A Call for Common Sense Water Management

California Water Management Dilemma

By Lawrence H. Easterling, Jr.

Larry Easterling
Larry Easterling makes a comment at a recent pistachio growers meeting.

We are witnessing the dismantling of the California water conveyance system that supplies drinking water for 25 million California residents and four million acres of prime farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.

Our water resources are being “Withheld” from the very people of this state who have shown what “Free Enterprise” can do not only for the well-being of all in California, but the entire nation. Unfortunately, several major environmental groups and complacent politicians are killing the freedoms that have been the bulwark of success in California. Let me explain.

Water is our most valuable renewable resource and Mother Nature gives it to California in copious amounts during most years. What we do with that water—water management—is critical to the future of the Golden State.

On average, 200.0 million acre-feet of water a year blankets our state. One acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water. Of that precipitation, 75% originates north of the Sacramento River. The other 25% falls in central and southern California.

The water that is not manageable by us is 120.0 million acre-feet. Some of it evaporates, but most of it settles into the ground, fills lakes, and what remains heads for the Pacific Ocean. The balance of the water is called “directable” surface water (80,000,000 acre-feet) and this is where we have the opportunity to put it to its best and proper use.

By 2005, according to the Department of Water Resources, 48% of that directable water went to the environment, 41% to agriculture and the remaining 11% to rural areas. This balance of such a precious resource seemed at the time to be equitable to all parties, thanks to the ingenuity of our forefathers in the 20th century. Their foresight gave us a water conveyance system second to none in the entire world.

 

California’s water conveyance system had four major objectives:

  1. To provide reliable water deliveries to 25 million people to avoid water shortages that would otherwise exist and continually plague two-thirds of the California population.
  2. To support four million acres in central California of what the National Geographic Magazine proclaimed to be the most productive farmland in the world.
  3. To reinforce our natural environment.
  4. To recharge our groundwater supplies.

Some distinctions should be made here as to how much directable water we are actually concerned about. At full capacity, the two California water conveyance systems—the State Water Project (SWP) and the federal Central Valley Project (CVP)—deliver water from northern California to southern and central California. Each system, the CVP and the SWP, has the capacity to each deliver 4.0 million acre-feet water each year. However, this water delivery capacity has never been tested. The record shows that in the years prior to 2005, the average total delivery COMBINED for both projects was 5.4 million acre-feet per year. The ultimate users of this water went to agriculture (60%) and the rural population (40%).

The volume of water available, on average, from the Sacramento River, including the San Joaquin River, is 30.3 million acre-feet. It is from this volume of water that the 5.4 million acre-feet are sent south.

In 2007, several environmental organizations led by Natural Resources Defense Council took the Department of Water Resources to court to compel the court to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court ruling to enforce this law declared that the giant water export pumps that raise the water from the Delta into the California Aqueduct were cut back because it was suspect that the pumps were killing too many delta smelt, an endangered species.

Even in flood years restricted pumping has reduced the water flow to a fraction of the contracted normal flow. Henceforth, since 2007, our water deliveries to urban and agricultural areas have been severely compromised.

The enforcement of these laws is now negating the four major functions of the giant California water conveyance system outlined with the possible exception of the natural environment. Now mind you, this water comes from northern California where 75% of the rain in California falls, averaging over 50 inches a year. Central and southern California “average” less than 15 inches a year.

During the seven years from 2007 through 2014, average deliveries to farms have been reduced to less than one acre-foot per year. Most agricultural crops require 3 ½ acre-feet of water per year. Today, without recourse, these farms are left with barely enough water to keep their plants alive. As for the hardship visited upon 25 million consumers, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in southern California is a good example.

The MWD services 19 million accounts, and prior to 2007, was receiving 40% of its water from the SWP. That water source has now only been able to supply approximately 10% of their needs. Consequently, due to seeking other sources to replace their water losses, rate increases to their customers over the years 2007 to 2014 have doubled. On top of all these setbacks, Mother Nature now has shown us her own drought versus our manufactured water crisis. All the way through this synthetic drought, the average rate of precipitation at the source of our water in northern California has been 45 inches each year.

