At the usual place and time, Echo Summit at the beginning of April, the Immortal Snow Doctor, Frank Gehrke (chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program), one end of his long, hollow wand quietly resting on dirt beside his feet, stood mostly silently beside the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, who spoke at some length about the drought crisis without once using the political cliche du jour, "we must move forward."
We think he might have sensed that his audience of nearly 40 million California residents of would prefer moving back to a time when no global warming threatened to turn the California Dream into The Century of the Buzzard. The drama of the occasion (the LA Times and San Francisco Chronicle reports are below) seemed to dull reporters' minds to some questions that arise at this distance.
First, the governor's edict is essentially identical with two significant pieces of recent legislation: a state mandate for local land-use authorities to begin the process of creating some semblance of "sustainable" use of groundwater. This is a real hoot here in the San Joaquin Valley where county supervisors, as untermed in their offices as members of Congress, in a one-man-one-vote polity -- are the last voice entirely devoted to Agriculture in all its environmental destructiveness, private property-rights mania, politcal bribery and corruption, and its hatred for the state and federal governments that provides it highly subsidized water from the rivers and an endless flow of subsidies, disaster payments, export supports, crop insurance and funding programs of an utterly brilliant, bewildering array of names, initials, and obscure purposes into which flow billions of tax-payer dollars every year, in increasing waves. The idea that county supervisors, these frail vessels of the agrarian will, are going to willing to encumber their funders with regulations promoting "sustainability of groundwater resources" is absurd, comical, and by all means we must move forward on it, immediately. For historical reference, turn your gaze to the late boom and bust in residential housing. If the deal meant a farmer made a killing by selling farm land for real estate, his friends on the board of supervisors made sure it happened -- CEQA be damned.
The second bill the governor has already signed but includes now in his edict concerns restricting urban water use and getting after them dope growers. The state has, in addition to the jaw-boning abilities of the governor, various coercive measures it can bring to bear on local governments to compel less water use. Sending out state game warden (in the new correct Capitol jargon, "wildlife" wardens) to interfere with dope growers' interference with springs and creeks or whatever water source they can find is going to add to the annual to the hot lead rituals between growers and bandits, providing many new stories to tell around the woodstove when it rains in winter up there.
If any one California politician can be blamed for the hopeless lack of preparation in the state for this drought, it is Gov. SmartyPants.gap. Excuse-wise, naked as a jaybird. He grew up in the family of the principle political player in every major water project from the Friant Dam/Friant-Kern Canal to the San Luis Canal Co./Delta Mendota Water Authority to Lake Oroville and the State Water Project and the Edmonston Pumping Plant over the Tehachapis. Pat's cronies represented every special interest along the great conveyance of water from Northern to Southern California. Among the yeoman workers of the soil Pat Brown counted pals from the rice-grower duck clubs to the Delta duck clubs to the Los Banos duck clubs to the Lords of Cotton south of Fresno. He loved lawyers and sought counsel from the best water lawyers of his generation. Young Jerry had the best education in water politics that could be bought by his father's supporters.
And when Jerry in due course achieved the governorship himself, emerging from the 1974 primary field of superior candidates by flying on his father's name (also "Edmund G. Brown"), while preaching the gospel of economic limits he was shortly after involved in a very serious drought himself. The state wasn't prepared for that one either but the population was about half of what it is today -- much less pressure on the carrying capacity of the natural resources.
With the adoption of dotgap through marriage to a former Gap executive, Gov. SmartyPants.gap attained the office a second time and now liberated from any thoughts of limits he wants peripheral tunnels under the Delta to convey more Sacramento River water straight to the main canals that supply the corporate agriculture of the west side of the San Joaquin River and drinking water for 25 million urban residents from the South Bay to Southern California (more than the population of the entire state when he was first elected in 1974); he wants a high speed railroad through the center of the San Joaquin Valley and he want fracking along the San Andreas Fault, the eastern border of the Monterey Shale Formation.
If the Good Times ever roll for the 99 Percent, Gov. SmartyPants.gap will once again be the Perfect Bubbly Leader, as smooth and ageless and arrogant as any Silicon Valley CEO; but at the moment, he just looks silly mouthing slogans about working together and all that. This society is not like that at the moment or maybe it would be more correct to say it is not like that anymore.
