Drought— an extended period of limited or no precipitation— is a
fact of life in California and the West, with water resources
following boom-and-bust patterns.
No portion of the West has been immune to drought during the last
century and drought occurs with much greater frequency in the
West than in other regions of the country.
Most of the West experiences what is classified as severe to
extreme drought more than 10 percent of the time, and a
significant portion of the region experiences severe to extreme
drought more than 15 percent of the time, according to the
National Drought Mitigation Center.
Experts who have studied recent droughts say a drought occurs
about once every 10 years somewhere in the United States.
Droughts are believed to be the most costly of all natural
disasters because of their widespread effects on agriculture and
related industries, as well as on urbanized areas. One of those
decennial droughts could cost as much as $38 billion, according
to one estimate.
Because droughts cannot be prevented, experts are looking for
better ways to forecast them and new approaches to managing
droughts when they occur.
New federal data show that California may be sliding back into
drought, just as the Legislature is starting to pursue ways to
make sure residents are prepared for water shortages. Due to
weeks of dry weather about 10 percent of California and more
than half of Nevada are in drought mode, the federal government
As the county reports advances in water protection and
conservation technologies, water use continues to remain lower
that previous years, the Santa Cruz County Water Resources
Management Status Report shows.
Warren Turkett, a natural resource analyst for the Colorado
River Commission of Nevada, told commissioners Tuesday that a
warm summer and lack of precipitation in the upper Colorado
River Basin last year left soil drier than normal, which is
expected to cut the amount of water flowing into Lake Powell to
20 percent below average based on current projections.
This rain-year has brought an alarmingly dry winter in
California so far, according to climate change experts. Now,
there’s a new tool to help Californians navigate your water
supply. It’s an online tool that allows a person to see the
groundwater levels in their area. The tool then gives a
representation of what could be at risk or impacted if a
California’s alarmingly dry winter continues, with no
meaningful snow or rain in sight. Although it’s far too soon to
predict a drought, experts said wildfire risks could worsen
this summer as a result of the shortage of precipitation.
Meteorologists say much of Northern California likely will not
see a drop of rain in February, heightening concerns that
summer will arrive with below-average rainfall and tinder-dry
hillsides susceptible to wildfire.
Climate change is spurring a new, deep dive into a complex,
little-studied weather system blamed for creating billions of
dollars in flood damage across the western U.S. Atmospheric
rivers are narrow ribbons of concentrated moisture that
originate in the Pacific and can flow thousands of miles before
dropping rain and snow on land.
A warming climate has been linked to human activity around the
world, and has affected the Colorado River System as well. The
impacts are substantial, from reduced water flows, threats to
indigenous species and the influx of new invasive species along
the river system.
Jan. 31 marked a major milestone for building groundwater
sustainability and climate resilience into California’s complex
and increasingly stressed water systems. It was the first major
planning deadline for implementing the state’s historic
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
One of the top priorities outlined in the Newsom
Administration’s recently released draft Water Resilience
Portfolio is reducing reliance on any one water source and
diversifying supplies – key strategies for making our water
supply systems more flexible, adaptable, and resilient to the
impacts of climate change.
California is stuck in a dry spell amid what is historically
the wettest time of the year. But while the Sierra snowpack is
dwindling and rainfall totals are below normal, weather
watchers are not concerned about a drought. “One dry year
doesn’t make a drought,” said Chris Orrock, a spokesperson for
the California Department of Water Resources.
The Four Corners drought of 2017 and 2018 caused $3 billion in
losses and prompted the Navajo Nation to issue an emergency
drought declaration. Now, new research in the Bulletin of the
American Meteorological Society suggests a sizable portion of
the drought’s impacts stemmed from human-caused climate change.
Vast amounts of valuable energy, agricultural nutrients, and
water could potentially be recovered from the world’s
fast-rising volume of municipal wastewater, according to a new
study by UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water,
Environment and Health.
From an ecologist’s perspective, river habitat and species
population sizes and life histories were shaped by unimpaired
flow patterns (including volume and natural variability) across
seasons and years. Science from across the world, other regions
in the US, and right here in California suggests that we can
take some of that flow for other uses, but must preserve
adequate volume and natural patterns of variation if we want
native species to survive.
The Air Force research crew on the WC-130J Super Hercules
airplane was cruising at 28,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean,
preparing to deploy 25 weather-sensing devices over a long band
of water vapor known as an “atmospheric river” when the hazards
of air travel got in the way of science.
Connie Woodhouse and David Meko, professors at the University
of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, found the most
recent span of 100 years, when five perfect droughts hit
California, was not unusual compared to past centuries.
Placer County, along with the U.S. Forest Service will continue
restoration efforts at the French Meadows reservoir, 30 miles
south of Soda Springs, with plans to treat over 3,800 acres of
forest this year. … This year they expect to remove 9 million
board feet of timber, three times the amount removed last year,
and 15,000 green tons of biomass that will be chipped, hauled
and used for energy production.
The situation in Australia illustrates a growing global
concern: Forests, grasslands and other areas that supply
drinking water to hundreds of millions of people are
increasingly vulnerable to fire due in large part to hotter,
drier weather that has extended fire seasons, and more people
moving into those areas, where they can accidentally set fires.
One of the major questions fish biologists are often asked is
“how much water do fish need?” In 2016, a group of scientists
from California Trout, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, The Nature
Conservancy, Utah State University and the Southern California
Coastal Water Research Project, with funding in partnership
from the State Water Board, began to delve into this question
In the South Bay, Santa Clara County’s 10 reservoirs combined
are at about two-thirds of their normal levels at this point in
the year. Lexington Reservoir, near Los Gatos is just half
full. Water managers say local groundwater supplies remain
strong so the reduced Sierra snowpack is not yet of critical
People crowded into an Ojai junior high school auditorium
recently after thousands received legal notices or a court
summons from the city of Ventura. The city notified 14,000-plus
property owners in the Ventura River watershed of a potential
adjudication of water rights. That move came years after the
city faced legal action over its own water use.
