Daily Digest, the weekend edition: DWR’s Vogel responds to the $67 billion BDCP price tag, drought jeopardizing credit of water agencies, plus the latest commentary on the drought and the BDCP and more!

Daily DigestIn the news today, snow survey just one-fifth of normal, no shortage of drought stories, DWR’s Nancy Vogel responds to the $67 billion BDCP price tag, drought jeopardizing credit of water agencies, water releases cut from Lake Mendocino, and more on Meral, plus commentary on the drought and the BDCP

In the news this weekend …

  • Snow survey just one-fifth of normal: Although no one is declaring an official drought, it is a dry start to the season, and without more storms, the mountains could yield just 7 percent of the usual spring snowmelt that feeds the state’s rivers and reservoirs for farms and cities.  “We are concerned about the slow start to the winter,” said Ted Thomas, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources.  Mother Nature may still surprise us — a handful of large winter storms can make the difference between a wet year and a dry one. About half of the years with similarly dry first quarters caught up to average by the end of the season, Thomas said. In 1991, a torrential “Miracle March” produced enough snow and rain to wash away several years of drought.  … ”  Read more from the Contra Costa Times here:  Sierra snow one-fifth of normal as California dry spell lengthens
  • No shortage of drought stories:  Do you really want to see a long line of drought stories excerpted and listed here?  I’m thinking not, so instead, I’ll just point you at some of the more interesting ones:  The Wall Street Journal covers the drought, touching on ag, urban, and economic consequences here:  California Stretched by Worsening Drought;  East Bay MUD expresses their concerns in this ABC 7 report: East Bay MUD concerned over low water in Sierras; this media group article discusses the meteorological aspects of the drought:  California drought, but for how long, how bad; and U-T San Diego talks to SoCal water officials here:  State Facing Water Challenge
  • DWR’s Nancy Vogel responds to the Mercury News story about the $67 billion costs of the tunnel in this River News-Herald article:  ” … While the report in the San Jose Mercury News came out last week that these inflated cost numbers were accurate, DWR spokesperson Nancy Vogel responded that these are not “new estimates” and that state water contractors knew that they would have to account for interest and inflation on the proposed numbers all along. “Each public water district paying for the BDCP will approach financing from their own perspective – bond terms, length of financing, etc. – so we present the total planning, construction, operations and maintenance and mitigation costs in real terms of $25 billion,” said Vogel.  She explained that with each milestone in the project, their respective boards review financing and commitments and make a determination if they will continue to finance the effort.  “Some might view this as unusual high drama because they oppose the project, but in general it’s good governance to continually review financial commitments to an effort of this magnitude,” she said. “Also, a water bond does not necessarily need to pass in 2014 for the BDCP to go forward. There are federal and state funds available to begin habitat restoration.” … ” Read the full article here:  Water Wars continue as Golden State’s drought persists

  • Drought jeopardizing credit of water agencies: Bloomberg BNA reports on another impact of the drought:   “The scarcity is depleting California’s reservoirs and jeopardizing the credit of at least 30 water agencies that had been considered safe bets because their debt is backed by user fees rather than general taxes. Concern grew in November when the California Water Resources Department, the state’s largest supplier, said it was filling just 5 percent of orders from local water agencies, the lowest in five years. Less supply means lower sales and revenue.  “Supply is always at the center of our analysis of California water agencies,” said Michael E. Johnson, managing director of Gurtin Fixed Income Management LLC in Solana Beach, California.  “If you don’t have water, you just don’t have water,” said Johnson, whose firm oversees $7.5 billion. “There’s not going to be much that mitigates not having water.” … ”  Read more here:  Water Bonds Shrivel as California Sees Driest Year
  • Water releases cut from Lake Mendocino:  “The Sonoma County Water Agency has cut flows in the Russian River by about 30 percent since Tuesday in an effort to preserve dwindling supplies in Lake Mendocino.  State regulators granted the agency permission to cut flows late Tuesday and the agency promptly dropped from releasing about 100 cubic feet per second at the dam, or about 748 gallons, to 90. On Thursday, the agency dropped that number down to 70 cfs, and could go lower this week or next. ... ”  Read more from the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat here:  Water officials cut Russian River releases from Lake Mendocino
  • Meral will not be compensated for his work on the BDCP:  By now, we all know that Jerry Meral has joined the Natural Heritage Institute.  Southern California Pacific Radio notes this detail:  ”  … In order to comply with California law, which seeks to limit “revolving door” relationships among outside advocates and state officials, NHI will not compensate Meral for work on the Bay Delta. The Institute has long been a vocal supporter of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. … ”  Read more here:  Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s skipper retires, joins environmental group

