Wednesday, April 15, 2015

State to install saltwater intrusion barrier in Delta

The much-talked-about temporary rock barrier to keep saltwater out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is becoming a reality, the state Department of Water Resources has just announced.

From the DWR:
Faced with potentially insufficient water supplies to repel salinity in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), in consultation with federal and state water and wildlife agencies, is moving to install an emergency, temporary rock barrier across a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta channel.

DWR seeks to install a single emergency salinity barrier across West False River in May, to be removed six months later in November. State and federal water and wildlife officials, working as a Real-Time Drought Operations Management Team, have determined that the barrier would help deter the tidal push of saltwater from San Francisco Bay into the central Delta. The barrier would be essentially a pile of basketball-size rocks across the 750-foot-wide channel that still allows limited water flow upstream and downstream, depending upon tides. DWR, operator of the State Water Project, is seeking multiple permits from various agencies to accelerate installation.

Keeping saltwater from the central Delta is a priority, as a large portion of the state’s freshwater supplies travel through this part of the Delta. The barrier would help prevent saltwater contamination of water supplies used by people who live in the Delta; Contra Costa, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties; and the 25 million people who rely on the Delta-based federal and state water projects for at least some of their supplies.

Typically when saltwater threatens to encroach deeper into the Delta, water project operators try to repel it either by slowing the pumping of water from the Delta or increasing the amount of water flowing into the Delta from upstream reservoirs.

In this fourth year of drought, Delta pumping by the state and federal water projects is already negligible. It takes three to five days for fresh water released from Lake Oroville or Shasta Lake to reach the Delta. An emergency barrier would provide an additional tool to help limit salinity intrusion prior to arrival of fresh water from upstream reservoirs.

“We had hoped not to have to install any temporary emergency barriers in the Delta this year,” said California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. “But conditions stayed dry through March and April. The West False River emergency barrier would provide a buffer that otherwise would have come from reduced Delta pumping. This summer, there is no Delta pumping to reduce. The barrier would help afford us time to move water from Oroville and Shasta should we need to push back saltwater intruding into the Delta.”

The emergency barrier also would help mitigate a worst-case circumstance this summer in which upstream reservoirs lack sufficient water to meet the minimum outflow requirements to limit Delta salinity intrusion.

Emergency barrier removal would finish no later than November 1 to avoid flood season and potential harm to migratory fish. Removal is expected to take 45 days to 60 days.

Multiple Permits Needed

For the past year, DWR has worked closely on the issue of emergency salinity barriers with multiple agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the Central Valley Project. DWR must obtain permits and a Temporary Urgency Change Permit renewal from the State Water Resources Control Board, a permit for levee modification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a California Endangered Species Act permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. In addition, DWR must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on protections for Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and other listed species. All of these agencies have worked cooperatively on the Real-Time Drought Operations Management Team for the past year.

The permit application process is underway, and DWR hopes to begin installation of the emergency barrier on May 8.

It would be erected across West False River about 0.4 miles east of its confluence with the San Joaquin River, between Jersey and Bradford Islands in Contra Costa County. The location is about 4.8 miles northeast of Oakley.

Construction, monitoring, mitigation and removal are estimated to cost roughly $28 million, to be paid for with a mix of funding from Proposition 50, a $3.4 billion water bond approved by voters in November 2002, and general fund dollars.

The trapezoid-shaped barrier, about 12 feet wide at the top, will temporarily block boat passage on West False River and be marked by warning signs, lights, and buoys. Alternative routes between the San Joaquin River and interior Delta, including Bethel Island marinas, are available (see attached map). The West False River site raises fewer concerns for threatened and endangered fish than other potential barrier sites considered by DWR.

Earlier Consideration of Emergency Barriers

Last year DWR studied the potential impacts of potential temporary barriers at three locations: Steamboat Slough, Sutter Slough, and West False River. The analysis found anticipated impacts could be mitigated to a less-than-significant level. DWR received and reviewed considerable public comments on the Initial Study and Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration, available at http://www.water.ca.gov/waterconditions/docs/Emergency_Drought_Barriers_Initial_Study_and_Proposed_Mitigated_Negative_Declaration.pdf.

