WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Dec 20 to 24: Preparing for possible dry times ahead in the Delta, Implementation of the SWP’s Incidental Take Permit, plus all the top news stories of the week

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

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This week’s featured articles …

DELTA WATERMASTER: Preparing for possible dry times ahead in the Delta

At the December meeting of the State Water Board, Delta Watermaster Michael George gave his semi-annual update to the Board.  His presentation focused on the Office of the Delta Watermaster‘s efforts and the Division of Water Rights to prepare for administering water rights in the Delta during the next drought, which given the dry fall so far, could come as soon as this summer.

I really want to take most of the time today to take a deep dive into the challenges of administering Delta water rights,” he said.  “I do so at this moment because 2020 has been a dry year, and we are heading into 2021, which has also been dry, and current forecasts suggest that dry period may continue.  So we’ve all been very focused on the need to be ready when we are challenged by the next shortage in the Delta by capturing what we’ve learned from previous droughts and recognizing what we could have done better.  And that’s a large part of what I’m talking about a deeper dive on administering water rights in the Delta.”

Click here to read this article.


CA WATER COMMISSION: Implementation of the State Water Project’s Incidental Take Permit

At the December meeting of the California Water Commission, the commissioners heard a briefing on the implementation of the Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for the State Water Project.  Dr. Lenny Grimaldo, Assistant Environmental Director for the State Water Project, discussed what the Incidental Take Permit is, why the Department obtained the permit, and how the permit will affect State Water project initiatives now and in the future.

Click here to read this article.


GUEST COMMENTARY: California water agencies are feeling the pandemic’s financial pinch. But the water will keep flowing.

Guest commentary by Danielle Blacet-Hyden, deputy executive director of the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA):

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen, it’s more important than ever that all Californians have reliable access to clean, safe water. At the most basic level, our health depends on it: water is essential for the handwashing and cleaning that helps eliminate the virus. Water also is indispensable for our food supply, jobs and economy.

Unfortunately, water service providers have not been spared from the pandemic’s financial impacts. They need financial resources from the state and federal government to support California customers in need and to ensure the water keeps flowing.

Click here to read this guest commentary.

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In California water news this week …

Will it rain on Christmas? Bay Area weather forecast looks wet

If you’re hoping for a sunny, dry California-style Christmas this year, you’re going to be disappointed. A storm system is headed for the Bay Area, just in time to ruin any outdoor, socially distanced Christmas Day plans.  The entire region is expected to see rain Friday, but just how much and when depends on where you live, says ABC7 News Meteorologist Lisa Argen.  The best chance of dry weather comes early in the morning, but by 11 a.m. the North Bay should be seeing showers. Then, the rain will push south and east, dousing everyone by Friday evening. … ”  Read more from ABC 7 here:  Will it rain on Christmas? Bay Area weather forecast looks wet

SEE ALSO: AR Forecast: Multiple storms forecast to bring precipitation to the Western U.S. over the next 7 days, from the Center for Western Weather & Water Extremes

First snow survey of the 2020-21 season coming December 30

California’s first snow survey of the 2020-21 season is happening Dec. 30 at the Phillips snow course in the Sierra Nevada. The Department of Water Resources will conduct five of these surveys through May by plunging a long steel tube into the snow. This will measure the snow’s depth and give an estimate of its water content.  Winter and spring snow surveys provide valuable information to water managers. … ”  Read more from ABC Channel 10 here:  First snow survey of the 2020-21 season coming December 30

Feinstein: California water priorities well-represented in omnibus funding bill

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today applauded the inclusion of California water priorities in the federal funding bill for fiscal 2021 including Feinstein provisions to improve dam safety and establish an airborne snow observatory and measurement program within the Department of the Interior.   “Modernizing our water infrastructure is one of the most important investments we can make in California’s future,” Feinstein said. “We know climate change is real and that it’s having tangible effects now. We see it in wildfires every year, and we see it in the dry weather and droughts that plague us. We have to do more to save water from the wet years to use in the dry years, and this bill moves us toward that goal. It also makes critical investments in dam safety and climate change research, and I’m proud to support it.” … ”  Read more from Senator Feinstein here:  Feinstein: California Water Priorities Well-Represented in Omnibus Funding Bill

