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The USDA paints a larger picture in a report this morning.
Warm temperatures in February contributed to further snowpack decline in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, according to data from the third 2015 forecast by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Snowpack in Nevada, Utah and Idaho also fell further behind normal.
The state Department of Water Resources has unveiled a “strategic plan” for how it will implement new groundwater regulations and is seeking input from the public.
From the DWR:
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) seeks public input on a draft strategic plan for its role in carrying out the historic sustainable groundwater laws enacted last fall by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.
The draft plan describes DWR’s responsibilities and vision for carrying out the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a package of laws that aim to protect the groundwater basins that provide more than half of the water Californians use in dry years.
Ranchers along the Mill, Deer and Antelope creeks in northern California have been notified they could again receive water-shutoff notices at times this year to accommodate migrating fish. Last year they were among the first of about 10,000 water rights holders to receive stop-diversion orders because of the drought.
RED BLUFF, Calif. — State water regulators are taking initial steps toward issuing stop-diversion orders to water rights holders again this year, including sending notices to landowners on three creeks near here.
Property owners on Mill, Deer and Antelope creeks in Tehama County have been told they’ll be barred at certain times from taking water for irrigation if creek levels fall below what is needed for migrating fish.
“They are on notice that when curtailment notices go out again during the specific times for spawning, they must curtail any and all water diversion from those tributaries, just like last year,” said George Kostyrko, a spokesman for the State Water Resources Control Board.
The orders would be similar to those issued in 2014, when ranchers along the creeks had to let their fields stay dry in June — when pastures normally are most productive — to accommodate salmon and steelhead spring runs.
“It was tough,” said Burt Bundy, a county supervisor who owns a small ranch on Mill Creek. “It would have been tough no matter what the story was, though. We expect it to not be any different this year.”
Bundy and other area landowners have complained the water board’s actions have lacked due process. Bundy said the board is “overkilling” by requiring at least 50 cubic feet per second in the creeks at a given time as well as pulses of 100 cubic feet per second every two weeks.
“You just get your ditches full and get your rotation in order, then you have to cut the water off for three days and then it’s geared back up again,” Bundy said. “It just really is murder for the pasture irrigators, and that’s mostly what we have.”
The notices along the three creeks, which are key tributaries to the Sacramento River, came amid a series of emergency measures the water board enacted March 18. The board also approved a requirement that landowners document their water rights and submit records of their diversions if a dispute with other rights holders arises.
Board members also passed a series of restrictions for urban water users, including rules that they can’t water their lawns daily and that they must ask for water when dining at restaurants. Gov. Jerry Brown was also working with lawmakers on emergency drought legislation.
Last year, landowners along the three creeks were among the first of some 10,000 water rights holders around the state that faced water shutoffs because of California’s drought, which is now in its fourth year.
The board sent letters to water rights holders in January warning them that more stop-diversion orders are likely this year unless conditions improve.
State officials are gearing up for another dry summer as the U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly the entire Central Valley as being at the most severe level of drought, while a majority of the Pacific Northwest is now at least in a moderate drought.
State and federal resource agencies have determined that Mill, Deer and Antelope creeks provide some of the best habitat for helping recovery of migrating Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead, which face particular harm from the drought, according to a water board news release.
The endangered fish are at a higher risk because water flows will be too low and temperatures too high unless a minimum amount of water is made available to them during critical passage periods, the release explained.
The board’s emergency regulations must be reviewed and approved by the state’s Office of Administrative Law and could take effect by March 27.
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PNP comment: If there is something that most California politicians and gov agencies are good at, it is wasting our taxpayers’ money on bills that won’t get the job done. We need reservoirs built to store water and de-saltinization plants for coastal cities — immediately! — Editor Liz Bowen
By David Siders
03/18/2015 7:55 PM
03/19/2015 1:40 PM
With California entering its fourth year of drought, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders will propose more than $1 billion in emergency legislation Thursday for flood protection and water supply projects and to alleviate impacts of the drought.
The legislation, similar to a measure passed last year, includes money for upgrading farm equipment with low-polluting equipment and for emergency food for farmworkers out of work due to the drought, a source said.
The bill’s funding will rely on a combination of sources, including the General Fund, revenue from California’s cap-and-trade program, flood bond revenue and money from the water bond voters passed last year.
The legislation comes after California regulators on Tuesday ordered water agencies in California to limit the number of days each week customers can water their lawns, an unprecedented measure.
Brown’s office announced late Wednesday that the governor, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins would present the legislation at a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday.
Brown issued an emergency order in January 2014 in which he appealed to Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent, a threshold the state first met in December. The Democratic governor said last month that he was not prepared to impose mandatory water restrictions.
At the time, he said he was “reluctant to expand the coercive power of state authority, so wherever we can engage a voluntary citizenship, I’m for that.”
Brown said the state was doing “pretty well” conserving water voluntarily.
Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, . Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.
