Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LaMalfa, 156 colleagues reject Boehner DHS cave

Explanations of internal House of Representatives politics by my good friend Erin Ryan aside, it's hard to imagine that John Boehner could be much longer for the speakership when 167 members of his own party vote against his immigration cave-in to Democrats, including the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

From LaMalfa's office:
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) today voted against a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill that allowed the President’s immigration amnesty plan to move forward. H.R. 240, which funds DHS for the remainder of the fiscal year, passed 257-167 with only Republicans in opposition.

“I could not in good conscious vote for a bill that allows the President’s immigration plan to move forward. There is nothing clean about this bill. For it to be clean, it would not include radical changes to our nation’s immigration system, such as those the President is attempting to enact outside of our laws,” said LaMalfa. “The President has said 22 times that he lacks the power to change the law without working with Congress, and yet his immigration plan would do just that by giving legal status to millions who entered the country illegally.”

The House had previously passed a DHS funding bill that would prevent the President’s proposal to allow as many as five million illegal immigrants to remain in the country. However, Democrats used procedural tactics to force a vote on H.R. 240 as passed by the Senate, which allows the President’s plan to move forward.
I understand that immigration is important to agricultural industries, which I'm sure is why a couple of San Joaquin Valley lawmakers were among the 75 Republicans who voted for the bill.

But as much as the AP and other agenda-driven media tried to portray what has been going on in Congress as "dysfunction" and "a mess", the fact is that members have engaged in a serious constitutional debate about the separation of powers. I'm sure everyone had opinions as to how it should play out, but to shrug it off as simply another example of congressional gridlock or some members being difficult is frankly intellectually dishonest, not that I would expect anything different from left-wing media. And for Boehner to face a revolt from 167 members of his own party on such a fundamental issue of our time -- and have to form alliances across the aisle to fund an activity one judge has already ruled is illegal -- can't bode well for his future in leadership, or perhaps maybe it shouldn't.

Manual snowpack reading just 5 percent of normal

From the state Department of Water Resources:
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which Californians rely on heavily during the dry summer months for their water needs, continues to disappoint this winter. Despite the snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Range over the weekend that gladdened ski and snowboard enthusiasts, it was not enough to offset weeks with no snow at all.

Today’s manual survey by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) at the Phillips snow course in the mountains 90 miles east of Sacramento found 0.9 inches of water content in the snow, just 5 percent of the March 3 historical average for that site. Electronic readings by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) today indicate the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack is 4.4 inches, 16 percent of average for the date. The central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20 percent of average) and 5 inches (22 percent) respectively.

Statewide, 103 electronic sensors found today’s snow water equivalent to be 5 inches, 19 percent of the March 3 multi-decade average. When DWR conducted the season’s first two manual surveys on December 30 and January 29, the statewide water content was 50 percent and 25 percent respectively of the historical averages for those dates.

The snowpack’s water content this year is historically low for early March. Only in 1991 was the water content of the snowpack lower – 18 percent of that early-March average. Manual surveys of 180 snow courses this year reveal even less water content – just 13 percent of the early-March average, the lowest in DWR’s records for this time of year. The difference between electronic and manual surveys is explained by the higher elevation of most electronic sensors, where they receive more snow than many of the lower-elevation snow courses.

After records for dryness were set in many parts of the state in January, two storms in early February delivered enough precipitation at eight northern Sierra weather stations to bring the month’s total up to historical standards there. That short rainy interlude was followed by three weeks of virtually no rainfall in the northern Sierra, and precipitation at the eight stations since Water Year 2015 began on October 1 is now only 87 percent of average for that period. Further south, the 5-station San Joaquin index is 48 percent of normal, and the six-station index in the Tulare Basin is similarly far below normal at 51 percent.

Weeks of spring-like weather have produced more rain than snow when storms did arrive during California’s warmest winter on record. California’s historically wettest winter months have already passed, and it’s now almost certain that California will be in drought throughout 2015 for the fourth consecutive year.

Unless this month approximates the 1991 “Miracle March” with significantly more precipitation than normal, the traditional wet season will end on April 1 with an alarmingly low amount of water stored in the mountains as snow.

In normal years, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early 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.

No water bond funds for the raising of Shasta Dam?

