Thursday, May 29, 2014

News articles and links from May 29, 2014

Water Supply

From: Alex Breitler, Stockton Record

Long thirsty for Mokelumne River water, San Joaquin County appears poised to oppose legislation that would designate 37 miles of the upper stream as wild and scenic.

The county fears such a designation could block future dams upstream of Pardee Lake and could undermine recent efforts by diverse interest groups to work together to cooperatively manage the stream.

From: Janell Baum, Farm Futures

The U.S. EPA's proposed Waters of the U.S. language does not provide a realistic overview of its scope or costs, a new analysis prepared by the Brattle Group for the Waters Advocacy Coalition shows.

The report, authored by University of California-Berkley faculty member Dr. David Sunding and dated May 15, finds EPA's proposed rule, contrary to the agency's indications, would expand the definition of waters of the U.S. to include small, isolated wetlands, ephemeral drains and many ditches.

San Joaquin River

From: Staff, Associated Press

Water will continue flowing from a reservoir east of Fresno for now after a judge rejected an attempt to turn off the spigots.

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can supply water from Millerton Lake to wildlife refuges and farmers on the San Joaquin Valley's west side while a lawsuit challenging the decision is pending.

Water Transfers

From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian  

The city of Bakersfield lost on all counts in the first round of a lawsuit brought against it by an agricultural water district over whether the city must continue selling water to the district per a 1976 agreement.

The May 23 tentative decision by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Tari Cody could hamper the city's plans to run more water down the dry Kern River bed.


From: Pauline Bartolone, Capital Public Radio    

Many people who live in the Fresno area say water isn't flowing from their taps like it used to. Households using private groundwater wells are finding the water table is falling below their pump during the drought.  CapRadio's Pauline Bartolone visited the people in Fresno they call when the water runs out.

From: Justin Willis, KMPH 26

A new law that will help to manage groundwater throughout California, is now headed to the state senate for approval. The groundwater supply mostly goes unregulated.

Opponents of the bill say the "well police" will always find faults in the state's groundwater system. But the author of the bill says the intent is to allow local agencies to manage their own water.

From: Garth Stapley, Modesto Bee

Hoping not to alienate farmers, a water committee on Wednesday softened well-data recommendations going before Stanislaus County supervisors in two weeks.

Rather than requiring that well owners provide groundwater pumping information, the Water Advisory Committee is suggesting that people volunteer key data. Also, the information must be obscured before sharing it publicly, the committee agreed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

News articles and links from May 28, 2014

Water Rights

From: Dale Yurong, ABC30

The Friant Water Authority filed suit against the US Bureau of Reclamation to halt the flow of water out of Friant Dam to some growers on the Valley's west side. But its bid for a temporary restraining order was rejected in US District Court in Fresno.

Many Valley farmers face zero allocation but thousands of people with historic water rights don't have to cut back at all. Water users staked their claim on the water flowing through the San Joaquin and other rivers generations ago.

San Joaquin River

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

The U.S. District Court in Fresno Tuesday refused to stop Millerton Lake water from being sent to wildlife refuges and farmers with historic rights on the Valley's west side.

East San Joaquin Valley farmers, facing a zero allocation of Millerton water, asked the court last week to stop the flow. Federal officials this month began releasing water, and about 200,000 acre-feet is expected to be released to the west side by late August.

From: Staff, Porterville Recorder

Water that could have saved East Side growers will continue flowing west down the San Joaquin River. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill denied a request for a temporary restraining order requested by the Friant Water User Authority and its member districts to halt the delivery of water from Friant to West Side growers.

"The Friant Water Authority (FWA) is disappointed by the federal court's denial of FWA's request for a temporary restraining order. However, this is an interim ruling by the court and not a final decision on the merits, so FWA will still have a chance to prove its case when it gets its day in court," said the Friant Water User Authority.

Water Management

From: Katharine Mieszkowski, San Francisco Chronicle   

The last time California endured a drought, legislators set their sights on the state's biggest water users: farmers.

The state designed laws to push agricultural water districts to track their water flow and make the largest districts charge farmers based on how much they use. The economic theory was simple: If you aren't paying for how much you actually use, you have little incentive to consume less.


From: Peter Sugia, Modesto Bee

In the context of our current drought and efforts to address decreasing groundwater levels, I am disappointed that some landowners are reluctant to embrace a crucial paradigm shift. In the interest of maintaining current usage, some don't want their pumps monitored. From a short-term perspective, based on minimizing cost and maximizing withdrawal, that is understandable. However, research suggests water levels are dropping; public records indicate a significant number of new well permits have been issued, and it is clear the current policy is not sustainable.

