WEEKLY WATER NEWS DIGEST for May 21-26: Voluntary agreements, Delta smelt study, Colorado River deal, DWR Audit, Pacheco Dam setback; and more … – MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK | Water news

A wrap-up of posts published on Maven’s Notebook this week …

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This week’s featured articles …

FEATURE: Voluntary Agreements Could Make the Delta a Better Place for Fish—Provided They’re Done Properly

By Robin Meadows

The State Water Resources Control Board, which both allocates surface water rights and protects water quality for people and wildlife, is proposing a new approach to setting flow standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The Delta drains about 40 percent of California, including much of the Sierra Nevada, and supplies fresh water to two-thirds of the state’s population and millions of acres of farmland. This water hub is also home to hundreds of native species as well as a migratory corridor for salmon and birds.

Under the existing approach, the State Water Board establishes the Delta inflow and outflow standards designed to protect fish and wildlife. Under the new approach—called voluntary agreements—these Delta flows would be determined collaboratively by government agencies as well as by the local water agencies that supply users. …

To learn more about the Delta ISB’s assessment of the scientific underpinnings of voluntary agreements in the Delta, Robin Meadows spoke with Lisa Wainger, a University of Maryland environmental economist who chairs the Delta ISB.

SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT: New study looks at stressors that impact presence or absence of Delta smelt

At the April meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Delta Lead Scientist Dr. Laurel Larsen spotlighted a study funded by the Delta Stewardship Council, State Water Contractors, and the Department of Water Resources that leveraged decades of monitoring data to test competing hypotheses about how combinations of stressors impact the presence or absence of Delta smelt in locations throughout the Delta.

Native fish in the Delta have been dealing with many challenges, including loss of habitat, loss of flows, competition and predation by invasive species, diminished food supply, loss of turbidity that helps them evade predators, and entrainment in Delta pumps.

“Often the science community has grappled with these changes by trying to understand how varying amounts of any one of these stressors impacts one or more life stages of native fish species,” said Dr. Larsen.  “These studies contribute valuable information, but they often leave unanswered questions about how interactions between these stressors impact fish or about which are really driving the concerningly low levels of fish populations in the Delta.  For example, perhaps there is an apparent relationship between non-native predators and fish populations.  But if flows were higher, perhaps this relationship would have negligible importance.”

In California water news this week …

A breakthrough deal to keep the Colorado River from going dry, for now

“The Biden administration has negotiated a hard-fought agreement among California, Arizona and Nevada to take less water from the drought-strained Colorado River, a deal that reduces, for now, the risk of the river running dry below the Hoover Dam, which would jeopardize the water supply for Phoenix, Los Angeles and some of America’s most productive agricultural land.  The agreement, to be announced Monday, calls for the federal government to pay about $1.2 billion to irrigation districts, cities and Native American tribes in the three states if they temporarily use less water. The states have also agreed to make additional cuts beyond that amount to generate the total reductions needed to protect the collapse of the river.  Taken together, those reductions would amount to about 13 percent of the total water use in the lower Colorado Basin — among the most aggressive ever experienced in the region, and likely to require significant water restrictions for residential and agriculture uses. … ”  Read more from the New York Times (gift article).

Colorado River deal: What does it mean for California?

“After nearly a year of intense negotiations, California, Nevada and Arizona reached a historic agreement today to use less water from the overdrafted Colorado River over the next three years.   The states agreed to give up 3 million acre-feet of river water through 2026 — about 13% of the amount it receives. In exchange, farmers and other water users will receive compensation from the federal government.  The Biden administration has been pushing the states since last spring to reach an agreement to cut back on Colorado River water deliveries. The three-state deal is a historic step — but it is not final: The U.S. Interior Department must review the proposal. And everything will have to be renegotiated before the end of 2026.  In California, the agreement would mostly affect the water supplies of farmers in the Imperial Valley. Coming up with a plan to fairly cut water use has created tensions between farms and cities and between states, especially California and Arizona. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters.

