DAILY DIGEST, 9/18: First water futures contract is coming with the West on fire; Experts say drought, wildfire risk to persist across much of US this fall; If California won’t enact a plastic waste overhaul, will anyone?; Water wars at the Supreme Court: ‘It’s only going to get worse’; and more …



In California water news today …

CME’s first water futures contract is coming with the West on fire

If the record heat and wildfires ravaging California weren’t a clear enough sign that the climate is changing, then consider this: Wall Street is about to start trading futures contracts on the state’s water supply.  The contracts are the first of their kind in the U.S. and are being created by Chicago-based CME Group Inc., the world’s largest futures exchange. They are intended, CME says, to both allow California’s big water consumers—like almond farms and municipalities—to hedge against surging prices and can act as a benchmark that signals how acute water scarcity is becoming in the state and, more broadly, across the globe. … ”  Read more from Chicago Business here:  CME’s first water futures contract is coming with the West on fire

Experts say drought, wildfire risk to persist across much of US this fall

As historic wildfires continue to burn across California, Oregon and other Western states, government climate experts say much of the U.S. is likely to see persistent drought conditions and fire risk alongside continued above-average temperatures through the fall.  During a briefing Thursday, forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that while wetter conditions are expected to bring some drought relief to parts of the Pacific Northwest and New England in the months ahead, drought conditions are likely to persist or even worsen in Central and Southern California and across the Southwest. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here:  Experts say drought, wildfire risk to persist across much of us this fall

California Tahoe Conservancy awards $523,500 in grants for forest health improvement, wildfire risk reduction, and climate change adaptation

At its virtual meeting today, the California Tahoe Conservancy Board awarded $523,500 in grants to support programs and projects that will improve forest health and reduce the threat of wildfire to Lake Tahoe Basin (Basin) communities, and to accelerate adaptation to climate change.  “At a time when western states are tackling unprecedented wildfires from Mexico to Canada, it’s critically important that we act today to reduce the risk to the Basin communities and treasured landscapes,” said El Dorado Supervisor and Conservancy Board Chair Sue Novasel. “What’s more, healthy and resilient forests can adapt better to the effects of climate change.” … ”  Read more from YubaNet here:  California Tahoe Conservancy awards $523,500 in grants for forest health improvement, wildfire risk reduction, and climate change adaptation

The power of translation with Alberto Guzman

Alberto Guzman is a translator — but not in the way you might think. As a senior software engineer with NASA’s Ames Research Center and California State University Monterey Bay, Guzman translates the unique language of NASA scientists into computer code, creating opportunities for applied science breakthroughs to run on a bigger scale and have a larger impact.  “A lot of scientists do amazing and complex work in their fields, but they need help to translate that work into a computer program to run it on a bigger scale,” Guzman said. “I see myself translating between those two things. I have to understand the science [well] enough so I can implement it as a computer algorithm.”  Guzman’s “translation” skills are especially important for projects like OpenET, where he is one of the lead developers for the application programming interface, or API, that allows partners to tap into crucial evapotranspiration data. … ”  Read more from NASA here:  The power of translation with Alberto Guzman

If California won’t enact a plastic waste overhaul, will anyone?

The plastic waste revolution died in the California Legislature this year.  Environmentalists have pinned their hopes on the nation’s most populous state ever since China rejected American recyclables two years ago, literally dropping the problem on the public’s doorstep by forcing cities to raise garbage fees and ban more plastics from recycling bins.  California’s working solution: Transform the entire recycling chain by cracking down on America’s love affair with single-use plastic materials that have reliably contained meals, snacks and beverages for decades.  Such legislation would seem a slam dunk in California, where Democrats have unprecedented supermajority control of the Legislature and have long made the state a national leader on recycling and climate change.  But … ” Read more from Politico here:  If California won’t enact a plastic waste overhaul, will anyone?

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California wildfires …

California wildfires may give way to massive mudslides

As wildfires bear down on the West Coast, many have lost their homes or had to evacuate. Those who aren’t in the direct path of the flames are breathing some of the unhealthiest air in the world. Understandably, residents may be hoping for rain to douse—or at least slow down—the inferno.  “While I’m totally hoping for the same thing, I’m [also] just biting my nails, worrying about what’s going to happen next,” says Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist focused on urban water policy at Stanford University.  Her concern is that the rain that follows these disastrous blazes will bring its own hazard: toxic chemicals. Geologists are also warning of the danger of destructive debris flows. … ”  Read more from Popular Science here: California wildfires may give way to massive mudslides

Increasingly extreme autumn wildfire conditions in California due to climate change

