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
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
A sprawling stretch of salt ponds on the western edge of San
Francisco Bay, once eyed for the creation of a virtual
mini-city, is back at the center of debate over regional
development after the Trump administration this month exempted
the site from the Clean Water Act.
Poseidon is a bad deal for ratepayers. The study by the experts
at MWDOC ranked Poseidon dead last among local water projects
based on cost. Even after demanding a $400 million subsidy
financed by Southern California water users, Poseidon’s water
is still overpriced, costing twice per gallon as much as some
of the conservation, recycling and rainwater projects already
in development around our region.
As the Trump administration moves toward a drought contingency
plan for the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is
pushing legislation that would exempt its work from
environmental reviews. That includes potential impacts on what
has emerged as a major sticking point in the drought
negotiations: Southern California’s Salton Sea, a public health
and ecological disaster.
Hundreds of Bakersfield agriculture, oil and political leaders
came together March 7 to examine the challenges and
opportunities associated with providing California residents
and businesses with a secure, reliable supply of clean water.
Lest the wet winter create a sense of complacency around one of
the state’s most vital needs, specialists from various fields
urged collective attention to the costly and increasingly
complex problems that surround sourcing, storing and conveying
A bill introduced by a state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San
Francisco) that will address ocean acidification and water
quality issues has been introduced and it’s being supported by
a wide variety of stakeholders. Senate Bill 69, authored by
Wiener, is aimed at reducing land-based sources of pollutants,
the restoration of wetlands and the sequestration of greenhouse
gases and to protect wildlife and keystone species.
Implementing the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act—which requires overdrafted groundwater basins to achieve
balance between supply and demand by the 2040s—could require
taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of
production in the San Joaquin Valley. … We talked to Soapy
Mulholland, president and CEO of Sequoia Riverlands Trust,
about this impending challenge.
Imperial Valley officials are reportedly close to finishing an
important habitat restoration project at the Salton Sea. The
remake of Red Hill Bay was supposed to be a model for a
management plan around the shrinking lake, but the effort is
two years overdue and still months away from completion. The
Salton Sea needs a management plan because water is evaporating
faster than it’s being replaced…
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.
It’s not often that communities in California and Louisiana
face similar water challenges. California is better known for
having too little water and Louisiana too much – both
challenges exacerbated by climate change. But record-setting
wet winter weather led both states last week to release
significant amounts of water from reservoirs and rivers to
prevent flooding, underscoring the need for new approaches to
build climate-resilient communities across the country.
Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in North America,
isn’t exactly known for record rainfall or pop-up lakes
stretching as far as the eye can see. But after a massive storm
lashed the desert with rain and brought chilly temperatures
through Southern California, that’s exactly what happened,
according to photographer Elliott McGucken. He was trying to
get to Badwater Basin, where he thought there could be
flooding, when he saw the giant lake.
The federal government issued the final permit Friday allowing
the Rosemont Mine to be built despite written EPA warnings that
the mine will pollute surface water and shrink, if not dry up,
two nationally important streams. … The EPA’s regional office
also warned that the mine’s cutoff of stormwater flows into
neighboring streams and its groundwater pumping will
significantly degrade federally regulated water bodies.
On February 14, 2019, the California Office of the State Fire
Marshall (“OSFM”) published long awaited draft regulations to
reduce the volume of pipeline oil spills in coastal areas. The
proposed regulations, which implement AB 864 (2015), will
impose substantial and costly burdens on companies that own and
operate pipelines within California near environmentally and
ecologically sensitive areas
San Luis Obispo County supervisors are exploring what it’d take
to bolster the county’s authority in issuing groundwater well
permits. Following a report about groundwater conditions in the
Adelaida region of the North County on Feb. 26, the Board of
Supervisors voted unanimously to have its staff look at how it
could increase the level of review and discretion the county
has over approving or denying well applications.
In this edition of In Depth we take on two water topics. First,
there’s growing concern that a lot of the rainwater we’ve been
getting is just going down the drain and out to sea. We plumb
the depths of California’s water system to find out where it’s
coming up short and what can be done to fix it. Then, new
research suggests that the historical link between wet winters
and less severe fire seasons has broken down. We discuss why
even in the rainiest of years, we still can’t count out
A long battle over development of the Cargill salt ponds in
Redwood City may soon return after the EPA declared the site
exempt from the federal Clean Water Act — causing concern by
environmentalists and the city’s mayor. The Environmental
Protection Agency announced its decision earlier this month,
effectively removing one of several barriers to development of
the 1,400-acre Bayside property.
For a region so crucial to the growth of California as we know
it today, you might think there would be libraries full of
books about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And yet, as UC
Merced scholar Gregg Camfield wrote several years ago, the most
obvious thing about the literature of the Delta “is how little
there is.” Advocates of the largest estuary on the west coast
of the Americas are trying to collect those scattered bits and
pieces in a new anthology of the Delta.
When congress passed the CWA in 1972, they made it clear in
documents accompanying the legislation that they supported “the
broadest possible constitutional interpretation” of protected
waters of the United States.
What better way to decompress from a stressful federal
government job than by trekking 2,600 miles on foot from Mexico
to Canada? That’s what Jared Blumenfeld, the new head of the
California Environmental Protection Agency, did three years
ago, setting out on the arduous and beloved Pacific Crest Trail
that traces California’s searing deserts, rugged mountains and
California farmer Brenton Kelly still remembers how the Cuyama
Valley used to be. The valley, located in California’s Central
Coast region, has long been home to an abundance of wildlife.
