DAILY DIGEST, weekend edition: After the blazes: Poisoned water and ‘a flood on steroids’; Possible atmospheric river this week; CA’s water crisis hits farmworkers hardest; Trout don’t follow the weather forecast; and more …


In California water news this weekend …

After the blazes: Poisoned water and ‘a flood on steroids’

Historic wildfires raging from California to Colorado are weakening watersheds and setting the stage for deadly mudslides and flooding and, in some places, threatening to poison critical water supplies.  Fueled by record-setting temperatures and strong winds, blazes are wreaking havoc in the West, decimating entire towns like Malden in eastern Washington state, where 80% of the homes and structures — from the fire station to city hall — were burned to the ground.  But the fires don’t just pose a threat to things that burn. More intense and larger fires are also shifting the very ground in Western states. Severe wildfires can change the hydrologic response of a watershed so quickly that even a relatively modest rainstorm can trigger flash floods and steep terrain debris flows, said Jason Kean, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program in Golden, Colo. … ”  Read more from E&E News here: After the blazes: Poisoned water and ‘a flood on steroids’

A landfalling atmospheric river is forecast to potentially bring wildfire relief to the Pacific Northwest

“An AR that is forecast to make landfall early next week could bring much needed precipitation to parts of Washington, Oregon, and potentially Northern California.  Due to large lead times in the forecasts, there is currently very large ensemble and model-to model uncertainties in AR conditions, magnitude, duration, and location.  The large forecast uncertainties make it difficult to pinpoint where beneficial and wildfire relieving rains could fall. The NOAA Weather Prediction Center is currently predicting as much as 2 inches over Coastal Washington/Northern Oregon, and ~1 inch over far Northern California. … ”  Read the update from the Center for Western Weather & Water Extremes here: A landfalling atmospheric river is forecast to potentially bring wildfire relief to the Pacific Northwest

More on the fires:

DWR continues critical operations during public emergencies

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) continues operations to maintain critical functions while modifying the way we work in the face of the current emergencies, like COVID-19 and fires statewide, to protect our staff and the public. DWR continues providing California its core services of water delivery, flood protection, dam safety, and infrastructure maintenance.  Due to California’s statewide fires, several State Water Project facilities (SWP) have closed to protect the public and employees of high fire danger in these areas. … ”  Read more from DWR News here:  DWR continues critical operations during public emergencies

California’s water crisis hits farmworkers hardest, maps call attention

In California’s Central Valley, where one-fourth of the nation’s food is grown, many residents cannot drink or cook with the water that flows from their faucets. Several of the region’s small agricultural communities deal with dried-up wells, defective underground pipes, and water contaminated with bacteria or nitrates from fertilizer runoff. Families, some already facing poverty levels, must often pay for bottled water on top of their monthly water bills and, in some cases, struggle to find ample supply in their local grocery store. … ”  Read more from ESRI here: California’s water crisis hits farmworkers hardest, maps call attention

Trout don’t follow the weather forecast

An endangered fish in California might use its internal clock to decide when to migrate, according to a study by the University of Cincinnati.  UC visiting assistant professor of biology Michael Booth studied the migration patterns of steelhead, a subpopulation of rainbow trout that migrates to the Pacific Ocean, where the growing fish hunt and feed until they return to their natal freshwater streams to spawn. … ”  Read more from EurekAlert here:  Trout don’t follow the weather forecast

Dan Walters:  Environmental exemptions yes, but reform no

The California Legislature has a handy website that allows users to find and track the thousands of bills that are introduced during its two-year sessions.  If one enters “California Environmental Quality Act” into the website’s search function, 171 bills pop up for the session that ended a fortnight ago, implying the Legislature’s penchant for tinkering with California’s landmark environmental legislation that then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed 50 years ago. … ”  Read more from the Cal Matters here: Dan Walters:  Environmental exemptions yes, but reform no

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In regional water news this weekend …

Modoc Point Irrigation District illegally turns on pumps

In the smoky midday heat Wednesday, Ed Combs broke the law. He flipped a switch to turn on an irrigation pump that had been dormant all summer.  The pump sputtered, and soon 21 cubic feet per second of water began to flow from the Williamson River to Modoc Point Irrigation District.  An air tanker carrying water from Upper Klamath Lake to drop on the Two Four Two Fire just a few miles north soared over the pumphouse.  “We don’t want that to go on over here,” Combs said as his eyes followed the plane. ... ”  Read more from the Herald & News here: Modoc Point Irrigation District illegally turns on pumps

