WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Nov 15 – 20: Federalism & water quality: After 50 years, are we done with the 401?; Merced River Watershed Flood MAR Study; Preparing for the vote on Delta Conveyance planning costs; and more …

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

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This week’s featured articles …

YOSEMITE ENVIRO LAW CONFERENCE: Federalism & water quality: After 50 years, are we done with the 401?

Recent changes by the Trump Administration to the Clean Water Act have had a ripple effect on many regulatory programs. The changes to Section 401 in particular, intended to promote energy infrastructure, have really changed how the states and the federal government implement the Section 401 program.

At the Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite held in October of 2020, a panel of speakers discussed how Section 401 has functioned in the past in different contexts, how the final rule might be changing the legal landscape, and how a change in the federal administration after the election might affect the changed rule.

Click here to read this article.


WATER COMMISSION: Merced River Watershed Flood MAR Study

Kamyar Guivetchi, Manager of DWR’s Division of Planning has often referred to Flood Managed Aquifer Recharge (or Flood MAR) as a “moon shot” for recharging depleted groundwater basins, but just how much Flood MAR can contribute to groundwater recharge in a watershed is unknown.  However, the Department of Water Resources’ Integrated Watershed Management staff is underway with a pilot study to look at the potential for Flood MAR in the Merced River watershed.

At the October meeting of the California Water Commission, Mr. Guivetchi and David Arrate, Senior Water Resources Engineer with the Department of Water Resources, gave a presentation on the study and shared some of the preliminary results.

Click here to read this article.


MET BAY DELTA COMMITTEE: Preparing for the vote on Delta Conveyance planning costs

At last week’s meeting of Metropolitan’s Bay-Delta Committee, preparations continued for the board action at the December meeting regarding funding the first two years of planning costs for the Delta Conveyance Project.  Bay-Delta Initiatives Manager Steve Arakawa provided an update on the funding agreement with the Department of Water Resources for Metropolitan’s proportionate share of the planning and preconstruction costs for the Delta Conveyance Project, and an amendment to the JPA agreement for the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority.

Click here to read this article.

 


WATER COMMISSION: Update on State Water Project restoration efforts in the Delta

One of the goals in the California Water Commission’s strategic plan directs the Commission to remain apprised of the operations and construction activities of the State Water Project, focusing on how the State Water Project adapts and responds to hydrological extremes expected with climate change, restores critical ecosystems, and addresses aging infrastructure.

At the October meeting of the California Water Commission, Catherine McCalvin with the Department of Water Resources Office of Environmental Compliance discussed the status of projects that are underway to restore habitat for listed species associated with the State Water Project operations.

Click here to read this article.

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In California water news this week …

What’s that digging in the Delta? Pre-construction underway on Delta Conveyance Project

Along the scenic Sacramento River, two worlds are in conflict.  The first world is comprised of farmers, making a living off the land. The other world is construction activity, with digging now underway in the Sacramento River Delta.  The ambitious, multi-billion-dollar tunnel project is moving forward, with plenty of controversy in the Sacramento River Delta. … ”  Read more from KCRA Channel 3 here:  Pre-construction underway on Delta Conveyance Project

Kern farmers tapped for $14 million to study delta tunnel

Kern County farmers on Wednesday agreed to chip in $14 million over the next two years to kick off another attempt to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta via tunnel.  The Kern County Water Agency board of directors voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Department of Water Resources to pay $14 million over 2021 and 2020 as its initial share of the early planning and design phase for what’s now being called the Delta Conveyance Facility. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here:  Kern farmers tapped for $14 million to study delta tunnel

Q/A: How would the proposed Delta Conveyance Project address climate change in California?

In the third episode in the Delta Conveyance Deep Dive video series, we asked DWR climate change experts to explain the ways in which the Delta Conveyance Project addresses the challenges of a warming climate.  State climatologist Michael Anderson joined DWR as a river forecaster in the Division of Flood Management in 2005 and continues to work with the Hydrology and Flood Operations to this day.  … John Andrew is Assistant Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resources. … The conversation was moderated by Patricia Clark, Associate Governmental Program Analyst in the Delta Conveyance Office. … ”  Read more or watch video from DWR here:  Q/A: How would the proposed Delta Conveyance Project address climate change in California?

