Breaking News: The 5 Percenters May Not Receive All of Their Water Allocation

5 Percenters and Endangered Fish May Both Lose 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Will the 5 Percenters—the Federal water users in California who were restricted by a 95% water allocation reduction this year—actually receive the promised 5% allocation? This scenario follows a more-than-average winter rainfall and snowfall throughout the state.

Ryan Jacobsenexecutive director and CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said, “arguably it’s turned out to be much worse. Right now, for the initial 5% allocation to even be questionable right now is just absolutely insane. It all boils down to the amount of water being held up in Lake Shasta for fish purposes, which has put a major stranglehold on what’s happening down here at this point,” noted Jacobsen.

Central Valley Project (CVP) Water
Central Valley Project (CVP) Water

At Shasta Reservoir, a keystone reservoir of the Central Valley Project, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation essentially discharged flood releases earlier this year just to make room for the water that was expected to come in.  Shasta now stands at a above average full for this time of year, because the Feds are holding all the water for release for salmon later.

This is part of the plan to have cold water available to release for the salmon. And Shasta actually has 30 percent more cold water than what they thought, and water leaders are pushing hard to get the Feds to release it for agriculture.

San Luis Reservoir dead pool
San Luis Reservoir at Dead Pool Status

And San Luis Reservoir is  at a dead-pool status, which insures no more water can be sent south from that reservoirDead pool means no more water can be drawn from San Luis Reservoir, which does not bode well.

Jacobsen said, “This means our federal contractors’ 5% is in question. And that’s the irony: we were looking at such a strong year—or at least an average year [of precipitation]—and ending up now where our meager water supply is in jeopardy. This is incomprehensible and inexcusable from the federal side.”

Shasta has both federal and state water, and the federal side is essentially nothing at this point, explained Jacobsen. “Farmers rely upon San Luis Reservoir water for July and August irrigation, “and the water is essentially gone at this point,” he said. “It just shows you the major mismanagement we’re seeing from the federal side and the inability to capture water even when it is available, and not at the demise of any of these species.”

Jacobsen reiterated, “Back when the precipitation was falling [last winter], water was available at some extraordinarily high levels; yet, we never saw the increase in pumping that we would have expected under the normal conditions. “Of course, we’ve seen less pumping this year for the farmers and the cities south of the Delta,” noted Jacobsen. “During the times of the rainfall this year, it was essentially excuse, after excuse, after excuse. Some newer excuses pertained to why the pumps were not operating or operating at a very reduced capacity,” explained Jacobsen.

“The situation has been frustrating for a couple of years, but the anger continues to build because right now, this is not a ‘Mother Nature’ issue. It is completely a man-made regulatory drought that is, again, just incompetency at its best.”

“When we talk about the water stored behind Shasta [Dam] right now, really it is for the fish,” noted Jacobsen. “The most-watched fishery, at this point, is the salmon fishery. We’re in year four of this drought, but when it comes to the critical side of fish, the salmon essentially operates in three-year cycles. The last two years have been arguably two of the worst years on record for them, and this potential third year is a kind of make-it-or-break-it for salmon fisheries in the Delta region.”

Unfortunately, per Jacobsen, many decisions have been based on guesstimates. “There are a lot of folks who think we need to reserve all of this cold water for a fishery that may or may not be responding to what has been done in the past for this [contracted irrigation] water that has been given up for those purposes,” Jacobsen explained. “Right now, I think we’re doing a lot of experiments at the cost of jobs and employment, and most importantly, the farms here in the San Joaquin Valley. The frustration is that science is really not playing a big part in it. A lot of decisions are just simply, ‘We think we should be doing this versus what the science actually says we should be doing.’”

Jacobsen’s leading frustration is that all that water taken from farmers and given to fish has not helped the fish at all. In fact, the smelt and salmon numbers continue to decline. “I talk about growing frustration and anger from so many folks in the last couple of years… specifically because it hasn’t made a difference,” said Jacobsen. “An exorbitant amount of water has been given up for these fisheries, [endangered fish populations] continue to decline and crash, and as we’ve been saying for years, it is beyond time to look at just the water exporters,” he added.

