Western Water News

Overview Jennifer Bowles

Western Water News

Western Water has provided in-depth coverage of critical water issues facing California and the West since 1977, first as a printed magazine and now as an online newsroom. Articles explore the science, policy and debates centered around drought, groundwater, sustainability, water access and affordability, climate change and endangered species involving key sources of supply such as the Colorado River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and more.

Western Water news is produced by a team of veteran journalists at the Water Education Foundation:

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Western Water Gary Pitzer Layperson's Guide to Water Rights Law Gary Pitzer

Does California’s Environment Deserve its Own Water Right?
IN-DEPTH: Fisheries and wildlife face growing challenges, but so do water systems competing for limited supply. Is there room for an environmental water right?

Sunset in Sacramento-San Joaquin DeltaDoes California need to revamp the way in which water is dedicated to the environment to better protect fish and the ecosystem at large? In the hypersensitive world of California water, where differences over who gets what can result in epic legislative and legal battles, the idea sparks a combination of fear, uncertainty and promise.

Saying that the way California manages water for the environment “isn’t working for anyone,” the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shook things up late last year by proposing a redesigned regulatory system featuring what they described as water ecosystem plans and water budgets with allocations set aside for the environment.

Western Water Jennifer Bowles

EDITOR’S NOTE: A New Era for Western Water
Western Water’s online format bridges gap in water resource journalism, gives readers easier access to important stories

Water Education Foundation Executive Director Jenn BowlesWelcome to the reinvented version of our Western Water magazine! After more than 40 years of churning out a printed magazine, which was a quarterly publication in its last iteration, we turned to the internet this month to launch Western Water in an online format.

While it’s not easy for veteran journalists like me and others at the Water Education Foundation to give up the familiar printed newspaper or magazine, we’ve known for some time that people are changing the way they get information. In the last few years, we ramped up our social media efforts, especially on Twitter and Facebook, to reach people interested in water resource issues.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

SPOTLIGHT: Putah Creek, Yuba River and environmental water for fish
Two legal settlements are cited as examples where water was set aside for environmental needs

Lower Yuba RiverDespite the heat that often accompanies debates over setting aside water for the environment, there are instances where California stakeholders have forged agreements to provide guaranteed water for fish. Here are two examples cited by the Public Policy Institute of California in its report arguing for an environmental water right.

‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,’ Climate Change and the Future of California’s Water
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Climate scientist Daniel Swain

Daniel SwainEvery day, people flock to Daniel Swain’s social media platforms to find out the latest news and insight about California’s notoriously unpredictable weather. Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, famously coined the term “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” in December 2013 to describe the large, formidable high-pressure mass that was parked over the West Coast during winter and diverted storms away from California, intensifying the drought.

Swain’s research focuses on atmospheric processes that cause droughts and floods, along with the changing character of extreme weather events in a warming world. A lifelong Californian and alumnus of University of California, Davis, and Stanford University, Swain is best known for the widely read Weather West blog, which provides unique perspectives on weather and climate in California and the western United States. In a recent interview with Western Water, he talked about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, its potential long-term impact on California weather, and what may lie ahead for the state’s water supply. 

Western Water

Mendota Pool Is a Key Farm Water Link Along San Joaquin, Kings Rivers
ON THE ROAD: Built nearly a century ago, the tiny dam played a historic role in California water

Mendota PoolWhile it may not warrant the of­ficial designation of “reservoir,” tiny Mendota Pool at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Kings rivers in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley played an historic role in California water and remains a vital link in distributing water to farmers’ fields.

Located about 40 miles west of Fresno, Mendota Pool is created by Mendota Dam and holds about 3,000 acre-feet with a surface area of about 1,200 acres. By comparison, about 40 miles upstream, Millerton Lake, which sits behind Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River, has a capacity of 520,528 acre-feet and a surface area of 4,900 acres.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Layperson's Guide to Climate Change and Water Resources Gary Pitzer

The Drought May Be Over, But California Still Wants Residents to Act Like It’s On Forever
State considers adopting permanent wise water use rules starting in April

For decades, no matter the weather, the message has been preached to Californians: use water wisely, especially outdoors, which accounts for most urban water use.

Enforcement of that message filters to the local level, where water agencies routinely target the notorious “gutter flooder” with gentle reminders and, if necessary, financial penalties.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Layperson's Guide to the State Water Project Land Subsidence Gary Pitzer

State Taking Steps to Manage Subsidence-Related Impacts to California Aqueduct
Department of Water Resources to spend $5 million for quick fixes, as it assesses longer-term repairs

For as long as agriculture has existed in the Central Valley, farmers have pumped water from the ground to sustain their livelihood and grow food consumed by much of the nation. This has caused the ground in certain places to sink, sometimes dramatically, eliminating valuable aquifer storage space that can never be restored.

Marysville flooding
Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Better Forecasting Is Key to Improved Drought and Flood Response

In a state with such topsy-turvy weather as California, the ability of forecasters to peer into the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and accurately predict the arrival of storms is a must to improve water supply reliability and flood management planning.

The problem, according to Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager with the state Department of Water Resources, is that “we have been managing with 20th century technology with respect to our ability to do weather forecasting.”

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

New Plan to Aid Salton Sea Gets Green Light from Main Water Parties

Architects of the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer in the nation’s history gave their blessing Sept. 7 to the State Water Resources Control Board’s latest plan to aid the beleaguered Salton Sea.

