DAILY DIGEST, 2/13: Harder pushes back on Newsom’s embrace of Delta tunnel; A new strategy for drought: Customized water pricing; The effect of the Fall x2 outflow action on Delta smelt; Wall Street sees profits in dropping Colorado River levels; and more …

On the calendar today …

  • VIRTUAL MEETING: Sacramento Regional Water Bank Stakeholder Forum from 6pm to 8pm.  The public is invited to weigh in on the proposed goals and objectives for the Sacramento Regional Water Bank, a groundwater storage program utilizing the expansive reservoir under the urban core for storing water during wet times for use during dry times.  Topics include the proposed water bank goals, objectives and guiding principles, existing regulations and guidelines that will apply to the Water Bank’s operation, and an update on the Water Bank’s progress and development.  Click here to register.

In California water news today …

Harder pushes back on Newsom’s embrace of Delta tunnel

“Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent embrace of a once dead-on-arrival proposal to move water from Northern California to the San Joaquin Valley and further points south via tunnel underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is coming under fire.  This time, however, opposition is mounting from a fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill who have cast the project as a water grab to benefit communities and farms south of the Delta.  Driving the news: Thursday, Rep. Josh Harder (D-Tracy) announced his re-introduction of the Stop the Delta Tunnel Act, aiming to block the drive to build a massive tunnel to convey water around the environmentally-sensitive Delta. … ”  Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun.

Reservoirs rise, but groundwater woes remain

“From late December 2022 into January 2023, a series of damaging storms delivered a tremendous amount of precipitation to California, helping to replenish mountain snowpack and reservoirs. Still, the abundance of water is unlikely to reverse the region’s decades-long decline in groundwater.  The images above and below show the two largest reservoirs in California—Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville—before and after the winter storms. They were acquired in November 2022 (left) and in late January 2023 (right) by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 and the OLI-2 on Landsat 9. … ”  Read more and view picture at NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Dramatic photos show Lake Oroville’s rise after epic storms

“Lake Oroville, a key component of California’s water supply, looks noticeably fuller after a series of January storms.  The atmospheric rivers dumped trillions of gallons of moisture on the state, spurring widespread flooding and destruction but also providing a healthy boost to snowpack and drought-sapped reservoirs.  Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir on the State Water Project, was at 68% of its capacity on Friday — up from 28% just two months prior, according to state data. … ”  Read more and view pictures at the LA Times.

California Drought: Water levels at Lake Shasta, and concerns for tree mortality

ABC10’s Brenden Mincheff walks us through the latest round of rain, snow and water levels for California.

A new strategy for western states to adapt to long-term drought: Customized water pricing

“Even after heavy snow and rainfall in January, western states still face an ongoing drought risk that is likely to grow worse thanks to climate change. A whopping snowpack is good news, but it doesn’t reduce the need for long-term planning. … Basic economics teaches us that a higher price for water would encourage conservation. Up until now, however, concerns about harming low-income households have limited discussions about raising water prices to reduce demand.  We know that it’s hard to pay more for essential goods such as food, energy and water, especially for lower-income households. Rather than raising everyone’s water prices, we propose a customized approach that lets individual consumers decide whether to pay higher prices. … ” Read more from The Conversation.

Salt and smelt: Assessing the effect of the Fall x2 outflow action on endangered Delta smelt

“Recent research has revealed that the habitat needs of endangered delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) may be more complex than what is accounted for in current management efforts. One ongoing effort intended to aid delta smelt recovery is the “Fall X2 Outflow Action,” which is a strategic increase in outflow into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to improve habitat for delta smelt during a key life history period when adult fish are maturing prior to their spawning migration. This increase in outflow is thought to improve the quantity and quality of delta smelt habitat by maintaining flows to sustain a low-salinity zone, in this case, a region with an average salinity less than 2 parts per thousand (a location referred to as X2). The position of X2 depends on the previous water year. Following a wet year or normal year, X2 is located approximately 74 kilometers to 81 kilometers upstream of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the findings of a recent study suggest that managing delta smelt habitat by adjusting the position of X2 may not be as effective as previously thought. … ”  Continue reading at FishBio.