Jacobsen maintains other stressors should be seriously investigated. “Many other issues taken place in the Delta should be pulled into play here, but again the regulators and the environmentalists continue to look only at the exporters as the sole issue for fish decline. There are so many other factors out there that need to be looked at,” he said.


Highly recommenced reading: “We are the 5 percenters, stretching our water supplies to get by,” by Joe Del BosqueContributing writer, The Orange County Register, July 14, 2016.

Understanding California’s Groundwater

California’s Groundwater Is in Crisis

Source: Janny Choy and Geoff McGhee; Water in the West

 

California’s groundwater is back in the spotlight. Largely invisible, lightly regulated and used by 85% of California’s population and much of the state’s $45 billion agriculture industry, groundwater is a crucial reserve that helps stave off catastrophe during drought periods like we’ve experienced over the past three years.

Unheralded, Underegulated and Overused, California’s Groundwater Is in Crisis

California's groundwater managementBut after more than a century of unregulated use, California’s groundwater is in crisis – and with it the state’s hydrologic safety net. This carries profound economic, environmental, and infrastructure implications. How did it come to this, and what do we do now?

6 Million Californians Rely on Groundwater

Over 6 million Californians rely solely or primarily on groundwater for their water supply. Many of them reside in towns and cities in the Central Valley and along the Central California coast, where communities generally have limited local surface water options or don’t have the ability to finance other water supply sources.

For Others, Groundwater Complements the Surface Water Supply

Generally, though, groundwater is used alongside surface water to meet the state’s needs, which range from urban and industrial uses to irrigating roughly half the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States.

In normal and wet years, groundwater provides 30 to 40% of the water supply. It supplements surface water that is collected from snowmelt and rainfall then is stored and conveyed by a vast system of state and federal dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts.

During droughts, surface water availability can be sharply reduced, leaving water users to pump water from local wells. At times like these, groundwater can surge closer to 60% of water used statewide, and even higher in agricultural areas like the Central Valley.

When Rain and Snow Don’t Fall, Groundwater Prevents Disaster

This year, the third consecutive year of an extreme and extensive drought, state officials have warned that little or no surface water will be made available to most consumers. In turn, water providers are advising large users to pump their own groundwater.

As bad as this drought is, it is not uncommon. Droughts are a part of life in California, as anyone who has lived here long enough knows. But what most may not know is that groundwater has been getting us through droughts, including the last big one in the 1970s, and it is getting us through the one today.

In fact, 5 million acre feet of additional groundwater will be pumped in the Central Valley alone to make up for the 6.5 million acre feet in surface water reductions for agriculture in 2014. Even so, the economic loss for the Central Valley from this drought is expected to be $1.7 billion.

By Overusing Groundwater Today, We Are Living Off Our ‘Savings’

Writers often turn to financial metaphors to explain the importance of groundwater. As Tom Philpott of Mother Jones magazine wrote recently, “To live off surface water is to live off your paycheck … To rely on groundwater, though, is to live off of savings.”

Another metaphor frequently applied to groundwater is that of mining. In fact, “groundwater mining” is exactly what experts call nonrenewable groundwater use, where farmers “mine” water to grow almonds, alfalfa or grapes. You could even say they are “mining” those commodities themselves.

Recommendations for Groundwater Reform 

Through numerous hearings, workshops, and consultations with experts and interest groups, recommendations by groups such as the California Water Foundation are coalescing around the concept of local groundwater management with the state serving as a backstop authority if local action has not occurred or is insufficient.

Next steps might include creating and empowering local groundwater management entities; requiring groundwater management plans; and defining the state’s role for assistance, oversight, enforcement and funding. Read more in the California Water Foundation’s report with recommendations for sustainable groundwater management.