Tuesday, July 22, 2014

News articles and links from July 22, 2014


From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian

There's so much going on with groundwater, it's a whirlwind! OK, a whirlwind you can't see and probably haven't heard of, but a whirlwind nonetheless.

It's no secret that Californians have been abusing our aquifers for more than a generation. Mother Nature has, so far, bailed us out with a few wet years between droughts to refill the tank. Not this year.

From: Amity Addrisi, KBAK

Water-well drillers are working 24 hours a day during the California drought. They're digging wells for desperate farmers.

Matt Rottman of Rottman Drilling in Lancaster said his company is booked for the next two years. In business since the 1960s, Rottman said his company has never been this busy. As a result of the drought crisis, farmers are now looking below their land to save what's above.


From: Peter Gleick, National Geographic - ScienceBlogs.com

In the past few weeks, I have had been asked the same question by reporters, friends, strangers, and even a colleague who posts regularly on this very ScienceBlogs site (the prolific and thoughtful Greg Laden): why, if the California drought is so bad, has the response been so tepid?

There is no single answer to this question (and of course, it presumes (1) that the drought is bad; and (2) the response has been tepid). In many ways, the response is as complicated as California's water system itself, with widely and wildly diverse sources of water, uses of water, prices and water rights, demands, institutions, and more. But here are some overlapping and relevant answers.

Water Use Efficiency

From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

The Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors will consider a staff recommendation to make the IID's pilot on-farm water conservation program permanent at today's public meeting.

The on-farm efficiency water conservation program pays farmers to install and implement water-efficient irrigation measures in their fields, like sprinklers and drip irrigation systems. It's funded by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Coachella Valley Water District under the terms of the water transfer.

Farming News

From: Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times

His boots were caked with mud when Thomas S. T. Gimbel, a longtime hedge fund executive, slipped in a strawberry patch. It was the plumpness of a strawberry that had distracted him.

Mr. Gimbel, who once headed the hedge fund division of Credit Suisse, now spends more time discussing crop yields than stock or bond yields.

Monday, July 21, 2014

News, Articles, and Links from July 21, 2014

Water Bond 

EDITORIAL: Spending on the Delta a sticking point in the water bond  
From: Staff, Sacramento Bee

If Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers want voters to weigh in this year on a multibillion-dollar water bond - a big if - they will need to compromise on what may seem like an arcane point: Who controls the money earmarked for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta?

Brown proposed a $6 billion bond after a $10.5 billion proposal fell shy of the two-thirds votes needed in the Senate.

LETTERS: Dealing With the Water Shortage in California
From: P. Wenger; D. Fink, New York Times  

Re "Forceful Steps Amid a Severe Drought" (news article, Jan. 16):

The harsh program to fine California residents for outdoor water use is the unfortunate result of decades of inappropriate water policies in the state. The current crisis has been developing for years and was entirely predictable.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

OPINION: BDCP a scientifically sound solution for water shortage
From: Mark Cowin, Tracy Press

 The state of California is taking decisive and comprehensive action to protect and develop water supplies throughout the state, both to manage the impact of the drought and to plan for the long term. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is just one piece in the Brown administration's overall water portfolio - but it is a vitally important piece.


El Nino may not bring needed rains to parched California
From: Sharon Bernstein, Reuters

 California's drought - its worst in decades - is likely to hold steady through the summer months and may not ease in the fall even with an anticipated El Nino weather pattern, a federal drought expert said on Friday.

Extreme drought conditions have enveloped California - the most populous U.S. state and an important agricultural center - since the beginning of the year.

LETTER: Drought Taking Huge Toll on County's Farmers
From: Eric Larson, San Diego Union Tribune

California's residents are beginning to understand the severity of the drought that has relegated snow and rain to relic status. Farmers, however, by profession must be weather watchers and don't have to come to a new realization that successive dry winters leave a terrible shadow. The impact to the state's farms that normally produce about half of our nations fruits and vegetables will be terrible.

5 percent ag loss figure doesn't tell whole story  
From: John Holland, Modesto Bee

 If your kid came home with a 95 percent test score, you'd likely say, "Great job." California will maintain that much of its agricultural output this year, despite the severe drought, according to a UC Davis study released Tuesday. But that's little cause for celebration.

Drought drying up small Central Valley farmers' future  
From: Robert Rodriguez, Fresno Bee

This time of year, May Vu's farm in Sanger should be carpeted with blooming flowers and a bounty of vegetables. But a failing irrigation pump and a nearly empty well have dried up Vu's farm and with it, her source of income.