Bear Fire and Lake Oroville

A lot of area surrounding Lake Oroville that is sitting within the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area was burned by the Bear Fire, also known as the North Complex West Zone.  The Bear Fire ignited by lightning strikes on Aug. 17, 2020, but swelled into a firestorm on Tuesday, Sept. 8 with the onset of an intense wind event. As it merged with another lightning-sparked fire near Quincy, it became known as the North Complex Fire. The Bear Fire , has burned over 72,500 acres with seven percent containment as of Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. … ”  Read more from Action News Now here: Bear Fire and Lake Oroville

Tree mortality on decline, but drought conditions continue at Tahoe

As the trees in the basin try to thrive, factors continue to work against them as forests are changing. Trees are competing for limited water, stressed from higher temperatures and the infamous bark beetle population is still growing.  While the Forest Service California Forest Health Protection had to postpone survey work to determine 2020 tree mortality due to the coronavirus, the trend of tree mortality has been on a downward trend.  The years 2015 and 2016 were the hardest hit years. FHP’s aerial detection monitoring reported 62 million trees dead in 2016. … ”  Read more from the Tahoe Daily Tribune here:  Tree mortality on decline, but drought conditions continue at Tahoe

Placer County:  To pipe or not to pipe? That is the question

Harry Norris writes, “The decision to pipe the main ditch, aka El Dorado Canal, has been made. But, was that the right decision? Let’s look at both sides of the issue.  The El Dorado Irrigation District has transported water 3 miles in an open ditch from Forebay Reservoir to a treatment plant in Pollock Pines for decades. No deaths or serious illnesses have been documented from drinking the treated water. … ”  Read more from the Mountain Democrat here: To pipe or not to pipe? That is the question

Sonoma County: Healthy groundwater?

“Sonoma Valley has a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) that is working to produce a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by January 1, 2022. The GSA is a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) agency made up of the Sonoma County, the City of Sonoma, Sonoma Water, Valley of the Moon, Water District, North Bay Water District, and the Sonoma Resource Conservation District.  The GSA process was mandated by state law in 2015, by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA. Sonoma Valley is a SGMA-defined high priority groundwater basin for multiple reasons, large dependence on groundwater, possible seawater intrusion, and that in some areas, withdrawals are exceeding recharge. … ”  Read more from the Sonoma Sun here: Sonoma County: Healthy groundwater?

Monterey:  Moving toward water supply security

Norm Groot, Executive Director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau writes, “The Monterey Peninsula is about to find out if a long-term water supply will become a reality on Thursday as California’s Coastal Commission is scheduled to hear the application for a permit to build the desalination source water wells. While staff has recommended a denial of this permit for a variety of reasons, the Farm Bureau believes the permit is necessary to secure a reliable water supply for Peninsula residents and businesses. … ”  Read more from the Monterey Herald here: Moving toward water supply security

Ridgecrest:  IWVWD General Manager’s Column: Impact of IWVGA Fees on District Customers

Don Zbeda writes, “The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (“Authority”) has taken actions recently with regards to fees that will affect customers of the Indian Wells Valley Water District (“District”). These are pass-through fees implemented by the Authority. Though they will appear on your water bill, the money collected goes to the Authority and not the District. It is my intent to provide context for how these fees will translate to your bill from the District.  … ”  Read more from the Taft Midway Driller here: IWVWD General Manager’s Column: Impact of IWVGA Fees on District Customers

Ridgecrest: Local groundwater authority forcing 700 out of work with 7,000% water rate increase, says Burnell Blanchard

He writes, “In an attempt to stop overuse of this region’s overdrafted groundwater basin, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority wants to pay for water rights at varied locations throughout California by imposing a new Replenishment Fee on some but not all of the basin’s groundwater users.  Purchasing water rights throughout the state without the ability to deliver the purchased water to our region is an enormously expensive and risky scheme that will require vast new infrastructure undoubtedly costing countless millions of dollars and taking many years before even a drop of water can be delivered. And yet, without identifying how or when imported water supplies would be delivered, and despite significant local opposition, the authority recently voted to substantially increase water rates – deciding who wins and who loses in the Indian Wells Valley. … ”  Read more from the Bakersfield Californian here:  Local groundwater authority forcing 700 out of work with 7,000% water rate increase

South Pasadena sues Dow Chemical, Shell Oil after cancer-causing contaminant found in water supply

