DAILY DIGEST, 1/31: California the lone hold out as six other states agree to Colorado River cuts; Lake Shasta water level rises 60 feet during January; San Francisco’s first onsite greywater reuse project reveals the future of urban water; and more …
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Colorado River agreement …
California holding out as Nevada, other states agree to Colorado River cuts
“Six western states that rely on water from the Colorado River have agreed on a model to dramatically cut water use in the basin, months after the federal government called for action and an initial deadline passed. California — with the largest allocation of water from the river — is the lone holdout. … Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming sent a letter Monday to Reclamation, which operates the major dams in the river system, to outline an alternative that builds on existing guidelines, deepens water cuts and factors in water that’s lost through evaporation and transportation. Those states propose raising the levels where water reductions would be triggered at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which are barometers of the river’s health. The model creates more of a protective buffer for both reservoirs — the largest built in the U.S. It also seeks to fix water accounting and ensure that any water the Lower Basin states intentionally stored in Lake Mead is available for future use. ... ” Read more from the Associated Press here: California holding out as Nevada, other states agree to Colorado River cuts
A showdown over Colorado River water is setting the stage for a high-stakes legal battle
“Months of bitter negotiations between seven states that rely on the Colorado River’s vanishing water have collapsed along a clear fault line over the past week: California versus everyone else. … On Monday, six states – including lower basin states of Arizona and Nevada – released a letter and a proposed model for how much Colorado River water they could potentially cut to stave off a collapse and prevent the nation’s largest reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, from hitting “dead pool,” when water levels will be too low to flow through the dams. California – the largest user of Colorado River water – is conspicuously absent from the text and will release its own letter and model calling for more modest annual cuts of around 1 million acre feet later this week, JB Hamby, the chair of the Colorado River Board for the state and an Imperial Irrigation District board member, told CNN. … ” Read more from CNN here: A showdown over Colorado River water is setting the stage for a high-stakes legal battle
California refuses to sign onto Colorado River states’ proposal for usage reductions
“Colorado and five other Colorado River states have reached a consensus on how they plan to reduce their water usage, the states announced Monday. California, notably, is not a part of the consensus. … The proposal was signed by Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — but not California, drawing criticism from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who called the state’s decision “deeply disappointing.” “We are facing the most serious drought in 1,200 years,” Bennet said in a statement. “California must step forward and be part of the solution. For too long, the other six states, and particularly the Upper Basin, have carried the burden of this historic drought.” … ” Read the full story at Colorado Politics here: California refuses to sign onto Colorado River states’ proposal for usage reductions
Michael Cohen/Peter Gleick commentary: How to save the Colorado River and the American West
Michael Cohen, Senior Associate with the Pacific Institute, and Peter H. Gleick, an environmental scientist, a MacArthur Fellow, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, write, “The Colorado River, lifeblood of the West, is out of time. Seven U.S. states, plus two in Mexico, use water from the river, irrigating more than 5 million acres of crops and supporting more than 35 million people. We now take much more water out of the river every year than Mother Nature delivers, an imbalance resulting from political and legal decisions made a century ago and the increasing consequences of human-caused climate change, enabled by reservoirs that have provided a false sense of abundance and security. … But just pointing to drought misses the fundamental problem: the rules governing Colorado River use give away more water than flowed down the river even in the wetter 20th century. … ” Read the full commentary at Time here: Michael Cohen/Peter Gleick commentary: How to save the Colorado River and the American West
More Colorado River news below, after the regional section. Take me there!
