WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Dec 6-11: When SGMA isn’t working and it’s time to adjudicate; Conveyance projects and the human right to water; plus all the week’s top stories, and more …

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

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This week’s featured articles …

WESTERN GROUNDWATER CONGRESS: SGMA Isn’t Working – When It’s Time to Adjudicate.  Wait, When is it Time?

Nick Jacobs is a shareholder with Somach Simmons & Dunn. who has been practicing law for about 20 years and has handled groundwater adjudications from start to finish.  Aaron Ferguson, also with Somach Simmons & Dunn, has been helping clients throughout California solve complex water rights problems for over 9 years.

At the Groundwater Resources Association’s Western Groundwater Congress held in September of 2020, they gave the following presentation intended as a practical discussion of the key issues to consider if the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act process isn’t working and a stakeholder or water district is considering a groundwater adjudication.  Their presentation is intended for non-attorneys and focuses on laying out the key strategic issues and decisions associated with evaluating whether the SGMA process is working or if it is time to consider initiating a groundwater adjudication.

The decision to adjudicate should be well thought through,” advised Nick Jacobs.  “Groundwater adjudications are time-consuming – they will take years to resolve.  They are very expensive.  It is important, therefore, that you consider the key issues and get sound legal advice from water attorneys and top-notch hydrogeologists.”

Click here to read this article.


WATER COMMISSION: Conveyance projects and the human right to water

Panel discussion outlines challenges facing disadvantaged communities and small water systems

The Water Resilience Portfolio directs the Water Commission to assess the state’s role in financing conveyance projects that could help meet the needs in changing climate.  In recent months, the Commission has been hearing from panels of experts on various related subjects.

At their November meeting, the Commission heard from two panels: the first panel was from project proponents who discussed conveyance projects being proposed by their organizations, which was covered in this post here: WATER COMMISSION: Conveyance projects panel discusses Imperial Valley to San Diego pipeline, “fish-friendly” Delta diversions, and more …

The second panel discussed the human right to water within the context of conveyance projects.  The panelists were invited to share their thoughts on how conveyance projects can demonstrate that they have adequately considered the human right to water, how climate change will impact their communities, and how underrepresented communities can better be included in the planning, design, and governance of water projects.  And even though the Commission has explicitly stated they are not including Delta conveyance, the panel ended where most California water issues end up: in the Delta.

Click here to read this article.


WESTERN GROUNDWATER CONGRESS: Dispute Resolution Processes and Multi-Agency Groundwater Management

At the Western Groundwater Congress held in September of 2020, Dr. William Blomquist gave the following presentation on a study done with colleagues from other institutions that focused on the multi-agency groundwater sustainability agencies that have been formed under SGMA and to what extent their multi-agency agreements included dispute resolution provisions.

Click here to read this article.

 


In California water news this week …

Rain and snow coming to Northern California this weekend

December has been warm and dry for most of Northern California and because of that, drought conditions have degraded with a lack of significant rain or snow for the first third of the month.  However, starting Friday, the greater Sacramento area will experience changes more typical of December weather. The high temperatures for Valley locations will move into the mid 50s, which is normal for this time of year and away from the record breaking temperatures we’ve seen recently. … ”  Read more from Channel 10 here: Rain and snow coming to Northern California this weekend

Delta dilemma: fishing or fresh water?

The quiet of morning broke as a battery of boats roared toward first light on the open water.  Dozens of anglers, competing in teams of two for the biggest bass they could find, disappeared beyond the weed beds and tule thickets into the maze of rivers and sloughs. Each was chasing a cash prize and the satisfaction of conquering one of the West’s premier spots for sportfishing: the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  “You come out and have a good day, it gets you known,” said David Poteras, a 25-year-old resident of Elk Grove (Sacramento County), before motoring his 20-foot Ranger through Franks Tract, a large, watery expanse and state recreation area that serves as a hub for bass tournaments, off Contra Costa County’s Bethel Island. “The money is good, too.” … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: Delta dilemma: fishing or fresh water?

