WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Jan 22-27: SWP allocation rises to 30%; ‘Vigorous’ storm in the forecast; Water Board criticized for Delta water deal; and more …

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

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This week’s featured articles …

METROPOLITAN ONE WATER COMMITTEE: Potential of increased water efficiency, reuse, stormwater capture; $100 million for water transfers; SoCal water update, and more …

With the installation of Adán Ortega as the Chair of the Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors, there have been in the committee structure and assignments.  The Bay-Delta Committee and the Water Planning and Stewardship Committee are no longer; they have been combined into the One Water and Stewardship Committee.  The Chair of the One Water Committee is Tracy Quinn, currently the President and CEO of Heal the Bay; previously, she was the Director of California Water Efficiency with the Healthy People and Thriving Communities Program at the NRDC.

On January 9, the Committee met for the first time.  The agenda, ambitious for a two-hour meeting, included a presentation from Heather Cooley with the Pacific Institute on the potential for increasing water use efficiency, water reuse, and stormwater capture, approval of $100 million for water transfers in 2023, a briefing on Delta operations, and an update on the water supply and demand balance for 2023.

Click here to read this article.

DELTA WATERMASTER: Michael George retires, recounts the progress made in his two terms

Delta Watermaster Michael George was appointed in 2015, the second to serve in the position created in 2009 by the Delta Reform Act.  After serving two terms, Mr. George announced his retirement at the end of his term in early January 2023; his successor has not yet been named.  At the December meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Mr. George recounted his impressive accomplishments during his eight-year tenure, as well as his outlook and advice for managing the Delta going forward.

Click here to read this article.

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In California water news this week …

State water deliveries to surge — highest in 6 years

A drone view of low water conditions at West Branch Feather River Bridge along Highway 70 located at Lake Oroville in Butte County, California.
On this date, the water storage was 1,790,095 acre-feet (AF), 51 percent of the total capacity. Photo taken January 12, 2022.  Andrew Innerarity / DWR

State officials announced today that water deliveries from the state’s aqueduct will be increased to 30%, the highest amount for January that growers and Southern California cities have received in six years.  Less than two months ago, amid forecasts of a third consecutive drought year, the California Department of Water Resources announced an initial allocation of just 5% of the supplies requested from its State Water Project, which transports Northern California water south.  But recent storms have boosted the reservoirs, snowpack and river flows that feed the state aqueduct. Never in the 27 years of records has such a poor initial estimate been followed by such a rapid, dramatic jump. ... ”  Read more from Cal Matters here: State water deliveries to surge — highest in 6 years

Storm deluge stirs hope for water supply

California farmers are encouraged by the series of atmospheric river storms that brought near-record rain and snow, filling depleted reservoirs and bolstering the snowpack.  Frost Pauli, vineyard manager for Pauli Ranch in Potter Valley in Mendocino County, said he feels optimistic after three intense years of drought. He said the winter storms “have been excellent for our water supply.”  “Our water storage situation is 180 degrees from where we were at the end of November,” Pauli said. “We’re looking pretty good. For our farmers here, everyone’s optimistic about this season. We should have ample water for this year.” ... ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: Storm deluge stirs hope for water supply

The West’s snow boom could ease the water crisis. But experts worry more hot, dry weather is coming

A parade of storms has given the West some relief from its historic drought, replenishing the soil, filling reservoirs and increasing much-needed snowpack. But whether it will be enough to help lift the West out of its multi-year water crisis, experts say, depends on temperatures in the coming months. …  Across Western states, snowpack has reached more than 200% of normal levels in some places, with record-high amounts in the central Sierra Nevada. What’s already fallen there in the first couple of months of winter is what the region usually sees all the way through April 1.  But nearly 60% of the West is still in some level of drought. And as the rain and snow subsided earlier this week, experts now worry how long that white gold will last as conditions get hotter and drier. … ”  Read more from CNN here: The West’s snow boom could ease the water crisis. But experts worry more hot, dry weather is coming

