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Bloggers Go Heavy on Recent Actions in California and Also Address the Drought and Policy Directions in the Colorado River Basin and Fracking

With California’s April 1st snow survey revealing that the state’s snowpack has only 5% of the normal water content and Governor Brown issuing an Executive Order mandating widespread conservation among urban water users, the bloggers have gone heavy on the conservation mandate, the California drought and the Delta.  Other topics of note over the last month include the drought and policy directions in the Colorado River Basin and fracking.


Governor Brown’s Executive Order

Why do farmers get a free pass from Brown?
Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton criticizes the Californian governor’s new drought-survival plan, specifically the lack of agricultural cuts. Governor Brown’s new water plan requires a cutback of 25% in urban use, but Skelton believes a cutback in agricultural use is necessary as well. Currently, Brown’s plan targets lawns, golf courses, cemeteries, public lawns and road medians—all urban properties. Skelton states that his target is only the 20% of developed water that flows to urban use, with agriculture devouring the other 80% while only accounting for 2% of the state’s economy. Skelton suggests that the type of crops grown by farmers should be regulated, allowing only water efficient crops to be planted. (For more on the Executive Order, as well as a correction to Skelton’s data, see “California Steps toward Statewide Centralized Water System,” in this issue)

Amid record-low snowpack, California orders mandatory curbs on water use
Reid Wilson of the Washington Post explains California Governor Jerry Brown’s new regulatory plan for water usage in California. Brown announced an executive order to impose mandatory water reductions across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. The order will have various effects statewide such as: replacing 50 million square feet of lawns on state and local government campuses with drought-tolerant landscaping; creating a statewide consumer rebate to replace old appliances with energy- and water-efficient ones; requiring big water users like campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to make significant cuts in water use; imposing new enforcement mechanisms on big agricultural water users, who will be required to report usage to state regulators; forcing new residential communities to install water-efficient irrigation systems; and barring those communities from watering ornamental grass on public street medians.

Brown imposes 25 percent water cutbacks
Writing for Cal Watchdog, James Poulos discusses California Governor Jerry Brown’s, mandate to cut water usage back by 25 percent for cities and towns. If water consumption is not cut by 25 percent from statewide urban usage in 2013, local agencies that failed to measure up faced fines of up to $10,000 a day. Poulos warns that this reduction rate is simply a first step, and that he anticipates more dramatic changes to come in the near future. Brown’s decision has caused much political unrest, with liberals claiming the cutback to be too lax and conservatives claiming the reduction targets the innocent citizens, instead of those truly at fault for the drought.

Hey Jerry! Put down the bong and listen!
David Zetland of Aguanomics attacks Governor Brown’s new regulatory movement to reduce California water usage by 25 percent. Zetland argues that Brown fails to place enough emphasis on reducing the use of water for agriculture irrigation. Farmers currently use 80 percent of developed water, more if groundwater is added, while urban users only use around 20 percent. Zetland suggests that Brown shut down irrigation and pay off farmers for surface water, leaving more water for the people.


The California Drought

Drought Watch: The End of the Rainy Season
Jeffrey Mount, writing for the Public Policy Institute of California Blog, analyzes California’s current water state after the concluding rain season.  Mount explains that while certain parts of the northern coast did fairly well, the rest of California did not. For example, the Sierras only received about half of annual average precipitation. And as the record warm temperatures of last year have persisted, the snowpack is at an all-time low (now 8% of average). Mount suggests several prudent adjustments to water scarcity that began earlier in the drought will continue and intensify, including: increased urban conservation, increased water trading, and increased use of groundwater.

California Snowpack Will Set New Dismal Record
Ben Chou of Switchboard, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s staff blog, discusses the severity of the current California Snowpack. The warm, record-breaking winter for California has left more than 93 percent of the state facing severe to exceptional drought. The April snow survey is particularly important because it generally represents when snowpack is at its peak, current volumes at the beginning of April is typically the maximum amount. According the Chou, this year’s April snowpack is especially sobering because it will be the lowest since official state records began in 1930. Furthermore, climate change is likely to increase the frequency of warmer winters and low snowpack. Scientists project that by the end of the century, warmer temperatures could lead to a 70 to 90 percent reduction in spring snowpack as more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow and snowpack melts earlier in the year. Chou warns that the impacts of climate change on California’s water supplies demonstrate the desire need for long-term solutions in order to sustain farms, cities, and environment for the years to come.

Deal to send rice water to SoCal could dry up before summer
Wayne Lusvardi of Cal WatchDog, explains the current situation with the transfer water from Central Valley rice farmers to Southern California. On March 10 the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (“MWD”) authorized $71 million to secure 70,000 acre-feet of additional raw water supplies via the water market for 2015. However, on March 11, the Chico Enterprise-Record reported rice farmers with senior water rights were predisposed to not transfer water to MWD if their state water allocation this year is cut. Lusvardi discusses the various takes on this topic in his piece. (For details of the transaction, see “Metropolitan Water District Leases Reveal Increasing Price for Reliable Water Supply,” in this issue).

The California Central Valley Project and State Water Project: The Same Drought but Different Outcomes for 2015 Water Deliveries
In Jeff Simonetti’s posting in Hydrowonk Blog, he identifies a few key differences between the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project that can help to explain why the deliveries between the two projects differ this year. The State Water Project projects that it will deliver 20% of entitlement, but Central Valley Project will deliver nothing to its agricultural contractors for the second year in a row. Simonetti explains that differences in storage levels in the respective projects’ reservoirs are responsible for the differing allocations of water. Because the reservoirs in which the State Water Project relies are in relatively better shape than the reservoirs that the Bureau of Reclamation manages, the Bureau of Reclamation will again deliver a zero percent allocation this year, where as the State Water Project can afford to allocate a bit more.

