NEWS WORTH NOTING: Water year 2016 ends, California suffered ‘snow drought’; San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority calls for Congressional action to avoid devastating repeat of 2016 water allocations; Harmful cyanobacteria detected around Fabian Tract

Water Year 2016 Ends, California Suffered ‘Snow Drought’

Statewide water conservation vital for surviving uncertain climate future

From the Department of Water Resources:

NEW_DWR_LOGO_14inchCalifornia’s 2016 Water Year draws to a close tomorrow, ending a fifth consecutive year marked by meager precipitation that fell more often as rain than snow.

Record warm temperatures created an early and below-average runoff that was in large part absorbed by parched soil before ever reaching the State’s reservoirs. The water content of the California Sierra snowpack, often referred to as ‘the State’s largest reservoir,’ flows each spring into a series of above ground storage reservoirs that essentially serve as California’s water savings accounts in order to meet the growing demands of an uncertain climate future.

These all-too-familiar dry, warming conditions have led State water officials to describe the situation as a California ‘snow drought.’ The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) explains the term in its recently released Drought and Water Year 2016: Hot and Dry Conditions Continue , a water year wrap-up delivered with detailed historical context.

A ‘water year,’ a 12-month time period during which precipitation totals are measured, runs from October 1 to September 30 of the following year.  The year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends.

Water Year 2016 is officially listed in the record books as ‘Dry’ statewide, even though parts of Northern California experienced average to slightly above average precipitation.

The forecast for Water Year 2017 is uncertain. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center currently sees slightly better than even odds that weak La Niña conditions will develop this fall and winter.  La Niña refers to the periodic cooling of sea-surface temperatures across the east-central equatorial Pacific. It represents the cold phase of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation cycle, nature’s year-to-year variations in oceanic and atmospheric conditions. La Niña is the opposite phase of the warm, El Niño phase that California experienced last year. There are no guarantees for substantial La Niña rainfall.

Water officials warn that making seasonal forecasts of precipitation – the ability to predict now if 2017 will be wet or dry (and how wet or dry) – is scientifically difficult, and the accuracy of such predictions is very low; much less than that of a seven-day weather forecast.

Historical records are the only source of facts to study for any indication of what California may see in the form of precipitation in coming months.

Of the 18 La Niña winters since 1950-51, 16 have provided below average precipitation for Southern California’s coastal region, and 15 winters have resulted in below average precipitation for Southern California’s interior region.  Above average precipitation was recorded in 11 winters for the Northern Sierra and in eight years for the Central and Southern Sierra. Water year 2011 brought the only significantly wet La Niña event in this time period.

Sixty percent of the state currently remains in severe or extreme drought. While mandatory water restrictions today vary across California, making water conservation a California way of life remains a statewide goal and a top priority in Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s State Water Action Plan. Furthermore, responding to climate change is vital to minimizing conditions that likely lead to more frequent, prolonged and severe droughts.

End of Water Year Statement: The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority Calls for Congressional Action to Avoid Devastating Repeat of 2016 Water Allocations

From the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority:

sldmwa logoThe U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) diversion of water supplies from San Joaquin Valley farms to other uses has led to an unprecedented water supply imbalance and necessitates immediate state and federal government action to avoid a repeat of the problem in 2017, according to the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.

“Reclamation will end this water year with over 4 million acre-feet of water in Northern California reservoirs and an IOU for over 300,000 acre-feet of water borrowed from individual farmers south of the Delta,” said Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.

In 2016, federal fishery agencies mandated Reclamation severely cut water delivery to more than 2 million acres of farms in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Water quantities beyond reasonable estimates required for fishery protection have been held in Lake Shasta. About $340 million worth of water conserved or purchased by individual farmers was taken by Reclamation to help fulfill its contractual and statutory obligations to deliver water, leaving an estimated 340,000 acre-foot deficit in San Luis Reservoir that would normally be delivered to irrigate crops. This water has yet to be returned and, as a result, more than 50 water agencies are unlikely to receive a sufficient 2017 allocation irrespective of winter weather.

“The problem of chronic, regulatory water supply shortages used to be isolated to the Westside but in recent years has grown to affect more and more farms across the Valley, including now the CVP’s Friant Division,” Peltier added.

While federal fishery agencies have mismanaged much of California’s water supply in their attempt to protect threatened and endangered fish, populations of the protected species have continued to decline. State and federal agencies must change course to fulfill their responsibility to protect the environment and provide water supplies for the people who depend on them. Continuing the past quarter century of failed fish protection policy is unacceptable.

“Over the last nine years, we’ve been forced to make do with inadequate water supplies based on the multi-year drought and environmental restrictions. But having this year’s miniscule 5 percent allocation diverted to other entities as a result of poor planning and management underscores the need for immediate Congressional action to help guide the federal fishery agencies toward a more balanced outcome. It’s clear at this point that the people and communities served by the Central Valley Project are not a priority to the federal government and that the continuing regulatory drought is intolerable,” Peltier said.

