WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Feb 21 – 26: Reviewing the Water Board’s actions during the 2014-15 drought years; Climate change and water rights permitting; The right to keep water instream; Plus all the top water news of the week and more …
A wrap-up of posts published on Maven’s Notebook this week …
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STATE WATER BOARD: Reviewing the State Water Board’s actions during the 2014-15 drought years
Stakeholders all said they wanted better communication, but data and SB-88 compliance are a problem
In 2014 and 2015 during a period of severe and persistent drought conditions, then-Governor Brown had declared a state of emergency and signed urgency legislation that provided, in part, for the adoption of emergency regulations by the State Water Board “to prevent the waste, unreasonable use, unreasonable method of use, or unreasonable method of diversion, of water,” or “to require curtailment of diversions . . . .” The State Water Board did so adopt emergency regulations and issue curtailment orders, but their methods were soundly criticized and several lawsuits were filed. Since that time, the State Water Board has embarked on a number of actions to intended to improve the Board’s response to the next drought, which could even be this summer.
At the February 16 meeting of the State Water Board, Erik Ekdahl, Deputy Director of the Division of Water Rights, presented an overview of recent interviews conducted for the Water Rights Drought Effort Review (or WARDER) report. The report was an effort to solicit feedback and recommendations on the Division of Water Rights actions and efforts during the historic 2012-2016 drought period to inform the Water Board on how to better plan and prepare to implement dry year activities when needed in the future.
STATE WATER BOARD: Climate change and water rights permitting
Recognizing that the implications to California’s water resources due to climate change are significant, the State Water Board in 2017 adopted a resolution directing staff to ‘identify data needs, and evaluate and make recommendations on regulatory and policy changes regarding the use of models to account for projected impacts of climate change when conducting water availability analyses and shortage analyses.’
The State Water Board staff has prepared the report, Water Rights Response to Climate Change, which presents their recommendations to make permitting water availability analysis more robust and actions for an effective response to climate change within the existing water rights framework in California.
At the February 16 meeting of the State Water Board, Amanda Montgomery, Environmental Program Manager, and Jelena Hartman, Senior Scientist, presented the staff’s recommendations to the Board.
CA IRRIGATION INSTITUTE: Secretary Crowfoot on the Newsom Administration’s water priorities
At the 2021 California Irrigation Institute Conference, the keynote speaker was Wade Crowfoot, the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. For the last two years, Secretary Crowfoot has overseen California’s forests and natural lands, rivers and waterways, coast and ocean, fish and wildlife, and energy development. As a member of the Governor’s cabinet, he advises the Governor on natural resources and environmental issues. Before leading the Natural Resources Agency, he served as the Chief Executive Officer for the Water Foundation, a nonprofit that builds shared water solutions across the American West.
Here’s what Secretary Crowfoot had to say, in his own words …
NEW BOOK: Riverflow: The right to keep water instream
Riverflow: The right to keep water instream” is the latest book authored by Paul Stanton Kibel, a professor at Golden Gate University School of Law and the Director of the Center on Environmental Law. Riverflow examines the diverse and creative ways people are using the law to restore rivers, both here in California as well as internationally. In Riverflow, Professor Kibel asserts that the legal tools already exist to preserve our waterways; the question is whether there is the political will to deploy them.
Red alert sounding on California drought, as Valley gets grim news about water supply
“A government agency that controls much of California’s water supply released its initial allocation for 2021, and the numbers reinforced fears that the state is falling into another drought. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that most of the water agencies that rely on the Central Valley Project will get just 5% of their contract supply, a dismally low number. Although the figure could grow if California gets more rain and snow, the allocation comes amid fresh weather forecasts suggesting the dry winter is continuing. … ” Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: Red alert sounding on California drought, as Valley gets grim news about water supply
A tiny fish is on the brink of extinction. Does it matter that another just like it is thriving?
“California’s tiny delta smelt is not a terribly impressive fish at first glance, and not really at second glance either. It’s about the length and width of a finger, silvery and kind of see-through – looks a bit like a sardine. They’re not particularly clever or cute, but Mandi Finger, a University of California Davis population geneticist, says the delta smelt do have one weird characteristic going for them. “They smell amazing,” she said. “They smell like the best version of cucumbers you could ever imagine.” No one knows why, not for certain. “I know they smell great though. They really do,” Finger said. “I’ve gotten to smell a delta smelt, you know, before they were all gone.” … ” Read more from WHYY here: A tiny fish is on the brink of extinction. Does it matter that another just like it is thriving?