S. Representatives Tom McClintock (CA-04) and Jeff Denham (CA-10) released a letter to key regional federal regulators calling on them to revise plans and take actions to prevent water releases that threaten to leave New Melones reservoir dry this coming summer.
In a joint letter to senior officials at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Representatives McClintock and Denham requested that the agencies meet immediately and enter emergency consultation proceedings to devise a new plan to conserve water in New Melones reservoir and ensure flows down the Stanislaus River through the rest of 2015.
“If the reservoir reaches dead pool, communities that rely on Lake Tulloch for their water supply will be unable to access their water, irrigators downstream of Tulloch Dam will go without water during the hottest months of the year, and ironically the fall-run salmon would end up with no flows upon their return migration,” said McClintock and Denham.
The two Congressmen have been sounding the alarm about the need for federal regulators to provide balance in water storage and delivery. “Pursuing a course of action that leaves no water available during some of the hottest months in the Central Valley and provides no options for returning fall-run salmon is a gross mismanagement of the river system and a failure to avert a preventable disaster,” states the letter.
A copy of the letter is attached here.
With the drought stretching into its fourth year, a heavyweight water agency from Los Angeles has come calling on Sacramento Valley rice farmers, offering up to $71 million for some of their water.
The price being offered is so high, some farmers can make more from selling water than from growing their rice. Many are willing to deal: Nine irrigation districts, mainly serving rice growers along the Feather River basin, have made tentative deals to ship a portion of their water to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and several other water agencies later this summer.
Almost all of the buyers are located south of the Delta, where the water shortage is generally more critical than in the Sacramento Valley.
As many as 115,000 acre-feet of water could be sold, or more than 37 billion gallons, to Metropolitan and its fellow buyers. The result: a reduction in the amount of rice planted as farmers take fields out of production. As it is, California’s rice industry is struggling to recover from a difficult 2014, in which 140,000 acres were idled due to drought and one-fourth of the crop didn’t get planted.
The sale shows the growing influence of market forces on California’s water allocations. A generation ago, many in Northern California agriculture fought tooth-and-nail against Metropolitan, which they viewed as the big bully from Los Angeles that would use any means necessary to grab their water. Nowadays, farmers are more apt to cut deals with the water giant, which serves 19 million customers, figuring it makes more sense to negotiate than to wage war against an entity with enormous political clout.
If farmers don’t sell to Southern California, “we could really be open to a lot of criticism from various parties around the state,” said Bryce Lundberg of Lundberg Family Farms, a Butte County rice grower that plans to participate in the big water transfer. “You could get opened to more than just criticism.”
The deal also shows how severe the drought has become. A year ago, some of the same Sacramento Valley water districts shipped some of their water south at what seemed like an exorbitant price: $500 an acre-foot.
This year’s transaction will make 2014 look like a steal. Metropolitan and the others are paying $700 an acre-foot. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, roughly a year’s supply for two Southern California households.
“That reflects the desperation and the competition from the people down there,” said Ted Trimble, general manager of the Western Canal Water District in Richvale, Butte County, one of the participating sellers.
Western Canal and eight other Sacramento Valley water districts agreed to the tentative sale to a group of purchasers led by the State Water Contractors, which represents agencies that rely on the State Water Project. Metropolitan will get 61 percent of the water and the Kern County Water Agency will get 31 percent. The rest will be split among seven smaller agencies, mostly south of the Delta.
The volume of water ultimately directed south could shrink. Several of the sellers, including Western Canal, won’t participate if their allocations for this year are cut by the state.
To that end, Metropolitan is trying to scare up additional supplies from Northern California.
“We’re hoping to grow this pie larger,” said Steve Hirsch, the agency’s manager of water transfers and exchanges, in remarks made earlier this week to Metropolitan’s directors. “We’re still pursuing sellers.”
Southern California’s thirst for Sacramento Valley water doesn’t sit well with some. Barbara Vlamis of AquAlliance, an advocacy group in Chico, said selling water to Southern California harms the Valley’s environment and economy.
“When someone fallows 20 percent of their rice ground, it reverberates through the ag community,” she said.
Jim Morris, spokesman for the California Rice Commission, said the commission wasn’t familiar with the tentative sale and couldn’t comment on its impact on this year’s crop. “We’re still looking at what the upcoming season will hold,” he said.
For growers, participating in the sale is voluntary, but the economics make it hard to say no. Trimble said farmers in his district figure to make a profit of about $1,000 to $1,500 an acre planting rice. Idling an acre of rice would yield more than 3 acre-feet of water, or more than $2,100.
Despite the big payoff, the district won’t idle more than 10,740 acres, or about one-sixth of its total. Trimble said growers have to take the long view; idling all their land would mean the financial ruin of the mills and other businesses that serve the rice industry, crippling farmers when the price of water drops and they want to plant again.
“There’s a big industry here built up around the rice; we’ve got to keep that going,” he said.
