DAILY DIGEST, 5/22: A breakthrough deal to keep the Colorado River from going dry, for now; Whiplash again! – Learning from wet (and dry) years; How solar farms took over the California desert; EPA funds research to assess perchlorate after fireworks; and more …

On the calendar today …

  • WEBINAR: California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar from 11am to 12pm. This 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.

In California water news today …

A breakthrough deal to keep the Colorado River from going dry, for now

“The Biden administration has negotiated a hard-fought agreement among California, Arizona and Nevada to take less water from the drought-strained Colorado River, a deal that reduces, for now, the risk of the river running dry below the Hoover Dam, which would jeopardize the water supply for Phoenix, Los Angeles and some of America’s most productive agricultural land.  The agreement, to be announced Monday, calls for the federal government to pay about $1.2 billion to irrigation districts, cities and Native American tribes in the three states if they temporarily use less water. The states have also agreed to make additional cuts beyond that amount to generate the total reductions needed to protect the collapse of the river.  Taken together, those reductions would amount to about 13 percent of the total water use in the lower Colorado Basin — among the most aggressive ever experienced in the region, and likely to require significant water restrictions for residential and agriculture uses. … ”  Read more from the New York Times (gift article).


Whiplash again! – Learning from wet (and dry) years

Jay Lund, Deirdre Des Jardins, and Kathy Schaefer write, ““Old superlatives have been dusted off and new ones count to better describe the tragedy, damage, and trauma associated with the State’s latest ‘unusual’ weather experience.” DWR Bulletin 69-83, California High Water 1982-83, p.1 … In July 1984, the California Department of Water Resources issued Bulletin 69-83, California High Water 1982-83.  It insightfully reviewed what is still California’s wettest water year in more than a century.  Reading this report gives a sense of California’s broad and eternal flood vulnerabilities and management problems.  Despite important advances since that time, many similar ideas could be written today.  Here are a few long-term lessons from the 1983 and 2023 experiences … ”  Read the full post at the California Water Blog.

El Niño can be unpredictable. Here’s what experts say its return means for California weather

“Officials raised the alarm this week for a near guarantee that the world will face its hottest year on record within the next five years.  A double whammy of human-induced climate change and the return of El Niño are expected “to push global temperatures into uncharted territory,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a press release.  “There’s really high confidence that we will get an El Niño event,” said John O’Brien, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “I think what we don’t know right now is what kind of El Niño we’re going to get.”  The Chronicle spoke with six scientists and asked about how the upcoming El Niño could unfold, and the magnitude of impacts it could bring to the West Coast. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle (gift article).

Statistics reveal this year’s intense winter over Donner Summit

“In a report released by the Kingvale Communications Center, it was revealed just how extraordinary the 2022/2023 winter season was in the Sierra Nevada region, particularly for those navigating Interstate 80 at Donner Pass.  Cal-Trans District 3, the team dedicated to maintaining the highways in the Tahoe area, provided a comprehensive breakdown of the daunting statistics. As winter sports enthusiasts would testify, there were inconveniences such as traffic build-up, but as most would agree, it’s a small price to pay for exhilarating powder days.  The stats highlight the magnitude of this winter’s snowfall with a whopping 730 inches (or 60 feet 10 inches) of snow blanketing Donner Pass on I-80. This considerable volume of snow fell across 64 individual days, indicating the persistence and intensity of this winter season. … ”  Read more from Active NorCal. … ”  Read more from Active NorCal.

California governor seeks to speed up water, clean energy projects delayed by lawsuits, permits

“California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday pledged to fast-track hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of construction projects throughout the state, including a pair of large water endeavors that have languished for years amid permitting delays and opposition from environmental groups.  For the past decade, California officials have pursued the water projects in the drought-prone state. One would construct a giant tunnel to carry large amounts of water beneath the natural channels of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to drier and more populous Southern California.  The other would be a massive new reservoir near the tiny community of Sites in Northern California that could store more water during deluges — like the series of atmospheric rivers that hit the state earlier this year — for delivery to farmers.  But neither project has been built, despite promises from multiple governors and legislative leaders. … ”  Read more from the AP.

