A wrap-up of posts published on Maven’s Notebook this week …
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What are the cascading, overlapping, and compounding events caused by drought in the Delta? In early December, the California Council for Science and Technology brought together four experts to discuss the impact of drought on water quantity, water quality, ecosystem health, public health, agriculture, and more in the California Delta.
FEATURE: Mountain Atmospheric Observatory Will Help Track Colorado River Water
Written by Robin Meadows
The Colorado River flows 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico, forming the border between California and Arizona along the way. This mighty river supplies water to 40 million people in the West and is a major source of drinking water for Southern California. Most of the water in the Colorado River comes from precipitation in the mountains but, despite the importance of this upper basin, researchers don’t yet have a full picture of high elevation rain and snow in the western Rockies.
“Knowing how much water is in the Colorado River Basin is important for water supply planning,” says Michael Anderson, State Climatologist at the California Department of Water Resources.
BAY DELTA SCIENCE CONFERENCE: Years in their Ears: What can Fish Earbones Tell Us About Spring-Run Chinook Salmon Success in an Increasingly Volatile Climate?
Dr. Flora Cordoleani is a project scientist with UC Santa Cruz and NOAA fisheries, where she conducts research to understand better the dynamics of threatened populations of spring-run chinook salmon in the Central Valley’s highly modified environment, with the objective of providing management recommendations for the recovery of the species.
At the 2022 Bay-Delta Science Conference, Dr. Cordoleani discussed research done in collaboration with Dr. Corey Phillis, Dr. Anna Sturrock, Dr. Rachel Johnson, and George Whitman that studied fish ear bones, also called otoliths, to look at the life history strategies of the spring-run Chinook salmon population in the Central Valley.
Satellite images show Mount Shasta’s transformation after an exceptionally dry summer
“After one of its driest summers in years, satellite images show that Mount Shasta is blanketed in its signature snow once again after December storms swept across Northern California. The images show the mountain nearly entirely devoid of snow in early September, after a very hot summer for the region compounded the lack of snowpack after two severely dry winters, dissipating the snowpack earlier than normal. Just four months later, the mountain appeared transformed, covered in snow once again. But the welcome sight also comes with continued warning signs. … ” Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: Satellite images show Mount Shasta’s transformation after an exceptionally dry summer
State agencies detail progress implementing water resilience portfolio
“A new report released today conveys significant progress made in the past 18 months to implement the Water Resilience Portfolio, the Newsom Administration’s water policy blueprint to build climate resilience in the face of more extreme cycles of wet and dry. The report summarizes work done on each of 142 separate actions called for in the Water Resilience Portfolio. The portfolio was developed by the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture in response to Governor Newsom’s April 2019 Executive Order calling for a suite of actions that would help California communities, the economy, and the environment address long-standing water challenges while adapting water systems to a changing climate. … ” Continue reading at Maven’s Notebook here: State agencies detail progress implementing water resilience portfolio
California’s ‘climate whiplash’ has been worsening for 50 years and will continue
“It may seem as if California is always either flooding or on fire. This climatic whiplash is not imagined: New University of Arizona research, published in the International Journal of Climatology, shows that while dry events are not getting drier, extreme wet events have been steadily increasing in magnitude since the middle of the last century. These increased extreme wet events can result in more dangerous flooding and also fuel wildfires. “Most research after 2015 has been very focused on this climate variability and how it’s going to get worse in the future,” said lead study author Diana Zamora-Reyes, a graduate student in the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. “But, in this paper, the main takeaway is that this is happening right now, and that variability has been increasing for the past 50 years or so.” … ” Read more from the University of Arizona here: California’s ‘climate whiplash’ has been worsening for 50 years and will continue
Atmospheric river storm observations over Pacific Ocean to expand this winter