Daniel Swain writes, “Wildfire has been a part of the landscape in the region encompassed by present-day California since…well, time immemorial. Fire is a natural process, and many ecosystems depend on fire of some frequency and intensity for their health and long-term regeneration (although natural fire frequency and intensity varies widely across different ecoregions and vegetation types). Indeed, the indigenous peoples of California have actively managed fire for over 10,000 years—so even human interaction with California wildfire is nothing new.  But several hundred years ago, California was home to fewer than half a million people. Today, more than 40 million live in the Golden State—millions of whom live in “high hazard” fire risk zones. … ”  Continue reading at Weather West here:  Increasingly extreme autumn wildfire conditions in California due to climate change

When the smoke clears: taking action for healthy headwaters

As California enters the traditional late summer beginning of wildfire season, the state is already grappling with a wildfire emergency of unprecedented scale. As of mid-September, more than 3.2 million acres—over 5,000 square miles—have already burned statewide. Smoke from these fires has smothered the entire state, with many major urban centers experiencing their worst air quality on record.  The staggering start to the 2020 wildfire season adds to the heavy toll imposed by fires in recent years. The increasing scale, frequency and intensity of wildfire has had tragic impacts on communities and imposed substantial costs on all Californians. 85 Californians were killed in the 2018 Camp Fire and wildfires have already claimed 35 lives in 2020. … ”  Read more from the Northern California Water Association blog here: When the smoke clears: taking action for healthy headwaters

Wildfires can leave toxic drinking water behind – here’s how to protect the public

Less than halfway through the 2020 wildfire season, fires are burning large swaths of the western U.S. As in previous years, these disasters have entered populated areas, damaging drinking water networks. Water systems have lost pressure, potentially sucking in pollutants, and several utilities are warning of possible and confirmed chemical contamination.  We are environmental engineers who help communities affected by disasters, including support for responses to the 2017 Tubbs Fire and 2018 Camp Fire in California. As we concluded in a recently published study of burned areas, communities need to upgrade building codes to keep wildfires from causing widespread contamination of drinking water systems. They also need to act more aggressively to protect residents from possible toxic exposure immediately after fires. … “  Read more from The Conversation here:  Wildfires can leave toxic drinking water behind – here’s how to protect the public

Wildfire on the rise since 1984 in Northern California’s coastal ranges

High-severity wildfires in northern coastal California have been increasing by about 10 percent per decade since 1984, according to a study from the University of California, Davis, that associates climate trends with wildfire.  The study, published online in Environmental Research Letters, shows that the drought of 2012-2016 nearly quadrupled the area burned severely, compared to the relatively cooler drought of 1987-1992.  “The severity of wildfires has been increasing over the past four decades,” said lead author Yuhan Huang, a graduate student researcher at UC Davis. “We found that fires were much bigger and more severe during dry and hot years compared to other climatic conditions.” … ”  Read more from UC Davis here:  Wildfire on the rise since 1984 in Northern California’s coastal ranges

U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee talks wildfire

This week the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a legislative hearing. Of the items on the docket, Committee members spent a majority of the hearing focused on S. 4431, Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020 (Feinstein). The bipartisan bill intends to help protect communities from catastrophic wildfires by implementing critical wildfire mitigation projects, sustaining healthier forests that are more resilient to climate change and providing important energy and retrofitting assistance to businesses and residences to mitigate future risks from wildfire and power shutoffs. … ”  Read more from ACWA Water News here:  U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee talks wildfire

California may need more fire to fix its wildfire problem

California is supposed to burn.  Before settlers populated the region in the 1800s, about 5 to 12% of the land that now makes up the Golden State caught fire each year — more than has burned so far in 2020, the most destructive year in modern history. Some of the historic fires were caused by lightning and others were set by Native Americans as a land-management tool, but they mostly burned with low intensity and touched much of the state with great regularity.  But after more than a century of aggressive fire suppression, California’s vegetation has grown much denser than the fire-adapted ecosystem had evolved to handle. Competition for water left forests vulnerable to drought and bark beetles, killing more than 150 million trees in the state. Even as leaders rethink the role of fire, development throughout the state has made it much more difficult to let things burn.   … ”  Continue reading at the Pew Charitable Trust here: California may need more fire to fix its wildfire problem

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In regional water news and commentary today …

Klamath: Fish and Wildlife accepting public comments on proposed sucker hatchery

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has opened a public comment period concerning the proposed construction of a new hatchery to rear endangered C’waam and Koptu (suckers). Community members may submit comments through September 28.  The proposed hatchery would significantly increase FWS’s rearing capacity for suckers to align more closely with goals stated in the 2013 Sucker Recovery Plan. The service released a draft environmental assessment (EA) Monday detailing the expected impacts of the new facility and its construction on its immediate environment. Public comments should concern information communicated in this document. … ”  Read more from the Herald & News here:  Fish and Wildlife accepting public comments on proposed sucker hatchery