Historically, constraints on Central Valley water allocations have been directly related to two factors: the need to hold water in Lake Shasta to ensure sufficient cold water is available to support salmon reproduction and the pumping restrictions imposed by the 2008 Delta smelt and 2009 salmon Biological Opinions. Since December of 2015, these restrictions have caused over 1 million acre-feet of water to flow to the ocean that was otherwise available for water users throughout most of California.

Federal water allocations are announced every year in the spring, based on snowpack and rainfall totals. Despite above average runoff into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and near average snowpack in the northern Sierra Nevada this year, many farmers on the Westside were slated to receive only 5 percent of their normal allocation. While minimal, the allocation was an improvement on the zero percent allocation from 2014 and 2015. Based upon recent federal decisions, forecasts suggest that the 2017 water supply will be no better, irrespective of winter rainfall.

“Our assumption that Reclamation would proceed as promised, that water supply would return with rainfall, was wrong, and unless Congress acts, our cities, rural communities, and wetlands will continue to pay the price. Today we call upon our elected officials in the U.S. Senate and House, with the support of our California elected officials, to take action to guide the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service toward better outcomes and provide farmers, cities, rural communities and wetlands with normal water allocations once again,” Peltier said.

Harmful Cyanobacteria Detected around Fabian Tract; Caution Urged with Contact

From the State Water Resources Control Board:

SWRCB logo water boardsA harmful cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) bloom has been identified in Grantline Canal and Old River surrounding Fabian Tract.  Fabian Tract is located in San Joaquin County near the cities of Tracy and Mountain House.  Due to its potential health risks, swimmers, boaters and recreational users are urged to use caution and to avoid direct contact with, or use of, the water when recreating in these waters.  Dogs and livestock should be kept out of the water.  Do not allow them to drink the water or eat algal material along the shoreline.

Monitoring has identified an extensive cyanobacteria bloom of Microcystis occurring in the waterways surrounding Fabian Tract.  Testing has confirmed the presence of the cyanotoxin microcystin at concentrations that exceed the trigger levels for the protection of human health from the California Cyanobacteria and Harmful Algal Bloom Network’s Voluntary Guidance.  Due to the potential health risks, the San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department (SJC EHD) has posted health advisories at the local marinas.  For more information about the posted health advisories, please contact Lisa Medina (SJC EHD) at (209) 468‑3455.

Cyanobacteria blooms can appear as bright green with white or brown foam, scum or mats that float on the water’s surface.  Scums and mats can accumulate along the shoreline and in boat ramp and boat dock areas.

cyano-mapMonitoring locations and toxin test results for total microcystin are shown on the map below.  Concentrations of the toxin are patchy with the highest levels observed at the western edge of Fabian Tract.  A Caution Health Advisory is in place for the Tracy Oasis Marina and a Warning Health Advisory for the Tracy Wildlife Area.  However, water users, pets and livestock should avoid water contact in these waters because bloom conditions can change rapidly and wind and tides may move or concentrate the bloom into different regions of the canal and river.

Ingestion of algal material, scums and mats could be dangerous.  Children should be kept away from algae in the water or on the shore.  Children should not play in the shallows with algae material, scum or dried algal mats and not put algae in their mouths.  Dogs and livestock are in danger because they tend to eat the algae and drink the water.  Dog deaths have occurred in California each year from this type of exposure so care should be taken to keep them out of the water or from playing in algal mats or scum accumulated on the shore.  If they do swim in the water, they should be rinsed off with fresh water to remove any algae from their fur.

Recreational exposure to cyanobacteria and associated toxins can cause eye irritation, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold and flu-like symptoms.

We recommend that water users use healthy habits when recreating in waters that have identified cyanobacteria blooms.  The Statewide Guidance on Cyanobacteria and Harmful Algal Blooms recommends the following for waters impacted by cyanobacteria:

  • Keep pets and livestock out of the water.  Do not allow them to drink the water or eat algal material on shore.  If they do get in the water, do not let them drink the water, swim through algae, scums or mats, or lick their fur after going in the water.  Rinse pets in clean water to remove algae and toxins from fur.
  • Avoid areas of accumulated algae, scums or mats when wading, swimming, or jet or water skiing.
  • Do not drink untreated surface water from these areas or use it for cooking; People should not eat mussels or other bivalves collected from these areas.  Limit or avoid eating fish from these areas; if fish are consumed, remove the guts and liver, and rinse filets in clean drinking water.
  • Get medical treatment immediately if you think that you, your pet, or livestock might have been poisoned by cyanobacteria toxins.  Be sure to alert the medical professional to the possible exposure with cyanobacteria.  Also, make sure to contact the local county public health department.

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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