““Hurricane Hunter” aircraft are mobilizing for an expanded 13-week period that began Jan. 5 to glean critical data for improving forecasts of atmospheric river storms over the Pacific Ocean. Such storms provide up to half of the U.S. West Coast’s annual precipitation and a majority of the flooding. The flights are part of the Atmospheric River Reconnaissance (AR Recon) program led by UC San Diego’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography with support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and California Department of Water Resources. The program works in coordination with NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations and the U.S. Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” to execute data-collecting missions within these storms. … ” Read more from UC San Diego News Center here: Atmospheric river storm observations over Pacific Ocean to expand this winter
Spaceship-sized detection system could help determine future of CA water supply, where to store it
“If it looks like something that could transport you into the future, in a sense it is. A spaceship-sized hoop suspended from a helicopter is actually part of an advanced water detection system. The information it’s gathering, could help determine the future of California’s water supply – and where we store it. “I’ve seen similar studies that say, ‘Hey, let’s not even think of building more above ground reservoirs. Let’s use all the empty space below,’” says Rosemary Knight, Ph.D., a professor of Geophysics and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. For several years, Knight has been conducting aerial surveys using an electromagnetic sensing system. She says the technology is able to penetrate the ground, yielding vital data on the geology of natural groundwater basins. 3D maps pinpoint attractive sites, made up of materials marked in red, like sand and gravel, that allow water to sink in. … ” Read more from ABC 7 here: Spaceship-sized detection system could help determine future of CA water supply, where to store it
Major milestone to achieving sustainable groundwater management
“This month, California’s efforts toward improving the management of our state’s critical groundwater supply is taking an important step forward. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is releasing the determinations and written assessments for dozens of plans submitted for review in 2020. In 2014, the State enacted historic legislation – the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (Act) – that directed the creation of new local public agencies and their development of sustainability plans in 94 of the State’s most impacted groundwater basins, where management of the water beneath the ground needed greater oversight after decades of continued pumping. … ” Read more from DWR News here: Major milestone to achieving sustainable groundwater management
New report: California Water Institute releases water management report
“The California Water Institute published a report explaining how the first groundwater sustainability agencies were created and the organizational and governance challenges they navigated. A three-bill legislative package referred to as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act created a fundamental change in the governance of California’s groundwater. The act requires, with some exceptions, the formation of groundwater sustainability agencies for identified groundwater subbasins. The report includes observations from interviews of policymakers, technical experts and thought leaders. … ” Continue reading from Fresno State’s California Water Institute here: California Water Institute releases water management report
Reducing water use: Almonds require 1/3 less water to grow than in 2002; effort underway to cut water another 20% by 2025
“Almonds — like everything else we eat — require water to grow. During the last drought almonds became the target of ire from those who believe agriculture wantonly wastes water with almonds being the No. 1 culprit given almond orchards account for 8 percent of California’s irrigated water. Almonds constitute the largest acreage in the state and as such they are a highly visible target compared to a number of other crops planted in lesser numbers of acres that are ranked lower in food value per gallon of water used. … ” Continue reading at the Manteca Bulletin here: Reducing water use: Almonds require 1/3 less water to grow than in 2002; effort underway to cut water another 20% by 2025
Newsom’s budget proposal would add billions to confront wildfire, climate change
“Gov. Gavin Newsom wants California to commit to another year of record spending to battle a wildfire crisis that shows no sign of letting up — among billions of dollars proposed, in a draft of the state budget, to protect communities from future climate disasters. The budget plan calls for the state to reach into an estimated $46 billion budget surplus and devote $1.2 billion over the next two years to wildfire. Much of the money would go toward fire prevention, including $482 million for projects creating more fire-resilient landscapes through a combination of reforestation, forest thinning, prescribed burns and livestock grazing programs. … ” Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: Newsom’s budget proposal would add billions to confront wildfire, climate change
