State Needs to be More Sustainable with Water

Releasing 56 Million Acre Feet Not Sustainable

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Following the critical seven-year drought, last winter, the rains came back and filled up the reservoir, but then rain and snow continue to come. Then what happens? More than 56 million acre feet of water had to be released, and it went straight to the ocean.

This past winter and early summer, farmers across California saw it as a great waste of water following that immense drought.

Keith Freitas is a lemon grower in Fresno County. He said the water releases were not in any way sustainable, and this is ironic because the State Water Resources Control Board has put up heavy regulation on farmers with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), soon to impact farmers throughout central California.

“We still had lots of water that we could have done more with, but it was kept from us, and so that’s another element of this,” Freitas said. “If you don’t have an infrastructure in place that could support a plan of sustainability, it’s almost like we’re going to send you to school, but you get no books. You get no pencils. You don’t have paper you. You get nothing to work with. No tools. The water resources control board is, in fact, crippling farmers.”

Freitas said the Water Resources Control Board is looking for an adaptation for the state of California that is not just for the parties that cooked up this false agenda of what’s sustainable and what’s not, but for those voting, to keep those votes in the hands of the people controlling the state and the people that control the state.

“They have made it plain and clear through SGMA that they could care less about how they get their source of food and fiber. They don’t care if it’s quality. They don’t care if it’s secure. They don’t care if it’s ongoing.”

“They could care less as far as they’re concerned. Let the world bring food to California, not California taking food to the world. So that’s a big, big dynamic that’s really changed his whole perspective,” Freitas said.

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California Farm Bureau Federation President Decries Water Diversion Plan

Science Shows Increased Water Flow Doesn’t Save Fish, Paul Wenger Says

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

California Ag Today is continuing our coverage of the State Water Resources Control Board’s plan to take 40 percent of the water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers to feed into the San Joaquin River to increase flows for salmon. There is major pushback by affected farmers. We spoke with Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, at their 98th annual meeting in Monterey this week. He farms almonds and walnuts in that area, and he and his family would be seriously impacted; they would be forced into more groundwater pumping.

president of the California Farm Bureau Federation
Paul Wenger, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“It just seems the same old adage,” Wenger said. “If we put more water in the rivers, it’s going to be better for the fish. We know that it hasn’t worked with biological opinions. We know it hasn’t worked in the Sacramento, it hasn’t worked in the delta. We need to go after some of these other predatory species: the striped bass. They’re an introduced species.”

Wenger said there’s a lot of data saying that just won’t work. “The studies have been done, the science is out there. Just to say that we’re going to keep adding water to the problem [and] we’re going to get a different result is ridiculous. We have a finite resource of water today. We have growing needs for it for urban [and] foreign environmental flows, but also for farming and manufacturing.”

Wenger believes that the Water Board always makes rules quickly are not invested in the outcome.

“As I tell the folks, you come up with the ideas, but you’re not invested. You’re investing my future. You’re investing my resources, and other farmers’, but when we have these environmental groups say, ‘This is a solution.’ Why don’t you put your money up?”

 

 

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Breaking News: Contracted Contractual Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Breaking News: 

Promised Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Delta Smelt Among Many Reasons for Pumping Constraints

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Farmers in the federal water districts of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted only five percent of their contracted water this year; yet they are at risk of getting even less due to pumping constraints. Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a Los Banos-based federal water district explained, “The original forecast had full pumping in June, July, August, and September.

“Because of the temperature constraints and because of the water quality standards,” Peltier stated, “we’ve been operating only one or two pumps. There’s just not enough water flowing south to meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) obligations to the exchange contractors, the [wildlife] refuges and the urban agencies, along with the 5% allocation to the ag services contractors,” he noted.

SLDMWAPeltier is concerned for those in the Central Valley, and water agencies are working frantically to find answers. “We’re working on it,” Peltier affirmed. “We’ve got a lot of engineers and operators preparing spreadsheets and analyzing both the variables and what changes could be made to avoid lower water levels at San Luis Reservoir.”

