Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on California delta smelt survey turns up only 1 fish

California delta smelt survey turns up only 1 fish

Associated Press, SFGATE
California’s drought appears to be taking a toll on a threatened fish species.
State officials found one delta smelt during a survey earlier this month of 40 sites in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, The Record of Stockton reported over the weekend ( The survey by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife typically turns up dozens of smelt, and found 143 three years ago. It was conducted over four days.
The finger-long fish’s numbers, which have been in decline, are considered a measure of conditions in the delta. Experts say this year’s results were sad but not unexpected.
Less water in the delta because of the state’s ongoing drought creates saltier conditions. Delta smelt prefer fresher water to breed, and to find it, they tend to move farther east into areas where they are more likely to be killed by predators or water pumps or become exposed to pollution, The Record reported.
"The main hope now for the smelt is that some of these remaining fish spawned successfully and the young will survive for a year despite unfavorable conditions," Peter Moyle, an expert on California’s native fish, told The Record.
The smelt has been the subject of numerous lawsuits over water distribution from the delta. Officials and water contractors say a proposed $25 billion twin-tunnel water project would reverse the decline of smelt and salmon by taking water in the north of the delta, on the Sacramento River. That would prevent the fish from traveling toward and getting caught up in the pumps in the south as they do today, they say.
Some environmentalists and delta activists counter the project will lead to further fish declines by syphoning even more water out of the estuary.
via California delta smelt survey turns up only 1 fish – SFGate.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on How Big Ag gamed California's drought

How Big Ag gamed California's drought

Mark Hertsgaard, BOHEMIAN.COM
Almonds are one of California’s most water-intensive crops. Why haven’t officials cracked down on farmers?
‘I’ve been smiling all the way to the bank,” said pistachio farmer John Dean at a conference hosted earlier this month by Paramount Farms, the operation owned by Stewart Resnick.
Resnick is the Beverly Hills billionaire known for his sprawling agricultural holdings, controversial water dealings and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to California politicians including Gov. Jerry Brown, former governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The record drought has alarmed the public, left some rural communities without drinking water and led Brown last week to impose the first mandatory water restrictions in the state’s history. But the governor’s executive order required cutbacks only from the urban sector that uses roughly 20 percent of California’s developed water; the agricultural sector, which uses 80 percent, was required only to formulate “plans” for coping with future drought.
Responding to criticism about letting agriculture off easy, Brown and his aides pointed out that farmers have already been cut back. In February, U.S. officials announced that agriculture’s allocation of federal water supplies in California would be cut to zero in 2015. State water allocation to agriculture will be only 20 percent in 2015. And these reductions come on top of earlier cutbacks in 2014.
Yet despite such cutbacks, large-scale farmers are enjoying record profits—and increasing the acreage planted in almonds and other water-intensive crops—thanks in part to infusions of what experts call dangerously underpriced water.
Agriculture is at 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, and other specialty crops—while exporting vast amounts to China.
Agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Most crops are produced in the Central Valley, which is, geologically speaking, a desert. The soil is very fertile, but can only thrive if massive irrigation water is applied.
Read more at: Crop Priority | News | North Bay Bohemian

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Amid a drought, cue the almond shaming

Amid a drought, cue the almond shaming


The nut boom was a rational and reasonable response to economic and hydrological reality. But now, with the state hit by a drought far worse than the one that jump-started it, it’s proving to be problematic.

It takes a gallon of water to produce an almond. That’s one remarkable fact. Here’s another: 82 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, almost all of them in its agricultural heartland, the Central Valley. Here’s another: Almond growers use about 10 percent of the state’s water supply every year. And here’s yet another: California’s mountain snowpack, the main source of the Central Valley’s water, is at 5 percent of its historical average for this time of year.
Couple those remarkable facts with the spectacular rise of the almond and in particular almond milk as a dietary staple for the affluent and health-conscious — a rise driven in part by the marketing efforts of the Almond Board of California — and you have the makings of a collision, or a backlash, or something. My Bloomberg colleague Joe Weisenthal tried to get #almondshaming going as a Twitter hashtag Monday, and didn’t quite succeed. But there is definitely some almond shaming going on.
Read more via Amid a Drought, Cue the Almond Shaming – Bloomberg View.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Lake Mendocino shrinking again

Lake Mendocino shrinking again

On the surface, Lake Mendocino appears to have plenty of water, especially when compared with the near-record low levels that turned most of the lake into a mudflat last year. But the lake’s water level already has begun a steady decline that has farmers and water officials concerned it could again shrink to near empty by the end of this fourth year of drought.
“Everybody’s watching it,” Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones said.
Unless significant rain falls this spring, state regulators are likely to repeat last year’s unprecedented curtailment of hundreds of water rights held by farmers and others along the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg.
The state already has curtailed water rights to some Sacramento River tributaries and notified Russian River water users they could be next. State officials also have extended mandated water restrictions for all domestic uses in California.
“I expect they’ll be seeking curtailments again” on the upper Russian River, said Alfred White, a viticulturist and member of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, which holds Mendocino County’s right to 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mendocino.
Lake Mendocino appeared headed for normal water levels following early winter storms, but then the rain tapered off, followed by the end of a regulatory effort to conserve that water.
The water level began dropping in mid-February, just after the expiration of a state-issued variance that temporarily reduced the minimum in-stream flows in the Russian River between Lake Mendocino and Healdsburg. The flows, aimed largely at preserving fish, are managed by the Sonoma County Water Agency, except when there’s a risk of flooding.
Read more via Lake Mendocino shrinking again | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County gets set to study groundwater regulations

