California plumbing in drought ... again

Submitted: Jan 09, 2014
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 The two articles below discuss the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River. We will link the two by recalling a comment made about a decade ago by Bill Jennings, then the head of Deltakeepers. Former California Gov. Gray Davis had recently announced “peace on the river,” a new arrangement for sharing out all the water in the Colorado River before it gets to Mexico, but one that gave a little more to upstream states and less to Southern California. This rearrangement put immediate pressure on the Delta, which has experienced ever since record amounts of water pumped southward for urban and San Joaquin Valley agribusiness, both constantly recklessly expanding with no heed to water supplies except to set lawyers to figuring how to steal it from someone else. Jennings remarked a couple of years after the historic truce on the Colorado that “it didn’t take a rocket scientist” to understand why Delta fish stocks were crashing. It was the best use of that hackneyed term in the decade because there were legions of “rocket scientists” – water experts working ceaselessly to study the decline with the greatest objectivity modern science allows while the ruinous trade in acre feet just kept on going on wherever the dark backrooms are.

They’ve continued to crash. -- blj

1-6-14

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance

Press Release

For Immediate Release  

Contact:         Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance: 209-464-5067; cell 938-9053; email, deltakeep@me.com;                            website, www.calsport.org 

Delta Fish Hammered Yet Again: Fall Midwater Trawl Results Reveal Continued Biological Collapse

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has released the results of the 2013 Fall Midwater Trawl (FMWT), which reconfirms the continuing biological collapse that is occurring in the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta Estuary.  The FMWT conducts monthly surveys from September through December at 100 index stations in the Delta.  The results reveal that populations of Delta smelt, striped bass and American shad declined from the disastrous levels of last year while longfin smelt and threadfin shad showed little improvement from last year’s lows.  The surveys, which were initiated in 1967, the same year the State Water Project began exporting water from the Delta, show that population indices of Delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and American shad have declined 95.6%, 99.6%, 99.8%, 97.8%, 90.9%, respectively, between 1967 and 2013. Inexplicably, the 2013 indices for splittail were not released but results from 2012 reveal that splittail indices have dropped 98.5% from 1967 levels. 

“Excessive water diversions from the Delta by the State and Federal Projects and the failure of state agencies to enforce water quality standards have created an extended fish drought that can only be characterized as a biological holocaust,” said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings.  “And the same agencies that orchestrated and chaperoned this biological meltdown are not only proposing a scheme to divert massive quantities of fresh water flows via tunnels under the Delta, under the guise of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), but they ask us to trust them to build the tunnels now and figure out how to operate them later,” he said.  

 BDCP proponents suggest that the two 35-mile tunnels under the Delta will not lead to an increase in total Delta exports.  However, actual operations will be determined after completion of the project through a decision-tree adaptive management process by the same agencies that have historically failed to protect the estuary.  Examination of the four alternative decision tree operational scenarios in the BDCP EIR/EIS reveals that all of them decrease Delta outflow and three of them substantially increase exports.  BDCP modeling conducted for the State Water Resources Control Board demonstrates that BDCP could only export about 3.1 MAF of water if reasonable fishery protection measures are included (increased outflow, bypass flow, coldwater pool management, etc.).  

“BDCP proponents are not going to spend some $67 billion to receive the same or less water and reduced outflow for an estuary already hemorrhaging from a lack of water is a death sentence,” Jennings said adding, “given the agencies abysmal track record, there can be no trust and no tunnels until Jerry Brown takes affirmative steps to end his fish drought.”   

The 2013 FMWT indices for Delta smelt and American shad were the second lowest in the 46 years of the survey.  The striped bass index was tied for third lowest, while the longfin smelt and threadfin shad indices were the eighth and fifth lowest, respectively.  The vast majority of record low indices have occurred over the last decade.  For example: comparing the average indices of the first six years of the survey (1967-72) with the average of the most recent six years shows that the six-year average indices of Delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, American shad and splittail have declined by 91.7%, 98.6%, 99.3%, 99.9%, 69.6% and 88.7%, respectively.  