In order to survive, those of us who must have an adequate supply of water to sustain us have been forced to pump more groundwater and/or purchase water from farmers who idle farmland and transfer their water to areas severely threatened with water shortages. For some of those lucky enough to find water for sale, the cost of water has become a severe financial burden. Where farms in the Central Valley were, prior to 2007, paying just under $100 per acre-foot, today if a willing seller can be found, the price can range anywhere from $1,000 to over $2,000 per acre-foot. In many such cases, water costs can exceed all other cultural costs combined. Likewise, the aquifer has dropped every year since 2007 due to frantic attempts by farmers to supplement the critical loss of surface water.

 

WHAT MUST BE DONE:

The effects of water deprivation over an eight-year period by a man-made drought capped by one of nature’s real droughts, is wrecking havoc with the nation’s food supply. The state of California is now in the grips of the Law of Diminishing Returns and is incapable of averting a disaster due to environmental regulations. Consequently, this country’s NATIONAL SECURITY is being compromised. CONGRESS MUST ACT NOW before further damage is done. These actions need to be taken:

1. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) must be excluded from jurisdiction over the pumps, which move northern water to central and southern California. The pumps are presently operating at about 15% of their capacity. This measure should be permanent and under the management of the Department of Water Resources (DWR).

2. The Endangered Species Act needs to be revised in order to “protect all species”, including humans, from collateral damage due to methods employed to save one species that results in severe damage to other species. This would be implemented through a biological opinion that would INCLUDE a list of all species that would be adversely affected by the METHOD employed to protect one specific species. This measure would make right just one of the irregularities in this flawed law, which attracts litigation like bees to honey. The law does not need to be struck down, simply rewritten to safeguard “all” species, including human beings.

3. California’s magnificent water distribution and conveyance system has no peer in this world. It is a remarkable feat of engineering admired by those who have come from far and near to marvel at its accomplishment. Yet, by environmental fiat, it has been reduced to a token of its capabilities. “Directable” water in California originally ceded one-third of its 80,000,000 acre-feet to the environment.

Today, according to the DWR, the environment now takes, not one-third, but 50% of the direct able water, leaving the rest to urban and farming communities. This is not what the original framers envisioned, but under the DWR, its control has been gradually diluted by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and one of its extensions known as the STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD (SWRCB). THIS FIVE PERSON-BOARD IS STAFFED WITH ENVIRONMENTALISTS, such as their chairwoman, Felicia Marcos, a Governor Brown-appointee, whose professional background includes eight years with the EPA and five years with the radical Natural Resources Defense Council.

The influence of these federal agencies, backed by political power brokers’ lobbyists, has tilted the water distribution of surface water away from its original intended users. In essence, the environmentalists now control California’s surface water; and now, with the passage of the recent 7.5 billion dollar Water Bond, they will control our groundwater as well. If the water agencies do not perform with the desired results, the bottom-line is that final control will go to the SWRCB.

The ship of state now needs to be righted; it is drifting far off course. First of all, the EPA must be brought to heel. For a federal agency, it exerts far too much power. And, in so doing, has completely distorted California’s surface water delivery system. Next, the SWRCB must either be eliminated with FULL CONTROL restored to the Department of Water Resources, or completely reorganized as an ADVISORY BOARD to the DWR where ALL recipients of the surface water system would be represented. A ten-board membership might be in order, with a director and the nine remaining seats divided into three equal parts by experienced personnel in agriculture, city water management, and the environment, i.e., three persons from each classification and residents of northern, central and southern California.

4. Finally, one in every ten workers in California is either directly, or indirectly dependent upon the health of our vast agricultural industry.

It is time to step forward and reveal, with facts and figures, the house of cards that water management in this state has become. Likewise, those 25 million people in southern California, such as the MWD’s 19 million users who once got 40% of their water from the giant conveyance system, deserve to get that water back.