Overdrafting increases pumping costs to others when wells go dry. Subsidence decreases the future capacity of aquifers; surface water is depleted when there is a shortage of groundwater, and the cost of treating groundwater near the bottom of an aquifer is expensive. We need comprehensive groundwater reform that is based on long-term costs, benefits and sustainability.

From: Jay Lund, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences Blog

Without access to groundwater, this year's drought would be truly devastating to farms and cities throughout California. Groundwater is California's largest source of water storage for drought. However, reduced recharge and growing groundwater use in wetter years threatens to diminish its availability in droughts. This can become a serious threat to California's agriculture and rural residents. The current drought highlights how much California's agricultural prosperity depends on groundwater - and agriculture's growing need for managing it.

From: Juliet Williams, San Francisco Chronicle

The state Senate approved legislation Tuesday asking local agencies to develop plans to manage groundwater, a supply that is largely unregulated throughout the state even amid a statewide drought. "We shouldn't waste the opportunity to act this year," said the bill's author, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.

Careful reporting and monitoring of groundwater levels is critical to ensuring the supply is not totally diminished, said Pavley, who added that the intent of her bill, SB1168, is to allow local agencies to manage their own water.

Water Transfers

From: Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian  

Back in November when we learned that Tejon Ranch had purchased a chunk of what I call "the Nickel water" for its proposed Grapevine village, I said with all the water the ranch had been buying in recent years, it was positioning itself as a private water seller. Yup. I was right.Tejon Ranch made $3 million, net, ($7.4 million gross) from selling most of that Nickel water in the first three months of this year, according to its quarterly earnings report.

It sold 6,250 acre-feet of water starting in February to several western Kern County water districts, including Belridge Water Storage District, Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District, Berrenda Mesa Water District and Lost Hills Water District.


From: Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee   

Nearly 1 million juvenile Chinook salmon this week will get a truck ride from Red Bluff to San Pablo Bay as a detour around harmful Sacramento River conditions caused by drought.

The fish are the last of 12 million fall-run Chinook salmon produced this year at Coleman National Hatchery near Red Bluff. Normally, all those fish are released into Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento, to journey downstream to the Pacific Ocean on their own.

From: Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

When fish are swimming they are difficult to count. From Allen Harthorn's vantage point on an elevated deck above Butte Creek, he believes there may be 10,000 spring-run chinook salmon in the creek. A Vaki River Watcher video system lower in the creek has counted only 4,000 fish moving over a fish ladder.

The discrepancy in fish numbers can be expected. The Vaki cameras are placed on a fish ladder. During high storm flow in March and April, fish didn't need the fish ladders to move upstream, thus they avoided the cameras, explained Clint Garman, a fish biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. By any count, the spring-run chinook numbers look good.

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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

News articles and links from May 22, 2014


From: Staff, San Francisco Chronicle

The test of any water policy is not if it works in the wet times but if it protects widely shared public values in the dry times.

So it is distressing to see Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., determined to toss out water management policies and protections, worked out over 20 years to balance the water needs of California cities, farms and the environment, in order to serve some interests at the expense of others.

Coalition response... It's important to remember that California's senators have a responsibility to represent the entire state and to pursue policies that improve the state for the greater good of all its citizens. California's extraordinary diversity in social values, economics and geography make this a challenging task in the best of times.  


From: Senator Dianne Feinstein, San Francisco Chronicle

The May 21 Chronicle editorial "Sen. Feinstein's wrong response to the drought" suggests a water policy is successful "if it protects widely shared public values." That is true. But I would argue that a key part of "shared public values" is actually getting water where it needs to go. Balancing environmental principles with practical water solutions is the goal of my bill, the Emergency Drought Relief Act.

Unfortunately, the Chronicle editorial board repeatedly mischaracterizes this legislation. First and foremost, the bill specifically states that all existing laws and regulations must be followed, including biological opinions, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and other laws. In fact, when environmental groups came to my staff and said the bill did not cover court-approved biological opinions of both smelt and salmon, we promptly revised the bill text.

From: Bruce Kennedy, CBS News, Moneywatch

The severe and historic drought underway in California is expected to take a large financial bite out of the Golden State's agricultural sector -- and lead to thousands of jobs being cut. It's also projected to have additional impacts on the nation's food prices.

A new study by the University of California, Davis' Center for Watershed Sciences says the state's ongoing dry conditions will deal a "severe blow" to irrigated agriculture and farm communities in California's Central Valley -- one of the most productive agricultural regions on earth -- while costing the state around $1.7 billion.

