Thursday, April 24, 2014

News articles and links from April 24, 2014


Water Supply

From: Lauren Sommer, KQED

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and California's severe drought is already inspiring a few. Water districts in the San Joaquin Valley are proposing a drought tactic that's never been tried: they want to reverse the state's plumbing by running the California Aqueduct backwards.

The aqueduct is the main artery of the state's water system. It stretches more than 400 miles, connecting the northern part of the state, where most of the rain falls, to the southern half of the state, where most of the demand for water resides.

From: Rob Parsons, Merced Sun-Star

Irrigation officials this week closed a complicated deal with state agencies to increase the water supply for drought-plagued farmers. The deal could also help authorities cut the price of irrigation water in Merced County.

The State Water Resources Control Board approved the deal granting Merced County farmers more water, said Mike Jensen, Merced Irrigation District spokesman.

From: Kelli Ballard, Porterville Recorder

After a positive water study session on April 8, with the guest speaker Dr. Kenneth D. Schmidt, certified hydrologist and the city's geologic consultant for water well development and recharge programs, stating Porterville is in a unique position for water, and in good shape, it might have come as a surprise to hear at Tuesday's water study session that Porterville is in danger of losing water too.

Mario Santoyo, director and technical advisor for California Latino Water Coalition and assistant general manager of the Friant Water Authority, presented his 2014 Friant Division Water Supply and Water Storage study to the public - and the outlook was not great.

From: Anne Stegen, KERO 23

Central Valley citrus growers are protesting a recent water allocation bump by the state, saying they will not see a drop ot it.

The California Department of Water Resources increased water deliveries to farmers from zero to 5 percent, but it only applies north of Fresno.

From: Staff, Western Farm Press (subscription required)

A recent announcement that California growers reliant upon surface water from the State Water Project would receive 5 percent of their allocation appeared to be good news for much of the state's $2 billion citrus industry. In short, some trees could be kept alive on such an allocation. As with many political decisions, the devil is in the details.

From: Staff, KFSN 30

Citrus growers here are frustrated with the state's recent announcement of 5% water allocation for farmers. (VIDEO)

Regulations

From: Abby Schneider, ACWA

On April 21 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register the proposed rule revising the definition of "waters of the United States" under the federal Clean Water Act. This formalizes the proposed changes released in draft form on March 25 and marks the beginning of a 90-day comment period that ends July 21, 2014.

Fisheries

From: Chris Clarke, KCET

In a move that could have ramifications in drought-stricken California, a group representing irrigators in the Columbia and Snake river basins want to use an obscure federal law to prevent new protection of the area's salmon and steelhead populations.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association has asked the governors of Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon to invoke the "God Squad" provisions of the Endangered Species Act to address "excessive and unbridled litigation directed toward the region's electric power ratepayers," according to a letter sent to press outlets Monday.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

News articles and links from April 23, 2014


Groundwater

From: Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star

Lester Snow has for decades been one of California's premier "water buffaloes" - people who are expert in the arcane policies of water supply and delivery. He worked with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, headed the San Diego County Water Authority and served as director of the state Department of Water Resources under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This year, he senses a shift in public attitude toward taking steps to preserve groundwater, one of California most precious, but unregulated, sources of water.

From: Staff, ACWA

Legislation aimed at addressing groundwater sustainability cleared the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee today.

SB 1168 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) in its current form would establish a statutory framework to achieve sustainable management of groundwater basins throughout the state. The author called the bill a "work in process" that could become part of other potential legislative vehicles to address groundwater issues this year.

From: Staff, Press-Democrat

Let's talk taboo. Sorry, nothing racy. Today's subject is groundwater. For years, the subject was all but verboten in California. The mere mention unleashed hurricane-force protests.

No other Western state leaves this vital resource unregulated. But the Golden State's biggest water consumers vigorously opposed any monitoring, much less state restriction on how much water they pumped from underground aquifers, and policymakers usually steered away from the storm.

Drought

From: Staff, KSEE 24

This year's drought is the worst in recent memory. Thousands of acres that would have been home to vegetable crops lie fallow. Instead, farmers are choosing to use their water rations to save their permanent crops, their fruit or nut trees.
        