Kiara Nirghin, ’22, developed a unique polymer that can keep
crops hydrated during dry spells. The innovative research has
garnered her global recognition, including top honors at the
Google Science Fair.
On the heels of a seemingly perpetual drought that has slowed
surface water deliveries to a trickle and made water transfers
complicated and expensive, Joe Del Bosque and other growers
face new pumping restrictions under the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act. … The farm’s water costs have already more
than doubled in the past 10 years…
Large lawns and backyard pools were once common features of new
homes in the Phoenix area, but not anymore. A recent study of
single-family homes in the Phoenix metropolitan area showed
that nearly two-thirds of homes do not have a swimming pool.
The California Department of Water Resources conducted the
second monthly snow survey of the year Thursday morning at
Phillips Station snow course in the Sierra Nevada, south of
Lake Tahoe. Snowpack across the state is averaging 72 percent
of what’s normal for the start of February.
The Santa Monica City Council approved a water self-sufficiency
plan Tuesday that will double the price of water and wastewater
removal by 2024. The rate increases will finance about $42
million in infrastructure projects that will allow Santa Monica
to stop importing water from the Metropolitan Water District of
Southern California by 2023.
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron’s mission over the
coming months: C-130s — departing from the U.S. Coast Guard Air
Station Barbers Point in Hawaii; or from Travis Air Force Base
in Fairfield — will each release 25 sensors called dropsondes
into a forming atmospheric river system. As the dropsondes fall
from 25,000 feet along two V-shaped paths covering hundreds of
miles, they send back readings on the gathering storm’s water
vapor content, temperature, wind speed and direction.
In preparation for the inevitable, Self-Help Enterprises …
has launched a new and innovative Emergency Services Division
that will reach and engage diverse and vulnerable populations
around natural disasters, such as drought, fire, flood and
earthquake. The program will also help families receive urgent
access to clean water, help with water well replacement and
water filtration services as needed.
Understanding why desalination is so critical to California’s
water future is a lot like building a personal budget. With a
changing climate, growing population and booming economy, we
need to include desalination in the water supply equation to
help make up an imported water deficit.
Wildfires are feasting on overgrown, overcrowded and
undermanaged forests, warmer temperatures have created longer
fire seasons and officials are trying to prevent another
environmental catastrophe. That was all just part of the
discussion Monday during Operation Sierra Storm, a national
weather conference sponsored by the Lake Tahoe Visitors
As we enter a new decade, California faces increasing
environmental challenges caused by climate change, creating an
uncertain future for our water resources. … It is time for
California’s Department of Water Resources to implement water
policy for the state that shores up our precious waterways and
diversifies water supplies in the face of these imminent
For many businesses in drought-ridden states like California,
water supply issues aren’t a problem for the future—they’re
happening right now. … For the Cloverdale-based Bear Republic
Brewing Company, the impact was especially devastating, due to
the city’s heavy reliance on the water supply of the Russian
Time and time again seemingly well-intentioned initiatives and
repeated attempts to develop a comprehensive water management
solution have failed, despite cautionary tales. However, 2019
witnessed the horizon of a new initiative called the Voluntary
Agreements that could do what few, if any, past plans, efforts,
or reports could do – unite water management and develop
The concept of unimpaired flows has endured (much longer than
reasonable in my opinion). While it was argued that unimpaired
flows would allow resource assessments to be founded on the
“natural” hydrology of the stream network, this had fundamental
Despite growing concerns of a below-average rainfall season,
the city of Ontario revoked mandatory conservation measures
this week, setting a 0% water conservation target with state
regulators. … The City Council approved the change from
mandatory Stage 2 water conservation to voluntary conservation
on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
January’s rainfall has been unimpressive to date, and Jan Null,
veteran meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services, agrees
that the last week of the month looks relatively dry. Seasonal
precipitation totals for Northern and Central California
continue to fall behind normal.
The 2018 Four Corners drought — centered on the junction
between Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico — put the region
deep in the red. An abnormally hot spring and summer indicated
that climate change was clearly at work, but that was about as
much as most people could say… Climate scientists from UC
Santa Barbara have now distilled just how strong an effect
human-induced warming had on that event.
These networks of habitat and water that run under and across
our desert are essential to stop the loss of bird species
diversity. These linkages, flowing through our communities,
under our highways, bubbling up in the livestock allotments of
our public lands or pulsing within renewable energy development
zones, are not easily replaced. The loss and degradation of
these connected lands and waters are contributing to the
In wildland forest locations, they found that drought-ridden
and drier locales like Idaho and Colorado have longer stretches
of post-burn protection (about 20 years) because the woody
debris in those forests require extreme drought to carry fires
and the land lacks grassy fuels. Coastal California, however,
receives more moisture and grassy fuel grows quickly,
increasing the risk for reburn, seeing that negative feedback
disappear after about 10 years.
The Santa Fe Irrigation District approved three percent water
rate increases for the next three years at a Jan. 16 hearing.
… The rate increases aim to help meet the district’s
objectives to ensure equity across customer classes, encourage
conservation and maintain financial stability as it faces
challenges such as the rising costs of imported water.
Now the hard work begins which includes determining just how
much water growers can pump out of the ground. A big factor in
deciding how much groundwater can be pump will be mitigating
the decreased level of water in the Friant-Kern Canal, another
major topic addressed at Friday’s meeting.
Utah first proposed building a 140-mile pipeline from Lake
Powell on the Utah-Arizona border more than a decade ago. The
plan, however, was waylaid by environmental and other reviews
during the Obama administration. … Reclamation signaled to
the state that it wants to move swiftly on the plan, in
recognition of how it was stalled at FERC…
Landowners are afraid of going bankrupt if a prescribed burn
escapes control, the interviewees told researchers. Meanwhile,
state and federal workers see little praise for successful
controlled burns, and face fears and possible backlash from a
risk-averse public, wary of wildfire smoke and mishaps. The
Stanford experts suggested those perceptions among the public
Since July, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and State
Water Contractors have engaged in fruitless negotiations over
how to pay for a single-tunnel Delta Conveyance Facility. On
December 23, right before the holidays, DWR made their 6th
proposal to the State WaterContractors with a major shift in
More rain and snow area headed to Northern California on
Tuesday, although the storm won’t be nearly enough to make up
for what’s been a relatively dry January. … The Department of
Water Resources’ precipitation index was at 63 percent of
normal for the Valley and Sierra. The Sierra snowpack is 82
percent of normal.
