Monday, March 10, 2014

News articles and links from March 10, 2014


From: George Skelton, L.A.Times

Forget farmers vs. fishermen - or south state vs. north state. California's current water war is being waged most intensely by farmers against fellow farmers. It's a Central Valley civil war. And within that vast food-producing region - Bakersfield to Redding - it's the San Joaquin Valley vs. the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Southern California is a paying participant, siding with the San Joaquin, but in a less combative role. Its goal is to ensure a more reliable flow of delta water over the Tehachapi. Still unanswered, however, is how much more that would cost Southland ratepayers.

Coalition response... George Skelton's article reflects how complex the relationship is between farmers, consumers, the environment and the water necessary for all to thrive. Missing, however is the significantly important element of time.

The State and federal projects move water from upstream storage, like Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, through the Delta far into the summer and fall when Delta users would historically have been sucking salt water, especially in a dry year like this. That benefits farmers like Wendy Buckley-Stokes who is concerned that exporters (who are paying for the system) will use the fresh water she uses on her farm. A project like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is designed to safely move sufficient quantities of water in the winter and spring when its wet and then put it into storage south of the Delta for use later in the year by the farmers and consumers who paid for it. Delta water quality rules would protect Buckley-Stokes by continuing to keep sufficient fresh water in the Delta later in the year as the projects do now.

Re-operating the Delta, restoring habitat and reducing the decimation from predatory fish will finally help struggling salmon, a species that we have failed to adequately protect. Twenty years of misguided water supply cuts have hurt water users, including almost 4,000 farms and 25 million Californians, and done nothing to restore salmon to sustainable levels. Is it really farmer against farmer? No. It's about long-term investment in our water supply and overcoming the constraints in the system that hurt everyone.


From: Carolyn Lochhead,

Shawn Coburn farms land that holds senior water rights to the giant Central Valley Project, rights that usually assure him water.

Not this year. He already has decided to let his pomegranates die, abandon alfalfa and cut his tomato crop by half. He may not plant any row crops if the state water board follows through on its intention to slash deliveries to "protect human health and safety" from the effects of drought.

Coburn, 45, says his ranch near Dos Palos (Merced County) is no water-guzzler. He uses buried irrigation. Computers tell him how much moisture his plants lose each day.

Coalition response... Peter Gleick's opinion of California agriculture operating in a 19th Century economy is laughably distorted and out of touch with reality. Precision irrigation, laser leveling, ecologically sensitive pest and weed management practices, the list goes on and on... California is a leading innovator in irrigation technology and techniques. Between 1967 and 2007 California farmers have almost doubled their production on 14 percent LESS water. An investment of almost $3 billion upgrading irrigation systems to high efficiency drip and micro sprinklers helps keep California farms competitive in a world market. California-grown products are cheaper, fresher and safer for local consumers than they are anywhere else and that means more of our money can do other things in the economy than just go to put food on the table.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Tom Barnridge, Contra Costa Times

These are strange times for Gov. Jerry Brown. In an era of term limits, he's favored to win his fourth election to the state's highest office. In a time of disdain for politicians, he enjoys 58 percent job approval, according to a Public Policy Institute of California survey.

The most notable paradox, though, as he rides this crest of popularity, is the palpable outrage at one of his pet projects -- the $67 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

More than 300 residents packed a meeting room at the Lone Tree Golf & Event Center in Antioch on Thursday night for the sole purpose of hearing all that's wrong with his proposal to export Sacramento River water south through two 40-foot-diameter tunnels capable of moving 75,000 gallons per second.


From: Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

A water district official in south San Joaquin County is sounding the alarm that the county's namesake river could run dry this summer all the way to the edge of the Delta. Not everyone believes such a dire prediction, but the fact that it is being discussed shows the seriousness of the drought.

The San Joaquin River is famous for being dry farther upstream, south of the Merced River. Most of its flow there has historically been diverted to farmers.

