at figuring it out. At issue is how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now defines so-called Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, which determines which waterways and wetlands are protected under the federal Clean Water Act. The definition has been heavily litigated in the nation’s lower courts since the 1980s and has changed dramatically under different presidential administrations.

Aquafornia news The Pajaronian

Hundreds attend wetland restoration event in Watsonville

More than 250 people joined city and state officials in celebrating World Wetlands Day on Feb. 3, part of the ongoing restoration of Struve Slough. Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW) co-hosted the annual event with a widespread planting project, music, dance performances, arts and crafts, speeches and an information blitz.  The event was headed up by WWW Executive Director Jonathan Pilch. Watsonville Mayor Vanessa Quiroz-Carter, Assemblymember Robert Rivas, Sen. John Laird and a representative from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office were in attendance. All voiced their support of being stewards of area wetlands before teams of volunteers fanned out around the slough to put young plant starters in the ground.

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Aquafornia news NBC - Bay Area

Lawmakers propose measure they believe would save Bay from future flooding

Lawmakers want Californians to have the chance to vote on a new measure they believe would save the Bay from future flooding. On Friday, lawmakers and climate advocates on the Peninsula proposed a vote to help protect people, homes and businesses near the water. “Low-lying communities are all at risk but the impacts of sea level rise will soon be felt by all residents of the Bay Area,” said Assemblymemebr Damon Connolly. Specifically, they’re pushing for a $16 billion climate resiliency bond. It covers many issues, including wildfire prevention, and clean energy – but it would also fund some of the projects that non-profit Save the Bay says are urgently needed.

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Aquafornia news Wall Street Journal

The Great Salt Lake is full of lithium. A startup wants to harvest it.

America’s biggest saltwater lake may hold a key to the country’s energy future. This summer, a California startup plans to start construction on a project to suck up water from the Great Salt Lake to extract one of its many valuable minerals: lithium, a critical ingredient in the rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles. The water will then be reinjected back into the lake, which Lilac Solutions says addresses concerns about the damaging effects of mineral extraction.

Aquafornia news KUER - Salton Sea

Like Utah, California has had pipeline dreams to save its drying Salton Sea

Most people don’t know that California’s largest lake — the Salton Sea — was a mishap. Birthed in 1905 when the Colorado River experienced massive floods, the accidental lake soon became a community commodity. It once was a recreation destination, filled with fish and migratory birds, that supported the surrounding agricultural communities throughout the Imperial and Coachella valleys. … Other than its origin story, the Salton Sea and Utah’s Great Salt Lake share some commonalities. Both are drying terminal lakes hurt by the West’s drought and where water is siphoned off for human needs before water levels can replenish. In both places, dust is a consequence of the exposed lakebeds — and both have a pungent aroma. The ecological, environmental, and in Utah’s case, economic, impacts of the lakes’ declines have pushed both states into varying degrees of action to save them.

Aquafornia news Legal Planet

Blog: The long life and sudden demise of federal wetlands protection

It’s no wonder that one EPA staffer’s reaction to the Supreme Court ruling was a single word: “Heartbroken.” In 2023, the Supreme Court ended fifty years of broad federal protection to wetlands in Sackett v. United States.  It is only when you look back at the history of federal wetland regulation that you realize just how radical and destructive this decision was.  For instance, under the Court’s reasoning, a Reagan Administration regulation would be considered a blatant environmentalist overreach. Here’s a timeline of the major events. 1972, Congress passes the Clean Water Act, which requires a federal permit for filling or dredging in “navigable waters,” defined as the “waters of the United States.”

Aquafornia news NPR

California sea otters are protecting their coastal habitat from excess erosion

The California sea otter, once hunted to the edge of extinction, has staged a thrilling comeback in the last century. Now, a team of scientists has discovered that the otters’ success story has led to something just as remarkable: the restoration of their declining coastal marsh habitat. “To me, it’s quite an optimistic message,” says Christine Angelini, a coastal ecologist at the University of Florida and one of the authors of the study published in the journal Nature. It’s a demonstration, she says, “that the conservation of a top predator can really enhance the health and the resilience of a system that’s otherwise under a large portfolio of stress.” … Elkhorn Slough in Monterey Bay, California is the second largest estuary in the US. For decades, it was falling apart. ”They opened up a new harbor in the 1940’s that created this full permanent opening to the ocean,” says Brent Hughes, a marine ecologist at Sonoma State University. “And so all this new tidal energy was eroding away the marshes.”

Aquafornia news Marin Independent Journal

Corte Madera marsh menaced by invasive plants

Invasive weeds are threatening a recently restored section of Corte Madera marsh and officials say they’re dealing with it before the problem plants spread. Since the marsh restoration, which was completed in 2021, workers have found invasive plants in the 9 to 12 acres surrounding the 4 acres of restored tidal wetlands along San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which owns the land, approved a treatment plan in August that includes plant removal and site monitoring through 2028. An addendum was approved at the board’s Jan. 25 meeting to allow for manual weed removal instead of herbicides. With these new approvals, the project cost has escalated by more than $800,000, to $3.3 million.

