CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. Photo: NOAA

Water Authority Joins Scripps Institution of Oceanography to Optimize Water Management

The San Diego County Water Authority is partnering with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during, and after those seasonal storms.

This month, Scripps’ Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) launched the Water Affiliates Group, which brings together cutting-edge science and hands-on water industry experience to enhance reservoir operations in light of the changing climate. The Water Authority has a long-running alliance with Scripps and is among six founding water agencies statewide.

CW3E and its partners will share and support best practices in forecast-informed reservoir operations, increase research around atmospheric rivers and droughts, and develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water supply reliability.

“This partnership with Scripps Institution of Oceanography underscores our commitment to strategic, science-based decision-making and long-term planning,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “By supporting advances in forecasting, we can more efficiently and effectively manage water resources both locally and statewide. This ultimately will benefit everyone in California by helping sustain our economy and quality of life.”

Addressing major climate challenges in the arid West

Atmospheric river storms cause 40% to 60% of annual precipitation and most of the flood damage on the West Coast. Graphic: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Atmospheric river storms cause 40% to 60% of annual precipitation and most of the flood damage on the West Coast. Graphic: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl said the collaboration aligns closely with Governor Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio, which prioritizes voluntary agreements, smart water storage strategies and coordination of data collection.

“This is a great example of how water agencies are stronger together by addressing major climate challenges that affect everyone across the arid West,” Kerl said. “By combining forces with some of the leading scientists in the world, we will enhance our planning capacity and be ready to adapt to whatever the future brings.”

Atmospheric river storms cause 40% to 60% of annual precipitation and most of the flood damage on the West Coast. Managing reservoirs for both flood control and drinking water supply retention is challenging because 20th-century practices and regulations are decreasingly relevant due to changing patterns for snowmelt and rainfall.

SIO data will help manage water supplies

CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. Photo: Water Authority

CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

CW3E is a leader in Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations, which uses data from watershed monitoring and modern weather and water forecasting to help water managers determine the best strategies for retaining or releasing water from reservoirs. CW3E has numerous tools and technologies that affiliates can use to augment water research and improve on-the-ground decisions of water managers. The group’s research covers water supply reliability, flood management, greenhouse gas mitigation, groundwater recharge, public safety, observations, forecasting, decision support, climate outlooks, and hazard assessment.

The Water Authority is working with CW3E to assess how better near-term and long-term precipitation forecasts can improve reservoir planning and operational management in the San Diego region by maximizing local water supplies and the reliability of water resources through a mix of planning processes and real-time decisions.

Joining the Water Authority as founding partners are Sonoma Water, Orange County Water District, Yuba Water Agency, Turlock Irrigation District, and Irvine Ranch Water District.

Portfolio Outlines Actions to Address Water Problems

Now that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has released a final California Water Resilience Portfolio, farm organizations say they will monitor progress on implementing the plan’s proposals—and on resolution of ongoing state-federal conflicts that complicate achieving some of its goals.

Sierra Nevada Snowpack Feb 27 2020 California DWR-WNN

California’s Winter: Wet Times, Dry Times and Water Supplies

After a wet and snowy start, California’s winter has gone bust. The 2019-2020 water year started off with robust precipitation after a series of storms in November and early December 2019.

But the new year has not been as bountiful. Dry conditions in January and February added little to the Sierra Nevada snowpack.

NASA-NWS-Sierra Snowpack Comparison - Water News Network Feb 2020

Left: 2019, Right: 2020. Sierra Nevada snowpack is below normal for this time of year, at about 58% statewide. Graphic: NASA/National Weather Service via NWS Sacramento

Drought-resilient water supplies through diversification

Due to California’s climatological variability, including periods of drought, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have diversified water supply sources. Those successful efforts ensure supply reliability for the region’s 3.3 million residents and its $245 billion regional economy.

“Based on current supply levels, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies will meet anticipated demands through a combination of drought-resilient local and regional water resources,” said Goldy Herbon, Water Authority senior water resources specialist.

Water supplies will meet demand

Herbon said the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, conserved agricultural water transfers, savings from canal lining projects and continued water-use efficiency measures are among the reasons the region’s water supply will meet demand.

The multi-decade water supply diversification plan, along with major infrastructure improvements and forward-thinking policies, also promote fiscal and environmental responsibility.