California water “stockings” stuffed with federal money

Christmas came early for California water interests with more than $1 billion in federal funding for a variety of projects packed into the recent federal funding bill that included COVID-19 relief.  At the top of the list for the San Joaquin Valley is $206 million to aid in repairing the Friant-Kern Canal.  The funding bill also includes $28 million for San Joaquin River Restoration.  It has another $8 to “repair Bureau of Reclamation canals” specifically to help recharge aquifers to comply with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, according to a press release from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office. ... ”  Read more from SJV Water here:  California water “stockings” stuffed with federal money

Reclamation releases final feasibility report for Sites Reservoir

The Bureau of Reclamation today released the final feasibility report for the North-of-the-Delta Off-stream Storage Investigation. The report documents the potential costs and benefits of the Sites Reservoir Project. As part of a continuing effort to increase storage capability throughout California, Reclamation and the Sites Project Authority worked together to evaluate new off-stream surface water storage north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Final Feasibility Report was transmitted to Congress on December 22.  Located 81 miles northwest of Sacramento, Sites Reservoir would store water diverted from the Sacramento River for future releases to beneficiaries throughout the state. The proposed project includes an off-stream reservoir located north-of-the Delta where the majority of California’s rainfall occurs. … ”  Read more from the Bureau of Reclamation here:  Trump Administration advances plan to create new water storage in Northern California

Temperance Flat Dam returns $171 million to state. Still, backers swear it’s ‘not dead’

Backers of a $3 billion project to construct the tallest dam in California swear the project isn’t dead, despite the Temperance Flat Reservoir Authority returning money and canceling applications. After it became clear that the reservoir project on the San Joaquin River west of Auberry would not reach upcoming deadlines for studies and funding, Temperance Flat Reservoir Authority declined $171 million designated by the California Water Commission and withdrew its application for additional funding, according to a resolution signed by the Authority on Oct. 30. It’s a sign the project hasn’t attracted the additional financial backers needed. ... ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee here:  Temperance Flat Dam returns $171 million to state. Still, backers swear it’s ‘not dead’

Photos: Sights to See: Sacramento Valley overflows with opportunities to view winter wildlife

Located on the southerly end of the Pacific Flyway migratory route, the Sacramento Valley provides some of the top wintering sites for waterfowl in the world. Many opportunities to view winter wildlife are within easy driving distance of Sacramento and often without cost. There’s beautiful sunrises and breathtaking sunsets, and crowds are usually sparse. And there’s lots of wildlife, especially migratory birds. … ”  Read more from Comstock’s Magazine here:  Photos: Sights to See: Sacramento Valley overflows with opportunities to view winter wildlife

Will California finally fulfill its promise to fix the Salton Sea?

” … [The Salton Sea is] toxic — a looming environmental and public health disaster. The Salton Sea’s shoreline is receding, exposing a dusty lakebed known as the “playa.” This sandy substance holds a century’s worth of agricultural runoff, including DDT, ammonia, possibly carcinogenic herbicides like trifluralin and other chemicals. Its windborne dust travels across Southern California and into Arizona, but nearby communities — many of them populated by Latino farmworkers — bear the heaviest burden.  The problem isn’t new. Yet California, though largely responsible for fixing it, has barely touched the more than 25 square miles of exposed playa. … ”  Read the full story at High Country News here: Will California finally fulfill its promise to fix the Salton Sea?

