DAILY DIGEST, 3/27: Another strong weather system to bring rain, snow; Salmon populations expected to rebound thanks to drought-busting winter; Valadao to Biden admin: Why hold CA dams hostage?; Proposed legislation would make groundwater adjudications more fair; and more …

On the calendar today …

  • MEETING: Delta Independent Science Board from 9am to 5pm. Agenda items include Election of a new Delta ISB Chair-elect; Delta Science Tracker presentation; Discussion on Decision-making Under Deep Uncertainty Review; Overview of impacts of recent storms on the Delta; Subsidence reversal review, and Food-webs review. Click here for the full meeting notice and remote access instructions.
  • WEBINAR: California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar from 11am to 12pm. The California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System January 2023 Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar is part of a series of regular drought and climate outlook webinars designed to provide stakeholders and other interested parties in the region with timely information on current drought status and impacts, as well as a preview of current and developing climatic events (i.e., El Niño and La Niña). Click here to register.
  • PUBLIC MEETING: State Water Board listening session for Bay Delta Plan from 1pm to 7pm. This listening session is intended to receive input from environmental interests, representatives of economically disadvantaged communities (DACs), and black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) organizations on the Board’s current efforts to update and implement the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (Bay-Delta Plan), including consideration of possible Voluntary Agreements to those update and implementation efforts.  Participants will have the opportunity to provide input and ask questions.  If you wish to speak during the listening session, please register for and join the listening session via the Zoom online platform. You may register for the Zoom meeting via: https://waterboards.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_NfdOop6mRn6GLw32OuXo_g.   If you wish to view the listening session only, a webcast will be available at: https://video.calepa.ca.gov/Click here for the full notice.

In California water news today …

Another strong weather system to bring flooding rain, mountain snow to waterlogged California

“California is prepping for another atmospheric river, as strong winds, flooding rains and feet of snow are again set to clobber the Golden State, which hasn’t seen much of the golden sun this winter and early spring.  This is the West Coast’s 14th atmospheric river to make landfall since fall, according to the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes.  The system will approach the West late Monday, bringing the chance for flooding rain and feet of mountain snow.  Just like the last rain and wind-maker to pummel California, the center of the storm will linger off the coast and focus high winds and heavy rain into already waterlogged portions of the state. … ”  Read more from Fox Weather.


Maps show how California’s snowfall compares with past winters

“Snowstorms have buried California this winter, building one of the deepest Sierra snowpacks in decades. Chilly weather in late February even brought rare flurries to the Bay Area and Central Coast, with snow accumulating atop Mount Tamalpais, in the East Bay Hills and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. … All the snow this winter far exceeds typical amounts across the state, data from the National Gridded Snowfall Analysis shows. The analysis uses computer models and measurements from observing networks to provide snowfall estimates across the country. … ”  Read more and view maps at the San Francisco Chronicle.

California storms both a blessing and a curse

“Mother Nature continues to come down hard on California, proving that too much of a good thing can be too much. The state continues to be bombarded by what meteorologists call atmospheric rivers—narrow bands of precipitation that dump heavy rainfall in a concentrated area. These downpours have wreaked havoc on the state, including the dairy industry, by causing flooding, loss of life, and power outages. At the same time, the precipitation has added to the snowpack, recharged reservoirs, and mitigated drought conditions throughout the state. Yet water scarcity concerns remain. … ”  Read more from Dairy Herd Management.

Salmon populations expected to rebound thanks to drought-busting winter

California has seen one of its wettest winters in history, leading some experts to declare the drought over. However, headlines like the closing of salmon fishing season in California remind us that even if the drought is over, its effects will linger. California’s salmon populations have taken a hit from the drought. Out of an expected 196,000 Chinook Salmon expected to return to the Sacramento River to spawn, only 60,000 returned, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  There is hope that the abundant rain and snowfall this winter will help boost native fish populations, such as salmon. “I do expect to see positive impact from this year. Yeah, for sure,” said Rene Henery of Trout Unlimited. … ”  Read more from ABC 10.

This drought is dead – long live the drought

Jay Lund and Andrew L. Rypel write, “Floods and droughts are not opposites and can occur simultaneously. This occurs often in California and is especially well-illustrated this year.  Floods, droughts, and water scarcity are different. Floods are too much water at a place and time, and we would often pay to reduce the water present at that location and moment. Droughts and water scarcity represent too little water at a place and time, meaning we would often pay to increase its availability. We highlight these differences because people tend to view such conditions through an unrealistic zero-sum lens. This essay uses this year’s experience to examine how floods, drought, and water scarcity differ, can occur in the same year, and how droughts might end, but leave legacies. … ”  Read more from the California Water Blog.