Commenting on this year’s deliveries, Peltier stated, “No doubt we’re in an unprecedented operating environment. Here we are, eight months into the water year, and we just got a temperature plan for Lake Shasta—that is driving the whole operation—the project. Limiting releases like they are in the temperature plan [designed keep the water cold to protect winter-run salmon eggs]at least we thoughtwould allow Reclamation to hold the commitments they made. But we’re on razor’s edge right now,” Peltier explained.

Peltier described how the process is holding up water release, “The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to keep as much water in storage as possible, in order to keep the cold water cool as long as they can. This is all to protect the winter-run salmon eggs that are in the gravel right now, protect them until the weather turns cool and things naturally cool down. Then they can release water. Shasta’s been effectively trumped by another million-acre feed because of this temperature plan.”

Peltier further noted that the Lake Shasta temperature plan has not allowed water to flow into the Sacramento River. It has severely impacted growers in Northern California on a year when the northern part of the state received above average rain and snowfall during the winter.

“People diverting off the river in the Sacramento Valley have had their own water level issues. There hasn’t been enough water coming down the river to get elevation enough adequate for their pumps. There’s been a lot of ground water pumping,” he said.

The nearly extinct Delta Smelt has been a longstanding issue for those affected by California’s drought. After the past five years of sacrifice, even more water is being taken from agriculture and cities to help save the fish from extinction.

“We’ve got the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wanting significant increases in delta outflow over the summer, supposedly for the benefit of delta smelt, another operational complexity that is sadly not based on any science that we could see. The agencies have their beliefs, and they have the power,” said Peltier.

Featured photo: Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.


California Ag Today will update readers on Bureau of Reclamation announcements about the 5% contracted water delivery federal water district growers were expecting.

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Recycled Water Project for Water Stability, Part 1

North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program: A New Water Source for Valley Farmers

Part One of a Five-Part Series

By Brian German, Associate Editor

Anthea Hansen, general manager of the Patterson, Calif.-based Del Puerto Water District, described the exciting work to bring more water stability in the form of recycled water to multiple Central Valley cities—in our five-part series on the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program (NVRRWP)

“After six and a half years of effort,” Hansen said, “we have fully completed all of our environmental documentation, and most of the permitting is in hand.” Recently, the partners have interviewed and selected the preferred firm to construct the Modesto component of the project, so that process is underway.”

cropped-cropped-SLDMWA200x200Logo101714NVRRWP is a collaborative partnership that includes the cities of Modesto, Turlock and Ceres along with the Del Puerto Water District and Stanislaus County to solve the region’s water supply and reliability problemsThe program will provide a new source of water for agricultural customers in the Del Puerto Water District (DPWD), whose supplies have been severely impacted by drought and by environmental restrictions on pumping water from the Delta. Hansen noted the collaboration was the largest obstacle they were able to overcome.

“One of the biggest things that happened recently, a day we were all looking forward to,” noted Hansen, “is when the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) executed the record of decision for our project, a document that supports not only the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation but also the signing of a long-term contract. It will allow us to convey and store the recycled water in federal facilities,” she said, “and it will also support the sharing of a portion of the water with the wildlife refugees south of the Delta. That was a big milestone for our project.”

The cities of Turlock and Modesto will provide treated, recycled water to the Del Puerto Water District through a direct pipeline into the Delta-Mendota Canal. The district will then distribute that water to the agricultural customers within its service area.

After so many years already invested in the project, Hansen is excited the plan is coming together. “We worked lockstep with Reclamation for over three years,” Hansen said, “and we did some very extensive and thorough analysis. We had a great team and a good working relationship, and it looks like we are nearing the end of assembling all of the different pieces of this very complicated puzzle.”

