WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for Feb. 26 – Mar. 3: The Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program; DWR rejects 6 San Joaquin Valley GSPs; What’s the hold up with Sites?; and more …

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

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This week’s featured articles …

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.

RESERVOIR REPORT for March 1, 2023

The past week has seen unprecedented weather across southern California, the Bay Area, and portions of the Sierra Nevada.  While the storms have not matched the strength and immediate destruction of the New Year’s Atmospheric River, they have nevertheless resulted in record-breaking snow conditions throughout much of southern California and the Sierra Nevada as they head east, compounding problems across a wide swath of the midwestern and eastern U.S., still reeling from earlier storms.

Click here to read the reservoir report.

Lake Oroville, October 2022.

JEANINE JONES: Drought and lessons learned

At the January meeting of the California Water Commission, Jeanine Jones took the commissioners through the history of past droughts and the lessons learned.  As Division Chief for Interstate Resources Management at the California Department of Water Resources, Ms. Jones provides insights on how the state tackles existing issues and future preparedness for drought.

This presentation was part of a series of panel discussions that the Commission has heard in recent months as part of their work on Action 26.3 of the Newsom Administration’s Water Resilience Portfolio, developing strategies to protect communities and fish and wildlife in the event of drought lasting at least six years.

Click here to read this article.

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In California water news this week …

State rejects six San Joaquin Valley groundwater plans, which could bring enforcement action

“Six San Joaquin Valley groundwater agencies learned Thursday they could be subject to state enforcement action if they don’t redo plans to bring their aquifers back into balance.  In its final determinations, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) said the inadequate plans either didn’t do enough to protect water quality, allowed for too much continued subsidence, set groundwater levels too low or some combination of the above.  The plans for the Kern, Kaweah, Chowchilla, Tule, Tulare Lake (Kings County) and Delta-Mendota subbasins were rejectd by DWR and have now been sent to the State Water Resources Control Board for possible enforcement action. … ”  Read more from SJV Water.

State rejects local plans for protecting San Joaquin Valley groundwater

“State water officials on Thursday rejected six local groundwater plans for the San Joaquin Valley, where basins providing drinking and irrigation water are severely depleted from decades of intensive pumping by farms.  The plans — submitted by local agencies tasked with the job of protecting underground supplies — outline strategies for complying with a state law requiring sustainable groundwater management.  The Department of Water Resources deemed the plans inadequate because they “did not appropriately address deficiencies” in how water suppliers aimed to limit overdraft, land subsidence and impacts to drinking water wells.  Groundwater depletion has hurt the San Joaquin Valley’s small, rural communities, home to many low-income Latino residents who have been forced to live on bottled water and drill deeper wells, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters.


A California tunnel could save stormwater for millions. Why is it so divisive?

Photo by Kelly M. Grow/ DWR

“As drought-weary Californians watched trillions of gallons of runoff wash into the Pacific Ocean during recent storms, it underscored a nagging question: Why can’t we save more of that water for not-so-rainy days to come? But even the rare opportunity to stock up on the precious resource isn’t proving enough to unite a state divided on a contentious idea to siphon water from the north and tunnel it southward, an attempt to combat the Southwest’s worst drought in more than a millennium. The California Department of Water Resources said such a tunnel could have captured a year’s supply of water for more than 2 million people. “People are naturally focused on, are we doing everything we can to capture the water when we can?” said Karla Nemeth, the agency’s director. … ”  Read more from the Washington Post (gift article).

After water town hall, Harder sends letter of community feedback opposing Delta Tunnel project to Army Corps of Engineers

“Today, Representative Josh Harder announced that he has sent a letter on behalf of concerned members of his community to the US Army Corps of Engineers opposing the Delta Tunnel project. More than 150 community members attended Rep. Harder’s recent Water Town Hall, to share their unanimous opposition to Sacramento’s latest water grab. Rep. Harder hosted this town hall after the Army Corps of Engineers refused to host an in-person town hall to discuss the Delta Tunnel project.  “Sacramento has made it clear as day they don’t want to hear from our community when it comes to the Delta Tunnel water grab, but I refuse to let them off the hook,” said Rep. Harder. “Their failure to host a single in-person town hall on a project that will impact us for generations is inexcusable. Today, I’m sending them a letter from folks across San Joaquin County saying enough is enough. We will not let them take our water.” … ”  Read more at Congressman Josh Harder’s website.