How California averted painful water cuts and made a Colorado River deal

“For months, California officials led by Gov. Gavin Newsom felt like they were at the bottom of a multistate dogpile in the closely-watched staredown over water rights across the American West.  Newsom and his top environmental aides viewed century-old laws as favoring them. And they tried to convince other states that California had already sacrificed by slashing its use. But they were getting crushed not only in the P.R. war, but in the delicate discussions taking place between the various states behind closed doors.  That all changed in a dramatic way on Monday, when California went from the main villain over dwindling Colorado River supplies to something of a surprise beneficiary. The joint plan presented alongside Arizona and Nevada and roundly viewed as a victory by California officials — as well as environmentalists and business leaders alike — proposes to hold off a water crisis for at least three more years. … ”  Read more from Politico.

State Auditor: DWR’s forecasts do not adequately account for climate change and its reasons for some reservoir releases are unclear

“As directed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, my office conducted an audit of the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Our assessment focused on DWR’s water supply forecasting and surface water management, and we determined that DWR has made only limited progress in accounting for the effects of climate change in its forecasts of the water supply and in its planning for the operation of the State Water Project. Until it makes more progress, DWR will be less prepared than it could be to effectively manage the State’s water resources in the face of more extreme climate conditions.  DWR is responsible for developing water supply forecasts that are important to both state and local efforts in managing California’s finite water resources. Despite acknowledging more than a decade ago that it needed to adopt a new forecasting method that better accounts for the effects of climate change, DWR has continued to rely heavily on historical climate data when developing its forecasts. In fact, in water year 2021, DWR significantly overestimated the State’s water supply—an error that DWR attributed to severe conditions due to climate change. … ”  Continue reading at the California State Auditor’s website.

California water manager ripped over poor climate change planning

“The California state auditor blasted the Department of Water Resources for failing to properly plan for climate change, and for a lack of transparency around water management decisions.  California has experienced increasingly extreme conditions including multiple droughts and floods. During drought emergencies, the state sometimes curtails water allocations due to forecasts that the water supply is too low to meet all water demands. State law requires the department to develop annual forecasts of seasonal water supply, including surface water from rain and snowfall runoff, which local agencies can rely on to determine the supply within a water year.   But State Auditor Grants Parks said in a report Thursday that the agency’s forecasts are unreliable due to outdated models, causing errors. Such errors can potentially lead to projects releasing more water from reservoirs or exporting less from the Sacramento Delta. … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service.

California Democrats sideline Gavin Newsom’s plan to build big things, faster

“Dealing a blow to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Democratic legislators today shot down his ambitious attempt to reform state environmental law and make it easier to build big infrastructure projects in California.  In a 3-0 vote, a Senate budget committee found Newsom’s package was too complex for last-minute consideration under legislative deadlines. The cutoff for bills to pass out of their house of origin is June 2, just two weeks after the governor rolled out his proposal to adjust the landmark California Environmental Quality Act.  The 10 bills include measures to streamline water, transportation and clean energy projects with an eye toward helping the state meet its climate goals. The proposals also took aim at an environmental law commonly referred to by the acronym CEQA that critics have long decried as a tool to bog down housing and other projects. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters.

Huge Santa Clara County dam project dealt another setback

“In the latest stumble for plans to build a massive $2.8 billion dam in Southern Santa Clara County near Pacheco Pass, a judge has ruled that the Santa Clara Valley Water District violated state environmental laws over the dam’s preliminary geological work.  The ruling could lead to further delays on the proposal to construct the largest new dam in the Bay Area since Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County was built in 1998.  The district, based in San Jose, wants to build a 320-foot-high earthen dam on the North Fork of Pacheco Creek in the rugged canyons about 2 miles north of Highway 152 near the border of Henry W. Coe State Park.  The idea is to take water the district now stores nearby in the massive San Luis Reservoir and pipe it to a new Pacheco reservoir, filling it during wet years.  But the project has faced major hurdles and may never be built. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News (gift article).