Vigorous storm may produce snow, trigger severe weather in California next week

AccuWeather meteorologists say a storm will dip southward along the Pacific coast of the United States later this weekend to early next week. And while this storm may have limited moisture, it will likely cause travel disruptions as it spreads snow and triggers gusty thunderstorms, especially in Southern California. … “A shift in the jet stream pattern over the northeastern Pacific will allow the caboose in the slider storm train to push farther south than predecessors and across California as a result,” AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said. This is likely to be the last such storm for a few weeks, but it will have significant impacts. ... ”  Read more from AccuWeather here: Vigorous storm may produce snow, trigger severe weather in California next week

Have California drought conditions improved this week? Here’s the latest update

California’s string of heavy rainstorms in January continue to provide temporary relief to the state’s chronically dry land. Drought conditions across the golden state have either improved or remained the same compared to one week ago. The U.S. Drought Monitor, in a weekly update published Thursday, reports the state remains free of both “extreme” or “exceptional” drought for the second week in a row. California’s Central Coast, which was devastated by the severe storms, has exited moderate drought conditions and is now “abnormally dry.” In the northwest corner of the state, the majority of Del Norte County is drought free for at least the second the week in a row. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: Have California drought conditions improved this week? Here’s the latest update

New analysis projects capabilities of Sites Reservoir during heavy river flows

The Sites Project Authority released findings from a new analysis that projected Sites Reservoir could have diverted and captured 120,000 acre-feet of water in just two weeks if the reservoir had been operational from Jan. 3 through Jan. 15 and would continue to capture water over the next few weeks as flows continue to run high.  “This is exactly the type of scenario that Sites is being built for – short windows of extremely high flows. There is an untapped opportunity to capture and store a portion of the significant amount of flow from the Sacramento River that occurs during these rare but major storms without impacting the value of these high flows for our environment,” said Jerry Brown, executive director of the Sites Project Authority. … ”  Read more from the Colusa Sun Herald here: New analysis projects capabilities of Sites Reservoir during heavy river flows

Conservation groups criticize California water board’s side deals for Delta water

The California State Water Board now says it will take another two years to finalize the San Francisco-San Joaquin Delta water management plan, and it is proceeding with voluntary agreements with water agencies in the meantime.  Conservation groups spoke out at a workshop held by the board late last week – and some are asking the board to scrap the voluntary agreements.  Ashley Overhouse – California water policy advisor with Defenders of Wildlife – said a new plan to put more water into the estuary is crucial since four species of native fish have made the federal endangered species list since 1992, bringing the total to six.  “At this point, we’re trying to avoid extinction for most native fish populations that rely on the Bay-Delta,” said Overhouse. “We’re talking about not just delta smelt, we’re talking about all runs of salmon, longfin smelt, and sturgeon. They would be completely wiped out.”… ”  Read more from the Public News Service here: Conservation groups criticize California water board’s side deals for Delta water

California’s Delta water dilemma

If you don’t understand the California water scene, you’re in a large company. Most of the state’s residents don’t either.  Partly because it is almost impossibly complicated.  …    The torrential rains of the past few weeks (which delivered 15-25 inches of rain to various areas) have put an end to the “extreme” aspect of the drought.  But they have resurrected a perennial issue in the fertile but semiarid state. It focuses on the Delta, which is fed not only by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, but other rivers coming down directly from the Sierras.  The Delta is not only the center-point of California’s water system but of controversies about it.  These have to do with how much water should be allowed to flow through the Delta into San Francisco Bay and how much should be diverted for agricultural use (especially in the San Joaquin Valley).  Agricultural interests want more of the Delta water pumped south so they can grow crops without having to delve even further into their depleted groundwater supplies. Of course, they feel this need especially acutely now, after years of drought.  Environmental interests want to keep the Delta flow-through high to maintain it as a wildlife habitat. … ”  Continue reading from the Produce Blue Book here: California’s Delta water dilemma

‘Critically endangered’ Delta smelt fish not caught in Sacramento since 2017

“Scale-covered delta smelt fish were abundant in regions like the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River throughout the 1970s and 1980s — but this is no longer the case. The small fish was deemed “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2012, and the population has decreased ever since. A recent survey from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife noted the agency failed to catch any delta smelt in 2022 despite 61 sampling days between September and December.  Even the 12,942 marked adult delta smelt they released into the Sacramento River near Rio Vista in November failed to turn up in any sampling the agency ran on the region in December. … ”  Read more from Channel 10 here:  ‘Critically endangered’ Delta smelt fish not caught in Sacramento since 2017

