WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for September 10-15: El Niño just ramped up. What does it mean for CA?; Lawmakers approve bill to strengthen oversight of water rights; State flows plan advances in, out of court; and more …

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

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In California water news this week …

El Niño just ramped up. What does it mean for California weather?

“El Niño just ramped up.  On Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center extended its El Niño advisory for a fourth straight month. The agency forecasts greater than 95% odds that El Niño conditions continue through March and a 71% chance of a “strong” El Niño.  The atmospheric pattern, synonymous with warmer global temperatures and intense regional rainfall, is connected to ocean temperatures.  Eastern equatorial Pacific ocean temperatures are currently 1.6 degrees Celsius above normal. If this part of the sea remains at least 0.5 degrees Celsius above normal through the end of October, an official El Niño year will be declared. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle (gift article).

Lawmakers approve plan to strengthen oversight of California water rights

“California legislators have passed a bill that aims to close a long-standing loophole in the state’s water laws: Until now, regulators haven’t had clear authority to investigate the water rights of some of the biggest water users.  These senior water right holders, with claims dating to before 1914, use roughly a third of the water that is diverted, on average, from the state’s rivers and streams. They include cities and individual landowners, as well as agricultural irrigation districts supplying farms that produce nuts, rice and other crops.  The bill, Senate Bill 389, passed in a 50-17 Assembly vote on Tuesday and is expected to be among the bills presented to Gov. Gavin Newsom for signing. … ”  Read more from the LA Times. | Read via the Union Bulletin.

California lawmakers move to ban irrigation of some decorative lawns

“California businesses and institutions will have to stop irrigating decorative grassy areas with drinkable water under legislation approved by state lawmakers.  The bill now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature. Newsom’s office declined to comment today, but he previously called for an irrigation ban that led to a similar emergency measure that’s in effect until next June.  Authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a Democrat from Burbank, the legislation would ban use of potable water — water that is safe to drink — to irrigate ornamental lawns or grasses at businesses, institutions, industrial facilities and certain developments. The grass could only be irrigated with recycled water.  The aim of the legislation is to force businesses to tear out their lawns and replace them with landscapes that use much less water. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters.

Bay Delta Plan: State Water Board adopts initial biological goals for the Lower San Joaquin River

“At the September 6 State Water Resources Control Board meeting, Board members took another step forward in the long-running effort to update the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan (or Bay-Delta Plan) by unanimously approving initial biological goals for the Lower San Joaquin River.  Erin Foresman, Environmental Program Manager, led the staff presentation.  As a framework for protecting beneficial uses in the Bay-Delta watershed, the Bay-Delta Plan establishes water quality objectives and outlines a comprehensive plan for their implementation.  However, despite the requirement to review and update the Plan at least every three years, this has only occurred three times since the first plan was adopted in 1978.  The most recent revision dates back to 2006, and efforts to update it have been in progress since 2009. … ”  Continue reading at Maven’s Notebook.

State flows plan advances in, out of court

“Central Valley water districts subject to a state plan that diverts flows from the San Joaquin River tributaries downstream for fish are working to achieve a more holistic approach for the fishery through voluntary agreements, while also challenging the state’s flows-only approach in court.  Central to the issue is a plan adopted in 2018 by the California State Water Resources Control Board that requires affected water users to leave unimpaired flows of 30% to 50% in three San Joaquin tributaries—the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. The work is the first phase of the state’s water quality control plan update for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, known as the Bay-Delta plan.  Districts, farmers and residents of the affected region have protested the plan, saying it would do little to restore salmon and other fish populations while cutting water supplies to the northern San Joaquin Valley. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert.

How might small farms fare under SGMA?

“Change is coming to the heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley. We know that a combination of climate change, new environmental regulations, and especially the implementation of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) are leading to a decline in water available for irrigation. (By 2040, overall farm supplies in the valley could drop by as much as 20%—and irrigated cropland by nearly 900,000 acres.) But what we haven’t known is how these changes could impact farms of different sizes in the valley—and there is understandable concern about how the shift will play out, particularly for smaller farms that have fewer resources and capacity to adapt. … ”  Read more from the PPIC.

