Stretching along the eastern edge of the state, the Sierra Nevada
region incorporates more than 25 percent of California’s land
area and forms one of the world’s most diverse watersheds.
It features granite cliffs, lush forests and alpine meadows on
the westside, and stark desert landscapes at the base of the
eastside. Wildlife includes bighorn sheep, mule deer, black bear
and mountain lions, hawks, eagles, and trout.
The majority of total annual precipitation – in the form of rain
and snow – falls in the Sierra Nevada. Snowmelt from the Sierra
provides water for irrigation for farms that produce half of the
nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables, and also is a vital source
for dairies, which have made California the largest milk producer
in the country.
In addition, Sierra snowmelt provides drinking water to Sierra
Nevada residents and a portion of drinking water to 23 million
people living in cities stretching from the Bay Area to Southern
A trial began last week in the suit, filed in 2017, claiming
the city pumped, diverted or discharged excess storm water into
the normally dry bed of Swan Lake, which overflowed during the
winter of 2016-17. It says the flood was exacerbated by
unchecked development in the area, where street paving
eliminated ground that normally would have absorbed rainfall
The bill would require the Bureau of Reclamation to fast-track
feasibility studies for four specific storage projects in the
Central Valley, including Sites Reservoir, Del Puerto Canyon
Reservoir, Los Vaqueros and San Luis Reservoirs, and provides
$100 million in storage funding. The bill also leverages
federal resources to identify prime locations for groundwater
storage and recharge in California and across the Western
Most of the settlement money — more than $580 million of it —
will go to agencies affected by the Camp Fire, including Butte
County and the nearly destroyed town of Paradise. Another $415
million will be divvied up among a long list of agencies
affected by the 2017 blazes, including Sonoma County, the city
of Santa Rosa, Napa County and the city of Napa.
The primary improvements to the dam include raising the berm
and constructing an earthen stability buttress on the
downstream face that will both strengthen the dam and increase
its water storage capacity. The new buttress will also prevent
liquefaction in the event of an earthquake.
It only took 18 years, but the county is finally closing in on
an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for 15,000
acre-feet of water. … The water will be taken annually from
Folsom Reservoir or from an exchange on the American River
upstream from Folsom Reservoir.
Awash in precious snow and water that will help meet the
demands of the state’s 40 million residents, the wetness also
is forcing California to confront an even greater threat of
wildfire. The soaking spring nourishing the Jeffrey pines and
sagebrush is giving way to a desert dry as soaring heat
scorches the new growth into blankets of kindling.
With a deadline to take action just weeks away, lawmakers and
the governor haven’t settled controversial issues regarding the
so-called wildfire fund: How much money does the state need and
what portion of that will come out of the pockets of
electricity customers? Lawmakers are looking to Gov. Gavin
Newsom to take the lead and provide answers to one of
California’s most high-stakes problems.
The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical
exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land
managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental
studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no
severe impacts or degradation to the land.
Through the Airborne Snow Observatory program, NASA and
California’s Department of Water Resources use instruments
mounted on airplanes to create high resolution estimates of
snow water content for priority watersheds in the Western U.S.
The collected data helps determine the timing of the spring
melt, which has downstream effects on hydroelectric power
generation and planning for how much water can be held in
Like 90 percent of his neighbors, Doug Teeter lost his home in
last November’s Camp Fire. … Little has been done in
Teeter’s opinion to ensure the health of people living in the
Camp Fire burn zone, who are bathing in and in some cases
drinking potentially contaminated water.
The Paradise Irrigation District is still working to restore
clean water to the ridge. So far, the district is making big
strides toward turning non-potable water into drinking water in
the town. The district put a call out for volunteers in the
Camp Fire burn scar that would be willing to let them test
their water for the first two weeks of June.
A new proposed rule from the U.S. Forest Service designed to
make environmental reviews more efficient would shortcut
important oversight of industry plans, environmentalists say.
The rule comes after months of complaints by President Trump
that the agency is mismanaging forests and not doing enough to
prevent fires in California and other states.
A leaking dam that prompted evacuations in the Sierra foothills
during an intense rainstorm last year has been repaired and is
again storing drinking water for 2.7 million Bay Area
residents, San Francisco water officials said Monday.
The $14 million effort, which is being led by Placer County
through a stewardship contract with the USFS, is aimed at
thinning the forest across both public and private land in an
area where the 2014 King Fire created concern when it
threatened two key reservoirs: French Meadows and Hell Hole
reservoirs. The fire burned so intensely in that watershed that
it impacted taste, odor and water treatment costs.
May was an extension of winter and the snowpack actually grew.
But June is here. Days are longer and temperatures are rising.
And that monster snowpack is about to come melting down the
slopes through rivers and streams with ferocity, pushing an
already fast water flow into a furious rage.
With temperatures soaring and strong winds blowing through
forests across Northern California over the weekend, rural
areas in the Sierra Nevada foothills plunged into darkness
after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. shut off high-voltage
transmission lines to avoid sparking wildfires. The first
formal deployment of its new “public safety power shutoff”
rules left more than 20,500 PG&E customers in portions of
Butte and Yuba counties without power…
The bankruptcy proceedings surrounding Pacific Gas and Electric
could pose a risk to the reliability of water supplies to
nearly 300,000 residents in parts of Placer and Nevada
counties, according to reports issued by the Placer County
Water Agency and the Nevada Irrigation District.
Members of the Tuolumne Utilities District gave California
water leaders a tour focused on the challenges the county faces
when it comes to water supply, with hopes that it will bring
President Donald Trump has signed new disaster relief
legislation that will help victims of wildland fires, floods
and extreme weather, including: $1 billion to address
2018 and 2019 floods, which could provide critical support in
Lake, Glenn, Butte and Colusa counties; $349.4 million to
repair local drinking water systems – including the water
system in Paradise, destroyed by the 2018 Camp Fire.
Following through on its threats, on May 21 the group Save the
El Dorado Canal filed suit against the El Dorado Irrigation
District over plans to pipe the El Dorado Canal (also called
the Upper Main Ditch) in Pollock Pines. … The canal is seen
as a historical, environmental and recreational asset in the
community as well as a conveyance that protects and enhances
Seven months ago, the California Camp Fire ravaged through
Butte County destroying thousands of homes and ruining crucial
infrastructure. Water is still unsafe to drink and toxic debris
is still waiting to be taken away.
As the sun sets on California’s solar farms, a backup energy
source deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains springs to life. The
huge system of reservoirs and turbines can store energy during
the day and then crank out electricity for 900,000 homes, using
just water and gravity. As the state tries to make wind and
solar work around the clock, officials want to build more like
it. It won’t be easy: such projects take years to develop, are
expensive and face stiff opposition.
“Use it or lose it” is what state and federal water managers in
California are wrestling with as one of the biggest
precipitation years has the mountains packed with snow and
reservoirs loaded to the brim. For the state, water is liquid
gold that feeds many people, animals, trees, and industries.