With years of a man-made drought compounded by a natural drought now in the eighth year, there is ample information available through various farm county records to quantify in lost dollars the cumulative effect of, (1) lost production due to forced fallowing of land, (2) water costs that are now ten times what they were prior to 2007, and (3) the heavy burden economically of converting hardworking farm labor to the welfare roles where some Central Valley towns are now approaching 50% unemployment. Combined, these costs will be in the billions of dollars, bloating further our California deficit.

The goal of society has always been to improve the human condition and for one generation to leave a better world for the next. The visionaries of the 20th century got it right. They delivered in spades to us, the beneficiaries, a modern miracle. It is a water conveyance system like none other to serve all the people of California. Where are those visionaries now? Rather than embrace the gifts of a reliable source of precious water, they proceed to dismantle the entire system. It is because of the system that California feeds the nation. This is not just a California crisis. It is one that will affect the entire nation. Look upon it as a national security threat and demand that our leaders do what is right for the vast majority of this country’s people.

 Lawrence H. Easterling, Jr. Administrator, Kettleman Pistachio Growers and Director, American Pistachio Growers

 

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Westlands Water District Corrects LA Times Errors with Full Page Ad

LA Times Wrongly  Attacks Westlands and Refuses OP ED Correction

The Los Angeles Times recently published an intensely critical article about Westlands Water District, which recited many of the false, misleading, or outdated claims made by some of our critics over the years. The Times’ editors refused to print an Op-Ed that the District offered in response. And so the District has taken out a full-page advertisement in the Times TODAY to provide readers with a better understanding of the issues facing Westlands and how we are addressing them. A copy of the advertisement is attached.

I wanted to let you know immediately about this action.

Tom Birmingham

General Manager of Westlands Water District

Westlands’ LA Times Ad

A Little Straight Talk About Agriculture,Saving Water and Drainage

Statement from Don Peracchi, President of Westlands Water District

Westlands
Source: Westlands Water District (wwd.ca.gov)

As the largest public irrigation district in the United States, Westlands Water District draws a lot of attention as well as the criticism that sometimes comes with its successes. This year, one of its most persistent critics, George Miller, is retiring after 40 years in Congress, and to mark the occasion, the Times’ recently unpacked a trunkload of his oft-repeated complaints and concerns about the District.

Some parts of this catalog identify serious issues that were long ago resolved. Others involve legitimate problems which we are still trying to address. And, like many things involving California water, a few are pure, political invention.

The article’s fundamental charge is that Westlands is simply “in the wrong place.” One might make the same complaint about dredging natural marshes in California’s Delta to grow crops in the middle of a saline estuary. Or attack the folly of installing vast farms on the desert lands of the Coachella and Imperial valleys. Or stranger still, decry building a great city on the arid plain where Los Angeles now stands. The point is, these endeavors and dozens more helped to create the prosperity of California by linking our communities together with a modern water system.

The reality is that Westlands is in the ideal place. Indeed, the Central Valley of California occupies the only Mediterranean climate in North America. Weather conditions, rich soils, and the arrival of water in the mid-1960s, have transformed the area into the most productive farming region in America. The communities that have grown there as a result, the thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend upon agricultural productivity, are not “in the wrong place.” They are at home.

The most persistent criticism of Westlands’ role in this transformation has to do with the influence of “corporate agriculture.” That may remain a concern for some parts of California, but not in Westlands or any of the other farming region served by the federal Central Valley Project. When Westlands was created in 1952, major industrial interests, including Standard Oil of California and Southern Pacific Railroad, did indeed own large tracts of land within its water service area.

But that ended in 1982 with the passage of Congressman Miller’s Reclamation Reform Act. That act redefined the qualifications for receiving water from a federal reclamation project; as a result, large corporate entities sold out, the large tracts were broken up, and today in Westlands there are nearly 2,250 landowners and the average farm size is 710 acres. “Corporate agriculture” has lost its meaning. Any corporate structure for today’s family farmers in Westlands is likely to have a mom as its vice president and her child as its treasurer.

