California Water Commission hears an update on DWR’s activities to address the drought

CWC Bill CroyleAt the October meeting of the California Water Commission, Department of Water Resources Drought Manager Bill Croyle updated the Commission members on the actions DWR has been taking to address the drought conditions across the state.

He said he had just come from a briefing at the Department of General Services Partnership Council, and the mood was sober and quiet. “Part of this message as I give an update on our drought conditions is that this is rough; this is a difficult emergency situation,” he said. “We’re all taking personal action to conserve, be informed, and talk to our neighbor, and so I came away from that meeting with the message I wanted to tell the Commission, and that is that as we move forward, conservation and education is a critical effort that we need to take place as we communicate in forums like this and also as we work with our partner agencies and the public.”

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We’re coming off a third dry year and we’re planning for a dry 2015, so a lot of the advance planning measures we’re doing right now is looking at what happened in the past year and look at the lessons learned and the things we’d like to do better, as well as collect information that can be used early in the process as we start the new water year, Mr. Croyle said. “We talk to our climatologists a lot as we want the answer out of them, and its predictions and probabilities and statistics, but we’re looking at acorns, we’re looking at all available information,” he said. “Hope for the best and plan for the worst is kind of where we’re at right now, so we’re planning based on a dry 2015 based on similar hydrologic conditions for 2014.”

Comparison aerial views showing Lake Oroville full of water (top image) shot July 20, 2011 by Paul Hames/DWR Photography and low water level (bottom image) shot September 5, 2014 by Kelly Grow/DWR Photography. Views show recreation boats by the Bidwell Bar Marina.The problem we have right now is that we’re starting the water year about 3 MAF short compared to the last year, so to the extent that we have options, there are fewer options available to us, and that’s going to require a lot of multi-agency coordination at local, state, and federal agencies; a lot of that which has occurred over this last year,” he said. “As an example, we had a real time operations group that’s made up of a number of high level managers from key federal and state agencies – the State Water Board, the fish agencies, and the two projects working together a couple times a week and some long weekends to make sure that we’re all working on a balanced approach when it comes to project operations and protecting the Delta, and to the extent that we can, given our hydrologic conditions, export some water on to those points south.”

One of the key issues right now on the front line are the groundwater conditions for those that could use groundwater,” he said. “Not everybody can, but for those that switch from a surface water source to groundwater, we see increased groundwater use and with that, in the dry conditions, we’ve seen a number of wells go dry throughout the state. We’re approaching 1200 wells that we know of.”

When I say that, it’s a little concerning for us emergency managers because we understand there are a lot of local communities that are not communicating that up for various reasons,” he said. “They really don’t want the state or federal government assisting them. They are used to being dry, they are used to trucking water on occasion, but this is lasting a little longer than I think the normal dry cycle, so now we’re starting to see those areas ask for help.”

Mr. Croyle said that ground zero for groundwater right now is Tulare County, noting that it’s been covered in the national and local news. A strike steam was meeting with County officials to discuss how the state can support them and work with the local agencies, small communities and individuals to resolve being without water, he said.

They start off in particular areas with bottled water and jugs, and now they are at bigger tanks in people’s front yards,” he said. “You realize that they are still using a bucket, from the tank to the bucket to the house, so you can cook your food, you can do your sanitary stuff, but it’s really tough to take a shower out of a bucket, so that’s what is approaching the Drought Task Force members, the state agencies and some federal agencies as we go into those communities and try and reinforce these conditions. … We’re going to hear a lot more about what we can and can’t do by the end of the day.”

An irrigation ditch runs dry nearby Grizzly Island Road in Suisun City, CA, on September 18, 2014.

Photo courtesy the Department of Water Resources

Because all emergencies start local, under the state’s emergency plan, we are lining up under the SIMS structure, making sure the state is assisting where they need it and where they want it,” he said. “That’s been part of the challenge this summer – we know they need it, but they necessarily want the state involved yet, so I think we’ve now broken through that process and we’re addressing those issues fairly quickly.”

With regard to drought declarations, 25 of the state’s 58 counties have declared drought emergencies, along with 13 cities, 9 tribes, and 12 special districts, he said. There are 30 local drought task force organizations that have come together and tried to address their concerns at the local level. “Two tribes have set up their drought task forces, and I bring that up because tribes seem to be on limited water supplies and using water surface water primarily that has long dried up, so to make sure they have resources to address it, we are working with federal agencies and well as the Governor’s task force and our tribal liaisons to make sure that we’ve included the tribes and that there are forums that they can address their needs and line up state resources as we can.”