SEE ALSO: Zero Delta Smelt caught in 2022 CDFW fall midwater trawl survey as Delta Tunnel moves forward, from the Daily Kos

Unlocking ‘nature’s storm drains’ to harness floods and combat California’s drought

As weeks of rain that brought relief from California’s historic drought give way to what may be weeks of dry weather, some scientists think a solution to saving precious water may lie in canals buried deep within the Central Valley — formed after the last Ice Age.  Climate change has brought intensifying swings between extreme drought and extreme floods to the Golden State, which new research suggests has limited options to use floods to recharge increasingly depleted underground aquifers. One option is to set aside vast tracts of land to channel floodwaters, and another is to find land that can quickly pass large amounts of water into rapidly drying aquifers.  The Central Valley faces dire risk of flooding when atmospheric rivers hit cities and rivers restricted by levees. It is also the region most dependent on groundwater for human survival given its status as the world’s breadbasket — groundwater that has been badly depleted in recent years. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: Unlocking ‘nature’s storm drains’ to harness floods and combat California’s drought

DWR launches interagency task force as part of advance planning for drought conditions

While California’s drought outlook is improving, the State is continuing to proactively prepare for a return to dry conditions amid climate-driven extremes in weather. Today, Department of Water Resources (DWR) is officially launching a standing Drought Resilience Interagency and Partners (DRIP) Collaborative, which will include members of the public. Community members and water users are encouraged to apply.  Initiated by Senate Bill 552, the DRIP Collaborative will foster partnerships between local governments, experts, community representatives and state agencies to address drought planning, emergency response, and ongoing management. Members will help ensure support for community needs and anticipate and mitigate drought impacts, especially for small water supplier and rural communities who are often more vulnerable to droughts. … ”  Read more from DWR here: DWR launches interagency task force as part of advance planning for drought conditions

California was just inundated with much-needed water. Too bad we didn’t save much of it

Ian LeMay, the president of the California Fresh Fruit Association and the chairman of the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley, writes, “The recent series of atmospheric rivers dumped enough rain and snow on Northern California to give us hope that the end of the drought may be near. California’s Department of Water Resources is reporting that the state’s snow water equivalent, or how much water the snowpack is expected to yield, is almost double what we expect at this time of year. According to department officials, it’s “the best start to our snowpack in over a decade.”  The tremendous amount of water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Pacific Ocean is additional evidence of this winter’s bounty. The outflow is so abundant now that it’s more than 20 times the threshold set by the state to meet environmental standards. That’s the good news.  The bad news — especially for communities in the San Joaquin Valley, millions of acres of the country’s most productive farmland and the consumers who depend on it — is that we aren’t doing enough to capture these flows when they occur. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: California was just inundated with much-needed water. Too bad we didn’t save much of it

DWR expects to begin Lake Oroville spillway work between May and October

The California Department of Water Resources is set to begin phase one of its plan to replace the hoists on the Oroville Dam spillway sometime between May and October.  Project Manager Zerguy Maazouddi, who works under DWR’s Division of Operations and Maintenance, said the first phase of prerequisites such as site surveys and approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  “The (Flood Control Outlet) Hoist Refurbishment project is being completed in phases,” Maazouddi said. “Phase I activities included: site surveys, approval to proceed with the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and working with a contractor to temporarily remove hoist number eight and transport to their facility for fabrication of new hoist systems. Phase I is complete.” … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here: DWR expects to begin spillway work between May and October

Making the Friant-Kern Canal whole again

When a key section of a 72-year-old, 152-mile canal no longer functions optimally, solving the problem requires ingenuity, skill and know-how.  It also means when a problem can’t be fixed by tackling it head-on, go around it.  That is what’s happening at the Friant-Kern Canal, an integral part of the Central Valley Project that delivers water to 1 million acres of highly productive farmland and more than 250,000 people from Fresno to Bakersfield in Central California.  Launched in the years following World War II, the Friant-Kern Canal has been a stable workhorse – moving water from Millerton Lake to irrigate the fertile farmland on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. However, decades of subsidence have caused the ground to sink, taking with it the canal’s ability to move water through gravity.  The problem has become increasingly worse through the years to the point where 60% of the canal’s conveyance capacity has been lost. The water level often laps the edge of bridge overcrossings. … ”  Read more from the Bureau of Reclamation here:  Making the Friant-Kern Canal whole again | Read via Story Map

