DAILY DIGEST, 8/4: CA high court sides with Dunsmuir in water rate hike fight; New winery wastewater regulations could cost wineries thousands every year; Researchers warn a warming ocean threatens giant kelp forests; Trump signs major conservation bill into law; and more …

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On the calendar today …

In California water news today …

California high court sides with Dunsmuir in water rate hike fight

The rural Northern California town of Dunsmuir can impose a water rate hike on residents to fund a $15 million system upgrade, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.  In 2016, local Dunsmuir business owner Leslie Wilde tried to repeal through a referendum the town council’s plan to finance the replacement of its aging water tank and 50,000 feet of old water pipes by raising water rates. But the town declined to put the referendum on the ballot, arguing that Proposition 218, a constitutional amendment passed by California voters in 1996 to limit the ways in which local governments can create or increase taxes, does not apply to referenda. … ”  Read more from Courthouse News Service here: California high court sides with Dunsmuir in water rate hike fight 

California Supreme Court says no go to referendum challenges to certain state laws

Once a local water board approves a rate increase, voters cannot prevent it from taking effect by circulating a referendum, though they can seek to reduce it later, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.  A referendum ordinarily blocks implementation of a new law once it qualifies for the ballot until voters decide whether to approve the law. But the court said the California Constitution exempts laws from a referendum challenge if they impose taxes for “usual current expenses” of the state or local government. … ”  Read more from SF Chronicle here:  California Supreme Court says no go to referendum challenges to certain state laws

New winery wastewater regulations could cost small and midsize wineries thousands every year

The California state water board is working on an update to the winery general order to provide a permitting process with water discharge requirements (WDR) that make sure wineries are in compliance with water quality regulation and allows them a pathway to compliance. The new order will affect over 2,000 wineries that discharge winery waste to land for the purpose of disposal or reuse for irrigation and soil amendment.  “Unfortunately, it is a very, very extensive permit with an incredibly long list of monitoring requirements and reporting requirements for all wineries that are subject to the order … ”  Read more from Wine Industry Advisor here:  New winery wastewater regulations could cost small and midsize wineries thousands every year

Water policy expert Felicia Marcus joins Stanford

The Program on Water in the West (WitW) at Stanford University is pleased to announce that Felicia Marcus, a preeminent water policy expert and the previous chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board, is joining the program as this year’s William C. Landreth Visiting Fellow. Deemed “California’s Water Czar” by The New York Times for her leadership role during the state’s historic drought, Marcus offers over 35 years of water expertise in organizational management, policy development, program implementation and public engagement at the federal, state and local level.  … ”  Read more from Water in the West here:  Water policy expert Felicia Marcus joins Stanford

Clean water advocates hoping to safeguard SAFER funding

Just when it looked like small drinking water systems in California were finally getting the long-term help they so desperately need, along came COVID-19.  The state is peppered with failing small systems, many serving low-income communities without the resources to repair them. At least one-third of those failing systems are in the San Joaquin Valley, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.  They are typically in remote, rural areas serving a few hundred to fewer than a dozen residents on one or two wells. Residents simply don’t have the money to pay for needed repairs and upkeep. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Clean water advocates hoping to safeguard SAFER funding

Tackling toxic algal blooms from two directions

A sea lion rolling its head back and forth, almost as if swaying to music, might actually be dancing in distress to a dirge. This strange behavior, along with spasms, seizures and sometimes death, is often the result of a toxic algal bloom. The neurotoxin to blame is called domoic acid, and it is produced by microalgae called Pseudo-nitzschia, commonly found off the California coast. California Sea Grant recently funded two research projects that are adding to our understanding of how and why these toxic blooms happen.   “The organism that produces domoic acid is well-known in the California Current System as a big player in keeping our waters productive — keeping fish production high,” says Clarissa Anderson, Executive Director of the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS) at Scripps. “But sometimes, it turns toxic.” … ”  Read more from Sea Grant here:  Tackling toxic algal blooms from two directions

Researchers warn a warming ocean threatens giant kelp forests

The warming climate is putting environmental pressure on California forests that have towered over the Golden State for thousands of years.  They are not the only forests being stressed by climate change, the region’s iconic underwater forests are also facing challenges. Those forests are populated by giant kelp, and there is one located just off the La Jolla shore.  Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Ed Parnell didn’t have to walk far from Scripps Pier to find strands of giant kelp washed up on the beach. “The root system is called the holdfast, it holds the kelp plant to the bottom, right there you can see that,” Parnell said. … ”  Read more from KPBS here:  Researchers warn a warming ocean threatens giant kelp forests

