DAILY DIGEST, 9/26: Western forests, snowpack and wildfires appear trapped in a vicious climate cycle; Will Madera Co.’s SGMA rebellion offer blueprint – or warning?; Photo story: Fighting fire with forecasts; Don Edwards refuge marks 50 years of preserving South Bay wetlands; and more …

On the calendar today …

  • WEBINAR: California’s 5th Climate Change Assessment Roundtables: Infrastructure & Built Systems from 9am to 10:30am.  The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in partnership with the California Council on Science & Technology (CCST) is hosting a series of 6 public roundtables to discuss California-specific information and knowledge gaps that will help inform the scope of climate change research conducted as part of California’s Fifth Climate Change Assessment.  This roundtable on Infrastructure and Built Systems will discuss climate impacts on urban land use, development, transportation and built infrastructure, and how these systems respond to these impacts, including climate-related human migration and displacement.  Click here to register.
  • WEBINAR: California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar from 11am to 12pm.  According to the September 6 U.S. Drought Monitor, 99.9% of CA/NV is in drought, with 45.1% in Extreme (D3) or Exceptional (D4) Drought. Even in a state known for extreme events, last week was one for the books. Record-shattering heat, an explosion of wildfires, and Tropical Storm Kay. Kay will likely improve drought conditions in parts of Southern California, but all eyes will soon be on the fall and winter outlooks with the hope for a better snow year. It’s not a great sign thought that La Niña is favored to continue through winter 2022-23. The webinar is part of a series of regular drought and climate outlook webinars designed to provide stakeholders and other interested parties in the region with timely information on current drought status and impacts, as well as a preview of current and developing climatic events (i.e. El Niño and La Niña).   Click here to register.

In California water news today …

Western forests, snowpack and wildfires appear trapped in a vicious climate cycle

When Stephanie Kampf visited one of her wildfire test plots near Colorado’s Joe Wright Reservoir in June of 2021, the charred remains of what had been a cool, shady spruce and fir forest before the Cameron Peak Fire incinerated it nearly took her breath away.The surveys, up at about 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains west of Fort Collins, were part of a rapid response science assessment to measure just how much the extreme 2020 wildfire season in the West disrupted the water-snow cycle in the critical late-snowmelt zone which serves as a huge natural reservoir. The snowmelt sustains river flows that nurture ecosystems, fills irrigation ditches for crops and delivers supplies of industrial and drinking water to communities.The findings of the study, published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, suggest that the relationships of snow and water in many Western mountain forests are caught in a vicious climate cycle, with more fires leading to faster snowmelt and reduced water, which, in turn, makes forests more flammable. ... ”  Read more from Inside Climate News here: Western forests, snowpack and wildfires appear trapped in a vicious climate cycle

Will Madera Co.’s SGMA rebellion offer blueprint – or warning – for reckoning with farm water restrictions, costs?

In front of a standing room only crowd, the Madera County supervisors met as the board of the Madera GSA on September 13, 2022, in the county office building.  The key agenda item was consideration of penalties for growers who exceed their water allocations. Over a hundred farm workers and their families were on hand, coordinated by local labor contractors and grower Ralph Pistoresi.  He has been vocal in his opposition to the per acre fees set in June to fund the groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) in the subbasins covered by the GSA.  In the hour before the meeting, a large group of farm workers had gathered outside the building to listen to several speakers say in English and Spanish that the county GSA program would ruin the ag industry and thereby threaten their jobs.  Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler called the GSA meeting to order at 10:52 a.m. … ”  Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun here: Will Madera Co.’s SGMA rebellion offer blueprint – or warning – for reckoning with farm water restrictions, costs?

