DAILY DIGEST, 1/20: Pattern change to bring rain, snow to West; CA households owe $1 billion in water-bill debt; Madera farmers set to test groundwater market; Tsunami at Lake Tahoe? Researcher says it could happen again; and more …


On the calendar today …

  • MEETING: The California Water Commission meets at 9:30am.  Agenda items include the election of officers and continued work on assessing the state’s role in funding resilient conveyance projects.  The Commission will also hold a public hearing on the new regulations for early funding for existing storage program projects, discuss the screening process for finding new feasible storage projects that could meet existing statutory deadlines, and discuss adjusting the funding levels of some of the existing storage program projects.  Click here for the full agenda and remote access instructions.
  • WEBINAR: Engineering Aspects of a FIRO Program from 10am to 11am.  Part 3 of the webinar series on Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations. This part will cover policy and application from a USACE District perspective, the evaluation of FIRO Water Control Plans, and USACE operations experience with FIRO-based planned major deviations.  Click here to register.
  • ADOPTION HEARING: State Water Board will consider adoption of the proposed final General Waste Discharge Requirements for Winery Process Water at 11am.  Click here for the meeting notice.
  • WEBINAR: Groundwater Replenishment System Final Expansion Project Update from 12:30pm to 1:00pm. Click here to register.
  • WORKSHOP: COVID-19 Emergency Public Water System Financial Status Survey at 3pm.  The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) will hold a public workshop to provide details on data received from public water systems during its COVID-19 public water system financial status survey, and explain how that data was used to produce the results presented at the January 19, 2021 State Water Board meeting.  Click here to register.
  • GRA SACRAMENTO: Americorps CivicSpark and the program for integrated groundwater projects under CivicSpark’s Local Government Commission (LGC) from 5pm to 6:30pm. The Sacramento Branch is pleased to host a presentation by Americorps CivicSpark and their program for integrated groundwater projects under CivicSpark’s Local Government Commission (LGC). The presentation will provide an overview of the LGC in action and present three past CivicSpark projects:  Click here to register.

 

In California water news today …

Pattern change to bring rain, snow to West

A pattern change developing later this week will bring welcome rain and mountain snow to drought-stricken areas of the West while also opening the door for an active storm track into the central and eastern U.S.  Parts of southeast California as well as Arizona and New Mexico will pick up rain and mountain snow from a low-pressure system tracking across those locations through Thursday. But a much larger weather pattern change will take shape as we head toward the weekend. … ” Read more from the Weather Channel here: Pattern change to bring rain, snow to West 

SEE ALSONearly 2 years’ worth of rainfall is possible in parts of Southern California over the next week, from CNN

Low lake levels give reason for concern

Lake levels are well below average as we near the end of January. This can have adverse effects on those using the lakes, as well as the habitat. The good news is, we still have half of our wettest season to look forward to which could lead to improvement.  Its mid-January, and the amount of rain seen so far is concerning. We’re 25-50% of average this time of year in Northern California. The rest of California is looking even worse. In fact, there are some locations near Los Angeles that are 14 to 15% of average for the rainfall. ... ”  Read more from Action News Now here:  Low lake levels give reason for concern

Water crisis looms as California households struggle to pay bills, suppliers lose revenue

Unpaid water bills are piling up across California as the pandemic continues to rage, leaving water agencies out hundreds of millions of dollars and nearly 1 in 8 families with rising debt — and worse, a possible water shut-off.  In the Bay Area alone, tens of thousands of households have missed a water payment recently. San Francisco reports more than three times as many delinquent water customers at the end of last year as compared to March, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic began. That’s pushed the city’s total outstanding balance up six times what it was, to more than $7 million. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here:  Water crisis looms as California households struggle to pay bills, suppliers lose revenue

California households owe $1 billion in water-bill debt

Household water-bill debt in California has soared in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, worsening a water affordability crisis that has hit the state’s low-income residents and communities of color the hardest.  A survey by the state’s water regulator estimates that about 1.6 million households have a combined water debt of $1 billion, which is growing by about $100 million each month. The State Water Resources Control Board also found that 155,000 households are deep in debt, owing more than $1,000 to their water departments. Many of those deep-debt households are in poorer areas of southern and central Los Angeles County, the data showed. … ”  Read more from Circle of Blue here: California households owe $1 billion in water-bill debt

RELATED EVENT: WORKSHOP: COVID-19 Emergency Public Water System Financial Status Survey at 3pm.  The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) will hold a public workshop to provide details on data received from public water systems during its COVID-19 public water system financial status survey, and explain how that data was used to produce the results presented at the January 19, 2021 State Water Board meeting.  Click here to register.