The concept of FloodMAR, explained | Q&A

The recent wet weather has prompted controversy due to the amount of water flowing straight to the ocean, rather than storing and using it here in California.  One project, known as FloodMAR, is an integrated and voluntary resource management strategy using flood water resulting from, or in anticipation of, rainfall or snow melt for managed aquifer recharge (MAR) on agricultural lands and working landscapes, including but not limited to refuges, floodplains, and flood bypasses, according to the Department of Water Resources.  ABC10 spoke with Wes Miller, supervising engineer for the Turlock Irrigation District, about the concept of FloodMAR. … ”  Continue reading at ABC 10 here: The concept of FloodMAR, explained | Q&A

Report: The high costs and low benefits of attempting to increase water yield by forest removal in the Sierra Nevada

Although there has been renewed interest in attempting to boost runoff from Sierra Nevada watersheds by removing copious amounts of forest cover, recent assessments promoting the approach have not given ample attention to well-known factors that sharply limit its utility for augmenting water supplies. These assessments have also largely ignored the considerable and enduring environmental costs of pursuing such an approach.  This report provides a more thorough assessment of the environmental costs and limited utility for water supply from attempts to increase water yield via forest removal in the Sierra Nevada.  Although data are limited from the Sierra Nevada, there is considerable body of information from applicable studies throughout the western U.S. that provides a context for assessing the limited benefits and significant costs of pursuing a forest removal or thinning management approach. … ”  Read the full report from Environment Now here: The high costs and low benefits of attempting to increase water yield by forest removal in the Sierra Nevada

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In commentary this week …

Mark Arax: My state is 1,000 miles long, and not everyone living in it hates the rain

Mark Arax, author of “The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California,” writes, “Here in Fig Garden, a suburb that creeps up to the edge of the San Joaquin River, on land my neighbors prefer not to think of as a floodplain, the rain started falling in late December and didn’t stop for two weeks. My lawn turned into pond. Geese were honking like they haven’t honked in years.  As the last big storm was nearing, I got a call from my aunt and uncle, California natives who high-tailed it to Cleveland a half century ago. “You guys all right?” they asked.  The pond had yet to reach my front door. “I think we’re going to be OK,” I said.  I reminded them that there are seven dams on the San Joaquin. I don’t know of any other river in America that has been more corralled by man. Over 90 percent of its flow is shunted via canals and ditches to farmland that produces almonds, pistachios, table grapes and mandarins. “Food Grows Where Water Flows,” shout the signs hanging from used-up cotton trailers along Route 99. … ”  Continue reading at the New York Times here (gift article):  Mark Arax: My state is 1,000 miles long, and not everyone living in it hates the rain

Why California wasn’t prepared for the atmospheric rivers

Ned Kleiner, a PhD candidate at Harvard studying atmospheric science, writes, “Los Angeles International Airport recorded 5 inches of rain during the entire 2020-2021 rainfall season. In 2023, that much rain fell in the first two weeks of January. This boom-and-bust cycle of precipitation is normal — climate scientists call it “internal variability” and it is described in the biblical story of Joseph, who predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. But that doesn’t make it any less destructive.  When it comes to dry spells, these models are fairly reliable: Researchers have been predicting longer and drier droughts in the Southwest for more than a decade. The downpours, however, have proved much more challenging to forecast; as recently as mid-November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s three-month outlook still predicted below-average winter precipitation in Southern California.  Why is it so much more difficult for climate models to accurately predict rain? … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: Why California wasn’t prepared for the atmospheric rivers

Atmospheric rivers are the ‘new normal’

Environmental lawyer Robert Sulnick writes, “As Californians know, we are living through a series of mega rainstorms know as “atmospheric rivers.”  These are super powerful storms, akin to rivers in the sky, that dump massive amounts of rain causing flooding, mudslides, power outages and loss of life and property damage.  January’s deluge, aka the Pineapple Express,” originated in Hawai‘i where warm air rose to create low air pressure at the Earth’s surface, producing warm water vapor plumes that, as they moved east across the Pacific Ocean, arrived in California as atmospheric rivers.  History has seen these rivers drench California before. What we have not seen are the severity of these kind of storms exacerbated by climate change. … ”  Read more from Noozhawk here: Atmospheric rivers are the ‘new normal’

