California Water Report

by Jamie Lee, March 5, 2014

The Federal government just released their first assessment for water allocations for the coming year in California after the driest year on record since they kept records 118 years ago. The news is historical and breaks a 54 year contractual agreement with state water suppliers..

“The US Bureau of Reclamation released its first outlook of the year and finds insufficient stock is available in California to release irrigation water for farmers. This is the first time in the 54 year history of the State Water Project. “If it’s not there, it’s just not there,” notes a Water Authority director adding that it’s going to be tough to find enough water, but farmers are hit hardest as “they’re all on pins and needles trying to figure out how they’re going to get through this.”

From the Associated Press,

Federal officials announced Friday that many California farmers caught in the state’s drought can expect to receive no irrigation water this year from a vast system of rivers, canals and reservoirs interlacing the state.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its first outlook of the year, saying that the agency will continue to monitor rain and snow fall, but the grim levels so far prove that the state is in the throes of one of its driest periods in recorded history.

Unless the year turns wet, many farmers can expect to receive no water from the federally run Central Valley Project.

… the state’s snowpack is at 29 percent of average for this time of year.

California officials who manage the State Water Project, the state’s other major water system, have already said they won’t be releasing any water for farmers, marking a first in its 54-year history.

Farmers are hit hardest, but they’re not alone. Contractors that provide cities with water can expect to receive half of their usual amount, the Bureau said, and wildlife refuges that need water flows in rivers to protect endangered fish will receive 40 percent of their contracted supply.

Contractors that provide farmers with water and hold historic agreements giving them senior rights will receive 40 percent of their normal supplies. Some contracts date back over a century and guarantee that farmers will receive at least 75 percent of their water.

One of those is the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority in Los Banos that provides irrigation for 240,000 acres of farmland.

The Water Authority’s executive director Steve Chedester said farmers he serves understand that the reality of California’s drought means it’s going to be tough to find enough water for them. “They’re taking a very practical approach,” he said. “If it’s not there, it’s just not there.”

For the State of California, most in the state are critically dependent on what water comes off the Sierra and as noted above there will not be very much water to allocate as described in a recent article by Kurtis Alexader in the SF Chronicle on Feb. 28, 2014:

“The snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – normally provides about a third of the water used by cities and farms as it melts into streams and reservoirs in spring and early summer.

California’s major reservoirs, mostly bereft of both snow and rain this winter as the drought pushes through its third year, are dangerously low.

Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s (SWP) principal reservoir, is at only 39 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity (57 percent of its historical average for the date). Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the federal Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 38 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity capacity (52 percent of its historical average). San Luis Reservoir, a critical south-of-Delta reservoir for both the SWP and CVP, is at a mere 33 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity (39 percent of average for this time of year).

With no end to the drought in sight, DWR on January 31 set its allocation of State Water Project water at zero. The only previous zero percent allocation (water delivery estimate) was for agriculture in the drought year of 1991, but cities that year received 30 percent of requested amounts. This is the first time the allocation has been set at zero across the board.

Despite the “zero” allocation, water essential for health and safety will still be delivered. And nearly all people and areas served by the State Water Project also have other sources of water, but most of these also are stressed by three successive dry years.

Deliveries will be boosted if storms produce enough rain and snow to boost reservoir storage and the snowpack. “Every report I’ve seen says we need another 40 days and 40 nights of rain or whatever to make any difference,” said Daniel Sumner, who as director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center in Davis is closely watching water supplies. “Every drop is helpful, but we need a lot more.”

The Department of Water Resources’ snowpack measurement is a benchmark for state and federal officials who determine how much water California’s networks of reservoirs and canals will deliver to communities and farms.

At the Phillips Station off Highway 50 near Echo Summit, surveyors measured 8.1 inches of water in the frozen snow Thursday, just a third of what the site averages at this time of year. It was the same story at other weather stations.

Two business days after the stunning announcement from Federal water authorities as to California’s dire water supply forecast, a double secret, need-to-know-only, “listening” meeting was held between limousine liberals from Sacramento and 100 mostly public officials of Mendocino County, as chronicled by Will Parish in last week’s AVA. This was followed two days later by the Russian River Water District informing the residents of Ukiah their water allotments were going to be cut by 50% starting next month.

The district holds Mendocino County's right to 8,000 acre feet of water in Lake Mendocino. It sells that water to seven municipal water districts and about 40 farmers. It's up to the individual water districts to implement water saving measures.

The district also voted Monday night to entirely cut off Redwood Valley, which is only allowed to purchase surplus water because it is not within the Russian River district's boundaries. Until now, Redwood Valley had a contract to use up to 1,300 acre feet of water. There is no surplus water to sell, the board agreed. Redwood Valley is expected to be able to purchase water from Sonoma County, which owns a majority of the rights to Lake Mendocino water.

Redwood Valley residents are suddenly scrambling to kick-start their dormant decade old wells that were put out of use when they hooked up a water pipeline to Lake Mendocino.

No mention was made by county or state officials regarding cuts to larger corporate business or government water use.

Meanwhile, farmers across the state are screaming for Governor Jerry Brown to halt the water shipments to California frackers and give the precious water coming off the mountains to the central valley farmers instead.

Fracking is a process of pumping massive amounts of chemicals and water into miles deep wells to force pockets of natural gas to the surface to be controlled and piped for our domestic use and to sell to global energy suppliers. Our federal and state governments have declared the US to be the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas” going forward and that because of fracking we have all been told, the US is heading towards “energy independence”. Yet at what cost?

Each fracking well uses 13 million gallons on average of potable water. Out-of-state fracking corporations have recently been outbidding central valley farmers 3-to-1 on water rights. The fracking industry also pays Governor Brown with out of state campaign donations to keep the water spigots full throttle open for fracking at the direct expense of our food growers in California.

The reason there is such pressure on the frackers to keep producing in the state is due to the Eastern half of the United States being in a perpetual storm and frozen over all winter. The cold storms after storms have put a big kibosh on anticipated fracking production goals estimates made last year by government officials. This is also why natural gas prices have rocketed up over 60% in just the past three months and natural gas shortages have been reported in the East and Midwest

Fracking operations are due to legally enter Mendocino County in 2015 as part of a 45- year overall fracking plan for California.

* * *

At the end of January of this year, Willits, Cloverdale, Sebastopol and 12 other communities in Northern California were put on a 100 day water supply watch list by the State Water Agency. This meant that in 100 days the water agency was estimating these communities would run dry. No mas agua.

On the Mendocino coast residents are water conservationists by default due to already low water tables in the area. They will need to continue to do so to attract the summer tourista business as reports of wells running dry in February are already being reported in their area.

In Anderson Valley, unconfirmed rumors are going around the valley about the Anderson Valley Brewery having to replace some of their high efficiency Grunfos well pumps due to continual override resetting to suck up low level water from to keep up with the beer making operations.

Next week: State of the Farm report for Anderson Valley.

Please join all for a community conversation about water conservation on Sunday, March 16 @ 4 p.m. at the Philo Grange.

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