Historically, the land has been used for cattle pastures, and
featured “beautiful rolling grassy hill” and an “amazing
wildflower show,” according to Kelly. These days, however, the
land has been taken over by large commercial farms and
vineyards, Kelly said. … Among some of the corporations that
have expanded into the region in recent years is an unlikely
investor — the Harvard Management Company. HMC, the
University’s investment arm, oversees Harvard’s nearly $40
Conditions are right for spectacular blooms throughout the
California desert this year, experts say. The benefits of rain
are endless, especially in Southern California, where
drought-like conditions often persist for months on end. Thanks
to this year’s significant rainfall, the annual wildflower
blooms are set to be quite spectacular, according to Jorge
Moreno, information officer for California State Parks.
The Crossroads Open Space soccer field in Santa Maria is filled
with water thanks to the most recent storm. Located on S.
College Dr., the field also serves as a basin to collect storm
runoff. The city says the water will soak into the ground,
recharging the groundwater basin.
You can’t see them. You can’t swim in them. But groundwater
aquifers are one of the most important sources of water in the
North Coast. Aquifers are water-rich underground areas. They
aren’t like lakes or pools but are composed of water-filled
areas between rocks, sands, and gravels. Plants and animals
benefit from groundwater when it’s near the surface, and feeds
creeks and streams. Humans tap into aquifers through wells used
for drinking, irrigating crops and operating businesses.
California’s largest lake has long attracted visitors. Many go
there year-round to see thousands of birds congregating around
the lake and its nearby habitats, but the lake is changing and
that’s changing bird populations.
Dam by dam, owners of smaller hydroelectric projects around the
West look at them with a cold eye as relicensing looms. Created
with optimism a century ago, dams are now seen as fish-killers
and river-distorters. New energy sources are getting cheaper.
After decades of operation, owners approach relicensing knowing
that, if they are to continue generating a single watt of
electricity, they must fix the problems.
Scientists found that wet winter weather, historically a
predictor of more modest California fire seasons, is no longer
linked to less damaging fires. The link between more rain and
less fire fell apart thanks to modern fire management and
accelerating climate change, the study said. “It’s going to be
a problem for people, for firefighters, for society,” said
study co-author Alan Taylor, a Pennsylvania State University
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of
water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by
agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing,
and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and
recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life
as haven for artists.
The Senate on Thursday confirmed Andrew R. Wheeler to be the
administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, giving
oversight of the nation’s air and water to a former coal
lobbyist and seasoned Washington insider. … The vote, 52-47,
went mostly along party lines and underscored partisan
divisions over the Trump administration’s continued commitment
to repealing environmental regulations under Mr. Wheeler.
The Yolo Bypass is central, both geographically and in
importance, to California’s water supply and flood protection
system, according to Bontadelli. However, proposed
modifications to the Bypass to enhance habitat for
out-migrating endangered winter and spring-run young salmon
means the it will be key to the continued pumping of water
south for agriculture and urban users.
A wide-ranging bill that revives a popular conservation
program, adds 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, expands
several national parks and creates five new national monuments
has won congressional approval. … The bill would permanently
reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which
supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects across
the country. The program expired last fall after Congress could
not agree on language to extend it.
The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region
and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in
a time of great change. The valley produces more than half of
the state’s agricultural output. Irrigated farming is the
region’s main economic driver and predominant water user.
Stress on the valley’s water system is growing. Local water
supplies are limited, particularly in the southern half of the
A judge sentenced a self-described “dirt broker” convicted last
week of illegal dumping in federally protected San Francisco
Bay wetlands to thirty months in prison, a U.S. Justice
Department spokesman said Monday. On Thursday, a jury convicted
Carmel resident James Lucero on three counts of unpermitted
filling of wetlands and tributaries, violating the Federal
Clean Water Act.
With stepped-up stormwater capture programs, the Pacific
Institute said in a 2014 study, Southern California and the Bay
Area could boost the state’s water supply by 420,000 acre-feet
annually. That’s enough water to meet the needs of
Every day, millions of gallons of water loaded with
arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most
contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding
streams and ponds without being treated, The Associated Press
has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting
drinking water sources in Colorado, Montana, California,
Oklahoma and at least five other states.
One week after an atmospheric river storm pounded Northern
California, causing flooding, mudslides and traffic headaches,
another one appears to be forming in the Pacific and is set to
arrive early next week. Computer models show the storm
hitting Monday or Tuesday, with the North Bay and parts of
California farther north taking the brunt, although that could
change, experts say.
State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside and Assemblywoman Laura
Friedman, D-Glendale last week introduced SB 307, which seeks
to ensure “that any future water transfers from groundwater
basins underlying desert lands do not adversely affect the
California desert’s natural or cultural resources,” according
to a bill fact sheet.
In another sign Southern California is having its wettest
winter in years, Mystic Lake has risen again in the rural,
agricultural valley between Moreno Valley and San Jacinto. The
ephemeral body of water was largely absent the past decade
February storms have almost eliminated drought conditions from
California. The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that
just over 67 percent of the state is totally free of any level
of dryness. Just under 30 percent is classified as abnormally
dry, and less than 4 percent remains in either moderate or
Earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency released
its enforcement data for fiscal year 2018, and in many key
areas data continued to show a downward trend in the civil and
criminal punitive measures meted out to large polluters. And on
Tuesday the House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced it
will hold a hearing next week to investigate the Trump EPA’s
“troubling enforcement record.”
