Comment on Water Supply and Drought Issues

There are many facets that must be considered if  were are to find solution(s) to our water supply and drought issues.

Of course, bottom line, we all must conserve.  That means every person, business, or industry.

Agriculture is not living up to their responsibility in the area of conservation.  Agriculture, via the California Farm Bureau and other industry groups, make various claims. One argument the make is that they really do not use 80% of the State’s available water supply. Ag claims to use only 40% of all water that falls on the State – with the implication that all the water that falls is available for consumption.  This feeble argument is a desperate attempt to make Ag use appear  less onerous.

With Agricultural users, as with all users of our water supply, there are some that are better at conserving than others.  One can not argue that in the case of Ag use there is room for more conservation and limits on wasteful use.

The article in last weeks Insight (Chronicle – California Water Law Must Change – Quickly by Richard Frank) has some very basic common sense suggestions that could move us all in the correct direction:

Recognize that water is a public resource:  Water is not the private property of any one person or group. Water is the property of the people (as expressed in California State Law).

Improve requirements  for monitoring and reporting water diversions by water users:  At this point the State has no idea of who is diverting and using how much.  To manage we need this information on who is using and how much.

Term Limits for water rights permits:  Currently, permits last forever and do not reflect need or use. This would allow the State to reallocate permits according to recent history use and need.

Make water transfers easier and quicker:  This, again, would allow the State to allocate according need and move water to the points of need – faster.

Give the environment a seat at the water allocation table:  All beneficial uses,  agricultural, industrial, urban, fishery, and aquatic life, must be considered in water allocation.

Increase water rights enforcement:  Currently the State seems paralyzed  in this area. In part, this is due to a lack of staff for enforcement.

To the above list I would add that the State needs to do a better job in the maintenance of water quality.  Water Quality issues, the protection of ground water and surface waters from pollution, can have a great effect on our future water supply.

I suggest that we get to work on resolving these issues – before the problem gets bigger.
Alan Levine – for Coast Action Group

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Thirsty crops should require state regulation

George Skelton, Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown answers questions concerning the proposed $1-billion package of emergency drought-relief legislation Thursday in the Capitol. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown answers questions concerning the proposed $1-billion package of emergency drought-relief legislation Thursday in the Capitol. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

This is what the Brown administration isn’t talking about as it tightens the spigot on landscaping: Urban use accounts for only 20% of California’s developed water. Agriculture sucks up 80%.

Some calculate it a little differently: 10% urban, 40% agriculture and 50% environment — meaning every drop in the rivers and marshes. Same thing.

Yet, no one in Sacramento wants to tell farmers how to use water — what they can and cannot plant and irrigate.

No edicts equivalent to “lawn-watering only twice a week” or “hosing down the driveway is forbidden.”

No such directives as “tomatoes are OK because they’re not water guzzlers and can be fallowed in a dry year,” but “hold off planting more gulping almond orchards in the desert.”

Maybe, however, it’s time for state government to consider regulating crops based on their water needs as California’s drought lingers menacingly and we head into the uncertain future of global warming.

After all, we think nothing of telling other landowners what they can put on their property.

We don’t allow a new housing tract to sprout unless the developer can identify a source of water. We zone everything in urban areas — requiring government permission to build a house, a strip mall, a factory or a refinery.

Yet, a farmer can plant whatever he pleases, even if surface water is flowing at a trickle and the aquifer is collapsing.

This is what Times water reporter Bettina Boxall wrote last week: “Parts of the San Joaquin Valley are deflating like a tire with a slow leak as growers pull more and more water from the ground.

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Water and wine

April 06, 2015 – Dan Berger

John Williams, the visionary Frog’s Leap Winery owner from Rutherford in the Napa Valley, was the most logical go-to person when an idle comment from a shop owner suggested that the wine industry could face water-shortage problems very soon.

Williams, ever his contentious self on the topic of vine irrigation, is a walking encyclopedia on the subject of water use in vineyards. But his opening line when I called him last week to speak of water use in vineyards, though typical of his philosophy, was still a bit of a shock:

“We (in Napa) are drawing 1.2 billion gallons of water and putting it on vines that don’t really need it,” he said.

It’s important to know that Frog’s Leap is one of the most vocal advocates of organic farming, and Williams is a firm believer in dry-farming of vines to make better wines.

Williams’ basic story here is that the best wines are made from vines with deep roots and that by irrigating as routinely as they do, the majority of Napa growers are feeding the vine a drug (water) — and there is no methadone solution.

“The entire valley was dry-farmed for 100 years until 1976 when the first drip irrigation systems were installed,” Williams said. “When the vines have easy access to water, they do not have to push their roots down very far.”

