Your Delta, Your Voice

In Fall 2020, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) launched an environmental justice community survey entitled Your Delta, Your Voice. The survey was live from September 30 through December 11, 2020. Survey development and outreach was led by Ag Innovations and supported by numerous partners and agency staff.

The survey had the following goals:

1) to gather information from disadvantaged communities in the Delta region about how they work, live, recreate and experience the Delta,

2) to understand how the community values and uses its natural, economic, and social resources, and

3) increase awareness of the proposed project and interest in participating in public engagement among disadvantaged community members in the Delta region.

These goals were pursued in order to inform the proposed Delta Conveyance Project environmental review and planning process, with a particular emphasis on the environmental justice chapter of the CEQA Environmental Impact Report. Ag Innovation’s intent was to faithfully reflect the input and perspectives gathered via the survey within this report.
In January 2021, DWR began developing a Delta Conveyance Project Community Benefits Program. The information gathered from the survey will also be used to inform DWR’s efforts to work towards community benefits in the Delta region, although that was not part of the original intent of the survey as the program did not exist at that time.

Water shortage risks from perennial crop expansion in California’s Central Valley

California’s Central Valley is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. Its high-value fruit, vegetable, and nut crops rely on surface water imports from a vast network of reservoirs and canals as well as groundwater, which has been substantially overdrafted to support irrigation. The region has undergone a shift to perennial (tree and vine) crops in recent decades, which has increased water demand amid a series of severe droughts and emerging regulations on groundwater pumping. This study quantifies the expansion of perennial crops in the Tulare Lake Basin, the southern region of the Central Valley with limited natural water availability. A gridded crop type dataset is compiled on a 1 mi2 spatial resolution from a historical database of pesticide permits over the period 1974–2016 and validated against aggregated county-level data. This spatial dataset is then analyzed by irrigation district, the primary spatial scale at which surface water supplies are determined, to identify trends in planting decisions and agricultural water demand over time. Perennial crop acreage has nearly tripled over this period, and currently accounts for roughly 60% of planted area and 80% of annual revenue. These trends show little relationship with water availability and have been driven primarily by market demand. From this data, we focus on the increasing minimum irrigation needs each year to sustain perennial crops. Results indicate that under a range of plausible future regulations on groundwater pumping ranging from 10% to 50%, water supplies may fail to consistently meet demands, increasing losses by up to 30% of annual revenues. More broadly, the datasets developed in this work will support the development of dynamic models of the integrated water-agriculture system under uncertain climate and regulatory changes to understand the combined impacts of water supply shortages and intensifying irrigation demand.

Climate-informed hydrologic modeling and policy typology to guide managed aquifer recharge

Harvesting floodwaters to recharge depleted groundwater aquifers can simultaneously reduce flood and drought risks and enhance groundwater sustainability. However, deployment of this multibeneficial adaptation option is fundamentally constrained by how much water is available for recharge (WAFR) at present and under future climate change. Here, we develop a climate-informed and policy-relevant framework to quantify WAFR, its uncertainty, and associated policy actions. Despite robust and widespread increases in future projected WAFR in our case study of California (for 56/80% of subbasins in 2070–2099 under RCP4.5/RCP8.5), strong nonlinear interactions between diversion infrastructure and policy uncertainties constrain how much WAFR can be captured. To tap future elevated recharge potential through infrastructure expansion under deep uncertainties, we outline a novel robustness-based policy typology to identify priority areas of investment needs. Our WAFR analysis can inform effective investment decisions to adapt to future climate-fueled drought and flood risk over depleted aquifers, in California and beyond.