Video: Valadao probes Biden admin.: Why hold Calif. dams hostage?

“During a Thursday hearing of the House Budget Committee, Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) pressed Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, over the Biden administration’s hostility toward expanding and constructing new reservoirs in the Golden State.  “In California it’s always interesting – if they want to build High-Speed Rail or they want to build a football stadium in LA or San Francisco, environmental regulations almost don’t even exist to them. But we talk about a reservoir for 60 years and can’t even break ground on it.””  Watch video at the San Joahquin Valley Sun.

Storms, flooding force Calif. water officials to hike water allocations. Was it enough?

“California officials announced on Friday that communities and growers served by the State Water Project (SWP) can expect to receive 75 percent of their allotted water, with an additional 1.7 million acre-feet of water to be distributed among the 29 public water agencies serving 27 million residents.  This follows a winter of relentless rain and snow that has replenished reservoirs after three years of severe drought.  The backstory: California water officials kicked off the 2023 water year in early December with a paltry allocation of 5 percent of contracted amounts, citing “a possible dry fourth year” amid the state’s drought. … ”  Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun.

Newsom rolls back water restrictions after winter deluge in California

“After being soaked by an onslaught of storms that have flooded towns, saturated fields and heaped the Sierra Nevada with a near-record snowpack, Californians are getting relief from a host of drought restrictions that were imposed last year during a historic dry spell.  “We’ve been waiting for this moment for some time,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said, stepping out between atmospheric rivers to lift all but about 33 of the more than 80 emergency drought orders he issued since last spring.  But that doesn’t mean California can stop thinking about conservation.  “It would be nice to have a governor say the drought is over,” he said, but climate change has complicated the question. “Are we out of a drought? Mostly but not completely.” … ”  Read more from the New York Times.

Proposed legislation would make groundwater adjudications more fair

Adrianne Davies, Owen McAleer, and Gabi Rosenfeld write, “California’s groundwater adjudication process is complex and inaccessible for many water users. As students in UCLA Law’s California Environmental Legislation and Policy Clinic, we partnered with State Assemblymember Lori Wilson’s office to find ways to improve this process. This project resulted in the introduction of AB 779, which will be heard this week by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. … The groundwater adjudication process, which is governed by SB 226 and AB 1390 (2015), determines how groundwater rights in a basin are allocated. The adjudication process is often expensive and lengthy, and it can present significant barriers for water users. Adjudication proceedings can take upwards of ten years and often involve legal fees in the millions of dollars. … ”  Read the full post at Legal Planet.

New bill seeks to limit housing sprawl in fire- and flood-prone areas of California

“Over the past half-century, new housing has spread into ever more far-flung parts of California – from luxury estates perched on remote hillsides to tightly packed subdivisions stretched over rural flatlands.  The sprawl has allowed people to live closer to nature and buy homes in more affordable parts of the state where it’s cheaper and easier to build. But it’s also left millions vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires and flooding.  And as destructive natural disasters have become more frequent in recent years, state and local officials have felt increasing pressure: How does California find ways to ease a dire housing shortage without ignoring the harsh reality of climate change?  Now, an unlikely coalition of environmentalists and housing advocates is backing a bill that seeks to slow growth in many parts of the state at high risk of fires and floods while encouraging more multifamily housing in existing population centers. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News.

Without water, Native American tribes hit hard by the pandemic

“The Navajo Nation in Arizona — the largest and most populous reservation in the U.S. — was one of the areas hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Limited access to running water and basic infrastructure, like wells and indoor plumbing, placed the already vulnerable Navajo tribes at a heightened risk of disease, according to a USC legal analysis accepted for publication in the Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law & Policy.  “It’s becoming increasingly clear that part of this health disparity is due to lack of access to water, which all 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. are legally entitled to under the Supreme Court’s 1908 Winters doctrine. But their federally granted water rights have never been quantified and certainly never delivered,” said Robin Craig, professor of law at the USC Gould School of Law and author of the paper. … In the paper, Craig compared the pandemic experiences of the Navajo and the Klamath in Oregon to investigate how minimal access to potable water affected their respective capacities to address COVID-19. … ”  Read more from USC News.