At this time, DWR is not pursuing installation of temporary emergency barriers at Sutter Slough or Steamboat Slough. Although DWR is seeking permits from various agencies, the April 1 Executive Order by Governor Brown helps expedite installation of the West False River barrier in time to address emergency drought conditions. The Governor’s Executive Order declared existence of conditions of extreme peril to public safety and directed DWR to implement emergency drought barriers if necessary.

The Executive Order suspends some California Environmental Quality Act requirements for certain drought relief actions, including installation of emergency drought barriers.

DWR last used emergency drought barriers to reduce salinity intrusion in 1976-77. DWR considered the installation of emergency drought barriers in 2014 but determined in late May of last year that they would not be needed, in part because February and March storms improved water supply conditions. Planning for future emergency drought barriers continued after last year’s decision, with a focus on West False River, Steamboat Slough, and Sutter Slough. Earlier this year, based on the input of Delta residents, the Department also considered the feasibility and effectiveness of barriers on Miner Slough in the western Delta and on Steamboat Slough downstream of its confluence with Sutter Slough.

Emergency drought barriers on Miner Slough and Steamboat Sloughs were eliminated from consideration because of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerns about potential effects on threatened Delta smelt.

Current Drought Emergency

The three-year period from 2012 through 2014 was the driest three-year period on record in California, and 2015 opened with the driest January in the state’s weather record history. The Sierra Nevada snowpack typically peaks by April 1; this year, the snowpack was measured at five percent of historic average, the lowest measurement in recorded history.

Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency on January 17, 2014 and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. The State Water Resources Control Board on March 17, 2015 announced new restrictions on water use, including limiting outdoor watering to two days per week and prohibiting lawn watering during rainfall and during the next two days. Earlier this month, the governor directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent.

Conservation – the wise, sparing use of water – remains California’s most reliable drought management tool. Each individual act of conservation -- such as letting the lawn go brown or replacing a washer in a faucet to stop a leak – makes a difference over time.

Visit SaveOurWater.com to find out how everyone can do their part, and visit drought.ca.gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.

Caucus hails demise of USFS groundwater directive

From the Congressional Western Caucus:
Yesterday during a Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing, U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon announced the decision to halt work on the controversial Proposed Directive on Groundwater Management released last year by the Forest Service.

In response, Western Caucus Chairman Cynthia Lummis (WY-At large), Vice Chairmen Mark Amodei (NV-02) and Paul Gosar (AZ-04), and Chairman Emeritus Steve Pearce (NM-02) issued the following statements:

“The U.S. Forest Service’s decision to give up on the proposed groundwater directive is a critical victory for state primacy over groundwater and private water rights,” said Chairman Lummis. “I am pleased that the Forest Service has finally recognized what we’ve known all along: this directive was doomed from the start because of the lack of consultation with the states who have primacy over groundwater. To the contrary, the directive held the potential to erode state water authority and harm local economies. I commend Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop for his successful campaign to stop this directive. This is a win for the west, and for any American community home to a National Forest. I encourage Forest Service to stand by its commitment today to go back to the drawing board with the states that should be in the driver’s seat in developing any policy changes when it comes to groundwater.”

“Chief Tidwell, atta boy,” said Vice-Chairman Amodei. “You’re the man. Thank you very much.”

“Attempted water grabs by federal agencies during the Obama Administration have been atrocious,” said Vice-Chairman Gosar. “Whether it is Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), the Ground Water Service Directive, or the ski area water rights permitting conditions, the federal government has attempted an all-out assault to take control of precious water resources that have traditionally been managed by states or private ownership. While I am pleased to see the U.S. Forest Service back away from its unnecessary and overreaching groundwater directive, I will remain vigilant against any further attempts to override state water laws and extort private water rights.”

“I would like to commend all of those who voiced their concerns over the Forest Service’s Groundwater Directive including my Western Caucus colleagues,” said Chairman Emeritus Pearce. “This directive was unnecessary from the beginning and was introduced without input from states or local communities. While I appreciate the fact that the Forest Service came to this commonsense conclusion, I am dismayed that they plan on issuing a new rule down the road. I recommend the Forest Service focus on effectively managing the resources they currently control and stop trying to federalize state and private water.”

On March 12, House Committee on Natural Resources leadership sent a letter to Forest Service Chief Tidwell, urging the agency to permanently withdraw the proposed directive.