Groundwater residence time estimates obscured by anthropogenic carbonate

Groundwater is an important source of drinking and irrigation water. Dating groundwater informs its vulnerability to contamination and aids in calibrating flow models. Here, we report measurements of multiple age tracers (14C, 3H, 39Ar, and 85Kr) and parameters relevant to dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) from 17 wells in California’s San Joaquin Valley (SJV), an agricultural region that is heavily reliant on groundwater. We find evidence for a major mid-20th century shift in groundwater DIC input from mostly closed- to mostly open-system carbonate dissolution, which we suggest is driven by input of anthropogenic carbonate soil amendments. Crucially, enhanced open-system dissolution, in which DIC equilibrates with soil CO2, fundamentally affects the initial 14C activity of recently recharged groundwater. Conventional 14C dating of deeper SJV groundwater, assuming an open system, substantially overestimates residence time and thereby underestimates susceptibility to modern contamination. Because carbonate soil amendments are ubiquitous, other groundwater-reliant agricultural regions may be similarly affected.

Wildfire response to changing daily temperature extremes in California’s Sierra Nevada

Burned area has increased across California, especially in the Sierra Nevada range. Recent fires there have had devasting social, economic, and ecosystem impacts. To understand the consequences of new extremes in fire weather, here we quantify the sensitivity of wildfire occurrence and burned area in the Sierra Nevada to daily meteorological variables during 2001–2020. We find that the likelihood of fire occurrence increases nonlinearly with daily temperature during summer, with a 1°C increase yielding a 19 to 22% increase in risk. Area burned has a similar, nonlinear sensitivity, with 1°C of warming yielding a 22 to 25% increase in risk. Solely considering changes in summer daily temperatures from climate model projections, we estimate that by the 2040s, fire number will increase by 51 ± 32%, and burned area will increase by 59 ± 33%. These trends highlight the threat posed to fire management by hotter and drier summers.

Comparison of potential drinking water source contamination across one hundred U.S. cities

Drinking water supplies of cities are exposed to potential contamination arising from land use and other anthropogenic activities in local and distal source watersheds. Because water quality sampling surveys are often piecemeal, regionally inconsistent, and incomplete with respect to unregulated contaminants, the United States lacks a detailed comparison of potential source water contamination across all of its large cities. Here we combine national scale geospatial datasets with hydrologic simulations to compute two metrics representing potential contamination of water supplies from point and nonpoint sources for over a hundred U.S. cities. We reveal enormous diversity in anthropogenic activities across watersheds with corresponding disparities in the potential contamination of drinking water supplies to cities. Approximately 5% of large cities rely on water that is composed primarily of runoff from non-pristine lands (e.g., agriculture, residential, industrial), while four-fifths of all large cities that withdraw surface water are exposed to treated wastewater in their supplies.

A low-to-no snow future and its impacts on water resources in the western United States

Anthropogenic climate change is decreasing seasonal snowpacks globally, with potentially catastrophic consequences on water resources, given the long-held reliance on snowpack in water management. In this Review, we examine the changes and trickle-down impacts of snow loss in the western United States (WUS). Across the WUS, snow water equivalent declines of ~25% are expected by 2050, with losses comparable with contemporary historical trends. There is less consensus on the time horizon of snow disappearance, but model projections combined with a new low-to-no snow definition suggest ~35–60 years before low-to-no snow becomes persistent if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. Diminished and more ephemeral snowpacks that melt earlier will alter groundwater and streamflow dynamics. The direction of these changes are difficult to constrain given competing factors such as higher evapotranspiration, altered vegetation composition and changes in wildfire behaviour in a warmer world. These changes undermine conventional WUS water management practices, but through proactive implementation of soft and hard adaptation strategies, there is potential to build resilience to extreme, episodic and, eventually, persistent low-to-no snow conditions. Federal investments offer a timely opportunity to address these vulnerabilities, but they require a concerted portfolio of activities that cross historically siloed physical and disciplinary boundaries.

