Blog round-up: Federal legislation, drought environmental markets, groundwater, SWP allocations, fracking, Temperance flat and much more … !

It’s a wide-ranging far-flung blog round-up, so let’s get to right to it:

Feinstein drought bill is the right approach, but the language must reflect the intent, says Steve Fleischli at the NRDC Switchboard blog:  “This week, Senators Feinstein and Boxer of California and Wyden and Merkley of Oregon introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate designed “to help California and Oregon farmers, businesses and communities suffering from historic drought conditions.”  NRDC deeply appreciates these Senators recognizing the severity of the drought impacting California and other parts of the West and their recognition that it is lack of rain and snow, and not environmental protections that is causing the drought. We also applaud the stated goal of seeking to “bring us together to address this crisis, rather than divide us.” … “  Read more from the NRDC Switchboard blog here:  Feinstein Drought Bill: The Right Approach, but the Language Must Reflect the Intent

Both Obama and the GOP are clueless, says the Federalist blog:  “California is in a drought and the two parties react by either repeating stupid slogans or proposing things that only make matters worse.  As a John Muir Conservative Conservationist I recoil in horror at the total lack of any thinking by our political hacks and a desire on their part to destroy our natural heritage.  With all the hacks in the California legislature and Congress you would think there would be at least one politician with an original idea. … ”  Read more from the Federalist blog here:  Obama & GOP are clueless to solve the California drought

The politics of drought relief:  “This past week, 15 members of Congress sent a letter to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-WA, noting that over half of the contiguous U.S. is in moderate to severe drought, and requesting “a bipartisan hearing on the drought impacts across the nation.”  The letter expressed concern about three kinds of impacts: reduced water and power deliveries, wildfires on public lands, and harm to wildlife and fisheries.  The good news is that 15 House members are concerned enough about the ongoing drought to request a hearing on it, and that they recognize fish and wildlife as major victims.  The bad news is that all 15 are Democrats, so we shouldn’t expect a hearing anytime soon.  House Republicans did, however, pass H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act. … “  Read more from the Western River Law blog here:  The politics of drought relief

A drought environmental water market could help native species, says the California Water Blog: With California in a major drought, state and federal regulators will be under pressure to loosen environmental flow standards that protect native fish. This happened in the 1976-77 and 1987-92 droughts, and today’s drought could become much worse.These standards demonstrate the high value society places on the survival of native fish and wildlife. In past droughts, we have given away some of these protections because of pressure to make more water available for other uses.  But this time, California can do better. We can create a special water market that better meets the state’s goals of both ensuring a reliable water supply and protecting the environment. In this market, growers and cities would pay for the additional water made available from relaxed environmental standards, and the revenues would help support fish and wildlife recovery. … ”  Read more from the California Water Blog here:  Why give away fish flows for free during a drought?

Wayne Lusvardi has some questions about that drought environmental water market:  He writes:  “I held the position of chief real estate appraiser for one of the largest water districts in California, which involved the valuation of sales and leases of agricultural land and water. My colleague Charles B. Warren, ASA, and I were the first to have recognized that from 1999 to 2001 Telecom Deregulation had unintentionally created a market price for fiber optic easements and wireless cell sites.   Given the typical failure of centralized government to solve a foreseeable drought in California, I welcomed the U.C. Davis group’s call for water markets.  However, after I delved into the U.C. Davis team’s proposal I had some serious misgivings.  Firstly, I question whether it is appropriate to use a public website for an article that could be interpreted as a self-advertisement by a team of water experts offering to structure such a water market? ... ”  Read more from Wayne Lusvardi, guest blogging at the Hydrowonk blog here: U.C. Davis Experts Call For Drought Environmental Water Market

When in drought, pump groundwater until you can’t anymore:  “Best line about water management I ever wrote:  “Wet years have a way of covering up a multitude of water management sins. Drought exposes them for all to see.”  It also helps to expose those sins, apparently, if you have satellites. … “  Read more from the Inkstain blog here:  When there’s a drought, you pump groundwater, until you can’t

Are adjudicated groundwater basins the answer?  The Water Wired blog considers the possibilities:  ” … I”ve gone on (and on…and on…) about the lack of regulation and statewide oversight of California’s groundwater  … . I focus on the Central Valley because of its subsidence and sustainability issues.  But there is some management of California groundwater by local agencies/ordinances or adjudication by court decree. Why, there is even a section on groundwater management on the DWR WWW site! What has prompted this post is my curiosity about California’s adjudicated groundwater basins. There are 22 (or 23) of them. ... “  Read more from the Water Wired blog here:  California Groundwater Management: Are Adjudicated Basins the Answer?

