Wednesday, April 30, 2014

News articles and links from April 30, 2014

Water Bond 

From: Jeremy White, Fresno Bee

The drought-driven quest to put a new water bond before California voters has fluctuated over the last few weeks, marked by new measures appearing, old ones evaporating and legislators shifting allegiances.

Lawmakers have introduced no fewer than nine water bond proposals, all vying to replace the $11.1 billion measure that is scheduled for the November ballot but widely believed to have little chance of passage.

From: Staff, Chico Enterprise Record 

North state Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica, Tuesday pulled his own water bond proposal to sign on to a Democrat's version, which later cleared a committee.

Logue became a co-author of AB2686 by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, which Tuesday afternoon passed out of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on an 11-1 vote.


From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian

Water does funny things in California. When there's a drought as bad as the one we're in now, it does things you wouldn't think were possible. Like flow backwards. As in south to north. I'm talking about water in the California Aqueduct, which was specifically built to bring water from the north to the south.

But if flows out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are reduced to a trickle, local agricultural water districts are preparing to move banked groundwater from Kern County back up the system to reach growers in the Lost Hills, Berrenda Mesa, Belridge and Dudley Ridge districts.

From: Amy Quinton, Capital Public Radio

California supplies virtually all of the nation's sushi rice and half of it is exported. But of all the food crops in the state, rice is likely to be affected by the drought the most. The mere speculation of losses is already driving up prices.

At Montna Farms near Yuba City, huge drag scrapers level a rice field in preparation for planting. The rice grown in the Sacramento Valley is primarily medium grain rice. Nicole Van Vleck with Montna Farms says the high gluten sticky rice is perfect for sushi.

From: David Castellon, Visalia Times-Delta

When Phil Deffenbaugh thinks about the nearly 20 years he has worked at Lake Kaweah, he said it's hard to remember a time when the water has been as low as it has been in recent days. As of last week, Lake Kaweah was at about 25 percent of its capacity, thanks in large part to the statewide drought.

"We are low; today we have 46,000 acre feet," Deffenbaugh, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's manager for the lake, said Friday.


From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

Farmers are crying foul over a proposed revision of the federal Clean Water Act, saying it would burden them with onerous new regulations and could limit ordinary farming practices. The American Farm Bureau Federation issued a statement this week urging its members to fight the proposal.

"It would expand the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and Army Corps of Engineers regulatory authority over new lands," said Kari Fisher, associate counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

News articles and links from April 29, 2014


From: Rich Ibarra, Capital Public Radio

Hundreds of thousands of farm acres in California won't be growing crops for lack of water. This means higher prices for produce and that will affect food banks throughout the state.

The State of California is giving $25 million in extra aid to food banks in 24 counties affected by the drought. Mike Mallory is with Second Harvest Food Bank which serves the Mother Lode, Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. He says the drought is putting increasing numbers of people out of work.


From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

State water quality enforcers are telling farmers it's time to join a groundwater protection program that has been in the making for many years -- sign up by May 19 or face fines.

The deadline is for farmers in Fresno, Kings and parts of Tulare counties. The land is within the Kings River Conservation District, which is leading a coalition of growers to comply with the order.

From: J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee

Stanislaus County's groundwater drilling boom continues. Five times more new irrigation wells have been approved since January than were issued during the same four months last year, drilling permit data obtained by The Modesto Bee show.

At least 170 new agricultural wells were authorized from Jan. 1 through April 23 this year, compared with only 34 approved during that period in 2013.


From: Jonah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times

The pristine natural world is gone; get used to it.

Nearly all of the earthworms in New England and the upper Midwest were inadvertently imported from Europe. The American earthworms were wiped out by the last Ice Age. That's why when European colonists first got here, many forest floors were covered in deep drifts of wet leaves. The wild horses of the American West may be no less invasive than the Asian carp advancing on the Great Lakes. Most species of the tumbleweed, icon of the Old West, are actually from Russia or Asia.