SEE ALSO: Survey results show COVID-19financial impact on water systems, customers, press release from the State Water Board

Sen. Dodd introduces water access equity bills

With the release of a new study showing low-income Californians are struggling to afford drinking water, especially amid economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, announced legislation today to provide financial assistance to customers who can’t pay their water bills and to prevent service disconnections.  “Access to water is a fundamental right of all Californians, regardless of their income level or economic status,” Sen. Dodd said. “Yet as we’ve seen today, many people are at risk of being denied this essential service, in part because of rising water rates but also because the pandemic has left so many people unemployed. My legislation will ensure low-income customers aren’t cut off and get the financial help they need to keep the water turned for their families.” … ”  Read more from East County Today here:  Sen. Dodd introduces water access equity bills

Water games: Madera farmers set to test market

Madera County farmers are getting ready to play what could be the “game” of their livelihoods.  The county groundwater sustainability agency will launch a groundwater market simulation, or game, next month as a way for growers to see if selling and trading their groundwater helps make the most of what will become a severely limited resource in coming years.  Groundwater markets have emerged throughout the San Joaquin Valley as potential tools to help reduce groundwater pumping per the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Water games: Madera farmers set to test market

California agricultural developer agrees to pay Clean Water Act fines, mitigate impacts to sensitive streams and wetlands

A California agricultural developer has agreed to pay a civil penalty, preserve streams and wetlands, effect mitigation, and be subject to a prohibitory injunction to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) on property near the Sacramento River located in Tehama County, California, the Justice Department announced today.   Roger J. LaPant Jr. purchased the property in this case in 2011 and sold it in 2012 to Duarte Nursery Inc. which, in turn, sold it that same year to Goose Pond Ag Inc.  Goose Pond’s activities on the property were the subject of a settlement announced by the Justice Department in September 2018 and approved by a federal judge in June 2019.  Duarte’s activities on an adjoining site were the subject of a settlement agreement announced by the Justice Department in August 2017 and approved by a federal judge in December 2017.  “Today’s settlement involving the unpermitted filling of streams and wetlands, if approved by the court, will conclude the long-running Clean Water Act litigation involving these properties near the Sacramento River in Tehama County,” said Jonathan D. Brightbill, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. … ”  Read more at the Department of Justice here:  California agricultural developer agrees to pay Clean Water Act fines, mitigate impacts to sensitive streams and wetlands

California eyes novel risk-based pesticide fees to help budget

California wants to change the way it charges fees on pesticide sales by switching from a flat fee to a tiered system that increases based on health risks associated with exposure.  The plan would update the state’s fee structure for the first time in 16 years and nearly double the costs for high-risk pesticides, such as those containing 1,3-dicloropropane and metam-potassium, which are among the most popular in the state to treat insects and weeds. Both come with a poison warning label. … ”  Read more from Bloomberg here: California eyes novel risk-based pesticide fees to help budget

Coalition seeks water funding in infrastructure bill

Describing federal investment in Western water management as “essential,” a coalition of more than 200 organizations has urged the incoming Biden administration and the new Congress to include water facilities in any future infrastructure or economic-recovery package.  The coalition, including a number of national and regional organizations plus farm groups and water districts from 15 states, sent separate letters last week to President-elect Biden and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. The letter included specific recommendations for the types of water investments the coalition said could have the greatest impact.  “Water infrastructure investments not only provide immediate short-term economic benefits and create jobs—vital to a nation facing massive job loss—they are the foundation that the economy will need for the foreseeable future,” the letters said. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: Coalition seeks water funding in infrastructure bill

California weighs eliminating zinc from tires

California is considering asking tire manufacturers to look at ways of eliminating zinc from their products because studies have shown the mineral, which is used to strengthen rubber, may harm waterways, it was announced Jan. 12.  The state Department of Toxic Substances Control will begin preparing “a technical document for release in the spring” and will seek public and industry comment before deciding whether to create new regulations, the agency said in a statement.  On its website, the agency said its rulemaking process could take up to a year. … ”  Read more from The Columbian here: California weighs eliminating zinc from tires

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In people news today …

Westlands board taps Howe to fill vacancy

Fresno-based Westlands Water District – the largest agricultural water district in the nation – appointed a new board member Tuesday, opting to forgo a special election later in the year.  The board unanimously approved the appointment of Ceil Howe III to replace longtime former board member Don Perrachi, who left the position at the end of 2020.  After the personnel committee recommended that Howe be appointed, the board cast the vote and Howe immediately took the oath of office during the Zoom meeting. … ”  Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun here: Westlands board taps Howe to fill vacancy