California must stop burying its head in winter snow
The San Jose Mercury News editorial board writes, “When it comes to water conservation, California is burying its head in the winter snow. Future generations will not look kindly at our leaders’ complete failure to strategically address the state’s water shortages, which will only get worse with climate change. Two years of some of the worst drought conditions in state history haven’t slowed Big Ag’s demands for more water. Meanwhile, urban users aren’t coming close to meeting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to voluntarily cut their water use by 15% from 2020 levels. On Tuesday, the state reported that the statewide reduction was just 6.8% in November, compared with November 2020. Bay Area residents hit Newsom’s target, cutting water use 20.2%. But Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego county residents increased water use by 0.8%. … ” Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: California must stop burying its head in winter snow
Delta tunnels increase probability for the Delta to be a salt water marsh
David Gloski, Bethel Island resident and engineer, writes, “The proposed Delta Conveyance Project (tunnels) will, if built, be only a short term, 30- to 50-year solution and most likely rendered useless and a waste of money. It’s likely being undertaken now by the water exporters because it addresses all their problems permanently and dissociates them from any future Delta issues. They also have the best chance of getting it permitted and approved. Let me explain. I believe climate change is happening, it is only the time scale you can debate. We all see the videos of the polar ice caps disappearing, our temperatures rising, and regional weather changing. … ” Continue reading at The Press here: Delta tunnels increase probability for the Delta to be a salt water marsh
Drought forcing cuts to agriculture, too
Mike Wade with the California Farm Water Coalition writes, “We agree with a lot of what was said in The Mercury News editorial on Jan. 9 (“State must stop burying head in winter snow,” Page A12). The rain and snow this year, while very welcome, isn’t enough yet to recover from last year’s dry conditions. However, asserting that California farms have not been subjected to water cuts is misleading. Farms have seen their water allocations slashed since the beginning of last year. In fact, roughly 25% of California’s irrigated acreage received almost no water allocation in 2021 and expect none this year. It’s not possible to use less than zero water. … ” Read the full letter at the San Jose Mercury News here: Drought forcing cuts to agriculture, too
Overturning the 9th Circuit Vacaville decision would restrict plaintiffs’ misuse of RCRA and that’s a GOOD thing!
Jeffrey Porter with Mintz writes, “The Natural Resources Defense Counsel has told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturning a three judge panel’s “faithful application” of RCRA “could restrict private parties’ abilities to use RCRA to address imminent threats to health and the environment.” Exactly one thing is accurate about that statement — overturning the three judge panel’s immediately controversial decision last fall will restrict the ability of plaintiffs to make claims that shouldn’t be made and seeking attorneys’ fees for having done so. It is really important to unpack the other things the NRDC is spuriously suggesting. ... ” Read more from JD Supra here: Overturning the 9th Circuit Vacaville decision would restrict plaintiffs’ misuse of RCRA and that’s a GOOD thing!
Many Californians fear having their water shut off in the new year. That’s unacceptable
Uriel Saldivar, a senior policy associate at Community Water Center, and Nydia Medina, an AGUA Coalition member, write, “For many people, the new year means a fresh start. But for the million-plus California households with overdue water bills, Jan. 1 had a much less pleasant significance: the end of emergency water shutoff protections. Even though the pandemic is still raging, a state water shutoff ban ended on Dec. 31. Unfortunately, the billion dollars in this year’s budget meant to wipe out water debt won’t reach many families who need it. A lot of utilities are opting out of the voluntary debt relief program, leaving customers in a lurch. That means the amount of help available for families struggling financially will be determined by their address rather than their need. That’s unacceptable in a state that recognizes a human right to water and has spent money to help families keep the water on despite COVID-related hardships. … ” Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: Many Californians fear having their water shut off in the new year. That’s unacceptable
Here is a plan to create more water for California
