DAILY DIGEST, 10/7: AG Becerra sends comment letter challenging Shasta Dam raise; Recession safety net needed for state’s small water systems; Arsenic cleanup in Sierra Nevada; San Francisco Bay’s nutrient phenomena; and more …



On the calendar today …

ONLINE MEETING: The State Water Resources Control Board meets at 9:30am.

Agenda items include a presentation on the (PFAS) Statewide Investigation Technical Data and a report from the Presiding Hearing Officer on the first year of the Water Board’s Administrative Hearings Office.  Click here for the full agendaClick here to watch on webcast.

WEBINAR: Multiple benefits of recharge projects from 12pm to 1pm

The next Lunch-MAR webinar hosted by DWR Flood-Managed Aquifer Recharge (Flood-MAR) program will be Wednesday, Oct. 7. The program will feature Maurice Hall with the Environmental Defense Fund discussing how recharge projects can provide multiple benefits and support resilience.  To register, click here.

WEBINAR: Flood Risk in California…And What to Do About It from 1pm to 1:30pm

Join Mike Mierzwa, Chief of DWR’s Floodplain Management Office, to learn about the different types of floods that we face in California, what causes them, and how DWR and its partners use engineering and nature to reduce flood risk.  Watch on YouTube or register with Zoom to watch and ask Mike questions.

In California water news today …

Attorney General Becerra sends comment letter challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to raise Shasta Dam

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today sent a comment letter opposing the Trump Administration’s effort to raise the Shasta Dam by up to 18.5 feet. In the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra argues that the proposal by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) relies on an incomplete draft supplemental environmental impact statement. Raising the level of the Shasta Dam poses significant adverse effects on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River and on its wild trout fishery. This effort would have a significant negative impact on the river’s fisheries and habitats, and submerge sacred sites of the Winnemem Wintu Native American Tribe.  “The Trump Administration should stop tampering with California’s waters. BLM’s [1] latest attempt to unlawfully raise the Shasta Dam is a poorly-cloaked move to evade the Clean Water Act,” said Attorney General Becerra. “As long as Trump officials keep trying to skirt the rules, we’ll keep them honest.” … ”

Click here to continue reading this press release.

In the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra asserts that the Bureau can’t fast-track the project under the Clean Water Act because Congress hasn’t authorized the dam raise. The Bureau would also need permits from the State Water Resources Control Board and other authorities to proceed. In addition, the letter stresses that the project could degrade habitat for threatened fish in the San Francisco Bay-Delta, including juvenile salmon, California Central Valley steelhead, longfin smelt and Delta smelt. Further, 

  • The Bureau’s environmental analysis also fails to disclose the degradation to riverfront habitat, which would accelerate the loss of the western yellow-billed cuckoo and Shasta snow-wreath;
  • The Bureau must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Services before proceeding with the proposed dam raise;
  • The Bureau’s environmental analysis fails to propose actions to offset environmental damage from the dam raise. It also unlawfully ignores state-law protections for the McCloud River and the river’s wild trout fishery;
  • The Bureau must consult with tribes and address impacts to cultural resources. The proposed project would eliminate approximately 20 sacred Winnemem Wintu sites, including a burial ground and prayer rock;
  • The Bureau failed to address comments submitted by state agencies during earlier iterations of the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act; and 
  • The Bureau’s environmental analysis lacks meaningful mitigation measures for wetlands impacts.

The 602-foot-tall Shasta Dam and 4.55 million-acre-foot Shasta Reservoir are located on the upper Sacramento River. In February 2020, the Bureau set aside $8 million for preconstruction engineering and design work to raise the dam and enlarge the Shasta Reservoir. In June 2020, the Trump Administration requested construction funding in the federal budget to raise Shasta Dam.

Last year, Attorney General Becerra defeated an attempt by Westlands Water District to push forward the Bureau’s proposal to raise Shasta Dam. Today’s comment letter continues the California Department of Justice’s efforts to prevent this harmful proposal from moving forward.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.

[1] Maven note:  Mr. Beccerra names BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in the press release but it is actually the Bureau of Reclamation that is working to raise Shasta Dam.