How solar farms took over the California desert: ‘An oasis has become a dead sea’

“Over the last few years, this swathe of desert has been steadily carpeted with one of the world’s largest concentrations of solar power plants, forming a sprawling photovoltaic sea. On the ground, the scale is almost incomprehensible. The Riverside East Solar Energy Zone – the ground zero of California’s solar energy boom – stretches for 150,000 acres, making it 10 times the size of Manhattan. … But there’s one thing that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – the agency tasked with facilitating these projects on public land – doesn’t seem to have fully taken into account: the desert isn’t quite as empty as it thought. It might look like a barren wilderness, but this stretch of the Mojave is a rich and fragile habitat for endangered species and home to thousand-year-old carbon-capturing woodlands, ancient Indigenous cultural sites – and hundreds of people’s homes. … Concerns have intensified following the recent news of a project, called Easley, that would see the panels come just 200 metres from their backyards. Residents claim that excessive water use by solar plants has contributed to the drying up of two local wells, while their property values have been hit hard, with several now struggling to sell their homes. … ”  Read the full story at The Guardian.

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In commentary today …

Plastic pipe drinking water systems aren’t worth health risks

MK Dorsey, director and chair of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at Arizona State University, and Dustin Mulvaney, a professor in the Environmental Studies Department at San Jose State University, write, “How many more environmental incidents need to occur before we get serious about curbing our addiction to plastic?  Officials made the decision to burn off vinyl chloride, a volatile chemical that they feared could explode inside the derailed cars of a Norfolk Southern train crash in eastern Ohio. There were no “good” options, and officials went with the least-bad one they had, but they remain responsible for their choices.  Just as we remain responsible for our choice to remain addicted to plastics in our critical infrastructures. … ”  Read more from the East Bay Times.

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In regional water news and commentary today …

Free-roaming driftwood is clogging boat launches on Lake Shasta. Who’s cleaning it up?

“Mark Louton loaded up his boat on a trailer Friday and headed up to Lake Shasta to do some exploring out on the water. But when he got down to the Centimudi boat launch he came across a site that forced him to change his plans.  The boat launch was socked in with driftwood and other debris, and Louton said he didn’t want to push through all the material just to get his boat out on the water.  “I’ve come down here a few times and I don’t think there was debris last time I came down to the boat ramp. There was (debris) further around by the dam ― whole lot. I’m kind of not surprised. I didn’t even think of it. I’m not sure where the other ramps are,” Louton said. … ”  Read more from the Redding Record Searchlight.

Butte County officials suspect Harmful Algal Bloom in Table Mountain

“Officials are warning the public to avoid contact with water along Table Mountain following a report from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).  According to Butte County Public Health (BCPH), they had received notification from the DWR about a potentially toxic cyanobacteria in the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve on Friday, May 19th. This, BCPH suspects, has created a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB).  Following this notification, BCPH is advising anyone visiting the site to avoid contact with the water at the reserve. … ”  Read more from KRCR.

Cooling trend on way to Lake Tahoe along with chances for thunderstorms, showers

“Above average temperatures over the past several days at Lake Tahoe will return to normal this week along with chances for thunderstorms and unsettled weather that may last through the holiday weekend.  The National Weather Service in Reno issued a multi-day flood watch for the region with high temperatures about 10 degrees above normal, but that watch expires at 8 p.m. Monday as the region starts cooling off a bit.  Monday’s expected high of 76 will be a few ticks shy of the South Lake Tahoe record of 79 for the day set in 2000 (80 for Tahoe City set in 1919). … ”  Read more from the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

An upgrade to a wastewater treatment plant is helping California achieve a climate resilient future