With a limited water supply, growers are having to make a decision, which groves get water, and which groves do not. Shawn Stevenson normally harvests from 1200 acres. this year, he's had to cut back to 800 acres and even that might not be enough.

Fisheries

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

Chinook salmon have resumed their long truck trip from a federal hatchery near Red Bluff to San Pablo Bay, near Vallejo, an emergency measure to protect the fish during drought.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates Coleman National Hatchery near Red Bluff, began the trucking operation March 24 to protect millions of juvenile fall-run Chinook salmon from low water levels and warm temperatures in the Sacramento River. It normally prefers to release the fish at the hatchery on Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River, so they can imprint on the location and more easily find their way back to spawn as adults in three years.

Sacramento River

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

The East Bay Municipal Utility District this month will begin diverting water from the Sacramento River for the first time ever, a clear sign that the drought is literally causing ripples across the state.

The district's board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to begin tapping its water supplies from the Freeport Regional Water Project on the Sacramento River, which it helped build in partnership with Sacramento County at a cost of nearly $1 billion. The district has not used the diversion since it was completed in 2010.

Transfers

From: Garth Stapley, Modesto Bee

Plans to combat drought by allowing water transfers among farmers could be in jeopardy, growers and Modesto Irrigation District leaders learned Tuesday at a meeting tinged with uncertainty and accusations of unfairness.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

News articles and links from April 22, 2014

Delta

From: Staff, San Jose Mercury News

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's willingness to do Big Ag's bidding at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is increasingly alarming. Last week she released a revised drought bill that has environmentalists up and down the state fuming -- with good reason.

Feinstein stripped out the best part of her original legislation: $300 million for conservation and efficiency measures and aid to low-income farmworkers hurt by the drought. She admits she did it to attract Republican support. It raises the question of how far she is willing to go to maximize the amount of water sent from the Delta to Central Valley farmers, even if it causes catastrophic harm to the estuary.

Coalition response... One thing should be clear, this bill is intended to help real people who struggle to make their home payments, worry about their children's futures and try to make ends meet through agriculture in California.

It is about the almost 4,000 family farms that receive water that flows through the Delta to sustain one of California's most important food-growing regions. It is also about trucking, processing, wholesale, retail and port jobs that all depend on the food produced by hardworking California farmers. It is about the millions of consumers who benefit from the low food costs that investments in efficient agricultural production brings.  

California's almond production supports many thousands of jobs in transportation, processing, retail, wholesale and high-paying port jobs. Years ago people complained that crops like cotton and alfalfa used too much water and that farmers should grow higher value crops. The value of California farm production has risen enormously while applied water on our farms has declined by 14 percent, according to the Department of Water Resources. It is mystifying how anyone can refer to that as a "dirty little secret." The fact is, farmers grow crops that they can sell. It makes little sense to plant a crop to supply a market that doesn't exist. And we still provide roughly half of the nation's fresh fruits and vegetables, much of it from high-producing farms in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Santa Clara Valley's efforts to restore groundwater are to be commended. But the recovery wouldn't have been, or continue to be, possible without  imported water supplies from the Delta to fill the gap in local supplies versus demands.   Like Silicon Valley, much of California relies on imported water to provide a quality of life and vibrant economy that is the envy of the Nation, but when it's not serving those in its backyard, the Mercury calls it a water grab.

Let's stick to the facts, and not promote baseless regional conflict.  This is too important to have a "Beat L.A." bumper sticker mentality. The Mercury needs to recognize that the state is facing many challenges in having to repurpose a system that reallocated water for environmental uses that were simply not part of its original design.  Senator Feinstein should be applauded for her leadership on behalf of the entire state and its environment, rather than being falsely and cynically accused of "pandering".

Drought

From: Kirk Siegler, NPR

On a recent afternoon on the main drag of Orange Grove, Calif., about a dozen farm workers gathered on the sidewalk in front of a mini-mart.

One man sits on a milk crate sipping a beer. A few others scratch some lotto tickets. Salvador Perez paces back and forth with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.

If there is no water, there's no work, he says in Spanish.  

From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

On a recent afternoon on the main drag of Orange Grove, Calif., about a dozen farm workers gathered on the sidewalk in front of a mini-mart.