Delta Tunnel plan touted by Newsom gets push-back from Congress member

“California’s long-discussed “Delta tunnels” project is on the front-burner again.  Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom announced sweeping legislation that would fast-track infrastructure projects across the state. That announcement included the latest version of a tunnel project in the Delta, which would divert Sacramento River water and ultimately send it to Southern California.  Congressman Josh Harder, who represents the Stockton area and has been opposed to the Delta tunnels project for five years, is speaking out against the governor’s move. … CapRadio’s Mike Hagerty spoke with Harder to learn more about his effort to stop the Delta tunnel project. … ”  Read more from Capital Public Radio.

California urged to end water grab on Scott River

“The fight to maintain water levels in Northern California rivers for fish received a push after the Karuk tribe and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations filed a petition with the California Water Resources Control Board seeking to permanently enforce minimum flows on the Scott River.  Located in Siskiyou County, California, the Scott River is a 60-mile tributary of the Klamath River and home to several trout and salmon species, including some of the last Southern Oregon-Northern California coho salmon – a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.  “The fate of this population of coho salmon depends on whether or not we keep water in the Scott River,” said Karuk Tribe Council Member Troy Hockaday in a statement. “If we don’t act immediately, we could see this run of coho salmon disappear from the Earth in a few short years.”  … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service.

Scott Valley ranchers, tribal members, teachers ask Governor to rescind drought restrictions

“Today, residents of Scott Valley, a small rural community in far-northern California, sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom requesting that he rescind his 2021 drought proclamation for their area of the Klamath River basin. Now that drought has subsided in the area, locals are asking that the corresponding emergency drought regulations be lifted to prevent further damage to the area’s agriculture-based economy. The letter was signed by about 400 people, including members of the Shasta, Karuk, Yurok, and Pitt tribes, teachers, business owners, residents, and small family farmers and ranchers.  This past winter brought considerable relief in the form of rain and snow to the Scott River watershed, after three years of severe drought that prompted significant surface and ground water restrictions for the small family farms and ranches in the area. …  Yet despite this good water year, Scott Valley farmers and ranchers are, like last year, facing 30 percent reductions in groundwater use and possible limits on livestock water intake. … ”

Click here to read the full press release.

Shasta dam sits at the center of California’s water wars. So will they raise it?

“The water levels of Shasta Lake currently sit at the highest they’ve been in four years. Photos circulating the internet show a lake brimming with water, and comment section warriors continue to point at how the government will waste the surplus of water instead of saving it for the inevitable droughts California will see in the future.  “Too bad Newsom will send all this water to the ocean,” said a commenter on a photo of the lake posted on our social media pages.  Of course, this comment is misguided since it’s actually the federal government, not state officials, who control the water flows of Shasta Dam. But it does bring local water frustrations to the forefront – how is California investing in legitimate water storage programs to help mitigate future drought? … ”  Read more from Active NorCal.

Big melt may be less dramatic – and damaging – than initially thought

“State flood responders are still planning for the worst, but newly released inundation models are predicting a less dramatic and damaging snow melt as California heads into the summer months.  On the Kern River, predictions are now showing releases from Isabella Dam can be maintained at 7,750 cubic feet per second, or less, throughout the rest of May and June, according to new figures released by the Department of Water Resources.  That’s down from a possible high of more than 9,200 cfs, which could have swamped homes in low lying areas east of Manor Street, as well as Highway 178 through the Kern River Canyon, according to Kern County first responders. Those areas and the highway are still being closely monitored.  For the old Tulare Lake bed, the new models could mean water elevations are likely to peak at 181 feet by May 31, according to Mehdi Mizani, deputy flood manager for DWR, who spoke during a briefing on Monday. … ”  Read more from SJV Water.