If the Trump administration wanted to increase California’s
water supply by the most cost-effective means possible, it
would immediately drop its attempt to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5
feet. It would instead put $1.5 billion — the cost of the
proposed Shasta enlargement, in 2019 dollars — toward a
completely different approach to water supply: watershed and
Recent rains allowed surface water in the Mojave River to flow
through the city for the first time in eight years, signaling
good news for recharge in regional aquifers, according to
Mojave Water Agency officials.
We mostly blunder through sociological thinking on
environmental management. The book highlights the costs
of this blundering in terms of environmental efficacy,
distraction and waste of human time and resources, and
expansions of controversy for already-hard environmental
The Trump administration’s proposal might seem simpler to
follow on wetlands because it wouldn’t protect those that are
dry most of the time and don’t connect to larger downstream
waters. But navigating the definition could be confusing when
it comes to wetlands that do connect to streams that are dry
during parts of the year.
At the end of 2017, several local rice farmers teamed up with
researchers for a pilot program known as “Fish in the Fields”
through the Resource Renewal Institute, a nonprofit research
and natural resource policy group, to see what would happen
when fish were introduced to flooded rice fields. Now in its
second year of experiments, researchers have concluded that it
works, with methane – a climate-changing byproduct of rice
agriculture much more detrimental than carbon dioxide – being
reduced by about two-thirds, or 65 percent, in flooded fields
that had fish in them.
Too often, entrenched conflicts that pit water user against
water user block efforts to secure a sustainable, equitable,
and democratic water future in California. Striking a balance
involves art and science, compassion and flexibility, and
adherence to science and the law. Felicia Marcus is a public
servant unknown to many Californians. But as she concludes her
tenure as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, we
owe her a debt of gratitude for consistently reaching for that
Many no longer recall the Great Midwest Flood despite its
record-breaking precipitation, flooding and $13 billion price
tag. Sure, 1993 seems like a long time ago, but I believe the
reason the flood has left most people’s memory is because, over
the last 25 years, the nation has experienced one devastating,
record-breaking flood after another. Our memories are diluted
by the frequency of such events.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said
in a statement Thursday that a decision by House Speaker Rusty
Bowers to move forward with a contentious water bill threatens
the community’s plan to support the drought agreement. The
Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because it’s
entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that
passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal.
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by
reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving
ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to
revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat
for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
There may be more in the sewage-tainted water that regularly
spills over the border from Tijuana than many San Diegans
realize. The cross-border pollution also contains potentially
dangerous industrial and agricultural chemicals, according to a
draft report compiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
that was circulated to officials throughout the region on
Farmers, water managers and government agencies agree:
Groundwater sustainability is critical for California. But
achieving it could bring significant changes to the state’s
agricultural landscape, according to speakers at a Sacramento
gathering of water professionals.
Ominous predictions about the desert lake’s ecological
collapse are beginning to occur. You can see this sea
up close during our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1,
when we will visit the fragile ecosystem and hear from several
stakeholders working to address challenges facing the sea.
Lawmakers from both parties said the bill’s most important
provision was to permanently reauthorize the federal Land and
Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and
outdoor recreation projects across the country. The program
expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to
Our floodplain reforestation projects are biodiversity hotspots
and climate-protection powerhouses that cost far less than
old-fashioned gray infrastructure of levees, dams and
reservoirs. They provide highly-effective flood safety by
strategically spreading floodwater. Floodplain forests combat
the effects of drought by recharging groundwater and increasing
A year after Colorado River imports were diverted to urban
areas from farms draining into the lake, dire predictions about
what would occur are coming to pass. A long-predicted, enormous
ecological transition is occurring this winter.
California’s San Joaquin River Delta is in danger of being
overrun by voracious beagle-sized rodents. The state has a plan
to deal with them, but it’s going to take a lot of time and
money. Nutria, a large South American rodent, have become an
invasive species in several states, including Louisiana,
Maryland and Oregon.
According to the government, the proposed rule is also
consistent with the statutory authority granted by Congress,
legal precedent, and executive orders. Notably, the proposed
definition would eliminate the process of determining whether a
“significant nexus” exists between a water and a downstream
traditional navigable water.
President Donald Trump on Monday nominated David Bernhardt, the
former top lobbyist for a powerful Fresno-based irrigation
district, to run the Department of the Interior, raising
renewed questions about whether he’d try to steer more
California water to his former clients. … Bernhardt is a
former lobbyist for Westlands Water District, which serves
farmers in Fresno and Kings counties and is one of the most
influential customers of the federal government’s Central
After more than a decade of drafting and editing, California is
poised to finally update its wetlands regulations this spring.
The effort, which began after a pair of Supreme Court decisions
limited federal wetlands protections, could be finalized just
in time to insulate the state from a Trump administration
proposal restricting which wetlands and waterways are protected
by the Clean Water Act.
In September of 2018, the Public Policy Institute of California
(PPIC) released the report, “Managing Drought in a Changing
Climate: Four Essential Reforms”, which asserted there are five
climate pressures affecting California’s water… The report
recommends four policy reforms: Plan ahead, upgrade the water
grid, update water allocation rules, and find the money.
