Daily Digest, weekend edition: San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race to tap aquifer, panel finds trouble in twin tunnels plan, who gets water divides lawmakers, and much more

Daily DigestIn California water news today, San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race to tap aquifer; Expert estimates groundwater ‘exhaustion’ could cause semi-permanent loss of 1 million acres of agriculture; Panel finds trouble in twin tunnels plan; Who should get water divides lawmakers; Valley drier without fog; Three issues that need to be resolved with the water bond; Water bond proposals arise amid drought; In a new era, maybe we need a groundwater budget; Nitrate levels high in California groundwater; Drought pushing ag to tipping point; El Niño May Tame Atlantic Hurricanes, Bring Beneficial Rain to California, and more

In the news this weekend …

  • San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race to tap aquifer:  “So wet was the San Joaquin Valley of Steve Arthur’s childhood that a single 240-foot-deep well could quench the thirst of an arid farm.  Now his massive rig, bucking and belching, must drill 1,200 feet deep in search of ever-more-elusive water to sustain this wheat farm north of Bakersfield. As he drills, his phone rings with three new appeals for help.  “Everybody is starting to panic,” said Arthur, whose Fresno-based well-drilling company just bought its ninth rig, off the Wyoming oil fields. “Without water, this valley can’t survive.” ... ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here:  California Drought: San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race to tap aquifer 
  • Expert estimates groundwater ‘exhaustion’ could cause semi-permanent loss of 1 million acres of agriculture:  “Would redirecting more water from rivers and streams toward Valley agriculture prevent the permanent loss of hundreds of thousands of irrigated acres? Probably not, according to Cal Poly irrigation expert Charles Burt — and he’s asking you not to shoot the messenger. Burt has crunched the numbers, and what he’s come up with is this: There was approximately 2 million acre-feet of groundwater overdraft going on in California before the current drought started in 2012.  Many growers drilled wells, planted almond trees and started pumping in areas with literally no access to surface water. ... ”  Read more from the Hanford Sentinel here:  2014 could be new normal for the Valley
  • Panel finds trouble in twin tunnels plan:  “A critical portion of the governor’s twin tunnels plan is hard to understand, overstates the benefits for fish and fails to make clear that much uncertainty remains over the outcome, an independent panel of experts has concluded.  The Bay Delta Conservation Plan, as the tunnels plan is formally known, has been scrutinized in a number of similar reviews since planning began in 2006. Those reviews raised some of the same concerns.  The latest study may carry more weight, however, because it is the first major outside review since the tunnels were formally proposed in December. … ”  Read more from the Stockton Record here: Panel finds problems in state’s twin tunnels plan
  • Who should get water divides lawmakers: Seasonal storms have exposed once more some perennial political divisions over California water. Citing the latest rainfall, seven of the state’s lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to free up more irrigation deliveries for San Joaquin Valley farms. The muscular Capitol Hill lineup is noticeable both for who’s on it and who’s not. In a telling alliance, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and four other House Republicans, as well as one House Democrat, in calling for increased deliveries. ... ”  Read more from McClatchy DC here: Who should get water deliveries divides California lawmakers
  • Valley drier without fog:  “During the driest winter in decades, one silver lining was almost no dreary, scary fog days in the San Joaquin Valley. But that, too, may have been a bad thing.  Sunny, dry days make water disappear in reservoirs as well as on the landscape. One meteorologist says Central California lost far more water to evaporation and plants than it gained in rainfall — an extreme that he never has seen in decades of forecasting. … “It’s a mistake to just focus on the lack of precipitation,” he said. “We went backward on moisture. Even in our worst drought years in the past, that hasn’t happened. Forests, foothills and the Valley will be parched this fire season.” … ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee here:  Valley drier without fog
  • With water bond debate beginning, three issues that need to be resolved: With the drought worsening, a long, dry summer ahead, and only 90 days left on the calendar before lawmakers must decide whether to put a multi-billion water bond on the ballot, it’s no surprise that the water debate in Sacramento is beginning to boil.  A contentious Senate hearing on Tuesday over one of the 10 bond measures now moving through the Legislature revealed long-held divisions among Democrats and Republicans alike over how to invest billions in California’s aging water infrastructure, who should distribute the money, and what can be done to make all this spending transparent enough that voters will approve it. … ”  Read more from the California Economic Summit here:  With water bond debate beginning to boil, three issues that must be resolved
