Monday, February 3, 2014

News articles and links from February 3, 2014

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Mike Dunbar, Modesto Bee

Despite what we've heard, the Chinese characters for "crisis" and "opportunity" really aren't the same. That's a stretch motivational speakers and others use to make us feel better when we're facing a catastrophe. Like a drought. Still, it would be a lousy politician who couldn't find a way to capitalize on a crisis. Jerry Brown is not a lousy politician, far from it. And neither is Anthony Cannella, for that matter.

Friday's announcement that the State Water Project - which Brown's father, Edmund (the first Gov. Brown), brought into reality - would not deliver a drop of irrigation water to farmers in the South San Joaquin Valley is a crisis. That's real and that's possibly devastating to a lot of communities, farmers, employees and people who like to eat. It doesn't mean they won't get water from other sources (the federal Central Valley Project, underground storage or through water transfers), but the state project has no water to spare.

Coalition response... The Bee's Mike Dunbar tackles a highly complex water plan designed to provide relief to California water users. In the process he repeats some of the misinformation being circulated by opponents of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan in their attempt to derail its progress. On important issues like California's long-term water supply reliability it's important to discuss the facts and give seven years of planning and engineering a fair shake.

Dunbar says that Governor Brown in recent comments indicated that the BDCP would somehow provide emergency water supplies in time of drought. Not true. Governor Brown said that the BDCP could have saved 800,000 acre-feet of water that was in the system a year ago but went to the ocean instead of to San Luis Reservoir, which is currently two-thirds empty. To be clear, the BDCP is not, and never was, intended to provide additional water to 25 million people and almost 4,000 farmers. It is intended to restore supplies people already have a legal right to use but can't because of federal environmental laws. The BDCP bridges the conflict between these laws and existing water users.

Water Supply

From: Staff, Los Angeles Times

As California's drought continues, and more than a dozen rural communities ponder what to do when their drinking water runs out sometime in March, it would be nice if the state's Republican politicians brought some straightforward plans for relief to the table. But what many of them are bringing instead is a tired political tactic barely, and laughably, disguised as a remedy for the lack of rainfall.

The "man-made California drought" is the term House Republicans use to describe the state's current dry condition, as if it were somehow the hand of humankind, environmentalists or, even worse, Democrats that has stopped the snowfall over the Sierra and kept the dams that store water for fields, orchards and homes from being replenished. Funny, isn't it, that folks who question man's ability to affect the global climate are so quick to assign human causes to the drought?

Coalition response... The editorial board makes a few misconceived statements in this piece. First, it's important to remember that farmers use water to grow food and fiber for people to use, and that most of the water is not consumed on-farm, it is consumed on our plates.  Water that is used on-farm goes to three locations, groundwater, the atmosphere, or into the plant.  Second, surface water deliveries out of the Delta were part of the statewide water delivery system developed to help manage periods of plenty and periods of drought, while stabilizing the groundwater supplies of California.  Despite decades of technological progress and billions invested in conservation efforts, unreliable surface water deliveries have compelled the people of California, including farmers, to return to groundwater to meet a larger portion of their needs.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Michael B. Marois, Bloomberg News

California's worsening drought is raising the stakes for a $15 billion plan endorsed by Governor Jerry Brown to build two 30-mile (48-kilometer) water tunnels under an ecologically sensitive river delta east of San Francisco Bay.

The tunnels, each as wide as a two-lane interstate highway, would ship water more reliably from northern California to thirsty farms and cities in the south. They would also bolster the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which is on the verge of collapse from feeding water to 25 million people and 750,000 acres (304,000 hectares) of farmland.

Water Supply

From: Jay Lund, Ellen Hanak, Barton Thompson, Sacramento Bee

California is in a major drought, and state and federal regulators will be under pressure to loosen environmental standards that protect native fish. This happened in the 1976-77 and 1987-92 droughts, and the current drought could become much more severe.

These standards demonstrate the high value society places on the survival of native fish and wildlife. In past droughts, we have given away some of these protections because of pressure to make more water available for other uses. But this time, California can do better. We can create a special water market that meets the state's goals of both ensuring a reliable water supply and protecting the environment. In this market, growers and cities would pay for the additional water made available from relaxed environmental standards, and the revenues would help support fish and wildlife recovery.

From: Ian Lovett, New York Times

Responding to one of the worst droughts in California's history, state officials announced on Friday that they would cut off the water to local agencies serving 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland.

With no end in sight for the dry spell and reservoirs at historic lows, Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said his agency needed to preserve what little water remained so it could be used "as wisely as possible."

From: Adam Nagourney, New York Times

The punishing drought that has swept California is now threatening the state's drinking water supply.

With no sign of rain, 17 rural communities providing water to 40,000 people are in danger of running out within 60 to 120 days. State officials said that the number was likely to rise in the months ahead after the State Water Project, the main municipal water distribution system, announced on Friday that it did not have enough water to supplement the dwindling supplies of local agencies that provide water to an additional 25 million people. It is first time the project has turned off its spigot in its 54-year history.

