Friday, January 31, 2014

News articles and links from January 31, 2014


From: Gabriel Lewin, Sacramento Bee

Re "Agribusiness excess is reason California again running dry" (Viewpoints, Jan. 26): People say "Should we help people or fish?" It seems obvious that people should take preference, but remember that extinction is forever, and that fish are food, too. To render salmon species extinct for just a few more acres of walnuts is not wise. Farmers do not seem to get that there is a limited supply of water. I see signs next to Interstate 5 saying "Dust bowl created by Congress," but where is the sign reading "Peach orchard created by Congress"? Farmers seem unaware of the fact that we have had drought conditions for many years, and that, with burgeoning populations, water demands have increased, not just for home use, but industry as well.

Coalition response... While it has certainly been dry for a couple of years, we have not had "drought conditions for many years" as the writer states. California has experienced wet and dry periods throughout its history. It is for just this reason that farmers were among the strongest supporters of the advanced statewide water system that we have today. When it is operated as designed, it provides water reliably and consistently to the cities and farms of California. It is our understanding that farmers who place the signs you mention are responding to Congressional interference in the operations of this water system, not the weather.

From: Tony St. Amant, Sacramento Bee

Re "Agribusiness excess is reason California again running dry" (Viewpoints, Jan. 26): For decades farmers in the western San Joaquin Valley have expanded their need for water imported from the Sacramento Valley through a steady shift to crops that need to be watered year-round. They got away with it because of the political leverage they could exert in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. No one concerned with long-term water supplies could make a dent in their political armor. Now, as the state dries up, those same farmers are whining to their state and federal representatives that they are owed water as a matter of priority over municipal, environmental and Sacramento Valley needs.

Coalition response... Between 1952 and 1989 the federal Central Valley Project had been able to deliver 100 percent of its contracted deliveries every year except 1977, our previously driest year on record. When Congress put environmental uses, based on the ESA, ahead of the original CVP project purposes it utterly changed the reliability of the system for the thousands of farms, homes and businesses that depend on it. Sadly, the ESA isn't working for anyone, including the environment. There have been no positive results from destroying California's economic base in the name of protecting the environment. It is long past time for changes that will restore water deliveries AND have the ecosystem benefits that people want. The efforts over the last 20-plus years clearly aren't working.


From: Glen Cagley, Sacramento Bee

Re "Agribusiness excess is reason California again running dry" (Viewpoints, Jan. 26): In 1999, I toured Israel near the Sea of Galilee, where I saw a banana plantation (well above the lake) which had only drip irrigation. There were no visible ditches or canals. This demonstrated to me that California agribusinesses have solutions that they could use but choose to ignore. The canals, too, could be converted to pipelines, safe from water loss due to evaporation.

Coalition response... Contrary to the writer's belief, California farmers have invested heavily in improved irrigation technology and water use efficiency. Since 2003 San Joaquin Valley farmers have invested more that $2 billion upgrading the irrigation systems on more than 1.8 million acres. Statewide between 1994 and 2008 the area devoted to drip irrigation has increased 150 percent while gravity and sprinkler irrigation has declined by more than 20 percent, according to the Center for Irrigation Technology at CSU Fresno. It is not necessary to travel far and wide to see the newest and most efficient technology. It's right in our own backyard.

Water Storage

Farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are breathing a sigh of relief after federal officials said they won't seize water in the San Luis Reservoir intended for the farmers' crops.

West San Joaquin Valley farmers don't have to worry about losing the 340,000 acre-feet of water they stored in San Luis Reservoir last year - the federal government won't take it.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had been considering taking the water to fulfill obligations to other farm water contractors who have more senior rights to water. Bureau leaders Thursday told Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, that the water would not be used.

"The bureau's decision to honor their original promises will help ensure farmers and contractors who invested in drought reserve water supplies will have the certainty they need to plan for the coming year," Valadao said in a news release.


From: Julie Lynem, San Luis Obispo Tribune

Two North County groups with a plan to manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin adamantly oppose banking water, selling it or exporting it out of San Luis Obispo County and have taken issue with another group they say is misleading the public about their intentions.

The Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions and PRO Water Equity have been working for months to establish the Paso Robles Basin Water District.

Water Supply

From: Lester Snow, Los Angeles Daily News

California water managers trekked across the Sierra Nevadas earlier this month on their annual mission to measure snowpack and gauge our water conditions for the year. Instead of struggling through snow drifts, their boots stomped across bare dirt, spotted only with the smallest of slushy patches. Their monitors forecasted troubled times and coined the new catchphrase #MegaDrought, recognizing we may be heading into the worst drought on record.


From: Staff, Bakersfield Californian

The terrifying consequences of California's "drought emergency" cannot be denied: acres of mature, nut-bearing trees dug up; fertile land unplanted; agriculture jobs gone. Some communities are even struggling to provide drinking water for their residents.

