Friday, March 28, 2014

News articles and links from March 28, 2014

Water Management

From: Wade Graham, Los Angeles Times

The state must follow Australia's example and fundamentally change the way water and water rights are managed.

"This year's drought has thrown California into a sudden tizzy, a crisis of snowpack measurements, fish-versus-people arguments and controversial cuts in water deliveries. But in reality, crisis is the permanent state of water affairs in the Golden State - by design, because our institutions keep it that way.

California has 1,400 major dams, thousands of miles of aqueducts and pumps so powerful they lift water nearly 2,000 feet over the Tehachapis. The state uses enough water in an average year to support, in theory, 318 million Californians (and their lawns and dishwashers), more than eight times the actual population of 38 million.

Coalition response... The Australian "Basin Plan" was a high-level political document signed into law in 2012, and much of the detail has yet to be worked out. Australian officials arrived at the plan as part of a triple priorities approach that seeks to balance social, environmental, and economic factors- a balance that many water managers and planners believe to be elusive. Participants in the basin plan dispute the concept that planners and scientists look first to how much water is needed to sustain stream ecosystems and cap diversions to maintain them. The arrival at 2,750 gigaliters as a sustainable diversion limit was a political, not ecosystem-driven conclusion.

While Australia and California do have some similarities, we should be careful not to over-generalize the situations confronting us.

The opportunity for agriculture to conserve up to 9 million acre-feet of water through improved irrigation systems is wildly inaccurate. This myth persists despite leading irrigation researchers disputing it. According to the Center for Irrigation Technology at CSU Fresno the actual conservation potential from California agriculture is about 300,000 acre feet, or about 1 percent of typical applied water.

California farmers have invested more than $3 billion on 2.4 million acres to improve the efficiency of their irrigation systems. Between 1967 and 2007 California farmers have almost doubled their productive yield, improving quality, while using 14% less water to do it. That benefits American consumers who pay just 6.2 percent of their disposable income on food and non-alcoholic beverages compared to 10.2 percent on average in 28 other high-income countries. This represents an additional $3,820 in food costs per year if they paid the same 10.2 percent as families do in other countries. Public investments in irrigation infrastructure play a valuable role in that cost savings.

Water Supply

From: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

With some late-season rain and snow forecast in the coming week for California a bipartisan call by key federal lawmakers is welcome and appreciated.

A letter signed Thursday by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representatives Jim Costa, Kevin McCarthy, David Valadao, Ken Calvert, Jeff Denham and Devin Nunes urges Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to immediately evaluate operating criteria on the Central Valley Project and State Water Project to capture as much water as falls on California over the next week.

Water Storage 

From: Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

This month, another step forward was taken for plans to build Sites Reservoir near Maxwell. Congressmen John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, have introduced federal legislation to authorize and complete the feasibility study for the proposed new water storage.

One could call the progress slow and steady, understanding that the timeline is decades. State water leaders have been talking about the location for water storage since the 1960s, and local water districts have been working to gather support for the past dozen years.


From: Bill Jones, Fresno Bee

In California, managing water resources requires managing volatility. We know we're going to have wet cycles, and we know we're going to have droughts. The challenge is preparing ourselves for those inevitable events. Our forefathers did a great job in this respect.

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy and Gov. Edward "Pat" Brown flew over my farm on their way to dedicate the San Luis Dam. I remember seeing the helicopters and my father saying they're bringing water to the best farmland in the world. This February, I saw another presidential helicopter fly over my farm bringing welfare checks instead of water to farms and farm workers.

From: Jason Stverak, Blog

California's historic drought is getting worse by the day, as water providers are now levying unprecedented cutbacks on municipalities and farmers. The federal Bureau of Reclamation had already announced that there's a 50 percent chance that parts of California will face water rationing at some point next year, and the state government has cut off over 1 million acres of farmland from the state's reservoirs. Although many Californians have never before experienced water shortages of this magnitude, water scarcity has long been a reality for the state's farmers, who find it more difficult to make a living each year thanks to green policies crafted by politicians and activist judges clueless to the value of this scarce resource.

California's most valuable land may be in Pebble Beach and Brentwood, but its most indispensable land lies in the Central Valley. It's the farmland that feeds our nation of over 300 million and produces billions of dollars in exports each year, and if we stay on the path we're on, it's going to dry up. Rural areas throughout the nation are shedding jobs, losing crops, and rationing an increasingly tight water supply, but Valley farmers are facing environmental roadblocks unique to the Golden State.

From: Seth Nidever, Hanford Sentinel 

San Joaquin Valley agriculture needs to link up with Silicon Valley - and will do so as the food-production industry accelerates into a higher-tech era to deal with water shortages, an environmentally-friendly regulatory environment and groundwater pumping issues.

Welcome to the new normal.

That was the underlying message of a West Hills Community College District forum Thursday at Harris Ranch that brought together growers, government officials, businesses, educators and analysts to envision what 21st-century agriculture is going to look like in California.

From: Rob Roth, KTVU 2

Potamocorbula Amurensis, a big name for a tiny clam. Biologists say there are likely hundreds of millions of them living in San Francisco Bay.  But the on-going drought is creating a problem.

"There is a potential problem," says Robin Stewart, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. Biologists say in rainy years, fresh water flushes or at least dilutes most toxins that end up the Bay.

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