Daily Digest, weekend edition: Senator Feinstein’s complicated role, winter is back – just not all the way, Lake Oroville, rice economics, new laws and more …

Daily DigestRecent snow fall at the headwaters of the South Fork of the American River in the Eldorado National Forest in California.In California water news this weekend, Senator Feinstein’s role as water referee is complicated by the drought, After a year off, winter is back – just not all the way, Lake Oroville reaches 700 feet; a long way to rise, Water source for almonds may run dry, “Rice economics” in a drought, Water hyacinth thrives in drought-stricken Delta, Researchers offer new insights into predicting future droughts in California, Drought bills, nation’s first plastic bag ban top California laws set to take effect in 2015, Drought brought permanent changes to California water policy in 2014, and more … 

In the news this weekend …

Senator Feinstein’s role as water referee is complicated by the drought:  “The long-range weather forecast is the biggest wild card in the battle over every available bucket of water in drought-stricken California — but a close second may be Dianne Feinstein.  In a dispute in which positions have hardened after years of fighting, the state’s senior U.S. senator, who is expected to broker any deal that reallocates water supply, is one of the few remaining enigmas. The only thing consistent about Feinstein’s role as water referee is that the fights have left bruises on the exacting and thick-skinned senator over the years. The last few weeks have been particularly rough. ... ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  Senator Feinstein’s role as water referee is complicated by the drought

After a year off, winter is back – just not all the way:  “At 7,500 feet, there’s no mistaking winter. It’s back in a crystalline flash, rejuvenating ancient granite with a breathtaking coat of white.  A snowshoe walk from Grant Grove Village to Panoramic Point at 7,500 feet in Kings Canyon National Park is a snow-crunching delight once again. California’s rooftop finally is a brilliant white against an azure December sky. … ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee here:  After a year off, winter is back – just not all the way

Lake Oroville reaches 700 feet; a long way to rise:  “The good news is Lake Oroville surpassed the 700-foot-elevation mark on Christmas Day. The bad news is the water is still a very long way from the top.  The lake had dropped drastically over the summer and fall due to the drought, nearly reaching the record low of 645 feet, set in September 1977.  Then the rains came, stopping the water’s swift decline just before Thanksgiving at 647.74 feet. ... ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here:  Lake Oroville reaches 700 feet; a long way to rise

Water source for almonds may run dry:  “California’s almond orchards have been thriving over the past decade and now provide an $11 billion annual boost to the state economy. Covering 860,000 acres, they account for 80 percent of world production. But the growth coincides with another record development here — drought — and the extensive water needs of nut trees are posing a sharp challenge to state water policy.  Farmers in the area where almond production has been most consistent have relied on water from a federally controlled project that draws its supply largely from the Sacramento River. … ”  Read more from the New York Times here:  Water source for almonds may run dry

“Rice economics” in a drought:  “When herbicides swept from farms into rivers, George Tibbitts adopted better water-management strategies.  With field burning phased out, the Colusa County farmer, like many rice growers, flooded his fields to dissolve the straw remaining after harvest. When water was scarce, he fallowed. But now that a possible fourth year of drought threatens his crucial water allocations, Tibbitts is at a loss. … ”  Read more from the Daily Democrat here:  “Rice economics” in a drought

Water hyacinth thrives in drought-stricken Delta:  “Forty-nine-year-old Roger Kelly is a Stockton lifer, born and raised in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. River culture is in his blood, and whether alone or taking the helm as a boat club commodore, he is a fixture on the water.  But for Kelly, a growing menace this year has pushed him off the water and left his boat in the weeds. The scourge is an invasive plant known commonly as the water hyacinth. Having no natural controls, it has proliferated, choking boat navigation and marinas in much of the Delta’s 1,000 miles of waterways. ... ”  Read more from Bay-Nature here:  Water hyacinth thrives in drought-stricken Delta

Researchers offer new insights into predicting future droughts in California:  “According to a new study sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind California’s ongoing drought.  A high pressure ridge off the West Coast (typical of historic droughts) prevailed for three winters, blocking important wet season storms, with ocean surface temperature patterns making such a ridge much more likely.  Typically, the winter season in California provides the state with a majority of its annual snow and rainfall that replenish water supplies for communities and ecosystems. ... ”  Read more from the Lake County News here: WATER: Researchers offer new insights into predicting future droughts in California

Drought bills, nation’s first plastic bag ban top California laws set to take effect in 2015:California’s historic drought prompted the Legislature into action in 2014, leading lawmakers to regulate groundwater for the first time and override homeowners associations that fine members for replacing lawns with more drought-tolerant landscaping.  The most populous state also becomes the first to set a “yes means yes” standard for sex between college students and the first to ban single-use plastic bags, a law the plastic bag industry is seeking to overturn through a voter referendum. ... ”  Read more from The Republic here: Drought bills, nation’s first plastic bag ban top California laws set to take effect in 2015