With a few cups of water, scientists use eDNA to study reclusive, rare creatures off West Coast

Some critters in the ocean are reclusive, hiding from human probes and trawls. Other critters are rare, driven close to extinction from warming and increasingly acidic waters.  Studying rare and reclusive creatures has posed problems for scientists in the past. In recent years, environmental DNA, or eDNA, has helped. To isolate eDNA, scientists scoop water from the ocean.  “You’re capturing stuff that is falling off the fish: scales, slime or poop, and you’re getting tiny little tiny fragments, individual cells and whatnot. Then, you’re trying to find those cells in a giant bottle of water,” said Andrew Shelton, a research ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. … ”  Read more from OPB here: With a few cups of water, scientists use eDNA to study reclusive, rare creatures off West Coast

A plan to share the pain of water scarcity divides farmers in this rural Nevada community

In central Nevada, on the edges of the small town of Eureka, farm fields unfold for miles between the Sulphur Spring Range and Diamond Mountains.  Green crop circles fill up the remote land. Tractors roam slowly across open fields. Black cattle dot dusty playas.  This is Diamond Valley, a high-desert basin with 26,000 acres of irrigated agriculture—mostly hayfields—that relies heavily on groundwater pumped up to the surface to grow crops.  Since the 1960s, state officials had let farmers over-pump the basin-fill aquifer in Diamond Valley, which is mainly recharged by winter storms. Back then, the state appropriated irrigation groundwater rights totaling about 126,000 acre-feet. One acre-foot is the amount of water that fills an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot.  Decades later, however, it was discovered the amount of water available in the valley each year is only 30,000 acre feet. … ”  Read more from Inside Climate News here: A plan to share the pain of water scarcity divides farmers in this rural Nevada community

Can the California plastics law solve our plastic problem?

“”Approximately 40% of all plastics created right now are single-use plastic,” says Megan J. Wolff, Ph.D., M.P.H, Policy Director at Beyond Plastics. “They’re basically instant trash.”  The impacts of this are felt widely, polluting not just our streets, but our waterways and soils. Thanks to a law in California signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this past June, there could be much less plastic waste in California within a decade, serving as a potential pilot for this legislation being enacted elsewhere.  The landmark legislation requires that all packaging in the state be compostable or recyclable by 2032, and sets guidelines for increasing the levels of recycling of plastic packaging in the state by the same year. By signing SB 54 into law, Newsom seeks to hold polluters responsible, shifting the burden of responsibility for plastic pollution from consumers to the plastics industry. … ”  Read more from Salon Magazine here: Can the California plastics law solve our plastic problem?

Federal disaster assistance to California

Ryan Miller and Nicholas Pinter write, “Following a major flood or other natural disaster, the US federal government provides disaster assistance to individuals and local and state jurisdictions to help them recover. Over the past ~20 years, these federal payments have totaled nearly $150 billion (in 2020 dollars), including over $20 billion for recovery from Hurricane Katrina and $15 billion from Hurricane Sandy. We analyzed 20 years of federal data to assess patterns of FEMA disaster assistance, focusing on aid to California, peer states, and FEMA assistance across the US.  A principle conclusion is that California has received less federal disaster assistance on a per-capita basis than most peer states and less than United States averages for all disaster types. The imbalance is especially pronounced for flood-related events, and reinforces previous findings that California has relied less on federal flood funding, including National Flood Insurance Policy claims, than most states over the past 20-30 years. … ”  Read more from the California Water Blog here: Federal Disaster Assistance to California

Photo story: Fighting fire with forecasts

To date, the U.S. has seen more than 50,000 wildfires resulting in nearly seven million acres burned in 2022. Organizing resources and crews to fight wildfires is an enormous undertaking. Today, more than 15,000 wildland firefighters and support personnel are assigned to wildfire incidents across the country. Among the crews are specially trained meteorologists with NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), called Incident Meteorologists (IMETs).  When there is a large wildfire, an IMET is often deployed to the fire incident command post. IMETs provide critical fire weather information to wildfire management teams so they can map out the safest possible tactics for firefighters, while also generating immediate and short-term spot forecasts needed for fire suppression. NOAA has approximately 100 IMETs and IMET trainees that are stationed at NWS forecast offices throughout the country, ready to deploy. … ”  Continue reading at Yuba Net here: Photo story: Fighting fire with forecasts

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In regional water news and commentary today …


This remote California wine region was a ‘holy grail.’ But climate change is threatening it

