A wrap-up of posts published on Maven’s Notebook this week …
Note to readers: Sign up for weekly email service and you will receive notification of this post on Friday mornings. Readers on daily email service can add weekly email service by updating their subscription preferences. Click here to sign up!
DELTA COUNCIL: Consistency Determination for Lookout Slough Project appealed
The Department of Water Resources filed its Certification of Consistency for the Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration and Flood Improvement Project on February 22nd, 2021, finding that the project is consistent with the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan. On March 24th, appeals were filed by Liberty Island Access, Solano County Water Agency, Reclamation District 2060 & Reclamation District 2068, and the Central Delta Water Agency.
DELTA LEAD SCIENTIST REPORT: California’s rainy season is becoming shorter and sharper
At the March meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Dr. Laurel Larsen discussed a new research paper on the changing timing of precipitation during California’s wet season. She also updated the Council on the Delta Science Program’s activities and announced a new outreach effort called “Office Hours.”
The monthly reservoir report is written by hydrologist Robert Shibatani exclusively for Maven’s Notebook.
California’s March (“water”) Madness didn’t pan out as we had hoped, but the water supply status is also not as dire as many would like us to believe. Here are the facts as of today, the first day of April 2021.
GUEST COMMENTARY: Beyond Acknowledgements, It’s Time We Act on Learning and Teaching Indigenous Knowledge
Commentary written by Puanani Faleofa Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Water and Land Protector
We need more water and land protectors. California has both a water and land crisis. Save California Salmon, HSU Native American Studies, Tribes and School Districts have just released a high school curriculum based on the 2020 Summer Speaker Series, Advocacy & Water Protection in Native California, which includes indigenous knowledge from tribal leaders and members in Northern California.
Sierra snowpack at 59% but ‘next few weeks will be critical’ for California water officials
“California water officials on Thursday reported the statewide snowpack is just 59% of average for this time of year as the state continues to experience one of the driest years on record. It’s the second straight year of low numbers, after the Department of Water Resources recorded a reading of 53% on April 1 a year ago. The back-to-back low measurements could mean the return of summer drought conditions and water-use restrictions for the first time since 2016. ... ” Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: Sierra snowpack at 59% but ‘next few weeks will be critical’ for California water officials
Drought is back. But Southern California faces less pain than Northern California
“Drought is returning to California as a second, consecutive parched winter draws to a close in the usually wet north, leaving the state’s major reservoirs half empty. But this latest period of prolonged dryness will probably play out very differently across this vast state. In Northern California, areas dependent on local supplies, such as Sonoma County, could be the hardest-hit. Central Valley growers have been told of steep cuts to upcoming water deliveries. Environmentalists too are warning of grave harm to native fish. … ” Read more from the LA Times here: Drought is back. But Southern California faces less pain than Northern California
Radio report: Surface water rights in California could be changing
“This report is about surface water rights in California. They could be changing, which could affect tree nut growers up and down the state. David Orth is a principal at New Current Water and Land, based in Fresno. The company offers us a variety of strategic services to those who want to develop acquire transfer exchange, or bank water supplies throughout California.” Listen to the report from Cal Ag Today here: Radio report: Surface water rights in California could be changing
California weighs changes for new water rights permits in response to a warmer and drier climate
“As California’s seasons become warmer and drier, state officials are pondering whether the water rights permitting system needs revising to better reflect the reality of climate change’s effect on the timing and volume of the state’s water supply. A report for the State Water Resources Control Board recommends tailoring new water rights permits to California’s increasingly volatile hydrology. And it warns that the increasingly whiplash nature of California’s changing climate could require existing rights holders to curtail diversions more often and in more watersheds — or open opportunities to grab more water in climate-induced floods.” Read the article at Western Water here: California weighs changes for new water rights permits in response to a warmer and drier climate
New report identifies major gaps in SGMA, provides recommendations
“In 2014, California’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) promised comprehensive management of California’s groundwater. The report, based on joint analysis by Stanford University’s Water in the West and The Nature Conservancy, finds that SGMA actually suffers from several major gaps in its coverage. Indeed, SGMA currently protects less than two percent of California’s groundwater. While SGMA covers those groundwater basins where the vast majority of pumping today occurs, it does not protect many other important groundwater sources, leaving that groundwater at risk of over-pumping, now and in the future, with no state oversight to safeguard rural domestic wells, sensitive habitats, and other beneficial uses of water. This report, Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management, details SGMA’s gaps and their consequences and recommends several ways to remedy these gaps. The gaps largely stem from the ways in which the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) defines and prioritizes groundwater basins in Bulletin 118 (California’s Groundwater). … ” Read the report here: Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management