This reservoir on the Sacramento River has been planned for decades. What’s taking so long?

“Last century, California built dozens of large dams, creating the elaborate reservoir system that supplies the bulk of the state’s drinking and irrigation water. Now state officials and supporters are ready to build the next one.  The Sites Reservoir — planned in a remote corner of the western Sacramento Valley for at least 40 years — has been gaining steam and support since 2014, when voters approved Prop. 1, a water bond that authorized $2.7 billion for new storage projects.  Still, Sites Reservoir remains almost a decade away: Acquisition of water rights, permitting and environmental review are still in the works. Kickoff of construction, which includes two large dams, had been scheduled for 2024, but likely will be delayed another year. Completion is expected in 2030 or 2031. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters.

Judge extends plan to manage flows to California delta and protect endangered fish

“A judge has extended a temporary settlement of a long-running dispute over California water rights and how the Central Valley Project and State Water Project manage the Sacramento River flows.  Conservationists and the state of California filed two challenges to two biological opinions issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2019 pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. The opinions address how the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources’ plan for operating the Central Valley and State Water Projects affects fish species. The opinions make it possible to send more water to 20 million farms, businesses and homes in Southern and Central California via the massive federal and state water diversion projects, and eliminate requirements such as mandating extra flows to keep water temperatures from rising high enough to damage salmon eggs. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service.

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.

Shrinking age distribution of spawning salmon raises climate resilience concerns

“By returning to spawn in the Sacramento River at different ages, Chinook salmon lessen the potential impact of a bad year and increase the stability of their population in the face of climate variability, according to a new study by scientists at UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries.  Unfortunately, spawning Chinook salmon are increasingly younger and concentrated within fewer age groups, with the oldest age classes of spawners rarely seen in recent years. The new study, published February 27 in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, suggests changes in hatchery practices and fishery management could help restore the age structure of the salmon population and make it more resilient to climate change.  The researchers focused on Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon, which contribute heavily to the salmon fisheries of California and southern Oregon. This population is particularly susceptible to the effects of increasingly severe drought conditions driven by climate change. … ”  Read more from UC Santa Cruz.

Yet more rain is expected to hit California in March. But warmer storms could melt snow

“Soggy, snow-capped California faces the likelihood of yet another month of wet weather, but what remains uncertain is whether this late winter precipitation will augment weeks of record-setting snowpack, or cause it to vanish should warmer rains arrive.  Last week, a frigid storm transformed portions of the state into a white landscape while toppling trees, prompting power outages, spurring water rescues and leaving some residents trapped by heavy snow.  Now, with forecasts calling for more rain and snow in March — including the potential for at least one more atmospheric river system — California is girding for what comes next.  “If we were to get heavy rain with a warm system and a lot of tropical moisture feeding into it, that would melt all of the snow that just fell in the mountains,” said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

Why it’s hard for California to store more water underground

“Despite the storms that have deluged California this winter, the state remains dogged by drought. And one of the simplest solutions — collecting and storing rainfall — is far more complicated than it seems.  Much of California’s water infrastructure hinges on storing precipitation during the late fall and winter for use during the dry spring and summer. The state’s groundwater aquifers can hold vast quantities of water — far more than its major reservoirs.  But those aquifers have been significantly depleted in recent decades, especially in the Central Valley, where farmers have increasingly pumped out water for their crops. And as Raymond Zhong, a New York Times climate journalist, recently reported, the state’s strict regulations surrounding water rights limit the diversion of floodwaters for storage as groundwater, even during fierce storms like the atmospheric rivers this winter. … ”  Read more from the New York Times.

