Category: Water

EPA researchers study what causes agricultural nutrients to move into waterbodies of the Midwest

Read the full story from U.S. EPA.

While there are many studies that focus on nitrogen and phosphorus losses, very few systematic reviews exist that aim to understand the impacts of site-specific conditions and management practices on annual nutrient losses in subsurface and surface runoff. To address these research gaps, EPA researchers gathered hundreds of peer-reviewed literature sources to conduct two studies that analyzed existing data from the Lake Erie Basin and 12 states in the greater Midwest U.S. These regions served as good research areas since the land is primarily used for crops – mainly corn, soybean, and wheat. 

Contaminated drinking water from Peoples Gas leak persists, funds to fix frozen as lawsuit continues

Read the full story from C-U Citizen Access.

A 2016 gas leak into the drinking water supply north of Mahomet continues to be a hot topic, embroiled in regulatory action and lawsuits even five years after the leak.

The first official report of a methane leak from the underground holding wells of Peoples Gas was reported on December 20, 2016. The problem location was at County Rd 350 E. in the township of Newcomb, just north of Mahomet and near Fisher, IL. 

Peoples Gas claims to have capped off the well that was leaking and terminated its use. However, residents in homes in the vicinity said they were still affected by the leak. 

The situation also has led to several initiatives and prompted legislation to solve the problem. However, it took nearly a year before a case was brought to the Illinois Attorney General’s office in October 2017. 

Offset emissions and save water by creating a circular water economy in your home

Read the full story from Michigan Tech.

In this guest blog, Michigan Tech researchers Shan Zhou and Daisuke Minakata explain how changes at the household level can create a more sustainable water use system.

Fertilizer washes off Midwest farm fields and taints communities’ drinking water, poisons Gulf of Mexico

Read the full story from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

As rainfall events become more intense and frequent, fertilizers applied to Midwestern farmland wash away, contaminating waterways near and far.

‘Zero Day’ for California water? Not yet, but unprecedented water restrictions send a sharp warning

California has been through two straight year of drought, and water supplies are limited. George Rose/Getty Images

by Lara B. Fowler, Penn State

California triggered headlines heard around the world when officials announced how much water suppliers would be getting from the State Water Project. “California water districts to get 0% of requested supplies in an unprecedented decision,” one headline proclaimed. “No state water for California farms,” read another.

The headlines suggested a comparison with the “Zero Day” announcement in Cape Town, South Africa, during a drought in 2018. That was the projected date when water would no longer be available at household taps without significant conservation. Cape Town avoided a water shutoff, barely.

While California’s announcement on Dec. 1, 2021, represents uncharted territory and is meant to promote water conservation going into what many people fear will be another dry water year, there is more to the story.

Map of drought conditions for the contiguous United States as of Dec. 7, 2021
Most of California was in extreme drought or worse in mid-December 2021. U.S. Drought Monitor/David Simeral, Western Regional Climate Center

California’s drought solution

California is a semi-arid state, so a dry year isn’t a surprise. But a recent state report observed that California is now in a dry pattern “interspersed with an occasional wet year.” The state suffered a three-year drought from 2007 to 2009, a five-year drought from 2012 to 2016, and now two dry years in a row; 2020 was the fifth-driest year on record, and 2021 was the second-driest.

Coming into the 2022 water year – which began Oct. 1 – the ground was dry and reservoirs were low. December’s rain and several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada should help put a dent in the drought. However predictions have suggested another drier than normal year may be ahead.

Over a century ago, well before climate change became evident, officials began planning ways to keep California’s growing cities and farms supplied with water. They developed a complex system of reservoirs and canals that funnel water from where it’s plentiful to where it’s needed.

Part of that system is the State Water Project.

First envisioned in 1919, the State Water Project delivers water from the relatively wetter and, at the time, less populated areas of Northern California to more populated and drier areas, mostly in Southern California. The State Water Project provides water for 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland, with about 70% for residential, municipal and industrial use and 30% for irrigation. There are 29 local water agencies – the state water contractors – that helped fund the State Water Project and in return receive water under a contract dating to the 1960s.

Map of the State Water Project's reservoirs and primary canals
The reservoirs (circles reflect comparative size) and primary canals and aqueducts (bold lines) connected with California’s State Water Project. California Department of Water Resources

While the State Water Project is important to these local water agencies, it is usually not their only source of water. Nor is all water in California supplied through the State Water Project. Most water agencies have a portfolio of water supplies, which can include pumping groundwater.

