Blog round-up: Bloggers on holding water thieves accountable, saving fish in a drought, the CALVIN model, federal legislation and more, plus how ‘water witchers’ find water

wildcat waterfall
Lake Anza Spillway, Tilden Regional Park, Feb 9, 2014
Photo by Daniel Parks

Another great round-up of blogs with something for everyone today …

Holding water thieves accountable during drought is critical:  Kate Poole at the NRDC Switchboard blog writes:  “Every day, the media is filled with new stories about California’s historic drought – cities facing the imminent threat of no drinking water; ranchers scrambling to feed herds grazing on brown stubble; migrating birds searching in vain for wetlands along the Pacific Flyway; and fish eggs drying out by the thousands on desiccated river banks. There is no question that the drought is imposing hardships on cities, farms and the environment, and that different solutions may be called for to address those hardships. But there is one obvious solution that benefits everyone and that we should all be able to agree on:  nobody should be allowed to steal water that is not rightfully theirs in times of drought.  That’s why it is especially perplexing that a group of California legislators is objecting to clamping down on water thieves during the drought in this February 24, 2014 letter sent to Governor Brown. ... ”  Read more from the NRDC Switchboard blog here:  Holding Water Thieves Accountable Is Critical In Times of Drought

Saving the fish in a drought: Jeff Mount at the PPIC blog writes: ” … California is home to 122 different species of native fishes, including 32 kinds of salmon and trout. These fishes are part of the unique natural heritage of California and, as Moyle points out, most are on a trajectory toward extinction. A poorly managed drought can hasten this process.  State and federal laws that protect endangered species reflect the high value society places on native biodiversity. The sweeping Delta Reform Act of 2009, passed by bipartisan majorities, went a step further, placing ecosystem health on par with water supply reliability. Above all, history shows that failure to manage fish and wildlife well during a drought can have very expensive long-term consequences for water management once the rains return.  So what, if anything, is being done for fish in this drought? … ”  Read more from the PPIC Blog here:  Drought Watch: Saving the Fish

It’s my drought and yours, face it,  says the Pacific Institute’s Insights blog:  “The California drought has everyone wondering what we can do. Well, we can’t make it rain. But we can make an effort to understand the reality of water shortage, to recognize how we individually can make an impact, and to think about how yesterday’s water policy and pricing is going to have to change to serve us in a new reality of more frequent and more severe drought. And we can get on board with that instead of whining about it!  The fact is that for a great majority of us in the cities, “drought” hasn’t hit us that hard except that we miss those cozy rainy days curled up with a book. … ”  Read more from the Insights blog here:  It’s My Drought! And Yours. Face it.

Water rights holders call Feds on contract violation:  The Western Farm Press blog notes that the Sacramento River Settlement (SRS) contractors have fired off a letter to Reclamation, pointing out that their contract allows for only two options: 100% or 75%, not the 40% that Reclamation has allocated them:  ” … At the core of the issue are water rights and from where I sit SRS contractors hold the cards right now.  The letter does not threaten legal action, though it is a stern recognition that the federal government is violating its contract with water rights holders. It does ask for a conversation between the federal government and SRS contractors “to address the current situation,” which on the surface seems to be how the government will honor its contractual obligations.  The current problem with water rights in California is there’s not enough available water to go around. For those who have first dibs it’s not so much a problem. For everyone else it is. … ”  Read more here:  Water rights holders call Feds on contract violation

What’s the value of water to agriculture?  The Valley Economy blog writes:  “Over the past month, lots of people have been emailing me the $1,100-$1,200 per acre foot price for price irrigation water is selling for in a Kern County auction.  It is indeed an incredible price for agricultural water.  It shows that this drought is very severe and likely will impact some high-value permanent crops, and it tells us what orchard owners are willing to pay for one year to keep an orchard alive when they have few other alternatives.  But what does this data point tell us about the value of water to agriculture in California?  What is the value of agricultural water that should be used for major policy analysis – such as evaluating infrastructure investments such as Delta tunnels, new reservoirs, alternative agricultural water supply investments (like solar powered groundwater desal), or intra-regional conveyance to facilitate more local transfers between Valley farmers? ... ”  Read more from the Valley Economy blog here:  What’s the value of water to agriculture?