Last year, the leadership of the Congressional and Senate Western Caucuses led a bicameral letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warning that the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Groundwater Directive would restrict access to public lands and interfere with state and private water rights.
Tony Francois, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, recently detailed the organization's objections to the directive in a guest op-ed in the Capital Press. You can read it here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Winegrapes dominate grape crop in California

Winegrapes accounted for about two-thirds of the grapes grown in California in 2014, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sacramento.

From their report:
California’s 2014 grape acreage totaled 928,000 acres, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, California Field Office. Of the total grape acreage, 865,000 were bearing while 63,000 were non-bearing. The wine-type grape acreage is estimated at 615,000 acres. Of the total acres, 565,000 were bearing and 50,000 were non-bearing. Table-type grape acreage totaled 121,000 acres with 110,000 bearing and 11,000 non-bearing. Acreage of raisin-type grapes totaled 192,000 acres, of which 190,000 were bearing and 2,000 were non-bearing.

The leading wine-type varieties continued to be Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Flame Seedless was the leading table-type grape variety. Thompson Seedless continued to be the leading raisin-type variety and was utilized for raisins, fresh market, concentrate, and wine.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Feds reopen comment period on West Coast fisher

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Yreka:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has reopened the comment period on a proposal to list the West Coast population of fisher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service has also extended its deadline to make a final decision whether to list the species to April 7, 2016.

The Service is opening a 30-day public comment period to solicit additional information to more fully inform the final listing decision. Specifically, the agency is seeking additional information on threats to the fisher population. The deadline for submitting comments is May 14, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. EDT.

During the reopened comment period, the Service seeks information related to toxicants and rodenticides used at marijuana grow sites, including law enforcement information on the scope and severity of this problem, and trend data related to the use of toxicants/rodenticides. Previously submitted comments are in the record and they do not need to be resubmitted.

The Service is also seeking additional information for West Coast fisher population surveys, which will help assess fisher distribution and population trends. The Service is particularly interested in the surveys in which no fishers were found.

Additional guidance on submitting public comments can be found in the Federal Register notice at https://www.federalregister.gov (search for key word “fisher”), or on the agency website at: http://www.fws.gov/cno/es/fisher/.
Comments and information can be submitted by one of the following methods:

• Electronically at http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R8–ES–2014–0041. You may submit information by clicking on “Comment Now.”

• Paper copy, via the U.S. mail or hand delivery, to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R8–ES–2014–0041. Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

NASS still bullish on Calif. navel orange crop

The federal agency that keeps track of crop production isn't backing down from its prediction of a bigger navel orange crop this season, which had industry representatives raising their eyebrows last fall.

Here are the latest updated fruit crop estimates from the National Agricultural Statistics Service in Sacramento:
The USDA-NASS, California Field Office today released the crop production forecast for April. The latest survey, conducted during the last week of March and the first week of April, included the following commodities:

Navel Oranges -- The 2014-15 Navel orange forecast is 80.0 million cartons, unchanged from January, but up 3 percent from last season. The Navel orange harvest remains active in California.

Valencia Oranges -- The 2014-15 Valencia orange forecast is 20.0 million cartons, unchanged from the March objective measurement forecast, but down 7 percent from last season. The Valencia orange crop continued to develop. The harvest is expected to pick up in the coming months.

Grapefruit -- The 2014-15 California grapefruit forecast is 7.6 million cartons, down 5 percent from the January forecast and down 1 percent from last season’s crop.

Lemons -- The 2014-15 lemon forecast is 40.0 million cartons, unchanged from the January forecast and up 6 percent from last season. In California, lemon harvest was progressing at a steady pace.

Tangerines -- The 2014-15 tangerine forecast is 32.0 million cartons, up 3 percent from the January forecast and up 9 percent from last season. Mandarins were being packed in both the Central Valley and Fillmore areas.

Production forecasts are released on a monthly basis and do not reflect final production estimates. The next production forecast will be issued May 12, 2015.
Even with the drought, it probably wouldn't be too hard to beat last year's navel orange production, though. A serious freeze in the winter of 2013-2014 cost navel orange producers a large portion of their crop and about $260 million in revenue, according to California Citrus Mutual.

State official blasts newspaper over editorial

California's top natural resources official criticized the Sacramento Bee during a water forum with other state leaders this morning, accusing the paper of putting a misleading headline on a guest editorial written by Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin.

