DAILY DIGEST, 3/2: Storms not letting up, here’s what the first half of March looks like; California may bar commercial salmon fishing for the first time since 2009; Ridgecrest GSA approves $7.8 million for imported water plan; Toilet paper may be a source of PFAS in wastewater; and more …

On the calendar today …

  • PUBLIC MEETING: Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) Advisory Group from 9am to 3pm.  Agenda items include presentation and discussion on SAFER Workplan 2022-24; discussion on SAFER program updates; advisory group member announcements; and public comment.  Click here for the meeting notice.
  • YOLO FLYWAY NIGHTS: Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration and Flood Improvement Project at 7pm.  The multi-benefit Lookout Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration and Flood Improvement Project will restore over 3,100 acres of freshwater tidal wetland habitat for the California Department of Water Resources within the Cache Slough Complex and increase the flood conveyance capacity of the lower Yolo Bypass.  The project provides design elements for multiple species including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, steelhead, salmon, and sturgeon.  Click here to register.

In California water news today …


California’s storms aren’t letting up. Here’s what the first half of March looks like

“Storm-lashed California may not get much relief soon: The cold and rain could be here to stay for at least the next two weeks, according to weather experts.  The weather outlook for Northern California for March 8 through March 14 leans toward colder and rainier (or snowier) conditions than usual, per an outlook issued Tuesday from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center — though mid-range forecasts are notoriously finicky.  How much precipitation the state could receive will become clearer next week, said Bay Area weather service meteorologist Brooke Bingaman.“Above normal, that can be like a 100th of an inch above average, or it could be a couple of inches. So, it doesn’t tell you how much above or below normal things will be, it just is highlighting a signal,” Bingaman said. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle (gift article).

Graphics show snowfall totals in California: Over 50 feet with more expected this weekend

“Almost 12 feet of snow has piled up at Donner Pass in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains in the past seven days. (Feb 23 – March 1) And more snow is expected this weekend.  Five months into this water year, counted Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, more than 44 feet has fallen there at the Central Snow Laboratory, a University of California, Berkeley field research station. That’s more than double the median of 21.7 feet by this time of year.  “We have had the snowiest October through February going back to 1970,” said Andrew Schwartz, lead scientist and manager at the snow lab.  “We’re within 3½ feet from the 2017 water year total of 47.77 feet, which is our third largest snowfall year on record in the last three decades,” Schwartz said. The lab record for a water year is 53.58 feet set in 2011. … ”  Read more from USA Today.


California reservoir water levels before and after winter storm

“After another week of severe winter weather, levels in California’s recovering water reservoirs have continued to rise, signaling good news for the state’s summer water supplies.  This follows weeks of considerable rain and snowfall in California since the start of 2023.  “Statewide the reservoirs are generally in good shape with most at or above their historical averages and some reservoirs having to let significant water go to maintain space for floods,” Jeff Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center, told Newsweek. … ”  Read more from Newsweek.

Rain-on-snow could present fresh risks to California’s snowpack. Here’s why

“The gargantuan California snowpack, over twice the normal size for this time of year in some parts of the Sierra, just keeps growing. On Tuesday, yet another storm unloaded several feet of snow in the Lake Tahoe area, completely burying the Sugar Bowl Resort office. Ideally, the snowpack gradually melts during the spring and summer, releasing water when reservoirs aren’t capped by flood control limitations and can maximize storage. All the snow right now is fantastic news for the state’s enduring drought. “We’re happy about that,” said Dan Feldman, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  But the overabundance also presents potential flood risks. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle.


After Southern California’s spate of rare storms, is California’s drought over?

“Although a barrage of rare storms has pummeled Southern California with rain, snow, and hail in recent weeks, the National Weather Service said it isn’t likely California’s drought will be over soon.  Still, the current rainfall and snow has made more than a drop in the bucket for the typically dry region, which has generally seen more precipitation than expected for the rainy season, which is measured from Oct. 1 on.  NWS meteorologist Samantha Connolly, who works out of the San Diego office overseeing Orange County and the Inland Empire, said many of its sites have seen marked increases in precipitation, especially at the coasts and in valleys.  “I would say a majority are above normal for this time of year,” Connolly explained. … ”  Read more from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.



