John Chacon / CA Dept of Water Resources

California’s drought isn't just causing wells to go dry, it's also contributing to a long running water pollution problem.

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey looked at over 100 private domestic drinking water wells in the San Joaquin Valley. It found that around 1 in 4 had uranium levels above those considered safe by the EPA. Most of the wells were on the east side of the valley, which is home to sediment from the Sierra Nevada which naturally contains uranium.

January Snow Survey In California "Dismally Meager"

Jan 31, 2015
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The California Department of Water Resources says the state’s snowpack is “dismally meager.” As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, a lack of snow in the Sierra is keeping rivers low and drying up some reservoirs. 

While December storms brought some hope that California’s drought would ease, January’s second snow survey shattered it. 

Dave Rizzardo: “Unfortunately it seems like it’s a trend in the last three or four years, that’s January’s just been a dud.”

Wildlife Agencies See Near Collapse Of 2014 Salmon Species

Jan 27, 2015
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

California and federal wildlife agencies say the entire winter-run of naturally-spawning Chinook salmon may have collapsed in 2014. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the agencies will begin releasing triple the number of hatchery-raised juveniles next week.

High water temperatures in the Sacramento River last summer and fall caused 95-percent of winter-run salmon egg and fry to die.

Maria Rea: “I think this is really unprecedented really that we’ve seen this level of temperature mortality.”

California Farmers Turn Sugar Beets Into Energy

Jan 22, 2015
Mendota Bioenergy

Struggling sugar beet farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are turning their crop into energy instead of sweetner. A pilot plant could prove to be good for the environment and the economy. 

They're called "energy beets." They look like a red table beet but, but they're larger, white, and very high in sucrose. Sugar beets in California date back to the late 1800's.

Kaffka: "Beets have been grown here commercially longer than any other place."

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Leaders in Fresno would like to change the way the city’s water is managed through a massive infrastructure project, but one city council members new stance on the plan could complicate its passage. 

A planned $429 million water project in the city of Fresno would replace an existing system relying on groundwater and instead treat surface water from area rivers for drinking. But not everyone is happy about the plan, which could double residents’ water bills.

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could have big consequences for both valley farmers and the environment. The court decided today not to hear a case brought by local ag groups and southern California water agencies that sought to overturn protections for the Delta smelt under the Endangered Species Act.

The move lets stand a lower court decision that upheld restrictions on the amount of water that can be pumped out of the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. 

Trent Orr, an attorney with Earthjustice says the decision is an important one. 

Fountains For Schools With Limited Water Access

Jan 8, 2015
Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

More than 100 schools in California's Central Valley will receive water purification stations under a new program designed to give kids fresh water instead of sugary drinks with lunch. Capital Public Radio's Bob Moffitt reports.

The California Endowment created the pilot project called "Agua For All" and has joined with three regional groups in the state to identify schools that need water fountains or water filtration systems. 

Sarah Buck with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation says 120 schools will receive new fountains.

Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

2014 was a year of ups and downs for the valley's largest industry, agriculture. The year began with virtually no rain and snow and fears of another dust bowl.

And while farmers and ranchers had a tough year, most survived and some even thrived. Rising milk prices boosted the bottom line for California dairymen and women and crops like tomatoes actually set new records.

So what will 2015 bring? We asked two industry experts to join us and offer their perspectives on six issues that will help define the valley's largest industry in the new year:

Winter Snow Survey Better Than Last Year But Not Good Enough

Dec 31, 2014
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

California has had greater than normal precipitation this year, but not greater than normal snowfall. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the first winter snow survey shows the amount of water in the snow statewide is 50 percent of average.

One third of the state relies on water that comes from melting Sierra snowpack. Frank Gehrke with the Department of Water Resources says manual readings show water in the snow on Echo Summit is four inches, just 33 percent of average. He says it’s not enough to fill the state’s reservoirs.

2014 Was A Rough Year for California's Farmers and Ranchers

Dec 17, 2014
Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

California's farmers and ranchers have endured a challenging 2014. Capital Public Radio's Lesley McClurg reports on how they're weathering the drought.

Paula Getzelman says recent rain brings a deep sigh of relief. She and her husband run Tre Gatti Vineyards in Monterey County. 

Getzelman: "We were extremely nervous in 2014. The harvest was a real nail biter."

Production at Tre Gatti was down twenty percent. Getzelman says she feels luckier than some of her neighbors who were down thirty percent.