Wetlands are among the most important ecosystems in the world. They produce high levels of oxygen, filter toxic chemicals out of water, reduce flooding and erosion and recharge groundwater. They also serve as critical habitat for wildlife, including a large percentage of plants and animals on California’s endangered species list.
As the state has grown into one of the world’s leading economies, Californians have developed and transformed the state’s marshes, swamps and tidal flats, losing as much as 90 percent of the original wetlands acreage—a greater percentage of loss than any other state in the nation.
While the conversion of wetlands has slowed, the loss in California is significant and it affects a range of factors from water quality to quality of life.
Wetlands still remain in every part of the state, with the greatest concentration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watershed, which includes the Central Valley. The Delta wetlands are especially important because they are part of the vast complex of waterways that provide two-thirds of California’s drinking water.
In Orange and Los Angeles counties, more than 90 percent of the estuaries, lagoons and other coastal waters that existed in the 19th century have been lost to roads, buildings and other development. But what remains provides a crucial habitat for resident animals and migrating birds, including several endangered species.
Should the state of California honor a commitment made in 2003 to restore the Salton Sea, despite moving water away from the area to thirsty coastal cities? Or should this artificial, long-festering sea be left alone to dry up entirely? While politicians have dithered, Bombay Beach’s atmospheric decay has drawn filmmakers, novelists and other artists who marvel at the thriving community hidden inside seemingly derelict properties.
While you may have heard about the Trump administration’s attempts to narrow the scope of Waters of the United States (WOTUS), California is expanding its regulations, including broadening the definition of wetlands subject to permitting requirements. … Projects impacting California surface waters and wetlands that are outside federal jurisdiction will now need state authorization under new and more expansive rules.
I am standing where stream flow begins, in a nameless tributary of the Russian River to the east of Hopland, California. This particular spot and location has been a grazing livestock ranch, primarily sheep, going back more than 100 years. This is one of thousands of spots in the watershed where water comes to the surface, joins in a channel, and starts its path downstream.
EPA won’t regulate any pollution to surface waters that passes through groundwater. … If pollution travels through groundwater, EPA says, it “breaks the causal chain” between a source of pollution and surface waters. That could affect regulation of pollution from a variety of sources, including seepage from coal ash and manure management ponds, sewage collection systems, septic system discharges, and accidental spills and releases.
Attorneys general from 14 states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday vehemently opposed the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back a regulation known as Waters of the United States, a move they said would end federal oversight of 15 percent of streams and more than half of the nation’s wetlands.
U.S. presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said on Monday she would ban all fossil fuel extraction on federal land and in coastal waters, setting herself apart from a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls who have made climate change a central campaign issue but have yet to outline specific policies.
Massive fish-die offs. Dead birds. A toxic stench. Bryan Mendez and Olivia Rodriguez are dissatisfied that those sad facts are the only things most Californians ever hear about the Salton Sea, one of the largest inland seas in the world.
The tall, bamboo-like plants clustered in dense thickets along sections of the Salinas River in the Salinas Valley have long attracted the attention of those who have strolled in that area. Green and stately with long, sword-like leaves, they belong to a species known as Arundo donax, or more commonly, giant cane. … But the plant is a nuisance and local officials have decided to do something about it.
Environmental groups have dropped their opposition to a bill they had originally blasted as a way for the state to green-light a controversial plan to pipe water from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas after the bill was amended last week. … But AB30 was altered significantly enough on Wednesday to allow those groups to feel comfortable enough to now say they are neutral on the bill.
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.
All along the lazy Lake County shorelines of creeks, ponds and lakes you may be able to sneak up on Western pond turtles to observe their slow-motion antics. … Besides watery places of residence, however, they require a terrestrial habitat to thrive. For instance, if the turtles’ resident pond or marsh dries up seasonally or in a drought, they might end up living outside of their aquatic environment for two-thirds of a year.
Bernhardt has a roster to fill, with gaping vacancies in key positions. He’s got, by his own account, a departmental ethics program to fix and an ambitious reorganization scheme that critics decry or simply dismiss. He’ll have to cope with a multibillion-dollar national parks maintenance backlog and thread the needle with an offshore drilling plan. And as he’s already discovered during his short stint as acting secretary, he faces opposition from Democratic lawmakers in control of the House.
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 liters).
At its core, the ill-advised attempt to “restore” the Salton Sea is nothing short of environmental malpractice. It will inevitably fail at a very high cost to both wildlife and taxpayers, succeeding only in perpetuating a hazardous condition.
David Bernhardt, President Trump’s pick to the lead the Interior Department, was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday amid persistent ethical concerns and doubts about his independence from the energy and water industry groups he long represented as a lobbyist.
“Flood-MAR” is a resource management strategy that uses flood water for managed aquifer recharge (MAR) on agricultural lands, working landscapes, and managed natural landscapes. At the March meeting of the California Water Commission, a panel discussed Flood MAR with a focus on using agricultural lands for groundwater recharge.
More than a decade in the making, a new state definition of wetlands will likely take effect early next year—as will procedures intended to protect them from dredge-and-fill activities. The State Water Resources Control Board adopted final amendments to the state wetland policy last week, after including changes that moved it closer to its original intent of limiting its application to agriculture.
All this reliance on an overallocated river has left its final hundred miles as the ultimate collateral damage. Since the early 1960s, when Glen Canyon Dam impounded the river near Page, Arizona, it has rarely reached the Pacific Ocean. The thread is frayed beyond recognition, leaving no water for the river itself.
Senate Bill 307 prohibits water transfers unless two agencies agree that the transfers do not harm state and federal desert lands. But it’s really about one thing: stopping the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project. … The Cadiz project has been thoroughly vetted and meets an important need. It’s time legislators let it proceed.
The wetland is fed by a concrete canal that removes drainage water from American farms across the border in Arizona. … But there’s a problem. As the Colorado River basin heats up and dries out like climate projections predict, Juan Butrón-Méndez is concerned people will stop thinking of the water that flows to the wetland as waste, find a way to use it and, in turn, harm the Ciénega.
An increasing number of solutions to California and Arizona’s long-term water problems now involve Mexico. Some of the ideas are seemingly far-fetched, like a pipeline to bring water from the Gulf of California to the Salton Sea in Imperial County. Some are already happening, like Mexico agreeing to reduce its water use in the event of a Colorado River shortage. … That stands in contrast not only to recent threats by President Donald Trump to shut down the border, but some existing water projects.