Living with less water:  Lessons for Californians from New Mexico:  This post from the GOAT blog begins with the writer confessing of his failed attempt to live on 5 gallons of water a day, and then writes:  “For me, five gallons a day was a quirky experiment. For the 17 California communities on a list released last month by state health officials, it may become reality: As drought tightens its grip on the state, each community is at risk of running out of drinking water within 100 days. Officials are discussing trucking in water as a possible solution.  In one such place, a town of 1,200 called Lompico, water comes from underground aquifers replenished by rainwater. The problem is, there hasn’t been much rain lately: California received an average of just 7 inches in 2013, compared to their usual 22, and the Sierra Nevada snowpack that feeds many reservoirs is at 12 percent of normal. Lompico residents have been asked to cut their water usage by 30 percent, but as Water District Board president Lois Henry pointed out to the San Francisco Chronicle, “We live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. People don’t have lawns. They don’t have gardens. How are they going to conserve 30 percent?”  California isn’t the only state to face water shortages; residents of Magdalena, N.M., might be able to offer a few water-conserving suggestions. … ”  Read more from the GOAT blog here: Living with less water: Lessons for Californians – and the rest of us – from a New Mexico village

Virtual water versus real water: Jay Lund at the California Water blog writes: “There has been considerable kvetching during this drought about California exporting agricultural products overseas, with some saying that this implies we are virtually exporting water that we should be using in California.  Those concerned should take comfort with California’s major imports of virtual water. Much of the food consumed here comes from other states and countries, and their production, of course, requires water.  Much of the corn fed to California’s dairy cattle is grown on Midwest farms with Midwest water. And much of our clothing is made of imported cotton, a water-intensive crop, or made from petrochemicals, which used oil and water from elsewhere. … ”  Read more from the California Water Blog here:  Virtual Water vs. Real Water in California

On the Public Record blog discusses the CALVIN model: This post is too difficult to excerpt, and since the issue is further explored in the comments, I would commend you to this post from On the Public Record for the entire discussion:  Related

How professional ‘water witchers’ do it:  L rods, pendulums, bobbers – just how does a dowser find water?  Motherboard interviews a professional dowser from Northern California in this Q&A:  “Q: So if you want to find water, what do you do?  A: If someone wants us to find water on their property, they send me a map or parcel of their land. What I do is called “mapped dowsing.” I sit here at home and I dowse with L rods on that parcel. It’ll tell me, from a distance, whether they have water, how deep that water is, and how many gallons per minute it is.  Then I contact them and tell them they have water on their property and tell them that it’s 300, 400, 500 feet deep and they have however many gallons per minute. If they want us to go further from there, we go out to the site and show them where on the property it is. … ”  Continue reading at Motherboard here:  A Professional ‘Water Witch’ Explains How to Find Water in a Drought

Feinstein/Boxer drought-relief proposal already carried out:  A key provision in the Feinstein/Boxer legislation is to provide operational flexibility by keeping the Delta Cross Channel gates open:  “However, Cowin announced the opening of the Delta Cross Channel back on Jan. 31 in a videotaped announcement. In other words, the key “operational flexibility” promised in Feinstein and Boxer’s drought relief bill was already underway without the bill having to be approved by Congress and the president. Feinstein and Boxer should be given credit for not dallying to open the Delta Cross Channel gates, given the severity of the drought. But it is “disingenuous” to claim their bill would need to be passed to authorize such flexibility. One of the key differences in the Feinstein-Boxer drought bill and Nunes’ is that Nunes’ bill provides for two new water storage reservoirs to be built. Conversely, the Feinstein-Boxer bill doesn’t promise any new water but mere “flexibility” in managing water. The Nunes’ bill provides for new water while the Feinstein-Boxer bill does not. According to Cowin, what California needs is storage in advance of a drought more than flexibility after its onset. … ”  Read more from the CalWatchdog blog here: Feinstein/Boxer drought-relief proposal already carried out

Looks like more of the same from Dianne Feinstein who has a way of looking like she’s getting things done without ever getting them done, says Families Protecting the Valley:  “After the House of Representatives passed a drought relief bill, there was pressure on the Senate to put something on the table. On Tuesday, February 11th Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced their Senate version of drought relief as DiFi said, “The House took its best shot. I hope they realize (ours) are specific actions that can work.” According to the Fresno Bee article, “one Democrat who represents a Delta-area district, Rep. John Garamendi, cautioned that it will ‘take time to understand what the implications are’ if the bill passes.” It looks like it will also take time for the bill to pass. According to Southern California Public Radio, “there has been no commitment from Senate leadership for a vote or even to assign it to a committee.” Looks like more of the same from Dianne Feinstein who has a way of looking like she’s getting things done without ever getting them done.. … “  Read more here:  Keeping Track of DiFi’s Drought Bill