The deaths of the trees, some of which lived through the rise
and fall of hundreds of empires, caliphates and kingdoms – not
to mention the inauguration of every US president – have
shocked researchers in their speed and novelty.
The landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA,
requires some of the state’s thirstiest areas form local
“Groundwater Sustainability Agencies” and submit long-term
plans by Jan. 31 for keeping aquifers healthy. Together, those
plans will add up to a big reveal, as groundwater managers
finally disclose how badly they believe their aquifers are
As Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration attempt to
establish a comprehensive and cohesive water policy for the
state, officials are seeking public input on the draft water
resilience portfolio released earlier this month. The document
was issued in response to Newsom’s April 2019 executive order
directing his administration to inventory and assess a wide
range of water-related challenges and solutions.
Inside the dome on top of the Penitencia Water Treatment plant
in San Jose is the first permanent x-band weather radar system
in the Bay Area. “The radar system that you see up there is
collecting crucial data as we speak,” said Norma Camacho, CEO
of Valley Water.“ Camacho joined the San Francisco P.U.C.,
Sonoma Water and other partners in unveiling the new system,
which will improve weather forecasting across the region.
While Newsom has been forced to address climate change on many
fronts during the past year – think wildfires, blackouts and
automobile standards – the state’s myriad water challenges must
remain a priority. Our state’s water system is decades old and
needs to be re-envisioned for a new era.
UC Merced researchers outline solutions to the severe wildfire
problems in California’s mountain forests and closely linked
water resource challenges in a documentary premiering on KVIE,
the Sacramento affiliate of PBS, later this month. The new film
“Beyond the Brink: California’s Watershed” highlights the
critical need to reverse a century of fire suppression in
Sierra Nevada forests…
Last year, with those recent calamities haunting the state,
officials took some unprecedented steps to avert a devastating
repeat. Did they work? Well, judging by the results tallied at
the end of the year, something went right.
The fires raging in Australia present a sadly recognizable
scenario, a new normal that, after two years of devastating
wildfires in California, we in the United States have become
all too familiar with. Policies intended to return forests to a
more “natural” state with less proactive human management have
created disastrous conditions…
Severe droughts have happened simultaneously in the regions
that supply water to Southern California almost six times per
century on average since 1500, according to new research. The
study is the first to document the duration and frequency of
simultaneous droughts in Southern California’s main water
sources—the Sacramento River basin, the Upper Colorado River
Basin, and local Southern California basins.
Californian almonds will benefit from a new public campaign
next week to capitalise on the explosion in plant-based
eating… However, the environmental reputation of the almond
sector is much less favourable. It was once labelled a
“horticultural vampire” by US magazine New Republic for its
perceived role in California’s most recent droughts.
Right now, the April-July runoff is supposed to be 82% of
average. That compares to 145 % of average in 2019, the
second-best runoff season in the past 20 years, says the
federal Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. Despite last
year’s excellent river flows, most experts also say the
Colorado still faces long-term supply issues…
Because the amount of groundwater pumped out far exceeds what
is naturally replenished by rainfall, Valley Water’s
groundwater management activities are critical to maintaining
healthy groundwater basins.
Every year since 2014, I have petitioned the State Water
Resources Control Board to end the widespread practice of
irrigation, especially of cattle pastures, outside the legal
irrigation season. So far, however, State Water Board staff
have not taken effective action to end the illegal water use
and the resulting degradation of Scott River stream
As groundwater sustainability agencies prepare their plans to
meet the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act (SGMA), they will likely utilize a variety of tools to
achieve sustainability. … At ACWA’s fall conference, a panel
discussed the legal framework, different types of groundwater
rights, lessons learned from existing groundwater production
allocation programs, and potential pitfalls …
Along with long-term drought and climate change, the
overcommitment of the Colorado River is a big reason why Lake
Mead has dropped to historic levels in recent years. Fixing it
could be a big problem for Arizona.
Farm organizations welcomed a new water planning document from
state agencies while they analyzed the document’s proposed
strategies. Titled the California Water Resilience Portfolio
and released last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration
described the document as an effort to guide water management
in a way that works for people, the environment and the
California will impose new limits on water usage in the
post-drought era in the coming years — but a claim that
residents will be fined $1,000 starting this year if they
shower and do laundry the same day isn’t true. It wasn’t true
when the state’s new conservation laws were enacted in 2018,
and it isn’t true now — despite a recent report on a Los
Angeles television station …
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors adopted a plan on
Tuesday meant to maintain groundwater and keep users from
pumping too much from underground basins. … Officials said
the plan also lays out efforts to try to recharge groundwater —
in other words, replace water sucked out from underground.
Consistent with the science developed over the last three
decades, the Newsom administration is pursuing comprehensive,
watershed-wide solutions that address the numerous factors that
limit the abundance of native fish in the Delta. These types of
solutions are the ones that are most likely to achieve the
state’s co-equal goals of the 2009 Delta Reform Act…
Governor Newsom’s administration recently released a draft
Water Resilience Portfolio plan… This plan also emphasizes
diverse relatively precise policy initiatives for state
agencies, often in support of local and regional water
problem-solving and with some aspirations to bring state
agencies together. It is a good read, clearly reflecting
intense and diverse discussions over several months.
Citing a lack of action by Congress and the Trump
administration, a group of California Democrats said it’s up to
the state to continue fighting the “existential” threat of
climate change by simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas
emissions and improving the standard of living for low-income
communities and people of color.
