DAILY DIGEST, 9/30: Searles Valley Minerals sues to protect historic groundwater rights; Hurtado makes splash as Newsom signs water bill; 4 lessons learned in the water sector after the coronavirus; and more …



On the calendar today …

FREE WEBINAR: Water balances from 9:30 to 12pm

Join DWR’s California Water Plan Team for a workshop webinar that will share and discuss water balance data – data foundational to building the state’s water resilience. Creating and enhancing water resilience requires an understanding of how and where water is used in the state, as well as the source of the supplies. This marks the start of annual releases of water year information, in direct response to requests from many water managers.  Click here to register.

In California water news today …

Searles Valley Minerals sues to protect historic groundwater rights

“Searles Valley Minerals, the largest employer in the Searles Valley, filed a lawsuit yesterday in the Kern County Superior Court against the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (Authority) to protect its groundwater rights in the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin (Basin), and to stop the collection of an illegal and unfair “groundwater replenishment fee” and a tax disguised as an “extraction fee.” The unprecedented and exorbitant new fees would increase the company’s water costs by 7,000 percent or $6 million per year – pushing Searles Valley Minerals out of business after more than 140 years of operation and threatening the livelihood of the company’s 700 employees.  This lawsuit has the potential to be landmark litigation with consequences for any California business with historic water rights as new groundwater authorities throughout the state consider how best to implement the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). …

Click here to continue reading this press release.

Searles Valley Minerals’ 90-year-old water rights are the most senior in the Basin. The Authority’s decision to single out the company with this hefty new “replenishment fee” while inexplicably leaving other groundwater users in the Basin untouched – such as the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake – represents an arbitrary and illegal taking of Searles Valley Minerals’ water rights. Moreover, all domestic and municipal activities for the disadvantaged Trona communities are supplied by groundwater that Searles Valley Minerals pumps from the Basin. The economic impacts of the Authority’s new fee would devastate these communities.

“Searles is a pillar of the Trona and Ridgecrest communities, providing jobs and economic benefits to these communities since we were founded in 1873,” said Burnell Blanchard, Vice President of Operations for Searles Valley Minerals. “We’ve maintained our workforce through natural disasters, a global pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis. Now, we face the threat of closing our doors and putting hundreds of people out of work because the Authority has refused to recognize our long-established groundwater rights.”

SGMA requires the establishment of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to help balance the state’s over-drafted groundwater basins. As a result, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority was created and by law must develop and implement a plan to sustainably manage the region’s limited groundwater resources by 2040.

The Authority’s “sustainable” groundwater management plan is anything but sustainable – it’s a significant new burden on a select few groundwater users that will push many entirely out of operation without any regard to existing water rights.

“This litigation is about far more than one company and one groundwater agency,” said Eric L. Garner, Managing Partner at Best Best & Krieger and an expert on water rights and groundwater issues. “Arbitrary taxes and fees that ignore historic water rights threaten to wreak havoc on businesses and industries. The outcome of this litigation will have far-reaching implications for every groundwater agency and every business that holds a water right in the state of California.”

The Authority’s new fee will have impacts beyond Searles Valley Minerals. As drafted, the fee also applies to customers of the Indian Wells Valley Water District, who will see an increase of about $300 per year on their water bills staring January 1, 2021. Searles Valley Minerals is requesting that these fees be enjoined by the court to prevent the real economic hardship it would create for the company, and for thousands of businesses and local residents who live in the City of Ridgecrest and historically disadvantaged Trona communities.

Hurtado makes splash as Newsom signs water bill

Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) secured Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature on legislation that will speed the permit process for low-income Central Valley communities to deliver clean drinking water for residents.  The bill, Senate Bill 974, exempts new water projects that serve small, rural communities from some provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The exemption allows low-income communities to find relief for the expensive and exhaustive permit process to produce water wells and related projects. … ”  Read more from the Hanford Sentinel here:  Hurtado makes splash as Newsom signs water bill

Explainer: Who regulates U.S. drinking water, and how?