_______________________

Resources:

Del Puerto Water District

North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program Map

Recycled Water Uses Allowed in California 

The Citizen’s Guide to the National Environmental Policy Act

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority Member Agencies Map

_______________________

See also, “Recycled Wastewater Could Help Growers in Del Puerto Water District, June 9, 2015.

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Water Commission Meeting Delivers Passion and Controversy

Water Commission Meeting Delivers Passion and Controversy

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

 

The California drought has become a hot topic, and even more so is the subject of how to solve the drought. Some advocates believe the solution is in long-term water storage, and as a result, the California Water Commission (Commission) has been drawing up a proposal to enact this potential solution.

On Wednesday, Oct. 14 in Clovis, the Commission held a public meeting to discuss their Water Storage Investment Program.

Joe Del Bosque, a commissioner on the California Water Commission, as well as a Westside farmer struggling with the zero water allocations, summarized the meeting, “It was very lively, especially at the beginning. A lot of folks are hurting—and rightly so. They have a lot of uncertainties about next year or the year after, or for who knows how many years.

We don’t know when some of these storage projects will be completed and ready to start helping us. A lot of folks have a lot on the line here in the San Joaquin Valley, and I appreciate hearing from them and listening to their concerns.”

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, in his opening remarks, said the governor, the commission and the California State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) must realize what is driving the need for water storage. “We really need to look at the capacity to store water,” Patterson said. “If we have two river watersheds—both producing similar amounts of water, but one drops into a reservoir that’s half the size of the other, the water will overflow. And we know El Nino is coming, 95 percent.”

Many individuals spoke passionately about the plan during the comment period. Kings County Supervisor and walnut farmer, Doug Verboon, said, “We need storage. We’ve been complaining about it for years, and this is one chance in our lifetime to get more storage built. We need to get over our differences and get together and make this happen. We want to make sure the Water Commission fully understands the importance of adding more storage today.”

Another county supervisor, David Rogers, from Madera County, reminded the Commission that the need for water storage goes beyond reserving water for dry years.

“We’re losing our groundwater so rapidly that the soil is sinking beneath us and we have subsidence occurring,” Rogers said. “And all the while water is flowing out to the ocean from the San Joaquin river system when that water needs to be delegated and allocated to the farms that need it so they’re not pumping groundwater.

In reality we’re losing the river as a result of subsidence. The river, itself, is subsiding so it’s a moot issue whether or not we need surface water delivery. That has to happen. We cannot continue this way or we will lose the river, the communities and the farms. So there’s no question that Temperance Flat is the answer to that problem.”

During the meeting attendees learned that the Water Storage Improvement Plan includes a timeline that doesn’t allow for funds to be awarded to applicants wishing to build storage until 2017.

Greg Musson, president of GAR Tootelian, Inc., called the timeline unacceptable, adding the delay in the plan would lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. “I don’t see how anyone can accept this as being standard for the way that America works,” he said. “Shame on you! Really, shame on you! You have to do better here. America needs you to do better; I need you to do better; the people in this room need you to do better than this. This is outrageous.”

Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, spoke about the Joint Powers of Authority (JPA) that is being formed to apply for funding to build water storage. “We’re going to have to submit it as a large project,” Cunha said, “big storage—definitely Temperance Flat—plus all of these different irrigation districts, cities and tribes have projects that we’re going put together and submit in this large package. That’s the only way we’re going to get this money. Only then cab we start to deal with all the public benefits, environmental issues, and securing those dollars for this Valley.”

The California Water Commission consists of nine members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. Seven members are chosen for their general expertise related to the control, storage, and beneficial use of water and two are chosen for their knowledge of the environment. The Commission provides a public forum for discussing water issues, advises the Department of Water Resources (DWR), and takes appropriate statutory actions to further the development of policies that support integrated and sustainable water resource management and a healthy environment. Statutory duties include advising the Director of DWR, approving rules and regulations, and monitoring and reporting on the construction and operation of the State Water Project.

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We are being lied to!