In California water news today …
Drenched by higher-than-normal rain, Lake Shasta water level rises 60 feet during January
“Higher-than-normal rainfall during the past month has dramatically changed Lake Shasta, with the water level of California’s largest reservoir rising 60 feet since the end of December. Gone are vast areas of shoreline that became parking lots and campgrounds as the lake dried up and the water level dropped during the past several years of low rainfall in the North State. By Monday, the lake was 56% full, an improvement over the 34% recorded Jan. 3. The California Department of Water Resources said the lake was 87% of normal as of Monday, compared to the 57% of normal at the beginning of January. … ” Read more from the Redding Record-Searchlight here: Drenched by higher-than-normal rain, Lake Shasta water level rises 60 feet during January
Video: Capturing water from storms to replenish groundwater
“The wet winter storms we just experienced have brought a lot of water that has the potential to be stored underground to replenish our groundwater basins. Underground storage makes water available during times of drought. Because of this, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) is committed to expediting groundwater recharge; like this project in Dunnigan, Yolo County, which is providing multiple benefits, including capturing excess water from recent storms, recharging the groundwater basin and providing habitat for migrating birds.”
What will it take to end the drought in California?
“In the wake of record-breaking rain and snow this winter, experts have cautioned that despite the deluge, California remains in a drought. The United States Drought Monitor shows much of California still experiencing “moderate drought,” and in some places “severe drought.” That is a big improvement from last month, when much of the state was in “severe drought” with 7 percent of California in what was considered “exceptional drought” conditions. But, of course, the recent storms have done plenty to help the situation, refilling reservoirs and recharging groundwater supplies. … ” Read more from UC Merced here: What will it take to end the drought in California?
Fact Check: It’s too soon to attribute the California storms to climate change, experts say
“The relentless storms that hit California from Dec. 27 to Jan. 16 caused extreme flooding and extensive damage in most of the state, killing at least 22 people. A series of storms hit back to back, soaking the state in the midst of California’s driest three-year period on record. “If anybody doubts that climate is changing, then they must have been asleep for the last couple of years,” President Joe Biden said in California on Jan. 19, after witnessing the destruction left behind by the storms. … There is a good scientific basis to think that storms, including the type that struck California, are generally becoming more extreme due to climate change. But climate scientists told us it’s too soon to know whether climate change had a role in this particular event, and if so, to what degree. … ” Read more from Fact Check here: Fact Check: It’s too soon to attribute the California storms to climate change, experts say
Study: High severity fire cases dramatically increased since 2009
“A recent UC Davis study found human impacts have resulted in a higher prevalence of high severity fires while low to moderately burning fires have decreased during the same period. The study focused on 120,000 acres of forested land in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, comparing the wildfire seasons of 2010-2020 to the period of 1984-2009 along with Pre Euro-American settlement (1850). The effects of climate change, fire suppression tactics, and the halting of Native American burning practices have rapidly caused fire activity to stray from natural variability. … ” Read more from ABC 10 here: Study: High severity fire cases dramatically increased since 2009
Why epic California rains might not prevent a dangerous fire season ahead
“It’s something of a Golden State paradox: Dry winters can pave the way for dangerous fire seasons fueled by dead vegetation, but wet winters — like the one the state has seen so far — can also spell danger by spurring heaps of new growth that can later act as fuel for flames. Experts say it’s too soon to know with certainty what the upcoming fire season has in store. The atmospheric rivers that pounded California in January have left the state snow-capped and wet, which could be a fire deterrent if soils stay damp. But if no more rains arrive — or if other, less predictable factors such as lightning storms and heat waves develop later in the year — all that progress could go out the window. “The dice are loaded for a weak fire season, but there are multiple things that could cause it go the other way,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at UCLA. … ” Read more from the LA Times here: Why epic California rains might not prevent a dangerous fire season ahead
Can we take steps towards sharing water better in California?
