War of the moral universes: California water stories, June 2015

Submitted: Jun 15, 2015
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 “The problem lies, in part, in the social isolation of the rich, the moral isolation of the rich.” The rich, she said, were “lacking a sense that we are all in this together”. --Tim Walker, The Independent, April 4, 2015.

 

Barbre sits on the 37-member board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a huge water wholesaler serving 17 million customers. He is fond of referring to his watering hose with Charlton Heston’s famous quote about guns: “They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.” -- Rob Kuznia, Washington Post, June 13, 2015.

 

“The water board is using a bulldozer when it needs a scalpel,” said Steve Knell, general manager of the Oakdale Irrigation District.

Asked about the fact that no complaints had been filed, a water board representative said it’s difficult for water users to know if a stream has dried up because of natural conditions or someone else’s diversions. The water board is taking a more “global” approach to curtailments, she said.

And as to whether the board has the authority to curtail senior rights, Howard said that it does. The diversion of water when water isn’t available to that user is “unauthorized,” and state water law allows the board to take action, he said.

“We expect people will act in a lawful way and cease their diversions,” Howard said. “If someone chooses not to we will have to (pursue) an enforcement action. And they will have a right to their day in court if they think the outcome inappropriate.”

-- Alex Brietler, Stockton Record, June 12, 2015

 

 

In our continuous attempt to give readers a broad but accurate report of the progress of the California Drought of 2015, we includes this pot pourri of articles about different parts of the state. The stories are disparate. They don't even appear to be from the same state. In fact, when it comes to water, Californians seem to identify their state as basically an alien, oppressive government located in Sacramento, which regulates and limits the users' god-given rights to exploit the resources -- the public commons of surface waters (creeks and rivers) and groundwater. Since the entire history of water and the state of California has been firmly constructed on the basis of the special interest deal (as secret as possible), it is very hard to believe that the state will administer the necessary cuts fairly. But, under great duress, occasional political miracles occur. We can hope that a enough genuine sense of public, common emergency can trump business as usual and that the lobbyists are forced to their watering holes to drink liquor without ice.  

But even the fanciful removal of special interest lobbying power during an extraordinary season of drought doesn't really solve the problem. What will politicians and top resource-agency staff do without special interest guidance? Well, they always have the written laws to fall back on, laws which they have bent or broken so many times it may be difficult to actually obey them again without the appearance of gross inconsistency.

Nevertheless, we repeat: in times of great duress, political miracles can happen, however far-fetched may be the idea of the 38 million Californians coming to some rudimentary agreements about water, which would reverse more than a century of institutionalized selfishness and greed. Although local examples of sharing water exist, it is not something Californians have ever been educated or encouraged to do. It will be truly astonishing if Gov. Jerry Brown can rise to this occasion. -- blj


 

6-14-15

Modesto Bee

Governor should reduce water to fisheries, environment, county officials say

Stanislaus resolution mirrors Fresno County’s

Backers say farms, cities have had major water cuts

More federal, state drought aid also sought

Ken Carlson

http://www.modbee.com/news/article24383938.html#storylink=cpy

 

Farmers, cities, residents, business owners and just about everyone else in California have been required to cut back on water use during the worst drought on record.

Stanislaus County officials think that Gov. Jerry Brown should further reduce water consumption by cutting supplies to the environment and fisheries. While others have made sacrifices, they said, the environment has not shared in the pain.

Under a consent item for Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors could approve a resolution asking the governor to introduce more fairness into the state’s drought restrictions. The proposed resolution was in board agenda documents released Friday afternoon.

“Especially in Stanislaus County, we are doing our part,” board Chairman Terry Withrow said. “We feel like the environmental side has not had to give. We think the environment needs to give, too.”

In early May, Fresno County approved a strongly worded drought resolution in an attempt to obtain more water for the parched San Joaquin Valley. It suggested that federal and state agencies curtail water supplies dedicated to environmental purposes. Other counties were asked to sign the proclamation.

Stanislaus would send its own resolution to the governor’s office, the State Water Resources Control Board and state Office of Emergency Services. Similar to the Fresno resolution, it asks the governor to ease the burden on urban areas and farmers by:

▪ Directing the state water board to change its operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to reduce allocations for the environment and fishery habitat;

▪ Urging the U.S. Department of Interior to be flexible in regulating water operations that affect endangered species;

▪ Supporting Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s legislative efforts to make more water available in the San Joaquin Valley;

▪ Continuing with state assistance programs and asking for more federal assistance.

