DAILY DIGEST, 2/12: No rain in sight, is it time to worry about drought, wildfire?; 500,000 acres of farmland could go fallow as SGMA goes into effect; Two Valley Congressmen have a say in whether House Dems probe Valley water boost; and more …

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On the calendar today …

In California water news today …

California is dry with no rain in sight. Should we start worrying about drought and wildfire?California’s alarmingly dry winter continues, with no meaningful snow or rain in sight. Although it’s far too soon to predict a drought, experts said wildfire risks could worsen this summer as a result of the shortage of precipitation.  And while the rainy season still has more than two months left, a persistent high-pressure ridge over the Pacific is keeping wet weather at bay, just as it did during the five-year drought, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. Swain said it’s possible parts of Northern California “could go completely dry in the month of February.” … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: California is dry with no rain in sight. Should we start worrying about drought and wildfire?

500,000 acres of San Joaquin cropland [could] go fallow as groundwater management goes into effect over 20 years:  “Last month, many regions passed a major milestone in implementation of state legislation that has the potential to transform the way crops are farmed in the state.  At the end of January, big regions of the San Joaquin Valley had to turn in their plans for how residents and growers would comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  Although the deadline for Sacramento area basins isn’t until two years from now, there are things local growers should start doing now to prepare, said David Orth, principal at New Current Water and Land LLC. ... ”  Read more from the Sacramento Business Journal here:  🔓 500,000 acres of San Joaquin cropland to go fallow as groundwater management goes into effect over 20 years

Water bill designed to help bring clean water to Central Valley gets Republican opposition:  “A bill that could help disadvantaged Central Valley towns including ones in Tulare County provide safe and affordable drinking water is facing opposition by Republican critics, including GOP representatives from California.  In December 2019, Rep. TJ Cox (D-Fresno) unveiled a $100 million proposal to make improvements in small towns suffering from contaminated drinking water.   The proposed bill, Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Act,  will help to “close the gap” in funding for impoverished, mid-sized cities that fall through the cracks under current law, Cox said. … ”  Read more from the Visalia Times-Delta here: Water bill designed to help bring clean water to Central Valley gets Republican opposition

Two Valley Congressmen have a say in whether House Dems probe Valley water boost:  “As House Democrats pine for an opportunity to dig into the U.S. Department of Interior on a wide array of issues, two Valley Congressmen face a tough choice between additional water for their districts or supporting their committee chair.  Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on a resolution granting Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D–Ariz.) wide-ranging subpoena power over the Interior Department.  One inquiry in the hopper: a closer look at the process that yielded the Trump Administration’s freshly-released biological opinions governing the federally-operated Central Valley Project. … ”  Read more from the San Joaquin Sun here: 🔓 Two Valley Congressmen have a say in whether House Dems probe Valley water boost

‘Framework’ aims to aid water agreements:  “In the coming weeks and months, the Newsom administration, water users and conservation groups will continue to refine a framework for potential voluntary agreements intended to benefit salmon and other fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Gov. Gavin Newsom released the framework last week, which acts as the alternative to a state-mandated, flows-only approach that has brought opposition and lawsuits from water agencies and water users. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert here:  🔓 ‘Framework’ aims to aid water agreements

EPA appoints former PG&E attorney to head regional office in San Francisco:  “The Trump administration Tuesday named a former PG&E attorney to head the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in San Francisco.  John Busterud will manage more than 600 staff employees and oversee environmental protection efforts across EPA’s Region 9, which includes 50 million people living in California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands and tribal lands. … ”  Read more from KQED here:  🔓 EPA appoints former PG&E attorney to head regional office in San Francisco

DWR partnership with UC Davis helps break glass ceiling for women in STEM:  “The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has partnered with the UC Davis J. Amorocho Hydraulics Laboratory (JAHL) in Yolo County to find innovative ways to investigate fish protection technology within California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary. Originally built as a hydraulics lab to perform modeling studies for the State Water Project (SWP), JAHL has been a DWR tool for maintaining and protecting the State’s water supply for more than half a century.  At the helm of the JAHL, is a team of scientists and engineers who are setting the bar for opportunities made possible by state and regional partnerships, all while inspiring the next generation to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  … ”  Read more from DWR News here:  🔓 DWR partnership with UC Davis helps break glass ceiling for women in STEM