California: Atmospheric river and misguided climate fear

Steve Goreham, a speaker on the environment, business, and public policy and author of the book Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development, writes, “For more than three weeks, California has been pummeled by a series of storms arriving one after another from the Pacific Ocean. Torrential rains, mudslides, power outages, and floods plague state residents from north of San Francisco down to Los Angeles, 400 miles to the south. Scientists attribute this event to an “atmospheric river” condition in the Pacific Ocean. Many also claim that this phenomenon is due to human-caused climate change.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an atmospheric river is a long, narrow region in the atmosphere that can transport large amounts of water vapor, roughly equivalent to the average flow of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River. When atmospheric rivers make landfall, they release this water vapor in the form of rain or snow. An atmospheric river that forms in the tropics near Hawaii, sometimes called the Pineapple Express, can deliver large amounts of water to the U.S. West Coast. … ”  Read more from the Washington Examiner here: California: Atmospheric river and misguided climate fear | Read via MSN News

Weather extremes drive home the case for water infrastructure

ACWA’s Cindy Tuck writes, “As if we needed more proof, the long series of atmospheric rivers that have soaked California not only provided a deadly and destructive reminder of how our climate is changing, they also drove home the fact that the planning for, and investment in, water infrastructure are critical to securing California’s water future.  California’s existing water infrastructure was not designed to sustain our cities, communities, farms and environment through the intense drought and flood patterns brought on by climate change. Successfully adapting to this new reality requires continued and increased investment in water infrastructure, including above- and below-ground storage.  Nothing expresses this critical need more clearly than California simultaneously being in declared drought and flood emergencies.  This call to action is being heard, and ACWA advocacy in collaboration with our member agencies has had a lot to do with getting this message across. ... ”  Read more from ACWA’s Voices on Water here: Weather extremes drive home the case for water infrastructure

Editorial:  Mother Nature sent a memo to California’s leaders: Flood control must be a priority

The Fresno Bee and Merced Sun-Star editorial boards write, “California is starting to dry out after its weeks-long deluge caused by atmospheric rivers, and nowhere in the San Joaquin Valley is that needed more than Merced County. The Merced River runs north of the city bearing the name Merced. And yet an estimated 1,600 people were displaced due to flooding of not the river, but Bear Creek, the main waterway coursing through the city. About 26 businesses were also shut down when the creek overflowed its banks and water rolled into the establishments. Farther east, outside of Merced, a different creek caused problems for the community of Planada. Miles Creek overflowed into the town, and left neighborhoods underwater. About 5,000 residents at one point were told to evacuate. ... ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee here:  Editorial:  Mother Nature sent a memo to California’s leaders: Flood control must be a priority

Fighting a flood of misinformation about CA water

Doug Obegi, Director of California River Restoration for the NRDC, writes, “The past weeks following our recent large storms have been awash in misinformation and hypocrisy about operating and permitting water infrastructure in California. Even those who closely follow the news about California water are likely unaware that the data shows that more than half of the runoff from the storms in early January was captured and stored in the Central Valley. Or that the loudest voices criticizing environmental protections for our rivers and fisheries during the storms – which are requirements of the Trump Administration’s 2019 biological opinions – are the very same voices demanding that legislators and the courts keep those biological opinions in place. This misinformation undermines progress, constructive dialogue, and trust in solving California’s water challenges. ... ”  Read more from the NRDC here: Fighting a flood of misinformation about CA water

Recent near-record storms make the case for Sites Reservoir

The Sites JPA writes, “A powerful series of storms slammed Northern California in the first days of the new year, producing record rainfall that saturated the ground and made it more vulnerable to flooding and excessive runoff. The rainfall is welcome after the unprecedented drought of the last few years. As we’ve seen in the news the past few weeks, we’ve got to do better in more efficiently using these storm flows when they come to save for the inevitable drought periods that define the Mediterranean climate we live in. We’re working hard to do that in making Sites Reservoir a reality.  Sites is specifically designed to divert and store water generated by storm events like we’ve seen these past three weeks to increase water flexibility, reliability, and resiliency in drier years. If Sites were operational this year, we would have been able to divert and store 120,000 acre-feet from January 3 to January 15. ... ”  Continue reading from the Sites JPA here: Recent near-record storms make the case for Sites Reservoir