Aquafornia news U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

News release: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awards over $1.3 million to protect and restore coastal wetlands and build coastal resiliency in California

As part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to conserve and restore coastal wetlands, the Service is awarding more than $1.3 million to support two projects in Marin County to protect, restore or enhance over five acres of coastal wetlands and adjacent upland habitats under the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program … Partners will contribute $1.3 million in additional funds to support these projects in California. These grants have wide-reaching benefits for the local economy, people and wildlife – using nature-based solutions to boost coastal resilience, stabilize shorelines and protect natural ecosystems.

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Aquafornia news CBC News

Conservationists building beaver dams to help restore B.C.’s drying Columbia Wetlands

Conservationists are trying to help restore a vast area of wetland in southeastern British Columbia by doing what beavers do: building dams. The Columbia Wetlands, which encompass an area of about 260 square kilometres in the East Kootenay, are an important resting and breeding grounds for over 160 species of migratory birds and other wildlife, like elk, deer and grizzly bears, says Suzanne Bailey, president of the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners (CWSP). But the area has been drying for decades due to human activity and climate change, and certain parts that once held open water all year long are now often dry in the winter and spring.

Aquafornia news Geographical

Global effort to save endangered river dolphins

Dolphins and porpoises, with their playful antics, sociability and cute looks, have to be one of the world’s best-loved animals. They are, of course, intimately associated with the world’s oceans, so it can come as a surprise to many to learn that there are a number of species of dolphins and porpoises living in rivers hundreds of kilometres from the nearest salty water. Naturally shy creatures, the world’s river dolphins and porpoises are far less known and understood than their marine cousins, but one thing that scientists are unanimous in their agreement on is that they are in serious peril. It’s thought that since the 1980s, the combined population of the world’s river dolphins has crashed by 73 percent. Living in the rivers of fourteen countries (Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru and Venezuela), there are six species of river dolphin and porpoise. And, as a keystone species, their presence helps to keep a river system healthy.

Aquafornia news The Associated Press

Hungry sea otters are helping save California’s marshlands from erosion

The return of sea otters and their voracious appetites has helped rescue a section of California marshland, a new study shows. Sea otters eat constantly and one of their favorite snacks is the striped shore crab. These crabs dig burrows and also nibble away roots of the marsh grass pickleweed that holds dirt in place. Left unchecked, the crabs turn the marsh banks “into Swiss cheese,” which can collapse when big waves or storms hit, said Brent Hughes, a Sonoma State University marine ecologist and co-author of the new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Researchers found that the return of the crab-eating sea otters to a tidal estuary near Monterey, California, helped curb erosion.

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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.

Aquafornia news CBS - Sacramento

New multi-million dollar flood control project being tested in Sacramento region

A new multi-million dollar flood control project is about to be put to the test along the Sacramento River. Water is now starting to spill into what had been tomato and wheat fields in Yolo County. Now, the land is part of a seven-mile-long expansion of the Yolo Bypass between Interstate 5 to the north and West Sacramento to the south. It’s an area that is designed to flood when water levels rise. “Water comes from the Sacramento River down through the Yolo Bypass and out into the delta,” said David Pesavento, a supervising engineer with the California Department of Water Resources. Pesavento said this project, in the lower Elkhorn Basin, helps protect more than 780,000 people living downstream. “This project gives more space for that water to spread out and lowers the risk for the Greater Sacramento area,” he added.

Aquafornia news Berkeley Lab News Center

New study: Rising sea levels could lead to more methane emitted from wetlands

As sea levels rise due to global warming, ecosystems are being altered. One small silver lining, scientists believed, was that the tidal wetlands found in estuaries might produce less methane – a potent greenhouse gas – as the increasing influx of seawater makes these habitats less hospitable to methane-producing microbes. However, research from biologists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley indicates that these assumptions aren’t always true. After examining the microbial, chemical, and geological features of 11 wetland zones, the team found that a wetland region exposed to a slight amount of seawater was emitting surprisingly high levels of methane – far more than any of the freshwater sites. Their results, now published in mSystems, indicate that the factors governing how much greenhouse gas is stored or emitted in natural landscapes are more complex and difficult to predict than we thought.

Aquafornia news Manteca Bulletin

Commentary: Climate change flooding irony: Manteca, Lathrop taking real action; SF & LA aren’t

 … [T]here is no looming mandate banning new construction of any type — from the foundation up or adding on to homes, retail concerns, employment centers and such — hanging over Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland when it comes to flooding predicted from climate change. There is on large swaths of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento Valley. If physical work hasn’t at least started to protect 200-year floodplains by 2030, the state has mandated that no new construction — or adding square footage to existing structures — can take place. The mandate impacts 24 cities, including six in the San Joaquin Valley: Manteca, Lathrop, Stockton, Tracy. Dos Palos, and Firebaugh. The largest city impacted is Sacramento. It is a mandate put in place in 2007 via Senate Bill 7.
-Written by Manteca Bulletin opinion editor Dennis Wyatt.​

Aquafornia news JD Supra

Blog: Did the 9th Circuit just let the EPA ‘fudge’ the numbers on water pollution?

