WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Nov 8-13: What is the state’s role in financing conveyance projects? plus all the top California water news this week …

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

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This week’s featured articles …

WATER COMMISSION: What is the state’s role in financing conveyance projects?

On July 28 of this year, Governor Newsom issued the final water resilience portfolio which calls for a set of actions to meet California water needs through the 21st century.  Specifically, Action 19.4 directs the Water Commission to assess the state’s role in financing conveyance projects that could help meet needs in a changing climate.

At the Commission’s October meeting, commissioners began the work set out for them in the portfolio by considering a background policy brief prepared by staff, hearing a synopsis of initial stakeholder interviews, a presentation from Ellen Hanak with some thoughts on resilience and conveyance, a presentation from DWR’s John Andrew on the intersection of resilience and conveyance, and a proposal from DWR’s Kamyar Guivetchi on a conceptual study of conveyance needs in the San Joaquin Valley.

Click here to read this article.


GUEST COMMENTARY: Declaring “Droughts” in California: Do they tell the complete story?

Guest commentary by Robert Shibatani:

Every year at this time as the new water year unfolds, predictions and warnings about California’s upcoming water supplies begin emerging each one trying to project the likely status of water availability in the upcoming months.  To facilitate such predictions a rich bevy of resource data are available.  These databases are shared among the various federal, State, and local agencies as well as research and academic institutions, all of which collectively help to refine and tailor these projections.  Despite their coverage and seeming quality, we should not lose sight of the fact that these forecasts still remain only best guesses.  Well informed guesses to be sure but guesses all the same.

Click here to read this article.

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In California water news this week …

Pricey tunnel sparks talk of water sales

Getting water through a tunnel under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would be pricey.  So pricey, some Kern County water districts were looking for an “off-ramp” by potentially selling their main state water supply out of the county.  The request was shot down at a special meeting on Nov. 6 by the Kern County Water Agency, which holds the contract for state water on behalf of 13 area water districts.  That denial could jeopardize funding from Kern water districts for the proposed tunnel, known as the Delta Conveyance. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Pricey tunnel sparks talk of water sales

Drought developing in much of the West

La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean may lead to the second straight drier-than-normal winter in much of the West, as a blocking high-pressure ridge could set up off the California coast and potentially worsen an already developing drought, forecasters say.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s winter forecast favors warmer, drier conditions across the southern tier of the U.S. and cooler, wetter conditions in the north. This is due largely to La Nina, in which slightly below-normal sea surface temperatures lead to a high-pressure ridge that moves the storm track to the north. … ”  Read more from the Western Farm Press here:  Drought developing in much of the West

New PPIC Report:  Priorities for California’s water

““Volatile” doesn’t begin to describe the past year. The monumental impacts of the coronavirus health emergency and resulting economic fallout have affected virtually every aspect of modern life, including how water is managed. And the nation’s much-needed and difficult conversation about racism has illuminated water equity issues—such as how we address climate change, safe drinking water, flood management, and more.  Layered on top of these upheavals is California’s regular companion, drought. … This brief highlights how events this past year have shifted the state’s water landscape and lays out priorities for local, state, and federal action. … ”  Read more from the PPIC here: Priorities for California’s water

LAO Report:  Expanding access to safe and affordable drinking water in California—A status update

In 2019 the Legislature passed and the Governor signed Chapter 120 (SB 200, Monning) establishing the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water (SADW) Fund, which provides up to $130 million annually for efforts to provide safe drinking water for every California community. The legislation tasked the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) with administering the funding and overseeing efforts to implement both short‑ and long‑term solutions to persistent drinking water problems. One year later, SWRCB has made good progress in establishing spending priorities, beginning to allocate funds and execute projects, and collecting essential data to identify the communities that should be targeted for improvements. However, the state is still in the very early stages of implementation. Given the serious threats to public health, safety, and environmental justice posed by existing drinking water deficiencies, the Legislature will want to continue conducting robust oversight over how efforts to rectify these conditions proceed.”  To read/download the report from the LAO, go here:  Expanding access to safe and affordable drinking water in California—A status update