Water use remains a constant concern for our farmers. That’s why farmers in Westlands have invested more than $1 billion in water saving techniques and technology. Indeed, even Westlands’ harshest critics have acknowledged that the men and women who today farm in Westlands are among the most efficient users of irrigation water in the world. Westlands is a leader in water conservation, and agricultural experts from all over the world come to the District to learn how its farmers are able to accomplish so much with the limited, and often uncertain, water supplies they have to work with.

Our interest in water use efficiency has become even more important in the 22 years since Congressman Miller’s Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and a host of new regulatory restrictions redirected more than a third of the water that cities and farms used to receive from the federal project, dedicating it instead to serve a wide range of new environmental purposes. Today, on an annual basis, the federal project manages more than 1.5 million acre-feet of water for fishery flow, waterfowl habitat, to protect listed species, and other environmental uses.

In hopes of restoring reliability to the water system as a whole, Westlands is working with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and other public water agencies throughout the state to support Governor Brown‘s Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Drainage was a major issue on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley for decades before Westlands’ creation. That is why when Congress authorized the construction of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, it mandated that the Bureau of Reclamation provide Westlands with both a water supply and a drainage system. Initially federal officials planned to dispose of the drain water in the Delta. But Congress stopped that project when the drain being built by Reclamation reached Kesterson, and it was Washington as well that decided to designate this new terminus for agricultural waste as a wildlife refuge.

The resulting biological catastrophe should have been predictable. In the years since, the drainage system in Westlands has been plugged, and not a drop of drain water has left Westlands after 1986. Instead, Westlands has helped to fund the development of new methods for recycling drain water. And it has taken nearly 100,000 acres of the most vulnerable farmland out of production. Some of those lands are being converted to solar power development, with the support of numerous environmental organizations.

The drainage problem, however, persists. Federal courts, including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, have repeatedly ordered that federal officials fulfill their obligation to provide drainage. But even though Westlands farmers pay every year for drainage service, the government has done nothing to resolve the problem in Westlands. And the government is facing a mandatory injunction, which it estimates will cost more than $2.7 billion to satisfy.

To avoid that cost, the government approached Westlands to assume the responsibility to manage drainage water within its boundaries. In addition, Westlands would compensate those landowners who have been damaged by the government’s failure to act. As part of a settlement, which is not yet final, Westlands would receive some financial consideration, albeit significantly less than the cost of performing the obligations that Westlands would assume. But there is nothing secret about either the negotiations or the proposed settlement. In fact, federal officials and Westlands have briefed interested Members of Congress and non-governmental organizations on the proposal. And there is no process that is more public than the process that federal officials and Westlands will have to pursue to obtain the congressional authorization needed to implement the proposed settlement.

We remain hopeful that these ideas can still form the basis for a long-term resolution of the drainage debate. This would put an end to more than fifty years of litigation, relieve the federal taxpayers of a substantial obligation, and enable us to move forward with an environmentally sustainable approach to the problem.

Whether that happy outcome would also put an end to the criticism of Westlands, however, is not for us to say.

Don Peracchi was born in Fresno, California to second generation Northern Italian immigrants. His family has lived and worked in Central California over 100 years. He has been farming since 1982 alongside his wife, two sons and daughter in Westlands. He has been involved in career-related board positions including banking, insurance, agriculture and water. He currently is the Board
President of Westlands Water District.

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Metropolitan Water District Brings California to Life to Deliver Water-Saving Message in Response to Drought

California comes to life in a series of television advertisements by the Metropolitan Water District that began airing today on stations throughout the Southland promoting the need to protect the state and its future by saving water during the historic, ongoing drought.

Scheduled to run over the next 12 weeks, the 30-second television spots personifying California are the latest additions to Metropolitan’s multi-pronged public outreach and advertising campaign created in cooperation with the district’s 26 member public agencies.