On Tuesday, the Democratic members of the House Committee on
Natural Resources elected Huffman to serve as chair for the
newly established Water, Ocean and Wildlife Subcommittee. The
chair is the result of a long career championing environmental
protections and, for Huffman, it’s both an honor and a welcome
A proposed statewide rule would curb the use of a controversial
weedkiller linked to the death of more than a thousand trees
near Sisters, but some environmentalists are concerned it
doesn’t go far enough. The rule, which could be in effect
by spring, would prohibit using herbicides containing
aminocyclopyrachlor in wildlife management areas, swamps,
canals, sage grouse habitat and many other natural
environments, while maintaining temporary restrictions on use
in right-of-ways for roads, highways, railroad tracks, bike
paths and more.
A group of Northern California lawmakers seeking more sway over
a mammoth $17 billion water project introduced a proposal
Friday that would require new construction contracts to be
reviewed by the Legislature. The Legislative Delta Caucus
says because of the scope of the California WaterFix, the
project should require more scrutiny from both the public and
lawmakers now that former Gov. Jerry Brown has left office.
The rise of wind and solar power, coupled with the increasing
social, environmental and financial costs of hydropower
projects, could spell the end of an era of big dams. But even
anti-dam activists say it’s too early to declare the demise of
A new approach to flood management around the San Francisco Bay
could trim maintenance costs for water agencies, restore
habitat for endangered species, and help protect against rising
seas. What links the three? Sediment. Winter storms push
sediment down creeks that flow into the Bay and, long ago,
these waterways fanned out when they reached the edge. Sediment
settled there, nourishing tidal baylands — salt marshes and
mudflats that are rich in wildlife, and also buffer the shore
from storm surges, the highest tides, and sea level rise. Today
few of these low-lying tidal baylands remain.
These red-state GOP governors are not taking aim at
greenhouse-gas emissions like their blue-state Republican
counterparts. Still, environmentalists should not dismiss their
momentum on water. In several states won by Trump, water,
literally a chemical bond, is also proving a bond that brings
disparate people, groups, and political parties together around
shared concerns for the Everglades, the Great Lakes, the
Colorado River, and other liquid life systems.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, have lands that
stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. The tribe’s
right to divert nearly 720,000 acre-feet from the river is more
than twice the water that is allocated to the state of Nevada.
By law, that water is to be used on the reservation. But if
CRIT convinces Congress to allow off-reservation leasing, the
change would free up a large volume of water that would be
highly desirable for cities and industries.
Five dams across California – including one in Lake County that
forms Lake Pillsbury – have been listed as key for removal by
an advocacy group in the effort to stop the extinction of
native salmon and steelhead. In response to what it calls a
“statewide fish extinction crisis,” which indicates 74 percent
of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout species are
likely to be extinct in the next century, the fish and
watershed conservation nonprofit organization California Trout
on Tuesday released its list of the top five dams prime for
removal in the golden state.
Congressmen John Garamendi and Doug LaMalfa have reintroduced
legislation to provide farmers access to discounted rates under
the National Flood Insurance Program. The
bipartisan Flood Insurance for Farmers Act of
2019 (H.R.830) would also lift the de
facto federal prohibition on construction and repair of
agricultural structures in high flood-risk areas designated by
the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Early last year, construction started on a $90 million project
to build seven miles of setback levees and floodplains to
protect Hamilton City from floods on the Sacramento River. …
The new barriers are much farther from the riverbanks—as far as
a mile away in places. In some respects, the concept is
absurdly simple: During heavy rains or spring snowmelt, rivers
need room to expand; moving levees back from riverbanks
provides it. Setback levees not only reduce the need for newer
and larger dams and levees, but also restore the natural
Maintaining functional wetlands in a 21st-century landscape
dominated by agriculture and cities requires a host of hard and
soft infrastructures. Canals, pumps, and sluice gates provide
critical life support, and the lands are irrigated and tilled
in seasonal cycles to essentially farm wildlife. Reams of laws
and regulations scaffold the system.
It took more than a decade to create, but a revised state
definition of wetlands and procedures to protect them from
dredge-and-fill activities requires still more work to make the
plan more clear and to reduce its impact on farmers, ranchers
A federal court of appeals ruled Friday that PacifiCorp, which
currently owns and operates several dams along the Klamath
River, can no longer continue to use a controversial tactic
which has allowed the company to avoid implementing mandatory
requirements meant to protect the health of the Klamath River
for over a decade. The decision marks a victory for the Hoopa
Valley Tribe, who filed the lawsuit, and may expedite the
removal of several Klamath River dams.
Mission Bay is a microcosm of the worldwide battle being waged
to save remaining dwindling wetlands. That battle is being
played out locally with ReWild Mission Bay, a project of San
Diego Audubon and its partners to enhance and restore wetlands
in Mission Bay’s northeast corner. ReWild Mission Bay’s
proposal is to enhance and restore more than 150 acres of
wetlands in the northeast corner of Mission Bay, including the
enhancement of 40 acres of existing tidal wetland
On our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1, we will
visit this fragile ecosystem that harbors 400 bird species and
hear from several stakeholders working to address challenges
facing the sea, including managers of the Imperial Irrigation
District, the Salton Sea Authority and California’s appointed
“Sea Czar,” assistant secretary on Salton Sea policy Bruce
Citing impacts to water, soil and people, Jackson County
commissioners are asking the state to block a proposed natural
gas pipeline through Southern Oregon. The Oregon Department of
State Lands is taking comments until Feb. 3 as it considers
whether to grant a key permit for the controversial 239-mile
pipeline that would stretch through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas
and Coos counties to a proposed export terminal north of Coos
The restoration site is one of three south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last
miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small
amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to
an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been
claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through
an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites,
another source is increasingly important for restoring these
patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor:
One in seven Americans drink from private wells, according to
the U.S. Geological Survey. Nitrate concentrations rose
significantly in 21% of regions where USGS researchers tested
groundwater from 2002 through 2012, compared with the 13 prior
years. … “The worst-kept secret is how vulnerable
private wells are to agricultural runoff,” says David Cwiertny,
director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects
of Environmental Contamination.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman today named
Ernest A. Conant director of the Mid-Pacific Region. Conant has
nearly 40 years of water law experience and previously served
as senior partner of Young Wooldridge, LLP.