“A comparison of the snowpack across the Sierra-Cascade range over the past 6 years shows the true variability of a California wet season. While numbers are similar to the 2017-2018 winter, snow did extend into somewhat lower elevations back then.” NWS Sacramento, February 26, 2020

Dry times in Northern California

While rainfall totals have been closer to average in most of Northern California, downtown Sacramento and downtown San Francisco did not receive any precipitation in February, according to the National Weather Service. The last time San Francisco saw a dry February was in 1864, according to the NWS.

NWS Sacramento Dry February 2020

Rainfall above historical average in San Diego

Southern California is faring better, with rainfall at 125% of the historical average at Lindbergh Field in San Diego.

Most major California reservoirs are at or above the historical averages for late-February.

The state’s largest six reservoirs currently hold between 92% (Oroville) and 132% (Melones) of their historical averages for February 26. Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is 107% of its historical average and sits at 78% of capacity, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Water Supply-Major Reservoirs-DWR-WNN Feb 2020

California’s largest six reservoirs hold between 92% and 132% of their historical averages for Feb. 27. Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is at 107% of its historical average and is at 78% of capacity. Graphic: California Department of Water Resources

The Department of Water Resources February 27 conducted the third manual snow survey of 2020 at Phillips Station. The manual survey recorded 29 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 11.5 inches, which is 47% of the March average for this location, according to a DWR news release. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack, which provides a more accurate forecast of spring runoff.

Spring storms could boost snowpack

“Right now, 2020 is on track to be a below-average year but we could still see large storms in March and April that will improve the current snowpack,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section. “While periods of dry conditions are expected in California, climate change has made them more unpredictable and extreme which is why we must always use the water we have wisely.”

March April May precipitation 20-Feb-2020 NWS CPC

The seasonal outlook for March, April, and May sees below-normal chances for a wet period across California and the Southwest U.S. while most areas are favored to be warmer than usual. Graphic: National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center

Looking ahead, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecast favors above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through May for most of California.

NWS CPC Spring 2020 temperature forecast-WNN

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecast favors above-normal temperatures and below normal precipitation through May for most of California. Graphic: National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center

Water is Life. It’s Also a Battle. So What Does the Future Hold for California?

Water plays a lead role in the state’s political theater, with Democrats and Republicans polarized, farmers often fighting environmentalists and cities pitted against rural communities. Rivers are overallocated through sloppy water accounting. Groundwater has dwindled as farmers overdraw aquifers. Many communities lack safe drinking water. Native Americans want almost-extinct salmon runs revived. There is talk, too, of new water projects, including a massive new tunnel costing billions of dollars.

Opinion: Climate Change and Water Supply

California, as everyone knows, receives virtually all of its precipitation during a few fall and winter months and in 2019, some early rain and snow storms promised a bountiful water year.

This year, Mother Nature kept that promise in Southern California, where precipitation is running at or above the normal, but Northern California — far more important from a water supply standpoint — has been a different story.

The north has seen almost no precipitation since Christmas, the all-important Sierra snowpack is less than half of its average depth, and the region’s balmy, springlike weather shows no signs of ending.

Opinion: California Parties, Trump Administration Must Work Together on Grand Water Plan

It shouldn’t have come to this.

California has seen wars over water waged across time eternal it seems. Grand deals negotiated by the likes of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have been hailed as long-dreamed-for solutions to the complicated battles waged by the competing interests of agriculture, environmentalists and thirsty urban areas, only to fail to live up to their hype.

In recent months, however, it seemed that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration was breaking the logjam, working on a compromise that would help realign the state’s water paradigm to something all sides could accept.

“I’m trying to put together a peace plan in the delta,” Wade Crowfoot, Newsom’s secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, is quoted in a column this week by the Los Angeles Times’ George Skelton. “I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, but there’s beginning to be a sea change in many of these water users. They’re just tired of fighting.”

Water Portfolio Lays Out State’s Long-Term Plans

Farm organizations welcomed a new water planning document from state agencies while they analyzed the document’s proposed strategies.

Titled the California Water Resilience Portfolio and released last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration described the document as an effort to guide water management in a way that works for people, the environment and the economy.

Portfolio Tour July 2019

California Agencies Release Draft Water Resilience Portfolio

Three California state agencies today released a draft water resilience portfolio intended to help the state manage more extreme droughts and floods, aging infrastructure, declining fish populations and other challenges.

The California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture developed the draft to fulfill Governor Gavin Newsom’s April 29, 2019 executive order calling for a portfolio of actions to ensure the state’s long-term water resilience and ecosystem health.

“The portfolio approach to water supply reliability is a significant advance in how our most precious resource is managed statewide, in line with our long-term strategy in San Diego County,” said Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority. “As we review the details of the new plan, we will continue collaborating with the state agencies and other partners to turn this vision into a reality that benefits our region.”