The first SGMA groundwater market is trading: The importance of good design and the risks of getting it wrong
“Groundwater markets are a promising tool for basins implementing SGMA, but they are complex, and good design is essential. A groundwater market, which caps total pumping within one or more basins, allocates portions of the total to individual users and allows users to buy and sell groundwater under the total cap, is a promising tool for basins implementing California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). While the benefits of a cap-and-trade system for both groundwater users and regulators are potentially very large, so too are the risks. ... ” Read more from California Agriculture here: The first SGMA groundwater market is trading: The importance of good design and the risks of getting it wrong
Ag land values rely heavily on water availability
“California agricultural land values that are rising and falling the most are doing so under the perception of water availability – no surprise there. This is putting farmland in the Fresno Irrigation District (FID) in a positive light as that agency has done a good job over the years managing conjunctive use of irrigation water. The annual release of the Trends Report, a lengthy compilation of data collected by professional appraisers and farm managers in California, is starting to shed light on the role the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is having in setting farmland values. With the call for groundwater sustainability plans by the State of California last year, buyers and sellers are starting to see the writing on the wall for some locations. ... ” Read more from the Western Farm Press here: Ag land values rely heavily on water availability
Water futures market may not have the ag solutions proponents suggest
“The California water futures market may not be the economic tool that supporters are suggesting. No actual water changes hands through the futures market, but it offers an economic opportunity similar to the stock market. Market participants enter into a contract for a certain price based on the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index hoping the price will rise. Advocates of the water futures market present it as an economic tool available to farmers to help offset the real costs of physical water transfers. However, the risks involved may outweigh the potential benefits for the agricultural community. … ” Read more from Ag Net West here: Water futures market may not have the ag solutions proponents suggest
CA Water Index: Veles Weekly Water Report
The Veles Weekly Report provides timely analysis around the technical and hydrologic factors that are moving water prices, as well as a comprehensive look at the latest news in water markets. Click here to read the report.
Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Executive Director Kathryn Mallon steps down
“The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) announced earlier this month that Executive Director Kathryn Mallon has stepped down from that role and will now serve as a senior advisor. “I’m immensely proud of the work that we have accomplished at the DCA,” said Mallon. “However, the nature of the upcoming work is shifting, and it feels like a good time to return to my roots in design and construction of major infrastructure projects while the proposed project undergoes California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis. I appreciate the confidence this board has placed in me and I look forward to continuing to serve the DCA as a senior advisor going forward.” … ” Read more from The Press here: Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Executive Director Kathryn Mallon steps down
Legal analysis: California water law: Legal challenges of water supply assessments
“Mark Twain is often credited with saying, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” This remains true in California, where drought conditions, climate change, and population growth throughout the state’s history have made water an increasingly valuable and regulated resource. The legal landscape involves complex questions related to water quality, water sustainability, and competing claims to water rights. One notable area of controversy involves the adequacy of water supply for new development projects. … ” Read more from Latham & Watkins here: Legal analysis: California water law: Legal challenges of water supply assessments
California municipal stormwater permits: recent court cases cities should consider
“For the last 30 years, most California cities and counties have operated their municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4) under National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued by a regional water quality control board under both the federal Clean Water Act1 and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act2. One of the primary points of contention between cities and the water boards has been the cost of achieving water quality goals – the water boards have steadily imposed more restrictive requirements in municipal NPDES permits, while expecting cities and counties alone to bear the costs. … ” Read more from Western City here: California municipal stormwater permits: recent court cases cities should consider
Bay-Delta Plan: With San Francisco Bay on life support, Newsom withholds the cure
Jon Rosenfield, a senior scientist with San Francisco Baykeeper, writes, “San Francisco Bay’s life support systems are unravelling quickly, and a wealth of science indicates that unsustainable water diversions are driving this estuary’s demise. Yet, with another drought looming, federal and state water managers still plan to divert large amounts of water to their contractors and drain upstream reservoirs this summer. Meanwhile, the state’s most powerful water districts are preparing yet another proposal to maintain excessive water diversions for the long-term. … ” Read more from Cal Matters here: Bay-Delta Plan: With San Francisco Bay on life support, Newsom withholds the cure
California is facing another drought, but Ann Hayden is still hopeful. Here are 3 reasons why.