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In commentary today …

Newsom denies the obvious: California is no longer in drought

Columnist George Skelton writes, “Gov. Gavin Newsom came close but couldn’t quite bring himself to say it: The drought’s over.  It’s disappointing when a governor won’t acknowledge what ordinary citizens already know because they can see things for themselves.  Another drought will emerge soon enough. It always does. That’s the California pattern — climate change or not.  But right now, the biggest threat this spring is flooding from rivers leaping their banks.  There’s just something about California governors and water officials that prevents them from admitting we’re through a dry spell and into a wet period.  They fear we’ll resume taking long showers and swamping our lawns. We’ll stop conserving water and go back to wasting it. So, they treat us like children, denying the obvious. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

A mostly hidden problem wastes appalling amounts of water

Robert Gebelhoff, Assistant Editor of the Washington Post, writes, “When Americans turn on their faucets, they shouldn’t have to think about infrastructure. A well-run system for clean drinking water ought to be the bare minimum of what the government delivers. But virtually every part of the country is struggling with aging pipes, which are wasting billions of gallons of water every day. Some utilities are losing as much as half or more of their water supply to leaks. Worse, most states don’t know the scale of the problem and are doing little to find out, threatening their residents’ wallets and their health. This issue is mostly hidden — until there is a serious problem. Water main breaks, for example, can tear up roads and damage property. These occur somewhere in the country every two minutes, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Sometimes, these massive leaks force cities to ask residents to boil their water before using it, as happened in the Baltimore area last month, since the leaks could potentially contaminate the water supply with toxins such as lead or dangerous pathogens. … ” Read more from the Washington Post.

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In regional water news and commentary today …


Potter Valley Project: Russian River Water Forum forms to advise on decommissioning, Scott Dam spillway to remain open

“Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is about eight months into a 30-month planning timeline for the license surrender of the Potter Valley Project, a system of dams and hydroelectric power that has diverted water from the Eel River to the Russian River since 1908 and made a lasting mark on the region’s productivity, environment, and lifeways. But the way forward is uncertain. In 2025, PG&E could decide that one or both of the project’s dams will be removed, the project could continue to run under a new license operator, or one of myriad options in between.  Further, a variety of factors complicating the already controversial project have emerged — and last week, PG&E announced that the spillway gates at Scott Dam will remain open this spring and in future years due to the potential for seismic activity in the area. This will mean less water storage in Lake Pillsbury, complicating the usual systems of water flow ahead of any infrastructure changes at the dams. … ”  Read more from the Mendocino Voice.


More rain and high winds coming for Bay Area; Tahoe to get more snow

“A dry spell for storm-weary Bay Area residents will end Tuesday as a system coming from Alaska heads south toward the region, bringing with it rain, high winds, possible lightning strikes and a couple of feet of snow in Tahoe.  The storm will begin late Monday night over the North Bay and in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with precipitation expected for the San Jose area early Tuesday morning after sunrise, National Weather Service Meteorologist Roger Gass said.  Mountainous areas are expected to receive up to an inch of rain, while lower-lying regions could get up to three-quarters of an inch. Strong winds will accompany the wet weather, with gusts likely to range between 30 and 60 miles per hour. There’s also a 15 to 20 %chance of thunderstorms, Gass said. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News

SEE ALSO: Bay Area teed up for another lashing by rain and wind. Here’s what’s different this time, from the San Francisco Chronicle

Point Reyes tule elk herds recover after die-off during drought

“Tule elk herds in the Point Reyes National Seashore rebounded this winter following a significant die-off during the drought, according to new National Park Service data.  The seashore, which is the only park in the country with tule elk, has three herds. The largest, located in a fenced reserve on Tomales Point, increased from 221 elk in 2021 to 262 elk, an increase of nearly 19%.  The Limantour herd, which is one of two free-roaming herds, increased from 151 elk to 170 from 2021 to 2022. Park staff said they were unable to conduct a count of the other free-roaming herd, the Drakes Beach herd, this winter because of weather conditions and staffing limitations. … ”  Read more from the Marin Independent Journal.

Editorial: Marin Municipal Water District must show how rate hike will help water supply

“The Marin Municipal Water District’s directors are on a political hot seat.  They are considering a four-year plan of raising rates, possibly as much as 20% for most customers, to right MMWD’s fiscal ship and pay for expanding the district’s storage capacity and make needed repairs.  A 20% increase is tough to swallow at any time, but the timing of the proposed increase is also frustrating.  After several years of drought, including the 2022 threat that the district could run out of water, MMWD customers have been conserving water. … ”  Read more from the Marin Independent Journal.

