DAILY DIGEST, 5/31: First drought, then flood. Can the West learn to live between extremes?; Bauer-Kahan’s bill to protect water supply passes Assembly; Westlands Water District lets bounty of flood water flow to the ocean; Wet year promises a boost to both Colorado River Basin reservoirs and ecosystems; and more …

On the calendar today …

  • WEBINAR: Advancing The Groundwater Accounting Platform in California from 12pm to 1pm.  The Groundwater Accounting Platform is an open-source tool that helps California water managers, landowners, and water users track water budgets and usage more easily in near real-time. Originally developed in 2018 by Rosedale Rio Bravo Water Storage District and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the California Water Data Consortium and EDF are partnering to expand the Platform to new regions, and to provide additional features and functionalities to help more groundwater agencies and landowners track water use allocations under SGMA.  Click here to register.

In California water news today …

First drought, then flood. Can the West learn to live between extremes?

“The shadows were long and the wind across the flatlands fierce as trucks and ATVs began pulling into Chepo Gonzales’s yard one afternoon this March. “Did you double up your socks today?” Gonzales teased one of the arrivals, a man who complained about cold feet during the previous night’s patrol. Another man leaned out the window of his truck and offered a more serious status report: “There’s a lot of water out there, but it’s flowing north.”  There was so much water, in fact, that across the state it was spilling over the banks of rivers and bursting the walls of levees. For more than a week, Gonzales and his neighbors had been doing their rounds three to four times a day, looking for signs of danger along the various creeks and canals that surrounded Allensworth, a small town of houses, trailers and barns tucked amid the vast, flat farms of the San Joaquin Valley in central California. … ”  Read more from the New York Times (gift article).

Bauer-Kahan’s bill to protect water supply passes Assembly

“AB 460 authored by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) passed off the Assembly floor. Bauer-Kahan is the Chair of the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee, and is championing AB 460 to address the drought emergency by strengthening the State Water Resources Control Board’s management of water use.  “We do not have the regulatory strength to handle the new normal of megadrought,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan. “Illegal water diversion can become the difference between access to water or dry taps in the future.”  AB 460 empowers the State Water Board to act swiftly to prevent water use in emergencies. In the coming years, experts foresee increasing demands for water without the resources to sustain them. When water is wasted – it is gone forever. In the drought California is facing, that water loss can be disastrous. … ”  Read more from Contra Costa News.

Can retiring farmland make California’s Central Valley more equitable?

“The West is not just facing an energy transition, it is also at the beginning of a major transition in land and water use. In California’s Central Valley, groundwater regulations will require retiring between 500,000 and 1 million acres by 2040. (Retirement, or “fallowing,” refers to taking lands out of agricultural production.) The planning and decision-making now underway across more than 260 regional Groundwater Sustainability Agencies will determine how SGMA plays out across different groundwater basins: whether landowners will be compensated for retired lands, what the lands will become and who will manage them, and how counties will replace the revenues they currently collect from agricultural lands and use to help provide services to residents in need.  But while groundwater sustainability is SGMA’s focus, it’s not the only thing on Central Valley residents’ minds: They also need jobs, as well as clean air and water. … ”  Read more from High Country News.

Westlands Water District lets bounty of flood water flow to the ocean instead of maximizing groundwater recharge

Groundwater recharge – or the lack of it – was a driving force behind the sweep of new board members who took over the behemoth Westlands Water District last fall.  “Urgently develop groundwater recharge,” was the top plank in the platform of four candidates who won election in November.  And the district has, indeed, built a 30,000-acre network of grower-owned recharge ponds with enough capacity to recharge, or absorb, 3,300 acre feet a day into the overtapped aquifer.   So, it was surprising that the district showed it was only recharging a total of about 572 acre feet per day through April 30, according to a report at Westlands’ May 16 board meeting. A map presented at the meeting shows only a small fraction of recharge ponds in use. … ”  Read more from SJV Water.

SEE ALSO: Westlands Water District May 16, 2023, coverage of meeting by Water Wrights

A conversation about flood risk with Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara

Flooding in Merced County. Photo taken January 11, 2023. Photo by Andrew Innerarity / DWR

“As California contends with floods this year, PPIC Water Policy Center director Ellen Hanak spoke with Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara about how to better protect the state’s residents from flood risk, which is growing in our changing climate.  Q: How many people are insured for floods in California?  A: There are two important things to know about the flood insurance landscape in California. First, Californians have an insurance protection gap: only 2% of Californians have flood insurance. The vast majority don’t have it, even though flooding is expensive and common. Second, we have a knowledge gap: most people don’t know that home insurance doesn’t cover floods, or that much of the state is at risk of flooding. Every county in California has experienced a flood emergency in the last 20 years, and 40% of flood claims come from policyholders outside of the highest-risk flood zones. … ”  Read more from the PPIC.