Whiplash again! – Learning from wet (and dry) years

Jay Lund, Deirdre Des Jardins, and Kathy Schaefer write, ““Old superlatives have been dusted off and new ones count to better describe the tragedy, damage, and trauma associated with the State’s latest ‘unusual’ weather experience.” DWR Bulletin 69-83, California High Water 1982-83, p.1 … In July 1984, the California Department of Water Resources issued Bulletin 69-83, California High Water 1982-83.  It insightfully reviewed what is still California’s wettest water year in more than a century.  Reading this report gives a sense of California’s broad and eternal flood vulnerabilities and management problems.  Despite important advances since that time, many similar ideas could be written today.  Here are a few long-term lessons from the 1983 and 2023 experiences … ”  Read the full post at the California Water Blog.

EPA authority to regulate wetlands clobbered by Supreme Court

“Limiting the government’s authority to regulate wetlands under the Clean Water Act, the Supreme Court ended a nearly two-decade-old dispute Thursday.  The ruling from the court was unanimous, with the justices affirming summary judgment in the suit by Chantell and Michael Sackett against the Environmental Protection Agency.  “For more than a half century, the agencies responsible for enforcing the Act have wrestled with the problem and adopted varying interpretations,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.  He continued: “When we addressed the question 17 years ago, we were unable to agree on an opinion of the Court. Today we return to the problem and attempt to identify with greater clarity what the Act means by ‘waters of the United States.’” … ”  Read more from the Courthouse News Service.

State Water Board Statement: U.S. Supreme Court decision decreases federal wetlands protection

“The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision today that significantly reduces the scope of the Clean Water Act and diminishes the federal government’s ability to protect thousands of miles of rivers, streams, creeks and adjacent wetlands throughout the Western U.S.  Though the State Water Resources Control Board is extremely disappointed in the decision and the adverse impacts it will have nationally, it only narrows the scope of federal jurisdiction and does not weaken California’s more stringent wetlands protections. Under the Clean Water Act and the state’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the State Water Board retains regulatory authority for protecting the water quality of nearly 1.6 million acres of lakes, 1.3 million acres of bays and estuaries, 211,000 miles of rivers and streams and 1,100 miles of coastline. … ”

Click here to read the full statement from the State Water Board.

California advances bill banning hedge fund water profiteering

“California lawmakers advanced a bill that would prohibit hedge funds and other institutional investors from buying and selling agricultural water resources for financial gain.  Under the measure, which passed the State Assembly by a 46 to 17 vote on Monday afternoon, speculation or profiteering by investment funds in the sale, transfer or lease of water rights on agricultural land would be considered a waste or unreasonable use of water.  In a legislative analysis, the bill’s sponsor, California Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat, cited a recent Bloomberg Green investigation that showed how institutional investors have purchased agricultural land and used diminishing groundwater supplies to grow almonds and pistachios at a significant profit, drawing down aquifer levels as nearby household wells dried up. … ”  Continue reading at Bloomberg (gift article).

How hot is California going to get this summer? Here’s what experts say

Map showing higher than normal temperatures in majority of the southern, eastern and western states.“Californians can expect hotter-than-average temperatures this summer.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that the weather for June, July and August will be warmer than normal.   The temperature map shows that in California, especially in northern parts of the state, there will be a 33% to 50% probability that temperatures will be above average.  The rest of the U.S. — with the exception of a few Midwestern states — can also anticipate a warmer summer. The map is color-coded and the darker the color, the higher the likelihood that it’ll be hotter than normal.  No portions of the country can expect below-normal summer temperatures.  Meteorologists can’t say for certain why this summer will be hotter, but they suggest several factors can contribute. … ”  Read more from the LA Times.

