DAILY DIGEST, 1/23: CA will be hit hard as Trump administration weakens clean water protections; Precip continues to lag below normal; King tides sound a pollution alarm in the bay; Climate change will stress water in the West. But we don’t know how; and more …

On the calendar today …

  • The Delta Stewardship Council meets at 9am.  The Council will review 2019 accomplishments and discuss proposed 2020-2021 priorities. Among other agenda items, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission will present findings of the Council-funded Rising Tides Project for eastern Contra Costa County. Following the Commission’s presentation, Council staff will discuss how the project may be incorporated in the Council’s development of the Delta Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Strategy.  View the meeting notice on deltacouncil.ca.gov/council-meetings.  Click here to watch on webcast.

In California water news today …

California will be hit hard as Trump administration weakens clean water protections:  “Defying environmentalists and public health advocates, the Trump administration on Thursday will announce the replacement of Obama-era water protections with a significantly weaker set of regulations that lifts limits on how much pollution can be dumped into small streams and wetlands.  The changes to the Clean Water Act’s protections are expected to hit California and other Western states especially hard. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: California will be hit hard as Trump administration weakens clean water protections

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Precipitation total continues to lag below normal:  “There hasn’t been enough moisture this year so far to keep up with what’s normal.  The Southern Sierra 6-station index which covers the Tulare Basin, stood at 78 percent of normal as of Tuesday as far as the precipitation level. The Tulare Basin covers the San Joaquin Valley.  … Even with last week’s heavy storm, the Lake Tahoe area is also still below its normal precipitation level. ... ”  Read more from the Porterville Recorder here: Precipitation total continues to lag below normal

Dairy industry gives update on challenges it is facing:  “Dairymen and others in the industry are expected to descend on Sacramento to display their global accomplishments.  Funding in part by a grant from Farm Credit, than 600 farmers, policy makers, service providers and researchers are expected to attend the California Dairy Sustainability Summit during the March 25-26 Cal Expo.  California’s dairy industry is responsible for just under one-fifth of all the milk produced in the U.S., contributes $65 billion to the state’s economy and is responsible for 180,000 California jobs. And while the industry has made impressive gains in becoming more environmentally sustainable, it continually faces new requirements. … ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun Gazette here:  Dairy industry gives update on challenges it is facing

Bonds on the ballot: Will billions of dollars help California cope with climate change? Given California’s international leadership in addressing climate change, it isn’t surprising that voters will be asked this November to approve billions of dollars in bonds to help the state become more resilient.  But why settle for one ballot proposal when you can have three?  Competing plans for “climate resiliency” bonds come from three sides of state government: the Assembly, the Senate and Gov. Gavin Newsom. ... ”  Read more from Cal Matters here: Bonds on the ballot: Will billions of dollars help California cope with climate change? 

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In national/world news today …

U.S. food trade increasingly leans on unsustainable groundwater:  “American agriculture is a behemoth, a world-leading industry that, while meeting extensive domestic demands, still exports around $140 billion in farm products each year. Soybeans go to China. Cherries to Japan. Baskets of goods to Canada.  Some of that production rests on a risky and unstable foundation, a new study finds. It takes water to grow those crops, and an increasing portion of the country’s irrigation water is unsustainably mined from groundwater sources that are being depleted.  Groundwater use is unsustainable in the long term when the amount of water that is extracted from an aquifer is greater than the amount that enters, via rainfall or artificial means. … ”  Read more from the Circle of Blue here:  U.S. Food Trade Increasingly Leans On Unsustainable Groundwater

Reclamation awards $75,000 for ideas that lower cost of continuous streamflow monitoring:  “The Bureau of Reclamation partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey for a prize competition seeking innovative ideas to significantly reduce the cost of continuous streamflow monitoring compared to current methods while also increasing the availability of streamflow data. Accurate and reliable records from continuous streamflow monitoring stations are vital to water resources planning, design, management and research. Of the 40 potential cost-saving solutions received, five winners were selected to share a total prize pool of $75,000.  “A number of compelling ideas for continuous streamflow monitoring were received,” said David Raff, Reclamation’s science advisor. “This demonstrates the continued benefit of soliciting new and novel ideas from the broader public through competitions.” … ”  Read more from the Bureau of Reclamation here: Reclamation awards $75,000 for ideas that lower cost of continuous streamflow monitoring