These changes will be substantial, multi-faceted, and often
rapid. Some changes will be irreversible. Many changes are
inevitable. Some will say today’s Delta is doomed. It will be
important for California to develop a scientific program that
can help guide difficult policy and management discussions and
decision-making through these challenges.
In the early years of the 20th century, leaders across the West
had big dreams for growth, all of which were tied to taking
water from the Colorado River and moving it across mountains
and deserts. In dividing up the river, they assigned more water
to users than the system actually produces.
The city of Chino Hills was named with three other entities in
a class-action lawsuit filed Dec. 17 in San Bernardino Superior
Court by the Natural Resources Defense Council for not
submitting a water conservation report required by the state
for three consecutive years. The other entities were San
Bernardino County, Rancho Cucamonga and Redlands.
The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada need
to cut total water use by 18% from their 2000-2018 average to
bring Lakes Mead and Powell into a long-term state of balance,
says Brian Richter. Richter is president of the nonprofit group
Sustainable Waters and a former director and chief scientist
for the Nature Conservancy’s Global Water program.
State agencies on Friday released a draft water resilience
portfolio with a suite of recommended actions to help
California cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising
temperatures, declining fish populations, aging infrastructure
and other challenges.
Another water war is getting underway. This time we are not
fighting California. It’s a family feud right here in Arizona.
Urban versus rural. Phoenix and Tucson ganging up on the rural
communities along the Colorado River in western Arizona.
Farmers for decades have used huge machines to plant, grow and
harvest their crops, but more and more Arizona farmers today
are using tiny, remote-controlled aircraft to boost yields and
save water and money.
The Department of Defense recently awarded a $266,589 grant to
a California State University Monterey Bay professor to
continue his research into fog. Reporter Michelle Loxton spoke
with Daniel Fernandez about how this grant will take his
research to the next level.
The nearly $4 million project, assisted with $3.4 million in
state grants and a $1 million match from Pajaro Valley Water,
is expected to further reduce groundwater pumping in the area,
so as to halt seawater intrusion and groundwater overdraft
while keeping agriculture viable in the Pajaro Valley.
California is at a water crossroads. We can continue our
costly, 100-year-old pattern of trying to find new water
supplies, or we can choose instead to focus on smarter ways of
using – and reusing – what we already have.
California is increasing regulations on groundwater. For many
farmers in the state, it is a step too far. The law’s critics
say it could lead to a loss of half a million acres of farmland
in California’s Central Valley. As Kerry Klein of member
station KVPR in Fresno reports, some farmers are so worried,
Climate change is already affecting water management across the
state. Small rural communities with ongoing drinking water
challenges are especially vulnerable to greater extremes
brought on by a warming climate. We talked to Jan Coppinger, a
special district administrator from Lake County, about how the
county’s small water systems have dealt with an especially
devastating string of natural disasters.
Environmental groups, tribes and upstream water users in
California yesterday sought to block a permanent water delivery
contract between the Interior Department and the Westlands
Water District. At issue is a proposed deal between Westlands,
an agricultural powerhouse in California’s San Joaquin Valley,
and the Bureau of Reclamation in which Westlands pays off its
debt to the government to guarantee deliveries in perpetuity
without future contract renewals.
The supervisors authorized the disbursal from the Coachella
Valley Air Quality Enhancement Fund to help pay for the planned
north end restoration of the 360-square mile lake, which will
include the establishment of a lagoon to overlay exposed playa
and mitigate the resulting atmospheric impacts.
In theory, a demand management program would pay users to
conserve in the midst of a crisis in order to boost the river’s
big reservoirs. How it would work, who would participate and
how it would be funded are still unanswered questions. Another
concern is how to make the program equitable — so it doesn’t
burden one user over another.
House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona
wants his committee to give him subpoena authority for multiple
possible investigations, but California Democrat Jim Costa may
vote against that as the panel considers whether Interior
Secretary David Bernhardt improperly influenced a decision to
send more water to his district.
This isn’t just a problem for Mexico. These growers are the
custodians of rare varieties of maize that may hold the secret
to more sustainable agriculture. If they lay down their tools,
their crops could begin to vanish.
Federal water managers are about to start reexamining a
12-year-old agreement among Western states that laid down rules
for dealing with potential water shortages along the Colorado
River. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the
Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of
2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline
under the existing agreement.
Federal water managers are about to start reexamining a
12-year-old agreement among Western states that laid down rules
for dealing with potential water shortages along the Colorado
River. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the
Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of
2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline
under the existing agreement.
In a recent exclusive interview, U.S. Agriculture Secretary
Sonny Perdue told Western Farm Press that the low-interest loan
will help fund projects associated with the off-stream storage
site in western Colusa County. … “The USDA is putting up
almost $500 million in rural development funds,” Perdue said.
A mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University has
developed a new, micro-thin material to make membrane water
desalination even better. Amir Barati Farimani, with fellow
researchers Zhonglin Cao and Vincent Liu, has calculated how
much better his metal organic framework (MOF) works than the
traditional membrane method.
The Colorado River is arguably one
of the hardest working rivers on the planet, supplying water to
40 million people and a large agricultural economy in the West.
But it’s under duress from two decades of drought and decisions
made about its management will have exceptional ramifications for
the future, especially as impacts from climate change are felt.
Every other year we hold an
invitation-only Colorado River Symposium attended by various
stakeholders from across the seven Western states and Mexico that
rely on the iconic river. We host this three-day event in Santa
Fe, N.M., where the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed, as
part of our mission to catalyze critical conversations to build
bridges and inform collaborative decision-making.
With a low rumble from a large pipe, water began flowing into a
dirt basin at 25th Street West and Elizabeth Lake Road Thursday
morning, christening the Upper Amargosa Creek Recharge Project
and marking the debut of a new water storage endeavor in the
Valley. Inside the basin, water flowed from holes in a round
structure to begin flooding the bottom, where it will begin to
percolate through the soil to the aquifer beneath.
