Tuesday, May 27, 2014

News articles and links from May 27, 2014

Water Supply

From: Tom McClintock, Wall Street Journal

One of the worst droughts in California's history has devastated more than a half-million acres of the most fertile farmland in America. In communities like Sacramento, "water police" go from door to door to enforce conservation measures. There's even a mobile "app" to report neighbors to city authorities so they can be fined for wasting water.

From: Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle  

Wielding two decades of Senate experience and sheer force of will, Sen. Dianne Feinstein overcame environmentalists' objections and Republicans' skepticism in pushing through a drought-relief bill that could ship more water to farms and cities and weaken protections for fish.

Now comes the hard part - cutting a deal with House Republicans who have far more ambitious plans for getting water to the Central Valley.

From: Kimery Wiltshire, Contra Costa Times

The news that 100 percent of our state is in drought has created another flurry of stories that unfortunately focus on the old California water bugaboos: it's all about north vs. south, and it's all about farmers vs. fish. But these old battle lines are a divisive construct.

Water players go to their respective corners, yelling at each other across the ring, and leaving the rest of us worried and frustrated -- can't someone get something done for once? For a state as blessed as California with innovation, technology and riches of all kinds, there are climate-smart solutions to address our shared water challenges.

Water Rights

Note: The following three articles on California water rights issues by AP's Jason Dearen were released this weekend.

From: Jason Dearen, Associated Press  

Call them the fortunate ones: Nearly 4,000 California companies, farms and others are allowed to use free water with little oversight when the state is so bone dry that deliveries to nearly everyone else have been severely slashed.

Their special status dates back to claims made more than a century ago when water was plentiful. But in the third year of a drought that has ravaged California, these "senior rights holders" dominated by corporations and agricultural concerns are not obliged to conserve water.

From: Jason Dearen, Associated Press

Nearly 4,000 corporations, farms and others hold senior water rights in California, exempting them from government-mandated cuts in water use during the third year of drought. Here is a look at five of them, along with how they obtained the right to draw water from waterways and how they use it:

In a Sierra Nevada hamlet of Moccasin near Yosemite National Park, San Francisco's official seal adorns Art Deco-style buildings facing a hydroelectric plant and reservoir. Though located 140 miles east of the city, the plant is run by its employees.

From: Jason Dearen, Associated Press

California's drought-ravaged reservoirs are running so low that state water deliveries to metropolitan areas have all but stopped, and cutbacks are forcing growers to fallow fields. But 19th century laws allow almost 4,000 companies, farms and others to use an unmonitored amount of water for free -- and, in some cases, sell what they don't need.

With grandfathered legal rights, this group, dominated by big corporations and agricultural concerns, reports using trillions of gallons of water each year, according to a review by The Associated Press. Together, they have more than half of all claims on waterways in California.

Water Transfers

From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Like that old saying about "one man's trash being another man's treasure," wastewater is becoming a coveted commodity. It's called recycled water now, and Modesto and Turlock need to get rid of it. West Side farmers in the Del Puerto Water District, meanwhile, are desperate to use it to irrigate their crops. And apparently they're willing to bankroll the $100 million cost to pipe the treated water over to their side of Stanislaus County.

The drought is only partly to blame for the ramped-up interest in reusing wastewater, which previously had been flushed from toilets and drained down sinks.

From: Mariel Garza, Modesto Bee 

If you want to put a human face on California's epic drought, Ken Tucker's will do. The Central Valley farmer has 400 acres of thirsty almond trees that are in real danger of dying. Tucker stood before the Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday pleading with the five officials and his fellow farmers not to try to stop a controversial water transfer deal that will ship groundwater from Merced County across the county line north to farmers in Stanislaus County's Del Puerto Water District.


From: Staff, Modesto Bee

For the 75 people who showed up in Oakdale on Wednesday night to hear about groundwater, there was plenty of information but no real answers. They learned from Stanislaus County water resources manager Walt Ward that roughly 62,000 acres of eastern Stanislaus County land is being farmed using groundwater. Almost half of that is in almonds.

From: Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

Nothing screams "drought" like the sight of a near-empty reservoir. But it's the invisible, ancient reservoir beneath our feet that is bubbling to the surface of policy discussions across the state this spring. The drought has created new momentum to accomplish something that has been discussed, off and on, for 40 years: Regulate groundwater.

California is the only state in the West that does not regulate groundwater at the state level, despite the fact that 40 percent of the state's water supply comes from below ground - a number that may climb as high as 65 percent during this drought year.

From: Dennis Taylor, Salinas Californian   

As the drought continues to punish the Central Coast, and cities to the north are introducing restrictions on excess water use, the Salinas Valley for the most part is doing business as usual.

The oft heard reason for unfettered pumping, "We have plenty of groundwater," is true, but conditional. Yes, we do have plenty of groundwater in the Salinas Valley basin, right now, if we are OK with letting increasing salinity tarnish wells, allowing concentrations of nitrites and other unhealthy compounds build up in higher concentrations as water levels decline, and drawing down the two reservoirs supplying the Salinas River to levels that should all have us praying we get an abundance of rainfall this winter.

Press Releases

From: Staff, CDFA

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture will focus on issues related to agricultural groundwater use at its meeting on Tuesday, June 3rd in Sacramento. This meeting will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 1220 'N' Street - Main Auditorium, Sacramento, CA 95814.

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