What does 0% mean?

Originally, the State Water Project planned to deliver 4.2 million acre-feet of water each year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover a football field in water 1 foot deep. An average California household uses around one-half to 1 acre-foot of water per year for both indoor and outdoor use. However, contractors that distribute water from the State Water Project have historically received only part of their allocations; the long-term average is 60%, with recent years much lower.

Based on water conditions each year, the state Department of Water Resources makes an initial allocation by Dec. 1 to help these state water contractors plan. As the year progresses, the state can adjust the allocation based on additional rain or snow and the amount of water in storage reservoirs. In 2010, for example, the allocation started at 5% and was raised to 50% by June. In 2014, the allocation started at 5%, dropped to 0% and then finished at 5%.

This year is the lowest initial allocation on record. According to the state Department of Water Resources, “unprecedented drought conditions” and “reservoirs at or near historic lows” led to this year’s headline-producing 0% allocation.

That’s 0% of each state water contractor’s allocation; however, the department committed to meet “unmet minimum health and safety needs.” In other words, if the contractors cannot find water from other sources, they could request up to 55 gallons per capita per day of water to “meet domestic supply, fire protection and sanitation needs.” That’s about two-thirds of what the average American uses.

The department is also prioritizing water for salinity control in the Sacramento Bay Delta area, water for endangered species, water to reserve in storage and water for additional supply allocations if the weather conditions improve.

Under the current plan, there will be no water from the State Water Project for roughly 10% of California’s irrigated land. As a result, both municipal and agricultural suppliers will be seeking to conserve water, looking elsewhere for water supplies, or not delivering water. None are easy solutions.

The problem with pumping groundwater

To weather previous droughts, many water suppliers relied on groundwater, which led to increased costs for wells, declines in groundwater levels, land subsidence and degraded water quality. California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was enacted in 2014 to help address overpumping of groundwater, but it hasn’t turned these conditions around.

Chart showing water level dropping and subsidence increasing.
Groundwater pumping during droughts in California’s Central Valley lowered underground water levels and contributed to land subsidence. The chart shows levels at one monitoring station. USGS

Those who can afford to dig deeper wells have done so, while others have no water as their wells have gone dry. During the 2012-2016 drought, the Public Policy Institute of California found that a majority of affected households that lost water access from their wells were in “small rural communities reliant on shallow wells – many of them communities of color.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom called on residents to voluntarily conserve 15% of their water during summer 2021. Statewide reductions were only 1.8% in July but jumped to 13.2% in October. The year’s snowpack, which acts as a natural reservoir, was still well below normal even after snowstorms in early and mid-December.

Irrigators who depend on the federal Central Valley Project are facing similar drought conditions. Imports from the Colorado River system are also limited, as this basin is also facing its first-ever shortage declaration due to drought.

What’s next?

As someone who has worked in California and the Western U.S. on complex water issues, I am familiar with both drought and floods and the challenges they create. However, the widespread nature of the latest drought – in California and beyond – makes the challenge even harder.

This “zero allocation” for California’s State Water Contractors is an unprecedented early warning, and likely a sign of what’s ahead.

An aerial photo of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta provides fresh water to two-thirds of the state’s population. California Department of Water Resources

A recent study warned that the snowpack in Western states like California may decline by up to 45% by 2050, with low- and no-snow years becoming increasingly common. Thirty-seven cities in California have already issued moratoriums on development because of water supply concerns.

If voluntary conservation does not work, enacting mandatory conservation measures like San Jose’s tough new drought rules may be needed. The state has been weighing emergency regulations on water use, and everyone is hoping for enough precipitation.

This article was updated Dec. 22, 2021, with details about the drought after storms in early December.

Lara B. Fowler, Senior Lecturer in Law and Assistant Director for Outreach and Engagement, Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Water as an opportunity for brands to drive strategic value

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

By embedding water strategy into business strategy, companies can create water impact not only operationally and across the supply chain, but also through employees and customers who want to work for, and shop with, brands that align with their values.

Funding available for environmental and installation energy technology demonstrations

The Department of Defense (DoD), through the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), supports the demonstration of technologies that address priority DoD environmental and installation energy requirements.