From: Jonathan Kauffman, San Francisco Chronicle

With the summer solstice still a month off, it's still hard to get a full sense of how the drought is affecting the Bay Area's food supply. Dire warnings of wildfires and projections of large price increases are offset by relatively small changes in what we're spending at supermarkets.

A new study that came out of UC Davis yesterday starts to attach some numbers to the losses that Central Valley farmers are facing this year.

From: Michael Doyle, McClatchy DC 

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's newly finished California water bill that's designed for quick Senate approval gratifies some farmers while alienating some fishermen, tribes and environmentalists.

The California Democrat is pushing for the revised 16-page bill to pass the Senate as soon as possible, perhaps by Friday, setting up a delicate round of deal-making with Republican-led House negotiators. Right now, though, this remains a machine with many moving parts.

From: Max Pringle, Capital Public Radio 

Some California farmers may not be allowed to divert river water to irrigate their crops this summer. The restriction is part of new rules being considered this week by state water managers.
Some members of the Water Resources Control board say suspending water rights is an unavoidable temporary emergency measure caused by the drought.

From: Andrew Creasey, Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Fertilizer sales are down and seasonal jobs are being cut as local businesses adapt to crop reductions due to the drought. More than 100,000 acres of agricultural land will likely go fallow this summer due to cutbacks in the surface water supply, and fertilizer companies reported decreases in sales volume between 10 and 15 percent as farmers ready fields for planting.

"Absolutely, (the drought) impacted our business," said Blake Covert, market manager for the Sacramento region for Simplot Grower Solutions. "It's taxing everybody, not just us. Other businesses are off, from car dealers to restaurants to everybody in between."

From: Cara Hallam, Turlock Journal

An economic study conducted at University of California, Davis is estimating a $1.67 billion loss to agriculture and ag-related industries in the Central Valley due to the recent drought, resulting in a $3.4 billion hit to the state's economy, and a ripple effect throughout all segments of the state.

While the UC Davis study paints a bleak picture, the California Farm Water Coalition says it could have been worse."Researchers are estimating that 400,000 acres will remain unplanted but added that the numbers will be revised in an updated report expected next month," said the California Farm Water Coalition in a release. "Earlier surveys conducted by the Coalition doubled that amount of unplanted acreage but recent increases in water deliveries by state and federal projects, along with an increase in pumping from aquifers, have resulted in the lower number."

San Joaquin River

From: Dale Yurong, KFSN 30

The latest battle over water will soon be fought in a federal courtroom in Fresno. The Friant Water Authority, which represents growers on the Valley's east side, has filed a legal challenge to halt the release of water from Millerton Lake. The water being released from Friant Dam will be used by the Exchange Contractors on the Valley's west side, a group of growers with water rights dating back hundreds of years.

Friant Water Authority general manager Ron Jacobsma said the lawsuit seeks a restraining order against the US Bureau of Reclamation to stop the river flow.

"This is not against the Exchange Contractors."

From: Chris Clarke, KCET

A agency that represents 22 irrigation districts and other water providers in the San Joaquin Valley is asking a judge to block the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from releasing water to benefit other water users, including Central Valley wildlife refuges. The Friant Water Authority (FWA) filed suit in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Monday to seek an immediate halt to USBR's release of water from Friant Dam and Millerton Lake to a fellow water agency, the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, and to nearby National Wildlife Refuges, claiming that the releases are a violation of state and federal water laws.

From: Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee

East San Joaquin Valley farmers, facing a zero water allocation this summer, are asking a judge to stop unprecedented water releases that started last week at Millerton Lake.

The Friant Water Authority, representing 15,000 east-side growers, says federal leaders are not following a long-established water-rights pecking order in releasing Millerton water, which would help save thousands of acres of east-side orchards.

From: Staff, Associated Press

A group of Central California farmers have asked a judge to halt the release of water from behind a dam east of Fresno.

The Fresno Bee reports ( that a lawsuit filed this week by the Friant Water Authority, representing 15,000 East San Joaquin Valley farmers, seeks a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Farming News 

From: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

Climate change threatens to undermine not only how much food can be grown but also the quality of that food as altered weather patterns lead to a less desirable harvest, according to a new study. Crops grown by many of the nation's farmers have a lower nutritional content than they once did, according to the report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Research indicates that higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have reduced the protein content in wheat, for example. And the International Rice Research Institute has warned that the quality of rice available to consumers will decrease as temperatures rise, the report noted.