The Trump administration’s bid to restrict the Clean Water
Act’s reach over streams and wetlands is backed by an …
assumption that 29 states “may” or are “likely” to bolster
dredge and fill regulations as federal oversight retreats.
… Thus far, only California has made moves toward
beefing up its wetlands protections.
Citing what they say would be a disastrous decision for the
region, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts
have joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries
Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to
arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other
Locally, the primary impacts of climate change on people can
broadly be broken into four categories: sea level rise,
drought, flood and wildfire. The good news is, work and
planning are already well underway to mitigate impacts, though
it’s hard to say how much of an effect the measures will have,
and how much those agencies – and their constituents – will be
willing to spend on them. But this much is clear: Local, state
and federal agencies are taking climate change seriously, and
treating it like the potentially existential threat that it is.
An ambitious new multicampus, multipartner consortium led by
the University of California, Davis, and the UC Working Lands
Innovation Center is taking on that challenge with the goal of
finding ways to capture billions of tons of carbon dioxide and
bring net carbon emissions in California to zero by 2045. The
consortium has received a three-year, $4.7 million grant from
the state of California’s Strategic Growth Council to research
scalable methods of using soil amendments — rock, compost and
biochar — to sequester greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in
Most of the native habitat in California’s San Joaquin Desert
has been converted to row crops and orchards, leaving 35
threatened or endangered species confined to isolated patches
of habitat. A significant portion of that farmland, however, is
likely to be retired in the coming decades due to groundwater
overdraft, soil salinity, and climate change. A new study
… found that restoration of fallowed farmland could play a
crucial role in habitat protection and restoration strategies
for the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and other endangered
Far less settled is how Newsom will fill his administration’s
most important positions regarding state water policy. One of
Newsom’s key tests confronts him immediate: State Water
Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus’ term expires this
Top managers of the environmental engineering firm Tetra Tech
directed their employees to commit widespread fraud in the
cleanup of America’s largest Superfund waste site, according to
new legal complaints by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento
and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West
Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it,
simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is
essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it.
After more than three years, 104 days of testimony, and over
twenty-four thousand pages of hearing transcripts, the hearing
before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on
the proposal to construct two tunnels to convey water under the
Delta (aka California WaterFix) is almost completed.
Probably, that is: there could be more if the project changes
again to a degree that requires additional testimony and/or
The McCormack-Williamson Tract restoration project, a 1,500
acre site, lowers the levees on the north side of the island to
allow the river to overtop into the site. On the south side,
DWR will alleviate the surge flows that pose a risk to
neighbors by opening small holes in the levee. 2018 saw the
completion of construction of a levee to protect existing
infrastructure on the site, as well as progress on habitat
restoration plans. For the next phase, DWR will strengthen the
interior levees and take steps toward opening the site up to
The House approved legislation that would fund and reopen the
Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Forest
Service in an 240-179 vote on Friday, the latest effort by
Democrats to put pressure on Republicans and President Trump to
end the partial shutdown. … Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring any of
the bills up to a vote in the Senate until there is a deal
between Trump and Democrats on the president’s demand for
border wall funding.
The U.S. Interior Department is facing three lawsuits filed by
three environmental groups who allege its plans for the
200,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex
along the Oregon-California border violates several federal
laws. A fourth complaint from six farms and agricultural
groups alleges the agency has unlawfully exceeded its authority
by restricting leases of refuge land for agricultural purposes.
Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public
Policy Institute of California, spoke recently about
managing freshwater systems with ecosystem water budgets. “I
will argue that drought, because of the way we have modified
this system, is the major bottleneck ecologically,” he said.
“Step 1 has to be thinking about drought: how to mitigate
drought and how to deal with drought – that is plan for,
respond to, and recover from drought. We don’t do that at
all, even though we just had this big drought.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has named Jared Blumenfeld, a
former Obama administration official and longtime environmental
advocate as the new secretary of the California Environmental
Protection Agency. Blumenfeld, 49, of San Francisco, will run
the agency, known as Cal-EPA, which oversees a broad range of
environmental and public health regulations statewide, on
topics that include air pollution, water pollution, toxics
regulation, pesticides and recycling.
Saying it will continue to protect environmentally sensitive
waterways such as wetlands in California, even if federal
protections on waters of the U.S. are limited, the State Water
Resources Control Board has unveiled a final draft on how it
plans to regulate dredge-and-fill activities in the state.
In the latter half of 2018, both the federal and state
governments released new climate change assessments that
outline the projected course of climate change and its
potential effects on water resources. At the December meeting
of the California Water Commission, staff from the Department
of Water Resources and the Delta Stewardship Council were on
hand to present an overview of the newly released assessments.
