WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Mar 20 – Feb 3: Bay Delta Plan update, Despite an ‘incredible’ snowpack, drought not over, Oroville rises 182 feet, A plan for CA’s water woes, and more …

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

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This week’s featured articles …

STATE WATER BOARD: Update on the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan

Best case scenario has adoption of updated Sacramento River objectives and implementation of San Joaquin River flow objectives in 2024

The San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary Water Quality Control Plan (or Bay-Delta Plan) establishes water quality objectives to protect beneficial uses of water in the Bay-Delta watershed, including fish and wildlife, municipal, and agricultural uses, and a program of implementation to achieve these objectives.

The last time the Bay Delta Plan was updated was in 2006.  Since then, fish in the Delta estuary have continued to decline, and water quality has worsened.  Acknowledging the water quality objectives were insufficient to protect beneficial uses as required, in 2009, the State Water Board initiated the update process for the Bay Delta Plan.

Nearly 14 years later, the State Water Board is still working on the update.  On January 19, staff updated the State Water Board members on the current timeline for completing the Sacramento/Delta update to the Bay-Delta Plan, including consideration of proposed voluntary agreements (VAs); implementing the 2018 Bay-Delta Plan amendments for Lower San Joaquin River flows and southern Delta salinity; and consideration of a recent voluntary agreement proposed for the Tuolumne River.

Diane Riddle, an assistant deputy director in the Division of Water Rights, and Erin Foresman, the Environmental Program Manager of the Bay Delta San Joaquin section, gave the update.

Click here to read this article.


Prepared by Robert Shibatani  

The New Year’s Atmospheric River storms of 2023 have abated and catchments across the State are draining as exemplified by continuing baseflows through their hydrograph recession limbs.  River flows are still elevated, but releases have been incrementally curtailed and stage levels continue to drop.

Despite early positive signs, however, the reality of what this storm (or series of storms) brought in terms of drought relief is made eminently clear by reviewing various data sources.  The State precipitation indices for the Northern Sierra, San Joaquin, and Tulare Basin regions, for example, provide a comparative inspection of how this water-year (WY) stacks up against previous WYs in terms of accumulated precipitation totals.

Click here to read this article.

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In California water news this week …

Despite an ‘incredible’ snowpack, drought not over in California

California may celebrate having double the expected snowpack after a string of atmospheric river storms, but state water experts warn that more needs to come to offset years of record-breaking drought.  At the season’s second monthly snowpack survey conducted Wednesday at Phillips Station — at the intersection of Highway 50 and Sierra-at-Tahoe Road — the California Department of Water Resources measured current snow depths and water content. Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman told the gathered crowd his team found snow with a 85.5” depth or 193% of the location’s average — already 137% of the expected average for April.  “Our snowpack is off to an incredible start, and it is exactly what California needs to really break from our ongoing drought,” he said. “However, every day it doesn’t rain or snow, we gradually return to drier conditions. California is such a large state and you really need to analyze those impacts on a regional scale.” … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service here: Despite an ‘incredible’ snowpack, drought not over in California

Before and after: Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, has risen 182 feet

One of the best places to see how dramatically big storms this winter have changed California’s water picture is three hours north of the Bay Area, in the foothills east of Sacramento Valley.  There, Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in California and a key component of the state’s water system, has undergone a breathtaking transformation. Sixteen months ago, the reservoir was so parched from severe drought that it was just 22% full. For the first time since it opened in 1967, its power plant had shut down because there wasn’t enough water to spin the turbines and generate electricity.  Now Oroville reservoir is 65% full. Since its lowest point on Sept. 30, 2021, the massive lake’s level has risen 182 feet, boosted by nine atmospheric river storms in January. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: Before and after: Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, has risen 182 feet

Researchers propose a plan for California’s water woes

… Despite the 32 trillion gallons of water the recent storms dumped on the state, California remains in drought — albeit a much less severe one compared to a few months ago. But it’s a temporary reprieve at best. The state will continue to need to cut its water consumption and demand given the impacts of climate change. Further, the intensity of the rainfall indicates another instance of the severity of climate impacts on the state: wetter wet periods and drier dry spells. … On top of the climate impacts, California’s water infrastructure is dire need of an upgrade. This matters for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the state is the leader in agricultural output. It’s that sector which will likely get hit the hardest with conservation measures when they come. … A recent report from the Milken Institute, a nonpartisan economic think tank based in Santa Monica, offers some potential solutions to California’s challenges around water infrastructure. … ”  Read more from the Triple Pundit here: Researchers propose a plan for California’s water woes