USGS report predicts rising sea levels threaten California’s coast

“As the Earth’s ice melts and sea levels rise, cities along the coast are considering ways to hold back the rising waters. But a new government study predicts that many of California’s most iconic beaches are in danger of disappearing.  As he takes one of his regular walks along the sidewalk overlooking the Santa Cruz coastline, Pat Terrault says the evidence of climate change is there for everyone to see.  “It’s a little bit more severe than previous years,” he said. “Yeah, I can see that people are going to have to start worrying a little bit more about what’s going on.”  West Cliff Drive was battered by a massive storm on January 5th. Now there is caution tape in places and warning signs at the cliff’s edge. University of California, Santa Cruz earth sciences professor Gary Griggs says a seven-foot swell and 27-foot waves rose up over the cliffs, flooding the street and eroding the natural sea wall. … ”  Read more from CBS News.

Can this $24 device help you be more water-wise? We decided to find out

Adam Tschorn writes, “Last fall, before the epic, near-biblical rains of early 2023 pushed California’s historic drought off our collective radar, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced a pilot water-conservation program that sounded too good to be true.  According to the announcement, for just $24, single-family homeowners in the city would be able to track real-time water usage, detect leaks and create a water budget from a smartphone app using a Wi-Fi-enabled, easy-to-install Flume water-meter sensor.  Both eager to conserve water where I could and cynical that the gadget would end up being as affordable, user-friendly and effective as described, I took the plunge and ordered one. After it arrived in mid-October, I embarked on a five-month water-use odyssey that involved a whole lot of serious sleuthing, a couple of DIY plumbing projects and at least one near-death experience inside my home. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

Nevada fight over leaky irrigation canal and groundwater more complicated than appears on surface

“Water conflicts are nothing new to the arid West, where myriad users long have vied for their share of the precious resource from California’s Central Valley to the Colorado and Missouri rivers.  But few have waded into the legal question playing out in rural Nevada: To what extent can local residents, farmers and ranchers claim the water that is soaking into the ground through the dirt floor of an antiquated, unlined irrigation canal?  A federal appeals court recently breathed new life into litigation that has entangled the U.S. government and the high-desert town of Fernley ever since a 118-year-old canal burst and flooded hundreds of homes in 2008. … ”  Read more from ABC News.

NOAA aids largest-ever West Coast oyster data map

“An interactive map made possible by NOAA technical experts is boosting the odds for successful restoration of the dwindling native Olympia oyster along much of the North American West Coast. The map draws on 2,000-plus records for this species and the non-native Pacific oyster, and by doing so, illustrates where healthy oyster networks are located, and where targeted restoration efforts could yield big benefits.  The data-collection project was led by a duo of scientists—one from The Pew Charitable Trusts and one from the Native Olympia Oyster Collaborative who works for California’s Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. This research reserve and three others—South Slough in Oregon, Padilla Bay in Washington, and Tijuana River in California—contributed project data. The NOAA Office for Coastal Management provided technical mapping assistance. … ”  Read more from NOAA.

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In commentary today …

President Biden and Speaker McCarthy, US taxpayers shouldn’t pay big agribusiness’ water bills

The Hoopa Valley Tribe writes, “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accuses President Joe Biden of “playing politics” with the U.S. debt limit by saying, “We got to get moving . . . we can’t spend more money next year, we have to spend less than the year before.” Yet, on his watch, the Speaker is giving a pass to his Central Valley agribusiness constituents on more than $400 million dollars they owe the U.S. Treasury for environmental damages!  How did we get here? …

Click here to continue reading from the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

Making our water safe and affordable

Larry Levine, Senior Attorney and Director, Urban Water Infrastructure, People & Communities Program for the NRDC, writes, “Every community needs safe drinking water to protect public health and to sustain the local economy. And every single person needs access to safe water just to survive—for drinking, cooking, bathing, sanitation, and, as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted, simply keeping our hands and homes clean to prevent disease.   Yet, in many communities, water fails to meet safe drinking water standards, which are often too weak to begin with and must be strengthened. This exposes millions of people to toxic chemicals like lead and the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. Communities of color and lower-income communities disproportionately bear the brunt.   At the same time, in every community, there are people—often many people—who struggle to afford their water and sewer bills and face severe consequences. … ”  Continue reading at the NRDC.