In commentary this weekend …

  • Drought should raise skepticism about the BDCP, says Mercury News editorial:  “2013 was the driest year since California began keeping records in 1895. That fact will be used to try to fast-track the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, whose two massive tunnels would carry water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that now provides nearly half of Silicon Valley’s water.  The drought instead should raise skepticism about this $25 billion plan, the largest public works project in U.S. history, because it raises a conundrum: The plan says the tunnels will provide not a drop more water than the Delta provides today — and that is completely out of whack with the interests of agencies and communities lining up to pay billions of dollars to build them. … ”  Read more here:  Mercury News editorial: Massive Delta tunnels could destroy fragile estuary
  • Delta tunnels would not harm Sacramento water users, says Jerry Meral:  Responding to concerns that Sacramento County water users could be harmed by the BDCP, Meral responds:  ” … The proposed new diversion is downstream of the water intakes for the city of Sacramento and Sacramento County water users. Physically, there would be no way for the new diversion (the intake to the tunnels) to take any water needed by Sacramento water users.  Layers of institutional guarantees ensure that none of Sacramento’s water could ever be diverted by the state and federal water projects. Sacramento has very secure water rights, which long predate those of the state and federal water projects. State “area of origin” water laws protect the rights of counties upstream of the Delta to use the water they need before any can be exported. … ”  Read the full commentary at the Sacramento Bee here:   Another View: Delta tunnels would not harm Sacramento water users
  • Drought requires action now, says Sacramento Bee editorial:  The editorial runs down the local response to the dry conditions, and adds a plea for groundwater management:  ” … As Kerry Schmitz, principal civil engineer at Sacramento County’s Department of Water Resources, has said, “This is an unprecedented situation, exceeding even the conditions in 1976-77. While we hope that the area receives some significant rainfall over the next few months, it continues to be critical for everyone in the region to work individually and collectively to conserve water.”  At the statewide level, groundwater is a major issue. It is being pumped out faster than it can be replenished, especially in the Central Valley. Yet the state does not monitor and regulate groundwater.  … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  Editorial: Water situation is dire, requires action
  • Dry conditions show California needs to improve conservation efforts, says the Daily News:  ” … Californians are a creative people, and can do better. Just as we have shown over the last 30 years that through innovative technology we can dramatically reduce air pollution in Southern California even as we added millions of new vehicles, we can continue to grow and yet use less water — and use it more appropriately. There’s no reason to suck the Colorado dry, or worsen the drying out of the Owens Valley. It’s a scandal that here in 2014 most of our golf courses and boulevard parkways are still being irrigated with the same tap water we drink and cook with.  The Metropolitan Water District, Los Angeles’s Department of Water and Power and local water companies need to coordinate the creation of “purple pipe” systems of reclaimed water for irrigation. Homeowners need to step up and install their own rainwater barrels to harvest roof-gutter runoff for their yards, and to better xeriscape their plantings. … ”  Drought of 2014 rings in California new year: Editorial
  • There may be one aspect to the drought that’s helpful, says commentary:  ” …Having dealt with two of them before, I can attest that little good normally comes from droughts. Farmers always bear the brunt of the impacts, while city folks are usually blissfully oblivious. But if 2014 remains dry, as all data indicates it will, urbanites all up and down the state are going to get a huge dose of the harsh reality that California now faces a perpetual water supply crisis that can only be solved by building new storage facilities and updating our water-delivery systems. So maybe this is one instance where a 2014 drought will have one beneficial aspect to it.”  Read the full commentary here:  Lance W. Johnson: Drought reveals real threat to ag community

About the Daily Digest: The Daily Digest is a collection of selected news articles, commentaries and editorials appearing in the mainstream press. Articles are generally selected to follow the focus of the Notebook blog. Articles behind paywalls are not included, because if I can’t see them, I figure you can’t, so I don’t want to waste your time. (If I send you to something you cannot access, please do let me know! Email Maven)

The Daily Digest is published every weekday with a weekend edition posting on Sundays.

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