Dennis Baldocchi, Professor of Biometeorology and Executive Associate Dean of Rausser College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley, writes, “We just returned from a drive up and down the San Joaquin Valley. Being reared on a California almond and water ranch, I have a long-standing interest in water and California agriculture. Consequently, I always view our trip as an opportunity to read the pulse of California’s water situation. This year the landscape was fresh and green from recent and abundant rains. The air was so clean we could see the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, 100 miles to the east. This was such a relief compared to past trips which were during years of drought, when the landscape was desiccated and enveloped with polluted skies. One notable and repeated image during this ride was the number of almond orchards being ripped out, amid vast areas of new plantings. The other notable image was the number of signs complaining about water running out to the ocean instead of being transferred to the Valley’s ranchers. Signs saying, “stop dumping our water into the ocean” are a new addition to other signs that stated “stop the Congress created dust bowl” and “food grows where the water flows”. What gives? … ” Continue reading at the UC Berkeley Blog here: Can we take steps towards sharing water better in California?
Drought conditions notably lessening in Mother Lode
“A couple of months ago, the US Drought Monitor labeled nearly half of California as being in a state of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. Following the string of atmospheric rivers in late December and early January, none of California is now in the two top categories. There are five stages, abnormally dry, moderate drought, severe drought, extreme drought and exceptional drought. All of California is now in the lower three, with Tuolumne and Calaveras counties in the second lowest, “moderate” drought. In late December, the lower elevations of the Mother Lode were in “extreme drought.” Some of the coastal areas are in the “abnormally dry,” stage, and essentially no longer in a drought. … ” Read more from My Mother Lode here: Drought conditions notably lessening in Mother Lode
Tuolumne Utilities District seeks $23.4 million to complete Phoenix Reservoir restoration
“The Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors voted 4-0 Tuesday to seek more than $23 million in additional grant funding to continue efforts to try to restore the man-made reservoir called Phoenix Lake, a project to improve water quality and increase storage capacity that has gained momentum in fits and starts, stalled for years, and remains unfinished. Phoenix is a reservoir, not a natural lake. Its surface area is about 88 acres when full, and it’s the primary drinking water source for about 10,000 TUD customers in Sonora, Jamestown, Mono Village and the Phoenix Lake area, according to TUD. Historians say a dam was first built there in the 1850s to enable hydraulic mining in the immediate aftermath of the Gold Rush. The original dam was destroyed in 1862. … ” Read more from the Union Democrat here: Tuolumne Utilities District seeks $23.4 million to complete Phoenix Reservoir restoration
Over 150 Chinook Salmon released in the Sacramento River Tuesday
“For the second consecutive year, Turtle Bay Exploration Park teamed up with Coleman Fish Hatchery to release more than 150 Chinook Salmon into the Sacramento River Tuesday evening as part of a Conservation Head Start Program. KRCR talked to Sharon Clay the Curator of Animal Programs at Turtle Bay and she explained why the Salmon are important to the area. “The Chinook Salmon in the Sacramento River are super special to our community because there are different runs of Chinook salmon and most rivers will have one or two of them, but the Sacramento river through here actually has all four runs of the Chinook salmon and Chinook Salmon are so important because they are important to the entire environment, so we really need them in our system.” … ” Read more from KRCR here: Over 150 Chinook Salmon released in the Sacramento River Tuesday
Sen. Dodd: Legislation enhances Davis habitat, climate projects
“Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, introduced legislation today that would allow the city of Davis to create endangered species preserves and support climate mitigation projects. “With this proposal we take steps to both preserve endangered species and our precious environment,” Sen. Dodd said. “It is a smart use of public land, in keeping with the wishes of Davis voters. It will protect and enhance our community for generations to come.” Senate Bill 256 would modify the terms of a voter-approved bond act, Proposition 70 of 1988, which provided $1.97 million for the purchase of natural lands in the city of Davis. Under the bill, the city would convey easements of the land to Yolo Habitat Conservancy for preservation of targeted species. Also, the city could convey easements to a third party for the purpose of capturing carbon from renewable biomass energy activities, deep underground, for climate mitigation. The bill is supported by the city of Davis. … ” Read more from Senator Dodd’s office here: Sen. Dodd: Legislation enhances Davis habitat, climate projects
