A wrap-up of posts published on Maven’s Notebook this week …
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FEATURE: Sacramento’s New Wastewater Treatment Upgrade Will Help Recharge Groundwater—Will It Also Help the Delta?
Two decades ago, scientists were alarmed by sudden declines in at-risk fish and their tiny prey, called zooplankton, in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
“No one knew why,” says Dylan Stern, a Program Manager at the Delta Stewardship Council, a state agency. “Everyone was kind of freaking out.”
After a flurry of investigation, a potential cause emerged: nutrient pollution in the form of excess ammonia, a nitrogen compound, from Sacramento’s wastewater treatment plant. Operated by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (Regional San), the treatment plant is the largest discharger to an inland body of water west of the Mississippi River.
In 2010 the State Water Resources Control Board required reducing nutrients in this effluent, which necessitated a significant upgrade to the treatment plant. This month marks completion of the $1.7 billion, decade-long upgrade, and nutrients in the effluent are way down.
CALIFORNIA WATER PLAN: The state’s integrated plan for water management
The California Water Plan is the state’s strategic roadmap for managing the state’s precious water resources equitably and sustainably. First developed in 1957, it has been continually updated to tackle the evolving issues and challenges of the day.
The latest update, expected mid-2024, will highlight sustainable water resource management, climate urgency, and the need to ensure that all Californians benefit from water planning and investments. New for this update, the Plan will also include a chapter written by the Tribal Advisory Committee that will present the Tribal perspective and provide insights into how state and local entities can engage and collaborate with Tribes.
At the April meeting of the California Water Commission, Kamyar Guivetchi, Manager of DWR’s Division of Planning, gave the Commission an overview of the latest iteration of the Plan.
SoCAL WATER: The impact of Reclamation’s SEIS alternatives on Metropolitan’s Colorado River supplies; Abundant precipitation refills storage
Metropolitan’s One Water and Stewardship Committee meeting on May 8 featured a presentation on the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and what it means for Metropolitan’s Colorado River supplies. They also discussed how the improved water supply will affect Lake Mead and Southern California’s water supplies.
Newsom touts $60-million plan for ‘fishway’ along Yuba River; critics say it falls short
“Citing the need to boost survival rates for imperiled salmon and sturgeon along the heavily dammed Yuba River, state, local and federal officials have announced a $60-million plan to build a channel that will allow fish to swim easily around a dam that has impeded their passage for more than a century. Joined by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, officials announced that the fishway would bypass the DaGuerre Point Dam, in Marysville, and allow spring-run chinook salmon, green sturgeon, steelhead, and lamprey to access 10 to 12 miles of spawning habitat upstream. “The fishway at DaGuerre Point will be an unprecedented action to restore habitat and contribute to the recovery of threatened species by providing unobstructed passage to habitat that’s been incredibly challenging for them to access,” said Willie Whittlesey, general manager of the Yuba Water Agency. … ” Read more from the LA Times. | Read via AOL News.
First Klamath River dam to be removed by end of summer
“Preliminary construction work has begun as the Klamath River Renewal Corporation prepares to remove a total of four dams. Copco 2 — the first dam to go — will be removed from the Klamath River by the end of September, according to Mark Bransom, CEO of the KRRC. “The contractor will drill small holes into the concrete and pack those holes with explosives which they will then detonate,” he said. “But again, the goal is to break up the large concrete structures into smaller chunks that are more manageable and can be handled by the construction equipment.” … ” Read more from Channel 12.
Russian-Eel river stakeholders launch new effort to find path forward without defunct power plant
“They come from four counties and have only months to work. Their interests often diverge and sometimes even conflict with one another. But they have a common goal: Find a path forward in a world without Pacific Gas & Electric’s Potter Valley power plant. The stakeholders include water providers, agricultural users and elected officials whose constituents depend on diversions from the Eel River to help fill Lake Mendocino and feed the upper Russian River in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. They also include fishery interests that want two aging dams removed from the Eel River to improve fish passage and restore the river’s ecological function. Among those interests are Native American tribes, who for more than a century had their historic fisheries and water sources seized from their control for the benefit of others. The tribes are joined by Humboldt County representatives long troubled by impairment of the Eel River’s salmon fishery and water supply. … ” Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (gift article).
