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:
About this time last month I was on the other side of the world, leading an international journalism workshop on how to cover water issues. I didn’t think I’d ever go to Tehran, but when UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) called, I didn’t hesitate.
A critical aspect of California’s drive to create new water storage is in place after the California Water Commission approved regulations governing how those potential storage projects could receive public funding under Prop. 1.
The Dec. 14 decision potentially paves the way for new surface water projects, such as Sites Reservoir, and expansion of Los Vaqueros reservoir in Contra Costa County.
California state water regulators poised to boost instream flows to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta acknowledged the difficulty in finding the right measure of applied science to benefit the ecosystem.
“We need to look at multiple stressors,” said Dorene D’Adamo, one of five members of the State Water Resources Control Board who convened for a public meeting last Wednesday on the science behind the proposed update of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. “The one knob we are looking at is flows and I’d like to see a way to integrate those other stressors in the discussion.”
Understanding the importance of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and working to restore it means grasping the scope of what it once was.
That’s the takeaway message of a report released Nov. 14 by the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
The report, “A Delta Renewed,” is the latest in a series sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). Written by several authors, the report says there is “cause for hope” to achieving large-scale Delta restoration in a way that supports people, farms and the environment. SFEI calls itself “one of California’s premier aquatic and ecosystem science institutes.”
If there is a positive outcome of five years of drought in California, it’s the lessons learned about how to manage water during a shortage in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. On the up-side, farmers got creative to cut back their water diversions by 32 percent through a volunteer program. On the learning-curve side, complex water rights confound who gets water during shortage.
The potential for California’s growing cannabis cultivation industry to harm streams, creeks and groundwater is the focus of emerging State Water Resources Control Board regulations slated for adoption next year.
The timing of the rules is critical; voters could be on the cusp of making California the fifth state to legalize cannabis for recreational use when they go to the polls Nov. 8 and cast ballots for or against Prop. 64. The state authorized medical use through Prop. 215 in 1996.
Years of drought have sapped California’s water supply, creating an accumulated deficit exacerbated by increasingly warmer temperatures, a top researcher said at a recent briefing.
Michael Dettinger, research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said parts of California have fallen more than two years behind where they should be in terms of receiving “normal” precipitation. The situation augurs what would be expected under projected climate change conditions as average annual temperatures warm and the snow level declines.
John Fleck has spent a lifetime covering Western water issues. For 25 years, he reported on science and the environment for The Albuquerque Journal. Since 2000 he has penned the acclaimed water blog Inkstain while working as the writer-in residence at the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program.
Fearing an imminent public health threat, the director of the University of California, Irvine’s Salton Sea Initiative said the State Water Resources Control Board should step in and regulate the rate of water transferred from the Imperial Valley to coastal California as part of the Quantification Settlement Agreement.
Proponents of water storage projects that would be partially funded by Prop. 1 are concerned that possible climate change parameters required by the state could hinder the advance of longstanding proposals.
California should take immediate actions to save the endangered Delta smelt from extinction, a top fish scientist said recently.
Peter Moyle, distinguished professor emeritus in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at the University of California, Davis, has been studying the health of California’s native fish since 1969. He told an audience in Sacramento that it’s time for stepped-up actions to save the Delta smelt, the population of which has dropped to a historic low level.
Those small, seemingly insignificant bits of plastic in San Francisco Bay found at nine local sites last year could end up being the next major water quality problem.
What to do about them is an important next step, said Rebecca Sutton, senior scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI). During a Thursday seminar sponsored by the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, Sutton said experts are embarking on a course of better understanding microplastic contamination and its effect on the environment and human health.
Photos of brimming lakes and reservoirs, flowing rivers and raging waterfalls have been splashed across news headlines and in social media. It’s a welcome change from last year when California was entering its fifth year of drought.
Yet, the reservoirs are filling because the snow is melting early, not necessarily because the state has more water that fell as snow or rain this winter.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct its final snow survey of the season within the next two weeks, shining a clearer light on the summer’s water picture and lingering drought conditions.
The data collection and subsequent forecasting will provide vital information for water supply operations and allocations to districts and contractors around the state. More snow means basically more water for downstream users – whether city residents or rural farmers.
Sticking a measuring pole into the snow in the Sierra and crunching the numbers to create a forecast has been done since 1928. Current forecasting efforts and the state’s data network are the backbone of crafting a drought response and an early-warning system for flood emergency response.
“Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land.” Geologist and Explorer John Wesley Powell at an irrigator convention in 1883.
“In 1883 we had very little understanding of what the flows of the Colorado River were, we had less understanding of the incredible changes in the climate that would be happening over the course of the next 100 years, which we finally came to realize as we entered this century,” said Pat Mulroy, who served as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority from 1989 to 2014.
California had its warmest winter on record in 2014-2015, with the average Sierra Nevada temperature hovering above 32 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest in 120 years. Thus, where California relies on snow to fall in the mountains and create a snowpack that can slowly melt into reservoirs, it was instead raining. That left the state’s snowpack at its lowest ever – 5 percent on April 1, 2015.
Because he relays stats like these, climate scientist Brad Udall says he doesn’t often get invited back to speak before the same audience about climate change.