The city of South Pasadena is suing The Dow Chemical Co. and Shell Oil Co., alleging that for more than four decades both firms willfully manufactured a pesticide containing a cancer-causing chemical that has contaminated the municipality’s drinking water supply.  The 25-page complaint, filed last month in U.S. District Court, contends that from the 1940s to 1980s Dow and Shell marketed a pesticide containing the chemical 1,2,3-trichloropropane, also known as TCP.  “They (Dow and Shell) knew or reasonably should have known that this harmful compound would reach groundwater, pollute drinking water supplies, render drinking water unusable and unsafe, and threaten the public health,” the complaint says. … ”  Read more from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune here:  South Pasadena sues Dow Chemical, Shell Oil after cancer-causing contaminant found in water supply

Redondo Beach says it will sue state water board over power plant extension

Redondo Beach intends to sue the State Water Resources Control Board over a recent decision to extend the life of a power plant in the city for one year and three others around Southern California for at least three more years.  The board, for its part, declined to comment specifically on the proposed lawsuit. An agency spokesperson, however, did defend the board’s decision — saying it was “sensitive” to the concerns Redondo Beach officials raised. … ”  Read more from the Daily Breeze here:  Redondo Beach says it will sue state water board over power plant extension

Metropolitan Water District Can Do Better for Southern California Amid COVID, says Jim Madaffer of the San Diego County Water Authority

He writes, “Life during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of uncertainty and anxiety, but also a time of compromise and collaboration. We have all been asked to make sacrifices both big and small for the greater good — face masks, changing business operations, remote work, outdoor dining and countless other accommodations.  Public agencies — especially those that deliver an essential commodity like water — should operate in the same collaborative spirit to protect ratepayers and offer relief during the continuing economic fallout. … ”  Continue reading at the Times of San Diego here: Metropolitan Water District Can Do Better for Southern California Amid COVID

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Along the Colorado River …

The Colorado River is awash in data vital to its management, but making sense of it all is a challenge

Practically every drop of water that flows through the meadows, canyons and plains of the Colorado River Basin has reams of science attached to it. Snowpack, streamflow and tree ring data all influence the crucial decisions that guide water management of the iconic Western river every day.  Dizzying in its scope, detail and complexity, the scientific information on the Basin’s climate and hydrology has been largely scattered in hundreds of studies and reports. Some studies may conflict with others, or at least appear to. That’s problematic for a river that’s a lifeline for 40 million people and more than 4 million acres of irrigated farmland. … ”  Read more from Western Water here: The Colorado River is awash in data vital to its management, but making sense of it all is a challenge

Why some in Nevada see Utah pipeline plan as ‘first salvo in coming water wars’

Lake Powell isn’t in Southern Nevada. Rather, it’s about four hours away by car in southern Utah.  But some environmentalists say the water consumption of St. George, Utah, and neighboring communities could have a direct and deleterious impact on the Las Vegas water supply.  The link is the Colorado River, and the kink is the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, a water delivery system to support expected growth in Southern Utah by drawing from the Lake Powell reservoir straddling the Arizona-Utah border. … ”  Read more from the Las Vegas Sun here:  Why some in Nevada see Utah pipeline plan as ‘first salvo in coming water wars’

Arizona receives second reduction of Colorado River water in two years

“A pandemic, civil unrest and record heat. Could there be anything worse?  A lack of water, perhaps.  Arizona recently received a drought one-two punch: The state will receive another reduction of Colorado River water and the Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a dry winter in the Southwest.  Last year the state received its first-ever cutback of Colorado River water under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. The cuts are a plan to keep Lake Mead, a reservoir at the Arizona-Nevada boundary, functional. Water levels for both Lake Mead and Lake Powell have precipitously dropped as a result of historic overallocation and a drought that started in 2000.   So what does that mean for Arizonans going forward? And how should developers, who push and provide economic growth, accept the news?  … ”  Read more from Arizona State University here: Arizona receives second reduction of Colorado River water in two years

Why is Queen Creek’s water deal so contentious? It exposes our most fundamental problems, says Joanna Allhands

She writes, “Roughly a thousand acre-feet of water won’t make or break the Colorado River.  But for many who live in counties that border the river, even losing a few drops of water to central Arizona poses a major threat to their way of life.  They know this isn’t the first time that thirsty interests have tried to move water east. And, presuming Queen Creek acquires 1,078 acre-feet from GSC Farm LLC in La Paz County, they fear it will embolden other users to make a play for other, potentially bigger chunks of river water. … ”  Read more from Arizona Central here:  Why is Queen Creek’s water deal so contentious? It exposes our most fundamental problems

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In people news this weekend …

Remembering environmentalist and farmer John Anderson

Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross writes, “I am saddened by the recent loss of John Anderson, DVM, farmer, scientist and environmentalist, who passed away on August 19, 2020. It seems quite fitting to pay tribute to him during this week of highlighting California’s amazing biodiversity. John was a leader in demonstrating the positive impact of hedgerows in enhancing biodiversity, which in turn provides many ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pest regulation, pollinator habitats and sustainable agriculture. … ”  Read more from Planting Seeds here: Remembering environmentalist and farmer John Anderson

