DAILY DIGEST, weekend edition: Independent report blames DWR, ‘long term systemic failure’ for Oroville spillway crisis; The labyrinthine task of solving California’s water problem and the California Water Fix; Coho salmon to remain on endangered list; Farmers backed Trump, now they want attention; and more …

Harvesting lettuce in the Imperial Valley in January

In California water news this weekend, Independent report blames DWR, ‘long term systemic failure’ for Oroville spillway crisis; The labyrinthine task of solving California’s water problem and the California Water Fix; Coho salmon to remain on endangered list; Significant rain ahead for California may be a mixed blessing; Farmers backed Trump, now they want attention; Snowpack that feeds Colorado River is at 20% of normal; and more …

In the news this weekend …

OROVILLE DAM

Independent report blames DWR, ‘long term systemic failure’ for Oroville spillway crisis:  “The Department of Water Resources built the main Oroville Dam spillway on rock it knew was weak, failed to recognize signs of potential structural problems, and made decisions when the spillway began to break up last February that exacerbated the crisis, according to the independent team assembled to study the spillway failure.  The final report of the independent forensic team studying the Oroville Dam spillway crisis was released Friday. It blamed “long-term systemic failure” of the California Department of Water Resources, regulators and the dam industry in general to address design, construction and maintenance problems. ... ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here:  Independent report blames DWR, ‘long term systemic failure’ for Oroville spillway crisis

Final verdict on Oroville Dam: ‘Long term systemic failure’ by the state, regulators:  “The forensic team investigating the February emergency at Oroville Dam blasted the California Department of Water Resources on Friday, saying the dam’s owner and operator did a poor job of designing, building and maintaining the structure and neglected safety while focusing on the “water delivery needs” of its customers to the south.  Citing a “long-term systemic failure” by both DWR and federal regulators, the group of independent investigators released its final report Friday on the nearly catastrophic fracture in the dam’s main flood-control spillway in early February, which eventually forced the evacuation of 188,000 downstream residents. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  Final verdict on Oroville Dam: ‘Long term systemic failure’ by the state, regulators

Report: ‘Long term systemic failure’ led to Oroville Dam crisis:  “An independent report by national dam engineering experts says “long-term systemic failures” led to the collapse last year of two spillways at the nation’s tallest dam, and subsequent mass evacuations of areas near Oroville in Butte County.  The nearly 600-page report prepared jointly by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and United States Society on Dams cites a string of failures from flaws in the dam’s original design and construction in the 1960s, to the bedrock upon which it was built, to lapses in ongoing inspections over the decades since. … ”  Read more from KQED here:  Report: ‘Long term systemic failure’ led to Oroville Dam crisis

Oroville series, part 6: Construction in the rainy season:  “Less than nine months after two massive holes formed in Lake Oroville’s main spillway, construction crews wrapped up their first phase of rebuilding it. Some local residents have expressed concerns that the quick turnover could result in faults or design flaws, but an official with the Department of Water Resources said if any crew can accomplish the feat, it would be Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. … ”  Read more from the Appeal-Democrat here:  Oroville series, part 6: Construction in the rainy season

CAL WATER FIX/DELTA

The labyrinthine task of solving California’s water problem and the California Water Fix:  “From the outside, it’s easy to believe that the controversy that embroils the California Water Fix is more about incongruent perspectives, in that many of the technical proponents of the Fix and its opponents seem to be talking at cross purposes. There can be little doubt that the issue of water in California—which touches upon shortages, drought, access between regions, agriculture, environmental impact, cost, conservation, and of course water quality—is so complex and divisive that it’s difficult to imagine that any one solution would resolve all issues for all stakeholders. However, it’s possible that the technical experts, many of them engineers, who devised the Fix, were approaching the issue in a different way than are most of the people now debating it. … ”  Read more from Environmental Monitor here:  The labyrinthine task of solving California’s water problem and the California Water Fix

SPECIES ISSUES

Coho salmon to remain on endangered list:  “Finding insufficient evidence that coho salmon are not native to California streams south of San Francisco, an appeals court on Friday rejected timber harvesters’ attempt to strike the species from the endangered list.  “We are relieved that the court upheld important protections for some of California’s most imperiled salmon populations and recognized the strong scientific evidence of historical coho salmon populations south of San Francisco,” Jonathan Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email. “Salmon are a crucial part of California’s treasured waterways. Coho salmon are teetering on the brink of extinction due to threats like climate change and timber harvesting. The court’s ruling today is an important lifeline to make sure coho salmon have the endangered species protection they need for a chance at recovery.” ... ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here:  Coho salmon to remain on endangered list