Current estimates of young salmon lost to the south Delta pumps are based on a smattering of studies from the 1970s and should be updated, according to a new analysis.

“”They don’t represent current operations,” says Ukiah-based consultant Andrew Jahn, lead author of the analysis reported in the September 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. Current operations at the State Water Project (SWP) and the Central Valley Project (CVP) can reverse flows in the Old and Middle rivers, diverting salmon on their way to the ocean towards the projects.  … ”  Read more from Estuary News here:  Current estimates of young salmon lost to the south Delta pumps are based on a smattering of studies from the 1970s and should be updated, according to a new analysis.

Zero Delta smelt found in latest search. New habitat hopes to change that.

An annual search for a tiny endangered and contentious fish in the sprawling California Delta has once again come up empty.  The state’s annual Fall Midwater Trawl Survey found no delta smelt in September’s sampling of the critical waterway. The last time the rare fish turned up in a survey was in October 2017 when just two were found.  Hoping to reverse the recent trend, the Westlands Water District and the California Department of Water Resources announced the completion of a Delta habitat restoration project on Wednesday. … ”  Read more from GV Wire here:  Zero Delta smelt found in latest search. New habitat hopes to change that.

Trump Administration finalizes Shasta Dam raise plan to increase water storage for Californians and the environment

The Trump Administration today released the Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to increase water storage capacity in the Shasta Lake reservoir by 634,000 acre-feet, or more than 200 billion gallons. This is enough water to support more than 6 million Californians annually.  “President Trump has made investing in our existing infrastructure a top priority. Raising Shasta Dam is one of the smartest and most cost-effective opportunities we have before us,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. … ”  Read more from the Bureau of Reclamation here: Trump Administration finalizes Shasta Dam raise plan to increase water storage for Californians and the environment

Adults salmons’ anchovy diet may be causing juvenile mortality

On a day the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported a salmon population increase in Clear Creek off the Sacramento River near Redding, and touted an improved trout spawning route for endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout, it also reported juvenile Chinook salmon were dying in the Central Valley hatcheries.  Although the exact cause, and the greater effect in the rivers, have not been labeled, scientists believe the unusual mortality may be due to adult salmon feeding on anchovies over the past couple of years. … ”  Read more from the Daily Republic here:  Adults salmons’ anchovy diet may be causing juvenile mortality

America’s largest dam removal project has been brought back to life with a new agreement among California, Oregon, tribes and a utility owned by billionaire Warren Buffett.  The decadeslong effort to remove four dams on the Klamath River in Northern California that have had a devastating impact on salmon runs had appeared in danger following an unexpected July regulatory order. But in an emotional and triumphant online press conference yesterday, major stakeholders praised a new agreement that could mean the dams start coming down in 2023. … ”  Read more from E&E News here:  Historic deal refreshes plans for Klamath dam removal

Water district officials and others were negligent in Naya Rivera’s drowning, lawsuit says

As the actress Naya Rivera and her young son swam in Lake Piru in July, gusts of wind and currents likely pushed her rented boat away from her as she struggled to swim and eventually drowned, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed this week by the boy’s father and others.  Ryan Dorsey, Rivera’s former boyfriend, filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the boy, who was four at the time. In it, he claims the United Water Conservation District, which operates the lake, as well as Ventura County and the boat rental company failed to properly warn against the dangers of swimming in the lake and to provide adequate safety equipment on the rented pontoon boat. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: Water district officials and others were negligent in Naya Rivera’s drowning, lawsuit says

Well water throughout California contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’

In the weeks before the coronavirus began tearing through California, the city of Commerce made an expensive decision: It shut down part of its water supply.  Like nearly 150 other public water systems in California, the small city on the outskirts of Los Angeles had detected “forever chemicals” in its well water.   Used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof coatings, firefighting foams and food packaging, these industrial chemicals — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS — have been linked to kidney cancer and other serious health conditions.  … The discovery forced Commerce to choose between two bad options: keep serving the contaminated water, or shut the well down and import water at more than double the cost. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters here:  Well water throughout California contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’

Ignoring mega-flood risk — like California did with wildfire prevention — may spell disaster, experts say