If we can’t bring water to the crops, we should bring crops to the water

Jennifer Sensiba writes, “There’s a very interesting image floating around social media now that makes a point I’ve been trying to make for years about the Colorado River. … As the flowchart shows, it’s really foolish to blame things like golf courses for the water shortage. Even if every golf course and swimming pool were permanently closed, most of the problem would still remain. Even cutting out all municipal and industrial uses would leave much of the shortfall unsolved.  Even among agriculture, which accounts for the majority of water use, things are not all equal. Plants like cotton, wheat, and corn just don’t use that much water in the region, leaving the brunt of the water usage up to livestock feed crops, with alfalfa being a big part of it.  What makes the problem even more strange is that 20% of the livestock feed crops get exported to places like China and Saudi Arabia, so we’re basically exporting 10% of the water in the Colorado River overseas when we’re short of domestic needs. … ”  Read the full commentary at Clean Technica.

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Today’s featured article …

FEATURE: Sturgeon Arose During the Jurassic—Can They Survive the Anthropocene?

Written by Robin Meadows

Sturgeon have been around far longer than humans—a jaw-dropping 200 million years to our comparatively short 6 million—and survived the cataclysm that terminated the age of dinosaurs. But can these ancient fish survive the age of people?

New insights into the secret lives of these little-known fish, as well as into their increasing vulnerability, suggest ways of strengthening protections for sturgeon in California.

All 27 remaining species of sturgeon live in the northern hemisphere and all are at risk. Threats include overfishing, poaching for their caviar, and dams that block access to their spawning grounds. Fish in the San Francisco Bay are also threatened by harmful algal blooms called red tides, which release toxins that can kill aquatic life.

Continue reading this article.

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In regional water news and commentary today …


Siskiyou County asks Gov. Newsom to end drought emergency

“The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors recently asked Governor Gavin Newson to end the drought emergency in the county.  In a signed letter, the Board of Supervisors cited heavy snowpack and precipitation as a reason to end the drought emergency.  As of May, the Scott River Basin snowpack measured 168% of the average snowpack. … ”  Read more from KOBI.

Environmental group claims PG&E’s California hydroelectric project violates Endangered Species Act

“An environmental nonprofit citizens’ group is claiming PG&E is violating the Endangered Species Act with its hydroelectric project in Northern California.  Friends of the Eel River, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association and others filed a complaint May 16 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Eureka Division against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) alleging violation of the Endangered Species Act and other claims. … ”  Read more from Legal Newsline.

Hank Seemann On Humboldt County’s negotiating positions as PG&E ends the Potter Valley Project

PG&E will not relicense the Potter Valley Project that dams the Eel river for transfer to their generating station in the upper reaches of the East Branch of the Russian River.  Hank Seemann is the Public Works Deputy Director for Humboldt County. He is Humboldt County’s representative to the Russian River Water Forum that met for the first time on Wednesday May 17th. Kelley Lincoln reached out to get a better understanding of Humboldt County’s perspective of the Forum and Humboldt County’s role there. 


Lake Tahoe’s Truckee River Rafting announces sudden closure

“Sadly, there will be no Truckin’ on the Truckee anytime soon. The Lake Tahoe summer vacation tradition of floating the Truckee River from Tahoe City to River Ranch will not be happening during June and July—and maybe not even all summer. The winter snowpack has filled the lake to a point where runoff into the Truckee is too great to allow for safe rafting of the river. The Truckee River Rafting company announced yesterday that it would not be taking any reservations for June and July bookings but may be able to open by August, depending on water conditions. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Standard.


Anderson residents continue to ask for help as A.C.I.D canal floods local neighborhoods

“The Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D), held a regular board meeting Monday night, which many Anderson residents attended to once again address their concerns over flooding in neighborhoods due to the A.C.I.D canal.  The Anderson area tends to see some of this flooding every year and it lasts anywhere from seven to ten days, according to one Anderson resident. As of Tuesday, these residents have entered into their 5th week of this water with no signs of it getting better. … ”  Read more from KRCR.