Environmentalist sue PG&E for damage to Eel River fisheries
“Although they’re destined to be decommissioned, two dams on Northern California’s Eel River owned by utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric are in such poor shape they’re preventing salmon from returning to their spawning grounds and nursery habitat, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. The Eel River begins in Lake County and winds across three other counties through the coastal range until it empties into the Pacific Ocean in Mendocino County. It’s currently dammed by two hydroelectric dams, the 130-foot Scott Dam, forming Lake Pillsbury, and the 50-foot Cape Horn Dam, holding back the Van Arsdale Reservoir. Together, they’re known as the Potter Valley Project, initiated in 1900 under the oversight of the Eel River Power and Irrigation Company. PG&E assumed control in 1930. … ” Read more from the Courthouse News Service.
Proposed reservoir in Northern California would boost Folsom Lake water storage
“No matter if it’s a dry year or wet year, there are continued pleas for more water storage. Now, an American River Basin study is showing how a strategically placed high Sierra reservoir might be part of the water solution. The concern to capture Sierra runoff is seeing increased interest as California experiences even bigger climate whiplash years – going from droughts to floods. The big snowpack in the Sierra this year stands out as an anomaly with climate models forecasting more rain than snow falling in the lower mountains by the end of the century. The other concern is the earlier runoff and having to store and manage reservoir water over a longer period of time through the dry summer months. To help ease that tension, a new reservoir is being considered near Alder Creek in the Sierra. This is just above Pollock Pines in El Dorado County just off Highway 50. … ” Read more from Channel 10.
Don’t swim in Northern California rivers, officials warn. How cold and fast is the water?
“It is still too cold to swim in Northern California rivers, officials warned Thursday. Temperatures are in the 90s in Sacramento — but don’t give into the temptation to take a dip in local waterways. The record Sierra snowpack is melting, causing fast and cold currents longer than even regulars are used to. “The American River is flowing very fast this weekend, and we want residents to be aware of just how dangerous it can be,” said Liz Bellas, director of regional parks, in a Sacramento County news release Thursday. “The flows are so swift that the rafting companies along the river aren’t renting out equipment this weekend – it’s just too dangerous.” … ” Read more from the Sacramento Bee.
600,000 years of history, and Tulare Lake isn’t done yet
“Much like the shifting shorelines and water levels of the lake itself, the history of Tulare Lake has remained difficult to map. “The lake has a mystique,” said local historian Michael Semas. “There is a desire to know more. I think the mystery has always intrigued everybody.” With the resurgence of Tulare Lake for the first time in more than a quarter of a century following a historically wet winter that left Kings County soggy and flooded, the history of what was once the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River is again being embraced — not just for what it can tell us about the past — but about the present, and future. Road closures, submerged farms and NASA photographs confirm that on some level, Tulare Lake has returned, and local authorities and farmers are waiting to see how much worse the flooding will get. The thawing of a record-breaking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, dubbed “the big melt,” is projected to fill the Tulare Lake basin this summer with 1 million acre feet of water. … ” A really nice feature article by Parker Bowman at the Hanford Sentinel. Continue reading here.
Efforts to recharge California’s underground aquifers show mixed results
“From extreme drought to extreme floods, this is what California is experiencing this year after a series of epic winter storms. And it’s a window into the state’s climate future. You see, California is trying to capture as much water in wet years like this one as it can, and its biggest storage container is underground. But as NPR’s Nathan Rott reports, in the largely developed Central Valley, it’s hard to figure out how to get water there. … ” Listen or read transcript from NPR.
Even after a wet winter, California is preparing for the next drought
“Mountains are capped with record snowpack, rolling hills are covered in a rainbow of wildflowers, reservoirs are filled to the brim, and rivers are rushing with snowmelt. A vast majority of California is finally out of drought this month, after a punishing multiyear period of severe aridity that forced statewide water cuts and fueled existential fear over the future of the water supply. Although a series of massive storms during the winter months brought desperately needed precipitation throughout the Golden State, water experts and state officials remain focused on preparing for the inevitable next drought. Based on lessons learned in recent years, they’re refilling the state’s over-drafted groundwater aquifers and encouraging water efficiency among residents learning to live with climate change. By recharging groundwater basins and keeping in place some conservation policies, state and local water officials can help alleviate the pain of future droughts — but those efforts require flexibility and more investment, said Andrew Ayres, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank. … ” Read more from Stateline.
