This year, we continued to dive deeply into California water issues, covering legislative battles, new research from scientists, interviews with thought leaders, innovative solutions and the environmental and community impacts of drought.
Of the hundreds of stories, interviews and op-eds we published, here are some reader favorites.
What Lake Mead’s Record Low Means for California
by Michael Levitin
When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last month that the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, had fallen to its lowest-ever level at 1,074ft (327m), the question many asked was: How will it affect one of California’s primary drinking sources?
After all, some 19 million Californians, nearly half the state’s population, receive some part of their water from the Colorado River, which flows into the 80-year-old reservoir created by Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas. READ THE REST
New Study Finds Surprising Culprit Drives Forest Fire Behavior
by Jane Braxton Little
Temperatures are rising and forest fires, already larger and more frequent than the historical norm, are projected to increase dramatically with anthropogenic warming.
That’s the general consensus among scientists studying the relationship between fire activity and climate change in the Sierra Nevada. But a study released last week found an influence on past fire activity even greater than climate: human beings. READ THE REST
‘The Blob’ Is Back: What Warm Ocean Mass Means for Weather, Wildlife
by Matt Weiser
The blob is back.
Since 2014, a mass of unusually warm water has hovered and swelled in the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast of North America, playing havoc with marine wildlife, water quality and the regional weather.
Earlier this year, weather and oceanography experts thought it was waning. But no: The Blob came back, and it is again in position off the coast, threatening to smother normal coastal weather and ecosystem behavior. READ THE REST
What You Need to Know About California’s $17 Billion Water Project
by Alastair Bland
Water, or the lack of it, has emerged as one of the greatest sources of stress for California, its people and its native species. Fish populations are declining in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, while farmers are facing short supplies. Urban dwellers have come under pressure to use less water, and underground reserves are being rapidly depleted. Making matters much worse is the ongoing drought, which shows no sign of ending. In fact, forecasts for less annual rainfall in years to come have cast uncertainty on the very future of California and its rapidly growing human population.
But state officials have proposed a solution – a massive hydroengineering project dubbed California WaterFix. Its two giant tunnels will divert water from the Sacramento River toward Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and farms in the San Joaquin Valley. READ THE REST
Peter Gleick: Why California’s Current Drought Is Different
by Tara Lohan
In 1987, California was at the beginning of what would be a six-year drought – the second driest in the state’s history. Fittingly, that same year Peter Gleick helped to co-found the Pacific Institute, a global think tank that would become a leader in global environmental and California water issues.
In 1987, Gleick had just finished a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in the Energy & Resources Group, where his dissertation was the first to study the impact of climate change on water resources. Eager to use his background in climate science and hydrology in a multidisciplinary endeavor, he and graduate school colleagues launched the Pacific Institute, turning a $37,000 grant into an internationally recognized research institute that has just celebrated 29 years in existence. READ THE REST
Bear River: The Biggest Dam Project You’ve Never Heard Of
by Matt Weiser
Utah’s Bear River is an odd creature. Its headwaters and its mouth are only 90 miles (145km) apart. But the river takes its time spanning those points, flowing 500 miles over a tortuous path.
It begins high in Utah’s Uinta Mountains, then spills north into Wyoming and Idaho, looping around the Wasatch Mountains. Near the town of Soda Springs, Idaho, the river makes a hard left turn and then flows south, down the other side of the Wasatch and back into Utah, where it dumps into the Great Salt Lake. READ THE REST
The Drought Solution That’s Under Our Feet
by Padma Nagappan
Now in the fifth year of an epic drought, Californians have explored ways to save water and wring it out of typical and atypical sources. The search has spanned the gamut from funding research, investing in expensive solutions like desalination plants, toying with the idea of recycling wastewater, imposing water-use restrictions, letting lawns go dry and experimenting with irrigation efficiency techniques for the crops that feed the country.
Thirsty crops, a burgeoning population and below-average precipitation have also led to seriously overdrawn groundwater sources that took a very long time to fill up. The state’s agricultural industry, which grows more than 250 crops, has also been vilified for its heavy water use. READ THE REST
Legislative Update: Six New California Laws Impacting Water
by Tara Lohan
The end of September meant both the end of the 2016 water year and a deadline for signing new legislation. In the past few weeks California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bevy of new bills into law, many of them addressing drought or water issues in the state.
Some affect water indirectly. Senate Bill (SB) 859, which establishes a Healthy Soils Program, is written to help build quality agricultural soil to increase carbon sequestration, but healthy soils also help retain more water. SB 1414 aims to help increase energy efficiency, which can also help save water. READ THE REST