Water Supply

From: Jenny Espino, Redding Record-Searchlight 

In the wake of a rise in the water supply, Bella Vista water officials will ease restrictions and increase deliveries to households and landscape businesses, including golf courses.

The Bella Vista Water District Board of Directors on Monday night voted unanimously in favor of increasing residential water allocations to 70 percent, from the 40 percent set in February, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its initial allocation plan. The amount is based on a three-year average use.

From: Lauren Sommer, Capital Public Radio

California's extreme drought has drawn battle lines over who gets water and who doesn't. As KQED's Lauren Sommer reports, fracking and farming are vying for freshwater in California's Central Valley.  [Audio]

Farming News 

From: Norm Groot, Salinas Californian

We live in a world of contexts, one where any individual cannot have a full grasp on each and every thing that happens in our daily lives. While I may be intimately involved in water issues facing agriculture, I don't pretend to be an expert on issues facing the homeless, for example.

Farming and ranching is a complicated business. It takes lots of knowledge to understand how to raise crops or animals, as well as utilizing natural resources in a manner that conserves for years to come.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

News articles and links from April 24, 2014

Water Supply

From: Lauren Sommer, KQED

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and California's severe drought is already inspiring a few. Water districts in the San Joaquin Valley are proposing a drought tactic that's never been tried: they want to reverse the state's plumbing by running the California Aqueduct backwards.

The aqueduct is the main artery of the state's water system. It stretches more than 400 miles, connecting the northern part of the state, where most of the rain falls, to the southern half of the state, where most of the demand for water resides.

From: Rob Parsons, Merced Sun-Star

Irrigation officials this week closed a complicated deal with state agencies to increase the water supply for drought-plagued farmers. The deal could also help authorities cut the price of irrigation water in Merced County.

The State Water Resources Control Board approved the deal granting Merced County farmers more water, said Mike Jensen, Merced Irrigation District spokesman.

From: Kelli Ballard, Porterville Recorder

After a positive water study session on April 8, with the guest speaker Dr. Kenneth D. Schmidt, certified hydrologist and the city's geologic consultant for water well development and recharge programs, stating Porterville is in a unique position for water, and in good shape, it might have come as a surprise to hear at Tuesday's water study session that Porterville is in danger of losing water too.

Mario Santoyo, director and technical advisor for California Latino Water Coalition and assistant general manager of the Friant Water Authority, presented his 2014 Friant Division Water Supply and Water Storage study to the public - and the outlook was not great.

From: Anne Stegen, KERO 23

Central Valley citrus growers are protesting a recent water allocation bump by the state, saying they will not see a drop ot it.

The California Department of Water Resources increased water deliveries to farmers from zero to 5 percent, but it only applies north of Fresno.

From: Staff, Western Farm Press (subscription required)

A recent announcement that California growers reliant upon surface water from the State Water Project would receive 5 percent of their allocation appeared to be good news for much of the state's $2 billion citrus industry. In short, some trees could be kept alive on such an allocation. As with many political decisions, the devil is in the details.

From: Staff, KFSN 30

Citrus growers here are frustrated with the state's recent announcement of 5% water allocation for farmers. (VIDEO)


From: Abby Schneider, ACWA

On April 21 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register the proposed rule revising the definition of "waters of the United States" under the federal Clean Water Act. This formalizes the proposed changes released in draft form on March 25 and marks the beginning of a 90-day comment period that ends July 21, 2014.


From: Chris Clarke, KCET

In a move that could have ramifications in drought-stricken California, a group representing irrigators in the Columbia and Snake river basins want to use an obscure federal law to prevent new protection of the area's salmon and steelhead populations.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association has asked the governors of Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon to invoke the "God Squad" provisions of the Endangered Species Act to address "excessive and unbridled litigation directed toward the region's electric power ratepayers," according to a letter sent to press outlets Monday.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

News articles and links from April 23, 2014


From: Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star

Lester Snow has for decades been one of California's premier "water buffaloes" - people who are expert in the arcane policies of water supply and delivery. He worked with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, headed the San Diego County Water Authority and served as director of the state Department of Water Resources under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This year, he senses a shift in public attitude toward taking steps to preserve groundwater, one of California most precious, but unregulated, sources of water.