But last week's "press availability" that starred three South Valley Republican congressmen -- Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, Devin Nunes of Visalia and David Valadao of Hanford -- as well as House Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican, seemed more about politics than about bringing real aid to the emergency.

Water Bond

From: Laurel Rosenhall, Sacramento Bee

California politicians grappling with a drought now have a third proposal spelling out which water projects should be placed in a bond on the November ballot.

Republican state Sens. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Andy Vidak of Hanford today announced a proposal to put a $9.2 billion bond on the ballot. That's nearly $2 billion less than the bond legislators approved in 2009 but have delayed placing on the ballot.


From: Steve Milne, Capital Public Radio

Marc Marchini heads the California Asparagus Commission. He's also a farmer who grows asparagus on Union Island in the South Delta.

"It's very important to have water on right now," said Marchini. "As a matter of fact, I am irrigating right now just to replenish the ground water that we normally would be getting if it was raining."

Thursday, January 30, 2014

News articles and links from January 30, 2014

Federal Legislation

From: Staff, Stockton Record

Following through on a pledge made last week, three south San Joaquin Valley congressmen introduced legislation Wednesday to increase the amount of water pumped south from the Delta and to block the restoration of the San Joaquin River.

While the language of H.R. 3964 was not yet available, Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said the bill would restore the reliability of water supplies from the Delta and would reform federal environmental laws that have sometimes restricted how much water can be pumped south.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Betty Jo Toccoli, Sacramento Bee

California is entering the third, critical year of a severe drought. Communities north and south are bracing for potential water shortages, and the state's economy is at risk just at a time when it is recovering from recession.

After members of our board of directors and I visited some of the state water system's key facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta - the heart of the state's ongoing water crisis - we came away with a much better understanding of the need for long-term solutions.

From: Stoshu Larkin-Nabozny, Bakersfield Californian (Subscription required)

"I am bemused to hear so many proponents of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta diversion plan comparing the farmers of the Central Valley to the farmers in Owens Valley during the California water wars. They've got the analogy backward.

It's more correct to analogize valley farmers to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, since they're demanding that other parts of the state surrender water to them in order to accommodate their excesses.


From: AP Staff, KOVR 13

President Barack Obama is telling California's governor that the federal government will do what's necessary to help with a historic drought afflicting the state.

Obama called Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday for an update on the drought. California is in its third dry year and 17 communities are in danger of running out of water within four months.

From: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press Blog

Proof that nothing escapes the realm of the political - especially water and drought, an effort to better use very limited water resources in California apparently died during the Farm Bill debate.

California Representatives Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao, all San Joaquin Valley Republicans, successfully inserted language into the House version of Farm Bill to ostensibly help California residents during an unprecedented drought.

From: Michael Doyle, Merced Sun-Star; Modesto Bee

California congressional Republicans escalated the anti-drought pressure Wednesday, introducing an ambitious California water bill that includes controversial provisions immediately dismissed by the state's two Democratic senators.


From: Staff, Redding Record-Searchlight

"How you can favor a fish over people is something the people in my part of the world would not understand."

So said no less an eminence than House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, last week while visiting California to promote a measure that would waive various federal protections of rare fish and halt an effort to restore salmon to the San Joaquin River. Why? To get every drop of possible water to farms in the parched Central Valley.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

News articles and links from January 29, 2014


From: Staff, Stockton Record

Environmentalists are urging the state and federal governments to take action to protect migrating salmon as river levels drop during the drought.

In a letter this week, four environmental groups are calling for more young salmon to be trapped and shipped around the dangerous Delta, rather than leaving the fish in the low streams to fend for themselves on their journey to the ocean.

Coalition response... Environmentalists?! These four organizations (the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Golden Gate Salmon Association, the Coastside Fishing Club and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations) exist to support people who catch fish! A fisherman may be an environmentalist just as a farmer or anyone else is but let's be honest folks, they're out to catch the very fish they're asking the government to protect.


From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian (Subscription required)

There are real issues to be discussed involving California's water troubles. Tough issues. Such as, whether we've overplanted with crops that simply cannot be accommodated long term given regulatory changes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.

Oh yeah, I went there. Let the howling begin.

Can our water system sustain the explosion in almonds, pistachios, grapes and other permanent crops we've seen in Kern and other valley counties?

Coalition response... Lois Henry's piece on the effort to bring relief to drought stricken farmers is a stunning, yet sad, déjà vu. In 2008 salmon fishermen received a whopping $174 million in direct payments when they convinced then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to jam "massive salmon relief into the Farm Bill as an earmark without a vote." The $174 million was nearly eight times the actual value of salmon fishermen's annual $22 million catch, according to CBS News, which initially reported the story back in 2008.