But, if not well managed, it can also present great danger.
The marathon stretch of unsettled weather means the reservoirs
are brimming, the rivers are rushing, the waterfalls are
spectacular, and people are still skiing in fresh powder in
Tahoe. But perhaps the most noteworthy outcome is a remarkably
gargantuan snowpack blanketing the mountain range straddling
California and Nevada. Right now, it’s even bigger than the
2017 snowpack that pulled the state out of a five-year drought.
Mono and Inyo counties were handed a reprieve by the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission last Friday. The Commission’s
Division of Hydropower Licensing found Premium Energy’s
application for a closed loop system from reservoirs in the
Owens Gorge to the White Mountains “patently deficient.” That’s
the good news. The FERC did not find the project patently
deficient because of environmental or common sense reasons…
The study, published in the journal Ecological
Applications, found that thinning and prescribed fire
treatments reduced the number of trees that died during the
bark beetle epidemic and drought that killed more than 129
million trees across the Sierra Nevada between 2012-2016.
Dan Efseaff, the parks and recreation director for the
devastated town of Paradise, Calif., looks out over Little
Feather River Canyon in Butte County. The Camp Fire raced up
this canyon like a blowtorch in a paper funnel on its way to
Paradise, incinerating most everything in its path, including
scores of homes. Efseaff is floating an idea that some may
think radical: paying people not to rebuild in this slice of
In my 40 years at the California Department of Water Resources,
I have seen changes in climate that have convinced me that the
full picture is changing and our extrapolation methods are
losing value rapidly. This is especially true in extreme years,
wet or dry – such as 2015, when the statistics are just not
going to be accurate enough to meet our growing water
Despite years of scientific research pointing to prescribed or
“controlled” burns as a successful method of clearing brush and
restoring ecosystems, intentional fire-setting by federal
agencies has declined in much of the West over the last 20
years, the study found. “This suggests that the best available
science is not being adopted into management practices…” the
It took two consulting groups, but a project charter for the
Sierra Valley Flood Hazard Restudy Project is finished and now
approved by members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors
on Tuesday, May 14.
The Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper
sued the Trump administration to force the addition of the
longfin smelt, the Sierra Nevada red fox and six other species
to the Endangered Species List… According to the lawsuit, the
agency had previously found the species worthy of endangered
species protections under the Obama administration but
the Trump administration had slow-walked the process…
Good news, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend: The clarity
of the famed, cobalt-blue waters of Lake Tahoe improved
dramatically last year, with visibility increasing 10 feet from
the year before, a study released Thursday by scientists at UC
Davis found. The jump is the largest annual improvement in 50
years, since measurements at the iconic Sierra Nevada lake
began in 1968.
The proposal is to increase both base and usage rates by
approximately 40% in the first year, and by about 70% of the
current rate by July of 2023. … The last set of rate
increases ended in 2016, yet system costs have been increasing
each year due to inflation and maintenance expenses associated
with an aging system…
To Eastern Sierra residents, in most years, annual run-off
means the streams and canals rise and pasture lands start to
green-up. For Los Angeles Department of Water and Power,
run-off is the city’s life’s blood… So, how do they figure it
out? Eric Tillemans, LADWP engineer, gave the Inyo County Board
of Supervisors a beginner’s course in Run-Off 101 at a recent
Our Headwaters Tour June 27-28 highlights the connection
between fire and water with an up-close look at the critical
role healthy Sierra forests play in water supply and quality
across California. We will also learn about a new initiative
between Yuba Water Agency, the California Department of Water
Resources and University of California, San Diego’s Scripps
Institution of Oceanography to study how atmospheric rivers
affect the location, duration and intensity of storms.
For years fisheries experts have watched the number of
winter-run Chinook salmon dwindle as they suffered through
drought and adverse conditions in the Sacramento River. But
this year a small crop of the endangered salmon have made their
way back from the ocean to return Battle Creek in southern
Shasta County, something that hasn’t happened in some 25 years.
And officials hope the fish are the beginning of a new run of
salmon in the creek.
The Paradise Irrigation District said it plans on testing water
from lot-to-lot instead of in zoned areas. The process will
also give priority to people currently living in their homes or
in temporary housing on their properties in Paradise. Kevin
Phillips, the district’s director, said the majority of testing
they’ve done shows no contamination in the main lines, but
individual services lines are still showing volatile organic
compounds, like benzene.
Over the short life of the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act, Owens Valley has gone from medium to high and now low
priority. That prioritization would have had an impact three
years ago. Medium and high priority basins are required to form
an agency and sustainability plan; low basins are not.
When it rains, it pours. And the Camp Fire just keeps on
pouring. The latest byproduct? Waterways testing positive for
heavy metals, from aluminum to selenium, as well as chemical
contaminants. And the most recent test results, released last
month, show unhealthy levels of both throughout the county,
primarily in Paradise and nearby creeks.
Sixty percent of California’s developed water supply originates
high in the Sierra Nevada, making the state’s water supply
largely dependent on the health of Sierra forests. On our
Headwaters Tour June 27-28, we will visit Eldorado and Tahoe
national forests to learn about new forest management
practices, including efforts to both prevent wildfires and
recover from them.
The district is considering a five-year series of rates
increases — up to 5% per year for sewer and up to 6% per year
for water. … As district staff have explained during public
meetings, much of STPUD’s infrastructure is outdated and in
need of repair or replacement. Additionally, more than 10% of
the STPUD’s water system lacks adequate water capacity to fight
a major fire.
Dig out that umbrella, and even the tire chains. It’s mid-May,
but a series of rare, winter-like storms will soak the Bay Area
and much of California through next week and bring up to 2 feet
of new snow to the Sierra Nevada.
State officials tasked with debris cleanup say they have been
directed not to enter an estimated 800 burned Butte County home
sites within 100 feet of a waterway. They’ve been told to wait
for representatives of several state and federal agencies to
reach an agreement on environmental assessment guidelines.
Up a remote canyon in the towering eastern Sierra, a Southern
California company has an ambitious plan to dam the area’s
cold, rushing waters and build one of the state’s first big
hydroelectric facilities in decades. The project, southeast of
Yosemite near the town of Bishop (Inyo County), faces long
regulatory odds as well as daunting costs. But residents of the
Owens Valley downstream and state environmentalists are not
taking it lightly.
Forecasts are calling for a stretch of wet weather across the
Western United States, especially in Northern California, so
meteorologists and emergency officials are keeping watchful
eyes on river gauges and radar reports. All it takes is one
thunderstorm parked over a snow-covered area to wreak havoc
The plan by PG&E Corp. comes after the bankrupt utility
said a transmission line that snapped in windy weather probably
started last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history.
While the plan may end one problem, it creates another as
Californians seek ways to deal with what some fear could be
days and days of blackouts.