Central Valley communities struggle for drinking water: Q&A with Felicia Marcus, California water expert

Environmental inequality is pervasive in California’s less wealthy areas; the inequities are stark in small Central Valley communities whose drinking water from home wells has long been polluted. Not just polluted, but in some cases cut off entirely as nearby farms over-pumped local groundwater during the major drought.  As chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board, Felicia Marcus had to confront the issue directly. Here are Felicia Marcus’s answers about what has been done and what still needs to be done to untangle the physical, financial and political barriers blocking fair access to clean drinking water in California. … ” Read more from … & the West here:  Central Valley communities struggle for drinking water: Q&A with Felicia Marcus, California water expert

California Water Board collects data on household water debt, utility finances

California regulators sent a survey on Monday to 150 of the state’s largest water providers in an attempt to shed light on the financial fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.  The State Water Resources Control Board wants to know how economic slowdowns related to the virus have affected utility finances and, at a household level, how many residents have overdue water bills.  The data collection effort came a day before the Legislature’s policy advisory office released a report suggesting that lawmakers monitor these exact issues. The Legislative Analyst’s Office report noted that the pandemic is one of several matters that could complicate the state’s attempt to provide safe and affordable drinking water to all of its residents. … ”  Read more from the Circle of Blue here: California Water Board collects data on household water debt, utility finances 

DWR study finds no ‘unacceptable risks’ at Oroville Dam

A 19-month study of the safety of the Oroville Dam project has found no “unacceptable risks.”  The Department of Water Resources released its Comprehensive Needs Assessment on Oct. 30, and notes its findings generally agree with those of an Independent Review Board and a regular five-year review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that was completed in July.  Though no unacceptable risks were found, several “potential vulnerabilities” were identified. DWR said work is underway to address some of those. … ” Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here:  DWR study finds no ‘unacceptable risks’ at Oroville Dam

Wildfires emerge as threat to water quantity across parched West

” … How wildfires can affect water quality are well documented. But increasing—and increasingly intense—Western conflagrations are leading to fears they also could constrict the water quantity available in some of the nation’s most water-stressed areas.  Fort Collins isn’t an outlier: This raging wildfire season and extreme drought, exacerbated by climate change and compounding the damage from previous record-breaking wildfire years, could pose a years-long threat to water supplies throughout the West. It could even choke the ability of some cities and states to keep faucets flowing. … ”  Read more from Bloomberg News here:  Wildfires emerge as threat to water quantity across parched West

The surprising connection between West Coast fires and the volatile chemicals tainting America’s drinking water

From his back deck, Bogdan Marian can see the scars running down into the San Lorenzo Valley: the pad of a destroyed home, the scorched brown trees at the ridge line.   Marian is grateful to have a standing home. Yet his family and many others in the area still face another worry: the safety of their tap water. After fires marred the valley near Santa Cruz, California, in August, the local water district issued a “Do Not Drink Do Not Boil” notice to residents.  Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene, residents were warned, could be seeping into the water system — just as the toxic chemicals did in Santa Rosa and Paradise, California, in the wake of wildfires in 2017 and 2018. … ”  Read more from Ensia here:  The surprising connection between West Coast fires and the volatile chemicals tainting America’s drinking water

How California will shape U.S. environmental policy under Biden

California’s climate titans are ready to come in from the cold.  Donald Trump spent the last four years trying to rein in California’s vast influence on American emissions, energy and environmental policy, given that any rule made by the nation’s biggest state ripples through the national economy. That ends in just over two months, when Joe Biden enters the Oval Office, and has consequences that stretch well beyond the Golden State, as key California officials regain their clout in Washington. … ”  Read more from Politico here:  How California will shape U.S. environmental policy under Biden

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In regional water news this week …