California may bar commercial salmon fishing for the first time since 2009

“California commercial and sports fishers are bracing for the possibility of no salmon season this year after the fish population along the Pacific Coast dropped to its lowest point in 15 years.  On Wednesday, wildlife officials announced a low forecast for the number of the wild adult Chinook (or “king”) salmon that will be in the ocean during the fishing season that typically starts in May. The final plan for the commercial and recreational salmon season will be announced in April, but the poor outlook has already angered the fishing fleet over how the state has managed both the fishery and its water resources. If the fishery is closed this year, it will be the first time since 2009. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Fishery scientists announce poor 2023 outlook for California’s ocean salmon stocks

“At the annual Salmon Information Meeting held virtually today, state and federal fishery scientists presented the numbers of spawning salmon that returned to California’s rivers late in 2022 and announced the abundance forecasts for key California stocks. The 2023 projection for Sacramento River fall Chinook, the most predominant stock harvested in California’s fisheries, is estimated at 169,767 adults, one of the lowest forecasts since 2008 when the current assessment method began. For Klamath River fall Chinook the forecast is 103,793 adults which is the second lowest forecast since the current assessment method began in 1997. While low and disappointing, neither abundance forecast is the lowest recorded. In 2009, the Sacramento forecast was 122,200 and in 2017, the Klamath forecast was 54,200. … ”  Read more from the Department of Fish & Wildlife.


Can the Northern California summer steelhead be saved in time?

Researchers have come to dire conclusions about California’s native fish: Almost half the salmonids are likely to be extinct in the next 50 years, including over half of anadromous species—fish that migrate up freshwater rivers from the ocean to spawn. This is according to the State of the Salmonids II report, which reviewed the status of California’s 32 salmon, trout, and steelhead fish species.  One fish in particular, though, is declining more rapidly: The Northern California summer steelhead trout. In barely a decade, the time since the first SOS report was released, the species had escalated from a high to critical level of concern and its population numbers had plummeted to less than 1,000 adults. While the fish are genetically poised to adapt to warming environments, they could cease to exist by 2050 without intervention and habitat restoration on the Eel River. … ”  Read more from Sierra Magazine.

Strengthening the Species Status Assessment process: The longfin smelt SSA provides instructive insights

“In its evolving effort to meet Congress’s directive that determinations under the federal Endangered Species Act should be informed by the “best available scientific and commercial data” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses Species Status Assessments “to deliver foundational science” to support its decisions.  While this process does not typically garner much attention beyond that of the agency, the recent proposal to list longfin smelt as endangered has highlighted the SSA’s importance and brought to light some assessment elements that can be improved.  By way of background, the Service intends the Assessments to provide “focused, repeatable, and rigorous scientific assessment” that results in “improved and more transparent and defensible decision making, and clearer and more concise documents.” … ”  Read more from the Center for California Water Resources & Management.


State Water Board selects Jay Ziegler as the new Delta Watermaster

“The State Water Resources Control Board named Jay Ziegler, former external affairs and policy director for the California Office of The Nature Conservancy, as the new Delta Watermaster. He succeeds Michael George, who held the position for two four-year terms.  The Watermaster administers water rights within the legal boundaries of the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta and Suisun Marsh and advises the State Water Board and the Delta Stewardship Council on related water rights, water quality and water operations involving the watershed.  “Jay is uniquely qualified to provide crucial guidance and leadership on a multitude of challenges we are confronting in the Delta, which is the hub of California’s water infrastructure,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the Water Board. “His experience will enable him to take a broad, holistic view at a time when conditions are evolving swiftly and dramatically due to the impacts of climate change.” … ”  Continue reading via Maven’s Notebook.

Garamendi’s bill would extend water treatment facility permits

“U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Richmond, on Monday reintroduced his bipartisan legislation (H.R.1181) to reform permitting for local wastewater treatment and water recycling projects, with U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, as the original co-sponsor.  Garamendi’s legislation (H.R.1181) would extend the maximum term for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued under the federal Clean Water Act from five years to 10 to better reflect the project construction schedules for public agencies. In October 2019, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed Garamendi’s legislation. His reintroduced legislation awaits action by that same committee. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News.

LAO Report: Overview of Climate, Resources, and Environmental Budget Proposals

Handout presented to the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 3 on Climate Crisis, Resources, Energy, and Transportation.  Click here to read the handout.

