WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Oct 25-30: Implementing reduced reliance on the Delta, Fresno River water rights to be adjudicated, Temperance Flat update, a wrap up of all the week’s news, and more …

A wrap-up of posts published on Maven’s Notebook this week …

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This week’s featured articles …

MEETING: Delta Watermaster breaks down water use in the Delta, addresses implementation of reduced reliance on the Delta

At the October 22nd meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Delta Watermaster Michael George gave a detailed presentation on estimating water use in the Delta, something he acknowledged doesn’t matter much when there’s plenty of water in the system, but in times of drought, it becomes very important.  He also discussed the implementation of the state’s policy of reducing reliance on the Delta and provided updates on the preparations for the next drought, progress on the alternative compliance plan for implementing SB-88 Delta measurement reporting, and efforts to addressing ongoing deterioration in the south Delta.

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MEETING: State Water Board grants petition for statutory adjudication of the Fresno River watershed

At the October 20 meeting of the State Water Board, one of the agenda items was the consideration of a proposed resolution granting a petition by Madera Irrigation District for the statutory adjudication of water rights in the Fresno River watershed.

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WATER STORAGE INVESTMENT PROGRAM: Temperance Flat Reservoir Project Status Update

Project unlikely to meet program deadlines, putting $171.3 million in Prop 1 storage funds back on the table

In 2018, the Temperance Flat Reservoir Project received a Maximum Conditional Eligibility Determination (MCED) of $171,330,000 through the Water Storage Investment Program.  In order to receive the funding, there are several additional requirements which include a January 1, 2022 deadline to have completed feasibility studies, a draft version of the environmental documents released for public review, and commitments for at least 75% of non-program funding.

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In California water news this week …

California slammed over ‘blank check’ for Delta tunnel project

Lobbing another hurdle at California’s $16 billion plan to tunnel underneath the West Coast’s largest estuary, environmentalists on Thursday sued to freeze public funding for the megaproject championed by Governor Gavin Newsom.  Led by Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, a familiar coalition of critics of the so-called delta tunnel claim the cash-strapped state is pursuing a “blank check” for a project that isn’t fully cooked.  “It’s outrageous that California officials would commit funds for this massively harmful water tunnel without public engagement or environmental review,” said John Buse, the center’s senior counsel in a statement. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: California slammed over ‘blank check’ for Delta tunnel project

Historic move: Fresno River rights to be decided

If all you’ve ever seen of the Fresno River is through Madera as you drive over it on Highway 99, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just a weed-infested, shopping cart collector rather than a real river.  But there’s a lot to this unobtrusive waterway, which just made history as the first river in 40 years about to go through a rights settlement under the State Water Resources Control Board.  The Fresno has it all — allegations of self-dealing, accusations of outright theft, inflated rights, hoarding and other alleged skullduggery — all on a stubby, 53-mile stretch of the river. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here:  Historic move: Fresno River rights to be decided

Is ecosystem change in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta outpacing the ability of science to keep up?

Radically transformed from its ancient origin as a vast tidal-influenced freshwater marsh, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem is in constant flux, influenced by factors within the estuary itself and the massive watersheds that drain though it into the Pacific Ocean.  Lately, however, scientists say the rate of change has kicked into overdrive, fueled in part by climate change, and is limiting the ability of science and Delta water managers to keep up. The rapid pace of upheaval demands a new way of conducting science and managing water in the troubled estuary. … ”  Read more from Western Water here:  Is ecosystem change in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta outpacing the ability of science to keep up?

Putting a price on water: The NASDAQ Veles California water index (nqh20)

Nasdaq’s unparalleled commitment to identifying and opening new markets places us squarely at the forefront of financial innovation. Where market challenges present undue inefficiency and risk, we see an opportunity to bring our expertise to engage participants and drive solutions.  Thus, when our partners, West Water and Veles Water, demonstrated a unique ability to capture transaction-level data in the California water market, light bulbs started going off. We had long been interested in developing a means of determining the fair value of water as a commodity as a key to addressing the risks that cyclical drought conditions bring to bear upon water-stressed locations. … ”  Read more from NASDAQ here: Putting a price on water: The NASDAQ Veles California water index (nqh20)

In parched California, search goes deeper for water

A carpet of green, new grass covered the rolling hills, southwest of Maricopa, near New Cuyama. In the distance, the coastal mountain range was capped by white, full clouds and blue sky.  For most observers of the lush scene, a looming drought would be an unlikely thought. But don’t tell that to John McCalip, president of All American Drilling Inc., who watched his drilling crew as they poked a hole through the hardpan soil in search of water. … ”  Read more from the Bakersfield Californian here:  In parched California, search goes deeper for water

Researchers probe deaths of Central Valley chinook, with possible ties to ocean changes

Scientists from several fish and wildlife agencies have launched a rapid research and response effort for deficiency of thiamine, or Vitamin B1. This deficiency was recently found to be increasing juvenile mortality among Chinook salmon in California’s Central Valley.  The magnitude of its effect is not clear. However, it could be a risk to Chinook stocks, including endangered winter-run Chinook salmon and the fishery for fall-run Chinook salmon.  In early 2020, staff at state and federal salmon hatcheries in California’s Central Valley observed newly hatched offspring of adult Chinook salmon that spawned in 2019. They were swimming in corkscrew patterns and dying at unusually high rates. Researchers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s California-Nevada Fish Health Center eliminated infectious diseases as the cause. Then, they noticed that a bath of thiamine immediately revived the ailing juveniles. … ”  Read more from NOAA here:  Researchers probe deaths of Central Valley chinook, with possible ties to ocean changes

Winter drought relief unlikely in Western U.S.