He says that shallow root systems led to fruit that’s lacking in flavors until later in the season. And a result of that is that growers pick later than they would need to if they were set up to be dry-farmed. As it is today, the broad use of irrigation leads to alcohol levels that are higher than they should be, he said.

“Look, vines aren’t stupid.” he said. “If water is easily available, they won’t have deep roots.” He says wine quality is related to root depth, and the lower the roots are, the more likely the vine is to produce better quality at earlier dates.

He said vines are relatively savvy plants and “plant physiology tells us that the brain of a plant is designed to” employ certain strategies for propagation of the species. “If you mess with the information system, the plant doesn’t know when to stop growing and put its energy into (grape) flavor development.”

The target of the grower, he said, “is to get the vine to make its own decisions, to smartly employ all that’s in the soil. The plant should be more in control over its own destiny.

“Dry framing is not just ‘not irrigating,’ it is a real skill, and an arduous process, and it’s very complicated.”

He said that once a vineyard is established with an irrigation system, it’s difficult to wean the plants off the drug. “You can’t just turn the water off.”

He said Napa Valley’s water use, for irrigation only, which he estimates is at least a billion gallons annually, comes from a quick calculation he made from a UC Davis report that estimates water needs for an acre of fruit — about 100 gallons of water per vine.

Posted in Vineyards, Water Conservation Issue | Leave a comment

Comment on the Problem of CA Water and Drought

There are many facets that must be considered if  were are to find solution(s) to our water supply and drought issues.

Of course, bottom line, we all must conserve.  That means every person, business, or industry.

Agriculture is not living up to their responsibility in the area of conservation.  Agriculture, via the California Farm Bureau and other industry groups, make various claims. One argument the make is that they really do not use 80% of the State’s available water supply. Ag claims to use only 40% of all water that falls on the State – with the implication that all the water that falls is available for consumption.  This feeble argument is a desperate attempt to make Ag use appear  less onerous.

With Agricultural users, as with all users of our water supply, there are some that are better at conserving than others.  One can not argue that in the case of Ag use there is room for more conservation and limits on wasteful use.

The article in last weeks Insight (Chronicle – California Water Law Must Change – Quickly by Richard Frank) has some very basic common sense suggestions that could move us all in the correct direction:

Recognize that water is a public resource:  Water is not the private property of any one person or group. Water is the property of the people (as expressed in California State Law).

Improve requirements  for monitoring and reporting water diversions by water users:  At this point the State has no idea of who is diverting and using how much.  To manage we need this information on who is using and how much.

Term Limits for water rights permits:  Currently, permits last forever and do not reflect need or use. This would allow the State to reallocate permits according to recent history use and need.

Make water transfers easier and quicker:  This, again, would allow the State to allocate according need and move water to the points of need – faster.

Give the environment a seat at the water allocation table:  All beneficial uses,  agricultural, industrial, urban, fishery, and aquatic life, must be considered in water allocation.

Increase water rights enforcement:  Currently the State seems paralyzed  in this area. In part, this is due to a lack of staff for enforcement.

To the above list I would add that the State needs to do a better job in the maintenance of water quality.  Water Quality issues, the protection of ground water and surface waters from pollution, can have a great effect on our future water supply.

I suggest that we get to work on resolving these issues – before the problem gets bigger.
Alan Levine – for Coast Action Group

Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Climate Change Impacts, Groundwater Impacts, Water Conservation Issue | Leave a comment

Guzzlers In California’s Drought

Guzzlers in California's Drought

Leif Parsons for NPR

California is parched. Wells are running dry. Vegetable fields have been left fallow and lawns are dying. There must be some villain behind all this, right?

Of course there is. In fact, have your pick. As a public service, The Salt is bringing you several of the leading candidates. They have been nominated by widely respected national publications and interest groups.

There’s just one problem: Not all of these shady characters live up to their nefarious job description. Let us explain.

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Mercury News editorial: Jerry Brown’s lame response to California’s drought

Mercury News Editorial
March 23, 2015

California is in a drought of historic proportions with no end in sight. Scientists and political leaders, including Gov. Jerry Brown, agree. The governor called an official state of emergency way back in January 2014 — but you wouldn’t know it from his actions since.

Lame doesn’t begin to describe Brown’s failure to show leadership on this threat to the state’s long-range future that’s easily as dire as the massive budget deficit he inherited in 2011.

For example:

  • A governor who was serious about conservation would be offering tens of millions of dollars in incentives to urban water users to replace water-wasting toilets, shower heads, dishwashers and washing machines with state-of-the-art, low-flow products.

    Instead, Brown’s Water Resources Control Board is requiring restaurants to fill customers’ water glasses only if they ask and telling hotels to offer guests only one towel during their stay unless they request a fresh one. Oh, the pain of sacrifice.