The goal of ESTCP is to promote the transfer of innovative technologies through demonstrations that collect the data needed for regulatory and DoD end-user acceptance. Projects conduct formal demonstrations at DoD facilities and sites in operational settings to document and validate improved performance and cost savings.

ESTCP is seeking proposals for demonstrations of innovative environmental and installation energy technologies as candidates for funding beginning in FY 2023. The solicitation requests pre-proposals via Calls for Proposals to Federal organizations and via a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for Private Sector organizations. Preproposals are due March 10, 2022 by 2 p.m. ET.

Detailed instructions are available on the ESTCP website.

The Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) and Call for Proposals (CFP) for Federal Organizations Outside DoD are seeking pre-proposals for technologies in the following topic areas:

  • Innovative Technology Transfer Approaches
  • Management of Impacted Groundwater
  • Long-term Management of Impacted Aquatic Sediments
  • Detection, Classification, Localization, and Remediation of Military Munitions in Underwater Environments
  • Time-series and New Site Updates to the Defense Regional Sea Level (DRSL) Database
  • Improved Wildland Fire Management Tools for Testing and Training Land Utilization
  • Biological Control of Non-indigenous Invasive Species Affecting Military Testing and Training Activities
  • Technology Demonstrations to Accelerate Deployment of Energy and Water Efficiency and Resilience Solutions
  • Energy Resilience on DoD Installations
  • Solutions to Improve Space Heating and Water Heating
  • Efficiency Use of Thermal Microgrids to Improve Energy Efficiency and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Improved Life-cycle Management of Packaged Heating, Ventilation and Air-conditioning (HVAC) Systems
  • Improved Water Resilience on DoD Installations
  • Impact of Climate Change on DoD Buildings
  • Climate Impacts on DoD Water Infrastructure
  • Analyzing the Impacts of Weather Events on DoD Installations
  • Improving Climate Resilience of DoD Installation and Surrounding Community Infrastructure

Informational webinar

ESTCP Director Dr. Herb Nelson, Deputy Director Dr. Andrea Leeson, and the ESTCP Program Managers will conduct an online seminar on January 20, 2022, from noon-1:30 pm CST. This briefing will offer valuable information for those interested in new ESTCP funding opportunities. During the online seminar, participants may ask questions about the funding process, the current ESTCP solicitation, and the proposal submission process. Pre-registration for this webinar is required.

If you have difficulty registering, please contact the ESTCP Support Office at or by telephone at 571-372-6565.

Study shows critical need to reduce use of road salt in winter, suggests best practices

Read the full story from the University of Toledo.

Overuse of road salts to melt away snow and ice is threatening human health and the environment as they wash into drinking water sources. New research from The University of Toledo spotlights the urgent need for policy makers and environmental managers to adopt a variety of solutions.

Half of the world’s coastal sewage pollution flows from few dozen places

Read the full story in Scientific American.

An analysis of roughly 135,000 watersheds reveals that large amounts of key pollutants come from human wastewater, not just agricultural runoff.

California’s water supplies are in trouble as climate change worsens natural dry spells, especially in the Sierra Nevada

Several of California’s reservoirs were at less than one-third of their capacity in early December 2021. Martha Conklin, CC BY-ND

by Roger Bales, University of California, Merced

California is preparing for a third straight year of drought, and officials are tightening limits on water use to levels never seen so early in the water year. Most of the state’s water reservoirs are well below average, with several at less than a third of their capacity. The outlook for rain and snow this winter, when most of the state’s yearly precipitation arrives, isn’t promising.

Especially worrying is the outlook for the Sierra Nevada, the long mountain chain that runs through the eastern part of the state. California’s cities and its farms – which grow over a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruit and nuts – rely on runoff from the mountains’ snowpack for water.

As an engineer, I have studied California’s water and climate for over 30 years. A closer look at California’s water resources shows the challenge ahead and how climate change is putting the state’s water supply and agriculture at greater risk.

Where California gets its water

Statewide, California averages about 2 feet of precipitation per year, about two-thirds of the global average, giving the state as a whole a semi-arid climate.

The majority of California’s rain and snow falls in the mountains, primarily in winter and spring. But agriculture and coastal cities need that water to get through the dry summers. To get water to dry Southern California and help with flood control in the north, California over the past century developed a statewide system of reservoirs, tunnels and canals that brings water from the mountains. The largest of those projects, the State Water Project, delivers water from the higher-precipitation northern Sierra to the southern half of the state.

