WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Dec 13 thru 18: Tribal water rights and resources, SGMA, water transfers, and the human right to water; plus all the top water news stories of the week 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: Tribal Water Rights and Resources in a Changing Climate

From the Klamath waters to the Western desert valleys, recent court rulings highlight the important and evolving role of tribal reserved water rights and resource management. Since time immemorial, Native American tribes throughout California and the West have perfected sustainable resource management strategies in an ever-changing climate. Their knowledge is increasingly gaining respect and being incorporated into local sustainable management plans through partnerships with tribes. In California, recent legislation and executive orders come with new requirements for tribal consultation and new hope for partnerships with tribes.

This panel from the Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite featured three experts on tribal water rights, all tribal members themselves, who discussed ongoing tribal water rights litigation in the West with a focus on recent litigation in California, and how important tribal partnerships are to the sustainable management of water resources.

Click here to read this article.


WESTERN GROUNDWATER CONGRESS: Rock, Paper, Physics: SGMA and Water Transfers

At the 3rd Annual Western Groundwater Congress, Anona Dutton with EKI Environment and Water gave a presentation on water transfers and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, providing an overview of how water transfers are typically implemented, some of the implications under SGMA, and then gave some case studies for additional information.

Water transfers are an important tool for managing California’s water supply, and the implementation of SGMA is only going to increase and incentivize the need for the development of new transfer markets,” she said. “These water transfers can have impacts both at the origin of the transfer and at the receiving end of the transfer, which can present a challenge for GSAs for achieving sustainability.”

Click here to read this article.


WESTERN GROUNDWATER CONGRESS: SGMA and the Human Right to Water

Natalie Cochran is a water resources planner at Woodard Curran who has spent the last two and a half years primarily working on developing, coordinating, and implementing groundwater sustainability plans, primarily within the Delta Mendota subbasin.

In this presentation from the Western Groundwater Congress held in September of 2020, Ms. Cochran discussed how the groundwater sustainability plans intersect and juxtapose the human right to water doctrine, focusing on the lessons learned from the 2020 GSPs, and how development and implementation of GSPs can be applied to help achieve safe, reliable, and sustainable drinking water for all users throughout the state.

Click here to read this article.

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In California water news this week …

Error correction means California’s future wetter winters may never come

California and other areas of the U.S. Southwest may see less future winter precipitation than previously projected by climate models. After probing a persistent error in widely used models, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimate that California will likely experience drier winters in the future than projected by some climate models, meaning residents may see less spring runoff, higher spring temperatures, and an increased risk of wildfire in coming years. … ”  Read more from Pacific Northwest National Labs here:  Error correction means California’s future wetter winters may never come

Ongoing litigation muddies state’s water outlook

“Amid long-term forecasts indicating California could be headed into another dry winter, discussions at the California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting focused on current and future water policy and the challenges facing short- and long-term supplies.  During a breakout session as part of the virtual Annual Meeting, Ernest Conant, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regional director for the California-Great Basin Region, described how regulatory constraints have affected water allocations from the federal Central Valley Project.  “If you compare the early 1990s, when we were in a severe drought, we were able to make some nominal deliveries, compared to the most recent drought in 2014-15, when we were not able to make any deliveries to south of delta and north of delta” water contractors, he said. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: Ongoing litigation muddies state’s water outlook

A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas

The sun shines meekly through a veil of morning fog and wildfire smoke while several figures in orange vests, hard hats, and face masks move slowly through a marsh on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. Wielding brooms, they jab lightly at the vegetation, ruffling the tufts of native pickleweed. As biological monitors, their job is to flush out small animals—especially the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse—and usher them from the path of a rumbling excavator, which is about to dig a deep groove in the slick mud. … ”  Read more from Audubon Magazine here:  A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas

The water war in Indian Wells Valley

In a remote California town, pistachio farmers are facing off against the U.S. Navy over water rights. The outcome could shape future legal fights as climate change upends the status quo. … John Conaway has lived in and around the town of Ridgecrest since before it was much of a town. In 1967, when he moved his young family to the remote Southern California community, Ridgecrest had been incorporated for only a few years. “It was all dirt roads,” he says. “No stop signs, no nothing.” … ”  Read more from the Food and Environment Reporting Network here:  The water war in Indian Wells Valley

Northern California tribe asks judge to block permanent water contract with Westlands

The Hoopa Valley Tribe in Humboldt County argued before a federal judge last Thursday that no Trinity River water can be sent to the Central Valley at the expense of the tribe’s fishery.  The main dispute is over whether to block the U.S. Department of Interior from signing permanent water delivery contracts with Valley agribusiness interests, including Westlands Water District.  Opponents say the real agenda is being driven by environmental groups that don’t want extra money going towards water storage projects, and they’re singling out Westlands because of their name recognition. … ”  Read more from GV Wire here: Northern California tribe asks judge to block permanent water contract with Westlands