California’s increasing climate volatility has been more evident in the past few years, further stressing the state’s aging water infrastructure.  In an attempt to cement a more water secure future, the state is working to diversify its water portfolio. In just  the past week, an old piece of water infrastructure was officially given new life and a new name. The $1.7 billion EchoWater Project, located in Elk Grove, is one of the sites that will diversify that portfolio. “We are at the EchoWater Project, which is a wastewater treatment facility that treats over 130 million gallons per day of wastewater, really alleviating a lot of the strain on our delicate Delta ecosystem, and capturing waters that would otherwise potentially harm that ecosystem and the ocean,” said Yana Garcia, secretary for Environmental Protection. … ”  Continue reading from Channel 10.

Tehachapi: Water district board approves $12 million in financing to replace pump plant engines, $12K bonus for GM

“Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District will spend about $12 million to replace engines in two of its four pump plants, financing the project over 15 years with an estimated annual debt service of about $1.02 million. A total of eight engines — four each in Pump Plants 2 and 3 — will be replaced. In a follow-up to a presentation made in March, Jeff Land of Brandis Tallman, a division of Oppenheimer & Co., Inc., and Dmitry Semenov of Ridgeline Municipal Strategies, LLC, reviewed the board’s previous direction regarding financing options, during its May 17 meeting and the board voted 5-0 to authorize issuing certificates of participation, a type of financing similar to issuing bonds. … ”  Read more from the Tehachapi News.

Monsoon storms fire up earlier than normal for SoCal

“We’re just about a month away from the official start to the summer monsoon.  But, Southern California has already seen some monsoon storms develop over our mountains.  Summer is generally a dry season for Southern California except when summer monsoon storms fire up across the Southwest.  With the right set-up in the upper levels of the atmosphere, some of those storms could pop up over SoCal mountains, and even drift over the foothills and valleys at times. … ”  Read more from Spectrum 1.

Radio: LA is finding a way to capture water from heavy rains and save it for dry weather

“Heavy winter rains in California have highlighted the need to capture stormwater and save it for dry times. Los Angeles is currently working on how to do this.”  Listen at KLCC.

Could the rush for lithium near the Salton Sea trigger earthquakes?

“Just after midnight on April 30, residents near the Salton Sea were jolted awake by a magnitude 4.3 earthquake. Dozens of people told the U.S. Geological Survey that they felt the shaking, with a couple locals reporting it was strong enough to knock items over or break dishes.  Less than a minute later, another temblor the same size hit a mile away. Then a third struck just before 1 a.m., and over the next two days dozens of smaller quakes followed.  Anytime there’s a swarm of earthquakes in their community locals can’t help but think about the steam billowing from a dozen geothermal power plants that have sprung up along the Salton Sea’s southeastern shore over the past four decades. … ”  Read more from the LA Daily News.

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Along the Colorado River …

The Colorado River is shrinking. See what’s using all the water.

“The water supply that 40 million Americans rely on has been pushed to its limit. Reservoirs and wells are running low. This week, the states that rely on water from the Colorado River reached a temporary deal with the Biden administration on sharing what’s left.  What’s using all that water?  The majority of the water in the Colorado River basin — more than one trillion gallons — is used to grow feed for livestock, connecting the region’s water crisis to how much dairy and meat we eat.  The crops grown for humans to eat directly, like vegetables, use up less than a quarter of the amount of water that livestock feed does, according to estimates from a 2020 study published in Nature Sustainability. And residential consumption, like watering your lawn and taking showers, uses a fifth of what livestock feed does. … ”  Read more from the New York Times.