The county maintains that 45 percent of the state’s managed water supply goes to fishery protection, wildlife refuges and support for endangered species such as the Delta smelt. A county report says another 45 percent goes to agriculture and 10 percent to urban areas.

The State Water Resources Control Board is considering a plan to support salmon by increasing flows in the Tuolumne River, which would further reduce supplies for irrigation districts in Stanislaus County.

The county’s Water Advisory Committee was asked for its opinion on the Fresno County proclamation and agreed with sharing the concerns with the governor’s office.

“What we are striving for is some sort of balance or fairness,” county Water Resources Manager Walter Ward said Friday. “More than anything, I think we are lining up politically with counties that are struggling with the same issues.”

Ward noted that federal and state agencies are involved with managing water that runs through the Delta, based on endangered species legislation and biological opinions. Valley farmers have seen their water allocations curtailed by decisions of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, state Department of Water Resources, the Water Resources Control Board and local irrigation districts.

“It is painful for all of us, but it has not been painful for the environment,” Withrow said. “I think there is a place where we can all meet in the middle. Everyone has to give during times like this.”

Fresno County supervisors said they wanted the governor to take executive action and reduce the amount of water for the environment similar to the 25 percent demanded of urban users.

Their drought resolution was a topic of discussion with federal legislators and officials when county representatives made a trip to Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

6-12-15

Stockton Record

Senior water users cut off

Friday’s cuts apply to 114 irrigation districts, state agencies, private companies and individuals holding water rights dated between 1903 and 1914.

By Alex Breitler
http://www.recordnet.com/article/20150612/NEWS/150619845/101094/A_NEWS

 

 

 

 

Some of California’s more senior water users are for the first time feeling the pain of the drought, after state officials on Friday issued orders cutting off their access to dwindling rivers and streams.

Friday’s cuts, the first of their kind since 1977, leave one Tracy-area farm district “in the midst of a crisis,” an attorney for the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District said.

And it’s just the beginning. The State Water Resources Control Board says it expects to continue moving up the ladder of seniority, cutting off more water right holders every week or two as water levels continue to recede.

“It’s not even summer yet, unfortunately,” said Tom Howard, the board’s executive director. “We’ll be doing more curtailments.”

Even riparian water users, those who claim senior rights by virtue of owning property along a stream, could be at least partially cut off.

Some farmers in the Delta have agreed to 25 percent cuts in their water supply in exchange for immunity from any such cuts. Asked if riparian water users who did not participate could be cut, Howard said, “We might get there soon.”

Friday’s announcement was widely expected. It was merely a question of when.

Locally, the most immediate harm is to farmers in southwestern San Joaquin County, including the Banta-Carbona and Byron Bethany irrigation districts near Tracy.

Banta-Carbona has a 103-year-old water right to pump from the San Joaquin River. Now it must look elsewhere.

As an emergency backup, the farmers stored a limited amount of water in San Luis Reservoir. But that’s almost 60 miles south, near Los Banos.

The water could be obtained in two ways. The district could arrange an exchange that would allow it to take water pumped from the Delta into the Delta Mendota Canal, but recent action by the state to help endangered salmon means such pumping may not be available for much of June, July and August, said Jeanne Zolezzi, an attorney for Banta-Carbona.

Federal officials have also floated an extraordinary plan to install temporary pumps and make the canal flow backward, from south to north, pushing San Luis water "upstream" to the Tracy farmers. But that plan has not been approved, Zolezzi said.

“Without immediate emergency efforts… (the district) may have no water at all to provide to permanent crops,” she said in an email Friday. Permanent crops like almond or walnut orchards account for more than half of the district’s 14,000 acres; unlike row crops, orchards cannot be left without water or the trees will die.

Zolezzi promised to challenge the water board's action.

Friday’s announcement could also be bad news for the community of Mountain House, which relies on water supplied by the Byron Bethany Irrigation District. That district, too, has been cut off. The community’s general manager did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Most local water districts have water stored in reservoirs and are not as deeply affected. That didn’t stop them from criticizing the water board’s actions on Friday.

For one thing, they claim the water board doesn’t have jurisdiction over these most senior of rights, issued prior to 1914.

And while the water board has described the cuts as necessary to preserve water in rivers for those with even older rights, the districts note that none of those older right-holders have complained that they’re short on water.

Instead, the cuts benefit junior water users attempting to move water south, while senior users face overly broad cuts that might be unnecessary, they say.

“The water board is using a bulldozer when it needs a scalpel,” said Steve Knell, general manager of the Oakdale Irrigation District.