Edward Ring, lead proponent of the Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022, writes, “Former Congressman Tom Campbell’s recent commentary “Why the delay on critical water storage projects,” published on these pages on January 3, criticized the California Water Commission’s ongoing failure to build the water storage projects that were approved by voters in 2014. There is an answer to the concerns raised by Campbell: The Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022, a constitutional initiative proposed for the November 2022 state ballot. This initiative, currently being circulated for signatures, requires two percent of the state’s general fund be used to construct new water supply projects, and it doesn’t sunset until new projects add five million acre feet per year to the state’s water supply. Two million acre feet per year can come from waste water recycling, another 1 million from conservation programs, and the rest from runoff capture into off-stream reservoirs and aquifers. And to ensure projects are environmentally responsible, it still gives the California Water Commission the final authority over what projects to fund. … ” Read more from the Daily News here: Here is a plan to create more water for California
Idiocy of Sacramento politicians, climate change fanaticism & watering Bermuda grass in the winter
Dennis Wyatt, editor of the Manteca Bulletin, writes, “We are idiots. Or at least the politicians in Sacramento that relentlessly sound the climate change alarm are. This is because of a scene depicting an exercise in futility with overtures of self-destruction that played out Monday just a block off Powers Avenue in Manteca. A man was dutifully hand watering an area of grass in his front yard that was yellow. Forget the fact it had just rained a few day prior. Ignore the morning frost that points to air heavily laden with moisture. Overlook the top three or so inches of soil that lawns draw water from are moist. And set aside the reality that Bermuda — and similar grasses — often turn yellow in the cold of winter when non-native California grasses that constitute many lawns are a lush green. That scene undoubtedly was repeated thousands if not tens of thousands of times across California on Monday. … ” Continue reading at the Manteca Bulletin here: Idiocy of Sacramento politicians, climate change fanaticism & watering Bermuda grass in the winter
In Ojai Valley, a glimpse of how to nurture land in a drier, post-hydrocarbon world
Stephanie Pincetl, professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and founding director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA, writes, “The Ojai Valley in Ventura County is a magical place. Consider its elements: the sweet smell of California citrus blossoms in the spring, the open space preserved by orchards, the seasonal creeks that run free through the cultivated lands. But the Ojai Valley is also a place in peril. That’s because the water source that keeps this inland Ventura hamlet thriving is nearly dry. Lake Casitas reservoir was built in the late 1950s, when decades of plentiful rain hid the true nature of California’s arid climate. Back then, the official projections for water-resources potential were optimistic. Today, that story has changed dramatically. It’s this fear of water shortages that is dominating conversations and creating antagonisms: farmers versus city dwellers, farmers versus farmers, water officials versus everybody. … ” Read more from the LA Times here: In Ojai Valley, a glimpse of how to nurture land in a drier, post-hydrocarbon world
Sewage effluent is hurting oceans
Ed Davis, professional agronomist and water science specialist, writes, “Are we all comfortable with 43 California municipalities dumping their “treated sewage affluent” into the ocean? We must be. California has been doing it for decades! I’m reminded of a Jacque Cousteau special in 1972. He made the argument that any dumping of sewage into the rivers, lakes, seas and oceans is most destructive. Unfortunately, all California coastal communities pump millions of gallons of “sewage effluent” into the Pacific Ocean daily! All of these coastal cities are really to blame for the decrease of flora and fauna in our ocean. … ” Read more from the Bakersfield Californian here: Sewage effluent is hurting oceans
Spend infrastructure dollars on projects, not process
Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, writes, “The historic enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides a “once-in-a-generation” funding opportunity to support the modernization of our Western water infrastructure and restoration of our forested watersheds. The IIJA targets billions of dollars for the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service that align with the solutions advanced by over 230 Western water, agricultural and urban organizations. … The Family Farm Alliance was part of the steering committee that helped guide the energies of our coalition. Now, those energies will be redirected to the agencies overseeing administration of the funds. We want to ensure that most of these dollars are spent on-the-ground for the intended purpose. … ” Continue reading at the Western Farm Press here: Spend infrastructure dollars on projects, not process
Why a world without glaciers is more terrifying than you realize