In an annual California event that marks the changing of the
seasons in the High Sierra, Yosemite National Park officials
plan to open Glacier Point Road to motor vehicles on Friday
morning. … Two years ago, after the wet winter of 2017 that
broke California’s five-year drought and dumped enormous
amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada, park crews opened Glacier
Point Road on May 11. Other than that, this year’s May 10
opening is the latest in eight years, since 2011.
Reforestation will improve watershed conditions by restoring
severely burned areas to forested conditions, reducing
sedimentation and turbidity, and improving water quality for
downstream users. It will also improve habitat by providing
stabilization that reduces erosion of stream banks and meadows.
The effect of wildfires on snowmelt is more widespread and
longer lasting than people thought and has ramifications across
the region, where cities … rely heavily on melting snow to
replenish water supplies. What’s more, human-caused global
warming is feeding the spread of fires, which contributes more
to the deterioration of snow, thus extending and intensifying
the fire season.
Get a firsthand view of California’s diverse water resource
issues with two of our summer tours — to the Sierra Nevada
headwaters that were blessed this winter with a plentiful
snowpack, and a Southern California coastal region chronically
prone to drought.
California wildlife authorities say new facilities built at the
state’s Kern River Hatchery will allow breeding of Kern River
rainbow trout that will be planted throughout the Kern River
Basin. The program will allow the territory to be stocked with
its native fish rather than domesticated strains.
Nevada Irrigation District is a very bad steward of the Bear
River and Auburn Ravine, which it uses as a ditch to deliver
water to its paying customers downstream with little regard for
the ecology of Auburn Ravine.
Approximately 7.3 million skiers and snowboarders hit the
slopes this season at resorts in California and Nevada, a 17%
increase over the previous year, according to preliminary
numbers from Ski California, the nonprofit trade group for the
states’ ski resorts.
With no parting glance at their devoted human caretakers, 142
rare red-legged frogs swam to freedom on Friday — one small
jump for the frogs but a giant leap for the threatened species.
Our official state amphibian, the frogs vanished from these
pristine mountain meadows 50 years ago.
A wet winter is not necessarily good news regarding the
potential for wildfires in the summer, especially where summers
tend to be dry. This is because the extra precipitation can
lead to a more robust growth of grasses and other vegetation
that can become fuel for fires as they dry out.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power released its
operation plan, focusing on pumping volumes, April 20, kicking
off a series of events that historically has ended with a
volume at or near the proposed maximum. The water extractions
will be used in the valley for irrigation,
enhancement/mitigation projects and for export.
The Department of Water Resources recorded 47 inches of snow at
Phillips Station with a snow-water equivalent of 27.5 inches,
which is 88% above average for this time of year… Statewide,
the Sierra Nevada snowpack is doing even better, with an
average snow-water equivalent of 31 inches, which is 44% above
average for this time of year, according to the release.
The property, a peaceful meadow at 6,820 feet elevation
near Echo Summit, is also home to … a monthly event that
attracts hordes of reporters and photographers who tromp
through the property on snowshoes. … Carol Pearson would
usually watch the proceedings from the window of the small
cabin, built in 1938, where she’s lived the past 20 years. Now
Pearson, 67, has been displaced by fire. Her cabin burned to
the ground in a chimney fire April 12, killing one of her cats.
Starting Wednesday, May 1, survivors of the Camp Fire can
participate in an online survey about their drinking water. …
The online survey will compile the drinking water experiences
and needs of people across Butte County who have a standing
home in the Camp Fire area. These researchers are working to
understand how the community has responded to a disaster and
what their needs are.
Assembly Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 606 established indoor and
outdoor irrigation regulations, making water conservation a
permanent way of life. This draconian and arbitrary rationing
legislation tramples upon the personal rights of individuals to
make choices regarding their beneficial use of water,
undermines local conditions and local control, the state’s
water rights priority system and area-of-origin water right
In the Western US, climate change is a major driver behind the
near doubling in burned area that we’ve experienced over the
past 35 years, and has contributed to an increase in the
frequency and severity of fires, while lengthening the fire
season in some regions.
An extra wet winter and spring this year means waterfall season
in Yosemite National Park is off to a thunderous, gushing
start. This is also a great time to see many of the park’s
lesser-known falls that only last for a short time.
To better measure the water in our snow, California is sending
sharper eyes up into the sky. Two sensors peer out from a
turboprop aircraft, soaring from Mammoth Yosemite Airport over
the white Sierra Nevada – collecting data that tells us almost
exactly how much water we’ll have this summer.
In a new study published in the journal Climate Dynamics, they
used their new technique to look at California winters. …
They found that in Northern California, La Niña and El Niño
conditions result in nearly equivalent amounts of winter
precipitation. However, La Niña winters tend to be much colder,
resulting in conditions more favorable for increased mountain
In 2017, a swarm of seismic activity occurred near California’s
Long Valley Caldera in the Mammoth Mountain area. During the
same period of seismic activity, the area had high levels of
flooding due to snowmelt. The 2016-2017 winter brought heavy
snow that created one of the largest snowpacks ever recorded in
California’s history. A record amount of snowfall occurred in
the same region this year, raising the question of whether the
same occurrence will happen in 2019.
This research will supply information needed for the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers to update the 1970’s-era water control
manuals, which dictate the storm-season operations of both
reservoirs. Yuba Water’s goal is to have a new water control
manual approved about the same time the agency completes
construction of a new, planned secondary spillway at its New
Bullards Bar Dam, estimated for completion in 2024.
A federal official is attempting to “obstruct” the flow of
water to restore habitat at Walker Lake, the conservancy
responsible for administering federal restoration funds alleged
in District Court last week. After years of litigation, lawyers
for the Walker Basin Conservancy said that “at some point, the
court must put a stop to the federal water master’s
obstruction.” The receding desert lake outside of Hawthorne is
fed by the Walker River, which rises in California and snakes
through Western Nevada.
A 174-page environmental report released by the U.S. Interior
Department will expedite new extraction on roughly 1 million
acres of Central and Southern California, primarily in the
historical oil fields around Bakersfield and the deep petroleum
deposits near Santa Barbara but potentially in the Sierra
Nevada as well.
The Camp Fire destroyed thousands of homes and dozens of
businesses, and also the water supply for an undetermined
number of people. The fire destroyed or damaged the 9 miles of
PG&E’s Upper Miocene Canal, which is the flume system along
the West Branch of the Feather River. That also cut off water
to ranches and homes along the Middle Miocene Canal … and the
Lower Miocene Canal (or Powers Canal) along the west side of
Table Mountain to Oroville.
A spring surge of meltwater, seeping through vertically tilted
layers of rock, caused a seismic swarm near California’s Long
Valley Caldera in 2017, according to research presented at the
2019 SSA Annual Meeting. The unusual event prompted U.S.
Geological Survey researcher Emily Montgomery-Brown and her
colleagues to look back through 33 years of seismic and water
records for the region. They found that rates of shallow
seismicity were about 37 times higher during very wet periods
versus dry periods.
One of California Gov. Gavin
Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade
Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within
weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that
Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.