Due to rising average temperatures, snowpacks in the Great
Basin appear to be transitioning from seasonal, with a
predictable amount and melt rate, to “ephemeral,” or
short-lived, which are less predictable and only last up to 60
days. “We might not get as much water into the ground, throwing
off the timing of water for plant root systems, reducing our
supply and use, and even affecting businesses such as tourism,”
says lead researcher Rose Petersky.
Montgomery is known for fostering collaborative relationships
among stakeholders and as a leader in protecting and restoring
water quality within California and throughout the Southwest
and the Pacific Islands. He is currently serving as the
Assistant Director of the Water Division in the US
Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).
CANCELED: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold one hearing to
provide interested parties the opportunity to present data,
views, or information concerning the proposed rule changes
affecting wetlands and ephemeral waters.
The Trump administration laid out plans Tuesday to roll back
Obama-era rules protecting isolated streams and wetlands from
industrial pollution, a move that conservation groups said
could harm creeks and impact drinking water in the Bay Area and
throughout California. The move by the Environmental Protection
Agency to roll back the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, known as
WOTUS, was hailed by farmers and industry, which have long
sought to rewrite the rules.
The Trump administration is poised to roll back Clean Water Act
protections on millions of acres of waterways and wetlands,
including up to two-thirds of California’s inland streams,
following through on a promise to agriculture interests and
real estate developers to rewrite an Obama-era rule limiting
More than 1,000 acres of unused farmland in East Contra Costa
County are slowly being converted back to the vibrant wetlands
they once were in what’s hailed as the largest tidal marsh
restoration project ever in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River
Delta. The Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, which
recently broke ground, is the California Department of Water
Resources’ first major tidal wetlands restoration in the Delta.
A series of programs is under way to restore wetlands, the
newest starting this week. The Department of Water Resources
will break ground Wednesday at Dutch Slough in Oakley for what
DWR calls its largest tidal wetlands restoration project —
nearly 1,200 acres — in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Other projects by other agencies are transforming salt ponds to
wetlands in the Napa-Sonoma Marsh and along South San Francisco
California voters may be feeling a sense of deja vu when they
consider Proposition 3, an $8.9 billion water bond on the
November ballot to fund a long list of water projects —
from repairing Oroville Dam to restoring Bay Area wetlands to
helping Central Valley farmers recharge depleted groundwater.
Didn’t the voters recently approve a big water bond? Maybe two
of them? Yes. And yes.
As Congressman Jimmy Panetta stepped up on the podium at a
ceremony last week at Hester Marsh, pelicans glided behind him
to a landing near bobbing otters. The flurry of wildlife
underlined Panetta’s message of just how crucial wetland
habitat is. “We want to show the importance of Elkhorn Slough
not just to the Central Coast, but to the world,” Panetta told
the crowd of scientists, activists, and politicians.
The Trump Administration has moved decisively to weaken the
Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, a federal regulatory process
that seeks to protect wetlands and seasonal streams from
excessive development. This effort has suffered setbacks in the
courts, which has only helped create more uncertainty about how
these waters should be protected.
California officials are poised to seize control over a major
arena of federal regulation in response to Trump administration
rollbacks: the management and protection of wetlands. Wetlands
are vital features on the landscape. Basically low spots in a
watershed, when they fill with water they provide important
habitat for birds, fish and other species. Wetlands also help
control floods and recharge groundwater, and they filter the
water we drink.
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.
Oil drillers, miners, land developers and others will no longer
be required to pay the federal government to offset damage to
wildlife and habitats on public land, the Trump administration
plans to announce Tuesday.
For years, there has been a movement in California to restore
floodplains, by moving levees back from rivers and planting
trees, shrubs and grasses in the low-lying land between. The
goal has been to go back in time, to bring back some of the
habitat for birds, animals and fish that existed before the
state was developed.
In the decades since President George H.W. Bush pledged a goal
of “no net loss” of U.S. wetlands, this uniquely American mix
of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every
president since then, growing the market for wetlands
mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to
nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street
firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other
environmental groups. Now the market is at risk.
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.
We traveled deep into California’s
water hub and traverse the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a
720,000-acre network of islands and canals that supports the
state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and
ecological resource. The tour made its way to San Francisco Bay,
and included a ferry ride.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who
has been methodically weakening air pollution rules over the
past year, is now taking control of key decision-making on the
protection of streams and wetlands from the agency’s regional
administrators, an internal memo shows. At issue is something
known as “geographic jurisdiction,” agency speak for which
bodies of water do, or do not, fall under the Clean Water Act.
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.
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
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.
The California Coastal Act for decades has scaled back
mega-hotels, protected wetlands and, above all, declared that
access to the beach was a fundamental right guaranteed to
everyone. But that very principle could be dismantled in the
latest chapter of an all-out legal battle that began as a local
dispute over a locked gate.
As Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt jetted
around the country last year, regularly flying first or
business class at hefty taxpayer expense, his stated mission
was often a noble one: to hear from Americans about how
Washington could most effectively and fairly enforce the Clean
Coastal wetlands such as Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County, the
marshes along Morro Bay and the ecological preserve in Newport
Beach can purify the air, cleanse urban runoff before it flows
into the sea and reduce flooding by absorbing storm surges like
a sponge. But there’s little room left for this ecosystem
along the changing Pacific Coast, as the sea continues to rise
and Californians continue to develop the shore.
California is once again suing the Trump Administration,
joining New York and eight other states in a case about water.