New research finds that climate change is putting stress on wetlands in the West’s Great Basin and that is putting pressure on bird populations navigating the Pacific Flyway. Changing water conditions linked to climate change are impacting the wetland habitats that waterbirds rely on. The basin includes most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Arizona, Oregon and the eastern edge of California.
Our predecessors settled in a valley bordered by mountains that increase the rainfall and help store water as melted snow underground. They also experienced drought and, in response, they thoughtfully set aside thousands of acres of land needed to capture and replenish the primary source of the water they needed, underground.
Among other ramifications, the new procedures largely duplicate (and in some respects are inconsistent with) federal procedures, but add a significant new layer to the already byzantine regulatory process for permitting projects that involve fill of federal and state waters and wetlands.
San Diego officials are proposing a variety of upgrades to Mission Bay Park’s Fiesta Island including new parks, playgrounds, volleyball courts, marsh areas and habitat preserves. The proposed master plan for the mostly undeveloped 470-acre island is envisioned as a balance between improving the island and retaining its rural ambiance, city officials said.
His departments and agencies have moved to weaken or eliminate dozens of protections, and the rollbacks are coming so fast it’s not always possible for the state to keep up. It’s not for lack of trying. On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board approved new standards to protect California’s wetlands and seasonal streams and ponds that are slated to lose their current federal protection under the Clean Water Act as part of the Trump administration’s rollbacks.
Under the Clean Water Act, states are allowed to enforce rules more stringent than federal standards. On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted rules that largely mirror the federal regulations the Trump administration plans to repeal. California’s new rules had been in the works since 2008, but the process took on added urgency when the Trump administration announced its intention to relax federal wetlands protections.
This week California’s State Water Resources Control Board adopted important new rules to protect the state’s remaining wetlands resources. Enacted after over a decade of Board hearings, workshops and deliberation, those rules are overdue, welcome and critically necessary. Their adoption is particularly timely now, given the Trump Administration’s wholesale assault on and erosion of federal programs designed to protect our nation’s wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).
Our soggy spring has been a big boost to these so-called “vernal ponds,” ephemeral bodies of water which play a critical role in preservation of threatened and endangered creatures… The team found larvae of the threatened California tiger salamander in 28 of the 58 pools they monitor. The endangered vernal pool tadpole shrimp was found in 49 of these pools. That’s the third-highest tally in recent years.
Mexican and American officials met in Mexico City this week to talk about fixing a costly set of problems that have sprung up along the border: failing sewer systems that send raw sewage spilling into rivers. … Roberto Salmón, Mexico’s commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission, said border cities from Tijuana to Matamoros need a total of about 10 billion pesos, or $520 million, “just to bring the sanitary systems up to speed, to correct the problems.”
Now EPA and the Corps want to hear directly from members of the public — including farmers, ranchers, landowners and others who may be subject to regulation — to make sure the new Clean Water Rule provides clear and easily understood guidelines. But with the comment period on the proposed new rule closing on April 15, there’s no time to lose.
As Secretary, Jared Blumenfeld oversees the state’s efforts to fight climate change, protect air and water quality, regulate pesticides and toxic substances, achieve the state’s recycling and waste reduction goals, and advance environmental justice. … Blumenfeld joined TPR for an exclusive interview to discuss the administration’s priorities…
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.
Excluded from a Southwestern drought pact, the Imperial Irrigation District won a small victory on Tuesday when federal legislators included protections for the Salton Sea that were left out of previous drafts of the agreement.
California regulators voted Tuesday to strengthen state safeguards for thousands of wetlands and streams that are about to lose federal protections in a Trump administration rollback of the Clean Water Act. … The new state rules will insulate California from Washington’s efforts to drop regulations that prevent the destruction of isolated wetlands and seasonal streams.
The use of public art to bring about social change created the interactive art event called the “Bombay Beach Biennale” on the shores of the Salton Sea. Organizers hope to bring attention to the long-ignored environmental issue facing the region, once one of the premier tourist destinations in Southern California.
Modern interpretations of the public trust are said to have originated from a sixth-century Roman law that asserted, “[b]y the law of nature these things are common to mankind — the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.”
Alongside auto wrecking yards and shipping centers off state Route 905, a pop-up world has emerged with some of the strangest creatures to swim in six inches of water. Here aquatic plants grow next to cacti, and animals that have waited for decades in the dust come to life. In this Otay Mesa preserve are some of San Diego’s vernal pools, fleeting water bodies that appear and vanish over the course of a season.
In 1972, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, which included a program designed to preserve the nation’s dwindling wetlands. This federal program has never been wholly successful in achieving that goal. … California has the ability to fill this alarming regulatory gap, at least here in the Golden State.
On Saturday officials held a grand opening ceremony for the $44-million Albion Riverside Park — the city’s newest greenspace. The triangular six-acre site next to the L.A. River at Spring Street includes playing fields, walking trails, restrooms, playgrounds, parking and an outdoor fitness center. But the park will also do double-duty as a giant filter to clean storm drain water before it flows in the adjacent L.A. River.
Conservationists and weekend volunteers have toiled in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands for years, weeding out invasive plants and replanting native vegetation squeezed out by the invaders. … Now, these wildlife custodians are expanding their botanical battle across Pacific Coast Highway to the sand dunes of Bolsa Chica State Beach. After all, no matter how many enemy plants are removed from the wetlands, ocean winds will carry more seeds from non-native plants growing in the dunes.
Nearly 2 million acres designated as critical habitat for three imperiled frog species survived a court challenge Wednesday by California farmers. The Fish and Wildlife Service had designated the land in 2016 under the Endangered Species Act to protect two high-altitude species — the mountain yellow-legged frog and the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog — as well as Yosemite toads.
TPR interviewed Martha Davis, a co-author on the Sustainable Landscapes on Commercial and Industrial Properties in the Santa Ana River Watershed report, about the potential for landscaping changes to capture stormwater, reduce flooding, and improve water quality. … Davis also comments on California water policies under the new Governor Newsom administration. A brief excerpt of the report follows the interview.