Many Bay Area wine drinkers might not be able to point out Redwood Valley on a map, but they’ve probably tasted Redwood Valley wine. This little-known slice of inland Mendocino County has become the go-to vineyard region for some of California’s most popular young wine producers, like Martha Stoumen Wines, Broc Cellars, Emme Wines, Les Lunes Wine and Vinca Minor Wine.    For these progressive, low-intervention winemakers, Redwood Valley seemed to represent “that holy grail,” said Hardy Wallace of Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah (and formerly of Dirty & Rowdy). … Redwood Valley, Wallace said, was for him and his peers “the place you could go to make really cool, compelling wines without having to charge $60 for them.”  But the last three years have dealt Redwood Valley one devastating blow after another. … ” Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle here: This remote California wine region was a ‘holy grail.’ But climate change is threatening it


Why is Lake Tahoe’s water so beautifully blue?

Mark Twain once described Lake Tahoe as “a noble sheet of blue water. It must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”  The lake is blessed with beauty thanks to its iconic cobalt blue waters. How is this natural jewel in Sierra Nevada mountains so phenomenally blue?  Scientists at the University of California Davis measured a “quantification of Tahoe’s blueness” based on wavelengths of light coming from the lake. Data from a NASA-operated buoy in the lake enabled researcher Shohei Watanabe to create a Blueness Index that quantified Lake Tahoe’s color for the first time. ... ”  Read more from Fox Channel 5 here: Why is Lake Tahoe’s water so beautifully blue?

Volunteers rally for 25th year of Lake Tahoe ecosystem restoration event

For the 25th consecutive year, volunteers laced up their boots, pulled on their gloves, and went to work healing Tahoe’s beautiful but sensitive environment for Tahoe Forest Stewardship Days – the region’s longest running ecosystem restoration event.  One hundred volunteers and event partners dedicated Saturday, Sept. 24 to a range of projects on the South Shore that revitalized forests, meadows and trails damaged by wildfire, threatened by climate change and squeezed by Tahoe’s millions of annual visitors.  One group of participants focused on the fire breaks cut by bulldozers last summer as the Caldor Fire threatened Lake Tahoe. Dozer lines are a critical part of wildfire suppression, but they can scar the landscape. With guidance from USDA Forest Service specialists, restoration volunteers gathered seeds from eight species of native plants and distributed them in the fire breaks. When the seeds take root and grow they’ll stabilize soils and prevent runoff that hurts Tahoe’s water clarity. ... ”  Read more from the Tahoe Daily Tribune here: Volunteers rally for 25th year of Lake Tahoe ecosystem restoration event

Forest health partners deploy new technology to help reduce wildfire threats in Lake Tahoe region

With the Mosquito Fire and Tamarack Fire burning close to Lake Tahoe, and the Caldor Fire entering the Tahoe Basin, the Tahoe Fund and Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation announced the deployment of Land Tender™. This is a powerful new software tool developed by Vibrant Planet, that will allow land managers to collaboratively address wildfire threats and plan forest health and restoration treatments. Land Tender will be used in the Tahoe Basin and surrounding critical watersheds covering 1.5 million acres, making this the largest deployment to date of this new system.  Land Tender, also jointly funded by California Tahoe Conservancy, is the leading community wildfire resilience and wildland health decision support system in the United States. The platform will be deployed across the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Middle Truckee River, American River, Bear River, Feather River, and Yuba River watersheds. … ”  Read more from South Tahoe Now here: Forest health partners deploy new technology to help reduce wildfire threats in Lake Tahoe region


Salmon Festival returns to Oroville for the first time in two years

The Oroville Salmon Festival returned to the Feather River for the first time in two years, bringing families fishy fun, good food and numerous resources.  The annual event that takes place every fourth Saturday of September celebrates the return of the salmon.  “The significance of the salmon is incredible because it is not only our natural resource, but it is also a resource for fisherman — not only commercially but recreationally too,” said Fish Hatchery Manager Anna Kastner. “These fish have been coming up the river for thousands of years and so many changes have been done in this river, but fish still come up. So it’s a sign that we are doing something right.”  Kicking off with a salmon soirée on Friday, the fundraiser served food to support the Feather River Nature Center. … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here: Salmon Festival returns to Oroville for the first time in two years


