Monday, March 17, 2014

News articles and links from March 17, 2014

Water Pricing

From: Mason Gaffney, Mary Manning-Cleveland, Huffington Post

It's sounding again like the drought of 1976-77: "Shower with a friend." "Put a brick in your toilet tank." "Fix your leaky faucet." "Replace your lawn with a cactus garden." And then the pictures: denuded ski slopes, boat docks resting on the bottom of empty reservoirs, dry brown furrows stretching to the horizon.

Despite all the focus on urban water conservation, agriculture consumes some eighty percent of California water. California is basically a dry state, subject to periodic severe droughts. So, how come the largest water user is cow pasture, watered with giant sprinklers sending great sprays into the atmosphere? How come farmers irrigate those long brown furrows by flooding them, losing great quantities of water to evaporation, and bringing harmful salts to the surface? And how come some farmers even grow rice in flooded paddies, seeding them from airplanes? Why do we see so few elementary efforts to conserve water, such as drip irrigation or mulching fields to protect the soil? Why are irrigation canals not lined and covered to prevent water loss?

Coalition response... Characterizing something that is as complex as California's agricultural industry in simplistic terms fails to help people understand the very logical and appropriate nuances of why farmers do what they do.

The often-repeated statement that farms use 80 percent of the water doesn't give credit for the water we've set aside for the environment. Without the large quantities dedicated to environmental purposes (48 percent, according to the Department of Water Resources) California's fish and fauna wouldn't survive. We can't forget about the environment, and we don't.

Everyone, not just farmers, gets his or her water for free. That's right, free. The cost people pay is to cover the cost of treatment and delivery. Farm water doesn't need to meet drinking water standards. It's not available 24 hours a day at the turn of a faucet. Those things cost money and people who have access to clean drinking water all the time are paying for them.

Farmers have also spent enormous amounts of money on improved water use efficiency. In the last 10 years farmers have spent almost $3 billion upgrading irrigation systems on more than 2.4 million acres. That has helped almost double production while applied water use has declined by 14.5 percent. Interestingly, one of the photos used with this blog was taken on President Obama's recent visit to the San Joaquin Valley. Those furrows are irrigated with a highly efficient sub surface drip irrigation system. Things aren't always as they seem.


From: Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

We may be in the midst of drought, but the state this month is launching what will likely be a controversial study of Delta levees - specifically, which ones should receive public funds to make them more resilient in the face of future floods.Officials want to prioritize the levees to determine which ones get the money, and, by extension, which of the low-lying agricultural islands protected by those levees are most important.


From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

Property owners in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are celebrating a legal victory involving a controversial proposal to build two giant water diversion tunnels, though state officials say the ruling is unlikely to delay the project significantly.

A California appellate court in Sacramento ruled Thursday that the California Constitution bars the state from entering private land to do environmental studies unless it first condemns the affected land through its powers of eminent domain, and pays landowners accordingly. The court also upheld an earlier ruling in the same case that requires eminent domain before engaging in soil testing studies.

From: Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times

A California appeals court has sided with landowners fighting the state over test drilling for a proposed water tunnel system in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

In a 2-1 decision, an appeals panel ruled Thursday that the state needed to go through the eminent domain process to gain access to private property on which it wanted to take soil samples and conduct environmental surveys.

The testing is necessary for the design and construction of two 30-mile tunnels that the state proposes to build as part of a delta replumbing project. To obtain soil samples, workers drill 200-feet-deep holes, a few inches in diameter, which are later filled with cement.

From: Ian Schwartz, KOVR 13

Landowners scored a victory today as an appeals court ruled against the state doing testing on private property for the Delta tunnel project.

The state wants to build two 30-mile tunnels to send fresh water around the Delta to Central and Southern California. A lot of testing is needed on private property for the $25 billion project, and landowners say the state overstepped its bounds and didn't compensate them.

"You can't just demand access to property just because you think you might someday want to do a project there," said Sacramento farmer Russell van Loben Sels.

Water Supply

From: Marina Gaytan, Merced Sun-Star

Exchange contractor officials are rallying residents to protest against potential reduction or outright cessation of water deliveries to thousands of land owners on the West Side.

According to information provided by officials before an emergency community meeting Wednesday, the State Water Project and Central Valley Project filed a Temporary Urgency Change Petition with the California State Water Resource Control Board.

From: Rick Elkins, Porterville Recorder

Local irrigation districts are really feeling the pinch of the drought as they struggle to meet demands of water users.

