Water, the state,the city and UC Merced

Submitted: Apr 12, 2015
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 • Several central San Joaquin Valley communities may be required to conserve 35% of their residential water use under proposed state conservation goals. -- Robert Rodriguez, Fresno Bee, April 8, 2015

In Merced County, both Merced (279.6 gal. daily per-capital home water use) and Los Banos (228.2 gal.) will be asked to reduce water use by 35 percent by the State Water Resources Control Board.

We don't know what the problem in Los Banos is but suspect it is related to its development as a bedroom community for Silicon Valley.

Merced is a special case and we predict -- if history is any guide -- the state will do nothing to enforce this amount because it would risk bringing to light the city's arrangement with the University of California, Merced.

 

UC Merced is not in the corporate limits of the City of Merced. Therefore, by ordinance, the city cannot supply the university with water and sewer services. However, after sending up a bewildering array of smoke screens for years about where the university was going to get its water, it finally came to the Merced City Council during the waning days of the Great Building Boom.

 

Once the city council -- composed of five realtors and two wannabe realtors at the time -- were informed that the university would indemnify them from any legal challenge to their decision to grant sewer and water services beyond city limits, they leapt at this new opportunity to screw their constituents.

 

When we last checked with a city official a year ago, UC had not yet paid for the pipes or fees for the water and wastewater disposal.  Factoring in six or seven thousand more residents than appear in the city's official census would raise the apparent per capita consumption of water by the City of Merced. But UC General Counsel James Holst argued in an amicus letter to the state Supreme Court in 2003 that UC was exempted by the state Constitution from paying for the impacts of UC Merced development. We would argue that an additional 10-percent water restriction on the city residents is most definitely "an environmental impact." And the UC Merced campus is only a fifth of its full size.

 

“In the CEQA process for the campus …local jurisdictions indentified approximately $200 million in improvements to local roads, parks and schools that they claimed would be made necessary by the new campus development, and argued that UC was obligated to pay for those improvements under CEQA. UC rejected those demands … in light of its exemption under the California Constitution.” (UC General Counsel James Holst amicus letter to California Supreme Court re. City of Marina et al, Sept. 12, 2003)

 

But despite building the campus on prime wetlands central to groundwater percolation for the city's water supply and enjoying water and sewer services gratis, UC Merced is justifying itself: there is an engineer there who advocates widening river levees to the width of flood plains in order to improve groundwater recharge.

 

Engineers have answers for everything!

 

In addition to the UC Merced drain on the city's water supply, we also have a Safeway water-bottling plant using city water for its own label and probably for private labels as well.

 

-- blj

 

4-8-15

Fresno Bee

   

Valley cities could see steep residential water cuts under state plan

by Robert Rodriguez

http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/04/08/4468412_valley-cities-could-see-steep.html?rh=1

Valley urban water agencies would have among the highest water reduction targets under a proposal this week from the State Water Resources Control Board.

Water agency

Conservation Standard

Daily per-capita home water use (in gallons), Sept. 2014

Reedley

25%

128.8

Fresno

25%

134.9

Tulare

25%

144.7

Sanger

25%

149.6

Porterville

25%

164.0

Madera

25%

164.8

Dinuba

35%

169.8

Hanford

35%

173.6

Lemoore

35%

173.7

Selma*

35%

175.8

Visalia*

35%

176.6

Exeter

35%

194.4

Kerman

35%

194.7

Corcoran

35%

228.4

Los Banos

35%

229.2

Clovis

35%

229.8

Bakman Water Company

35%

277.3

Merced

35%

279.6

Madera County

35%

298.4

Kingsburg

35%

308.0

*Served by California Water Service Co.

Source: State Water Resources Control Board

• Several central San Joaquin Valley communities may be required to conserve 35% of their residential water use under proposed state conservation goals.

• The State Water Resources Control Board’s plan would set conservation goals between 10% and 35% for communities.

• Cities that have shown they are conserving water will have lower goals than those that have not.

-----

Gov. Jerry Brown may have ordered a 25% cut in water use statewide due to the ongoing drought, but a host of Valley cities could have to do even more.

Clovis, Visalia and Hanford are among the Valley’s biggest water users, and as a result, may have to meet a 35% water conservation goal under a proposed plan released this week by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The biggest user in the central San Joaquin Valley ? According to state officials, that would be Kingsburg, at over 300 gallons per person per day. By comparison, Fresno’s residents use 135 gallons a day.

The draft plan, released Tuesday, sets water reduction targets for cities throughout the state as part of the effort to stretch California’s dwindling water supply. The state is in its fourth year of a historic drought and Brown has enacted emergency measures to slash the state’s overall urban water usage by 25%.

As part of that plan, the board is proposing a series of conservation targets for communities based on how good a job they have been doing to save water. It looked at the amount of water saved from June 2014 to February 2015 and compared that to a comparable period in 2013, the baseline year.

The board has created a sliding scale so communities that have been conserving water will have lower goals than those that haven’t significantly conserved this past year, or over the last decade since the last major drought.