In the column, Cowin wrote that farmers have already seen drastic water cutbacks and that a 25 percent reduction in urban water use "is less a hardship on California residents than an adjustment to a new reality."

He wrote:
Some question why the mandated water reductions did not extend to agriculture, which uses a larger share of the state’s developed water supply than homes and businesses.

Millions of acre-feet of surface water will not go to farms this year. The roughly half-million acres of farmland not planted last year (of roughly 9 million irrigated acres in the state) will likely expand this year. The state’s two biggest water projects already have cut deliveries by between 50 percent and 100 percent.

Thousands of other farmers with long-standing water rights and good supplies even in dry years are on notice from the State Water Resources Control Board that water may be left in streams and rivers to meet the most basic needs for people and native fish – and that they should think hard before planting crops in this fourth year of drought.

If this drought deepens so that it becomes difficult to provide water for essential human needs, the state ultimately could use its authority to further limit agricultural water use. But we should stretch urban supplies as far as possible before we take that drastic action.

Agriculture is the economic engine of rural California, and the entire state enjoys the variety of safe, nutritious food that California farmers produce. There are many gallons of water, applied by a farmer, behind each of our meals.

Some argue that California agriculture uses too much water to grow crops for export such as almonds and pistachios, and suggest the state ban such crops.

Where should the state draw that line? Should the state judge the worthiness of crops based on water use? Nutritional value? Profit per acre-foot of water used? Is broccoli acceptable, but not wine grapes? How do we account for the tremendous waterfowl habitat created by rice fields?
Later, he concluded:
This drought has the power to divide us, but it may also bring us together. A 25 percent cutback is not too much to ask in a state where overwatering is often the biggest problem plaguing lawns.

We don’t use the same kinds of phones or drive the same kinds of cars as we did a generation ago. Why shouldn’t we also modernize our landscapes?
However, the headline reads, "California should stretch urban supplies before cutting water to farms," which makes it appear that water to farms has yet to be cut at all. This didn't sit well with state Natural Resources Agency secretary John Laird, who asserted the headline didn't reflect the spirit of what Cowin wrote.

"That wasn't the message at all," Laird told about 300 people in a Sacramento auditorium. The forum was also watched online by an estimated 1,000 people, including me.

Laird cited the headline as an example of finger-pointing that's gone on since Gov. Jerry Brown issued his drought-related executive order last week.

"Unfortunately, some of the first blushes from some people have been to look at somebody else," said Laird, who also mentioned comments on Facebook and other social media.

Much of the finger-pointing has been coming from a traditional news media whose duty in a crisis is to disseminate accurate information that people can rely on to help them withstand the crisis. Some outlets have instead used the drought to advance an agenda of punishing farmers, who tend to be more conservative and vote differently than their urban brethren. And they wonder why the public's trust in the traditional news media is at an all-time low.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nielsen bill would reassign summary-writing duties

The north state's Sen. Jim Nielsen wants to reassign the task of writing ballot-initiative titles and summaries to perhaps the only agency that hasn't devolved into a political tool of the state's Power Machine -- the Legislative Analyst's Office.

From Nielsen:
On the heels of two misleading ballot titles and summaries for statewide initiatives, Propositions 46 and 47, Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) introduced a legislative proposal to direct the non-partisan the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) to draft the titles and summaries for all statewide initiatives. Following some discussion, Chairman Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee asked for more time to research how other states draft their titles and summaries.

“The initiative process is a tool for citizens to directly participate in democracy; its integrity must be preserved,” said Senator Nielsen. “Taking the power of drafting the title and summary away from politicians is good governance.”

“This has also happened in previous elections; and we need to end it,” Senator Nielsen added.

Under current law, the Attorney General is tasked with this responsibility, which has been politicized. Senate Bill 283, if passed and signed into law, would redirect this critical responsibility to the LAO. The LAO is a non-partisan organization that provides credible and impartial analysis for the Legislature.

Seeing the merits of Senator Nielsen’s measure, the League of Women Voters sent a representative to speak in favor of SB 283.

Former Mayor of San Jose and President of the Coalition by Coalition for Fair and Sustainable Pensions, Chuck Reed stated, “Such a change would be a healthy and much needed shift away from the partisan-biased title and summary process we now have. The process is supposed to be non-partisan. It is not.”