Green sturgeon in California: Hidden lives revealed from long-term tracking

“You gotta respect fishes that have been around since the dinosaurs, such as the 27 described sturgeon species. Unfortunately, the majority of these fishes currently face a high risk of extinction. Extinctions happen to these gentle giants. The Chinese Paddlefish went extinct following a long-term decline – finished off by the Three Gorges Dam (Zhang et al. 2020). California has two sturgeon species: White Sturgeon and Green Sturgeon. Recently, Schreier et al. 2022 published a blog on the status of White Sturgeon in California focused on impacts from a mass die off during a red tide event in the summer of 2022. Here we focus on the southern distinct population segment (DPS) of Green Sturgeon (Fig. 1), a federally ‘threatened’ species under the US Endangered Species Act. Green Sturgeon are fully anadromous and live primarily in the ocean as adults, but spawn in freshwater rivers in the spring. High-quality habitat is essential for the life-history of native fishes, especially in California (Sass et al. 2017, Hause et al. 2022). Yet despite their large size and historical importance to many communities, there is still much we don’t know about Green Sturgeon biology in California. … ”  Read more from the California Water Blog.

Why historic storms are ‘both a blessing and a curse’ for California’s fire season

“A series of torrential storms kicked off 2023, replenishing a parched landscape and improving drought conditions across California. Reservoirs are filling back up to normal levels and lush, green grasses are blanketing hillsides. … Data shows that rainy, wet winters in California typically accompany fewer acres burned in wildfires come fire season. Woody vegetation, in high-elevation forests and chaparral landscapes, can hold onto this moisture through the summer, especially if it’s supplemented by spring rains. The historic precipitation brings hope for a mild fire season, but the now-abundant grasses also serve as potent wildfire fuel, leaving uncertainty about how wildfires will unfold in the coming months. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle. | Read similar story from The Guardian.

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In commentary today …

How California can solve the Colorado water deficit

Edward Ring, co-founder of the California Policy Center and the author of The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California, writes, “When the Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 it was the largest dam in the world, creating what was to become the largest reservoir in the world, Lake Mead. It took six years to fill, but at capacity Lake Mead held 28 million acre-feet (MAF) of water. Mead’s upstream counterpart, Lake Powell, created by the Glen Canyon Dam and completed in 1963, delivered an additional 25 MAF of storage capacity.  Access to the water stored in these giant reservoirs made possible the growth of cities and agriculture from the California coast all the way to Tucson in southeast Arizona. Las Vegas and Phoenix would not exist if it weren’t for these dams, nor would nearly 500,000 acres of rich irrigated farmland in California’s Imperial Valley along the border with Mexico. … ”  Read the full commentary at the National Review.

Who will save (not stop) the rain?

Winnie Comstock-Carlson, President and Publisher of Comstock’s, writes, “Our beloved Capital Region has been literally awash with rain, snow, flooding and downed trees, and I’m sure many of us think that California’s persistent drought has at last been rinsed away. After all, we’ve received huge amounts of snow in the Sierra, which will thaw and flow westward to fill our reservoirs, basins and valleys as it makes its way to sea. Add to that the atmospheric rivers of rain that have been pouring into our towns, overflowing our riverbanks, curbs, basements and canals, we’re tempted to assume that our state is no longer destined to be a desert. But that’s probably not going to be the case.  … ”  Read more from Comstock’s.

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In regional water news and commentary today …


Klamath countdown: Researchers hustle before largest dam-removal project begins

“Next year will be the big year. By the end of 2024 the Lower Klamath River will run free for the first time in a century, enabling fish like salmon and steelhead to reclaim 400 miles of river habitat in California and Oregon.  The removal of four dams on the river — the largest dam-removal and river-restoration project to date — got the official go-ahead late last year after two decades of work from the region’s Tribes and other advocates.  But before next year’s much-anticipated demolitions begin, a lot remains to be done.  The smallest of the four dams, Copco 2, will come down in 2023, and crews will improve roads and bridges, move a municipal water line, and build a new fish hatchery. … ”  Continue reading at The Revelator.


A cold blast at Lake Tahoe starts Monday night, sets the tone for the week

“A very cold winter system will arrive late Monday at Lake Tahoe, reminding us that we are still in the middle of winter. Warming temperatures appear across the region Monday but it is shortlived as the next system arrives Monday afternoon. This system will produce strong, chilly west-to-northwest winds along with chances for light snowfall. Wintry
temperatures return Tuesday and Wednesday, with slow moderation into next weekend, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Reno.  A pair of lows will glide south out of the Pacific Northwest on Valentine’s Day This double cold front will bring very chilly temperatures, with the nighttime lows in single digits. … ”  Read more from South Tahoe Now.