From: Staff, ACWA

Legislation aimed at addressing groundwater sustainability cleared the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee today.

SB 1168 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) in its current form would establish a statutory framework to achieve sustainable management of groundwater basins throughout the state. The author called the bill a "work in process" that could become part of other potential legislative vehicles to address groundwater issues this year.

From: Staff, Press-Democrat

Let's talk taboo. Sorry, nothing racy. Today's subject is groundwater. For years, the subject was all but verboten in California. The mere mention unleashed hurricane-force protests.

No other Western state leaves this vital resource unregulated. But the Golden State's biggest water consumers vigorously opposed any monitoring, much less state restriction on how much water they pumped from underground aquifers, and policymakers usually steered away from the storm.


From: Staff, KSEE 24

This year's drought is the worst in recent memory. Thousands of acres that would have been home to vegetable crops lie fallow. Instead, farmers are choosing to use their water rations to save their permanent crops, their fruit or nut trees.
With a limited water supply, growers are having to make a decision, which groves get water, and which groves do not. Shawn Stevenson normally harvests from 1200 acres. this year, he's had to cut back to 800 acres and even that might not be enough.


From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

Chinook salmon have resumed their long truck trip from a federal hatchery near Red Bluff to San Pablo Bay, near Vallejo, an emergency measure to protect the fish during drought.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates Coleman National Hatchery near Red Bluff, began the trucking operation March 24 to protect millions of juvenile fall-run Chinook salmon from low water levels and warm temperatures in the Sacramento River. It normally prefers to release the fish at the hatchery on Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River, so they can imprint on the location and more easily find their way back to spawn as adults in three years.

Sacramento River

From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee

The East Bay Municipal Utility District this month will begin diverting water from the Sacramento River for the first time ever, a clear sign that the drought is literally causing ripples across the state.

The district's board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to begin tapping its water supplies from the Freeport Regional Water Project on the Sacramento River, which it helped build in partnership with Sacramento County at a cost of nearly $1 billion. The district has not used the diversion since it was completed in 2010.


From: Garth Stapley, Modesto Bee

Plans to combat drought by allowing water transfers among farmers could be in jeopardy, growers and Modesto Irrigation District leaders learned Tuesday at a meeting tinged with uncertainty and accusations of unfairness.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

News articles and links from April 22, 2014


From: Staff, San Jose Mercury News

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's willingness to do Big Ag's bidding at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is increasingly alarming. Last week she released a revised drought bill that has environmentalists up and down the state fuming -- with good reason.

Feinstein stripped out the best part of her original legislation: $300 million for conservation and efficiency measures and aid to low-income farmworkers hurt by the drought. She admits she did it to attract Republican support. It raises the question of how far she is willing to go to maximize the amount of water sent from the Delta to Central Valley farmers, even if it causes catastrophic harm to the estuary.

Coalition response... One thing should be clear, this bill is intended to help real people who struggle to make their home payments, worry about their children's futures and try to make ends meet through agriculture in California.

It is about the almost 4,000 family farms that receive water that flows through the Delta to sustain one of California's most important food-growing regions. It is also about trucking, processing, wholesale, retail and port jobs that all depend on the food produced by hardworking California farmers. It is about the millions of consumers who benefit from the low food costs that investments in efficient agricultural production brings.  

California's almond production supports many thousands of jobs in transportation, processing, retail, wholesale and high-paying port jobs. Years ago people complained that crops like cotton and alfalfa used too much water and that farmers should grow higher value crops. The value of California farm production has risen enormously while applied water on our farms has declined by 14 percent, according to the Department of Water Resources. It is mystifying how anyone can refer to that as a "dirty little secret." The fact is, farmers grow crops that they can sell. It makes little sense to plant a crop to supply a market that doesn't exist. And we still provide roughly half of the nation's fresh fruits and vegetables, much of it from high-producing farms in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Santa Clara Valley's efforts to restore groundwater are to be commended. But the recovery wouldn't have been, or continue to be, possible without  imported water supplies from the Delta to fill the gap in local supplies versus demands.   Like Silicon Valley, much of California relies on imported water to provide a quality of life and vibrant economy that is the envy of the Nation, but when it's not serving those in its backyard, the Mercury calls it a water grab.