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In commentary today …

How California’s Big Agriculture wants you to think about all the rain we just got

Author Howard V. Hendrix writes, “Despite the continued heavy winter rain and snow throughout California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently extended his executive orders from 2022 that declared a drought emergency statewide. He also asked the state water board to waive water flow regulations intended to protect salmon and other endangered fish species, as well as San Francisco Bay and Delta estuary overall. Some viewed these moves as pragmatic steps to avoid “wasting” the bounty of California’s rains out to sea. Others saw them as a declaration of war against the health of the bay.  In fact, a war against the bay has been going on for decades. Newsom’s order was merely the latest skirmish. The war’s primary aggressors are agricultural interests in the Central Valley. And their battle isn’t just for control over the state’s water, but also of the narrative. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Solutions for prioritizing investment in California’s critical water infrastructure

Matt Horton, a director at the Milken Institute’s Center for Regional Economics and California Center, writes, “We’ve all heard the line from the famous poem “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” While that poem was about a sailor in the high seas surrounded by undrinkable ocean water, the same can be said about California’s inability to capture, store and move water due to our outdated and inadequate system of infrastructure.  Indeed, California experienced the wettest January on record and the deepest snowpack in decades. And recent late February storms have brought more rain and snow. It’s almost starting to feel like water is, quite literally, everywhere. But due to an inadequate and aging water infrastructure system, we are wasting much of that water and our farms, homes and businesses throughout the state are only getting a small fraction of water supplies than otherwise would have been possible had California been adequately investing in upgrading and modernizing our water infrastructure system. … ”  Read more from Capitol Weekly.

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Today’s featured article …

The Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program: Envisioning the social, economic, and environmental possibilities of fallowed lands

At the January meeting of the California Water Commission, Keali’i Bright, Assistant Director of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resources, gave a presentation on the Department’s Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program.

Mr. Bright began by acknowledging that the Department of Conservation is not an expert on water or habitat, but the Department does have a long history of supporting practitioners and entities working within watersheds.

“We support them to develop strategies to address the bigger landscape challenges that they’re facing, from the top of the watershed down to the groundwater basins on the valley floor,” he said.  “And with the drought and with groundwater levels being depleted, we’re really facing this moment where we’re going to exacerbate all of the pressures on our landowners, agricultural leaders, communities, and people who rely on these sources.”

Click here to continue reading this article.

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In regional water news and commentary today …


USGS science informs effort to protect Clear Lake Hitch

“The Clear Lake Hitch (Lavinia exilicauda chi) population, which once flourished in great abundance, has been decimated by loss of spawning habitat, nursery areas, and the encroachment of non-native species. In order to make an informed decision, the California Water Science Center has been asked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct studies into the fish’s habitat, specifically changes to spawning areas, such as the lake’s tributaries, and shorelines where juvenile fish mature.  The Clear Lake Hitch was formerly highly abundant and a staple food for the Pomo tribes of the Clear Lake region. The abundance of this fish species is unknown but is believed to have declined 100-fold. USGS biologists have learned a great deal about this endangered fish, from identifying important spawning tributaries, to documenting how fish use different habitat throughout their life cycle. … ”  Read more from the USGS.


Potent storm to bring multiple feet of snow this weekend to Lake Tahoe

“After a break in stormy weather to end the week at Lake Tahoe, another potent storm is set to impact the region this weekend.  The National Weather Service in Reno issued a winter storm watch that goes into effect at 10 a.m. Saturday and lasts for 48 hours for total snow accumulations of 1 to 2 feet in lake communities and 2 to 3 feet above 7,000 feet. Winds could gusts up to 45 mph, with 100 mph gusts possible along the Sierra crest.  The snow is expected to bring widespread travel impacts, including possible road closures. Some roads remain closed from the multi-day blizzard that exited the basin on Wednesday, including parts of State Route 89 and 88 and Interstate 80 finally reopened Wednesday night to passenger vehicles but were still holding big rigs from Applegate to the state line as of Thursday morning. … ”  Read more from the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

How much snow did Tahoe get? Enough to shut down every resort.

“While the headline-making blizzard in the Sierra Nevada may be tapering off, the snowfall totals are stacking up, with nearly every resort around Lake Tahoe reporting snowfall totals of more than 4 feet following the three-day storm. The UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab on Donner Summit reported 141.9 inches of snowfall in the past week — the period between Sunday and Tuesday alone saw 87.2 inches — bringing the season snowfall total to 531 inches. The lab has been tracking snowfall numbers since 1878, and the snowiest season on record was the 1951-52 season, during which the lab recorded 67.65 feet, or 811.8 inches, of snow. The snowiest season in the past 50 years was 2016-17, totaling 47.7 feet, or 572.4 inches. … ”  Read more from SF Gate.


