The Delta’s Blooming Problem

The Delta’s Blooming Problem

Bright-green blotches of algae have been popping up all over the Delta since early summer, from Discovery Bay to the Stockton waterfront, befouling the air and poisoning the water with toxins that can sicken or even kill humans and animals. Veteran Delta watchers believe that this year’s harmful algal blooms may be the worst ever, and worry that some features of Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently released Water Resilience Portfolio for California will aggravate the problem. “We don’t have enough data...
Read More

Better scientific preparation could help Delta water and environmental managers respond to droughts more effectively.

That’s one key takeaway from a review of environmental management and the use of science during the 2012-2016 drought commissioned by the Delta Science Program and published in the June 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. “There are lots of mysteries about how to manage water to benefit species, agriculture, upstream and downstream users. I think science is going to be the best solution,” says lead author John Durand of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Science. Durand...
Read More

Two recent exercises in modeling the hydrological effects of forest thinning and wildfire are yielding intriguing insights.

Hydrogeologist Fadji Maina and colleague Erica Siirila-Woodburn of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ran simulations of wildfire effects in the Cosumnes River watershed (see map). “We chose the Cosumnes because it’s one of the largest rivers that has no dam in California,” explains Maina. The most significant findings concerned the way wildfire affects groundwater recharge and storage. “It depends on where the wildfire occurs,” says Maina. The underlying rocks—foothill volcanics or High Sierra granites—make a difference. Consistent with earlier studies, the model also...
Read More

State Plan Doubles Down on Alignment

By Cariad Hayes Thronson 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. “There’s...
Read More

New Regional Rainmaker

By Joe Eaton Environmental issues were important to Michael Montgomery as a young man. Montgomery’s career path led to 33 years with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he gained a wealth of experience in navigating complex regulatory landscapes to protect water resources, and ultimately to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, where he is now executive officer. “The Bay Area has a strong tradition of coming up with collaborative solutions,” he says. That’s how he...
Read More

Joaquin Esquivel is impatient with the narrative that has dominated California water policy for decades, especially when it comes to the Delta and the eternal tug-of-war between farms, cities and the environment.

“For so long in the water space you’ve had these false dichotomies where you are being told you have to choose one or the other,” says Esquivel, who Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board in February. “These narratives can fuel themselves, they take root in communities, but they don’t really do much to get to the heart of the policy question.” A native of the Coachella Valley, Esquivel served on the State Board for...
Read More

Choppy Waters for Flow Rules

By Cariad Hayes Thronson The winter kicked off with the State Water Resources Control Board’s December vote to adopt increased flow objectives for the southern Delta. The vote provoked an immediate volley of lawsuits, both from water users and from environmental organizations. The water users claim that the required flows would be an unconstitutional waste, while the environmental groups argue the plan doesn’t go far enough to restore endangered fish populations. Overshadowing the discussions are the vigorous efforts by the...
Read More

Estuary’s Question of the Month: What is the weirdest species in the Estuary and why?

A fall flight over the Mexican coast where the Colorado River meets the Sea of Cortez offered me a gut-punching, eye-screwing, visual on the results of impaired flow. The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring...
Read More

Reflowing the Sierra to the Sea

A fall flight over the Mexican coast where the Colorado River meets the Sea of Cortez offered me a gut-punching, eye-screwing, visual on the results of impaired flow. The semantics of ‘unimpaired’ and ‘impaired’ flow have laced the language of California water management debates since some engineer invented these politically ‘neutral’ terms long ago. The terms refer to our alteration of freshwater flows from snowmelt and runoff by dams and diversions. But whatever the labels, or whichever estuary you’re referring...
Read More

Estuary Partners Choose their Battles Coast to Coast

A boatload of estuary experts from around the country gathered on an early October day to tour the prettiest part of San Francisco Bay. They paid rather less attention to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate than to each other. In town for the National Estuary Program’s annual Tech Transfer Conference, they had come to compare notes and strategies from the 28 varied bays, bights, bayous, and river mouths that benefit from one of the nation’s most durable, and efficient, environmental...
Read More

Recent Milestones for the Twin Tunnels and WaterFix

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.
Read More

Dioxins Are Sticking Around Nearshore and in Fish, RMP Reports

As the “Fish-SMART” signs on local piers warn, the tissues of fish reeled in from San Francisco Bay waters can contain mercury or PCBs, but a new RMP report reminds us of a third contaminant of concern to human health: dioxins. The report, due out in October 2018 and prepared by staff of the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, confirms that while levels of this toxic contaminant in sediments nearshore have declined...
Read More

California’s groundwater faces widespread chromium contamination risk resulting from natural, rather than industrial sources.

Chromium’s toxic form, known as hexavalent chromium, is used in steel manufacturing, leather tanning, and wood treatment; its lethal effects were popularized in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. But today transformation of the benign form of chromium naturally found in soils poses the larger risk, according to a recent Stanford University study. Dr. Debra Hausladen and her colleagues used a statewide groundwater database to trace the origin of 90,000 chromium samples, and discovered toxic chromium from natural sources is affecting...
Read More

Innovative stormwater management strategies throughout California are pioneering new ways to capture and use stormwater to augment local water supplies and prepare for climate change, according to a new report.

“Stormwater has traditionally been considered a nuisance or danger in terms of flooding and water quality,” says the Pacific Institute’s Morgan Shimabuku, lead author of Stormwater Capture in California: Innovative Policies and Funding Opportunities, “But we’re starting to see it as more of a resource with potential for water supply.” Shimabuku notes that stormwater capture is also “a great strategy for adapting to climate change, alleviating the impact of high-intensity rainstorms and reducing dependence on other water sources in times...
Read More

The Quiet Go-To Guy: Carl Morrison

When Carl Morrison died in a crash of his small plane near Petaluma this past April, the press noted the loss of a family man, Civil Air Patrol commander, Marine Corps Veteran, and pious Mormon. The shock also reverberated through the world of Bay Area flood control and water agencies, for whom Morrison was indispensable. As his Bay Area business expanded, Morrison eased his commute by training as a pilot and acquiring a small plane. People marveled at how many...
Read More

All In for One Water

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. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is seeking to take integrated water management planning to the next level through its One Water initiative. “The idea of One Water 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...
Read More

Cold Curtain

Cold water, essential for the life cycle of Chinook salmon, is all too often in short supply along the Sacramento River. A primary cause: California’s massive water conveyance system, using reservoirs, dams, and hydroelectric plants to divert water and deliver power to farms and cities. “When we started releasing water in spring, we let cold water out too early. None was left by fall, when salmon really needed it,” says USBR hydraulic engineer Tracy Vermeyen. Two clever innovations have been...
Read More
Bridges - public shore

Drought Contingency

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.”
Read More

Choice Mountain Parcels Help Protect Bay

John Muir Land Trust announces one of its largest-ever purchases, the 604-acre Carr Ranch located squarely within San Leandro Creek’s 50 square-mile watershed. Similar conservation targets exist across the Bay Area, particularly on the outskirts: Sprawling, undeveloped, privately owned parcels whose protection sends a variety of benefits cascading downhill towards the bay.
Read More

EBMUD Experiments With Pipe Replacement

On average, underground water distribution pipes can last about 100 years. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (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. But parts of EBMUD’s system, cast-iron pipes inherited from forgotten, now-defunct water agencies, date to the late 1800s.
Read More
1 2