Failure to install smart water meters is wasting billions of gallons each year

Jonathan Zasloff, a professor of law at UCLA School of Law, writes, “I felt at decently about myself when I paid water bill recently, because I was told that my usage was somewhat better than other people in my neighborhood (which is a low bar, but you take what you can get). But when I tried to figure out why it was better, I got no information whatsoever. That’s a huge problem. Michael E. Webber, in his fantastic book Thirst for Power: Energy, Water, and Human Survival, puts it well. Imagine, Webber suggests, if you were ‘shopping for groceries, but with no prices on any of the food items. With no price signal to steer our behavior, we would load up our carts with whatever looks appealing – steaks, specialty chocolates, and other high-priced items – leave the store, and take the groceries home, repeating that cycle twice weekly. We might even buy more than we need, throwing away the rest since for all we know it’s free. At the end of the month, the grocery store would send us for all the food we had purchased. Imagine our sticker shock when we see the tally … ‘”  Continue reading from Legal Planet here: Failure to install smart water meters is wasting billions of gallons each year

Instead of fighting the woke war, SJ Valley congressmen need to fight the water war

Dennis Wyatt, editor of the Manteca Bulletin, writes, “In another time — or is that another dimension — Kevin McCarthy and Josh Harder would be strange bedfellows.  McCarthy  holds the most powerful position in the Congressional chamber that has the most control over the nation’s purse strings.  The Speaker of the House’s roots — and political base that counts in terms of him getting elected to office — are in Bakersfield and the 20th Congressional district in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. … McCarthy’s ascension to the speakership in an era where Democrats and Republicans alike are engaged in trench warfare over cultural values and wokeness in itself would have made his trying to cobble together a federal strategy to help California cyclical water issues daunting enough.  McCarthy, however is water-lite in terms of his advocacy for water endeavors dealing with storage, flood control or environmental concerns. … ” Instead of fighting the woke war, SJ Valley congressmen need to fight the water war

As Californians we inherit a dramatic, maybe doomed, relationship with water

Charles G. Thompson, a Glendale-based fiction writer, writes, “Californians are used to seeing end-times headlines about our dwindling water supply. A recent one reported that Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., could be a “dead pool” in two years. It’s a frightening prospect even with our recent slate of winter storms. While those add to our shrinking reservoirs, groundwater and snowpack, it won’t be enough to solve our drought problem — and it comes with disaster.  As a fourth-generation Californian, I’ve learned that worrying over water is a generational inheritance. My great-grandmother, Ora Goodman, used to say: “There isn’t enough water for all these people.” This was her obsession. Over the decades, with more and more people inhabiting the state, I’ve picked up her mantle of worry — often thinking there won’t be enough water for all these people. Lake Mead’s dismal prospects do not help my anxiety. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: As Californians we inherit a dramatic, maybe doomed, relationship with water

Column: Why the era of big water projects passed into history

Columnist Pete Golis writes, “After the three driest years in the recorded history of California, torrential rains were bound to spur a clamor for new water projects. People want to know: Why is all this water being allowed to escape to the ocean?  Demands for new water projects have been loudest in the Central Valley, where hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland have been left fallow because years of drought led to depleted reservoirs, widespread water curtailments and groundwater overdrafts.  Wishing for a new water project and building one is not the same, of course. There are reasons the era of major dam projects has come and gone. … ”  Read the full column at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here: Column: Why the era of big water projects passed into history

Former Secretary of Interior cleared of ethics violations

Don Wright with Water Wrights writes, “I received a heads up from an old friend Cole Rojewski concerning a report about former Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Rojewski is a partner & cofounder of the RBW Group. He is also former Director of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Department of the Interior and Chief of Staff for Congressman David Valadao. … “I wanted to flag a DOI OIG report that came out today, and I have attached a copy for your convenience. The Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General released a report – “Allegations of Ethics Violations by Former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Were Not Substantiated.” … Rojewski shared with me, “I am completely unsurprised to read today’s OIG’s findings that are an exoneration from baseless allegations hurled at former Secretary David Bernhardt. Bernhardt’s conduct while at Interior was a model of ethical compliance. Bernhardt is one of the most law-abiding, ethically-sound people I know, and these continued reports show he has always followed the letter of the law. … ”  Read more from Water Wrights here: Former Secretary of Interior cleared of ethics violations