Using snowcats and snowshoes, El Dorado Irrigation District crews tend to canals in winter weather

“Crews with the El Dorado Irrigation District are working to clear snow and debris from the flumes and canals that deliver water to its customers throughout the latest round of winter weather.  Matt Heape, a hydro operations and maintenance supervisor for the district, said the focus Tuesday was taking care of a 22-mile canal system.  “We’ve got to get all the snow off of it, so it doesn’t form into ice then it’s safer for staff to patrol and do their regular work,” Heape said. … ”  Read more from KCRA.

CAMRA mulls battery project on Mokelumne River

“At a Calaveras Amador Mokelumne River Authority (CAMRA) board meeting on Feb 16, Nicholas Sher of GreenGenStorage was given the floor to present on GreenGenStorage’s proposed Mokelumne River Battery Project, which aims to generate and store “clean” energy using existing infrastructure and an open-loop pump system that pumps water through an underground tunnel between two reservoirs. The project is currently in the planning phase but is already facing scrutiny by environmental groups, community members in both Calaveras and Amador counties, and political leaders who want to know how it is being funded, what the benefits are, and what the effects will be on recreation and the ecosystem of the Mokelumne River, which became a protected Wild and Scenic River System in 2018. … ”  Read more from the Calaveras Enterprise.


Lake Shasta rises only 8 feet in February, despite snow and rain

“February finished with a flurry of snow and rainy weather, but it did little to fill North State reservoirs and bring an end to the region’s years-long drought.  February ended with just under 4 inches of measurable precipitation at the Redding Regional Airport, including the snow that fell over Redding last week and earlier this week, according to the National Weather Service. The normal precipitation for the month is about 5.5 inches, the weather service says.  Redding received 5 inches of snow last Friday at the airport, but the water content of the snow measured much less than that, said Katrina Hand, a weather service meteorologist.  Lake Shasta, meanwhile, rose only 8 feet during February, leaving the reservoir further behind average for the date than when the month began. … ”  Read more from the Redding Record Searchlight.

Folsom Dam spillway damage costs $16.6 million to repair. Cracks appeared in 2017

“Folsom Dam has some cosmetic cracks in its newer spillway but officials say there is nothing to worry about. The Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $16.6 million contract in January for construction on rods within hydraulic cylinders of the Folsom Dam auxiliary spillway gates that control the flow of water and began cracking after the completion of the spillway’s construction in 2017, according to Tyler Stalker, a spokesperson for the corps. “In 2017, we began to see indications that the hard coating may be cracking, (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and (the) U.S. Bureau of Reclamation undertook extensive testing of the rods and assessed the potential impact of any cracks that may extend down to the steel rod,” Stalker said via email. “From those tests, we concluded that there are micro-cracks and, if unremedied, the useful life of the gates would likely be less than the intended 50-year lifespan.” … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee.

UC Davis: Report on mass fish death released

“An independent investigation has found that a catastrophic fish mortality event at the UC Davis Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture in August 2022 was caused by accumulation of mineral deposits inside sealed piping carrying wastewater away from the facility. This blockage caused chlorine, added to effluent water as a disinfectant, to back up to a water line used to lubricate pumps at the well supplying the fish tanks, and thus contaminate the tanks.  There was no forewarning of the problem and no individual or group of individuals can be singled out as responsible, wrote Anthony Farrell, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of British Columbia, who conducted the investigation at the invitation of UC Davis Vice Chancellor for Research Prasant Mohapatra. … ”  Read more from UC Davis.


Pleasanton council provides staff feedback on water supply alternatives list

“The Pleasanton City Council received an update from staff last week on the different water supply alternatives to address the contaminated water inside city-operated wells.  Council members were asked to weigh in and provide input on the different alternatives, none of which have been ruled out as the update was only the first out of a three-stage process before staff come up with a final recommendation on which alternative would be best for the city.  “We always must think about the health and safety of our residents,” Mayor Karla Brown said at the Feb. 21 meeting. “We need clean, safe water going into the homes of our residents and that’s our responsibility.” … ”  Read more from Pleasanton Weekly.


As the proposed Interlake Tunnel project advances, the question is: Is it worth it?

