Thursday, July 24, 2014

News articles and links from July 24, 2014


From: Alison Vekshin, BusinessWeek 

Farmers in California's Central Valley, the world's most productive agricultural region, are paying as much as 10 times more for water than they did before the state's record drought cut supply.

Costs have soared to $1,100 per acre-foot from about $140 a year ago in the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, which represents 700 farms, said Gayle Holman, a spokeswoman. North of Sacramento, the Western Canal Water District is selling it for double the usual price: $500 per acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons (1.2 million liters).

From: Katharine Mieszkowski, Center for Investigative Reporting

California Gov. Jerry Brown has asked restaurants not to serve water unless diners ask for it. He's letting lawns at the state Capitol turn brown. Farmers in the Central Valley are getting just a trickle of the water they usually do. Conspicuous water wasters - commercial and residential - face fines of $500 a day.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Paul Rockwell, Contra Costa Times

Like the Florida Everglades, the Bay Delta watershed is a national treasure. Every Californian has a stake in the outcome of the fierce controversy over the re-engineering of our unique and precious estuary.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is 40,000 pages long. To keep it simple, the $25 billion water-transfer project is based on a single assumption: that California's water-ecosystem crisis is caused by a lack -- a lack -- of engineering projects in the Delta watershed. As if the Delta needs more steel, more pumps, more cement (and more farmers dispossessed through eminent domain). The peripheral tunnels, the industrial heart of the project, do not replace, they actually augment hundreds of dams, aqueducts and pumps that already send water to corporate farms and cities south of the Delta.

Colorado River

From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

A deceptively simple question was raised at the Imperial Irrigation District's Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday.

If the IID has consumed slightly less than 50 percent of its annual Colorado River water entitlement so far this year, how is the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projecting an annual over-consumption of nearly 38,000 acre-feet? That projection is especially troubling for IID officials and farmers because any amount of water that the district uses in excess of its entitlement needs to be repaid.

Water Bond 

From: Craig Miller, KQED Blog

Drought has moved to the top of the list in the latest survey of Californians' environmental worries. In a statewide poll conducted during the second week of July, more than a third of respondents (35 percent) cited water supply and drought as "the most important environmental issue facing California today." That more than doubled the second most popular response, which was air pollution.

It's the first time since the annual survey was launched in 2000 that Californians have cited water supply as their top concern, according to Mark Baldassare at the Public Policy Institute of California, which conducts the annual "Californians and Their Environment" poll. Even when asked the question in the drought year of 2009, only 18 percent pinpointed water supply as their biggest concern.

From: Staff, Associated Press

A slim majority of likely California voters support an $11.1 billion water bond slated for the November ballot, but public support would grow if the bond comes with a smaller price-tag, according to survey results released late Wednesday.

The Public Policy Institute of California poll comes as lawmakers are negotiating changes to a funding package for water projects that legislative leaders see as too large and full of pork-barrel spending to win voter approval.

From: Mark Walker, San Diego Union-Tribune  

Drought-conscious Californians say they support mandatory restrictions on water use and back a massive state bond to increase water supplies.

Those are among the key findings in a Public Policy Institute of California poll that comes as the San Diego County Water Authority is expected to recommend limiting outdoor watering throughout the county to reach an overall cutback in the region's usage of up to 20 percent.

Water Supply

From: Dennis Wyatt, Manteca Bulletin

A streak of sub-90 degree days has Public Works Director Mike Houghton concerned. He's the man responsible for overseeing Manteca's municipal water system. "My worry is the cooler weather will get people to thinking they don't have to conserve as much," Houghton said. "We are still in the middle of a severe drought."


From: Corey Pride, Merced Sun-Star

As California copes with one of the worst drought years in the state's history, Madera County officials are preparing to take steps to maintain local control of its water issues. Government officials are in the process of forming a Joint Powers Authority and reviewing whether there will be a moratorium on agricultural wells.

Johannes Hoevertsz, Madera County public works director, said varying county interests are being asked to form a JPA. "It's an effort to have local enforcement," Hoevertsz said.