The 58-year-old Vu knows she is up against major obstacles as California struggles through one of the worst droughts in its history.

Agriculture Chief Visits Water-Starved Families
From: Staff, Associated Press

 U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited drought-stricken homeowners on Friday in Central California, saying drought and climate change would require major investment to secure future water supplies.

Farmers using canal to move water
From: Rick Elkins, Porterville Recorder

Farmers along side of the Friant-Kern Canal that runs from Millerton Lake to the Kern River in Bakersfield have been using the canal to move water, but most are restricted to move water only within their own irrigation district.

At several different points growers are pumping water into the cement-lined canal, then taking it out a little further down. The Friant-Kern Canal runs 155-miles from Millerton Lake above Fresno to the Kern River near Bakersfield.

EDITORIAL: Dealing with drought is everyone's duty
From: Staff, Chico Enterprise-Record

When the State Water Resources Control Board sat down this week to consider authorizing fines of up to $500 for water wasters, it had ample evidence to support the decision because we, "as a state," aren't doing a very good job at water conservation.

We need a scapegoat for this drought  
 From: David Little, Chico Enterprise-Record

 California is running out of water and we need someone to blame. Mother Nature is just not a convenient enough target. We need real people. They're handing out $500 tickets now. This is serious. Who caused this?

From: Sam Sanders, NPR

This January, after the driest calendar year in California history, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency. He called on residents to reduce their water intake by 20 percent.

But downtown Los Angeles doesn't look like a city devastated by the state's worst drought in decades. The city is green with landscaping, and fountains are running. People still water their lawns, wash their cars and fill their pools.


California drought: High-bidding farmers battle in water auctions  
From: Lisa Krieger, San Jose Mercury News

Rumors drifted across the parched Central Valley that a bidding war for water might push auction prices as high as $3,000 an acre-foot, up from $60 in a normal year.

Yet, Ray Flanders needed water to keep his orchards alive. So this spring he sealed his bid in an envelope, climbed into his truck and drove 70 miles to hand-deliver it to the Madera Irrigation District, which had water saved from 2013.


West-side San Joaquin Valley water calamity may be unfolding  
From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

After the water table below Stratford dropped an astounding 100 feet in the past two years, it set off a slow-motion collapse of the ground underfoot, crushing part of a town well.

Repairs were made quickly, but the crumpled well holds significance beyond this Kings County town of 1,200. After three dry seasons -- the last one being one of the driest on record -- summer havoc has begun for west San Joaquin Valley groundwater.

OPINION: That foothills groundwater belongs in valley
From: Vance Kennedy, Modesto Bee  

Are farmers in the foothills taking water from farmers in the valley? Yes, they are. We'll get to why, but here are some facts:

First, farmers in the foothills have three sources of water: rain, which is 12 to 16 inches per normal year; groundwater directly below the property (that water occupies about 15 percent of the "pore space" between the rocks); and underground flow from the aquifers that are shared with adjacent properties. Some of those "properties" actually have rivers flowing through them or reservoirs sitting on them.

Stanislaus County irrigation districts pumping record amounts of groundwater  
From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Despite widespread concerns about declining groundwater levels, some Stanislaus County irrigation districts have dramatically increased well pumping this year.

Modesto Irrigation District wells pumped 311 percent more groundwater this January through June than they did during the same months last year.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

News articles and links from July 17, 2014


From: Ed Joyce, Capital Public Radio

A Sacramento Superior Court judge issued a ruling Tuesday requiring regulation of groundwater pumping to protect a river in Siskiyou County.

Attorneys on both sides say it's the first time a California court has ruled the "public trust doctrine" applies to groundwater. The doctrine says the State of California holds all waterways for the benefit of the people.

The lawsuit claimed groundwater pumping in the Scott River
Basin is partly responsible for decreased river flows - limiting the public's use of the river and harming fish habitat.


From: Scott Smith, Insurance Journal

Farmers in pockets of California hardest hit by the drought could begin to see their wells run dry a year from now if rain and snow remain scarce in the agriculturally rich state, according to a study released Tuesday.

Richard Howitt, a University of California, Davis professor emeritus of agriculture and resource economics, urged farmers to take the lead in managing groundwater to irrigate crops and sustain California's $44.7 billion farming industry.

From: Desiree Salas, Latinos Post

A recent University of California study showed that the current drought ravaging California this year is causing the "greatest absolute reduction in water availability for California agriculture ever seen," Mashable reported.

