Wednesday, March 19, 2014

News articles and links from March 19, 2014

Water Supply 

From: Robert Merrill, Fresno Bee

California, especially the Central Valley, is experiencing a serious drought and today there will be a House Natural Resources Committee hearing starting at 10 a.m. at Fresno City Hall. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, requested the hearing after the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3964, and several GOP congressmen are chastising the U.S. Senate for not being attentive to demands contained in the House bill.

H.R. 3964 appears largely a rewrite of Rep. Devin Nunes' previous bills. Nunes, R-Tulare, and Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, through their extreme statements seem to prefer an "environment" of cement-lined canals instead of rivers. They also pick and choose facts to fit their positions and fail to understand or ignore climate change and the geologic record.

Coalition response... Mr. Merrill effectively echoes the chorus of environmental interest talking points in the context of his field, geology - but in doing so he repeats persistent mistakes found in many of the arguments regarding agriculture. These errors, paired with advocacy for sweeping and intrusive changes to property rights are disheartening and disturbing.

By any measure, California agriculture has already answered the call of conservation and efficiency. In the last 10 years farmers have spent almost $3 billion upgrading irrigation systems on more than 2.4 million acres. These and other improvements have nearly doubled production while applied water use has declined by 14.5 percent. These and other investments in efficiency have resulted in leading irrigation researchers at the Center for Irrigation Technology and CSU Fresno to determine the actual amount of conservation potential from California agriculture is about 300,000 acre feet, or about 1 percent of typical applied water.

Farmers, long criticized for growing "low value" annual crops have been driven toward selecting higher value crop choices like pistachios (a crop particularly well-adapted to dry climates) and almonds by economic considerations (high labor, land and regulatory costs) unique to California, in addition to efforts to optimize returns on their effort. This "demand hardening" has been paired with an overall change in irrigation methods to improve the precise application of water to the crop through drip and microirrigation.

Mr. Merrill disappointingly attempts in his conclusion to create a false-conflict by providing a faceless scapegoat, when in fact there are over 80,000 farms in California, of that- 96% are controlled by families, not corporate machines.

Water Supply

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

California and federal water officials say there is enough runoff in the Delta from recent storms to begin delivering some water to farms, potentially offering at least temporary drought relief.

On Feb. 1, the State Water Resources Control Board approved a temporary order exempting the California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from some water quality standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to help retain water stored in upstream reservoirs. The exemption was approved on the condition that the agencies jointly divert no more than 1,500 cubic feet per second, and only for public health and safety purposes, which generally means urban uses.

From: Sharon Bernstein, Reuters

Drought-plagued California will ease some protection for fish in the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, officials said Tuesday, a move expected to make more water available for farming and ease political tensions in an election year.
The move marks a retreat from restrictions imposed earlier in the year which had widely been expected to be tightened further, rather than eased, and was welcomed in the agricultural community.

From: Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times

Thanks to February storms, state officials are slightly easing drought restrictions on water deliveries, but the changes won't make a difference to most of the state. The prime beneficiaries will be Central Valley irrigation districts with the most senior water rights.

Although last month's above average rainfall in Northern California improved the water supply picture somewhat, officials Tuesday continued to predict that the big state and federal water projects that help supply a majority of Californians will deliver little or no water to most agricultural and urban agencies this year.

From: Andrew Creasey, Marysville Appeal-Democrat

There now will be enough water for some agricultural deliveries, after human health and safety needs are met, state and federal officials said Tuesday, although some contractors without senior water rights could see no surface deliveries in 2014.

In a media conference call, department heads from the Department of Water Resources, Bureau of Reclamation and the State Water Resources Control Board gave updates on the drought and detailed the latest decision to decrease Delta outflows, but did not provide any information about how much water would be available for water contractors.

The modification of the temporary urgency change petition originally signed on Jan. 31 will decrease Delta outflows - used to protect aquatic habitat - from 11,000 cubic feet per second to 7,100 cubic feet per second.

From: Staff, Modesto Bee

When it comes to water, we're so desperate for good news that even not-so-bad news sounds good.