Video profile: Chris Peters

Peters (Pohlik-lah/Karuk) is the President of Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, Inc., an indigenous non-profit supporting grassroots Native communities with revitalization, restoration, preservation, planning, and development projects. His work is especially focused on climate change, sacred sites protection, and the renaissance of sacred knowledge and Earth Renewal ceremonies of Northern California Tribal Peoples.  Peters is also the owner and Principal Consultant for Red Deer Consulting, an independent firm that provides identity based cultural advising, mentoring and capacity building services for tribal communities. Chris serves as the Indigenous Peoples’ Task Force Chair and as a board member of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.”  Listen to interview at Stanford here:  SAIO 50 for 50: Chris Peters

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Podcasts …

Pittsburgh River Patrol

Steve Baker writes, “The number of bridges crossing the rivers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are the most concentrated that I have ever seen. You would expect that having all that access to the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers would be ground zero for calamities of all kinds. It may be but Pittsburgh has created a River Rescue Patrol to keep these rivers safe. Water is a Many Splendor’ed Thing brings you another water relationship that has a personally significant impact to your life.”  Produced by Steven Baker, Operation Unite® Bringing People Together to Solve Water Problems, Online at www.operationunite.co


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In national water news …

Reclamation invests $3.3 million for internal applied science projects to improve modeling, forecasting and data tools

The Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced that Reclamation will invest $3.3 million in 21 projects for WaterSMART Internal Applied Science Tools that build technical capacity within Reclamation.  “Information gained from these applied science tools will allow Reclamation and our partners to use best-available science for optimal water management under variable hydrologic conditions,” Commissioner Burman said. “The projects announced today will help inform specific water management decisions throughout the West.

Click here to continue reading this press release.

This program supports the Department of the Interior’s commitment to meeting the President’s Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West.

A project will assist New Mexico and reservoirs throughout the West. It will receive $199,764 to implement a known model to simulate regional climate and physical processes to estimate daily, monthly and annual evaporation across Elephant Butte Reservoir. These estimates will be compared to alternative estimates. The results will be used by the Albuquerque Area Office to support operations, to facilitate method comparison and identify future planning, operational and research needs on the topic. It will help with the development of alternative evaporation estimation techniques, production of daily evaporation time series at a reservoir and a broadening of weather prediction modeling capabilities.

Another project in Arizona will receive $200,000 to enhance precipitation and soil monitoring information in the Aravaipa watershed northeast of Tucson. Currently, there are only two weather stations within the watershed. The project includes the installation of two stations to monitor precipitation and soil moisture, which will better inform the Natural Resources Conservation Service forecasting models and United States Geological Survey surface water models. The work proposed in this project will help Reclamation and local partners predict flood risk, drought, erosion, and water quality concerns and better plan mitigation of these water management issues.

A third project will receive $120,000 to do predictive modeling to generate maps of invasive quagga and zebra mussel risk. The results will allow Reclamation to dedicate limited resources to high-risk locations and prepare facilities for potential control costs.

To view a complete list of projects, please visit www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience.

Applied Science Tools are part of the WaterSMART Program. Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with states, tribes and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply reliability through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit www.usbr.gov/watersmart to learn more.

White House directs agencies to relax enforcement

A memo produced by the White House and sent to agency heads last week instructs them to make significant changes to how and when they bring enforcement cases, telling them not to open multiple investigations into the same company and urging them to seek political appointees’ approval before proceeding with an inquiry.  The new guidance, released Aug. 31, came from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA, a unit of the White House that does not typically get involved in enforcement policy. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  White House directs agencies to relax enforcement

Investments in water infrastructure are crucial for long-term resilience, says Kate Zerrenner

She writes, “In Texas, we’re getting some much-needed rain. But as with everything in Texas, nothing is done in half-measures. We’ve been in a drought and typically September brings hurricanes to the coast and flooding inland. These trends have been increasing in intensity for the past few years in Texas and across the country as climate change progresses. The more intense booms and busts of weather events are putting stress on water infrastructure, particularly the parts that get clean water to our homes and businesses.  But climate change is not the only danger. Our water infrastructure is old and crumbling. The exploding populations in our cities coupled with increased treatment requirements is making a bad situation worse. … ”  Read more from the Triple Pundit here: Investments in water infrastructure are crucial for long-term resilience

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Also on Maven’s Notebook this weekend …

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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