With his extensive knowledge of and background in public safety, Senator Nielsen was disheartened with the title and summary of Proposition 47, “Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute.”

The ballot title and summary of Proposition 47 did not reflect its true essence. The Sacramento Bee stated, “But before casting their ballots on Proposition 47, voters might have wanted to know its implications for DNA collection and, by extension, law enforcement’s ability to solve serious crimes. Harris had an obligation to inform them.”

Proposition 46’s title was also misleading; it read, “Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors. Medical Negligence Lawsuits. Initiative Statute.” However, the fundamental issue before the voter was to increase pain and suffering damages from $250,000.

Doctors claimed that this would be harmful to their practices and was a measure put forth entirely to benefit trial lawyers.

The provision for random alcohol and drug testing of doctors was merely added as a political device to deceive voters. The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board also took issue with Ms. Harris’ title and summary. The paper stated, “Voters should not be fooled by the title and summary put together by the Attorney General’s office that focuses on the testing as if it were the centerpiece of the measure. It is not.”

Senate Bill 283 will be heard again in the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee on April 21. In the coming weeks, Senator Nielsen will be working with various interest groups to fine tune his proposal.

USFWS to review status of northern spotted owl

Federal officials are reviewing the status of the northern spotted owl -- but not to lift protections. If anything, it appears protections for the bird best known for crippling the Northern California timber industry will be increased.

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is commencing an evaluation of the status of the northern spotted owl, as required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This review is the result of a petition to change the status of the owl from threatened to endangered. The review will also serve as the five-year review of the species as required under the ESA, and which was last completed in 2011. A five-year status review evaluates whether a federally protected species should remain listed, or if it meets the criteria for reclassification.

A petition from the Environmental Protection Information Center requested the northern spotted owl be reclassified from threatened to endangered under the ESA. The ensuing 90-day finding, which will publish in the Federal Register on April 10, determined the petition included substantial information that warrants further review, which automatically triggers a 12-month species review The Service will not make any finding as to whether the status of the species has changed until after that review.

The population of the northern spotted owl, which is currently listed as threatened, is declining across most of the species' range. The most recent available data on the owl report a 2.9 percent range-wide population decline per year, although declines as high as 5.9 percent per year have been observed in some areas.

The two main threats to the survival of the northern spotted owl are habitat loss and competition from barred owls. Barred owls have spread westward, encroaching on spotted owl territories and out-competing them. While the Northwest Forest Plan has helped reduce habitat loss on federal lands since 1994, the threat from barred owls has intensified. Preliminary results from an experiment testing the effects of removing barred owls from select areas of northern spotted owl habitat show promise in benefitting northern spotted owls and will help inform this review.

“The best tools we have to prevent spotted owls from going extinct are continued habitat protection and barred owl management, both of which are recommended in the recovery plan," said Paul Henson, Oregon State Supervisor for the Service. “On a positive note, the experimental removal of barred owls is showing real promise, with early reports indicating that spotted owl populations rebound when barred owl populations are reduced. Our review of the spotted owl will tell us whether current efforts to address threats are sufficient.”

The Service will use the best available scientific and commercial information, including data from the barred owl removal experiment, in the review. To assist in the review, the Service is requesting input from the public and scientific community, including information on biology, possible threats, population trends and habitat conditions for the species. Information can be submitted electronically at www.regulations.gov, or by U.S. mail or hand delivery at Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R1–ES–2014–0061, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Va. 22041-3803.

For more information on the northern spotted owl, visit http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=B08B.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Urban water conservation nearly nill in February

While some big-city (and local) news organizations keep throwing a hissy fit over the fact that farms weren't mentioned much in Gov. Jerry Brown's water-related executive order last week, it turns out that urban areas hardly conserved water at all in February.

From the State Water Resources Control Board:
With April snow measured at its lowest level on record, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) announced that Californians in cities and towns reduced their water consumption by just 2.8 percent in February. This dismal conservation rate is the lowest monthly figure since the State Water Board began tracking the data in July 2014. Today’s announcement comes just days after the State Water Board delivered a second notice to water rights holders – including those with senior water rights – of coming curtailments of their surface water supplies.