Longtime Kern water leader leaving for private sector

Kern County’s water community had a shake-up Tuesday when longtime Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District General Manager Eric Averett announced he is leaving to take a private sector job.  This comes on top of the pending retirement of another key local water manager.  Richard Diamond, General Manager of North Kern Water Storage District, announced he will retire later this year. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Longtime Kern water leader leaving for private sector

Kevin Kelley, Former IID GM, Journalist, and Musician, Dies at 61

A brilliant writer and journalist, musician, and all-around scholar in the history of the Imperial Valley’s often complicated relationship with water, former Imperial Irrigation District General Manager Kevin Kelley died in his home on Tuesday morning, Jan. 19. He was 61 years old.  His passing was confirmed by Imperial Irrigation District Director Norma Sierra Galindo, who had spoken to one of Kelley’s daughters that morning, and later by his younger brother, Imperial County District 4 Supervisor Ryan Kelley. … ”  Read more from the Calexico Chronicle here: Kevin Kelley, Former IID GM, Journalist, and Musician, Dies at 61

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In California wildfire news …

High winds, little rainfall mean January wildfires in Northern California

California has experienced some of its worst fire seasons in recorded history the past few years, but one source of solace is that by January residents can finally relax until mid-summer.  Not so this January, as four fires in Santa Cruz County sparked by high winds prompted evacuations Tuesday while PG&E enacted another round of preemptive power shutoffs in select areas of the state.  Cal Fire crews also responded to a fire in San Mateo County on Tuesday afternoon that had grown to 10 acres with zero containment. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News here: High winds, little rainfall mean January wildfires in Northern California 

California’s changing climate gives new fuel to fire season

California’s changing climate has pushed fire season to new lengths, triggering once-rare winter blackouts.  State utilities cut power to more than 72,000 homes and businesses Tuesday in a preemptive effort to prevent live wires from sparking wildfires as Santa Ana winds threaten to fan flames. Blazes are breaking out nonetheless, including in Santa Cruz County, where two fires are prompting evacuations. … ”  Read more from Bloomberg here:  California’s changing climate gives new fuel to fire season

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In commentary today …

Water partnerships between cities and farms would help prepare for a changing climate, says Alvar Escriva-Bou is a research fellow at the PPIC

He writes, “San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities are facing different but equally daunting water challenges.  For Valley farmers, the requirement to achieve groundwater sustainability in coming years has heightened interest in expanding water supplies to reduce the need to fallow irrigated farmland. For Southern California, falling demands since the early 2000s have reduced water stress during normal and wet years, but a warming climate makes future droughts a major concern. … ” Read more from the PPIC here: Water partnerships between cities and farms would help prepare for a changing climate

Dan Walters:  After COVID-19, drought threat still looms

California is enveloped in balmy weather that’s more like spring than mid-winter — and that’s not a good thing.  We have seen only scant rain and snow this winter, indicating that the state may be experiencing one of its periodic droughts and adding another layer of crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession.  The all-important Sierra snowpack, California’s primary source of water, is scarcely half of what is deemed a normal depth. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters here: Dan Walters:  After COVID-19, drought threat still looms

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In regional water news and commentary today …

Wild horses, part of romantic west, are causing havoc in Northeast California

In the northeast corner of California, feral horses roam in an area of the Modoc National Forest known as Devil’s Garden. The high desert plateau in the northeastern corner of the state is filled with juniper trees, sage brush, and not quite enough grass for all the grazing animals that live there. A fight over how to manage the horses shifted recently when Congress funded a plan to reduce herds on federal lands. KQED’s Brian Watt recently spoke with Sacramento Bee reporter Ryan Sabalow, who covered the Devil’s Garden horses in his series, “Nothing Wild.” ... ”  Read more from KQED here: Wild horses, part of romantic west, are causing havoc in Northeast California

New salmon habitat created along the Sacramento River near Anderson

An oasis of meandering waterways with deep pools, shallow gravel beds, protective log overhangs, oxygenating riffles and a cooling canopy of willows and cottonwood trees is being created for salmon and steelhead along the banks of the Sacramento River on CDFW-owned property near the city of Anderson in Shasta County.  Three new side channels off the Sacramento River have been carved from a dense, 40-acre riparian zone and floodplain that is being reconnected to the river adjacent to the Anderson River Park. The new habitat will serve as a protective nursery for juvenile salmon and steelhead off the main river while providing additional spawning habitat for adult fish. ... ”  Read more from the Department of Fish and Wildlife here: New salmon habitat created along the Sacramento River near Anderson