California Launches Kelp Forest Restoration Project in Mendocino County

Commercial red sea urchin divers today will begin removing purple urchins in support of kelp restoration at two sites on California’s North Coast. The divers, who have struggled to fish since the recent collapse of kelp forest ecosystems on the North Coast, will remove kelp-eating purple urchins at Noyo Bay and Caspar Cove in Mendocino County. This project is supported by Ocean Protection Council funds and represents a novel partnership between OPC, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Reef Check California (a community science NGO), and local commercial fishermen. … ”

Click here to continue reading this press release.

In recent years, climate-driven changes in marine ecosystems have devastated kelp forests worldwide, from Tasmania to British Columbia. On California’s once-lush North Coast, kelp has collapsed seemingly overnight – more than 95 percent of the offshore kelp canopy in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties has been lost since 2013. Scientists attribute this unprecedented decline to a “perfect storm” of changing ocean conditions, including persistent marine heat waves, disease and die offs of sea stars and an explosion in purple sea urchin populations.

Kelp is a foundational species for marine ecosystems on the California coast, and the transition from healthy forests to underwater deserts known as “urchin barrens” has caused significant loss of kelp forest ecosystem services. This includes the collapse of both the recreational red abalone and commercial red sea urchin fisheries.

In response, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) have partnered with local commercial fishermen to attempt kelp restoration at an unprecedented scale. A team of 16 commercial sea urchin divers will be paid to remove purple sea urchins on 10 acres of reef at Noyo Bay and five acres of reef at Caspar Cove. The effort will be scientifically monitored by Reef Check California, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving California’s rocky reefs through citizen science. OPC is providing $500,000 in funding for this unique project, in support of its mission to protect California’s coast and ocean.

“This project will provide a scientific basis for evaluating the efficacy of moderate-scale urchin removal, while providing social and economic benefits to the broader North Coast community – particularly fishermen who have been among the hardest-hit by this climate-driven crisis,” said Michael Esgro, OPC’s Marine Ecosystems Program Manager.

The launch of this project was initially delayed due to COVID-19, but strict health and safety protocols are now in place that will enable the project to move forward. In order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, strict social distancing will be maintained on vessels, and project participants will be required to wear masks at all time. Pre- and post-restoration ecological surveys at removal and reference sites will help to assess the ecosystem’s response to urchin removal. Reef Check will collaborate with OPC, CDFW and academic partners to provide high-quality data that can inform future restoration efforts.

“This highly collaborative project will improve our understanding of practical kelp restoration techniques in California. Along with other research being conducted on the north coast and throughout the state, this work will better inform our kelp restoration planning efforts,” said James Ray, CDFW’s Kelp Restoration Coordinator.

An anomalous, climate-driven heat wave is implicated in the region’s stark kelp decline. In 2014, the appearance of a warm mass in the North Pacific – known known as “The Blob” – was followed by severe El Nino conditions, causing persistent warming through mid-2016. Bull kelp is highly sensitive to changes in temperature, and warmer water holds fewer nutrients, limiting the ability of new kelp to establish and grow. Further, sea star wasting disease along the U.S. Pacific coast resulted in the collapse of sunflower sea star populations, a major predator of purple sea urchins on the North Coast. Kelp struggled to cope with increased temperatures, while the absence of sea stars coupled with increased urchin reproductive success and food stress resilience, allowed purple urchin populations to explode and graze kelp forests down to bare rock. These shifts resulted in the closure of the recreational red abalone fishery (California’s only remaining abalone fishery) in 2018 and a federal declaration of a commercial fishery failure of the north coast commercial red urchin fishery.

“We look forward to determining whether creating small kelp refugia along the North Coast might help to accelerate recovery more broadly across the region,” said Dr. Mark Gold, OPC’s Executive Director. “These findings will inform future restoration and recovery efforts as California seeks to safeguard iconic kelp forest ecosystems and vibrant coastal communities against the threat of climate change.”

About the California Ocean Protection Council:  The Ocean Protection Council is a state agency whose mission is to ensure that California maintains healthy, resilient, and productive ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. The Council was created pursuant to the California Ocean Protection Act. For more information, and for a link to OPC’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Coast and Ocean, visit www.opc.ca.gov.

