California Releases Its Own Plan for Colorado River Cuts

California released a plan Tuesday detailing how Western states reliant on the Colorado River should save more water. It came a day after the six other states in the river basin made a competing proposal.

In a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California described how states could conserve between 1 million and nearly 2 million acre feet of water through new cuts based on the elevation of Lake Mead, a key reservoir.

Its plan did not account for water lost to evaporation and during transportation — a move sought by the other states that would mean big cuts for California.

The 1,450-mile river (2,334-kilometer) serves 40 million people across the West and Mexico, generating hydroelectric power for regional markets and irrigating nearly 6 million acres (2,428 hectares) of farmland.

A multi-decade drought in the West worsened by climate change, rising demand and overuse has sent water levels at key reservoirs along the river to unprecedented lows. That has forced federal and state officials to take additional steps to protect the system.

California’s plan and the separate methods outlined by states Monday came in response to Reclamation asking them last year to detail how they would use between 15% and 30% less water. The federal agency operates the major dams in the river system.

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All seven states missed that deadline last August. Six of them regrouped and came to an agreement by the end of January. California was the the lone holdout to that agreement, and responded Tuesday with its own plan.

Unlike the other states’ plan, California’s does not factor the roughly 1.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water lost to evaporation and transportation.

Instead, it proposes reducing water taken out of Lake Mead by 1 million acre feet, with 400,000 acre feet coming from its own users. The state previously outlined that level of cuts in October. Arizona would bear the brunt of bigger cuts — 560,000 acre feet — while Nevada would make up the rest. Those numbers are based on discussions from prior negotiations, California’s letter said.

An acre foot is enough water to supply two to three U.S. households for a year.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources said it was still reviewing California’s proposal and didn’t have an immediate comment.

But Tom Buschatzke, the department’s director, said earlier Tuesday that water managers across the basin couldn’t reach agreement with California on cuts, even at the broader state level.

“The big issues are what does the priority system mean, what does the junior priority mean and how does that attach to that outcome of who takes what cut?” he said. “That was the issue over the summer, that was the issue over the fall, that’s still the issue.”

California has the largest allocation of water among the seven U.S. states that tap the Colorado River. It is also among the last to face water cuts in times of shortage because of its senior water rights.

That has given the state an advantage over others in talks that spanned months over how to cut water use.

California water officials have often repeated that any additional water cuts must be legally defensible and in line with western water law that honors its water rights.

JB Hamby, chairman of the Colorado River Board of California and a board member of the Imperial Irrigation District, indicated California may file a lawsuit if the federal government attempts to count for evaporative losses.

“The best way to avoid conflict and ensure that we can put water in the river right away is through a voluntary approach, not putting proposals that sidestep the Law of the River and ignore California’s senior right and give no respect to that,” he said.

Existing agreements only spell cuts when Lake Mead’s elevation is between 1,090 feet (332 meters) and 1,025 feet (312 meters). If it drops any lower than 1,025 feet, California’s plan proposes even further cuts based on the so-called Law of the River — likely meaning Arizona and Nevada would bear the brunt of them. Those cuts are designed to keep Lake Mead from reaching “dead pool,” when it could no longer pump out water to farms and cities including Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

The reservoir’s current elevation is around 1,045 feet.

In total, California’s plan could save between 1 million and 2 million acre-feet of water based on the elevation levels at Lake Mead, from which Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico draw their share of the river.

Adel Hagekhalil, general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of California, the nation’s largest water supplier, said it was important to protect key reservoirs “without getting mired in lengthy legal battles.”

Hagekhalil and other water managers pointed to numerous efforts the state has made to drastically reduce its water usage by making agricultural and urban water use more efficient.

“California knows how to permanently reduce use of the river — we have done it over the past 20 years, through billions of dollars in investments and hard-earned partnerships,” he said in a statement. “We can help the entire Southwest do it again as we move forward.”

The new proposals do not change states’ water allocations immediately — or disrupt their existing water rights. Instead, they will be folded into a larger proposal Reclamation is working on to revise how it operates Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams — behemoth power producers on the Colorado River.

Despite California’s inability to reach agreement with the other six states so far, the parties said they hope to keep talking.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Drought Has Big Impacts on California Agriculture

IN SUMMARY: California’s serious and prolonged drought is having serious and prolonged impacts on California’s agricultural industry, the nation’s largest.

As California experiences a second year of drought, with no end in sight, the effects on California’s largest-in-the-nation agricultural industry are profound and perhaps permanent.