San Francisco’s first onsite greywater reuse project reveals the future of urban water
“Drought, aging infrastructure, and growing populations have brought our water and wastewater systems to a critical inflection point. Utility rates and water restrictions are soaring across the United States, reflecting the growing scarcity of reliable potable sources. In response, governments and real estate owners are under pressure to conserve and reuse more water. Facing the worst Western drought in 1,200 years, San Francisco is the first city in the nation to mandate onsite water reuse for new buildings above 100,000 gross square feet. The crucial word here is “onsite.” In contrast to a typical building, where wastewater flows from the building into a network of underground pipes to the city’s centralized treatment plant, each building with onsite water reuse contains a small wastewater treatment system. This system purifies wastewater and directs it toward non-potable applications including toilet flushing, irrigation, laundry, and cooling towers. … ” Read more from Stormwater Solutions here: San Francisco’s first onsite greywater reuse project reveals the future of urban water
Rain gardens guarding San Francisco
Jim Lauria writes, “Laurie Lauria and I spent last week moving out of San Francisco up to Napa, California, dodging the raindrops and taking advantage of a few dry days in this remarkably stormy winter—weather that makes this a perfect time to talk about the need to capture rainwater and protect overwhelmed urban sewer systems. I’ve had some issues with San Francisco during the past eight years I’ve lived in the city. But I have to compliment the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s rain garden program, a model for urban areas around the world. The commission manages a system with more than 1,000 miles of sewers, thousands of acres of pavement, hills and valleys, and rising sea level that impedes drainage. ... ” Read more from To Know Water is to Love Water here: Rain gardens guarding San Francisco
San Luis Obispo County supervisors move to change new rules giving more water to Paso Robles farmers
“The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors took steps Sunday to dismantle the county’s new planting ordinance, which allows farmers in the Paso Basin Land Use Management Area to use more water to irrigate their crops. On Sunday, the board voted 3-1 to put the ordinance on the Feb. 7 meeting agenda — when supervisors will vote on whether to repeal it. Supervisor Debbie Arnold missed the meeting; she did not give a public reason for her absence. Sunday’s vote came less than two months after a previous iteration of the board passed the new water rules. … ” Read more from the San Luis Obispo Tribune here: San Luis Obispo County supervisors move to change new rules giving more water to Paso Robles farmers
SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY
How much water flows from the Sierra to the Central Valley? NASA reveals
“Experts from NASA say a previously unmeasured underground source accounts for about 10% of all the water that enters the highly-productive Central Valley farmland each year. The NASA study shows an average of four million acre-feet of water is delivered through the soil and fractured rocks under California’s Sierra Nevada mountains to the Central Valley annually. Federal officials say the Central Valley encompasses only 1% of the nation’s farmland but produces 40% of the country’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts annually – but that is only possible because of the intensive groundwater pumping for irrigation as well as river and stream flows captured in reservoirs. … ” Read more from Your Central Valley here: How much water flows from the Sierra to the Central Valley? NASA reveals
Groundwater Authority to seek grant from Urban Community Drought Relief Grant Program
“At the regular board meeting for the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority on Jan. 11, the board unanimously approved a motion to begin the application process for a grant from the Urban Community Drought Relief Grant Program from the California Department of Water Resources. The meeting packet states that they will file two applications. One will be for the water recycling plant and one will be for well mitigation. The packet says that the application is already complete for the water recycling plant grant, and it will ask for up to $5.3 million. It says that the state requires a 25% cost share, but IWVGA may be able to get a waiver for that cost share as the water recycling plant will benefit communities which the state defines as underrepresented. … ” Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: Groundwater Authority to seek grant from Urban Community Drought Relief Grant Program