We’ve been systematically underestimating sea otters’ historical habitat:  “Before the fur trade wiped out the majority of California’s sea otters, thousands inhabited the west coast’s largest estuary—San Francisco Bay. Though the otters there went extinct by the mid-1800s, other populations managed to survive by taking refuge along the state’s rugged coastline. In isolated pockets, those survivors found safe havens, says Tim Tinker, a wildlife biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Hundreds of years later, conservationists helping the sea otters recover focused their efforts on where they found those remnant populations, overlooking the estuaries they once called home.  “That unconscious bias has affected everything. It’s affected where we do research and where we think otters will be,” says Tinker. Now, those recovery efforts are being re-evaluated. ... ”  Read more from Hakai Magazine here: 🔓 We’ve been systematically underestimating sea otters’ historical habitat

Crabs show indication they may be vulnerable to effects of ocean acidification:  “Ocean acidification along the Pacific coast is slowly corroding the shells of young Dungeness crabs floating in the plankton just offshore. Their persistence in the face of ongoing climate change, in which the ocean will continue to acidify, could determine the future of one of the state’s most lucrative fisheries.  A recent study by Dr. Nina Bednaršek, a senior scientist with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, examined the shells of larval Dungeness crabs no bigger than a dime and found evidence of pitting and scarring on crabs collected in areas with more acidic water. ... ” Read more from the Monterey Herald here: Crabs show indication they may be vulnerable to effects of ocean acidification

Farmers discuss changes brought by technology:  “Agricultural technology, in the popular mind, often takes the form of mechanical harvesting machines or drones tracking soil moisture or water flow.  Emery Silberman thinks of tracking money flow.  “Technology is really easy to talk about, but in my experience at the farm, I’ve recognized that some of the sexier technologies don’t necessarily provide as much benefit as some of the non-sexy technologies,” said Silberman, chief technology officer at Bowles Farming Co. in Los Banos. “We can all talk about soil sensors or irrigation automation, but I feel like no one’s talking about finances and managing your costs. A farmer that knows their costs well can make money.” … ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: 🔓 Farmers discuss changes brought by technology

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In national/world news today …

Synthetic chemicals in soils are ‘ticking time bomb’:  “A growing health crisis fueled by synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in groundwater has garnered much attention in the last few years.  The reported levels could be “just the tip of the iceberg,” as most of the chemicals are still migrating down slowly through the soil, according to Bo Guo, University of Arizona assistant professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences. … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here: 🔓 Synthetic chemicals in soils are ‘ticking time bomb’

Lawmakers open groundwater fight against bottled water companies:  “Washington state, land of sprawling rainforests and glacier-fed rivers, might soon become the first in the nation to ban water bottling companies from tapping spring-fed sources.  The proposal is one of several efforts at the state and local level to fend off the fast-growing bottled water industry and protect local groundwater. Local activists throughout the country say companies like Nestle are taking their water virtually for free, depleting springs and aquifers, then packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it elsewhere for sale.  “I was literally beyond shocked,” said Washington state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who sponsored the bill to ban bottling companies from extracting groundwater. It was advanced by a Senate committee last week. … ”  Read more from the Pew Charitable Trust here: 🔓 Lawmakers open groundwater fight against bottled water companies

How native tribes are taking the lead on planning for climate change:  “On a hot summer’s day, marine ecologist Courtney Greiner walks the shore of a rocky Washington beach at low tide with a handful of staff and interns. They stake out the ground and hunch down, digging up the top two inches of mud, silt, and gravel looking for baby clams.  For thousands of years, the indigenous peoples of the West Coast would build rock walls at the low tide line, allowing sand to pile up behind them, making the slope of the beach gentler, and expanding the area of the intertidal zone that clams like to call home. These simple clam gardens are effective at boosting shellfish numbers, and have long been used to improve food security for traditional peoples.  Now the Swinomish are reviving the old idea to build the first modern clam garden in the United States. … ”  Read more from Yale E360 here: 🔓 How native tribes are taking the lead on planning for climate change

