Monday, March 31, 2014

News articles and links from March 31, 2014

Water Supply 

From: Staff, Sacramento Bee

Last week's rain notwithstanding, the drought should act to concentrate Californians on water and how to create a reliable water system.
Instead, it is spawning isolated proposals with little attention to cost and who would pay.

In one direction, Gov. Jerry Brown favors a new "conveyance" with his proposed twin tunnels project. The capital cost of the two 40-foot-diameter, 30-mile-long tunnels around or under the Delta is estimated to total $19.9 billion in 2012 dollars. Borne by whom? People benefiting from the project, the water contractors south of the Delta? The comment period on this proposal ends on April 14.

Coalition response... It's important to keeps the facts on the table regarding California water supply planning and cost allocation.

Funding for new water supply projects is based on a "beneficiary pays" principle. Water users are willing and in fact have been paying for all of the planning costs so far for BDCP. When it comes time for construction, water users will pay for the parts that are associated with water supply. The public part of the project, including ecosystem activities, etc., would be funded by a publicly-approved water bond.

Sites reservoir, while not part of the BDCP planning process, is nonetheless an important facility to help California meet water quality and water supply needs into the future. It's encouraging to see Congressmen LaMalfa and Garamendi working together to help push this project forward. California has big challenges and it is going to take multiple, independent efforts like this and others to restore water supply and reliability to our state. Conservation and recycling are important but they're not enough to provide for California's water needs far into the future.

From: Staff, BloombergView

California's northern rivers are so low that young Chinook salmon have to be trucked on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Yet to listen to some farmers and their political allies, you would think the fish, shielded by environmental law, are doing fine, while the state's $45 billion agricultural economy is being sucked dry by the epic drought.

Their solution: build huge tunnels, expand big dams (federally subsidized, of course) and pipe more water from the relatively wet north to the dry south. But Mother Nature is sending a different message: California can't count on having bounties of water to meet all the claims on it.

Coalition response... Far from minor, the upheaval proposed by this editorial is massive in scale, based on faulty, biased research, and would result in continued destabilization of agricultural production in California. Farmers recognize and appreciate the sacrifices being made by our cities and rural communities to help get through this drought together.

California agricultural water use is not 80% of the state's water claimed, it's not even 80% of the water humans are managing. California allocates 50% of available water (water humans actively manage) to environmental purposes. Agriculture uses 41% to grow food and fiber, and has improved the productivity of the water used by nearly doubling production between 1967 and 2007 while reducing water use by 14%. These are only the readily quantifiable benefits of agricultural water use, and exclude the ecosystem benefits of crops such as rice whose flood irrigation help to sustain migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway.  

Claims that California agriculture can conserve 15% of the water it uses have been widely scorned by professional researchers at California's leading public irrigation research organizations. The Center for Irrigation Technology at CSU Fresno reports the actual conservation potential from California agriculture is about 300,000 acre feet, or about 1 percent of typical applied water.

Past public investments in irrigation infrastructure have brought substantial economic benefit to the people of our state and our nation but changing environmental laws have allowed enough water for 3.5 million people to flow to the ocean this year. That water could have been stored for future use. The preparation of past generations has given us the tools needed to become the ninth largest economy in the world - preparing California for future generations is the challenge we face today.

Water Supply

From: Michael Doyle, McClatchy DC

Seasonal storms have exposed once more some perennial political divisions over California water.

Citing the latest rainfall, seven of the state's lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to free up more irrigation deliveries for San Joaquin Valley farms. The muscular Capitol Hill lineup is noticeable both for who's on it and who's not.

In a telling alliance, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and four other House Republicans, as well as one House Democrat, in calling for increased deliveries.

From: Cannon Michael, Merced Sun-Star 

It's no secret that our water system is severely broken, but denying water rights and reallocating water is not the answer. And though our voices have been heard by the state Water Resources Control Board, continued action and pressure is still needed to ensure water deliveries to our Central Valley farmers.

Water is the Central Valley's lifeblood. The state water board must understand that withholding water would cause catastrophic consequences, including fallowed farmland, skyrocketing unemployment and an increasingly unstable and costly food supply in our Central Valley, our state and beyond.

Eliminating our water deliveries is not only foolish, it's dangerous.

From: Peter Jensen, Riverside Press-Enterprise

On Tuesday March 25, I was amazed at how poorly informed ex-representative Tom Campbell's recent op-ed regarding California's water problems was. He acts as if the only reason heavily-discounted water is not supplied to Central Valley farmers is because of the little Delta Smelt. The reasons that cheap water is no longer being pumped to these farmers are myriad. We have all been asked to conserve due to a drought.