Tree damage ‘we’ve never seen.’ Map shows thousands of 311 calls during Sacramento storms

“The rain started falling, the winds started howling, and the phones started ringing. Sacramento’s trusted canopy — tattooed on the city’s skin forever, printed on apparel and protected by a list of laws — turned on us without much warning. In the first three weeks of January, the 311 customer service line directed roughly 3,000 tree-related requests to Sacramento’s Urban Forestry, data show. The majority of the trees that toppled onto the capital city were healthy, uprooted by heavy rainfall and strong winds. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee.


Risky dam above Marin County beach needs to come down, park service says

“The National Park Service is advancing its plan to remove a Tennessee Valley dam that has been classified as having a high risk of failure and threatens public safety at a nearby beach.  The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously Thursday to endorse the park service’s proposed project, which also includes restoring acres of wetland habitat that has been affected by the dam over the decades.  “We have the removal of a dam for public safety but also to restore some of this natural process in the Tennessee Valley,” Kate Huckelbridge, the commission’s executive director, said before the vote. … ”  Read more from the Marin Independent Journal.

Storms renew Point Reyes ranching water contamination concerns

“The recent storms in the region have revived concerns about agricultural runoff in the Point Reyes National Seashore contaminating creeks and beaches, including those where elephant seals are breeding.  After the series of powerful storms last month, some visitors sent the National Park Service photos of brown water running down hills from two dairy ranches near Kehoe Creek and at Drakes Beach, where elephant seals were breeding and raising their pups.  Park officials said inspections at the two ranches — Kehoe Ranch and B Ranch — found that the runoff was not pure liquid manure as some visitors had suggested. Melanie Gunn, a park official, said the runoff from the ranches included residue from feed areas, mud and general agricultural runoff that might contain dispersed manure.  “There is runoff and it may be brown and dark and people may be assuming it’s liquid manure,” Gunn said. … ”  Read more from the Marin Independent Journal.

Zone 7’s Ramirez Holmes to continue leading Los Vaqueros Reservoir JPA board

“The Tri-Valley will keep its prominent voice on the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors as Zone 7 Water Agency Director Angela Ramirez Holmes will serve a second term as board chair.  The authority board is composed of eight water agencies that oversee the Los Vaqueros Reservoir expansion project. Los Vaqueros is an off-stream reservoir in eastern Contra Costa County that currently holds 160,000 acre-feet of water.  Ramirez Holmes, who was first selected as board chair back in November 2021, will continue in her role after the JPA board unanimously voted to retain its current leadership for one more year at its Jan. 11 board meeting. … ”  Read more from Pleasanton Weekly.


Storm aftermath: When trees fall in the forest

“Plenty of trees are falling in the forest this winter and Monterey County officials are hearing all about it.  January’s storms brought high winds and persistent, soil-saturating rains — perfect conditions for knocking over even the healthiest of trees.  Mayra Tostado, a PG&E spokeswoman, said in an email that PG&E responded to over 150 power outages in January in the Monterey area that were caused by fallen vegetation.  PG&E does try to prevent tree-caused power outages. Twice a year in “High Fire Threat Districts,” including Monterey County, they inspect and mitigate trees deemed at risk to fall into PG&E facilities. They’ve also conducted “fuel reduction projects” over the past five years, trimming and removing defective and hazardous trees and trees in densely vegetated areas. … ”  Read more from the Monterey Herald.

What to know about one-day per week watering in Ventura County

“Ventura County residents limited to one-day-a-week watering may soon get some relief.  Last year, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California required millions of its customers — including those in Ventura County — to cut outdoor watering to one day a week by June 1 or find other ways to conserve.  Those customers rely on imported Northern California water delivered by the State Water Project. After a record dry start to 2022, the state limited its deliveries to just 5%. … ”  Read more from the Ventura County Star.


Valley remains in moderate drought despite impressive rain amount this winter

“After several years of severe and exceptional drought across California and right here in the Central Valley, we hit the jackpot this winter with heavy mountain snow and drenching Valley rainfall.  But even after this banner season, it may take some time for our drought to be over.  For many years, our Valley drought has been relentless.  The last three years have been the driest ever on record. … ”  Read more from KMPH.


Pearblossom water project reaches milestone

“A milestone was reached Thursday for a proposed underground water storage project near Pearblossom that would store surplus water in the underground aquifer from the State Water Project during wet years. The governing Board of the Antelope Valley State Water Contractors Association, which includes the Palmdale Water District, Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency and Littlerock Creek Irrigation District, accepted the Big Rock Creek Draft Feasibility Plan. The project would use the normally dry Big Rock Creek, south of Pearblossom, which runs roughly northward from the foothills into the Valley, as a means of transporting water from the California Aqueduct to the underground aquifer. … ”  Continue reading from the Antelope Valley-Press.