Votes of support by local jurisdictions bring the project one
step closer to reality. Reality is a costly giant tunnel that
would divert Sacramento River water bound for the
Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and transport the water directly
to Central Valley farms and urban users in the Bay Area and
States in the U.S. West that have agreed to begin taking less
water next month from the drought-stricken Colorado River got
praise and a push for more action Thursday from the nation’s
top water official. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that
abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring
that more painful cuts aren’t required.
Dr. Michael Kiparsky is the founding director of the Wheeler
Water Institute within the Center for Law, Energy, and
Environment at the UC Berkeley School of Law. In this
presentation from the 2019 Western Groundwater Congress, Dr.
Kiparsky discussed a pilot project in the Pajaro Valley
designed to incentivize private landowners to do groundwater
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said
Wednesday that Nevada has been a national leader in water
conservation by reducing demand on the Colorado River and
investing in infrastructure over the past two decades. In Las
Vegas for the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual
conference, Burman declined to say, however, whether she sees
Nevada’s share of the river’s water increasing…
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from
the Colorado River in January as a hard-fought set of
agreements kicks in to reduce the risk of reservoirs falling to
critically low levels. The two U.S. states agreed to leave a
portion of their water allotments in Lake Mead under a deal
with California called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
Plan, or DCP…
Environmentalists who had high hopes Gavin Newsom would lead
the way to sustainable water use in the San Joaquin Valley are
waking up to the knowledge that the new governor isn’t going to
be any more effective than the old governor. Sustainability is
just too big a lift.
There are two things already baked into the desert’s cake
guaranteed to inject a bit of what ails the rest of the state —
the full flowering of the regulatory scheme mandated by the
state’s 2014 Groundwater Sustainability Act and reductions in
Colorado River allocations made necessary by a drying Colorado
River Basin that is already badly over allocated.
Pummeled by fires, drought and floods, California’s Democratic
primary voters put fighting climate change at the top of their
list of issues for the next president to tackle. Nearly half of
likely Democratic primary voters call the issue the No. 1
priority for the next president, according to a new statewide
Tijuana and Rosarito residents may have gotten a brief reprieve
from scheduled water shut-offs, but the delivery of water
throughout Baja California is a vulnerable system in need of
urgent repairs, state and water officials stressed this week.
Farmers are worried… Some feel angry, even betrayed by
lawmakers and the environmental groups that have pressured them
into what they see as ever-tightening regulations on the ag
industry. While many disagree with SGMA, most do acknowledge
that California’s unrestricted groundwater use has been
Dr. Rachel Johnson is a research biologist with the NOAA’s
National Marine Fisheries Service and UC Davis with over 15
years’ experience working on various aspects of conservation
and fisheries biology. In this presentation from the 2019 State
of the Estuary conference, Dr. Johnson discussed the importance
of developing a holistic framework among aquatic ecosystems and
Unfettered pumping has taken a toll on the state’s aquifers for
many years, but just as experts are calling for Arizona to
develop plans to save its ancient underground water, pumping is
accelerating and the problems are getting much worse. Big
farming companies owned by out-of-state investors and foreign
agriculture giants have descended on rural Arizona and snapped
up farmland in areas where there is no limit on pumping.
The bitter drought validated scientists’ warnings that despite
longstanding endangered species protections, the state’s
outdated and overtaxed water management plans are failing in
the face of climate change. … A report released Thursday by
the Public Policy Institute of California recommends the state
stop prioritizing individual species recovery plans and adopt
holistic management methods that improve entire freshwater
The planned downtown Palm Springs entertainment arena, like
many desert projects, is a thirsty one, requiring almost 12
million gallons of water each year to accommodate an American
Hockey League affiliate team and other visitors.
With the new strategy, land management agencies will increase
the pace and scale of restoration actions, including forest
thinning, prescribed fire, and meadow, aspen, and stream
restoration. It will also provide a science-based framework to
guide continued forest and watershed restoration over the next
Rather than physically move water hundreds of kilometers across
earthquake country between Northern California and San
Bernardino, the plan involves reallocating water virtually,
just as you would electronically transfer funds from one bank
account to another. Once the Chino Basin Program is
operational, in times of drought the southern region can draw
water from the new reserve instead of from the State Water
Project… That will mean water impounded by Oroville Dam can
be released into the Feather River, benefitting endangered
In her address to the State of the Estuary conference, Felicia
Marcus spoke about the connections of the Delta to all
Californians and the importance of working together and more
broadly to solve the challenging problems before us.
The fracas over California’s scarce water supplies will tumble
into a San Francisco courtroom after a lawsuit was filed this
week claiming the federal government’s plan to loosen previous
restrictions on water deliveries to farmers is a blueprint for
wiping out fish.
Following a string of utility-sparked wildfires that have
killed scores of Californians and destroyed billions in
property, the former top regulator of California’s electric
grid says it’s time for sweeping change — a public takeover of
Pacific Gas & Electric and possibly other private utilities,
which would be transformed into a state power company.
In my current research, I have been studying the implementation
of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, commonly known
as SGMA, in California. SGMA is one of the world’s
largest-scale policy experiments on collective action to manage
natural resources. At the same time, pervasively disparate
access to water resources in the Central Valley made SGMA the
perfect case study to test some of the power asymmetry theories
I have been working on with my colleagues.
I assumed the different local water agencies were in regular
contact with their customers about important issues like
groundwater and that they would be happy to take advantage of
the opportunity to educate the public about what was happening
with SGMA. I learned that that was not the case. This is not a
subject that engages people who don’t already have some reason
to be concerned about it.
The 20-year groundwater plan, required by state law, aims to
bring the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin back into balance.
Between 1981 and 2011, the 684-square-mile aquifer serving 29
percent of San Luis Obispo County residents and 40 percent of
its agriculture lost 369,000 acre-feet of water.
The list of bases cited by the report was not limited by
geographical area and ranged from Fort Bragg, North Carolina,
and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina in the
East to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and Camp
Pendleton, California in the West.
Last year, the Camp Fire blazed through the town of Paradise,
California, and burned a Christmas tree farm to the ground. The
fire occurred just months after three other Christmas tree
farms were wiped out in Northern California.
