NEWS WORTH NOTING: San Joaquin County comments on Water Board proposal for San Joaquin River flows; New aerial survey identifies 100+ million dead trees in CA; Dr. Steve Culberson to lead Interagency Ecological Program; Weekly water and climate update

San Joaquin County Comments on State Water Board Proposals to Alter San Joaquin River Flows and Degrade Delta Water Quality

County Supervisors Concerned State is Working Behind the Scenes to Build Twin Tunnels

From the County of San Joaquin:

san-joaquin-county-sealEarlier this week, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) staff on proposed changes to San Joaquin River flow and southern Delta water quality requirements included in the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary. Supervisors listened to Les Grober, Deputy Director for Water Rights from the State Water Resources Control Board about the details of several thousand-page report that was released by the SWRCB in September outlining plans to take up to 50 percent of the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers which many see as a thinly veiled effort to help build the Governor’s twin tunnels. Below are comments from the San Joaquin Board of Supervisors in response to the SWRCB presentation:

“This proposal lends credence to opponents’ concerns that the State would make the Eastside Tributary interests volunteer by force and give up a significant portion of the inflow to Eastside Reservoirs so that the tunnels will have a source of new water.  In the same breath, the State Water Board also proposes to allow exporters to maintain worse water quality in the South Delta, which is detrimental to local Delta farmers and communities. As a result, we can only expect an even bleaker future for the Delta and our communities,” said Supervisor Katherine Miller.

“Even though the Administration calls this proposal an attempt to recover fish populations, we see it as another covert attempt by the Governor to build the twin tunnels. The State is proposing to relax Delta water quality rules which could facilitate increased export pumping. Taking water away from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus tributaries will not help fish as the Administration claims because history has shown that the decline of Delta fisheries is directly linked to unsustainable export rates,” said Chair Moses Zapien.

“Apparently, export interests cannot afford to mitigate for the impacts of their exports, so the Brown Administration is forcing the issue and re-writing the rules for the benefit of his supporters in Southern California. If a local agency were to build a project and not mitigate their impacts, they should expect to be sued.  Like local government, the State and Feds should be held accountable and should be required to mitigate their impacts to the Delta ecosystem.  It seems rather unfair to shift that burden to our community or to the general taxpayer,” said Supervisor Villapudua.

“The State’s proposal to provide additional flows for fish will not result in a significant increase in salmon populations.  The price our communities will pay if the State is allowed to take our water supplies, coupled with worsening of water quality in the southern Delta will be devastating.  There are other far more cost-effective solutions out there,” said Supervisor Bob Elliott.

“Nearly all Californians agree that a comprehensive Statewide water plan that enhances the health of the Delta is necessary; however, it is imperative that certain parts of the State not be benefited to the detriment of others. The Board of Supervisors has long supported protecting local water rights, water quality and effective local groundwater management and understands that balancing a healthy Delta ecosystem while respecting senior water rights is a major pillar for any local, regional, or Statewide water solution. This latest scheme just seems like another tactic by the Administration to go around the process and get the tunnels built at any cost despite our continued opposition,” concluded Supervisor Chuck Winn.

The Board of Supervisors instructed County staff to:

  • Develop and submit comments and testimony at the December 16th State Water Board Hearing in Stockton;
  • Develop and submit final written comments to the SWRCB by the January 17, 2017 deadline;
  • Coordinate with local and regional stakeholders impacted by the SWRCB proposal to develop a more regional approach and work jointly to oppose the State’s proposal.

New Aerial Survey Identifies More Than 100 Million Dead Trees in California

From the USDA:

dead-trees-in-the-sierraThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California’s drought stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.

With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. However, limited resources and a changing climate hamper the Forest Service’s ability to address tree mortality in California. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service officials are seriously hampered not only by short-term budgets passed by Congress, but also a broken budget for the Forest Service that sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health, said Vilsack.

“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California,” said Vilsack. “USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can’t break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves.”

The majority of the 102 million dead trees are located in ten counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region. The Forest Service also identified increasing mortality in the northern part of the state, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties. Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off. As a result, in October 2015 California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-off and formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.

This year, California had a record setting wildfire season, with the Blue Cut fire alone scorching over 30,000 acres and triggering the evacuation of 80,000 people. In the southeastern United States wildfires have burned more than 120,000 acres this fall. The southeast region of the Forest Service is operating at the highest preparedness level, PL 5, reflecting the high level of physical resources and funding devoted to the region. Extreme drought conditions persist, and many areas have not seen rain for as many as 95 days.

Longer, hotter fire seasons where extreme fire behavior has become the new norm, as well as increased development in forested areas, is dramatically driving up the cost of fighting fires and squeezing funding for the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service’s budget and is anticipated to rise to 67 percent in by 2025.

As the situation in the southeast demonstrates, the problem of shrinking budget capacity is felt across the U.S., not only in the western states. The health of our forests and landscapes are at risk across the nation, and the tree mortality crisis could be better addressed if not for the increasing percentage of the Forest Service budget going to fight wildfire. “We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country,” says Vilsack.

Forest Service scientists expect to see continued elevated levels of tree mortality during 2017 in dense forest stands, stands impacted by root diseases or other stress agents and in areas with higher levels of bark beetle activity.

Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the Forest Service’s web page Our Changing Forests.

INTERESTING RELATED SCIENCE ITEM: Large forest die-offs can have effects that ricochet to distant ecosystems

Dr. Steve Culberson Will Oversee Cooperative Ecological Investigations Among Multiple Agencies

From the Delta Stewardship Council:

Delta Stewardship Council new logoWe are pleased to announce the arrival of Dr. Steve Culberson as the new Lead Scientist of the Interagency Ecological Program. The Bay-Delta Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working closely with the Delta Stewardship Council to transition Steve from his former position as Senior Ecologist at the Service into his new role. He will be an essential member of the Delta science community and is housed at the Delta Stewardship Council, helping implement the vision of “One Delta, One Science.”

As a long-time participant in and user of IEP-related data collection and science, Steve is excited to deepen his involvement in the implementation of the IEP Science Agenda. He brings a researcher’s, science reviewer’s, field collector’s, and systems modeler’s perspective to the job, and relishes the opportunity to represent a robust Interagency Ecological Program capability for creating and enhancing our Bay-Delta science enterprise. As an estuarine ecologist with a landscape processes orientation, he is thrilled about contributing to an adaptable, modern ecosystem monitoring and research collective, in which IEP will play a prominent role.

The IEP is a consortium of state and federal agencies that have been conducting cooperative ecological investigations since the 1970s. Its mission is to provide and integrate relevant and timely ecological information for management of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the water that flows through it. This is accomplished through collaborative and scientifically sound monitoring, research, modeling, and synthesis efforts for various aspects of the aquatic ecosystem.

Weekly water and climate update:  Southeast U.S. drought impacts increasing in severity

From the USDA:

11-17-16-picture_originalThe Natural Resources Conservation Service produces this weekly report using data and products from the National Water and Climate Center and other agencies. The report focuses on seasonal snowpack, precipitation, temperature, and drought conditions in the U.S.

The current fire incident map from the National Interagency Fire Center Enterprise Geospatial Portal shows increasing active fires across the southeast U.S. State drought and emergency managers throughout the Southeast are providing information and measures to counteract impacts of drought, including fires, smoke affecting public health, agriculture drought and crop losses, critical water supplies, and other effects. Widespread emergency measures for fire and drought are in place across the region.

Click here for the report.

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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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