Estuary in Collapse: Zero Delta smelt and Sacramento splittail reported in November CDFW survey

Dan Bacher writes, “For the third month in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) this November found zero Delta smelt and Sacramento splittail during the 2020 Fall Midwater Trawl Survey of pelagic (open water) fish species on the Delta, although they did report an index of 22 longfin smelt rather than the zero longfin smelt they reported the two previous months.  We will see the final results for the pelagic (open water) species surveyed at the end of December or in early January after the October through 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. … ”  Read more from the Daily Kos here:  Estuary in Collapse: Zero Delta Smelt and Sacramento Splittail Reported In November CDFW Survey

Proposed agreement could boost funds to fix Friant-Kern Canal

“In what was hailed as a “landmark agreement,” farmers in an area of southern Tulare County blamed for sinking the Friant-Kern Canal from excessive groundwater pumping will chip in a hefty amount to help pay for a fix.  How hefty could be decided by their payment choice.  A longer term payment option would be $200 million.  But a lump sum option could cost only $125 million, a 37.5 percent discount, according to a proposed settlement agreement between the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency and the Friant Water Authority. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here:  Proposed agreement could boost funds to fix Friant-Kern Canal

The persistent legacy of irrigation districts

In “Hydraulic Society in California: An Ecological Interpretation,” published in Agricultural History, environmental historian Donald Worster writes that an irrigation district was essentially “a public corporation brought into being by a majority of landowners and often coercing a recalcitrant minority to share the expense.” While these districts enabled the transformation of California into an agricultural powerhouse, they also precipitated the concentration of water wealth into the hands of few. With the state now grappling with drought and critically-overdrafted groundwater basins, the very agencies tasked with addressing these crises may be perpetuating the historical legacy they were designed to address. … ”  Read more from Estuary News here: The persistent legacy of irrigation districts

Burning Question: How To Predict Runoff After Catastrophic Wildfire?

After a record-setting season of catastrophic wildfires in California, no single fire in 2020 burned more than the Creek Fire in the Upper San Joaquin River watershed east of Fresno. The Creek Fire, the largest single-source fire in California history, ravaged nearly 380,000 acres from September to November. Now, with 35% of the watershed burned, hydrologists want to better understand what impact the Creek Fire may have on spring runoff – essential to the San Joaquin Valley’s water supply and to the welfare of a burgeoning salmon population. … ”  Read more from the San Joaquin River Restoration Program here:  Burning Question: How To Predict Runoff After Catastrophic Wildfire?

Investors can now trade on and profit from California water — how might that work out?

It’s not just Californians paying attention to the state’s water supply anymore. It’s Wall Street.  In a sign of the growing value of water in a warming world, investors began trading futures of the coveted commodity, tied to California water prices, for the first time last week.  The novel marketplace allows speculators to make money betting on future prices of California water while allowing farmers, businesses and municipal suppliers to hedge against price swings and stabilize their costs. ... ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here:  Investors can now trade on and profit from California water — how might that work out?

How to divide the groundwater pie and avoid legal challenges

Five years into California implementing the most sweeping change to state water law in a century, the first lawsuits are hitting the courts. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, also known as SGMA, into law in 2014, during the state’s last deep drought, to address decades of groundwater overpumping. … One of the biggest challenges to implementing SGMA hovers around this two-part question: Who gets to pump groundwater and how much do they get to pump” Or, put another way, who must cut their groundwater use and by how much? … ” Read more from the Daily Journal here: How to divide the groundwater pie and avoid legal challenges

Assemblyman Adam Gray says he’s lost another committee assignment over water battles

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, said he was removed from the chairmanship of the Governmental Organization Committee over the No. 1 issue in his district — water.  The Merced Democrat lost a previous committee assignment because of his opposition to State Water Board proposals to take flows away from agriculture and other water users on the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers. … ”  Read more from the Modesto Bee here: Assemblyman Adam Gray says he’s lost another committee assignment over water battles

NASA’s water portal now live

NASA’s Water Portal is now live and available to the public, scientists and water managers and decision makers. The portal is a water information hub produced by NASA’s Western Water Applications Office.  It provides interactive catalogs of Water Data Needs and NASA Water-Related Capabilities, as part of our mission to improve how water is managed in the arid western U.S. by getting NASA data, technology, and tools into the hands of water managers and decision makers. The portal serves as a hub for building connections between these catalogs and our partners, including water managers, decision makers, and scientists. … ”  Read more and view portal from JPL/NASA here: NASA’s water portal now live

A journey through time: How ancient water systems inspired today’s water technologies