The California Department of Water Resources announced an
initial State Water Project allocation of 10% for the 2020
calendar year. According to a DWR announcement, the initial
allocation is based on several factors, such as conservative
dry hydrology, reservoir storage, and releases necessary to
meet water supply and environmental demands.
California is by far the United States’ most populous state, as
well as its largest agricultural producer. Increasingly, it is
also one of the country’s most parched places. But Edgar Terry,
a fourth-generation farmer in Ventura County, just outside Los
Angeles, thinks he has a key to reversing worsening water
stress: establishing tradeable rights to shares of
fast-depleting groundwater aquifers.
California’s water policy community continues to be embroiled
on how best to manage what remains of California’s native
aquatic ecosystems, particularly for the Sacramento-San Joaquin
Delta and its tributaries. One aspect of this controversy is
the dedication and use of habitat and flow resources to support
As conventional wisdom has it, the states were relying on bad
data when they divided up the water. But a new book challenges
that narrative. Turn-of-the-century hydrologists actually had a
pretty good idea of how much water the river could spare, water
experts John Fleck and Eric Kuhn write in Science be Dammed:
How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.
They make the case that politicians and water managers in the
early 1900s ignored evidence about the limits of the river’s
Just as they did more than two generations ago, Kern County
farmers are looking to another Central Valley river to the
north to refill their groundwater shortfall. But this time
around, natives in the Kings River watershed are “sharpening
their knives” to fight off what they say is a desperate water
For three years, residents of the unincorporated San Bernardino
County desert town have used twice-a-month shipments of bottled
water because local wells were no longer meeting state
standards for drinking water. … That changed in September,
when work finished on a new pipeline that pulls clean water
from a well 4 miles away in Yucca Valley.
And as in other parts of the United States, black migrants were
met with Jim Crow-style racism: “Whites Only” signs, curfews
and discriminatory practices by banks. Often, the only places
black families could settle were on arid acres on the outskirts
of cultivated farmland — places like Teviston… Today, the
legacy of segregation in the Central Valley reverberates
underground, through old pipes, dry wells and soil tainted by
shoddy septic systems.
A new federal program hopes to fill knowledge gaps on how water
moves through the headwaters of arguably the West’s most
important drinking and irrigation water source. The U.S.
Geological Survey announced the next location for its Next
Generation Water Observing System will be in the headwaters of
the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. It’s the second watershed in
the country to be part of the program…
In the forecast stretching from Tuesday through Friday are
plummeting temperatures, hurricane-force gusts that could reach
or exceed 100 mph in some locations, giant waves of up to 37
feet, as much as four feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada and
heavy rain in lower elevations between San Diego and Salem.
A bi-national conference at San Diego State University was
aimed at analyzing water resources in the Baja California and
San Diego border region where challenges include cross-border
pollution and water scarcity… Experts at the Reborder 2019
conference discussed ways to improve regional access to “a
secure and reliable water supply” through wastewater treatment
A constellation of factors has primed California to burn big:
more development in the forests, undergrowth that’s no longer
cleared out by natural fires—and, importantly, climate change,
which has been drying out the land and making fires bigger and
the fire season longer.
Orange County has long been recognized as a worldwide leader
for developing state-of-the-art, environmentally sensitive new
water supply technology, and we are not resting on our laurels.
… This month, it was announced that the Huntington Beach
Seawater Desalination Plant will receive $585 million in credit
assistance under the EPA’s WIFIA program.
Aside from advanced economies and Mediterranean climates that
sustain long growing seasons, California, Spain and Australia
share an intermittent feature that reshapes their overburdened
water systems every time it rears its ugly head: drought.
Should we worry about a drought yet? Yes, this is California,
where droughts and flood can happen in any year, and sometimes
in the same year… No, not especially anyway, because …
there is not strong correlation between October-November
precipitation and total water year precipitation.
Native American tribes, environmentalists, state and federal
agencies, river rafters and others say they have significant
concerns about proposals to dam a Colorado River tributary in
northern Arizona for hydropower.
The study demonstrated the following: big legislative reforms
in water management in these three areas have always come about
as a consequence of important droughts. … One of the main
differences lies in how water ownership is managed and how the
market is regulated in this field.
Water shutoffs aren’t uncommon in the growing cities of Tijuana
and Rosarito. But they’re rarely announced beforehand, and
they’re often isolated to certain neighborhoods after pipes or
pumps fail. Earlier this month, however, Tijuana officials
announced that it was planning wide-ranging shutoffs for the
next two months, in an attempt to replenish a vital reservoir
that is perilously low.
The complaint filed in court on Nov. 19 asks the court to
“impose a ‘physical solution’ amongst nine groundwater users in
the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin (“Basin”) to preserve
and protect the Basin’s water supply, the investment-backed
expectations of agriculture, and the economy that is dependent
upon that supply.”
A district that recharges renewable water supplies to allow new
housing development brings in about $13.4 billion a year in
economic benefits, says a study written for a homebuilders’
group. … The report goes against the grain of
recommendations made over the years by academics,
environmentalists and others to limit enrollment of new
subdivisions in the district, saying that could cause a major
economic setback for the state.
Lots of stories circulate about the unethical actions of
Bernhardt and Gov. Newsom’s reluctance to fight Trump on water
— stories about Bernhardt’s effort to get rid of scientists who
concluded the new Trump Water Plan jeopardizes endangered
species in the Delta. Then there’s his work to give Westlands a
permanent water contract to irrigate poisoned selenium-ridden
lands… What’s not being covered: the impact these projects
will have on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers, and Newsom’s
reluctance to stop them.
El Niños have become more intense in the industrial age, which
stands to worsen storms, drought, and coral bleaching in El
Niño years. A new study has found compelling evidence in the
Pacific Ocean that the stronger El Niños are part of a climate
pattern that is new and strange.