Democrats and their allies are moving to push back against a former lobbyist and frequent foe of California environmentalists who is on his way to becoming the next secretary of the Interior Department. They don’t have the power to block Trump nominee David Bernhardt, but they do have far more ability to oppose his agenda than they had for the last two years, when he served as the powerful deputy secretary of the department.
This may be the bleakest shoreline in the Bay Area, and it isn’t just the industrial infrastructure that gives character to this place. Floating trash has collected along the docks, and the waters are contaminated by the loading and unloading of vast amounts of fossil fuels. A sign posted to a piling warns fishers not to eat anything they catch here.
“The community is miserably divided,” said Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon during a meeting on Tuesday. Dillon and her four fellow board members were tasked with crafting and approving the Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance, a controversial new law that seeks to conserve trees and forested areas while improving water quality for the many creeks that feed the Napa River.
Major new efforts to manage runoff and protect existing homes and businesses will be needed. Sea level rise will also affect water management in other ways. One area is wastewater treatment. Throughout coastal California and particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, wastewater and stormwater treatment takes place in facilities that are currently at or near sea level. Water supply will also be affected. Many coastal aquifers will see increases in salinity …
State officials are throwing up legal barriers to some high-stakes attacks. … They are refusing to issue permits the federal government needs to build a controversial dam project… And they can use state water quality standards to limit Washington’s ability to boost irrigation supplies for Central Valley agriculture by relaxing federal safeguards for endangered fish.
In California, [Jerry] Schubel saw an opportunity to turn the energy, food and water issues facing the state into a sustainable model showing how people can live in harmony with the Earth and the ocean, and thrive. That model required deep collaboration, a commitment to educational resources for the public and an aquarium willing to take a risk.
As the Sacramento River rose in late February and early March due to a series of storms, it spilled over and flooded several hundred acres of recently planted fields south of Hamilton City. Just the way it was planned. The river poured through a gap that had been opened in the old J Levee and flooded a habitat restoration project between the riverbank and a new levee that had been built, set back from the river a mile or so.
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 drought.
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 weather.
The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted Thursday to start exploring the feasibility of a demand-management program as part of a larger effort to manage falling water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and avoid violating the Colorado River Compact.
Water gives us life, and water does not come easily to California. It made sense to invite it to stay a while and help nurture our Gravensteins, our white figs and pear. So I’ve spent months cutting back bramble and digging out blackberry. The creek has become my workout video. I spend mornings contemplating the flow of water and noticing what mushrooms grow in the leaf litter, what animal prints inscribe the mud.
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 drought.
Move over global warming or cooling, California has a new environmental disaster called groundwater. And where there’s an emergency, we have ambulance-chasing regulators and lawmakers with bureaucratic fixes. Why are we having groundwater problems? It’s plain and simple: Groundwater is replacing surface water.
Another group of top state officials visited the Salton Sea this week to promise that this time, things will be different and progress will be made to restore the fast-drying water body. … Newly appointed water board chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel, who grew up in nearby La Quinta and fished in the lake as a boy, said he shares residents’ and longtime experts’ frustrations, and feels personally accountable to family members who still live in the area, as well as the communities around the lake.
Residents and officials who packed a yacht club on the north shore of the Salton Sea on Tuesday vented their anger about what they perceive as unnecessary delays and obfuscations about the environmental and public health disaster unfolding here. The California Water Resources Control Board held the workshop at the North Shore Yacht and Beach Club to both inform the public and garner opinions of residents living in proximity to the sea, which is rapidly vanishing into the desert.
On Tuesday, March 19, the California Water Resources Control Board will hold a session on the North Shore to hear from state officials about their progress addressing the many issues related to the Salton Sea. This is a good opportunity for these officials to break through the remaining obstacles to progress at the Salton Sea and find a productive way forward.
A move by the Environmental Protection Agency could revive the contentious plan to develop 1,400 acres of Redwood City shoreline owned by Cargill Salt, which operates an industrial plant there. The EPA removed one barrier to development earlier this month by ruling that the area is not subject to restrictions in the federal Clean Water Act. That puts the EPA at loggerheads with environmentalists, who want to convert the land back to tidal wetlands.
Every year, millions of waterbirds migrating from Alaska to Patagonia take a break from that epic journey to rest, eat and breed in a stretch of wetlands spanning six Western states called the Great Basin. A warming climate has made that migration more challenging by altering how mountain snowmelt flows into the network of lakes and rivers stretching from the Sierra Nevada to the Rockies, according to a new study.
When a wild river floods, water and sediment spills over its banks onto adjacent land, it builds up a natural floodplain. Floodplains allow a river’s high flows to spread out and slow down, forming temporary reservoirs that pool over the rainy season. That means more water percolating down into underlying aquifers … and less floodwaters barreling toward cities.
Otters, birds, and turtles might be the last animals you would expect to find living next door to the Interstate 680 toll-plaza. But, tucked between the freeway, an oil refinery and a wastewater facility hides an oasis on the mend. … The 21-acre constructed wetland is in the middle of an industrial zone and is part of the Mt. View Sanitary District Wastewater Treatment Plant. “It’s the very first wetland on the west coast to use treated wastewater to create wetlands,” explained district biologist Kelly Davidson.
Climate change is having a profound effect on the millions of migrating birds that rely on annual stops along the Pacific Flyway as they head from Alaska to Patagonia each year. They are finding less food, saltier water and fewer places to breed and rest on their long journeys, according to a new paper in Nature’s Scientific Reports.
The chances for passage this year of legislation to jump-start serious water planning in New Mexico, including by pumping millions of dollars into the effort, evaporated last week when a Senate committee tabled a key bill.
A sprawling stretch of salt ponds on the western edge of San Francisco Bay, once eyed for the creation of a virtual mini-city, is back at the center of debate over regional development after the Trump administration this month exempted the site from the Clean Water Act.
Poseidon is a bad deal for ratepayers. The study by the experts at MWDOC ranked Poseidon dead last among local water projects based on cost. Even after demanding a $400 million subsidy financed by Southern California water users, Poseidon’s water is still overpriced, costing twice per gallon as much as some of the conservation, recycling and rainwater projects already in development around our region.