“Today’s announced February results are very disturbing and provides even more support for the Governor’s call for an immediate 25 percent mandatory reduction in urban water use statewide,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “I know many communities in the state stepped up since last summer and dramatically conserved water. But not enough communities in the state have saved enough water. Beginning today, to assure their own water security as well as help others, communities should restrict outdoor irrigation to the bare minimum. If we dramatically stop watering out-of-doors, we should be able to reduce water use by 25 percent or more in the next several months since an average of 50 percent of urban water use is used outdoors.”

In the most recent survey of more than 400 urban water retailers, the amount of water saved by the state’s large urban water agency customers statewide declined from 8 percent in January to approximately 2.8 percent in February, in same month water use comparisons of 2015 to 2013. The year 2013 serves as a baseline to determine water savings statewide since the 2014 emergency water conservation regulations have been in effect.

On April 1, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order mandating a 25 percent reduction in water use for all urban water users.

The State Water Board expects to consider on May 5 an emergency water conservation regulation that requires a mandatory 25 percent reduction in urban water use statewide beginning the month following Board adoption. That regulation will use a sliding scale, so that communities that have been conserving water will have lower mandates than those that haven’t conserved this past year and/or over the last decade since the last major drought. [...]

“In this extremely serious situation, the Governor is calling for immediate reductions. Californians need to step up now -- especially those who have not been doing their share,” said Marcus. “We are in a drought like we've not seen before, and we all need to step up like never before.”

Water Conservation Efforts Decline

Monthly residential water savings statewide were just 2.8 percent in February compared with February 2013. That is down from the 8 percent water savings in January compared with January 2013. Broken down by hydrologic region, the results show that some parts of the state saved much less water than in any month since reporting began last summer. In some areas water use increased, rather than declined. A few hydrologic regions sustained significant water conservation in February.

From June 2014 through February 2015, more than 148 billion gallons of water have been saved compared with the same period in 2013 – enough to supply 1.99 million California residents for a year.


The decline in water savings by one of the most populated regions of the state did impact the statewide average for February. The South Coast hydrologic region actually increased its water use in February as compared to the February 2013 baseline. This increase had a considerable impact on the statewide average because 56 percent of all residential water customers in the state are in the South Coast hydrologic region. [...]

In addition to the conservation data, the State Water Board also discussed the reported residential gallons per-capita per day (R-GPCD) for February. The discussion focused on estimated daily water use by residential customers for more than 400 urban water agencies statewide.

The statewide R-GPCD average for February was 76.7 gallons per person per day, a slight increase from January when the statewide average use was 73.1 gallons per person per day. At the low end, the San Francisco Bay hydrologic region averaged 57.9 gallons per person per day. On the high end, the Colorado River hydrologic region averaged 165.6 gallons per person per day. A handful of suppliers have reached R-GPCD levels below 45. State Water Board staff continues to study this trend in an effort to understand what is driving the reduction in water use in some hydrologic regions but not others.

LaMalfa to hold Siskiyou forums on fires, forests

The north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa will hold a pair of forums tomorrow to gather public testimony on the 2014 fires in western Siskiyou County and the U.S. Forest Service's management of forests.

The meetings will be held from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at the Grange in Happy Camp and from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Scott Valley Junior High School gym in Fort Jones.

(HT: Pie N Politics)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Round 2 of storm system to arrive tonight

The second round of significant rain from this week's series of storms is set to arrive tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

From an NWS bulletin:
Wintry Storm Late Tonight through Early Wednesday

Impacts

Hazardous travel across the mountains with chain controls and travel delays.
Locally heavy rain and accumulating hail possible in thunderstorms.
Travel delays likely during the morning commute.

Forecast Confidence
High

Timing and Strength
Rain
Late tonight through Tuesday. Residual showers possible through Wednesday. (See this video for latest forecast timing).
0.50-1.25" across the Valley. Higher totals possible in thunderstorms.
Thunderstorms possible Tuesday afternoon.
Snow
Snow accumulations of 7-15" above 3500' Tuesday. Locally up to 2 feet over the highest peaks.
Light snow accumulations possible down to 3000'.
Highest snowfall rates will be mid-to-late Tuesday morning, then again late Tuesday afternoon through early evening.