I've reported several times that the proposal to raise Shasta Dam has been identified as a potential recipient of funds under Proposition 1, the water bond that passed in November. But a legislative consultant tells me that spending bond funds on the dam wouldn't fly.

Tina Cannon Leahy, principal consultant for the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, emailed me last night:
It is a common misconception that Proposition 1 can be used to fund a raise of Shasta Dam. However, Section 79711(e) (“General Provisions”) of Prop. 1 states (emphasis added):
(e) Nothing in this division shall be construed to affect the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (Chapter 1.4 (commencing with Section 5093.50) of Division 5 of the Public Resources Code) or the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. Sec. 1271 et seq.) and funds authorized pursuant to this division shall not be available for any project that could have an adverse effect on the values upon which a wild and scenic river or any other river is afforded protections pursuant to the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act or the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Section 79751 of Prop. 1 (the “Storage” section) states (emphasis added):
79751. Projects for which the public benefits are eligible for funding under this chapter consist of only the following:
(a) Surface storage projects identified in the CALFED Bay-Delta Program Record of Decision, dated August 28, 2000, except for projects prohibited by Chapter 1.4 (commencing with Section 5093.50) of Division 5 of the Public Resources Code.
(b) Groundwater storage projects and groundwater contamination prevention or remediation projects that provide water storage benefits….
The California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which commences in the Public Resources Code at Section 5093.50, states:
5093.542. The Legislature finds and declares that the McCloud River possesses extraordinary resources in that it supports one of the finest wild trout fisheries in the state...
(c) Except for participation by the Department of Water Resources in studies involving the technical and economic feasibility of enlargement of Shasta Dam, no department or agency of the state shall assist or cooperate with, whether by loan, grant, license, or otherwise, any agency of the federal, state, or local government in the planning or construction of any dam, reservoir, diversion, or other water impoundment facility that could have an adverse effect on the free-flowing condition of the McCloud River, or on its wild trout fishery…
So, Proposition 1 actually precludes any of its funding being used for a raise of Shasta Dam.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been studying alternatives for the dam that include raising it as much as 18 feet, and the Winnemem-Wintu Tribe -- which opposes the project for cultural reasons -- was concerned enough that it held a ceremonial war dance last fall in the heart of the Proposition 1 campaign. However, the statutes are definitely something the California Water Commission would have to consider if a funding request for the dam project came its way.

Monday, March 2, 2015

State to increase water deliveries to 20 percent

Just three days after the Feds announced a much-anticipated zero allocation for farms without senior water rights, the state is actually increasing its expected deliveries.

From the California Department of Water Resources:
Few storms have graced California so far this winter, but those that did – in mid-December and early February – will allow the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to increase water deliveries to most customers of the State Water Project (SWP) by an additional 204,000 acre-feet (AF).

The modest increase in SWP allocation amounts to enough water to meet the needs of approximately 408,000 households for a year. DWR officials are confident they can supply the additional water thanks to runoff of December and February storms that was pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos. The reservoir holds 627,000 acre-feet more water now than it did at this time a year ago. Water to meet the slight increase in allocation will not come from Lake Oroville in Northern California; DWR seeks to preserve storage in that keystone SWP reservoir to meet demands in late 2015 and next year, should it prove dry as well.

The additional deliveries will increase this year’s SWP allocation from 15 percent to 20 percent, for total deliveries of 840,000 acre-feet of water. The 29 public water agencies that take delivery of SWP supplies have requested 4,172,686 AF. A 20 percent allocation would be the second-lowest since 1991, when agricultural customers of the project got a zero allocation and municipal customers received 30 percent. Last year, SWP deliveries were five percent of requested amounts for all customers.

The slight increase in SWP deliveries will help to meet the needs of water districts in the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Clara Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California. The past three years of drought have seriously diminished local reservoirs and aquifers relied on by these agencies. They also have used most of the water carried over in SWP reservoirs from 2013 and earlier years. Roughly 25 million Californians and nearly one million acres of irrigated farmland, mostly in Kern and Kings counties, depend upon the SWP for at least some of their supplies.

“We’re grateful that close coordination among water and wildlife agencies in managing limited runoff this winter will afford State Water Project contractors a slight increase in their supplies,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “We’re confident that this water, delivered to local districts around the state, will help offset some economic harm of this extended drought.”

