DAILY DIGEST, 7/9: CA Supreme Court reverses CPUC on water surcharges; Why this historic heat wave refuses to break; Carquinez Strait: Where Sierra snow meets the SF Bay; Guide to Prop 4: CA Climate bond; and more …

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In California water news today …

California Supreme Court reverses Public Utilities Commission on water surcharges

“The California Supreme Court on Monday reversed the state’s Public Utilities Commission’s 2020 order that stopped water companies from using certain surcharges when their revenue falls short because of conservation efforts.  The court agreed with a group of water companies that the commission hadn’t clearly informed them that it would consider eliminating the so-called decoupling mechanisms — initially prompted by years of drought and the need to conserve water — in the scoping memos for the yearslong rulemaking proceedings that culminated in the 2020 order.  The scoping memos identify what possible rule changes the commission will be considering, and they give the utilities an opportunity to prepare their arguments and evidence to address them. In this case, the court said, the memos only referred to how to improve water sales forecasting, not to eliminating the decoupling mechanisms. … ” Read more from the Courthouse News Service.

SEE ALSOCalifornia State Supreme Court Safeguards Water Utilities Decoupling and Due Process Rights, press release from the California Water Association

California heat dome: Why this historic heat wave refuses to break

“The intense heat wave event engulfing much of California has been going steady for a week and shows no signs of slowing down across the interior until the coming weekend. By that point, many interior locations will have been under some kind of heat advisory for over nine days.  The anomalous length of this heat wave is showing up in all kinds of statistics beyond just the all-time record high temperatures that were set over the weekend. From July 1-7, Redding’s average daily high temperature was an astonishing 112.6 degrees, with five consecutive days reaching at least 110 degrees. In Bakersfield, the temperature hasn’t dropped below 80 degrees since July 4. Meanwhile, Sacramento’s average daily temperature — calculated from daily highs and lows — has been 87 degrees since the start of the month, 11 degrees above normal, marking the hottest start to July on record for the city. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle (gift article).

Heat wave, wildfires pummel Northern California

“It’s not supposed to get this hot in Northern California.  Sacramento, about 90 miles northeast of San Francisco, is used to summertime highs in the mid-90s. Redding, some 160 miles north of Sacramento, gets highs around 100.  The mercury has been hitting, and on some days topping, 110 during the past week.  “We don’t ever consider that normal,” said Katrina Hand, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.  The cause of the extended heat wave, which is expected to last through this week, is a high-pressure system lingering over the region. Essentially, it’s a mass of hot air that’s parked and isn’t forecast to start moving away for several more days. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service.


Amid extreme heat, California adopts long-term water-saving targets for cities

“The blistering heat across California and the West over the last several days has been a stark reminder of how weather extremes are becoming more extreme with the burning of fossil fuels and how this demands a greater focus on adapting to rising temperatures not just today but years into the future.  Just as the heat was building last week, California officials made a major decision that will guide how urban water suppliers adapt between 2025 and 2040. The State Water Resources Control Board adopted regulations that will require suppliers in cities and towns to meet individualized water-use targets and conservation goals.  The targets under the new rules, which were required under 2018 legislation, will vary widely depending on each city’s circumstances. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

California drinking water map shows facilities at risk of failing

“Water systems located in nearly every single California county are at risk of failing, according to a map created by Newsweek using data from the California State Water Resources Control Board.  The board released its annual report in June as municipalities around the nation have considered improving their water-treatment systems to counteract cyberattacks or to meet new requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in the water supply.  PFAS levels are not currently included in the state water board’s criteria to assess water systems, but a spokesperson for the board previously told Newsweek that such criteria will likely be added in the next few years. … ”  Read more from Newsweek.

California fisheries Q&A with Dan Bacher

Dan Bacher. Notebook file photo.

