Blog round-up: Bloggers on drought preparedness, choices, and policies, plus Owens Lake Dust Control, Vegas water conservation, and more

Infographic from the Pacific Institute Click on picture to view larger

Infographic from the Pacific Institute
Click on picture to view larger

We’re all in this drought together … well, unless Nunes sacrifices the environment first:  Doug Obegi at the NRDC’s Switchboard Blog writes: ” ... [W]hile the State and most stakeholders are working together to get through the drought, Congressman Devin Nunes and many of his far right colleagues in the Central Valley are apparently gearing up to reintroduce legislation to overturn the Endangered Species Act, preempt state environmental and water rights law, rescind the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, and generally blame environmental laws for the lack of rain and snow.   Yet in their zeal to stop the restoration of the San Joaquin River and to eliminate protections for salmon and other native fish under the Endangered Species Act, they’ve lost sight of the facts. ... ”  Read more from the NRDC’s Switchboard blog here:  Read more from the NRDC’s Switchboard blog here:  We’re All in this Drought Together (Unless Congressman Nunes Sacrifices the Environment First)

Drought preparedness and choices:  On the Public Record wonders about the ultimate wisdom of coming to rescue when small towns make bad choices:  “Head of the Drought Task Force said that a dozen or so small towns face running out of water in the next 60 days. The prospect of trucking water, or bringing in mobile desal plants, looms. Some of these towns may be very poor, and haven’t had the wealth to make their water supply resilient (second tank, line to a different source, pump lower in their reservoir to reach more volume). Some of them may simply not have other sources. Some of them, though, may have been living in denial about the risk of bad events. They may have had the wealth but been unwilling to pay higher rates.  Were it mine to do, I’d say that we, the people of the State, will help you once. … ”  Read more here:  Before the water trucks roll in.

Should California be saved?: Back in Washington DC, The Hill blog writes:  ” … Every time, no matter what the problem, the same solution will be provided: central government tinkering with a system flawed from the beginning by its own creation. And that is what will happen now in California. There will be vast technical solutions advanced by the federal government, but the problem was inherent from the beginning.  Should Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Southern California have been settled in the first place? It is a desert and clearly there are water problems. But centralized governments — America’s, Russia’s, China’s or anyone’s — can think only in big solutions, like changing the flow or rivers, building aqueducts like the Romans. Should we not run a pipeline to the Southwest from the Great Lakes and drain that? … ”  Read more from The Hill blog here:  Can California be saved? Should it be?

Drought as a stimulus for water policy changes:  Jeff Mount writes in the new PPIC blog:  “As this year unfolds, California will have to come to grips with the significant consequences of the drought emergency declared by Governor Brown. Drought Watch will be a regular feature on this blog, tracking the drought and its policy consequences.  As droughts go, this one is both brutal and unprecedented. We are in the grips of a “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,” a term coined by Daniel Swain of Stanford University for the high-pressure area that has been pushing storms to the north of us for over a year now. Coupled with the low rainfall and warm temperatures over the previous two years, this dry period is impressive. ... ”  Read more from the PPIC blog here:  Drought Watch: Drought Declarations and Water Policy

Congressman Nunes says the drought declaration will accomplish nothing:  ” … The governor’s emergency declaration has sparked victory laps by politicians, plenty of slaps on the back, calls for water bonds, demands to appoint a “federal drought coordinator,” and cries of joy from water districts that refuse to tell farmers and farmworkers what it will really take to end the water crisis. The bottom line is this: the declaration of a drought emergency will accomplish next to nothing. Outside of flood-level rainfall, there are only two ways to get more water this year: get the pumps turned back on, and get more water from the San Joaquin River that will otherwise be flushed into the ocean for the sake of phantom salmon. … “  Read his full blog post here:  Drought is declared: Governor states the obvious while politicians run victory laps