Western Water Layperson's Guide to Groundwater Susan Lauer

How San Joaquin Valley Growers are Helping to Address Land Subsidence
A local response was highlighted at a forum in Fresno

Against a backdrop of widespread subsidence caused by increased groundwater pumping in the San Joaquin Valley, the general manager of one large irrigation district detailed ways growers are teaming with the district to overcome the diminishing groundwater supplies in the heart of California’s bread basket.

Chris White, general manager of the Central California Irrigation District (CCID), talked about the use of groundwater recharge basins on farmland during wet years during a special Aug. 16 briefing sponsored by the California Department of Water Resources and the Water Education Foundation held at Fresno State.

Groundwater is the ‘neglected child’ of the water world, these authors say
Talking groundwater with authors William and Rosemarie Alley

The phrase “groundwater management” has become commonplace in news headlines throughout California as implementation of the state’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) moves into high gear. Following the state’s severe drought, the value of groundwater has become even more apparent so it seemed like a good time to chat about the groundwater story with the husband and wife team of William (Bill) Alley, the director of science and technology for the National Ground Water Association and former chief of the Office of Groundwater for the U.S.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

New Delta Lead Scientist Seeks Improved Knowledge of Bay-Delta Interface

John Callaway, the incoming lead scientist of the Delta Science Program, was forthright in describing his initial reaction to the idea of his new job. 

“When I saw the position, I guess I can say my first reaction was, ‘No way, I don’t want to get involved with all the crazy overwhelming issues of the Delta,’” he said. “But I thought about it more and thought it would be a great opportunity to get more involved in the science/management interface.”

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Bill Seeks Reform of State Water Board Hearings Process
Legislature to consider proposal Monday

Water users in California for years have chafed under an administrative system that some people believe is too often tilted in favor of the State Water Resources Control Board.

A bill making its way through the Legislature aims to change that.

Carried by Merced Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray, AB 313 would create a new Water Rights Division within the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings to act as a referee in cases where alleged water use violations issued by the State Water Board are challenged.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Drought’s Impact on Fiscal Planning Highlights PPIC Report
Suppliers need “proactive” drought pricing to prevent cash crunch

During drought, people conserve water. That’s a good thing for public water agencies and the state as a whole but the reduction in use ultimately means less money flowing into the budgets of those very agencies that need funds to treat water to drinkable standards, maintain a distribution system, and build a more drought-proof supply.

“There are two things that can’t happen to a water utility – you can’t run out of money and you can’t run out of water,” said Tom Esqueda, public utilities director for the city of Fresno. He was a panelist at a June 16 discussion in Sacramento about drought resiliency sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Habitat Renewal Project Aims to Boost Sacramento River Salmon
Salmon shelters installed in early May to help fry and juvenile salmon

Before dams were built on the upper Sacramento River, flood water regularly carried woody debris that was an important part of the aquatic habitat.

Deprived of this refuge, salmon in the lower parts of the upper Sacramento River have had a difficult time surviving and making it down the river and out to the ocean. Seeing this, a group of people, including water users, decided to lend a hand with an unprecedented pilot project that saw massive walnut tree trunks affixed to 12,000-pound boulders and deposited into the deepest part of the Sacramento River near Redding to provide shelter for young salmon and steelhead migrating downstream.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Legislative Committee Spotlights Need for Improved Dam Oversight

California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird said Tuesday that the February crisis with the broken spillway at Oroville Dam offers an “important opportunity” to assess the safety of the more than 1,400 dams in the state.

“We really want to use the focus on this to look at the issue of dam safety in California,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. “We have the best inspection program of the 50 states but it is clear we can do better.”

Western Water Susan Lauer

Fran Spivy-Weber: “Water, a Past and Future Perspective”

California has entered a “yo-yo” reality, where climate change-driven drought and flooding have become real challenges that will reshape consideration of state water issues. Drought and flood “can’t be taken separately. We need to consider both,” said Fran Spivy-Weber, a stalwart presence for decades in the state’s water world.

Recently retired as vice chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, she made her last public presentation during the Water Education Foundation’s annual Executive Briefing on March 23, offering a retrospective on her esteemed career and providing insight into California’s water future.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Crisis at Oroville May Be Basis for Renewed Operations Criteria
Coming snowmelt poses a problem in San Joaquin Valley

In the wake of a near disaster at Oroville Dam caused by heavy runoff and a damaged spillway, the former chief of flood operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week it may be time to reconsider how the reservoir is operated to avert such dilemmas

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Senators Call For Equity and Competitiveness in New Water Bond Allocation

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee passed a proposed $3.5 billion water and parks bond measure Tuesday, with members calling for an assurance that if approved by California voters in 2018, the funds would be equitably distributed throughout the state.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Crews Race to Stabilize Vulnerable Oroville Dam Spillway
Crews dumping "super" sand bags, filling four gouges in the hillside as storm expected tonight

Work crews repairing Oroville Dam’s damaged emergency spillway are dumping 1,200 tons of rock each hour and using shotcrete to stabilize the hillside slope, an official with the Department of Water Resources told the California Water Commission today.

The pace of work is “round the clock,” said Kasey Schimke, assistant director of DWR’s legislative affairs office.

Commands