Makers of plastic products tell Democrats to back off:  “Democrats’ wide-ranging anti-plastics bill garnered a severe reaction from the plastic industry after Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California introduced the legislation yesterday.  The “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act” incorporates 10 measures, including a three-year pause on permits for new plastic plants, a ban on some single-use products and shifting the cost of recycling from taxpayers to plastic-producing companies (E&E Daily, Feb. 11).  “Our planet is being pumped full of plastic by big corporations who get off scot-free,” Udall said at yesterday’s bill unveiling. … ”  Read more from E&E News here:  🔓 Makers of plastic products tell Democrats to back off

Experts criticize EPA Lead and Copper Rule revisions:  “Experts and advocates on Tuesday criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule to combat lead in the water supply, calling for the agency to require that service lines containing lead be replaced.  Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, who helped publicize the Flint, Mich., water crisis, said a plan based solely on health protection would eliminate lead from service lines and maximize corrosion control so children are not exposed to it.  ... ”  Read more from The Hill here: 🔓 Experts criticize EPA Lead and Copper Rule revisions

Interior: Budget empowers solicitor as his turf expands:  “Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani’s clout is both accelerated and exemplified by the department’s newly released fiscal 2021 proposed budget.  Interior’s Office of the Solicitor would expand to 505 full-time employees under the proposed budget made public yesterday.  And while the Interior Department as a whole would take a 13% whack in funding, Jorjani’s expanded office would enjoy a 30% boost for direct salaries and expenses. Much of the direct salary and expense increase from $67 million to $87 million would come from consolidating the department’s reinforced ethics officers under Jorjani’s command. … ”  Read more from E&E News here: 🔓 Interior: Budget empowers solicitor as his turf expands

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In commentary today …

Will extra water storage ever become reality?  Families Protecting the Valley writes, “Remember “The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014”, otherwise known as Prop1? At last month’s meeting of the California Water Commission, staff updated the commissioners on the status of the projects in the Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP). Those are the storage projects in Prop 1. So, that was 2014, and it’s now 2020, and we’re still just talking, not building.  This process has gone on and on and on and on…So, here’s what’s happening. According to the California Water Commission in “2018, the Commission completed the application review process and made Maximum Conditional Eligibility Determinations or MCEDs for the eight projects under the Water Storage Investment Program.” Don’t know about you, but we love the bureaucratic lingo. ... ”  Read more from Cal Ag Today here: 🔓 Will extra water storage ever become reality?

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In regional news and commentary today …

Toxic sites in Hoopa Valley awaiting cleanup as Trump’s EPA budget cuts loom:  “Two former industrial sites in Hoopa Valley — a chemical mine and a facility to process the ores extracted from it — are awaiting cleanup, but President Donald Trump’s latest proposed budget would slash funding nationwide set aside for projects of their kind.  Celtor Chemical Works and the Cooper Bluff Mine are part of a priorities list for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program. The mine was formally added to the list last year, while the processing facility is scheduled for re-assessment after officials discovered more toxic waste linking back to it. … ”  Read more from the Eureka Times-Standard here:  Toxic sites in Hoopa Valley awaiting cleanup as Trump’s EPA budget cuts loom

Supervisors vote 3-2 to approve letter supporting bill to aid Paradise-Chico water pipe:  “A letter of support for the proposed California Assembly Bill 1957 was approved Tuesday in a 3-2 vote by the Butte County Board of Supervisors during its first February meeting.  Supervisor Doug Teeter made a request for the letter during the board’s Jan. 28 meeting with the hope that the design-build process the bill describes could aid in the Paradise Irrigation District’s pipeline from Paradise to Chico should it be built.  The design-build process essentially cuts the formal bidding from the circulation and allows for designers and builders to work together with the goal being more flexible and communication. Ideally, the contractor is chosen based on experience and past projects. … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here: Supervisors vote 3-2 to approve letter supporting bill to aid Paradise-Chico water pipe

