Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

California water wars rage on as farmers seek more water that now goes to fish

Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
The drought may be over and Central Valley farmers are getting more water than they have in years, but that hasn’t stopped congressional Republicans from resurrecting a bill that would strip environmental protections for fish so more water can be funneled to agriculture.
The bill is likely to meet the same fate as others before it, despite farmers having a new ally in the White House and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. After passing the House of Representatives last week, the bill faces near-certain death in the Senate, where California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris still have the power to kill it. President Donald Trump, who vowed during a Fresno campaign stop last year to “open up the water” for farmers at the expense of fish, is likely to never see the bill cross his desk.
Nonetheless, the legislation by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, offers a window into the unrelenting mindset of California’s agricultural lobby as it seeks to secure water for well-funded farming groups.
Some version of Valadao’s bill has been introduced off and on since 2011 without success. And, last year, with Feinstein’s support, farmers succeeded in pushing through a controversial bill easing some of the environmental restrictions on pumping water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for delivery to San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities. Former President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.
Read more at: California water wars rage on as farmers seek more water that now goes to fish | The Sacramento Bee

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Key public meetings set for governing groundwater in Sonoma County

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PUBLIC HEARINGS
Santa Rosa Plain Basin
Thursday, June 1, 5:30 p.m.
Santa Rosa Utilities Field Office, 35 Stony Point Rd.
Sonoma Valley Basin
Thursday, June 8, 5:30 p.m.
Vintage House Senior Center, 264 First St. East, Sonoma
Petaluma Valley Basin
Thursday, June 22, 5:30 p.m.
Petaluma Community Center, 320 North McDowell Blvd.

Residents who want to influence or at least understand how Sonoma County’s groundwater will be managed going forward are invited to participate in public hearings next month that will help shape new agencies governing aquifers.
Three new groundwater sustainability agencies are being formed under the 2014 state law meant to ensure that California’s groundwater basins are protected from depletion in an era of climate change and weather extremes.
The new law calls for monitoring, managing and, where necessary, regulating pumping from groundwater basins, which currently supply more than a third of the state’s water needs, even in a rainy year.
The state’s prolonged drought and overpumping of aquifers, especially in the Central Valley, fueled the new layer of oversight. Previously, California was the only western state to have no regulation of groundwater.
“It never really becomes real to people until it’s right in front of their face,” Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said of rules now governing groundwater.
Sonoma County is comparatively water-rich in surface and groundwater supplies, though some areas of Rohnert Park and the Sonoma Valley have come under past scrutiny for overuse.
Gore said the county is ahead of other regions in terms of how much study already has taken place, referring to recent reports by the U.S. Geological Survey.
But growing tension over the impact of vineyard expansion and a booming wine industry have ensured water also is a source of local political conflict.
Most residents reliant on groundwater, including their own wells, have more questions than answers so far about the new bureaucracies, Gore said.
Read more at: Key public meetings set for governing groundwater in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Even the record rainfall that dowsed the North Coast this winter, filling reservoirs and streams, will not be enough to head off a looming clash over the water that courses down two of the region’s largest rivers, the Russian and the Eel.
Together, they drain a swath of territory, including cities, forests and vineyards, that stretches from central Sonoma County to Fortuna, in Humboldt County — an area larger than Connecticut.
A key link between the two rivers, a small powerhouse more than 100 years old, is now the focal point in a fight over the water that flows down these rivers. It’s a standoff with many of the main players in western water wars — farmers, environmentalists, water districts serving urban customers and fishermen. And it raises many of the same questions: Who benefits and who loses from water taken for decades from one river — at over 20 billion gallons a year — and funneled into another river?
In this case, it is the Eel River that has been tapped, its water sent down a milelong tunnel through a mountain in Mendocino County, into a PG&E powerhouse and ultimately into a fork of Russian River, which flows down through Sonoma County.
Water drawn from the Eel River sustains Lake Mendocino, the main source of drinking water for residents along the Russian River from Redwood Valley down to Healdsburg.
Turning off that supply could devastate agriculture and diminish that primary water source for thousands of people, according to interests on one side of the tug-of-war.
The vast majority of the more 600,000 North Bay residents who depend on the Russian River for drinking water are unaware of the plumbing arrangement and the controversy that has long swirled around it and two related dams on the Eel River, where once-prolific runs of salmon and steelhead trout have dwindled amid various human impacts, water diversion among them.
But for the partisans — the water managers, environmentalists, public officials, ranchers and scientists — the dilemma of parsing out this water between competing interests, between people and fish, between town and country, is revving up again over the relicensing of the PG&E powerhouse, called the Pottery Valley Project.
“It’s a critical moment,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, the San Rafael Democrat whose North Coast district spans the adjacent watersheds.
Read more at: Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on California looks Down Under for drought advice