Hydrowonk adjusts his prediction (slightly) of the final SWP Allocation:  ” … On January 30, I posted that, based on a study of the historic record of final California’s State Water Project Allocations, the final allocation for California’s State Water Project in 2014 is expected to be 12%, with one-third chance that the final SWP allocation will be below the initial 5% allocation.  On January 31, California’s Department of Water Resources dropped the SWP Allocation to zero “to preserve remaining supplies.”  As stated in my earlier post, the analysis placed a 2% minimum SWP Allocation, which would be only 83,000 AF of SWP water allocated.  I admit that DWR surprised me by going to 0%.  Should have stayed with my model. ... “  Read more from the Hydrowonk blog here:  What Will Be the Final Allocation for California’s State Water Project in 2014? Redux

Size does matter in a drought, says Jeff Mount over at the PPIC blog:  ” … The California Department of Public Health has identified 17 community water districts at risk of running out of drinking water this spring. This affects more than 40,000 people, most of them in normally water-rich Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Although our early February rains have helped, they haven’t significantly changed the outlook for this year. If the drought continues into next year, many more communities will be in trouble.  State and local officials are appropriately focused on providing emergency supplies to meet health and sanitation needs, but it is instructive to examine how these communities ended up in this predicament and how they might avoid it in the next drought.  The 17 at-risk districts have three things in common: … ”  Read more from the PPIC blog here:  Drought Watch: Size Matters…in a Drought

How much acreage would have to be fallowed in drought before any of those fruit, vegetables and nuts are lost to U.S. consumers? On the Public Record contemplates: “I see this quote everywhere; today’s example is from here.  California’s drought is especially worrisome because the state produces about one-half of the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. It is the No.1 agricultural state in the U.S.  The valuable information that never accompanies this quote is: how much of California’s irrigated acreage does it take to produce half the country’s truck crops? How much acreage would have to be fallowed in drought before any of those fruit, vegetables and nuts are lost to U.S. consumers? ... ”  If you are very good, we’ll send you some oranges for Christmas.  See also from On the Public Record: Less than $5B/year, I presume. and No love on Valentine’s Day.

Peter Gleick’s five priorities for California’s drought:  “Droughts – especially severe droughts – are terribly damaging events. The human and ecosystem costs can be enormous, as we may relearn during the current California drought.  But they are also opportunities – a chance to put in place new, innovative water policies that are not discussed or implemented during wet or normal years.  In the hopes that California’s warring water warriors open their minds to policy reform, here are some of the issues that should be on the table now, in what could be the worst drought in California’s modern history. But here is what I fear, said best by John Steinbeck in East of Eden:   “And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way. … ”  Here are five top priorities  … “  Read more here:  Learning from Drought: Five Priorities for California

The Colorado River – a lesson of success for California?  From the Inkstain blog:  ” … Brett Walton, writing about President Obama’s visit to California’s drought-stricken Central Valley, captured that state’s water policy dilemma:  “

It can’t just be a matter of there’s going to be less and less water so I’m going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water,” Obama continued. “Instead what we have to do is all come together and figure out how we all are going to make sure that agricultural needs, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed.” That is a tall order, requiring a radical reinvention both of California’s water supply hardware and its operation – changes that politicians, environmentalists, and farmers have fought over for decades. Indeed, the drought has catalyzed a consensus that something should be done, but there is little agreement about the details’ [end quote]  Yes, but… To the south, the fruits of some years of wrestling over these issues has left a more orderly process for dealing with the current mess. … ”  Read more from the Inkstain blog here:  California’s water policy failings on display, but is there a lesson of success here as well?

Water main leaks don’t let up, even in a drought: We’ve all seen the big water main breaks on the evening news or on YouTube.  But only a small number of water main breaks actually make the news.  And all the main breaks put together are only a fraction of the total amount of water being lost every day from water utility pipes.  Much more water is lost from leaks that continue unseen for months and even years. California is estimated to lose about 10% of its supply of treated drinking water due to leakage from water utility pipes.  These losses are an unrelenting “tax” on the water system and its customers – robbing families and communities of clean water year after year. … ”  Read more from Ed Osann at the NRDC Switchboard blog here:  Water Main Leaks Don’t Let Up, Even During A Drought

More challenging than 1977?  Yes, says the Water Food Environment blog:  “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. … ”  Read more from Water Food Environment here:  More Challenging than 1977?

Emptying reservoirs, empty words:  “*President Obama came to the Central Valley to address drought and climate change. Everyone “is going to have to start rethinking how we approach water for decades to come,” he said. After making the remark in a speech at a ranch in Los Banos, a farm town roughly 75 miles northwest of Fresno, the President spent the weekend at a golfing resort in the Mojave Desert. ... ”  Read more from the Chance of Rain blog: Emptying reservoirs, empty words

Controversy over fracking continues:  Jeff Simonetti at the Hydrowonk blog explores:  “Just how much water pollution does the process of fracking create? Much like the debates over the scientific research behind climate change, it depends on whom you ask. Supporters of fracking argue that the process allows the United States to capture large amounts of domestically-produced oil and natural gas. They argue that the environmental impacts are minimal at most and are worth the plentiful energy that we can produce here at home. Opponents argue that the process of fracking depletes groundwater resources and introduces harmful chemicals and pollution to the already depleted groundwater tables. Earlier this month, these issues again came to the forefront as the Associated Press gathered data about water pollution complaints from states that allow fracking operations. … ”  He runs down the environmental concerns related to fracking and water quality here:  The Controversy over Water Pollution from Fracking Operations Continues