$9.7 million in federal funds arrives for long-awaited Petaluma River dredging:  “The Petaluma River, a tidal waterway that has seen boat traffic decline as silt piled up, will be dredged this year for the first time since 2003, rejuvenating a natural resource that for generations was the lifeblood of the community.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be allocating roughly $9.7 million this year to pay for the project, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, announced Monday. An additional $1.3 million was set aside for preliminary work to eventually dredge the San Rafael Canal. … ”  Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here:  $9.7 million in federal funds arrives for long-awaited Petaluma River dredging

Feds allot $1.3M for San Rafael Canal dredging plans:  “After years of neglect and lack of funding, the shallowing San Rafael Canal is closer to being fully dredged for the first time in more than 17 years.  This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allocated $1.3 million in its latest work plan this month to design the dredging of the San Rafael Creek. … ”  Read more from the Marin Independent Journal here: Feds allot $1.3M for San Rafael Canal dredging plans

Bay Area: The smallest stars have gone out:  “Once there were thousands, a galaxy of tiny stars strewn over the rocky beaches of West Marin and the San Mateo coast. But within only a few years, Leptasterias pusilla, or the six-rayed sea star, vanished from Bay Area coastal beaches.  Scientists suspect that genetics and disease played a role. But there’s an additional mystery. Sea stars of all kinds perished up and down the West Coast from a still not-fully understood marine disease outbreak starting in 2013, but some of them have now recovered, at least in places. Leptasterias pusilla in the Bay Area, though, have not come back. A team of San Francisco State University biologists who’ve studied Leptasterias here for years conclude in a November 2019 paper in the journal PLOS ONE that the disappearance of the tiny stars might signal important changes in the Bay environment. … ”  Read more from Bay Nature here:  🔓 Bay Area: The smallest stars have gone out

Raw sewage in creeks prompts lawsuits against Sunnyvale and Mountain View:  “A Bay Area environmental group has sued the cities of Sunnyvale and Mountain View, saying they are in violation of the federal Clean Water Act for discharging raw sewage and polluted storm water into creeks, sending bacteria pollution to levels more than 50 times legal limits.  The group, San Francisco Baykeeper, said samples it collected revealed dangerous levels of E. coli, fecal coliform and other pollutants in Stevens Creek, Calabazas Creek, Sunnyvale East Channel and Guadalupe Slough, all of which empty into San Francisco Bay. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here:  Raw sewage in creeks prompts lawsuits against Sunnyvale and Mountain View

The era of wastewater recycling on the Monterey Peninsula has officially begun.  “Finally, a reason for all opposing factions in the Great Monterey Peninsula Water War to come together in celebration. Several years and $126 million later, the region’s water filtration and purification plant has received the final green light from state regulators.  As soon as this week or next, water that was once sewage will flow out the plant clean and be injected into the deep underground reservoirs that we drink out of. It will take months for the new flow to percolate down through layers of gravel and sand and mix with the existing supply. ... ”  Read more from Monterey Weekly here:  🔓 The era of wastewater recycling on the Monterey Peninsula has officially begun

Self-Help to train rural water boards:  “Providing life’s most basic need for water has become increasingly complicated. Water contamination, drought and groundwater depletion are all issues that private and municipal well owners have to test, treat and track. That may seem routine for cities that employ engineers and technicians who can advise those elected to set rates and make decisions, but it can be difficult for those operating rural water systems who may not always have access to staff or the experience and knowledge to understand them. … ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette here: Self-Help to train rural water boards