“Dan Bacher has been fishing and writing about fishing and fisheries conservation for more than 50 years. Angling is the great passion of his life – and while reporting on California’s fisheries is his career, he also views it as a personal responsibility. In today’s impoverished and skewed news environment, Dan stands out as a journalist with a deep dedication to the resource he covers. He doesn’t just lead his field: he is unique.  The number of California journalists reporting on water and fisheries has dwindled drastically over the past two decades, and today there is no one covering the issues full-time other than Dan. His knowledge of his subjects is encyclopedic.  Today, Dan continues to report on fish and water for several publications, including the Daily Kos and the Stockton Record. He is also a board member of the California Water Impact Network and advises the group on fisheries policy. C-WIN caught up with Dan recently to discuss the status of California’s fisheries. The news, unhappily, is not good. … ”  Read more from the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN).

Sailing the Salt Line:  Carquinez Strait is where Sierra snow meets the San Francisco Bay, but the line of engagement between fresh and salt water is always moving.

“Twice a week, from the train that runs between Sacramento and Berkeley, I see the force of the Carquinez Strait’s water flowing and eddying under the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, and it is the best part of my commute. On every tide, billions of gallons of water rush from San Pablo Bay into Suisun Bay and back again through this mile-to-half-mile-wide, at points 120-foot-deep, eight-mile-long bottleneck. … A strait is a place of motion. Change is a constant in our universe, a fact we humans often struggle with, but certain places are especially good at reminding us of it. The Carquinez Strait itself was only just born, some 560,000 years ago—explosively, according to one theory—when a giant inland lake forced a path to the ocean. This created the unusual inverted river delta (with the fan pointing inland, instead of spreading out onto the coast) that is the San Francisco Bay.  Today, Carquinez Strait is where the coast meets the valley, but the line of engagement between fresh and salt water is always moving, and it even varies vertically in the water column. … ”  Read more from Bay Nature.

Conflicts in California’s food safety and sustainable agricultural practices

“On-farm food safety practices focus on mitigating sources of foodborne pathogens, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella enterica, and managing potential routes of exposure through water, soil, and animal movement. However, many practices conflict with practices designed to enhance sustainability or environmental quality.  Consequently, California growers must balance policy and program requirements for food safety and environmental protection to produce a safe, healthy, and sustainable food supply.  Foodborne illness outbreaks have serious consequences for agriculture by disrupting supply chains, shaking consumer confidence, and causing economic losses, and potentially resulting in illnesses and deaths. Recent outbreaks and liability concerns have increased pressure on growers to address food safety risks. … ”  Read more from California Agriculture.

Third District Court of Appeal holds the Department of Water Resources’ approval of amendments to existing water supply contracts under the State Water Project was proper

“In Planning & Conservation League v. Department of Water Resources (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 726, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the Department of Water Resources’ (“Department”) approval of amendments to existing water supply contracts under the State Water Project (“SWP”), finding (1) the amendments complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”); (2) the amendments were not a covered action under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act (“Delta Reform Act”); and (3) the Department had no duty to weigh the public trust interests. … ”  Read more from the Land Use Blog.

Your guide to Proposition 4: California Climate bond

“The Safe Drinking Water, Wildfire Prevention, Drought Preparedness, and Clean Air Bond Act of 2024 would have the state borrow $10 billion to pay for climate and environmental projects — including some that were axed from the budget because of an unprecedented deficit.  California taxpayers would pay the bond back with interest. A legislative analyst estimated it would cost the state $650 million a year for the next 30 years or more than $19 billion.  According to the 49-page proposal, $3.8 billion would be allocated to water projects, including those that provide for safe drinking water, recycle wastewater, store groundwater and control flooding. An additional $1.5 billion would be spent on wildfire protection, while $1.2 billion would go toward protecting the coast from sea level rise. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

California National Forests complete record number of prescribed fire acres

“As of 10 a.m. today, the USDA Forest Service has treated 63,878 acres with prescribed fire on national forests across the state. The previous record was set in 2018 when 63,711 acres were treated.  “We’re fully committed to increasing the scope and pace of our hazardous fuels treatment work in California, and it shows,” says Pacific Southwest Region Fire Director Jaime Gamboa. “Restoring natural fire to these ecosystems not only helps mitigate threats to communities but also increases forest health overall.”  All native vegetation types in California have adaptations to wildfire as a natural disturbance, and for many forests, it’s a necessary component to ecosystem health. The elimination of fire from these systems often leads to overcrowded, unhealthy forests. Trees are stressed, fire-dependent species disappear, and vegetation builds up — contributing to unnaturally high severity fires. … ”  Read more from the USDA Forest Service.