Assembly Member Patterson Accuses NRDC and Governor’s Office of Bias

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

We are being lied to,” declared Jim Patterson, who represents the 23rd Assembly District in the California State Assembly since 2012, at his recent drought forum in Clovis.

“I have come to the conclusion there is a power structure led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the governor’s office and in the bureaucracies,” Patterson explained. “They are not telling us the truth. They do not abide by their own agreements, and they have a bias against the very water technology and the water systems that have made California a ‘Golden State’. They are biased against dams, reservoirs and conveyance, and every time I turn around, I find another example.”

Jim Patterson, California Assembly Member
Jim Patterson, California State Assembly Member

“We need to have regulatory relief from the State of California in order to build Temperance Flat (a proposed dam project on the San Joaquin River) and its conveyance systems and to build the improvements at Shasta Dam and Reservoir and at Sites Reservoir,” said Patterson.

“And yet,” he continued, “I know for a fact that we are not going to get that regulatory relief. Nevertheless, the governor and this legislature have given that very same regulatory relief to the Kings’ Basketball Stadium in Sacramento (Golden 1 Center) and to two big NFL football stadiums in the state.”

To build water saving and conveyance systems, Patterson expects to face a gauntlet of litigation from the NRDC. “Though we have tried over and over again, unsuccessfully, to get the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reformed,” he stated, “the Democrats will do it for basketball and football, but they won’t do it for water. That demonstrates to me they are absolutely disingenuous.”Map_of_proposed_Temperance_Flat_Dam_and_reservoir

“Secondly, we were promised money in this budget for the Central California InterConnect,” Patterson said. “Putting an interconnect between the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), best illustrated by the Kings River and San Joaquin River Watersheds in the Central Valley, and the state’s California State Water Project (SWP), exemplified by the San Luis Reservoir system, is critically important. We need to connect those projects so we have water conveyance alternatives to improve water reliability and to save us from the kinds of hard decisions that we’ve had to reach now—to starve a portion of the Valley. Because we can’t get water between the two systems, the situation is real and dire.”

“The governor promised those of us who negotiated the bond the budget would include appropriations for the InterConnect,” Patterson reported. There is no such thing. It doesn’t exist, and it didn’t show up in this budget. The governor didn’t come through on his promises.”

“I have tried repeatedly to talk with the water bureaucracies—appointees of the governor—and ask how I could help them understand the importance of giving us back the water,” Patterson commented. “For example, the water behind Shasta Dam right now has been paid for and banked by our farmers. I’ve asked repeatedly, ‘Why can’t we get the InterConnect funded? You promised us that you would do that.’ I’ve asked, ‘What is it going to take for you to understand the importance of storage in the San Joaquin River Watershed?’ It’s like talking to a wall; I get no answer.”

“So, I have had to come to the conclusion that we’re being misled, and it’s on purpose,” he said. “I just don’t believe this governor anymore. That’s a sad conclusion to have to come to, but I think we are seeing a ‘behind-the-scenes hand of power’ called the NRDC, that runs the governor’s office and the state legislature.

When asked what concerned citizens can do, Patterson answered, “Today we heard a lot of passion. I think we need to turn that passion into significant efforts, politically and organizationally. We have to make a real nuisance of ourselves to the governor and to the legislature until they pay attention to us. I have learned in public life, as mayor and now in the legislature, that those people who stand up and are persistent and persuasive get heard. We have got to continue to step up in ever-increasing numbers and be heard.”

Sign of drought Westlands Water District Turnout“We also have win some elections,” he emphasized. “We are under a one party-dictatorial rule right now. And I would be saying this even if Republicans were the party in rule. Our founders believed there should be separated powers in government and people in office from all walks of life. These kinds of checks and balances get us to good policy for most people, most of the time.”

“You can’t do that in a dictatorship,” Patterson explained, “and that’s really what we have—one party that has all the levels of power and is using them all against us in Central California. And we’re seeing the result of it.”