One man sits on a milk crate sipping a beer. A few others scratch some lotto tickets. Salvador Perez paces back and forth with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.

If there is no water, there's no work, he says in Spanish.  

Water Supply

From: Thomas Elias, Salinas Californian

The next front in California's long-running water wars has already opened, and the reasons for it will sometimes be hard to see - but not always.

That next fight is over ground water, source of about 35 percent of the state's fresh water in normal years and a much higher percentage in dry ones like 2014. This battle has the potential to become far more bitter than even the quarrels over how to distribute water from the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.

From: Lisa Lien-Mager, ACWA

The Sierra snowpack is now just 18% of average, down from a seasonal high of 35% on April 7. According to snowpack data tracked by the California Data Exchange Center, some areas - including the Northern Sierra - lost half of the snow water content in a single week, largely due to unusually high temperatures in the West. In California, temperatures were 9-12 degrees above normal, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From: David Keller, New York Times

"Swim to Sea? These Salmon Are Catching a Lift" (front page, April 19) is one facet of an incredibly sad story.

Over the past 166 years, since California's Gold Rush first destroyed rivers en masse in the quest for gold and silver, we have continued to decimate our rivers and groundwater for our growing population and agriculture, including all the Public Trust resources that had thrived with them.

We have altered our geography, hydrology and geology, frequently depleting our water, soils, air and local economies.

Fisheries

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee 

Water flows in the American River are scheduled to increase through the Sacramento region starting tonight to help salmon and steelhead.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Folsom and Nimbus dams on the river, will maintain the increased flow for three days to help juvenile steelhead and Chinook salmon migrate downstream, and to help improve in-river conditions for young steelhead.

Groundwater

From: Craig Miller, KQED

We hear a great deal about California's reliance on its "frozen reservoir," a reference to the (currently anemic) Sierra snowpack. We hear a lot less about the Golden State's invisible reservoir, the water that resides in underground aquifers beneath our feet.

That's about to change. Today, state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) rolls out a trio of water conservation bills, the centerpiece of which (SB 1168) is a frontal assault on the management of California's groundwater, which, compared to other western states, is almost unregulated.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

News articles and links from April 17, 2014


Water Supply

From: Staff, Sacramento Bee

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's drought bill, introduced in February, was an improvement over the water grab bill that passed in the House. A big plus in her original bill was $300 million for conservation and efficiency measures, aid to low-income farmworkers harmed by the drought, technological tools to help farmers get through this dry year and emergency projects to address drinking-water quality problems.

That $300 million, however, has been stripped out in order to get Republican support for Feinstein's bill. What remains in the revised version are two troubling provisions that The Bee's editorial board urged her to amend in February.

Coalition response...  One thing should be clear, this bill is intended to help real people who struggle to make their home payments, worry about their children's futures and try to make ends meet through agriculture in California.

It is about the almost 4,000 family farms that receive water that flows through the Delta to sustain one of California's most important food-growing regions. It is also about trucking, processing, wholesale, retail and port jobs that all depend on the food produced by hardworking California farmers. It is about the millions of consumers who benefit from the low food costs that investments in efficient agricultural production brings.  

According to a 2009 CBS News report, California's salmon industry is worth about $82 million in economic activity based on $22 million worth of salmon caught in rivers and the ocean. Environmental activists justify reducing farm water deliveries to prop up an industry that contributes less that $100 million to the state's economy. At the same time, farm water cuts stand to put thousands of people out of work. The cost to California's economy this year from lost farm production, jobs and associated business activity is 60 times ($5 billion) the economic value of salmon. Are salmon important to California? Absolutely. Is commercial salmon fishing comparable to the jobs and economic activity generated by farming? No.

In the last six weeks the amount of Delta outflow has exceeded water exports by more than two to one. It is certain that Senator Feinstein is mindful of the balance needed to continue to protect fisheries. During this period of drought, all water users will be suffering. The commercial salmon industry shouldn't expect special treatment.

Water Supply

From: Bettina Boxall, L.A. Times

A decision by a federal appeals court Wednesday could allow for changes in water deliveries to irrigation districts that hold senior rights to Sacramento River supplies.

The unanimous opinion by an 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned two previous rulings that found the federal government lacked discretion to alter water contracts with senior irrigators in the Sacramento Valley. The new decision sends the matter back to a district court for further consideration, leaving both sides in the nearly decade-old case unsure of the ultimate outcome.  