Weather Summary
A wintry storm system will be moving through Northern California late tonight into Tuesday. This system will be much wetter, snowier, and bring a greater chance of thunderstorms than Sunday's system. Check out this Youtube video for the latest forecast timing.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Thousands celebrate Good Friday in Redding

Tonight we were among some 7,000 people who gathered at the Redding Civic Auditorium for three citywide services to celebrate Good Friday. The photo is courtesy of pastor Nathan Edwardson of The Stirring, via Facebook. Nathan and other pastors were joined by their wives as they interspersed Scripture readings and messages with uplifting music performed by worship team members from several churches.

The service was among many observances of Good Friday in the Redding area, which also included a noontime service at Little Country Church, a classic service with traditional hymns at Neighborhood Church of Redding, Stations of the Cross and meditations at various Catholic churches and other gatherings.

I was struck by how well-spoken many of the pastors' wives were at the citywide service, which goes to prove that behind every pastor there's a Godly spouse. He may do the preaching, but the ministry is shared.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Water board warns more shutoff orders imminent

From the State Water Resources Control Board:
As California enters a fourth year of drought with a record-low snowpack, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) is warning that water right holders, including some senior right holders, are likely to be curtailed soon within key watersheds in the state.

The warning, to holders of more than 36,000 water rights across the state, is designed to give water right holders advance notice to help them make difficult spring planting decisions. The availability of water is a key factor in those planting decisions. The warning is the second one this year; the first was issued in January.

“These are very difficult times, and everyone, urban and rural, will have to make sacrifices as we go through them,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “As we deal with an unprecedented drought, both urban and rural water users should anticipate we will continue to take unprecedented actions.”

Curtailment is a tool that the State Water Board uses to administer the state’s water rights system. When there is insufficient water available to meet all the demand in a watershed, water right holders, starting with the most junior, are told to stop diverting surface water to protect the rights of more senior right holders. Last summer, water rights dating back to 1914 were curtailed on most of the state’s major river systems.

If dry conditions continue through the spring, curtailments are expected in certain watersheds on all post-1914 water rights, and many holders of pre-1914 water rights may get curtailment notices as well. Riparian water right holders in some watersheds are also likely to be required to reduce their diversions and share what supplies of natural flow remains, if any.

The curtailment warning comes on the heels of stricter urban water conservation requirements and an Executive Order announced by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Wednesday. The Governor’s Executive Order further restricts outdoor irrigation and other water uses by city dwellers. The actions are a response to another extremely dry winter and a snowpack measured this week at 6 percent of normal.

Last year curtailments affected more than 5,000 water rights, contributing to conditions that led to the fallowing of more than 400,000 acres of farmland with the corresponding loss of thousands of agricultural jobs - a situation that’s likely to be repeated this year. While the water right curtailments predominantly affect agriculture, they also apply to water rights held by municipalities and other water users.

The timing of curtailment notices will be based on forecasts of water availability and demand. Forecasting information and estimated timing of curtailments for various classes of water right holders will be available at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/drought/analysis/

Further information on water rights can be found here. Please visit our Drought Year Information and Action page for timely updates and information on water right actions and other important drought-related efforts.

Visit http://saveourwater.com/ to find out how everyone can do their part, and visit http://ca.gov/drought/ to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.
The photo is of Mill Creek in Tehama County, where curtailment orders were imposed last year and likely will be again.

Growers' group calls out misreporting on drought

In the past week on various issues, a large portion of what used to be known as the mainstream news media has shown itself to have become reckless and out of control. Facts and objectivity -- to the extent that they ever mattered -- have completely gone out the window, and the agendas are so obvious that most of these outlets don't even bother to hide them anymore. Fortunately they've mostly been reduced to preaching to the choir as the rest of us have found more credible sources of information, or at least learned to gather a cross-section of opinions and make up our own minds. But their influence over the disengaged is still disturbing, particularly when the issue involves our personal freedoms under the Constitution or a potential public health and safety threat such as the drought.

As I wrote on Facebook the other day, I've been generally impressed with the California press pool that's participated in the drought-related teleconference that state officials have been holding on a regular basis. But a call Wednesday to discuss Gov. Jerry Brown's executive order attracted virtually everyone -- from the New York Times and Washington Post to small community papers in California -- and a couple of the questions were breathtaking in their ineptitude. The reporters whined that farmers "are using 80 percent of the water" and demanded to know why they haven't been asked, or forced, to conserve. As we sit in our fourth year of drought, they seemed genuinely unaware of the zero percent Central Valley Project allocation for the second year in a row, the 20 percent State Water Project allocation, the shutoff orders to junior water rights holders or the 400,000 fallowed acres last year.