Steelhead trout are struggling on California’s Central Coast. How scientists want to save them

“It’s a fickle fish — one that evades even the most experienced anglers and darts for cover when curious passersby try to spot its freckled body against the backdrop of a gravel-lined stream.  Despite capturing the attention of many local scientists and conservationists, California’s Central Coast steelhead trout remain listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to the latest review of the species released in May by the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. … ”  Read more from Yahoo News.

Rainy start to 2023 brings mixed impacts to local avocado growers

“Despite the rainy winter seen on the Central Coast this year, one local grower in Morro Bay says they are harvesting more fruit than in previous years.  “It is hard to speak about other farms, but for us, it has been very beneficial with the rain,” said Bruce Harwood, store manager of the Morro Creek Ranch off Highway 41 and Morro Road.  He says the drainage systems on their ranch helped keep standing rainwater from damaging their tree farm, which has resulted in a longer harvesting season.  “It has been a bumper crop this year,” Harwood added. “As opposed to 2021, where the crop was basically done at the end of January, for 2022, here we are and we still have that crop.” … ”  Read more from KSBY.


City of Bakersfield maintains water restrictions, even as Cal Water eases grip

“While the state’s largest water company loosened its water use restrictions earlier this month, Bakersfield officials made it clear on Friday they intend to stay the current course. In the city’s weekly newsletter, officials assured residents they are still in stage two of their water savings program, after some customers of the city’s water service provider, Bakersfield Domestic Water System, “inadvertently” received a postcard from California Water Service that said otherwise. Decisions by Cal Water don’t affect residents who use the city’s water system, which provides water to about 40% of Bakersfield residents, city spokesperson Joe Conroy said. … ”  Read more from the Bakersfield Californian.


Mono Lake’s exciting rise may well disappear

“The incredibly wet winter of 2023 has us anticipating an exciting 5½-foot rise in Mono Lake’s level by fall. That gain will boost the lake 30% of the way to the mandated healthy level that will protect the lake, its ecosystem and wildlife, air quality, cultural resources, and more.  But this important progress toward the long-overdue management level will be lost if stream diversions by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) continue unchanged.  In short, one wet year is not a management plan, nor a remedy to the inadequacies of the now outdated rules the California State Water Resources Control Board established to raise the lake to the Public Trust lake level of 6392 feet above sea level by 2014. With the lake a decade late and a dozen feet short of reaching that critical level, State Water Board action is urgently needed to lock in the gains Mono Lake will see this year and keep it on a rising trajectory. … ”  Continue reading at the Mono Lake Committee.


In the Spotlight: Measuring and forecasting L.A.’s water supply

“Many Angelenos and employees are not aware that all of the Los Angeles Aqueduct water supply forecast modeling is done by just one engineer in LADWP’s Water Operations division’s Aqueduct Forecasting and Operations group. For 29 years, that role has been filled by Civil Engineering Associate Paul Scantlin. … To better understand the full picture of the work that goes into measuring and then forecasting the City’s water supply, it is helpful to start from the beginning.  Snow surveying, or the measuring of snow depths to determine spring and summer water runoff, began in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range in 1906 with the work of Dr. James Church of the University of Nevada at Reno. … ”  Read more from the LA DWP.


California agreed to reduce its Colorado River usage, but San Diego might not see a change

“In a historic consensus, California, alongside the six other states that rely on the Colorado River for survival, announced an agreement last week for a plan to cut back water usage over the next three years. … While the proposal has not yet been approved by federal regulators, San Diego County residents might already be asking themselves whether this crucial, statewide conservation effort might impact their household water supply.  But, the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) Colorado River Program Manager Alexi Schnell says that it’s not likely. … ”  Read more from Fox 5.

Farming the future: Aquafarms cultivate sustainable oysters

“In a past life, I was a substitute teacher. I’d tell the kids fun facts about myself, a rarely successful attempt to get them to think of me as human so they wouldn’t throw markers at me. I’d grown up in a desert, I’d inform them. I love ice hockey. My favorite animals are oysters.  Once, a tiny sixth grader raised his hand. “Do you eat oysters?”  “I do!” I said.  He gazed at me with dawning horror. “Why would you eat your favorite animal?”  “Well,” I stammered. “They don’t have brains.” His lip trembled. I knew abruptly that I would not be able to avoid the airborne markers. I had become a flesh-eating monster.  It’s easy to explain why I eat oysters—they’re delicious. Explaining why they’re my favorite animals takes longer. … ”  Read more from San Diego Magazine.