Recession safety net needed for state’s small water systems

California has many water systems that serve mostly rural, economically disadvantaged communities. Of the state’s nearly 2,900 community drinking water systems, more than 2,400 are considered small, serving fewer than 3,300 homes and businesses. Many of these small systems were already struggling before the pandemic and recession hit. We talked to Leslie Laudon and Darrin Polhemus of the State Water Board about the challenges these systems face, and what can be done to keep them from falling off a financial cliff.  PPIC: What challenges do small water systems face during this time of economic uncertainty? … ”  Read more from the PPIC here: Recession safety net needed for state’s small water systems

Unpaid water bills a “pending disaster” the state is trying to head off

If the state has any hope of heading off a looming “tidal wave” of residential water shut offs and bankrupt water systems it has to get a picture of current impacts, advocates urged.  Right now, the state doesn’t even have a blurry sketch.  Which is why the State Water Resources Control Board directed staff on Tuesday to begin a survey of California’s nearly 3,000 community water systems to ascertain two things: How water systems are doing financially; and how far behind water customers are on their bills because of COVID-19 job losses and illness. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here:  Unpaid water bills a “pending disaster” the state is trying to head off

In California, Latinos more likely to be drinking nitrate-polluted water

In California’s San Joaquin Valley, the nation’s leading agricultural region, Latinos make up the great majority of farmworkers.   They are also disproportionately likely to live in communities where drinking water supplies are contaminated with elevated levels of nitrate, a toxic chemical that primarily comes from polluted farm runoff.  Nitrate contamination of drinking water is widespread in California: Tests by utilities have detected some level of nitrate in the finished water supplies for more than two-thirds of all Californians. But it’s worst in the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley,1 and worse still in majority-Latino communities in those counties. … ”  Read more from the Environmental Working Group here:  In California, Latinos more likely to be drinking nitrate-polluted water

Arsenic Cleanup in Sierra Nevada

Mine operator Sterling Centrecorp must pay $32 million to cover the government’s cleanup costs at a gold mine in the Sierra Nevada mountains which contaminated local groundwater with dangerous levels of arsenic, the Ninth Circuit ruled.”  Via the Courthouse News Service.

Water year starts with concerns about La Niña

The 2021 water year begins with farmers concerned about dry months ahead.  Despite little precipitation and a small snowpack in the 2020 water year, which ended Sept. 30, California weathered the year on water stored in reservoirs during previous years’ storms. Going into 2021, farmers note that weather officials predict a La Niña climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which has brought drought conditions in the past.  “We are concerned going into next year, since this is looking like maybe we’re going into a 2014-type (drought) year unless we get some good rains,” said Glenn County farmer Jim Jones, a director on the Orland-Artois Water District and the Tehama-Colusa Canal Water Authority. “It behooves us to build more water storage here in California. It would’ve been nice if we’d already had it; we could have caught those rains last year and it would definitely alleviate all the fears going into this coming year.” … ”  Read more from the California Farm Bureau Federation here:  Water year starts with concerns about La Niña

SEE ALSO: California’s dry water year has affected wildfire season and water storage, from Action News Now

Tapping Into Conservation: Scholars use messaging campaign to reduce household water use in field experiment

As the climate heats up and droughts intensify, especially in the American Southwest, it’s crucial that households reduce their water usage. Water districts urge their customers to save, but their messaging generally lacks rigorous evaluation of efficacy.  In a new paper, researchers from UC Santa Barbara reveal how a large-scale field experiment in messaging based on psychological science significantly reduced water consumption on the Central Coast of California. … ”  Read more from The Current here:  Tapping Into Conservation: Scholars use messaging campaign to reduce household water use in field experiment

President to sign Harder’s nutria bill into law

Rep. Josh Harder donned waders and accompanied local wildlife officials through the wetlands of the Los Banos Wildlife Area in August 2019 in search of invasive, destructive nutria —huge semi-aquatic rodents that are threatening the state’s farm nearly $50 billion economy. Just over a year later, Harder’s legislation to help eradicate the species from California is set to be signed by the President.  In June 2019, Harder introduced his bill to reauthorize the Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2003. Since its introduction, the bill has been amended to direct $12 million to programs in nutria-impacted states, including California. The original program helped Maryland successfully run the rat-like invaders out of the Chesapeake Bay and Harder is hoping it can help do the same here. … ”  Read more from the Turlock Journal here:  President to sign Harder’s nutria bill into law