Excessive water exports by the state and federal export projects in 2013 led to degraded water quality and habitat conditions in the Delta.  The projects exported some 826,778 acre-feet more water than they had projected they would be able to deliver.  Consequently, water quality standards were violated in the South Delta in June and July through 15 August and at Emmaton in April, May and June and at Jersey Point in June.  Emmaton and Jersey Point are in the western Delta.  Sharply increased exports coupled with a sudden reduction in Delta outflow in late June and early July caused the low salinity zone and pelagic species like Delta smelt to be drawn into the western Delta where they encountered lethal temperature conditions created by a combination of warm water released from reservoirs and high ambient temperatures. Another likely factor was high exports leading to excessive Old and Middle River reverse flows during the critical 15-April – 15 May San Joaquin pulse flow period.    

2013 was also a bad year for salmon.  As many as half of this year’s up-migrating winter-run salmon were stranded in the Yolo Bypass and Colusa Basin in April-June and Sacramento River temperature requirements to protect spawning winter-run were relaxed in June.  In November, abrupt reductions in Sacramento River flow exposed spawning redds, killed up to 40% of Sacramento River fall-run salmon eggs and stranded newly emerged fry.   And low reservoir levels will likely lead to inadequate flows for young salmon out-migration this coming spring.  The decline of Central Valley salmon populations over the last 46 years is similar to the declines of Delta pelagic species.  But the full consequences of this year’s debacle will only become fully apparent when this year’s young salmon return to spawn in three years. 

Further information, including DFW’s FMWT Memo with graphs, the BDCP alternative comparison and the State Board’s quantitative comparisons can be found at:www.calsport.org.  

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public benefit conservation and research organization established in 1983 for the purpose of conserving, restoring, and enhancing the state's water quality, wildlife and fishery resources and their aquatic ecosystems and associated riparian habitats. 

Bill Jennings, Chairman
Executive Director
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
3536 Rainier Avenue
Stockton, CA 95204
p: 209-464-5067
c: 209-938-9053
f: 209-464-1028
e: 
deltakeep@me.com
www.calsport.org

 

"midas of the west"

 

the anastazi no longer plague us

the rat pack's left las vegas

but what are we to do

as midas turns our water into goo?

--blj

 

1-5-14

New York Times

Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States

Michael Wines

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/us/colorado-river-drought-forces-a-painful-reckoning-for-states.html

 

·          

 

 

LAKE MEAD, Nev. — The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.

The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads.

But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished.

Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland.

Reclamation officials say there is a 50-50 chance that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed to states downstream. That, too, has never happened before.

“If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000” — 1,000 feet above sea level — “we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada,” said John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Since 2008, Mr. Entsminger’s agency has been drilling an $817 million tunnel under Lake Mead — a third attempt to capture more water as two higher tunnels have become threatened by the lake’s falling level. In September, faced with the prospect that one of the tunnels could run dry before the third one was completed, the authority took emergency measures: still another tunnel, this one to stretch the life of the most threatened intake until construction of the third one is finished.

These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly.

The labyrinthine rules by which the seven Colorado states share the river’s water are rife with potential points of conflict. And while some states have made huge strides in conserving water — and even reducing the amount they consume — they have yet to chart a united path through shortages that could last years or even decades.

“There is no planning for a continuation of the drought we’ve had,” said one expert on the Colorado’s woes, who asked not to be identified to preserve his relationship with state officials. “There’s always been within the current planning an embedded hope that somehow, things would return to something more like normal.”

Unfortunately, the Colorado during most of Lake Mead’s 78-year history was not normal at all.

Studies now show that the 20th century was one of the three wettest of the last 13 centuries in the Colorado basin. On average, the Colorado’s flow over that period was actually 15 percent lower than in the 1900s. And most experts agree that the basin will get even drier: A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same — and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish.

 

Already, the drought is upending many of the assumptions on which water barons relied when they tamed the Colorado in the 1900s.

The Colorado basin states tried in the 1920s to stave off future fights over water by splitting it, 50-50, between the upper-basin states of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming and the lower-basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California.