LADWP showcases new machine for tunneling project under Burbank:  “For several months Johnny Carson Park South in Burbank has been fenced off to the public by tall, sound-reducing barricades. This past Saturday, the public had an opportunity to observe what was going on behind those walls.  What people saw during a community event that day was a massive 63-foot-deep pit on the 2700 block of Riverside Drive where park space used to be. They also saw a 200-ton tunnel-boring machine named Luciana, which over the next two years will be making its way toward the Burbank-North Hollywood border at Burbank Boulevard and Biloxi Avenue. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: LADWP showcases new machine for tunneling project under Burbank

Feds to spend nearly $400 million to fix Whittier Narrows Dam:  “Under pressure to refurbish the Whittier Narrows Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released plans to spend $393.2 million on the facility as part of its Dam Safety and Seepage program, U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano announced Monday afternoon.  A year ago, Napolitano, D-El Monte sent a letter urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make safety repairs at Whittier Narrows Dam its highest budgetary priority in light of an assessment that said the barrier could fail in the event of a very large, very rare storm. … ”  Read more from the Long Beach Press Telegram here: Feds to spend nearly $400 million to fix Whittier Narrows Dam

The Southern California Affordability Symposium highlights the importance of water and housing affordability in Southern California:  “On Friday, Feb. 7, the UCR Blum Initiative hosted the Southern California Affordability Symposium at the UCR Alumni & Visitors Center.  David Brady, director of the Blum Initiative and professor for the School of Public Policy stated that the Blum Initiative at UCR focuses on global and regional issues of poverty and in this conversation, wanted to help others understand how families make ends meet and afford the necessities of life in Southern California. “We are very interested in non-partisan and objective scientific research that can hopefully draw a richer public conversation about these issues,” stated Brady. … ”  Read more from Highland Community News here: The Southern California Affordability Symposium highlights the importance of water and housing affordability in Southern California

Study: toxic elements around Salton Sea could adversely affect nearby residents:  “More than dust-filled air could be plaguing residents around the quickly evaporating Salton Sea in Imperial Valley. University of California, Riverside research shows toxic aerosols could also be filling the air.  The problem has to do with agricultural fertilizer in the Salton Sea wetland area. UC Riverside toxicologist Sabbir Ahmed and first-author on the study says the fertilizer is rich in the element selenium, which is necessary for human body health, but not in excessive doses. … ”  Read more from KPBS here:  🔓 Study: toxic elements around Salton Sea could adversely affect nearby residents 

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Along the Colorado River …

Rockies snowpack good, but dryness could threaten Colorado River flow:  “The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains is currently 14 percent above average for this time of year, but last year’s dry summer could reduce runoff to the Colorado River.  Warren Turkett, a natural resource analyst for the Colorado River Commission of Nevada, told commissioners Tuesday that a warm summer and lack of precipitation in the upper Colorado River Basin last year left soil drier than normal, which is expected to cut the amount of water flowing into Lake Powell to 20 percent below average based on current projections. … ”  Read more from the Las Vegas Review-Journal here: Rockies snowpack good, but dryness could threaten Colorado River flow

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

CA WATER LAW SYMPOSIUM: Federalism and Water under the Trump Administration: Has the Long Peace Come to an End?

The California Water Law Symposium is on my short list of not-to-be-missed events on my yearly calendar.  The symposium is a collaborative student-run event where students from each law school organize a panel which bring together a variety of interesting speakers to discuss some of California’s most critical water issues.  Led this year by Golden Gate University School of Law, participant schools include USF School of Law; UC Hastings College of the Law; UC Berkeley School of Law; UC Davis School of Law; Stanford University Law School; and University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.

The theme of this year’s symposium, ‘Federalism & Water: Shifts in State/Federal Roles and Relations,’ is particularly salient given the Trump administration’s changed stance of the federal government in California water rights matters.  The keynote speaker was Clifford Lee, who recently retired from the California Attorney General’s office where for the past three decades, he has played a lead role in litigation on behalf of the state of California and has been directly involved in most of the cases that have shaped the relationship between federal government and the state of California as it relates to water management issues.  In his keynote speech, he discussed some of the history surrounding federal-state relations with respect to California water rights issues and gave his insights for how the state could forward.

Click here to read this article.

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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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