WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for September 5-10: State’s curtailment orders draw lawsuits; Farm groups irked after canal bill pulled; A test for California’s groundwater regulations in the megadrought; and more …

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

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This week’s featured articles …

RISING VOICES: Realizing the human right to water

Each month, the Water Hub is checking in advocates and organizers in California to talk about the water issues impacting local communities. In this September issue, we spoke with Community Water Center’s Senior Policy Advocate, Uriel Saldivar, about the expiration of California’s water shut off moratorium, water debt and protecting the human right to water.

Click here to read this article.


ESTUARY PEARLS: Water management and riparian forests; Primary production in the Delta; The “SmeltCam”; Predicting ecosystem change; Delta salinity; Dr. Ted Sommer retires

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In California water news this week …

State’s curtailment orders draw lawsuits from Modesto-area water users and San Francisco

The state’s curtailment of river diversions has drawn lawsuits from eight irrigation districts in and near Stanislaus County, along with San Francisco.  The three filings claim that the State Water Resources Control Board exceeded its authority with the Aug. 20 orders. The plaintiffs also said they did not get enough chance beforehand to make their cases for continued diversions.  One suit was filed Sept. 2 by the Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts and San Francisco. It involves the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers.  The second filing was a day earlier by the Patterson, West Stanislaus and Banta-Carbona irrigation districts. They mostly tap the San Joaquin River on the West Side.  The third suit was filed Tuesday by the Merced Irrigation District over its use of the Merced River. … ”  Read more from the Modesto Bee here: State’s curtailment orders draw lawsuits from Modesto-area water users and San Francisco

San Francisco, agriculture suppliers want their water, sue state over drought restrictions

San Francisco, along with a handful of Central Valley irrigation districts, is suing the state for enacting drought restrictions that are keeping thousands of landowners and suppliers from drawing water from rivers and creeks.  The lawsuit, filed late last week in Fresno County Superior Court, claims that the State Water Resources Control Board — drought or no drought — does not have the authority to suspend the draws of those with the most senior claims to California’s water. These water-rights holders include farms and many of their suppliers, as well as San Francisco. The city holds water rights on the Tuolumne River that date from between 1901 and 1911, allowing it to collect mountain runoff in reservoirs at and around Yosemite National Park and pipe it 160 miles to the Bay Area. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: San Francisco, agriculture suppliers want their water, sue state over drought restrictions

Hurtado pulls bill to repair sinking canals after legislators yank funding

A bill navigating the California State Legislature that would have provided significant funds to repair some of the state’s major waterways came to a screeching halt on Wednesday.  Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D–Sanger) announced she would be pulling Senate Bill 559 – The State Water Resiliency Act of 2021 – after the Assembly gutted its funding and amended it to include additional bureaucratic hurdles. … ”  Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun here: Hurtado pulls bill to repair sinking canals after legislators yank funding

Farm groups irked after canal bill pulled

A California state bill that would have funded repairs to several key San Joaquin Valley canals has been pulled by its author, sparking criticism from farm groups.  State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, said she decided to hold SB 559 after the Assembly Appropriations Committee removed all funding provisions.  “The cries for help from communities that are running out of water and from struggling farmers wasn’t enough to stop forced Assembly amendments to a sound solution,” she said in a statement. “It is unfortunate, but I will not add further pain to struggling farmworkers and communities. For this reason—I am withholding SB 559 for a vote this session.” … ”  Read more from the Western Farm Press here:  Farm groups irked after canal bill pulled

State Water Board amends curtailment orders to expedite water deliveries: City of Ukiah can draw ‘small amount’ from Russian River for coastal residents

“To expedite the delivery of much-needed drinking water to coastal Mendocino County residents whose wells have gone dry, the California State Water Resources Control Board has amended its previous curtailment orders to allow the city of Ukiah to draw water from the Russian River for emergency supplies.  “The State Water Board has pre-approved a health and human safety exemption allowing the city of Ukiah to provide emergency supplies to (coastal Mendocino County communities),” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the Division of Water Rights, explaining Wednesday that the board did not want “bureaucracy to get in the way of providing emergency drinking water to people who really need it.” … ”  Read more from the Ukiah Daily Journal here: State Water Board amends curtailment orders to expedite water deliveries: City of Ukiah can draw ‘small amount’ from Russian River for coastal residents

Biden’s interior secretary backs West Side reservoir, more California water storage

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland talked about dealing with drought, including a reservoir planned near Patterson, in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.  She was joined by Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, who has urged increased federal spending on such efforts.  The 2022 proposed budget for the Interior Department includes $15 million toward building Del Puerto Reservoir in the hills west of Patterson. West Side irrigation districts would pay most of the roughly $500 million total cost. … ”  Read more from the Modesto Bee here: Biden’s interior secretary backs West Side reservoir, more California water storage

Larry Elder talks to farmers in Fresno about California water issues. What’s his solution?