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Along the Colorado River …

Wall Street sees profits in dropping Colorado River levels

Colorado River from Moab Rim. Photo by the USGS.

“As Wyoming and other Colorado River Basin states grapple with ways to keep a river more than 40 million people, agriculture and industry depend on flowing, Wall Street is tapping water scarcity to deliver steep profits.  Gary Wockner, director of the group Save the Colorado, said hedge funds and other investors have acquired key parcels of land with water rights. In the early 2000s, Wockner pointed out, you could buy Colorado River water for about $8,000 dollars per acre foot. Last year, an acre foot was selling for $80,000 dollars.  “Over a 20-year period, it went up 1,000% in price,” Wockner noted. “That’s 50% per year, and that’s a pretty good profit, no matter what you’re investing in. And this is going on throughout the southwest United States.” … ”  Read more from the Public News Service.

Radio: How will the West adapt as the Colorado River runs dry?

Western states depend on the Colorado River for water. They’re up against a reality that’s been a long time coming:  “It’s not like the river changed overnight. The river has been changing over the last 20 years at least,” Jennifer Pitt says.  “But we were buffered from the impacts of the change on water in the water supply by draining reservoirs.”  States have been drawing down so much water, that reservoirs are approaching the point where it may be impossible to pull more out of them. It’s a scenario called deadpool.  Recently, six Western states did come up with a proposal for how to cut water. But one state wouldn’t sign on: California.  Today, On Point: We’re going to talk about why, and what’s at stake.”  Listen at WBUR.

Long term ‘isn’t looking good’ for America’s largest reservoirs, Mead and Powell, says water manager

“Lakes Powell and Mead, designed to water the West during drought, are still at critical levels despite a “good” snow season. The government demands further cuts from states in the Colorado River Basin as current usage is not sustainable.  While California’s reservoirs may have a water supply bonanza of snowfall this winter, Lakes Powell and Mead have little to celebrate about. The atmospheric river storms that dumped twice the amount of winter snow in some areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains have only resulted in near average snowpack for the Rockies which supply water to the Colorado River. And it is not enough, water managers say. … ”  Read more from Fox Weather.

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In national water news today …

Acesulfame: sweetener reveals information about groundwater flows

“Acesulfame is a sugar-free sweetener, and because it cannot be metabolized in the human body, the sweetener ends up in wastewater after consumption and remains largely intact even in sewage treatment plants.  According to a new study, the persistence of the sweetener varies with temperature, just as the concentration of the sweetener in wastewater varies with the seasons.  The environmental geosciences team investigated how seasonal fluctuations in groundwater flows can be used to trace groundwater flows.  Because sweetener residues end up in drinking water, acesulfame serves as an indicator of the origin and composition of our drinking water. … ”  Read more from Nature World News.

Community engagement: A key component of successful infrastructure projects

“Effective community engagement has become a crucial part of water utility operations. Because public expectations have changed dramatically, the silent utility provider is an outdated concept. Communities now demand more from their utility.Modern technology and convenience have forever altered the way people live. They now expect the same accessibility and speed across all digital experiences— from making online purchases to paying their water bills.Water utility providers recognize that public and stakeholder support can play a major part in the long-term success of water infrastructure projects. Transparent communication and using the right technology can help alleviate any resistance or backlash from the community as projects take place. … ”  Continue reading at Water Finance & Management.

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More news and commentary in the weekend edition …

In California water news this weekend …

  • Potent storm set to deliver colder air, heavy snow to western US
  • Army Corps plan Stockton meeting on Delta Tunnel
  • Levee repair work continues after NorCal storms with infusion of funding
  • After January storms, some California communities look for long-term flood solutions
  • The surprising effect of California’s storms on gold seekers
  • Watershed moments: Changing the way we see California’s landscapes
  • These 2 NASA satellites are ‘smart water meters’ that can track groundwater in Northern California
  • Ag Secretary: We need more investment in ag
  • Connecting habitat in the Central Valley could help save California’s pollinators
  • Commentary: Imperial Valley has made enough sacrifices already in the water rights war
  • ‘One wet year is not going to solve the problem’: Why the Colorado River is running out of water
  • And more …

Click here for the weekend digest.

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

NEPA DOCS: Delta-Mendota Canal Subsidence Correction Project

REGISTER NOW: February 15 Mono Lake Workshop at the State Water Board

NOTICE of Opportunity for Public Comment, Public Hearing, and Consideration of Adoption of proposed amendments to the Water Quality Enforcement Policy

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


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