State Water Board not required to evaluate ‘reasonableness’ of locally-issued wastewater discharge permits

“The California State Water Resources Control Board can’t be forced to evaluate the “reasonableness” of locally issued permits to discharge treated wastewater, a state appeals court ruled, because state law doesn’t impose this obligation on the agency.  The Los Angeles-based Second Appellate District on Monday overturned a trial judge’s order for the agency to evaluate the reasonableness of the permits that were renewed in 2017 by its regional board in LA, allowing four treatment plants to discharge millions of gallons of treated wastewater in the LA River and the Pacific Ocean every day.  LA Waterkeeper, an environmental watchdog, had challenged the permits arguing the regional board and the state board should have considered better uses of the water, such as recycling, rather than dumping it in the ocean. … ”  Continue reading at the Courthouse News Service.

Growing lettuce in a vertical farm uses drastically less water. Is it a solution for a hotter climate?

“Farmers in Yuma, Ariz., like to tell visitors that they produce 90% of the country’s winter greens.  So if you’re eating a salad in Buffalo, Boston or Cincinnati, there’s a pretty good chance the lettuce was grown near the U.S.-Mexico border with water from the Colorado River.  But the river is in peril. … here’s a provocative question: What if we needed far less water to grow food, and what if farmers did it indoors?  In San Francisco, 650 miles northwest of Yuma, an agricultural startup called Plenty is doing just that. … ”  Read more from WBUR.

Pipeline debate at center of California carbon capture plans

“In its latest ambitious roadmap to tackle climate change, California relies on capturing carbon out of the air and storing it deep underground on a scale that’s not yet been seen in the United States. The plan — advanced by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration — comes just as the Biden administration has boosted incentives for carbon capture projects in an effort to spur more development nationwide. Ratcheting up 20 years of climate efforts, Newsom last year signed a law requiring California to remove as much carbon from the air as it emits by 2045 — one of the world’s fastest timelines for achieving so-called carbon neutrality. He directed the powerful California Air Resources Board to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels and build massive amounts of carbon dioxide capture and storage. … ”  Read more from CBS San Francisco.

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In commentary this week …

Editorial: Gov. Newsom takes page out of Trump’s water playbook

The San Jose Mercury News writes, “Clean water is California’s most vital need. Our lives and the lives of future generations depend on it.  Yet when it comes to protecting the state’s supply, Gov. Gavin Newsom is failing California.  The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta provides drinking water to 27 million Californians, or roughly 70% of the state’s residents. On Feb. 15, the governor signed an executive order allowing the State Water Resources Control Board to ignore the state requirement of how much water needs to flow through the Delta to protect its health.  It’s an outrageous move right out of Donald Trump’s playbook. Big Ag and its wealthy landowners, including some of Newsom’s political financial backers, will reap the benefits while the Delta suffers.  The move is especially outrageous given the January storms that filled California’s reservoirs and created a massive Sierra snowpack. If the governor won’t adhere to the state regulations in what is clearly a wet year, when will he? … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News. | Read via Silicon Valley News

Column: Newsom cares more about almond growers than California’s salmon fishery

Columnist George Skelton writes, “Gov. Gavin Newsom bills himself as a protector of wildlife, so you wouldn’t think he’d take water from baby salmon and give it to almonds.  Or to pistachios, or cotton or alfalfa.  Especially when California was just drenched with the wettest three-week series of storms on record and was headed into another powerful soaking of snow and rain.  But Newsom and his water officials still contend we’re suffering a drought — apparently it’s a never-ending drought. So, they used that as a reason last week to drastically cut river flows needed by migrating little salmon in case the water is needed to irrigate San Joaquin Valley crops in summer. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

Water for fish gulped by Delta pumps; CSPA objects to circular excuses

Chris Shutes, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, writes, “The State Water Resources Control Board has approved a petition that diverts water required to flow into San Francisco Bay to the fish-killing Delta pumps of the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP). The higher “Delta outflow” required by the existing Bay-Delta Plan in high-runoff winter and spring periods is designed to move juvenile salmon to the ocean and to keep smelt in the food-rich waters of Suisun Bay.  On February 23, 2023, CSPA and allies filed a Protest and Objection to the “Temporary Urgency Change Petition” (TUCP) filed by the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation. The TUCP requested that water for fish protection and water quality instead be exported south of the Delta, mostly to San Joaquin Valley agriculture.  By the time CSPA et al. submitted its Objection 10 days after the TUCP was filed, the State Water Board had already issued an Order approving the TUCP.  The State Water Board’s Order is particularly perfunctory in approving the TUCP.  … ”  Read more from the CSPA.