DROUGHT/HYDROLOGY

Significant rain ahead for California may be a mixed blessing:  “Even though we’re several weeks into winter already, much of California is still awaiting the start of the ‘rainy season’. That wait will be over for many in the week ahead, as a change in the jet stream pattern over the continent allows storms back into the state.  It has been a remarkably dry fall and winter for much of California – a fact that exacerbated the deadly, record-breaking fires that plagued SoCal through December. With those fires in mind, the onset of a wetter pattern may be a double-edged sword for parts of the state struggling to recover from recent burns. … ”  Read more from The Weather Network here:  Significant rain ahead for California may be a mixed blessing

A dense blob has kept California dry.  Here’s how it works“Think of it as a dense blob of air. When it parks itself over the Pacific Ocean, it can act like a wall – and prevent rain and snow from reaching Northern California.  When meteorologists say a “high pressure system” or a “ridiculously resilient ridge” is keeping the West unseasonably dry, this is what they mean.  A series of persistent high pressure systems over the Pacific factored heavily in the five-year drought that ended last spring. The latest high pressure system produced one of California’s driest Decembers on record, left the Sierra Nevada snowpack woefully thin and raised fears of a drier-than-average winter. Although the system appears to be fizzling out, allowing some precipitation to hit California this week and next, the outlook for the rest of winter remains uncertain. ... ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  A dense blob has kept California dry.  Here’s how it works

NATIONAL

Farmers backed Trump; now they want attention:  “Farmers are looking for a sign from President Donald Trump that their issues mean as much to him as their votes do.  Trump is scheduled to speak Monday at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual conference in Nashville, the first sitting president to address the group in 26 years. He’ll be getting a warm welcome, even though there are policies his administration is pursuing that run counter to some farm interests.  “It doesn’t get any better than to have the president recognize the importance of farmers and ranchers to the rural economy,” said Kalena Bruce, a 32-year-old rancher from Cedar County, Missouri, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a 5 to 1 margin in the 2016 presidential election. “Rural America still supports President Trump.” … ”  Read more from the Mercury News here:  Farmers backed Trump; now they want attention

In commentary this weekend …

Column: The Delta smelt heads for extinction, marking a half-century of failed water policy:  Michael Hiltzik writes, “You might wish you had as much power to affect the environment and the economy as the delta smelt.  Enemies have blamed the tiny freshwater fish for putting farmers out of business across California’s breadbasket, forcing the fallowing of vast acres of arable land, creating double-digit unemployment in agricultural counties, even clouding the judgment of scientists and judges.  During the presidential campaign, the lowly smelt turned up in Donald Trump’s gunsights, when he repeated California farmers’ claim that the government was taking their water supply and “shoving it out to sea…to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish.” ... ”  Read more from the Los Angeles Times here:  The Delta smelt heads for extinction, marking a half-century of failed water policy

Oroville spillway report validates locals’ point about DWR, says the Chico Enterprise-Record:  They write, “The long-awaited independent study on the Oroville spillway disintegration was released Friday morning, 11 months after the disaster. If we had to sum up the 584 pages in one word, that word would be “vindication.”  An independent panel of experts from outside the area and outside the state Department of Water Resources validated what the county government, our editorial board and many fed-up locals have been saying for years, even before the crisis — that the state does a poor job of running the Lake Oroville project and needs to make drastic changes. … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here:  Oroville spillway report validates locals’ point about DWR, says the Chico Enterprise-Record

In DWR’s eyes, Oroville is a water source, not a city, says David Little:  He writes, “The Lake Oroville spillway is quite a curiosity for people from outside the area.  I get asked about it all the time, and the aspect that’s hardest for people to grasp is why people in the area don’t trust the state agency that runs the lake.  I can offer 50 years’ worth of examples. And there’s more ammunition all the time.  Take Friday. That’s the day an independent report about the spillway disaster came out that blistered the state Department of Water Resources for its arrogant culture that we know all too well. Coincidentally, there was a front-page article that morning illustrating the point. … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here:  In DWR’s eyes, Oroville is a water source, not a city

In regional news and commentary this weekend …

Sonoma County’s coastal cliffs no match for rising seas:  “Sonoma County’s coastal cliffs, softened by rain and pounded by ocean waves, are receding by as much as a foot a year and will surrender an area the size of Sebastopol by the end of the century, experts say, as climate change prompts sea levels to continue rising.  The scenic cliffs, made of soft rock formed millions of years ago on the ocean floor, are no match for nature’s ceaseless forces. Related property loss in the county over that period could total as much as $700 million.  Statewide, eroding coastal cliffs threaten billions of dollars worth of homes, highways, railways, businesses, military bases, universities, power plants and parks, and the North Bay has already seen the destructive and deadly consequences of the diminishing coastline. … ”  Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here:  Sonoma County’s coastal cliffs no match for rising seas