Patterson tells other members of the legislature on the committees he serves, “You are literally putting a bait fish that striped bass are eating, ahead of the lives and the wellbeing of people and their property, and you’re blaming us for it. The reality is you’re making a drought that is bad into a drought that is a nightmare.”

“If this were to be compared, for example, to a forest fire,” Patterson conjectured, “and the firefighters were told by the governor, ‘Stop trying to save lives and stop trying to save property; go make sure you save that tree over there because there’s a spotted owl in it,’ people would very quickly tell the governor where to go and what to do.”

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CVCWA Encourages Valley Residents to Join Chapter

Written By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Communications Manager

With the California Women for Agriculture recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, it’s no surprise that the Central Valley Chapter (CVCWA) is taking initiative to recruit new members.

“The CWA has been an integral part of my life,” said Central Valley Co-President Jane Bedrosian. “I may not have been present at the last Statewide Meeting in San Luis Obispo, but I saw renewed excitement about the CWA on the faces of the ladies who did get to go. I want to help share that excitement about agriculture with our friends and neighbors here in the Central Valley.”

The CWA is a statewide organization dedicated to bringing women together to “speak on behalf of agriculture in an intelligent, informative, direct and truthful manner.” Beginning in 1975, the CWA has been an instrumental organization in shedding positive light on what the agriculture industry is all about. From planning community events, speaking to politicians in Sacramento and promoting agriculture education – CWA members are determined to bridge the gap between agriculturalists and those removed from the industry.

“There is power in numbers,” said Central Valley Co-Presdient Marlene Miyasaki. “I believe that the stronger our presence is in our community, the easier it will be for us to inform others of the hard work necessary to provide food for the world.”

With 18 CWA chapters located throughout the state, there are ample opportunities for women to become advocates for agriculture within their communities. And the kindred spirit doesn’t end there; various statewide meetings are held annually, bringing together hundreds of CWA members from all over California.

The CVCWA has approximately 30 active members, but is looking to expand its membership. With issues like the California Drought and Immigration Reform currently taking the Central Valley by storm, agriculture literacy has never been more crucial.

The CVCWA is planning to make an appearance at the World Ag Expo in Tulare and Farm and Nutrition Day in Fresno; they are also currently working with Fresno County 4-H for other community events.

For more information about the CWA and its many chapters, click here.

 

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Early rains help range partially recover

By Ching Lee; Ag Alert

Late autumn and early winter storms that moved through the state have spurred greener pastures, improving grazing conditions on California rangelands, but ranchers say more rainfall is needed for them to begin rebuilding their herds.

“As far as grass growth, this is as good of a feed year as we’ve ever had this early in the season,” said Placer County cattle rancher Joe Fischer. “This early grass growth and early root establishment will really set us up to have a phenomenal feed year come spring if these rains continue.”

But he said he also prepared for additional drought by reducing the herd he manages by 20 percent last winter and leaving more residual feed on the ground in order to promote better grass growth this season.

Mild temperatures have also aided grass growth, Fischer said, but they don’t bode well for a healthy snowpack—sensors measure the Sierra Nevada snowpack at about half of average—and that will affect water supply for this summer where he has irrigated pasture. In addition, many springs are not yet flowing the way they should be, he added, noting that a lack of drinking water on one ranch prevented him from placing any cattle there in early fall, even though it had plenty of residual dry feed.

“I’m still fearful that we aren’t out of the woods yet when it comes to drought in California,” he said.

Despite his fears, Fischer said he’s “hopeful and optimistic that this is going to turn around for us” and that California ranchers will move toward reestablishing their herds, though their cattle numbers will remain conservative at first.

With last month’s deluge, Mariposa County rancher Clarence Borba said it appears he can start retaining some of his cattle, after being forced to cut his herd in half and to buy feed when there was nothing left to graze. Because he leases his ground, which receives no irrigation, Borba said his costs soared when he had to buy feed and pay rent on the land even when no grasses were growing.