“During the succession of atmospheric rivers that swept over the Central Coast around the turn of the year, the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, per a Jan. 13 statement, increased its “extremely small water releases” from Lake Nacimiento “to reduce the risk of the reservoir spilling over as a result of the next series of storms in our area.”  That reservoir, as of Feb. 28, sits at 86 percent of its capacity, while the county’s other reservoir, Lake San Antonio, is at 41-percent capacity. And therein lies the logic behind the proposed Interlake Tunnel project, which would funnel water from Nacimiento to San Antonio as opposed to increasing releases into the Salinas River. It would provide a way to store the water that needs to be released to prevent a dam failure. … ”  Read more from Monterey Weekly.

Carpenteria: Debris basin removal timeline pushed back

“While the Santa Barbara County Flood Control Operation was set to finish removing debris from Carpinteria Valley Debris basins by March 3, that deadline is now pushed back due to the past weekend’s storm.  Over the past month, sediment from the basins has been moved to the Carpinteria Beach at Ash Avenue, leading to resident complaints over the trucks and concerns with materials on the beach.  Workers could not finish removing debris from the basins due to the late February storm; it is unknown at this time exactly when the debris removal will be complete, although Matt Roberts, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities Department, said the project is “not that far away from completion.” … ”  Read more from Coastal View.


Farm town residents block water rate hike but are still stuck with a massive water debt

“Residents of the small town of El Porvenir in western Fresno County successfully blocked a water rate hike Tuesday at the Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting.  The western Fresno County community, where nearly half the residents live in poverty, is already carrying a water debt of  $400,000. That debt has been incurred over the last few years as El Porvenir has had to buy surface water on the open market and pay for expensive treatment.  The town, along with nearby Cantua Creek, was supposed to be getting water from two new groundwater wells by this time. But the well project, which began in 2018 and was supposed to be completed in 2021, was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. … ”  Read more from SJV Water.

These Fresno County residents fought 154% water bill rate hike — and won. How it happened

“A rural, debt-burdened west Fresno County community successfully blocked a proposed a $160-dollar increase to their monthly water rates.  On Tuesday, residents of El Porvenir fended off a rate increase that would have raised their base monthly water fees by 154%, from $104.21 to $264.78.  The decision took place in a Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday following a protest hearing on the proposed rate increases.  State law requires public agencies to hold a public hearing and provide property owners with an opportunity to protest new rates. If there is a majority protest, the board must abandon the price increase proceedings. … ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee via AOL News.

Kern River watershed “Lookin’ good!”

“Water watcher Scott Williams, who issues a Kern River Snow and Water Report every month, was practically giddy in his March 1 email stating: “Lookin’ good!” for this month’s report. … ”  Read more from SJV Water.


Ridgecrest: Groundwater Authority board approves spending $7.8 million to plan importing water project

“At the regular board meeting for the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority on February 8, the IWVGA board approved the authorization of three contracts to prepare for the water importation system they plan to use for bringing the IWV groundwater basin into sustainability. The three contracts total to $7,867,312.  These contracts are largely made possible by a $7.6 million dollar grant which IWVGA secured from the California Department of Water Resources in May of 2022. The grant is for the implementation of projects to help achieve a sustainable groundwater supply for the region, and work on these projects must be complete by June 30, 2025 unless agencies are successful in extending the deadline. …  ”  Continue reading at the Ridgecrest Independent.

Ridgecrest City Council to hear about groundwater less often

“If it seems like the agenda for Wednesday’s City Council meeting is missing something, maybe that’s because it is.  For the first time in many meetings, the council will not be hearing from Council Member Scott Hayman, the city’s representative to the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority today.  Hayman has routinely delivered a groundwater update as part of every meeting.  This practice is changing after an informal discussion at the most recent council meeting.  Mayor Eric Bruen suggested the item be dropped from some agendas after Hayman gave his groundwater update Feb. 15.  “Do we need to have water on the agenda every time?” Bruen asked, adding “We’ve hee’d and haw’d with this.” … ”  Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent.

Ridgecrest: IWVGA enters agreement with Navy, BLM

“The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority on Feb. 28, 2023 announced that at its February meeting, the GA approved a joint defense agreement with the United States concerning the general groundwater adjudication filed by the Indian Wells Valley Water District.  The agreement recognizes “common and shared interest in the outcome of the adjudication” for IWVGA and the United States (Navy and BLM).  Note that in this context the word “defense” refers to legal defense, not Department of Defense.  The agreement allows the parties to share information, including data and technical information and to discuss strategies concerning the adjudication “privately and confidentially pursuant to available legal privileges,” according to a groundwater authority news release. … ”  Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent.