Water Portfolio Tour July 2019

State and Water Authority officials before aerial and ground tour of regional water infrastructure on July 18, 2019. Photo: Water Authority

State agency leaders tour water infrastructure in San Diego County

Several state officials visited San Diego County on July 18, 2019 to assess the region’s water projects as part of their role in developing a water portfolio strategy for the state.

Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, Deputy Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Gibson, State Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and State Water Resources Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel got a first-hand look at investments to diversify the region’s water supply, including the San Vicente Reservoir, Olivenhain Reservoir, and the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

“San Diego is a great example of the challenges and complexities of managing water supply, as we look to supercharge water resiliency in California,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, Chair, Calif. State Water Resources Control Board, after the July tour of water infrastructure.

Newsom’s order directed his administration to “identify and assess a suite of complementary actions to ensure safe and resilient water supplies, flood protection and healthy waterways for the state’s communities, economy and environment.”

Draft Water Resilience Portfolio encourages ‘collaboration within and across regions’

“This draft portfolio has been shaped to provide tools to local and regional entities to continue building resilience and to encourage collaboration within and across regions,” said Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot in a news release from the three agencies. “At the same time, state government needs to invest in projects of statewide scale and importance and tackle challenges beyond the scope of any region. Taken together, the proposed actions aim to improve our capacity to prepare for disruptions, withstand and recover from shocks, and adapt from these experiences.”

The draft release comes after several months of public input, and listening sessions, including comments from the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.

Draft Water Resilience Portfolio outlines more than 100 integrated actionable recommendations in four broad areas:

  • Maintain and diversify water supplies

    State government will continue to help regions reduce reliance on any one water source and diversify supplies to enable flexibility amidst changing conditions. Diversification will look different in each region based on available water resources, but the combined effect will strengthen resilience and reduce pressure on river systems.

  • Protect and enhance natural ecosystems

    State leadership is essential to restore the environmental health of key river systems to sustain fish and wildlife. This requires effective standard-setting, continued investments, and more adaptive, holistic environmental management.

  • Build connections

    State actions and investment will improve physical infrastructure to store, move, and share water more flexibly and integrate water management through shared use of science, data, and technology.

  • Be prepared

    Each region must prepare for new threats, including more extreme droughts and floods and hotter temperatures. State investments and guidance will enable preparation, protective actions, and adaptive management to weather these stresses.

Major Reser

Federal, state, and local governments have built separate systems of dams, reservoirs, and conveyance facilities to move water to cities and farms and provide flood protection. This map, from the draft Water Resilience Portfolio, shows the largest such facilities. Graphic: State of California

To develop the portfolio, state agencies conducted an inventory and assessment of key aspects of California water, soliciting broad input from tribes, agencies, individuals, groups, and leaders across the state.

“From Northern California to the Central Valley and the South, Californians from cities, farms, and other sectors are working together to develop innovative solutions to the climate-related water challenges that the state is already experiencing and that are expected to worsen,” said California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld. “This draft portfolio is an important step toward building resilience to ensure the long-term health of our water supplies and ecosystems.”

Public comments on draft portfolio

The public will be able to submit written feedback on the draft portfolio through February 7. A final water resilience portfolio will be released soon after that.

“State agencies are only one set of water decision-makers in California,” California Secretary for Food and Agriculture Karen Ross said. “Continuing to improve our water systems relies on collaboration across all groups of water users and all stakeholders. Accordingly, feedback on this draft will be important to refining and finalizing our portfolio.”

Opinion: California Rejects Federal Water Proposal, Lays Out its Vision for Protecting Endangered Species and Meeting State Water Needs

California’s water policy can be complex, and—let’s be honest—often polarizing.

Water decisions frequently get distilled into unhelpful narratives of fish versus farms, north versus south, or urban versus rural. Climate change-driven droughts and flooding threats, as well as our divided political climate, compound these challenges.

We must rise above these historic conflicts by finding ways to protect our environment and build water security for communities and agriculture. We need to embrace decisions that benefit our entire state. Simply put, we have to become much more innovative, collaborative and adaptive.


State Seeks Comment On Its Water Resilience Portfolio

In a new effort to balance California’s water needs, Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed state agencies to prepare a water plan known as the California Water Resilience Portfolio that includes “a comprehensive strategy to build a climate-resilient water system.” The portfolio features a broad approach that addresses safe drinking water, flood risks, depleted groundwater aquifers, water supply uncertainty for agriculture, and native fish populations faced with extinction.