Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Brown's executive order: How ag is affected

Amid a wide-reaching executive order today, Gov. Jerry Brown told state water regulators to require more frequent reporting of water diversions and use by water rights holders, conduct inspections and crack down further on illegal diversions and wasteful use of water.

Agricultural water providers serving more than 10,000 acres are required to develop drought management plans that detail how the districts "strike a balance between supplies and demand," said Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources.

Additionally, local water agencies in high- and medium-risk groundwater basins must immediately implement a groundwater monitoring program.

"It's obvious that we're clearly in a drought that we've not seen before, and neither have our parents or grandparents, so we have to take measures we haven't taken before," State Water Resources Control Board chairwoman Felicia Marcus said in a conference call with reporters.

The ag-related measures come amid instructions from Brown that mostly center around urban water use, including a requirement that cities reduce their consumption by 25 percent compared to 2013 levels and that state and local agencies replace 50 million square feet of lawns with drought-tolerant landscapes.

"Last year the governor asked all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent, but unfortunately many haven't stepped up to meet that goal," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of California's Office of Emergency Services. "Now with no snow in the mountains and with reservoirs getting lower by the day, it's really time to do more."

For my complete story on the order's impact on ag and the state's responses to critics, check CapitalPress.com soon.

The photo is of Brown watching Frank Gehrke, the DWR's chief of snow surveys, as he conducted a manual snow survey today at Echo Summit east of Sacramento. It was provided by DWR.

Storm set to provide a little relief next week

And not a moment too soon. A storm with snow is set to arrive Easter Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

From an NWS bulletin:
Sierra Snow with Valley Rain Likely Sunday through Tuesday

Impacts

Hazardous travel likely across the mountains with chain controls and travel delays.
Locally heavy rain and small hail possible from thunderstorms.

Forecast Confidence
Medium

Timing and Strength
1st System: Saturday night through Sunday
A few inches of snow possible above 4000 ft.
2nd System: Tuesday
Shorter duration of snow than 1st system, but potentially higher snowfall rates.

Weather Summary
A long period of mostly fair and warm weather will be coming to an end this weekend as a series of low pressure systems moves through Northern California. The greatest impact will likely be to the Sierra, where potentially a foot of snow could fall along the passes over the course of a few days. Given the long stretch of warm weather, many trans-Sierra drivers will likely be ill-prepared for wintry weather; complacency is a major concern.

Manual snow survey finds no snow at all

April 1 is usually considered the peak date for the Sierra snowpack, but the warm temperatures we've seen in March have obliterated an already meager supply of snow water content.

From the Department of Water Resources:
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) found no snow whatsoever today during its manual survey for the media at 6,800 feet in the Sierra Nevada. This was the first time in 75 years of early-April measurements at the Phillips snow course that no snow was found there.

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. observed the survey, which confirmed electronic readings showing the statewide snowpack with less water content today than any April 1st since 1950.

Attending the survey with Governor Brown was DWR Director Mark Cowin, who said Californians can expect to receive almost no water from the meager snowpack as it melts in the coming weeks.

“Today’s survey underscores the severity of California’s drought,” he said. “Water conservation must become a way of life during the worst drought in most Californians’ lifetimes.”

Today’s readings are historically significant, since the snowpack traditionally is at its peak by early April before it begins to melt. Electronic readings today found that the statewide snowpack holds only 1.4 inches of water content, just 5 percent of the historical average of 28.3 inches for April 1. The previous low for the date was 25 percent in 2014 and 1977.

The Phillips snow course, which has been surveyed since 1941, has averaged 66.5 inches in early-April measurements there. Four years ago today, the measured depth at Phillips was 124.4 inches. The deepest April 1st Phillips measurement was 150.7 inches in 1983, and the lowest previously was 1.04 inches in 1988. Photos of previous surveys at Phillips can be found here. Images from today’s survey will be posted at that link as soon as possible.

Electronic readings indicate the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack today is 1.4 inches, 5 percent of average for the date. The central and southern Sierra readings were 1.5 inches (5 percent of average) and 1.3 inches (5 percent) respectively.