That's how we characterize Tuesday's announcement by three key water officials that they would modify the state's emergency drought order to allow them more flexibility in delivering what little water we have to those who need it most.

They didn't promise more water. They didn't say that our wanderings through the desert of drought have ended. All they said was that February's slightly above-average rainfall in the Sacramento watershed means there might be enough to share at least a little with deserving farmers."

From: Raquel Cervantes,

Some farmers with senior water rights may be receiving water from state and federal contracts, according to an announcement made Tuesday during a conference call Tuesday from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board.

From: Staff, AP

Officials say February's rain storms pleasantly boosted the state's water supply, but California remains in the throes of a drought.

Tom Howard, executive officer of the State Water Resources Control Board, said Tuesday he will sign an order allowing water to be pumped from the San Joaquin Delta. But how any extra water gets allocated is up to state and federal authorities that oversee a pair of vast waterways.

From: Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

With February's storms a distant memory, officials on Tuesday announced steps to bypass water quality standards in the Delta while perhaps making water available to San Joaquin Valley farmers.

Last month's storms boosted the amount of water flowing through the Delta, as well as the amount that could be pumped south from the estuary.

From: Rob Parsons, Merced Sun-Star

Most drought-plagued Merced Irrigation District farmers will receive just 6 inches of water per acre during this year's truncated irrigation season. "People are used to having 3-plus acre-feet per acre over a seven-month season, so this is quite a cutback," MID General Manager John Sweigard said Tuesday.

Irrigation water is measured per acre-foot, which is the amount of water required to cover an acre of land 1 foot deep, or about 325,900 gallons.


From: Staff, KSEE 24

Another push toward water reform is on it's way to the Valley.  Republican lawmakers are holding a water rally and hearing Wednesday morning at Fresno's City Hall, where they hope to spur solutions to what's being called a 'broken system.' The hope is for a very large crowd, because the bigger the crowd, the stronger the message.  Lawmakers say the main message is the need for immediate and long term solutions.

The hopes are high for Wednesday's water rally and hearing at Fresno's city hall.  Congressmen Devin Nunes and David Valadao are expecting a big turn out. Congressman David Valadao, (R-Hanford) says, "Continue to shine a light on this issue and hopefully deliver a win for us and get the senate to deliver a bill."

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

About 1,000 people jammed into the rodeo grounds Tuesday near the San Joaquin River, roaring approval for politicians and farm leaders who criticized Sacramento's handling of California's water crisis.

A few hours later in Sacramento, state water leaders made a change in the drought emergency orders issued earlier this year to assure farmers they would be able to get whatever water becomes available.

From: Gene Haagenson, KFSN 30

A rally was called to protest a state plan to divert more water from farms to cities. But Governor Jerry Brown killed that plan just before the rally started. A crowd of at least 1,000 gathered at the rodeo grounds in Firebaugh to hear farm interests, and politicians rally the crowd to fight the government, and big cities for Valley water.

Cannon Michael with Bowles Farming warned the crowd, "They've got their foot on our neck and they are going to keep on going. Its groundwater next surface water is gone today right, groundwater is next they are already talking about it."


From: Ian James, Desert Sun

Hydrologist Brian Thomas has pored over decades of groundwater data from water agencies in the Coachella Valley, and he says the declines in much of the aquifer highlight a need for the area to find ways to cut back on water use.

Thomas, a postdoctoral scholar at the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling at UC Irvine, is one in a list of water scientists and experts who will attend a symposium in Palm Springs on Thursday focusing on drought and water scarcity in the West. His research on groundwater in the Coachella Valley has helped document how the area's aquifer has been depleted over the years despite deliveries of imported water from the Colorado River.

From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian

I know you've all been on the edge of your seats wondering what the heck that recent legal ruling on the Kern Water Bank really means.

Here's the short answer: No one knows yet. But it could be big. Very big. Like, big enough to possibly jeopardize a major housing development planned by Tejon Ranch and/or put a serious hurt on mega corporate farming operations in Kern County.

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