Feinstein Urges President to Increase Delta Pumping

Feinstein Calls on President to Direct Federal Agencies to Increase Delta Pumping

 

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) TODAY called on President Obama to direct federal agencies “to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions.”

Feinstein wrote in her letter to the president: “I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.”

Full text of the letter follows:

March 24, 2016

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I ask you to direct the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions. Water flows in the Sacramento River are the highest they have been in four years. Just last week, flows in the Sacramento were as high as 76,000 cubic feet per second. We’ve only seen flows that high twice in the past ten years, and not once during this drought. Yet the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service are now considering reducing pumping due to concerns about larval smelt.

Despite these high flows, rather than pumping as much water as possible without undue harm to the smelt, pumping levels remained constant for the past month (see Chart B). Coupled with the fact that only three individual smelt were caught at the pumps this year, and that the most recent trawls revealed no Delta smelt in the south Delta, it seems to me that the agencies operate the system in a manner that may be contrary to the available data, culled from what is already a limited monitoring regime. I understand that the biological opinions impose a ceiling of -5,000 cubic feet per second, but the agencies have the discretion to exercise at least some flexibility to pump above that level.

To put this all in context, between January 1 and March 6 last year, 1.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta and 745,000 acre-feet were pumped out. During the same period this year, 5.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta, but only 852,000 acre-feet were pumped out (see Chart A). If we can’t increase pumping during an El Niño year, then when else can we?

The agencies have also put California and the communities that depend on this water in a Catch-22: Pumping is reduced when there are concerns about the presence of smelt caught as far away as 17 miles from the pumps. Yet agencies will also reduce pumping due to the absence of smelt, based on the idea that historically low smelt populations make detection difficult.

I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.

There are real-world consequences to the decisions being made in the Delta. 69 communities in the Southern San Joaquin Valley reported significant water supply and quality issues. And land is caving, bridges collapsing, as a result of overdrawn ground wells and subsidence. That’s why we need to make sure we’re using every possible tool to make the right choices. Basing pumping decisions on better science and real-time monitoring is the least we can do.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

###

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Temperance Flat Dam Will Solve Sinking Soil

David Rogers: Temperance Flat Dam Will Solve Sinking Soil

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

 

Speaking at last week’s California Water Commission meeting in Clovis about the need for water storage, Madera County supervisor David Rogers voiced the solution to land subsidence caused by groundwater depletion:  the Temperance Flat Dam.

“We’re losing our groundwater so rapidly, the soil is sinking beneath us in a geological process called subsidence,” Rogers said. “Water is flowing out to the ocean from the San Joaquin River system, when in reality, that water needs to be delegated and allocated to farms so they don’t have to pump groundwater.”

“We’re losing the river and it’s a moot issue. 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. There’s no question that Temperance Flat is the answer to this problem.”

Central Valley land subsidence is not new. In the mid-1900s, subsidence of the soil was occurring much like it is today. “Between 1937 and 1955,” Rogers explained, “the ground sank 28 feet in Mendota, Fresno and Madera Counties and similar regions.”

The federal Central Valley Project (CVP), which stretches 400 miles from north to south, was organized and built back then to solve the extreme and recurring water shortages, land subsidence and flooding. Operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and considered one of the world’s largest water storage and transport systems, the CVP now consists of 20 dams and reservoirs, 11 power plants, and 500 miles of major canals, as well as conduits, tunnels, and related facilities.

“The very purpose of the CVP,” Rogers emphasized, “was to stop the ground from sinking beneath our feet. We are currently in the same situation, and the much-needed extra storage is going to be created by the Temperance Flat Dam. It is the solution. It is what this Valley needs. We need it now. We don’t need it tomorrow; we need it—yesterday!”

 

Categories

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

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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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Groundwater Farming: a Blessing or a Curse?

By Michael Kuhne, AccuWeather.com

Mining groundwater for agricultural use in the San Joaquin Valley has not only created one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States, but it has also simultaneously altered the surface of the land causing noticeable subsidence or sinking in the region, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“The maximum subsidence, near Mendota, was more than 28 feet,” USGS reported, citing a 1970 comprehensive survey.