From: Staff, AP

An appeals court said Wednesday that federal officials should have consulted wildlife agencies about potential harm to a tiny, threatened fish before issuing contracts for water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act when it failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service in renewing 41 contracts a decade ago. The appeals court sent the case back to a trial judge for further proceedings.

From: Karen Gullo, Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Long-term water supply contracts in California, which had its driest year on record last year, must be revised to protect smelt in the California River Delta, a federal appeals court ruled today.

The San Francisco-based court ruled for the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups, saying they had legal standing to challenge the contracts and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages a series of dams and reservoirs that draws water from the delta, had some discretion to help the smelt, which are small, bony fish.

From: John Michelena, Modesto Bee

I have mixed feelings when I see those blue "Pray for Rain" signs along our country roads. Though I thank the Almighty for sending rain, I think our state and federal governments have been lying to us about California's drought and water.

Through early February, Northern California was on course to receiving its worst rainfall since the 17.1 inches it got in 1923-24, according to the Northern Sierra Precipitation: 8-Station Index. The second-driest period on record was 1976-77 with 19.0 inches. Then in February and March, we had a convincing answer to our prayers, when late rains brought 26.6 inches by April 4 - which typically ends the rainy season. The average from 1922-98 was 50.0 inches.

Fisheries

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

Biologists this week helped 54,000 Northern California salmon become San Joaquin River inhabitants - launching the river's largest experiment to rejuvenate a long-dead salmon run.

As part of the nearly 5-year-old San Joaquin restoration project, half of the juvenile fish will be released today for a long, dangerous swim to the Pacific Ocean. The other half will be released Friday.

Delta 

From: Joe Matthews, Sacramento Bee

When you're faced with two different thorny problems, sometimes the best way to make progress is by combining them. I'm talking to you, Jerry Brown.

Your first problem involves water. Residents of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta - California's most vital estuary and source of water - fiercely oppose Brown's plan to build tunnels that will divert water from north of the Delta to provide more reliable supplies to San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California. Their opposition is based on fear.

Meetings 

From: Staff, Modesto Bee

A hard-fought battle over California's next water bond comes today to Modesto, the last stop in a series of state Assembly hearings on seven proposals vying for a single place on the November ballot.

Drought has raised awareness of a dire need for water projects, but differing interests among political parties and regions, including the San Joaquin Valley, have produced the many proposals, and lawmakers face a June 26 deadline for reaching a compromise.

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

News articles and links from April 16, 2014


Fisheries

From: Carolyn Lochhead, SFGate.com

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's revised drought bill is coming under increasing attack from the left even as the California Democrat tries to woo Republicans to speed the bill's passage through the Senate without committee consideration.

More than a dozen environmental groups, including Sierra Club California, Audubon California, Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, issued a letter late Monday demanding changes to the revised bill, S.2198.

Coalition response... Isn't it disingenuous for environmental organizations to defend commercial salmon fishing while at the same time demand farm water pumping restrictions because of the impact it might have on salmon?

On the other hand, if it's an economic argument let's look at the numbers.

According to a 2009 CBS News report, California's salmon industry is worth about $82 million in economic activity based on $22 million worth of salmon caught in rivers and the ocean. Environmental activists justify reducing farm water deliveries to prop up an industry that contributes less that $100 million to the state's economy. At the same time, farm water cuts stand to put almost 30,000 people out of work, based on farm-related employment estimates in a 2004 report by the Pacific Institute. The cost to California's economy this year from lost farm production, jobs and associated business activity is 60 times ($5 billion) the economic value of salmon.

Are salmon important to California? Absolutely. Is commercial salmon fishing comparable to the jobs and economic activity generated by farming? No.

Water Use

From: Tom Pfingsten, San Diego Union-Tribune  

The size of the trees was probably the first thing Kurt and Jennifer Bantle noticed about the grove that would all but consume their weekends and most of their waking thoughts after they decided to become avocado farmers.

"The trees were 40, 50, 60 feet tall," Kurt Bantle said on a recent afternoon. "Best I can tell, they were put in during the early '80s."