California Republican Delegation urges Biden administration to ensure continued California water supply
“Tuesday, Congressman David G. Valadao and the entire California Republican delegation sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Commerce to emphasize California’s water needs and to express strong support for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s new coordinated long-term operations plan for the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the California State Water Project (SWP). This includes the associated biological opinions developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the Interior and the National Marine Fisheries Service within Commerce that were completed last year. … ” Read more from the Hanford Sentinel here: California Republican Delegation urges Biden administration to ensure continued California water supply
Delta Conveyance Project Updates: Scoping summary report addendum published, DWR approves modifications to soil investigations project, New Delta Conveyance deep dive videos available
“DWR recently published an addendum to the Scoping Summary Report for the Delta Conveyance Project, originally published in July 2020. It provides a summary of comments received after the official close of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) scoping period on April 17, 2020 through December 14, 2020. Consistent with the contents of the original Scoping Summary Report, the Addendum includes the comments DWR continued to receive after scoping that pertain to the alternatives considered and the scope of analysis in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The Scoping Summary Report Addendum can be accessed on the Delta Conveyance Environmental Planning page on DWR’s website. …
Click here to continue reading this Delta Conveyance update from DWR.
DWR Approves Modifications to Soil Investigations Project
Consistent with the need to evaluate the alternatives in the Delta Conveyance Project EIR, DWR has approved modifications to the soil investigations that were originally approved in July of 2020. Before considering the approval of the modifications, DWR prepared an addendum to the Final Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (IS/MND) for the soil investigations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta). DWR considered both the Final IS/MND that was adopted in July 2020 and the Addendum prior to approving the project modifications. The approved modified soil investigation activities, as evaluated in the Addendum, include the removal and replacement of geotechnical investigation sites not previously evaluated in the Final IS/MND. DWR has determined and documented that these changes will not result in any new potentially significant impacts and no subsequent EIR or negative declaration is required. To access a copy of the Addendum and associated Notice of Determination, visit the Delta Conveyance Environmental Planning page on DWR’s website.
New Delta Conveyance Deep Dive Videos Available
The Delta Conveyance Deep Dive video series, which features interviews with experts on complex project-related topics such as financing, water allocations and climate change, has published several new videos over the last few months. The full list is below, or visit here for the main Delta Conveyance Project video page:
We will continue to release these videos as available and welcome feedback on areas of interest that you would like to see covered. Please email us at email@example.com with any suggestions.
Community Benefits Program Workshops Registration Coming Soon As part of the ongoing development of the Community Benefits Program for the proposed Delta Conveyance Project, DWR will be hosting community workshops this spring to hear from people who live, work or play in the Delta on program goals, objectives and project types. Workshop details, including how to register, will be announced soon via eBlast to this distribution list and on the Delta Conveyance page on DWR’s website. For additional information about the Community Benefits Program, check out this digital article.
Hurtado reworks bill to help Friant-Kern, but also state as a whole
“As she promised, State Senator Melissa Hurtado has reintroduced legislation that would provide fund to improve California’s water infrastructure, including the Friant-Kern Canal. On Friday, Hurtado, a Democrat from Sanger whose district includes Porterville, introduced the State Water Resiliency Act of 2021 that would provide $785 million to restore the ability of infrastructure such as the Friant-Kern Canal to deliver water at their capacity. The bill would also go to fund other infrastructure such as the Delta-Mendota Canal, San Luis Canal and California Aqueduct. Along with the Friant-Kern Canal they are the main sources of water deliver for the state. … ” Read more from the Porterville Recorder here: Hurtado reworks bill to help Friant-Kern, but also state as a whole
Newsom pushes private seawater desalting plant over local and environmental opposition
“When Gov. Gavin Newsom was photographed dining at an opulent Napa Valley restaurant during a surge in coronavirus cases, many Californians saw it as hypocrisy. For opponents of a planned $1-billion desalination plant along the Orange County coast, however, the optics were menacing. The unmasked Newsom was celebrating the birthday of a lobbyist for Poseidon Water, which is close to obtaining final government approval for one of the country’s biggest seawater desalination plants. … ” Read more from the LA Times here: Newsom pushes private seawater desalting plant over local and environmental opposition
Water Year 2021: The suspense continues
“California’s hydrologic conditions remain dry as February draws to a close. Although late January storms improved a then-dismal snowpack, statewide snowpack remains at about two-thirds of average for this time of year (or 54 percent of the April 1st average) and natural flow in key Sierra Nevada watersheds is still tracking at amounts seen in the severe drought years of 2014 and 2015. Storage in the largest northern California reservoirs is also well below average, reflecting cumulative impacts from a dry 2020. Virtually all the state remains in a precipitation deficit, with much of the state having received about half or less of average precipitation to date. … ” Read more from DWR News here: Water Year 2021: The suspense continues