 

In fact, the deal underestimated how much water the fast-growing lower-basin states would need. During most of the wet 20th century, however, the river usually produced more than enough water to offset any shortage.

Now, the gap between need and supply is becoming untenable.

Lake Mead currently stands about 1,106 feet above sea level, and is expected to drop 20 feet in 2014. A continued decline would introduce a new set of problems: At 1,075 feet, rationing begins; at 1,050 feet, a more drastic rationing regime kicks in, and the uppermost water intake for Las Vegas shuts down. At 1,025 feet, rationing grows more draconian; at 1,000 feet, a second Las Vegas intake runs dry.

Lake Powell is another story. There, a 100-foot drop would shut down generators that supply enough electricity to power 350,000 homes.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month forecasts of water levels at Powell and Mead do not contemplate such steep declines. But neither did they foresee the current drought.

“We can’t depend on history to project the future anymore,” Carly Jerla, a geological hydrologist and the reclamation bureau’s Colorado River expert, said in an interview. The drought could end tomorrow, she said — or it could drag on for seven more years.

That raises questions that the states are just beginning to sort out.

The river’s upper-basin states are worried that they might have to curb their consumption to meet their obligations downstream. But the thorniest problems are in the lower basin, where a thicket of political and legal deals has left Arizona holding the bag should the Colorado River continue to diminish.

In the 1960s, California’s legislators demanded first dibs on lower-basin water as a condition of supporting federal legislation to build the Central Arizona Project, a vast web of canals irrigating that state’s farms and cities. Should rationing begin in 2015, Arizona would sacrifice a comparatively small fraction of its Colorado River allotment, while California’s supply would remain intact.

 

Painful as that would be, though, it could get worse: Should Mead continue to fall, Arizona would lose more than half of its Colorado River water before California lost so much as a drop.

That would have a cascading effect. The Central Arizona Project would lose revenue it gets from selling water, which would raise the price of water to remaining customers, leading farmers to return to pumping groundwater for irrigation — exactly what the Central Arizona Project was supposed to prevent.

“By going back to the pumps, you’ll have made the decision that agriculture will no longer be an industry in central Arizona,” David Modeer, the project’s general manager, said in an interview.

Even Californians doubt Arizona would stand for that, but no successor to the 1960s agreement is in place. And California has a vital interest in holding on to its full allotment of water. The Southern California region using Colorado water is expected to add six million people to the existing 19 million in the next 45 years, and its other water source — the Sierra Nevada to the north — is suffering the same drought and climate problems as the Colorado basin.

“The basic blueprint of our plan calls for a reliable foundation that we then build upon, and that reliable foundation is the Colorado River and Northern California water,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “To the extent we lose one of those supplies, I don’t know that there is enough technology and new supplies to replace them.”

There may be ways to live with a permanently drier Colorado, but none of them are easy. Finding more water is possible — San Diego is already building a desalination plant on the Pacific shore — but there are too few sources to make a serious dent in a shortage.

That leaves conservation, a tack the lower-basin states already are pursuing. Arizona farmers reduce runoff, for example, by using laser technology to ensure that their fields are table flat. The state consumes essentially as much water today as in 1955, even as its population has grown nearly twelvefold.

 

Working to reduce water consumption by 20 percent per person from 2010 to 2020, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District is recycling sewage effluent, giving away high-efficiency water nozzles and subsidizing items like artificial turf and zero-water urinals.

Southern Nevada’s water-saving measures are in some ways most impressive of all: Virtually all water used indoors, from home dishwashers to the toilets and bathtubs used by the 40 million tourists who visit Las Vegas each year, is treated and returned to Lake Mead. Officials here boast that everyone could take a 20-minute shower every day without increasing the city’s water consumption by a drop.

Moreover, an intensive conservation program slashed the region’s water consumption from 2002 to 2012, even as the area added 400,000 residents.

Even after those measures, federal officials say, much greater conservation is possible. Local officials say they have little choice.

“The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end,” said Mr. Entsminger, the southern Nevada water official. “It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.”

 

 

 

| »

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Copy the characters (respecting upper/lower case) from the image.

To manage site Login