Groundwater report could ease residents’ concerns about future East Bay wetland

“A planned wetland in far eastern Contra Costa County is not likely to affect the nearby groundwater, a new report concludes – but it remains to be seen if that will sway some neighbors who fear the project could harm their drinking water drawn from wells.  The 645-acre wetland project aims to curb potential flooding and poor stormwater quality while fending off encroaching development and improving habitat for threatened wildlife such as red-legged frogs, fairy shrimp and burrowing owls. The undertaking officially called the Knightsen Wetland Restoration Project, is spearheaded by the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservancy and the East Bay Regional Parks District, which bought the land in 2016. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News.


Why wasn’t the authorized restoration of the Pajaro River levee ever completed?

“David Schmalz here, thinking about the residents of Pajaro and how much they’ve endured in the past few weeks after the Pajaro River levee breached on Saturday, March 11, inundating much of the town of 2,900 residents with floodwaters.  Only on Thursday, March 23 were residents finally allowed to return home to assess the damage, start planning repairs and begin the process of returning to the lives they had before the flooding occurred.  In my piece for this week’s cover story package, I set out to answer a seemingly simple question: Why didn’t the restoration of the Pajaro River levee, which Congress authorized in 1966, ever happen? … ”  Read more from Monterey Weekly.


After floods, San Joaquin County requests over $13 million in federal funds for six projects

“Acampo residents who spent much of the winter flooded out could be the beneficiary of federal funds flowing into San Joaquin County. As part of the 2024 federal budget process, San Joaquin County recently submitted more than $18 million in funding requests to support six local projects that would enhance programs, services and infrastructure projects throughout the county. In collaboration with Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein as well as Representatives Josh Harder and John Duarte, the following funding requests were submitted by San Joaquin County … ”  Read more from the Lodi News-Sentinel.

In California’s Central Valley, the plan to build more solar faces a familiar constraint: the need for more power lines

“California’s San Joaquin Valley, a strip of land between the Diablo Range and the Sierra Nevada, accounts for a significant portion of the state’s crop production and agricultural revenues. But with the state facing uncertain and uneven water supply due to climate change, some local governments and clean energy advocates hope solar energy installations could provide economic reliability where agriculture falters due to possible water shortages. … The influx of solar development would come at a time when the historically agriculture-rich valley is coping with new restrictions on groundwater pumping. Growers may need to fallow land. And some clean energy boosters see solar as an ideal alternative land use.  But a significant technological hurdle stands in the way: California needs to plan and build more long-distance power lines to carry all the electricity produced there to different parts of the state, and development can take nearly a decade. … ”  Read more at Inside Climate News.

After years of drought, the Kern River thunders through Bakersfield once more

“After years of drought, recent rains means more water for the Kern River, and the river is flowing through Bakersfield once again. But what are the impacts to the city’s water supply, and will the increase in water flow help Bakersfield in the end?  “We are going to be maximizing our recharge and keeping this water as best we can within the City of Bakersfield,” said Assistant Water Resources Director Daniel R. Maldonado.  According to Maldonado, groundwater is used when there isn’t enough surface water available, and recharging groundwater basins that have been depleted can take a long time.  “Recharge is always a good thing for the residents of Bakersfield, and Bakersfield in general. We’ve had some prolonged drought, periods of drought, which have required us to pump water more than we would’ve liked to,” said Maldonado. … ”  Read more from Channel 23.

Judge sides with water district to split case; complaint against city over Sage Ranch may be heard on April 21

“Questions about the adequacy of the city of Tehachapi’s analysis of water supply for the proposed Sage Ranch development and related issues may be answered soon. If verbal agreements made during a March 24 hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court hold, it appears that part of a complaint filed by the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District against the city of Tehachapi in 2021 may be heard by Judge Stephen Acquisto as early as April 21. … ”  Read more from the Techachapi News.


Rancho California Water District to seek desal, recharge feasibility grants

“The March 9 meeting of the Rancho California Water District board included a 7-0 vote to approve two resolutions in support of grant applications.Both grants would be awarded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. One resolution expresses support for a grant to help fund the Western Riverside County Regional Desalination Feasibility Study while the other resolution acknowledges the RCWD interest in a groundwater recharge feasibility study. The board action also approved negotiation between staff and the Bureau of Reclamation and authorized RCWD staff to execute cooperative agreements for the grants if awarded. Both grants seek $1 million with the amount being divided equally among the partners in each project. … ”  Read more from Valley News.

