California Begins 6th Straight Dry Year

As reported by CBS San Francisco:

California’s 2016 water year ended Friday, marking a fifth consecutive dry year with low snowfall, officials from the Department of Water Resources said.

As state water officials measure it, the “water year” runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 each year.

Officials said that 2016’s water year is listed in the record books as “dry” statewide, despite that parts of northern California experienced above-average precipitation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center sees slightly better than even odds that La Nina conditions will develop this fall and winter, though that does not necessarily mean there will be substantial rainfall, however. …

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California proposes steering more water to fish, less to farms, cities

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

In a move that foreshadows sweeping statewide reductions in the amount of river water available for human needs, California regulators on Thursday proposed a stark set of cutbacks to cities and farms that receive water from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.

To protect endangered fish at critical parts of their life cycle, regulators proposed leaving hundreds of thousands of additional acre-feet of water in the San Joaquin River system. As little as 20 percent of the river now flows unimpeded to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and regulators said they want the so-called “natural” flow raised to at least 30 percent and perhaps as high as 50 percent.

The proposal by staff members at the State Water Resources Control Board is yet another effort to improve the ecosystem of one of California’s most overused river systems, where flows sometimes drop to a comparative trickle. Overhauling the San Joaquin system is sure to add new drama to the conflicts over California’s stretched water supply, a situation that has been complicated by the onset of drought five years ago. …

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California water districts: We can handle three more years of drought

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

State officials will not force most California water districts to reduce water use this year, even as they caution that the five-year drought persists and note that drought-fueled wildfires continue to wreak havoc.

The State Water Resources Control Board in May asked California’s 411 urban water districts to evaluate how much water they would need in the next three years if drought continued – and whether their supplies would meet that demand. Districts that certified their supplies are adequate do not face mandatory water-use cuts. Those with inadequate supplies must set conservation goals proportional to their anticipated shortfall.

About 85 percent of the state’s water districts told the water board that they believe they have adequate supplies to handle continued drought and should not be subject to state-mandated conservation targets, according to results released Tuesday by the water board.

In the Sacramento region, no water supplier will face state-mandated conservation targets, though about half of the region’s districts have set voluntary conservation goals and a few local communities, including Sacramento and Davis, will continue to restrict lawn watering days. …

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Delta Tunnels Water Plan Builds in Wrong Spot

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

A half century after building the largest water-delivery system in America, California officials say they now realize they put their giant straws to capture Delta water in the wrong place.

Last week, state and federal water project operators opened the case to win permission for a fix — construction of three diversion points near Sacramento tied to twin underground tunnels to shunt Delta water for 25 million people throughout the state.

Not surprisingly, the hearing before the state water board rekindled old wounds and produced two sharply different portrayals of what the proposed $17 billion California WaterFix would do for the state’s deeply troubled plumbing system.

Critics in Northern California call the plan a water grab destined to harm the Delta environment, fish and farmers. The 700-square-mile mile region of rivers and sloughs will end up with dirtier, saltier water with more toxic algae, while very little will be done to improve overall water supplies, they say. …

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On California Farms’ Water Issues, Congress Needs Food for Thought

Row crops growing in California.

When it comes to water and agriculture, California is upside-down.

That’s what historian Carey McWilliams wrote in his 1949 book, “California: The Great Exception.” Most of the water is in the northern part, and most of the best land for farming is further south.

But this “contrariness of nature” worked to humanity’s advantage in two ways, McWilliams wrote, because it stimulated inventiveness and technological achievement, and because “the long dry season is an enormous agricultural asset.”

That assumes you agree that abundant food production is a good thing, a view that in recent years has become unfashionable in places like Venezuela, Zimbabwe and San Francisco.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, described a stunning meeting he had with representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental activists in the summer of 2002 about the future of the San Joaquin Valley. “Their goal was to remove 1.3 million acres of farmland from production,” he said. “From Merced all the way down to Bakersfield, and on the entire west side of the Valley as well as part of the east side, productive agriculture would end, and the land would return to some ideal state of nature.”

That plan was moved forward when the Central Valley Project Improvement Act was passed by Congress in 1992. Under the law, 260 billion gallons of water on the Valley’s west side had to be diverted away from human uses and out to the environment.

Then a series of lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act secured protected status for smelt in 2008 and salmon in 2009, and that was enough to force the virtual shutdown of two major pumping stations that moved water to the Central Valley. Another lawsuit resulted in the San Joaquin River Settlement, later enacted by Congress at a cost of more than $1 billion to taxpayers, which diverted more water away from the Central Valley in an attempt to create salmon runs.

Farmers struggled to get by with groundwater, but in 2014, new California regulations limited that, too.

In 1949, McWilliams observed that if the Central Valley were a state, it would rank fifth in the nation for agricultural production. Today it has poverty and unemployment rates that would be right at home in the Great Depression.

And that’s why members of Congress from the region have repeatedly introduced legislation to adjust federal law in ways that would allow water to be restored to the Central Valley. The legislation passed the House several times only to die in the Senate.

Last year, Rep. David Valadao, R-Bakersfield, introduced it again, calling it the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015. President Obama immediately threatened a veto, but in May, Valadao attached the bill as an amendment to an energy bill already passed by the Senate, and the House passed it. …

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We’ve got plenty of water, says Sacramento region

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

The Sacramento region’s largest water districts have given a resounding answer to the question of whether they could handle three more years of drought: We have plenty of water.

The State Water Resources Control Board last month asked California’s urban water districts to evaluate how much water they would need in the next three years if drought persisted – and whether their supplies would meet that demand. Districts that certify their supplies are adequate will not face mandatory water-use cuts. Those with inadequate supplies must set conservation goals proportional to their anticipated shortfall.