Water futures to start trading amid growing fears of scarcity

Water is joining gold, oil and other commodities traded on Wall Street, highlighting worries that the life-sustaining natural resource may become scarce across more of the world.  Farmers, hedge funds and municipalities alike will be able to hedge against — or bet on — potential water scarcity starting this week, when CME Group Inc. launches contracts linked to the $1.1 billion California spot water market. According to Chicago-based CME, the futures will help water users manage risk and better align supply and demand.  … ”  Read more from BNN Bloomberg here:  Water futures to start trading amid growing fears of scarcity

Drought conditions could stretch to spring, set stage for another rough fire season

The latest outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that California’s persistent drought-like conditions could last through the winter and into spring, possibly fueling another grueling fire season in 2021.  Currently, three-quarters of California is experiencing at least moderate drought conditions.  “Keep in mind, we’re coming off the driest May-through-October period, statewide at least, across California, Arizona and New Mexico,” said Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska. … ”  Read more from KQED here: Drought conditions could stretch to spring, set stage for another rough fire season

Metropolitan board funds next phase of Delta Conveyance Project

The Metropolitan Water District today joined water agencies throughout the state in pledging its support for a project to modernize the increasingly vulnerable infrastructure that delivers water supplies from the northern Sierras through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Southern California.  Metropolitan’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to fund its share of the environmental planning and pre-construction costs for the Delta Conveyance Project, a state initiative to increase the long-term reliability of the State Water Project and make it more resilient to climate extremes, sea level rise and earthquakes. … ”

Click here to read the press release from Metropolitan.

Zero Delta smelt, longfin smelt and Sacramento splittail found in October CDFW Midwater Trawl

Dan Bacher writes, “The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has released the October 2020 Fall Midwater Trawl results and zero Delta smelt, longfin smelt and Sacramento split tail, all once abundant native fish species, were caught, as was the case also this September.  We will see the final results for the pelagic (open water) species surveyed at the end of December after the November and December totals of Delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass, threadfin shad, American shad and Sacramento splittail caught in the annual trawl are tallied by the CDFW.  Once the most abundant native fish in the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, no Delta Smelt were reported in the Fall MIdwater Trawl in either 2018 and 2019, due to many years of massive water exports from the Delta through the State Water Project and Central Valley Water Project, combined with toxics and declining water quality. … ”  Read more from the Daily Kos here:   Zero Delta Smelt, Longfin Smelt and Sacramento Splittail Found in October CDFW Midwater Trawl

Feds defend permanent water contracts to benefit agriculture

Defending the decision to give farm irrigation districts permanent access to low-cost, federally pumped water in California, a Justice Department lawyer urged a federal judge Thursday to flush a Native American tribe’s lawsuit against the endless entitlements.  The Hoopa Valley Tribe sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in August, claiming the Trump administration’s conversion of 14 time-limited contracts for Central Valley Project water into permanent deals violated a host of federal laws. The contracts were made permanent in February. Another 26 agreements are in the process of being converted to permanent deals. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here:  Feds defend permanent water contracts to benefit agriculture

Much of California’s water wells are contaminated with chromium-6. Could a costly fix be coming?

Krishna Feldman has more to worry about than students returning books on time. She is the librarian at Ohlone Elementary School in Santa Cruz County, where testing found toxic levels of a contaminant called chromium-6 in water coming out of drinking fountains.   “Last month, we found out we had another kindergartener who has leukemia at our school,” Feldman said. “We have a new case of cancer at our school almost every year.”  Ohlone Elementary is not alone. Testing has found the contaminant in thousands of drinking water wells across California. … ”  Read more from Capital Public Radio here: Much of California’s water wells are contaminated with chromium-6. Could a costly fix be coming?

New paper: Sustainable Groundwater Management in California: A grand experiment in environmental governance

California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is a grand policy experiment that provides an unprecedented opportunity to analyze five core concepts in environmental governance: cooperation, institutional diversity, environmental justice, state oversight, and leadership. This article summarizes the research questions associated with these core concepts and the contributions of the other articles in this special issue, which emerged from ongoing interactions between a community of SGMA researchers and practitioners. The lessons learned from the special issue provide guideposts for SGMA research going forward, as well as research on environmental and water governance in other contexts. … ”  Read the full paper here: New paper: Sustainable Groundwater Management in California: A grand experiment in environmental governance

Flying the foothills: Stanford researchers lead an airborne survey effort to investigate where water could recharge groundwater aquifers in California’s Central Valley

Groundwater managers across the Central Valley striving to attain sustainability for underground aquifers are largely operating without a map. California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires managers to attain groundwater sustainability by 2042. However, critical knowledge is lacking on where water flows from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to recharge water supplies underground, and where there are sites that could be used to enhance the recharge, making it difficult to ensure water depleted through pumping and irrigation is balanced by new water coming in.   “With the commitment to meeting the goals of SGMA came the recognition of all the data gaps. How can we get the information we need about California’s groundwater systems?” said Rosemary Knight, a professor of geophysics in the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “You can’t get sufficient coverage by drilling wells so, in this case, we’re flying the foothills – using a helicopter to carry a geophysical system to image beneath the ground.” … ”  Read more from Stanford News here: Flying the foothills