From: Fred Hogan, Redding Record-Searchlight

PRIORITIES: What is the common sense approach to California's water problems? Should we spend billions on the train to nowhere, or better yet maybe on some much needed water storage? If we put this to a vote which one do you think wins? Remember common sense!


From: Lisa Krieger, San Jose Mercury News

So wet was the San Joaquin Valley of Steve Arthur's childhood that a single 240-foot-deep well could quench the thirst of an arid farm.

Now his massive rig, bucking and belching, must drill 1,200 feet deep in search of ever-more-elusive water to sustain this wheat farm north of Bakersfield. As he drills, his phone rings with three new appeals for help.

"Everybody is starting to panic," said Arthur, whose Fresno-based well-drilling company just bought its ninth rig, off the Wyoming oil fields. "Without water, this valley can't survive."

From: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News

For nearly 50 years, California has passed sweeping environmental laws that limit private property for the common good -- from the nation's toughest automobile pollution standards to curbs on clear-cutting forests to rules requiring that developers keep beaches open to the public.

However, when it comes to preserving one of the state's most critical and politically divisive resources -- billions of gallons of groundwater that are vital to farms and cities -- California lawmakers and voters have done almost nothing.


From: Dennis Wyatt, Manteca Bulletin

Sticker shock, courtesy of the drought, is coming to a supermarket near you. Seedless watermelon was selling Monday at SaveMart stores in Manteca for $9.99. It is a full $2 over prices from the same time period in 2013.

And while the price reflects the scarcity of watermelon that are now coming out of a specific region in Mexico, it is an indicator of higher food prices that are in store for California and American consumers as a whole thanks to the drought. The assumption by some that fruit and vegetables from elsewhere will replace California crops with minimum impact on prices fails to take into account production issues in other regions of the globe plus worldwide consumer demand.

From: Tom Nassif, Los Angeles Times

It's deceptive to say that agriculture uses 75% of "the water used in the state" without adding "for human use."

According to the California State Water Plan, urban use accounts for 11% and agriculture 41%; environmental use accounts for 48%. This is the developed water supply that can be managed and controlled.

Water Quality 

From: John Holland, Modesto Bee

Farmers are filling out a four-page survey that will help assess how well they are keeping pesticides and fertilizers out of waterways.

The East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition has set a May 1 deadline for completion of the surveys, which involve most of the irrigated land east of the San Joaquin River in Stanislaus, Merced and Madera counties.


From: Staff, Stockton Record

Skeptical Delta landowners heard details Thursday night of a state plan to install four rock barriers in the estuary, an effort to block salinity from San Francisco Bay and allow officials to hold back more water in reservoirs this summer.

Without the barriers, three major reservoirs would sink to "dead pool" levels before the coming dry season ends, the Department of Water Resources' Paul Marshall said at a meeting of the Delta Protection Commission in Stockton.

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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

News articles and links from March 27, 2014

Water Management 

From: Rick Seymour, Merced Sun-Star

It is important for everyone to start thinking of solutions to the water shortage we face this year and possibly hereafter. The Coachella Valley Water District has a solution. On its website, the district explains that it "recycles more than 2 billion gallons of wastewater each year." This recycling filters out solids, organic materials, chemicals and germs.

Dairy farmers have been recycling water for years, using wastewater to irrigate field crops. Why not use our wastewater from Redding to Bakersfield to irrigate crops or replenish groundwater? We could easily pump wastewater directly to nearby irrigation canals. If a canal isn't nearby, let it flow downstream where it can be pumped to the nearest irrigation canal. I have no idea how much water could be recycled statewide, but my guess is trillions of gallons. This won't solve all of California's water problems, but we will be flowing in the right direction.

Coalition response... Both urban and agricultural water managers across California have sought ways to integrate recycled water into their supply portfolios for many years. Agricultural water managers have had some success in recent years acquiring this resource, (some fairly close to the author, in Stanislaus County) but are generally unable to access properly treated water for wide-scale use because the expensive infrastructure connecting cities to farms in most cases has not been built. Treated wastewater is considered a valuable urban asset as well, with many urban water managers integrating "purple pipe" systems for landscaping use.

Water Bond 

From: Staff, CBS LA

California's severe drought is making residents anxious about dwindling water supplies, and they're making an effort not to waste a drop.

That's the conclusion of a poll Wednesday that also found residents would support spending billions of dollars to upgrade aging water distribution systems.