The new SWP allocation of 20 percent replaces the allocation of 15 percent announced on January 15. The initial allocation of 10 percent, made on December 1, was increased after mid-December storms boosted river flows and tight coordination among federal and state water and wildlife-protection agencies allowed the SWP to store runoff south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta without violating statutory and regulatory obligations to protect wildlife and water quality.

The last 100 percent SWP allocation – difficult to achieve even in wet years because of Delta pumping restrictions to protect threatened and endangered fish species – was in 2006. SWP allocations for recent years:

2014 – 5 percent
2013 – 35 percent
2012 – 65 percent
2011 – 80 percent
2010 – 50 percent
2009 – 40 percent
2008 – 35 percent
2007 – 60 percent

The October-through-April season when California on average gets 90 percent of its precipitation is winding down. This year is shaping up as a critically dry fourth consecutive year of drought. Thanks to a couple of large storms, one in December and another in February, major reservoirs in Northern California hold more water now than at this time last year, but most remain below historical average storage for this time of year. Major reservoirs are generally even more depleted in Southern California, where water districts depended heavily on local supplies last year.

DWR snow surveyors will make manual measurements of the Sierra Nevada snowpack tomorrow, March 3. Electronic readings show the mountain snowpack statewide stands at just 19 percent of typical water content for this time of year. That snowpack typically provides about a third of the water people use in California each year. Without a series of major storms in the remaining weeks of winter, Californians cannot expect the Sierra snowpack to replenish reservoirs and groundwater basins.

In January 2014, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a drought state of emergency and asked Californians to voluntarily curb their water use by 20 percent. The state recorded 5,620 fires during calendar year 2014 resulting in 90,606 acres burned, and about 1,000 fires more than the annual average of the preceding five years. Vast tracts of farmland have been fallowed and some communities have been short on drinking water.

Every Californian can help stretch the state’s limited supplies by using water carefully. Outdoor landscaping needs little water in the winter, so shut off sprinklers, especially for the first couple of weeks after a rain. Replace washers in leaking faucets or make other repairs to stop leaks. Run dishwashers and clothes washers only with full loads. For more water-saving tips, visit saveourwater.com.
Growers had been uneasy about the prospect of even getting 15 percent considering the light snowpack, which the DWR is set to measure by hand again tomorrow.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Farmers brace for another zero allocation for ag

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's initial allocations of Central Valley Project water will be formally announced within the hour, but farm groups are anticipating another zero allocation and are already starting to release statements.

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:
Continued drought and problems in water management combine to extend the suffering in rural communities, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation. CFBF President Paul Wenger said today’s announcement that the federal Central Valley Project will likely deliver no water to most of its agricultural customers—for a second straight year—reinforces the need to move quickly on water projects authorized by the Proposition 1 water bond and on congressional reform of environmental laws.

“The CVP announcement is both saddening and maddening,” Wenger said. “It’s saddening because the continued cutoff of water will prolong the impact of water shortages on farmers, their employees and rural communities. It’s maddening because California still struggles to manage water wisely and flexibly, especially in dry years.”

Wenger noted ongoing conflicts in water management, specifically about how much water is repeatedly dedicated to protection of fish and wildlife at the expense of jobs and food production for people.

“In a year like this, when every drop of water is more precious than ever, we must improve our ability to store storm flows when we can,” he said. “People have real frustration about bureaucratic decisions that send excess water out to sea beyond what’s needed for the ecosystem and delta water quality, when that water could be stored for later use, both by people and in the environment.”

Wenger said the continued drought lends urgency to the current process of allocating money to be invested from the water bond approved by California voters last November.

“Farm Bureau and other organizations will continue to work with the California Water Commission to ensure that bond money for surface-water storage projects is apportioned as rapidly and as effectively as possible,” Wenger said. “We are suffering now from our past failure to improve our water system. We shouldn’t compound the suffering by studying projects to death. It’s time to invest the money that Californians voted to invest.”

He also called on Congress to move quickly “to provide relief from rigid environmental laws that have failed to balance species protections with human needs.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 57,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.
California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen told me this morning the expected announcement is "flawed."