Overall subsidence has slowed since the 1970s due to reductions in the pumping and recovery of groundwater, as well as the use of other types of surface water irrigation.

“At least some of the groundwater is stored in between clay deposits and within clay deposits,” AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said. “When you extract the water, you take out the water surrounding (the) clay molecules, and this then allows the clay to compress. The more water you take out, the more compacting you have, and when that happens, the valley sinks.”

In the photo above, taken Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. Despite recent rains, the reservoir is currently only about 41 percent full. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service Pacific Region Office Deputy Director Dave DeWalt, nearly 11.3 percent of the total value of U.S. agriculture commodities comes from California’s prime agricultural region.

“So far (in 2014) we’ve only seen about one-third of the precipitation we normally would have,” DeWalt said, referring to the Sacramento area.

With the drought continuing, food prices will spike.

“It is some of the richest farmland in the U.S.,” Clark said. “There is talk that some commodities may not be feasible as they take a lot of water to grow. Such as almonds, a huge cash crop. It takes one gallon of water to make one almond.”

According to Fresno State University Center for Irrigation Technology Consultant Sergeant Green, understanding the utilization of groundwater and the impacts on the Valley is not as simple as it seems.

“Water, crops and productivity are all dynamic,” Green said.

The current crops using the most water in the region are almonds and alfalfa, he said.

“Almonds are a critical export that helps with balance of trade, and alfalfa is critical for the dairy industry which is a huge part of the agriculture economy in the Valley,” Green said. “The three top agricultural commodities are almonds, grapes and dairy products.”

The San Joaquin Valley is part of the Central Valley of California, includes the Sacramento Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This area produces about a quarter of the nation’s table food on only 1 percent of the country’s farmland, USGS reports.

Drought Map 140430The map above shows the impact of drought on California’s farms, forests and wild lands. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

“Groundwater in the north of the Valley is relatively stable, the south Valley (Fresno south to Bakersfield) has declined consistently,” Green said. “Old pre-1960s subsidence stopped until surface water supplies from the Bay-Delta were cut back starting in the mid-’90s.”

According to the USGS, land subsidence in the Valley was first recorded in 1945 by Engineering Consultant I.H. Althouse.

“The history of land subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley is integrally linked to the development of agriculture and the availability of water for irrigation,” the USGS reported. “Further agricultural development without accompanying subsidence is dependent on the continued availability of surface water, which is subject to uncertainties due to climatic variability and pending regulatory decisions.”

The 10,000-square-mile area making up the Valley floor is comprised of continental sediments and includes fine-grained, stream and lake deposits, which are susceptible to compaction, the USGS reported.

“When farmers and ranchers have to rely on groundwater instead of stored above ground water during extended droughts, more water is being extracted than can be returned,” Clark said. “Once the clay is compacted, there is no way to ‘unpack’ it.”

According to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Randy Adkins Jr., California has received less than their average rainfall for several years consecutively.

“It’s been a multi-year drought,” he said.

AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jim Andrews said the last three winter rainy seasons (October to April) were drier than normal, the last winter being driest of the three. Cumulative rainfall (including melted snow) is as little as one half of normal amount for the three rainy seasons collectively, Andrews said.

“Fresno has only seen 55 percent of their normal for those three seasons,” he said. “That’s around 16 inches of rain less than normal.”

Andrews added that the Sacramento region has been doused with only 68 percent of their normal rainfall of 54.5 inches.

Green said rainfall is not adequate to recharge the groundwater, adding it needs to be stored, applied or recharged in specific areas that allow the capability to add more water than what is being extracted at those locations.

In addition, new developments in irrigation are being utilized currently, but the amount of water needed will continue to be based on what crops are in demand, Green said.

“Precision irrigation systems are now widespread and continuing to increase rapidly, but don’t always mean less water is used,” he said. “Crop requirements determine total demand, and permanent crops such as almonds have been increasing for some time.”

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