UCI engineers evaluate snow drought in different parts of the world

Environmental engineers at the University of California, Irvine have developed a new framework for characterizing snow droughts around the world. Using this tool to analyze conditions from 1980 to 2018, the researchers found a 28-percent increase in the length of intensified snow-water deficits in the Western United States during the second half of the study period.  Results from the application of the new snow-water equivalent index and implications for human populations in impacted regions are covered in a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  “Snow is an important global water resource that plays a vital role in natural processes, agriculture, hydropower and basic socio-economic conditions of various regions,” said lead author Laurie Huning, UCI post-doctoral scholar in civil & environmental engineering. “While other forms of drought are well-studied, variations in snow droughts on a global scale have been examined to a far lesser extent until now.” … ”  Read more from the UC Irvine here: UCI engineers evaluate snow drought in different parts of the world

Costa secures funding for water infrastructure

Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16) released the following statement after the House passed H.R. 7617, a bill to fund programs within Defense, Commerce, Justice, Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development: “This bill is an important step to improving the quality of life for Americans,” said Costa. “Through critical investments in our aging water infrastructure, funding modernization and safety enhancements in our transportation systems, and improving access to healthcare, this bill will have positive, long-term impacts for the San Joaquin Valley.” … ”

Click here for list of water infrastructure provisions.

For Valley water users, investments in aging water infrastructure anprograms to improve water access for the San Joaquin Valley:  

  • $108.8 million for WIIN Act storage projects, including:  
    • $71 million for Friant-Kern Canal pre-construction and construction.
    • $7.845 million for the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Phase 2 Expansion Project  
    • $3 million for the Delta Mendota Canal Subsidence Correction Project  
    • $4 million for the Sites Reservoir Project  
    • $1.5 million for the Del Puerto Water District reservoir project  
    • $1.7 million for the San Luis Low Point Improvement Project  
  • $25 million for Reclamation canals where operational conveyance capacity has been seriously impaired by factors such as age or land subsidence. 
  • $200 million for a 50% cost share on canals where operational conveyance has been impaired by subsidence. This includes both the Delta-Mendota and Friant-Kern Canals. 
  • $300 million for WaterSMART Grants 
  • $10.5 million for the Water Operations Technical Supports (WOTS) program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
  • $2 million towards studying atmospheric rivers and extreme weather events to help predict flood and drought conditions  


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In regional water news and commentary today …

Newsom asks Warren Buffett to back dam removal, Water Users ask for suspension of ratepayer funding

Gov. Gavin Newsom has appealed directly to investor Warren Buffett to support demolishing four Klamath dams, while the Siskiyou County Water Users Association is working to ensure no more funding goes toward the project.  Newsom on Wednesday sent a letter to Buffett urging him to back the Klamath River project, which would be the largest dam removal in U.S. history.  The dams are owned by PacificCorp, which is part of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate. … ”  Read more from the Mount Shasta News here:  Newsom asks Warren Buffett to back dam removal, Water Users ask for suspension of ratepayer funding

LaMalfa announces funding for Dunsmuir water infrastructure improvements

Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) announced a $7,934,000 loan and a $2,285,000 grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development for the City of Dunsmuir. These funds will help replace and upgrade the water distribution system, including replacing 25,000 feet of troublesome, even failing, waterlines and 40 new fire hydrants. LaMalfa said: “This funding from USDA Rural Development will help bring modern, reliable water infrastructure to the City of Dunsmuir. Improving the water distribution system will aid public health and safety and bring better fire protection to the area, as well as the convenience of tap water that people are accustomed to. I thank President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue for their focus on bettering infrastructure in rural America.

Mendocino County: Ninth circuit blocks logging project in burned-out part of California forest

Eight months after a federal judge green-lighted a roadside logging project to remove fire-damaged trees on 7,000 acres in Mendocino National Forest, the Ninth Circuit on Monday reversed that decision and issued a preliminary injunction to stop it.  The majority of a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel found the U.S. Forest Service should have studied the potential impact of logging on the environment first, rejecting arguments that the project fell within an exemption under the National Environmental Policy Act for roadside repair and maintenance. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: Ninth circuit blocks logging project in burned-out part of California forest

Folsom officials investigating mysterious pinhole water leaks in pipes flooding homes