Environmentalists challenge Long Beach fireworks show in court
“Long Beach restaurateur John Morris, who created the fundraiser Big Bang on the Bay fireworks show in 2011, is expected to be in federal court on Tuesday, Jan. 31, facing a lawsuit from Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation accusing him of polluting Alamitos Bay with debris from his annual charity fireworks display. A ruling in this case could impact fireworks shows where fireworks are exploded over the water all over the region, including high-profile shows at Sea World in San Diego as well as displays in Huntington Beach, Marina del Rey, Dana Point, San Clemente, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and San Pedro. Morris says he has received permits every year from city and state governmental agencies, and followed orders from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board in 2022 for monitoring and regulating discharges for the July 3 show. The CERF complaint says that the show violates the Clean Water Act by discharging pollution — fireworks debris — in Alamitos Bay without a permit. … ” Read more from the Whittier Daily News here: Environmentalists challenge Long Beach fireworks show in court
Chino Basin cuts ribbon on new concrete spillway
“The Chino Basin Water Conservation District (CBWCD) has unveiled its newly constructed concrete spillway to help the district retain up to 18 million additional gallons of stormwater runoff in its groundwater basins for future use. The $1.05 million Montclair #2 Spillway Replacement Project was unveiled at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 19, following a series of major rainstorms. The spillway will allow the district to keep water at a higher level in Montclair Basin #1, which then percolates into the Chino Groundwater Basin, a source of drinking water for several communities. “This project is made for winters like this, when we are inundated by rain that we can then capture and store underground for dry times,” says Gil Aldaco, CBWCD Board Treasurer, at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “Holding the water locally, rather than letting it flow out to the ocean, furthers our goal of preserving and protecting the Chino Groundwater Basin.” … ” Read more from Stormwater Solutions here: Chino Basin cuts ribbon on new concrete spillway
New York investors snapping up Colorado River water rights, betting big on an increasingly scarce resource
“With the federal government poised to force Western states to change how they manage the alarming shortfall in Colorado River water, there is one constituency with a growing interest in the river’s fate that’s little known to some: Wall Street investors. Private investment firms are showing a growing interest in an increasingly scarce natural resource in the American West: water in the Colorado River, a joint investigation by CBS News and The Weather Channel has found. For some of the farmers and cities that depend on the river as a lifeline, that interest is concerning.“Our only source of water is the Colorado,” says Joe Bernal, who raises cattle and grows crops on land across Colorado’s Grand Valley, relying on water from the drought-depleted Colorado River. … But now, he has a new neighbor: a New York-based investment firm called Water Asset Management, which he says bought a farm in the valley around 2017 that Bernal now rents and helps operate. … ” Read more from CBS News here: New York investors snapping up Colorado River water rights, betting big on an increasingly scarce resource
What happens to spring runoff in the weeks after peak snowpack? Colorado scientists are trying to find out.
“Water managers in the Colorado River basin are gaining a better understanding that what happens in the weeks after peak snowpack — not just how much snow accumulated over the winter — can have an outsize influence on the year’s water supply. Water year 2021 was historically bad, with an upper basin snowpack that peaked around 90% of average but translated to only 36% of average runoff into Lake Powell, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It was the second-worst runoff on record after 2002. One of the culprits was exceptionally thirsty soils from 2020’s hot and dry summer and fall, which soaked up snowmelt before runoff made it to streams. But those dry soils are only part of the story. A new paper from the Desert Research Institute, a nonprofit science arm of the Nevada university system, found that heat waves in April 2021 drove record snowmelt rates at about 25% of snow-telemetry sites looked at across the West. Snow-telemetry is a network of remote sensing stations throughout the West’s mountainous watersheds that collect weather and snowpack information. … ” Read more from Summit Daily here: What happens to spring runoff in the weeks after peak snowpack? Colorado scientists are trying to find out.