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In commentary today …

Exports and Bay Delta habitat – early July 2024

Tom Cannon writes, “This is an update on my last several posts on spring habitat conditions in the Bay-Delta in this Above Normal water year.  After a wet winter-spring with good Delta and Bay conditions in Above Normal water year 2024, June 2024 water project operations returned the river, Delta, and Bay to drought-year conditions.  I warned in late June that habitat conditions (flows and water temperatures) were getting bad and that a forecasted heat wave could make conditions even worse.  It’s happened.  The State Water Project (SWP) and the Central Valley Project (CVP) started moving water south in earnest at the beginning of July.  Shasta, Oroville, and Folsom reservoir releases increased, raising Delta inflow at Freeport to 20,000 cfs … ”  Read more from the California Fisheries Blog.

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In regional water news and commentary today …


Grasshopper apocalypse? Why these farmers are bracing for an insect invasion

“When a torrent of grasshoppers devoured more than 100,000 acres of grass pastures and rangeland three years ago in the state’s northeast, Mike McKoen felt bad for the cattle ranchers who took a financial hit. But the third-generation farmer didn’t worry much about his family farm, where they grow crops such as onions, potatoes and wheat.  “They don’t like onions,” an entomologist told him about the grasshoppers. He explained that the insect prefers to feed on nonirrigated drylands where cattle graze.  But last year, swarms of grasshoppers attacked McKoen’s onions. They chewed on the stalks, leaving behind holes where irrigation water seeped in, causing fungal and bacterial disease to spread. He spent nearly $100,000 to rescue his crops.  Hundreds of farmers and ranchers lost a good portion of their crops, resulting in millions of dollars in damage, scientists and government officials reported. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

Humboldt County to eye improving Redwood Creek ecological health

“On Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will discuss embarking on a feasibility study for a construction project on a local creek.  Redwood Creek’s estuary – located near Orick – is unhealthily small, and the board will consider entering into an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a feasibility study geared toward finding solutions that would improve the estuary’s ecological health.  “Preparation of the feasibility study will be a collaborative effort among several entities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will lead the restoration design and hydraulic modeling. The Corps of Engineers will perform a variety of technical studies. California Trout will continue to organize and facilitate stakeholder engagement under a consultant services agreement,” the staff report said. … ”  Read more from the Eureka Times-Standard.


Dog dies after swimming in Lake Tahoe, officials test beaches for toxic algae

“South Lake Tahoe officials are warning beachgoers about potentially toxic algae in the waters.  It comes after a woman claims her dog died about a week ago after being exposed to blue-green algae after swimming in El Dorado and Nevada beaches.  A caution sign at El Dorado Beach went up on Monday warning of the potentially toxic algae in the water, but it has not been confirmed that it is present or if it is what caused the dog’s death.  “It’s very concerning,” said Patricia Tamarit who was at El Dorado Beach with her dog Buttons on Monday. “You just always want to make sure that your dog is safe.” … ”  Read more from CBS Sacramento.


Commentary:  San Franciscans: Brace yourselves for skyrocketing water and sewer rates, too

Peter Drekmeier, former mayor of Palo Alto and policy director for the Tuolumne River Trust, writes, “San Franciscans: Brace yourselves for skyrocketing utility rates. Combined water and sewer bills will increase by 8% annually, tripling over the next 20 years. Hetch Hetchy customers outside of San Francisco will get hit hard, too, and the situation is likely to get much worse.  The current rate crisis is the result of decades of deferred maintenance, and the failure to recognize and adapt to changing water use patterns. Over many years, utility revenues were used to subsidize general city services rather than to maintain and upgrade the Hetch Hetchy Water System and wastewater infrastructure. At the same time, per capita water use declined and population growth slowed, reducing revenues. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is now playing catch-up on a massive infrastructure backlog. … ”  Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Valley Water begins annual maintenance work in creeks for flood protection