Poor Sacramento & Klamath river salmon forecast for 2021 makes restricted fishing season likely
“State and federal fishery managers during the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual salmon fishery information on-line meeting today forecast there are about 271,000 adult Sacramento Valley fall-run Chinook salmon now in the ocean off the West Coast. “This compares to 473,183 forecast a year ago at this time and suggests some restrictions are likely to be enacted in the 2021 salmon fishing season,” reported John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association (www.goldenstatesalmon.org). In the coming months, officials with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) will use this forecast and other information to set times and areas open to both sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing for 2021. … ” Read more from the Daily Kos here: Poor Sacramento & Klamath river salmon forecast for 2021 makes restricted fishing season likely
West Coast sea level rising faster than global average
“When we hear about our changing climate we often hear about rising sea levels, but where exactly is it rising? … New data shows the global sea level is rising on average 0.13 inches. Notice how the West Coast the past five years is rising on average 0.40 inches per year. That is faster than the global average. There are some factors that can influence the West Coast sea level rise, like El Niño and the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation). These patterns can bring warmer water temperatures. Warmer water expands and causes water to rise. … ” Read more from NBC Bay Area here: West Coast sea level rising faster than global average
Story map: Creek Fire 2020: Potential Ramifications on Watershed Processes from the Creek Fire in the Upper San Joaquin River Watershed
“Upper watersheds, or headwaters, are the foundation of a river. This is especially true with the San Joaquin River, which originates in the high-elevation Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, flowing west to the San Joaquin Valley floor. Whatever happens in the upper watersheds affects everything downstream. Wildfires are common in western watersheds and are a natural form of disturbance in forests. Fire can provide long-term benefits to forest and watershed health; however, high intensity or large catastrophic wildfires can result in significant increases in runoff and erosion, which can negatively impact water quality and make predicting runoff more difficult within a watershed. The Creek Fire, which started on September 4th, 2020, has burned a significant portion of the upper watershed that feeds Millerton Lake, the water source for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP). This Story Map explores the upper San Joaquin River watershed, the Creek Fire, and the potential ramifications of the fire on the upper watershed and the SJRRP. … ” View story map here: Creek Fire 2020: Potential Ramifications on Watershed Processes from the Creek Fire in the Upper San Joaquin River Watershed
Smoothing the bumps in the road to ecosystem restoration
“California’s environmental permitting system was developed to prevent bad things from happening to the environment, but it often slows efforts to do good things, too. How can California improve regulatory processes to make them more efficient and effective? The PPIC Water Policy Center recently discussed these issues with a group of experts … Here are some highlights from the conversation. … ” Read more at the PPIC here: Smoothing the bumps in the road to ecosystem restoration
One California community shows how to take the waste out of water
“As this year’s below-average rainfall accentuates the problem, a public-private partnership in the Monterey/Salinas region has created a novel water recycling program that could serve as a model for parched communities everywhere. As Stanford civil engineers report in the journal Water, this now urbanized region, still known for farming and fishing, has used water from four sources — urban stormwater runoff, irrigation drainage, food processing water and traditional municipal wastewater — and treated it so that this recycled water now supplies one-third of all drinking water on the Monterey Peninsula while providing irrigation water for 12,000 acres of high-value crops in the northern Salinas Valley. This first-of-its-kind program creates a sustainable management plan by taking a “one water” approach that considers all of the region’s water, new and used, as part of one network. ... ” Read more from Stanford News here: One California community shows how to take the waste out of water
California’s water futures market: explained
“A recently launched water futures market in California drew global attention, from Wall Street to the United Nations. While news of the market has brought both skepticism and speculation, much of the coverage has failed to address some fundamental questions: what actually is a water futures market? How does it work, and who are the players? And most importantly, what are the potential benefits and risks? In this short piece, we explain the California water futures market in simple terms. … ” Continue reading at the Pacific Institute here: California’s water futures market: explained
Delta island owner ordered to clean up landfill dumped into Suisun Bay
“A state appeals court has reinstated a cleanup order and multimillion-dollar penalties against a developer who has deposited large amounts of landfill into Suisun Bay marsh waters to clear the way for a duck club and kite-surfing center on an island he owns. Environmental agencies’ restoration orders and $3.6 million in fines against John Sweeney had been overturned in December 2017 by Solano County Superior Court Judge Harry Kinnicutt, who said Sweeney had actually improved conditions on the 39-acre island and had been targeted by the agencies with “an appearance of vindictiveness.” … ” Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: Delta island owner ordered to clean up landfill dumped into Suisun Bay