Ann Hayden with the Environmental Defense Fund writes, “It’s a daunting time to be working on water in California. The Sierra snowpack measurement came in today at 59% of average statewide, making this the second dry winter in a row. The drought conditions led state and federal officials to announce last week painful water cuts for farmers and for municipal water systems that are already sending requests to customers to conserve water. It’s disheartening to envision farmers again trying to make do with very limited supplies; salmon stranded in warm, dwindling rivers; and cities facing water cutbacks while wondering if the next wildfire will erupt in their neighborhood. … ” Read more from EDF here: California is facing another drought, but I’m still hopeful. Here are 3 reasons why.
Commentary: Strong state oversight needed to ensure California’s wetlands are protected
Samantha Arthur, Working Lands Program Director at Audubon California and member of the California Water Commission, writes, “When the first European explorers arrived in California’s Central Valley, they found a vast mosaic of seasonal and permanent wetlands, as well as oak woodlands and riparian forests. What remains of those wetlands are still the backbone of the Pacific Flyway; along with flooded agricultural fields, they support millions of migrating waterbirds each year. According to a just-released study from Audubon, tens of millions of land birds rely on the Central Valley as well, including 60% of all Tree Swallows, 40% of Anna’s Hummingbird and other backyard favorites. But today, the situation is dire. More than 90% of wetlands in the Central Valley – and throughout California – have disappeared beneath tractors and bulldozers. … ” Read more from Cal Matters here: Commentary: Strong state oversight needed to ensure California’s wetlands are protected
Column: Sacramento leans into sea level rise
Columnist Michael Smolens writes, “Big money and more intense planning to adapt to sea level rise may be on the way. At least 17 bills are pending in the state Legislature that address the inevitable reconfiguration of the California coast by the growing Pacific Ocean. Many other measures deal more broadly with climate change, which is causing seas to rise around the world. The marquee legislation, Senate Bill 1, seeks to provide $100 million annually for grants to coastal communities. SB 1, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins of San Diego, has a strong carrot provision. … ” Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune here: Column: Sacramento leans into sea level rise
In regional water news this week …
Lake Tahoe aquatic invasive species action agenda – emerging technologies to play pivotal role
“Emerging technologies will be at the forefront of this summer’s launch of the ten-year, multi-agency effort to address aquatic invasive species (AIS) as laid out in The Lake Tahoe Region Invasive Species Action Agenda. Published in late 2019, Phase I of the Action Agenda aims to aggressively treat and control-test mitigation measures of AIS in the Tahoe Keys from 2021-2025. The environmental assessment and control-testing outcomes from Phase I will then guide the implementation of Phase II’s reduction and eradication measures from 2026-2030. … ” Read more from the Sierra Nevada Ally here: Lake Tahoe aquatic invasive species action agenda – emerging technologies to play pivotal role
Fixing a dysfunctional marsh on Sonoma Creek
“Restoration projects, like species, evolve. The Sonoma Creek Enhancement Project, originally about mosquito control, has shown itself to be a boon to special-status tidal marsh wildlife as well. More than a decade of adaptive management actions made that happen. The existing marsh, formed rapidly beginning in the 1960s by deposited sediment, lacked the dendritic channels of a mature marsh. High tides brought in water that pooled in a central basin and didn’t drain out, providing breeding habitat for mosquitos. The disadvantages of chemical treatment prompted land managers to look for alternatives. So in the 2000s, the Marin-Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District teamed up with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (the land manager), Audubon California, and environmental scientists Daniel Gillenwater and Stuart Siegel to improve tidal circulation in the dysfunctional marsh. … ” Read more from Estuary News here: Fixing a dysfunctional marsh on Sonoma Creek
Napa: Reopening a Northern California creek to threatened steelhead—part 1: “The whole watershed will benefit”