“Every year, Valley Water performs work in creeks across Santa Clara County to ensure that flood protection projects continue to provide their designed levels of protection and keep our communities safe. This critical work includes managing vegetation to reduce the intensity and harmful impacts of fires, particularly important when conditions are dry.  Valley Water primarily performs this work as part of our Stream Maintenance Program between June 15 and October 15. Sometimes, Valley Water may request and receive work extensions beyond October 15 to complete projects. Other work, including minor maintenance and vegetation management projects, can occur year-round. … ”  Read more from Valley Water News.

Santa Clara County water agency could start fining the homeless

“Those living along the waterways could soon be fined or face jail time, due to a policy being considered by the largest water agency in Santa Clara County.   Valley Water Board of Directors will consider the Water Resources Protection Zones Ordinance on Tuesday. The policy will take effect 30 days after it passes, unless the board votes to change the timeline. If passed, homeless individuals who reside on Valley Water-owned land could be fined up to $500 or face up to 30 days in jail.  Mark Bilski, assistant officer in the Valley Water maintenance division, said the penalty is more of a last resort measure.  “The intent of the ordinance is to not result in criminalization,” Bilski told San José Spotlight. “Valley Water is going to start with an educational approach. We really just want encampments to relocate.” … ”  Read more from the San Jose Spotlight.


Dead fish at Lake San Antonio doesn’t deter weekend crowds

“People arrived at Lake San Antonio for a fun holiday weekend but found a lot more in the water.  “I don’t know what’s going on with the fish right there, you know what I mean?” said one vacationer.  Lake goers on Sunday, July 7, were shocked and confused when they arrived at Lake San Antonio to swim and found the shoreline littered with hundreds of dead fish.  “I was really shocked because we were here two weeks ago and there was none of that,” said Jules Hain, a lakegoer. … ”  Read more from KSBW.

Drinking water from three Santa Barbara County water systems fail to meet state requirements

“Three water systems in Santa Barbara County failed the state’s annual assessment of drinking water systems, with another 12 falling into the “at-risk” category.  Serving a population of over 6,000 individuals and well over one million tourists annually, the Solvang Water Division was the largest of the three failures. However, upon receiving the State Water Resources Control Board’s notice, Solvang immediately took the perchlorate-contaminated well offline. This resulted in no service interruptions and brought the number of current failing systems in the county down to two as of this Monday.  The other two failing systems are in smaller, more rural communities — Ray Water Company lies south of Santa Maria with a population of 40, and the Jonata Homeowners Association, one mile northwest of Buellton, has a population of 35. Each water system has one well as the sole water source. … ”  Read more from the Santa Barbara Independent.


Alfalfa acreage dries up as dairy herds grow

“Alfalfa fields are drying up in Tulare and Kings Counties as water becomes more restricted yet dairy herds continue to grow.  Since the 1920s, the alfalfa hay acreage in California has fluctuated but has trended down from nearly 1.2 million acres in 2001 down to 450,000 acres in 2022. The acreage is influenced by profitability of alternative crops, the demand for alfalfa hay by the state’s dairy herd, which consumes about 70% of the supply, and by water constraints.  Tulare and Kings County alfalfa acreage has seen a major decline during that same time period. Tulare County farmers in 1999 planted 103,000 acres of alfalfa but by 2010 it was down to 90,000 acres. The latest figures in 2022 saw only 28,900 acres in the ground. A similar pattern was seen in Kings County, another big dairy county. … ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette.

