Tuesday, May 20, 2014

News articles and links from May 20, 2014

Bay Delta Conservation Plan 

From: John Kirlin, Sacramento Bee

Discussion about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan mostly revolves around new water intakes and the twin tunnels. But this ongoing debate misses a large elephant in the room; the plan proposes to lock in public policies on water operations for 50 years, and limit future policy decisions even though circumstances can - and inevitably will - change.

Fifty years is a long time; having been engaged in public policy analysis for nearly as many years, I know well the long-term impacts of policies that no longer fit the times. Before the state moves forward with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, potential unintended consequences need to be examined. In particular, Monday's announcement of the formation of the "Delta Conveyance Facility Design and Construction Enterprise" is worrisome, in that it shares state agency authority with water contractors. This will undoubtedly muddle accountability and invite conflict.

Coalition response... California needs certainty to attract investment. That certainty helped drive agricultural investments that made California the No.1 farm state on the nation in just a few decades as well as the aerospace and technology center of the world. A 50-year planning horizon is necessary for business to make the long-term investments California's economy needs.

The environmental community can help tremendously by encouraging meaningful ecosystem restoration projects that align with the need for upgraded public infrastructure. Why did Sen. Dianne Feinstein say recently that environmentalists have never been helpful in finding solutions to California's water supply challenges? Perhaps it's not in their nature to balance environmental and human priorities but we all live on this planet together. When environmental solutions are delayed it delays any progress on the kinds of projects that help people, which is where real progress is needed.


From: Staff, Sacramento Bee  

For the first time since the 1977 drought, California water officials are considering widespread curtailment of longstanding water rights because of a scarcity of supply. Over the next few weeks, the state is expected to begin issuing orders to many water agencies, farmers and other property owners to stop diverting water from streams and rivers.

During its bimonthly meeting today, 9 a.m. at the Cal/EPA Building on I Street, the State Water Resources Control Board will vote on an emergency regulation to curtail diversions on three Sacramento River tributaries important for fish passage if minimum flows are not met.

From: Megan Durisin, Bloomberg 

California's agriculture industry will incur less than half the losses forecast in March from the worst drought on record, after groundwater supplies eased the burden on farmers, a group said.

Losses will reach $3.4 billion for farming and related economic activity, including trucking and shipping, compared with $7.48 billion forecast on March 18, Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, said today in a telephone interview from Sacramento. The reduced estimate reflects research from the University of California, Davis, that shows less land will be left fallow than expected as the state pumped more from aquifers and farmers got some unexpected deliveries from state and federal water projects.

From: Sharon Bernstein, Reuters 

California's drought will cause thousands of workers to lose their jobs and cost farmers in the state's Central Valley breadbasket $1.7 billion, researchers said in the first economic study of what may be the state's driest year on record.

The most populous U.S. state is in its third year of what officials are calling a catastrophic drought, leaving some small communities at risk of running out of drinking water and leading farmers to leave fallow nearly a half-million acres of land.

From: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

California's leading agricultural region, the Central Valley, could lose $1.7 billion and 14,500 jobs because of the state's severe drought, according to preliminary results of a study released Monday by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences..

Researchers estimate irrigated farms in the valley, which stretches from Kern County to Shasta County, will receive only one-third of their normal river water deliveries this year.

From: Staff, Associated Press

California's drought will cost the state's agricultural economy an estimated $1.7 billion this year and leave some 14,500 farmworkers without jobs, says a preliminary study released Monday by the University of California, Davis, Center for Watershed Sciences. The study was done at the request of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and used computer models and recent water delivery figures to arrive at its conclusions.

Central Valley farmers expect 1/3 less irrigation water in a state that leads the nation in the production of fruits, vegetables and nuts. The report estimates 6 percent of farmland in the Central Valley - or 410,000 acres - could go unplanted because of cuts in water deliveries. A more detailed report is due out this summer.

From: Richard Howitt, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences 

This year's drought will have severe impacts on irrigated agriculture in California's Central Valley. To estimate this impact, we updated and applied the Statewide Agricultural Production (SWAP) model for estimated cutbacks in surface water supplies (based on interviews with Valley water providers) - with limitations on groundwater pumping capacities (based on highest pumping estimates for 2006 - 2010).

Our analysis, released in a report today, was prepared at the request of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which co-funded the study with the University of California.

Water Supply

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee 

Curious about the water flowing out of Friant Dam into the San Joaquin River during this intense drought? The news about it continues to evolve. The headline last week was historic, as is this year's drought.

On May 15, the federal government began a first-ever release of water meant for west San Joaquin Valley growers who have water rights dating back to the 1800s. Wildlife refuges also would get some water.

From: Glenda Anderson, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat 

Forced by drought to take dramatic action, California officials are poised to curtail rights to draw water from the Russian River above Healdsburg for the first time anyone can recall.

"It's unprecedented," said Janet Pauli, a Mendocino County rancher who sits on the boards of multiple water organizations.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

The state's proposal to restore habitat in the Delta and build two massive water diversion tunnels on the Sacramento River "falls short" in its scientific rigor, according to a new report by a group of scientists.

The tunnels are just one component of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a $25 billion project proposed by the California Department of Water Resources. The project, intended to reform water management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has been in the works for eight years. It is now undergoing public review, with a decision on approval expected by the end of this year.

From: Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

The scientific foundation for Gov. Jerry Brown's twin tunnels plan "falls short of what the project requires," a panel of experts said Monday.

The latest in a series of strongly worded critiques by outside experts finds that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan - as the tunnels plan is formally known - overstates the project's benefits for fish, fails to recognize uncertainties and fails to identify contingency plans in case the results are less than what supporters expect.


From: Ramona Giwargis, Merced Sun-Star

The Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider an emergency item dealing with the potential sale of 23,000 acre-feet of groundwater from Merced County to two water districts in Stanislaus County. The contract calls for the same amount each year for four years.

The comment period about the proposal was extended 24 hours to allow the Merced County supervisors and the public time to provide feedback. It was originally set to end Monday. The four-year contract being proposed through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would allow two private landowners within Merced County to sell the water to the Del Puerto Water District and Patterson Irrigation District.


From: Raygene Velhuis, Merced Sun-Star

Overlying groundwater rights are essentially the right to use the groundwater that lies under a parcel. The drought has forced farmers and ranchers in Merced County to increasingly rely on groundwater to survive. The impact is declining water tables and, in many cases, deteriorating water quality.

Salton Sea

From: Staff, Associated Press

A federal appeals court says environmental reviews were properly done on the nation's largest farm-to-city water transfer, the latest ruling to uphold a 2003 agreement on how California agencies divide that state's share of Colorado River water.

A three- judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that federal authorities properly considered how the transfer from Imperial County to San Diego would affect the Salton Sea, California's largest lake. The shrinking lake relies on water runoff from Imperial Valley farms.


From: Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee 

Dire consequences face the state's powerhouse agricultural industry if it does not take steps to adapt to climate change, said a panel of 14 scientists, as well as Gov. Jerry Brown, at a conference on climate change Monday in Sacramento.

The conference brought together economists, analysts, scientists and policymakers from the University of California and state government at the California Museum downtown.  

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