Story map:  Floodplain restoration and recharge pilot Studies: Evaluating the multiple benefits of increasing floodplain inundation

“Recent cycles of extreme drought and flood, and the passage of the  Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)  provide an enhanced opportunity to strengthen the nexus between flood and groundwater management. The need for using floodwaters for managed aquifer recharge, also known as  Flood-MAR , is urgent and must be considered as a crucial part of California’s portfolio of sustainable and resilient water resource management strategies. This approach can be utilized on floodplains and flood bypasses to reduce flood risk and increase groundwater recharge potential, as well as provide ecosystem benefits through restored and reconnected floodplains. … ”  View Story Map from DWR.

DWR installs illuminated bubble barrier to help young salmon migrate safely through Delta

“To help young salmon survive their perilous migration through the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) has begun installing a bioacoustic fish fence at the junction of the Sacramento River and Georgiana Slough. Once fully installed, the fence will help sensitive fish species safely traverse through the Delta, including winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon.  Bioacoustics is a cross-disciplinary science that combines biology and acoustics in the investigation of sound production, dispersion, and reception in animals. The fence uses a combination of bubbles, light, and sound to discourage migrating salmon from entering Georgiana Slough where their chances of survival decrease. As they travel downstream through the Delta, they disperse among its complex network of channels where they are subject to a variety of conditions that affect their rate of migration; vulnerability to predation; feeding success; growth rates; and ultimately, survival. … ”  Read more from DWR News.

DELTA SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT: Fall X2 Action, Delta collaborative modeling project funded

“At the August meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Delta Lead Scientist Dr. Laurel Larsen discussed a recent study on the Fall X2 action.  She also announced funding for a Delta collaborative modeling project.The article for the August spotlight was recently published in the San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science.  The article, Flow Augmentations Modify an Estuarine Prey Field, addresses how endangered fish populations respond to Delta inflow, an important issue for many processes, such as voluntary agreements and water project operations in the Delta. … ”  Continue reading from Maven’s Notebook.

Stormwater biofiltration increases coho salmon hatchling survival

“A relatively simple, inexpensive method of filtering urban stormwater runoff dramatically boosted survival of newly hatched coho salmon in an experimental study, according to a press release from Washington State University (WSU).  The findings, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, are consistent with previous research on adult and juvenile coho that found exposure to untreated roadway runoff that typically winds up in waterways during storms resulted in mortality of 60% or more. For the coho hatchlings in this study, mortality from runoff exposure was even higher at 87%.  When the stormwater was run through a biofiltration method — essentially layers of mulch, compost, sand and gravel — nearly all the coho hatchlings survived, though many of resulting fish had smaller eyes and body sizes than a control group. … ”  Read more from Stormwater Solutions.

Water Board advances water resilience and safe drinking water through $1.2 billion in financial assistance

“Building on historic state and federal investments in water infrastructure that strengthen California’s resilience to extreme weather and climate change, the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Financial Assistance distributed nearly $1.2 billion during the past fiscal year (July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023) to water systems and communities to bolster supplies, expand groundwater recharge and improve access to safe drinking water.  Over $200 million went to clean water projects that further the state’s commitment to developing new supplies through water recycling, stormwater capture and groundwater
recharge as described by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s August 2022 Water Supply Strategy.  When complete, the projects funded the past fiscal year alone will add approximately 165,000 acre-feet per year to the state’s supplies, enough to sustain 486,000 households annually. Nearly all of this new supply, or about 161,000 acre-feet, will be generated through projects that recharge groundwater. … ”  Continue reading from the State Water Resources Control Board.