"The California drought will deprive the state's thirsty farmers of 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water, which works out to a whopping 2.2 trillion gallons - enough to fill 60 million average-sized swimming pools," the site said. "Farmers are making up for some of this lost water by pumping as much groundwater as they can tap into, which will diminish the state's ability to withstand future droughts."

Recycle Water

From: Desiree Salas, Latinos Post

A recent University of California study showed that the current drought ravaging California this year is causing the "greatest absolute reduction in water availability for California agriculture ever seen," Mashable reported.

"The California drought will deprive the state's thirsty farmers of 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water, which works out to a whopping 2.2 trillion gallons - enough to fill 60 million average-sized swimming pools," the site said. "Farmers are making up for some of this lost water by pumping as much groundwater as they can tap into, which will diminish the state's ability to withstand future droughts."

Water Use

From: Staff, Sacramento Bee

Use a hose, go to jail.

California hasn't quite come to threatening unrepentant water wasters with time in the big house. But emergency rules adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board Tuesday do take the state a lot closer to criminalizing the squandering of a precious resource.

It's an unpleasant but necessary measure. As a study by UC Davis makes clear, the ongoing drought hurts the state's economy. It's a pain that trickles down to all of us, even those already doing their part to cut back.

But it is frustrating that agriculture has been let off the hook.

From: Katharine Mieszkowski, Fresno Bee

After largely ignoring a conservation law passed during the last drought, some of California's largest agricultural water districts are facing a lawsuit that would force them to measure how much water farmers use.

The 2009 law was designed to push the state's biggest water users to conserve by closely monitoring their use. Then, the state's agricultural water districts are supposed to charge the farmers, at least in part, based on that use.

But the state doesn't actually know how many agricultural water districts are meeting the new requirements or even inching toward doing so because more than 20 of them have failed to turn in what's called a water management plan. The plans were due more than 18 months ago.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

News articles and links from July 16, 2014


From: Steve Mawhinney, Sacramento Bee

Re "Hefty overwatering fines would make it clear California is in a drought" (Editorials, July 14): Yes, everyone should do their part to reduce overall water consumption and eliminate wasteful watering habits. Not just during the drought but going forward.

So when do the folks of California see the end of gravity irrigation, flooding fields and orchards, planting water intensive crops and other wasteful practices? So why is it the users of only 20 percent of the water in the state are pounded and threatened with fines while the users of the remaining 80 percent continue their wasteful ways?

Coalition response... There are a few persistent myths that need to be dispelled:

First, California farmers don't use anywhere near 80% of California's water supply. According to the State's Department of Water Resources, only 41% of the state's water supply goes to growing food and fiber. 49% goes to environmental uses, while the rest goes to our state's cities and industry.

Second, farmers are suffering from cutbacks as well. They were the first to bear the brunt of surface water shortages and cuts, and the effects of those shortages are expected to be felt across rural communities for years to come. California's farmers have been forced to dip into the groundwater savings accounts in order to survive this year- it's far from clear they will be able to do the same again next year.  

California must find a way to come together to meet the challenges of this drought, and to prepare not only for possible future droughts, but the growing population we know is coming.


From: Staff, KSEE 24

One local food bank is holding a food drive through August 5th.

[A video report on the ongoing San Joaquin Valley food drive: "California Water Feeds Our Communities."]

From: Michael Doyle, McClatchy DC

California's dogged drought will cost the state's economy $2.2 billion and an estimated 17,100 jobs, but consumers will largely be spared higher prices, according to a major study released Tuesday.

The pain is not felt equally, experts at the University of California, Davis warn, and there could be more over the horizon as precious groundwater levels fall in what the study calls the "greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture."

From: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

California's agricultural industry is facing $1 billion in lost revenue this year from the state's worst drought in decades and could pay about $500 million for additional groundwater pumping, a new study said.

The UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences said in a report released Tuesday that the state's drought has reduced river water for Central Valley farms by roughly one-third their normal level, increasing the need for groundwater pumping. 

From: Jennifer Chaussee, Reuters 

California's drought is expected to cost the state an estimated $2.2 billion this year, along with a loss of more than 17,000 jobs, as farmers are forced to fallow some valuable crops, a report by scientists at the University of California in Davis showed on Tuesday.

The report stressed the need for local governments to better manage emergency water reserves, including using measurement tools to track the amount of groundwater that is used during dry years and a statewide system for transporting stored water to where it is needed.