"We think the state and federal agencies and administrations have a policy that essentially destroys the food supply," he said. "We've got to be the only state and nation on earth setting policies that do that."

Watch for updates soon.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

LaMalfa, Garamendi introduce Sites Reservoir bill

From the office of Rep. John Garamendi:
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA-03) today announced the introduction of HR 1060, which will accelerate the completion of a feasibility study of Sites Reservoir and authorize the project should it be found feasible. Located in Colusa and Glenn counties, Sites Reservoir is a proposed off-stream reservoir that would store as much as 1.8 million acre feet of water for cities, agriculture and the environment.

“Californians have spoken strongly in support of investing in new surface storage, with over two-thirds voting to invest in projects like Sites Reservoir,” said Rep. LaMalfa (CA-01). “Sites provides more storage per dollar invested than any other proposed project, ensuring that California has water available for cities, farms and the environment during future droughts. It’s time to fulfill the promises made to voters, move forward on Sites, and build the infrastructure that will allow our state’s economy to continue growing for generations to come.”

“California is famous for bouncing back from adversity and emerging stronger. Sites Reservoir will play a key role in making our state drought resilient by expanding our water reserves. The Sites project would help meet the water needs of our communities, farms, and environment. It has galvanized bipartisan support across California. The water bond, which provides significant funding for storage, was passed by an overwhelming majority of California voters. Let’s continue this momentum, pass this bill, and start building California’s water future,” said Congressman Garamendi (D-CA-03).

David Guy, President of the Northern California Water Association, urged support for the measure, stating, “This bi-partisan effort promoting progressive water management is a step forward for California. The dry years in California have shown the importance of surface storage for all beneficial purposes--water needed for cities and rural communities, farms, fish, birds and recreation. An off-stream regulating reservoir on the west-side of the Sacramento Valley (Sites) is critical for all these beneficial purposes in the Sacramento Valley, as well as providing state-wide water system operational improvements.”

Fritz Durst, Chairman of the Sites Joint Powers Authority (Sites JPA), supported the Congressmen’s action, stating, “Once again, our representatives, Congressmen LaMalfa and Garamendi, have exercised leadership by advancing this legislation and project. Sites Reservoir will improve statewide water reliability so desperately needed in drought years to protect and enhance the lifeblood of our economy, while also providing the necessary water to conserve our rich wildlife and natural resources."

Sites JPA Vice Chair Leigh McDaniel highlighted the importance of expeditious Congressional consideration of this measure, saying, “With the eyes of the country focused on California's historic drought, it is vital that we work jointly to seize this opportunity to develop the infrastructure needed to store additional water at Sites Reservoir and beyond. Doing so will go a long way toward enhancing operational efficiency of the Central Valley Project and serve to mitigate the impacts of similar droughts going forward.”

The California Department of Water Resources recently reported that Sites Reservoir would generate an additional 900,000 acre feet of water during droughts, enough water to supply over seven million Californians for an entire year.

The California Alliance for Jobs has also examined Sites Reservoir and released a video detailing the project’s benefits to cities, farms and the environment. As an off-stream reservoir, Sites has the ability to recapture water released upstream, allowing improved conditions for salmon and reuse of water for urban and agriculture use.

The Northern California Water Agency produced an infographic on Sites Reservoir.

State to conduct next snow survey on Tuesday

The state will conduct its third snow survey of the season on Tuesday, the Department of Water Resources has announced.

From the DWR:
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct this winter’s third manual snow survey on March 3 just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento. [...]

Recent electronic readings have revealed a trend of declining water content in the snowpack this winter. Today, the statewide water content is just 19 percent of the historical average for the date. The season’s first two manual surveys on December 30 and January 29 found a below-normal snowpack. The statewide water equivalent was just 50 percent and 25 percent, respectively, of the historical averages on those dates.

Most of the state’s precipitation normally falls in the north and is collected there for distribution throughout California. The north has had only two storm series this wet season, in mid- December and early February; both were warm storms and did not produce significant snowfall. The northern Sierra snowpack’s water equivalent today is only 17 percent of the February 26 historical average.
Fortunately there's a storm coming in this weekend that will include snow as low as 3,500 feet, so at least the ground will be white on Tuesday.

Check here for updates, and keep watch at CapitalPress.com for our ongoing coverage of the drought.