The states filed the lawsuit Tuesday just hours after federal
agencies announced a new delay in the federal Clean Water Rule.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said the
Trump administration is “righting the wrongs” of President
Barack Obama by reversing a host of regulations designed to
“weaponize” the agency and punish the fossil fuel industry.
Eleven Democratic state attorneys general on Tuesday sued
President Donald Trump’s administration over its decision to
delay implementation of an Obama-era rule that would have
expanded the number of wetlands and small waterways protected
by the Clean Water Act.
The text of the Clean Water Act trumped all of the government’s
arguments in the long-running fight over which courts have
jurisdiction over the Obama administration’s contentious water
rule. … The Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule aimed to
clarify which wetlands and streams receive automatic protection
under the Clean Water Act after years of confusion caused by
the infamously muddled 2006 Supreme Court Rapanos decision.
This tour traveled deep into California’s water hub and traversed
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of
islands and canals that supports the state’s water system and is
California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. The
tour made its way to San Francisco Bay and
included a ferry ride.
California’s top water regulators adopted an agreement that
commits the state to following through on plans of building
wetlands and controlling dust around the shrinking Salton Sea
over the next 10 years. The order approved Tuesday by the
State Water Resources Control Board sets targets for state
agencies in building thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and
other dust-control projects around the lake.
Despite the Trump administration’s claims that deregulation
will lead to economic growth, an analysis of three of his most
significant proposed deregulatory efforts shows that they will
result in tremendous societal cost. In Executive Order 13778,
Trump directed agencies to review the Waters of the United
States rule, which provides protections for streams and
Earlier this month, a proposed bond measure in the California
Legislature had included $280 million to pay for building
thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and other dust-control
projects around the Salton Sea. This week, after negotiations
among lawmakers, the amount earmarked for the Salton Sea was
slashed to $200 million.
Northern California farmer John Duarte spent years fighting the
federal government after being fined for plowing over protected
wetlands on his property. … But just before his trial was set
to start Tuesday, Duarte settled.
In a show of support, the Butte County Farm Bureau visited John
Duarte’s Paskenta Road property south of Red Bluff Friday
morning, issuing a challenge for other farm bureau
organizations to join it in supporting the legal battle
involving the property that returns to court Tuesday in
Northern California farmer John Duarte, facing millions of
dollars in fines for plowing a Sacramento Valley wheat field,
previously sought help from President Donald Trump’s attorney
general and EPA chief to get the government off his back. Now
Duarte is making an 11th-hour bid for a dismissal of the
federal government’s high-profile case against him.
A California farmer facing a $2.8 million fine
for allegedly plowing seasonal wetlands on his 450-acre
Tehama County land lashed out Friday against federal
prosecutors and bureaucrats for what he called an abuse of
California farmer John Duarte, facing a hefty fine over
water-law violations for plowing a field, wants to call in a
big gun in his high-profile court case in Sacramento: Scott
Pruitt, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection
The [Delta] Conservancy, a state agency that oversees
environmental and economic opportunities in the Delta, recently
won approval from the American Carbon Registry for a new carbon
banking methodology. This means wetland restoration in the
Delta (and other coastal areas of the state) can now generate
money by selling greenhouse gas credits to
John Duarte spent five years fighting the Obama
administration’s Justice Department over charges that he broke
environmental laws by harming wetlands while planting a wheat
crop on his Northern California farm. He lost his case, and
faces a $2.8 million fine.
A farmer faces trial in federal court this summer and a $2.8
million fine for failing to get a permit to plow his field
and plant wheat in Tehama County. … Because the property has
numerous swales and wetlands, [John] Duarte hired a consulting
firm to map out areas on the property that were not to be
plowed because they were part of the drainage for Coyote and
Oat creeks and were considered “waters of the United States.”
Machine Gun Flats Lake sits placidly in a natural depression on
what was once an Army training area. It is one of about 45
vernal pools on Bureau of Land Management land on Fort Ord,
teeming with life after an exceptionally wet rainy season, and
a welcome sight after years of drought.
After years of delays, California’s plans for the shrinking
Salton Sea are finally starting to take shape. A $383 million
plan released by the state’s Natural Resources Agency on
Thursday lays out a schedule for building thousands of acres of
ponds and wetlands that will cover up stretches of dusty
lakebed and create habitat for birds as the lake recedes.
The Trump administration could eliminate all federal funding
for wetlands restoration in San Francisco Bay, according to a
budget plan that has shocked local and state officials, but is
just one piece of broad changes to federal environmental
Most of the time, motorists driving on Interstate 80 between
Davis and here [Sacramento] look out on vast tracts of farms
and wetlands. But over the last two weeks, something remarkable
has happened in what is known as the Yolo Bypass.
In a move that critics say could increase costs and delay
projects, a low-profile government agency responsible for
handing out $500 million to restore San Francisco Bay’s
wetlands and improve flood control has ruled that most
of the construction contracts must be awarded to union
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.
The San Francisco Bay Joint Venture — celebrating its 20th
anniversary this year — has helped coordinate and complete more
than 150 wetland habitat projects, conserving and restoring
about 75,000 acres of habitat in and around the bay since 1996.
Thousands of acres of land around the San Francisco Bay will be
returned to wetlands after voters in the nine-county Bay Area
approved a new $12-per-parcel tax that will raise millions of
dollars for bay enhancement and habitat restoration.