The river’s end: Amid Colorado water cuts, Mexico seeks to restore its lost oasis
“When the Colorado River reaches the U.S.-Mexico border, it pushes up against Morelos Dam. Nearly all the remaining water is shunted aside into an immense canal and flows toward the farmlands and cities of Baja California. South of the dam, the last of the river disappears in the desert. The sandy riverbed meanders on through fields of wheat, hay, cotton and vegetables, and curves past the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, where for years little or no water has flowed beneath its bridge. Mexico is entitled to receive 1.5 million acre-feet of water per year under a 1944 treaty. But in recent agreements with the U.S., Mexico has also agreed to take part in reductions when there is a shortage. Last year, Mexico’s share was cut by 5%. This year, it will lose 7% of its water. … ” Read more from the LA Times here: The river’s end: Amid Colorado water cuts, Mexico seeks to restore its lost oasis | Read via Yahoo News
Why California, other western states face growing pressure to reduce water consumption
“The major storms that hit California earlier this winter dumped more than 32 trillion gallons of water on the state, helped boost some of the region’s reservoirs and increased snowpack in key mountains throughout the West. But despite this temporary reprieve, the region will need to work on water conservation and reducing demand given climate change. Global warming has worsened aridification in the West. Coupled with growing demand from a rising population, it is depleting the Colorado River, which supplies water to seven states and helps feed the nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. … Reducing demand is the “big knob that we have on the system and ultimately, we may put ourselves in a position where we don’t have a choice,” said Adrian Harpold, an associate professor of mountain ecohydrology at the University of Nevada, Reno. … ” Read more from The Hill here: Why California, other western states face growing pressure to reduce water consumption
Arizona can’t keep growing without finding more water
Adam Minter, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, writes, “The 23-year drought that’s parching the Southwest is forcing Arizona to make a bitter choice. Unless developers can find new sources of water, the state’s largest master-planned housing development is going to remain a desert. It’s not just an Arizona problem. Across the American West, demand for housing is increasingly running into water shortages. Surface waters like the Colorado River are drying up, forcing cities and farmers to turn to groundwater. Unfortunately, most groundwater is finite, and once depleted it’s difficult or impossible to replenish. So unless developers can figure out a stable, long-term alternative, a future of fast growth in the American West is in serious doubt. Even in a best-case scenario, housing is set to become more limited and even more expensive. Whatever solution Arizona settles on in the coming years could set a precedent for other cities and states that will inevitably find themselves at a similar crossroads. ... ” Read more from the Washington Post here: Arizona can’t keep growing without finding more water
How water finally became a climate change priority
Vidhisha Samarasekara, a strategic program director at the International Water Management Institute, writes, “Last year, the world watched as punishing heat and drought killed people in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and floods destroyed parts of Pakistan and the Philippines. This year, we’ve seen torrential rain drowning sections of coastal California. These events underscore the devastating role water can play in a changing climate, something I have been studying for the last two decades. Between all these events I attended my first COP—the United Nations’ major climate change conference. My expectations here were mixed; in conversations with members of the water networks with whom I work, it was evident that we would have a lot of work to do to make it a more critical component of the climate negotiations process. Yet, to my joy and surprise, COP27 did just that—policy makers and advocates focused on, for likely the first time, the interactions between climate change and water. … ” Read more from Scientific American here: How water finally became a climate change priority
To best fight climate change, ‘blue carbon’ habitats must first survive it
“In what’s becoming a distressingly familiar scenario, the scientific evidence that a natural ecosystem can help fight climate change is building just as that same habitat faces increasing threats from a warming planet. In this case, it’s “blue carbon” habitats—such as salt marsh and seagrass beds—which can capture and store significant amounts of carbon but are also imperiled by rising sea levels. During a recent webinar hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, experts explored emerging research on how climate-induced changes are affecting these and other coastal landscapes, and options on how to best manage and conserve them. The webinar—attended by about 150 representatives of state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and research institutions—was presented by Pew’s Blue Carbon Network, created in 2022 to strengthen connections among professionals working to conserve and expand blue carbon habitats through state governments, which have authority for most coastal governance. … ” Read more from the Pew Charitable Trust here: To best fight climate change, ‘blue carbon’ habitats must first survive it
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.