Amid California's driest year on record, the nation's leading agricultural region is locked in drought and bracing for unemployment to soar, sending farm workers to food lines in a place famous for its abundance.

One-third of the Central Valley's jobs are related to farming. Strains on water supplies are expected to force farmers to leave fields unplanted, creating a ripple effect on food processing plant workers, truck drivers and those who sell fertilizer, irrigation equipment and tractors.

From: Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times (Subscription required)

Officials Friday said that for the first time ever, the State Water Project that helps supply a majority of Californians may be unable to make any deliveries except to maintain public health and safety.

The prospect of no deliveries from one of the state's key water systems underscores the depth of a drought that threatens to be the worst in California's modern history.

But the practical effect is less stark because most water districts have other sources, such as local storage and groundwater, to turn to. Officials stressed that the cut did not mean faucets would run dry.

From: Dennis Taylor, Salinas Californian

When I was in college I read a remarkable book titled "Cadillac Desert" by the late Marc Reisner. When I set it down I remember thinking that water issues in California were going to hit a hot mess of a crisis sometime during my lifetime.

Actually I didn't use the words "hot mess." My vernacular was a tad more raw during those years. But my premise is proving correct. Unless I get hit by a car sometime soon - I live in Salinas so that is a distinct probability - I will live to see a catastrophe unfold.

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

California's Senate leader is drafting legislation that would expedite help for communities facing what may become the worst drought in state history.

The actions proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would set a July 1 deadline for state agencies to approve water recycling and stormwater reuse projects. It also would redirect millions of dollars intended for climate-change relief to projects that benefit water conservation.

From: Mike Wade, Bakersfield Californian (Subscription required)

Lois Henry's column on the effort to bring relief to drought-stricken farmers ("While DC plays politics, real water issues await," Jan. 28) is a stunning, yet sad, deja 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.

(Note: Mike Wade is Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition)

From: Staff, Bakersfield Californian

In Kern County, the state's news of a zero-percent water allocation this year was met with bitter disappointment but little surprise.

"I think the latest snow survey showed they would have a hard time holding on to 5 percent," said Eric Averett, general manager of the Rosedale Rio-Bravo Water Storage District. He referred to the state's earlier prediction that it could deliver at least a small fraction of the water that growers and cities throughout the state pay for each year.

From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian

I applaud a local agricultural water district's innovative thinking on a new program aimed at bolstering local water supplies while simultaneously reducing the pull on groundwater. But -- yowser! -- the price tag.

Buena Vista Water Storage District is offering to sell other Kern County ag water districts up to 12,000 acre feet of its stored water for a minimum price of $600 an acre foot."

From: Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

Water exported south from the Delta will drop to a relative trickle, and flows through the estuary toward the ocean will remain low under drastic - in some cases unprecedented - actions announced Friday.

State officials also said they intend early this month to send notices to thousands of junior water rights holders up and down the Central Valley, most of them farmers, ordering them to stop diverting water.

From: Collin Ruane, KTVU 2

California's drought situation has gone from bad to worse as state officials announced Friday water supplies will be cut off to agencies that supply millions of residents.

KCBS calls the move "unprecendented" and reports more than 25 million Californians will have a significant part of their water supply cut. Other resources for parts of California include ground and river waters.

According to KTTV, the State Water Project is cutting out its water distribution for the first time in its history in a move to conserve the little water it has left as the state's drought continues to get worse.

From: Staff, KCAL 9

Drought conditions are getting worse by the day in California and experts say the average resident is going to see the changes.

In the latest move by officials, the State Water Project announced Friday that it won't send any more water down from Northern California, something that hasn't been done in more than five decades.

Amid California's most crippling drought of modern times, state officials on Friday announced they will not allocate water to agencies that serve 25 million people and nearly 1 million acres of farmland.

The announcement marks the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that such an action has been taken. State Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said the action was taken to conserve the little water that remains behind the dams in the state's vast system of reservoirs.

San Joaquin River

From: James Nichol, Bakersfield Californian (Subscription required)

The Californian's Jan. 26 editorial ("Don't use 'drought emergency' to divide us") makes a rather cavalier statement that "ending San Joaquin River Restoration flows is a moot point since ... the flows stop after February ..."

Between now and the end of February, approximately 14,000 acre feet of water will be run down the San Joaquin River with absolutely no benefit to anyone if the flows are allowed to continue. The cities along the east side of the Valley that depend upon Friant Kern Canal water for their municipal water supplies and who are facing the possibility of zero water allocation could greatly benefit from the 14,000 acre feet that The Californian calls a "moot point."

From: Michael Doyle, Merced Sun-Star

Big dams, bitter feuds and some political bombshells surface in a California water bill slated for lickety-split House approval next week. One new dam would be authorized for the Upper San Joaquin River. Another would get a green light to store Sacramento River water at a new Sites Reservoir. The existing Shasta Dam, already the state's seventh largest, could grow taller.

And all of that takes only one technical sentence, on page 20 of a 68-page bill the House is set to approve within days. There's much more, in a bill whose rapid acceleration through the Republican-controlled House is spurred by California's drought, as well as the forgoing of traditional congressional hearings and oversight.

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