Uncertainty in El Niño-like warming and California precipitation changes linked by the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation

Marked uncertainty in California (CA) precipitation projections challenges their use in adaptation planning in the region already experiencing severe water stress. Under global warming, a westerly jet extension in the North Pacific analogous to the El Niño-like teleconnection has been suggested as a key mechanism for CA winter precipitation changes. However, this teleconnection has not been reconciled with the well-known El Niño-like warming response or the controversial role of internal variability in the precipitation uncertainty. Here we find that internal variability contributes > 70% and > 50% of uncertainty in the CA precipitation changes and the El Niño-like warming, respectively, based on analysis of 318 climate simulations from several multi-model and large ensembles. The Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation plays a key role in each contribution and in connecting the two via the westerly jet extension. This unifying understanding of the role of internal variability in CA precipitation provides critical guidance for reducing and communicating uncertainty to inform adaptation planning.

Changing impacts of Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone tsunamis in California under future sea-level rise

The amplification of coastal hazards such as distant-source tsunamis under future relative sea-level rise (RSLR) is poorly constrained. In southern California, the Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone has been identified as an earthquake source region of particular concern for a worst-case scenario distant-source tsunami. Here, we explore how RSLR over the next century will influence future maximum nearshore tsunami heights (MNTH) at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Earthquake and tsunami modeling combined with local probabilistic RSLR projections show the increased potential for more frequent, relatively low magnitude earthquakes to produce distant-source tsunamis that exceed historically observed MNTH. By 2100, under RSLR projections for a high-emissions representative concentration pathway (RCP8.5), the earthquake magnitude required to produce >1 m MNTH falls from ~Mw9.1 (required today) to Mw8.0, a magnitude that is ~6.7 times more frequent along the Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone.

Development of a Groundwater-Simulation Model in the Los Angeles Coastal Plain, Los Angeles County, California

The Los Angeles Coastal Plain (LACP) covers about 580 square miles and is the largest coastal plain of semiarid southern California. The LACP is heavily developed with mostly residential, commercial, and industrial land uses that rely heavily on groundwater for water supply. In 2010, the LACP was home to about 14 percent of California’s population, or about 5.4 million residents. The LACP is also a major commercial and industrial hub with industries including manufacturing, aerospace, entertainment, and tourism.

There has been a heavy reliance on groundwater from the LACP for many years. An average of 305,000 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr) of groundwater was used annually from the LACP from 1971 to 2015. The need to replenish the groundwater basins within the LACP was recognized as far back as the 1930s, when spreading grounds were first used to replenish groundwater basins and store water underground during times of water surplus to meet demands in times of shortage. Seawater intrusion resulting from freshwater pumping was first observed in the 1940s. As a result, injection of imported water through wells at what is now the West Coast Basin Barrier Project began on an experimental basis in 1951. Managed aquifer recharge from the spreading grounds and barrier wells is now a substantial component of the LACP’s groundwater supply. The average annual recharge from water spreading from 1971 to 2015 was about 120,000 acre-ft/yr, and the average annual injection into the barrier wells was about 33,000 acre-ft/yr. Other inflows include areal recharge, underflow from San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys, and onshore flow from the ocean. The average annual recharge from these sources was 100,000 acre-feet (acre-ft) from 1971 to 2015. Additionally, cross-boundary flow from Orange County into the western Orange County subareas of the LACP was simulated as 48,000 acre-ft from 1971 to 2015.

This study, conducted in cooperation with the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD), involved an assessment of the historical and present status of groundwater resources in the LACP and the development of tools to better understand the groundwater system. These efforts were built upon results from previous studies and incorporate new information and developments in modeling capabilities to provide a more detailed analysis of the aquifer systems.

This study includes a comprehensive compilation of geologic and hydrologic data (Chapter A), development of a chronostratigraphic model that provides a detailed description of the LACP aquifer systems (Chapter B), characterization of the groundwater hydrology of the LACP, including a down-hole analysis of grain size using lithologic and geophysical logs (Chapter C), and development and application of the Los Angeles Coastal Plain Groundwater-flow Model (LACPGM) to simulate past groundwater conditions, estimate groundwater-budget components and flow paths, and approximate future groundwater conditions under different scenarios (Chapter D).