On May 31, the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc., 578 U.S. ____ (2016) (Hawkes),
unanimously upheld the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling
on the ability to appeal an approved “jurisdictional
determination” (JD) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the
The Bay Area’s first-ever nine-county ballot measure — a
20-year parcel tax intended to raise $500 million for marsh
restoration and improved public access along the bay’s
shoreline — was leading comfortably early Wednesday, with its
strongest support from the most populous counties.
As birds sing and lizards scuttle in the lush vegetation of the
Tijuana River Valley, helicopters circle overhead, and Border
Patrol agents on all-terrain vehicles comb the area looking to
stop illegal border-crossers.
A state water agency has proposed one of its largest fines
ever — $4.6 million — against a Bay Area man for
allegedly damaging an island by transforming
it into a luxury sporting enclave for Silicon Valley
A two-year Delta fight came to a head Tuesday as a state water
agency proposed a $4.6 million fine — its largest ever — and
cleanup order against a Pittsburg resident who owns a small
island in the Suisun Marsh.
A 59-year-old South Bay man was charged with illegally dumping
fill material, construction debris and other pollutants into
the waters of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National
Wildlife Refuge, officials said.
The federal government plans to spend $3 million this year
constructing a new wetland along the Alamo River in order to
rehabilitate habitats and help clean up some of the polluted
water flowing into the Salton Sea.
The Environmental Protection Agency broke the law in a social
media campaign intended to generate public support for a
controversial rule to protect small streams and wetlands from
development and pollution, congressional auditors said Monday.
The Environmental Protection Agency engaged in “covert
propaganda” and violated federal law when it blitzed social
media to urge the public to back an Obama administration rule
intended to better protect the nation’s streams and surface
waters, congressional auditors have concluded.
This is Bean Meadow in Mariposa County in the Sierra Nevada
foothills. The [Sierra Foothill] Conservancy has embarked on a
project to return 39 acres back to what it once was, before
people built roads and ditches and turned it into ranchland in
the 19th century.
After 10 years of planning and three years of site preparation,
it took less than a minute Sunday for workers to scrape a hole
in a levee and begin the renewal of 1,000 acres of former North
In a clear sign that the largest wetlands restoration project
on the West Coast is already improving the health of San
Francisco Bay, bird populations have doubled over the past 13
years on thousands acres of former industrial salt-evaporation
ponds that ring the bay’s southern shoreline, scientists
A federal appeals court on Friday blocked an Obama
administration rule that attempts to clarify which small
streams, wetlands and other waterways the government can shield
from pollution and development.
Two endangered species have returned to a nearly lifeless
former salt pond in the southern San Francisco Bay, the first
proof that the ambitious 30-year South Bay Salt Pond
Restoration Project is helping nature heal.
In the week that the new Waters of the United States Rule
(“WOTUS Rule”) was scheduled to take effect on August 28, 2015,
three Federal District Courts issued rulings reaching opposite
conclusions on the question of whether District Courts have
jurisdiction to hear these cases: one court ruled it has
jurisdiction and took the additional step of issuing a
preliminary injunction against the rule; two courts dismissed
challenges for lack of jurisdiction. Several other
challenges remain pending in both Federal District Courts and
Courts of Appeal.
A federal judge in North Dakota is allowing arguments over the
scope of his injunction blocking a new Obama administration
rule that would give the federal government jurisdiction over
some smaller waterways.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it is going forward
with a new federal rule to protect small streams, tributaries
and wetlands, despite a court ruling that blocked the measure
in 13 central and Western states.
A federal judge in North Dakota on Thursday blocked a new Obama
administration rule that would give the federal government
jurisdiction over some smaller waterways just hours before it
was set to go into effect.
Thirteen states led by North Dakota filed a lawsuit Monday
challenging an Obama administration rule that gives federal
agencies authority to protect some streams, tributaries and
wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
Efforts are underway in Congress to redo and sharply limit the
impact of what was known initially as the “Waters of the United
States” rule and was designed to help federal officials clarify
and simplify which bodies of water fall under the control of
the Clean Water Act, the pivotal 1972 environmental law.
In May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) finalized a long-debated clean
water rule to limit pollution in a variety of streams,
tributaries, and wetlands. … Not surprisingly, the new rule
has triggered a national political firestorm …
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved
legislation Wednesday that would force the Environmental
Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to
withdraw and rewrite rules issued in May that clarify which of
those smaller bodies of water are regulated under the Clean
New federal rules designed to better protect small streams,
tributaries and wetlands – and the drinking water of 117
million Americans – are being criticized by Republicans and
farm groups as going too far.
Marshes that rest along bayside Marin could protect communities
from storms, flooding, erosion and sea-level rise, according to
a new NOAA study. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration study looked at different reports addressing how
natural processes protect shorelines — which it turns out they
do quite well.
Interest in the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area, also known as the
Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, is so brisk that the Yolo Basin
Foundation has had to turn away schools that seek to introduce
students to the environmental value of the more than
Los Angeles River activists, heartened by the momentum behind
revitalization of upstream sections of the waterway, asked
water officials on Thursday to return the downstream portion to
a more natural state by halting removal of vegetation on the
last 11/2 miles of the river.
In a year the Republican-controlled Congress is expected to
take a significant whack at President Barack Obama’s
environmental agenda, GOP lawmakers on Wednesday told top
environmental officials they should scrap what was once a
fairly obscure proposal to define what is and isn’t considered
a body of water by federal law.