Water woes during wildfire for small Yuba County water district

A small water district inside a Yuba County wildfire evacuation zone was forced to shut off water to some customers in the middle of the firefight.  The North Yuba Water District discovered so many customers left their sprinklers and hoses running when they evacuated that the district’s water supply began running out. … ”  Read more from CBS 13 here: Water woes during wildfire for small Yuba County water district

Steelhead conservation plan on Calaveras River draws concern from fisheries advocates

A long-awaited habitat conservation plan for threatened Central Valley steelhead on the Calaveras River was approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) Monday. Conservation groups say the plan was pushed through with minimal restrictions on Stockton East Water District (Stockton East), whose operations on the river have impacted fish populations for decades.  The plan, required in the district’s application for an Incidental Take Permit, addresses the anticipated “take” – killing, injuring and capturing, among other actions – of any endangered or threatened species as a result of activities or development. It also lays out solutions for how to minimize or mitigate those impacts. … ”  Read more from the Calaveras Enterprise here:  Steelhead conservation plan on Calaveras River draws concern from fisheries advocates

Monterey:  Cal Am avoids denial, pulls desal bid at Coastal Commission

California American Water officials were worried they were headed toward losing a desalination project permit bid at the Coastal Commission when they decided to withdraw the permit application at the last minute before a scheduled special meeting on Thursday.  But a top company official said Cal Am is not giving up on the project, which calls for constructing a 6.4-million-gallon-per-day desal plant and infrastructure as the central element of the proposed Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project aimed at offsetting the state water board’s Carmel River pumping cutback order. … ”  Read more from the Monterey Herald here: Cal Am avoids denial, pulls desal bid at Coastal Commission

Vote delayed on Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach

The Santa Ana Regional Water Board has delayed a vote on issuing a permit to allow the controversial Poseidon water desalination plant to move forward in Huntington Beach.  The board was scheduled to meet virtually on Thursday to make a decision on the waste discharge permit renewal. However, Poseidon has requested more time to address concerns raised in three days of public hearings that concluded last month, the board announced in a release. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  Vote delayed on Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach

Oceanside’s plan to recycle water gets a boost from the EPA

Oceanside’s major water reclamation project is getting a financial injection from the Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA is loaning Oceanside nearly $70 million to help finance the city’s water reuse plans. The San Diego County city currently imports most of its water from the Sacramento Bay-Delta and the Colorado River.  The federal loan for the $158 million project will ultimately help Oceanside generate three to five million gallons of drinking water a day. … ”  Read more from KPBS here:  Oceanside’s plan to recycle water gets a boost from the EPA

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Along the Colorado River …

Where did the monsoon go? Weak season means a worsening drought for Arizona

For Arizona, summer 2020 has been the hottest and one of the driest on record.  “We depend on that second season of wet, and we did not get that this year. This is pretty much a repeat of what happened a year ago,” said Arizona State Climatologist Nancy Selover.  For summer 2020, Arizona received just 33 percent of its seasonal average rainfall. The latest drought figures show 57% of Arizona is under extreme drought. … ”  Read more from Fox News 10 here:  Where did the monsoon go? Weak season means a worsening drought for Arizona

Nevada Supreme Court says state cannot change water rights for ‘public trust,’ a loss for environmentalists, county seeking to bring more water to Walker Lake

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state cannot reshuffle existing water rights to prevent environmental damage, despite recognizing a legal principle that requires the government to preserve natural resources for future generations.  Instead, the court ruled that principle, known as the public trust doctrine, is recognized in existing law. The Nevada court, in a 4-2 decision, separated itself from the California Supreme Court, which reached the opposite conclusion in a landmark 1980s case. … ”  Read more from the Nevada Independent here: Nevada Supreme Court says state cannot change water rights for ‘public trust,’ a loss for environmentalists, county seeking to bring more water to Walker Lake

Nevada stakeholders oppose Utah’s Lake Powell pipeline project

Utter the word “pipeline,” and you’ll likely see heads raise and disagreements arise.  But one proposed water pipeline project in Utah has forged some unlikely allies in opposition.  Last week, six states that rely on the Colorado River asked the federal Bureau of Reclamation to stop its ongoing review of the Lake Powell Pipeline. … ”  Read more from KNPR here: Nevada stakeholders oppose Utah’s Lake Powell pipeline project

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In national water news today …

Water wars at the Supreme Court: ‘It’s only going to get worse’

