A New Water Year Brings Uncertainty
Historic Precipitation Ended the Drought during Water Year 2017
From the Department of Water Resources:
After five years of drought, the 2017 water year brought unexpectedly heavy precipitation, ranking second only to 1983 as California’s wettest year for statewide runoff. The dramatic swing in water conditions highlights the need to develop better long-range weather forecasting to cope with the state’s highly variable annual precipitation.
DWR begins water year 2018 intent on narrowing the forecasting gap with improved sub-seasonal to seasonal (S2S) forecasting. Working with researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, DWR is developing innovative technology to forecast land-falling atmospheric rivers.
“Current short-term forecasting for seven days out is 70 percent accurate, while the 14-day forecast is only seven percent accurate,” said DWR Director Grant Davis. “That isn’t adequate for water management. Advancing accurate, even longer-range forecasting is critical for our ability to plan for California’s highly variable weather.”
The water year that ended September 30 saw an extraordinary number of atmospheric rivers that created high water conditions throughout the state. The Feather River watershed received record runoff in January and February, which led to some of the highest inflows into Lake Oroville ever recorded. More accurate forecasting would have helped DWR manage reservoir levels to deal with significant inflow in the days following the February 7 discovery of erosion on the main spillway at Lake Oroville. Better forecasting also would help inform the spillway’s reconstruction timeline based on predicted precipitation.
The record-setting precipitation in Northern California and above-average rainfall elsewhere contributed to flooding in several river systems. Fifty-two counties declared states of emergency due to the January storm sequence, and flood fight materials and specialists were pre-positioned in Merced, Butte, Stanislaus, Fresno, and San Joaquin counties based on the forecasts in anticipation that local agencies would request support.
Despite record-breaking rainfall in Northern California in water year 2017, drought impacts still linger. Governor Edmund Brown Jr. issued an executive order in April to end the statewide drought emergency, but maintained a state of emergency for the counties of Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolumne, where homes with dry or contaminated private wells continue to receive emergency drinking water deliveries.
One success story stemming from the drought is the East Porterville Emergency Water Project, which will see 756 unincorporated East Porterville homes connected to the City of Porterville’s municipal water supply by the end of 2017. Similar projects are underway in the communities of Okieville, Monson, and Seville-Yettem to connect an additional 195 homes to a sustainable water supply.
Another highlight of the 2017 water year was the announcement that 99 percent of the state’s high- and medium-priority groundwater basins met a key deadline to form local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) under the state’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014. California depends on groundwater for a major portion of its annual water supply, particularly during times of drought. The long-term planning required by SGMA will reduce the impacts of groundwater overdraft, including subsidence, and provide a buffer against drought and climate change.
Although a wet 2017 minimized the risk of subsidence in historically affected parts of the San Joaquin Valley, DWR continues to fund satellite- and aircraft-based radar monitoring of subsidence by NASA to support local implementation of SGMA.
Looking ahead, DWR is preparing for the uncertainty of water year 2018 and beyond:
- In August, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board adopted the 2017 update to the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, prepared by DWR, which recommends long-term multi-benefit actions to improve flood risk management.
- This past year DWR awarded more than $4.2 million in Delta Flood Emergency Response grants to improve Delta flood response and increase public safety.
- In the past five years, DWR has awarded 46 grants totaling $25 million to develop and update flood safety plans, and increase coordination, training, and flood fight supplies for local agencies across the state.
- Ongoing SGMA implementation will bring overdrafted groundwater basins into balance to protect our water supply against the impacts of prolonged drought and climate change.
- California WaterFix will upgrade California’s water supply infrastructure to more reliably transport water through the Delta, protecting against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change. The project provides a more flexible and environmentally-responsible way to convey water during significant precipitation events for use in dry years. Construction could begin in 2018, pending support from public water agencies.
- The first phase of reconstruction on the Lake Oroville spillways will be completed by November 1, 2017, ensuring the spillway can handle 100,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) this water year. Phase 2, which will be completed by end of 2018/early 2019, will bring the spillway to final design with a capacity of 270,000 cfs. The emergency spillway will be reinforced with several erosion-prevention features, including a cutoff wall to prevent head-cutting erosion.
In the face of California’s highly variable weather patterns, DWR and our local, state, and federal partners are working together to ensure that Californians are prepared. Infrastructure improvements and advances in accurate, long-term forecasting are critical to public safety and sustainability. When it comes to water, California must prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Read more about water year 2017 in the report “What a Difference a Year Makes.”
State Water Contractors Funding Research on Delta Smelt, Effects of Water Operations
Scientific Discoveries Will Guide California’s Future Water Management Practices
From the State Water Contractors:
The State Water Contractors (SWC) are substantially contributing to habitat studies in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta being coordinated this fall by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation through the Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) to better understand the endangered Delta Smelt and the effects of water delivery operations on the species.
SWC has invested $380,000 to fund a key component of a broader research effort, which is a collaboration between fish agencies, researchers and other water agency partners to improve our collective knowledge. The research is expected to better inform fish and water management actions that have the potential to improve water supply, while protecting the fish and Delta ecosystem.
“Delta Smelt are endemic to the Delta and are considered an indicator species of its health. However, there is a lot of room for improvement in how we assess their behavior in the Delta and habitat conditions that affect them,” Jennifer Pierre, SWC general manager, said. “This research will provide much-needed information about fall habitat conditions, paving the way for effective solutions that improve the species’ health without drastically compromising water deliveries for people.”