Sean Geivet, general manager of three water districts, is really feeling the pinch as he tries to meet the needs of three areas, including users in the Terra Bella Irrigation District that are being hit the hardest. Geivet is manager of the TBID, Porterville Irrigation District and Saucelito Irrigation District.

From: Rick Elkins, Porterville Recorder

As a sign of the times, the Porterville Irrigation District spent the most of three hours Tuesday discussing water, or the lack there of. Issues discussed Tuesday involved the question of allowing water in the district to be moved out of the district.

This unprecedented drought has created serious conditions throughout the state and in the Orange Belt. More and more growers are seeking water they don't think they will have this summer as the federal Bureau of Reclamation has announced it will not send any water to east side growers. In many areas, growers have wells to fall back on, but not everywhere.

From: Sunne Wright McPeak, Sacramento Bee

While California's current drought is the providence of Mother Nature, the severity of the impacts is the consequence of decades of failed leadership by state administrations. Water supplies for everyone and everything - families, fish, farms and factories - are unreliable because state officials have repeatedly ignored and delayed implementation of a succession of broadly supported plans that would work for all regions.

There would be enough water to go around in most years if the state had sufficient facilities to capture, convey and store a lot more water in wet times than is physically possible today. Hydrographs for the last century show that only about three years out of every 20 are "average" with the balance being either "wet" or "dry."

From: Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

Thomas Cox, a third-generation Imperial Valley farmer, is driving his pickup along the gravel roads that separate large fields of lettuce, broccoli, onions and wheat. The discussion turns, as it often does in the Imperial Valley, to water. "Without water," said Cox, 27, "our ground would be useless."

But with copious amounts of water, the Cox family and others have turned half a million acres of desert into one of the most bountiful farming regions in the world - a fact unchanged by the drought gripping much of California.

Water Management 

From: David Guy, Water | Food | Environment

History is replete with ideas that were ahead of their time. Sagacity in the context of agricultural water management is one such idea. As California wrestles with this dry period, the relationships between surface water use and both groundwater and surrounding environmental values becomes more acute. I propose that California would be well served by revisiting the concept of sagacity as a tool that better reflects these important relationships.

Sagacity emerged in 1997 when professors from California Polytechnical State University in San Luis Obispo wrote a paper: "Irrigation Sagacity: A Performance Parameter for Reasonable and Beneficial Use." Although the paper received considerable attention at the time, the concepts in the paper seemed to disappear over the ensuing years. For the past several decades, there has been a zeal for pure mathematical and engineering efficiency in water resources management that disregarded the context in which water is used; the larger dynamic surrounding water management for various beneficial purposes; and the relevant tradeoffs that water resources managers face every day. During this time, our societal values in water have evolved and policy leaders are increasingly recognizing the tradeoffs water resources managers face. Inherently, the zeal for precision in efficiency has led to unintended consequences in many areas, where, for example, the environment and groundwater resources have suffered as a result of pure mathematical efficiency.


From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Irrigation districts provide water that's key to agricultural prosperity in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but some of those districts also have been cashing in on the region's water resources.

They've sold nearly $140 million worth of water to out-of-district agencies during the past decade. At the same time, they've pumped nearly 1.5 million acre-feet of groundwater - that's 487 billion gallons - from the region's aquifers.

From: Ian James, Desert Sun

A red padlock atop a closed canal gate is keeping water from flowing to a 97-acre field, leaving scraggly remnants of alfalfa that will soon wither in the baking sun.

This field is one of many across the Imperial Valley being left dry and brown as a result of the nation's largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer. Landowners are being paid by the Imperial Irrigation District to fallow their farms, while increasing flows of water are diverted to cities in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Jim Lichatowich, San Francisco Chronicle

In the water crisis that Californians now face, state leaders are necessarily focused on relieving the immediate effects of the drought on citizens. But the salmon and the commercial and sport fishermen who depend on them must be part of the short-term remedial steps.

In the late 19th century, the salmon were a valuable commodity, which made the conflict between the salmon's need for habitat and the Forty-Niners' destructive exploitation of watersheds that washed whole hillsides into rivers in the search of gold seemingly intractable. Spencer Baird, the U.S. fish commissioner, offered a way to resolve the conflict. He said hatcheries would make salmon so abundant that harvest regulation and habitat protection would be unnecessary. Who could resist such a painless solution?ve suffered as a result of pure mathematical efficiency.

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