Western Water has provided in-depth coverage of critical water issues facing California and the West since 1977, first as a printed magazine and now as an online newsroom. Articles explore the science, policy and debates centered around drought, groundwater, sustainability, water access and affordability, climate change and endangered species involving key sources of supply such as the Colorado River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and more.
Western Water news is produced by a team of veteran journalists at the Water Education Foundation:
Despite the heat that often accompanies debates over setting aside water for the environment, there are instances where California stakeholders have forged agreements to provide guaranteed water for fish. Here are two examples cited by the Public Policy Institute of California in its report arguing for an environmental water right.
Every day, people flock to Daniel Swain’s social media platforms to find out the latest news and insight about California’s notoriously unpredictable weather. Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, famously coined the term “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” in December 2013 to describe the large, formidable high-pressure mass that was parked over the West Coast during winter and diverted storms away from California, intensifying the drought.
Swain’s research focuses on atmospheric processes that cause droughts and floods, along with the changing character of extreme weather events in a warming world. A lifelong Californian and alumnus of University of California, Davis, and Stanford University, Swain is best known for the widely read Weather West blog, which provides unique perspectives on weather and climate in California and the western United States. In a recent interview with Western Water, he talked about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, its potential long-term impact on California weather, and what may lie ahead for the state’s water supply.
While it may not warrant the official designation of “reservoir,” tiny Mendota Pool at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Kings rivers in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley played an historic role in California water and remains a vital link in distributing water to farmers’ fields.
Located about 40 miles west of Fresno, Mendota Pool is created by Mendota Dam and holds about 3,000 acre-feet with a surface area of about 1,200 acres. By comparison, about 40 miles upstream, Millerton Lake, which sits behind Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River, has a capacity of 520,528 acre-feet and a surface area of 4,900 acres.
For as long as agriculture has existed in the Central Valley, farmers have pumped water from the ground to sustain their livelihood and grow food consumed by much of the nation. This has caused the ground in certain places to sink, sometimes dramatically, eliminating valuable aquifer storage space that can never be restored.
In a state with such topsy-turvy weather as California, the ability of forecasters to peer into the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and accurately predict the arrival of storms is a must to improve water supply reliability and flood management planning.
The problem, according to Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager with the state Department of Water Resources, is that “we have been managing with 20th century technology with respect to our ability to do weather forecasting.”
Architects of the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer in the nation’s history gave their blessing Sept. 7 to the State Water Resources Control Board’s latest plan to aid the beleaguered Salton Sea.
Against a backdrop of widespread subsidence caused by increased groundwater pumping in the San Joaquin Valley, the general manager of one large irrigation district detailed ways growers are teaming with the district to overcome the diminishing groundwater supplies in the heart of California’s bread basket.
Chris White, general manager of the Central California Irrigation District (CCID), talked about the use of groundwater recharge basins on farmland during wet years during a special Aug. 16 briefing sponsored by the California Department of Water Resources and the Water Education Foundation held at Fresno State.
The phrase “groundwater management” has become commonplace in news headlines throughout California as implementation of the state’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) moves into high gear. Following the state’s severe drought, the value of groundwater has become even more apparent so it seemed like a good time to chat about the groundwater story with the husband and wife team of William (Bill) Alley, the director of science and technology for the National Ground Water Association and former chief of the Office of Groundwater for the U.S.
John Callaway, the incoming lead scientist of the Delta Science Program, was forthright in describing his initial reaction to the idea of his new job.
“When I saw the position, I guess I can say my first reaction was, ‘No way, I don’t want to get involved with all the crazy overwhelming issues of the Delta,’” he said. “But I thought about it more and thought it would be a great opportunity to get more involved in the science/management interface.”
Water users in California for years have chafed under an administrative system that some people believe is too often tilted in favor of the State Water Resources Control Board.
A bill making its way through the Legislature aims to change that.
Carried by Merced Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray, AB 313 would create a new Water Rights Division within the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings to act as a referee in cases where alleged water use violations issued by the State Water Board are challenged.
During drought, people conserve water. That’s a good thing for public water agencies and the state as a whole but the reduction in use ultimately means less money flowing into the budgets of those very agencies that need funds to treat water to drinkable standards, maintain a distribution system, and build a more drought-proof supply.
“There are two things that can’t happen to a water utility – you can’t run out of money and you can’t run out of water,” said Tom Esqueda, public utilities director for the city of Fresno. He was a panelist at a June 16 discussion in Sacramento about drought resiliency sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
Before dams were built on the upper Sacramento River, flood water regularly carried woody debris that was an important part of the aquatic habitat.
Deprived of this refuge, salmon in the lower parts of the upper Sacramento River have had a difficult time surviving and making it down the river and out to the ocean. Seeing this, a group of people, including water users, decided to lend a hand with an unprecedented pilot project that saw massive walnut tree trunks affixed to 12,000-pound boulders and deposited into the deepest part of the Sacramento River near Redding to provide shelter for young salmon and steelhead migrating downstream.
California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird said Tuesday that the February crisis with the broken spillway at Oroville Dam offers an “important opportunity” to assess the safety of the more than 1,400 dams in the state.
“We really want to use the focus on this to look at the issue of dam safety in California,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. “We have the best inspection program of the 50 states but it is clear we can do better.”
California has entered a “yo-yo” reality, where climate change-driven drought and flooding have become real challenges that will reshape consideration of state water issues. Drought and flood “can’t be taken separately. We need to consider both,” said Fran Spivy-Weber, a stalwart presence for decades in the state’s water world.
Recently retired as vice chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, she made her last public presentation during the Water Education Foundation’s annual Executive Briefing on March 23, offering a retrospective on her esteemed career and providing insight into California’s water future.
In the wake of a near disaster at Oroville Dam caused by heavy runoff and a damaged spillway, the former chief of flood operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week it may be time to reconsider how the reservoir is operated to avert such dilemmas
The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee passed a proposed $3.5 billion water and parks bond measure Tuesday, with members calling for an assurance that if approved by California voters in 2018, the funds would be equitably distributed throughout the state.
Work crews repairing Oroville Dam’s damaged emergency spillway are dumping 1,200 tons of rock each hour and using shotcrete to stabilize the hillside slope, an official with the Department of Water Resources told the California Water Commission today.
The pace of work is “round the clock,” said Kasey Schimke, assistant director of DWR’s legislative affairs office.
A statewide program that began under a 2015 law to help low-income people with their water bills would cost about $600 million annually, a public policy expert told the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) at a meeting last week.
California agriculture is going to have to learn to live with the impacts of climate change and work toward reducing its contributions of greenhouse gas emissions, a Yolo County walnut grower said at the Jan. 26 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.
“I don’t believe we are going to be able to adapt our way out of climate change,” said Russ Lester, co-owner of Dixon Ridge Farms in Winters. “We need to mitigate for it. It won’t solve the problem but it can slow it down.”