Let's stick to the facts, and not promote baseless regional conflict.  This is too important to have a "Beat L.A." bumper sticker mentality. The Mercury needs to recognize that the state is facing many challenges in having to repurpose a system that reallocated water for environmental uses that were simply not part of its original design.  Senator Feinstein should be applauded for her leadership on behalf of the entire state and its environment, rather than being falsely and cynically accused of "pandering".


From: Kirk Siegler, NPR

On a recent afternoon on the main drag of Orange Grove, Calif., about a dozen farm workers gathered on the sidewalk in front of a mini-mart.

One man sits on a milk crate sipping a beer. A few others scratch some lotto tickets. Salvador Perez paces back and forth with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.

If there is no water, there's no work, he says in Spanish.  

From: Antoine Abou-Diwan, Imperial Valley Press

On a recent afternoon on the main drag of Orange Grove, Calif., about a dozen farm workers gathered on the sidewalk in front of a mini-mart.

One man sits on a milk crate sipping a beer. A few others scratch some lotto tickets. Salvador Perez paces back and forth with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.

If there is no water, there's no work, he says in Spanish.  

Water Supply

From: Thomas Elias, Salinas Californian

The next front in California's long-running water wars has already opened, and the reasons for it will sometimes be hard to see - but not always.

That next fight is over ground water, source of about 35 percent of the state's fresh water in normal years and a much higher percentage in dry ones like 2014. This battle has the potential to become far more bitter than even the quarrels over how to distribute water from the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.

From: Lisa Lien-Mager, ACWA

The Sierra snowpack is now just 18% of average, down from a seasonal high of 35% on April 7. According to snowpack data tracked by the California Data Exchange Center, some areas - including the Northern Sierra - lost half of the snow water content in a single week, largely due to unusually high temperatures in the West. In California, temperatures were 9-12 degrees above normal, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From: David Keller, New York Times

"Swim to Sea? These Salmon Are Catching a Lift" (front page, April 19) is one facet of an incredibly sad story.

Over the past 166 years, since California's Gold Rush first destroyed rivers en masse in the quest for gold and silver, we have continued to decimate our rivers and groundwater for our growing population and agriculture, including all the Public Trust resources that had thrived with them.

We have altered our geography, hydrology and geology, frequently depleting our water, soils, air and local economies.


From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee 

Water flows in the American River are scheduled to increase through the Sacramento region starting tonight to help salmon and steelhead.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Folsom and Nimbus dams on the river, will maintain the increased flow for three days to help juvenile steelhead and Chinook salmon migrate downstream, and to help improve in-river conditions for young steelhead.


From: Craig Miller, KQED

We hear a great deal about California's reliance on its "frozen reservoir," a reference to the (currently anemic) Sierra snowpack. We hear a lot less about the Golden State's invisible reservoir, the water that resides in underground aquifers beneath our feet.

That's about to change. Today, state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) rolls out a trio of water conservation bills, the centerpiece of which (SB 1168) is a frontal assault on the management of California's groundwater, which, compared to other western states, is almost unregulated.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

News articles and links from April 17, 2014

Water Supply

From: Staff, Sacramento Bee

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's drought bill, introduced in February, was an improvement over the water grab bill that passed in the House. A big plus in her original bill was $300 million for conservation and efficiency measures, aid to low-income farmworkers harmed by the drought, technological tools to help farmers get through this dry year and emergency projects to address drinking-water quality problems.

That $300 million, however, has been stripped out in order to get Republican support for Feinstein's bill. What remains in the revised version are two troubling provisions that The Bee's editorial board urged her to amend in February.

Coalition response...  One thing should be clear, this bill is intended to help real people who struggle to make their home payments, worry about their children's futures and try to make ends meet through agriculture in California.