Report details toll of agriculture, oil and gas sectors on California water crisis

A new report from the nongovernmental organization Food and Water Watch details the extent to which both the agriculture and oil and gas industries impact water stability in California. Combined, the sectors use hundreds of millions of gallons of freshwater each year.  Despite the deluge of rain and snow that fell on California earlier this winter, the vast majority of the state still suffers from at least a moderate drought. The past two decades marked the region’s driest period in more than 1,200 years.  Although climate change is in part to blame for the water crisis in the West, growing demand also plays a role in water shortages.  “Many of our headlines speak to the drought as the sole reason for our water crisis, but this report clearly shows how big oil and big agriculture are abusing and using billions of gallons of our water for their benefit — enough to meet the water needs of every Californian,” Chirag Bhakta, the California Organizing Director at Food and Water Watch, said in an interview with Changing America. … ”  Read more from The Hill here: Report details toll of agriculture, oil and gas sectors on California water crisis


Tamping down on the dust

Dust storms. Pest scourges. Diseased fungus. As a historic drought drives water scarcity throughout the Western United States, these are some of the threats looming over hundreds of thousands of acres, experts say, if California farmland is left to dry up in coming years.  The drought has particularly dire implications for the San Joaquin Valley, the state’s agricultural heartland. The region is home to a $35-billion farming industry, which has had relatively unhindered access to water. But these days, with a relentless drought and a warming climate plaguing the West, the flow is looking less certain. Furthermore, decades of overdrawing groundwater to supplement surface supplies are finally catching up, leaving Central Valley aquifers depleted.  Enacted in 2014, California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) aims to reverse the trend by tightening restrictions on pumping, drilling, and deepening wells in order to restore underground basins. Yet those limits, coupled with deep slashes in surface water allocation, have already dried up some 752,000 acres of farmland statewide in the past year. And the situation is only expected to get worse … ”  Read more from Earth Island Journal here: Tamping down on the dust

At the heart of Colorado River crisis, the mighty ‘Law of the River’ looms large

It’s a crisis nearly 100 years in the making: Seven states — all reliant on a single mighty river as a vital source of water — failed to reach an agreement this week on how best to reduce their use of supplies from the rapidly shrinking Colorado River.  At the heart of the feud is the “Law of the River,” a body of agreements, court decisions, contracts and decrees that govern the river’s use and date back to 1922, when the Colorado River Compact first divided river flows among the states.  But as California argues most strongly for strict adherence to this system of water apportionment, the other states say it makes little sense when the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, continues to decline toward “dead pool” level, which would effectively cut off the Southwest from its water lifeline. The Law of the River, they say, is getting in the way of a solution.  “We can argue about whether interpretations of the Law of the River match the physical reality,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “But if you end up in a courtroom arguing these points and something isn’t done, the Colorado River system is going to crash.” ... ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  At the heart of Colorado River crisis, the mighty ‘Law of the River’ looms large | Read via Yahoo News

Metropolitan installs flexible iron pipe on siphon that passes through the fault zone

In the San Jacinto Valley, southeast of Los Angeles, the twin threats of earthquakes and subsidence from groundwater pumping decades ago pose multiple challenges to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to serve roughly 20 million people across a 5,200 sq mi area. To bring water into that region via the Colorado River Aqueduct, the water district maintains the Casa Loma Siphon, a 5 mi long underground pipe constructed along with the rest of the aqueduct in 1935.  Over the decades, however, the 148 in. diameter cast-in-place concrete siphon experienced considerable cracking in its rigid joints that led to water leakage because of ground movement where the structure crosses the Casa Loma Fault, notes John Bednarski, P.E., the water district’s chief engineer. Consequently, a 300 ft section of the siphon was replaced in 1968 with 148 in. steel pipe that featured external sleeve couplings designed to permit a small amount of movement. ... ”  Read more from Civil Engineering Source here: If the Earth moves, this flexible iron pipe moves too