To their credit, state officials corrected these reporters' statements matter-of-factly, with Department of Fish and Wildlife director Chuck Bonham even admonishing one that now is not the time for finger-pointing. But the "farmers are just skating by" meme has survived in some of the reporting and editorials in recent days, prompting California Citrus Mutual to issue this release this afternoon:
Governor Brown made California history this week when he issued an executive order calling for cities and towns across the state to implement "substantial" mandatory water reductions in an effort to curb wasteful water use and make California "more drought resilient."

It is no shock, least to whom the agricultural sector, that California is experiencing a water crisis. The impetus of this crisis, natural or political, is up for debate. But regardless of the cause, agriculture has suffered the most losses as a result.

Approximately 46% of California's fresh citrus is produced in the Friant Service Area and will receive zero percent surface water allocation for a second year in a row.

The Governor recognized this fact in a press release Wednesday stating that agriculture users "have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocation and thousands of farmworkers laid off."

Nevertheless, it's too often reported that the agriculture industry is guzzling up 80% the State's diminishing water supply. This is not true.

According to the State Water Resources Control Board the average annual water supply in the State of California from rain and snowpack is 200 million acre-feet. 58.8% of that total remains undeveloped. The remaining 41.2% (82.5 million acre-feet) is developed water. Of that, 41% is used by agriculture to grow food and fiber for people. 10.8% goes to urban and industrial use. 47.8% is used for environmental purposes.

By the Governor's Order cities and towns across the state must reduce water use by 25%. This represents a savings of approximately 1.5 million acre-feet, the amount currently in Lake Oroville, in 9 months. Based on current water use this equals a 2.7% savings in California's total annual water supply. While this by no means comes close to the "mandatory reductions" that Friant water users are grappling with (100%), it is something.

But what if there was a mandatory reduction on the use of developed water for environmental purposes (remember, undeveloped water is also used by the environment)? How much water could California save then?

A 25% reduction in environmental water use could equal a savings of approximately 9.85 million acre-feet in one year (or 7.39 million acre-feet in 9 months). Less than 4% would need to be cut to save 1.5 million acre-feet.

It has been suggested that that agriculture is "exempt" from mandatory restrictions when in reality the only user of water that has not been asked, or forced, to take a cut is the environment. Is that balance?
Now certainly Citrus Mutual is an interest group; they're looking out for their members and they have opinions, some of which may be up for debate. And certainly it's fair for reporters to ask whether there might be more restrictions on ag in the future. But CCM's point is well taken that agriculture has been far from "exempt" from water-saving measures in this drought. Look, if you're a reporter covering a drought that's in its fourth year, there's little excuse for not being aware of the steps that have already been taken to respond to it, particularly when some of those steps have affected one of the state's leading industries. And there's no excuse at all for deliberate deception and misrepresentation.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Citrus bloom heightens growers' water worries

By KATE CAMPBELL
CFBF/AgAlert

Navel orange trees are in bloom in the San Joaquin Valley and observers describe the bloom as "good," but farmers say a fourth year of drought and a second year with no surface water deliveries will make it hard to produce a crop. For some, it may be impossible.

"It's a heavy bloom this year, which is good," Tulare County citrus grower Matthew Watkins said. "But the trees know what's going on with the drought. They want to fruit and sense the lack of rain."

The heavy bloom means there will be fruit, Watkins said, "but the trick will be to keep it on the trees. To do that, we'll have to maintain a lower stress level on the trees, which means water. That's what I'm worried about."

Bloom in his area is about a month ahead of average because of the warm winter, he said, but with a heavy bloom and record heat last week, it doesn't take much to stress the trees.

This year, the citrus bloom was officially declared March 17 in southern Kern and Fresno counties, the exact same date as the previous year—which is unusual, said Bob Blakely, California Citrus Mutual vice president.

"We like to see an even bloom; we like to see uniformity," he said. "But both of these bloom dates are the earliest I've seen in more than 20 years."

Blakely said the bloom looks "fairly strong," but that temperatures in the coming week will be critical.

"If we're going into a prolonged heat spell, that could put stress on the trees coming right out of bloom," he said.

Continue reading at AgAlert.com.

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.