Temperance Flat: A dam you either love or hate:  The California Spigot blog writes about the controversy:  ” … Temperance Flat is one of the most controversial storage projects in California. Farmers want it; environmentalists oppose it; Federal officials have left it on the shelf for years. But this year, in the wake of California’s epic drought year, the project is alive and well. Like nothing else, these months with no precipitation have driven home the awareness that California does not have enough water in storage to get through really bad dry periods. …  A bit of background is needed to understand the stakes involved here and in the state at large. Nowhere do the competing forces of agriculture and ecology seem more tightly balanced than on the San Joaquin River at Friant. … ”  Read more at the California Spigot blog here:  California’s water storage crisis: The battle at Temperance Flat

Aguanomics charts the recent Kern County water auction:  Zetland notes demand was strong:  ” … This auction is useful for two reasons: (1) It shows that farmers are willing to pay a lot when water is scarce (no need to go to DC to take water from the environment) and (2) markets for water can work, when they are allowed. … “  Read the full post at Aguanomics here:  Now THAT’s a market!

Water scarcity, water stress, and water risk – what’s the difference?  The Pacific Institute’s Insights blog explores: “Over the past couple years, the Pacific Institute’s Corporate Sustainability Program, in its role with the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, has been developing the Corporate Water Disclosure Guidelines, which provide a common framework for how companies can report water-related information to stakeholders in a meaningful manner. One of the core goals of this effort is to encourage companies to report their water-related information in a more harmonized way, so that companies are thinking and talking about water in a similar, more comparable way. … “  Continue reading from the Pacific Institute’s Insights Blog here:  Defining Water Scarcity, Water Stress, and Water Risk: It’s Not Just Semantics

Will the drought bring together or distract the Delta Dialogues? The bad news – and a little good news – from California’s drought dominated discussion between participants during the January meeting of the Delta Dialogues.  The participants, representing diverse stakeholders (state agencies, water agencies, the fishing industry, agriculture, environmental NGOs) and gathering at a waste water treatment plant in Elk Grove, seemed to agree that California needs more tools to make decisions during drought emergencies like the one declared in January. “We don’t have very good mechanisms for doing things on the fly,” said Carl Wilcox of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.   Participants saw opportunity – but also peril – in using the drought as the basis for spurring work on long-term solutions in the Delta. “I see this as a big distraction from the long term,” said John Cain of American Rivers. … ”  Read more from the Delta Dialogues blog here:  Will the Drought Bring Us Together, Or Distract Us?

Groundwater pumping: The race to the bottom:  “As we watch Californians floundering over drought, or sometimes not floundering, it’s worth revisiting Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons. In it, Ostrom tells the story of communities in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, coming together to manage their groundwater at a time when a race to the bottom was underway that, absent collective action, would have drained the critical common pool resource … ”   Read more from the Inkstain blog here: Losing the groundwater pumping race to the bottom: your choice

Groundwater may be cheap, but it’s no free lunch, says NatGeo’s Water Current’s blog:  ” … It’s the cheapest source around, and a reliable alternative in dry years when water deliveries from the state’s rivers are curtailed. It’s also virtually unregulated in the state, meaning there are plenty of places where anyone can drill a well and pump without limit. As a result, California’s groundwater resources are gravely imperiled. Satellite data has recently shown that between 2012-2013, as surface water allocations became increasingly constrained, the state’s primary agricultural basins pumped a volume of groundwater equivalent to the rest of the state’s total water use.  As long as mountain runoff is the state’s primary water source and groundwater is unregulated, California’s water security will be in jeopardy.  So, after the federal emergency funds are spent, what should we do to start investing in California’s long-term water security? … ”  Read more from NatGeo’s Water Currents blog here:  California’s Drought: Cheap Water, But No Free Lunch

Collateral damage from water transfers:  David Zetland at the Aguanomics blog writes:  “Jim Brobeck, Water Policy Analyst at AquAlliance sent me this insightful comment:  ‘Jay Lund, David Zetland and Robert Glennon are well known water policy analysts who consider water transfers to be a primary strategy for wise water supply management. The source of transferable water is river entitlement that agricultural irrigation districts control. The district farmers either fallow land to make water available or pump groundwater to replace the marketed river allocation. The latter method is called “groundwater substitution”. When author Glennon visited Chico he was asked if he included groundwater substitution water marketing in his recommendations for conserving water. He emphatically said such a strategy is “Bogus!” Jay Lund responded to the same question by saying that groundwater and surface water are connected and that water pumped from the ground depletes the surface flow. The Sacramento River is a losing stream all the way to Red Bluff during irrigation season’. … ”  Continue reading for the rest of Jim Brobeck’s comment as well as David Zetland’s response here:  Collateral damage from water transfers

Does lack of water meters mean wasting water?  Maybe not, says Alex Breitler:  “My Sunday story about the lack of water meters in Lincoln Village and other unincorporated portions of Stockton irritated some folks who don’t like the implication that they are wasting water.  Indeed, they may not be.  “I don’t think I use that much — I’m pretty careful,” said a Lincoln Village resident who called me today and left a voicemail. She didn’t give her name. ... ”  Read more from Alex Breitler’s blog here: Lincoln Villagers speak up

Compiled by Chris “Maven” Austin