High Sierra electronics announces innovative new remote erosion monitoring system for levees
“Today, High Sierra Electronics (hsierra.com), a Grass Valley, California-based, manufacturer of environmental monitoring products, announced a new system that can detect when and where levee erosion has occurred and automatically alert and inform levee owners, managers, and public safety officials. The system, known as REMS, short for Remote Erosion Monitoring System, uses a series of beacon sensors that are embedded at levee sites that are prone to erosion. If erosion occurs and washes the bank away, the beacons immediately transmit their status. … ” Continue reading this press release at Monterey Weekly here: High Sierra electronics announces innovative new remote erosion monitoring system for levees
City of Antioch breaks ground on water project in Delta
“On Friday, the City of Antioch, along with local and State dignitaries, broke ground on their new and historic Brackish Water Desalination Plant. At a price of $110 million, the project was made possible with $93 million in funding from the State, and $17 million from the City of Antioch. “Through this project, Antioch continues establishing itself as both a State and regional leader on environmental best practices,” said Lamar Thorpe, Mayor, City of Antioch. “I would like to thank Governor Newsom for California’s investment in making our Brackish Water Desalination Plant a reality. By working together, we exemplify the very best of our State and our City.” … ” Read more from East County Today here: City of Antioch breaks ground on water project in Delta
Antioch Dunes wildlife refuge being restored
“There are photos in the Antioch Historical Society Museum showing a 120-foot-high wall of sand that once stretched for 2 miles along the Antioch shoreline of the San Joaquin River. This natural wonder along the city’s Wilbur Avenue corridor serves as a habitat for species that exist nowhere else in the world. That view is long-gone now, but the species that live there have held on. Now a national wildlife refuge under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Antioch Dunes are going through a long-range restoration project to support the three endangered species that live on the property. Since 2013, Fish and Wildlife has worked with the Port of Stockton and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to bring dredged sand material to the dunes to help restore the land to its natural beginnings. … ” Read more from the East Bay Times here: Antioch Dunes wildlife refuge being restored
Saratoga Creek restoration project removes more than trees: Some residents lose their backyards
““I’ve lived here for more than 50 years, and this creek was dry longer than I’d ever seen it. It was dry for seven months. No water at all.” Retired Navy pilot Phil Livengood stood in the backyard of his home in Saratoga, Calif., on Feb. 1 and gestured to Saratoga Creek, a tributary that originates from the Santa Cruz Mountains and once surged with mountain runoff, but now collects dust and slabs of concrete in its parched gully. … ” Read more from SF Gate here: Saratoga Creek restoration project removes more than trees: Some residents lose their backyards
Tuolumne Utilities District scales back $6.3M Phoenix reservoir dredging project
“A $6.3 million project to remove tons of sediment from Phoenix reservoir east of Sonora has been scaled back from removing 235,000 cubic yards of sediment to 175,000 cubic yards, Tuolumne Utilities District communications staff said Thursday. The reduction means the original goal of restoring 150 acre-feet of capacity at Phoenix is now scaled back to restoring 117 acre-feet of space to the reservoir, which has filled in with sediment over many decades. … ” Read more from the Union Democrat here: Tuolumne Utilities District scales back $6.3M Phoenix reservoir dredging project
San Joaquin River flood solution is in 18th year of review
“River Islands — secure behind robust 300-foot wide super levees they built to provide 200-year flood protection for the planned community — has taken steps to help reduce flooding threats to farmland south of Manteca as well as its Lathrop neighbors on the north side of the San Joaquin River. The measures evolve around widening Paradise Cut to take pressure off the main San Joaquin River channel during high water flow between the confluence with the Stanislaus River and the vulnerable Mossdale Crossing where a narrow channel combined with sharp bends makes levees suspectible to seepage and possible failure. … ” Read more from the Manteca Bulletin here: San Joaquin River flood solution is in 18th year of review
Santa Barbara: Group calls for state to investigate Gaviota Creek
“A local environmental group is urging the State Water Board to investigate alleged water diversion from Gaviota Creek, an action they assert is being done illegally and threatening the population of endangered Southern Steelhead fish. Coastal Ranches Conservancy, an environmental protection group that operates along the Gaviota Coast, sent a petition to the State Water Board back in June 2020, requesting that officials examine water removal from Gaviota Creek. The CRC alleges that the water diversion is happening illegally to provide water to Gaviota rest stops. ... ” Read more from the Santa Barbara News Press here: Group calls for state to investigate Gaviota Creek
Post-wildfire landslides becoming more frequent in Southern California