That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach”
on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded
floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.
North America is not a snow globe, and as the real globe warms,
one trend is clear: winter is shrinking and snow is melting. In
the last 50 years alone, the frozen mantle that caps the
Northern Hemisphere in the dark months has lost a million
square miles of spring snowpack. …Coastal ranges like the
Sierras and Cascades, where winter temperatures hover close to
the freezing point, are most at risk.
For the third year in a row, Lake Tahoe is expected to fill.
This is noteworthy for the sixth-largest lake in the United
States that flirted with record-low levels amid a five-year
drought that ended in 2017.
Even though one Paradise resident’s home survived the wildfire,
her family’s saga of returning to a normal life is far from
over. While the structure of resident Kyla Awalt’s home is
still intact, she said it has no access to running water — a
widespread problem in the area after the historic fire — but
her insurance company has ruled that the water issue isn’t
covered by her home insurance policy. “We were literally forced
to move back home and figure out a solution to get us water,”
Awalt told ABC News.
Local river protection groups and a state regulatory board are
protesting what they characterize as an attempt by Nevada
Irrigation District to circumvent the federal law. At issue is
the relicensing process for NID’s Yuba Bear hydroelectric
project — which includes French, Faucherie, Sawmill and Bowman
lakes and Rollins Reservoir, as well as four powerhouses.
The problem with Kirman is that it does not have a place where
the trout can spawn naturally. There is no stream running into
or out of the lake where the trout could find moving water to
spawn. That means the fishery was and is entirely dependent on
plants of fingerlings or subcatchables from the Department of
Fish and Wildlife hatcheries. And that is a big problem.
Neighborhoods with standing homes will be the first priority
for repairs and could see potable water service return as soon
as November, one year after the horrific Camp Fire burned to
the ground about 90 percent of the buildings in the Sierra
Nevada foothills town. Full restoration of potable water
service to all properties will take longer, tentatively slated
for February 2021.
Solar panels have trouble producing renewable energy whenever
it snows. With winters expected to increase in severity because
of climate change, generating power in the cold, snowy season
will likely become a major issue in years to come. Fortunately,
scientists from UCLA just invented a way to produce energy from
snow. The researchers call their handy device a snow-based
triboelectric nanogenerator (snow TENG). It works by generating
power via static electricity.
Weeks after the Camp Fire roared through Butte County last
November, devouring entire towns, officials made an alarming
find: The Paradise drinking water is now laced with benzene, a
volatile compound linked to cancer. Water officials say they
believe the extreme heat of the firestorm created a “toxic
cocktail” of gases in burning homes that got sucked into the
water pipes when the system depressurized from use by residents
Wildfires alter the chemistry of streams for years, causing
significantly lower concentrations of dissolved organic matter,
which provides a vital energy source to organisms living in
streams and rivers… University of New Hampshire researchers
and their collaborators with the University of
California-Merced and Ohio State University examined the
effects of wildfire on stream chemistry and water quality in
Yosemite National Park, Calif.
The extent of the latest crisis unfolding in Paradise is yet
unknown: The deadly fire may also have contaminated up to 173
miles of pipeline in the town’s water system with
cancer-causing benzene and other volatile organic compounds, or
VOCs. Preliminary results have shown contamination in about a
third of the lines tested, though only about 2 percent of the
entire system has been sampled.
Spring has arrived, which means it’s a great time to visit
dozens of Northern California waterfalls. … Waterfall
photographer Leon Turnbull gave his top six picks of Northern
California waterfalls to visit during late spring.
When state surveyors measured the Sierra snowpack on April 2,
they found 106.5 inches of snow, with an equivalent of 51
inches of water — … Compared to average measurements for this
time of year, those readings represent 200% of normal levels.
That means the snows that drew skiers this winter will soon
deliver thrills to another group of outdoor enthusiasts:
The Eastern Sierra snowpack that feeds the Los Angeles Aqueduct
was measured this month at 171% of normal and is expected to
meet 70 percent of the city’s annual water needs. The Los
Angeles Department of Water and Power said Friday the aqueduct
will flow at or near full capacity for much of the next 12
months, providing about 119 billion gallons (450.4 billion
The Yosemite toad is considered endangered, and its numbers are
falling. Scientists say the amphibian chytrid fungus is one
reason, but climate change also may contribute to some pools
drying up before tadpoles mature.
2019 marks the sixth straight winter that scientists from
NASA/JPL have been flying over portions of the Sierra range,
using light-detection and ranging lasers called lidar to map
and decode the snowpack. The Airborne Snow Observatory program,
or ASO, is based on technology that NASA has been using for
years to look at Mars and other planets.
This bill calls for $150M in funding over the next ten years
from the state’s General Fund to conduct laser surveys via ten
airplane trips over the Trinity Alps and the Sierra Nevada each
year. They would also fly over hydrologic areas that drain to,
or supply water to, certain major reservoirs and lakes.
From the Oregon border to the hills of San Diego County,
California is a state that is destined to burn. Every summer
brings new evidence of that in places like Paradise, Malibu and
Santa Rosa. … Californians will continue to live in areas
where the threat of wildfire is the highest. These stories
explore the perils of living in those regions, and the steps
that must be taken as we try to avoid another catastrophe.
Nevada County residents tend to think of the Yuba River or
Scotts Flat Reservoir when they want to go play in the water.
But Rollins Reservoir, while arguably getting less local love,
generates a lot of income for the community from out-of-town
Since 1993, the Lake Almanor community has been fortunate to
have representatives from the California Department of Water
Resources (CDWR) assisting in the testing and assessment of the
health of the lake and its tributaries. … The testers check
for water temperature at the test location, dissolved oxygen,
turbidity (amount of suspended matter in the water) and for
various metals and minerals.
Now that spring is here and the sun is finally out, Bay Area
residents are already reminiscing over what a rainy winter it
was, one of the wettest in recent memory, with many more
downpours than normal. Or was it? Not according to weather
Fires like the one that razed Paradise in November burn
thousands of pounds of wiring, plastic pipes and building
materials, leaving dangerous chemicals in the air, soil and
water. Lead paint, burned asbestos and even melted
refrigerators from tens of thousands of households only add to
the danger, public health experts say.
After closing for renovations three years ago, the Kern River
Fish Hatchery opened to visitors March 25 with expanded
abilities to take in, raise and grow trout. … Hatchery
Manager Tony Holland said a team of state employees and
volunteers plan to hike in August to a remote creek somewhere
in the southern Sierra Nevada in search of genetically pure
Kern River rainbow trout.
Unfortunately, the thing that almost always lingers on after an
adverse event such as a prolonged drought is government’s heavy
hand in regulations and mandates that are hastily put together
in an attempt to mitigate the drought and get us through it.