Tsunami at Lake Tahoe? Researcher says it could happen again

The past year was such a wild ride that even the thought of a tsunami at Lake Tahoe probably doesn’t sound out of reason.  Several thousand years ago, according to Richard Schweickert, a retired University of Nevada, Reno geology professor, the lake experienced just such an event.  While a specific date is the hard to pinpoint, it is estimated that a tsunami struck after an earthquake in the basin about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. … ”  Read more from the AP via the Jacksonville Journal Courier here: Tsunami at Lake Tahoe? Researcher says it could happen again

Visalia company looks to Westlands to invest

A Visalia ag real estate firm has set its sights on increasing investment in the nation’s largest agriculture water district.  On Jan. 11, Schuil & Associates, an industry-leading, family-operated ag real estate firm, announced a cooperative relationship with New Current Water and Land, LLC – a Fresno-based firm specializing in the assessment, development, management, acquisition, and banking of water supplies throughout the Western U.S. The two say the relationship will help counsel those interested in purchasing farmland in the fertile Westlands Water District. Westlands is the largest agriculture water district in the United States encompassing 600,000 acres in Kings and Fresno counties. ... ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette here: Visalia company looks to Westlands to invest

GSA, Friant Water settle on subsidence payments

A major portion of funding to repair subsidence in the Friant-Kern Canal was secured last week in a settlement between the canal’s operator, the groundwater agency where subsidence is taking place and the irrigation district most affected by the lack of conveyance.  On Jan. 7, the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency (ETGSA) Board of Directors approved an agreement with the Friant Water Authority (FWA) and Arvin Edison Water Storage District where the GSA would pay up to $220 million to repair the section of the canal between Lindsay and McFarland where overdrafting groundwater has played a significant role in the subsidence of the canal, according to hydrological studies. The board reported the vote following a closed session on the settlement. ... ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette here:  GSA, Friant Water settle on subsidence payments

Agreement between the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency and the Friant Water Authority will allow transitional pumping to continue

The agreement between the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency and the Friant Water Authority will provide additional funding for repairs to the Friant-Kern Canal.  But the agreement will also help the ETGSA meet the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act while allowing growers in the district to continue “transitional” pumping.  On January 7, the ETGSA Board approved the agreement with the Friant Water Authority, which oversees the Friant-Kern Canal. The ETGSA oversees the Groundwater Sustainable Plan to meet the requirements of the SGMA to reduce the use of groundwater by a certain amount by 2040. … ”  Read more from the Porterville Recorder here: Agreement will allow transitional pumping to continue

Water district brings back controversial $275,000 contract for former Carson mayor

The Water Replenishment District of Southern California once again this week will consider hiring former Carson Mayor Albert Robles as its general manager, roughly a month after a previous attempt to hire him failed amid pitched infighting among board members.  Board President Vera Robles DeWitt is now recommending the district give Robles a two-year contract at $275,000 annually, instead of the six-month, $137,500 interim role she brought forward unsuccessfully in December. The new proposal ignores repeated calls from stakeholders to conduct a search for candidates and instead would give the job to Robles, a former board member and political ally of DeWitt who does not have a professional background in water management. … ”  Read more from the Daily Breeze here: Water district brings back controversial $275,000 contract for former Carson mayor

Del Mar Horsepark water quality improvements to cost $8 million

Water quality improvements will take longer and cost more than expected at the Del Mar Horsepark, a 65-acre equestrian facility two miles east of the fairgrounds, officials said last week.  The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the separate horse park, announced in December they would suspend all equestrian shows, boarding and other activities at the horse park until the work can be done. … ”  Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune here: Del Mar Horsepark water quality improvements to cost $8 million

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Along the Colorado River …

Colorado River restoration project crawls forward as some environmental groups call for radical change

The Colorado River Water Conservation District at a board meeting Tuesday voted to give $1 million of their taxpayer-raised funds to help construct the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, which will improve deteriorated conditions at the headwaters of the Colorado River.  “When I look at this, it has benefits that are assisting our communities in the damage caused by transmountain diversions,” River District General Manager Andy Mueller said during the meeting.  The district’s vote is the first step in a final push to fund and build the long-awaited channel, which has been in the works since the early 2000s. The connectivity channel is the first project to which River District board members have allocated money as part of the organization’s new Project Partnership Funding Program. ... ”  Read more from the Aspen Times here: Colorado River restoration project crawls forward as some environmental groups call for radical change

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In national water news today …

President-elect pushes additional water rate assistance in new stimulus blueprint