The frightening implications of California’s first million-acre fire

It was mid-August and California was experiencing yet another bout of extreme weather.  In Death Valley, the thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center displayed one of the hottest — if not the hottest — temperatures ever recorded on Earth: 130 degrees.  Up in Northern California, an unusually fierce lightning storm lighted up the skies and ignited numerous wildfires, stretching from the Salinas Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains north into the Mendocino National Forest and beyond. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  The frightening implications of California’s first million-acre fire

Some California legislators want to ban fracking tied to oil spills

Angered that petroleum companies have earned millions of dollars from oil spills, several California legislators are calling for new laws, tougher enforcement and an oversight hearing in response to an investigation of the spills by The Desert Sun and ProPublica.  The investigation found that hundreds of inland spills have occurred on the state’s oil fields, endangering workers and wildlife with scalding geysers, boiling sinkholes or fast-rising pools of crude. Rather than stopping many of them, companies have “contained” them with nets and vacuumed up the oil to be refined and sold. … ”  Read more from the Desert Sun here:  Some California legislators want to ban fracking tied to oil spills

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In regional water news and commentary today …

It’s fall migration on the Pacific Flyway

As northern latitudes cool, birds from across western North America are taking to the superhighway in the skies — and the Klamath Basin is one of their most popular rest stops.  Local birders like Kevin Spencer treasure the period between mid-August and mid-December, which brings waves of various bird families to the basin’s wetlands and shallow lakes. They’re a watery oasis in miles of high desert.  “Fall migration has about five months of movement,” Spencer said. … ”  Read more from the Herald & News here:  It’s fall migration on the Pacific Flyway

Warren Buffett can undam the Klamath, say Congressmen Huffman and Grijalva

They write, “This year, Americans have reckoned with historic inequalities, and urgent demands for change have been raised from coast to coast. The necessary work of fixing systemic racism and economic inequality is difficult and often complicated: we need to address laws and policies at every level of government and industry. It’s a rare situation indeed where one man can make a single decision to reverse years of injustice. But in northwest California, the Klamath dam removal project is that situation, and Warren Buffett is that man. … ”  Read more from the Eureka Times-Standard here:  Warren Buffett can undam the Klamath, say Congressmen Huffman and Grijalva

Mendocino County supervisor candidate to host virtual town hall on water issues

““Our homes, our farms, and indeed our future rely on a stable and sustainable supply of water, “says Glenn McGourty, candidate for 1st District Supervisor. “As one of our county’s most important issues, water is a matter I have been involved in and look forward to bringing the knowledge of the speakers joining me at my next online town hall.” …Three experts will join McGourty to discuss the relicensing effort for the Potter Valley Project, raising Coyote Valley Dam to increase storage at Lake Mendocino, and the changing effects of rainfall in the Western United States. … ”  Read more from the Mendocino Beacon here:  Mendocino County supervisor candidate to host virtual town hall on water issues

Citizen science drives restoration, preservation in Tahoe-Truckee

Volunteer citizen scientists working with the League to Save Lake Tahoe conducted surveys of Donner and Spooner lakes to detect aquatic invasive species, and restored native wetland habitat in Johnson Meadow in September. Both efforts are aimed at preserving the Tahoe-Truckee region’s unique ecology.  “The role for citizen scientists in protecting the Tahoe-Truckee environment is huge,” said Emily Frey, citizen science program coordinator for the League. “With the help of passionate volunteers like these, the scientific and conservation community is able to do so much more to Keep Tahoe Blue. And the people who love these lakes and meadows become personally invested in protecting them.” … ”  Read more from the Tahoe Daily Tribune here:  Citizen science drives restoration, preservation in Tahoe-Truckee

Nevada Supreme Court holds that state may not reallocate adjudicated water rights for public trust

On September 17, 2020, the Nevada Supreme Court issued a decision on whether Nevada’s public trust doctrine permits reallocation of water rights previously settled under Nevada’s prior appropriation doctrine. The majority found that the public trust doctrine does not permit such reallocation.  The litigation arose from contested water rights in the Walker River Basin, which originates in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and ends at Walker Lake in Mineral County, Nevada. In response to the declining water quality of Walker Lake, Mineral County moved to intervene in ongoing litigation in federal district court over the 1936 Walker River Decree (Decree), which adjudicated rights in the Walker River Basin under the prior appropriation doctrine. Mineral County sought to modify the Decree to ensure minimum flows into Walker Lake under the public trust doctrine. … ” Read more from Somach Simmons & Dunn here: Nevada Supreme Court holds that state may not reallocate adjudicated water rights for public trust