Asked about the fact that no complaints had been filed, a water board representative said it’s difficult for water users to know if a stream has dried up because of natural conditions or someone else’s diversions. The water board is taking a more “global” approach to curtailments, she said.

And as to whether the board has the authority to curtail senior rights, Howard said that it does. The diversion of water when water isn’t available to that user is “unauthorized,” and state water law allows the board to take action, he said.

“We expect people will act in a lawful way and cease their diversions,” Howard said. “If someone chooses not to we will have to (pursue) an enforcement action. And they will have a right to their day in court if they think the outcome inappropriate.”

 

 

 

 

6-13-15

Washington Post

Rich Californians balk at limits: ‘We’re not all equal when it comes to water’

 

 

 

 

By Rob Kuznia 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/rich-californians-youll-have-to-pry-the-hoses-from-our-cold-dead-hands/2015/06/13/fac6f998-0e39-11e5-9726-49d6fa26a8c6_story.html

(This article includes great photos and a video. Use the link directly above to access -- blj)

 

RANCHO SANTA FE, CALIF. — Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.

[Stunning photos of a dried-out California]

But a moment of truth is at hand for Yuhas and his neighbors, and all of California will be watching: On July 1, for the first time in its 92-year history, Rancho Santa Fe will be subject to water rationing.

“It’s no longer a ‘You can only water on these days’ ” situation, said Jessica Parks, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water service to Rancho Santa Fe and other parts of San Diego County. “It’s now more of a ‘This is the amount of water you get within this billing period. And if you go over that, there will be high penalties.’ ”

So far, the community’s 3,100 residents have not felt the wrath of the water police. Authorities have issued only three citations for violations of a first round of rather mild water restrictions announced last fall. In a place where the median income is $189,000, where PGA legend Phil Mickelson once requested a separate water meter for his chipping greens, where financier Ralph Whitworth last month paid the Rolling Stones $2 million to play at a local bar, the fine, at $100, was less than intimidating.

All that is about to change, however. Under the new rules, each household will be assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. Any additional usage — sprinklers, fountains, swimming pools — must be slashed by nearly half for the district to meet state-mandated targets.

Residents who exceed their allotment could see their already sky-high water bills triple. And for ultra-wealthy customers undeterred by financial penalties, the district reserves the right to install flow restrictors — quarter-size disks that make it difficult to, say, shower and do a load of laundry at the same time.

In extreme cases, the district could shut off the tap altogether.

[

 

 

California’s largest lake is slipping away amid epic drought]

 

 

 

The restrictions are among the toughest in the state, and residents of Rancho Santa Fe are feeling aggrieved.

“I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world,” said Gay Butler, an interior designer out for a trail ride on her show horse, Bear. She said her water bill averages about $800 a month.


Resident Gay Butler rides her horse through a neighborhood in Rancho Santa Fe. (Sandy Huffaker/The Washington Post)

“It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture,” Butler said. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”

Rancho Santa Fe residents are hardly the only Californians facing a water crackdown. On Friday, the state said it would impose sharp cutbacks on senior water rights dating back to the Gold Rush for the first time in four decades, a move that primarily hits farmers. And starting this month, all of California’s 400-plus water districts are under orders to reduce flow by at least 8 percent from 2013 levels.

[

 

 

Photos: What losing 63 trillions gallon of water looks like]

 

 

 

Top water users such as Rancho Santa Fe are required to cut consumption by 36 percent. Other areas in the 36-percent crosshairs include much of the Central Valley, a farming region that runs up the middle of the state, and Orange County, a ritzy Republican stronghold between San Diego and Los Angeles.

“I call it the war on suburbia,” said Brett Barbre, who lives in the Orange County community of Yorba City, another exceptionally wealthy Zip code.

Barbre sits on the 37-member board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a huge water wholesaler serving 17 million customers. He is fond of referring to his watering hose with Charlton Heston’s famous quote about guns: “They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

 

6-2-15

AP/Santa Cruz Sentinel

California's biggest drought guzzlers, savers in April

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/business/20150602/californias-biggest-drought-guzzlers-savers-in-april

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California's state Water Resources Control Board reported that communities reduced water use by 13.5 percent in April, the same month Gov. Jerry Brown declared unprecedented cutbacks for cities and towns. His administration is now mandating a collective 25 percent water reduction in statewide urban water use between June 2015 and February 2016 compared with the same months in 2013.

Each city has a different conservation mandate, and their savings will be measured as a rolling average.

The figures below show how much water cities saved in April compared with the same month in 2013 and with their new conservation mandates. The following large agencies serving more than 40,000 people saved the most and least water.