Regenerative agriculture offers long-term solutions for Central Valley

“Agriculture in the Central Valley is a beautiful thing to behold — poetic in its stoic desire to feed the world. As resources have grown limited — or restricted — valley farmers have led the effort to do more with less, from groundwater recharge to regenerative agriculture practices.  A recent Public Policy Institute of California report found that Kern County has led recharge efforts since 2017. Last year, it reported 2.9 million acre-feet of onsite recharge — 54% of the total volume reported.  The report, Replenishing Groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley: 2024 Update, explained that basins on the valley’s eastern side, including Kern, have the most suitable soils for recharge and the largest overdraft levels. These areas also host most of the region’s recharge activity. … ”  Read more from Valley Ag Voice.

County takes steps to address water woes in Springville

“The glass is more than half empty for residents of the River Island Water District in Springville, who after over a year of going without a reliable source of clean water, are now asking for help from the county, state and anyone who will listen.  Since roughly March 2023, Springville residents who get their water from the Del Oro Water Company have dealt with various problems with their supplier, of which the key issue is a lack of reliable, clean drinking water. Now, after a year of residents’ turmoil, the county is seeking out ways it can provide aid to the impacted residents. … ”  Read more from the Foothills Sun-Gazette.

Protecting domestic wells a key piece of southern Fresno County groundwater agency’s planning

“A million-dollar program to keep residential wells flowing across a swath of southern Fresno and northern Kings counties is getting underway through a program spearheaded by one of the area’s groundwater sustainability agencies.  The plan is being funded through land assessments of $6 per acre now, maxing out at $18 per acre in 2027, charged to growers in the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA).  “There are pieces (of the plan) that took some arm twisting,” said Justin Mendes, General Manager of the North Fork Kings GSA. “From the ag community, initially the thing was, ‘Wow this is gonna be super expensive.’”  As it turned out, the bill didn’t sting too bad. … ”  Read more from SJV Water.

Stallion Springs water line break fixed on Monday, no contamination

“A break in a seam of one of the pipelines that supply Stallion Springs with water discovered on Monday morning triggered a Nixle alert to the community, asking residents to stop watering and conserve water.  In a telephone interview at about 3 p.m., Stallion Springs Community Services District General Manager Laura Lynne Wyatt said repairs were expected to be complete by 4 p.m.  She noted that an earlier report from a Bakersfield TV station that the district’s water had been contaminated was incorrect.  “There was no contamination,” she said. The call for water conservation was to avoid stress on the district’s water system while repairs were underway. … ”  Read more from the Tehachapi News.


Supply chain woes hamper Pasadena’s water and electrical power services

“Pasadena Water and Power is facing supply chain disruptions that could affect critical infrastructure projects and potentially impact service delivery. According to a PWP memorandum, the Municipal Services Committee will discuss these challenges in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 9.  The memorandum from David M. Reyes, Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) Interim General Manager, outlines persistent supply chain issues across various sectors. Many of the issues stem from global manufacturing slowdowns, increased material costs, and extended lead times for essential components.  According to the memorandum, the power sector is particularly affected, with wooden utility poles facing significant challenges. New environmental regulations and California’s wildfire mitigation efforts have led to increased demand and prices, with costs rising between 26% and 150% in some cases. … ”  Read more from Pasadena Now.

Trucks of sand start arriving today to build up beaches at San Clemente and Capistrano Beach

“Truckloads of sand will be heading to two south Orange County beaches starting Monday, July 8, as officials try to salvage sand-starved shores at Capistrano Beach in Dana Point and North Beach in San Clemente.  The county’s southernmost coastal town will get an estimated 50,000 cubic yards of sand at North Beach, an area in San Clemente that has long suffered from coastal erosion – now, at high tide little or no sand space is left for beachgoers.  At Capistrano Beach, another 20,000 cubic yards is planned, following a similar replenishment project that brought double that amount last summer to the beach, which had also been battered by a series of strong swells in recent years. … ”  Read more from the OC Register.