SoCal winter storm exits with a bang: Icy downpours at Disneyland and 1,000-foot snow levels

“The last in a series of winter storms moved out of Southern California on Wednesday with a blast, bringing hail and graupel to many communities and plunging snow levels to 1,000 feet in some areas.  It was a day of rain, sunshine and then icy downpours, which spread from the South Bay and Long Beach to Disneyland and many valley and foothill communities.  The National Weather Service’s Los Angeles office reported a graupel shower in Malibu, about 540 feet above sea level.  There and in other parts of the L.A. area, the soft, snow-like crystal droplets floated down to the ground from otherwise sunny skies and were captured on social media by multiple people. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

Column: How I finally learned to care about Orange County’s crumbling coastline

Columnist Gustavo Arellano writes, “One Friday morning in October, I drove down Interstate 5 to a place I hadn’t been in years: San Clemente State Beach.  It’s at the southernmost tip of Orange County and not exactly O.C.’s prettiest shoreline — that would be Crystal Cove. But its campgrounds, ocean waves and trails have long made this stretch a favorite for residents and visitors alike.  Recently, transportation officials had shut down the train tracks that run just above the beach. A slow-moving landslide had shifted them more than two feet in just a year, and they were undergoing emergency repairs. Meanwhile, the Pacific Ocean kept creeping in closer and closer.  Metrolink had tried to protect the rail line from the sea the year before with 18,000 tons of riprap — large, jagged, ugly stones — dropped onto the beach side. The move, however, cut off access to the southern end of the beach at high tide and gave that section a post-apocalyptic look. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

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Along the Colorado River …

A chess game? Upper Colorado Basin states postpone release of water to Lake Powell

Lake Powell, May 2020. Photo by CEB Imagery.

“The decision by an interstate agency representing the Upper Basin states to press the federal government to postpone the release of a portion of 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah to Lake Powell isn’t only about the better snowpack the West is getting this winter.  It’s more of a game of chess between the upper states of the Colorado River and the Lower Basin states, particularly California, said Gage Zobell, a water law attorney at Dorsey & Whitney.   Zobell said it’s about “sending a message that [the Upper Basin states] refuse to continue supplying Lower Basin’s limitless demands for water.”  “The record snowfall is the context needed to justify the request of the Upper Basin states, but it does not appear to be their underlying rationale,” Zobell said in a statement to Colorado Politics. “You cannot throw good water after bad and, to me, California’s refusal to acknowledge evaporative and conveyance loss is a strong basis for the Upper Basin states to make this request.” … ”  Read more from Colorado Politics.

The root of the Colorado River crisis: Corporate water abuse

“The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the river’s basin. But that water is running out.  In 1922, states agreed to allocations of the river’s water in the Colorado River Pact. But in the decades since, climate change has made those allocations unsustainable. In recent years, withdrawals on the River have shot past supply at an average 1.4 billion cubic meters.  Now, as the region’s megadrought worsens conditions, the federal government has stepped in. The Bureau of Reclamation is developing new rules for water use in the Basin in the coming years. … ”  Read more from Food & Water Watch.

Investors snap up Colorado River water rights, bet 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.  “That’s all we’ve got is that river,” he says. … ”  Read more from Channel 6.

Las Vegas: Planning for the worst: Agency seeks power to limit residential water use

“While western states work to hash out a plan to save the crumbling Colorado River system, officials from Southern Nevada are preparing for the worst — including possible water restrictions in the state’s most populous county.  The Nevada Legislature last week introduced Assembly Bill 220, an omnibus bill that comes from the minds of officials at the Southern Nevada Water Authority.  Most significantly, the legislation gives the water authority the ability to impose hefty water restrictions on individual homes in Southern Nevada, where three-quarters of Nevada’s 3.2 million residents live and rely on the drought-stricken Colorado River for 90 percent of their water. … ”  Read more from the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Arizona: ‘Weather chaos’ brings enough snow to fill Verde River reservoirs, ease drought conditions

“Meteorologist Bo Svoma hopped down into the 4-foot-deep pit he had shoveled and grinned like a school kid on a snow day.  “Bo is happy!” shouted one of his Salt River Project colleagues working snow survey duty on Tuesday.  There’s a lot for the metro Phoenix water supplier to be happy about this winter. What was supposed to be an unusually dry winter because of the return of the ocean and atmospheric phenomenon known as La Niña has instead shaped up as the Arizona rim country’s second-snowiest season in 30 years. The ocean conditions that usually would push the jet stream and its storms toward the Pacific Northwest instead have driven storm after storm into the Southwest. … ”  Read more from the Arizona Republic.