  • A governor who was serious about conservation would be helping farmers finance drip-irrigation systems and ordering immediate restrictions on groundwater pumping to protect California’s long-term water needs. Only 40 percent of California farmers now use low-volume systems — and 80 percent of the state’s water goes to agriculture. Reducing the use of flood irrigation in the Central Valley is the state’s greatest water-saving opportunity.

    Instead, Brown last week offered up $660 million from funds approved nearly a decade ago to be used on flood control projects. Yes, that’s a drought response, since parched land combined with ground subsidence from overpumping makes some areas more prone to flooding — but it is not a water-saving strategy. It’s money that should have been spent by now.

  • A governor who was serious about conservation would have ornamental lawns in his cross hairs. The green expanses at corporate campuses, look-don’t-touch home lawns and other grassy places where no kids play nor families picnic are an embarrassment in a state where, even in wet years, it doesn’t rain from May to October. Parks, golf courses and ballfields should stay green, but using only recycled water.

    Instead, Brown’s Water Resources Control Board is telling water agencies like the Santa Clara Valley Water District to limit watering lawns to two times a week or hit owners with a $500 fine — but allocating no money for enforcement. Agencies like this don’t maintain personnel or systems to deal with enforcement, and the governor knows it. He’s still relying on Californians’ goodwill. And we know how well that’s worked over the past year, when his 20 percent reduction goal was widely greeted with yawns.

Water experts and environmentalists are at a loss to explain the governor’s uncharacteristic caution, if not indifference. But conspiracy theorists are all over it. Try this out: If California’s urban and ag interests make major gains in conservation — which we all know are broadly possible — that will undercut their willingness to pay for the massive, $25 billion Delta twin-tunnels Brown wants to build to ship water to the Central Valley and Southern California.

More likely, Brown is distracted by other priorities and has been slow to refocus on something that’s not a flashy legacy project like the tunnels or high-speed rail. But this generally forward-thinking, environmentally aware governor — one of the smartest politicians in state history — has to realize that the longer we wait to get started, the more draconian limits on water use need to be, and the more development will take place with huge lawns.

He said last week he’s considering additional measures. Think fast, governor.

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How Growers Gamed California’s Drought

photo: Dry, cracked, irrigation ditch - How Growers Gamed California's Drought

Consuming 80 percent of California’s developed water but accounting for only 2 percent of the state’s GDP, agriculture thrives while everyone else is parched.

“I’ve been smiling all the way to the bank,” said pistachio farmer John Dean at a conference hosted this month by Paramount Farms, the mega-operation owned by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire known for his sprawling agricultural holdings, controversial water dealings, and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to high-powered California politicians including Governor Jerry Brown, former governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

The record drought now entering its fourth year in California has alarmed the public, left a number of rural communities without drinking water, and triggered calls for mandatory rationing. There’s no relief in sight: The winter rainy season, which was a bust again this year, officially ends on April 15. Nevertheless, some large-scale farmers are enjoying extraordinary profits despite the drought, thanks in part to infusions of what experts call dangerously under-priced water.

Resnick, whose legendary marketing flair included hiring Stephen Colbert to star in a 2014 Super Bowl commercial, told the conference that pistachios generated an average net return of $3,519 per acre in 2014, based on a record wholesale price of $3.53 a pound. Almonds, an even “thirstier” crop, averaged $1,431 per acre. Andy Anzaldo, a vice president for Resnick’s company, Wonderful Pistachios, celebrated by showing the assembled growers a clip from the movie Jerry Maguire in which Tom Cruise shouts, “Show me the money,” reported the Western Farm Press, a trade publication. At the end of the day, conference attendees filed out to the sounds of Louis Armstrong singing, “It’s a Wonderful World.”

Agriculture is the heart of California’s worsening water crisis, and the stakes extend far beyond the state’s borders. Not only is California the world’s eighth largest economy, it is an agricultural superpower. It produces roughly half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the United States—and more than 90 percent of the almonds, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli and other specialty crops—while exporting vast amounts to China and other overseas customers.

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Beneath California Crops, Groundwater Crisis Grows

By and
APRIL 5, 2015

Even as the worst drought in decades ravages California, and its cities face mandatory cuts in water use, millions of pounds of thirsty crops like oranges, tomatoes and almonds continue to stream out of the state and onto the nation’s grocery shelves.

But the way that California farmers have pulled off that feat is a case study in the unwise use of natural resources, many experts say. Farmers are drilling wells at a feverish pace and pumping billions of gallons of water from the ground, depleting a resource that was critically endangered even before the drought, now in its fourth year, began.

California has pushed harder than any other state to adapt to a changing climate, but scientists warn that improving its management of precious groundwater supplies will shape whether it can continue to supply more than half the nation’s fruits and vegetables on a hotter planet.

In some places, water tables have dropped 50 feet or more in just a few years. With less underground water to buoy it, the land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack. Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water.