Water whiplash: See how California’s drought disappeared in a few months
“California has been on an amazing roller coaster of drought and floods recently. The three years from 2020 to 2022 were the driest three-year period in the state’s recorded history, breaking the old record set during the previous drought from 2013 to 2015, according to the state Department of Water Resources. But after a deluge this winter, reservoirs are full. Wildfire risk has dropped. Groundwater tables in many areas have risen. The Sierra snowpack, the source of 30% of California’s water supply, was at 324% of normal on Thursday, the highest level in 40 years. The extreme swings have been documented each week in color-coded maps issued by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly report by the NOAA, the USDA and the University of Nebraska. … ” Read more from the San Jose Mercury News (gift article).
Tire-makers under pressure as too much rubber hits the road
“Tire-makers are under pressure to almost literally reinvent the wheel as regulators turn their scrutiny to tire pollution that is set to surge with the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) and threatens to undermine those cars’ green credentials. When tire make contact with the road, tiny particles are abraded and emitted. The extra weight of EVs linked to their batteries means this little-discussed form of pollution – from an estimated 2 billion tire produced globally every year – is becoming a bigger problem. … This year, California is expected to be the first authority to demand tire-makers demonstrate they are seeking an alternative to 6PPD – a degraded form of which is lethal to some fish and has been found in human urine in South China. … ” Read more from KFGO.
Newsom chides McCarthy over California water money
“Gov. Gavin Newsom is ramping up his pressure campaign against Republicans as a slow-moving natural disaster hits a conservative-leaning region of California. And the Democrat is using a perennial Republican calling card — water funding — to drive home his message. Newsom, who has grown increasingly frustrated over the lack of federal action, is casting Republicans as unwilling to fund critical flood protection in the Central Valley, where record snowmelt has already submerged farms and will continue to threaten communities into the summer, while California steps up to front the money. Now, he’s singling out House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Rep. David Valadao, who represent the region, in a letter shared with POLITICO that marks an unusual escalation for a governor more used to calling out his foes in speeches and tweets than issuing stern, behind-the-scenes appeals for their cooperation. … ” Read more from Politico.
In a reduced climate budget, Newsom pivots to flood response and cuts drought
“California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed an increase to state spending on flood threats after a record-breaking winter, while retaining previously proposed budget cuts to his climate and environment budget. The governor’s budget update delivered Friday included $290 million in new funding for flood protection, of which $125 million was pulled from emergency drought response. Another $165 million was earmarked for flood control, business relief and floodplain restoration in the San Joaquin Valley. “Here’s the new commitment: Flood protection,” Newsom said in a press conference. “We have a posture of drought to flood, reinforcing this weather whiplash.” Friday’s proposal is part of a $306.5 billion budget that California must manage under the weight of a growing shortfall. … ” Read more from the Sacramento Bee. | Read via Yahoo News.
New California budget means a $6B cut, and future uncertainty, for climate spending
“For climate advocates, the growing state deficit unveiled in the revised 2023-24 state budget offers some bad news, some good news and a great deal of uncertainty. The bad news in the budget presented Friday morning by Gov. Gavin Newsom is that, despite lobbying efforts and environmentalists pitching at least two alternative proposals, the $6 billion in cuts to climate spending that Newsom proposed in January are still included. If those multi-year cuts stand it will mean significant hits to funding that previously was pledged to help speed California’s transition to non-polluting cars, clean up the water supply, decarbonize buildings and protect residents against the increasingly dire effects of extreme heat. … ” Read more from the Riverside Press Enterprise. | Read via MSN News.
Newsom unveils sweeping plan to speed up California infrastructure projects
“Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to unveil a sweeping package of legislation and sign an executive order Friday to make it easier to build transportation, clean energy, water and other infrastructure across California, a move intended to capitalize on an infusion of money from the Biden administration to boost climate-friendly construction projects. The proposal aims to shorten the contracting process for bridge and water projects, limit timelines for environmental litigation and simplify permitting for complicated developments in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and elsewhere. Altogether, administration officials hope the package could speed up project construction by more than three years and reduce costs by hundreds of millions of dollars — efforts they say are necessary to achieve the state’s aggressive climate goals. … ” Read more from the LA Times.