WATER GUZZLERS

 

These large agencies with above average per-capita water use for their region saved the least water in April.

Agency, County, Per-Capita Water Use (Gallons), Water Savings, Conservation Mandate

City of Chino Hills, San Bernardino, 127, +10%, 28%

Eastern Municipal Water District, 103, +1%, 28%

City of Bakersfield, Kern, 152, +1%, 36%

City of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, 84, No change, 16%

City of Ceres, Stanislaus, 108, 1%, 28%

Rancho California Water District, Riverside, 165, 1%, 36%

Santa Margarita Water District, 108, 2%, 24%

Olivenhain Municipal Water District, San Diego, 144, 2%, 36%

City of San Clemente, Orange, 99, 2%, 28%

City of Garden Grove, Orange, 123, 3%, 28%

WATER MISERS

These large agencies with below average per-capita water use for their region saved the most water in April. Savings are compared with their new state-mandated conservation target.

Agency, County, Per-Capita Water Use (Gallons), Water Savings, Conservation Mandate

City of Woodland, Yolo, 65, 33%, 24%

City of Santa Rosa, Sonoma, 56, 42%, 16%

City of San Bruno, San Mateo, 41, 32%, 8%

Dublin-San Ramon Services District, Contra Costa, 62, 31%, 16%

California-American Water Company Sacramento District, Sacramento, 80, 30%, 20%

City of Redwood City, San Mateo, 58, 30%, 8%

City of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, 66, 28%, 16%

City of Mountain View, Santa Clara, 59, 27%, 16%

City of Roseville, Placer, 79, 27%, 28%

City of Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, 60, 27%, 16%

___

Source: Associated Press analysis of data published by the State Water Resources Control Board

 

 

 

 

4-15-15

The Independent (UK)

California water shortage: One drought for the rich and another for everyone else as Golden State goes brown again

New rules calling for a 25 per cent cut in urban water use look set to deepen long-standing divisions between the wealthy and the less well-off

Tim Walker

 

 

 

 

 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/california-water-shortage-one-drought-for-the-rich-and-another-for-everyone-else-as-golden-state-goes-brown-again-10157523.html

LOS ANGELES--The lush front lawns<!--[if gte vml 1]>

<![endif]--><!--[if !vml]-->http://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/icon1.png<!--[endif]--> of Los Angeles are in the full bloom of spring, and it’s difficult to believe the Golden State is about to turn brown. But that is the inevitable implication of the drought, and of new rules which call for a 25 per cent cut in urban water use.

The mandatory restrictions are the first in the state’s history, but they look set to deepen long-standing divisions between the wealthy and the less well-off, and between California’s packed cities and its vast, sparsely populated agricultural areas. “It’s a different world,” Governor Jerry Brown said as he unveiled the plan. “We have to act differently.” What he did not say, however, was that some will have to act more differently than others.

In Los Angeles, whose residents use an average of 265 litres per day, an academic study found that the most affluent neighbourhoods used up to three times more water than others. In wealthy southern cities such as Malibu and Newport Beach, where people have large front lawns, consumption was more than 560 litres per capita in January.

Stephanie Pincetl, director of the California Centre forSustainable<!--[if gte vml 1]>

<![endif]--><!--[if !vml]-->http://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/icon1.png<!--[endif]--> Communities, told The Los Angeles Times: “The problem lies, in part, in the social isolation of the rich, the moral isolation of the rich.” The rich, she said, were “lacking a sense that we are all in this together”.

Until now, most California cities have chosen not to punish people for excessive water use, but simply to raise awareness. Beverly Hills, for example, sought to reduce consumption by 10 per cent by encouraging residents to curb their watering and use recycled water in their decorative fountains. In Santa Cruz, by contrast, heavy water users can be fined hundreds of dollars and sent to “water school” to change their habits. The city reduced its water use by 25 per cent last year.

Mr Brown’s 31-point plan calls for golf courses and other landscaped areas to cut water use, and bans watering of roadside verges. It includes schemes and incentives to replace 50 million square feet of lawn with drought-tolerant landscaping.

“The great myth of California water is that someone else is always responsible,” said Jon Christensen, of the University of California’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability<!--[if gte vml 1]>

<![endif]--><!--[if !vml]-->http://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/icon1.png<!--[endif]-->. “There are longstanding divisions between rural agriculture and urban areas, between northern and southern California.

 

“What I haven’t seen before is this sharp focus on the wealthy, but it still fits the overall pattern: the first thing Californians do in a drought is find somebody else to blame. But we’re all in this together, and focusing on one type of water user is not going to solve the problem.”

