WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Nov 21-26: How tribal partnerships can help attain conservation goals; SGMA land repurposing program; Worsening conditions on the Colorado; plus all the top water news of the week
A wrap-up of posts published on Maven’s Notebook this week …
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This week’s featured articles …
YOSEMITE ENVIRO LAW CONFERENCE: How tribal partnerships can help attain national conservation goals
“We really have to get creative and equally value all of the interests of the stakeholders, use cooperative agreements and MOUs, and new innovative partnerships in order to succeed,” says Amy Cordalis.
Amy Cordalis is a fisherwoman, attorney, mother, and member of the Yurok Tribe, the largest federally recognized Tribe in California. From 2014-2016, she was General Counsel for the Tribe, the first woman and first Yurok tribal member to serve in that position. She is also the principal of the Ridges to Riffles Conservation Fund, a non-profit fund representing Native American tribes in natural and cultural resource matters.
In the spring of 2021, President Biden announced the country’s first national conservation goal of conserving 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2023, and Tribal lands will likely play a key role in meeting this goal.
At the 2021 Yosemite Environmental Law Conference, Amy Cordalis spoke of how to engage and work with tribal governments, the laws that can help advance those partnerships, and how the political status of tribes help meet those goals, highlighting some examples from Yurok Country.
CA WATER COMMISSION: Department of Conservation previews SGMA multi-purpose land repurposing program
Upcoming workshops to gather public input on the new program
At the September meeting of the California Water Commission, Kealiʻi Bright, Assistant Director of the Division of Land Resource Protection at the California Department of Conservation (or DOC), gave a presentation on a new program being spun up to repurpose farmland being retired due to SGMA implementation.
COLORADO RIVER: An update on efforts of the lower basin states to address worsening conditions
While the negotiations have not yet started for the new guidelines for the management of the Colorado River, the lower basin states (California, Nevada, and Arizona) still have been meeting regularly to discuss the response to the worsening drought conditions, which have outpaced what was anticipated when the Drought Contingency Plan was adopted.
At the November meeting of Metropolitan’s Water Planning & Stewardship Committee, Colorado River Resources Policy Manager Shanti Rosset updated the committee members on the ongoing implementation of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
Where is the water going? Small farmers struggle as ag titans wheel water for profit
“Farmers in the heart of California’s agricultural belt – Kings County – sense something is awry with their water supplies. In this intensively farmed, perennially dry county, water is leaving at a concerning rate. “We’ve all seen it,” said walnut farmer Steve Walker. “We haven’t sat down and put dye in the water to watch where it actually goes. But everybody talks about it, and we’re all concerned.” As far as Walker knows, no agency, city or county board is trying to figure out what’s really happening. “There’s so many canals and ways it can move; it’s hard to track,” he said. But this much he knows — certain groundwater wells in the county are running practically year round, even in wet years. “So, it’s going somewhere,” Walker said. “And that’s the biggest issue. Because once it’s pumped out, we aren’t getting it back.” … ” Read more from SJV Water here: Where is the water going? Small farmers struggle as ag titans wheel water for profit
‘Everybody’s pumping.’ How California’s plan to conserve groundwater ran into a drought
“On the parched west side of the San Joaquin Valley, the drought has created a windfall for companies like Big River Drilling. A water-well contractor based in the Fresno County community of Riverdale, Big River can hardly keep up with demand for new wells as farmers and rural residents seek to extract more water from underground. “I could work seven days a week if I wanted to,” said owner Wesley Harmon. “In my area, everybody’s pumping. You can’t blame the farmers. They’re trying to make a living, they’re trying to grow food for everybody.” … ” Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: ‘Everybody’s pumping.’ How California’s plan to conserve groundwater ran into a drought
California spent decades trying to keep Central Valley floods at bay. Now it looks to welcome them back
State calls on local agencies to protect groundwater
“For the first time in California history, local agencies and groundwater users are required to form groundwater sustainability agencies and develop and implement plans to guide how they will achieve groundwater basin sustainability goals over the next 20 years. As part of this process, agencies overseeing management of high- and medium-priority groundwater basins have until Jan. 31, 2022, to submit groundwater sustainability plans to the state to be reviewed by the California Department of Water Resources, the agency tasked with evaluating and assessing the plans. Last week, the agency released its second round of assessments of plans developed by local agencies required to bring groundwater basins into sustainability for the future. The actions are mandated under the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA. The first round of assessments for critically overdrafted basins happened in June. … ” Read more from Ag Alert here: State calls on local agencies to protect groundwater