Big data offers promise of better groundwater management in California

To ensure that California’s groundwater is sustainably managed in the future and over the long-term, current state definitions of what constitutes groundwater may need to be revised, according to research published this week in PNAS. A McGill University-led research team has analyzed big data of more than 200,000 groundwater samples taken from across the state and found that there are problems with the guidelines used for groundwater management. Known as the ‘Base of Fresh Water’, the guidelines are close to fifty years old and don’t reflect current uses, knowledge, concerns or technologies related to managing groundwater in this coastal state with a multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry. … ”  Read more from McGill University here:  Big data offers promise of better groundwater management in California

New land trust focused on groundwater aims to give farmers options

Southern Tulare County farmers inching toward a cliff of groundwater restrictions that could dry up tens of thousands of acres have joined with conservationists to potentially soften their own landing and help improve wildlife habitat at the same time.  At least that’s the goal of the newly formed Tule  Basin and Water Conservation Trust.  “Land retirement is not a popular concept with farmers,” said Eric Limas, Treasurer for the Tule Trust and General Manager of the Pixley Irrigation District and Groundwater Sustainability Agency. … ” Read more from SJV Water here: New land trust focused on groundwater aims to give farmers options

As fires rage, California center aims to better understand their remedy: Atmospheric rivers

At the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, researchers feel the urgency as they examine connections between West Coast precipitation and a devastating wildfire season, which has yet to conclude.  The center, part of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., has unlocked many secrets of atmospheric rivers — airborne jets of tropical moisture that can break droughts and quell fires but also unleash raging floodwaters.  Under the leadership of Director Marty Ralph, the center measures the strength of atmospheric rivers on a one-to-five scale, and there is now a greater understanding of how their presence or absence determines so much, such as whether vegetative fuels will be primed to ignite when fire comes too close. … ”  Read more from the Washington Post here:  As fires rage, California center aims to better understand their remedy: Atmospheric rivers

When the floods came

The day the first drops of winter rain-spattered onto the parched earth, Southern California’s ranchers heaved a collective sigh of relief. It was Nov. 14, 1861, and the region was in the grip of a severe drought. The ranchers had been praying feverishly for rain for months. At long last, they thought, as they tipped their faces heavenwards to the dark clouds gathering overhead. Little did they know that they — along with the rest of the Pacific West — were about to get far, far more than they had bargained for.  From that day until March 1862, not just Southern California but the entire Pacific Coast was battered by a series of exceptionally intense storms that rolled in relentlessly, one after another, for five long months, creating one of the wettest periods the region has experienced in the past 2,000 years. … ”  Read more from USC Dornsife here: When the floods came

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In regional water news this week …

Yreka City Council approves pipeline replacement under Iron Gate

The Yreka City Council approved the Fall Creek Pipeline Replacement under Iron Gate Lake/Klamath River at their meeting last week.  City Staff and PACE Engineering recently reviewed a new conceptual plan for the relocation of the 24″ water main downstream of the proposed dam removal project.  The city said that this new concept replaces the existing pipe on the bottom of Iron Gate Reservoir and relocates it under the proposed river channel. … ”  Read more from the Redding Record Searchlight here: Yreka City Council approves pipeline replacement under Iron Gate

Lake Mendocino is low, but no water shortages forecast thanks to new tech

” … Lake Mendocino currently sits at 712 ft above sea level (the lake’s height is referenced from sea level). That’s very low. But despite years of dry conditions and the fact that California’s 2019–2020 water year was the third driest in the Upper Russian River watershed in recorded history, it’s not the lowest the lake has ever been. Thanks to a new set of satellite technologies and water management techniques dubbed FIRO, or Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (pronounced FEE-roh), the lake is still more than a dozen feet above its record low. And, FIRO has proved so successful at better managing lake levels, that without it there may have been a water shortages this year. … ”  Read more from the Mendocino Voice here:  Lake Mendocino is low, but no water shortages forecast thanks to new tech

Success in the Sierra: French Meadows Forest Restoration

After six months of strategic forest treatments, partners of the French Meadows Forest Restoration Project (Project) are wrapping up their second season of implementation work.  Located in the headwaters of the Middle Fork American River, in the Tahoe National Forest, the Project aims to restore forest health by reducing high-severity fires across 28,000 acres of critical watershed, and to study the effects of forest treatments on ecosystem health. In its second season, the partnership expanded its efforts beyond the heavily-trafficked area around French Meadows Reservoir and into the upper reaches of the watershed. … ”  Read more from Rocklin & Roseville Today here:  Success in the Sierra: French Meadows Forest Restoration