Wildfires are increasingly burning California’s snowy landscapes and colliding with winter droughts to shrink snowpack

In a study published Jan. 20 in Geophysical Research Letters, a DRI-led research team examined what happens to mountain snowpacks when sunny, midwinter dry spells occur in forests impacted by severe wildfire. The researchers found a substantial increase in wildfires burning in California’s snowy landscapes throughout 2020 and 2021, when large blazes like the Dixie, Caldor, and Creek fires concentrated in snow zones. Using a 2013 midwinter dry spell as comparison, they found that similar weather in the winter of 2021-2022 led to 50% less snow cover. The compounding impacts of wildfire on snow melt include an increase in sun exposure due to loss of forest canopy, and a reduction in the snow’s ability to reflect sunlight.  “It’s already established that wildfires are increasing spring snow melt, but we wanted to know what happens when you add a long winter dry spell on top of that,” said Arielle Koshkin, M.S., a Ph.D. student now at the Colorado School of Mines who co-led the study as part of her master’s research at DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno. “The Caldor fire burned in our backyard, it was so close to where we live and work. So, the following winter, we wanted to investigate what it looked like.” … ”  Read more from DRI here: Wildfires are increasingly burning California’s snowy landscapes and colliding with winter droughts to shrink snowpack

A double whammy: Wildfire debris pollutes drinking water

Around the world, more extreme wildfires have become a shocking signal that the effects of climate change are here. Wildfires are now more common and more destructive, making their damage more expensive.  Climate models have predicted this worsening trend for years and suggest it will continue as long spells of hot and dry weather become more common.  Although the dramatic violence of wildfires attracts intense media coverage, long-term impacts on water quality have gone largely unreported. The problem is alarming in the U.S. West, which has wrestled with regional water shortages for years. Researchers are finding that heavy rains in areas affected by wildfires can contaminate watersheds and overwhelm municipal drinking water systems. Municipalities must often pay astronomical costs to augment, repair, or replace entire water distribution systems. With risks growing, researchers say at-risk areas must plan ahead to act quickly and communicate clearly about water issues to fire-hit residents. … ”  Read more from Yale Climate Connections here: A double whammy: Wildfire debris pollutes drinking water

Winter storms in California will become more intense as climate change accelerates, study finds

An estimated 32 trillion gallons of water — in the form of rain and snow — came down on California in a series of nine back-to-back atmospheric rivers between late December and mid-January.  To put this in perspective, that amount is just shy of the quantity of water held within Lake Tahoe, one of the deepest lakes in North America. The lake has, on average, about 37 trillion gallons of water.  These storms were destructive and deadly, claiming the lives of at least 20 people, and the estimated cost is likely to end up being in the billions. And new research is revealing these storms will likely become larger and drop even more rain than what we have experienced so far this winter.    Dr. Ruby Leung, an atmospheric scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state, joined CapRadio’s Vicki Gonzalez to discuss what this means for California’s future. … ”  Read more from Capital Public Radio here: Winter storms in California will become more intense as climate change accelerates, study finds

State Water Board adopts new statewide sanitary sewer system regulations

The State Water Resources Control Board adopted a statewide Sanitary Sewer System General Order that implements and expands policies to address statewide water infrastructure needs.  The new order replaces an existing order and expands regulatory requirements to include privately owned systems, at the discretion of the applicable California Regional Water Quality Control Board. It also requires sewer system owners to better plan for addressing repeated spills, aging or poorly maintained infrastructure, and any gaps in a system’s capacity to adapt to changing climate patterns.  Soon after the first statewide order was adopted in 2006, the number of reported spills decreased from nearly 6,500 (2008 data) to about 3,050 (2021 data), as a result of the State Water Board’s ongoing enforcement actions. Despite this significant reduction, the board noted gaps in its enforcement abilities that could be addressed through authorities granted by the California Water Code.  “The recent storms that swept through California underscore why the stronger enforcement provisions in this new order are necessary,” said Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel. … ”