Ever since the Clean Water Act of 1972 dramatically overhauled the way in which America, through the EPA, monitors and protects its waterways, there has been the struggle between the literal life-and-death need for clean water, and the cold, hard reality that people can, will, and sometimes-have-to release pollutants into the water as part of American life. The balancing mechanism, however, is built right into the act itself in the form of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. As the program dictates, you need a NPDES permit to release pollutants, e.g.: sand, dirt, rock, and industrial, municipal, or agricultural waste into the waters of the United States. While the program answers the question of “can I release pollutants,” the battle continues as to “how much pollution can I release?”

Aquafornia news Denver Post

After the Supreme Court gutted federal protections for half of Colorado’s waters, can state leaders fill the gap?

When the Cameron Peak wildfire ripped across northern Colorado in 2020, it left hundreds of thousands of acres charred and dusty — except for a series of beaver ponds tucked inside Poudre Canyon. The wetlands survived the state’s largest recorded wildfire and acted as a buffer as the flames raged through the canyon. And after the flames were extinguished, they served as a sponge to absorb floodwaters sped by the lack of vegetation, minimizing flood damage downstream. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year left wetlands like the ones in Poudre Canyon — as well as thousands of miles of seasonal streams critical to the state’s water system — without protection under federal law. The court’s majority limited the coverage of the Clean Water Act, leaving protection gaps for more than half of Colorado’s waters that lawmakers, conservationists, developers and state water quality officials are rushing to fill.

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Aquafornia news The New York Times

In winter, California is for the birds

Blackbirds flit between reeds jutting out of the marshy waters. A bald eagle perches in a tree, far above clusters of bobbing ducks. In a mesmerizing display, hundreds of snowy white geese take flight in an undulating swarm that mottles the gray sky. This is the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, one of a number of spots in California for birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway, a migratory path that stretches from Alaska to the tip of South America. Millions of migratory birds, representing more than 100 species, visit or pass through the Golden State each year. “If you’re interested in migratory birds for any reason, California is the place to be,” John Eadie, who teaches conservation biology at the University of California, Davis, told me. The Pacific Flyway is one of four major North American avian migration routes, and California has been a major destination on the Flyway for thousands of years.

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Aquafornia news Escalon Times

Court approves settlement for environmental violations

A Humboldt County Superior Court judge approved a settlement that requires a cannabis cultivator to pay $1.75 million for building and diverting water from illegal onstream reservoirs without first obtaining permits required by the California Water Boards and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The settlement, which was reached after a lengthy investigation, resolves violations by Joshua Sweet and his companies, The Hills LLC and Shadow Light Ranch LLC … 

Aquafornia news Audubon

New Audubon study will guide bird habitat restoration in Colorado River Delta

A new tool will better support habitat in the Colorado River Delta through identifying key areas for restoration, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Management. This significant scientific contribution will allow for optimizing limited water and financial resources in the Colorado River Delta, which, because of significant restoration efforts, is coming back to life with birds and other wildlife. 

Aquafornia news Del Norte Triplicate

Avian influenza returns this fall with migratory birds

Wildlife disease specialists have confirmed the re-occurrence of the Eurasian strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 in California wild birds. In late October, Canada geese were found dead in Sacramento County and submitted to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Wildlife Health Laboratory for testing. Preliminary testing was performed at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory in Davis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the detection of HPAI H5N1 in two Canada geese in early November. Subsequent detections have been made in wild birds in several additional counties during mortality surveillance including from Contra Costa, San Diego, Santa Clara, Solano and Yolo. Detections in waterfowl during hunter-harvest surveillance have been reported from Fresno, Glenn, Kern and Yolo counties. Prior to these detections, the last confirmed detection in wild birds occurred in June 2023.

Aquafornia news Imperial Valley Press Online

At Salton Sea, bird lovers enjoy rare species at annual festival

Snow geese and Ross’s geese was what attracted Tina Tan, a birder since 2016, who came from Fillmore in Ventura County to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge for the 2024 Salton Sea Bird Festival on Saturday, January 13. The view from the top of the ramp at the refuge is breathtaking for every birder: over 2,000 snow geese taking off during the golden hour after sunrise to fly synchronous. Along with that, the refuge is the paradise for seeing birds from the most diverse species of any national wildlife refuge in the West with over 400 different bird species recorded and a hotspot for rare vagrant species.

Western Water Nick Cahill 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.

Publication

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.

Video

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

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

Video

A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

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

Video

Delta Warning

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

Video

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 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.

Publication

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

Wetlands

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.