As the Trump administration moves toward a drought contingency plan for the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is pushing legislation that would exempt its work from environmental reviews. That includes potential impacts on what has emerged as a major sticking point in the drought negotiations: Southern California’s Salton Sea, a public health and ecological disaster.
Imperial Valley officials are reportedly close to finishing an important habitat restoration project at the Salton Sea. The remake of Red Hill Bay was supposed to be a model for a management plan around the shrinking lake, but the effort is two years overdue and still months away from completion. The Salton Sea needs a management plan because water is evaporating faster than it’s being replaced…
Hundreds of Bakersfield agriculture, oil and political leaders came together March 7 to examine the challenges and opportunities associated with providing California residents and businesses with a secure, reliable supply of clean water. Lest the wet winter create a sense of complacency around one of the state’s most vital needs, specialists from various fields urged collective attention to the costly and increasingly complex problems that surround sourcing, storing and conveying water.
A bill introduced by a state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that will address ocean acidification and water quality issues has been introduced and it’s being supported by a wide variety of stakeholders. Senate Bill 69, authored by Wiener, is aimed at reducing land-based sources of pollutants, the restoration of wetlands and the sequestration of greenhouse gases and to protect wildlife and keystone species.
Implementing the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—which requires overdrafted groundwater basins to achieve balance between supply and demand by the 2040s—could require taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of production in the San Joaquin Valley. … We talked to Soapy Mulholland, president and CEO of Sequoia Riverlands Trust, about this impending challenge.
For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.
Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the commission’s 129-year history.
Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in North America, isn’t exactly known for record rainfall or pop-up lakes stretching as far as the eye can see. But after a massive storm lashed the desert with rain and brought chilly temperatures through Southern California, that’s exactly what happened, according to photographer Elliott McGucken. He was trying to get to Badwater Basin, where he thought there could be flooding, when he saw the giant lake.
It’s not often that communities in California and Louisiana face similar water challenges. California is better known for having too little water and Louisiana too much – both challenges exacerbated by climate change. But record-setting wet winter weather led both states last week to release significant amounts of water from reservoirs and rivers to prevent flooding, underscoring the need for new approaches to build climate-resilient communities across the country.
On February 14, 2019, the California Office of the State Fire Marshall (“OSFM”) published long awaited draft regulations to reduce the volume of pipeline oil spills in coastal areas. The proposed regulations, which implement AB 864 (2015), will impose substantial and costly burdens on companies that own and operate pipelines within California near environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas
The federal government issued the final permit Friday allowing the Rosemont Mine to be built despite written EPA warnings that the mine will pollute surface water and shrink, if not dry up, two nationally important streams. … The EPA’s regional office also warned that the mine’s cutoff of stormwater flows into neighboring streams and its groundwater pumping will significantly degrade federally regulated water bodies.
For a region so crucial to the growth of California as we know it today, you might think there would be libraries full of books about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And yet, as UC Merced scholar Gregg Camfield wrote several years ago, the most obvious thing about the literature of the Delta “is how little there is.” Advocates of the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas are trying to collect those scattered bits and pieces in a new anthology of the Delta.
When congress passed the CWA in 1972, they made it clear in documents accompanying the legislation that they supported “the broadest possible constitutional interpretation” of protected waters of the United States.
San Luis Obispo County supervisors are exploring what it’d take to bolster the county’s authority in issuing groundwater well permits. Following a report about groundwater conditions in the Adelaida region of the North County on Feb. 26, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to have its staff look at how it could increase the level of review and discretion the county has over approving or denying well applications.
In this edition of In Depth we take on two water topics. First, there’s growing concern that a lot of the rainwater we’ve been getting is just going down the drain and out to sea. We plumb the depths of California’s water system to find out where it’s coming up short and what can be done to fix it. Then, new research suggests that the historical link between wet winters and less severe fire seasons has broken down. We discuss why even in the rainiest of years, we still can’t count out damaging wildfires.
A long battle over development of the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City may soon return after the EPA declared the site exempt from the federal Clean Water Act — causing concern by environmentalists and the city’s mayor. The Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision earlier this month, effectively removing one of several barriers to development of the 1,400-acre Bayside property.
Conditions are right for spectacular blooms throughout the California desert this year, experts say. The benefits of rain are endless, especially in Southern California, where drought-like conditions often persist for months on end. Thanks to this year’s significant rainfall, the annual wildflower blooms are set to be quite spectacular, according to Jorge Moreno, information officer for California State Parks.
The Crossroads Open Space soccer field in Santa Maria is filled with water thanks to the most recent storm. Located on S. College Dr., the field also serves as a basin to collect storm runoff. The city says the water will soak into the ground, recharging the groundwater basin.
What better way to decompress from a stressful federal government job than by trekking 2,600 miles on foot from Mexico to Canada? That’s what Jared Blumenfeld, the new head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, did three years ago, setting out on the arduous and beloved Pacific Crest Trail that traces California’s searing deserts, rugged mountains and sparkling coastline.
California farmer Brenton Kelly still remembers how the Cuyama Valley used to be. The valley, located in California’s Central Coast region, has long been home to an abundance of wildlife. Historically, the land has been used for cattle pastures, and featured “beautiful rolling grassy hill” and an “amazing wildflower show,” according to Kelly. These days, however, the land has been taken over by large commercial farms and vineyards, Kelly said. … Among some of the corporations that have expanded into the region in recent years is an unlikely investor — the Harvard Management Company. HMC, the University’s investment arm, oversees Harvard’s nearly $40 billion endowment.
You can’t see them. You can’t swim in them. But groundwater aquifers are one of the most important sources of water in the North Coast. Aquifers are water-rich underground areas. They aren’t like lakes or pools but are composed of water-filled areas between rocks, sands, and gravels. Plants and animals benefit from groundwater when it’s near the surface, and feeds creeks and streams. Humans tap into aquifers through wells used for drinking, irrigating crops and operating businesses.
California’s largest lake has long attracted visitors. Many go there year-round to see thousands of birds congregating around the lake and its nearby habitats, but the lake is changing and that’s changing bird populations.
Dam by dam, owners of smaller hydroelectric projects around the West look at them with a cold eye as relicensing looms. Created with optimism a century ago, dams are now seen as fish-killers and river-distorters. New energy sources are getting cheaper. After decades of operation, owners approach relicensing knowing that, if they are to continue generating a single watt of electricity, they must fix the problems.
