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.
Tom Randall, BLOOMBERG.COM
Record rains fell in California this week. They’re not enough to change the course of what scientists are now calling the region’s worst drought in at least 1,200 years.
Just how bad has California’s drought been? Modern measurements already showed it’s been drier than the 1930s dustbowl, worse than the historic droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. That’s not all. New research going back further than the Viking conquests in Europe still can’t find a drought as bad as this one.
To go back that far, scientists consulted one of the longest records available: tree rings. Tighter rings mean drier years, and by working with California’s exceptionally old trees, researchers from University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute were able to reconstruct a chronology of drought in southern and central California. They identified 37 droughts that lasted three years or more, going back to the year 800.
None were as extreme as the conditions we’re seeing now.
One of the oddities of this drought is that conditions aren’t just driven by a lack of rainfall. There have been plenty of droughts in the past with less precipitation. (The drought of 1527 to 1529, for example, was killer.) What makes this drought exceptional is the heat. Extreme heat.
Higher temperatures increase evaporation and help deplete reservoirs and groundwater. The California heat this year is like nothing ever seen in modern temperature records. The chart above shows average year-to-date temperatures in the state from January through October for each year since 1895.
Read more via California’s ‘Hot Drought’ Ranks Worst in at Least 1,200 Years – Bloomberg.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved a trio of actions aimed at improving dental health in Sonoma County, including a contract to complete a study on fluoridation of the county’s drinking water.
The draft engineering study, which includes a cost analysis for adding fluoride to the county’s water system, was commissioned by supervisors in February 2013 for $103,000 but it has yet to be publicly released.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors authorized paying an additional $10,000 to MWH Americas, a Colorado-based firm, to incorporate feedback from the county’s new public health officer and other officials into their analysis.
Before the vote, Supervisor Susan Gorin voiced some concern about allocating additional money to a study that she and her fellow supervisors have yet to see.
“This caught me a bit by surprise,” she said. “I have some serious concerns — this might be a bit premature because this board hasn’t made a final determination about where it’s going with fluoridation.”
Tuesday’s vote, originally slated for swift approval without public comment, was moved off the Board of Supervisors consent calendar to the regular calendar, offering the chance for a broader discussion.
Two people spoke in opposition, including Dawna Gallagher-Stroeh, an anti-fluoridation activist who is seeking to curtail the county’s push to fluoridate its drinking water, citing what she has characterized as faulty science and supposed health dangers.
via Sonoma County approves more money for work on | The Press Democrat.
Sonoma County Water Agency, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
On October 7th the Sonoma County Water Agency Board of Directors adopted a Groundwater Management Plan (Plan) for the Santa Rosa Plain (Plain). The Plan sets a framework to locally and voluntarily manage groundwater resources. “This is a well thought out plan that was developed by a diverse group of stakeholders,” said Efren Carrillo, Water Agency Director. “The voluntary measures of the plan promote groundwater management to support all beneficial uses in an environmentally sound, economical, and equitable manner.”
The Plan was developed by the Basin Advisory Panel (Panel), a balanced stakeholder group. A comprehensive study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey that found that the Plain is experiencing an average annual loss of stored groundwater, which, if not modified, could lead to issues such as declining or dry wells, reduced water flows in creeks and streams, and a loss of water supply flexibility. The Plan promotes activities and programs that aim to create sustainable groundwater levels in the Plain.
“The drought underscores the need to manage our groundwater sustainably, and right now we’re using more than we can sustain,” emphasized Water Agency Director Shirlee Zane. “We’ve been talking about the need for integrated water management for a long time, and this is a step in the right direction for collecting data and creating successful management practices.”
One of the first actions of the plan is to better characterize groundwater conditions by increasing streamflow measurements and voluntary groundwater level monitoring. This data will be used to prioritize groundwater sustainability projects and programs, such as rural water use efficiency programs and groundwater recharge projects.
“This data driven plan puts Sonoma County ahead of the curve when it comes to creating sustainable groundwater levels which will benefit generations of residents,” added Mike McGuire, Water Agency Director. “Climate change is real and we have to be prepared for longer, dryer times.”
Studies, projects, and programs conducted under the Plan may be implemented by one or more organizations, following input or guidance from the Panel. For example, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District will use information from the Plan to support future prioritization of land acquisitions in the Santa Rosa plain – including actions to conserve groundwater recharge areas while providing multiple additional benefits, such as protecting agricultural and open space lands from development.
Read more via Managing Groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday asked county planning officials to shift their priorities over the next two years to tackle divisive issues that could result in stronger environmental protections and tighter limits on development.
The direction, which the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department seeks from the Board of Supervisors every two years, was the first step in the county authorizing work on a number of new or revived initiatives. They include a tree ordinance to prevent removal of county woodlands, limits on medical marijuana cultivation, measures to create and retain affordable housing and regulation of events at wineries.
An overflow crowd sat in on what has in years past been a fairly subdued board discussion.
“I’ve never seen this much input,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
Two dozen people spoke or submitted letters in support of creating tighter countywide rules for special events at wineries. They lodged complaints about increased traffic and noise in their rural neighborhood and raised concerns about the strain on scarce water resources.
Judith Olney said traffic from winery events has become heavy in her neighborhood off Westside Road.
“Our neighbors are literally being driven off of our roads,” Olney said. “It’s a serious issue.”
Read more via Winery events top meeting about county planning priorities | The Press Democrat.