State and federal water agencies have cut deliveries to some farmers to zero while others, thanks to water rights dating back more than a century, still have access to water.

Farmers are reacting to shortages in three, often intertwined ways — suspending cultivation of some fields or ripping up orchards for lack of water, drilling new wells to tap into diminishing aquifers, and buying water from those who have it.

All three have major economic impacts. They are driving some farmers, particularly small family operations, out of business altogether, accelerating the shift to large-scale agribusiness corporations with the financial resources to cope, changing the kinds of crops that can be profitably grown, and supercharging the semi-secretive market for buying and selling water.

Get a veteran journalist’s take on what’s going on in California with a weekly round-up of Dan’s column every Friday.

By happenstance, all of these trends are occurring just as the state begins to implement a 2014 law aimed at limiting the amount of water that farmers can pump from underground aquifers.

A couple weeks ago, the state Department of Water Resources announced that it had rejected as inadequate the underground water management plans of four San Joaquin Valley agencies, including the huge Westlands Water District, indicating that the state will be aggressive in enforcing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

“We’re not going to accept a plan to do a plan,” Paul Gosselin, deputy director for the California Department of Water Resources, Sustainable Groundwater Management Office, told the Sacramento Bee. “We’re looking for very concrete, measurable changes to address these deficiencies.”

If anything, however, farmers are drilling more wells to cope with the current drought, the Bee also reported.

“I could work seven days a week if I wanted to,” Fresno County well driller Wesley Harmon told the Bee. “In my area, everybody’s pumping. You can’t blame the farmers. They’re trying to make a living, they’re trying to grow food for everybody.”

The drought is obviously one motive for drilling hundreds of new wells that must go ever-deeper as the water tables drop from overpumping, sometimes leading to the collapse of land above. But another is that farmers know a crackdown is coming and are doing what they can before it arrives.

The Public Policy Institute of California has estimated that full implementation of the groundwater sustainability act could force 750,000 acres of California farmland out of production, or “fallowed.”

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters.org

Race Against Rain: Oroville Dam Must Drain 50 Feet by Wednesday

Oroville DamOfficials are releasing water from the Oroville Dam, the nation’s highest, at the astonishing rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second, with the goal of lowering the lake’s elevation by 50 feet before a week of rain and snow hits the region Wednesday.

At a press conference Sunday night, law enforcement and California Department of Water Resources officials announced that they had released enough water to stop flow over the emergency spillway, reducing the risk of erosion and structural collapse. The lake dropped below its maximum height of 901 feet above sea level, and was continuing to subside, officials reported.

However, water was continuing to flow into the lake behind the dam at a rate of 40,000 cubic feet per second, the result of runoff and snow melt from weeks of heavy precipitation after five years of drought. As a result, the dam would need to be drained as quickly as possible over the next 72 hours. The maximum release rate is about 150,000 cubic feet per second, though officials are reluctant to release water down the main spillway at that rate because of the risk of structural damage.

Already, the main concrete spillway has developed a large hole, which officials estimate will cost $100 to $200 million to fix. The adjacent emergency spillway, which drains onto an unpaved hillside of soil, rocks and trees, has also developed a hole  that could result in structural failure and that officials may have to plug by dropping rocks from helicopters. If the emergency spillway does collapse, it could lose 30 feet in height, releasing a wall of water into the Feather River below, which drains into the Sacramento River. That poses a severe risk to communities below the dam, including the state capital of Sacramento.

Officials issued an emergency evacuation order Sunday afternoon, warning that the emergency spillway was expected to collapse within an hour. That led to massive traffic jams as residents drove northward towards Chico. Though the spillway remains intact for now, nearly 200,000 residents from Oroville and surrounding communities remain under evacuation.

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency order Sunday evening and indicated that the state was managing the relief effort.

Officials also said they were cooperating with the federal government. Separately, Gov. Brown had asked President Donald Trump for federal emergency relief funds to address damage to the state done by storms earlier this year.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Despite Heavy Rains, California Water Restrictions Remain in Place

Lake Shasta Water ReservoirDrought-busting levels of rain and snow have put pressure to lift emergency restrictions on usage, but California regulators declined to ease up on the longstanding curbs.