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 geography professor.
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing, and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life as haven for artists.
The Senate on Thursday confirmed Andrew R. Wheeler to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, giving oversight of the nation’s air and water to a former coal lobbyist and seasoned Washington insider. … The vote, 52-47, went mostly along party lines and underscored partisan divisions over the Trump administration’s continued commitment to repealing environmental regulations under Mr. Wheeler.
The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in a time of great change. The valley produces more than half of the state’s agricultural output. Irrigated farming is the region’s main economic driver and predominant water user. Stress on the valley’s water system is growing. Local water supplies are limited, particularly in the southern half of the region.
A judge sentenced a self-described “dirt broker” convicted last week of illegal dumping in federally protected San Francisco Bay wetlands to thirty months in prison, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said Monday. On Thursday, a jury convicted Carmel resident James Lucero on three counts of unpermitted filling of wetlands and tributaries, violating the Federal Clean Water Act.
The Yolo Bypass is central, both geographically and in importance, to California’s water supply and flood protection system, according to Bontadelli. However, proposed modifications to the Bypass to enhance habitat for out-migrating endangered winter and spring-run young salmon means the it will be key to the continued pumping of water south for agriculture and urban users.
A wide-ranging bill that revives a popular conservation program, adds 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, expands several national parks and creates five new national monuments has won congressional approval. … The bill would permanently reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the country. The program expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to extend it.
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.
With stepped-up stormwater capture programs, the Pacific Institute said in a 2014 study, Southern California and the Bay Area could boost the state’s water supply by 420,000 acre-feet annually. That’s enough water to meet the needs of 300,000-400,000 people.
February storms have almost eliminated drought conditions from California. The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that just over 67 percent of the state is totally free of any level of dryness. Just under 30 percent is classified as abnormally dry, and less than 4 percent remains in either moderate or severe drought.
Earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency released its enforcement data for fiscal year 2018, and in many key areas data continued to show a downward trend in the civil and criminal punitive measures meted out to large polluters. And on Tuesday the House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced it will hold a hearing next week to investigate the Trump EPA’s “troubling enforcement record.”
One week after an atmospheric river storm pounded Northern California, causing flooding, mudslides and traffic headaches, another one appears to be forming in the Pacific and is set to arrive early next week. Computer models show the storm hitting Monday or Tuesday, with the North Bay and parts of California farther north taking the brunt, although that could change, experts say.
State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale last week introduced SB 307, which seeks to ensure “that any future water transfers from groundwater basins underlying desert lands do not adversely affect the California desert’s natural or cultural resources,” according to a bill fact sheet.
In another sign Southern California is having its wettest winter in years, Mystic Lake has risen again in the rural, agricultural valley between Moreno Valley and San Jacinto. The ephemeral body of water was largely absent the past decade
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 forest restoration.
Recent rains allowed surface water in the Mojave River to flow through the city for the first time in eight years, signaling good news for recharge in regional aquifers, according to Mojave Water Agency officials.
We mostly blunder through sociological thinking on environmental management. The book highlights the costs of this blundering in terms of environmental efficacy, distraction and waste of human time and resources, and expansions of controversy for already-hard environmental problems.
The Trump administration’s proposal might seem simpler to follow on wetlands because it wouldn’t protect those that are dry most of the time and don’t connect to larger downstream waters. But navigating the definition could be confusing when it comes to wetlands that do connect to streams that are dry during parts of the year.
Many no longer recall the Great Midwest Flood despite its record-breaking precipitation, flooding and $13 billion price tag. Sure, 1993 seems like a long time ago, but I believe the reason the flood has left most people’s memory is because, over the last 25 years, the nation has experienced one devastating, record-breaking flood after another. Our memories are diluted by the frequency of such events.
Too often, entrenched conflicts that pit water user against water user block efforts to secure a sustainable, equitable, and democratic water future in California. Striking a balance involves art and science, compassion and flexibility, and adherence to science and the law. Felicia Marcus is a public servant unknown to many Californians. But as she concludes her tenure as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, we owe her a debt of gratitude for consistently reaching for that balance.
At the end of 2017, several local rice farmers teamed up with researchers for a pilot program known as “Fish in the Fields” through the Resource Renewal Institute, a nonprofit research and natural resource policy group, to see what would happen when fish were introduced to flooded rice fields. Now in its second year of experiments, researchers have concluded that it works, with methane – a climate-changing byproduct of rice agriculture much more detrimental than carbon dioxide – being reduced by about two-thirds, or 65 percent, in flooded fields that had fish in them.
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
There may be more in the sewage-tainted water that regularly spills over the border from Tijuana than many San Diegans realize. The cross-border pollution also contains potentially dangerous industrial and agricultural chemicals, according to a draft report compiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that was circulated to officials throughout the region on Wednesday.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said in a statement Thursday that a decision by House Speaker Rusty Bowers to move forward with a contentious water bill threatens the community’s plan to support the drought agreement. The Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because it’s entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal.
Farmers, water managers and government agencies agree: Groundwater sustainability is critical for California. But achieving it could bring significant changes to the state’s agricultural landscape, according to speakers at a Sacramento gathering of water professionals.
Ominous predictions about the desert lake’s ecological collapse are beginning to occur. You can see this sea up close during our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1, when we will visit the fragile ecosystem and hear from several stakeholders working to address challenges facing the sea.
Lawmakers from both parties said the bill’s most important provision was to permanently reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the country. The program expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to extend it.
Our floodplain reforestation projects are biodiversity hotspots and climate-protection powerhouses that cost far less than old-fashioned gray infrastructure of levees, dams and reservoirs. They provide highly-effective flood safety by strategically spreading floodwater. Floodplain forests combat the effects of drought by recharging groundwater and increasing freshwater supply.
California’s San Joaquin River Delta is in danger of being overrun by voracious beagle-sized rodents. The state has a plan to deal with them, but it’s going to take a lot of time and money. Nutria, a large South American rodent, have become an invasive species in several states, including Louisiana, Maryland and Oregon.
A year after Colorado River imports were diverted to urban areas from farms draining into the lake, dire predictions about what would occur are coming to pass. A long-predicted, enormous ecological transition is occurring this winter.