“There were times when I didn’t know if we were going to make it through,” he said.

Borba said while he’s trying to build back his herd, he’s doing it slowly.

“Things are looking a lot brighter now than they were a few months ago, but our profit margin is pretty narrow, so you can’t make too many mistakes and spend too much money,” he said.

San Joaquin County rancher Diana Connolly said she sold about a quarter of her herd early last year and didn’t keep any replacement heifers, due to a lack of feed. Like many cattle ranchers around the state, she has had to buy plenty of hay during the last three years. Whether she will keep any replacements this year will depend on how the rest of the rainy season goes, she said, as she doesn’t have to make that decision until May, when she weans her calves.

Though she has filled her barns with hay, Connolly said if more rain does not come this season to improve pastures, “it won’t make any difference how much feed you have right now.” She recalled how the lack of precipitation last winter left ranchers scrambling, even though the fall began with some good moisture.

“The rains are good, but I think the whole cattle industry is still feeling the effects of the three-year drought,” she said.

One lesson that Sacramento County rancher Jim Vietheer said he has learned from the drought is to start buying crop insurance, with this year being the first time he’s signed up for it. He noted that federal disaster aid has allowed him to buy extra hay. Strong cattle prices have also allowed him to cull his herd more heavily than he normally would, so that he could reduce impact on his pastures.

He said even though recent rains “have helped our situation amazingly,” he fears it will be short-lived if the state does not continue to get more, periodic rainfall. For this reason, Vietheer said he’s going to remain conservative on his stocking rate on some of this leased properties, “in case it becomes another bad year.”

“I’m a lot happier, but you don’t want to count your chickens before they hatch,” he said.

For San Diego County rancher Jim Davis, his region has not gotten “significant amounts of rain” and it has “come very gently, with little runoff,” he said, but he also noted that “conditions are very much improved over what they were a month ago.”

He said his cattle will be on supplemental feed for another month and a half, but that is typical for this time of year. Being three hours away from the Imperial Valley, Davis said buying feed has not been a problem, and while the price of hay “is never low enough,” at least there’s an adequate supply.

But for now, he said he will try to maintain his herd at the current level.

“I’d like to see another year of good moisture before we start rebuilding,” he added.

Riverside County rancher Bud Wellman said his herd size has not bounced back because a fire two years ago destroyed much of his summer range, which is on forestland, and the U.S. Forest Service so far has not allowed grazing to resume.

“Right now is when the cattle would do the most good,” Wellman said, adding that cattle grazing would restore the forest ground so that water could penetrate it rather than causing floods.

What has helped him, he said, is that the Girl Scouts of Orange County has allowed his herd to graze its campgrounds for weed abatement and fire prevention.

While his summer range in the mountains has improved with the recent storms, Wellman said where he’s hurting is on his winter range, south of Palm Springs. He has not been able to place his cattle there because many of the springs and creeks cattle use for drinking water are still dry, and what rainfall the region received has not been enough to get them flowing.

“The water situation on the desert side is still very critical,” he said. “If we could get those streams and springs back, we’d be in good shape.”

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Storm flows lead to challenges for water system

By Kate Campbell; Ag Alert

After enduring three of the driest years in state history, nothing could be more heartening to farmers and ranchers than the steady march of Pacific storms that reached California this month. But good news is tempered by the knowledge that a few strong downpours don’t translate into full reservoirs and abundant supplies — and the storms revived concern about how state and federal water systems manage storm flows in a drought year.

The state’s reservoirs stand at about 57 percent of average, slightly below this time a year ago and well below full capacity.

“We’ve had years past where rain and snow didn’t continue into the New Year,” said State Climatologist Mike Anderson, pointing to the moisture cutoff last January that assured shortages for farmers who rely on surface water deliveries from the state and federal water projects.