State’s groundwater “cop” hands out more criticism of valley plans
“Another set of comments critical of how San Joaquin Valley groundwater plans will impact drinking water wells dropped on Friday from the powerful State Water Resources Control Board. The comments focused on plans that cover the City of Fresno and many surrounding towns as well as Visalia and a number of smaller towns in Tulare County. Specifically, it commented on plans covering most of the Kings and Kaweah subbasins. One of the Kaweah plans, which covers the communities of Lindsay and Strathmore in eastern Tulare County, could result in “the dewatering over over one-third of the domestic wells throughout the subbasin,” the Water Board letter states. … ” Read more from SJV Water here: State’s groundwater “cop” hands out more criticism of valley plans
Groundwater in California’s Central Valley may be unable to recover from past and future droughts
“Groundwater in California’s Central Valley is at risk of being depleted by pumping too much water during and after droughts, according to a new study in the AGU journal Water Resources Research, an interdisciplinary journal that focuses on hydrology and water resources. The new study shows groundwater storage recovery has been dismal after the state’s last two droughts, with less than a third of groundwater recovered from the drought that spanned 2012 to 2016. … ” Read more from PhysOrg here: Groundwater in California’s Central Valley may be unable to recover from past and future droughts
Drought Monitor shows drop in most critical category for parts of California
“Drought conditions in parts of Northern California are showing signs of improvement according to the Thanksgiving Day Drought Monitor release. An historic early season heavy rain/snow event followed by some smaller weather systems brought much needed precipitation to the region after two years of dry conditions. Northern California saw the biggest improvements with nearly 20 counties coming out, or partially out of exceptional drought, the top level on the US Drought Monitor. … ” Read more from Channel 10 here: Drought Monitor shows drop in most critical category for parts of California
California drought unlikely to end this winter
“Don’t hold your breath for California’s drought ending with this winter’s rains. Instead, you’d do well to hold your shower time to a minimum. There’s less than a 40% chance of water supplies getting back to normal after this winter, with a slightly better than 50% chance that the state’s drought will worsen, according to forecasters at a Monday, Nov. 22, drought webinar hosted by the National Integrated Drought Information Center. The center is led by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.The record atmospheric river storms that pelted Northern California in late October helped a bit, but water levels at major reservoirs remain far below normal and La Nina conditions increase the likelihood of Southern California having a drier, warmer winter than is usual. ... ” Read more from the OC Register here: California drought unlikely to end this winter
Rush is on to drought-proof California’s archaic water system
“Caught in one of the driest two-year stretches in state history and with long-range weather forecasts coming up mostly empty, the key players battling California’s drought have plenty to be concerned about. Whether it’s plunging reservoir levels, crumbling canals, empty wells or salmon die-offs, the water woes that have plagued the state for decades have returned forcefully during the pandemic. Droughts come and go routinely in the Golden State, including the last which stretched from 2012 to 2016, but long-term solutions rarely seem to follow. Once the atmospheric rivers finally return to mercifully fill up Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, the thirst for change evaporates. Politicians turn their attention elsewhere, funding streams go dry and blueprints are tabled. … ” Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: Rush is on to drought-proof California’s archaic water system
La Niña: Is California heading into another dry winter?
“You may have seen it on social media or heard it while talking to a friend: This is a La Niña year, so California won’t get any rain this winter and the severe drought is only going to get worse. Right? Maybe not. Although that’s a common belief, it’s not supported by past history. The reality is that a lot depends on where you live. “The message most people get about La Niña seems to be biased by Southern California,” said Jan Null, a meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services in Half Moon Bay. “There is a really good connection between La Niña and drier-than-normal weather in Southern California. But in Northern California, it’s a coin flip.” … ” Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: La Niña: Is California heading into another dry winter?