  • Water bond proposals arise amid drought:  “As the severity of the ongoing drought continually impacts the lives of Californians across the state, politicians and citizens have agreed that not only does the state’s water system need a major fix, but that doing so is not going to be cheap.  In order to help fund the multi-billion dollar projects that lie ahead for the state’s broken water system, several politicians have begun discussing a water bond for the November ballot. If approved to go before voters, the water bond would be the first since 2006 when Prop 84 was passed, authorizing $5.4 billion in spending on water projects. ... ”  Read more from the Turlock Journal here:  Water bond proposals arise amidst drought
  • In a new era, maybe we need a groundwater budget:  “Groundwater needs a budget, said Carl Hauge, who worked for the Department of Water Resources for four decades, including serving as chief hydrogeologist.  He visited this month as part of the David Keith Todd lecture series held at Chico State University. The focus was groundwater.  Groundwater rules in California date back at least 160 years and are complicated. … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise Record here:  In a new era, maybe we need a groundwater budget (Related note:  You can have a chance to hear Carl Hauge speak in Sacramento on April 9 here.)
  • Nitrate levels high in California groundwater: California regulators are concerned about high nitrate levels in groundwater across the state. “State officials tested several areas five times, and found that Tulare and Los Angeles counties have high concentrations of nitrate contaminating their groundwater, and many agricultural communities even have them in their wells,” ABC 23 recently reported. ... ”  Read more from Water Online here:  Nitrate Levels High In California Groundwater
  • Drought pushing ag to tipping point:  “San Joaquin Valley agriculture needs to link up with Silicon Valley — and will do so as the food-production industry accelerates into a higher-tech era to deal with water shortages, an environmentally-friendly regulatory environment and groundwater pumping issues. Welcome to the new normal.  That was the underlying message of a West Hills Community College District forum Thursday at Harris Ranch that brought together growers, government officials, businesses, educators and analysts to envision what 21st-century agriculture is going to look like in California. … ”  Read more from the Hanford Sentinel here:  Drought pushing ag to the ‘tipping point’
  • El Niño May Tame Atlantic Hurricanes, Bring Beneficial Rain to California: “There are indications that an El Niño is on the way for the middle and latter parts of 2014. The phenomenon may impact the weather in portions of the United States, starting this summer.  … According to AccuWeather Long Range Forecaster Mark Paquette, “We are confident that an El Niño is in the early stages of developing and may reach moderate strength moving forward into mid- to late summer of 2014.” … ”  Read more from AccuWeather here:  El Niño May Tame Atlantic Hurricanes, Bring Beneficial Rain to California
  • Scott River groundwater lawsuit nears decision:  “As the last pieces fall into place today, the civil suit, Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board, edges closer to an initial decision at the state superior court level.  The case initially began in 2010 when ELF, along with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources asked for a writ of mandate challenging the SWRCB  and Siskiyou County’s “pattern and practice … of failing to manage groundwater resources interconnected with the Scott River in a manner consistent with the Public Trust Doctrine of California.” … ”  Read more from the Siskiyou Daily News here: Scott River groundwater suit nears decision; final briefs submitted today
  • Rains leave Bay Area thirsty: Our “March Miracle” — some seriously wet weather late in the season desperately needed to reverse the historic drought — never happened.  Despite Saturday’s rain, which fell hard in the North Bay, the Bay Area was mostly left high and dry.  Even more precipitation forecast for the coming week won’t make much difference, according to the National Weather Service.  “We’re not going to be anywhere near normal,” meteorologist Steve Anderson said. “There’s no sign out there that things are going to reverse.” ... ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here:  California drought: Latest rain leaves Bay Area thirsty
  • Farmers need to report practices:Farmers are filling out a four-page survey that will help assess how well they are keeping pesticides and fertilizers out of waterways.  The East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition has set a May 1 deadline for completion of the surveys, which involve most of the irrigated land east of the San Joaquin River in Stanislaus, Merced and Madera counties. … ”  Read more here:  Farm Beat: Farmers need to report practices