Republican recall candidate Larry Elder met with a group of farmers Thursday in Fresno to talk about water, jobs, crime and other issues during a stop on his push to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom.  The conservative talk show host was planning several stops across California on a bus dubbed “Recall Express.” His Fresno appearance focused heavily on the state’s water woes.  He said, if elected, he would immediately suspend the California Environmental Quality Act, allowing for the raising of dams and building of reservoirs. The act has also been blamed by candidates for the state’s housing shortage. ... ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  Larry Elder talks to farmers in Fresno about California water issues. What’s his solution?

Resources Secretary sends letter to legislature on CEQA exemption in trailer bill

On Thursday,  September 9, Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot a letter to the members of the legislature regarding the controversial CEQA exemption in the Natural Resources trailer bill, AB/SB 155.  Crowfoot’s letter addressed objections to the trailer bill previously raised by Restore the Delta, stating:  “The proposed CEQA exemption may only be applied to habitat restoration projects. By its own terms, it can only be used for projects that are exclusively focused on habitat. … ”  Continue reading at California Water Research blog here: Resources Secretary sends letter to legislature on CEQA exemption in trailer bill

Eyes in the sky’ help police California water use

Michael George is not a spy — but he does use some of the same equipment.  George, a gregarious talker, is a lawyer by trade, and in his current role as Delta watermaster he oversees the use of water in one of the country’s most contested waterways.  The Delta in this case is the Sacramento-San Joaquin, a jumble of fertile land, diked islands, tidal flows, and meandering sloughs that is the heart of California’s engineered water system. A habitat for endangered salmon and smelt, the delta is a hydrological switchyard, where water moves east and west with the daily tides. Water is also transferred north to south via massive state and federally operated pumps that supply farmers in Kern County as well as urbanites in Los Angeles, locations that are hundreds of miles distant. … ”  Read more from the Circle of Blue here: Eyes in the sky’ help police California water use

12 important things to know about California’s drought

California is in a second year of drought. Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked residents to voluntarily cut water use by 15% across the state to try to shore up our reserves in case of another dry winter. In the meantime, fires are raging around California as bone-dry forests go up like tinderboxes. How did we get here?  As climate change scrambles weather patterns and adds more variability to our lives, it’s time to take stock of what we know about our state’s frequent hot, dry periods so that we can begin planning for a future with less consistent water supplies.  Bay Curious just finished up a six-part State of Drought series examining the issues. Here’s what we learned. … ”  Read more from KQED here: 12 important things to know about California’s drought

A test for California’s groundwater regulations in the megadrought

Record dry conditions once again in the West have led the federal and state governments to declare water supply shortages. California’s governor has declared that 50 counties, in which approximately 41% of the state’s population exists, are now under a drought state of emergency. …  Historically, droughts have agitated underlying disputes over the allocation of shared water resources. This drought, following so quickly on the heels of the last drought—hydrologists believe we’re in the midst of a megadrought—is likely no different.  While much is made of the propensity of water users to engage in “water wars,” litigation is the last resort. In the case of California, with its complex and nuanced water regulatory system overlaid by a climate that simultaneously makes it a highly desirable place to grow crops, work and live— but also a highly volatile place to do so—this drought presents the opportunity to finally implement management solutions that ensure sustainability of our water supplies. … ”  Read more from Bloomberg Law here:  A test for California’s groundwater regulations in the megadrought

Growers hope groundwater markets provide flexibility

Some San Joaquin Valley farmers could someday have a new “crop” to sell — their groundwater.  In the face of looming groundwater pumping restrictions, some groundwater agencies are looking at internal markets to give growers a way to save water and still earn a profit.  These nascent markets are still in the talking and tinkering stages and may take years to get underway. Most of the markets are being worked out by groundwater agencies that were formed under the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The act aims to reduce groundwater pumping and bring the state’s over drafted aquifers into balance by 2040. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: Growers hope groundwater markets provide flexibility