The board’s conservation goals range from 10% to 35%. Valley communities with the highest per-capita residential water use in September, and who would get a 35% goal, were Kingsburg, Madera County and Merced. Kingsburg’s residential per-capita use in September was 308 gallons while the city of Reedley was 128 gallons.

George Kostyrko, spokesman for the board, said the agency will accept public comment on the proposal for a week as it prepares emergency conservation regulations. The board is expected to vote on those regulations in early May.

Kostyrko said that the state will want to see communities moving towards meeting their conservation goals by the summer.

Clovis may have to meet a 35% conservation target. It conserved only 10% of its water usage from June 2014 to February 2015.

Lisa Koehn, assistant public utilities director in Clovis, said the city can do better at reducing its water usage, adding that one possible outcome may be cutting back on the number of outdoor watering days. Clovis residents can still water three days a week. Fresno allows its residents to water only two days a week.

“We will have to give outdoor watering some thought,” she said. “We will be talking to the council about this soon.”

Koehn said that while meeting the 35% conservation goal is achievable, it won’t be easy.

“People have a lot of money invested in their landscape and some will lose their turf,” Koehn said. “It just gets too hot here in the summer.”


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4-9-15

UC Merced University News

Floodplain Management Can Increase Groundwater Supply

https://www.ucmerced.edu/news/2015/floodplain-management-can-increase-groundwater-supply

California’s groundwater is being rapidly depleted because cities and farms extract more than is replenished naturally, compacting local aquifers and decreasing supply in some places in the Central Valley.

And, it turns out, levees placed along rivers in the late 1800s and early 1900s to protect farms and cities from floods are actually hurting farmers’ and residents’ ability to access water.

But UC Merced Professor Josh Viers and colleagues found an engineering solution to improve some of the state’s groundwater supplies and fisheries — moving river levees to make room for flood waters.

Preliminary results from the research project, now in its fourth year, indicate that the brief February storm resulted in 100 to 300 acre-feet of recharge to the 500-acre floodplain. That is roughly three times the amount of recharge that would occur through irrigation.

And because the levees have been moved, that amount of recharge will now happen three times more often per year, on average, providing a potential 1,000 acre-feet more local water storage.

This is welcome news as the state works to shore up levees in flood-prone areas. Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed drought-emergency legislation that also advanced $660 million of Proposition 1E (2006) money for flood protection, including construction of “setback levees” — those that make room for floodwaters and groundwater recharge.

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Professor Josh Viers

“What people forget is that the Central Valley was once a swamp,” Viers said. “Before we built dams in the Sierras and channelized the rivers downstream, stream runoff from rain and snowmelt would spread out onto adjacent floodplains and recharge local aquifers. But prolonged drought and lack of floodplains have limited groundwater recharge throughout the region.”

As opportunities for recharge have decreased – exacerbated by the severe drought – Californians’ dependence on groundwater has increased, creating an unsustainable situation for local communities relying on groundwater for drinking water and irrigation.

Viers, the co-director of the new UC Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative(WASSRI), leads other UC Merced faculty members and researchers from UC Davis, Washington State University and the Department of Fish and Wildlife on a research project aimed to promote multiple benefits from engineered levee setbacks. Viers is also the director of the campus's branch of Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and an affiliate with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI).

The project is being incorporated into WASSRI to set up sensor-system monitoring and devise plans for groundwater sustainability and land management throughout the Central Valley and Central Coast.

As the state struggles with a severe and lengthy drought and begins to sort out plans for the future, the data and modeling provided by researchers like Viers is more vital than ever.

Setback levees are expensive. A 3,400-foot-long structure and associated riparian restoration planned along the lower Feather River in Sutter County is estimated at $20 million. But such projects can bring multiple long-term benefits.

Working near Lodi on the Cosumnes River— the Sierra’s only river without a large dam — Viers and his colleagues can study what happens to rivers, floodplains and groundwater under natural conditions. The river floods often enough that there has been no development on the nearby floodplain, so it’s the perfect place to examine groundwater recharge through a series of monitored wells.

“We see that flooding does have a net benefit, even in a drought year,” Viers said. “In wetter years, it also improves the salmon fishery, because the floodplain is like an incubator. It provides the right food and water temperature for juvenile salmon. Spending time there helps them grow larger faster, gives them places to hide from predators so there are more of them, and improves their chances of survival once they reach the ocean.”

The project takes a lot of time and money, from hiring bulldozers to move the levees to the environmental permitting required to do so. The researchers removed levees adjacent to the river that were in risk of being overtopped, but contained flood waters across an 500-acre floodplain with levees set far back from the river.

So far, the researchers have found that moving the Cosumnes’ levees has actually reduced flood risks for neighbors and has allowed row-crop agriculture to persist on portions of the floodplain, as well as recharging the local aquifer.

Other UC Merced researchers, like Professors YangQuan Chen and Marilyn Fogel, are collaborating on the project to gather data using unmanned aerial vehicles and through stable isotope analysis to monitor the floodplain’s hydrology. The information feeds into regional models for the Central Valley, allowing land and resource managers to turn data into decisions.

“We’re measuring the whole system — the groundwater, the surface water and its constituents,” Viers said. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure. So scientists from the UC are helping build a strategic base of water data and knowledge to help California and the nation achieve a water-secure future.”