Most winters, [firefighter Mike] Morello would be working on
several of these forest treatment projects, especially prior to
the bulk of the Sierra winter snowfall. But throughout late
December and most of January, Morello was sitting at home. He
got to spend more time with his kids, but because he was one of
the thousands of Forest Service workers to be furloughed, he
couldn’t spend time in the woods, trying to prevent the next
Sierra town from becoming Paradise, California, where 85 people
died in November of last year.
To prepare for the dry years that will come again as well as an
uncertain future, healthy mountain watersheds will be key to
our water supply. While the importance of forests to these
watersheds is well known, new research suggests that meadows
are valuable too. Meadows are like sponges, soaking up snowmelt
in the spring and releasing it through the dry season.
California received some good news on Tuesday for the state’s
water supply: The Sierra Nevada snowpack is well above normal,
at 162 percent of average. This amount of snow is thanks to the
more than 30 “atmospheric rivers” that brought storms this
winter and spring. Chris Orrock, with the California Department
of Water Resources, says … this is the fourth largest amount
of snow in recorded history.
It’s been a big year for snow in the Sierra Nevada range. This
is the time of year—April 1—when the snowpack is typically at
its peak and on Tuesday, when surveyors do their monthly manual
survey, they’re likely to find a snowpack at about 160 percent
of the average.
As farmers plant their 2019 crops, hopeful for an abundant
harvest, they are unknowingly battling history. Past wildfires
and other tree loss in California will likely interfere with
U.S. food crops, based on emerging results of our own and
colleagues’ research. … Deforestation could cause millions of
dollars in lost agricultural production throughout the U.S. But
policy and practice still fail to recognize the interdependence
of our wild and cultivated lands.
If it seems that wildfires are burning nearly all the time
these days, that there’s no longer a definable fire season in
California, you’re right. Fourteen of the 20 most destructive
fires in state history have occurred since 2007, and California
has 78 more annual “fire days” now than it had 50 years ago.
Lawmakers are considering spending $150 million to fund new
high-tech measurements of the snowpack using lasers. … The
new hi-tech approach is meant to help water managers know
exactly how much water they can expect in water runoff from the
snowpack – and when that runoff will arrive in reservoirs,
rivers, and streams.
Kevin Phillips looked out at a crowd of some 700 people, most
of them his customers, and delivered a painful message that
many had heard before from varying sources. But to get
confirmation from the Paradise Irrigation District manager that
it may take two to three years to get the town’s water
infrastructure back up and running at full capacity still sent
shock waves through the large auditorium.
Despite the abundant water year we’ve had, though, over the
long term climate change is transforming our snowpack and will
make no-snow snow surveys more common in the future. Not only
is climate change making good snow years like this one less
likely, it’s also changing what good snow years mean for our
water resources. And that’s going to mean a very different
April snow survey in the future.
Turning the tables on California, the Trump administration sued
Thursday to block the state’s ambitious plan to reallocate
billions of gallons of river water to salmon and other
struggling fish species. … The State Water Resources Control
Board voted in December to reallocate the flows of the San
Joaquin River and its tributaries. The move is designed to help
steelhead and salmon by taking water from San Joaquin Valley
farmers and a handful of cities.
The California Department of Conservation (DOC) announced late
last week that eight organizations have received a total of
$1.85 million in grants to hire watershed coordinators to help
in building local capacity to improve forest health. … Areas
identified by the California Department of Forestry and Fire
Protection as being most at risk of catastrophic wildfires were
given priority for the grants.
The Paradise Irrigation District outlined plans to flush
volatile and toxic compounds from the city’s water system after
the Camp Fire… Paradise Irrigation District Manager Kevin
Phillips … said more than 90 percent of the pipeline
depressurized and created a vacuum, which sucked in toxic
particulates and heat. He said the initial, immediate response
was to re-pressurize the system — which ultimately took more
than two months to accomplish…
Whitewater rafting businesses are holding out hope of getting a
safe landing area near the Ward’s Ferry bridge over the
Tuolumne River, as a condition of relicensing the Don Pedro
hydroelectric project. At a Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission hearing Tuesday in Modesto, speakers said an
existing takeout for rafts on the Tuolumne, upstream from Don
Pedro Reservoir, is under water because of dam operations. And
the options for getting boats out of the water are not safe.
Duane Waliser of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory … says as
the climate warms, atmospheric rivers are projected to grow
wider and longer. Powerful ones are also expected to become
more frequent. That could increase water supply in some places.
“But on the other hand, atmospheric rivers come with flood
potential as well, so they’re sort of a double-edged sword, so
The Camp Fire, the blaze that all but wiped Paradise off the
map last fall, heralds something new for all of us—a state of
affairs that out-going governor Jerry Brown characterized as
the “new normal” (and later, the “new abnormal”): larger,
costlier, more frequent wildfires in the state than ever
before, burning almost year-round.
A pilot program that used ultraviolet light to combat aquatic
invasive plants has shown promising results. Results from the
program, which was deployed in Lakeside Marina in the summer of
2017, show the use of ultraviolet-C light successfully killed
submerged aquatic plants, according to the Tahoe Resource
Small mountain streams and the vibrant ecosystems they support
were hit hard by the historic California drought of 2012 to
2015. Researchers monitoring aquatic life in Sierra Nevada
streams observed significant declines in the numbers of aquatic
insects and other bottom-dwelling invertebrates during the
It’s inevitable. Every year, big swaths of California will
burn. The question now that spring is here is how bad it will
be. If recent history is any guide, this year’s wildfire season
could be grim, despite a new push by state officials to keep
flames at bay. For all of its lush redwood forests and
snow-capped peaks, most of the Golden State is semi-arid… And
a shifting climate has been delivering ever hotter summer
Paradise Irrigation District general manager Kevin Philips
reiterated to the board of directors on Wednesday night that
the water is clean as is the water coming from the water
treatment plant. … “What we are doing is pulling meters
because we feel meters could have been one of the leading
criteria to the contamination. Plastic meters that got heated
Another round of soaking winter weather is on the horizon for
the West Coast, with a series of storms expected to impact the
region through midweek. … “Unsettled weather will continue
across the West Coast this week as more rain and mountain snow
targets Northern California, Oregon and Washington,” according
to AccuWeather Meteorologist Max Vido.
An interview with Don Hankins, professor of geography and
planning at Chico State and a Plains Miwok traditional cultural
practitioner. He has spent his academic career working on water
and fire issues in California, with a focus on applied
traditional Indigenous stewardship.
Small mountain streams and the vibrant ecosystems they support
were hit hard by the historic California drought of 2012 to
2015. Researchers monitoring aquatic life in Sierra Nevada
streams observed significant declines in the numbers of aquatic
insects and other bottom-dwelling invertebrates during the
Four months after the deadliest wildfire in California history,
Gov. Gavin Newsom is declaring a statewide emergency to speed
up fire prevention efforts. Citing “extreme peril” to life and
property, Newsom’s Friday morning executive order will
fast-track the state’s tree clearing and other forest
Customers of the South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD)
may be looking at an annual increase on their water and sewer
bills of 5.0 to 8.5 percent to cover costs of replacing aging
infrastructure and enhancing local fire protection.