A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic stimulus plan outlined by President-elect Joe Biden last week proposes billions of dollars to help low-income families pay water and other utility bills while also offering additional funds to supplement the budgets of state and local governments.  Dubbed the American Rescue Plan, the President-elect’s proposal includes an abundance of Democratic priorities like a new round of stimulus checks for American households, an extension of enhanced unemployment benefits, expanded sick and family leave, and an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. While the plan will need to be distilled into legislative text on Capitol Hill – where a multitude of changes could be made along the way – it is nevertheless expected to inform the next COVID-19 response bill that congressional Democrats plan to consider in the coming weeks. … ”  Read more from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies here:  President-elect pushes additional water rate assistance in new stimulus blueprint

New Drought.gov a one-stop NOAA resource for all things drought

NIDIS, NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System, has launched a redesigned U.S. Drought Portal to better serve stakeholders, decision makers, the media, and the public.  The new website, Drought.gov, features updated content and new interactive architecture designed to provide actionable, shareable information, and easy-to-understand graphics describing current drought conditions and forecasts by city, county, state, zip code, and at watershed to global scales. Drought.gov aggregates and presents drought impact data for economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, water utilities, tourism and recreation, bringing together interactive maps and data in one place, which you won’t find anywhere else.  … ”  Read more from Climate.gov here:  New Drought.gov a one-stop NOAA resource for all things drought

Lawsuits and Limits Multiply With PFAS Chemicals Problem

Lawsuits and environmental cleanups are expected to grow exponentially for producers and even users of some 7,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS, as more states set exposure limits and Biden administration regulators weigh specific drinking water rules or declare as hazardous substances the chemicals with wide business and consumer use in products.  The Orange County, Calif., water district and 10 cities and local utilities, facing what they claim is a $1-billion-plus cleanup of surface water and groundwater PFAS sources, filed suit last month in state court against chemical makers 3M, Dupont and others. … ”  Read more from Engineering News-Record here:  Lawsuits and Limits Multiply With PFAS Chemicals Problem

Wildland fire subcabinet established through Executive Order

An Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump will establish a Wildland Fire Subcabinet to improve interagency coordination. The Executive Order on Establishing The Wildland Fire Management Policy Committee aims to better mitigate wildfire disasters.  A more organized approach to forest management and firefighting practices is expected to improve firefighting conditions and reduce risk.  “While I am proud of our progress to promote active management, reduce hazardous fuels, work across boundaries and increase the resiliency of our nation’s forests and grasslands, I believe more can be done,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a news release. … ”  Read more from Ag Net West here: Wildland fire subcabinet established through Executive Order

Fight to make Big Oil pay for climate change heads to Supreme Court

Baltimore may be a continent away from San Francisco, but the coastal cities have at least one thing in common: rising seas.  Both are seeing more flooding, more shoreline erosion and more battered infrastructure, and both want the oil industry to pay for the damage. They blame fossil fuels for the global warming that’s causing sea level rise.  On Tuesday, Baltimore will lead the campaign to recoup billions of dollars from oil companies in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. ... ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: Fight to make Big Oil pay for climate change heads to Supreme Court

Case preview: Justices to consider procedural issue in major climate-change lawsuit

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument on Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the city of Baltimore against companies that produce fossil fuels, seeking to hold them responsible for their role in global warming. The justices won’t weigh in on the merits of the city’s claims or the companies’ defenses; instead, the court will consider a jurisdictional issue arising from the companies’ efforts to transfer the case from a state court to federal court. But although the question before the justices is a technical one, it could have important implications not only for Baltimore’s lawsuit, but also for 19 other similar cases around the country. … ”  Read more from the SCOTUS blog here: Case preview: Justices to consider procedural issue in major climate-change lawsuit

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Today’s featured articles …

DELTA ISB: Water Supply Reliability Estimation: an overview

Water supply reliability. It’s half of the co-equal goals of “providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The co-equal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place.” (Water Code 85054)  But what exactly does it mean? And how do you measure it?

At the October meeting of the Delta Independent Science Board, Dr. Jay Lund gave an overview of water supply reliability.  His presentation discussed water system portfolios, water demands, what factors can make water systems unreliable, the approaches to estimating water supply reliability, and the metrics used.

Click here to read this article.

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

NOTICE: California Water Commission accepting screening information for new water storage projects

NOTICE: Growing Water Smart California – Seeking Expressions of Interest

WATER PLAN eNEWS: ~~Salton Sea~ Conveyance Funding~ Ecosystem Restoration~ Watershed Assessment~ Annual Report~ Trash Datathon~ Shared Prosperity

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About the Daily Digest: The Daily Digest is a collection of selected news articles, commentaries and editorials appearing in the mainstream press. Items are generally selected to follow the focus of the Notebook blog. The Daily Digest is published every weekday with a weekend edition posting on Sundays.

 

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