 

3-20-14

Badlands Journal

Technopocrisy of UC Merced

Submitted: Mar 20, 2014

By: 

Badlands Journal editorial board

http://www.badlandsjournal.com/2014-03-20/008097 

We are happy to see that the latest cypher to hold the position of chancellor at UC Merced writes so well about the campus’s impeccably green water policies and, particularly, its state-of-the-art technology.

It is possible Chancellor Leland is not even aware that local environmental groups sued the City of Merced for providing sewer and water services to the UC Merced campus. The argument of the suit was the plain reading of the city’s ordinance prohibiting provision of utility services outside its corporate limits. State superior and appellate courts found exceptions to the ordinance invisible to those not steeped in legal sophistry and in full reception of the opinion of the finance, insurance and real estate special interest. 

 

As for the techno-babble below, we are grateful to it because it suggests a defining characteristic of UC Merced, TECHNO-POCRICY.  For example,

 

UC Merced began slashing water usage long before even the specter of drought began to loom. As of the 2012-13 school year, UC Merced had reduced its per-capita water use by 43% since 2007. – Leland, Fresno Bee, March 19, 2014.

UC Merced graduated 52 students in 2006-07. It graduated 862 in 2012-13. How many students, professors, staff and other employees have you added since 2007, Chancellor? Now you have over 1,000 and the campus is less than a quarter of  its projected capacity of 25,000 students.

Every square foot of pavement and rooftop on the campus diverts water from recharging the city's aquifer.

But that’s fine because it gets the overabundant, overpaid caste of UC administrators more time to polish their technopocrisy re. UC Merced. Personally, we’re sticking with John Burton’s characterization: “Biggest boondoggle I’ve ever seen.” Burton said it when he was state Senate pro tem. Today, due to term limits, he is chairman of the California state Democratic Party and a professor of political science at California State University, San Francisco.--blj

 

 

3-19-14
Fresno Bee

Dorothy Leland: UC Merced aims high with water

BY DOROTHY LELAND

http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/03/19/3831791/uc-merced-aims-high-with-waterthe.html

Water is being discussed everywhere as California endures one of the worst documented droughts in decades. Now more than ever, it is critical to consider the full scope of water's significance — economic, geologic, political, socioeconomic and more — and the urgent need to make its conservation and management a top priority in our thirsty state.

At UC Merced, we take water seriously. From conserving water on campus through state-of-the-art technology to researching water quality and quantity, its effects on the environment, and resource management, we're proud to serve as a living laboratory for the San Joaquin Valley and its residents.

As educators, we must do everything we can to change daily habits related to water usage.

Resource conservation is part of our fabric. So it should come as no surprise that we welcomed University of California President Janet Napolitano's call to cut water consumption by 20% by 2020. In fact, we have already exceeded that expectation — this year.

Napolitano announced the new initiative to cut per-capita water use just after the first of this year, saying that as California experiences the driest winter on record, the UC must do its part to preserve the state's most precious natural resource.

UC Merced began slashing water usage long before even the specter of drought began to loom. As of the 2012-13 school year, UC Merced had reduced its per-capita water use by 43% since 2007.

UC Merced's design — from inception — has incorporated goals for both water and electricity usage that are 40% below baseline levels at other UC campuses. The campus infrastructure is designed to conserve water, from its native-plant landscaping and drought-resistant, permeable pavement to its storm-water retention.

The university's drinking, sewer and irrigation water are all carefully audited, and each building is individually metered so officials can see real-time usage. That metering system is also used each year for a residence-hall competition to see which building can cut the most water use. That competition was started by a student, and although he has since graduated, the effort continues.

Beyond best-practice conservation measures implemented throughout campus, our researchers are examining how changes in water amounts and availability are affecting a variety of environments from the coast to the Sierra Nevada peaks — above and under the ground.

Their research, both in the field and the lab, will help us better understand what to expect in the future and suggest solutions that could be undertaken now.

For example, reduced snowpack and lower precipitation throughout the state mean earlier soil drying and less water for irrigation and other basic needs. Researchers are working to discover the effects those factors will have not just at higher elevations, but all the way "downstream" to the Valley floor and its fragile agricultural ecosystem.

In addition, paleoecologist and professor Jessica Blois is scouring the Sierra Nevada fossil record to see what previous droughts can tell us about similar events today and in the future, and how they might affect plants and animals, including humans. Her work suggests our region's landscape and beyond could look much different in coming decades as plants and animals migrate to climates that better suit them.

This kind of research adds to the database that allows our researchers to model the large-scale and local impacts of multiyear droughts.

California's drought is a critical problem that will have immediate effects this year — including on the availability and prices of Valley produce — as well as a lasting legacy.

That's why we are stepping up our efforts to understand the impact of drought on our state's vitality while redoubling our own commitment to design and operate our facilities in a sustainable manner.

Every wasted drop of water is a drop we no longer can afford to lose.

UC Merced began slashing its water usage long before even the specter of drought began to loom. As of the 2012-13 school year, UC Merced has reduced its per-capita water use by 43% since 2007.

 

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