Western Water News

Overview Jennifer Bowles

Western Water News

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:

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Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Crisis at Oroville May Be Basis for Renewed Operations Criteria
Coming snowmelt poses a problem in San Joaquin Valley

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

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Senators Call For Equity and Competitiveness in New Water Bond Allocation

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Crews Race to Stabilize Vulnerable Oroville Dam Spillway
Crews dumping "super" sand bags, filling four gouges in the hillside as storm expected tonight

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Millions of Dollars Needed to Help Low-Income Ratepayers with Water Bills, State Water Board Told
Five million Californians have affordability issues

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Climate Change Impacts Here to Stay for California Farmers, Grower Says

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.”

Western Water Rita Schmidt Sudman Rita Schmidt Sudman

Remembering Kevin Starr
Rita Schmidt Sudman remembers Starr and his connection to California water and the Water Education Foundation

To the many tributes to Kevin Starr, I add mine.

So many of us, his associates and friends, want to express our thoughts on the exuberance and talent we witnessed in the larger-than-life man.

Western Water Jennifer Bowles Jennifer Bowles

Teaching About Water on the Other Side of the World

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Rules Set for Prop. 1 Funding for New Water Storage Projects

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

State Water Board Seeks Solid Scientific Basis for Update of Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan

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.”

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Delta Report Highlights Need to Restore Legacy Processes

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.”

Western Water Susan Lauer

Farming in the Delta with Less Water

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

State Water Board Refining Rules for Medical Cannabis Cultivation

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.

Lake Oroville September 2015. Photo by DWR
Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Punishing Drought Pushes California’s Water Supply Deeper in Arrears

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.

Western Water Susan Lauer

John Fleck: “Remember, I’m the optimist in the room”
New Colorado River book, new job, more Inkstain

John Fleck, photo by Karl Flessa 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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Salton Sea Advocate Calls For Regulating Rate of Water Transfer to Avert Public Health Crisis

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.

Proposed location of Sites Reservoir. 
Photo by Jennifer Bowles
Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Storage Proponents Fear Impacts of Prop. 1 Climate Change Requirements

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.

Photo by California DWR
Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Action Needed Now to Stem Smelt Extinction, Top Fish Scientist Says

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.

Western Water Gary Pitzer Gary Pitzer

Scientists Focusing on Microplastics in San Francisco Bay
Plan aimed at reducing the contamination expected by fall

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.

Lake Oroville on May 11, 2016
Western Water Susan Lauer

Northern Reservoirs Brimming Early but Warm Weather Taking its Toll in the South

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.

Western Water Susan Lauer

Translating Snowpack into Usable Data is Tricky Business

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.

A view of the South Yuba River in Emigrant Gap on March 22, 2016. The snowpack was 89 percent of statewide normal for this date.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.

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