According to the government, the proposed rule is also consistent with the statutory authority granted by Congress, legal precedent, and executive orders. Notably, the proposed definition would eliminate the process of determining whether a “significant nexus” exists between a water and a downstream traditional navigable water.
After more than a decade of drafting and editing, California is poised to finally update its wetlands regulations this spring. The effort, which began after a pair of Supreme Court decisions limited federal wetlands protections, could be finalized just in time to insulate the state from a Trump administration proposal restricting which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.
In September of 2018, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released the report, “Managing Drought in a Changing Climate: Four Essential Reforms”, which asserted there are five climate pressures affecting California’s water… The report recommends four policy reforms: Plan ahead, upgrade the water grid, update water allocation rules, and find the money.
On Tuesday, the Democratic members of the House Committee on Natural Resources elected Huffman to serve as chair for the newly established Water, Ocean and Wildlife Subcommittee. The chair is the result of a long career championing environmental protections and, for Huffman, it’s both an honor and a welcome added responsibility.
President Donald Trump on Monday nominated David Bernhardt, the former top lobbyist for a powerful Fresno-based irrigation district, to run the Department of the Interior, raising renewed questions about whether he’d try to steer more California water to his former clients. … Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for Westlands Water District, which serves farmers in Fresno and Kings counties and is one of the most influential customers of the federal government’s Central Valley Project.
A group of Northern California lawmakers seeking more sway over a mammoth $17 billion water project introduced a proposal Friday that would require new construction contracts to be reviewed by the Legislature. The Legislative Delta Caucus says because of the scope of the California WaterFix, the project should require more scrutiny from both the public and lawmakers now that former Gov. Jerry Brown has left office.
The rise of wind and solar power, coupled with the increasing social, environmental and financial costs of hydropower projects, could spell the end of an era of big dams. But even anti-dam activists say it’s too early to declare the demise of large-scale hydro.
A new approach to flood management around the San Francisco Bay could trim maintenance costs for water agencies, restore habitat for endangered species, and help protect against rising seas. What links the three? Sediment. Winter storms push sediment down creeks that flow into the Bay and, long ago, these waterways fanned out when they reached the edge. Sediment settled there, nourishing tidal baylands — salt marshes and mudflats that are rich in wildlife, and also buffer the shore from storm surges, the highest tides, and sea level rise. Today few of these low-lying tidal baylands remain.
A proposed statewide rule would curb the use of a controversial weedkiller linked to the death of more than a thousand trees near Sisters, but some environmentalists are concerned it doesn’t go far enough. The rule, which could be in effect by spring, would prohibit using herbicides containing aminocyclopyrachlor in wildlife management areas, swamps, canals, sage grouse habitat and many other natural environments, while maintaining temporary restrictions on use in right-of-ways for roads, highways, railroad tracks, bike paths and more.
These red-state GOP governors are not taking aim at greenhouse-gas emissions like their blue-state Republican counterparts. Still, environmentalists should not dismiss their momentum on water. In several states won by Trump, water, literally a chemical bond, is also proving a bond that brings disparate people, groups, and political parties together around shared concerns for the Everglades, the Great Lakes, the Colorado River, and other liquid life systems.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, have lands that stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. The tribe’s right to divert nearly 720,000 acre-feet from the river is more than twice the water that is allocated to the state of Nevada. By law, that water is to be used on the reservation. But if CRIT convinces Congress to allow off-reservation leasing, the change would free up a large volume of water that would be highly desirable for cities and industries.
Five dams across California – including one in Lake County that forms Lake Pillsbury – have been listed as key for removal by an advocacy group in the effort to stop the extinction of native salmon and steelhead. In response to what it calls a “statewide fish extinction crisis,” which indicates 74 percent of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout species are likely to be extinct in the next century, the fish and watershed conservation nonprofit organization California Trout on Tuesday released its list of the top five dams prime for removal in the golden state.
Congressmen John Garamendi and Doug LaMalfa have reintroduced legislation to provide farmers access to discounted rates under the National Flood Insurance Program. The bipartisan Flood Insurance for Farmers Act of 2019 (H.R.830) would also lift the de facto federal prohibition on construction and repair of agricultural structures in high flood-risk areas designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Maintaining functional wetlands in a 21st-century landscape dominated by agriculture and cities requires a host of hard and soft infrastructures. Canals, pumps, and sluice gates provide critical life support, and the lands are irrigated and tilled in seasonal cycles to essentially farm wildlife. Reams of laws and regulations scaffold the system.
It took more than a decade to create, but a revised state definition of wetlands and procedures to protect them from dredge-and-fill activities requires still more work to make the plan more clear and to reduce its impact on farmers, ranchers and foresters.
Early last year, construction started on a $90 million project to build seven miles of setback levees and floodplains to protect Hamilton City from floods on the Sacramento River. … The new barriers are much farther from the riverbanks—as far as a mile away in places. In some respects, the concept is absurdly simple: During heavy rains or spring snowmelt, rivers need room to expand; moving levees back from riverbanks provides it. Setback levees not only reduce the need for newer and larger dams and levees, but also restore the natural habitat.
A federal court of appeals ruled Friday that PacifiCorp, which currently owns and operates several dams along the Klamath River, can no longer continue to use a controversial tactic which has allowed the company to avoid implementing mandatory requirements meant to protect the health of the Klamath River for over a decade. The decision marks a victory for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, who filed the lawsuit, and may expedite the removal of several Klamath River dams.
On our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1, we will visit this fragile ecosystem that harbors 400 bird species and hear from several stakeholders working to address challenges facing the sea, including managers of the Imperial Irrigation District, the Salton Sea Authority and California’s appointed “Sea Czar,” assistant secretary on Salton Sea policy Bruce Wilcox.
Mission Bay is a microcosm of the worldwide battle being waged to save remaining dwindling wetlands. That battle is being played out locally with ReWild Mission Bay, a project of San Diego Audubon and its partners to enhance and restore wetlands in Mission Bay’s northeast corner. ReWild Mission Bay’s proposal is to enhance and restore more than 150 acres of wetlands in the northeast corner of Mission Bay, including the enhancement of 40 acres of existing tidal wetland habitat.