“So far this year, precipitation levels depend on where you are—north of a Bay Area-Tahoe line, precipitation is above average, but in the south, levels are actually below average,” Anderson said. “In addition, there’s also below-average snowpack across the entire Sierra Nevada.”

He said most of the storms so far this water year, which began Oct. 1, have been warm, meaning snow accumulations aren’t building the way water managers hope. Sierra snowpack currently is about 50 percent of average, he said.

While December storms dropped significant precipitation, the California Farm Water Coalition noted last week that many of the state’s agricultural customers in the federal Central Valley Project worry that this year’s zero deliveries of surface water will be repeated in 2015.

“In the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water were in the system at the same time delta pumps were almost completely shut down,” coalition Executive Director Mike Wade said.

As these storms have come in, Wade said the water storage situation is similar to what was seen a year ago—except the state’s reservoirs are now lower.

“It’s very frustrating to watch water flowing through the system without being captured,” he said. “We have constraints in the delta that hold down the amount of water we catch to the bare minimum because of protections for delta smelt.”

During the height of the stormwater pulse moving through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta last week, he said, less than 10 percent of the surge was captured for storage and use next summer.

The state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said last week they are experimenting with pumping reductions to prevent a “turbidity bridge” from occurring in the central and south delta. Delta smelt are attracted to turbid, or cloudy, water because it makes the tiny organisms it feeds on more visible and provides shelter from potential predators, such as non-native bass.

DWR described the strategy this way: “Forgoing the capture of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water may allow water project operators to avoid the loss of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water supply later in the winter.”

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, Erin Curtis, said the storms present challenges in operating the system “to balance the critical need to quickly increase water supplies south of the delta while being cautious to not trigger environmental restrictions that could constrain delta operations and ultimately reduce the overall supplies.”

Representatives of agricultural water users said they’ll be closely watching the results of the operational change.

“It will be interesting to see if this is a worthwhile new operating principle at the beginning of each season,” said Chris Scheuring, an environmental attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “The downside is that it might turn out to be a waste of water.”

“Clearly there is risk associated with a decision like this,” Wade said. “We hope the risk pays off.”

Fresno County farmer Dan Errotabere said due to the “turbidity bridge” theory and the lack of water transfer from the delta into storage, there’s serious concern about water supply management on the part of San Joaquin Valley farmers who rely on the state and federal projects for water deliveries during the growing season.

“Managing water during a drought is critical,” Errotabere said, noting that he fallowed 1,200 acres this year. “We’re losing opportunities now and, if the available supplies aren’t managed to capture available water to the fullest extent, we may not see a water allocation for the next crop year.”

He said he’s grateful for recent rainfall that helped reduce the need for irrigation of his winter garlic and wheat crops. The rain also helps leach salt, which has built up in the soil due to the region’s widespread use of drip irrigation and saltier groundwater.

“We’ve got to get off the groundwater because of its lower quality,” said Errotabere, who is vice chairman of the CFBF Water Advisory Committee, “and we need legislation to make sure good-quality irrigation water is put into storage. The rainy days are slipping away and we may find there’s no more available water to capture.”

Vince Dykzeul, a diversified grower from Modesto, urged creation of new water storage to help water managers respond to the ebb and flow of storms.

“If it’s true the climate is changing,” Dykzeul said, “if we’re going to have larger storms and longer droughts, then we need more water in storage to respond to these changing conditions. Water storage increases system flexibility and, if done right, everybody wins from having more water available.”

He noted that his farming operation is particularly vulnerable to flooding.

“Without adequate infrastructure to control storm waters, that’s when we have trouble,” Dykzeul said. “Nobody wants to talk about managing flood while managing through a drought, but I know the benefit of keeping both sides of the coin in mind.”

Federal weather forecasters said last week they expect continued average to above-average rainfall across California during the next three months, predicting an easing—but not an end—to the severe drought of the past several years. There’s also a 65 percent chance of weak El Niño conditions developing in the Pacific Ocean, which could influence winter precipitation, although experts say “anomalies” in climate patterns create forecast uncertainties.