“The Napa River in Northern California is a linchpin in the recovery of Central California Coast Steelhead, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Flowing into San Francisco Bay, the river supports small cities and renowned vineyards. Removal of a century-old dam on a tributary of the Napa River has now increased its capacity to support recovering populations of threatened steelhead, as well. “For steelhead to recover we need them to return in greater numbers to interior San Francisco Bay,” said NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region biologist, Dan Logan, “and for that to happen we need them to return to the Napa River.” … ” Read more from NOAA here: Reopening a Northern California creek to threatened steelhead—part 1: “The whole watershed will benefit”
Marvelous mustard: How these golden blooms help North Bay vineyards, pastures
“Drive along Petaluma Hill Road from Santa Rosa to Rohnert Park in Sonoma County and the rolling meadows to the west are shimmering with it. Ride a bicycle through the backroads of Dry Creek Valley and the dark, gnarly zinfandel old vines contrast starkly with the yellow brilliance of it. A tour of the Silverado Trail shows wave after wave of the uncontested harbinger of spring growing in profusion among the rows of Napa Valley’s wine estates. It’s even found in profusion between Highway 12 and Third Street as you head to Imwalle Gardens to buy vegetable starts. … ” Read more from the North Bay Journal here: Marvelous mustard: How these golden blooms help North Bay vineyards, pastures
HotSpots H2O: Homeless San Franciscans are in a clean water crisis
“People living on San Francisco’s streets and in its parks face daily barriers to finding and accessing clean water, according to a report released earlier this month by the nonprofit organization, Coalition on Homelessness. The coalition surveyed 73 unhoused people during the 2020-21 winter months to better understand how they access, use, and store water. Of those surveyed — mostly elderly and disabled people living in the Tenderloin area — some 68 percent responded that meeting their daily water needs is a burden. ... ” Read more from the Circle of Blue here: HotSpots H2O: Homeless San Franciscans Are In A Clean Water Crisis
Valley Water evaluating five dam alternatives for proposed expansion of Pacheco Reservoir
“In the face of climate change and severe weather, there is a risk of more prolonged droughts in California. Despite recent storms in March, Santa Clara County is now in a drought and it is unknown how severe it will get. Valley Water remains focused on preparing for future dry and wet years through a variety of projects and programs, including the proposed expansion of Pacheco Reservoir in southern Santa Clara County. The project would increase the reservoir’s capacity from 5,500 acre-feet to up to 140,000 acre-feet, enough water to supply up to 1.4 million residents for one year. … ” Read more from Valley Water here: Valley Water evaluating five dam alternatives for proposed expansion of Pacheco Reservoir
$2.5 million settlement reached for Mule Creek State Prison violations of Clean Water Act
“The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has agreed to pay a $2.5 million penalty for discharging comingled stormwater at Mule Creek State Prison, in violation of the Clean Water Act. The penalty was assessed for unpermitted discharges between January 2018 and April 2019 to Mule Creek, a tributary to Dry Creek and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The case began three years ago when the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Central Valley Water Board) received a complaint that the prison was discharging wastewater into the nearby creek. Central Valley Water Board staff confirmed discharges were occurring from the prison to Mule Creek. … ” Read more from the State Water Board here: $2.5 million settlement reached for Mule Creek State Prison violations of Clean Water Act
Seawall protecting Laguna Beach home slated for demolition after legal battle
“Legal efforts to preserve a seawall protecting a waterfront Laguna Beach home have been exhausted, as the state Supreme Court declined on Thursday, March 25, to hear the issue after trial and appellate courts ruled in favor of a state Coastal Commission order to tear down the protective structure. The decision ends a 2½-year court battle. “The lawsuit is over,” said Steven Kaufmann, lawyer who represents the owners cited by the Coastal Commission. “I expect the seawall will be removed.” The fate of the house itself is not yet clear, but prospects appear grim. … ” Read more from the OC Register here: Seawall protecting Laguna Beach home slated for demolition after legal battle
Imperial Valley farmer Michael Abatti hoping to take IID to the U.S. Supreme Court