From: Staff, U.C. Davis Center for Watershed Sciences  
A growing number of ecologists say we need to rethink how we go about "saving nature." We should not attempt to restore a wounded meadow, estuary or wetland to some legendary pristine state, they say. Instead, resource managers should accept that human footprints are everywhere and manage ecosystems for the species and functions we desire.

From: Jonathan Wood, Pacific Legal Foundation Blog

This morning, the Ninth Circuit denied a rehearing before the entire court, leaving March's panel decision in place. The denial sets the case up for a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. Longtime Liberty Blog readers will recall that PLF previously sought Supreme Court review of the case on our Commerce Clause challenge. Although that issue is no longer live, there should be plenty of issues remaining to interest the judges.

From: Staff, KION

State and federal wildlife officials have unveiled ambitious plans aimed at helping endangered salmon and steelhead thrive again in Central California rivers.

The fish were abundant, migrating from the Pacific through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and up rivers, but dams were built, blocking 90 percent of passageways to their historical spawning areas at the heart of California. By the 1990s, the fish were nearly extinct and given protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

News, Articles, and Links from July 23, 2014

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Property taxes could pay for $25 billion Delta tunnels without public vote
From: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News 

Major water districts in California are quietly considering using property taxes -- and possibly raising them without a vote of the public -- to help fund Gov. Jerry Brown's $25 billion plan to build two massive tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  
Most property tax hikes require a two-thirds vote, as required under California's landmark Proposition 13, which voters passed in 1978. But the water agencies contend they are not bound by that requirement.

Water Supply

TID leaders see how Turlock recycles water  
From: John Holland, Modesto Bee

Leaders of the Turlock Irrigation District, which has provided Tuolumne River water to the area since 1900, got a look Tuesday at another possible source. They toured the city of Turlock's sewage treatment plant, which turns out water fit for use on crops.

Water Use Efficiency

From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

The Imperial Irrigation District has expanded its on-farm water conservation initiative from an annual program to a multi-year endeavor. The program pays Imperial Valley farmers to adopt water-efficient irrigation processes in their fields, like sprinklers and tailwater recovery systems.

The board's action Tuesday addressed a common criticism of the program: How can farmers recoup their investments in technology like sprinklers and sub-surface drip irrigation, when the IID offers the program on a rigid, year-by-year basis?


From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

State and federal wildlife agencies Tuesday unveiled ambitious plans to restore endangered salmon and steelhead fish in California's Central Valley, including returning them to some habitats where they were shut out decades ago by dams and other development.

Although the two plans differ somewhat, officials said they both aim to prevent extinction of three species: endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, and threatened Central Valley steelhead.


Merced Irrigation District to pump less groundwater
From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

The Merced Irrigation District expects to pump significantly less groundwater this year than it did last year, in part because the irrigation season will be about eight weeks shorter.

"Our projected total is to pump just over 40,000 acre-feet," district General Manager John Sweigard said. His district pumped more than 56,700 acre-feet of groundwater during 2013. By comparison, it pumped 33,465 acre-feet this January through June.

Farmers tap into groundwater reserves
From: Dennis Taylor, Salinas Californian

Unbridled pumping of well water along the Central Coast and in the Central Valley could have dire consequences for the agricultural economy, according to a new study released by the University of California, Davis.

According to the study, titled "Drought Impact Study: California agriculture faces greatest water loss ever seen," Monterey County is faring better than areas around Tulare County and other Central Valley communities. Growers there, after their Water Project was shut down to divert water to people, tapped into ground water basins that are even more perilous than basins here.

Groundwater management discussions begin  
From: Staff, Porterville Recorder

If groundwater management is the wave of the future in California, the Tulare County Supervisors want to make sure they, and local stakeholders, have a say in how it plays out.

A proposed state law that would regulate the pumping of groundwater in basins where the water table is being depleted was one of the topics at a 90-minute meeting on water issues Tuesday. The study session was held three years into a severe drought that has curtailed surface water supplies and forced many farmers in the San Joaquin Valley to resort to pumping groundwater for irrigation.

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 -

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.