What to expect from the drought:  With California’s variable climate, Peter Gleick says we’ve seen droughts before:  ” … While the definition of “drought” varies from place to place, it is safe to say that California is currently suffering from a severe – and by some measures, unprecedented – drought.  It is not too late for some big storms off the Pacific Ocean to bring relief. But the odds are against it and current meteorological conditions are not encouraging. If the rest of the winter months are dry, or even of average wetness, the state will have much less water than normal, and much less than water users want – from cities to farms to our natural ecosystems.  We’ve had dry periods before – they are a recurring feature of our variable climate. The difficulty, expense, and pain of droughts, however, depend on two things: how severe they are and how we react. The Pacific Institute has spent many years studying the effects of droughts in California and has published several analyses of past impacts and responses (here and here).  Based on past experience, here is (part of) what Californians can expect this year if it remains as dry as it is now. … “  Read more from Peter Gleick here:  What Californians Can Expect from the Drought

Nobody ever says the Sahara is in a drought:  The Aguanomics blog comments:  “It’s no real surprise, but it’s also a little sad to hear all the usual hang-wringing without much of a discussion of how California needs to change its water management to reflect reality?  I commented on KCBS here (5 min MP3). I suggested that higher prices would be better than restrictions on certain uses (especially if politicians get to send people checks to rebate the excess revenue).[1] I also suggested that farmers need to stop overdrafting groundwater,[2] but it seems that the declaration — which suspends environmental regulations on water use/transfers[3] — may reward farmers’ overdrafting as well as helping them do greater environmental harm by diverting low flows. ... “    Read more from Aguanomics here:  California’s Official Drought

Is it time to regulate economic activity in drought zones?  Dr. Jeff Michael explores the idea on the Valley Economy blog.  He notes that the government has imposed policy changes on flood insurance in an attempt to reduced flood risks, and similar policies and regulations have been brought upon fire hazard zones: “Today, California is facing the prospect of substantial drought impacts on the agriculture economy for the second time in five years.  These severe drought events are predictable, occurring at least once per decade and they have a significant economic and human toll on the areas where drought impacts are most concentrated in California, the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.  And similar to historical policy towards flood zones, historical water policies such as the Central Valley Project have encouraged increased investment and growth of vulnerable populations in areas where the risk of drought are greatest.  Similar to the treatment of floodplains, is it time to think of policy changes to reduce the economic risk and suffering from future droughts? … “  Read more from the Valley Economy blog here: Should there be regulation of economic activity in drought zones?

Same old debate: State blames feds, feds blame state, nothing happens: This from Families Protecting the Valley:  “There are only a couple of ways for Central Valley farmers to recapture water lost because of environmental lawsuits: 1) from the Delta, through the pumps, despite the smelt. 2) from Friant Dam to farmers and cities instead of to San Joaquin River Restoration. The smelt is a federal Endangered Species Act problem. River Restoration is a federal problem. To solve a federal problem we need the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to pass legislation. The House has done so. The Senate will not even take up the argument. Why? Because the ESA is an article of faith for the Democratic Party. It is sacred to them. They believe the smelt is an indicator fish, meaning it’s like the canary in the coal mine. If we lose the smelt, they believe, it’s an indicator of the breakdown of the health of the Delta. This is a theory, not a fact.  … ”  Read more from Families Protecting the Valley here:  Same Ol’ Debate

More challenging than 1977:  “With all the discussions surrounding the dry year, there are many comparisons to 1976-77, one of the sharpest dry periods in recent history. Yet, as we look at and plan for 2014, it is becoming increasingly obvious that managing our precious water resources in 2014 will be much more challenging than it was in the 1970s. ... ”  David Guy explains here: More Challenging than 1977?