The comprehensive campaign includes the 30-second television spots, 60-second radio advertisements and traffic report sponsorship, as well as online and mobile ads throughout the district’s six-county service area through Oct. 30.

“We’re building a broad outreach campaign that reinforces to Southern Californians just how serious the drought is,” said Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger.

“Southland consumers and businesses have certainly made significant improvements in using water more efficiently over the past 20 years, for which we thank them. This drought, however, compels all of us to take water conservation to the next level by incorporating permanent changes to ensure we use water—particularly outdoors, where up to 70 percent of water is used,” Kightlinger said.

Dubbed the “Don’t Waste Another Minute Wasting Water” campaign, the television ads will air on Los Angeles and San Diego area stations through Sept. 28. The spots join radio advertisements and traffic report sponsorships on English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean stations.

The two new television spots present California as a golden-colored, full-bodied mascot in the shape of the state. In one spot, she’s dismayed and discouraged as people waste water in and around their homes before easy and practical water-saving practices are embraced, showing love for California. The second ad features a man proclaiming all he’s prepared to do to save water and save his relationship with California.

“This campaign taps into people’s love for California and our lifestyle,” said Renee Fraser, chief executive officer of Fraser Communications, which created the campaign for Metropolitan.

“Knowing that people are already conserving, we found a way to move people into a higher level of conserving, like replacing a section of their lawn with California Friendly® plants,” Fraser added. “This campaign promotes the idea of being California Friendly as a way of life.”

The ad buy is part of $5.5 million authorized by Metropolitan’s Board of Directors in March for a regional communications, outreach and advertising campaign aimed at promoting greater water awareness and encouraging additional conservation.

Along with the television and radio spots, Metropolitan’s water-saving message will be the focus of specialized “Water Wise Wednesdays” segments offering conservation tips on television and radio stations as well as on-line advertising. The campaign also will feature focused billboard and movie theater advertising.

In addition, in a parallel education effort, Metropolitan will use the tagline “Water is Serious Business” to deliver more complex messages, using long-form formats to delve into related water reliability issues.

More information on water-saving tips and rebates for conservation devices is available at www.bewaterwise.com

California water bond: The burning questions

Source: Jeremy B. White; The Sacramento Bee

Having passed an on-time budget and concluded their committee hearings, California lawmakers have escaped Sacramento for a few weeks and retired to their districts for a July recess. When they return, much of the remaining legislative session will be devoted to trying to get a new water bond on the November ballot.

Water policy remains one of the most complex and potent topics to engulf the state Capitol. Here are some answers to the key questions in the water bond debate:

What happened to the other water bond they passed?

In the dwindling days of the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger compromised on an $11.1 billion bond offering. That bond has been delayed twice and is now scheduled for the November 2014 ballot.

But the general Sacramento consensus now holds that the $11.1 billion bond is a goner: too large and too full of specific allocations redolent of pork. Gov. Jerry Brown has told lawmakers he is concerned about the 2009 proposal passing muster, and lawmakers argue it would be dead on arrival.

So what are they doing instead?

Even if they don’t like the existing bond proposal, many lawmakers still want something on the ballot. A historically intense drought can be a big motivator.

Several lawmakers have floated proposals for a new bond. Only one has made it as far as a floor vote. That measure, a $10.5 billion proposal by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, could not garner enough votes to get out of the Senate. On the day lawmakers adjourned for recess, senators announced a diminished $7.5 billion proposal.

Assembly members are hammering out their own compromise measure. They were close to introducing one earlier last week but had to go back to the drawing board. It now looks more likely they will unveil a pact once legislators return from summer recess.

What does the governor think?

For much of this year Brown declined to weigh in on a water bond. But he finally broke that silence recently and has begun meeting with lawmakers. Since the governor would need to sign any new bond, his opinion matters.