Groups sue Reclamation against extra groundwater pumping plans in North Valley

On August 26, three environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal District Court challenging the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over extra groundwater pumping plans by Sacramento River water districts.  The filing of the suit by AquAlliance, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, and the California Water Impact Network was followed on Wednesday, September 1, by a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). At stake is an estimated 60,000 acre feet of groundwater, according to AquAlliance Executive Director Barbara Vlamis.  Reclamation seeks to pay the extra groundwater pumpers for their energy costs based on the analysis found in the Environmental Assessment for Groundwater Actions to Offset Surface Water Diversions from the Sacramento River in Response to Drought in 2021.  … ”  Continue reading from Dan Bacher at the Daily Kos here:  Groups Sue Reclamation Against Extra Groundwater Pumping Plans In North Valley

California groundwater pumping project can proceed, for now

Environmental groups failed to justify blocking the federal government from funding groundwater pumping in the Sacramento River Valley pending a preliminary injunction hearing, a federal court in California ruled.  There’s no evidence that pumping will immediately occur without injunctive relief, according to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. And even if it did happen, there’s no evidence irreparable harm would occur between that time and the preliminary injunction hearing Thursday, Judge William B. Shubb said Tuesday. … ”  Read more from Bloomberg Law here: California groundwater pumping project can proceed, for now

How promoting prescribed burns may improve water quality in the long term

The California Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 332 (SB 332), which would increase legal protections for professionals responsible for setting prescribed burns – or “the planned application and confinement of fire” to a specified area for the prevention of high-intensity fires and related ecosystem management.  … Prescribed burning is touted not only as an effective method of reducing the number and intensity of large wildfires and the corresponding costs of suppression and repair, but also as an option to maintain water quality in managed watersheds by reducing smoke and ash, decreasing erosion, and protecting desired plant communities. As Californians are unfortunately experiencing this fire season, smoke and ash can have a dramatic effect on water quality – one example being the aftermath of the Caldor fire on the famously blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Whether such impacts can be avoided by promoting prescribed burning without risking large losses of life and property under the reduced liability standard is yet to be seen. … ”  Read the full article at Somach Simmons & Dunn here: How promoting prescribed burns may improve water quality in the long term

Initiative would allocate two percent of state budget to water

There have been all kinds of efforts and money allocated to trying to solve California’s water woes. Now an organization states it has the solution — the 2 percent solution.  In what it’s calling the 2 percent solution More Water Now is working to place an initiative on the November 2022 ballot that would require 2 percent of the state budget to be allocated to the state’s water resources. If placed on the ballot and approved the water abundance ballot initiative would set aside 2 percent of the state budget to water.  There has been a great deal of water allocated toward dealing with California’s water issues, which includes a $7.5 billion bond measure that was passed by the state’s voters in 2014. But seven years later that bond has done little to place a dent in dealing with the state’s water woes. … ”  Read more from the Porterville Recorder here: Initiative would allocate two percent of state budget to water

First the snow vanished, then the mudslides began: Mt. Shasta’s summer of pain

A brutal summer of record heat and punishing drought has claimed yet another California victim: the majestic, snow-covered slopes of Mt. Shasta.  Just as the impacts of global warming have revealed themselves in extreme wildfire behavior and plunging reservoir levels, climate change is now altering the skyline of far Northern California and wreaking havoc on communities surrounding the dormant volcano.  The unseasonable disappearance of Mt. Shasta’s postcard-perfect snowpack has not only turned the landmark’s peak from white to brown but has also hastened the melting of mountain glaciers, unleashing thunderous torrents of mud, boulders and trees that have destroyed bridges, made roads impassable and threatened water infrastructure. Flows of volcanic ash also have turned once-green meadows into ghostly gray moonscapes. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: First the snow vanished, then the mudslides began: Mt. Shasta’s summer of pain

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In commentary this week …

No water rights in CA are above the law, despite SF’s claims

Doug Obegi, Director of California River Restoration at the NRDC. writes, “The current drought is highlighting many ways in which California’s water rights system is inequitable and poorly managed, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  While water users frequently claim they are exempt from the authority of the State Water Resources Control Board, the Courts have repeatedly rejected those arguments, confirming that the Board has significant authority over all water rights in California.  However, all too often the Board is prevented from exercising that authority due to political pressure, and when the Board does act, water users file litigation to try to bully the Board so they can go back to over-exploiting California’s water resources for profit.  … ”  Continue reading at the NRDC here: No water rights in CA are above the law, despite SF’s claims