Latest proposals from DWR on California’s Water Efficiency Framework
“From November 12th through 17th, the Department of Water Resources hosted 3 workshops to discuss their proposed final recommendations for the standards and methodologies associated with the framework to “make water conservation a California way of life”. Beyond the specifics of the water use objective (WUO), DWR also offered a deeper look at the implications of the framework for water use in California that shed light on the size of the water use reductions we can expect to see in the next decade. Outlining the full requirements for water suppliers would take more than a single blog post, so this post will focus on summarizing some of the key new developments and what they mean. … To start with, let’s take high-level view at the water use impacts that DWR is predicting to come from the legislation. ... ” Read more from the California Data Collaborative here: Latest proposals from DWR on California’s Water Efficiency Framework
California utilities leaving millions in debt relief on the table
“As the application window for a near billion-dollar state program designed to help cash-strapped Californians with pandemic-related drinking water debt nears its close date, almost 50% of eligible water systems have fully completed the application, but nearly one quarter haven’t yet started the process — a scenario that could see many struggling households lose the chance to have their financial burdens alleviated. The State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water has contacted approximately 2,500 individual water systems directly — some multiple times, said Darrin Polhemus, the division’s deputy director, describing it as a “herculean” outreach effort as part of a system built from scratch within months. … ” Read more from Capital & Main here: California utilities leaving millions in debt relief on the table
The Forest Service was supposed to protect the water sources of the American West. Instead, water users drain untold amounts
“While the U.S. Forest Service pours resources into a runaway battle on wildfire, it is losing the war over water. About half of Western water supply originates on national forest land. But before that water reaches the West’s major cities or great rivers, much of it has already been claimed. Thousands of farmers, ranchers, cities, housing developments and industrial users pump water from the ground, channel it away from streams into ditches or pipelines, and hold it back in ponds and reservoirs — all to use public water, often for private purposes. The Forest Service issues permits for these uses and it can deny those permits or put restrictions on water use. … ” Read more from Mount Shasta News here: The Forest Service was supposed to protect the water sources of the American West. Instead, water users drain untold amounts
Editorial: It’s time to weigh a water plan minus Potter Valley plant
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat writes, “It’s getting hard to find the lake at Lake Mendocino. A bed of cracked, dry dirt grows steadily as the shoreline recedes, exposing abandoned homesteads that had been submerged for decades. State officials warn that the lake could go dry — a first for a major California reservoir. Lake Mendocino is a crucial link in the North Coast’s water supply chain, and even a drought-busting winter won’t ensure its recovery. … ” Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here: Editorial: It’s time to weigh a water plan minus Potter Valley plant
Conflict can be good. Entrenched conflict is toxic. Are you listening, California?
Joe Mathews writes, “No vaccine can protect communities from high conflict. Even people who are skillful at de-escalation can get stuck in all-consuming battles. That’s the lesson of Marin County lawyer Gary Friedman, as recounted in journalist Amanda Ripley’s 2021 book, “High Conflict: How We Get Trapped and How We Get Out.” Ripley’s masterful work is not a California book — it recounts conflicts from Chicago to Colombia — but it’s what Californians should read to navigate more peacefully through this polarizing time. Friedman, the godfather of conflict mediation, has an uncanny ability to help people listen and tap into their best selves at difficult moments. ... ” Continue reading at the San Francisco Chronicle here: Conflict can be good. Entrenched conflict is toxic. Are you listening, California?