People in the news …

  • FioriniA visit with Randy Fiorini, new Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council:  “Growing up on his family’s tree fruit and wine grape farm in Turlock, Council Chair Randy Fiorini gained an early appreciation for the importance of water, science and the land – an appreciation that only grew stronger over time as he took on various leadership roles in statewide water policy development.  In January Fiorini was elected Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council after serving a four-year term as Vice-Chair. With a nod to the man he calls a mentor, former Chair Phil Isenberg, Fiorini said, “The first order of business is to continue to build on the good work that we’ve done together and build an effective team approach to the work that we do here. ... ”  Read more from the Delta Stewardship Council newsletter here:  A Visit with New Council Chair Randy Fiorini

In commentary this weekend …

  • Drought as seen through the eyes of a farmer: Pete Aiello responds to recent commentaries regarding agriulcutre and water use:  “There has been a lot of finger pointing as California endures a drought, and most of it seems to be directed toward agriculture. Well, here’s how I see it: Plants need water to grow.  Letters to the editor in this paper have criticized agriculture for our water use, as community members use words and phrases like “excess” and “water-intensive farming methods.” One letter writer went so far as to call farmers “the greatest wasters of water in California.”  When farmers “use” water, they are growing healthy, affordable local food.  … ”  Read more from the Silicon Valley Mercury News here:  Water and farms: Drought as seen through the eyes of a farmer
  • Groundwater issues should be solved locally, and soon, says the Hanford Sentinel: When there is a drought and surface water becomes scarce, farmers turn to their wells to keep crops growing. But groundwater is an option that is running as low as Central California’s rivers as demand has far outstripped nature’s ability to refill aquifers, even in wet years. Groundwater use is a touchy issue, pushing property owner rights up against broader implications of depleting this resource.  But it’s an issue that would be better addressed here in Kings County by people who know and understand farm needs rather than delay and have groundwater use decided by people in San Francisco, Sacramento or Los Angeles who have little knowledge and less regard for the importance of agriculture to our economy. ... ”  Read more from the Hanford Sentinel here:  Our View: Groundwater issues should be solved locally, and soon
  • California should follow Australia’s example and fundamentally change the way water and water rights are managed: Pepperdine professor Wade Graham writes: “This year’s drought has thrown California into a sudden tizzy, a crisis of snowpack measurements, fish-versus-people arguments and controversial cuts in water deliveries. But in reality, crisis is the permanent state of water affairs in the Golden State — by design, because our institutions keep it that way.  California has 1,400 major dams, thousands of miles of aqueducts and pumps so powerful they lift water nearly 2,000 feet over the Tehachapis. The state uses enough water in an average year to support, in theory, 318 million Californians (and their lawns and dishwashers), more than eight times the actual population of 38 million. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  The water revolution California needs
  • Water storage, conveyance projects abound, says the Sacramento Bee:  The drought should be acting concentrate us all on drought, but instead it’s spawning multiple proposals with little regard as to who will pay, says the Sacramento Bee: ” … In one direction, Gov. Jerry Brown favors a new “conveyance” with his proposed twin tunnels project. The capital cost of the two 40-foot-diameter, 30-mile-long tunnels around or under the Delta is estimated to total $19.9 billion in 2012 dollars. Borne by whom? People benefiting from the project, the water contractors south of the Delta? The comment period on this proposal ends on April 14. In another direction, Reps. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, favor an emphasis on storage. … ”  Continue reading the editorial at the Sacramento Bee here:  Water storage, conveyance projects abound

weatherPrecipitation watch …

  • From the National Weather Service:A colder Pacific storm from the Gulf of Alaska will impact the area Monday into Wednesday. Heavy snow possible in the mountains with snow levels lowering into the foothills late Monday into Tuesday.”

Check out the most popular posts and out-clicks for last week …

Also on Maven’s Notebook this weekend …

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About the Daily Digest: The Daily Digest is a collection of selected news articles, commentaries and editorials appearing in the mainstream press. Items are generally selected to follow the focus of the Notebook blog. The Daily Digest is published every weekday with a weekend edition posting on Sundays.

Maven’s Notebook
where California water news never goes home for the weekend

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