San Diego to spend $100M to figure out how to fix its aging, vulnerable dams

“San Diego plans to pay an engineering firm $100 million over the next decade to thoroughly evaluate the city’s aging dams and create a strategy to prioritize and coordinate repairs and possible rebuild projects.  The strategic plan will include proposals to shore up every dam, including cost estimates and specific timelines. It will also evaluate safety risks and how much each dam upgrade would boost reservoir capacity.  Because four city dams have been deemed safety risks, the city has been forced by the state to reduce how much water they can hold. Those restrictions have lowered the city’s reservoir capacity by 20 percent.  The plan, which city officials call a long-term strategic phasing plan, will also evaluate the accuracy of a loose city estimate that the dams require a total of $1 billion in repairs and upgrades. … ”  Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Along the Colorado River …

Deseret News archives: Hoover Dam’s history on the Colorado still being written

“On July 7, 1930, construction began on Boulder Dam. Today it is known as Hoover Dam.  The dam, which is responsible for the creation of Lake Mead, is the best known and largest of the dams on the Colorado River. Yet, it was not the first dam constructed on the river.  In fact, there were three dams constructed before construction ever started on Boulder Dam. The Grand Valley Diversion Dam, built for irrigation in Colorado, was constructed in 1916, while the Price-Stubb Dam was also built in Colorado and for irrigation in 1911.  However, the very first dam was the Laguna Diversion Dam, built along the Arizona and Colorado border. It was constructed in 1903, and finished in 1905. … ”  Read more from Deseret News.

Arizona farmers turn to solar panels to shade crops, save water and generate power

“For 31 straight days last summer, temperatures in Phoenix hit or topped 110 degrees, the longest such streak ever. That searing Arizona heat dehydrates crops and evaporates water the state needs to conserve.  Creating shade is one way to combat the problem.  By using solar panels, farmers can simultaneously protect their plants, save water and lower their energy bills – and some are doing just that with help from federal programs designed to encourage this sustainable method of growing.  Photovoltaic panels are placed above the crops, harnessing the sun’s energy while providing valuable shade.  “The solar arrays … will help shade and help reduce our water use and improve our water-use efficiency, which is very important in places like New Mexico and Arizona,” said Derek Whitelock, supervisory agricultural engineer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Plants don’t need really as much sun as they get here in the West.” … ”  Read more from Cronkite News.

New Arizona-Mexico Commission boss shifts focus to water, environment

“The southern border has once again become a top political issue in Arizona and beyond. We’ll meet new head of a commission that aims to foster binational relationships. Plus, taking Native American art to one of the country’s most prestigious museums. That and more on The Show.”  Listen at KJZZ.

Arizona congressional delegation introduces $5 billion tribal water rights legislation

“Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation introduced legislation Monday that would authorize a water rights settlement with three Native American tribes in the Southwest, providing more certainty for the arid region.  The proposal carries a price tag of $5 billion — larger than any such agreement enacted by Congress.  Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona said the legislation marks a historic step forward in resolving what has been a decades-long dispute with the Navajo Nation as well as the Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute tribes. … ”  Read more from SF Gate.

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In national water news today …

‘Forever chemicals’ ban could impact millions of Americans

“Pennsylvania has proposed a ban on the use of “forever chemicals” in a variety of products.  The proposed House Bill 2238, which has not yet been passed, hopes to outlaw the use of PFAS chemicals in cleaning products, carpets, cookware, cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging, infant and children’s products, menstrual products, and textiles, among others, by 2027.  “It is literally in just about every consumer product that we use and as a result of that 95 percent of us in the United States actually have some trace level of PFAS in our system,” said state Rep. Josh Siegel, (D)-District 22, local news WFMZ 69 News reports. … ”  Read more from Newsweek.

Every last drop: Zero-waste water builds water resilience

“Reusing wastewater could be the solution to Europe’s growing water scarcity problem.  The 34 dairy cows chewing the cud on a floating platform in the port of Rotterdam probably aren’t thinking about water scarcity—a major challenge in the world today—but they are participating in a Europe-wide effort to find solutions to this modern-day dilemma.  The cows’ home, the Floating Farm, is part of a broader project called WATER-MINING which received funding from the EU to investigate ways to address the increasing stress on Europe’s water systems. … ”  Continue reading from PhysOrg.

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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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