Commentary: Colorado River crisis calls for a reevaluation of our modern attachment to prior appropriation

Elizabeth Black with Citizen Science Soil Health Project writes, “The water rule which governs the current division of Colorado River waters is called Prior Appropriation, or First-in-Time, First-in-Right. This rule originated in the California and Colorado gold fields, where fortune-seekers needed water to extract gold ore from rock. Before they sank their sweat and treasure into deep mineshafts and long flumes, miners needed a rock-solid claim to water with which to extract their gold. They posted signs along creeks claiming a specific amount of water for their use. The first to post had the first and best right to the creek’s water, with the second and third person to post getting whatever was left after the others before them had taken theirs.  For the Anglos who settled the arid West, this First-in-Time rule exactly fit their extractive mindset. … ”  Continue reading at the Daily Camera.

At Lake Powell, record low water levels reveal an ‘amazing silver lining’

“If you want to see the Colorado River change in real time, head to Lake Powell.  At the nation’s second-largest reservoir, water levels recently dipped to the lowest they’ve been since 1968. As the water recedes, a breathtaking landscape of deep red-rock canyons that cradle lush ecosystems and otherworldly arches, caverns and waterfalls is emerging.  On a warm afternoon after the reservoir had dipped to a record low, Jack Stauss walked along a muddy creek bed at the bottom of one of those canyons. He works as the outreach coordinator for Glen Canyon Institute, a conservation nonprofit that campaigns for the draining of the reservoir and highlights the natural beauty of Glen Canyon, which was flooded in the 1960s to create Lake Powell.  “I call this the moon zone,” Stauss said, as his shin-high rubber boots splashed through cold pools and eddies. “There are ecosystems that thrive in these side canyons, even when they’ve been de-watered for just, like, four years. You start to see stuff come back on a really unprecedented scale.” … ”  Read more from KUNC.

Once ‘paradise,’ parched Colorado valley grapples with arsenic in water

“When John Mestas’ ancestors moved to Colorado over 100 years ago to raise sheep in the San Luis Valley, they “hit paradise,” he says.  “There was so much water, they thought it would never end,” Mestas says of the agricultural region at the headwaters of the Rio Grande.  Now decades of climate change-driven drought, combined with the overpumping of aquifers, is making the valley desperately dry — and appears to be intensifying the levels of heavy metals in drinking water. … ”  Read more from NPR.

One Colorado River basin has been drying for years. It’s changing a way of life.

“In the crackling dry rangeland north of this dwindling farm town, at a minor depression slowly filling in with yucca, sage and tumbleweeds, the South Fork of the Republican isn’t so much a river as the ghost of one.  A river it may be on the maps. But when fourth-generation wheat farmer Bob Brachtenbach stops his truck over the map coordinates for the South Fork, his wheels come to rest on a bridge that doesn’t span water, but simply connects one sand dune to another.  The last time he saw running water under this bridge, Brachtenbach says, was a memorable night of harvesting winter wheat with the rainfall-charged river reflecting fireworks from Stratton 2 miles away. … ”  Read more from the Colorado Sun.

Colorado frackers doubled freshwater use during megadrought, even as drilling and oil production fell

“In the middle of the longest-running drought in more than a thousand years, Colorado energy companies diverted rising volumes of the state’s freshwater resources for fracking, a new analysis shows.  Colorado operators doubled their use of high-quality water to prepare wells for fracking over the last 10 years, with diminishing returns on oil production, the nonprofit group FracTracker Alliance reported earlier this month. Average volumes of water used per well quadrupled over that time, the analysis found.  Colorado standards governing what water sources energy companies can access for fracking and how they dispose of wastewater are unsustainable and “incredibly wasteful,” concluded Kyle Ferrar, FracTracker’s western program coordinator, in the report. … ”  Read more from Inside Climate News.