A large, manmade canal flows through low hills.
A section of the California Aqueduct within the State Water Project. Ken James/California Department of Water Resources

To track where the water goes, it’s useful to look at the volume in acre-feet. California is about 100 million acres in area, so at 2 feet per year, its annual precipitation averages about 200 million acre-feet.

Of that 200, an average of only about 80 million acre-feet heads downstream. Much of the water returns to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration by plants and trees in the Sierra Nevada or North Coast forests. Of the 80 million acre-feet that does run off, about half remains in the aquatic environment, such as rivers flowing to the ocean. That leaves about 41 million acre-feet for downstream use. About 80% of that goes for agriculture and 20% for urban uses.

In wet years, there may be much more than 80 million acre-feet of water available, but in dry years, it can be much less.

In 2020, for example, California’s precipitation was less than two-thirds of average, and the State Water Project delivered only 5% of the contracted amounts. The state’s other main aqueduct systems that move water around the state also severely reduced their supplies.

The 2021 water year, which ended Sept. 30, was one of the three driest on record for the Sierra Nevada. Precipitation was about 44% of average. With limited precipitation as of December 2021 and the state in extreme drought, the State Water Project cut its preliminary allocations for water agencies to 0% for 2022, with small amounts still flowing for health and safety needs.

While conditions could improve if more storms come in the next three months, the official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlook points to below-normal precipitation being more likely than above normal.

Comparison of state maps with water uses in wet and dry years
California State Water Plan 2018

Drought and a warming climate

Multiyear dry periods, when annual precipitation is below average, are a feature of California’s climate, but rising global temperatures are also having an impact.

Over the past 1,100 years, there has been at least one dry period lasting four years or longer each century. There have been two in the past 35 years – 1987-92 and 2012-15. A warmer climate intensifies the effect of these dry periods, as drier soil and drier air stress both natural vegetation and crops.

Rising global temperatures affect runoff from the Sierra Nevada, which provides over 60% of California’s developed water supply.

Over 80% of the runoff in the central and southern Sierra Nevada comes from the snow zone. In the wetter but lower-elevation northern Sierra, rainfall contributes over one-third of the annual runoff.

The average snowline, the elevation above which most precipitation is snow, goes from about 5,000 feet elevation in the north to 7,000 feet in the south. On average, each 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 Celsius) of warming could push the snowline another 500 feet higher, reducing the snow total.

Shifts from snow to rain and earlier runoff also mean that more of the capacity behind existing dams will be allocated to flood control, further reducing their capacity for seasonal water-supply storage.

A dry ring around the reservoir shows how low its water level is.
A section of Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir, on Oct. 28, 2021. Andrew Innerarity/California Department of Water Resources

A wealth of research has established that the Sierra Nevada could see low- to no-snow winters for years at a time by the late 2040s if greenhouse gases emissions don’t decline, with conditions worsening beyond that possible.

Warming will also increase water demand from forests as growing seasons lengthen and drive both drought stress leading to tree mortality and increased risk of high-severity wildfires.

Sustainability in a warming climate

Water storage is central to California’s water security.

Communities and farms can pump more groundwater when supplies are low, but the state has been pumping out more water than it replenished in wet years. Parts of the state rely on water from the Colorado River, whose dams provide for several years of water storage, but the basin lacks the runoff to fill the dams.

Public opposition has made it difficult to build new dams, so better use of groundwater for both seasonal and multiyear storage is crucial.

Aerial view of a recharge ponds
Groundwater banking, or recharging groundwater during wet periods, is crucial to weathering multiyear droughts. Shallow ponds like these allow water to sink into underground aquifers. Dale Kolke/California Department of Water Resources

The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires local agencies to develop sustainability plans. That provides some hope that groundwater pumping and replenishment can be brought into balance, most likely by leaving some cropland unplanted. Managed aquifer recharge south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is gradually expanding, and much more can be done.

If the state doesn’t do more, including tactics such as applying desalination technology to make saltwater usable, urban areas can expect the 25% cuts in water use put in place during the 2012-15 drought to be more common and potentially even deeper.

California’s water resources can provide for a healthy environment, robust economy and sustainable agricultural use. Achieving this will require upgrading both natural infrastructure – headwaters forests, floodplains and groundwater recharge in agricultural areas – and built infrastructure, such as canals, spillways and levees. The information is available; officials now have to follow through.

Roger Bales, Distinguished Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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