California looks Down Under for drought advice

Kristen Gelineau & Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
California’s longest and sharpest drought on record has its increasingly desperate water stewards looking for solutions in Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent.
The struggle to survive with little water is a constant thread in the history of Australia, whose people now view drought as an inevitable feature of the land poet Dorothea Mackellar dubbed “a sunburnt country.”
Four years into a drought forcing mandatory 25 percent water cutbacks this year, Californians have taken a keen interest in how Australia coped with its “Big Dry,” a torturous drought that stretched across the millennium, from the late 1990s through 2012. Australia’s city dwellers had to accept tough water restrictions as cattle collapsed and died in barren fields, monstrous wildfires killed 173 people, and scores of farms went under.
But by the time the rains returned, Australia had fundamentally changed how it handles water, following landmark reforms to more carefully mete out allocations and cutbacks. Today, Australia treats water as a commodity to be conserved and traded. The system also better measures what water is available, and efficiency programs have cut average daily water use to 55 gallons, compared with 105 gallons per day for each Californian.
The hard-earned lesson is that long droughts are here to stay, says drought-policy expert Linda Botterill of the University of Canberra.”We can expect longer, deeper and more severe droughts in Australia, and I believe the same applies in the U.S.,” Botterill says. “As a result, we need to develop strategies that are not knee-jerk responses, but that are planned risk-management strategies.”
That’s why California water officials routinely cite Australia’s experience and invite Australian water ministers to come speak. It’s also why Felicia Marcus, who runs California’s Water Resources Control Board, can talk in minute detail about the stormwater-capture system watering soccer fields in Perth.
But Californians may find Australia’s medicine tough to swallow. Australians are accustomed to living in a dry land, expect government intervention in a crisis and largely support making sacrifices for the common good. For much of their history, many Californians have enjoyed abundant water, or were able to divert enough of it to turn deserts green, and highly paid lawyers ensure that property rights remain paramount.
“The outstanding feature of the California drought is the way in which it’s been allowed to become incredibly serious, with — from an Australian perspective — an absolutely pathetic and nominal sort of response,” said Daniel Connell, an environmental policy expert at The Australian National University. “The main difference between California and Australia is they’re dominated by a legalistic approach and dominated by rights, and we’ve got a much more public-policy approach.”
Australia hardly has all the answers. Some of its drought responses faced sharp criticism, and some experts believe Australia already is losing some of its gains. Still, Americans suffering their own “Big Dry” may benefit from some comparisons:
WHOSE WATER IS IT:
AUSTRALIA: Too many water entitlements had been allocated for Australia’s main river system, which winds thousands of miles across four states that produce a third of the nation’s food. Overuse and drought so depleted the Murray-Darling Basin that by 2002, the mouth of the Murray had to be dredged to keep it flowing into the sea.
Australia responded by capping entitlements, canceling inactive licenses and buying back hundreds of billions of gallons from irrigators to restore the rivers and sell to other users when rain is plentiful. Water use is strictly metered to ensure license holders use only what they are allocated. Precise measurements also track the availability of water, which affects its price as shares are bought and sold on a water trading market worth $1.2 billion a year in U.S. dollars.
The amount of water represented in entitlements doled out to farms, industries and towns depends on what’s in the river; in drought, it can dwindle to virtually nothing. This is where water trading becomes critical. License holders can buy or sell their entitlements to others, keeping agriculture afloat. A farmer of a thirsty crop like cotton might not profit when both the share of water and the price of cotton is low. But if an orchard grower in desperate need buys that water, the cotton farmer can live off the sale while the orchard owner reaps a profitable harvest.
CALIFORNIA: Gov. Jerry Brown calls the state’s system of divvying up water rights, which dates to the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, “somewhat archaic.” The largest state economy in the U.S. still follows the maxim “first in time, first in right,” which gives overarching priority to nearly 4,000 so-called senior water rights holders who staked claims before 1914 or own acreage abutting a river or stream. In drought, authorities must completely deny water to most other claimants before they touch the water of senior water-rights holders. San Francisco, for example, has stronger water rights than many other cities because in 1902, Mayor James Phelan hiked up the Sierra Nevada and tacked a water claim to an oak tree along the bank of the Tuolumne River.
“Revising the water-rights system is a thermo-nuclear issue in California,” John Laird, California’s secretary for natural resources, said last month. If the state’s water shortages go on long enough, however, at some point “almost everything has to be on the table.”
 
For more comparisons between Australia and California’s water policies go to: California looks Down Under for drought advice | The State The State

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

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

groundwater-basins
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, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Grape growers grappling with prolonged water supply issues

Grape growers grappling with prolonged water supply issues

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To get a sense of how the state’s three-year drought has created a new normal in the wine industry, consider the truck that Rued Vineyards purchased this year.

Almost daily, Tom Rued would drive the stainless-steel tanker, with a capacity of 6,400 gallons, about 15 miles to a city of Healdsburg filling station to load up on recycled wastewater.

The entire operation takes about five hours, including the round trip between the Alexander Valley vineyard and the plant, the time filling up the tanker, and offloading the water into a drip irrigation system to keep 19 acres of sauvignon blanc vines moist enough to make it through another harvest.

Rued Vineyards has been pressed into such a drastic action after state water regulators this spring curtailed some of the vineyard’s water rights in the upper Russian River watershed along with more than 600 other junior water-rights holders. Officials with the state Water Resources Control Board have been following up with growers to make sure such orders are being followed, but no enforcement actions have yet been taken, said board spokesman George Kostyrko.

via Drought fears in Wine Country | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on State may curtail rights to upper Russian River water

State may curtail rights to upper Russian River water

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Forced by drought to take dramatic action, California officials are poised to curtail rights to draw water from the Russian River above Healdsburg for the first time anyone can recall.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Janet Pauli, a Mendocino County rancher who sits on the boards of multiple water organizations.

The state Water Resources Control Board could begin ordering people with junior appropriative water rights — generally those issued by the state after 1914 — to stop drawing water from the river as early as Monday, officials said. The date initially was April 15, but the board postponed making a decision on the Russian River. It did move forward, however, on creating new regulations to curtail water use on three Sacramento River tributaries and the Scott River in Siskiyou County to ensure there is sufficient water in those streams to protect salmon and steelhead.

via State may curtail rights to upper Russian River water | The Press Democrat.