U.S. drinking water widely contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’: environment watchdog:  “The contamination of U.S. drinking water with man-made “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group.   The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems. … ”  Read more from Reuters here: U.S. drinking water widely contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’: environment watchdog

Between wildfires, land in the US West has short 10- to 15-year reprieve:  “In the wake of a devastating wildfire, burnt land has a respite before the next blaze. But until now, no one has known just how long that effect lasted across the US West. Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver and Portland State looked into the increasing rates and intensity of fires in the U.S. West, like Colorado’s Hayman Fire and California’s Camp Fire, are up tenfold over the last 40 years. They wanted to know, once the shrubs, trees and other woody fuels have burned up, how long before the next one? … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here: Between wildfires, land in the US West has short 10- to 15-year reprieve

Legal analysis: Will long-awaited changes to NEPA materially alter federal environmental reviews?  “On January 10, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed amendments to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations.  The Proposed Rule would represent the first significant overhaul of CEQ’s NEPA regulations in more than 40 years.  The changes in the Proposed Rule are substantial and numerous.   While the stated purpose of the changes is to facilitate more effective and timely environmental review of federal agency actions, the practical impact of the proposed changes is far from clear.  Below, we focus on some of the more significant substantive provisions of the Proposed Rule. … ”  Read more from Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law and Policy blog here:  Legal analysis: Will long-awaited changes to NEPA materially alter federal environmental reviews?

Trump team proposes rollback of desert protections to boost geothermal energy:  “In step with President Trump’s push for more energy development in California’s deserts, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced Thursday it wants to transform 22,000 acres of public land in the southern Owens Valley into one of the largest geothermal leasing sites in the state.  The agency has determined that the aquifer deep beneath the surface of the vintage Old West landscape of Rose Valley, about 120 miles north of Los Angeles, is a storehouse of enough volcanically heated water to spur $1 billion in investments and provide 117,000 homes with electricity. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: Trump team proposes rollback of desert protections to boost geothermal energy

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In commentary today …

Voluntary agreements are a better plan for California, say Dave Eggerton and Mark Biddlecomb:  They write, “Gov. Gavin Newsom has consistently expressed support for successful completion of voluntary agreements as a path forward in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. The California Natural Resources Agency and California Environmental Protection Agency recently described collaborative, voluntary agreements as a “game changer” for the environment. We strongly agree, and stand ready in bringing proactive decision makers to the table for the management of water in the Delta and its tributaries. … ”  Read more from ACWA’s Water News here:  Voluntary agreements are a better plan for California

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In regional news and commentary today …

St. Helena on track to remove dam by end of 2020:  “St. Helena is on track to remove the Upper York Creek Dam by the end of 2020, restoring habitat for protected steelhead and fulfilling a longstanding legal mandate.  The actual cost won’t be clear until construction bids come in, city officials told the council on Jan. 14. A preliminary budget puts the total cost of the project at $8 million, up from a previous estimate of $6.5 million. … ”  Read more from the Napa Register here: St. Helena on track to remove dam by end of 2020

Sonoma County: Regional Water Board proposes $5m fine on luxury resort developer: The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is proposing a $4.9 million fine against a luxury resort developer for allegedly discharging six million gallons of highly turbid water into a Healdsburg creek and other Russian River tributaries. … ”  Read more from NBC Bay Area here: Sonoma County Water Board Proposes $5M Fine On Luxury Resort Developer

Yuba Water Agency adopts Groundwater Sustainability Plan:  “Yuba County’s groundwater subbasins have been sustainably managed for decades, and with 80 percent of Yuba’s residents relying on groundwater as their sole source, it’s critical that it remain sustainable for the long-term. With that in mind, Yuba Water Agency adopted an official groundwater sustainability plan, known as the Yuba Subbasins Water Management Plan.  The plan, developed in coordination with Cordua Irrigation District, the city of Marysville and many interested stakeholders, will guide the continued management and use of groundwater in Yuba County. … ”  Read more from Yuba Net here:  Yuba Water Agency adopts Groundwater Sustainability Plan