“Who’s responsible for making sure the water you drink is safe? Ultimately, you are. But if you live in the U.S., a variety of federal, state and local entities are involved as well.  The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) forms the foundation of federal oversight of public water systems — those that provide water to multiple homes or customers. Congress passed the landmark law in 1974 during a decade marked by accumulating evidence of cancer and other health damage caused by industrial chemicals that found their way into drinking water. … ”  Read more from Ensia here:  Explainer: Who regulates U.S. drinking water, and how?

The 4 lessons learned in the water sector after the coronavirus

During the coronavirus crisis, water utilities around the world have undergone a deep transformation to continue guaranteeing water service to the population. For this to be possible, remote control of processes and infrastructures, teleworking or social distancing measures have made digitalization an essential tool to maintain the quality of service. These are the 4 lessons learned in the water sector after its response to the crisis. … ”  Read more from Smart Water Magazine here:  The 4 lessons learned in the water sector after the coronavirus

In California wildfires …

Paying for forest protection

“Four days before dry lightning ignited this year’s statewide wildfire siege, state and federal leaders signed an agreement to vastly expand vegetation management in California. This signals progress towards shared management of forests to reduce the risk of large severe wildfires and improve their resilience to the changing climate.  More than half of California’s forests are owned by the US Forest Service (USFS); most of the rest are regulated by the state but owned by private landholders. In the agreement, California Natural Resources Agency and USFS Region 5 (which covers California) each committed to treat 500,000 acres per year with mechanical thinning or prescribed burning by 2025. This represents a doubling of USFS’s effort and at least a five-fold increase in state-funded work on private and other public lands.  But are current funding sources enough to keep pace? … ”  Read more from the PPIC here: Paying for forest protection

Megafires are breaking climate models, highlighting California’s need to focus on prevention

Michael Jones was up the entire night Sunday watching the Glass Fire take off in Napa and Sonoma counties. At more than 42,000 acres Tuesday it’s damaged at least eight wineries, 80 other homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee.  “It’s blown into Santa Rosa — it’s not super surprising that we’re in the same boat again,” said Jones, a forestry advisor for the UC system in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties. … ”  Read more from Capital Public Radio here:  Megafires are breaking climate models, highlighting California’s need to focus on prevention

The jet stream is bringing fire weather to the West and a chill to the East

A supremely wavy, loopy jet stream pattern is responsible for the hot, dry weather that’s returned to the western half of North America, and for the shock of cold headed for the middle and eastern parts of the U.S. “The weather pattern across the United States is about to get wild,” wrote meteorologist Guy Walton last week. In his more than 30 years of weather forecasting, he’s never seen such an extreme pattern set up at this time of year. His predictions have started to become reality. ... ”  Read more from National Geographic here:  The jet stream is bringing fire weather to the West and a chill to the East

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In regional water news and commentary today …

Measure AA: First-of-its-kind climate parcel tax now a measure of hope

For centuries, San Francisco Bay’s wetlands were one of the richest ecosystems in the world. It’s estimated that 250 years ago the Bay was bounded by 200,000 acres of wetlands—lush habitat that provided a home for birds, fish, and other wildlife and that served as the basis of life for the Ohlone people who made, and still make, their home around the Bay. In the centuries since, 80 percent of these wetlands have been lost to development. That’s been devastating to wildlife. And because wetlands filter water impurities and help control erosion and flooding, it’s made Bay Area communities more vulnerable—especially as climate change brings rising sea levels. Assessments of the worst-case scenario predict the Bay may rise a damaging 1.9 feet by 2050 and as much as nearly 7 feet by 2100. Restoring even a fraction of the Bay’s lost wetlands would provide long-lasting benefits.  … ”  Read more from Bay Nature here:  Measure AA: First-of-its-kind climate parcel tax now a measure of hope

Watch the restoration of a watershed on Marsh Creek Trail

Marsh Creek begins high in the eastern foothills of Mount Diablo, where at 2,000 feet a series of springs is fed by groundwater and winter rains. In its upper reaches, this perennial creek plunges down steep, narrow canyons edged by a lush woodland of oaks, bay trees, and buckeyes, the water swelling as one tributary after another—Curry, Dunn, and Sycamore creeks—joins its nearly 20-mile course to the base of the hills. There the land flattens and, historically, the lower reaches of the creek then slowed and divided into two channels. Dry, Deer, and Sand creeks flowed into these waterways, which meandered across a vast grassy meadow dotted with majestic valley oaks, until finally flowing through freshwater tidal marsh thick with tules and reeds and into the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. … ”  Read more from Bay Nature here:  Watch the restoration of a watershed on Marsh Creek Trail