Coalition response... California's growers have long sought to address the water problems the Bantle's are facing in their grove.  Scientific irrigation, used in most modern production agriculture seeks to optimize not only the quantity of water applied through the use of laser leveled fields, drip emitters and buried irrigation tape, but also the timing of the irrigation. The Bantle's will undoubtedly be looking into the different soil moisture monitoring equipment being used by growers to ensure that water is being used as efficiently as possible.  Water too much, and you risk not just wasted water, but promoting plant diseases; water too little, and the crop is a bust.  The best of luck to the Bantle's as they pursue a bountiful crop.

Drought

From: Eric Morath, Wall Street Journal

Grocery shoppers may soon need more green in their wallets to afford their next salad. The cost of fresh produce is poised to jump in the coming months as a three-year drought in California shows few signs of abating, according to an Arizona State University study set to be released Wednesday.

The study found a head of lettuce could increase in price as much as 62 cents to $2.44; avocado prices could rise 35 cents to $1.60 each; and tomatoes could cost 45 cents more at $2.84 per pound. (The run-up in produce prices is in line with other projections showing that overall food cost gains are expected to accelerate this year.)

From: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News

Nearly nine out of 10 Californians say the state is suffering from a "serious water shortage," according to a new poll that confirms widespread concern over the lack of rain, diminished Sierra snowpack and low reservoir levels after three years of drought.

But deep, decades-old divisions remain across the state on how to solve the dilemma, the statewide Field Poll of 1,000 registered voters found - with the biggest differences being between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

From: Tom Vacar, KTVU

A clearer picture is emerging about how much more nagging drought is going to cost consumer shopping for produce this spring and summer. It will take more of your green to get greens at the market. California is the nation's produce basket.

Melanie Snell, who took her kids to the Alameda Farmers Market Tuesday, was aware the drought would soon affect produce prices.

From: Jeremy White, Sacramento Bee

Californians agree their state is parched, but they diverge by region on how supplies dried up and what should be done about the drought.

"There's clearly a consensus that the state has a serious water shortage," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said of a survey on the subject released Tuesday. "There, however, is no consensus to what got us into this situation."

Groundwater

From: Randy Record & David Orth, Sacramento Bee

It's the height of the spring planting season in the San Joaquin Valley. But this year, the sight of well-digging rigs is adding a new dimension to a problem quietly unfolding beneath large swaths of this fertile land.

Faced with the prospect of receiving little or no surface water due to drought, growers are relying on groundwater like never before to stay afloat this year. It's a symptom of a problem that is sparking new levels of concern among the state's water managers."

Water Supply

From: Dennis Wyatt, Manteca Bulletin

Water Manteca residents send down the drain could one day help irrigate South County crops. Manteca Councilman Steve DeBrum convinced his colleagues Tuesday to have staff explore working with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to see if 7 million gallons of treated wastewater the city releases back into the San Joaquin River could instead be diverted for local farm use.

Mayor Willie Weatherford believes 100 acres designated for open space as part of the 1,471-home Trails of Manteca neighborhood  being pursued south of Woodward Avenue  and west of McKinley Avenue could be used to create a large holding lake for treated wastewater. From there, the SSJID could pump it into its delivery system serving  farmland south of the city. At the same time, the manmade lake could also help recharge underground water tables that ultimately are tapped by Lathrop and Manteca municipal well systems.

From: Rob Parsons, Merced Sun-Star

Irrigation district officials on Tuesday formally requested more water from state authorities as part of a complex proposal that would extend the drought-shortened growing season, help migrating fish and possibly provide the cash-strapped district with an extra $5 million.

After Tuesday's vote by the Merced Irrigation District board of directors, irrigation officials will pursue a request with the state Water Resources Control Board to relax the so-called minimum pool requirement at Lake McClure.

From: John Holland, Modesto Bee

Farmers in the Modesto Irrigation District got a 10 percent increase in their basic water rate Tuesday, along with a temporary drought surcharge that's much bigger.

The board also capped 2014 water deliveries at 24 vertical inches per acre - better than the 18 inches that had been planned, but still far less than the average of 42 inches since 1989. Even with the increases, MID has some of the cheapest water in the San Joaquin Valley, and this year's allotment is much better than what some farmers in the region face.