Blogger says DWP customers first 7 weeks of their water bill goes to pay for Owens Lake Dust Control, and it’s a waste:  “It is impossible for mere mortals to understand all the legal, procedural, and environmental mumbo jumbo contained in the lawsuits that have been filed by our Department of Water and Power in the United States District Court or the Superior Court of California against the overzealous Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District and the California Air Resources Board.  But when you learn that DWP and its Ratepayers are going to be soaked for a total of almost $1.9 billion for dust mitigation on Owens Lake in sparsely populated Inyo County, you know Ratepayers are being hosed.  ... ”  Be sure to check out the comments, which are running squarely against the writer:  Shocker: First 7 Weeks of Your Water Bill Paying for Owens Lake Dust Bowl Costs

Los Angeles – a model of sustainability?  Say what … ?  Chance of Rain’s Emily Green takes umbrage at an article appearing in High Country News that portrays LA as an ‘unlikely model of sustainability’:  “Tilting LA’s hat toward sustainability in the new edition of High Country News is Jon Christensen, a respected journalist turned policy advocate at UCLA’s Institute for the Environment, where he edits the university’s quarterly journal “Boom” and promotes the institute’s various green infrastructure work. Chistensen’s been in LA for a year, he says in his essay, and — touchingly — he sounds almost giddy with a newcomer’s wonder at the region’s geography, diversity and dynamism. But boil down the essay and Brave New LA is pure politics. It’s a policy wonk delivering a flattery-laced pre-nup for a marriage between UCLA’s green team and the City of LA’s new mayor, Eric Garcetti. … ”  Read more from the Chance of Rain here:  Bulls–t is just bulls–t

For Vegas, conservation is easy when you use a lot of begin with: Back in the 1980s, a researcher named Lawrence Hamilton (gated JSTOR paper here) studied water use and conservation behavior among the residents of 431 homes in Concord, New Hampshire. Concord’s a classic case – a slow, steady population increase putting pressure on supply that’s manageable during wet times but that became a problem in 1980, when the weather turned dry. ... ” Read how this relates to Las Vegas here:  Read more from the Inkstain blog here:  Vegas: It’s easier to conserve water if you’ve been wasting a lot to begin with

Modeling Southwest drought:  “One of the significant areas of climate research right for us in the southwestern United States involves work on modeling the large (spatially and temporally) droughts that are so significant in long term human and ecosystem dynamics. These are the ones that are not just one-year whammies, but linger for decades, like the drought of the 1950s. Such droughts drain big multi-year reservoirs and dry out the landscape in ways that are significant and lasting. The problem, as Toby Ault and colleagues note in a new Journal of Climate paper, is that the models don’t get this right: … ”  Read more from the Inkstain blog here:  Southwest drought risk

We must act now to secure Colorado River’s future:  ” … Increasing demands mean more water than the Colorado River can provide is pulled out of the region’s large storage reservoirs. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are less than 50% full. Due to these low water levels, the federal government announced last summer that it must cut deliveries from the upper river to states in the lower basin – the first time this has happened since Glen Canyon Dam was built in the 1960s. The extended drought lasting for more than a decade is compounding the interest on our water debt. In short, the water abundance that enabled this country to reclaim the dry West to grow food and build communities has hit its limits. The good news is that this water supply challenge can be addressed. … ”  Read more from the American Rivers blog here: Securing Future Water For The Colorado River Requires Action Now

Is Colorado violating the Endangered Species Act? Water issues on the Rio Grande just got more interesting.  The environmental group WildEarth Guardians recently gave Notice of its intent to sue the State of Colorado for violating the Endangered Species Act.  Guardians alleges that Colorado is violating ESA section 9, which makes it illegal for any person to “take”–basically, kill or harm–an animal protected by the ESA.  The key species involved here is the Rio Grande silvery minnow, the last wild population of which lives in the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. … ”  Read more from the Western River Law blog here:  Is Colorado violating the Endangered Species Act?

The Center for Western Priorities 2014 watch list: With 2013 in the record books, it’s time to look forward to 2014. Across the Rocky Mountain West and in Washington D.C. there are interesting land and water policy debates percolating to the surface, which are guaranteed to impact those of us living in the West. These issues will be decided against the backdrop of an election year: the entire U.S. House and a third of the Senate are up for reelection, not to mention state governor and legislative races.   As we have moved into the New Year, the Center for Western Priorities is tracking eight natural resource stories we expect to be front-and-center throughout 2014: … ”  Read more here:  8 Western Priorities We’re Watching In 2014