Drought will imperil wildlife and people along the Pacific Flyway

Jeff McCreary, director of operations for the Western Region, Ducks Unlimited, and Tim Johnson, president & CEO of the California Rice Commission, write, ” … the drought has far reaching consequences for both birds and people. Not only are farmers being forced to reduce rice plantings, all indications point that fall and winter surface water for rice decomposition and wetland habitat will be minimal – less than 100,000 acres. There are few options if we don’t get timely rains this fall. With a dry fall we could see horrific and historic environmental consequences, jeopardizing multitudes of wetland dependent birds with the potential to impact the entire 4,000-mile long Pacific Flyway. … ”  Read the full commentary at Cal Matters here:  Drought will imperil wildlife and people along the Pacific Flyway

Calif.’s drought, desperation are peaking. Sacramento needs to boost water storage.

Assemblyman Vince Fong writes, “Californians are facing the most severe drought conditions since 1977. Some communities in the Central Valley lack access to even basic necessities like clean drinking water. Farmers, if they haven’t already, will be forced to abandon portions of their crops, eliminating jobs and income and prompting higher food prices for families across the country. This reality is unfathomable.  Californians need water storage now.  California’s last significant water infrastructure investment, the State Water Project, was built over 50 years ago when the state’s population was a mere 16 million. Today, California is home to nearly 40 million people and the state’s farmland to produce vital food supplies has increased by 3,140%. It goes without saying – California’s water storage infrastructure needs to increase to meet growing needs. … ”  Continue reading at the San Joaquin Valley Sun here: Calif.’s drought, desperation are peaking. Sacramento needs to boost water storage.

State’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions harmful to farmers

Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, writes, “It can’t be said enough; California’s farming industry is a cornerstone of this great state – our growers provide food for your families and the world. As we hear so often during this pandemic, farming and agriculture are essential.  Yet, we are facing unprecedented obstacles to growing and producing the food you pick up at the grocery store or farmers’ market. Many challenges are the result of climate change. We are all too familiar with its impacts. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters here: State’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions harmful to farmers

In regional water news this week …

Two historic public waterfowl meccas see water management changes this fall

California’s Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Arkansas’ Bayou Meto Waterfowl Management Area are two historic stops for waterfowl during the fall and spring migrations. Both public parcels also draw a bevy of duck hunters each season. Now, the two public duck hunting and habitat areas will look much different this year thanks to welcome habitat improvements.  The drought in the West and High Plains has taken a toll on waterfowl habitat, and the Lower Klamath NWR was no exception. The wetlands at Lower Klamath were nearly dry until Sept. 3, when California Waterfowl Association secured water rights from a private rancher. ... ”  Read more from Outdoor Life here: Two historic public waterfowl meccas see water management changes this fall

Two-Basin Partnership asks for pause in Potter Valley Project process

A group that formed two years ago to explore a new future for the Potter Valley Project, which is a hydroelectric plant in Mendocino County that diverts water from the Eel River and into the Russian River via Lake Mendocino, is requesting more time from federal regulators to study their options and the ramifications of each.  “The Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, Sonoma County Water Agency, California Trout, Inc., the County of Humboldt, and the Round Valley Indian Tribes hereby request that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grant an abeyance in the schedule established by the Revised Process Plan and Schedule for relicensing the Potter Valley Project … until May 31, 2022,” states a letter to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose dated Sept. 2, 2021. … ”  Read more from the Ukiah Daily Journal here: Two-Basin Partnership asks for pause in Potter Valley Project process

SEE ALSO: More time sought for Potter Valley Project license takeover, from the Eureka Times-Standard

Emergency water starts flowing to Mendocino Coast communities

Emergency water shipments have begun making their way to desperate consumers on the Mendocino Coast, a result of collaborative efforts by county and city officials from Ukiah and Fort Bragg.  But the rollout is starting slowly, and Mendocino County officials are still working to recruit haulers with the right kind of tankers to meet the demand.  Only one truck hauling 5,000 gallons a trip is working at the moment, with enough time in a day to make two deliveries from the water source in Ukiah to Fort Bragg, according to county Transportation Director Howard Dashiell. … ”  Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here: Emergency water starts flowing to Mendocino Coast communities

Proposed north Butte County water district stirring controversy

A proposal for a new Butte County water district is wending its way through the approval process, and not everyone is happy about that.  The Tuscan Water District would cover most of the northwestern county, excluding Chico. The area is dependent on well water. Under a recently approved state law, the amount of groundwater currently being pumped in the area will have to be reduced.  Each well owner is currently on their own. No entity speaks for them as a group. Proponents say the Tuscan Water District would be that advocate for the whole area.  However a handful of farming families own the majority of the land in the district, and opponents think they could stack the district’s board of directors to the detriment of the others. … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here: Proposed north Butte County water district stirring controversy

San Francisco to pay $600 million to keep low-lying neighborhoods from flooding. It will probably take seven years.