The Public Policy Institute of California survey found a majority of adults across every region of the state considers water supplies a "big problem."

[View a copy of the PPIC survey by clicking here]

From: Michael Gardner, San Diego Union-Tribune

Voters are far more likely to approve a water bond on the November ballot if lawmakers shrink its size, according to a new survey that also found nine out of every 10 Californians say they have taken steps to conserve as the drought drags on.

The poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California also reported that public support for legalized marijuana appears to be slipping, the high-speed rail project remains divisive and Gov. Jerry Brown has an early commanding lead as he seeks an unprecedented fourth term.

From: Josh Richman, Contra Costa Times

Perhaps because of all the doom-and-gloom drought predictions, Californians today are more likely than they were a year ago to vote for an $11.1 billion bond for state water projects, the Public Policy Institute of California's latest poll finds.

The poll also found Gov. Jerry Brown's approval rating has slipped from its record high in January, but he's still beating the tar out of his Republican challengers. Results of the survey, released Wednesday night, also gauged Californians' attitudes on a wide range of other issues, including high-speed rail, marijuana legalization and the federal health care law.

From: Anthony Rendon, Sacramento Bee

The Legislature has fewer than 100 days to pass a new water bond bill into law so that voters will have a clean, earmark-free bond to vote on in November. California's water infrastructure, which serves more than 30 million people and irrigates nearly 6 million acres of farmland, is seriously outdated and in desperate need of repair.

Our state has not passed a water bond since 2006, and funding from that bond will ostensibly run out by next year. The Legislature has voted twice to postpone a statewide vote on a 2009 water bond deal that has been deemed unpassable because it is an $11.14 billion pork-barrel measure that was cobbled together in the dead of night in the backrooms of the Capitol.

Colorado River 

From: Staff, San Francisco Chronicle

Colorado River water has begun pouring over a barren delta in northwest Mexico, the result of a landmark agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that is being celebrated Thursday. The gush of water in Mexico is an effort to revive the last 70-mile stretch of the river into the Sea of Cortez. The delta dried up decades ago.

The river's most southern dam - Mexico's Morelos Dam, near Yuma, Ariz. - on Sunday began unleashing 105,392 acre-feet of water, enough to supply more than 200,000 homes for a year. The one-time release is expected to last until May 18.


From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Despite what academic researchers have been saying, Stanislaus County's groundwater levels have not declined dramatically, a longtime well measurement specialist assured county officials Wednesday.

"I am the guy who measures the water in the wells ... and I am not seeing the drastic fall everybody is talking about," Bill Power, owner of Power Hydrodynamics Inc., told the county's Water Advisory Committee. "I'm not a hydrologist. All I do is take actual measurements."

Salton Sea 

From: Staff, Desert Sun

It's hard to be optimistic about the Salton Sea. After years of political rhetoric and study after study, we can't think of a more frustrating issue in this region that has been debated so thoroughly with so little progress. The state's $8.9 billion preferred plan issued in 2007 - and never enacted - landed with a giant thud that crippled creative solutions.

However, at the Salton Sea panel held last week as part of the Running Dry Water Symposium sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation and The Desert Sun, there were sparks of optimism and signs of at least incremental progress.


From: Lewis Griswold, Fresno Bee

About 1,000 people -- from farmworkers to farm leaders -- turned out Wednesday for a water rally in support of east side agriculture at the International Agri-Center in Tulare.

The rally, organized by the California Latino Water Coalition, protested the planned "zero allocation" of irrigation water this summer to east-side farmers by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

News articles and links from March 25, 2014

Water Use 

From: Carolee Krieger, Ventura County Star

The recent deluge notwithstanding, California remains gripped by the worst drought in decades. Farms and some cities already are feeling the impact.

But while drought is a natural phenomenon, the state's water crisis is a fabricated event. We have enough water in California to serve our urban populations and support sustainable farming. But we have no water to waste and we certainly can't allow the privatization of our most essential public resource.

Coalition response... Ms. Krieger's column is more fiction than fact. While California farmers produce food and fiber enjoyed locally and internationally, they cannot do it without water. Honest, open conversations about how water is used and managed in California are far more productive than repeating myths and propaganda.