Rethinking California water in zero State Water Project allocation world:  “California’s State Water Project is the backbone of the California economy.  The recent declaration of a zero water allocation for 2014 has exposed the California economy’s vulnerability to decades of political gridlock and ineffective water agency action.  Last Friday’s announced allocations for the federal Central Valley Project piled on.  Unless changes are made promptly to California’s “water culture”, look for California growth to come to a screeching halt.  To quote Reverend Wright (admittedly out of context), “California, the chickens have come home to roost.”  This post is the first of an eight-part series on Rethinking California’s Water Industry.  In this post, I analyze the economic implications of the unreliability of the State Water Project, including the use of State Water Project (“SWP”) water for real estate development.  Carryover storage capacity owned by water users and having more than five times SWP contracts needed to cover water demands are critical. … ”  Read more from the Hydrowonk blog here:  Rethinking California’s Water Industry: Part 1—a Zero State Water Project Allocation World

California lagging behind in irrigation delivery systems:  Claire O’Connor at the NRDC Switchboard writes: ” … According to the USDA, over half of the acres in California still use gravity-based systems to irrigate their crops.  In other heavily-irrigated, ag-centric states, such as Nebraska and Texas, fewer than 20% of acres use gravity irrigation.  In Kansas, just 7% of acres rely on gravity systems.  Why is California, the tech capital of the world, lagging so far behind?  Part of the reason is that, although on-farm irrigation technology has significantly advanced in recent years, our delivery systems that bring water to the fields haven’t kept pace.  These aging systems can’t deliver the low volume water that farmers with efficient systems need.  It’s not only holding farmers back, it’s causing irrigation districts to lose customers as farmers shift to groundwater, which they can pump at the pace and time they need.  ... ”  Read more from the NRDC Switchboard blog here:  A ‘Dry Day Fund’ for California Farms

State legislature battling DSC for control of the tunnels, says Burt Wilson of the Public Water News Service:  “If Jim Frazier, Democrat legislator from Oakley, has his way, the BDCP will not be included in the Delta Plan until it passes muster with the state legislature. He has introduced legislation, AB 1671, that will require the approval of the BDCP’s twin tunnel conveyances by the entire legislative body before it can be included in the Delta Plan.   This leaves the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC), which is responsible for vetting the BDCP, out of the loop, unless they agree with the legislature. This is clearly an attack on the final approval power of the DSC which never did require public approval. … ”  Read more here:  State Legislature battles DSC for control of BDCP tunnels

Modesto Irrigation District rate policy threatens survival of small farms:  The Valley Citizen blog writes: Farmers are businesspeople first and friends second. When it comes to relationships in the farming business, the farmer looks after his own interests, just like a businessperson in any other business.  Water is an indispensable part of the business of farming. No farmer is going to sell his entire water allocation to others unless he does not intend to farm. As a businessperson, the farmer is not likely to sell water to a friend below market value. In a supply shortage, markets are usually greatly distorted by high prices. … ”  Read more from the Valley Citizen blog here:  MID Rate Policy Threatens Survival of Small Farms

The origins of the “practicably irrigable acreage” standard, part II: John Fleck at the Inkstain blog writes:  ” … After I last took a stab at writing about the “practicably irrigable acreage” standard that sort of underpins U.S. Native American water rights in the west, a member of the brain trust sent me a fascinating law review article by Dana Smith that showed me I haven’t been thinking about this quite right.  Interestingly, my confusion about the underlying issue seems to be the same as that held by Simon Rifkind, the U.S. Special Master in the famous Colorado River case of Arizona v. California – the place the PIA standard was first made explicit. (Can I blame Rifkind?)  The PIA standard is rooted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Winters v. United States, which basically said that Indian communities are entitled to the water rights necessary to make a living on their land. Importantly, the entitlement comes with a priority date (critical under the doctrine of prior appropriation used to allocate water in the West) equal to the date their reservation was created. The term for this is “reserved rights.” ... ”  Read more from the Inkstain blog here:  The origins of the “practicably irrigable acreage” standard, part II

Mike Connor’s appointment to Deputy Secretary of the Interior is good news for western rivers, says the Western River Law blog:  ” … Connor may be uniquely qualified for the Deputy Secretary gig–and I do not say that just because he is from New Mexico.  He has strong Native American connections, with a grandfather who was a leader of Taos Pueblo.  He is an engineer, and also an attorney who worked on water issues for Interior earlier in his career.  He was a key Senate staffer on water and energy issues, and one of his major accomplishments was crafting the 2009 SECURE Water Act.  And he earned high marks in his four-plus years as Commissioner of Reclamation.  His experience will be especially important now because his boss, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, came into the job with basically no background in government. I see Connor’s new position as good news for western rivers.  … ”  Read more here:  What Interior’s new #2 could mean for western rivers

Photo credit:  Photo of Lake Anza Spillway, Tilden Regional Park, by flickr photographer Daniel Parks.

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