DAILY DIGEST, 7/22: River agreements stall amid focus on Delta litigation; CA settles fight over hoarded dam water; U.S. states take on Trump EPA for water rule rollback; EPA must focus on environmental justice, Inspector General says; and more …

On the calendar today …

In California water news today …

River agreements stall amid focus on Delta litigation:  “With state and federal administrations fighting in court about delta water operations—and with a pandemic and election year both underway—work has slowed on voluntary agreements meant to avoid severe cuts to northern San Joaquin Valley water supplies.  At issue is the first phase of a State Water Resources Control Board plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Adopted in 2018, the regulatory regime would require water users in San Joaquin River tributaries to leave 30% to 50% of unimpaired flows in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to benefit protected fish. Water users have pressed the state to pursue voluntary agreements that could achieve the same fisheries goals without the significant water-supply impacts.  California agency leaders say conversations on voluntary agreements continue, though slowly. ... ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: River agreements stall amid focus on Delta litigation

California settles fight over hoarded dam water:  “Resolving an environmental lawsuit hatched during the state’s recent historic drought, California regulators on Tuesday promised new actions intended to ease the demise of endangered salmon populations.  As part of a settlement reached with fishing and environmentalist groups, the California State Water Resources Control Board says it will increase transparency and conduct heightened evaluations when deciding water quality standards and flow limits for the state’s critical waterways. In addition, the water board will lobby the federal government to keep more cold water in the state’s largest river during salmon migration periods. ... ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: California settles fight over hoarded dam water

Ranchers discuss challenges of drought on public lands: “Ranchers who graze livestock on rangeland often feel the effects of drought first, as forage and water sources for their animals run dry. In a webinar hosted by the University of California, Davis, last week, three California ranchers shared challenges they face managing multiple-use public lands, and how they cope with drought.  All three ranchers cited supplying their livestock with drinking water as a driving issue when grazing on public lands, which sometimes may lack enough water to run livestock during a drought, despite still having adequate feed on the ground. ... ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: Ranchers discuss challenges of drought on public lands

Report: California groundwater sustainability plans are inadequate:  “Though California has allocated billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bonds to clean up its drinking water and make it more available, one report says it is not working. Even with implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) under way, upwards of 12,000 drinking wells may go dry by 2040, causing over 120,000 people to lose their primary source of water.  The grim report by the Water Foundation, a charitable organization based in California that is focused on clean, reliable water for people and nature, predicts the groundwater sustainability plans written by the various districts in the San Joaquin Valley will not achieve what SGMA purports to do – that is, sustainably manage groundwater resources. … ”  Read more from the Western Farm Press here: Report: California groundwater sustainability plans are inadequate

Strengthening field data collection with mobile GIS:  “The City of Santa Barbara, Calif., located roughly 90 miles north of Los Angeles, supplies water to approximately 95,000 residents. Given California’s proneness to droughts, state water suppliers face operational challenges surrounding conservation, water-loss prevention, and system maintenance.  In 2014, Santa Barbara’s Public Works Department determined that they needed to modernize and optimize their existing water system. To do so, they set forth an ambitious goal of replacing all 27,500 of the city’s water meters within five years.  “Instead of just doing a regular meter replacement based on age, we decided to handle this task comprehensively to better set ourselves up for the future,” said Theresa Lancy, water distribution supervisor at the City of Santa Barbara.  ... ”  Read more from Water World here: Strengthening field data collection with mobile GIS

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In national/world news today …

In latest lawsuit, U.S. states take on Trump EPA for water rule rollback:  “California, New York and Washington on Tuesday filed a lawsuit with 17 other states against the Trump administration for undercutting their ability to deny permits for projects that could harm their waterways.  California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in the Northern District court of California against the Environmental Protection Agency, which last month finalized a rule limiting state powers to block energy infrastructure projects by curtailing their authority under the Clean Water Act. … ”  Continue reading from Reuters here: In latest lawsuit, U.S. states take on Trump EPA for water rule rollback

Click here for statement by Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and New York Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 21 attorneys general, today filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule unlawfully curtailing state authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. For more than three decades, the EPA has consistently acknowledged and respected that Section 401 provides states with the authority to approve, impose conditions on, or deny certification for federally permitted projects. However, as directed by President Trump’s April 2019 executive order, the EPA issued a final rule radically altering its water quality certification regulations to restrict state authority under the Clean Water Act. In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act and Clean Water Act and must be vacated.

“Once again, the Trump Administration is attempting to undermine the Clean Water Act – this time by limiting longstanding state authority to protect our waters from degradation tied to federally-approved projects,” said Attorney General Becerra. “President Trump fails to understand that he doesn’t get to rewrite the rules just because he doesn’t like them. We’re going to court to make sure the rules are followed. It’s a lesson most of us learned in grade school.”