                It is a commonly repeated myth that California's water rights permits are many times the actual available water in California. The reality is that California's water rights include provisions for the reuse of water. Permitted and unused or underused water often returns to the supply where another water user with a permit may divert it for use.
                The re-institution of urban preference for water rights over others users including the environment and agriculture may threaten endangered species, wild and scenic rivers, and agricultural open spaces that produce locally grown food and fiber. Urban water users are the best-protected water users in the state, as State regulators are attuned to the needs of health and safety uses.
                The Kern Water Bank was developed by local public agencies after the State of California was unable to get the project beyond an initial pilot project. The Kern Water Bank has become an indispensable regional water resource as a direct result of local water agencies working cooperatively to build a modern water management tool. The Kern Water Bank is controlled by local, public water agencies through the Kern Water Bank Authority, not by individuals.
                Estimates on the supply yield from other sources such as marine desalination vary greatly, but California agriculture has already stepped up on conservation and improved 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. 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.
                Drainage contamination issues began to be resolved over 20 years ago. Today the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program is working to improve not only the farmland in the area but also prevent the drainage problems associated with the environment in the 1980s. Modern projects to reduce salinity in agricultural discharge, such as the Panoche Water District's solar desalination stills, promise opportunities to reduce discharge and reuse and recycle water.
                Agricultural economists say this year's idling of 800,000 acres or more of farmland in California will cost 20,000 jobs and roughly a $7.5 billion hit to the economy.

Water Supply

From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Numerous billion-dollar proposals to create more water storage in California are competing for attention and funding during this third year of drought.

But there may be a less-expensive way to increase water flows into the Central Valley: Start thinning out the overgrown Sierra Nevada forests.

Coalition response... California's forestry management practices may indeed have had an impact on runoff and water supply in the preceding decades. It will be interesting to see the results of the UC Merced study and whether sensible thinning of forestland will improve conditions in our rivers and streams.

Another factor that has likely had an effect on runoff is the urbanization of California's foothill counties. Since 1960 the population of the eight counties from Plumas to Mariposa increased 580 percent from about 114,500 to almost 694,000. El Dorado County's population is up over nine times its 1960 level.

This information is vitally important as the State Water Resources Control Board undertakes a process to require a 35 percent unimpaired flow mandate for the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers. Other waterways will undoubtedly follow. Once again it will be farmers that bear the brunt of a majority of the water supply cuts when in reality many other factors need to be considered.


From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided it will no longer force local levee agencies to choose between keeping trees on their levees and losing federal money for disaster assistance.

On Monday, the Army Corps announced in a new "interim" policy that it will not disqualify levees that fail to meet its maintenance criteria from receiving disaster relief funding, essentially granting a reprieve to thousands of miles of California riverside habitat. The move appears to resolve, for now, a long-running policy dispute that pitted the state of California against the powerful federal flood-control agency.


From: Cary Blake, Western Farm Press

California's epic drought - its rainless skies and snow covered-less mountains - continues to block a rainbow from appearing over agriculture's horizon. Growers continue to fallow prime farm land - possibly up to 800,000 acres this year - and make very difficult decisions for their businesses.

Growers of permanent crops - tree nuts, vines, and others - are feeling the heat from the lack of surface water. Some tree nut growers in especially water-short areas are focused primarily on keeping orchards alive; much less producing a crop.

From: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News 

In the latest sign that California's historic drought is having a worsening impact on Silicon Valley, the region's largest water provider is putting in place unprecedented cutbacks this spring on cities, farmers and its own efforts to recharge groundwater supplies.

Because of the lack of rain, the Santa Clara Valley Water District last week alerted seven cities and companies that provide water to about 1.5 million people that it will provide only 80 percent of the treated drinking water they have requested through the rest of the year.

Water Use 

From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

The Imperial Irrigation District's board of Directors has called a special meeting for this afternoon. A guideline modification to the district's on-farm water conservation program is at the top of the agenda.

Some farmers feared that their historical water-use baseline could be compromised by participating in the IID's voluntary program and installing water conservation measures in their fields.

From: Jane Wells, NBC News

The Golden State's current drought could be one for the history books, as farmers in the Central Valley drill deeper wells and deal with a complete cutoff in contracted water from the state.

But at the southeastern corner of California, farmers have plenty of water.

"We are very blessed with the water we have," said Linsey Dale of the Imperial County Farm Bureau. She estimates the value of all the winter vegetables and alfalfa hay grown in this area north of the Mexican border are worth about $2 billion.


From: Damon Arthur, Redding Record-Searchlight

Three tanker trucks were loaded this morning with more than 400,000 fingerling Chinook salmon to haul to the Bay Area from the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson.

The fall-run salmon usually swim the nearly 300 mile trek down Sacramento River from Anderson to the Pacific Ocean, but this year the drought forced wildlife officials to give the fish a ride.