Editorial: State orders will harm salmon fisheries

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat editorial board writes, “You might think a wet winter would benefit Northern California’s iconic salmon and the communities that rely on them.  Alas, you would be mistaken.  During recent droughts, low river flows and warm water have proved to be a lethal combination for salmon and other fish in the Sacramento River and its tributaries. State waivers of water quality regulations in six of the past 10 years didn’t help beleaguered fisheries.  January’s drenching rains dramatically improved river conditions across the state, raising hopes for winter run chinook salmon. … ”  Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Senators Feinstein, Padilla:  Solving the worsening drought in the western states will require all of us working together

Senator Alex Padilla and Senator Dianne Feinstein write, “For Californians, drought has been a constant and inescapable fact of life for decades. Worsening drought in the Western United States is just one of the many life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis. And as drying conditions bring water reservoirs along the Colorado River to dangerously low levels, the impact of extended drought conditions is now threatening 40 million Americans’ access to water — unless we can come up with a plan to protect it.  That’s going to take all of us working together. But last month, in response to federal requests for a regional plan to curb water use and protect our dwindling water supply, the six other Western states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) that rely on the Colorado River for survival chose to go it alone and submit their own plan without consulting California officials — avoiding tough choices within their own states.  In a cause as monumental as this — with the fate of water access for an entire region in the balance — we must have everyone on board pulling in the same direction. … ” Read the full commentary at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Imperial Valley takes its Colorado River senior water rights seriously

Stephen Benson, an Imperial Valley farmer, board member of Imperial Valley Water (IVH2O), former board member of the Imperial Irrigation District, and a current board member of the Family Farm Alliance and Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, writes, “Drought and population growth have taken their toll on the Colorado River, pushing it to historic lows.  As we work together with our neighboring states and the federal government on a long-term solution, many eyes are focused on the Imperial Valley, because of its senior water rights. And as much as we believe in upholding the rule of law, we are equally committed to being responsible water users and doing our part to keep the river healthy enough to meet the needs of all seven states.  The Imperial Irrigation District and individual farmers have spent over $500 million for system and on-farm conservation investments since 2003. These funds paid for aggressive water conservation measures throughout the Imperial Valley and have resulted in hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water conserved every year. … ”  Read more from the Desert Sun.

Editorial:  An unfair plan to cut California’s use of Colorado River water

The LA Times editorial board writes, “The immediate question before the seven states that use rapidly vanishing Colorado River water is not how to renegotiate the century-old agreement and accompanying laws that divvy up the supply.  California and other states will have to grapple with that problem soon enough, and it won’t be easy. Those accords were hammered out in an era when the Western U.S. was lightly populated, farmland was not yet fully developed and the climate — although few realized it at the time — was unusually wet. Now, when the thirst is greatest and still growing, the region is reverting to its former aridity, exacerbated by higher temperatures caused by global industrialization.  But the deadline for that reckoning is still nearly four years off. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

California and its neighbors are at an impasse over the Colorado River. Here’s a way forward

“California and the other Colorado River Basin states are at odds over how to halt the precipitous decline of Lake Mead. The impasse reflects a century of failure to take a basic step left undone by the original Colorado River Compact.  The seven states in the basin have made dueling proposals for balancing water demand with the available supply. Both require large cuts in water use in all three Lower Basin states: California, Arizona and Nevada. While California’s proposal puts a greater burden on the system’s junior users, primarily the Central Arizona Project, the other states would lean more heavily on California.  What’s missing is a water-sharing agreement among the Lower Basin states. In contrast to the Upper Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — the Lower Basin states never decided how to divvy up their part of the river. … ”  Continue reading at the LA Times.