From: Jim O'Banion, Sacramento Bee

The negative impacts of the dry water year will be multiplied many times over if a proposal by a state agency becomes reality. It would overturn water rights held by water districts for more than 100 years.

In this water-short year, the state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation petitioned the State Water Resources Control Board for operational flexibility to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect fish and the Delta's environment.

San Joaquin River

From: Staff, Fresno Bee

Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for the website Slate, had this to say about the California drought on Friday:

"The present-day Southwest was born from a pendulum swing in climatic fortunes that has no equal in U.S. history. Research at the University of California, Berkeley shows that the 20th century was an abnormally wet era in the West and that a new mega-drought may be starting. With the added pressure of climate change, there's simply no way to count on continued supplies of water at current usage rates."

Water Storage

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

Federal leaders again are talking about enlarging the San Joaquin River's biggest reservoir, a conversation that has officially happened five times in the last 60 years.

Long stalled in political, technical and financial bogs, this is an idea most farmers still like and most environmentalists don't. So what's different now?

This time, an unprecedented drought crisis haunts California, and a multibillion-dollar water bond awaits on the November ballot.

From: James McWilliams, New York Times

California is experiencing one of its worst droughts on record. Just two and a half years ago, Folsom Lake, a major reservoir outside Sacramento, was at 83 percent capacity. Today it's down to 36 percent. In January, there was no measurable rain in downtown Los Angeles. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency. President Obama has pledged $183 million in emergency funding. The situation, despite last week's deluge in Southern California, is dire.

With California producing nearly half of the fruit and vegetables grown in the United States, attention has naturally focused on the water required to grow popular foods such as walnuts, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, almonds and grapes. These crops are the ones that a recent report in the magazine Mother Jones highlighted as being unexpectedly water intensive. Who knew, for example, that it took 5.4 gallons to produce a head of broccoli, or 3.3 gallons to grow a single tomato? This information about the water footprint of food products - that is, the amount of water required to produce them - is important to understand, especially for a state that dedicates about 80 percent of its water to agriculture.


From: Staff, California Farm Water Coalition

The California Farm Water Coalition is hosting a regional meeting on groundwater.  Presentations include:

Future of Groundwater Management in the Sacramento Valley - What changes are ahead for groundwater use in California?
David Guy, Executive Director, Northern California Water Association   

What to Expect from Coming Groundwater Regulations
Bob Reeb, Reeb Governmental Affairs

When: Thursday March 20, 2014 from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM PDT
Where: Fresno Irrigation District
             2907 S. Maple Avenue
             Fresno, CA 93725

Register to attend by clicking here.

From: Dorothy Doll, Modesto Bee

Your editorial "Some ideas for regulations on groundwater" (Opinions, March 5) was timely and logical. I wish the county's Groundwater Advisory Committee Godspeed on their urgent mission. To a layperson, the massive planting of new orchards in unirrigated grasslands seems ill-judged, to put it kindly. As has been reported, depleted aquifers sink in upon themselves and cannot refill.

There is another consideration here. I have read the comment that a continuing drought will make the Valley a "Dust Bowl." The cautionary history "The Worst Hard Time," by Timothy Egan, shows that the actual Dust Bowl was not initiated by drought. The harsh and windblown high plains were covered with a strong thatch of native grasses, evolved over many thousands of years. A perfectly adapted animal, the buffalo, lived there.


From: Staff, Marysville Appeal-Democrat

We're getting there, but there should still be extra consideration for farms and agriculture infrastructure in floodplains. The 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act was supposed to be about making federal flood insurance rates comparable to the commercial market ... so that the Federal Emergency Management Agency wouldn't go bankrupt with the next big disaster. The devastation of the New Orleans area and some East Coast destruction brings FEMA dangerously close to the edge.

The problem we all have is that Biggert-Waters, in fine federal fashion, treated everything about the same ... low-elevation urban areas and low-elevation agricultural plains.

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