The Desert Research Institute, Averyt said, is engaged in
research looking at long-term and short-term climate change,
where the impact of human-caused warming is clear. Researchers
with DRI have looked at ice cores from Greenland to map out
long-term climate trends. At the same time, other researchers
are looking at more immediate trends through the Western
Regional Climate Center, which provides contemporary climate
data for the 11 contiguous western states.
Over 147 million trees in California forests have died over the
last eight years. Most of these forests are near the southern
Sierra Nevada, which shows an increasing threat to iconic
California landmarks like the Sequoia and Yosemite national
Butte County Health Officer, Dr. Andy Miller, issued a water
quality advisory on Tuesday for people living in the Camp Fire
affected areas. Miller urges people not to drink or boil tap
water. According to a press release, the health department says
that “Information from water authorities indicates the
possibility that contamination may be present in home plumbing
systems, and therefore, residents should not rely on home water
filtration systems as they may not be adequate to provide
A pilot program that used ultraviolet light to combat aquatic
invasive plants has shown promising results. Results from the
program, which was deployed in Lakeside Marina in the summer of
2017, show the use of ultraviolet-C light successfully killed
submerged aquatic plants, according to the Tahoe Resource
Addressing concerns that include floods, droughts, wildfires
and state regulations on river flow, two state officials
advised farmers and ranchers to remain engaged in those and
other natural-resources issues. At the California Farm Bureau
Federation Leaders Conference in Sacramento last week,
California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot
said his top priorities include water and wildfire protection.
Heavy snowfall this winter is expected to delay the seasonal
opening of many Yosemite tourist attractions, including
Yosemite Valley campgrounds, Half Dome’s climbing cables and
Tioga Road into the high country, park officials announced
As an uncontrollable wildfire turned the California town of
Paradise to ash, air pollution researcher Keith Bein knew he
had to act fast: Little is known about toxic chemicals released
when a whole town burns and the wind would soon blow away
evidence. He drove the roughly 100 miles to Paradise … only
to be refused entrance under rules that allow first responders
and journalists – but not public health researchers – to cross
Bonds to continue the next phase of an improvement program are
critical to the Tahoe Basin. That was the message delivered to
the Nevada Assembly Government Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks, said the $8 million in
this biennium’s bonding package will cover Nevada’s share of
the Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program for two years.
The water within the Paradise Irrigation District is clean. The
trouble is, the infrastructure within the district may not be,
according to Paradise Irrigation District’s Kevin Phillips.
“The water is clean but some of the pipes are contaminated,
that’s why (contamination) is so random,” he said. “One service
line can be contaminated, but the one next door isn’t. If the
water were contaminated, then it would be everywhere.”
A central tension for Paradise in the coming months is the
health of the water system. … The fire, however, unleashed
benzene and other volatile chemicals into the water system. The
chemicals are not in the water coming from the treatment plant.
They’re in the pipes beneath the town. The Paradise Irrigation
District is the utility that serves Paradise. It’s trying to
isolate the contamination in the system, but turning water on
to returning residents makes that process even harder.
The story behind the salmon success on the Mokelumne goes back
to the 1970s when the Commercial Salmon Fishing Association
petitioned the state to increase salmon production via a tax on
the commercial fishermen. The idea was to assure a viable
commercial fishery into the future and the commercial anglers
would be willing to pay the cost of extra production. Their
funds went into the hatchery system as well as habitat
In November, a wall of flames fueled by dry forests and wooden
structures tore through this Sierra foothill town like the dogs
of Hell. … Beneath the blast furnace heat that incinerated
buildings and vehicles above ground, an intricate network of
drinking water pipes below the surface became so contaminated
with toxic chemicals that many are unusable. The extent of the
damage and exactly how the poisons accumulated in the pipes of
Paradise and in the smaller, neighboring districts served by
Del Oro Water Company is not known.
Scientists found that wet winter weather, historically a
predictor of more modest California fire seasons, is no longer
linked to less damaging fires. The link between more rain and
less fire fell apart thanks to modern fire management and
accelerating climate change, the study said. “It’s going to be
a problem for people, for firefighters, for society,” said
study co-author Alan Taylor, a Pennsylvania State University
The results of testing 173 water samples were released at last
week’s board meeting of the Paradise Irrigation District and
revealed widespread contamination. Benzene, a known carcinogen,
was found in 32 percent of those samples, with an average level
of 27 parts per billion (the California drinking water standard
is 1 ppb). In the 35 samples that tested for additional
contaminants, over a dozen additional “volatile organic
chemicals” were found.
The aging, leaking Combie Canal, a concrete flume located along
a steep hillside above the Bear River, received the OK for a
nearly $20 million replacement Wednesday. The canal is a
“critical piece of infrastructure” that serves two water
treatment plants, Nevada Irrigation District staff say, with
more than half of the district’s flows for deliveries made
through the nearly 50-year-old system.
The southern Sierra Nevada is expected to see a pair of storm
systems in the coming days that could create “significant
flooding” over several burn scars in the area, according to
weather officials. … Next week’s storm, which is expected to
hit the area midweek, is the primary source of concern. “That
storm could bring between 2 and 5 inches of rain,” said Kevin
Durfee, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “If
those rain amounts do materialize, we could be looking at some
significant flooding over the burn scars, and rising water
levels in rivers and streams.”
Mono County hasn’t won the war, but it did win the first battle
in its lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power’s decision to withdraw water allotments to its Long
Valley area grazing leases. Last Friday, the Alameda County
civil court indicated LADWP’s request to dismiss the suit was
The wildfire that swept through Northern California this past
November was one of the deadliest and most destructive in the
state’s history. … While it may take a long time for these
communities to rebuild after these natural disasters, what is
often missed is how the forest will rebuild itself. It turns
out forests are struggling to come back, and climate change
might have something to do with it.
This is a classic endangered species, a small, ordinary-looking
fish with a peculiar common name, for a fish, which is followed
by a very long, if somewhat poetic, scientific name (try saying
it out loud a few times). It is perhaps appropriate that this
unusual California fish is associated with the official state
On their to-do list is determining how to spread costs from
wildfires in “an equitable manner” and considering whether the
state should create a special find to cover wildfire costs.
They face a tricky task with an array of competing interests,
chief among them how to balance wildfire costs between
utilities, their shareholders and their customers.
Every day, millions of gallons of water loaded with
arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most
contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding
streams and ponds without being treated, The Associated Press
has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting
drinking water sources in Colorado, Montana, California,
Oklahoma and at least five other states.
Lake Tahoe is the place to be this winter. It holds the best
snowpack in the western United States and the crowds are
flocking to the world-class slopes. Traffic has been insane,
infuriating and downright miserable at times — all while the
snow continues to fly.