Don Edwards refuge marks 50 years of preserving South Bay wetlands

The haunting cry of gulls, a rush of breeze with a salty tang and the sound of a jackrabbit scuffling among the cord grass may greet visitors to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The nation’s first urban National Wildlife Refuge, it boasts visitor centers in Alviso and Fremont.  To mark its 50th anniversary, the refuge is throwing a party on Oct. 8, “Celebrating 50 Years of Conservation: Past, Present and Future.” The event starts at 11 a.m. at 1 Marshlands Road in Fremont.  Besides providing a home for wildlife, the refuge’s environment makes for easier breathing for both animals and humans. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: Don Edwards refuge marks 50 years of preserving South Bay wetlands

Tribe, environmentalists oppose mining project in Santa Clara County

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band is calling on Santa Clara County to stop a project they say will destroy hundreds of acres of sacred land. A private company wants to build a sand and gravel mining plant there and will need the county’s approval to do it.  It’s not just the tribe that’s against this project. The tribe has the support of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, the ACLU and environmental groups like Green Foothills. They all say the risks far outweigh the benefits and once the damage is done, there’s no turning back. … ”  Read more from KTVU here: Tribe, environmentalists oppose mining project in Santa Clara County


Tide to table profile: Monterey Bay seaweeds

California’s Monterey Bay Seaweeds cultivates edible seaweeds, including west coast dulse, sea lettuce, sea grapes, and ogo. These are all sustainably farmed in land-based tanks, harvested to order, and available year-round. The business is family owned by co-founders Dr. Michael Graham, a professor and seaweed biologist, and Erica Graham, a chef and restaurateur.  Michael says, “We’re a family and wanted to make seaweed into something that complements both of us, so we went culinary. Seaweed is my expertise and Erica knows what products chefs want. Knowing the restaurants and the seaweed is what gets us into the high-end markets.”  Monterey Bay’s seaweeds are farmed using a land-based, sea water recirculating system. By cultivating seaweeds in tanks, there are no negative impacts to wild seaweed populations. … ”  Read more from NOAA here: Tide to table profile: Monterey Bay seaweeds


Stockton residents now required to reduce water use by 20%. See latest water restrictions

The extreme heat seen throughout the west is causing household lawns to cry out for water.  In July, the Stockton City Council adopted a resolution declaring a Stage 2 Water Shortage Emergency in response to the ongoing drought and record-low reservoir levels in California.  This resolution means that Stockton residents are required to cut water use by 20% and restrict watering hours to before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Watering days have also been restricted to only two days per week. … ”  Read more from the Stockton Record here: Stockton residents now required to reduce water use by 20%. See latest water restrictions


In San Bernardino mountains, residents hit by devastating mudslide fear more to come

For months, Oak Glen resident Meg Grant emailed pleas to local officials: Residents needed help preparing for the next rainstorm.  … The dreaded day arrived Sept. 12 when the remains of Tropical Storm Kay brought 2.4 inches of rain within an hour and produced an immense debris flow that damaged or destroyed 16 homes. Car-size boulders came crashing down in Forest Falls, a small mountain community north of Oak Glen. A 62-year-old Forest Falls resident died as the flood of rocks, sticks and mud overtook her home.  The seed of the disastrous mudslide — which overwhelmed a county-run flood channel and buried some areas in 12 feet of mud — was planted two years ago when the El Dorado fire scorched 22,680 acres on Yucaipa Ridge, producing a burn scar that left the mountain bare and prone to rapid erosion.  “They knew this was a problem,” said Grant, who grew frustrated when the county said it could do little to help residents in fortifying their homes. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: In San Bernardino mountains, residents hit by devastating mudslide fear more to come