California officials sent mixed signals Thursday when they said
they will sue to block a Trump administration rollback of
endangered species protections for imperiled fish — while also
proposing new water operations that mimic parts of the Trump
plan. The state moves reflect political pressure the Newsom
administration has been under as it confronts one of
California’s most intractable environmental conflicts — the
battle over the ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta…
A reservoir and water dam project aiming to store recycled
water is on track, according to water management officials. The
Santa Margarita Water District gave a tour of the Trampas
Canyon Reservoir and Dam on Saturday, Nov. 16. Construction
began in January 2018 and is expected to finish by 2020.
Known as Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO), the
approach centers on using the latest forecast technology to
plan for the arrival of atmospheric rivers. Those are the
torrents of moisture in the sky that barrel into California
from the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric rivers are critical to the
state’s water supply, accounting for as much as half of its
annual precipitation. But they can also cause catastrophic
Despite a winter storm forecast to hit the Bay Area soon,
California may be headed for another drought. The National
Weather Service’s latest drought forecast, released Thursday,
shows that California is likely to develop a drought between
now and the end of the February, with abnormally dry conditions
covering most of the state.
Many of California’s watersheds are
notoriously flashy – swerving from below-average flows to jarring
flood conditions in quick order. The state needs all the water it
can get from storms, but current flood management guidelines are
strict and unyielding, requiring reservoirs to dump water each
winter to make space for flood flows that may not come.
However, new tools and operating methods are emerging that could
lead the way to a redefined system that improves both water
supply and flood protection capabilities.
Sarah Heard is Director of Conservation Economics & Finance
with the California chapter of The Nature Conservancy… At the
Groundwater Resources Association’s Western Groundwater
Congress, Ms. Heard gave this presentation on the Fox Canyon
Groundwater Market in Ventura County, the first groundwater
market since the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater
Initially, federal scientists wrote a draft report that found
increasing water exports would harm California’s native salmon
population, a species already imperiled. Those scientists were
reassigned. Now, the Trump administration and David Bernhardt
have released a new proposal, and guess what? Westlands can
grab even more water from the Bay-Delta.
For the past two centuries, California has relied heavily on
the natural resources of the North Coast region, exploiting its
pristine watersheds for agriculture and its forests for timber.
… Now the Yurok are working with local and state
organizations to revitalize the forests, rivers and wildlife, a
comprehensive feat requiring collaboration among community
leaders up and down the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is hitched to so many things.
Our estuary is a critical habitat for fish and wildlife, home
to millions of people, and the hub of our state’s water
delivery system. From the Sierra Nevada to the mouth of the San
Francisco Bay, what happens in one part of the Delta watershed
affects the entire estuary.
A private company and the town of Queen Creek are proposing a
water deal that would leave 485 acres of farmland permanently
dry near the Colorado River and send the water used
on that land to the fast-growing Phoenix suburb. The company
GSC Farm LLC is seeking to sell its annual entitlement of 2,083
acre-feet of Colorado River water — about 678 million
gallons — to Queen Creek for a one-time payment of $21
The water coalition has been meeting since 2018 and started
under the facilitation of Alan Mikkelsen, senior adviser to
Secretary of the Interior on water and western resources. …
The coalition aims to address challenges to fisheries, water
supply, and waterfowl and forest health.
The pricetag for recycled drinking water just got less
expensive for Mid-County customers. The State Water Resources
Control Board unanimously approved a $50 million grant for
Soquel Creek Water District’s pending Pure Water Soquel
Groundwater Replenishment and Seawater Intrusion Prevention
West Basin Municipal Water District took the next steps Monday
toward building a desalination facility in El Segundo, a
project that has drawn fierce opposition from conservation
groups — including some who staged a rally before the meeting.
Seeking to fortify the city against future droughts, the Palo
Alto City Council endorsed on Monday a long-term agreement with
Santa Clara Valley Water District and Mountain View to build a
salt-removal plant in the Baylands and then transfer the
treated wastewater south.
Water rates have not increased in Newport Beach since 2014. If
approved, starting Jan. 1, water rates will increase 7.4% each
year until 2024. After 2024, the proposal calls for water rates
to rise by 2.5% each year until 2029. The average household …
can expect a $3.38 per month increase in its water bill for the
first year, according to a staff report.
The Coachella Valley Water District on Monday approved taking
on outside financing for what is believed to be the first time
in its 101-year history for a $40 million pipeline to bring
more Colorado River water to the region’s farmers, freeing up
valuable groundwater for other uses.
It’s been warmer than normal. It’s been drier than normal. For
most of the region, it hasn’t rained more than a sprinkle or a
brief thunderstorm here or there in about six months. Northern
California weather has done a relatively quick 180 in 2019.
California is in trouble. We can’t keep the lights on, the
fires out, or the air clean. Worst of all, from my perspective
as a farmer, is that we’ve failed to keep the water flowing.
That may change, thanks to the Trump administration.
Nevada’s director of the Department of Conservation and Natural
Resources said Nevada has already reached the point of
“critical mass” or the breaking point when it comes to the
problem of water scarcity. … “We are up against that much
strain in our water resources across the state,” Director Brad
When the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority technical
and policy advisory committees reviewed a draft sustainability
plan, it left many with questions and criticisms. The plan may
also leave uncertainty for the valley’s agricultural industry.
They face the brunt of the plan’s water sustainability
requirements when the plan is implemented…
Ambiguity exists in the language of the river’s foundational
document, the Colorado River Compact. That agreement’s language
remains unclear on whether Upper Basin states, where the
Colorado River originates, are legally obligated to deliver a
certain amount of water over a 10-year period to those in the
Lower Basin: Arizona, California, and Nevada.