It is about the almost 4,000 family farms that receive water that flows through the Delta to sustain one of California's most important food-growing regions. It is also about trucking, processing, wholesale, retail and port jobs that all depend on the food produced by hardworking California farmers. It is about the millions of consumers who benefit from the low food costs that investments in efficient agricultural production brings.  

According to a 2009 CBS News report, California's salmon industry is worth about $82 million in economic activity based on $22 million worth of salmon caught in rivers and the ocean. Environmental activists justify reducing farm water deliveries to prop up an industry that contributes less that $100 million to the state's economy. At the same time, farm water cuts stand to put thousands of people out of work. The cost to California's economy this year from lost farm production, jobs and associated business activity is 60 times ($5 billion) the economic value of salmon. Are salmon important to California? Absolutely. Is commercial salmon fishing comparable to the jobs and economic activity generated by farming? No.

In the last six weeks the amount of Delta outflow has exceeded water exports by more than two to one. It is certain that Senator Feinstein is mindful of the balance needed to continue to protect fisheries. During this period of drought, all water users will be suffering. The commercial salmon industry shouldn't expect special treatment.

Water Supply

From: Bettina Boxall, L.A. Times

A decision by a federal appeals court Wednesday could allow for changes in water deliveries to irrigation districts that hold senior rights to Sacramento River supplies.

The unanimous opinion by an 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned two previous rulings that found the federal government lacked discretion to alter water contracts with senior irrigators in the Sacramento Valley. The new decision sends the matter back to a district court for further consideration, leaving both sides in the nearly decade-old case unsure of the ultimate outcome.  

From: Staff, AP

An appeals court said Wednesday that federal officials should have consulted wildlife agencies about potential harm to a tiny, threatened fish before issuing contracts for water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act when it failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service in renewing 41 contracts a decade ago. The appeals court sent the case back to a trial judge for further proceedings.

From: Karen Gullo, Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Long-term water supply contracts in California, which had its driest year on record last year, must be revised to protect smelt in the California River Delta, a federal appeals court ruled today.

The San Francisco-based court ruled for the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups, saying they had legal standing to challenge the contracts and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages a series of dams and reservoirs that draws water from the delta, had some discretion to help the smelt, which are small, bony fish.

From: John Michelena, Modesto Bee

I have mixed feelings when I see those blue "Pray for Rain" signs along our country roads. Though I thank the Almighty for sending rain, I think our state and federal governments have been lying to us about California's drought and water.

Through early February, Northern California was on course to receiving its worst rainfall since the 17.1 inches it got in 1923-24, according to the Northern Sierra Precipitation: 8-Station Index. The second-driest period on record was 1976-77 with 19.0 inches. Then in February and March, we had a convincing answer to our prayers, when late rains brought 26.6 inches by April 4 - which typically ends the rainy season. The average from 1922-98 was 50.0 inches.


From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

Biologists this week helped 54,000 Northern California salmon become San Joaquin River inhabitants - launching the river's largest experiment to rejuvenate a long-dead salmon run.

As part of the nearly 5-year-old San Joaquin restoration project, half of the juvenile fish will be released today for a long, dangerous swim to the Pacific Ocean. The other half will be released Friday.


From: Joe Matthews, Sacramento Bee

When you're faced with two different thorny problems, sometimes the best way to make progress is by combining them. I'm talking to you, Jerry Brown.

Your first problem involves water. Residents of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta - California's most vital estuary and source of water - fiercely oppose Brown's plan to build tunnels that will divert water from north of the Delta to provide more reliable supplies to San Joaquin Valley farmers and Southern California. Their opposition is based on fear.


From: Staff, Modesto Bee

A hard-fought battle over California's next water bond comes today to Modesto, the last stop in a series of state Assembly hearings on seven proposals vying for a single place on the November ballot.

Drought has raised awareness of a dire need for water projects, but differing interests among political parties and regions, including the San Joaquin Valley, have produced the many proposals, and lawmakers face a June 26 deadline for reaching a compromise.

For more information, click here.