The Sacramento region is not prepared for a mega-flood and won’t be for nearly a decade, says Rick Johnson, executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency.  “We’re still working on getting our base-level protection up,” he said. “But then we need to also address potential for that 100 year [storm] being a much larger event in the future.”  Johnson says there’s more than $3 billion of work currently taking place in the area to build levees, raise dams, redesign part of the American River to hold more water and deepening blockades below levees so water won’t seep underneath them. The goal is to get the region to eventually be able to withstand a 500-year storm. … ” Read more from Capital Public Radio here: Ignoring mega-flood risk — like California did with wildfire prevention — may spell disaster, experts say

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In regional water news this week …

Environmental group threatens to sue St. Helena over groundwater extraction

An environmental advocacy group is threatening to sue the City of St. Helena over its handling of groundwater.  Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit California, delivered a letter to the city on Monday criticizing its use of the Stonebridge wells for municipal use and “a pattern of exercising no discretion” in issuing permits for new wells. … ”  Read more from the Napa Register here: Environmental group threatens to sue St. Helena over groundwater extraction

Yuba Water Agency sues California water board to protect its future, the Yuba River and Yuba County

Yuba Water Agency filed lawsuits in both federal and state court today to challenge the water quality certification that California’s State Water Resources Control Board issued in July for Yuba Water’s new license for its hydroelectric project, the Yuba River Development Project.  “This is not something we wanted to do,” said Yuba Water General Manager Willie Whittlesey. “We tried every diplomatic option available to us. But the State Water Board’s actions pose a significant threat to Yuba Water’s long-term viability and would prevent us from being the catalyst for public safety, economic growth and prosperity that this disadvantaged community so desperately needs. This is us defending ourselves against a significant and unfair overreach.” … ”  Read more from the Yuba Water Agency here:  Yuba Water Agency sues California water board to protect its future, the Yuba River and Yuba County

Bay Area:  First rain of season unveils a new pollution problem: masks and gloves — pandemic PPE

The Bay Area’s first rain of the season is washing away worries of wildfire and drought. But it’s also bringing a new concern: gobs of face masks flooding San Francisco Bay.  Early season storms typically sweep a slurry of debris from streets and sidewalks into rivers, creeks and bays. This year, the fall flush not only contains the usual gunk, waste experts say, but a whole lot of discarded PPE — or personal protective equipment, the detritus of the pandemic. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here:  Bay Area:  First rain of season unveils a new pollution problem: masks and gloves — pandemic PPE

San Luis Obispo County removes 37,000 acres from Paso groundwater pumping moratorium

Fewer properties over the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin will be subject to severe water restrictions after the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted on Nov. 17 to revise the basin’s “area of severe decline,” eliminating roughly 37,000 acres.  The map change means that those properties removed from the “red zone” are now eligible to pump up to 5 acre-feet of groundwater per year (AFY) as an exception to a basin-wide moratorium on new pumping. … ”  Read more from New Times SLO here:  San Luis Obispo County removes 37,000 acres from Paso groundwater pumping moratorium

San Diego County Water Authority Board approves next phase of regional water conveyance system study

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today authorized staff to launch the next phase of a study assessing options for long-term water deliveries to sustain the region’s economy and quality of life.  The decision follows months of community dialogue about Phase A of the Regional Conveyance System Study, which was released in August. The study demonstrated the technical viability and economic competitiveness of two routes for an aqueduct to transport the Water Authority’s independent, high-priority Colorado River water to San Diego County. ... ”  Read more from the Water News Network here: San Diego County Water Authority Board approves next phase of regional water conveyance system study

Outsiders wary of San Diego’s multibillion-dollar pipeline plan

Opposition is building against San Diego’s dream of erecting a $5 billion pipeline to the Colorado River in the name of resource independence.  The pipe, which wouldn’t produce savings for ratepayers until at least 2063, faces its next trial on Thursday, when water managers meet to vote on spending another $1.7 million to do the next planning step. But well in advance of that meeting, nine of the San Diego County Water Authority’s member water agencies cosigned an opposition letter to newly appointed chair Gary Croucher from the Otay Water District.  … ”  Read more from the Voice of San Diego here:  Outsiders wary of San Diego’s multibillion-dollar pipeline plan