The Tahoe fund receives $25,000 donation from Vail Resorts to clean up the lake

The Tahoe Fund announced today that Vail Resorts has contributed $25,000 in support of its campaign to remove trash around all 72-miles of Lake Tahoe with Clean Up The Lake. The project will be completed by a SCUBA dive team of professionals and volunteers that will begin in Spring 2021. Vail Resorts’ donation, generated by $1 guest donations from lift ticket and season pass sales, brings the project closer to meeting a $100,000 match provided by Tahoe Blue Vodka. … ”  Read more from YubaNet here: The Tahoe fund receives $25,000 donation from Vail Resorts to clean up the lake

San Francisco: New wetland project, public trail to open on former Army site near Golden Gate Bridge

For decades, the area was covered with asphalt, railroad tracks and warehouses as part of an Army base in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But now a new project is transforming the landscape back to wetlands, creeks and trails for birds, fish, crabs and other wildlife — and for outdoor lovers from across the Bay Area and the world.  Marking the most recent step forward in the decades-long effort to turn back the clock along San Francisco’s waterfront to a more natural state not seen since the 1800s, planners on Friday are unveiling a new $23 million wetlands restoration project at the Presidio. The project has converted seven acres next to Crissy Field in an area adjacent to Presidio Parkway called Quartermaster Reach. … ” Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: San Francisco: New wetland project, public trail to open on former Army site near Golden Gate Bridge

San Geronimo: 100-year-old dam removed from former golf course for salmon migration

A free-flowing creek will replace Central California’s highest priority fish passage barrier as the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) completes a community restoration project along San Geronimo Creek, one of the most important watersheds left for endangered coho salmon.  By removing a 100-year-old dam and 20-year-old fish ladder on the former San Geronimo Valley golf course that was limiting the migration of endangered coho salmon and creating poor habitat conditions for other aquatic species, SPAWN created a free-flowing 250-feet long new creek channel where the former dam was. Coupled with more work next year, the project will restore a total of five acres of creek floodplain habitat across a quarter-mile long of San Geronimo Creek.  … ”  Read more from Turtle Island Network here:  San Geronimo: 100-year-old dam removed from former golf course for salmon migration

‘These mountains could turn into jelly.’ Above Santa Cruz, residents fear devastating mudslides

The fire that rampaged through the San Lorenzo Valley in August and September burned hotter and destroyed more acreage than anyone in these rugged, rural and breathtaking mountains can remember.  The CZU August Lightning Complex fire killed Tad Jones, a 73-year-old man who lived in the mountains above Santa Cruz. It also destroyed hundreds of homes, displacing residents, and left scores without potable water.  Now the region is bracing for more devastation, in the form of potentially deadly debris flows caused by winter storms. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: ‘These mountains could turn into jelly.’ Above Santa Cruz, residents fear devastating mudslides

Corps report details Rindge Dam removal

Plans to remove the 100-foot high dam next to Las Virgenes Road south of Agoura Hills have been in the works for more than two decades. The Corps’ signing of the Malibu Creek Ecosystem Restoration Report puts removal of the dam closer to reality.  The feasibility study, signed Nov. 13 by Corps of Engineers commander Lt. Gen. Scott Spellman, explains how removal of the aging concrete dam will benefit Malibu Creek and the Malibu Canyon environment. The document still must be approved by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Congress before actual demolition work can begin. … ”  Read more from The Acorn here:  Corps report details Rindge Dam removal

SoCal: Congressional representatives call out water district’s hiring of former board member Albert Robles

Nine U.S. congressional representatives have issued a public rebuke of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California over its lack of transparency in a move to hire former Carson Mayor Albert Robles as the district’s new general manager.  In a joint letter, the House members wrote they are “deeply troubled” by the board of directors’ sudden 3-2 vote to hire Robles, who served on the board for 25 years, as general manager during a meeting where Robles originally was being considered for a lesser, though equally controversial, role. … ”  Read more from the Daily Breeze here: Congressional representatives call out water district’s hiring of former board member Albert Robles

Judge strikes down Central Basin’s $2 annual water meter charge

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Thursday struck down a regional water district’s $2 annual fee on every household that was paid by more than 40 water utilities in the southeast area of Los Angeles County, including areas that don’t buy its water.  Judge Mary H. Strobel, in a written ruling, rejected Central Basin Municipal Water District’s fixed meter charge, adopted in July 2019.  The fee must be classified as a tax, Strobel wrote, and subject to the requisite two-thirds vote because the district didn’t  provide sufficient evidence that the estimated $600,00 it raised was “fairly allocated among the payors or that all such costs only correspond to specific benefits.” … ”  Read more from Whittier Daily News here:  Judge strikes down Central Basin’s $2 annual water meter charge

Metropolitan Water District, Southern Nevada Water Authority collaborate to explore development of recycled water project

In a bold step toward a new kind of collaboration in the Colorado River Basin, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority are partnering to explore development of a drought-proof water supply that could reduce reliance on the over-stressed river.  Under an agreement approved Tuesday by Metropolitan’s Board of Directors and SNWA’s Board of Directors last month, SNWA will contribute up to $6 million for environmental planning of the Regional Recycled Water Program, a proposed large-scale project to produce high quality water from purified wastewater. … ”

Click here to read the full press release.