Growers along the Feather River are in a position of relative strength — water wise. Blessed with senior water rights, they received 100 percent of their State Water Project allocation last year. While this year’s allocation could be cut by as much as half, they’re better off than many growers in other parts of the state. Last month the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that farmers can expect nothing this year from the federal government’s Central Valley Project, a major water source for many.
As water becomes more precious, the notion of selling some torments many farmers.
“We have growers in the district — they’re never going to sell a drop of water,” said Thad Bettner, general manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District.
Glenn-Colusa, which draws from the Sacramento River, isn’t involved in the sale to the Metropolitan group. But it has sold water at times. Last year it made deals with a neighboring agency, the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority, and the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, which serves a vast swath of the San Joaquin Valley.
Water sales also are occurring in Sacramento’s backyard. Conaway Ranch, a 17,000-acre Yolo County farm controlled by Sacramento land baron Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, has made deals with farmers who own vineyards and almond orchards — permanent crops that must be watered every year. Conaway’s rice and other field crops can be idled.
Conaway sold some of its water last year at $325 an acre-foot and is fielding offers this year on pricier terms, said general manager Bob Thomas.
“Water is getting much more expensive,” he said. “South of the Delta, the price is going to be much higher.”
Metropolitan isn’t thrilled about paying $700 an acre-foot for water. But the Los Angeles agency needs the additional supply, despite having spent billions of dollars on storage and conservation projects over the last few years. The State Water Project, which provides about one-third of Southern California’s water, expects to deliver only 20 percent of normal allocations this year. The Colorado River, Metropolitan’s other main source, is running at less than 50 percent of normal. This year marks the first time since 2010 that Metropolitan has gone into the market to buy water from the Sacramento Valley.
Hirsch said Metropolitan and its partners had to compete against three other bidders, including the San Joaquin Valley’s massive Westlands Water District, to make the deal for the Sacramento Valley water.
“What a difficult year it’s been to negotiate transfers,” the Metropolitan official told the agency’s water planning and stewardship committee earlier this week. “It reflects the competition … and another year of drought.”
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.
It was never quite clear what those words meant. Would the $2.7 billion become seed money for two new dams on the state agricultural industry’s wish list? Or would it go toward groundwater storage projects that keep water closer to home? The bill was written to be “tunnel neutral,” meaning it wouldn’t automatically pay for a pair of canals that Gov. Jerry Brown wants to build, to draw water from the Sacramento River and ostensibly reduce pumping from the ecologically stressed California Delta. But it wasn’t “tunnel negative,” either.
“It’s mystery meat,” said Adam Scow, California director of the activist nonprofit group Food and Water Watch, about that $2.7 billion pot.
Nevertheless, with Brown’s juggernaut of support lined up behind it, the water bill passed easily, with 67 percent of the vote. So now Prop 1’s opponents have a new cause: Riding herd on the nine governor-appointed members of the California Water Commission, the people who will decide how the money gets spent.
Formed in 1913 to referee water-rights wars in the state, the California Water Commission now exists to advise the Department of Water Resources and supervise the State Water Project. In its current incarnation, it includes at least one bona fide environmental leader of a conservationist bent, Kim Delfino, of Defenders of Wildlife, but also one passionate advocate for Central Valley farmers and their water rights, grower Joe Del Bosque, who last year got President Obama to visit his farm with a tweeted invitation. Also on the commission are a Silicon Valley contractor, an engineer, a water-district manager, an educator and a consultant. Joseph Byrne, a Los Angeles attorney specializing in California environmental law, was appointed in 2010 and serves as its current chair.
The commission has just begun to deliberate on that $2.7 billion; much of the January 21 meeting was spent setting rules for that process. Members of the public who showed up to speak weighed in heavily on the conservationist side, warning against big water-storage projects that will exacerbate California’s already unkeepable promises to farmers. Such endeavors “have a long history of claimed environmental benefits that didn’t come to pass,” said Barry Nelson, of Western Water Strategies, formerly of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Tim Stroshane, of the Environmental Water Caucus, pushed for expanding the use of existing groundwater basins, such as the one in north Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley; “investing in them will lead to less demand for imported water,” he told the commission. “Real water reliability would result.”
Washington, DC – Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) today announced the introduction of H.R. 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: “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: “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: “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 millions of Californians for an entire year.
The California Alliance for Jobs has also profiled 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 purposes.
The Northern California Water Association produced an infographic on Sites Reservoir and its operation in conjunction with other water infrastructure.
Attached photo: Congressmen LaMalfa and Garamendi respond to questions at a forum sponsored by the Association of California Water Agencies (Photo Credit: ACWA).
Congressman Doug LaMalfa is a lifelong farmer representing California’s First Congressional District, including Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama Counties.
Like many areas of the United States, citizens in Siskiyou County are finding government regulations are destroying their RIGHTS. This includes Water Rights, Property Rights and Individual Rights. We believe in the Constitutions of the United States and State of California that provide RIGHTS for its citizens. We also believe these RIGHTS are being systematically reduced, which is resulting in tyranny from our governments -- at all levels.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the government should serve the people!