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Along the Colorado River …

Colorado River users expect Biden to put focus on climate change

The incoming Biden administration will lead efforts to craft a new water-management regime for the seven-state Colorado River Basin, and people involved in the process expect any changes to reflect the impact of climate change in the basin.  The Bureau of Reclamation, under the Interior Department, will lead negotiations to replace 13-year-old interim guidelines used to operate the basin’s two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Interior secretary also manages the lower basin, containing all the water below Hoover Dam. … ”  Read more from Bloomberg Law here:  Colorado River users expect Biden to put focus on climate change

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In national water news this week …

Senators propose level EPA funding for 2021, no WIFIA cuts

The U.S. EPA’s water infrastructure financing programs would be in line for approximately level funding next year under a plan for FY21 appropriations released by Senate Republicans last week. The funding proposal is detailed in the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ (AMWA) Nov. 16 Monday Morning Briefing.  The Republicans’ proposal would provide EPA with just under $9.1 billion next year, roughly in line with the agency’s FY20 appropriation. Within that sum, $1.126 billion would be set aside for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and $1.639 billion would go to the Clean Water SRF – each equal to current funding. … ”  Read more from Water Finance & Management here:  Senators propose level EPA funding for 2021, no WIFIA cuts

Who will lead Biden’s EPA?

Farm Futures blogger Gary Baise, an Illinois farmer and trial attorney at the law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PLC who served as the chief of staff to the first EPA administrator, previewed President-Elect Joe Biden’s EPA review team in a recent column. We decided to check the web to see who was being considered for the top seat at the agency now lead by Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist. Baise, by the law, organized President Trump’s agricultural team of advisers. … ”  Read more from the Western Farm Press here:  Who will lead Biden’s EPA?

Federal water rule expected to stay murky through Biden term

A Biden administration won’t be able to untangle the legal and regulatory “mess” under part of the Clean Water Act that determines which streams, wetlands and other waters get federal protection, legal scholars and litigators say.  Any move the Biden administration takes to clarify the definition of Waters of the United States, known as WOTUS, will continue the decades-long “merry-go-round” of administrative rule changes and litigation, said Larry Liebesman, a former Justice Department environmental lawyer who is now a senior adviser at the environmental and water permitting firm of Dawson & Associates. … ”  Read more from Bloomberg Law here:  Federal water rule expected to stay murky through Biden term

Curious about the Biden/Harris environmental regulatory agenda? Look no further than California

With the 2020 election now called, though yet to be conceded, questions abound as to what the environmental regulatory landscape may look like under a Biden/Harris administration. For California, we don’t expect much of a change from the well-ensconced “Resistance.” Nationally, however, we should not be surprised to see many California strategies and priorities begin to sweep across the national landscape. … ”  Read more from JD Supra here: Curious about the Biden/Harris environmental regulatory agenda? Look no further than California

Trump administration reduces wildfire risk by record 5.4 million acres

The Department of the Interior announced today that it has once again made substantial progress in Fiscal Year 2020 to reduce the risk of wildfire nationwide by treating a ten-year best 1.5 million acres of public lands. In continued efforts to reduce wildfire risk across much of the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has exceeded yearly milestones to ensure National Wildlife Refuge System lands remain healthy, resilient and accessible to the public. The Service completed a significant amount of fuels treatments in FY2020 to reduce hazardous fuel loads, provide wildfire suppression efforts across the country, and increase protection of local communities surrounding fire-prone areas. … ”  Read more from the US FWS here:  Trump administration reduces wildfire risk by record 5.4 million acres

US agricultural water use declining for most crops and livestock production

Climate change and a growing world population require efficient use of natural resources. Water is a crucial component in food production, and water management strategies are needed to support worldwide changes in food consumption and dietary patterns.   Agricultural production and food manufacturing account for a third of usage in the U.S. Water use fluctuates with weather patterns but is also affected by shifts in production technology, supply-chain linkages, and domestic and foreign consumer demand. … ”  Read more from PhysOrg here:  US agricultural water use declining for most crops and livestock production

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Announcements, notices, and funding opportunities …

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