King tides sound a pollution alarm in the bay:  “Last month, high tides in San Francisco Bay washed up onto the shoreline of a large former pharmaceutical company in Richmond. A few hours later, the outgoing tide pulled contamination—including pesticides, toxic chemicals and radioactive waste—off the industrial land and into the Bay.  Right now, this occurs a few times every year during the highest tides, known as king tides, which are one to two feet higher than normal high tides. With sea levels rising over the coming decades, however, flooding waters like this could hit polluted shoreline sites every day. … ”  Read more from Bay Crossings here: King tides sound a pollution alarm in the bay

Desalination emerges as a possible solution for another Monterey County water challenge.  “On par with mission architecture or cattle ranching is another consequential relic of Spanish colonialism in California: the idea that water pumped from underground belongs to whoever owns the land above.  In the Central Valley, a major danger of unregulated pumping has been a drooping of the surface at a rate of one foot a year. Here, in the Salinas Valley, so much freshwater has been extracted that, in some aquifers, the natural flow from continent to ocean has reversed – seawater is pushing through gravel and sand into groundwater sources, threatening to spoil a critical household and agricultural supply. … ”  Read more from Monterey County Weekly here:  Desalination emerges as a possible solution for another Monterey County water challenge.

Video: Salton Sea Authority ready to move beyond studies:  “Governor Gavin Newsom proposes millions from next year’s budget to help restore the Salton Sea, but will those millions be put to use soon? Kitty Alvarado has an exclusive interview with the general manager of the Salton Sea Authority for insight on the money spent over the years and progress on the restoration project proposed.”  Watch video from NBC Palm Springs here: Video: Salton Sea Authority ready to move beyond studies

We must focus on the most viable solutions for the ailing Salton Sea, says Alexander Schriener Jr:  He writes, “Talk about the Salton Sea, its possible effects on the surrounding communities, and solutions is ofttimes heavy in emotion but lacking a grounding in fact and science.   Here are a few facts that are often missed: … ”  Continue reading at the Desert Sun here: We must focus on the most viable solutions for the ailing Salton Sea, says Alexander Schriener Jr

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Along the Colorado River …

Feds tout improved odds for survival of Colorado River fish:  “Touting successful conservation efforts in recent decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday it will reclassify a Colorado River fish from endangered to threatened.  The agency said the humpback chub, a dorsal-finned fish that primarily resides in the Colorado River, no longer meets the required criteria to be classified as a federally endangered species. Conservation efforts have helped the humpback chub population recover significantly so that a downgrade from “endangered” to “threatened” is ecologically appropriate under the language of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, according to the agency. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: Feds tout improved odds for survival of Colorado River fish

Bill would prohibit transfers of some Colorado River water to central Arizona:  “Some water tied to land along the Colorado River could not be transferred to central Arizona if the Legislature approves a bill proposed by a Kingman lawmaker.  The bill comes after recent proposals for just such a transfer of river water, which municipalities in western Arizona consider a threat to their ability to survive and expand. The moves come against a backdrop of dwindling water supplies in the vast Colorado River Basin and increased efforts to assert water rights along the overextended river, which serves 40 million people in the Southwest. … ”  Read more from Cronkite News here: Bill would prohibit transfers of some Colorado River water to central Arizona

We know the earth is warming. We know that will stress water in the West. But we don’t know how.  “Flavio Lehner was a graduate student working with computer models simulating the earth’s climate at the University of Berne in Switzerland when he had a chance to join a research vessel collecting sea temperatures and measuring ocean currents between Greenland and Svalbard, Norway.  “As a lifestyle, field work is very agreeable,” Lehner said. “But for me, it was a watershed moment. I had to decide which way to go.”  … ”  Read more from the Colorado Sun here: We know the earth is warming. We know that will stress water in the West. But we don’t know how.

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Precipitation watch …

From the National Weather Service:  “Some light precipitation possible, mainly north of I-80 through Friday. Wetter Pacific storm moves through this weekend with unsettled weather continuing early next week.”

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

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Image credit: CA streamflow assessment map, courtesy of Belize Lane.   From this paper: Lane, B. A., Dahlke, H. E., Pasternack, G. B., & Sandoval‐Solis, S. (2017). Revealing the diversity of natural hydrologic regimes in California with relevance for environmental flows applications. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association53(2), 411-430.

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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