WHAT?!!! Congress was using the Farm Bill to funnel money to salmon fishermen? And they were direct payments, too. Some of the fishermen raked in six-figure payouts while they were free to continue to fish for other, well, fish. And fish they did. Farmers, on the other hand, simply want temporary access to a small amount of extra water to help get through this year's severe drought, not a cash bailout like the fishermen received.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Jay Hislop, Stockton Record

I attended the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan meeting in Stockton at the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel on Jan. 21. Only about 100 public members attended, and when I was there it seemed there were only two or three other public members.

There were dozens of BDCP staff members hovering around, mostly talking with each other and not making eye contact. It was hard to break through their insider group discussions, and I definitely felt unwelcome. But I was able to pull four individual BDCP staffers or consultants away for some discussion.

Coalition response... Lawyer Jay Hislop provides a well-groomed, if misguided, narrative here - and while we don't question his experience at the meeting, we have to correct his facts. The BDCP is the result of seven years planning and evaluating data collected over the past 50 years, and is not, in fact, the only approach considered. Not only distinct alternatives were considered, but the BDCP itself has changed from its initial form in response to stakeholder concerns, reducing the size of the tunnels, shifting the type and placement of facilities and other changes, with the express intent that both of the BDCPs goals - water supply reliability and environmental restoration are met.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Hislop left the recent BDCP meeting in Stockton feeling uncertain of the important environmental restoration components of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. We encourage Mr. Hislop, and other members of the public to seek out their information directly from the source. If you need help finding information in the plan tweet @BDCP_CA your question, #WhereinBDCP or go to the "Your questions answered" section of their website at


From: Dennis Wyatt, Manteca Bulletin

Delta Smelt, the 5- to 7-centimeter fish that tends to hang around the Tracy pumps, is California's biggest consumer of water. Ounce for ounce, the endangered fish astronomically hogs more of California's fresh stored water than Los Angeles or massive farms in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Just a few years ago, the state was annually diverting a million acre feet of water specifically for the Delta Smelt.

Based on per capita consumption of water by Manteca and Lathrop's 90,000 residents, that's enough water to meet the needs of 11.4 million Californians, or just under a third of the state's entire population for a year.


From: Elizabeth Campbell, Bloomberg News

Near the confluence of the Merced and San Joaquin rivers, the heart of the California farm belt, Bob Kelley watches the driest year ever erode water supplies and prospects for the dairy business his family began in 1910.

The amount of water available for the 2,800 acres (1,133 hectares) of corn and alfalfa Kelley grows to feed more than 6,500 cows may drop as much as two thirds, so fewer crops will be planted and some animals will be sold to avoid the expense of buying grain, he said by telephone from Newman, about 83 miles (134 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco.

From: Lilith Waterworth, Sacramento Bee

Re "House speaker talks drought" (Capitol & California, Jan. 23): House Speaker John Boehner visited California to tout the need for drought management. At a news conference, held in a parched field belonging to farmer Larry Starrh of Bakersfield, Boehner proposed gutting environmental protections for much of the Delta. Starrh has to leave 1,000 acres of almond orchards fallow.

From: Michael Doyle, Sacramento Bee

San Joaquin Valley congressional Republicans took aim this week and missed their stated goal of helping California cope with drought.

Now, having unsuccessfully tried a long-shot, last-minute farm bill maneuver, the GOP lawmakers are regrouping. Their next steps are unclear, though some are certainly on the way.

From: Clay Brandow, Sacramento Bee

Re "Past droughts opened way for state water policy fixes" (Viewpoints, Jan. 18): I found Jay Lund's opinion piece thought-provoking. Droughts are the kind of crises that create opportunities to make advances in water management possible - if not for this drought, then for the next one. One area of drought-related advancement Lund left out is the improvement in hydrology data collection and use.


From: Staff, KGPE 47

More and more Central Valley farmers are looking for ways to survive the drought. While one option is to drill new wells, it's forcing many local farmers to dip into their bank accounts. The process is expensive. By the time one well is ready to use, the costs can run up to $1 million. The deeper the well, the more expensive the price tag.

At an almond farm in Madera County, where well drillers are working around the clock, vice president of Arthur & Orum Well Drilling, Steve Arthur, says this is the busiest they've ever been as farmers try to save their crops during the drought.

"The drought of '77 was nothing compared to this one," Arthur says.


From: Staff, Modesto Bee

We're glad that Oakdale Irrigation District's board of directors, under pressure from district farmers, decided to reject an offer from Westlands Water District. As it has in the past, the world's largest irrigation district wanted to buy more of Oakdale's water. In a drought, the only way to get that water was to take it from OID's fields. And that could have hurt a lot of people around here.

From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

A proposal to pay Oakdale landowners to fallow their pastures so irrigation water could be sold to Fresno-area farmers was rejected Tuesday morning.