“Amid the ongoing succession of storms, water managers up and down the state are urging regulators in Sacramento to permanently cancel historic, emergency drought rules that have been in place for 18 months,” U-T San Diego reported late last month. “It’s an escalation of their ongoing opposition to these restrictions, which already have been eased considerably since homeowners and businesses were first forced to cut consumption by a statewide average of 25 percent. California doesn’t have an official definition for statewide drought, leaving it up to the governor’s discretion on when to announce an end to that designation.”

Swift, uneven progress

But in a new report, the State Water Resources Control Board insisted that the drought’s persistent impact had to be mitigated further before any changes could be considered. “Some reservoirs remain critically low and groundwater storage remains depleted in many areas due to the continued impact of prolonged drought,” they concluded, according to the Sacramento Bee. “Precipitation cannot be counted on to continue, and snowpack levels, while above average for the current time of year, are subject to rapid reductions as seen in 2016 and before.” While the extraordinary rules imposed to conserve water were on track to expire at the end of this month, the board planned to extend them 270 days into the future.

The caution struck a contrast to the swiftness of California’s transformation from dry to wet. “According to the U.S. drought monitor website,” HotAir noted, “there are no areas of exceptional drought left in the state.” Updated data, the site observed, “indicates that one year ago 64 percent of the state was considered to be under either extreme or exceptional drought conditions, the two highest categories. Now, largely thanks to the storms over the past month, that figure has dropped to 2 percent.”

Continued challenges

Water districts have now had to scramble to figure out how to store what could be excess water if the new trends continue. Although the pathway to new storage initiatives has been cleared and funded, the state’s bureaucratic process will add extra time. “In 2014, voters approved a $7.5 billion water bond, including $2.7 billion for storage projects, to provide funding to water projects and programs throughout the state,” KXTV recalled. “Since then, government agencies across the state have been developing the process for accepting proposals.” This month, the station added, “the Water Commission will consider bids on numerous water storage projects across the state.”

And milder drought conditions have persisted. “Overall, the monitor … showed 51 percent of California remains in some form of drought, but that’s down from just over 57 percent last week and compares with 81 percent three months ago,” CNBC reported. And in a twist adding an unexpected layer of politics to the fraught question of resource management in the most beleaguered parts of the state, some Central Valley water officials became the focus of a misspending scandal. “An irrigation district in Central California’s prime farming region gave its employees free housing, interest-free loans and credit cards that the workers used to buy tickets for concerts and professional sports games, possibly breaking the law,” said state officials according to NBC Bay Area. “Employees at Panoche Water District based in Firebaugh used the credit cards to buy season tickets to Raiders and Oakland A’s games and attend a Katy Perry concert, officials said.”

The long view

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has kept a focus on what regulatory framework will persist even after all drought conditions have been adequately mitigated. “Brown has asked the state agency to design new conservation rules for water districts that will stay in place regardless of whether California is in drought,” according to U-T San Diego. “In the long run, the governor and state regulators are moving forward with their plan to establish permanent usage budgets tailored to each water district, as well as a suite of other regulations governing water consumption. The new rules are expected to include caps for both indoor use and outdoor water use, taking into consideration differences in weather patterns and other factors from one geographic region to another.”

Emergency release of water from Oroville Dam escalates

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

As water Thursday night rose toward the brim of the reservoir behind the damaged spillway of Oroville Dam, state officials braced for the unprecedented: having to open the emergency outlet of the tallest dam in the United States, which could have untold ecological consequences.

The trouble started Tuesday in the midst of relentless rainstorms, as a section of the concrete spillway that later grew to more than 200 feet wide and 30 feet deep collapsed, frothing the Feather River below like chocolate syrup, so thick with mud and debris that those toiling to save millions of salmon at the hatchery below could hardly see two inches beneath the surface.

Officials stopped releases to inspect the problem but runoff kept the reservoir rising. On Thursday morning, officials increased the flow. The fissure ballooned outward, sending coffee-colored water gushing down the adjacent hillside. …

Click here to read the full article

Less than 1 percent of California now in ‘extreme’ drought

As reported by CNBC:

Storms in the past week helped bring rain and snow to California, resulting in a “significantly improved” drought picture for the state, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday.

As a result, the latest monitor shows just 47 percent of California being designated at some level of drought intensity. Last week that figure was just over 50 percent and three months ago it stood at 73 percent.

While Northern California is essentially free of drought conditions, there are various levels of drought still in the state’s southern and central areas. Yet the latest map showed major improvement for several southern counties.

“In California, the cumulative effect of several months of abundant precipitation has significantly improved drought conditions across the state,” the monitor said. …

Click here to read the full article

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