Jorge Daniel Taillant, author and founder of the Center for Human Rights and Environment, writes, “We’ve all read about glaciers in peril: pieces of ice, the size of continents, breaking off Antarctica or melting away in the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole, leaving polar bears starving and clutching onto remnants of crumbling sea ice. But what do such tales mean for people in temperate places? Here’s one answer: Learning about glacier vulnerability can guide our fight to stop climate change. Today’s glaciers are leftovers from Earth’s last ice age, which came to an end 12,000 years ago, when all of Canada and much of the northern U.S. was completely covered in ice. Glaciers now cover a surface area of roughly 5.8 million square miles. That’s larger than the United States. If all that ice were a single country, “Glacierland” would be the Earth’s second largest, behind only Russia at 6.6 million square miles. … ” Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: Why a world without glaciers is more terrifying than you realize
In regional water news this week …
Damned if you don’t: Vanishing salmon and the Klamath River dam removal project
“For thousands of years, the Yurok have gathered along the Klamath River in northern California to honor the life-affirming runs of wild salmon. But these days their annual festivals have come to feel more like funerals than celebrations. There are so few salmon in these waters that the Yurok Tribe has had to resort to importing them from Alaska. “Our economic, social, cultural, and mental health are dependent upon the Klamath’s salmon runs,” said Amy Cordalis, Yurok tribal member and the tribe’s general counsel. “When the river and salmon are unhealthy, we are unhealthy.” Nearby, on the coast, the ocean air in Crescent City, CA, is no longer pungent with the smell of working fisheries. In the last 40 years, the quaint seaside town has seen a 96 percent loss in fisheries. A little further north, Brookings, OR, also has witnessed the loss of almost all of their fisheries. There just aren’t enough salmon to keep them running. … ” Continue reading at Who What Why here: Damned if you don’t: Vanishing salmon and the Klamath River dam removal project
Potter Valley hydropower project license lapse sets stage for plans to remove Eel River dam
“The future of a little-known dam on the Eel River in Lake County may be shaped this year as the license expires on a broken-down PG&E hydropower project that plays a critical role in providing water to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents. Demolition of Scott Dam, a 138-foot concrete structure built a century ago to impound Lake Pillsbury, is an “absolute requirement” for a coalition that includes Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties interested in picking up the license, said Rep. Jared Huffman, the North Coast congressman. But the coalition — known as the Two-Basin Partnership — has fallen short on fundraising and planning for the complex and costly process of taking over the project owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric since 1930. … ” Continue reading from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here: Potter Valley hydropower project license lapse sets stage for plans to remove Eel River dam
Nearly extinct salmon spawn in the Bay Area for the first time in 18 years
“At first, barely visible beneath the rippling waters of Montezuma Creek in Forest Knolls, the bright red tail of a coho salmon suddenly emerged, splashing along the surface as it swam upstream. The recent sighting by Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) biologist Ayano Hayes was a milestone for the Bay Area, marking the first time the endangered fish has been spotted in the small tributary of the San Geronimo Valley in Marin County since 2004. “This is extremely exciting and is the result of big storms that have let coho salmon maneuver through culverts under roads that are a barrier to migration under lower flows,” said Hayes in a statement. … ” Continue reading from SF Gate here: Nearly extinct salmon spawn in the Bay Area for the first time in 18 years
Recent storms washed microplastics into San Francisco Bay, studies show
“Walk along Damon Slough in Oakland and you’re likely to see trash heading towards San Francisco Bay. David Lewis of the environmental group Save the Bay, says much of it comes from the nearby 880 freeway and local storm drains. “Every time it rains, anything that’s on the streets goes into the storm drains and straight out into the bay unfiltered. And we see this on all of the freeways and all of our urban road,” Lewis explains. And experts say the pollution you can actually see is only part of the threat. Floating along side, often invisible to the naked eye, are microplastics. They’re tiny particles, that can come from clothing, cigarette butts, and even the rubber from car tires. ... ” Read more from ABC here: Recent storms washed microplastics into San Francisco Bay, studies show
California Court oks controversial Newark housing plan along its climate-vulnerable wetlands