Anderson Dam: Project to drain Santa Clara County’s largest reservoir begins Thursday

Santa Clara County’s largest reservoir will soon be nearly empty, and will stay that way for the next 10 years.  Under orders from federal dam regulators, the Santa Clara Valley Water District will begin a project to drain Anderson Reservoir on Thursday, the first step in a $576 million effort to tear down and rebuild its aging dam. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: Anderson Dam: Project to drain Santa Clara County’s largest reservoir begins Thursday

SEE ALSO: What to expect when Valley Water begins lowering water levels in Anderson Reservoir, from Valley Water News

Walker Lake – the legal saga continues with the endgame in question

Walker Lake, one of 3 endorheic lakes in the western United States, at one time supported an essential fishery and ecosystem for the Walker River Paiute tribe and the regional tourist economy.  Rare terminal lakes have no outflow, and lake levels are a balance between inflow and evaporation.  The Walker River flows more than 100 miles, west to east, to get to Walker Lake. The Walker begins high in the Sierra Nevada in California and passes through what has become one of Nevada’s most productive agricultural regions. … ”  Read more from the Sierra Nevada Ally here:  Walker Lake – the legal saga continues with the endgame in question

SEE ALSO:  Commentary: Can Walker River and Walker Lake Live in Harmony, from the Sierra Nevada Ally

Happy 50th “Kern Riversary!” 1970 vote brought river into public hands

Fifty years ago this week, the Bakersfield City Council committed an audaciously historic act.  On Monday evening Sept. 28, 1970, council members decided to sue Tenneco West for a slice of the Kern River.  “The shock was great to many, but from that day forward we had their attention and cooperation,” states the “Kern River Purchase” booklet compiled by the Bakersfield Water Resources Department in the early 2000s. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here:  Happy 50th “Kern Riversary!” 1970 vote brought river into public hands

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs off on new commission to study Salton Sea lithium extraction

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday added his signature to a new law that orders the formation of a commission to study the feasibility of lithium extraction around the Salton Sea. Local politicians hope the commission will lead to the creation of a green economy around the state’s largest lake, which is a geothermal hotspot.  It was one of several bills focused on California’s environment that Newsom dealt with this week. … ”  Read more from the Desert Sun here:  Gov. Gavin Newsom signs off on new commission to study Salton Sea lithium extraction

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Along the Colorado River …

Using Lake Powell to keep lawns green in Utah would be a waste of resources, says the Las Vegas Sun

They write, “The recent downgrade in the forecast for the flow of water in the Colorado River should be a death punch to the proposal to build a new pipeline out of Lake Powell. The pipeline was already a major threat to Las Vegas and much of the rest of the Southwest; now the threat risk is heading off the charts.  The proposal would drain 28 billion gallons of water per year from Lake Powell to St. George, Utah, and the surrounding area. That’s a huge amount of water — more than a quarter of what Nevada is allotted annually from Lake Mead (97.8 billion gallons). … ”  Read more from the Las Vegas Sun here:  Using Lake Powell to keep lawns green in Utah would be a waste of resources, says the Las Vegas Sun

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Today’s featured articles …

MET BAY DELTA COMMITTEE: Delta Conveyance Update: Preliminary cost and benefits, the mechanics of opting out, and more …

Presentation covers the preliminary cost estimate, the preliminary benefits analysis, the agreement in principle for the State Water Project Delta conveyance contract amendment and how opting out will work, and the funding agreements

Click here to read this article.

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

CALIFORNIA RESERVOIR REPORT for September 30

WATER PLAN eNEWS: ~~Draft Guidelines~ Flood-MAR Webinar~ Water Symposium~ One Water~ Data Survey~ Technology Conference~ Webinar Series ~~

SAN FRANCISCO ESTUARY AND WATERSHED SCIENCE: Salmon disease and mortality, Agricultural floodplain habitat, Multi-species fish passage, 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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