Alf W. Brandt: His waterworld runneth over

Water—it’s an issue that can be all-consuming for a lawyer, and for much of Alf W. Brandt’s career it seemed that way. Some geo-pundits believe the next major war will be fought over water, not oil. At the very least, its use or misuse can divide even the most civil community.  Which shouldn’t be the case, Brandt emphasizes while taking on a philosopher’s tone during an autumn interview with Vanguard. Let water flow through humanity and nature, he beckons. If managed responsibly and sustainably, it replenishes. “Water is the thing that connects us most of all,” Brandt says. “As rivers flow, they connect cities. What happens upstream affects the bottom of the watershed. For 30 years, I have served in the middle of these critical issues for California.” … ”  Read more from Vanguard here:  Alf W. Brandt: His waterworld runneth over

Dead in the Water:  As abandoned and derelict boats multiply from Alaska to California, officials scramble for solutions

The Lumberman, a 33-meter Second World War–era steel-hull tugboat, has been floating at the quiet cruise ship dock in Juneau, Alaska, for months, awaiting a watery grave. Abandoned for nearly a decade, the Lumberman was moored in Juneau’s Gastineau Channel in the early 2000s by its last owner, Brenden Mattson. Two years ago, the tugboat’s anchor line broke, stranding it on state tidelands and creating a jurisdictional hot potato for city, state, and coast guard officials as they debated how to dispose of the vessel. … ”  Read more from Hakai Magazine here:  Dead in the Water:  As abandoned and derelict boats multiply from Alaska to California, officials scramble for solutions

Billions of dollars spent on fighting California wildfires, but little on prevention

When COVID-19 blew a hole in California’s spending plans last spring, one of the things state budget-cutters took an axe to was wildfire prevention.  A $100-million pilot project to outfit older homes with fire-resistant materials was dropped. Another $165 million earmarked for community protection and wildland fuel-reduction fell to less than $10 million. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  Billions of dollars spent on fighting California wildfires, but little on prevention

Lessons from San Diego’s approach to wildfires

California’s record-shattering 2020 fire season capped a string devastating seasons that began in 2017 and saw both ends of the state by plagued by massive blazes. This year’s fires spread quickly, blanketed cities and countryside with choking smoke and disrupted the daily lives of Californians for much of the summer and fall. And the risk has continued into winter: Winds this week could bring heightened fire danger to Southern California, which hasn’t yet received enough rain to end the fire season. But San Diego has largely escaped the conflagrations seen in other parts of California over the last several years. This fact has not gone unnoticed by those who study fire. Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at the University of California at Merced, and her colleagues have actually wondered: Is San Diego just lucky? Or is it doing something right? … ”  Read more from the Voice of San Diego here:  Lessons from San Diego’s approach to wildfires

Picture this research – a photo blog from the Center for Watershed Sciences

Holidays are a natural time of introspection on who we are, what we do, and why. Towards a bit of our own self-reflection, some researchers from UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Sciences (CWS) have each contributed a photo and short description of their work. We hope you enjoy reading about us and learning even more about us. It is hopefully a soft bookend to a wild 2020!”  Check it out at the California Water Blog here:  Picture this research – a photo blog from the Center for Watershed Sciences

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In regional water news this week …

After 51 years, you can finally hike this Bay Area park. I did, and it made me furious.

I’m blinded by seething rage as I pass by the entrance kiosk of Palo Alto’s Foothills Park.  “Look at this f—king lake. It’s beautiful,” I mutter under my breath. “Jesus, are those docks? And of course there’s a god damn meadow, is that a deer? Oh my god, are those baby deer? And this is the bathroom? Did the Ahwahnee design this s—t? COME ON.”  To understand my rage, you need to understand the history of Foothills Park. … ”  Read more from SF Gate here: After 51 years, you can finally hike this Bay Area park. I did, and it made me furious.

Ridgecrest: Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority approves metering ordinance

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority approved on Thursday an ordinance requiring the installation, use and reporting of metering equipment for groundwater extraction facilities. The ordinance is set to take effect Jan. 17, 2021.  De minimis extractors, defined by the board as a person who extracts less than two acre-feet per year, are exempt from the requirements listed in the ordinance as long as they have registered their extraction facility with the IWVGA. ... ”  Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority approves metering ordinance