US Army Corps of Engineers report looks at reconnecting the Yuba River with its floodplain: “A draft feasibility report issued Friday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlines a proposal to reconnect the Yuba River to its floodplain, create rearing habitat for juvenile fish, create riparian habitat, and improve conditions for natural habitat growth.  The Sacramento District office of the corps published the draft feasibility report and environmental assessment Friday, according to a news release.  Improvements to approximately 178 acres of existing aquatic and riparian habitat along the lower Yuba River, between Englebright Dam and the confluence of the Yuba and Feather rivers in Yuba County, are being proposed. … ”  Read more from the Appeal-Democrat here:  US Army Corps of Engineers report looks at reconnecting the Yuba River with its floodplain

Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Committee discusses building a local water database:  “The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee met on Thursday afternoon for their monthly meeting to discuss technical details of local groundwater and help advise the IWVGA board as they create a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for this area.  The meeting’s agenda showed the type of meeting this would be; the were plenty of items for discussion and review, but nothing for action. … ”  Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here:  Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Committee discusses building a local water database

What’s the mudslide risk for residents of the Thomas, Creek fires?  “With the first major storm of the season expected to hit Southern California on Monday, residents in the Thomas, Creek and Skirball fire burn areas must now prepare for potential mudslides.  The U.S. Geological Survey has mapped the mudslide risks.  In Santa Barbara County, towns north of the 101 are most in danger.  Those include Montecito, Summerland and La Conchita, where a massive landslide happened in 2005. The Ojai Valley is could also face potential mudslides. … ”  Read more from KPCC here:  What’s the mudslide risk for residents of the Thomas, Creek fires?

Along the Colorado River …

Snowpack that feeds Colorado River is at 20% of normal:  “Rocky Mountains snowpack that feeds Colorado River water supplies was 20 percent below average in December in some areas, prompting a prediction that the key water source for seven U.S. states could flow at 54 percent of its average volume during the April-July snowpack runoff period.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday that the conditions issued by the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center could improve if more snow falls but that winter precipitation so far has been far below normal. … ”  Read more from the SF Chronicle here:  Snowpack that feeds Colorado River is at 20% of normal

Utah reluctantly ask feds to push pause on state’s Lake Powell pipeline:  “After asking for fast-track review in 2017, officials in Utah now want federal regulators to delay a decision on whether the state can build its proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.  Construction of the billion-dollar-plus pipeline to deliver Colorado River water to communities in southern Utah is already behind schedule and has cost the state more than $30 million. But state regulators now are pumping the brakes again as they seek to learn whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will keep a perceived promise to play a more direct role in issuing permits for the pipeline, so that state officials and other parties can avoid “wasting time and resources.” … ”  Read more from the Salt Lake Tribune here:  Utah reluctantly ask feds to push pause on state’s Lake Powell pipeline

Colorado snowpack worst in more than 30 years, leaving some suppliers on high alert:  “Colorado mountain snowpack shrunk to record-low levels this week, raising concerns about water supply, and some federal authorities calculated even big late snow — if it falls — may not make up for the lag.  Survey crews have measured snow depths in southwestern Colorado at 22 percent of normal, the upper Colorado River Basin at 65 percent of normal and the Arkansas River Basin at 49 percent of normal. National Weather Service meteorologists forecast limited snow through mid-January, though they also see a possibility that ocean-driven atmospheric patterns will shift by March and bring snow. … ”  Read more from the Denver Post here:  Colorado snowpack worst in more than 30 years, leaving some suppliers on high alert

Elsewhere in the West …

Major fight shapes up over salmon harvest in Columbia River:  “Agreements that have reigned for a decade on how to divide the catch of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin expired on the last day of 2017. The new plan is so contentious that multiple sides have promised to sue over it. What are the outrageous details? Same as the current ones. But the moment is a pressure point that allows old arguments to resurface.  The current agreement, which expired at midnight on Dec. 31, allocates half of the harvestable salmon and steelhead to four tribes: the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. The majority of the other half goes to sports fishermen, and commercial fishermen get the rest. ... ”  Read more from Courthouse News Service here:  Major fight shapes up over salmon harvest in Columbia River

Precipitation watch …

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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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One comment

  • John Sanguinetti

    In the Along the Colorado story it says that snowpack is 20% of normal then later it says 20% below average. Those are not the same thing.

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