Ever since the state and federal water projects were built in the 1930s and 1940s, California has captured snowmelt in foothill reservoirs, and moved the fresh water from dam releases and river outflows to parched parts of the state via aqueducts hundreds of miles long. A convoluted system of ancient water rights and newer mandates governs who gets what water and how much. An equally complex infrastructure – including gates, pumps, screens, curtains and barriers – is deployed to deliver the fresh water to farms, cities, and industries, sometimes far from headwater sources. The state’s infamous war over water continues, whether it’s over fish versus farms, a peripheral canal or twin tunnels, or the perception that flows out to the Pacific are somehow wasted, rather than actually supporting a beleaguered estuarine ecosystem. Much of the hard work of conserving or recycling scarce water, and developing new supply, is done at the local water district level, especially more recently as state and federal suppliers have not been able to deliver during prolonged drought. A new worry is that a decades-long battle to prevent salinity intrusion from ocean tides into the area of the export pumps, or nearer in-Delta intakes for local farms and cities, will be overwhelmed by rising sea levels and climate change. The quest to supply water for human needs is entangled with the equally urgent need to ensure that sufficient fresh water stays in the state’s rivers and creeks to sustain the environment; Estuary News has covered Chasing Flows since its inception.
Nothing reveals just how much the upper Estuary’s seesaw of tides and freshwater flows is micro-managed than prolonged drought, and the resulting fiddling with barriers, gates, and water quality standards to prevent the ocean tides and salinity from intruding too far upstream. Come summer, managers begin to talk fearfully of “losing control of the Delta” and the dreaded outcome: salt water too near the export pumps…
It’s now five weeks since Governor Newsom’s Delta tunnel plan was unveiled in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Time enough for the main ideas to sink in; time enough for familiar players to strike their familiar positions; and time enough for some of us to burrow deep into its tables, figures, and appendices. To recap […]
As California stares down the barrel of yet another dry year, alarm bells are already ringing over conditions in the Delta. Environmental groups, fishermen, tribes, and a host of others are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to complete and implement a long-delayed update to the Water Quality Control Plan for the Bay […]
The California Water Plan Update 2018—released by the Department of Water Resources in July—is meant to guide state policy and investment over the next 50 years to maximize the benefits squeezed out of every drop of the water supply. The timing of Update 2018 is fortuitous: In April, Governor Newsom ordered the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture to develop a portfolio of water resilience strategies.
Spring and summer 2018 saw frenzied activity around California WaterFix, the latest iteration of a decades-long, on-again-of-again effort to convey fresh water from the Sacramento River to the South Delta while bypassing the Delta itself. Governor Jerry Brown has made WaterFix a top priority, but the project – including twin tunnels comprising the largest infrastructure project in state history – still faces a raft of uncertainties.
The Delta Stewardship Council was created in 2009 but given no say over a pending dual tunnels plan. The state was pushing a grand program called the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan. However, the BDCP was abandoned in 2015 in favor of two new, independent programs: EcoRestore and California WaterFix (popularly known as the twin tunnels). Rather than adopt a new policy on conveyance, the council has simply framed its discussion of the tunnels as another recommendation.
After four of California’s driest years on record, our “wet” season was so dry that state water officials panicked.Major reservoirs were drawn way down, and record-low snowpack would limit replenishment to a trickle. Water managers worried about the hot, dry months. Would reservoirs still hold enough for freshwater releases to keep saltwater from pushing deep into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta? So they built a barrier to block salt instead.
In the mountains and foothills of California, an enduring drought has depleted the state’s major reserves of water. There is virtually no snowpack, and most of the state’s large reservoirs are less than 40 percent full. But in the central Sierra Nevada, a trio of artificial lakes remain flush with cold mountain water. The largest […]
On October 17, 1972, the Edmonston Pumping Plant south of Bakersfield began lifting water drawn from the Delta up and over the Tehachapi Mountains toward southern California cities. That moment created a statewide water network stretching from the Trinity Alps to the Mexican border. It also made the Southland’s great umbrella water agency, the Metropolitan […]
In 2002, more than 70,000 adult salmon died on the Klamath River when U.S. Bureau of Reclamation diversions caused water temperatures to spike. In February, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, including the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, filed to take over management of four hydroelectric dams in the upper watershed. “There’s never been a project that has considered removing four dams at the same time on the same river…
The farms that create the economic engine of Pajaro Valley operate at different scales. Some growers are small, while others have labels you might recognize from the grocery store: Martinellis, Driscolls, California Giant, to name a few. Regardless of the amount of acreage under management, one thing that the farmers share is that most of their water comes from the ground. How to best handle the area’s diminishing supply of groundwater has occupied local water managers for decades.
As climate change threatens to upend precipitation patterns and disrupt water supplies, agencies are increasingly searching for ways to wring more benefits out of every drop. Valley Water (Santa Clara) is seeking to take integrated water management planning to the next level through its One Water initiative. “The idea is to manage all water — treated water, groundwater, stormwater, flood water, water for habitat, species and Baylands — as one resource,” says the District’s Brian Mendenhall.
Motivated by the recent drought, local water agencies have formed an unprecedented partnership aimed at reducing the impact of future dry spells. The Bay Area Regional Reliability partnership consists of eight of the region’s larger water districts. “For the first time in the history of water deliver in the Bay Area, the water utilities are talking about how to assist each other when there is a shortage.”
On average, underground water distribution pipes can last about 100 years. EBMUD owns and maintains roughly 4,200 miles of them. And it replaces about ten miles per year. At that rate it would take four centuries to replace the whole system: an approach one could charitably call unsustainable even if all the pipes were brand-new today.
Walk back through time with this selection of early stories from Estuary’s first two decades of publication. Stories cover everything from fish kills at the pumps to struggles managing the “X2” salinity standard and the environmental water account.