“The results show Californians are now facing a double whammy of increased wildfire and landslide risk caused by climate change-induced shifts in the state’s wet and dry seasons, according to researchers who mapped landslide vulnerability in the southern half of the state. “This is our attempt to get people thinking about where these hazards are going to occur before there’s even a fire,” said Jason Kean, a hydrologist at the USGS in Denver and lead author of the new study in AGU’s journal Earth’s Future. The journal publishes interdisciplinary research on the past, present and future of our planet and its inhabitants. “By proactively thinking about hazards, you can start to develop more detailed response plans for their inevitability.” … ” Read more from the USGS here: Post-wildfire landslides becoming more frequent in Southern California
State regulator’s negotiations with Boeing about Santa Susana cleanup sparks criticism
“A state department agency that oversees the cleanup of toxic Santa Susana Field lab met confidentially with Boeing Company, one of the polluters, to mediate the cleanup of the area in the hills above the San Fernando and Simi valleys, drawing criticism from a Ventura County supervisor and activists. In a letter sent on Jan. 22, Grant Cope from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, or DTSC, a state agency that oversees the cleanup, offered the Boeing Company to “enter into non-binding, confidential mediation” to resolve Boeing’s dispute with DTSC “regarding Boeing’s groundwater corrective measures study and risk assessments at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory,” according to documents released by Watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER. … ” Read more from the Daily News here: State regulator’s negotiations with Boeing about Santa Susana cleanup sparks criticism
San Diego: $44.4 million in MWD overcharges being returned to local water agencies
“The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today announced a plan to distribute a rebate of $44.4 million to its 24 member agencies across the region after receiving a check for that amount from the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to pay legal damages and interest. The money resulted from the Water Authority’s decade-long rate case litigation in state Superior Court seeking to compel MWD to set legal rates and repay overcharges. The Water Authority won several critical issues in cases covering 2011-2014 and was deemed the prevailing party, which means the agency is also owed legal fees and charges in addition to the recent damages and interest payment from MWD. … ” Read more from the Water News Network here: San Diego: $44.4 million in MWD overcharges being returned to local water agencies
“Arizona, California, and Nevada will need to cut their use of Colorado River water by nearly 40 percent by 2050. A study by researchers at Utah State University, which the Arizona Daily Star reported this past Sunday, noted that Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—the Upper Basin states—will have to reduce their usage, as well, though not by as much as those pulling water from the Lower Basin. While Arizona water officials declined to engage with these findings when asked by the Star, Kathryn Sorensen, the research director of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, told the paper that she agreed with “everything” in the study. “We are going to have to take a much harder look at how water is used in the basin,” Sorensen said. ... ” Read more from The New Republic here: How does a state use 40 percent less water?
Report: Estimates of future Upper Colorado River Basin water use confound previous planning
“Some water experts fear that a long-held aspiration to develop more water in the Upper Colorado River Basin is creating another chance to let politics and not science lead the way on river management. “Alternative Management Paradigms for the Future of the Colorado and Green Rivers,” a white paper released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies, says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, we need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo. Estimates about how much water the upper basin will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the paper. … ” Read more from the Post Independent here: Report: Estimates of future Upper Colorado River Basin water use confound previous planning
In national water news this week …
Congress on track to approve millions more in federal funding for water debt relief
“Even before an initial round of funding is distributed to states and tribes, Congress is preparing to add another $500 million to a first-ever federal assistance program for low-income households that owe money to their water departments. The House Budget Committee on Monday marked up President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” a procedural move that sets the table for a House vote by the end of the week. The relief package includes $500 million to assist low-income households who are behind on their water bills. … ” Read more from the Circle of Blue here: Congress on track to approve millions more in federal funding for water debt relief
Biden urged to back water justice bill to reverse decades of underinvestment
“Democratic lawmakers and advocates are urging Joe Biden to back legislation proposing unprecedented investment in America’s ailing water infrastructure amid the country’s worst crisis in decades that has left millions of people without access to clean, safe, affordable water. Boil advisories, leaky lead pipes, poisonous forever chemicals, bill arrears and raw sewage are among the urgent issues facing ordinary Americans and municipal utilities after decades of federal government neglect, which has brought the country’s ageing water systems hurtling towards disaster. … ” Read more from The Guardian here: Biden urged to back water justice bill to reverse decades of underinvestment
Weekly features …
BLOG ROUND-UP: DCA submits final Delta tunnel corridor designs to DWR; SoCal MPAs, Delta threatened by oil & gas wells; Will barons of blue water be more equitable than those of black oil?; and more …
SCIENCE NEWS: Rumble in the river: brook vs. bull trout; Delta smelt on the brink; Hydrologic models may misidentify snow as rain; New method to track genetic diversity of salmon, trout; A promising forecast for predictive science; and more …