Selected category: Water

4 reasons why Arizona water is on the right track

The Lake Mead "bathtub rings,'" as seen from Hoover Dam.

Drought is the new normal in Arizona and the Colorado River Basin. The Colorado River is over-allocated, and potential reductions in Arizona water deliveries have become more and more likely.

Just last summer, we watched Lake Mead drop to one of its lowest levels ever. And even with a wet winter this year, Lake Mead’s elevation remains low. The river that provides 40 percent of Arizona’s water supplies needs our help.

A new deal

This summer, several parties came together to sign a “system conservation” agreement to address the situation. The State of Arizona, City of Phoenix, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Walton Family Foundation agreed to compensate the Gila River Indian Community to leave 40,000 acre feet of its 2017 Colorado River water entitlement in Lake Mead.

This is about 1.3 billion gallons of water, which is roughly the amount needed to serve 100,000 people in a year. The conserved water is designated as “system water” to help keep Lake Mead from falling below 1,075 feet – the elevation at which a federal shortage declaration is triggered and water delivery reductions are mandated (as stated in the proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan between Arizona, California, Nevada and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation).

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It’s time for stream policy to catch up with the science

Will Harman at the Smith-Austin site explaining the restoration efforts that took place in this particular creek, such as re-meandering the channel and planting riparian vegetation.

Streams are one of the most important sources of drinking water across the country. That’s why it is especially alarming that scientists have concerns about North Carolina’s streams and rivers, where I get much of my drinking water.

But streams aren’t just for drinking. These waterways provide countless other benefits to local communities, including recreational opportunities, flood control, improved fish and wildlife habitat, and irrigation for agriculture, to name a few. That’s why it’s vitally important that impacts to streams are offset with effective restoration.

Earlier this month, I visited the site of a successfully restored stream not far from my home with Will Harman, stream mitigation expert at Stream Mechanics and partner to our stream work at EDF.

Will has been working with streams for over 25 years – first launching the stream restoration program at North Carolina State University, and then starting his own private company for stream restoration and mitigation. His three-pronged approach involves conducting applied research, teaching and completing projects.

During our site visit, I had the opportunity to ask Will several questions about the site, the tools he uses to design stream restoration projects, and next steps for protecting streams in North Carolina and beyond.

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Crops, water and habitat: This California farmer's winning trifecta

Cannon Michael is the president of Bowles Farming Company.

During times of water scarcity, like California’s recent drought, it’s tempting to take on a binary view of the world.  This was definitely the case with agriculture, which appeared to be at odds with everyone: farms vs. fish, farm vs. cities, farms vs. regulators.  As a dominant water user in the state, they were easy targets.

But when one digs deeper, it’s obvious that many in the agricultural community want to move beyond this debate and do things differently. Yes growing food and fiber takes water, but there are plenty of farmers laser-focused on improving efficiency, maximizing multi-benefit solutions and striking a balance between growing crops and preserving the environment.

I recently visited with Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Company, which oversees an 11,000-acre farm near Los Banos in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He is the great, great, great grandson of Henry Miller, “the Cattle King of California,” so farming is in his blood. He has senior water rights, and while he still had to make difficult management decisions during the drought, he ended up with more water than many of his neighbors and found ways to share it, a tremendous display of collaboration in the farming community. Read More »

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The hidden opportunity for water storage in California

Aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources, showing the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville

California’s historic winter ended the drought in many parts of the state and piled up record levels of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With so much precipitation, surface water infrastructure – our network of dams, reservoirs and levees – has been called into action like never before, and in some cases has struggled to handle the influx of flows.

With spring temperatures on the rise, snowmelt and runoff have accelerated, adding another wave of stress to the system. And with snowpack still at 192% of average, there is even more runoff on the way.

So where will all this water go?

With many reservoirs near capacity already, water managers have had to allow spring snowmelt to flow out through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and into the ocean. This is inevitable given the sheer amount of water in the system this year, and in fact, these occasional high flows provide multiple benefits to ecosystems and coastal communities.

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Relationships and incentives: My secret ingredients for better resource management

Author Ann Hayden next to her family farm's water source

Stewardship of our land and water resources has always played a central role in my life.

I grew up “out in the country,” as we call it, on a-five acre “farm” in Yolo County, California – large enough for raising pigs and sheep, which my older brothers and I would show at the annual 4-H Fair in nearby Woodland.