California needs to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open to meet its climate goals
Steven Chu, former U.S. secretary of Energy and Nobel laureate, and Ernest Moniz, former U.S. secretary of Energy and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative, write, “The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is scheduled to close when its federal 40-year license expires in 2025 — marking the end of nuclear power generation in California. This schedule was set in a complex multi-stakeholder process approved by state regulators in 2018, and modifying it would be at least as complex. However, much has changed in the last few years, underscoring the need to revisit this decision — including rolling blackouts in California in 2020, global awareness of the need for greater ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and a better understanding of the limitations of existing technology within a reliable and resilient system. Reconsidering the future of Diablo Canyon is now urgently needed in advancing the public good. … ” Read more from the LA Times here: California needs to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open to meet its climate goals
In regional water news this week …
Klamath: How a federal drought relief program left southern Oregon parched—and contributed to the ongoing groundwater crisis in the West
“This April, Micah Goettl, an emergency coordinator for the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS), began to hear reports of residential wells failing in Klamath County. At first, this wasn’t a complete surprise. The region was experiencing extreme drought. Many farmers in the area were tapping into groundwater reserves after their preferred water sources, Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River, had been cordoned off to protect endangered species. Wells have occasionally gone dry in previous years, Goettl said. It happens every now and then, when groundwater falls to a level lower than pumps can reach. Quickly, however, it became apparent that this year’s water woes were more severe than usual, and widespread … ” Read more from The Counter here: How a federal drought relief program left southern Oregon parched—and contributed to the ongoing groundwater crisis in the West
How Folsom Lake is using weather forecasts to manage water supply amid climate change
Patrick Kennedy, a Sacramento County supervisor, and Robert Dugan, a Placer County Water Agency board member, write, “An atmospheric river dumped more than five inches of rain on Sacramento on Oct. 24, breaking a 24-hour rainfall record set in 1880. A week later, Folsom Lake was 16 feet deeper and 90,000 acre-feet fuller — a significant boost in supply for the region’s primary surface reservoir after one of the worst drought years ever. Just a decade ago, water managers may not have been allowed to hold on to all that water in Folsom. But thanks to Rep. Doris Matsui and investments by local, state and federal officials over the past 10 years, Folsom has $1 billion in new hardware and rules that allow us to store the equivalent of up to two more storms of that size — enough to serve 400,000 homes for a year. ... ” Continue reading at the Sacramento Bee here: How Folsom Lake is using weather forecasts to manage water supply amid climate change
Commentary: Sacramento County blamed American River’s pollution on homeless people. But was it true?
“Sacramento County is once again embroiled in a hypocritical trap of its own making. An environmental group is suing the region’s largest government for allegedly dumping sewer waste into local waterways — even as the county has blamed its unsheltered population for rising E. coli levels along the American River. While county officials have been supposedly wracked by concern for the health and safety of visitors to the American River and the residents of the multiple homeless camps along its banks, the California Coastkeeper Alliance is accusing the county and the Sacramento Area Sewer District of violating the Clean Water Act by dumping waste into the the American and Sacramento rivers and area creeks. ... ” Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: Sacramento County blamed American River’s pollution on homeless people. But was it true?