Klamath River: The rebirth of a historic river

For over a century, one of the most important salmon runs in the United States has had to contend with historic dams – and now four of them are set to be taken down.  “My great uncle and my grandma and my great grandparents and, I’m sure, their great grandparents: they were all fishermen. That’s just what they did – they fished and it was out of necessity to support their families. And it’s because that’s what we’ve always done and we’ve never known another life,” says Amy Cordalis, the general counsel of the Yurok, and a member of California’s largest indigenous tribe. … ”  Read more from Future Planet here: Klamath River: The rebirth of a historic river

Restoration brings salmon, people back to Clear Creek

Clear Creek has been transformed multiple times in the past two centuries, but the transformation of the past few decades was designed to last. Ravaged first by gold-seekers and then by gravel-miners, the Sacramento River tributary is today a haven for fish and people alike.  “You get to see big male salmon chasing each other away from females and see females digging redds, or nests. It’s exciting,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Charlie Chamberlain. “It’s something a lot of people would not expect to see in California except on National Geographic.” … ”  Read more from the US FWS here:  Restoration brings salmon, people back to Clear Creek

Napa County moves idea of a single water agency to future talks

Napa County has achieved a degree of peace – at least for now – over big ideas involving water governance and how possible changes might affect farmland preservation.  Some finessing of language paved the way for the Local Agency Formation Commission of Napa County (LAFCO) to adopt a Napa Countywide Water and Wastewater study. The commission on Monday unanimously approved a document almost two years in the making. … ”  Read more from the Napa Register here:  Napa County moves idea of a single water agency to future talks

A new plan for ranching at Point Reyes and what it means for the future of the seashore

Although few of its more than 2 million annual visitors may realize it, behind the majestic coastal bluffs and sprawling pasture of Point Reyes National Seashore lies a history of conflicts, compromises, and competing park priorities. Ranchers and community leaders fought the establishment of the National Seashore itself, local food advocates fought for the continuation of an oyster farm in a designated wilderness area, and wildlife activists have fought against the fencing-in of native tule elk on the Seashore’s elk reserve. … ”  Read more from Bay Nature here:  A new plan for ranching at Point Reyes and what it means for the future of the seashore

Cal Am re-files desal project application with Coastal Commission

California American Water has re-filed its desalination project permit application less than two months after withdrawing it on the eve of a special Coastal Commission meeting.  While the company made changes to its desal project proposal in the re-filed application, it has not yet met with Marina city officials to resolve the issues prompting the city to oppose the project. Cal Am president Rich Svindland acknowledged that opposition was a factor in the company’s decision to withdraw its project application. … ”  Read more from the Monterey Herald here:  Cal Am re-files desal project application with Coastal Commission

Madera groundwater plan accepted by state

The public can finally get a look at how Madera officials plan to correct severe groundwater over pumping and replenish aquifers in that area.  For some farmers, that correction will mean pumping limits of up to 50 percent from what’s allowed today.  Water budgets and water markets will also likely become the norm. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Madera groundwater plan accepted by state

Corcoran: Farmers donate money to help dairy in fight with city

Donations from Central Valley farm bureaus hope to aid a Tulare County dairy in a legal fight against the City of Corcoran.  On Oct. 2, The Tulare County Farm Bureau presented a check for $65,000 to Ben Curti and Tessa Hall of Curtimade Dairy to assist in their legal fees as they defend against accusations of groundwater pollution from the Kings County city, said Tricia Stever Blattler, president of the farm bureau.  Over the summer, the Kings County Farm Bureau donated $15,000 to Curtimade. Donations came from farm bureau members as well as the Madera County Farm Bureau, said Dusty Ference, executive director for the Kings County Farm Bureau. … ”  Read more from the Business Journal here:  Farmers donate money to help dairy in fight with city

SoFi Stadium, Hollywood Park tap millions of tons of recycled water for sustainability

About 26 million gallons of recycled water will be delivered annually to SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, home of the Rams and Chargers, officials announced Monday, Nov. 9.  The West Basin Municipal Water District is supplying the recycled water to the 298-acre sports and entertainment development in Inglewood, where it will be used for landscape irrigation, maintenance and aesthetic purposes, which includes a Lake Park cascading water feature and various greenscapes. … ”  Read more from the Daily Bulletin here:  SoFi Stadium, Hollywood Park tap millions of tons of recycled water for sustainability

Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park Wetlands, once seen as a boon, bogged down by deficiencies

When Costa Mesa opened a 37-acre wetland complex at Fairview Park in 2013, the project was celebrated as an environmental accomplishment city officials at the time described as a “perfect marriage” of engineering and ecology.  Its 23 acres of riparian habitat would provide refuge to species threatened or endangered by years of Orange County development, while a recirculating pond system would draw urban runoff from nearby Greenville Banning Channel and suffuse flows throughout a web of interconnected streambeds. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park Wetlands, once seen as a boon, bogged down by deficiencies

Restoration projects at the Salton Sea

Restoration projects are finally coming to the Salton Sea and New River.  Nearly $47 million dollars have been secured in California’s state budget for the next year to begin mitigation efforts at the Salton Sea and the New River.  It’s a major win for a decades-long problem that has contributed to the environmental and health impacts in Imperial County. ... ”  Read more from KYMA here: Restoration projects at the Salton Sea

Reimagining the Colorado River by exploring extreme events

Imagine this scenario: Persistently poor monsoon seasons diminish surface water resources, forcing residents in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin to turn to groundwater for their residential, agricultural, and industrial needs. With pumping vastly increased, aquifers crash, and water deliveries from existing in-state sources are further curtailed. Demand for water from the Colorado River then rapidly increases, putting increasing pressure on high-priority surface water rights associated with Native American tribes. Story lines like this keep water management professionals, environmentalists, and government representatives awake at night. … ”  Read more from EOS here: Reimagining the Colorado River by exploring extreme events

2020 delivers setbacks for some long-planned Western water projects

2020 has been a tough year for some of the Colorado River basin’s long-planned, most controversial water projects.  Proposals to divert water in New Mexico, Nevada and Utah have run up against significant legal, financial and political roadblocks this year. But while environmental groups have cheered the setbacks, it’s still unclear whether these projects have truly hit dead ends or are simply waiting in the w

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In national water news …

Overlooked Army Corps rulemaking would shrink federal stream protections

Earlier this year, the Trump administration secured one of its signature environmental legacies when it completed a rule that reduced federal protections for wetlands as well as for streams that flow only following rainfall.  Environmental policy experts concluded that the administration’s narrow definition of the scope of the Clean Water Act was its most damaging decision for waterways. The rollback of the Obama-era ruling was a campaign promise of President Trump and a rallying cry for industrial lobby groups that supported him.  Now, the Army Corps of Engineers, with much less fanfare and in the final months of the Trump administration, is considering another rule change that would also shrink federal protection of small streams, ecologists and lawyers say. The Corps said in its proposal that it is acting in response to the president’s order to review regulations that burden energy development. … ”  Read more from Circle of Blue here:  Overlooked Army Corps rulemaking would shrink federal stream protections 

1,4-Dioxane: Another forever chemical plagues drinking-water utilities

1,4-Dioxane gets around.  It’s on laboratory shelves, a reagent familiar to bench scientists. Some drugmakers use it to purify pharmaceutical ingredients. Filter makers employ it to create tiny pores in membranes. The chemical’s commercial heyday was in the second half of the 20th century, when it stabilized chlorinated solvents used for metal degreasing.  Since then, the chemical’s reputation has dimmed. … ”  Read more from Chemical & Engineering News here:  1,4-Dioxane: Another forever chemical plagues drinking-water utilities

People of color are more likely to live without indoor plumbing even in the richest US cities, study says

Even in the richest American cities, many still live without one basic utility — indoor plumbing.  That’s according to a team of geography researchers from King’s College London and the University of Arizona, who published their findings this week in the peer-reviewed PNAS journal. From 2013 to 2017, more than 1.1 million people in the US did not have access to a piped water connection, the study says, with almost half of them living in the country’s 50 largest cities. … ”  Read more from CNN here: People of color are more likely to live without indoor plumbing even in the richest US cities, study says

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