“The fight between Imperial Valley farmer Michael Abatti and the Imperial Irrigation District over control of the district’s massive allotment of Colorado River water could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court if Abatti gets his way. He and his lawyers have announced that they have petitioned the nation’s highest court to take up the litigation that has dragged on since 2013. The case’s legal questions deal with intricate nuances of water law, but the stakes are high. … ” Read more from the Desert Sun here: Michael Abatti asks U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case against IID
Bipartisan agreement on need for water upgrade, but not on cost
“When lawmakers begin in earnest to consider President Joe Biden’s expansive $2 trillion infrastructure plan, one area of bipartisan agreement may be its call for upgrading drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The biggest question, however, is whether the ambitious $111 billion Biden calls for is too high a price tag for Republicans. Republican lawmakers were publicly quiet Wednesday about the water section of the proposal, reserving their criticism for the overall package and tax hikes. But privately, they expressed pessimism that the ambitious water investment would pass muster in an already mammoth proposal. … ” Read more from Roll Call here: Bipartisan agreement on need for water upgrade, but not on cost
Biden takes moonshot approach to replacing lead water pipes
“The Biden administration wants to take a huge swing at the problem of lead water pipes, proposing to replace 100% of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines. The American Jobs Plan released Wednesday will reduce lead exposure in 400,000 schools and child care centers and 6 to 10 million homes, and create union and prevailing wage jobs, according to the administration. To fund the plan, Biden said he’ll ask Congress to invest $45 billion in the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and in Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) grants. … ” Continue reading at Bloomberg Law here: Biden takes moonshot approach to replacing lead water pipes
Congressional Research Service: Water infrastructure for the 21st century: The viability of incorporating natural infrastructure in Bureau of Reclamation water management systems
“This CRS statement focuses on the authorities of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and provides relevant general context on natural and nature-based infrastructure.1In serving Congress on a nonpartisan and objective basis, CRS takes no position on legislation and makes no recommendations. CRS remains available to assist the subcommittee in its development and consideration of water resource and other legislation. I will start by providing context for federal efforts on natural infrastructure. I will then discuss the Bureau of Reclamation’s authorities and potential opportunities for the incorporation of natural infrastructure in its activities, including questions for policymakers. … ” Click here to read this statement.
In broad strokes, Biden infrastructure plan sketches a future for federal water spending
“President Joe Biden unveiled a wide-ranging jobs and infrastructure plan on Wednesday, asking Congress to support a $2 trillion investment in the built and natural systems that sustain American life, from trips to the grocery store to a glass of water from the faucet. The administration is calling the proposal the American Jobs Plan, and among its many parts it includes $111 billion for water systems. A month after winter storms crippled water and electric providers in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, the plan also calls for $50 billion to prepare the country’s infrastructure for an era of severe floods, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes. … ” Read more from Circle of Blue here: In broad strokes, Biden infrastructure plan sketches a future for federal water spending
Biden lays groundwork for environmental regulations
“The Biden administration is poised to take significant action on a range of environmental issues. In the coming weeks, officials are expected to release a new plan for reaching the goals set out under the Paris Climate Agreement and recommend changes to several national monuments. More broadly, the administration is considering steps that could include taking a harder line on climate regulations. … ” Read more from The Hill here: Biden lays groundwork for environmental regulations
Weekly features …
BLOG ROUND-UP: Delta Independent Science Board defunded; CA and feds still plan to drain reservoirs & kill salmon; Water Wrights responds to State Water Board’s climate change report; and more …