San Francisco Bay’s nutrient phenomena

From the gold rushes to the birth of Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area is known for welcoming swaths of people looking for a new frontier of culture and natural beauty. It has had a front-row seat to some of America’s most rapid industrialization and population growth for the past 200 years and is now home to over seven million people. Tourism booms as people from all around the world come to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the expansive bay that lies beneath. But the bay is not just for looks. It plays an essential role in supporting modern California living–and we are not just talking about surfing. … ”  Read more from the Environmental Monitor here:  San Francisco Bay’s nutrient phenomena

Martinez to consider closing popular fishing pier for repairs

Marvin Aguilar has a favorite place to relax — it’s near home and on the Carquinez Strait.  “It’s the main thing I do for my enjoyment, and after work, you just need to relax,” said Aguilar, of Martinez, as he took a silver lure out of his tackle box Tuesday morning and prepared to use it for casting for striped bass. He said he’s been coming to the Martinez fishing pier once or twice a week for 35 years. … ”  Read more from the SF Gate here: City to consider closing popular fishing pier for repairs

NUDES designs a towering rainwater harvesting concept for San Jose, California

In a bid to celebrate the importance of water in our lives, NUDES has conceived of a rainwater harvesting tower for san jose in california. the soaring ‘rain water catcher’ is a design proposal that aims to address the global impact of climate change by advocating the need for water conservation. … ”  Read more from Design Boom here:  NUDES designs a towering rainwater harvesting concept for San Jose, California

Army Corps breaks ground on Success Dam enlargement project

On the heels of a historic drought, at the beginning of the implementation of historic groundwater legislation, and in light of potential flooding, Porterville will have more water in the future and a larger dam to prevent it from damaging the city below.  On Sept. 29, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, along with local and federal partners, have broken ground on the Tule River Spillway Enlargement Project at Success Lake near Porterville, Calif. The project is a cooperative effort between USACE, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the California Department of Water Resources, and the Lower Tule River Irrigation District to raise the gross pool elevation of Success Lake, reducing the downstream risk of flooding while also increasing the water supply capability of the reservoir. ... ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette here: Army Corps breaks ground on Success Dam enlargement project

Tulare County works to fend off another pistachio lawsuit

Tulare County handed ARO Pistachios a sizable win when Wonderful Pistachios challenged the validity of their county authorized building permits in September. Now a second law suit is coming down the pike to stifle yet another Terra Bella pistachio farming company.  The small farmworker town of Terra Bella in the southern part of Tulare County has just 780 households, 87% are Latino. The community has several ag-based industries including the region’s only lumber mill, four citrus packing houses, a fertilizer maker and the Setton Pistachios nut processing plant – all clustered in the industrial part of town. … ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette here:  Tulare County works to fend off another pistachio lawsuit

Oops, San Simeon built a water facility on Hearst Ranch property

It was the dream of fresh water that bedazzled San Simeon Community Services District officials: water that did not taste bad during dry spells because of high chloride levels. Build a reverse osmosis unit and have drinkable water 12 months out of the year.  But the contractors of the building to house the reverse osmosis unit hit a snag. In Nov. 2015, Madonna Construction discovered obstacles to installing the building pad as planned near the CSD office, adjacent to the Hearst Ranch, according to minutes of a district board meeting. … ”  Read more from Cal Coast News here:  Oops, San Simeon built a water facility on Hearst Ranch property

Santa Barbara Water Vision Month

The City of Santa Barbara’s Public Works Department is highlighting October as Water Vision Month with a special series of ‘Live Lunch and Learns’ with staff each day this week.   ‘Your Voice is Important — Inform Santa Barbara’s Water Vision’ is a way to engage local water users to share their input on a variety of water-related issues — the topics vary daily. … ”  Read more from KEYT here:  Santa Barbara Water Vision Month

SCV Water celebrates new water-treatment plant

Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency officials virtually celebrated Monday the completion of a new water treatment plant, next to the William S. Hart Pony Baseball & Softball park, which is meant to restore groundwater affected by a suspected manmade carcinogen.  “Our top priority is our customers. This new treatment facility is an investment in our long-term water supply and is providing safe, high-quality water to thousands of Santa Clarita Valley residents,” said SCV Water’s General Manager Matt Stone. “Our SCV Water team is also hard at work to bring additional treatment facilities online.” … ”  Read more from The Signal here:  SCV Water celebrates new water-treatment plant

