California’s record snowpack is melting into significant runoff this summer, filling the state’s lakes and ponds with cold, fresh water. These flows usually help prevent blue-green algae blooms, which form in waterways and are toxic to humans and can be deadly to pets. But since mid-spring, there’s been reports of the dangerous — and stinky — algae blooms across the state. “It’s interesting — and maybe a bit surprising — that we do see these blooms even after these big winters,” said Keith Bouma-Gregson, manager of the California Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms Program.
In Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first State of the State address, he urged every Californian to muster the political will to address a problem he called “a moral disgrace and … a medical emergency.” He was talking about California’s water. An estimated 1 million people across the state have unhealthy water pouring from their taps, with regions like the San Joaquin Valley especially impacted. Governor Newsom’s so-called “water tax” would have taxed residential water customers and certain agricultural industries to fund solutions to this problem for low-income communities. That plan didn’t make it through budget negotiations. The same budget talks produced a different solution: to spend $130 million a year from California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund on the water infrastructure problem.
The first California budget deal under Gov. Gavin Newsom is just days away. Newsom and legislative leaders must finalize their spending plan for the coming fiscal year this weekend for lawmakers to meet their June 15 constitutional budget deadline. Democrats had hoped to close out the joint Senate-Assembly budget conference committee by Friday — likely with a late night hearing — in hopes of a budget passing the full Legislature next Thursday, two days ahead of next Saturday’s deadline. But it now appears that talks between Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) aren’t gelling as fast as hoped.
More than a million species are at risk of extinction globally, including hundreds in California. That’s what the United Nations revealed on Monday.“The rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history,” the authors wrote in a summary of the report, which compiled of thousands of scientific papers. In California, there are around 300 species at risk and 346 species in California, Nevada and Southern Oregon combined. A handful of plants and animals have already disappeared from the state, such as the Santa Barbara song sparrow and the the California subspecies of the Grizzly Bear.
California received some good news on Tuesday for the state’s water supply: The Sierra Nevada snowpack is well above normal, at 162 percent of average. This amount of snow is thanks to the more than 30 “atmospheric rivers” that brought storms this winter and spring. Chris Orrock, with the California Department of Water Resources, says the cold storms have helped preserve the snow. “The snowpack is nice and cold. It’s a little different than 2017, where it was warmer winter … and [the snowpack] melted quicker,” Orrock said while reporting measurements at Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe. His crew found 106.5 inches of snow at the spot. As it melts and ends up in reservoirs, the snowpack provides about 30 percent of the state’s water supply, and water managers use the snowpack-measurement data to plan releases from the state’s reservoirs.
A simple web search will pull up nearly a million articles, videos and photos featuring Frank Gehrke. He’s no fashion icon like Kim Kardashian or a dogged politician like Gov. Jerry Brown. But he has broken a lot of news. Sometimes, it’s bad news, like California suffering yet another year of drought. That’s a realization he alluded to in 2014, when he measured the snowpack near Lake Tahoe.
California water officials said Wednesday that the $1.1 billion spillway at the nation’s tallest dam will be in full working order if it’s needed this winter, nearly two years after it was damaged and thousands were forced to flee. Crews have finished pouring concrete on the main spillway at Oroville Dam, though it still needs to cure for a month and other work is necessary before it can be used, the California Department of Water Resources announced. Crews will also continue pouring concrete on an adjacent emergency spillway.
The first part of fall has been dry so far in California, and that trend might continue. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said it’s not unusual for rain to be scarce in October, but that dry conditions – like the ones forecast over the next few weeks – are increasingly being pushed deeper into autumn. “We expect there to be a further concentration of California’s already narrow rainy season into even fewer months during just the middle of winter,” Swain said, as laid out in his recent blog post. Swain’s research suggests this trend is already evident, especially in Southern California.
Should a bond for both habitat restoration and water-infrastructure projects be paid for by all Californians or just the groups that would directly benefit? That’s up for voters to decide. Proposition 3 would authorize $8.9 billion in state bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects, including $30 million for repairs along the American River. But with interest it could cost Californians more than $17 billion.
President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan infrastructure bill this week that could lead to raising the Shasta Dam and funding other reservoir projects. The plan is to spend $6 billion throughout the country over 10 years. The president says the funding will go toward ports, reducing flood risk, restorying ecosystems and performing upkeep on waterways — “which are in deep, deep trouble, but they won’t be for very long,” Trump added.