Hoping to prevent another California utility from being driven
into bankruptcy by wildfires, state officials may create a new
kind of insurance fund to help cover costs from the
increasingly devastating disasters. … How it would work and
who would fund it remain unclear, but the bill envisions
electric utilities paying into the fund, while a leading
consumer group has suggested shifting the financial burden to
the property insurance market.
In Paradise, California, thousands of residents are trying to
cope with disruption and displacement resulting from November’s
devastating Camp Fire. Children attend school in a repurposed
hardware store, where counselors try to help them manage their
trauma. Meanwhile, amidst millions of tons of toxic debris,
finding safe and stable housing is a challenge. Special
correspondent Cat Wise reports.
If the Trump administration wanted to increase California’s
water supply by the most cost-effective means possible, it
would immediately drop its attempt to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5
feet. It would instead put $1.5 billion — the cost of the
proposed Shasta enlargement, in 2019 dollars — toward a
completely different approach to water supply: watershed and
Auburn City Councilman Bill Kirby is a major proponent of
making the sculpture – already commissioned by the non-profit
Let’s Never Forget organization and being created by Reno
artist Peter Hazel – a feature of a newly announced salmon
festival in Auburn and keeping it on permanent display after
In increasingly arid regions such as the western U.S., water
managers are learning that careful management and restoration
of watershed ecosystems, including thinning trees and
conducting prescribed burns, are important tools in coping with
a hotter, drier climate.
The Butte County Environmental Health Department announced
Friday morning that businesses that plan on re-opening in the
Camp Fire affected area and will be installing temporary water
systems, including water tanks and hauling water, must contact
its office prior to opening.
When 2019 started, California’s snowpack was at 67%. Now it’s
at over 136% and rising. The atmospheric rivers that are
dumping rain along coastal California are also dumping massive
amounts of snow in the state’s Sierra Nevada.
The interrelated nature of water issues has given rise to a
management approach that integrates flood control,
environmental water, and water supply. The Yuba Water Agency
manages its watershed in this kind of coordinated manner. We
talked to Curt Aikens, the agency’s general manager, about the
lessons they’ve learned from this “integrated management”
If you try to figure out the total water stored in the Sierras,
you run into a methodological wall. There’s no good way to get
there directly. Starting about two decades ago, a small
group of scientists suggested a new solution: What if they
could measure the water cycle from space?
Don’t be fooled by the precipitation, the snowpack, the
wildflowers. When winter ends, it’s unlikely that California’s
iconic landscape will sustain the moisture to withstand the
100-degree summer and fall. … State fire officials are
already amassing new aircraft that drop thousands of gallons of
bright red flame retardant. Emergency responders are
pre-positioning fire crews in high-threat areas even before a
An effort is underway to hire a full-time watershed coordinator
focused on forest management projects in the Yuba River
Watershed and a grant from the Yuba Water Agency could help.
… The coordinator would work with public and private
landowners to plan and coordinate projects within the
watershed, including a biomass facility in Camptonville and a
forest health project in the north Yuba Watershed.
Two years after California’s historic drought came to an end,
the sweeping die-off of the state’s forests has slowed, yet
vast tracts of dry, browning trees continue to amplify the
threat of wildfire, federal officials reported Monday. About
18.6 million trees died in 2018, mainly the result of
dehydration and beetle infestation, according to new estimates
from the U.S. Forest Service. That pushes the total number of
dead since 2010, shortly before the five-year drought began, to
147 million. It’s a toll not seen in modern times.
The site experienced a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959 when it
was the Rocketdyne/Atomics International rocket engine test and
nuclear facility, as well as other chemical and radioactive
contamination over the years. Denise Duffield, associate
director of Physicians for Social Responsibility … said
the plan calls for cleaning up only 38,000 of the 1.6 million
cubic yards of soil the Energy Department says are
contaminated and not remediating most of the contaminated
The rain and even a bit of snow keep on
coming. Except for a 10-day dry spell at the end
of January, the San Francisco Bay Area has seen a series
of drenching winter storms that have watered gardens,
fueled waterfalls, recharged reservoirs, and diminished the
possibility of the ever-dreaded drought. In fact, all of
California has been slammed with an onslaught of
unsettled weather unleashing heavy snow and rain.
Imagine Lake Tahoe with no snow year round. Every winter storm
that reaches the basin brings only rain. No skiing. No
snowboarding. No winter sports of any kind. … A dramatic
decline in the Sierra Nevada snowpack will be felt the most in
Northern California by mid century, according to a study
published in December 2018 by the Department of Energy’s
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Incredible amounts of snow have fallen throughout parts of the
Mountain West since last Friday after a one-two punch from
winter storms Kai and Lucian. The Sierra Nevada, straddling the
border between California and Nevada, has been particularly
hard-hit, where one ski resort tallied 6 feet of snow in just
A $500,000 program to mitigate for destruction of artificial
habitat created by Placer County Water Agency canal leaks has
ended. The Water Agency started working in the mid-2000s to fix
ongoing leaks along its canals and confronted a problem of its
own doing. The leaks had created what state Environmental
Quality Act standards defined as artificially established
wetlands and habitat for wildlife.
The strongest Pacific storm of the season will lash California
through Saturday with high winds, feet of Sierra snow, and
heavy rain that could trigger flash flooding, debris flows and
rockslides. If that wasn’t enough, another colder storm is
waiting in the wings behind this first system.
Twenty-three early to mid-career water professionals
from across California have been chosen for the
2019 William R. Gianelli Water Leaders Class, the Water
Education Foundation’s highly competitive and respected career
development program. The class will spend the year examining
the impact wildfires have on the supply and quality
of water resources in California.
It’s not just skiers who have been whipsawed this season
between fear of another dry winter and delight over the epic
January snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. Also paying close
attention: water wonks. Why? Because melting Sierra snow
provides somewhere between one-third and one-half of
California’s water supply. What determines just how much water
is derived from that snow is called the “snowpack.”
California wildland managers said Tuesday they want to speed up
logging and prescribed burns designed to slow wildfires that
have devastated communities in recent years. After the
deadliest and most destructive blazes in state history,
officials are scrapping 12 years of efforts and starting anew
on creating a single environmental review process to cover
projects on private land, such as cutting back dense stands of
trees and setting controlled fires to burn out thick
New snow measurements to be taken Thursday are expected to
confirm that snow levels in the Sierra Nevada are on par with
the long-term average, thanks to a series of storms that
thrashed California in January. Those results may sound pretty
ho hum, but getting to average is a pretty big thing in today’s
topsy turvy world of snow analysis, where the absence of
pending disaster due to too little snow is something to
The history of the planet can be found inside a sediment core
at the bottom of the ocean, or the cake-like layers of a soil
pit, or in the strata of the Grand Canyon. So it shouldn’t be
too surprising that the climatic history of water — and a hint
about its future — can sometimes be found by digging into a pit
Saying they feel an urgency to act fast, California officials
this week will launch the main phase of wildfire debris removal
in Butte County, scene of November’s devastating Camp Fire. But
a potential problem has emerged: Nearly half of the property
owners in the hill country around Paradise have not given the
government permission to enter their properties to do the work.