Citing impacts to water, soil and people, Jackson County commissioners are asking the state to block a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon. The Oregon Department of State Lands is taking comments until Feb. 3 as it considers whether to grant a key permit for the controversial 239-mile pipeline that would stretch through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to a proposed export terminal north of Coos Bay.
The restoration site is one of three south of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites, another source is increasingly important for restoring these patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor: groundwater.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman today named Ernest A. Conant director of the Mid-Pacific Region. Conant has nearly 40 years of water law experience and previously served as senior partner of Young Wooldridge, LLP.
The Trump administration’s bid to restrict the Clean Water Act’s reach over streams and wetlands is backed by an … assumption that 29 states “may” or are “likely” to bolster dredge and fill regulations as federal oversight retreats. … Thus far, only California has made moves toward beefing up its wetlands protections.
One in seven Americans drink from private wells, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Nitrate concentrations rose significantly in 21% of regions where USGS researchers tested groundwater from 2002 through 2012, compared with the 13 prior years. … “The worst-kept secret is how vulnerable private wells are to agricultural runoff,” says David Cwiertny, director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination.
Citing what they say would be a disastrous decision for the region, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts have joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other rivers.
Locally, the primary impacts of climate change on people can broadly be broken into four categories: sea level rise, drought, flood and wildfire. The good news is, work and planning are already well underway to mitigate impacts, though it’s hard to say how much of an effect the measures will have, and how much those agencies – and their constituents – will be willing to spend on them. But this much is clear: Local, state and federal agencies are taking climate change seriously, and treating it like the potentially existential threat that it is.
An ambitious new multicampus, multipartner consortium led by the University of California, Davis, and the UC Working Lands Innovation Center is taking on that challenge with the goal of finding ways to capture billions of tons of carbon dioxide and bring net carbon emissions in California to zero by 2045. The consortium has received a three-year, $4.7 million grant from the state of California’s Strategic Growth Council to research scalable methods of using soil amendments — rock, compost and biochar — to sequester greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in soil.
Most of the native habitat in California’s San Joaquin Desert has been converted to row crops and orchards, leaving 35 threatened or endangered species confined to isolated patches of habitat. A significant portion of that farmland, however, is likely to be retired in the coming decades due to groundwater overdraft, soil salinity, and climate change. A new study … found that restoration of fallowed farmland could play a crucial role in habitat protection and restoration strategies for the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and other endangered species.
Far less settled is how Newsom will fill his administration’s most important positions regarding state water policy. One of Newsom’s key tests confronts him immediate: State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus’ term expires this week.
Top managers of the environmental engineering firm Tetra Tech directed their employees to commit widespread fraud in the cleanup of America’s largest Superfund waste site, according to new legal complaints by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The McCormack-Williamson Tract restoration project, a 1,500 acre site, lowers the levees on the north side of the island to allow the river to overtop into the site. On the south side, DWR will alleviate the surge flows that pose a risk to neighbors by opening small holes in the levee. 2018 saw the completion of construction of a levee to protect existing infrastructure on the site, as well as progress on habitat restoration plans. For the next phase, DWR will strengthen the interior levees and take steps toward opening the site up to tidal flows.
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it, simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it.
After more than three years, 104 days of testimony, and over twenty-four thousand pages of hearing transcripts, the hearing before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on the proposal to construct two tunnels to convey water under the Delta (aka California WaterFix) is almost completed. Probably, that is: there could be more if the project changes again to a degree that requires additional testimony and/or environmental review.
The House approved legislation that would fund and reopen the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Forest Service in an 240-179 vote on Friday, the latest effort by Democrats to put pressure on Republicans and President Trump to end the partial shutdown. … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring any of the bills up to a vote in the Senate until there is a deal between Trump and Democrats on the president’s demand for border wall funding.
The U.S. Interior Department is facing three lawsuits filed by three environmental groups who allege its plans for the 200,000-acre Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex along the Oregon-California border violates several federal laws. A fourth complaint from six farms and agricultural groups alleges the agency has unlawfully exceeded its authority by restricting leases of refuge land for agricultural purposes.
Mount, a senior fellow at the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California, spoke recently about managing freshwater systems with ecosystem water budgets. “I will argue that drought, because of the way we have modified this system, is the major bottleneck ecologically,” he said. “Step 1 has to be thinking about drought: how to mitigate drought and how to deal with drought – that is plan for, respond to, and recover from drought. We don’t do that at all, even though we just had this big drought.”
Saying it will continue to protect environmentally sensitive waterways such as wetlands in California, even if federal protections on waters of the U.S. are limited, the State Water Resources Control Board has unveiled a final draft on how it plans to regulate dredge-and-fill activities in the state.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has named Jared Blumenfeld, a former Obama administration official and longtime environmental advocate as the new secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. Blumenfeld, 49, of San Francisco, will run the agency, known as Cal-EPA, which oversees a broad range of environmental and public health regulations statewide, on topics that include air pollution, water pollution, toxics regulation, pesticides and recycling.
In the latter half of 2018, both the federal and state governments released new climate change assessments that outline the projected course of climate change and its potential effects on water resources. At the December meeting of the California Water Commission, staff from the Department of Water Resources and the Delta Stewardship Council were on hand to present an overview of the newly released assessments.
Due to rising average temperatures, snowpacks in the Great Basin appear to be transitioning from seasonal, with a predictable amount and melt rate, to “ephemeral,” or short-lived, which are less predictable and only last up to 60 days. “We might not get as much water into the ground, throwing off the timing of water for plant root systems, reducing our supply and use, and even affecting businesses such as tourism,” says lead researcher Rose Petersky.
Montgomery is known for fostering collaborative relationships among stakeholders and as a leader in protecting and restoring water quality within California and throughout the Southwest and the Pacific Islands. He is currently serving as the Assistant Director of the Water Division in the US Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).
CANCELED: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold one hearing to provide interested parties the opportunity to present data, views, or information concerning the proposed rule changes affecting wetlands and ephemeral waters.
The Trump administration laid out plans Tuesday to roll back Obama-era rules protecting isolated streams and wetlands from industrial pollution, a move that conservation groups said could harm creeks and impact drinking water in the Bay Area and throughout California. The move by the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, known as WOTUS, was hailed by farmers and industry, which have long sought to rewrite the rules.