This winter is likely to be warmer and drier than average for most of the continental United States, in line with the conditions of a typical La Niña year. This information is according to the most recent NOAA seasonal forecast released on 15 October.  Like the past 2 years, more than two thirds of the continental United States, northern and western Alaska, and Hawaii will likely experience hotter than average temperatures through January 2021. Southern Alaska and states along the northern U.S. border may see colder than average temperatures, and no confident temperature forecast can be made for the remaining regions. … ”  Read more from EOS here:  Winter drought relief unlikely in Western U.S.

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California wildfires …

Off the charts:  Dryness stat shows why West is burning

On Aug. 3, researchers at the Plumas National Forest in Northern California received a startling result: Sticks and logs they gathered from the forest floor to assess wildfire risk had a moisture level of just 2%.  The reading was the lowest ever recorded in 15 years of measurements at a site in the forest’s southwest corner. It also was a warning: The area was tinderbox-dry and primed to burn.  Two weeks later, when lightning struck the region, the dry forest helped propel one of the largest and deadliest wildfires in California history, killing 15 people as it consumed an area the size of Los Angeles. ... ”  Read more from E&E News here: Off the charts:  Dryness stat shows why West is burning

Has the forest service been making wildfires worse?

The Bear fire was one of the largest of the over 8,000 wildfires that have beset California this year. Now incorporated into the still-burning North Complex Fire, the Bear started in the Plumas National Forest, sparked by a series of lightning strikes on August 17 across the northern Sierra Nevada. It burned slowly at first, taking three weeks to grow to 12,000 acres. Then, on September 9, it transformed, traveling with such ferocity that it engulfed 183,000 acres in less than 24 hours, moving as fast as three miles an hour. “This is unheard-of,” Chad Hanson, a wildfire ecologist who has spent two decades studying fire in California, told me. “Most fires move at one-fiftieth that speed.” … ”  Read more from New Republic here: Has the forest service been making wildfires worse?

Bulldozers were ready to fight California fires. Why did Forest Service turn them away?

The Loyalton Fire was two days old and starting to pick up momentum in a heavily forested area 50 miles north of Lake Tahoe. That’s when Jeff Holland offered to help.  Holland’s logging company, CTL Forest Management Inc., happened to have an array of firefighting equipment — bulldozers, water trucks, a wood-chipping machine called a masticator — parked on a property he owns in Loyalton, just west of where the fire started in mid-August. He proposed hiring out the equipment to the U.S. Forest Service, which was in charge of fighting the fire.  He was turned down. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: Bulldozers were ready to fight California fires. Why did Forest Service turn them away?

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New reports …

PPIC Report: Water partnerships between cities and farms in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley

Partnerships between Southern California cities and San Joaquin Valley farms could help alleviate groundwater overdraft in the valley while building drought resilience in Southern California. More flexible supplies can help agencies adapt to changing conditions. By coordinating the location of infrastructure investments, agencies can use partnerships to bring the water where and when it is most needed, at least cost.  This report explores a variety of solutions that could benefit both regions. For the San Joaquin Valley, we look for ways to augment water supplies to ease the transition to groundwater sustainability, while for Southern California we explore options that would increase cities’ ability to deal effectively with extended droughts. … ” Read more and download report from the PPIC here: Water partnerships between cities and farms in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley

Pacific Institute Report:  Solutions for underperforming drinking water systems in California

This report examines underperforming water systems in California that fail to provide safe drinking water, identifies potential solutions, and looks at lessons learned that can be applied to the rest of the nation. It concludes that a state-level strategy to improve the drinking water quality of small water systems would optimize resources and improve results. Additionally, assessing water quality issues holistically would enable stakeholders to make significant improvements to drinking water quality for small water systems. … ”  Read more and download report from the Pacific Institute here:  Solutions for underperforming drinking water systems in California

Nature Conservancy report: Evaluating and protecting environmental water assets: A guide for land conservation practitioners

This guide provides land trust staff and other land acquisition practitioners with information about key aspects of water rights.  It presents a suite of important tools to protect environmental water assets in order to maximize the ecological
outcomes of lands acquired and/or managed for conservation purposes.  Like land, water rights are real property that can be bought, sold, and encumbered. If an organization acquires a land interest (e.g., through a conservation easement or fee simple acquisition of a property) with conservation values that depend on water resources which are impacted by the way water is used, it is important to understand the type and status of water resources and water rights associated with the property and the surrounding watershed. In addition, it is becoming imperative to take action and utilize tools to align water and land management, to ensure that properties protected in perpetuity are resilient enough to endure the increasing pressures of climate change and the human population on the landscape. … ”  Download report here:  Evaluating and protecting environmental water assets