Commentary: There’s one big climate fight that California is losing

Michael W. Beck, a professor and the director of the Center for Coastal Climate Resilience at UC Santa Cruz, writes, “It has been demoralizing to witness in Santa Cruz, my hometown, the destructive power of waves and water on our beaches, piers, roads, homes, businesses, rivers and levees. But we knew this was coming, and we’re overdue to adapt to the new realities of our climate.  In 2015, global leaders resolved to cut carbon emissions in an effort to keep the planet from heating more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. California has played a significant role in that campaign, with world-leading policies and innovations on technologies such as solar power and electric vehicles and in the development of carbon markets, which reduce emissions through caps and tradeable credits. All of this has been aimed at averting a future climate challenge. That challenge is here now. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here: Commentary: There’s one big climate fight that California is losing

California’s courageous climate action in 2022 must be the norm, not the exception

Mary Creasman, CEO of California Environmental Voters, writes, “California’s leaders acted with climate courage last year, taking historic action to protect our health and our future. After failing to pass meaningful climate policies for three years, it’s an incredible comeback. Earning a near-failing D grade in 2021, California has jumped to an A- in a new scorecard compiled by California Environmental Voters. The Golden State regained its role as a global climate leader by enacting groundbreaking investments and policies to address the climate crisis. As exciting as this historic year is, the work to save California is far from done. Pummeled by a deadly series of bomb cyclones, atmospheric rivers and flooding in the past few weeks, Californians are grappling with worsening impacts of climate change. Our state must continue to act with urgency in the quickest, most equitable ways possible to prepare for what’s coming and prevent the worst. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here: California’s courageous climate action in 2022 must be the norm, not the exception

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In regional water news this week …

Federal plan to cut Klamath River flows threatens salmon fishery, local tribes and fishermen warn

Joint press release from the Karuk Tribe, Ridges to Riffles, the Yurok Tribe and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations:  Despite the wet winter, the Department of Interior has announced plans to cut Klamath River flows up to 30% below the minimum mandated by the Endangered Species Act to protect listed coho salmon. River flows will drop below 750 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the first time in decades. This could prove disastrous to juvenile coho salmon along with other species including Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and Pacific lamprey. The Yurok Tribe and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations have already filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue the federal government. “We know from experience that flows this low lead to massive fish kills. It happened in the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2004,” said Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Joe Myers. “This plan is reckless and it disregards the best available science.” ... ”  Read more from the Lost Coast Outpost here: Federal plan to cut Klamath River flows threatens salmon fishery, local tribes and fishermen warn

Multiple agencies exchange resources for research of the Clear Lake Hitch

Members of the California State Water Board, Department of Water Resources, Fish and Wildlife and the Big Valley Rancheria met Wednesday at Adobe Creek in Kelseyville to exchange resources and train staff in order to gain more data in hopes of saving the endangered Clear Lake Hitch.  Since 2014, when the state of California listed the Hitch as endangered, continuous efforts have been made to list the Hitch as endangered at the federal level. Big Valley Rancheria Environmental Director Sara Ryan explained some of the complications faced over the past several years.  “It has been a long process with the feds, but their own studies say to put in on the endangered list,” she said.  … ”  Read more from the Lake County Record-Bee here: Multiple agencies exchange resources for research of the Clear Lake Hitch

DWR approves Groundwater Sustainability Plans for four Northern California basins

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced today the approval of groundwater sustainability plans for four groundwater basins – Napa Valley Subbasin in Napa County, as well as Santa Rosa Plain Subbasin, Petaluma Valley Basin, and Sonoma Valley Subbasin in Sonoma County. … Local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) are implementing plans consistent with the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), California’s landmark groundwater management law enacted in 2014. SGMA requires local GSAs to achieve their groundwater basin sustainability goals within a 20-year timeframe. The plans approved for the four Northern California basins are among 65 plans submitted to DWR in January 2022. DWR has until January 2024 to review the remaining plans. Results of the evaluations will be made available throughout 2023. GSAs implement the plans while DWR completes its review. ... ”  Read more from DWR here: DWR approves Groundwater Sustainability Plans for four Northern California basins

