Bloggers discuss California groundwater regulation, droughts through the ages, avenues for citizen engagement, and more

JOW Blog Round Up
In this edition, the signing of the California groundwater regulation law prompted another flurry of discussion, while several authors examine the history and future of droughts.  Two authors offer suggestions for how individuals can make a difference in sustainable water, while elsewhere, fracked water, a proposed EPA rule change on “waters of the United States,” and fish populations received attention.
California groundwater regulation

Groundwater Legislation is Not Strong Enough
While the recently signed groundwater regulation legislation is a first for California, Rob DiPerna argues on the EPIC blog that it has major shortcomings.  DiPerna criticizes the focus on local implementation, the lack of a process through which citizens can challenge groundwater sustainability plans, the long timeframe for regulations to go into effect, and the lack of environmental consideration in the planning process.  As a result, EPIC plans to push for stronger regulation in the future.

Demythologizing California’s Drought ‘Demythologizers’
Wayne Lusvardi takes aim at several claims made by UC Davis professors Richard Howitt and Jay Lund.  In particular, Lusvardi challenges Howitt and Lund’s assertion that groundwater regulation is a necessary response to uncontrolled (primarily agricultural) pumping.  According to Lusvardi, groundwater depletion has not been severe enough to justify regulatory intervention, though it appears that he overstates his case, confusing California’s average annual rainfall with its annual rainfall plus water imports, thereby making it appear that groundwater can recharge more quickly than may be the case.  He also notes that many basins are already monitored or managed through adjudication.

New Groundwater Policy Brings California into the 21st Century
Writing for the NRDC’s Switchboard blog, Marcus Griswold celebrates the signing of California’s groundwater regulation law. Griswold identifies the law’s acknowledgement of the link between groundwater and surface water as a particularly important feature, because pumping can prevent water from reaching rivers and streams, with negative downstream consequences.  However, he identifies the long implementation timeframe as a challenge moving forward, as it will be difficult to restore already-critical basins.

California Groundwater Legislation Wrap-up: The potential implications of this “ground-breaking” legislation
California’s groundwater regulation plan is now law, but it will be more than 5 years before the first sustainability plans go into effect, and 25 years before basins have to be fully sustainable.  Hydrowonk Blog’s Jeff Simonetti looks at what will happen before regulations are implemented and anticipates that groundwater agencies and stakeholders will face tough choices.  Farmers are heavily reliant on groundwater, but this is a double-edged sword, as increasing salinity poses a threat.  Meanwhile, many local authorities are considering taking action to limit groundwater usage even before the newly mandated regulations would take effect.

Droughts, Past and Future

Orange County’s Great Drought of 1864
Though it occurred before the beginning of California’s modern meteorological record, the Great Drought of 1864 played a major role in creating Southern California’s modern incarnation, says Gustavo Arellano.  At the time, the region was sparsely settled and was dominated by large-scale ranching operations.  The drought decimated the livestock population and forced ranchers, many of whom had regional roots stretching back generations, to sell their lands, opening the way for housing and agricultural developments.

Listen to the Tree Rings on Sacramento River Hydrology
Rodney Smith, Ph.D. of Hydrowonk Blog examines a study by the California Department of Water Resources that used tree ring data to reconstruct the hydrologic history of the Sacramento River watershed.  According to the ring data, the 20th century was not significantly wetter than the six centuries preceding it, contrary to popular conception.  On the other hand, the data show that 3-4 year droughts, like the one California is currently facing, usually indicate that dry conditions will persist for several more years.

A Mediocre Colorado River Basin Forecast
JFleck at Inkstain takes a look at the seasonal outlook from the Climate Prediction Center and notes that even though the lower Colorado River Basin has favorable odds for a wet year, rainfall in that part of the basin does not have much impact on the basin overall.  Lake Mead is still projected to drop 5 feet, despite the potential release of some additional water from Lake Powell.

Citizen Action

State of Water
Devin Paine writes for the EPIC blog that even though the scale of the drought may seem overwhelming, there are many ways people can get involved to help out.  For example, farmers can consult best practice resources to make their operations more sustainable.  More fundamentally, Paine emphasizes that the systems that seem so difficult to change are the work of people and can be changed through concerted effort.

9 Ways to Support San Joaquin River Restoration and Help California Weather the Drought
Restoring and protecting the San Joaquin River is both an end in itself and a means to promoting water management, writes Monty Schmitt at the Switchboard blog.  As such, he suggests nine actions people can take to help out.  Some highlights include supporting the San Joaquin River Restoration Project, a collaborative effort between state and federal agencies, water districts, and stakeholders; voting for Proposition 1, the water bond; backing a comprehensive state flood management plan; promoting urban water conservation; and investing in agricultural efficiency innovations.
Fracking Wastewater

A new study clarifies treatment needs for water from fracked gas and oil wells
A Rice University study released last month examined pollutants in fracking wastewater and suggested that methods for treating the water need to be reconsidered.  Andrew Revkin has gathered some of the coverage of the study in a post for the New York Times.  One significant finding was that the chlorine used in traditional treatment processes can react with bacteria in the wastewater, leading them to produce higher levels of toxic compounds.  As a result, the authors suggest switching to physical treatment techniques.

EPA Rule Change

State Attorneys General Express Strong Support for Clean Water Protection Rule
Becky Hammer of Switchboard breaks down an announcement from eight attorneys general supporting a proposed update to the definition of “waters of the United States,” which sets the scope of the Clean Water Act.  Hammer says the current ambiguity surrounding the definition is a burden for states trying to enforce the Clean Water Act.  Furthermore, she argues, the rule change is based in science and reflects the trans-boundary nature of water by standardizing regulations across the country.

Fish and Streams
Drought Journal: Hope Springs Eternal
This summer, Peter Moyle and Rebecca M. Quiñones, researchers from UC Davis, surveyed six streams in Northern California to study fish populations during the drought.   They found that small streams provide important fish habitat during try periods, and argue that better understanding and protection of these streams is needed.

Written by Stratecon Staff