EPA agrees to protect waterways from harmful ship discharges

“The Environmental Protection Agency agreed Friday to finalize nationwide standards that will protect U.S. waterways from the harmful effects of discharges from ships.  Under the agreement, the EPA must release its final standards on vessel discharges by Sept. 24, 2024. The standards are required by the Clean Water Act. … “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to address pollution from oceangoing vessels as required by the Clean Water Act has caused significant harm to aquatic ecosystems. One type of vessel pollution, ballast water, is widely recognized as a major pathway for the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species and human and animal pathogens,” the groups said in their complaint. “Non-native plants and animals, harmful algae, and diseases are carried in ballast water and cause great economic and environmental damage when they are subsequently released into and invade new waters.” … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service.

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In regional water news this week …

Judge finds feds violated law by favoring irrigators in the Klamath Basin

The Klamath River in winter near Happy Camp, California, also known as the Steelhead Capital of the world. Photo by Matt Baun/USFWS.

“A magistrate judge in Oregon sided with the Klamath Tribes on Monday in finding that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act by misallocating limited water supplies from the Upper Klamath Lake, harming endangered sucker fish and other aquatic wildlife.  In the 52-page findings and recommendation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke found the central question is whether the federal government broke the law by allocating water for irrigation when it knew it could not comply with its Endangered Species Act obligations to endangered sucker fish in the Upper Klamath Lake, a freshwater reservoir in the southern Oregon portion of the Klamath Basin.  “The answer to this question is yes,” Clarke wrote, adding that the courts have held that irrigators’ rights are subservient to the bureau’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act and the tribes’ fishing and water rights. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service.

The wrong kind of blooms: Climate change, invasive clams are fueling algae growth on Lake Tahoe

“While out enjoying an afternoon on one of Lake Tahoe’s sandy beaches over the past few years, you might have noticed large mats of decomposing algae washing up or floating nearby. The lake’s famed blue waters are facing another threat while the battles of climate change and invasive species wage on — and it’s all very much connected.  Nearshore algae blooms are a burgeoning ecological threat to Tahoe. Not only do they impact the experience for beachgoers, but they also degrade water quality and, in some cases, pose a threat of toxicity.  Over the last 50 years, the rate of algal growth has increased sixfold, according to U.C. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center’s 2022 State of the Lake Report. Between 2021 and 2022 alone, the amount of algae growing in the lake jumped up 300%. … ” Continue reading from the Sierra Sun.

SF water main break sheds light on aging infrastructure where 20% of water pipes are 100 years old

“Work is still underway on a sinkhole in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood. A section of Fillmore Street remains closed after a water main broke Monday damaging the street and nearby homes and businesses.  Repairs to the water main have been fixed, but that’s just the beginning.  ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena has been covering this story and on Turesday went with one of the crews surveying the damage.  “Between homes and commercial buildings we have surveyed 116 and we are currently working on 68 right now,” said Victor Cervantes with Service Master Restore.  … ”  Read more from KGO.

Santa Cruz:High and dry:Problems persist for Big Basin Water Company’s customers

“Vito Dettore pulls his car up next to the Boulder Creek Pharmacy on a hot mountain afternoon—but he’s not here to pick up a prescription.  Dettore, like many area residents, has stopped to stock up on clean water from a tank next door to the pharmacy. … Big Basin Water Company (BBWC) customers have relied on this water service for weeks after having their drinking water service interrupted. While some service has been restored, there are ongoing concerns about the water’s quality and of recurring interruptions throughout BBWC’s service area. … ”  Read more from Good Times Santa Cruz.

Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board of directors to consider takeover of Cal-Am water system

“While the California American Water Co. has repeatedly said they have no plans to sell their water system that serves much of the Monterey Peninsula, the local water management district board of directors is considering using eminent domain to take over the system.  The public will get a chance to weigh in on that possibility at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in a hearing in the Irvine Auditorium at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, 499 Pierce St., Monterey.  “The purpose of the hearing is to consider adoption of a resolution of necessity,” explained District General Manager Dave Stoldt.  The resolution of necessity would entail taking by eminent domain the Monterey water system, which is currently privately owned, operated and held by Cal Am. If approved, the water system would be converted to public ownership and controlled by the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. … ” Read more from the Monterey Herald.