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In regional water news this week …

Story Map: Preparing the Klamath basin for dam removal

The Klamath River Basin was once home to one of the West’s most prolific salmon fisheries. But for more than a century, efforts to harness the natural power of the river through the installation of hydroelectric dams, have contributed to devastating declines in water quality, the region’s anadromous fisheries, and the tribal, recreational, and commercial economies and communities they support.  Despite the presence of these dams, partners from across the region have been working collaboratively to enhance and restore fish passage in the Basin. … ”  View story map from ArcGIS here:  Story Map: Preparing the Klamath basin for dam removal

Yuba-Feather Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations

Despite its reputation for year-round sunshine and mild temperatures, California has one of the most varied climates in the United States.  For Yuba County and neighboring Sutter, these variations have manifested most notably in catastrophic flooding from the Yuba, Feather and Bear rivers, often after years of dry conditions. Since 1950, five major floods claimed 43 lives, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and resulted in decades of social and economic impacts. ... ”  Read more from the Yuba Water Agency here:  Yuba-Feather Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations

Salinas: Split county board OKs cannabis cash for Salinas Valley well destruction

By a narrow margin, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to spend about $2.66 million in cannabis tax revenue over three years to cover the local cash match for a Salinas Valley well destruction program.  A split board voted 3-2 to tap the county’s cannabis account. The majority argued the well destruction program would have a broad community benefit by battling seawater intrusion threatening Salinas Valley agricultural and residential water supplies. … ”  Read more from the Monterey Herald here: Salinas: Split county board OKs cannabis cash for Salinas Valley well destruction

Morro Bay: Despite progress, innovative California water reclamation plant faces political backlash

With significant stress on source-water supplies throughout the region, it would seem that California desperately needs more infrastructure that utilizes these limited resources as efficiently as possible. However, a local water reclamation facility that’s already started construction could face some significant political barriers that prevent its opening.  “After about six months of construction, Morro Bay’s new water reclamation facility is well underway — and it remains politically divisive this election season, with three candidates talking about halting or undoing the project, which is the largest-ever infrastructure project in city history,” The Tribune explained. … ”  Read more from Water Online here: Morro Bay: Despite progress, innovative California water reclamation plant faces political backlash

Mule Creek contamination may land CDCR in Federal Court

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has entered its official response to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) regarding the 42,227 gallons of raw sewage that spilled into Mule Creek on August 10, 2020.  “On August 10, 2020 MCIC Lift Station released 42,227 gallons of raw sewage due to a faulted programming logic controller ‘PLC.’ The cause of the fault has been tied to bad programming code for the knife gate valve,” said Anthony Stark, Chef Plant Operator for Mule Creek State Prison WWTP. … ”  Read more from the Amador Ledger-Dispatch here:  Mule Creek contamination may land CDCR in Federal Court

Kern County’s water accounting platform tracks use like finances

The value of water is taken for granted by most and held in the utmost respect by those who make a living off the land.  The Water Accounting Platform developed by the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District along with stakeholder partners have allowed growers to keep track of water usage much like they would financial information. District General Manager Eric Averett provided an explanation of the system and how it is used. … ”  Read more from the Kern Valley Sun here: Kern County’s water accounting platform tracks use like finances

Ridgecrest: Could recycled water help balance the basin?

If all goes according to plan, recycled water from the city’s planned $45 to $60 million wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) may be used to help balance the Indian Wells Valley groundwater basin as mandated by the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  The city’s WWTF may provide as many as 2,016 acre-feet of recycled water per year for new beneficial uses while still maintaining enough water for the Navy golf course and the Tui Chub habitat, according to a presentation by Jeff Helsley from water consultant Stetson Engineers at the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority meeting October 15. … ”  Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: Ridgecrest: Could recycled water help balance the basin?

California Supreme Court refuses to review farmer Michael Abatti’s case against IID

The tumultuous, years-long legal fight between farmer Michael Abatti and the Imperial Irrigation District — two of Southern California’s powerbrokers — is now finished.  On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court declined Abatti’s petition for review, leaving in place an appellate court’s decision that declared IID the rightful owner of a massive allotment of Colorado River water. … ”  Read more from the Desert Sun here:  California Supreme Court refuses to review farmer Michael Abatti’s case against IID

San Diego scientists track the region’s biggest rainmakers

San Diego researchers are getting a better understanding of the storm systems that bring the region most of its rain and they are getting that information the old fashion way — from weather balloons.  Last March, gray rain-filled skies seemed to dip into the ocean as a storm moved across the region.  It was a busy 24 hours for Chad Hecht, Allison Michaelis, and Brian Kawzenuk. … ”  Read more from KPBS here:  San Diego scientists track the region’s biggest rainmakers

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Weekly features …

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