Water makes the rules

Michelle Nijhuis, acting editor-in-chief at High Country News, writes, “One hundred years and a few months ago, in November 1922, representatives of seven Western states gathered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to divide up a river. As we now know, the Colorado River Compact calculated each state’s share of the basin’s water based on an unusually wet period, rendering the compact’s promises suspect from the start. And those dubious promises benefited an exclusive few; left out of the discussion were all of the basin’s Indigenous nations, the nation of Mexico, and anyone who might view the river as anything other than a servant of development. Had the conversation been broader, someone might have suggested that though humans can try to make rules for water, water obeys its own. … ”  Read more from the High Country News.

Holding firm on Colorado River water is right move

Craig William Morgan, a water resources engineer and author of “The Morality of Deceit” on the fight for Imperial Valley water, writes, “There is an old saying in the water world that it is better to be upstream with a shovel than downstream with a law book, which is the position California finds itself in as it stands apart from its neighbors on the Colorado River in negotiations over the use of the river’s water.  On Jan. 31, representatives for the six other basin states submitted a proposal to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, describing the measures by which the supply deficit on the Colorado River should be closed in the near term. Not surprisingly, the other basin states have asked that California reduce its water use beyond what the state had proposed last fall.  California was right to decline its neighbors’ new proposal, notwithstanding its position on the river. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert.

Cleaning Bay source pollution will enable more Delta diversions

Edward Ring, senior fellow with the California Policy Center, writes “On February 21, the California State Water Resources Control Board waived environmental regulations in order to permit more storage in Central Valley reservoirs. This came a week after Governor Gavin Newsom temporarily suspended environmental laws that prevent reservoir storage if flow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta falls below 58,000 acre feet per day.  A guest opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, published immediately after Newsom’s action, warned of dire consequences. “Newsom just declared war on San Francisco Bay” was its thundering headline, claiming Newsom is waging “a generic war against the realities of California’s hydrology that cannot be won.”  According to environmentalists, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s “estuarine ecosystem is highly dependent on the amount of fresh water that flows into it from the watershed.” And while this is undoubtedly true, current environmentalist concerns ignore two important facts. … ”  Read more from the California Globe.

Calif.’s water woes are an endless blame game. Here’s the hidden culprit.

Bill Hammonds, an attorney and chairman of Firebaugh-based Hammonds Ranch, writes, “In December, I attended a water conference in Sacramento hoping to hear some encouraging reports on the state of the State’s water supply, the rains had just started.  Instead, I got a depressing report by a series of speakers resigned to disappointment and a “less than” ideology.  Then it started raining, kept raining and is still raining.  By the end of this wet season, enough water to supply the state for several years will have run out the Golden Gate because we have no place to put it.  Even though we have known that that is a likelihood for somewhere between 50 and 150 years, we have done nothing about it.  It isn’t global warming, or climate change that is at fault, it is us.  It is time we took responsibility for it. … ”  Read more at the San Joaquin Valley Sun.

Education is vital for California Latinos affected most by water crisis

Victor Griego, founder of Water Education for Latino Leaders, writes, “Generations of Californians have taken for granted how water is engineered to enable the grand agricultural nature of this state.  Now our water system suffers from severe drought and reduced snowpacks. The Colorado River is in peril. Wells are going dry. Water is getting contaminated. Land is losing value. People are losing livelihoods.  Such dilemmas are exacerbated in disadvantaged communities. Large Central Valley growers overpump water from wells in direct violation of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Meanwhile, families in farmworker towns go without clean and affordable water. They still pay high water bills while resorting to bottled water to cook, bathe and drink provided by government, nonprofits and labor unions. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters.