In keeping with his image as California’s responsible fiscal steward – a reputation he would like to burnish in an election year – Brown has advocated a bond that is smaller than both the $11.1 billion measure and the alternative bonds lawmakers are floating. These numbers are more starting points for negotiations than hard ceilings, but Brown suggested a bond worth $6 billion overall, with $2 billion for storage.

Surface Storage? What does that mean?

The term “surface storage” generally refers to big projects like dams and reservoirs. If California has more places to stash water in wet years, the thinking goes, it will be better equipped to survive the dry stretches. But storage could also encompass money to replenish or clean up supplies of groundwater, which California relies on more heavily in dry years.

Determining where storage dollars might go spurs fierce disputes over what types of projects could be eligible. Since all taxpayers are subsidizing them, bond-funded storage projects must carry broad public benefits.

Defining those benefits can be a problem. Bonds that list recreation as a benefit, for example, are a red flag for dam-averse environmentalists. As they note, you can’t take a boat out on groundwater.

Will a bond help with the drought?

One thing lawmakers can’t do is create more water. If rain is scarce and the Sierra snowpack is diminished, that means there’s less to go around. If big storage projects are advanced, it would still take years for construction to finish and yield results.

Other money could bolster access to drinking water. Proposals would offer grants to treat drinking water contaminated with nitrates or other chemicals, money for recycling and reusing wastewater, funding to repair water infrastructure in disadvantaged communities and support for capturing more stormwater.

What about the Delta tunnels? Will a bond pay for those?

This is a tricky one. Understanding the answer requires a brief explanation of the so-called “co-equal goals” of Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

The centerpiece of Brown’s legacy water project would be a pair of massive water tunnels capable of funneling water to southern parts of the state without needing it to flow through the Delta. It’s very controversial. But the project isn’t just tunnels. It would also need to pay for sweeping environmental restoration to help the Delta’s teeming habitat, what’s known as “mitigation.”

That imperative of spending money on Delta habitat is affecting the water bond debate. None of the bonds would allocate money to build the tunnels. But they all offer money for the Delta. Senate President Pro Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and others point to polling suggesting that any bond that is not “BDCP-neutral” will rally the opposition and falter before voters. Brown also believes a bond must be divorced from the tunnels.

Would a bond with money for the Delta ecosystem help Brown build the tunnels? Depends who you ask. For now, Delta advocates and environmentalists believe Wolk’s bond is the most tunnel-neutral option. But some observers believe that Delta plan skeptics could frame any bond with Delta money as a boon to Brown’s tunnel dreams and hurt its chances for passage.

Are special interests involved?

Assuredly. With billions of dollars at stake, various interest groups have been making their priorities known to lawmakers. That includes environmentalists, agricultural interests, organizations like the Alliance of California Water Agencies, major urban water agencies like the Metropolitan Water District and prominent agricultural water providers like the Westlands Water District.

For the environmentalists, a key point of contention is what sort of projects a bond could fund. They don’t want to see preference given to new large-scale reservoirs, expressing skepticism that the new dams would be cost-effective and warning about environmental degradation.

Most pressing for many water districts and agencies is more money for storage. Their customers are thirsty, something they hope a bond can address. Since Brown’s tunnels have become bound up with the bond conversation, it’s worth noting that significant support for the Delta tunnels comes from exporters that would like to see a steadier flow of water.

When is the deadline?

The statutory deadline to get a new water bond on the ballot has come and gone (it was June 26). The Legislature can still waive various laws to put something before voters in November.

But elections are complex undertakings, and the civic machinery has already started whirring. The secretary of state’s office has begun assembling the voter guides that must go on public display by July 22 before being printed and mailed to voters. County election officials typically start ordering ballots to be printed in August. Those ballots have to be translated into nine other languages.

Lawmakers have options. Administrators are already allotting space for the $11.1 billion bond, so swapping out that language for a new bond would be simpler. If lawmakers take too long striking a new bond deal, they could end up having to print a second, separate voter guide. That would cost more money, potentially millions of dollars.

So the short answer is: there is no immutable deadline. But the longer lawmakers take, the more complicated and expensive it gets.

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