Today’s manual survey was the fourth of the season conducted for the news media at the Phillips snow course just off Highway 50 near Sierra at Tahoe Road 90 miles east of Sacramento. When DWR conducted the first three manual surveys on December 30, January 29 and March 3, the statewide water content in the snowpack was 50 percent, 25 percent and 19 percent respectively of the historical averages for those dates. The decline reflects California’s significantly lower precipitation and the warming trend that made this winter the warmest in the state’s recorded history. What precipitation there was fell mostly as rain due to warmer temperatures.

In what were considered normal precipitation years, the snowpack supplied about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and summer. The greater the snowpack water content, the greater the likelihood California’s reservoirs will receive ample runoff as the snowpack melts to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.

Little precipitation has fallen in Northern California since early February. The eight weather stations there that have been monitored for generations have recorded 31.7 inches since the beginning of Water Year 2015 on October 1. That is 76 percent of the historical average for April 1. Further south, the five-station San Joaquin index has recorded 13.7 inches, 41 percent of normal for today’s date, and the six-station index in the Tulare Basin is similarly far below normal – 10.3 inches, or 42 percent of the April 1 average there.

California’s historically wettest winter months have already passed, and the drought is now firmly rooted in its fourth consecutive year. [...]

The major water supply reservoirs are storing more water this year than last but are still far below the historical average for early March. Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s (SWP) principal reservoir, now holds 51 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (67 percent of its historical average for the date). Shasta Lake north of Redding and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 59 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity (73 percent of its historic average). San Luis Reservoir, which serves both the SWP and CVP, holds much more water than it did one year ago due to recent water deliveries to the reservoir as a component of the agencies’ drought management strategy. San Luis holds 66 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (73 percent of normal for the date).
Updated electronic snowpack readings can be found here.

The governor has imposed mandatory water restrictions for the first time, as the AP reports on our website. State officials will be holding a teleconference this afternoon to discuss the drought, and I'll be listening in. For more updates, check back here and at CapitalPress.com.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Caucus calls Bull on wood stove, barbecue regs

The Congressional Western Caucus' latest Bull Report centers on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent moves to regulate and restrict common, ordinary wood stoves and barbecue grills.

From the caucus:
The EPA continues stealing its way into every home and every season of the year. In February, mid winter, the agency finalized regulations further restricting wood stove manufacturers and setting stringent soot standards. Now, as spring starts to break through and summertime lies just around the bend, we learn that the EPA decided to fund a study examining yet another EPA-perceived danger to the environment: barbecue grills. The EPA awarded a $15,000 grant to the University of California—Riverside to examine “particulate emissions” from “residential barbecues.” The study is intended to develop technology to reduce “air pollution” and “health hazards” due to residential barbecues with “potential for global application.”

The EPA says they do not currently regulate backyard grills, but the federal government didn’t used to regulate wood stoves either before 1988 and American families who rely on those stoves for warmth in the wintertime have seen how that has changed and grown even more restrictive in recent years.

For using taxpayer money to study the EPA-perceived “hazards” of a traditional American pastime, enjoyed most famously on the annual celebration of our independence, we give the EPA three bulls with a fourth to be added pending any future move by the EPA to regulate residential grills.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Indiana religious-liberty law: a little perspective

The latest cause celebre in some circles is to criticize an Indiana religious-liberties law they perceive is a slap at the gay community. But it's always helpful in these situations to maintain a little perspective.

First of all, the law doesn't even mention gays. As Breitbart News' Daniel J. Flynn explains:
The law in question, which opponents interpret to permit businesses to opt out of providing goods and services to gay weddings and other events that might offend the religious sensibilities of their proprietors, states, with some caveats, that a “governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” The text of the law, written for the most part in wonkish jargon, does not mention the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “homosexuality,” or any other related term or phrase.
Secondly, the concept of the law is nothing new. David French writes at National Review Online:
But for national freakouts, it’s tough to beat either the sky-is-falling rhetoric around the idea that a few Hobby Lobby employees would have to buy their own abortifacients or, more recently, the sheer nonsense of #boycottindiana, the movement to freeze an entire state out of the national economy for passing a religious freedom law similar to the national Religious Freedom Restoration ACT (RFRA) and RFRAs in 19 other states. While it’s hardly surprising to see legally ignorant sportswriters use the language of segregated lunch counters, it’s disturbing to see well-informed CEOs such as Apple’s Tim Cook conjuring up the specter of the Old South.