NASA measures underground water flowing from Sierra to Central Valley

In a recent study, scientists found that a previously unmeasured source – water percolating through soil and fractured rock below California’s Sierra Nevada mountains – delivers an average of 4 million acre feet (5 cubic kilometers) of water to the state’s Central Valley each year. This underground source accounts for about 10% of all the water that enters this highly productive farmland each year from every source (including river inflows and precipitation).  The Central Valley encompasses only 1% of U.S. farmland but produces 40% of the nation’s table fruits, vegetables, and nuts annually. That’s only possible because of intensive groundwater pumping for irrigation and river and stream flow captured in reservoirs. For at least 60 years, growers have been pumping more water from aquifers than can be replenished by natural sources, causing the ground level to sink and requiring wells to be drilled deeper and deeper.  As water grows more scarce in the Central Valley due to climate change and human use, a more detailed understanding of the natural movement of groundwater offers a chance to better protect the remaining resources. … ”  Read more from NASA here: NASA measures underground water flowing from Sierra to Central Valley

SEE ALSO: NASA study reveals amount of Sierra Nevada groundwater feeding Central Valley, from the San Joaquin Valley Sun

Madera Co. ditches plan to tinker with groundwater penalties

Madera County is keeping its recently approved current structure for penalizing farmers who blow past their water allocation, forgoing an option to implement a tiered penalty structure.  The decision came during Tuesday’s Madera County Board of Supervisors meeting and maintains the status quo for the Chowchilla, Delta-Mendota and Madera Subbasins.  The backstory: Last September, the Board adopted a new penalty structure for water overdrafts, setting the 2023 fine at $100 per acre-foot in excess of the allotted amount. The penalty would increase by $100 per year and cap out at $500 in 2027 and beyond. ... ”  Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun here: Madera Co. ditches plan to tinker with groundwater penalties

The big yawn: Water crisis not registering as a priority with Californians, Preview Las Vegas panelist says

Las Vegans are constantly reminded about the crisis facing Nevada and other Western states as water supplies from the drought-choked Colorado River system dwindle. … the biggest reminder is something many of us frequently drive by: the decreasing water levels at Lake Mead, witnessed by a bath-tub ring showing where the water previously reached.  But in California, one of the seven states along with Mexico that shares water rights from the Colorado River, dealing with the crisis isn’t a top priority for residents and lawmakers, said Jeff Kightlinger, the acting general manager of Pasadena Water and Power and the former general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. … ”  Read more from the Las Vegas Sun here: The big yawn: Water crisis not registering as a priority with Californians, Preview Las Vegas panelist says

As the Colorado River shrinks, Washington prepares to spread the pain

The seven states that rely on water from the shrinking Colorado River are unlikely to agree to voluntarily make deep reductions in their water use, negotiators say, which would force the federal government to impose cuts for the first time in the water supply for 40 million Americans.  The Interior Department had asked the states to voluntarily come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to collectively cut the amount of water they draw from the Colorado. The demand for those cuts, on a scale without parallel in American history, was prompted by precipitous declines in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which provide water and electricity for Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Drought, climate change and population growth have caused water levels in the lakes to plummet.  “Think of the Colorado River Basin as a slow-motion disaster,” said Kevin Moran, who directs state and federal water policy advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’re really at a moment of reckoning.” … ”  Read more from the New York Times here (gift article): As the Colorado River shrinks, Washington prepares to spread the pain

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Announcements, notices, and funding opportunities …

SAN JOAQUIN RIVER RESTORATION PROGRAM: 2023 Restoration Allocation & Default Flow Schedule released

WORKSHOP: Integrated Water Flow Model (IWFM) Ver 2015 Training

NOTICE of Opportunity to Comment and Public Hearing Concerning Proposed Exemption Resolution for Upper Feather River Watershed Irrigated Pasture in the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program

NOTICE: Update to Resources Related to the Water Unavailability Methodology for the Delta Watershed

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: Biden-Harris Administration makes $80 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds available for projects that conserve water and improve watershed health

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