California unlikely to run short of electricity this summer thanks to storms, new power sources

“California regulators say the state is unlikely to experience electricity shortages this summer after securing new power sources and a wet winter that filled the state’s reservoirs enough to restart hydroelectric power plants that were dormant during the drought.  The nation’s most populous state normally has more than enough electricity to power the homes and businesses of more than 39 million people. But the electrical grid has trouble when it gets really hot and everyone turns on their air conditioners at the same time.  It got so hot in August 2020 that California’s power grid was overwhelmed, prompting the state’s three largest utility companies to shut off electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes for a few hours over two consecutive days.  The state’s electrical grid was strained in part because of a severe drought that left reservoirs at dangerously low levels, leaving little water available to pass through hydroelectric power plants. … ”  Read more from KEYT.

California snowlines on track to be 1,600 feet higher by century’s end

“This winter produced record snowfall in California, but a new study suggests the state should expect gradually declining snowpacks, even if punctuated with occasional epic snowfalls, in the future.  An analysis by Tamara Shulgina, Alexander Gershunov, and other climate scientists at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography suggest that in the face of unabated global warming, the snowlines marking where rainfall turns to snow have been rising significantly over the past 70 years. Projections by the researchers suggest the trend will continue with snowlines rising hundreds of meters higher by the second half of this century.  In the high Southern Sierra Nevada range, for instance, snowlines are projected to rise by more than 500 meters (1,600 feet) and even more when the mountains get precipitation from atmospheric rivers, jets of water vapor that are becoming an increasingly potent source of the state’s water supply. … ”  Read more from UC San Diego.

In commentary this week …

California legislature could make overdue changes to water rights if these three bills pass

Amanda Fencl with the Union of Concerned Scientists writes, “For the first time in several decades, policy makers in Sacramento seem poised to actually do something about California’s dysfunctional water rights systems. There are three promising policies winding their way through the Legislature this session. All three bills just made it out of the committee review process, and are slated to be voted on by June 2. These incremental changes are a long-overdue start toward addressing California’s outdated and unjust water rights system.  The package of water rights bills before the Legislature offers critical updates to the State Water Resources Control Board’s (“Water Board”) ability to make informed and timely water management decisions and build climate resilience for the future for everyone in the state. … ”  Continue reading at the Equation.

Senior water rights in California are endangered by bad legislation in Sacramento

The Modesto Bee editorial board writes, “A dangerous trio of bills winding through the Legislature would greatly expand the power of unelected water officials and bureaucrats by stripping authority from holders of senior water rights, most of whom have exercised these rights for more than a century. They include the Modesto, Turlock and Fresno irrigation districts, the city of Sacramento and the city and county of San Francisco. Usurping these agencies’ control over water, and shifting authority instead to the appointed State Water Resources Control Board, represents an unwise and unnecessary power shift.  Arguments favoring Assembly Bills 460 and 1337 and Senate Bill 389 generalize the existing water rights system as antiquated and broken. This is a narrative promulgated often by those who think they don’t have enough water and want to take it from those who do. … ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee. | Read via Yahoo News.

United water community key to answering bills on water rights

Dave Eggerton, Executive Director of ACWA, writes, “If enacted, water rights legislation pending in the Legislature could put water management in chaos and hobble future progress toward a more reliable and resilient water future.  Bills in the Assembly and Senate threaten to undermine the basic foundation of water management and water delivery in California by drastically changing the longstanding legal framework governing the right to use water in this state. Stopping these bills is a top priority for ACWA, which is leading a broad coalition that extends beyond the water community. Vital to all our work is the water community remaining united, because this may well become the most consequential legislative session of our careers.  It’s easy to see why. … ”  Continue reading at ACWA.

Bad legislation

Don Wright with Water Wrights writes, “We hear about laws being passed that make no sense. According to ETags it is illegal in California for a woman to drive wearing a house coat. Idiot Laws states it’s illegal to play drums on the beach in Santa Monica or to let horse manure pile up higher than six feet in San Francisco. It’s also illegal to wax your car with used underwear in the City by the Bay or walk your lion without a leash. And we all know for some reason or other it’s against the law in California to hunt animals from a moving vehicle unless you’re going after whales.  If the legislation coming out of Sacramento were graded on the criteria of harmful, unintended consequences it would receive an “F” average – provided you believe harmful is bad for the citizens and not just the cost of doing government. … There are three bills making their way through the legislative process in Sacramento that would upend California’s economy, domestic food supply and the relation between those who govern and those who are governed by handing water rights over to the State Water Resources Control Board. Who are the authors and where do they come from? … ”  Read the full commentary at Water Wrights.