Opinion: We should use technology to improve California’s ability to manage floods, water supplies

Sandra Kerl, the general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, and Margaret Leinen, the director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, write, “Torrential rains are periodically pounding California this winter and putting a dent in the most extreme drought conditions of the past 1,200 years. While that’s a relief for some 40 million residents, it’s also a reminder of the feast-or-famine climate that rules California and creates major challenges for water managers.  These days, we rely heavily on expressways of water vapor known as atmospheric rivers. They provide about half the state’s annual precipitation and their share of water deliveries is increasing as climate change drives extreme swings in precipitation. Put simply, the 20th century concept of reliable winter snowpacks and orderly spring runoff filling reservoirs is giving way to all-or-nothing events epitomized by atmospheric rivers and increasingly severe droughts. … ”  Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The climate is changing. How we manage water must change too

Dr. Liz Chamberlin, Director of Innovation with Point Blue Conservation Science, writes, “Water has long dominated California news cycles. This winter brought record breaking rainstorms with widespread flooding and devastating landslides – even while much of the state remains in moderate or severe drought. Then came news in January that the federal government might intervene in allocating water from the drier-every-year Colorado River, which supplies large amounts of water to California. And Californians are increasingly asking whether state leaders are doing enough to store rainfall in years when it finally falls in abundance.  Flooding amidst persistent drought is indicative of the future of the arid West under climate change. Add in agriculture, growing populations, wildlife, and safe drinking water (particularly for historically disadvantaged communities), and it’s apparent there is a mosaic of complex needs to consider. One thing is clear: how we manage water in the West over the next hundred years must look different than how we’ve managed it for the last hundred. Let’s follow the path of water from some of the highest points in the state–the crest of the Sierra Nevada–to some of the lowest–our beautiful coastline. … ”  Read more from Point Blue Conservation Science.

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.

Dan Walters:  Will California’s misused environmental law finally be reformed?

““Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it” is an old quip attributed – probably erroneously – to Mark Twain.  It could be legitimately applied to the California Environmental Quality Act, a 53-year-old law originally meant to prevent government agencies from ignoring the impacts of their public works projects but later expanded, mostly by judicial decisions, to private developments as well.  CEQA’s use, or misuse, as a weapon in the state’s perpetual battles over housing has been well documented. Opponents of housing projects in their neighborhoods use it to stall construction and labor unions use it to leverage developers into agreements to use union workers.  … ”  Read more at Cal Matters.

It’s nuts to have a cow over milk when the real threat is myopic green narratives pitched in silos

Dennis Wyatt, editor of the Manteca Bulletin, writes, “The government — after spending untold hundreds of thousands of dollars — has determined most of us aren’t so stupid we can’t tell that milk derived from almonds is not the same as milk derived from dairy cows.  The Food and Drug Administration avoided handing down a Solomon-type judgment in the ongoing feud between milk producers and almond growers about what constitutes milk. … Both sides now need to bury the hatchet and work for the common good in messaging.  There is a real existential threat that must be addressed.  Agriculture is in the crosshairs of myopic narratives when it comes to the environment. … ”  Continue reading at the Turlock Journal.

D.C. must stand with SoCal fishermen in fight against industrial fish farms

Eric Hodge, a small-scale commercial fisherman who lives in Ventura County, and Jake Schwartz, an organizer for Don’t Cage Our Oceans, write, “When you fish in the Santa Barbara Channel every day you get a sense of everything that’s there: the stoic northern Channel Islands, migrating humpback whales, and countless rockfish that are sold to make a living. You also get a sense of what doesn’t belong, and massive finfish farms directly off the coast of Ventura do not belong in our waters.  Offshore finfish aquaculture is a type of factory farming that uses massive net pens to raise fish in tight quarters. This allows disease and pests such as sea lice to spread rapidly which, if the fish escape, can be devastating to local fish populations. These cages also allow excess feed, untreated fish waste, antibiotics, and other chemicals to flow into the surrounding ocean where they can wreak havoc on our marine ecosystem and contribute to toxic algal blooms. … ”  Continue reading at the Ventura County Star.

Will South Dakota be ready when other states come for our water?