 

 

While battle lines are being drawn between rich and poor, a bigger conflict is brewing between town and country. As many as 95 per cent of Californians live in urban areas, and yet they use just 20 per cent of the state’s water. The governor’s mandatory restrictions do not apply to agriculture, which accounts<!--[if gte vml 1]>

<![endif]--><!--[if !vml]-->http://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/icon1.png<!--[endif]--> for the remaining 80 per cent.

Farmers say they already face dramatic cutbacks because of the drought. California’s agricultural industry, which produces almost half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the US, left 500,000 acres fallow last year, losing an estimated $1.5bn.

In 2014 and again this year, the federally run Central Valley Project, which oversees the irrigation canals that run through the state’s agricultural heartland, allocated farmers a zero per cent share of the water they carry.

6-9-15

AP

$340 million in California drought-relief money left unspent

Fenit Nirappil and Scott Smith

http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20150609/340-million-in-california-drought-relief-money-left-unspent

In this photo, Fidel Fraga, right, volunteers at a food distribution event in Firebaugh serving hundreds of farmworkers out of work because of the state’s relentless drought. The food is provided through emergency drought relief funds.Scott Smith — The Associated Press

FIREBAUGH >> More than $340 million that was supposed to be rushed to drought-stricken California communities sits unspent in government bank accounts more than a year after lawmakers voted to use the money to provide water, protect wells from contamination and upgrade outdated water systems.

Although millions of dollars from the same drought-assistance package have helped parched communities across the state, the amount of money that remains untapped shows how slowly the wheels of government can turn even in a crisis.

State officials acknowledge the slow pace of the spending, which they say is meant to ensure that the money is used wisely. But some say they would like to find ways to speed up the process.

Weeks after he declared a state of emergency, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration set aside $687 million to help house farmworkers and others struggling in drought-devastated counties. Nearly half of it has not been awarded or spent, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by the state Finance Department.

The package included some $239 million intended for local water systems such as pipelines and water-treatment plants. Those projects will not be awarded until fall, which is considered on schedule even though lawmakers called the projects “shovel-ready.”

“A term like ‘shovel-ready’ implies that this is going to start happening” immediately or the next day, “when in reality, it’s going to be many months,” said Steve Boilard, a former nonpartisan policy analyst who leads the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University. “The issue is not that this is taking longer than it should. It’s taking longer than the voters have been led to expect.”

Administration officials defend their handling of the money.

“Where there have been immediate needs, the state has committed immediate dollars,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Finance Department. “We want to spend it quickly, but we want to spend it properly.”

The Brown administration’s efforts have made a difference to city dwellers, farmers and wildlife hurt by the driest conditions in recent memory. Eleven new wells are tapping more underground water for Los Angeles. Slow-trickling valves have replaced sprinklers on 200 acres of farmland near Santa Maria. A vanishing pond near Sacramento has been replenished, protecting a popular breeding ground for the threatened giant garter snake.

6-13-15

CBS/KPIX

Lock Your Taps! Drought Has Thieves Stealing Water Like It’s Liquid Gold

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2015/06/13/lock-your-taps-spigot-milpitas-thieves-stealing-water-like-its-liquid-gold/

MILPITAS (KPIX 5) — Police are warning for businesses and residents to start locking up their taps. California’s drought has gotten so bad, people are stealing water.

Thieves busted the locks on the spigots at a popular Asian shopping center on Barber Lane in Milpitas, just to get their hands on what has become liquid gold.


Palo Alto resident Jason Zhur said he’s shocked it has come this far. “But water’s becoming more expensive than gas,” he said.

Police say the thieves waited until the businesses were closed and returned in the middle of the night to steal their water — and lots of it.

Witnesses saw 3 or 4 water bandits prying open the small boxes that house the spigots. Then they filled up large containers with hundreds of gallons of water.

The businesses discovered the theft after the property owner noticed a much higher water bill and told them.

“It’s an easy target,” said shopper Sara Tang, “because no one is here at night after they’re closed.”

Many businesses here have surveillance cameras, but apparently they weren’t a deterrent.

“I imagine it’s come to that point because water rates are going up, everything is going up, now,” said Zhur.

On June 1, water districts across the state began enforcing mandatory cutbacks on water consumption. Residents who don’t comply risk steep fines.

So far, police haven’t made any arrests in this case, but they are warning people to start locking up their spigots.

Hardware stores sell locks that screw on. They will prevent thieves from opening the spigot and stealing the water.

 

 

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