Some on social media are calling it a pinhole leak apocalypse.  A rash of Folsom residents have reported tiny, pinhole-size leaks appearing in their copper pipes in recent weeks, causing in some cases thousands of dollars worth of water damage.  City officials and Sacramento-area plumbers are aware of the surge in complaints, but are still trying to uncover the cause of the water leaks that have burst open pipes across Folsom. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: Folsom officials investigating mysterious pinhole water leaks in pipes flooding homes

Bay Area: Where’s the dirt? Scientists surveying sediment in salt marshes

When Brenda Goeden first started working on mud, silt, and sand in the San Francisco Bay two decades ago, dredgers and contractors couldn’t get rid of all the sediment they excavated fast enough. “They’d dump it in the ocean because that was cheapest,” recalled Goeden, the Sediment Program Manager for the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). But today sediment is a hot commodity, as restorationists and developers scramble to elevate salt marshes and building sites before rising tides claim them. Now, a new plan is in the works to optimize allocation of this critical resource.  “Sediment is huge,” said Christina Toms, an ecological engineer at the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. “Without adequate sediment, tidal wetlands will drown.” … ”  Read more from the Bay Area Monitor here:  Where’s the dirt? Scientists surveying sediment in salt marshes

The virus detectives: tracking covid-19 in Bay Area wastewater

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising, public health officials are struggling to keep up with testing and monitoring. Because wastewater carries the virus, it can provide a window into outbreaks. We talked to Eileen White, director of wastewater at the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD), about the agency’s role in tracking the spread of the virus.  PPIC: What is EBMUD doing to monitor COVID-19?  EILEEN WHITE: We’ve been working on this ever since the Grand Princess Cruise ship arrived at the Port of Oakland with COVID-19 in its wastewater. We reached out to the Alameda County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to confirm that they agreed with our approach to managing the ship’s sewage while protecting our wastewater workers. Since then we’ve been monitoring sewage in our service area to see how much virus it contains. … ”  Read more from the PPIC here:  The virus detectives: tracking covid-19 in Bay Area wastewater

Coyote Valley deal closes, public input sought for 937-acre San Jose property

The largest remaining piece of property connected to San Jose’s agricultural history as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” began a new chapter on Monday with the finalizing of a $93 million deal to purchase 937 aces in Coyote Valley, a rural expanse of farmland and open space on Silicon Valley’s southern edges.  The close of escrow ends development battles dating back 35 years and started a new chapter on a public process to help shape the property’s future uses.  “We can reconnect people to this natural landscape and create something that is truly novel in the Bay Area,” said Matt Freeman, assistant general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, a government agency based in San Jose. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: Coyote Valley deal closes, public input sought for 937-acre San Jose property

Malibu in continued FEMA flood maps appeal

The city of Malibu announced on Friday, July 31 they are in the continued process of appealing the revised FEMA preliminary flood maps potentially impacting beachside estates.  The issue the city has contested with FEMA’s revised flood maps is the base flood elevations along Malibu’s coastline. The base flood elevation is the anticipated elevation that a base flood, a flood with a one percent annual chance will reach.  According to the city of Malibu, the revised flood maps base flood elevation could potentially impact beachside properties. … ”  Read more from Canyon News here: Malibu in continued FEMA flood maps appeal

California sued over climate change policy — by the nation’s biggest gas utility

Southern California Gas Co. is taking its battle with state officials over climate change policy to court, arguing in a new lawsuit that the California Energy Commission has failed to promote natural gas as required by state law.  The lawsuit, filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, is the latest attempt by SoCalGas to shield itself against efforts to phase out gas, a planet-warming fossil fuel used for heating, cooking and power generation. The company, which maintains its headquarters in Los Angeles and is owned by Sempra Energy of San Diego, took in $4.5 billion in operating revenue last year. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: California sued over climate change policy — by the nation’s biggest gas utility

Boeing says feds should pay for cleanup of Torrance plant

Boeing wants reimbursement from the federal government for costs of the cleanup of an aircraft manufacturing plant in California.  In a lawsuit filed July 24 in Los Angeles federal court, the company says it is entitled to those costs for addressing contamination associated with the periods of time the federal government owned or operated the plant on Normandie Avenue in Torrance, as well as the adjacent Montrose Chemical and Del Amo Dual Superfund Site. … ”  Read more from Legal Newsline here: Boeing says feds should pay for cleanup of Torrance plant