Living in the Central Valley, we could always count on very hot, dry summers and occasional consecutive dry years, which inevitably were followed by years of heavy rains and even flooding. From a very young age, I understood how important it was to be smart about how we managed our water supply and the surrounding landscape for people, wildlife and the environment.

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Inclusion and collaboration: Governor Ducey has a new strategy for water in Arizona

Governor Ducey has a new strategy for water conservation in ArizonaLast week, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey illustrated strong and consistent leadership in addressing Arizona’s pressing water supply needs with two significant announcements.

A powerful voice for water

First, Governor Ducey appointed longtime water attorney and Gila River Indian Community member Rodney Lewis to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) Board of Directors. This appointment was widely applauded across the region as a positive step, most notably as a sign that including diverse voices in water management decisions is key in moving the state toward improved sustainability and collaboration, both within Arizona and with regional partners in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Read More »

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New film shows that clean water isn’t a guarantee for many in California

California’s drought and the San Joaquin Valley’s groundwater crisis

Farms in Kern County along the California Aqueduct, in southern San Joaquin Valley.

National Geographic’s new film, “Water & Power: A California Heist,” explores the impacts of California’s drought and the San Joaquin Valley’s groundwater crisis, and highlights issues surrounding the state’s water rights and the powerful interests that sometimes control them.

The film, which uses beautiful cinematography and testimonials from lawyers, water managers and residents, offers a stark contrast between those who have continued to profit during California’s drought and those who have struggled to meet even their most basic water needs.

The film places an emphasis on the “Monterey Amendments,” a back-room deal struck in 1994 that included the creation of the Kern Water Bank, and opened the door to the bank’s eventual privatization. At the time, well-endowed businesses with large land holdings were given control of these groundwater reserves, which they used to shore up highly profitable agricultural businesses. Since then, groundwater levels have plummeted and become contaminated, impacting safe drinking water supplies for small communities.

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What it’s going to take to fund California’s water infrastructure

Central Valley's levee system is damaged and needs repair

Crews are working to repair damage to the Central Valley's levee system.

The situation at Oroville Dam garnered national attention and brought into clear focus the limitations of our aging flood protection infrastructure – California’s complex system of dams, levees, and bypasses – as well as the need for greater investment in maintaining and upgrading this system.

It is appropriate, then, that Governor Brown recently unveiled a plan to bolster dam safety and flood protection. By requiring emergency action plans, beefing up our dam inspection program and increasing our investment in emergency response, Governor Brown is taking an important first-step in tackling this difficult problem.

This comes at an especially important time as infrastructure maintenance is at the forefront of state and national discussions, and we still have a few months to go before we are out of the rainy season.

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Why wholesale repeal of environmental protections is a losing business strategy

Capitol Building

© Dwight Nadig

Taking aim at government regulation is a favorite pastime in Washington, but the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress have upped the ante.

In the course of a few weeks, the House of Representatives voted down a measure to curb methane leaks from oil and gas rigs on public and tribal lands. It also voted to overturn a common-sense rule to prevent coal companies from polluting local streams. Meanwhile, the president signed an executive order requiring the arbitrary removal of two existing regulations for every new one created.

Next in their sights: gutting Environmental Protection Agency programs and possibly repealing the Endangered Species Act.

There’s no question we can improve how we go about implementing environmental laws to ensure they deliver the biggest bang for the buck for people and nature. But as an advocate for the environment and a former policy director at the U.S. Department of Commerce, I find the rhetoric-driven rush to rescind these protections short-sighted – even dangerous. Read More »

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What the Oroville Dam crisis tells us about natural infrastructure

Oroville Dam

Oroville Dam is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 80 miles north of Sacramento. At 770 feet, it's the tallest dam in the U.S.

The crisis at Oroville Dam in Northern California has abated, but problems could return with more rain in the forecast for later this week.

If you haven’t heard, the reservoir behind the dam reached capacity last weekend, sending water over an emergency spillway for the first time since its construction in 1968. Authorities ordered more than 180,000 people downstream to evacuate their homes over concerns that the spillway could fail, sending an enormous uncontrolled rush of water down the Feather and Sacramento Rivers.

While the evacuation order has since been lifted, our thoughts still go out to those affected. We continue to monitor and try to make sense of the situation, and while many lessons will eventually be pulled from this experience, there is much to reflect on today.

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