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In national water news today …

Droughts that start over the ocean? They’re often worse than those that form over land

Droughts usually evoke visions of cracked earth, withered crops, dried-up rivers and dust storms. But droughts can also form over oceans, and when they then move ashore they are often more intense and longer-lasting than purely land-born dry spells.  A Sept. 21 study published in the journal Water Resources Research found that, of all the droughts that affected land areas globally from 1981 to 2018, about 1 in 6 started over water and moved onto land, with a particularly high frequency along the West Coast of North America, said senior study author Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford climate researcher. … ”  Read more from Inside Climate News here: Droughts that start over the ocean? They’re often worse than those that form over land

NOAA’s Climate Program Office awards $48.7M to advance climate and decision support science, build community resilience

Since the 1980s, average annual damages from weather and climate-related billion-dollar disasters have more than quadrupled in the United States 1. As these events proliferate and worsen, NOAA is funding dozens of new research projects that will advance its life-saving climate and decision support science.   Today, NOAA’s Climate Program Office (CPO) announces a total of $48.7 million to support 79 innovative, impactful projects2 that will improve our Nation’s resilience. … ”  Read more from NOAA here:  NOAA’s Climate Program Office awards $48.7M to advance climate and decision support science, build community resilience

New climate model helps researchers better predict water needs

New research from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering combines climate and land use projections to predict water availability, information that is crucial for the preparations of resource managers and land-use planners.  “This research presented a new method that can be used to generate future climate data for the existing hydrological models,” said Gang Chen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the college. “With the integration of more reliable future climate data, the existing hydrological models can more accurately project future water scenarios in the face of climate change.” … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  New climate model helps researchers better predict water needs

Scientists say focus on farming emissions required to reach climate goals

The world may not meet widely agreed upon goals for fighting climate change because of the use of nitrogen fertilizer in the food production industry, according to a study released Wednesday.  Nitrous oxide, like other greenhouse gases, traps heat in the atmosphere by absorbing the sun’s radiation. It typically persists for about 114 years in the atmosphere and is much more potent than carbon dioxide. Over 100 years, one pound of nitrous oxide can warm the atmosphere about 300 times more than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide will. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: Scientists say focus on farming emissions required to reach climate goals 

Biden would face hurdles undoing Trump environmental rollbacks

Biden’s climate plan lays out actions he would take on Day One like implementing “aggressive” methane pollution limits from the oil and gas sector and developing “rigorous” fuel economy standards.  Environmental advocates say the former vice president should target rules that have the biggest effects on climate change and those that are most harmful to marginalized communities. Yet because of complexities in the rulemaking process — along with structural changes implemented by the Trump administration — undoing even just some of Trump’s environmental rollbacks could take years. … ”  Read more from The Hill here:  Biden would face hurdles undoing Trump environmental rollbacks

Rainer Lohmann and Anna Robuck: Phasing out is not enough — the problem with fluorinated chemicals in wildlife

They write, “During a time of cultural and political polarization, a class of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, may be one of the few commonalities shared by all Americans. These human-created industrial chemicals are found in the blood of 99 percent of U.S. adults, as well as babies in the womb and children.  But PFAS pollution isn’t limited to humans. A recent study by our group looked for 36 new and already banned types of PFAS in juvenile seabirds from three U.S. East Coast habitats near and far from human sources of these chemicals. … ”  Read more from The Hill here: Phasing out is not enough — the problem with fluorinated chemicals in wildlife

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Today’s featured articles …

Watersheds 101

No matter where you are in the world, you are in a watershed.  The water flowing over the land and through the soil creates a complex network that connects the uplands, springs, wetlands, streams, and rivers of the watershed. A well-functioning watershed provides clean water for drinking and irrigation, healthy soils, flood protection, habitat for wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities.  However, managing land and water for selected products or services has altered the conditions and functions in many of California’s watersheds, and so protecting and restoring watersheds is important for maintaining the resources that residents within the watershed depend on.

This post provides an overview of watersheds, the components of a watershed, water budgets, how to estimate runoff, protecting water quality, and watershed management.  This post is based in part on a lecture given by Dr. Helen Dahlke at UC Davis as part of the UC Davis Shortcourse on Groundwater and supplemented with additional research.

Click here to read this article.

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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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