Wednesday, January 29, 2014

News articles and links from January 29, 2014


From: Staff, Stockton Record

Environmentalists are urging the state and federal governments to take action to protect migrating salmon as river levels drop during the drought.

In a letter this week, four environmental groups are calling for more young salmon to be trapped and shipped around the dangerous Delta, rather than leaving the fish in the low streams to fend for themselves on their journey to the ocean.

Coalition response... Environmentalists?! These four organizations (the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Golden Gate Salmon Association, the Coastside Fishing Club and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations) exist to support people who catch fish! A fisherman may be an environmentalist just as a farmer or anyone else is but let's be honest folks, they're out to catch the very fish they're asking the government to protect.


From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian (Subscription required)

There are real issues to be discussed involving California's water troubles. Tough issues. Such as, whether we've overplanted with crops that simply cannot be accommodated long term given regulatory changes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.

Oh yeah, I went there. Let the howling begin.

Can our water system sustain the explosion in almonds, pistachios, grapes and other permanent crops we've seen in Kern and other valley counties?

Coalition response... Lois Henry's piece on the effort to bring relief to drought stricken farmers is a stunning, yet sad, déjà vu. In 2008 salmon fishermen received a whopping $174 million in direct payments when they convinced then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to jam "massive salmon relief into the Farm Bill as an earmark without a vote." The $174 million was nearly eight times the actual value of salmon fishermen's annual $22 million catch, according to CBS News, which initially reported the story back in 2008.

WHAT?!!! Congress was using the Farm Bill to funnel money to salmon fishermen? And they were direct payments, too. Some of the fishermen raked in six-figure payouts while they were free to continue to fish for other, well, fish. And fish they did. Farmers, on the other hand, simply want temporary access to a small amount of extra water to help get through this year's severe drought, not a cash bailout like the fishermen received.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Jay Hislop, Stockton Record

I attended the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan meeting in Stockton at the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel on Jan. 21. Only about 100 public members attended, and when I was there it seemed there were only two or three other public members.

There were dozens of BDCP staff members hovering around, mostly talking with each other and not making eye contact. It was hard to break through their insider group discussions, and I definitely felt unwelcome. But I was able to pull four individual BDCP staffers or consultants away for some discussion.

Coalition response... Lawyer Jay Hislop provides a well-groomed, if misguided, narrative here - and while we don't question his experience at the meeting, we have to correct his facts. The BDCP is the result of seven years planning and evaluating data collected over the past 50 years, and is not, in fact, the only approach considered. Not only distinct alternatives were considered, but the BDCP itself has changed from its initial form in response to stakeholder concerns, reducing the size of the tunnels, shifting the type and placement of facilities and other changes, with the express intent that both of the BDCPs goals - water supply reliability and environmental restoration are met.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Hislop left the recent BDCP meeting in Stockton feeling uncertain of the important environmental restoration components of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. We encourage Mr. Hislop, and other members of the public to seek out their information directly from the source. If you need help finding information in the plan tweet @BDCP_CA your question, #WhereinBDCP or go to the "Your questions answered" section of their website at


From: Dennis Wyatt, Manteca Bulletin

Delta Smelt, the 5- to 7-centimeter fish that tends to hang around the Tracy pumps, is California's biggest consumer of water. Ounce for ounce, the endangered fish astronomically hogs more of California's fresh stored water than Los Angeles or massive farms in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Just a few years ago, the state was annually diverting a million acre feet of water specifically for the Delta Smelt.

Based on per capita consumption of water by Manteca and Lathrop's 90,000 residents, that's enough water to meet the needs of 11.4 million Californians, or just under a third of the state's entire population for a year.


From: Elizabeth Campbell, Bloomberg News

Near the confluence of the Merced and San Joaquin rivers, the heart of the California farm belt, Bob Kelley watches the driest year ever erode water supplies and prospects for the dairy business his family began in 1910.

The amount of water available for the 2,800 acres (1,133 hectares) of corn and alfalfa Kelley grows to feed more than 6,500 cows may drop as much as two thirds, so fewer crops will be planted and some animals will be sold to avoid the expense of buying grain, he said by telephone from Newman, about 83 miles (134 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco.

From: Lilith Waterworth, Sacramento Bee

Re "House speaker talks drought" (Capitol & California, Jan. 23): House Speaker John Boehner visited California to tout the need for drought management. At a news conference, held in a parched field belonging to farmer Larry Starrh of Bakersfield, Boehner proposed gutting environmental protections for much of the Delta. Starrh has to leave 1,000 acres of almond orchards fallow.

From: Michael Doyle, Sacramento Bee

San Joaquin Valley congressional Republicans took aim this week and missed their stated goal of helping California cope with drought.

Now, having unsuccessfully tried a long-shot, last-minute farm bill maneuver, the GOP lawmakers are regrouping. Their next steps are unclear, though some are certainly on the way.

From: Clay Brandow, Sacramento Bee

Re "Past droughts opened way for state water policy fixes" (Viewpoints, Jan. 18): I found Jay Lund's opinion piece thought-provoking. Droughts are the kind of crises that create opportunities to make advances in water management possible - if not for this drought, then for the next one. One area of drought-related advancement Lund left out is the improvement in hydrology data collection and use.


From: Staff, KGPE 47

More and more Central Valley farmers are looking for ways to survive the drought. While one option is to drill new wells, it's forcing many local farmers to dip into their bank accounts. The process is expensive. By the time one well is ready to use, the costs can run up to $1 million. The deeper the well, the more expensive the price tag.

At an almond farm in Madera County, where well drillers are working around the clock, vice president of Arthur & Orum Well Drilling, Steve Arthur, says this is the busiest they've ever been as farmers try to save their crops during the drought.

"The drought of '77 was nothing compared to this one," Arthur says.


From: Staff, Modesto Bee

We're glad that Oakdale Irrigation District's board of directors, under pressure from district farmers, decided to reject an offer from Westlands Water District. As it has in the past, the world's largest irrigation district wanted to buy more of Oakdale's water. In a drought, the only way to get that water was to take it from OID's fields. And that could have hurt a lot of people around here.

From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

A proposal to pay Oakdale landowners to fallow their pastures so irrigation water could be sold to Fresno-area farmers was rejected Tuesday morning.

Oakdale Irrigation District directors voted 4-1 to reverse last Thursday's decision, which would have kept the proposed Westlands Water District deal alive. OID directors said they changed their minds after being flooded with phone calls from Oakdale farmers and ranchers opposed to selling water to outsiders during this drought.


With California in the grips of severe drought, Napa Valley wine grape growers on Tuesday said some vines are ripening early and that farmers are planning fewer crops to save water.

Vineyard owners are pruning earlier than usual and on a shorter schedule, Domenick Bianco of Renteria Vineyard Management said. If the Valley does not see late winter or spring rains, 2014 will yield a smaller crop.

"Water amount determines yield. If you use 80 percent less water than last year, you could see 80 percent of the crop," Bianco said.

Water Storage

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee Blogs

West Valley farmers spent $150 million last year buying some water and storing it in San Luis Reservoir. They were planning ahead for a zero water allocation from the federal Central Valley Project this year.

Looks like they were right about the zero allocation, but maybe their investment and wise planning won't work out.

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