California’s water rights system is inequitable, inadequate, and possibly, about to change
Amanda Fencl, Western States Senior Climate Scientist, writes, “During a California State Assembly informational hearing earlier this year, there seemed to be consensus that California’s 19th century water rights system is not well suited to the social context and climate of the 21st century. Change is necessary and may be coming. This outdated water rights system is based on historic and continued disenfranchisement and dispossession. It has persisted for more than a century, despite known inequities and increasing inadequacies in the face of climate change. It persists because powerful actors benefit from the current system and its haphazard enforcement, and they vehemently resist any proposed changes. They can be convincing. After all, water rights seem overwhelming and complex. … Indeed, “it’s complicated” is not the end of this story; it’s only the beginning. … ” Read more from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Farmers can adapt to alternating droughts and floods—here’s how
Omanjana Goswami, Interdisciplinary scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes, “Farmers like predictable weather, and this past year in California has been anything but. After the state suffered through the worst drought in modern history, a series of atmospheric rivers starting last December brought recurring deluges of heavy rain and snow that caused widespread and extensive damage, forcing people to evacuate in many areas across the state and resulting in multiple deaths. Snow levels are at historic highs in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with final snowpack numbers reported at a staggering 207% to 308% of normal—threatening more flooding to come as it all melts. And the agriculture industry, which uses an outsize amount of California’s water and has literally changed the state’s landscape, needs to change and adapt, fast. … ” Read more from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
How federal dollars can help ease the rural water crisis
Michael Prado, President of Sultana Community Services District, and Celina Mahabir, Federal Policy Advocate with Community Water Center, writes, “Everyone has heard about the water crises in cities like Flint, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi, but America’s rural communities are facing equally dire problems with toxic taps and outdated infrastructure, and they typically have even less to spend on fixes. That may change soon. In addition to the historic water funding included in recent infrastructure bills, the farm bill that is currently being negotiated in Congress could support real progress in small towns across the country, thanks to the billions it includes for construction of rural water and sewer systems. We know firsthand what a huge impact those dollars can make on the ground. In California, people in an estimated 300 communities can’t drink from the tap. And two examples—the unincorporated farmworker communities of Monson and Sultana—show how federal funding can make the difference between residents having to rely on bottled water to drink, brush their teeth, and cook dinner, or having safe water from the tap. … ” Read more from Civil Eats.
Better treatment for what is flushed down Bay Area toilets can help ease California’s perennial water crisis
Dennis Wyatt, editor of the Manteca Bulletin, writes, “Algal blooms — multiplying faster than rumors posted on social media thanks to feasting off nutrient laden warm water — have been killing fish and aquatic plants life alike in the Delta as well as San Francisco Bay. Besides being toxic to fish and humans, they also such the oxygen out of the water, starving fish as well as other aquatic plants of life giving oxygen. Depending upon where they are found, they leave calling cards of various shades of putrid colors. In the SF Bay, it is reddish-brown splotches on the water. In the Delta, it is a slime-like greenish-blue. Such poisonous botches have been documented in the extremely southeastern part of the Delta where the San Joaquin River flows past Mossdale Crossing park and the mouth of the Old River in the Lathrop area. … ” Read more from the Manteca Bulletin.
Salmon have already been compromised in wet 2023
Tom Cannon writes, “Warming water in the Sacramento River in late April compromised salmon as rains diminished and Central Valley water managers captured snowmelt for storage and irrigation. The water warmed as wild juvenile salmon and 20 million or so hatchery smolts moved down the Sacramento River toward the ocean, and as adult winter-run and spring-run salmon migrated up the river. Water temperatures increased despite a clear trajectory toward full reservoirs … ” Continue reading from the California Fisheries blog.
Ag Vision seeks to secure state’s agricultural future
Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, writes, “It’s no secret that times are tough for many California farmers and ranchers. I have heard their stories and concerns over their livelihoods and the future of agriculture in the Golden State. I know that, for many, it’s hard to think beyond the immediate challenges at hand. While there is no silver bullet to address all they face, there is a new plan that will grow opportunity for farmers and ranchers, farmworkers, individuals and communities. It’s called Ag Vision for the Next Decade, and it builds upon the existing good work of many in agriculture who are constantly adapting and serving as good neighbors and stewards of the land and natural resources. It’s a plan with numerous benefits. It connects farmers and farm products to local communities and builds bridges with urban audiences. It encourages innovation and training for the jobs of tomorrow to support farmworkers. And it takes aim at something we have heard time and again is important to the farming community: fostering smarter regulations. … ” Continue reading at Ag Alert.
Fanning the Flames: State and federal policies have deepened California’s most pressing environmental challenges.
Shawn Regan, vice president of research at the Property and Environment Research Center, writes, “As pandemic restrictions eased across America last year, Californians faced other problems. Amid historic drought conditions, statewide mandates imposed strict water-conservation measures, backed by fines of up to $500 per day. Wildfires led to evacuation warnings near the state’s dense and overgrown forests. Power shortages from heat and fires resulted in a statewide grid emergency. And air-quality alerts kept some residents sheltered indoors from wildfire smoke so thick that it prompted school closures in parts of the state. The San Francisco Chronicle dubbed it the “cruelest summer yet,” adding drought, fires, smoke, and rolling blackouts to the list of reasons people were fleeing the state. While other states returned to a post-Covid normal, California was still reeling—not from the pandemic but from environmental policies that have left it parched and vulnerable to devastating wildfires. … ” Read more from City Journal.