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In commentary this week …

CA Farm Bureau: California must capture water in wet years and expedite projects

CA Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson writes, “Now that the recent series of Pacific storms have abated and we are in a period of dry weather, we are reminded of the twin imperatives to operate our water infrastructure for sporadic flood threats while we store water against ever-present drought.  California’s hydrology is famously flashy. It is characterized by limited and inefficient opportunities for water capture despite major downpours. It has become increasingly evident that climate change will exacerbate this condition.  Recently reported estimates indicated that some 24.5 trillion gallons of water fell on California during the storm deluge, enough to fill California’s largest reservoir—Shasta Reservoir—more than 16 times over. But stunningly, the vast majority of that badly needed water has flowed directly to the Pacific Ocean, unable to help pull California out of its historic drought. At its peak, more than 1 million gallons of water flowed every second through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. That is a greater rate than the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert here: CA Farm Bureau: California must capture water in wet years and expedite projects

NRDC: Proponents of CA water infrastructure cause permit delays

Doug Obegi, Director of California River Restoration for the NRDC, writes, “In addition to misleading attacks on environmental protections in the Bay-Delta, there has also been a lot of misinformation about permitting water infrastructure in California. It’s true that permitting water infrastructure takes time.  It’s important to get permitting right, because these projects cost billions of dollars to ratepayers, who need to ensure that these are smart investments; permitting is also critically important to ensure that these projects do not fail in an earthquake or flood, do not harm other water users, and protect salmon and the environment – and the fishing jobs, Tribes, and communities that depend on them.  But permitting of proposed new dams and water infrastructure in California’s Bay-Delta is taking significantly longer because the applicants for these projects have undermined and delayed the permitting process. … ”  Continue reading at the NRDC here:  Proponents of CA water infrastructure cause permit delays

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?

From the Left: Addressing the problem of drought

Lance Simmens writes, ““Water, water, everywhere, nor any a drop to drink.”  Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined that phrase in his early 19th-century poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and words could not be more apt than today’s current dilemma as mankind directly confronts climate change.  While some may herald the “atmospheric rivers” that are currently dumping historic rainfall amounts onto our drought-laden shores, such revelry is premature and presents only a short-term remedy to what are long-term problems. Unless we institute far-reaching changes in our policies on water usage and retention, and the underlying infrastructure planning and implementation needed to confront systemic changes in our weather patterns as a result of climate change, there literally will be little water left to drink. … ”  Read more from the Malibu Times here: From the Left: Addressing the problem of drought

From the Right: Addressing the problem of drought

Don Schmitz writes, “After years of miserable drought and prayers for rain, the “atmospheric river” delivered bountiful water to California, most of which flowed out to sea. Beyond frustrating, not just that it’s happening, but because it doesn’t have to. Ninety-eight million acre feet of water fell on California in three weeks, enough to meet the needs of 40 million people for 25 years! That is 32 trillion gallons. Ninety-five percent of that water flowed out to the Pacific. Ninety-five percent!  The political leadership in Sacramento and Washington are promising action, belatedly, but whine it’s “difficult.” Some lament that it’s prohibitively expensive to build more storage capacity, and therefore unrealistic. … ”  Read more from the Malibu Times here: From the Right: Addressing the problem of drought

Editorial: Work now for Central Valley flood control

The Southern California News Group writes, “In the big downpours that have hit our state in December and January, most of us in Southern California got wet, and maybe had a few leaks in the attic exposed, and had to stomp through puddles in our yards.  And while there were the news photos of sinkholes, and of rockslides, and of homeless campers put into harm’s way along our normally dry riverbeds, relatively few of us had our lives endangered.  That’s in great part due to the massive flood-control infrastructure built through our cities and suburbs in the 90 years since actual floods in the 1930s did devastate, and kill, many Southern Californians when floods and mudslides swept through our growing region.  And to a little good luck. … ”  Read more from the Daily News here: Work now for Central Valley flood control

California is both extremely beautiful and dangerous

Columnist Joe Mathews writes, “In the film Chinatown, a coroner named Morty chuckles over the dead body of the city’s water department chief.  “Isn’t that something?” Morty says. “Middle of a drought and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A.”  Not just in Los Angeles, of course. All of California has a talent for catastrophic paradox — as this winter is reminding us. Even as we suffer under a dangerous drought, atmospheric rivers flood communities, force evacuations, and cause dozens of deaths.  Our sunny weather makes us feel alive, but it also burns, destroying precious landscapes, homes, and dreams.  The greatest paradox of all, in fact, lies in California’s beauty. One of the world’s most breathtaking places also produces extreme ugliness. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here: California is both extremely beautiful and dangerous