Water flowing through the Delta is vital to the state, serving 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland and ensuring a stable and strong economy. Science and research that respond to the management issues we face today are needed to improve conditions for Delta Smelt and ensure a flexible and reliable water supply.
“By looking at our state’s water supply challenges through a scientific lens, we can a build a more sustainable and reliable water supply system for millions of Californians and for generations to come,” Pierre said.
The research team will use two field boats to support the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring (EDSM) program, which launched in December 2016 and has evolved from previous Delta Smelt surveys.
“This research, as well as other programs funded by the SWC and its water agency members, is charting new waters,” Pierre said. “We are confident it will spur future policymaking and improved water management practices in California.”
San Joaquin County Supervisors Certain that Governor’s Troubled Twin Tunnels will Turn into Another High-Speed Rail Money Drain
From the County of San Joaquin:
(Stockton, CA) With the California high-speed rail project now forecasting large cost overruns of 27% above its original estimate, San Joaquin County Supervisors are certain that a similar fate will occur with California WaterFix, the Governor’s poorly planned attempt to divert water away from the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta producing little additional water to resolve current water issues.
San Joaquin County Supervisor Chuck Winn observed, “History will repeat itself in the rising costs of the State’s two major infrastructure projects. First, the bullet train is still making history with new revelations of cost overruns now standing at a whopping $1.7 billion or $14.2 million per mile, just for the initial portion now under construction in the Central Valley. Second, the twin tunnels, which cannot seem to find any concrete financial projections or firm funding sources. Based on the way the State is running the high-speed rail project, we can expect similar cost increases for WaterFix.”
“WaterFix is already destined for the same astronomical cost overruns as high-speed rail,” said San Joaquin County Supervisor Katherine Miller. State infrastructure projects almost never meet their budgets or deadlines, and California's bullet train and the Bay Bridge are epic examples. Water Fix hasn't turned a shovel of dirt yet, and they've already misappropriated $84 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars trying to help get the plan off the ground as well as negotiated back room deals to make water agencies and their customers pay for a project that won’t produce a single drop of new water. WaterFix must be stopped before it wastes billions of ratepayer dollars.”
Following Westlands Water District’s rejection of the state’s funding plan for the twin tunnels, several other water districts are set to vote this month on whether to reject the plan as well.
San Joaquin County has long advocated more reasonable and less costly alternatives, including increased above and below ground storage capacity; water conservation, reuse, recycling, desalination and investments in Delta levees.
San Diego County Water Authority Launches Online Educational Resources to Support Potable Reuse
New microsite and videos focus on promoting the region’s next increment of local water supply
From the San Diego County Water Authority:
A new website and two animated videos released today by the San Diego County Water Authority underscore the agency’s commitment to promote greater awareness and acceptance of potable water reuse as the region’s next major source of safe and reliable water supplies.
Using treatment processes similar to seawater desalination, several local water agencies are developing or considering potable reuse projects that rely on multiple technologies to turn wastewater into safe and reliable drinking water that meets all state and federal quality standards. The City of San Diego’s PureWater San Diego project and the East County Advanced Water Purification Program – a collaborative project of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, County of San Diego, Helix Water District, and City of El Cajon – are moving toward implementation. Similar projects are being considered or planned in other locations around the county. By 2035, the Water Authority expects that approximately 16 percent of the region’s drinking water will be produced through potable reuse.
The Water Authority teamed with its member agencies to develop the enhanced online resources. The site is at potablereuse.sdcwa.org and is accessible through the Water Authority’s homepage at sdcwa.org. It provides a high-level overview of advanced treatment technologies, a guide to local potable reuse projects, an interactive timeline of developments in potable reuse history, a library of documents, news stories and frequently asked questions. The short, fast-paced videos convey the importance of potable reuse and the technologies that make it work in an easy-to-understand way that’s ideal for sharing on social media.
The educational resources complement the Water Authority’s efforts to support local advances in water purification technology and promote the adoption of science-based regulations for potable water reuse statewide.
“By using our precious water supplies more than once, San Diego County will generate billions of gallons of water locally each year, further enhancing our water supply reliability so our semi-arid region continues to thrive,” said Mark Muir, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “The Water Authority is working hand-in-hand with our member agencies to support their efforts to promote potable reuse as an important piece of our water future.”
The Water Authority has supported potable reuse for decades as part of its nationally recognized long-term water supply diversification strategy. That strategy was designed to reduce the region’s vulnerability to supply shortages by decreasing its dependence on water supplies from the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provided 95 percent of the region’s water supplies in 1991. Thanks to successful and prudent investments by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies in developing new water supplies, expanding infrastructure and improving water-use efficiency, MWD now provides only about 40 percent of the San Diego region’s water supplies.
In recent years, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors supported potable reuse as the region’s most likely next source of local supply. The Board in 2014 approved a formal resolution supporting the Pure Water San Diego program, and in 2016 it adopted the 2015 Urban Water Management Plan, which identified potable reuse as the region’s next significant increment of local supply development.
The Water Authority also has taken a leading role in statewide potable reuse issues. For example, it has coordinated with its member agencies to provide input to the state’s expert panel on regulations for augmenting reservoir supplies with purified water and informed a feasibility study by the State Water Resources Control Board.
In addition, the San Diego Integrated Regional Water Management Program – managed by the Water Authority along with the City of San Diego and County of San Diego – has supported research on potable reuse technologies by providing state grant funds to support the City of San Diego and East County projects, and a local research initiative by the Water Environment Research Foundation, formerly known as the WateReuse Research Foundation.
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About News Worth Noting: News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations. News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms. If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.