Update: Potter Valley Project on the Eel River
“In response to a recent decision from federal regulators, California Trout sees a clear path towards the removal of Scott Dam and the historic restoration of the upper Eel River watershed in Northern California. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected a recent request from the Two-Basin Partnership asking for additional time to complete critical studies and determine the appropriate strategy in developing a system for ongoing water transfers and fisheries restoration on the Eel and Russian Rivers. CalTrout is one of five entities that compose the Partnership. … Given FERC’s decision, CalTrout will now shift its focus to working with PG&E and stakeholders to negotiate the company’s plans to remove Scott Dam, effectively opening up the 288 linear river miles of spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead that’s located up-river of the facilities. … ” Read the full update from Cal Trout here: Update: Potter Valley Project on the Eel River
Sonoma Water files petition to maximize reservoir storage
“The Sonoma County Water Agency has filed a petition with the State Water Resources Control Board to ensure that already depleted reservoirs are not further affected by reduced flows from the Potter Valley Project due to a mechanical failure at the PG&E hydroelectric facility. The Potter Valley Project diverts water from the Eel River through a tunnel and hydropower facility operated by PG&E. The water flows through the Potter Valley and into Lake Mendocino. Typically, the amount of water allowed to flow into the Russian River is determined by inflow into Lake Pillsbury, located upstream of the Potter Valley Project. But because the water imported from the Eel River into the Russian River will be greatly diminished due to the hydropower plant failure, that calculation won’t be accurate. … ” Read more from the Sonoma County Gazette here: Sonoma Water files petition to maximize reservoir storage
Sonoma Water puts conjunctive use to work in building resiliency to climate extreme
“Weather and water experts frequently encapsulate California’s new reality as one of “wetter wets and dryer dries.” Sonoma County offers a case study in what those flashy extremes look like within a single region. But that case study comes along with a rare success story about how an area among the hardest hit by the latest drought is adapting through locally managed conjunctive use of water. ACWA member agency Sonoma Water depends on the Russian River for most of its water supply. The same river flooded during early 2019 and nearly left the town of Guerneville underwater. Two years later, drought slammed the region into the other end of the climate scale. … ” Read more from ACWA’s Water News here: Sonoma Water puts conjunctive use to work in building resiliency to climate extreme
Now it’s San Francisco’s turn to ask residents, suburban customers to cut water use
“San Francisco’s robust water supply, long unruffled by the severe dry spell now in its second year, has finally begun to feel the pinch of drought, and city water managers are recognizing it may be time to cut back. Officials at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission plan to ask city residents and businesses to reduce water use by 5%, compared to two years ago, and ask the more than two dozen communities that buy water from the city to reduce water use nearly 14%. The goal is a cumulative 10% savings. … ” Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: Now it’s San Francisco’s turn to ask residents, suburban customers to cut water use
Castaic Dam project to ease quake concerns nears completion
“Seismic work at Castaic Dam’s tower access bridge in Los Angeles County has reached a milestone, wrapping up a project on three bridge piers as its owner — the California Department of Water Resources — works on reducing risk of quake damage at its water facilities. “With the completion of the reinforced wrapping to all of the bridge’s piers, we have improved the strength and flexibility of each pier to allow for controlled movements of the bridge during a major earthquake,” said Jason Brabec, Castaic Dam Modernization Program Manager in a statement. “This work bolsters DWR’s ability to safely and reliably release water.” The 500-foot-long bridge provides access for operations and maintenance crews to the structure that allows releasing water from Castaic Lake. … ” Read more from the LA Daily News here: Castaic Dam project to ease quake concerns nears completion
Rosamond Community Services District eyes eminent domain process to obtain water rights
“The Rosamond Community Services District Board of Directors, on Thursday, agreed to begin eminent domain proceedings to obtain water rights from agricultural land owned by the Calandri family on Rosamond’s west side. The Board unanimously approved a Resolution of Necessity, which declared it in the public interest to acquire the property for the water rights. Ed Lear, a litigation attorney representing the Calandri family, said they will challenge the action as a violation of the water basin adjudication. … ” Read more from the Antelope Valley Press here: Rosamond Community Services District eyes eminent domain process to obtain water rights
If the Colorado River keeps drying up, a century-old agreement to share the water could be threatened. No one is sure what happens next.
“The West could be facing a water shortage in the Colorado River that threatens a century-old agreement between states that share the dwindling resource. That possibility once felt far off, but could come earlier than expected. One prominent water and climate scientist is sounding the alarm that the Colorado River system could reach that crossroads in the next five years, possibly triggering an unpredictable chain-reaction of legal wrangling that could lead to some water users being cut off from the river. Brad Udall, a senior water and climate scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute, sits by the Blue River in Silverthorne, which is filled with the snow and rain that falls in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. … ” Read more from Colorado Public Radio here: If the Colorado River keeps drying up, a century-old agreement to share the water could be threatened. No one is sure what happens next.
BLOG ROUND-UP: Thanksgiving food price increases; Planning for unprecedented flooding; State Board’s equity resolution; Delta smelt likely extinct; Elimination of ESA habitat definition = greater uncertainty; and more …