“A California district court has sided with the city of Newark and developer The Sobrato Organization in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups who challenged a plan to build hundreds of two-story tract homes along fragile wetlands in Alameda County. Environmentalists said the dwellings would be built in a federal flood zone and could succumb to rising seas in coming decades, arguing that the project’s environmental review was inadequate. California’s 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed and ruled that the city and developers could move forward with permitting plans for Sanctuary West: 469 single-family, market-rate homes on four elevated peninsulas close to Newark’s shoreline. … ” Read more from KQED here: California Court oks controversial Newark housing plan along its climate-vulnerable wetlands
Dangers lurk in the San Joaquin Valley’s dust
“In the San Joaquin Valley, concerns about airborne dust—and its health impacts—are growing. As farmers prepare to fallow more cropland to achieve groundwater sustainability under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and adapt to the valley’s warming, drying climate, two experts say people are right to be concerned. We asked Dr. John Balmes, Professor Emeritus at UCSF and UC Berkeley and Physician Member of the California Air Resources Board (since 2008), and Dr. Isabel Jones, postdoc at UC Berkeley, to tell us more about the dust and its health impacts for valley residents. … ” Read more from the PPIC here: Dangers lurk in the San Joaquin Valley’s dust
Tulare County looking at SGMA impact on property values
“There’s the definite possibility the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act could have a negative impact on farmers’ property values. So the question is can farmers affected by the SGMA receive relief when it comes to the amount of property taxes they pay. The answer is maybe. The Tulare County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder’s Office has addressed this issue, stating farmers affected by the SGMA could possibly receive relief when it comes to the property taxes they pay. The SGMA has placed a requirement in which the pumping of groundwater must be reduced. So the SGMA is obviously impacting the use of agricultural land and in turn is influencing property values. But as the county assessor has stated: “Quantifying the effects of these changes is an ongoing challenge.” … ” Read more from the Porterville Recorder here: Tulare County looking at SGMA impact on property values
Groundwater use capped for some Tulare County farmers
Kings Co. OKs deal to secure water for Kettleman City
“Despite little support from Sacramento, Kettleman City will not run dry in 2022. On Tuesday, the Kings County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a deal with the Mojave Water Agency to purchase enough water to serve the impoverished community’s needs this year. The deal will cost Kings County $329,000 for 235 acre-feet of water, which comes in at a rate of $1,400 per acre-foot. The Kettleman City Community Services District reserve fund will foot the bill for the payment, but the water district is exploring state and federal grants to cover the cost. … ” Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun here: Kings Co. OKs deal to secure water for Kettleman City
Desert groundwater plan OK’d by state
“The Indian Wells Valley groundwater plan got a thumbs up from the state on Thursday but with a swarm of lawsuits surrounding the plan, it’s unclear what that approval will mean going forward. One of those lawsuits seeks a “comprehensive adjudication” of water rights of the Indian Wells Valley basin, which could reconfigure who has rights to how much groundwater, a fundamental underpinning of the groundwater sustainability plan that was just approved. “We don’t really know what the impact of (the Department of Water Resources’) approval will have on the court, it remains to be seen,” said Don Zdeba, general manager of the Indian Wells Valley Water District, which filed the adjudication. … ” Read more from SJV Water here: Desert groundwater plan OK’d by state
Feds tighten Colorado River flow at Glen Canyon Dam as ever-shrinking Lake Powell nears critical level
“As Lake Powell’s water level continues to decline, federal water managers will implement another round of emergency measures to keep the Utah largest’s reservoir from reaching a point where Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate electricity. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that, over the next four months, it plans to hold back 350,000 acre-feet of water that would normally flow through Grand Canyon into Lake Mead, which is also struggling with a receding shoreline in the face of a stubborn drought. Failure to act would result in Lake Powell reaching a critical elevation of 3,525 feet above sea level as early as next month, according to Wayne Pullan, the bureau’s Upper Colorado Basin regional director. … ” Read more from the Salt Lake Tribune here: Feds tighten Colorado River flow at Glen Canyon Dam as ever-shrinking Lake Powell nears critical level