Dangerous water rights policies put the interests of the few over the interests of the many

Pat Wirz writes, “Dangerous water rights policies are moving through the California Legislature that put the interests of the few over the interests of the many. Family farmers like me depend on our long-held water rights to feed Californians but three bills seek to upend more than a hundred years of California’s most fundamental economic foundation over the next few weeks at our expense.  The Cienega Valley, near Hollister, has been a wine-growing region since the 1850s. My family has deep roots in the area – we bought our first piece of ground in the 1940s and the land for Wirz Vineyards, which we still operate, in 1983. We sell our grapes to small wineries across the state. While our vines are typically dry farmed, meaning we rely on the soil’s residual moisture from rain rather than artificial irrigation, water management and supply reliability has been critical to how I operate my business particularly during dry years. … ”  Read more from Benito Link.

Dan Walters: California taxpayers on the hook to save two unhealthy western rivers

“The Klamath River begins in Oregon, draining the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, and slices through the northwestern corner of California before flowing into the Pacific Ocean.  The Colorado River begins in Colorado, draining the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, before meandering southwesterly and emptying into Mexico’s Sea of Cortez – if there’s any water left after California and other states have tapped the river for irrigation and municipal supplies.  Although hundreds of miles apart, the two rivers share a common malady: So much of their waters were impounded or diverted that they became unhealthy.  The two rivers also share something else: Taxpayers, rather than those who manipulated the rivers for profit, are footing the bill for restoring their flows. … ”  Read more from Cal Matters.

Water policies focused on the future are needed today

Ted Sheely, farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, writes, “The public policy of California is to flush away our water, as if the snow in our mountains and the runoff in our rivers were nothing more than the expulsions of a giant toilet bowl.  Wasting so much water makes it hard for farmers like me to grow the crops that everyone needs.  There’s no good reason for this, especially right now. Following several years of drought, during which farmers received little or no water for crop irrigation, the snowpack recorded last month in the Sierra Nevada was the deepest in 70 years. It’s like the snow from two or three winters fell in a single season.  That’s great news for me and farmers across the California Central Valley. I expect to receive a full allotment of surface water this year, which will be invested to grow pistachios, tomatoes, onions, and wine grapes—crops that work well with irrigation systems. … ”  Read more from Ag Web.

We’ve seen the flooding in California. Will we move to higher ground?

Author Tim Palmer writes, “The slow-motion rebirth of Tulare Lake has inundated farm fields and threatened levees, homes and whole towns. On Monday, the state projected the lake would reach its peak in the next week or so, but the floodwaters will linger for perhaps two years.  The return of what used to be the largest lake west of the Mississippi has captured our attention as one of the most dramatic climatic events of 2023. Yet the flooded crops and tenuous levees at Tulare Lake represent only a fraction of the statewide and nationwide landscape now subject to greater floods of the global warming era. … The failure to effectively address this reality is an important part of the backstory of Tulare Lake’s reemergence. … ”  Read the full commentary at the LA Times.

State-level cybersecurity preparedness needed to protect critical CA infrastructure

State Senator Melissa Hurtado writes, “During testimony to the California State Senate, cyber-security expert Dr. Tony Coulson outlined the concerns that California must contend with in order to protect its critical infrastructure sectors.  “California needs the ability to coordinate effectively for cyber-attack responses. A cyber-attack is not just a possibility, but a probability, stated Dr. Coulson, outlining why the state needs to enhance it cyber-attack preparedness.  After input from security experts, I am carrying Senate bill SB 265, which directs the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal-OES) and the California Cybersecurity Integration Center (Cal-CSIC) to prepare a multi-year outreach plan to assist critical infrastructure sectors specifically in efforts to improve cybersecurity. … ”  Continue reading at GV Wire.