Simply put, their concerns about systematic invidious discrimination are utter hogwash, and they either know it or should know it. Why? Because RFRAs aren’t new, the legal standard they protect is decades older than the RFRAs themselves, and these legal standards have not been used — nor can they be used — to create the dystopian future the Left claims to fear.
So why the hysteria? French chalks it up to simple anti-Christian bigotry. And he adds:
This bigotry has a purpose. It serves to demonize the last significant constituency standing in the way of sexual revolution radicalism. After all, unless you demonize your opposition, the general public will have little appetite for forcing Christians to pay for abortion pills, forcing Christian groups to open up to atheist leadership, or forcing Christian bakers or photographers to help celebrate events they find morally offensive. After all, there’s no clamor for requiring Kosher delis to stock pork or requiring gay lawyers to represent the Westboro Baptist Church.

While RFRAs protect people of all faiths, from peyote-smoking Native Americans to Bible-toting florists, the Left’s outrage is narrowly targeted — against the Christian people whose livelihoods they seek to ruin, whose consciences they seek to appropriate, and whose organizations they seek to disrupt. #BoycottIndiana isn’t a cry for freedom. It’s nothing more than an online mob, seeking to bully those it hates.
As a side note, it's interesting that, according to Flynn's piece, the NFL has chosen to remain silent about this controversy. Could it be that the league learned a lesson after its tacit embrace of "Hands up, don't shoot", which turned out to be total baloney? I doubt it, but one can hope.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Balmy weather fuels field work, drought worries

Today I took a road trip to get pictures of rice planting preparations in the Willows area and of the drought-depleted Sacramento River at the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority's pumping station in Red Bluff. The field work was being performed by worker Chuck Pentz in the first two photos and grower Russel Maben in the third.

Despite media reports that some rice growers plan to sell their water to Los Angeles rather than plant a crop, the folks I've talked to said they intend to plant rice this spring. Growers in the settlement-contractor districts expect to get about 75 percent of their normal allotments, which is what they got last year. A clearer picture should emerge next week when 1) the National Agricultural Statistics Service in Sacramento comes out with its plantings report, which should happen Tuesday, and 2) the state Department of Water Resources does its next manual snow survey on Wednesday. April 1 is considered the pinnacle in terms of the snowpack season, but this year's meager results could leave farmers who depend on the runoff feeling like April fools.

Watch for our coverage next week at CapitalPress.com.

No change in CVP water allocations

From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento:
The Bureau of Reclamation reports that, due to continued dry conditions, the initial 2015 water supply allocation released on February 27 for Central Valley Project agricultural contractors and municipal and industrial contractors remains unchanged.

“When we announced the initial allocation, we committed to providing regular water supply updates, recognizing the severe impacts of this fourth year of drought on our water users,” stated Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo. “We continue to work closely with our customers, contractors and federal and state partners to do everything possible to deliver the maximum amount of CVP water, including the 3.1 million acre-feet of CVP water already announced for allocation to our senior water contractors and urban water users last month.”

A complete breakdown of the initial allocation is available at www.usbr.gov/mp/PA/water/docs/1_CVP_Water_Quantities_Allocation.pdf.

The February allocation was based on a conservative runoff forecast driven by critically dry hydrologic conditions, low storage levels, water quality requirements, flow objectives, relative priority of water rights and endangered species protection measures. Currently, the California Department of Water Resources reports that the snow water content statewide is only 12 percent of average for this time of year.

This is the second consecutive Shasta Critical Year for purposes of determining maximum contract quantities for senior water rights holders and wildlife refuges in the Central Valley. Those contractors and refuges have been put on notice that their contract supplies will be reduced due to persistent dry conditions. Reclamation remains committed to working with these contractors to meet their demands through the summer.

Reclamation and DWR are operating the CVP and State Water Project consistent with the 2015 Drought Contingency Plan. The Plan outlines actions to help the CVP and SWP manage limited water supplies and outlines potential adjustments to regulatory requirements. The Plan may be viewed at www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/drought/docs/2015_drought_contingency_plan.pdf.

As the water year progresses, Reclamation will continue to monitor changes to hydrology and opportunities to exercise operational flexibility of the CVP that could influence the allocation. Water supply updates will be made as appropriate and posted on Reclamation’s website at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/pa/water. For further information, please contact the Public Affairs Office at 916-978-5100 (TTY 800-877-8339) or mppublicaffairs@usbr.gov.