“Today’s lawsuit is needed because the Trump Administration wants to take away California’s long-established right to protect rivers from the negative impacts of massive hydropower dams. Our rivers and streams are critical to California’s ecosystems and economy,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California Secretary for Environmental Protection. “Giving the federal government the ability to control California’s environmental future is not an option. We must remain vigilant against these never-ending attacks on common-sense environmental protections.”

“The EPA regulations break faith with the underlying balance of state and federal power in protecting the state’s waters from all types of pollution,” said State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel. “Federal actions that allow discharges affecting our states waters have profound and lasting impact on California’s water resources. This lawsuit is necessary to ensure that the Clean Water Act’s protections can be fully realized.”

The Clean Water Act reflects Congress’ policy to “recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of states to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution” of waters within their borders. Under Section 401 of the statute, a project requiring federal approval that may result in discharges into waters of the United States must obtain state certification confirming that the project meets state water quality standards and other appropriate state law requirements. The projects requiring Section 401 certification range from housing and commercial land development to hydropower and pipeline construction. This certification process ensures adequate assessment of the impacts of proposed projects and the imposition of necessary conditions to remedy these impacts.

On July 13, 2020, the EPA issued a final rule arbitrarily re-writing existing water quality certification regulations to limit state authority under the Clean Water Act. The rule will impair states’ ability to fully and efficiently review project proposals for water quality impacts and make it more difficult for states to fulfill their fundamental obligation to protect their waters and wetlands. The multistate coalition challenging the rule represents a substantial portion of the United States, including the entirety of the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada, large portions of the Atlantic Coast, the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, the Chesapeake Bay, and the majority of the Columbia River. 

In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the EPA’s drastic curtailment of state authority under Section 401 is unlawful because it is contrary to:

  • The plain language, structure, purpose, and legislative history of the Clean Water Act;
  • Binding Supreme Court precedent interpreting Section 401; and
  • The EPA’s own guidance on Section 401, which spans decades and multiple administrations.

In 2019, Attorneys General Becerra, Ferguson, and James led multistate coalitions in filing comment letters opposing the EPA’s unlawful guidance and proposed rule seeking to curtail state authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

In filing the lawsuit, Attorneys General Becerra, Ferguson, and James are joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

Click here to read/download lawsuit.

EPA must focus on environmental justice, Inspector General says:  “Environmental justice has emerged as one of the top management issues the EPA must address, according to the agency’s internal watchdog.  The issue is new to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General’s periodic list of top management challenges facing the agency, underscoring its emergence as a leading national concern.  The OIG called on the agency to strengthen its federal leadership role, continue to build an environmental justice strategic plan, and consider the impact of “all activities on environmental justice communities in actions revoked and taken by the agency as a whole.” … ”  Read more from Bloomberg Law here: EPA must focus on environmental justice, Inspector General says

House Democrats add some ‘forever chemicals’ provisions to defense bill after spiking major amendment: House Democrats added several amendments aiming to regulate a class of cancer-linked chemicals called PFAS to a defense spending bill Monday.  The additions followed the failure of the chamber to add a broader amendment that would tackle the substances. PFAS chemicals are also often called “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in nature and the human body. They are found in firefighting foam that is used by the military as well as a variety of household products. ... ”  Read more from The Hill here:  House Democrats add some ‘forever chemicals’ provisions to defense bill after spiking major amendment

Widespread drought could mean bad news for farmers:  “Drought conditions throughout the country are reaching their worst levels in a decade.  This summer, drought has hit large portions of the United States, especially slamming key pasture and ranges for ranchers. But crops are also seeing downward trends in quality thanks to the hot, dry weather.  Essentially the only section of the country that is not experiencing notable droughts is the Southeast. … ”  Read more from Modern Farmer here: Widespread drought could mean bad news for farmers

Treated wastewater may be the irrigation wave of the future:  “Approximately one-half of 1% of the planet’s water is drinkable, and we use that water for much more than drinking – showering, brushing our teeth, watering our grass, etc. Consumer usage, however, pales in comparison to the amount of water needed to irrigate our crops.  According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, agriculture accounts for more than 80% of the nation’s water consumption. With the need to feed a growing population, scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are looking for ways to safely expand agriculture’s supply of usable water. … ”  Read more from the USDA here: Treated wastewater may be the irrigation wave of the future

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In regional news and commentary today …

Human disturbance threatens black oystercatchers, iconic Mendocino coast shorebird:  “For the past several years in a row, black oystercatchers, a year round avian resident of California’s rocky, coastal tidelands have barely been able to raise their young. Warmer waters altered the food web and decreased food availability so there was only just enough food for adult oystercatchers to get by and not enough to support chicks. This year, colder ocean conditions have brought good tidings to the poorly named oystercatchers, which don’t eat oysters at all. Based on climatic conditions, it seems that this year is the birds’ chance to make up for lost time and bring up their population numbers. However, oystercatchers are at risk of facing another childless year due to a different threat — disturbance from humans and drones. ... ”  Read more from the Mendocino Voice here:  Human disturbance threatens black oystercatchers, iconic Mendocino coast shorebird