The U.S. Supreme Court kicks off its new term next month with a unique “original jurisdiction” water dispute—the likes of which could become more common as the climate changes.  The justices are set to hear Texas v. New Mexico, virtually, on their first day of oral arguments Oct. 5. Original jurisdiction cases go straight to the high court, rather than working their way through lower benches first.  State showdowns over shared water resources are some of the most common cases to take that direct route to the Supreme Court. ... ”  Read more from Bloomberg Law here: Water wars at the Supreme Court: ‘It’s only going to get worse’

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who is in the midst of a tough election campaign back home, has a solution to addressing the wildfires ravaging Western states: converting dead trees and brush that don’t have much timber value into energy.  Her legislation, S. 4603, would create a fund from logging revenues to help timber operators and energy companies harvest and move biomass material out of areas where they pose a heightened wildfire risk.  The “Forest Health and Biomass Energy Act” also calls on the Department of Agriculture, which oversees national forests, to report annually on the biomass fuel potential on those lands. … ”  Read more from E&E News here:  Lawmakers offer more wildfire prevention bills

Protecting the sewershed

Urban population growth and less-reliable precipitation patterns due to climate change are putting pressure on the drinking water supplies of cities worldwide. At the same time, water treatment technologies are improving and becoming cheaper. These combined conditions have led urban water supply managers to look favorably on a nontraditional drinking water source: sewage. Purifying sewage to meet drinking water quality standards, a process known as potable water reuse, is technically feasible and can be cost-effective for augmenting urban water supplies. For these reasons, potable water reuse systems are becoming popular in the United States, Singapore, and Australia, among other places.  These new water supplies require reassessment of the policies and strategies for management of sewage and drinking water. … ”  Continue reading as Science here: Protecting the sewershed

Water insecurity causes psychological distress for Americans, study finds

Unaffordable water bills and the threat of disconnection causes significant psychological distress for Americans, according to a new study.  A Guardian investigation into 12 American cities found the price of water and sewage increased by an average of 80% between 2010 and 2018, with more than two-fifths of residents in some cities living in neighborhoods with unaffordable bills.  The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, is the first to also examine and reveal the relationship between water insecurity and psycho-social distress in the US, where millions of households are disconnected each year because of overdue bills. … ”  Read more from The Guardian here:  Water insecurity causes psychological distress for Americans, study finds

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In commentary today …

Andrew Fahlund and Juliet Christian Smith:  Thirsty for democracy

They write, “In a recent PBS story about the fight to clean up toxic tap water in California’s San Joaquin Valley, residents in the Valley and a lawyer from Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability remembered a meeting with a local city official who asked, if the water is so bad why don’t you move somewhere else?  In the story, Lucy Hernandez, a community leader and water activist from Tulare County, asks back, “how is that going to fix the problem by me leaving? Then, what’s going to happen to the community? There’s not going to be a community, and there’s not going to be a community for you to represent. So you’re going to be without a job. Because who are you going to represent? I’m the community. My house is not the community. I’m the community.” … ”  Continue reading at the Water Foundation here:  Thirsty for democracy

Seth Jaffe: The new NEPA regulations were a “Political act.” is that enough to invalidate them?

Last week, Judge James Jones declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would have prevented implementation of the Trump Administration’s NEPA revisions.  Judge Jones’s explanation was fairly sparse.  He merely noted that the plaintiffs had not made the required “clear showing” that they are likely to succeed on the merits, though he did indicate that testimony, including expert opinion, is likely to be necessary.  I can’t say I’m shocked, though I also wouldn’t be shocked if one of the other pending challenges went the other way.  There are three issues that are going to determine the ultimate merits decision. … ”  Read more from JD Supra here: The new NEPA regulations were a “Political act.” is that enough to invalidate them?

Peter Gleick: Growing tensions over freshwater

He writes, “In recent years, a wide range of water-related factors have contributed to political instability, human dislocation and migration, agricultural and food insecurity, and in more and more cases, actual conflict and violence. Demand for water has grown as populations and economies expand, while the availability and quality of the planet’s freshwater resources are increasingly influenced by industrial and human water pollutants, and increasingly by human-caused climate change. Water problems do not necessarily lead to conflict — in fact, violence associated with water systems and problems is the exception, not the rule. However, data collected by the Pacific Institute in the Water Conflict Chronology show that water-related violence is increasing… ”  Read more from the Pacific Institute here: Peter Gleick: Growing tensions over freshwater

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National water and climate update …

The Natural Resources Conservation Service produces this weekly report using data and products from the National Water and Climate Center and other agencies. The report focuses on seasonal snowpack, precipitation, temperature, and drought conditions in the U.S.

dmrpt-20200917

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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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