Yuba River – Plan for new fish facilities at Daguerre Point Dam

Tom Cannon writes, “On May 16, 2023, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Yuba Water Agency announced a plan to design and build a fish bypass at Daguerre Point Dam on the lower Yuba River.  At present, the dam has fish ladders on both ends of the dam that don’t work well. The plan’s conceptual design is for a bypass channel that would allow fish to circumvent the existing dam; the plan would retain the dam. The plan would reconfigure the diversion works at the dam’s south end and add effective fish screens to the agricultural diversion infrastructure at both ends of the dam. … The bypass concept is one of several designs that could reduce existing problems at Daguerre. In addition to passage improvement, the concept could accommodate fish collection and segregation, and may be a feasible location for a conservation hatchery.  Several key elements should be added to this bypass plan … ”  Read more at the California Fisheries blog.

Plastic pipe drinking water systems aren’t worth health risks

MK Dorsey, director and chair of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at Arizona State University, and Dustin Mulvaney, a professor in the Environmental Studies Department at San Jose State University, write, “How many more environmental incidents need to occur before we get serious about curbing our addiction to plastic?  Officials made the decision to burn off vinyl chloride, a volatile chemical that they feared could explode inside the derailed cars of a Norfolk Southern train crash in eastern Ohio. There were no “good” options, and officials went with the least-bad one they had, but they remain responsible for their choices.  Just as we remain responsible for our choice to remain addicted to plastics in our critical infrastructures. … ”  Read more from the East Bay Times.

In regional water news this week …

Bureau of Reclamation increases Klamath Project water allocations

“Increased water supplies will be provided by the Bureau of Reclamation for Klamath Project contractors, but Klamath Basin water users say they remain disappointed and that the increases are lower than needed.  In making the announcement, BOR regional director Ernest Conant said that based on improved spring hydrology and updated forecasts, water supply allocations from Upper Klamath Lake increased from 215,000 acre-feet to 260,000 acre-feet. Allocations from the Gerber and Clear Lake reservoirs remains at 35,000 acre-feet from each reservoir. The updated 2023 allocations are based on analysis of existing hydrologic conditions and inflow forecasts from the California Nevada River Forecast Center and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. … ”  Read more from the Herald & News.

Tribes on the Klamath River struggle to save their salmon and way of life in the face of a changing climate

“Stretching from the volcanic Cascades of Southern Oregon to the Pacific Ocean in California, the Klamath River is intrinsically linked to the health of its surrounding communities, businesses, and environment. These communities include Native Americans, farmers, ranchers, loggers, miners, recreationists, and fishermen.  For thousands of years, the bounty of nature on the Klamath River served as the foundation for the health and culture of native tribes living here. The Klamath was once the third largest salmon-producing river on the West coast, teeming with what seemed to be a never-ending abundance of fish.  Long before contact, salmon runs were the common thread uniting Tribal communities throughout the Klamath River Basin. … Now with the dramatic effects of a changing climate making a devastating advance on our natural world, the once abundant salmon are reaching a tipping point as water quality and fish health rapidly declines. … ”  Read the full story at the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Mule Creek State Prison agrees to clean up polluted discharges

“On Thursday, May 18, 2023, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation entered into a consent decree to settle a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by the County of Amador. In a huge victory for the County of Amador and for the region’s clean water, the Department agreed to undertake $11 million in infrastructure improvements at Mule Creek State Prison. The improvements will provide much needed repairs to the prison’s wastewater collection system and two new bioswales to treat stormwater before it reaches Mule Creek.  The county initiated a Clean Water Act citizen suit against the Department in January of 2021. The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants to surface waters, except as authorized by a permit. The county’s lawsuit alleged that the prison discharges bacteria, pathogens, heavy metals, and other pollutants to Mule Creek in violation of the Clean Water Act permit covering the prison. … ”  Read more from the Amador Ledger-Dispatch.

