Science news and reports: Russian River, Delta levees, Sierra snowpack, forested landscapes, water markets, and dropping groundwater levels

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A tropical estuary in Western Australia. Click on image for more information.


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Who rules the Russian River?Who has rightful claim to California’s Russian River? Federal law may protect the river habitat in the name of endangered fish, but on land, grapevines are king. This article is the first in a two-part series about how NOAA scientists are working with partners at other agencies and universities to help find compromise amid local tensions over water supplies.  Part 1 describes scientists’ efforts to understand and predict not just the river on land, but its counterpart in the sky—a river that delivers extreme, sometimes drought-busting storms into the heart of California’s wine country. Sometimes these storms can be a blessing. And at other times, a curse. … ”  Read more from Climate.Gov here:  Who Rules California’s Russian River?

NASA radar watching over Delta levees:  “One morning in 2008, research scientist Cathleen Jones of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was flying over the San Andreas fault near San Francisco, testing a new radar instrument built at JPL. As the plane banked to make a turn, she looked down to see the Sacramento River delta, a patchwork of low-lying lands crisscrossed by levees.  Jones was using an instrument that can measure tiny movements of the ground on the scale of less than half an inch (less than a centimeter). It’s called the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR).  “It struck me that this new instrument might be perfect for monitoring movement of levees,” said Jones. ... ”  Read more from JPL Laboratories here:  NASA Radar Watches Over California’s Aging Levees

With the Sierra Snowpack, the past won’t necessarily predict the future:  “Providing a reliable water supply for all Californians, one of the state’s coequal goals for the Delta, is more than just maintaining a proper water transport system or the delegation of who gets what and how much. Dr. Martha Conklin, a hydrologist with UC Merced says it’s also about understanding the amount of water that may be available from year to year and where that water will be coming from, such as snowpack, headwaters, or aquifers.  “In recent years our precipitation patterns have been changing,” said Conklin. “We may receive less during the winter (resulting in snowpack) and a little more in the spring (resulting in more rain).” … ”  Read more from the Delta Stewardship Council newsletter here:  Sierra Snowpack: Past Won’t Necessarily Predict the Future

Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection in the United States: Natural ecosystems like forests and wetlands provide essential services to water utilities, businesses, and communities—from water flow regulation and flood control to water purification and water temperature regulation. To ensure these ecosystem functions and associated benefits continue, communities can strategically secure networks of natural lands, working landscapes, and other open spaces as “natural infrastructure.” While concrete-and-steel built infrastructure will continue to play a critical role in water storage and treatment, investing in natural infrastructure can reduce or avoid costs and enhance water services and security as part of an integrated system to cost-effectively deliver safe drinking water. ... ”  Read more from the Water Wired blog here:  Super Sunday Dual Review from G. Tracy Mehan: Saving the Forests, Protecting Water Quality

Missing water markets: A cautionary tale: California is facing a water crisis. Water is managed through a variety of mechanisms, including government administration and market tools. This Article argues for a regulated market-based solution. When it comes to water markets, the invisible hand needs help from the visible hand of government to prove effective. Administrative systems and markets are usually portrayed in opposition to each other, as mutually exclusive solutions. Water market advocates suggest government’s role is minimal. However, as this Article identifies, to establish and maintain a functioning water market, government needs to play a variety of roles. These include the uncontested role of defining property rights, but additional roles are necessary such as reviewing transactions to prevent uncompensated externalities, structuring the management of water infrastructure and fulfilling the market maker role.  This Article presents a taxonomy of the roles that government must play to ensure that water markets operate efficiently. It then empirically tests that taxonomy with a case study of the water market Spain established in 1999. That market’s mixed record has important implications for California and other U.S. water markets, especially during drought conditions.  … ”  Read more from SSRN here:  Missing Water Markets: A Cautionary Tale of Governmental Failure

Research indicates 60-year decline in groundwater levels across the U.S.:The Columbia Water Center, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, announced today the release of a new white paper, “Assessment of Groundwater Level Trends across the United States,” that analyzes long-term groundwater trends across the United States. The study found that historic groundwater levels have declined across much of the country over the last 60 years, suggesting that current groundwater management is broadly unsustainable. The paper was released as part of the Water Center’s new “America’s Water Initiative.”  … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here: Research indicates 60-year decline in groundwater levels across US

Maven’s XKCD Comic Pick of the Week:

Photo credit:  NASA Landsat-8 satellite over a tropical estuary in Western Australia.  Click here for more information and to download the photo.

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