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Along the Colorado River …

Spring is arriving earlier and warming faster. That’s bad news for the West’s water supply

“Spring is arriving sooner and warming up faster than ever before, new research shows. And that means more than just early wildflower blooms across Arizona.  A longer, warmer spring can stress water supplies in the West. The longer spring season may also produce ripple effects on agriculture as water demand will likely increase, and growing seasons may shift.  On average spring temperatures have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit across the U.S., according to research by the USA National Phenology Center. The season is starting earlier and getting warmer in 97% of the 238 locations surveyed. And more than anywhere in the U.S., the Southwest has experienced the most significant increase in temperatures since 1970. … ”  Read more from Arizona Central.

Millions lack reliable access to running water. Should they collect rain?

“In the 1980s, Brad Lancaster started making illegal cuts into curbs in his Dunbar Springs neighborhood here, allowing storm water to flow into street side basins to water native plants and shade trees. Lancaster, a longtime rainwater advocate in Arizona, was inspired by rain farmers using ancient practices to catch, filter and reroute rainwater for drinking, household use and landscaping.  The result is a desert oasis where couples walk their dogs under shade trees and wildflowers bursting along the sidewalks — and the beginnings of a movement that has helped make Tucson a pioneer in rain catching.As the Southwest faces a historic megadrought that imperils the water sources it’s always relied upon, a growing number of Arizonans — from the Navajo and Hopi lands to the state’s parched desert cities — are turning to the practice. … ”  Read more from the Washington Post.

Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam might get pricey makeover

“The Glen Canyon Dam may get a partial but pricey makeover over the next decade so it can keep producing electricity when, and if, the water it stores falls below the level where it would have to turn off the juice.  The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is studying eight potential alternatives aimed at keeping power production going at the dam even at low Lake Powell elevations. A ninth alternative calls for building solar and wind energy installations on federal land near the dam to fill some of the electricity gap that would be left if the lake falls too low. … ”  Read more from the Arizona Daily Star.

Heavy snowfall a boon to cloud seeding in Southwest Colorado – until it isn’t

“The wet, and some would argue onerously prolonged winter weather affecting the Southwest this year, has left the region in a strong position from a drought-mitigation perspective. And when it snows, it pours, thanks to Eric Hjermstad, co-owner of Western Weather Consultants.  The series of storms has meant Hjermstad has been planting snow seeds in the passing clouds. He is the operator for the San Juan Mountains weather modification program, meaning he and his employees operate 33 seeding generators across the region.  Not only is cloud seeding useful even in winters, such as this one, that bring ample snow, the program is more successful in these years, Hjermstad said, and just as necessary.  “It’s important to make sure we stay on top of seeding in good years just so that you create that snowpack that really gets to soak into the mountains. … Because that’s our No. 1 storage facility,” Hjermstad said. … ”  Read more from the Durango Herald.

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In national water news today …

EPA directs states to assess drinking water cybersecurity

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in early March released its plan to require states to evaluate the cybersecurity of drinking water providers. This followed more than a year of entrenched opposition from much of the drinking water community. The evaluations will be conducted as part of the state-run inspection process known as the sanitary survey and are intended to address what the EPA maintains are serious deficiencies in cybersecurity across the drinking water sector.  Meanwhile, legislation recently introduced in Congress would promote improved security practices among drinking water providers, in part by helping them join an existing nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing security threats faced by water and wastewater utilities. … ”  Read more from Civil Engineering Source.

Amid conflicts and climate change, U.N. puts focus on ‘deep trouble’ in water worldwide

“For the first time in 46 years, the United Nations convened a global conference on water, creating new impetus for wide-ranging efforts to manage water more sustainably, adapt to worsening droughts and floods with climate change, and accelerate solutions for the estimated 2 billion people around the world who live without access to clean drinking water.  The conference this week in New York brought together about 10,000 participants, including national leaders and scientists, with a focus on addressing the world’s many water problems and making progress toward a goal of ensuring clean drinking water and sanitation for all people.  “Water is humanity’s lifeblood,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said. “But water is in deep trouble. We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and evaporating it through global heating. We’ve broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater.” … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

NOTICE of Comment Period and Board Consideration – Draft Amended Proposition 1 Groundwater Grant Program Guidelines

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: Delta Island Adaptations Public Workshop #3

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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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