Pleasanton: Contaminated wells OK’d for summer use

“The city council, during its regular May 16 meeting, authorized the reinstatement of the Pleasanton’s contaminated city wells during peak-demand periods.  Although Zone 7, the region’s water wholesaler, currently supplies all of Pleasanton’s water, concerns about whether the connections between Zone 7 and Pleasanton can handle high summer demands have sent the city in search of ways to cover the supply shortfall created last November, when moving state health targets for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — also known as forever chemicals — caused the city to shut down its groundwater wells. PFAS can cause health problems in people, such as immune-system suppression and some cancers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). … ”  Read more from the Independent.

Fight to get rid of California’s famous Hetch Hetchy Reservoir alive and well as it turns 100

“As California’s famous Hetch Hetchy Reservoir celebrates its 100th birthday, the fight to get rid of it is alive and well.  Spreck Rosekrans is with Restore Hetch Hetchy, a group dedicated to draining the reservoir and restoring it to its original state.  “This is the one time in history we’ve done something like this,” Rosekrans said.  If they had their way, the reservoir would be completely drained of its water.  “This is the one time we’ve taken away not just any national park, but Yosemite National Park, and we think it was a quirk of history,” Rosekrans said of the emergence of the reservoir. “It happened in 1913 and there’s a real opportunity to restore the valley.” … ”  Read more from CBS Sacramento.

Monterey Peninsula water district loses second court battle

“Legal challenges to a Monterey Peninsula water district’s ratepayer fee that dates back a least a decade reached fruition Friday when a judge ruled against the district for a second time.  Monterey County Superior Court Judge Carrie Panetta ruled Friday on a motion by the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District for a new trial after Panetta earlier ruled against the district in a lawsuit brought by the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association over a fee the district has been charging taxpayers.   If the district is stopped from collecting the fee, called a water supply fee, it could have a huge impact on district revenues at a time when the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District is partnering with Monterey One Water to invest in the Pure Water Monterey expansion project, which the district says could supply enough water to the Monterey Peninsula for the next few decades. … ”  Read more from the Monterey Herald.

The 2023 Mono Lake level forecast

“Each spring the Mono Lake Committee’s team of Mono Basin modelers and hydrology experts uses the lake level on April 1 together with the Mono Basin snowpack numbers and similar-year hydrological statistical data to produce the Mono Lake Committee lake level forecast for the runoff year ahead. You can download the full May 15, 2023 Mono Lake level forecast here.  At the end of last year Mono Lake had fallen to 6378.4 feet above sea level due to very dry weather and dry runoff conditions. Winter precipitation was abundant and then raised the lake to 6379.99 feet on April 1, 2023.  April 1 is the start of the current runoff year; record-high snowpack and expected record runoff classify this as an “Extreme-wet” year type. The graph below shows the range of likely Mono Lake elevations for April 1, 2023 to March 31, 2024. The range of projections is produced by the Mono Lake Committee’s modeling of hydrologic sequences using 1983, one of the wettest years in the historical record, plus an additional increment for the expected runoff volume exceeding 1983. … ”  Read more from the Mono Lake Committee.

DWR uses Kern River intertie to redirect flood water from Tulare Lake

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is using a unique piece of State Water Project (SWP) infrastructure for the first time since 2006 to reduce the amount of flood waters going into Tulare Lake in the Central Valley. At the request of the Kern River Watermaster, the Kern River Intertie is now redirecting flood flows at a rate of 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) from the Kern River to the California Aqueduct to lower flood risk in Tulare Lake and for downstream communities in Tulare County. The Intertie is located west of Bakersfield near where Highway 119 crosses the Aqueduct. While there is no immediate flooding or public safety concerns, timely use of the Intertie is critical to help prevent additional floodwater from exacerbating flooding in Tulare Lake as river flows increase. … ”  Read more from DWR News.

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