A salty fight in Huntington Beach over making ocean water drinkable

In Huntington Beach, a debate is brewing over the construction of a desalination plant, which would convert salty seawater to drinkable water. The process is extensive and expensive. The construction is controversial because of the cost and because of what all that salt and excess could do to the coastal ecosystem.  KCRW speaks to Gustavo Arellano, features writer for the LA Times Metro desk.  … ”  Read more from KCRW here: A salty fight in Huntington Beach over making ocean water drinkable

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In national water news today …

Trump signs major conservation bill into law

President Trump on Tuesday signed a major piece of conservation legislation into law as he and other Republicans seek to tout conservation accomplishments ahead of the elections in November. Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks. … ”  Read more from The Hill here:  Trump signs major conservation bill into law

Early detection of algae yields savings

Early detection of harmful algal blooms via satellite can result in significant savings on health care, lost work hours, and other economic costs. That is the finding of a NASA-funded case study published in June 2020 in the journal GeoHealth.  Some species of algae and phytoplankton can be harmful to human health when they are present in high numbers. Such blooms can change the color of lake water in ways that are detectable by Earth-observing satellites. Using a 2017 bloom in Utah Lake as a case study, researchers found that early warnings from a satellite-based monitoring project—warnings that came days earlier than other detection methods—provided a measurable benefit for communities around Provo, Utah. … ”  Read more from NASA’s Earth Observatory here: Early detection of algae yields savings

Turning air into water: how Native Americans are coping with water shortage amid the coronavirus pandemic

Washing your hands is one of the simplest preventative measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in fighting the spread of the coronavirus. But for thousands of Navajo and Hopi people, a preexisting water shortage now puts them at serious risk during the pandemic.  Now, a nonprofit that developed low-cost handwashing stations for the homeless population in California is teaming up with community nonprofit Red Feather to bring this potentially life-saving infrastructure to Native American communities.  “We firmly believe that hand washing along with a comprehensive approach to protection is an important part of not contracting COVID and staying healthy,” said Joe Seidenberg, executive director of Red Feather. … ”  Read more from The Hill here:  Turning air into water: how Native Americans are coping with water shortage amid the coronavirus pandemic

Rising seas could menace millions beyond shorelines, study finds

As global warming pushes up ocean levels around the world, scientists have long warned that many low-lying coastal areas will become permanently submerged.  But a new study published Thursday finds that much of the economic harm from sea-level rise this century is likely to come from an additional threat that will arrive even faster: As oceans rise, powerful coastal storms, crashing waves and extreme high tides will be able to reach farther inland, putting tens of millions more people and trillions of dollars in assets worldwide at risk of periodic flooding. … ”  Read more from the New York Times here:  Rising seas could menace millions beyond shorelines, study finds

Radio show: Life on the edge of climate change

Maybe when we tell you that we’re going to be talking about climate change all week, maybe there’s a voice in your head saying, “Oh, I can’t even take it. I don’t want to know — not another documentary, or film or news item, or scientific report, or class or lecture, radio piece, or podcast.”  Dr. Renee Lertzman is an author, researcher, and climate engagement specialist. She wrote a book and about the psychological toll of the climate crisis and she’s part of a growing movement of psychologists who identify those overwhelming feelings as unprocessed grief. Dr. Lertzman’s term for it, and the title of her book, is “Environmental Melancholia.”  She says, “Melancholia refers to what happens when we have experienced loss of some kind, but it’s not really being processed.” ... ”  Listen to show/read article at KALW here: Radio show: Life on the edge of climate change 

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August climate outlook …

Tropical wetness to douse the East Coast while dryness likely to continue across Southwest

We’ve entered the dog days of summer across the United States which, along with continued summer heat, comes a climatological increase in hurricane activity in the Tropical Atlantic Ocean. (The season’s average peaks occurs around September 10). The August 2020 outlook favors hotter-than-average temperatures along both coasts, while tropical moisture is likely to lead to a wetter-than-average August along the East Coast. Plenty of reasons to try to stay inside to beat the heat and rain, if you ask me. Read on to find out more about the August 2020 outlook for temperature and precipitation from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. ... ”  Continue reading at Climate.gov here: Tropical wetness to douse the East Coast while dryness likely to continue across Southwest

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Today’s featured articles …

ACWA CONFERENCE: Secretary Wade Crowfoot highlights the principles and priorities of the Water Resilience Portfolio

BLOG ROUND-UP: The water resilience portfolio, Delta conveyance project, Drought and the Delta, Privatizing water, and more …

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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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