Scientists say some of the underground water-storing formations so critical to California’s future — typically, saturated layers of sand or clay — are being permanently damaged by the excess pumping, and will never again store as much water as farmers are pulling out.

“Climate conditions have exposed our house of cards,” said Jay Famiglietti, a NASA scientist in Pasadena who studies water supplies in California and elsewhere. “The withdrawals far outstrip the replenishment. We can’t keep doing this.”

Cannon Michael, a farmer who grows tomatoes, melons and corn on 10,500 acres in the town of Los Banos, in the Central Valley, has high priority rights to surface water, which he inherited with his family’s land. But rampant groundwater pumping by farmers near him is causing some of the nearby land to sink, disturbing canals that would normally bring water his way.

“Now, water is going to have to flow uphill,” said Mr. Michael, who plans to fallow 2,300 acres this year.

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Water Bills, AB91 and AB92 Become Law: Synopsis

Colleagues,

These are the two “drought”  bills which recently became law. You can read the Legislative Council’s summary and the text of the bills at this link for 91 and this link for 92. You can also find descriptions of provisions related to stream flow below.

Both the Mercury News and the LA Times have criticized the Governor’s drought actions to date.  The LA Times piece focuses on failure of the Governor, legislature and SWRCB to put any restrictions on what farmers can plant. That is right on the money. Ag consumes 80% of water stored and diverted in California. We should all demand that the Governor and Legislature ban planting of new permanent crops like vineyards and orchards unless the landowners can show a secure water supply.

Here are descriptions of provisions related to flow in AB 91:

“Of the funds appropriated in this item, $15,560,000 is available for maximizing water delivery and efficiency to key endangered species habitats; monitoring of endangered species, native fish, and the delta species; water delivery system projects; and enhancing in-stream flows. These funds shall be available for encumbrance until June 30, 2016.”

Of the amount appropriated in this item, $6,727,000 shall be available to the State Water Resources Control Board for drought-related water right and water conservation actions, including establishing and enforcing requirements to prevent the waste or unreasonable use of water and to promote water recycling, establishing and enforcing curtailments in diversion based on unavailability of water under the diverters priority of right, and enforcing terms and conditions of water right permits and licenses.

2.    Of the amount appropriated in this item, $2,394,000 shall be available to the State Water Resources Control Board to complete instream flow studies for tributaries identified in the report titled “Instream Flow Studies for the Protection of Public Trust Resources: A Prioritized Schedule and Estimate of Costs, December 2010” and to provide support for establishing and implementing flow requirements based on the flow studies.

AB 92 provisions of interest:

(1) Existing law requires any new diversion of water from any stream having populations of salmon and steelhead that is determined by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to be deleterious to salmon and steelhead to be screened by the owner of the diversion. Existing law requires the department to submit to the owner its proposals as to measures necessary to protect the salmon and steelhead within 30 days of receipt of a notice of a diversion of water from a stream having populations of salmon and steelhead.
This bill would instead require the department, within 30 days of providing written notice to the owner that the department has determined that the diversion is deleterious to salmon and steelhead, to submit to the owner its proposals as to measures necessary to protect the salmon and steelhead.

(2) Existing law prohibits the construction or maintenance, in certain fish and game districts, of any device or contrivance that prevents, impedes, or tends to prevent or impede, the passing of fish up and down stream. A violation of this provision is a misdemeanor.

This bill would impose an additional civil penalty of not more than $8,000 for a violation of this provision.

(3) Existing law declares that the diversion or use of water other than as authorized by specified provisions of law is a trespass. Existing law authorizes the executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board to issue a complaint to a person who violates certain laws regarding the use and diversion of water, and subjects the violator to administrative civil liability. Existing law requires that the complaint be served by personal notice or certified mail and inform the party served that the party may request a hearing not later than 20 days from the date the party was served.

This bill would authorize the Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, or his or her designee, to issue a complaint in accordance with the above-specified provisions alleging that an unauthorized diversion or use of water harms fish and wildlife resources.

Felice

“There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

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Chemical Exposure Linked to Billions in Health Care Costs

Researchers conclude they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems, diabetes, other health problems.

Elizabeth Grossman
for National Geographic
Published March 5, 2015

Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (U.S.) per year in Europe alone, according to a study published Thursday.

Chemicals that can mimic or block estrogen or other hormones are commonly found in thousands of products around the world, including plastics, pesticides, furniture, and cosmetics.

The new research estimated health care costs in Europe, where policymakers are debating whether to enact the world’s first regulations targeting endocrine disruptors. The European Union’s controversial strategy, if approved, would have a profound effect on industries and consumer products worldwide.

Linda Birnbaum, the leading environmental health official in the U.S. government, called the new findings, which include four published papers, “a wake-up call” for policymakers and health experts.

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