The California Drought of 2015: A preview
Jay Lund of California WaterBlog, predicts what the 2015 drought year for California will look like. His predictions paint the water situation in California to be, if not as bad as last year, worse. Northern California will be critically dry, having about the same precipitation as 2014, less snowpack and more storage in some of the largest reservoirs. The southern Central Valley is as dry or drier than 2014, with abysmal precipitation and snowpack. He suggests responding with modest changes, some of which include: additional groundwater withdrawals, reductions in urban and environmental water uses and agricultural fallowing, and increasing wastewater reuse and other conservation efforts.


The Delta

The Dwindling Delta Smelt Population: What does it mean for the species and humans that rely on the Delta?
Jeff Simonetti of Hydrowonk Blog reports upon the implications of the drought for the people and wildlife of California. In 2014, 17,000 farmers lost their jobs and the drought caused an estimated $2.2 billion in economic damages. Additionally, surveys on the Delta smelt population last month have environmental groups warning the Delta smelt is near extinction. Simonetti warns about the potential implications for both humans and other wildlife if the smelt population remains at record low numbers.

A Brief History of California’s Bay Delta
Part one of Emily Green’s series, writing for KCET ReWater, explaining the complex history of water sharing in California, specifically the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. Over the years, in addition to successfully allocating water throughout all of California, there has been a constant struggle between meeting agriculture needs, citizen needs, financial limits and environmental standards, leading to various conflicting viewpoints. Currently, Governor Jerry Brown is attempting the difficult task of completing the State Water Project with a northern diversion on the Sacramento River. With Southern Californian cities and Central Valley farmers in desperate need of water, but local Northern Californian residents opposed to the idea, large divides exists in California and the success of the project remains undetermined.


Drought and Policy Directions in the Colorado River Basin

The Other Big Drought Story You Need to Pay Attention To
Tom Yulsman of Discover Magazine’s IMAGEO blog warns of lack of precaution taken in response to the Colorado River Basin drought. The Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to 40 million people in seven states including Californians, is operating severely below normal levels, projected to fall below 1,075 feet above sea level this year. To compensate, Yulsman predicts that the USBR will release additional water from Lake Powell, explaining how this is a “zero sum game” since water releases from Powell will only reduce the amount held in storage. While the problem is clear, the response of action is not. Yulsman advises officials to place a greater importance on the Colorado River Basin’s crisis in addition to the situation in California for fear that if ignored, the Colorado River Basin situation will quickly become graver.

On the Cusp of a Paradigm Shift?: Musings on the State of the Colorado River
Marta Weismann, writing for Hydrowonk Blog, discusses the current state of the Colorado River Basin. Weismann explains how water managers are faced with increasing pressure, as conditions worsen, to keep from passing critical threshold of a shortage declaration. Last July, Lake Mead dropped to its historic low elevation, and the search for possible solutions still continues. Weismann poses solutions discussed at the Colorado River Water Association’s 2014 Annual Meeting, such as the development of a new equilibrium (the balance that must be achieved for sustainability) and greater flexibility (allowing states to manage their share of the resources as they need and to spur development of innovative solutions). Weismann views the shift in water management towards a more systemic view of the Basin as encouraging, yet holds reservations about lack of support leading to mere incremental change, which would be too time-consuming for the current situation.



California Counties Must Not Wait for Illusory State Protections from Fracking
Giulia Stefani of the Natural Resources Defense Counsil wrote on SwitchBoard about the heated topic of fracking. On Tuesday, March 17, the Board of Supervisors in Monterey County, California found that there was insufficient evidence of urgency to warrant a countywide moratorium on fracking. Supervisors claimed they were hesitant to act due to their desire to wait until California Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources finalizes its statewide environmental impact review. However, Stefani believes the time to act is now. Fracking and other risky well stimulation methods risk significant adverse effects to the environment and human health. Stefani advises that Monterey should not wait for oversight and protections that could take years to be implemented, instead urging cities and counties to take begin taking action now.

EPA Analysis of FracFocus Data Shows We Still Know Far Too Little About Fracking Chemicals
NRDC’s Matthew McFeeley discusses on SwitchBoard the recently released report by the Environmental Protection Agency on the topic of fracking. The report provides a detailed investigation of the chemicals used in fracking fluids and the amount of water used. But most of all, the report highlights how much is still unknown about fracking due to the industry keeping information secret, sloppy reporting, and the fact that disclosure of fracking chemicals and water use is still voluntary in many states. McFeeley argues the public deserves a more complete report. There’s evidence that fracking is occurring in 30 or more states, yet fracking from only 20 was only reported to FracFocus. Additionally, no state required reporting to FracFocus until February of 2012. Despite the lack of complete data, the report still generated results with grim outlooks. The report found that the three most common chemicals in fracking fluid, each found in about two thirds of the disclosures, are hydrochloric acid, methanol, and hydrotreated light petroleum distillates—all toxic. McFeeley urges the public to demand a more complete investigation of fracking, as well as the take action in response to the harmful health effects of fracking found through this report.


Written by Stratecon Staff