Everyone is fully engaged, Mr. Croyle said. “We have local agencies working with the state agencies and the federal agencies have been brought in early in this process. The Governor’s office has bi-weekly phone calls with the white house and that’s to make sure that the federal agencies are lined up appropriately in supporting state agencies. There are a number of agencies that we work directly with, of course the obvious one is USBR, the SWP and the CVP that goes on all the time, but then again, this has been a much higher level and really close coordination as we manage both our state and federal water projects in the Delta region.”

NASA and JPL have been assisting on remote sensing, bringing information in more often and in real time, which is critical as we try to manage our limited resources, he said. Army Corps is ready with water deliveries; the USGS is helping with stream gage monitoring, especially in those streams and rivers that have rare and endangered fish, and in Tulare, the EPA, NOAA, FEMA, USDA, the Forest Service and even the Department of Energy are assisting, he said. The National Drought Resiliency Partnership has contacted the Governor’s office and they will be coming out in November under the climate change initiative to look for one to two pilot projects, he added.

drought monitor CAConservation education is something we just can’t do enough of right now, he said. “We’re going to be getting a lot into water contingency plans and really working with those agencies, asking are you following your plans, did your plan consider the environment we’re working in now, and can we as a state assist you in coming up with more robust plans, especially if we stay dry. Some of those actions require we take action now; some of those are going to require action over a number of years.”

Some of the potential actions we’re looking at for a dry ’15 is continued curtailments and potentially if it stays super dry, revisiting the pre-1914 water rights; that’s going to be a difficult process that through SWB is making every effort to set up a system that they can turn on and off curtailments to the extent we have hydrology and weather coming in and rainfall. I think that’s something that hadn’t been thought of in the past that we are looking at now is to make sure we can turn the dials and communicate with those who have been curtailed; I think that’s a huge opportunity for those, to the extent we do get some weather that we can take advantage of that.”

We’re also considering barriers in the Delta, he said. “We’re planning for that, but we hope we don’t have to deploy that; it’s very expensive, the impact within the Delta operations, but to the extent that we can make sure we maintain freshwater conditions within the Delta, if nothing else to make sure that sometime in the future we can export water and make sure that our environmental resources are protected.”

With regard to small systems, there are two workgroups that are dealing with the water systems of more than 15 connections, which are either managed by the local county government or the SWRCB drinking water program, he said.  “We talk about those on a weekly or biweekly basis to make sure that they actually have water or if they need assistance. A lot of emergency funding – I think they’ve spent over $12 million in emergency funds to reinforce those small systems and make sure they either have a new alternative water supply, drill a new well, or fix a leaky pipe, things like that.

The challenge has been the less than 15 connections as they are not regulated or overseen by the SWRCB, so we’ve really made that a focus, especially as we see more and more individual wells dry up due to these dry conditions, so we’re looking at any and all resources and technical assistance to plug in and support that part of our drinking water community,” Mr. Croyle said, noting that NGOs and other public partners are also coming into assist as well.

Comparison aerial views showing Lake Oroville full of water (top image) shot July 20, 2011 by Paul Hames/DWR Photography and low water level (bottom image) shot September 5, 2014 by Kelly Grow/DWR Photography. Views show recreation boats by the Bidwell Bar Marina.We’re trying to take the lessons that we’re learning right now in response mode and plan for the future, so part of what we’re learning right now is what we’re doing right; also it is encouraging the locals to come forth and better identify their needs,” he said. “There are some land use challenges in that; there some water supply, just quantity, you have to be able to develop water supplies for these systems. In that comes some consolidation of smaller systems to larger systems to help support the fees for having more reliable, safe drinking water. So with the groundwater legislation, our drought effort, IRWM, the water plan, a lot of things heading in the next direction, and the water action plan bring that all together.”

Commissioner Ball asks with the current reservoir conditions, if the state continues to use water at the current rate, how long would that water last?

That depends on how you use the water that we have,” replied Mr. Croyle. “A lot of that can be how we deal with salinity standards in the Delta, how we measure up environmental protection, both up basin and in the Delta, and how we manage what I call health and safety deliveries … Assuming today’s use, tentative discussion is we’re looking at about a year.”

If we don’t get any water, part of the Delta ops plan that they are working on today, it’s based on some assumptions. They’ve got three: a 50%, 90% and a 99% percentile water event; if you get into that December – January and we don’t see the hydrology really changing for us, the January Delta ops plan will probably be different so with that will come some discussion with the Governor’s office on what we can do with regards to, as an example, mandatory conservation, curtailments of pre-14 rights to conserve the water we do have in storage but also manage the water that is moving through our system.”

Save-Our-Water_logoThe conservation education part is absolutely critical. We are bumping up our Save Our Water program budget; we’re going to need more resources to support that. We’re leveraging that out to our non profits and others to help drive home that message … “

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