Seth Tupper, editor-in-chief of South Dakota Searchlight, “The massive volume of reservoirs on the Missouri River is one of the nation’s least-appreciated public resources, but that could change as Western states grow more desperate for water. “They’re tapped out, and so logic tells you they have to go to the next plentiful resource, which ultimately is the Missouri River,” Troy Larson, executive director of the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System based in Tea, said. Larson is one of the South Dakota water leaders starting to discuss the possibility of a Western-state rush for Missouri River water. More about that in a minute.  First, let’s consider what Western water officials will discover when they peek over the Rocky Mountains, gaze across the plains, and evaluate the six Missouri River reservoirs. … ”  Read more from the Capitol Journal.

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In regional water news this week …

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.

A nasty salmon-killing tire chemical is in Bay waterways. Can it be cleaned up?

“When Heidi Petty began cleaning up Rodeo Creek nearly two decades ago, she pulled seventeen shopping carts out of the waterway, which runs from western Contra Costa County into San Pablo Bay. Since then, she has extracted mattresses, chairs, fake Christmas trees, a golf club, and a wig. But despite her efforts to clean up this creek-turned-dumping-ground, one particularly noxious type of trash keeps coming: tires. Parts of this urban watershed contain a mess of whole tires, mired in the mud like a monstrous serpent.  “There seems to be a pretty solid theme of using creeks as a disposal for highly toxic things,” says Petty, the watershed program manager at the Contra Costa Resource Conservation District. “And tires are hard to get rid of.”  Trouble is, they’re not just eyesores but likely fish-killers. As tires break down, they release a cocktail of chemicals that leach into the water in creeks all over the Bay Area—which in turn empty into the broader San Francisco Bay. … ”  Continue reading at Bay Nature.

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.

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.

Metropolitan hires Brown and Caldwell for drought study

“The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan or MWD) has hired Brown and Caldwell to study alternative water conveyance options to provide supply diversity to the region during severe droughts.  MWD’s mission is to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the 19 million people in Southern California in the face of climate change and extended drought.  In response to drought action planning by Metropolitan in collaboration with its 26 member agencies, the study will identify and evaluate potential conveyance options to move primarily Colorado River water and regional storage supplies from the eastern portion of Metropolitan’s service area to the western portion. … ”  Read more from Water Finance and Management.

The Salton Sea, an accident of history, faces a new water crisis

“The drought crisis on the Colorado River looms large in California’s Imperial Valley, which produces much of the nation’s lettuce, broccoli and other crops, and now faces water cuts. But those cuts will also be bad news for the environmental and ecological disaster unfolding just to the north, at the shallow, shimmering and long-suffering Salton Sea.  “There’s going to be collateral damage everywhere,” said Frank Ruiz, a program director with California Audubon.  To irrigate their fields, the valley’s farmers rely completely on Colorado River water, which arrives by an 80-mile-long canal. And the Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake, relies on water draining from those fields to stay full.  But it’s been shrinking for decades, killing off fish species that attract migratory birds and exposing lake bed that generates dust that is harmful to human health.  Now, with cuts in water use coming after two decades of drought that have left the Colorado’s reservoirs at dangerously low levels, the sea will shrink even faster. “Less water coming to the farmers, less water coming into the Salton Sea,” Mr. Ruiz said. “That’s just the pure math.” … ”  Read more from the New York Times (gift article).

In dry West, farmers balk at idling land to save water

“Tom Brundy, an alfalfa grower in California’s Imperial Valley, thinks farmers reliant on the shrinking Colorado River can do more to save water and use it more efficiently. That’s why he’s installed water sensors and monitors to prevent waste on nearly two-thirds of his 3,000 acres.  But one practice that’s off-limits for Brundy is fallowing — leaving fields unplanted to spare the water that would otherwise irrigate crops. It would save plenty of water, Brundy said, but threatens both farmers and rural communities economically.  “It’s not very productive because you just don’t farm,” Brundy said.  Many Western farmers feel the same, even as a growing sense is emerging that some fallowing will have to be part of the solution to the increasingly desperate drought in the West, where the Colorado River serves 40 million people.  “Given the volume of water that is used by agriculture in the Colorado River system, you can’t stabilize the system without reductions in agriculture,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “That’s just math.” … ”  Read more from the Associated Press.

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