The Trump administration is poised to roll back Clean Water Act protections on millions of acres of waterways and wetlands, including up to two-thirds of California’s inland streams, following through on a promise to agriculture interests and real estate developers to rewrite an Obama-era rule limiting pollution.
More than 1,000 acres of unused farmland in East Contra Costa County are slowly being converted back to the vibrant wetlands they once were in what’s hailed as the largest tidal marsh restoration project ever in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, which recently broke ground, is the California Department of Water Resources’ first major tidal wetlands restoration in the Delta.
A series of programs is under way to restore wetlands, the newest starting this week. The Department of Water Resources will break ground Wednesday at Dutch Slough in Oakley for what DWR calls its largest tidal wetlands restoration project — nearly 1,200 acres — in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Other projects by other agencies are transforming salt ponds to wetlands in the Napa-Sonoma Marsh and along South San Francisco Bay.
California voters may be feeling a sense of deja vu when they consider Proposition 3, an $8.9 billion water bond on the November ballot to fund a long list of water projects — from repairing Oroville Dam to restoring Bay Area wetlands to helping Central Valley farmers recharge depleted groundwater. Didn’t the voters recently approve a big water bond? Maybe two of them? Yes. And yes.
As Congressman Jimmy Panetta stepped up on the podium at a ceremony last week at Hester Marsh, pelicans glided behind him to a landing near bobbing otters. The flurry of wildlife underlined Panetta’s message of just how crucial wetland habitat is. “We want to show the importance of Elkhorn Slough not just to the Central Coast, but to the world,” Panetta told the crowd of scientists, activists, and politicians.
The Trump Administration has moved decisively to weaken the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, a federal regulatory process that seeks to protect wetlands and seasonal streams from excessive development. This effort has suffered setbacks in the courts, which has only helped create more uncertainty about how these waters should be protected.
California officials are poised to seize control over a major arena of federal regulation in response to Trump administration rollbacks: the management and protection of wetlands. Wetlands are vital features on the landscape. Basically low spots in a watershed, when they fill with water they provide important habitat for birds, fish and other species. Wetlands also help control floods and recharge groundwater, and they filter the water we drink.
Farmers in the Central Valley are broiling about California’s plan to increase flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems to help struggling salmon runs avoid extinction. But in one corner of the fertile breadbasket, River Garden Farms is taking part in some extraordinary efforts to provide the embattled fish with refuge from predators and enough food to eat.
And while there is no direct benefit to one farm’s voluntary actions, the belief is what’s good for the fish is good for the farmers.
Oil drillers, miners, land developers and others will no longer be required to pay the federal government to offset damage to wildlife and habitats on public land, the Trump administration plans to announce Tuesday.
For years, there has been a movement in California to restore floodplains, by moving levees back from rivers and planting trees, shrubs and grasses in the low-lying land between. The goal has been to go back in time, to bring back some of the habitat for birds, animals and fish that existed before the state was developed.
In the decades since President George H.W. Bush pledged a goal of “no net loss” of U.S. wetlands, this uniquely American mix of conservation and capitalism has been supported by every president since then, growing the market for wetlands mitigation credits from about 40 banks in the early 1990s to nearly 1,500 today. Investors include Chevron and Wall Street firms, working alongside the Audubon Society and other environmental groups. Now the market is at risk.
Deep, throaty cadenced calls — sounding like an off-key bassoon — echo over the grasslands, farmers’ fields and wetlands starting in late September of each year. They mark the annual return of sandhill cranes to the Cosumnes River Preserve, 46,000 acres located 20 miles south of Sacramento on the edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
We traveled deep into California’s water hub and traverse the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that supports the state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. The tour made its way to San Francisco Bay, and included a ferry ride.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has been methodically weakening air pollution rules over the past year, is now taking control of key decision-making on the protection of streams and wetlands from the agency’s regional administrators, an internal memo shows. At issue is something known as “geographic jurisdiction,” agency speak for which bodies of water do, or do not, fall under the Clean Water Act.
California voters may experience a sense of déjà vu this year when they are asked twice in the same year to consider water bonds — one in June, the other headed to the November ballot.
Both tackle a variety of water issues, from helping disadvantaged communities get clean drinking water to making flood management improvements. But they avoid more controversial proposals, such as new surface storage, and they propose to do some very different things to appeal to different constituencies.
Along the banks of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Oakley, about 50 miles southwest of Sacramento, is a park that harkens back to the days when the Delta lured Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French fur trappers, and later farmers to its abundant wildlife and rich soil.
That historical Delta was an enormous marsh linked to the two freshwater rivers entering from the north and south, and tidal flows coming from the San Francisco Bay. After the Gold Rush, settlers began building levees and farms, changing the landscape and altering the habitat.
The California Coastal Act for decades has scaled back mega-hotels, protected wetlands and, above all, declared that access to the beach was a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone. But that very principle could be dismantled in the latest chapter of an all-out legal battle that began as a local dispute over a locked gate.
As Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt jetted around the country last year, regularly flying first or business class at hefty taxpayer expense, his stated mission was often a noble one: to hear from Americans about how Washington could most effectively and fairly enforce the Clean Water Act.
Coastal wetlands such as Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County, the marshes along Morro Bay and the ecological preserve in Newport Beach can purify the air, cleanse urban runoff before it flows into the sea and reduce flooding by absorbing storm surges like a sponge. But there’s little room left for this ecosystem along the changing Pacific Coast, as the sea continues to rise and Californians continue to develop the shore.
California is once again suing the Trump Administration, joining New York and eight other states in a case about water. The states filed the lawsuit Tuesday just hours after federal agencies announced a new delay in the federal Clean Water Rule.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said the Trump administration is “righting the wrongs” of President Barack Obama by reversing a host of regulations designed to “weaponize” the agency and punish the fossil fuel industry.
Eleven Democratic state attorneys general on Tuesday sued President Donald Trump’s administration over its decision to delay implementation of an Obama-era rule that would have expanded the number of wetlands and small waterways protected by the Clean Water Act.
The text of the Clean Water Act trumped all of the government’s arguments in the long-running fight over which courts have jurisdiction over the Obama administration’s contentious water rule. … The Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule aimed to clarify which wetlands and streams receive automatic protection under the Clean Water Act after years of confusion caused by the infamously muddled 2006 Supreme Court Rapanos decision.