Radio: Scott Valley farmers and ranchers bristle at ongoing water restrictions
“Take a look at the most recent federal drought maps, and you notice that parts of Oregon have it worse than anyplace in California. But some drought restrictions remain in place, including restrictions on both surface water and groundwater in the Scott and Shasta Valleys. Both streams are considered critical for the survival of coho salmon, and the restrictions went into effect in the summer of 2021. Farmers and ranchers in the Scott Valley Agriculture Water Alliance (AgWA) think it’s time the restrictions came off. They make the case that their voluntary water conservation measures should be enough. Rancher Theodora Johnson and farmer Lauren Sweezey join us with details.” Listen at Jefferson Public Radio.
With a fuller Lake Shasta, more water is seeping from the front of Shasta Dam
“With Lake Shasta nearly full this spring, more water has begun to seep out of the face of Shasta Dam, on the side opposite the lake. Water has been trickling down the downstream face of the dam in several spots, with vegetation growing in places where the water leaks out. Even though the massive concrete structure is 602-feet tall and 543-feet wide at the base, there are still ways for the water to get through from the lake side to the opposite side, said Don Bader, area manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The 6.2 million yards of construction material may look from the outside like it is composed solely of large blocks of concrete. But the dam is not solid all the way through. There are passageways, walkways, pipes and tunnels inside, Bader said. Because the lake is nearly full this year, the seepage is greater, he said. … ” Read more from the Redding Record-Searchlight.
Three facilities leaking toxic ‘forever chemicals’ into Bay Area groundwater
“The Center for Environmental Health recently confirmed that three Bay Area facilities have been discharging toxicants known as “forever chemicals” into the region’s groundwater. Metal plating companies Electro-Coatings of California and Teikuro Corporation, along with a Recology center in Vacaville, were sent legal notices by CEH after they were discovered to use PFAS, a group of potentially harmful chemicals, in their day-to-day operations. These chemicals were directly released into designated sources of drinking water below three facilities and now exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits for PFAS by over a hundred times, according to a CEH press release. … ” Read more from SF Gate.
Friant-Kern Canal fix raising flows, hopes of more water infrastructure projects
“A major project that will enhance California’s water delivery system is moving along in the form of repairing the Friant-Kern Canal. Friant Water Authority Chief Operating Officer Johnny Amaral spoke with The Sun for Wednesday’s episode Sunrise FM to provide an update on the project, among a variety of other water-related issues. The backstory: Around six years ago, the Friant Water Authority, which operates the Friant-Kern Canal, noticed a major problem throughout a 30-mile stretch between Porterville and Delano. The canal was suffering from an issue called subsidence, which is the sinking of the ground due to decades of groundwater overdraft. … ” Read more from the San Joaquin Valley Sun.
Reservoir project for Cuyama vineyard falls through
“A proposal to develop more than 15 acres of new water reservoirs in the Cuyama Valley stirred division among local farmers and county officials at a recent public hearing. During the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission’s May 10 meeting, county staff presented findings to deny the project, which would include the construction of three frost ponds at North Fork Ranch to store water for its vineyards. The ranch is located within the Cuyama Valley groundwater basin, an area listed as “critically overdrafted” by the California Department of Water Resources. Staff determined that the site is unfit to accommodate the proposed frost ponds partly due to the overdraft conditions documented in the area. … ” Read more from the Santa Maria Sun.
Western states and feds are closing in on a landmark deal to prevent Lake Mead from plummeting further
“Three Western states and the federal government are nearing a deal to leave millions of gallons of water in the Colorado River’s Lake Mead – water that would have otherwise been used to irrigate fields or generate hydropower – in exchange for at least $1 billion in federal funding for voluntary water cuts, according to two sources familiar with the plan. The Colorado River system provides water and electricity to more than 40 million people in seven states, as well as irrigation for Western farmers. But that system has shown alarming water loss after a multi-year, climate change-fueled drought collided with decades of overuse. Western states and the federal government have been in tense discussions for months to come up with a plan to prevent the Colorado River and the nation’s largest reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, from teetering into disaster. … ” Read more from CNN.