Lake Powell hits its lowest water level since being filled, raising questions about drought response

“In the latest alarming milestone for dwindling water supplies in the West, one of the most important reservoirs in the world has been brought to the lowest point in its history.  “Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir and one that provides water and power to millions of people in southern California, has reached its lowest levels since its first filling in the 1960s,” USA Today reported. “If the lake’s level falls much lower, it won’t be possible to get water out of it … If the lake falls another 32 feet — about the amount it fell in the past year — power generation concerns become more urgent.” … ”  Read more from Water Online.

Lake Powell drops to a new record low as feds scramble to prop it up

“Water levels in Lake Powell dropped to a record low in mid-February, with continued pressure from climate change and steady demand pushing the nation’s second-largest reservoir to the lowest level since it was first filled in the 1960s. The lake fell to 3,522.16 feet above sea level, just below the previous record set in April 2022. The reservoir is currently about 22% full, and is expected to keep declining until around May, when mountain snowmelt rushes into the streams that flow into the lake.  Even though strong snow and heavy rains have blanketed the West this winter, climate scientists say that one wet year won’t be nearly enough to substantially boost Lake Powell in the face of a 23-year megadrought. … ”  Read more from the Arizona Daily Sun.

Proposed pause on reservoir releases prompts Lower Basin states to respond

“The three states that comprise the Colorado River’s Lower Basin – Arizona, California and Nevada – are weighing in on a proposal to pause some water releases from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in an effort to prop up Lake Powell.  Those states essentially agreed with the idea of suspending water releases, but said water managers should wait a few months to see the full effects of spring runoff, and leave the door open for additional releases if warranted. They also stressed the need for input from all of the states which use water from the Colorado River. … ”  Read more from KUNC.

The search for solutions to Colorado’s water crisis

“In January, the same series of storms that left Denver’s streets covered in deep drifts also pushed Colorado’s snowpack north of 120 percent of its average for that point in the year. If your gauge was the number of ski runs open, it was great news. If your gauge was the state’s water supply, it was likely barely enough to maintain the status quo.  Study after study has shown that as the climate warms, more and more Centennial State snowmelt is lost through evaporation and other processes before it can find its way into our rivers, streams, and reservoirs. So we’ll need bigger than average snowpacks each winter just to keep reservoir levels and river flows from falling further—and unless everyone gets serious about tackling the climate crisis, that’s simply not going to happen. … ”  Read more from 5280.

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In national water news today …

Toilet paper may be a source of cancer-causing PFAS in wastewater, study says

“Toilet paper may play a role in the contamination of groundwater with potentially harmful substances called PFAS.  Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASTrusted Source) are found in a wide variety of consumer products, including cosmetics, cleansers, and firefighting foams.  While research is not conclusive, PFAS are suspected of playing a role in a variety of conditions, including cancer, reduced immunity, and reproductive and developmental problems.  “Exposure to PFAS through drinking water puts people’s health at risk,” Dr. Katie Pelch, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Healthline. “Groundwater can also be used for agricultural uses and it has been shown that plants, including crops, can take up PFAS, so food in the diet is another potential source of PFAS exposure.” … ”  Read more from Healthline.

Climate warming is likely to cause large increases in wetland methane emissions

“A new USGS study shows that a warming climate is likely to cause freshwater wetlands to release substantially more methane than under normal conditions. This finding has big implications for climate mitigation strategies focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from people.  “If we calculate how much to reduce our methane emissions without considering how warming is affecting the processes creating natural emissions, we risk missing the mark when we account for our mitigation efforts,” said Sheel Bansal, a USGS Research Ecologist and one of the study’s lead authors.  Methane is a gas that produces a strong greenhouse effect in our atmosphere. It’s estimated to be contributing about 25% to warming temperatures from climate change. But it works very differently than carbon dioxide—the better-known greenhouse gas. … ”  Read more from the USGS.

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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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