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Along the Colorado River …

A wet year promises a boost to both Colorado River Basin reservoirs and ecosystems

Colorado River from Moab Rim. Photo by the USGS.

“The network of pipes and massive bathtubs that is the Colorado River Basin’s reservoir storage system is going to see some recovery this year thanks to higher-than-average snowpack. That’s a promising sign for aquatic habitats in need of a health boost.  Overuse and a 23-year drought have drawn down the water stored in reservoirs across the basin, which spans seven states, 30 Native American tribes and part of Mexico. Recently, one of the basin’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell, even needed emergency releases from upstream reservoirs, including Blue Mesa Reservoir in western Colorado, to safeguard against a looming crisis.  As most water officials and experts will emphasize, one good year of snow won’t solve the crisis. But this year, the system’s largest reservoirs will end the year with more water than they had at the start, and water managers don’t foresee any need for drought-related releases from Blue Mesa. … ”  Read more from the Colorado Sun.

The farmers fretting over Colorado River water even before latest cuts

“In 2022, the Colorado River water allocated for farmers in central Arizona – the state’s tri-county urban and agricultural heartland – was cut by 65% overall, but most Pinal county farmers lost 80% or more. This year the allocation is virtually zero, as the river’s complex priority system means farmers in central Arizona currently bear the brunt of the state’s reduced allocation.  This was the case even before this month’s historic deal in which Arizona, California and Nevada agreed a plan which would cut their Colorado water consumption by 13% over the next three years – if adopted. … About half the irrigated farmland will be left unplanted in Pinal county this year, and hundreds of rural jobs have already been lost. Farms are having to rely almost exclusively on groundwater, further depleting the aquifers. … ”  Read more from The Guardian.

Saving endangered fish one weir at a time

“Protecting and responding to threats of the Colorado River endangered fishes (Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub) are an important part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s mission. Threats such as fish entrainment in water diversions, have long been recognized by resource managers as a threat to native, especially endangered and threatened fish in the Colorado River Basin. … Though construction of fish screens has been historically the recommended alternative for protection of fish at most Reclamation projects, there are still many concerns that arise with the use of screens, especially when used in canals.  In 2007, a team of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees met to study the Hogback Diversion Canal on the San Juan River within Navajo Nation lands in New Mexico, to modify the structure to prevent the loss of endangered fish at this diversion facility. … ”  Read more from the Bureau of Reclamation.

As the Supreme Court debates a Navajo water rights case, climate change adds new questions

“It’s an effort for 73-year-old Percy Deal to haul water to his home on the Navajo Nation.  Every three weeks, he loads two 55-gallon drums into his truck and drives 20 miles on rough, unpaved roads to the public water supply. To keep trips to a minimum, he uses a splash pad in his kitchen where he can save water in a basin and reuse it multiple times for handwashing and other chores.  He’s given up on having enough water to grow crops, which he remembers neighbors doing on Black Mesa when he was growing up.  News of water shortages, exacerbated by climate change, population growth, mining and other development, is everywhere these days in the American Southwest.  But on the Navajo Reservation, a sovereign tribal nation that sits on about 16 million acres in northeast Arizona, southern Utah and western New Mexico, nearly 10,000 homes have never had running water.  How that can and should be resolved is one aspect of a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20, with the justices’ decision due any day now. … ”  Read more from The Guardian.

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In national water news today …

Ranchers hail, environmentalists fear Supreme Court clean water ruling

“Ranchers and Republican lawmakers are welcoming a Supreme Court ruling that narrows the range of waters subject to federal regulation, calling it a win for private property rights that reins in overeager regulators.  “It’s very difficult to navigate federal processes, very difficult. And it seems particularly silly in a case where you’re getting a permit for water that’s almost never there,” said Jeff Eisenberg, director of policy for the Arizona Cattle Grower’s Association, of the costly and cumbersome process of getting government permits.  But environmental groups said the ruling in Sackett v. EPA will be “disastrous for Arizona, where water is rare and protecting it is critically important to both people and endangered species.”  “It leaves almost all of Arizona’s creeks, springs and washes without any federal protections against water pollution.” said Taylor McKinnon, Southwest director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “If you love swimming in polluted creeks, this ruling is for you.” … ”  Read more from Cronkite News.

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NASA Snow Report for May 23 …


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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

NOTICE: U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Sackett – Army Corps Approved Jurisdictional Determinations (AJDs) Paused

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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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