Colusa County landowners sought for groundwater recharge program:  “The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Colusa Groundwater Authority, is now accepting applications for an on-farm Multi-Benefit Groundwater Recharge Incentive Program scheduled to take place this fall.  According to a release issued by the Nature Conservancy, the program provides an opportunity for growers to receive financial compensation for recharging groundwater during the course of normal farming operations on a variety of crops while also providing critical wetland habitat for waterbirds migrating along the Pacific Flyway. … ”  Read more from the Colusa Sun-Herald here: Colusa County landowners sought for groundwater recharge program

Petaluma main drinking water pipeline redirected ahead of Highway 101 widening:  “The fit of the cement-coated steel pipe needed to be snug so construction workers cutting and shaping sections of a redirected water channel beneath Highway 101 in Petaluma could weld the new pieces into place.  By 10 a.m. Tuesday, a pipe-laying vehicle was carefully lowering the nearly 3-foot-wide cylinder into one of two sections being installed. They were the final two pieces of a two-month $1.3 million project to relocate 600 feet of an aqueduct that transports water to about 309,000 people in Petaluma and parts of Marin County. ... ”  Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here:  Petaluma main drinking water pipeline redirected ahead of Highway 101 widening

Federal judge rejects lawsuit saying Vacaville’s water supply is unsafe:  “A Sebastopol-based environmental group’s lawsuit against the city of Vacaville in connection with hexavalent chromium found in groundwater has failed in federal court, city officials announced Tuesday.  On Monday, Chief United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller issued an order rejecting California River Watch’s lawsuit regarding the safety of Vacaville’s water supply. … ”  Read more from The Reporter here: Federal judge rejects lawsuit saying Vacaville’s water supply is unsafe

PHOTO GALLERY: Sherman Island: Haven for wind, kite and wing surfing, from the Stoctkon Record

Ventura County: Completed project for groundwater recharge captures stormwater:  “According to the state, this year is the 11th driest snowpack on record since 1950 and with the State Water Project announcing it will deliver only 20% of requested water supplies in 2020, projects like the Piru Stormwater Capture for Groundwater Recharge Project are critical to Ventura County’s important water supplies. This project will provide a sustainable source for recharge of the Piru Groundwater Basin and improve water quality in Piru Creek. ... ” Read more from The Patch here:  Completed project for groundwater recharge captures stormwater

Court rules IID holds water rights:  “The Imperial Irrigation District (IID) has won the battle over water rights in Imperial County.  The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeals ruled a split decision Thursday. The lawsuit, filed by the local farmers and former IID Director Michael Abatti.  The court ruled that IID holds water rights for all people in Imperial Valley. … ”  Read more from KYMA here: Court rules IID holds water rights

Spring rains revealed fairy shrimp at Escondido preserve:  “Spring rains revealed tiny, temporary creatures in road ruts at an Escondido nature preserve this April.  Staff members for the Escondido Creek Conservancy found fairy shrimp in the shallow puddles at the Mountain Meadow Preserve in North County. The miniature crustaceans appear in vernal pools that form under specialized conditions, and they live only as long as the fleeting water sources remain. ... ”  Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune here: Spring rains revealed fairy shrimp at Escondido preserve

San Diego homes, businesses subsidize industrial wastewater polluters by millions of dollars:  “San Diego homes and businesses have been improperly charged tens of millions of dollars for a program that keeps toxic sewer water from being discharged into the Pacific Ocean, the City Auditor’s Office has found.  A new report from Interim City Auditor Kyle Elser said the city has failed to charge Industrial Wastewater Control Program permit holders enough to cover the costs of the program. According to the City Auditor’s Office, most of the fees charged to hundreds of industrial polluters have not been adjusted since 1984 — even though the Public Utilities Department agreed to do so years ago. ... ”  Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune here: San Diego homes, businesses subsidize industrial wastewater polluters by millions of dollars

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Along the Colorado River …

Colorado official says demand management program holds water:  “After a year of meetings, workshops and in-depth discussions, state officials feel a feasibility investigation into a program that would pay water users to reduce consumption and add to a savings account in Lake Powell should continue.  Although no formal decision has yet been made on whether to implement a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan known as demand management, Amy Ostdiek, Colorado Water Conservation Board deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information, told the state agency’s board of directors on Wednesday she has not found a reason to keep from moving forward. … ” Read more from Aspen Journalism here:  Colorado official says demand management program holds water

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And lastly …

This bizarre river of black sludge in Arizona is totally real:  “On 15 July 2020, what looked like your typical dry waterway was engulfed by a sickening dust puffing black sludge, reminiscent of the villainous cartoon toxin, Hexxus from FernGully: The Last Rainforest. … ”  Check it out here:  This bizarre river of black sludge in Arizona is totally real

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Today’s featured article

GSA SUMMIT: Setting Sustainable Management Criteria: It’s easy, isn’t it?

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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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