“It’s not likely the drought will be broken this year,” said Steve Baxter, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster. “But it’s likely (California drought) conditions will improve.”

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Fingerprint of climate change on California drought

Source: Angela Fritz; The Washington Post 

Researchers studying the fingerprint of human-caused climate change on extreme weather events in 2013 have found that it played a role in half of the events that they looked at, including the California drought and extreme heat events.

Climate change attribution — figuring out what role climate change is playing in our weather events — is a very difficult science. There are so many moving parts: ground-level weather conditions, large-scale atmospheric patterns, and global teleconnections, like El Nino, that influence weather worldwide. And a changing climate can influence all of them (or none of them) in any given moment.

Nonetheless, given how costly weather disasters have become, the question of how extreme events could be changing is possibly the most important question to ask in climate change. So each year, scientists take a look back at the way change change could have impacted a few notable extreme events, and publish their findings in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

One study in the report, which was released on Monday, concluded that “global warming has very likely increased the probability” of the large-scale atmospheric patterns that have played a role the current, historic California drought – a strong, persistent ridge of high pressure over the western U.S. has essentially blocked the region from being impacted by storms coming off the Pacific.

That ridging pattern, which lead to few precipitation events, was made more likely by the presence of human greenhouse gas emissions, the study says.

Two other studies that dug in to similar aspects of California drought were less eager to point the finger at human-caused climate change.  Both studies looked at the role of warm ocean waters in the Pacific, and its relationship to California precipitation. While warm sea surface temperatures in the northeast Pacific would cause the dry ridging pattern over the western U.S., it would also act to cause heavier precipitation events over California by increasing the humidity.

While that’s not the outcome California saw in 2013 and the beginning of 2014, scientists say its enough of a question mark to remain uncertain on whether or not this event would have occurred without global warming.

However, it’s important to note that these studies looked at very specific, individual factors of the drought. California could be looking at its warmest year on record in 2014, but heat — which has a much more clear link with climate change, and acts to intensify and prolong a drought – was not considered in any of the studies looking at the California dry spell.

While drought remains somewhat of a question mark, scientists are most confident that the risk of 2013′s extreme heat events was made larger by human-caused climate change. All of the studies that looked at the extremely hot summers or heat waves around the globe concluded that climate change played some role in dialing up the temperature.

Australia, in particular, was severely impacted by heat extremes in the southern hemisphere summer of 2012-2013. The year was the hottest on record for the country, and subjected Australians to numerous heat waves and a drought that cost the government approximately $300 million USD. All of the studies that examined Australia’s summer temperatures found that climate change played a significant role in the heat, with one study even concluding that it has increased the risk of the event by two to three-fold.

“The results from the Australia studies are rather striking,” said Peter Stott of the Met Office Hadley Center in the U.K., and an editor in the report compilation in a press briefing. “It’s almost impossible, it’s very hard to imagine, those temperatures in a world without climate change.”

Hot summers and heat waves in New Zealand, Korea, China, and Japan were also examined, and determined to be influenced by climate change, and one group suggested that the Korea summer heat wave was made 10 times more likely by human-driven climate change.

The link between heavy precipitation events and human-caused climate change in 2013 appear to be more ambiguous.

Researchers who looked at the extreme precipitation events of 2013 found varying results — two studies found that human-caused climate change increased the likelihood of heavy precipitation events in the U.S. and India, while another two found no discernible link between the extreme precipitation events in Europe and climate change. One study, which addressed the extreme flooding event in Colorado in September 2013, found that the probability of such an event has even decreased in climate change.

Unsurprisingly, scientists found that the occurrence of cold waves — long periods of abnormally cold weather — have become much less likely in the presence of global warming. In particular, scientists looked at the extremely cold winter of 2013 in the U.K., finding that the probability of that event has dropped 30-fold.

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