California’s climate is the first to suffer in Newsom’s proposed budget cuts

Just six months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration were boasting a budget surplus of $97.5 billion. Today, thanks to a falling stock market and a weakened tech sector, California has an apparently unforeseen budget deficit of $22.5 billion. Cuts must be made. But Newsom’s proposed cuts seemingly come at the expense of climate-related projects, a curious decision from a governor who often speaks about how confronting climate change is one of his key priorities. Unsurprisingly, his actions do not meet the weight of his words.  Newsom’s budget proposal, ironically released on the heels of an atmospheric river that unleashed catastrophic flooding across the state, suggests slashing approximately $6 billion dollars from climate-related projects, including $40 million that had been promised to floodplain restoration projects in the San Joaquin Valley. ... ”  Continue reading at the Sacramento Bee here: California’s climate is the first to suffer in Newsom’s proposed budget cuts

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In regional water news this week …

Clean Up The Lake has ambitious dive schedule for Lake Tahoe and other areas of the Sierra in 2023

Clean Up the Lake (CUTL) completed a successful 72-mile clean-up of Lake Tahoe in 2022, and plans to return this year as well as dives at Fallen Leaf Lake, Echo Lake, Boca and Stampede Reservoirs in   Truckee, California, and four different lakes in Mono County and the Mammoth Lakes Basin.  The non-profit organization is committed to fighting back against plastic and all forms of pollution both above and below the surface of its local waterways.  The CUTL dive team is already back in the water in Lake Tahoe, with plans to revisit 40 different dive sites around the lake in 2023. Three separate Tahoe-based projects will take place, focused on deep-dive litter accumulation studies at 35 and 70 feet and also looking into “terrain traps,” or how the lake’s bathymetry, wind, currents, and recreation affect litter accumulation trends throughout Lake Tahoe. … ”  Read more from South Tahoe Now here: Clean Up The Lake has ambitious dive schedule for Lake Tahoe and other areas of the Sierra in 2023

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

State and federal agencies want fish ladder restored on Merced River

Two powerful state and federal agencies have stuck their toes, so to speak, into an ongoing lawsuit against Merced Irrigation District demanding the district reopen a long defunct fish ladder.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Service both sent letters to Merced Irrigation District after Water Audit California sued the district over the fish ladder on the Crocker-Huffman Dam, about 30 miles northeast of the City of Merced.  It wasn’t the first time the agencies had sought to have Merced Irrigation District get the fish ladder running again. They had both sent letters in 2009 and 2010, directing the district to reopen the fish ladder, which had been closed since the 1970s to see if a “spawning channel” next to the dam would work better for the salmon, steelhead and other fish. … ”  Read more from SJV Water here: State and federal agencies want fish ladder restored on Merced River

LA’s Green alleys: A new paradigm for stormwater management

A program that installed green infrastructure in Los Angeles alleyways got its first real test last month as massive storms pummeled the region, bringing rain that overwhelmed much of Southern California’s stormwater infrastructure. As Alissa Walker writes in Curbed, thanks to the “green alleys” installed as part of a 2015 project in South Los Angeles, “the resulting stormwater had more opportunities to sink back into the earth: filtering through a row of permeable pavers, directing to pocket planters where creeping fig vines twirl up garage walls, or vanishing into grates labeled ‘drains to groundwater.’”  Walker explains that “a single green alley is able to capture enough stormwater per year to store it in dry wells below the pavers where it can slowly percolate into the groundwater, says Allen Compton, founder of the landscape architecture firm SALT, which designed these alleys.” The alleys connect to the South L.A. Wetlands Park, another key piece of green infrastructure that collects stormwater and provides habitat for local wildlife. … ”  Read more from Planetizen here: Green alleys: A new paradigm for stormwater management

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

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Announcements, notices, and funding opportunities …

NOTICE of change petitions for Dos Rios instream flow dedication project in Stanislaus County

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: Dept. of Conservation Accepting Applications for Round 2 of Land Repurposing Program

NEW TOOL: Public Release of Source Water Protection Web App

NOTICE: of 180-Day Temporary Permit Application T033347 / Permit Order 21440 – Yolo County

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