The new localized approach to water conservation in California is a sharp reversal from last year, when a “we’re all in this together” ethos led the state to demand mandatory water-use cuts of more than 28 percent throughout most of the Sacramento region compared with 2013.

Each of the 10 largest districts in the Sacramento region told the state last week that their water supplies are healthy and there is no need to impose mandatory percentage-based cuts again this year. Some districts reported large surpluses, contending they could withstand multiple years of drought without running out of water. Others reported a surplus but said that they would ask for voluntary conservation from customers. …

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California water bill has three possible paths for passage

As reported by The News Tribune:

House Republicans this week are adding a controversial California water bill to an unrelated Senate energy package, opening a new front in a fight that’s already put Democrats on the defensive.

The unexpected energy bill maneuver gives San Joaquin Valley lawmakers a third vehicle they might propel all the way to the White House. At the least, it builds up steam for the GOP drive to boost California water storage and divert more irrigation deliveries to Valley farms.

“Farmers, families and entire communities are suffering, and unnecessarily so,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, Calif., said Monday.

On Tuesday, the leadership-controlled House Rules Committee is scheduled to pack the California water bill and about three dozen other bills onto the Senate energy legislation. The full House will then take up the massive package, spanning more than 1,000 pages, later this week. …

California drought rules eased significantly

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

This summer’s drought rules in California are going to be a whole lot looser than last summer’s.

In a major shift, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday announced plans to drop all statewide mandatory water conservation targets it had imposed on urban areas last June.

The new rules, which are expected to be approved May 18 by the State Water Resources Control Board, would instead allow more than 400 cities, water districts and private companies to each set their own water conservation targets, as long as they report them to state officials.

Water agencies, particularly in Southern California and around Sacramento, had complained bitterly about the statewide rules, saying that …

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Well-being of Fish Valued Over CA’s Economy and Quality of Life

Lake Shasta Water ReservoirBefore raising our glasses to toast this winter’s abundant El Niño rainfall, here’s a sobering thought: Because of deliberate efforts to protect fish by limiting water storage, about half the rain falling on California will wash into the ocean, instead of being stored for the dry, hot summer to come. As for the water now filling the state’s reservoirs, billions of gallons will be flushed down rivers and out to sea in efforts to protect fish, rather than being used to irrigate food crops or provide water for thirsty communities when the drought resumes. Lawsuits and bad policy decisions have created a situation in which the well-being of fish is seemingly valued more than our economy or quality of life. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

Despite steady population increases and a growing need for water, California has removed about 30 dams to improve fish habitat since 1979, costing the state over a hundred billion gallons in lost storage capacity. Moreover, we’ve failed to build new water storage projects to replace that lost capacity, and are now paying a high price for our short-sightedness. Had the Sites Reservoir been built in western Colusa County when first proposed in the 1980’s, it would be filled with about 650 billion gallons of water. Other stalled projects would be capturing billions of gallons of water as well.

Meanwhile, despite declining storage capacity, trillions of gallons of water have been flushed through California rivers in recent years to protect fish. In the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta alone, more than 1.4 trillion gallons of water have been redirected out to sea since 2008 in a failing effort to save the endangered Delta Smelt — water that once flowed to Central Valley farms, the San Francisco Bay area, and Southern California. Although biologists now say the smelt will soon be extinct, federal officials have announced that water will continue being flushed through the delta, despite the devastating social and economic impact on valley farms and communities, where unemployment is now twice the statewide average largely because of forced water cutbacks. As a result, nearly a million acres of the most fertile farmland in the world have been taken out of production, orchards are being bulldozed, and fields that once grew food and provided jobs lie fallow. State officials recently announced that more water will be delivered to the valley this year, but it will still be less than half of what’s needed.

California shouldn’t have to choose between fish or families. With additional water storage and responsible reform of federal environmental laws, we can protect both.

We should move forward with a plan by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation to raise the height of Shasta Dam in Northern California, which would increase water storage by 14 percent, providing enough water for about 550,000 people a year, while boosting the number of endangered salmon in the Sacramento River by allowing the regular release of cold water needed by the fish. We should also expedite construction of the Temperance Flat Dam along the San Joaquin River, expand the San Luis Reservoir, and build the Sites Reservoir, all of which would dramatically increase California’s water storage capacity, making it possible to provide water for farms, municipalities and environmental protection, while allowing us to bank water for future droughts.

These and other water storage and delivery projects have been blocked for years by environmental groups suing under the Endangered Species Act, a well-intentioned federal law that is being increasingly misused to derail energy, housing, transportation, and other infrastructure projects. The law needs to be reformed.

“We’re at the point now where almost any species cannot have its population affected by man,” says Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, “and that’s an impossible mission to achieve.”

The act needs to be better balanced so human and economic benefits become part of the equation when considering the merits of a particular project that could impact an obscure newt or spider. As the act is currently written, the environment is sacrosanct, and the needs of people and the economy are not considered. They should be.

Board Member, National Alliance for Environmental Reform and former President of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California’s largest reservoir filling too fast thanks to El Nino, must release more water

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

The El Niño-fueled storms that have swept through Northern California in recent weeks have swelled some of the state’s largest reservoirs to encouraging levels even as the state’s drought persists.

One of the biggest beneficiaries has been Lake Shasta, a keystone reservoir of the Central Valley project, which serves California growers.

To make room in Shasta for water from last weekend’s storms, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation ramped up releases from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 20,000 cubic feet per second on March 18. It was the first time since 2011 that the bureau released water into the upper Sacramento River at such a rapid rate, said spokesman Shane Hunt.

Officials began slowing the releases again on Wednesday, Hunt said. The rate is expected to return to around …

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