The main work, involving a complete scraping and clearing of
burned-out properties, is scheduled to begin later this week.
Locals with commercial leases from the Los Angeles Department
of Water and Power got a chance at input into the details of
potential purchase of the land under their businesses earlier
this month. Now, more details and a potential timeline are
coming to the surface. … LADWP was looking for input from
Inyo businesses as part of a second look at its divestiture
procedure. While the specific properties are not yet
identified, the number of parcels hovers around 50, according
to Jessica Johnson with the department’s public information
Angelenos bearing gifts have elicited skepticism in Owens
Valley since the early 1900s, when city agents posed as
ranchers and farmers to buy land and water rights and then
built dams and diversions that turned much of the region into
an acrid dust bowl. Now, the Los Angeles Department of
Water and Power is extending an olive branch. The department
has proposed selling some of the commercial property it leases
… to dozens of lessees in the financially struggling towns
along a rustic, 112-mile stretch of Highway 395 between the
eastern Sierra Nevada range and the White-Inyo Mountains.
Governor Newsom’s first proposed state budget, released earlier
this month, addresses several critical water and natural
resource management challenges. Here are highlights from his
plans to mitigate problems with safe drinking water, improve
forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires, and encourage
healthy soils to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase
Storms that soaked California during the first half of January
did more than bring tons of snow to Sierra Nevada ski resorts.
They also helped to significantly boost the state’s water
supplies. Over the three weeks from Jan. 1 until this
Tuesday, 47 key reservoirs that state water officials closely
monitor added 580 billion gallons of water — as much as roughly
9 million people use in a year, according to an analysis by
State water quality officials cautioned the public not to drink
or cook with untreated surface water from streams throughout
the Camp Fire burn area after bacteria and other contaminants
were detected in water samples. … Laboratory analyses of
surface water samples found concentrations of bacteria
(E.Coli), aluminum, antimony and some polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons (PAHs) that exceeded water quality standards for
Snowpack across California is about 110 percent of normal for
this time of year, thanks in no small part to an atmospheric
river that brought heavy snowstorms to the Sierra range, the
state Department of Water Resources’ most recent data
show. Statewide snowpack is more than quadruple what it
was by this time last year.
The never-ending fire season stems largely from a years-long
drought that gripped much of California before easing in 2017.
An estimated 129 million trees died from a lack of nutrients
and infestations from bark beetles, leaving hillsides and
forests dappled with kindling. The results have been grim.
Record-setting fires have swept across the state, killing more
than 100 people in two years. All told, nearly 900,000 acres
burned in 2018 on land Cal Fire patrols. That’s more than
triple the five-year average.
The biggest storm of the year packed the punch forecasters
called for, walloping the Sierra Nevada with several feet of
snow, and wreaking havoc on local highways and roads. Earlier
in the week, the National Weather Service Office in Reno issued
a blizzard warning for the greater Tahoe area, a rare report
since 2008. Regional ski resorts, which had seen scant snow
until recent storms swept through earlier this month, reported
several feet of fresh snow in the past few days.
A simple web search will pull up nearly a million articles,
videos and photos featuring Frank Gehrke. He’s no fashion icon
like Kim Kardashian or a dogged politician like Gov. Jerry
Brown. But he has broken a lot of news. … For 30 years,
you might have seen Gehrke on TV, the guy trudging through snow
with a measuring pole, talking about how deep the pack is each
winter on the evening news. He retired from his post as the
state’s chief snow surveyor in December, but he’s not letting
go of his snowshoes and skis anytime soon.
Another Pacific storm was set to hit California on Wednesday,
bringing a threat of mudslides to the site of the deadliest
wildfire in state history and a rare blizzard warning in the
Sierra Nevada. An evacuation warning was in place into Thursday
morning for Pulga, a canyon community in Northern California.
Its neighbor, the town of Paradise, was virtually incinerated
two months ago by the Camp Fire that killed 86 people and
destroyed nearly 15,000 homes.
The century-old PG&E—which employs 20,000 workers and is
slated to play an integral role in California’s clean energy
future—also has a checkered history and little goodwill to
spare with the public. On Thursday, the PUC launched an
investigation into the utility’s safety record and corporate
structure, as Bay Area residents shouted, protested and urged
commissioners not to give them a bailout.
California began 2019 with lower-than-average snowpack
measurements — just 67 percent of the year-to-date
average. Recent storms pushed that total to 90
percent as of Friday. With more precipitation on the horizon,
forecasters predict snowpack measurements will “meet or exceed”
the year-to-date average by the end of the week.
Climate models using SNOTEL data predict a decline in Western
snowpack. … In December, University of Arizona researchers
presented new on-the-ground findings supporting these
predictions. … In parts of the West, annual snow mass has
declined by 41 percent, and the snow season is 34 days shorter.
Scripps Institute of Oceanography climatologist Amato Evan told
the San Diego Union-Tribune that “climate change in the Western
U.S. is not something we will see in the next 50 years. We can
see it right now.”
California will be under a siege of storm systems through next
week that will send rounds of soaking rain across the state and
snow into the Sierra Nevada. The storms will be guided toward
California through a strong jet stream over the Pacific Ocean.
It’s possible the Golden State could be affected by three or
four separate weather systems through the end of next week.
Last week, the relicensing effort reached a milestone when FERC
issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement. The
environmental document essentially looks at what changes a
licensee has proposed for a specific project, the impacts of
those changes and provides conditions they must meet if awarded
a new license.
Every winter, forest managers in places like California take a
step back, analyze their budgets and plan on how to deal with
the next fire season. But the government shutdown has shuttered
a lot of those efforts, because federal lands like the U.S.
Forest Service— which has been furloughed since December 22 —
plays a huge role. For example, crews in Redwood National Park
are “just sitting on their hands,” according to University of
California fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson in Humboldt
County, because they can’t work on federal land during the
The city of San Francisco is not standing down in California’s
latest water war, joining a lawsuit against the state on
Thursday to stop it from directing more of the Sierra Nevada’s
cool, crisp flows to fish instead of people.
Trump’s latest tweet drew a sharp reaction from state
Republican legislators representing the area around the town of
Paradise, which was mostly incinerated in a wildfire that
killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes. State
Senator Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher said
Trump’s threat to withhold FEMA funds ”is wholly
unacceptable. He made a commitment to the people who have
lost everything in these fires, and we expect the federal
government to follow through with his promise.”
In December, Frank Gehrke retired as chief snow surveyor for
the California Department of Water Resources. He spent much of
his 31 years with the department on skis and snowshoes, in
remote corners of the Sierra Nevada, measuring the “frozen
reservoir” that ultimately provides about a third of
California’s water supply.
If you live on the West Coast, you may hear the term
“atmospheric river” thrown around. These massive, fast-moving
storm systems can transport more than 25 times the moisture as
flows through the mouth of the Mississippi River.