San Francisco has pledged to invest another $600 million into the city’s sewer system in an effort to prevent chronic flooding in low-lying areas as part of an agreement with state water quality officials.  The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board announced the tentative pact, which was negotiated with city officials but needs final approval from the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed. The city’s Public Utilities Commission has recommended approval. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: San Francisco to pay $600 million to keep low-lying neighborhoods from flooding. It will probably take seven years.

Project to combat climate change, rising sea levels begins at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers celebrated the Ocean Beach Nourishment Project Thursday, a project designed to confront the issue of climate change.  “We are experiencing sea level rise here in San Francisco, including on the ocean side of the city. And we are experiencing chronic erosion in this area, which is threatening critical wastewater infrastructure, which protects water quality in San Francisco,” explained project manager Anne Roche. … ”  Read more from Channel 7 here: Project to combat climate change, rising sea levels begins at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

Amid California drought, Santa Clara County’s water conservation isn’t going well

One of the largest water districts in the San Francisco Bay Area is falling dramatically short of water conservation goals amid extreme drought conditions across California. Santa Clara Valley Water declared a water shortage emergency in June with its reservoirs reaching historically low levels, requiring customers to reduce water use by 15% compared with 2019 levels. In July, the district fell short of the goal with residents only reducing water use levels by 6% compared to 2019 levels, according to newly available data first shared by the San Jose Mercury News. … ”  Read more from SF Gate here: Amid California drought, Santa Clara County’s water conservation isn’t going well

Settlement agreement helps restore flows to the Ventura River

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s advocacy for Ventura River reached a critical milestone on Aug. 5, when the city of Ventura, for the first time in history, curtailed all pumping at its well field at Foster Park, specifically for the purpose of restoring flows to the parched river ecosystem. Within days, the sounds of water, croaking frogs and children playing were audible as flows rebounded. … ”  Continue reading at Coastal View here: Settlement agreement helps restore flows to the Ventura River

Water releases from an already low Blue Mesa Reservoir will prop up Lake Powell

In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.  That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity. … ”  Read more from the Colorado Sun here: Water releases from an already low Blue Mesa Reservoir will prop up Lake Powell

Colorado River flows once again to Gulf of California

In late spring, Antonia Torres González’ tears rolled freely at the rare sight before her: the Colorado River flowed again in what is usually a parched delta.  Torres González, a member of the Cucapá tribe who grew up in the river delta, couldn’t help but relive memories of childhood romps in the once-lush waterway in northwestern Mexico. “It was like seeing the river come back to life,” she says.  On May 1, 2021, the river once again flowed in its delta thanks to an agreement between the United States and Mexico dubbed Minute 323. Through Oct. 11, a total of 35,000 acre-feet of water (11.4 billion gallons) will be released downstream from Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border to quench the thirst of this long-withered ecosystem. … ”  Read more from the Public News Service here: Colorado River flows once again to Gulf of California

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Weekly features …

BLOG ROUND-UP: Water monopolies and the public interest; Whitewater rafting and California water policy; When snow disappears without a trace; As the climate changes, where are the safest places to live?; and more …

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Announcements, notices, and funding opportunities …

NOTICE: State Seeks Public Comments on Draft Groundwater Management Principles and Strategies Related to Drinking Water Well Impacts

NOTICE: Reclamation launches prize competition seeking new ideas to improve sediment modeling

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: Wildlife Corridor and Fish Passage Projects – 2021 Proposal Solicitation Notice

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: CVPIA fisheries habitat and facilities improvement

WATER PLAN eNEWS: ~~Climate Report~ Drought Website~ Environmental Justice~ Groundwater Recharge~ Green Tape~ CWC Meeting ~~

DETLA eNEWS: ~~ CWC Meeting~ ISB Meeting~ DPC Meeting~ Route Closure~~

VELES WEEKLY WATER REPORT: NQH2O price weakens near month futures at a discount first time since March. Cyclone of Mexican coast may bring relief to California.

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