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In national water news today …

EPA awards nearly $2.5M for research to assess perchlorate after firework events

“Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $2,499,579 in research grant funding to Texas Tech University for research on the behavior of perchlorate after fireworks events near water sources.  “Protecting our water resources and ensuring clean drinking water is one of EPA’s top priorities,” said Chris Frey, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “With this research grant, Texas Tech University will be able to provide states and utilities with further knowledge on how to protect drinking water from perchlorate contamination.”  Perchlorate is a chemical used in rocket propellants, explosives, flares and fireworks. Recent increases in the use of fireworks have caused concern over potential increases of perchlorate in ambient waters that serve as sources of drinking water. Perchlorate in drinking water sources can be a health concern because above certain exposure levels, perchlorate can interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. Prior research has investigated water contamination from fireworks; however, there are gaps in understanding the magnitude and extent of perchlorate contamination before, during, and after fireworks are discharged around drinking water sources. … ”  Read more from the EPA.

PFAS in the crosshairs

“In the world of water utility finance, it’s widely known that ratepayers like residents and businesses represent the primary source of revenue for local water and sewer systems. Therefore, when regulatory mandates come down from the federal government with the potential to increase costs for water systems, even with federal support, it’s generally the local ratepayer who is left to foot the bill.  This is one of the main concerns the sector is figuring out how to navigate after a big regulatory announcement in the spring.  In March, following much anticipation, the US. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its first-ever proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” If finalized, the proposal would regulate PFOA and PFOS – two of the most common types of PFAS – as individual contaminants to 4 parts per trillion, and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals – as a mixture. … ”  Read more from Water Finance & Management.

How recycling centers could be making our plastics problem worse

“Instead of helping to tackle the world’s staggering plastic waste problem, recycling may be exacerbating a concerning environmental problem: microplastic pollution. A recent peer-reviewed study that focused on a recycling facility in the United Kingdom suggests that anywhere between 6 to 13 percent of the plastic processed could end up being released into water or the air as microplastics — ubiquitous tiny particles smaller than five millimeters that have been found everywhere from Antarctic snow to inside human bodies.  “This is such a big gap that nobody’s even considered, let alone actually really researched,” said Erina Brown, a plastics scientist who led the research while at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. … ”  Continue reading at the Washington Post.

Two ways to fight land subsidence:  Artificial recharge and deep soil mixing are two techniques showing promise in rescuing sinking cities

“Cities all over the world are sinking. n Southeast Asia, the rapid growth of megacities has led to a pressing design problem that many governments are only just starting to address. Jakarta is considered the world’s fastest sinking city, with some areas experiencing subsidence of up to 15 cm per year. … Urban sinking, also known as land subsidence, refers to the gradual sinking of the land surface in urban areas. It is caused by natural and human-made factors including groundwater extraction, construction works, soil consolidation and geological processes. Land subsidence is a human-induced event. Of all the cases of land subsidence worldwide, 77 per cent are caused by human activities, with groundwater extraction accounting for 60 per cent. … ”  Read more from EcoWatch.

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More news and commentary in the weekend edition …

In California water news this weekend …

  • California Coast by Peter Thoeny

    Gavin Newsom wants to make it easier to build roads, dams and more. What’s in his plan?

  • El Niño is likely returning, bringing danger for California and the world. ‘We need to be prepared’
  • California to trigger rarely used relief valve on Kern River, diverting flows to state aqueduct
  • California to deal with some snowmelt flooding by diverting water
  • Latest flood-related executive order expands diversion flexibilities
  • Whitewater rafting is roaring back to life in California after years of drought
  • Recreational ocean, in-river salmon fisheries in California to close for remainder of 2023
  • Increased rattlesnake danger this year due to higher water levels, rangers warn
  • Nation’s first wheelchair-accessible nature trail was built from Gold Rush-era flume
  • California could lose two-thirds of its beaches by the end of the century. Here’s which ones are at risk
  • Shasta Lake sitting just shy of full ahead of a promising summer
  • Storms replenished California’s reservoirs. So why are Bay Area water bills about to soar?
  • Will EPA’s PFAS rule spur other water regs?
  • And more ….

Click here for the weekend digest.

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

NOTICE of proposed emergency rulemaking to ban decorative grass watering

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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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