California took a historic step forward this summer with the
passage of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. This
fund seeks to provide new targeted investments to end the
state’s drinking water crisis, where one million Californians
are impacted by unsafe water each year. Unfortunately,
successful implementation of the fund is on a potential
collision course with another California law, the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act…
Groundwater in Tulare County, especially in Porterville, has
been a hot topic of discussion for quite sometime. As
groundwater levels have begun to subside, a viable and woking
plan to maintain the groundwater has been state mandated, and
the implementation of this plan is set to be put in action by
January 31, 2020. But what exactly is the plan, and who is at
A proposed desalination plant in El Segundo could soon be one
step closer to reality. The West Basin Municipal Water District
will hold a special meeting in Carson on Monday, Nov. 18, where
the board will weigh whether to certify an Environmental Impact
Report for the proposal. … The board has not yet selected a
company to build the proposed plant, which could cost more than
The first storm of the season is set to roll into Southern
California this week, bringing rain and the potential for snow
at higher elevations, but the area isn’t completely in the
clear for fire danger, weather officials said Monday.
Since 2009, the water level has dropped 7.3 feet a year in one
of two SaddleBrooke Ranch wells and 1.7 feet a year in the
other, says the Arizona Water Co., a private utility serving
the development. This is one of many suburban developments
surrounding Tucson where underground water tables are falling
and are likely to fall much farther over the next century,
state records show.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is proposing a 10-year
marketing deal with the future Las Vegas Raiders that will pay
the NFL franchise more than $30 million in tax dollars over the
next decade, enabling the agency to use team logos and place
advertising in the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium.
California’s perpetual, uber-complex conflict over water
progresses much like the tectonic plates that grind against one
another beneath its surface. In much the same way, interest
groups constantly rub on each other in political and legal
venues, seeking greater shares of the state’s water supply,
which itself varies greatly from year to year. And
occasionally, there’s a sharp movement that shakes things up.
Sasha Gershunov, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at
UC San Diego, is one of the nation’s experts on atmospheric
rivers. ARs are one of the planet’s most extreme weather
events, he said, and their impact on the state is both good and
bad. They’re a critical source of water for the Golden State’s
bountiful agriculture, thick forests and ecosystems, snowpack
and drinking supplies, dropping 50% to 60% of the entire
state’s annual precipitation.
The recent rash of fires, like the drought that preceded it,
has sparked a new wave of pessimism about the state’s future.
But the natural disasters have also obscured the fact the
greatest challenge facing the state comes not from burning
forests or lack of precipitation but from an increasingly
dysfunctional society divided between a small but influential
wealthy class and an ever-expanding poverty population.
California’s drought-prone hills and valleys are on the verge
of another troubling dry spell. The U.S. government’s Drought
Monitor on Thursday classified more than 80% of California as
abnormally dry because rain has eluded the state for most of
the fall. Forecasting models, meanwhile, suggest little change
in the near future.
The latest public relations effort cost California water
ratepayers $29,000 to produce an eight-page color advertising
insert that ran in recent days in six Sacramento Valley
newspapers including The Sacramento Bee. … Critics argue it’s
inappropriate for a state agency to be spending public money on
an advertisement that they say serves little purpose other than
to try to make the government look good.
The problem in the 1920s was neither the lack of good science
nor the inability of decision-makers to understand the basin’s
hydrology. … In an era driven by politics of competition for
a limited supply of river water and federal dollars, those
decision-makers had the opportunity to selectively use the
available science as a tool to sell their projects and vision
for the river’s future to Congress and the general public.
It will cost Monterey Peninsula ratepayers about $574.5
million, all in, to acquire California American Water’s local
water system, but that cost can be covered in rate savings
under public ownership with some leftover to lower local
customers’ water bills.
The intensity of wildfires in places like California are a
symptom of climate change, experts say, but the whiplash effect
poses a different set of problems for humans and natural
systems. Researchers project that by the end of this century,
the frequency of these abrupt transitions between wet and dry
will increase by 25 percent in Northern California and as much
as double in Southern California if greenhouse gasses continue
The Arizona Department of Water Resources is working on
revising a model based on outdated assumptions and incomplete
data that have perpetuated the myth that Pinal County is facing
a water shortage. In fact, Pinal County has plenty of water for
today, tomorrow and 100 years from now.
The streamlined permitting process is an important component of
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act implementation, as it
may assist Groundwater Sustainability Agencies in more
efficiently obtaining the necessary water rights to divert and
recharge water during high flow events.
Hydropower facilities store water in reservoirs in order to
release it in a constant flow and produce energy consistently.
If wind turbines and solar panels, paired with battery storage,
took the pressure off of these facilities to fill the needs of
the grid during a drought, more of that water could be released
downstream for agricultural use, preventing further groundwater
Arizona’s portion of the Drought Contingency Plan became a
unique example in the basin of tribal leaders asserting
themselves in broader discussions about the river’s management.
… With the drought plan done, some tribal leaders say their
water rights can’t be ignored any longer.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Las Vegas water grab and
pipeline –– which has been in various stages of development
since 1989 –– would forever tarnish public lands and waters in
Eastern Nevada and Western Utah. The idea is a direct
descendant to the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
Scientists are breeding the trees that survived California’s
historic drought to make the forests of tomorrow more
resilient. A greenhouse full of 10,000 baby trees descended
from 100 of those survivors will eventually be planted around
the Lake Tahoe area. The researchers hope efforts like this can
buy ecosystems time to adapt to the planet’s rapidly changing
Five of the seven water-stressed western states along the
Colorado River—Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and
Wyoming—don’t yet track how they use their limited water in any
kind of systematic, accessible way, teeing up potential
shortages as the region dries.
On September 10, 2019, at the 34th Annual WateReuse Symposium
in San Diego, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a
draft National Water Reuse Action Plan for public
comment—containing 46 proposed actions, to be accomplished by a
mix of federal, state, private, local and private stakeholders,
in order to promote 10 strategic objectives.
The nation’s largest water agency signed an agreement that
legally bars it from participating in a controversial plan to
raise Shasta Dam, a move applauded by environmental groups that
fiercely opposed the proposal out of fears enlarging the
state’s biggest reservoir would swamp a stretch of a protected
Northern California river and flood sites sacred to a Native
Normally between Oct. 1 and mid-November, if historical
averages are any guide, the Bay Area has received nearly 2
inches of rain, and Los Angeles and Fresno each have received
about an inch. But so far this year? None.