Oakdale Irrigation District directors voted 4-1 to reverse last Thursday's decision, which would have kept the proposed Westlands Water District deal alive. OID directors said they changed their minds after being flooded with phone calls from Oakdale farmers and ranchers opposed to selling water to outsiders during this drought.


With California in the grips of severe drought, Napa Valley wine grape growers on Tuesday said some vines are ripening early and that farmers are planning fewer crops to save water.

Vineyard owners are pruning earlier than usual and on a shorter schedule, Domenick Bianco of Renteria Vineyard Management said. If the Valley does not see late winter or spring rains, 2014 will yield a smaller crop.

"Water amount determines yield. If you use 80 percent less water than last year, you could see 80 percent of the crop," Bianco said.

Water Storage

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee Blogs

West Valley farmers spent $150 million last year buying some water and storing it in San Luis Reservoir. They were planning ahead for a zero water allocation from the federal Central Valley Project this year.

Looks like they were right about the zero allocation, but maybe their investment and wise planning won't work out.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

News articles and links from January 28, 2014

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

From: Raymond Miller, Bakersfield Californian (subscription required)

I am dismayed by the recent promotion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. I tried to keep an open mind when reading the plan, which is open for comment for 120 days. Unfortunately, after consulting with scientists, professors and experts regarding the BDCP, it will not be the solution to the Central Valley's water problem.

Coalition response... The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is designed to stabilize the volume of water year over year available to the customers served by the state and federal projects, while improving the Delta ecosystem. 

Growers in California are always looking for ways to produce more with less cost- whether that cost is found in water, chemicals, labor. Research shows that there is very little agricultural water still available to conserve, according to the 2011 report "Agricultural Water use in California" by the Center for Irrigation Technology at CSU, Fresno. We invite Mr. Miller to share his ideas for water conservation and water use efficiency-particularly those that might be cheaper AND introduce 90% efficiencies. The world will surely beat a path to his door for a solution like that.

Water Supply

From: Mike Reitsma, San Jose Mercury News

Farms, not population, are drivers of drought

Several recent letters have identified California's growing population as the dominant reason for our water shortage -- the most recent from J.M. Picone (Letters, Jan. 27). There is no question that population is a significant factor in virtually all of Earth's shortages and pollution issues, but citing California's population as the origin of its current problem ignores the underlying arithmetic.

Coalition response... Several foundational problems exist in Mr. Reitsma's comments. Regarding water use in the state, it is important to remember that in an average year, the people of California commit 48% of our available water for environmental use, while 41% is used for farming, and 11% for California's municipal and industrial uses.

The causes of our current shortage are several- most critical is the drier than typical past two years, but we can't just blame mother nature. We shouldn't forget our own failure to put away water for leaner times. Just last year we had an opportunity to store up to 815,000 acre feet of water- enough for well over 4 million people, or five cities the size of San Jose. Californian's must prepare for drought when water is available or suffer, as we are now, for our lack of action.

Water Storage

From: MIchael Doyle, Merced Sun-Star; Modesto Bee; Sacramento Bee

Farmers from California's San Joaquin Valley set aside precious water last year, like money in a bank. But now someone else might claim the investment.

With the state extremely dry, the farmers fear federal officials could effectively seize for other purposes the water set aside primarily in San Luis Reservoir on the valley's west side. Affected farmers say that would be wrong. Unfortunately for them, it might also be legal.

From: Rachel Azevedo, KGPE 47

Eyewitness News investigates an unprecedented situation Westlands Water District farmers could be facing. The Bureau of Reclamation could withhold water that growers saved from last season.

Some farmers say they are losing hope because of the uncertainty over what's called "carryover" water. To them it seems unfair. They planned and saved water, and now they may not get to keep it.

From: Staff, KFSN 30 

Valley farmers already looking at water delivery cutbacks this year were shocked to learn they might also lose carryover water.

From: AP Staff, KOVR 13; Modesto Bee; KCRA 3

With no end in sight to California's drought, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley fear federal officials could seize water in the San Luis Reservoir intended for their crops.

From: John Powell Jr., Desert Sun

The Coachella Valley has always been in a state of drought. For this reason, planning efforts that began nearly 100 years ago focus on making the most of the water we have, and on importing additional water to supplement our tremendous natural underground aquifer.

The Coachella Valley Water District relies on stakeholders of every kind including golf courses, farmers, homeowners associations, small businesses and individual homeowners, to help in the conservation effort. Domestic customers have reduced water use by more than 20 percent in the past eight years, despite increased growth. Thank you for contributing to this positive result.

Water Supply

From: Cary Blake, Western Farm Press

It's official - most of California's 38 million residents are now aware that the Golden State is officially in a severe drought.

While agriculture has lived and breathed the drought, and farmed and fallowed land with a lack of water in recent years, Governor Jerry Brown's emergency drought declaration released Jan. 20 basically asked urbanites to turn off the water faucet while shaving and stop overwatering lawns.