Litigation changes IID water rights:  California’s Colorado River water users do not have traditional water rights

Farmer Michael Abatti v. Imperial Irrigation District is a landmark decision by the California Court of Appeals concerning the millions of acre-feet of Colorado River water used annually to meet the needs of Southern California’s agricultural empire.  The issue was the nature of landowners’ rights to use Colorado River water to irrigate their fields. The plaintiff, a farmer and landowner in the Imperial Irrigation District (“IID”), asserted that the farmers possess appropriative water rights to the Colorado River water delivered by IID, and are entitled to receive the quantities of water they have historically used on their fields. The Court of Appeals disagreed with most aspects of the plaintiff’s claims. The California Supreme Court recently declined to review the dispute making Abatti the law of the land. … ”  Read more from Cal Ag Today here: Litigation changes IID water rights

Colorado River Indian Tribes take another step toward marketing valuable water in Arizona

The water rights held by the Colorado River Indian Tribes are a valuable asset, and tribal leadership is seeking congressional approval to cash in on them — for the benefit of the tribes and the state’s high-growth cities and maybe the environment.  The tribes — known as CRIT for short — have lands that stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. Eighty-five percent of the reservation is in Arizona, with the remainder in California. The tribes’ right to divert 662,402 acre-feet from the river for use on land in Arizona is more than twice the Colorado River water that is allocated to the state of Nevada. … ”  Read more from the Circle of Blue here: Colorado River Indian Tribes take another step toward marketing valuable water in Arizona

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In national water news this week …

How will water affordability be defined for the next 20 years?

In the United States, the water affordability paradigm is based on a fundamentally flawed convention that the average water and sewer bill with a combined value over 4.0 percent or 4.5 percent of median household income (%MHI) is considered “unaffordable.” This metric stems from a 2 percent of MHI benchmark intended to measure community-level affordability for wastewater created by the U.S. EPA’s 1997 Combined Sewer Overflows — Guidance for Financial Capability Assessment and Schedule Development (1997 FCA Guidance). This guidance is intended to assess a community’s financial capability to implement project schedules and control measures needed to meet Clean Water Act (CWA) obligations. The EPA’s 1997 FCA has erroneously become the defacto standard to measure household affordability for the last two decades and is widely used as a financial affordability benchmark during utility rate setting discussions. … ”  Read more from Water Finance & Management here: How will water affordability be defined for the next 20 years?

Final WRDA package leaves clean water out

A House-Senate conference committee approved a final version of the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, for 2020, late last week. The final language did not include the clean water sector, drawing criticism from members of the industry.  “Over the past several cycles, this bill has become the vehicle of choice for authorizing essential funding for clean and drinking water infrastructure,” a press release from NACWA read. “While both the House and Senate Committee versions of WRDA 2020 included clean water investment, the conferenced language released is limited to the Army Corps of Engineers titles. This bill was a chance for Congress to provide much needed new funding for the public clean water sector. Unfortunately, support for public clean water utilities was left out entirely.” … ”  Read more from Water World here: Final WRDA package leaves clean water out

Biden pledges to conserve nearly a third of U.S. Land and water by 2030

President-elect Biden is making a bold promise on the environment. His administration will work to conserve nearly one-third of all U.S. land and water by the year 2030. Similar pledges are being made by countries around the world with the goal of slowing down the steep decline of nature. NPR’s Nathan Rott looks at how realistic that is. … ”  Read more from Valley Public Radio here: Biden pledges to conserve nearly a third of U.S. Land and water by 2030

Weekly features …

BLOG ROUND-UP: A new vision for water policy; Ocean harvest: a threat to viability of CA’s wild salmon?; Celebrating healthy soils and more …

SCIENCE NEWS: Managing ecosystem restoration: what does success look like?; New insights on the genetics of chinook migratory behavior; Podcast with SFEI’s Julie Beagle on sea level rise; and more …

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Announcements, notices, and funding opportunities …

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: Draft Prop 1 Groundwater Grant Program Guidelines

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: CDFW Proposition 1 Funding Opportunity

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