Doheny desalination plan met with caution, delays

As it enters its 20th year of planning and preparation, a desalination plant proposed near Doheny State Beach continues to be met with delays and uncertainty.  In mid-2018, officials were predicting that the operation could be turning ocean water into drinking water as soon as 2021. Now, the project will be doing well to simply win all required permits by the end of next year.  Additionally, board members of the South Coast Water District have ordered new studies to get a firmer grip on eventual consumer costs and to explore cheaper energy for the power-hungry plant. … ”  Read more from the OC Register here:  Doheny desalination plan met with caution, delays

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Along the Colorado River …

Reclamation completes review of Colorado River operations for Lakes Powell and Mead

Hoover Dam, photo by Bureau of Reclamation

The Bureau of Reclamation today released a report intended to bring partners, stakeholders and the public to a common understanding of the effectiveness of the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The technical report documents conservation efforts and operations on the Colorado River since 2007 and provides an essential reference to inform future operations.  “The report presents a thorough review of operations and highlights that we have experienced historic collaboration among states, tribes, water users, non-governmental organizations and the international community in addressing issues affecting one of America’s most important rivers,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Forty million people across seven states and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for life and livelihood, so it’s critical that our actions protect this resource now and into the future. Today’s report highlights both the historic steps taken in the basin, as well as the need for continued progress to meet the growing challenges in the years ahead.” … ”  For more information and to download the report from USBR here:  Reclamation completes review of Colorado River operations for Lakes Powell and Mead

Amid drying conditions, Colorado River basin states kick off negotiations on future policies

States in the Colorado River Basin are poised to begin negotiating policies to govern the critical Western water source.  Officials from all seven states in the watershed sent a letter this week to Interior Department secretary David Bernhardt, letting the federal government know they’re ready to start hammering out details of operating guidelines for the biggest reservoirs in the country. … ”  Read more from KUNC here:  Amid drying conditions, Colorado River basin states kick off negotiations on future policies

In national water news today …

Building resilience & addressing inequities in small, underperforming drinking water systems

Approximately 25 million people in the United States are served by water systems that regularly fail to meet federal safe drinking water standards. In addition, systems with poor water quality are more likely to serve low‐income and semi‐rural communities, as well as people of color. Internationally, other developed nations like Canada and Australia also struggle with delivering safe drinking water universally, particularly to rural, indigenous communities. … ”  Read more from the Pacific Institute here: Building resilience & addressing inequities in small, underperforming drinking water systems

EPA revises rules for lead in drinking water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completed its first major revisions in nearly three decades to federal rules for lead in drinking water, adding a raft of new intricacies to one of the country’s most complex drinking water regulations.  Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator, called the revisions “the capstone” of the Trump administration’s efforts to address lead contamination, arguing that the goal is to protect children, reduce lead, and empower communities with more information about sources of lead in their water.  Water policy experts offered a more muted appraisal of the rule, acknowledging progress in some areas but pointing out serious flaws in the overall approach. … ”  Read more from Circle of Blue here:  EPA revises rules for lead in drinking water

Commentary: The greatest water transfer in history

Michael Warady writes, “Our country is currently in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind – not in 10 or 20 years – but today. Much has been written about the Silver Tsunami, roughly defined as the wave of water and wastewater operator retirements across the country. And yet, while every industry conference (virtual or not) reminds us about the latest operator to hang up his or her hat, relatively little attention has been paid to the challenges we face as similar retirement trends plague private businesses servicing the industry across the country. … ”  Read more from Water Finance & Management here:  Commentary: The greatest water transfer in history

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Weekly features …

BLOG ROUND-UP: Sacramento Valley blessings: water + land + sunlight; Lessons in American River hatchery management; The truth behind big, beautiful reforestation initiatives; and more …

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Announcements, notices, and funding opportunities …

PUBLIC WORKSHOP to focus on water conveyance needs and funding options in Northern California

OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT: Grassland Bypass Project Drainage Management Plan

REGISTER NOW: Army Corps Virtual Regulatory Program Workshop on Friday, January 15, 2021

OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT: Public review: California Water Boards’ Framework and Strategy for Freshwater Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: 60-Day Comment Period Opens for Prop 68 FMPRA Grant Program Draft Guidelines and PSP

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