Drought brought permanent changes to California water policy in 2014:  “California’s prolonged drought left an indelible mark on state water policy and homeowners alike in 2014.  For the first time in the raucous history of water in California, regulation of groundwater basins was approved, the state Water Resources Control Board gave local cities the power to hand out $500 fines to over users, and thousands of planet-conscious homeowners transformed their green lawns into desert landscapes.  … ”  Read more from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune here:  Drought brought permanent changes to California water policy in 2014

The Record’s top stories of 2014, #4: The drought:  “Lawns are dying, people are installing water-saving devices, and talk continues on a conveyance to take water around (or, more precisely, under) the Delta as California enters its fourth year of drought.  Massive storms in December moved the Central Valley from the most-severe designation to one below the worst, but the drought continues. ... ”  Read more from the Stockton Record here:  The Record’s top stories of 2014, #4: The drought

In regional news and commentary this weekend …

Lake Mendocino boat ramp reopened:Recent rains have replenished Lake Mendocino enough to allow its south boat ramp to be reopened. But the storms also muddied the water and littered it with potentially motor-damaging debris, keeping most boaters at bay.  “I’ve been the only one out there,” said Ukiah resident David Nelson, a retired public health officer who was kayaking on the lake under Friday’s clear blue sky. … ”  Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here:  Lake Mendocino boat ramp reopened

Northern California drought classification eased:  “With local precipitation since Oct. 1 already above average at 26.12 inches on Dec. 24, the 2014-2015 water year is already off to a good start.  The heavy December rains and improving water storage have prompted the U. S. Drought Monitor Center to downgrade the California drought situation. While 98.4 percent of the state remains in some type of drought the percentage of the state, including Mendocino County, at the worst level has dropped from 55.08 percent to 32.2 percent. This marks the first statewide improvement in 2014. … ”  Read more from the Willits News here:  Northern California drought classification eased

Yuba-Sutter reservoirs welcome the rain:  “Bit by bit, the reservoirs that power Yuba-Sutter agriculture and support wildlife are filling up, although concern still remains about how much water they will be able to provide in 2015.  Despite above-average precipitation totals in December, there is little chance that the drought will end soon, particularly in light of meager snowpack totals in the Sierra Nevada — a key cog in the state’s water delivery system.  ... ”  Read more from the Appeal-Democrat here:  Yuba-Sutter reservoirs welcome the rain

Bethel Island: Water skiers to brave brisk temperatures at Frozen Bun Run: “Water skiers will brave brisk temperatures by hitting the Delta’s wake at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day for the 35th annual Frozen Bun Run at the Rusty Porthole.  “It’s a way to start the new year on a good foot — with a little party,” said Rusty Porthole owner Rob Brunham. “It’s a fun time for everybody who comes out.” … ”  Read more from San Jose Mercury News here:  Bethel Island: Water skiers to brave brisk temperatures at Frozen Bun Run

LA could lose 70% of it’s water in the next ‘big one’:  “Of all the chaos a massive Southern California earthquake could cause, the most challenging may be losing all four aqueducts supplying the vast majority the region’s water, causing a year or more of extreme rationing.  “It’s something I, and others here, think about often,” said Craig Davis, a manager and engineer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power who is looking for solutions. ... ”  Read more from KPCC here:  LA could lose 70% of its water in the next ‘big one’

San Diego: Lake Wohlford Dam rebuild project on track:  “Escondido has only a few years left to replace the Lake Wohlford Dam before a large state grant expires that would pay for half of the $29 million project.  Officials say the work is on track and a new dam should be completed by 2017, a few hundreds yards downstream from the 120-year-old structure that now keeps the lake’s water at bay. … ”  Read more from the U-T San Diego here:  Lake Wohlford Dam rebuild project on track

Precipitation watch …

What’s around the bend for 2015?: From the National Weather Service in Sacramento:  “We have had a great start to northern California’s water year as we look in our rear view mirror. Although we have seen some improvement in the drought status and reservoirs, more rain and snowpack is needed. What’s around the corner for 2015? The latest Climate Prediction Center outlook depicts northern California with a 33 to 50 % probability of receiving above normal precipitation. Only time will tell…

Photo credit: Recent snow fall at the headwaters of the South Fork of the American River in the Eldorado National Forest in California.  Photo by Kelly M. Grow, Department of Water Resources.

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About the Daily Digest: The Daily Digest is a collection of selected news articles, commentaries and editorials appearing in the mainstream press. Items are generally selected to follow the focus of the Notebook blog. The Daily Digest is published every weekday with a weekend edition posting on Sundays.

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