Central Valley communities of color lack flood control. Would representation on water boards help?

“During three weeks in December and January, storms dumped 32 trillion gallons of rain and snow on California. With it came unwelcome floods for many communities of color.  The winter and spring storms were a rare chance for drought-stricken communities to collect rainwater, rather than have their farms, homes and more overwhelmed by water. Much of the rain that fell instead overflowed in lakes and streams, leading to disaster in low-income Central Valley towns like Allensworth and Planada.  “It’s a long history of disinvestment in disadvantaged communities and communities of color, in drinking infrastructure, water systems and flood control,” said Michael Claiborne, an attorney for the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, an environmental justice organization based in the San Joaquin and East Coachella Valleys. … ”  Read more from Fresnoland.

Tule River tribe suffers chronic water problems, even in record wet year

“Despite a record snowpack that has kept the South Fork of the Tule River flowing at a steady clip, residents of the Tule River Reservation – who get 60 percent of their supplies directly from the river – were recently without water for eight days.  The problem, ironically, was too much water. Specifically, from Hurricane Hilary.  When the late summer storm drenched dry, burn-scarred mountainsides, the runoff brought a torrent of muck with it and fouled the reservation’s intake and treatment system.  But Hilary was just the tribe’s most recent go-round with water problems from an outdated system built to serve a fraction of the homes now on the reservation. … ”  Read more from SJV Water.

Tulare Lake flood shrinks to less than half its peak size

Metropolitan improving water supply reliability for 7 million people

“Millions of Southern Californians who were required to dramatically reduce their water use last year will have increased access to water supplies in the future under two projects advanced today by Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors.  The projects separately work to push water from the Colorado River and Diamond Valley Lake, Southern California’s largest reservoir, into communities that currently have limited access to these diverse and stored supplies. Today these communities, home to nearly 7 million people, heavily depend on water delivered through the State Water Project from Northern California. When SWP supplies were severely limited during the recent state drought, they faced mandatory measures to reduce water use by more than 35%.  “The severity of our recent drought revealed vulnerabilities and inequities in our water supply and delivery system,” Metropolitan board Chairman Adán Ortega, Jr. said. … ”  Read more from the Metropolitan Water District.

San Diego: Bill passes forcing county vote on water district exits, but won’t affect Fallbrook, Rainbow

The San Diego Canal leaving Diamond Valley Lake.

“A bill requiring a countywide vote before individual water districts can detach from an agency passed the Assembly on Tuesday, but it won’t prevent residents of Fallbrook and Rainbow from voting on Nov. 7.  Assembly Bill 399 passed on a vote of 47 to 8, with 25 members, including Assemblymember Marie Waldron from North County, not voting. It now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom, but if he signs it into law, it won’t take effect until Jan. 1.  The two rural districts are seeking to join the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County, which draws primarily from the Colorado River and the State Water Project, to secure lower-cost water for farmers. … ”  Read more from the Times of San Diego.

Las Vegas is asking companies that want to move or expand there to show how much water they plan to use

“Las Vegas isn’t just a hot spot for revelers.  Thousands of businesses, particularly from California, have moved to the region over the past few decades, and the population is booming alongside other Southwestern cities.  All of that growth in a region plagued by extreme heat, drought, and a dwindling water supply raises tough questions for city and state officials who want to spur economic growth without draining the Colorado River dry. In one example of that challenge, Arizona’s governor in June halted construction in areas around Phoenix, citing a lack of groundwater.  Yet officials in greater Las Vegas told Insider their city is well positioned for growth thanks to decades of water-conservation measures — the latest of which involves a new tool that evaluates the water use of companies interested in moving to the region or expanding operations. … ”  Read more from Business Insider.

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