Where there is water, there is life. The history of civilization is the history of water technologies. To thrive, society must engineer technologies to harness the essential resource: water. The life of civilization flows as the world explores ways to store, transport, and purify drinking water and smartly eliminate or recycle wastewater. Water is the fountainhead of culture and innovation.  Civilizations face two main water problems: abundance and distribution. Where there is too much water, the rule of survival is to stay above. But also, how do you survive when and where there is too little water? … ”  Read more from Smart Water Magazine here:  A journey through time: How ancient water systems inspired today’s water technologies

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In regional water news this week …

Sea level projections drive San Francisco’s adaptation planning

As a utilities planner for the City and County of San Francisco, David Behar knows that access to the latest information about sea level rise is crucial to his job — and his city.  Behar is climate program director for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. He tracks the latest climate science and leads the translation of that work for the agency and other city departments, working with a team of engineers and planners. His work includes assessing the vulnerability of the city’s water supply, a role for which his expertise as the founding chair for the Water Utility Climate Alliance has prepared him well. … ”  Read more from NASA here: Sea level projections drive San Francisco’s adaptation planning

Bay Area: Groundwater beneath your feet is rising with the sea. It could bring long-buried toxins with it

Rising seas can evoke images of waves crashing into beachfront property or a torrent of water rolling through downtown streets. But there’s a lesser-known hazard of climate change for those who live along shorelines the world over: freshwater in the ground beneath them creeping slowly upward.  For many Bay Area residents who live near the water’s edge, little-publicized research indicates the problem could start to manifest in 10-15 years, particularly in low-lying communities like those in Oakland, Alameda and Marin City. … ”  Read more from KQED here: Bay Area: Groundwater beneath your feet is rising with the sea. It could bring long-buried toxins with it

Monterey:  Cal Am sues water management district over public takeover report

California American Water has sued the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District challenging the environmental review of the district’s potential public takeover bid of the company’s local water system.  At the same time, Cal Am’s oft-delayed desalination project suffered another setback when California Coastal Commission staff declared a revised application submitted last month is incomplete, asking a series of questions and for additional information that could delay the proposal by several more months. … ”  Read more from the Monterey Herald here:  Cal Am sues water management district over public takeover report

In abrupt shift, water board rejects $275,000 GM contract for former Carson mayor

The board of the Water Replenishment District rejected a controversial proposal to hire former Carson Mayor Albert Robles as its interim general manager Thursday, Dec. 17, in a stunning turn when one of his supporters, and then another, left the meeting without explanation.  Robles’ proposed $275,000 contract appeared likely to pass as three members previously supported the idea of hiring him on Dec. 3. But as the meeting unfolded, with tensions high and accusations of corruption lobbed by both sides, Director Sergio Calderon hung up during a virtual meeting without word and board President Vera Robles Dewitt, following one particularly heated exchange, stood up and walked out. ... ”  Read more from the Daily Breeze here:  In abrupt shift, water board rejects $275,000 GM contract for former Carson mayor

New Imperial Irrigation Board seated amid tensions over labor agreement

Sparks were flying even before the Imperial Irrigation District’s newly elected directors were sworn in, and questions remain as to how the board’s two newest faces will fit into the powerful, five-member panel.  Community activist Javier Gonzalez’s and 24-year-old JB Hamby’s tenure got off to a rocky start on Dec. 4, as both skipped their official swearing-in ceremony because the district barred them from bringing guests due to COVID-19 precautions.  Instead they held their own event in front of several dozen supporters, overseen by a superior court judge, on the steps of the Imperial County courthouse, which Hamby said was legally allowed under the California Water Code. … ”  Read more from the Desert Sun here:  New Imperial Irrigation Board seated amid tensions over labor agreement

Lockheed Martin set to perform state-ordered cleanup of toxic substances in San Diego Bay

Following extensive litigation and investigation, Lockheed Martin is expected to soon begin work on a state-ordered — and court-mandated — environmental remediation project meant to clean up a portion of San Diego Bay’s Harbor Island East Basin that was subject to decades of pollution.  Last week, Port of San Diego Commissioners voted unanimously to certify the project’s environmental impact report and to issue a coastal development permit for demolition work and sediment remediation. … ”  Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune here:  Lockheed Martin set to perform state-ordered cleanup of toxic substances in San Diego Bay

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Weekly features …

BLOG ROUND-UP: Grassroot farmers fight for water policies, Bringing water and land back together, Water wars by other means, Holiday gift ideas, and more …

SCIENCE NEWS: Dredging up the past at Antioch Dunes; Encountering an alien on a Point Reyes beach; Kokanee salmon egg collection; Methane in tidal marshes; and more …

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Announcements, notices, and funding opportunities …

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: CDFW Endangered Species Conservation and Recovery Grant Program

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