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Along the Colorado River …

Feds will spend billions to boost drought-stricken Colorado River system

As climate change tightens its grip on the Colorado River basin, the states that use its water are struggling to agree on terms that will reduce their demand. Now, the federal government is stepping in with a plan to use billions of dollars to incentivize conservation.  The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced new measures in response to the ongoing dry conditions, unveiling plans to use a chunk of the $4 billion it received as part of the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act. That money will be used for what the agency refers to as “short-term conservation,” to remove water-intensive grass in cities and suburbs, and to upgrade aging canals. … ”  Read more from KUNC here: Feds will spend billions to boost drought-stricken Colorado River system

Commentary: The Colorado River at the end of water year 2022: a status report

John Fleck writes, “I don’t see how this ends well.  Most of the major players – the ones that matter, anyway, by which I mean Arizona, California, and the federal government – appear boxed in by constraints they can’t seem to overcome, while the water in the Colorado River’s big reservoirs is circling the drains.  Arizona’s giving up a lot of water right now, and it’s hard to see how they solve their in-state politics and give up more without California coming up with substantial cuts of its own. Meanwhile California’s internal politics have so far constrained it from coming up with meaningful contributions. This may change soon, but the numbers being discussed may not be enough to move the needle as far as it needs to move. And the federal government seems torn between tough immediate actions and placing responsibility on the states to come up with a plan to save themselves. … ”  Read more from the Inkstain blog here: Commentary: The Colorado River at the end of water year 2022: a status report

Wildlife agencies work to restore wetlands for declining Great Basin shorebird populations

On a warm September morning, Mike Goddard pointed his scope toward a marshy pond within the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge. What Goddard hoped to spot: The many migratory birds that forage in the shallow shores of the wetlands, once abundant in this area outside of Fallon.  These species, known as shorebirds, connect Western Nevada’s patchwork of wetlands to the rest of the globe. Shorebirds log thousands of miles each year, migrating from the Arctic to more tropical climates. Along their worldwide journey, wetlands and saline lakes in the Great Basin, from Fallon to Salt Lake City, serve as important habitat to support foraging, resting and nesting.  Yet these lands have faced numerous threats in recent decades, both in Nevada and across much of the Pacific Flyway, a major pathway for migratory birds. Drought and water diversions have meant that less water is filling many of these arid wetlands. Warming temperatures have only added to the pressures on shorebirds, contributing to a decline in Great Basin populations. … ”  Read more from the Nevada Independent here: Wildlife agencies work to restore wetlands for declining Great Basin shorebird populations

Big Mesa water projects face ballooning costs

In 2024, Mesa officials expect to lose 7,000 acre-feet, or 16%, of the city’s share of Colorado River water due to drought contingency measures.  It’s about 8% of Mesa’s total water consumption, but Mesa Water Director Chris Hassert said, “We will offset that entire 7,000- acre foot cut with the flip of a switch” once the city completes the Central Mesa Reuse Pipeline to increase water exchanges with the Gila River Indian Community.  So, the good news is Mesa has a plan. The bad news is, costs for this and other water projects have skyrocketed in a matter of months, complicating efforts to get them done in the desired time frames. … ”  Read more from the East Valley Tribune here: Big Mesa water projects face ballooning costs

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In national water news today …

Climate perils mount for America’s water utilities

Drinking water disasters across the United States in recent weeks are magnifying vulnerabilities in the nation’s water grid as operators grapple with record-setting drought and floods that can knock out aging systems for weeks.  From Jackson, Miss., to Puerto Rico and beyond, a former top federal official who oversaw the nation’s emergency response says American water systems are using outdated flooding data and failing to prepare for a more hazardous future.  At a House hearing earlier this week, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 2009 to 2017, recalled how he responded to flood-related drinking water crises in Nashville, Tenn., and Columbia, S.C., during his tenure at the agency. And he warned that more communities are on the brink of disaster. ... ”  Read more from E&E News here: Climate perils mount for America’s water utilities

Water sector calls for expanded Build America, Buy American waivers

A group of water sector organizations and technology companies are asking the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) to expand Build America, Buy America (BABA) waivers for all EPA-funded water and wastewater infrastructure projects through the end of 2024, AMWA says.  Additionally, the associations and companies are asking for clear guidance on how to implement the new requirements and secure a manufactured product waiver, quick approval, and issuance of National Waivers for manufactured products not adequately produced in the United States, and for more transparency in the waiver issuance process. ... ”  Read more from Water Finance & Management here: Water sector calls for expanded Build America, Buy American waivers