From: Don Thompson, Associated Press

In one of the most drastic responses yet to California's drought, state regulators on Tuesday will consider fines up to $500 a day for people who waste water on landscaping, fountains, washing vehicles and other outdoor uses.

The rules would prohibit the watering of landscaping to the point that runoff spills onto sidewalks or streets. Hosing down sidewalks, driveways and other hard surfaces would be banned along with washing vehicles without a shut-off nozzle.

From: Staff, Associated Press

Researchers say farmers in pockets of California hardest hit by the drought could begin to see wells run dry next year.

The Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, released the study Tuesday on the possible impact if the next two years remain dry in California. The study also says farmers will leave nearly 430,000 acres unplanted this year, costing California $2.2 billion.

From: Dennis Dimick, National Geographic

If droughts were hurricanes, people might pay more attention to them. Droughts can creep up on us with their prolonged absence of rain, and their effects often are seen as not much more than cracked ground in dry lake bottoms. Devastating storms can be sudden and meteorologically exciting, and they make great television. Droughts are deliberate-a relatively slow evolution in which it can be difficult to capture the devastation in any one moment.

From: Staff, Contra Costa Times

The drought's threat to California's finite supply of groundwater is highlighted in a UC Davis study released Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Among the major findings reported by the school's Center for Watershed Sciences:

-- The drought -- the third most severe on record -- is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third.

From: Rick Elkins, Porterville Recorder

With the impacts of California's water crisis growing daily, a new study released Tuesday estimated the economic fallout from the three-year drought will top $2 billion to agriculture alone.

The report from the University of California, Davis, shows that California agriculture is weathering its worst drought in decades due to groundwater reserves, but taking water from the underground supply is not sustainable.

From: Aaron Orlowski, Orange County Register

On the same day state water regulators approved daily fines up to $500 for wasting water, scientists released a report saying the drought will put a $2.2 billion dent this year in California's economy.

The projected loss for 2014, according to a report by UC Davis, includes 17,100 jobs statewide. Much of the impact is in agricultural areas stretching from Northern California to San Bernardino County.

From: Ian Lovett, New York Times

With rainfall this year at historically low levels and reservoirs quickly dwindling, California officials on Tuesday approved the most drastic measures yet to reduce water consumption during the state's increasingly serious drought, including fines of up to $500 per day under some circumstances for watering a garden, washing a car or hosing down a sidewalk.

From: Don Thompson, Associated Press

Reservoirs are running dry, the Capitol's lawn has turned brown, and farmers have left hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted. Even so, many Californians aren't taking the drought seriously. State water regulators are trying to change that by imposing fines up to $500 a day for wasting water.

The State Water Resources Control Board acted Tuesday amid warnings that conditions could get worse if it doesn't rain this winter.

From: Michael Santos, Sacramento Bee

Re "Hefty fines would make clear state in severe drought" (Editorials, July 14): The editorial board's support of the draconian fine proposed by the elitist State Water Board comes as no surprise. Instead of going after the big users of the states water such as agriculture, which use over 85 percent of the state's water, you go after the small customer who can't defend themselves.

From: Annabelle Beecher, Peninsula Press

At Stanford University the fountains are not flowing. But in Central California, known as the "Food Basket of the World," water is also not flowing and farmers are digging deep in response. This year, California has received its lowest rainfall in recorded history. On January 17, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency.

Here on "The Farm," springtime fountain hopping was a casualty of the drought. In the Central Valley, on real farms, livelihoods are threatened, fields are fallow and the ground is actually sinking.

From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

The Oakdale Irrigation District hasn't raised its water rates in 30 years, and it was obvious Tuesday that OID's directors resent a state law requiring them to charge farmers more to irrigate. "All of this is getting forced on us," board Chairman Steve Webb repeatedly stated.

Virtually every other California irrigation district has complied with the Water Conservation Act of 2009, which requires farmers to pay for water based on how much they use.

Salton Sea

From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

An amendment to a federal spending bill could mean an additional $1 million for Salton Sea environmental efforts.

The funds, sought by U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert), are for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is involved in a number of public health projects including the Red Hill Bay project.

Press Release

From: Staff, State Water Contractors

Across the state, many of California's local government, business, and agricultural organizations have joined the ongoing discussion about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Several leading labor organizations - including the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, the Southern California District Council of Laborers and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 12 - have also weighed in and sent letters to their elected officials expressing support for the project. 

From: Staff, ACWA

Gov. Jerry Brown on July 14 announced several reappointments to the California Water Commission as well as the new appointment of Armando Quintero, president of the Marin Municipal Water District Board of Directors.