Sonoma County gets set to study groundwater regulations


Press Democrat

When Gov. Jerry Brown in September signed a package of three bills designed to curb overpumping of water from underground aquifers, the historic legislation sent fear and panic throughout Sonoma County. Residents who depend on underground wells as their primary source of water contacted county officials to ask how the laws would affect them, and farmers whose operations require a steady supply of water lobbied hard to be included in conversations about restrictions going forward.
County water officials and supervisors heard concerns about mandatory groundwater monitoring and rationing, and fielded questions about fines and penalties associated with pumping.
Sonoma County this week unveiled its first formal response to a wave of queries over the past six months about how California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which establishes the first rules for pumping groundwater in the Golden State, would affect property owners and agriculture.
“Monitoring and conserving groundwater is no longer going to be voluntary,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the Sonoma County Water Agency. “Some people were saying they’re mad, that it infringes on private property rights and water rights, but on the other hand, we’ve also heard from people who are saying it’s about time to regulate groundwater.”
Between now and June 2017, Sonoma County must form a local agency to develop and oversee plans for achieving sustainable groundwater levels in each of the county’s 14 underground basins.
Read more via Sonoma County gets set to study groundwater regulations | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?

California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?


Several steps need to be taken right now. First, immediate mandatory water rationing should be authorized across all of the state’s water sectors, from domestic and municipal through agricultural and industrial.

Given the historic low temperatures and snowfalls that pummeled the eastern U.S. this winter, it might be easy to overlook how devastating California’s winter was as well.
As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.
Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.
Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.
As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.
Read more via California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now? – LA Times.

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Rains send Sonoma County compost operators scrambling to stem runoff

Rains send Sonoma County compost operators scrambling to stem runoff

Most government officials in Sonoma County welcomed the rains that began drenching the region Friday as a much-needed midwinter boost to reservoir levels following an unusually dry January.
But when big winter storms make the barometer fall, Henry Mikus’ blood pressure rises.
The executive director of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is under strict orders from state water quality regulators to reduce runoff from the 25-acre composting operation atop Sonoma County’s central landfill.
Rainwater that seeps through the open-air compost piles historically has been allowed to mingle with stormwater from other parts of the landfill, and in significant storms both get discharged into Stemple Creek.
But Mikus, under the threat of fines from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by neighbors, is overseeing an unusual effort to keep the wastewater out of the creek this winter by hauling it via tanker truck to local treatment plants.
“The truth is, it has gone better than anybody expected,” Mikus said of the work to date.
via Rains send Sonoma County compost operators scrambling | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on Vine Notes: Plan ahead for major stormwater rule changes

Vine Notes: Plan ahead for major stormwater rule changes

After 13 years of deliberation and drafting, the new Industrial General Stormwater Permit takes effect July 1. The new permit requires major changes in the way that businesses engaged in industrial activities plan for, monitor and control pollution in rainwater runoff.
Companies should prepare for these changes to put themselves on the best footing when the new permit takes effect. As they say, “the devil is in the details,” but here is a quick overview of the major changes in the new permit and the key issues companies should start thinking about.
Read more via Vine Notes: Plan ahead for major stormwater rule changes – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , Leave a comment on State regulators develop water-use rules for pot

State regulators develop water-use rules for pot

Faced with an explosion of marijuana gardens, state regulators are developing a new program designed to bring medical cannabis farmers into compliance with state laws governing water use and water quality.
The regulatory program is expected to be unveiled sometime next year, said Erin Mustain, a senior water resources control engineer with the state Water Resources Control Board’s Cannabis Enforcement Unit.
It’s aimed at halting water diversions that can suck dry small streams; unpermitted grading projects that pollute waterways with dirt; and the misuse of toxic pesticides and fertilizers that have been known to poison streams and wildlife.
Water board staff members already have been meeting with medical pot growers in an effort to educate them about responsible water use and farming practices.
“From our outreach efforts and the feedback we have received from the growing community, we anticipate that most cannabis cultivators and landowners will want to work with us,” Mustain said.
Read more via Effort afoot to develop water-use rules for pot | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , , Leave a comment on Water Board developing a plan to clean up disease-causing bacteria in the Russian River

Water Board developing a plan to clean up disease-causing bacteria in the Russian River

Rebecca Fitzgerald & Charles Reed, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Each year, the Russian River plays host to tens of thousands of residents and visitors who swim and recreate along its length, which extends from Redwood Valley, North of Ukiah to Jenner, where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean.
At the same time, the Russian River area is home to hundreds of thousands of human inhabitants and domesticated animals, who produce waste. Most of this domestic waste is collected, treated, beneficially reused, or discharged at a time and in a manner that is protective of public health and water quality. Much of this domestic waste is also controlled at its source by individuals through responsible personal behavior and good sanitary practices.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Water monitoring samples from the river show widespread contamination with bacteria and indicators of human waste, which pose a threat to the health of the river ecosystem and the people who visit it.
Reliance on existing regulatory actions and individual behavior is sometimes not sufficient to prevent domestic waste from being released in an uncontrolled manner into the environment. Once released, this material, which may include disease-causing microorganisms, inevitably makes its way to creeks and finally to the Russian River where it adversely impacts water quality, impairs the beneficial uses of creeks and the River, and presents a public health risk to individuals who come in contact with contaminated waters.
Often, the uncontrolled sources of waste are the result of the systemic failure to address human societal challenges like homelessness. Other times, contamination is the result of legacy practices, such as obsolete, substandard wastewater treatment systems. The simple lack of public awareness about the impacts of individual actions can also affect water quality.
Regardless of the root cause of contamination, it is the obligation of public agencies responsible for the protection of water quality and public health, to take actions to correct the condition. For these actions to be truly successfully and long-lasting, there must be participation, cooperation, and commitment from supporting state and local agencies, parties to whom corrective actions are assigned, and the general public.
Read much more via Troubled Waters: Water Board Developing a Plan to Cleanup Disease-causing Bacteria in the Russian River.