Which wetlands should receive federal protection? The Supreme Court revisits a question it has struggled in the past to answer

The U.S. Supreme Court opens its new session on Oct. 3, 2022, with a high-profile case that could fundamentally alter the federal government’s ability to address water pollution. Sackett v. EPA turns on a question that courts and regulators have struggled to answer for several decades: Which wetlands and bodies of water can the federal government regulate under the 1972 Clean Water Act?  Under this keystone environmental law, federal agencies take the lead in regulating water pollution, while state and local governments regulate land use. Wetlands are areas where land is wet for all or part of the year, so they straddle this division of authority.  Swamps, bogs, marshes and other wetlands provide valuable ecological services, such as filtering pollutants and soaking up floodwaters. Landowners must obtain permits to discharge dredged or fill material, such as dirt, sand or rock, in a protected wetland. This can be time-consuming and expensive, which is why the case is of keen interest to developers, farmers and ranchers, along with conservationists and the agencies that administer the Clean Water Act – the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. … ”  Read more from The Conversation here: Which wetlands should receive federal protection? The Supreme Court revisits a question it has struggled in the past to answer

Environmental Toxins 101: Everything you need to know

When it comes to environmental toxins, many of us conjure images of industrial smokestacks, but unfortunately, they aren’t in just the most obvious places, but they’re everywhere in our daily lives – in the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the products we use on our body, in our homes and our gardens.  These toxins with enough concentration can wreak havoc on our health with major threats that include cancer-causing carcinogens, and other substances that upend cardiovascular, endocrine, and respiratory functions, as well as, lead to chronic illness.  As scientists and healthcare workers are understanding more and more about the effects of these toxins and not only how they affect us, but how they may trigger other problems within our bodies, the need for us to figure out how to limit our exposure is becoming more important.  So what exactly are these toxins, and how can we limit our exposure and who is helping to drive systems-level change? ... ”  Read more from Ec0-Watch here: Environmental Toxins 101: Everything you need to know

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More news and commentary in the weekend edition …

In California water news this weekend …

  • Autumn in the Easter Sierra. Photo by Jay Huang.

    What will it take to escape drought?

  • Distrust of satellite monitoring delays Madera County’s plan to penalize growers for over pumping
  • CA State Water Board issues “Denial of Request for Reconsideration” on Delta Plan Implementation
  • The Delta Plan Ecosystem Amendment: Updated vision and guidance for restoration
  • FIELD teams up with Cadiz to teach sustainable water management in desert
  • DWR program assists Tribal and underrepresented communities with groundwater challenges
  • Nevada farmers shake up traditional water rights with a new way to fight scarcity
  • This technology helps keep grass green while still conserving water
  • Your house vs. climate change? A new site offers risk forecast for next 30 years
  • California’s wildfire activity is running below average this year. But experts warn it’s not over
  • No herbicides detected in Tahoe Keys – final turbidity curtain removed
  • Wine Country is reeling from ‘mass attacks’ on trees. Here’s what is going on
  • ‘The American lawn feels irresponsible’: the LA homes ditching grass for drought-friendly gardens
  • And more …

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

NOTICE: Delta Conveyance Project Draft EIR Comment Period Extended to December 16

NOTICE: State Water Board Racial Equity Action Plan- Upcoming Board Workshop and Public Comment Period

PUBLIC COMMENT/WORKSHOP: Proposed Rulemaking Regarding the Delta Levees Investment Strategy

NOTICE OF OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT: CV-SALTS Final Management Zone Proposals and Early Action Plans

The Delta Plan Ecosystem Amendment: Updated Vision and Guidance for Restoration

Refuel on the Run: Winter-Run Chinook Migration in a Changing River

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About the Daily Digest: The Daily Digest is a collection of selected news articles, commentaries and editorials appearing in the mainstream press. Items are generally selected to follow the focus of the Notebook blog. The Daily Digest is published every weekday with a weekend edition posting on Sundays.


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