However, regardless of the grim situation, we hope the old man has the energy and the wit to let the circumstances make him the leader the circumstances need. At least at the moment he isn't talking about "moving forward." On the other hand, if the sole positive result of this drought is to improve the character of this governor, it will not be enough. The most likely outcome for the governor is that he will take a large political fall for the whole tribe of sanctimonious, rich, unelected and untermed managers of urban water departments, regional water agencies and rural water and irrigation districts.
Suggested summer reading: The Plague, Albert Camus; A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe.
April 1, 2015
Los Angeles Times
Brown orders California's first mandatory water restrictions: 'It's a different world'
by Chris Megerian, Matt Stevens and Bettina Boxall
Standing in a brown field that would normally be smothered in several feet of snow, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered cities and towns across California to cut water use by 25% as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions, the first in state history.
The directive comes more than a year after Brown asked for a 20% voluntary cut in water use that most parts of the state have failed to attain, even as one of the most severe modern droughts drags into a fourth year. It also came on the day that water officials measured the lowest April 1 snowpack in more than 60 years of record-keeping in the Sierra Nevada.
Wearing hiking shoes and a windbreaker in an area that normally requires cross-country skis this time of year, Brown announced the executive order in a Sierra Nevada meadow that provided a dramatic illustration of the state's parched conditions.
“We're standing on dry grass,” Brown said. “We should be standing on five feet of snow.”
Emphasizing that the drought could persist, Brown said Californians must change their water habits. “It's a different world,” he said. “We have to act differently.”
The order focused on urban life even though agriculture accounts for roughly three quarters of Californians' water usage. Cities have to stop watering the median strips that run down the middle of roads. The state will partner with local agencies to remove 50 million square feet of grass — the equivalent of about 1,150 football fields — and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping.
State agencies will create a temporary rebate program to encourage homeowners to replace water-guzzling appliances with high-efficiency ones. Golf courses, campuses and cemeteries must cut their water use. New developments will have to install drip or microspray systems if they irrigate with drinking water. Water agencies will discourage water waste with higher rates and fees.
The order aims to reduce the amount of water used statewide in urban areas in 2013 by 25%.
Some critics of Brown's order said it didn't do enough to address agricultural uses. Adam Scow, director of Food & Water Watch California, called the order disappointing.
“The governor must save our groundwater from depletion by directing the state water board to protect groundwater as a public resource,” Scow said in a statement.
Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, said the measure isn't about “finger-pointing”…“It's about everybody having to step up in these tough times.”
The water board will release draft regulations in mid-April to implement the order. It plans to approve the regulations in early May.
Marcus said local agencies will receive targets for cutting water use based on how well they've done so far
Local agencies that have been slow to conserve since then will feel the order's effects most dramatically, Marcus said.
“You're rewarding the early adopters ... and you're saying to the laggers, ‘You have to make a change,'” she said.
Most of the burden of enforcement will fall on local agencies.
If they don't follow the governor's order, the state can fine them as much as $10,000 a day.
Many Southern California agencies are already taking steps called for in Brown's order. For instance, under a turf rebate program administered by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, spokesman Bob Muir said homeowners are planning to remove almost 89 million square feet of turf, the equivalent of more than 59,000 frontyards. It's unclear whether Brown's mandate for 50 million square feet of lawn replacement includes work already done by local agencies. Similarly, Los Angeles already has a tiered water-rate structure to encourage conservation.
Although Southern California water managers said it might be tough for some cities to meet the 25% target, they welcomed Brown's action.
“It's the right time. It's a proper directive,” said Rob Hunter, general manager of the Municipal Water District of Orange County.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised the executive order, noting that last year he called for a 20% cut in the city's water use by 2017.
In Long Beach, Water Department General Manager Kevin Wattier said the order would have the biggest effect on water districts that use much more water per capita than Long Beach and Los Angeles.
“The governor understands we don't have time to allow any voluntary measures to work,” said Mark Gold of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “This is such a growing crisis that mandatory conservation was absolutely necessary.”
Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation and former state secretary of natural resources, said even more restrictions may be necessary in the future, such as banning all outdoor water use. “We're probably going to need more action before we're through the summer,” he said.
Brown issued his order at Phillips Station, about 90 miles east of Sacramento, where state workers conducted a manual snow survey as part of statewide readings that revealed that the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was only about 5% of the average for April 1. That is the lowest for the date in records going back to 1950.
The Sierra snowpack accounts for about 30% of the state's water supply, and although major reservoir storage is better than it was last year, there will be little snowmelt to replenish reservoirs this spring.
Nurit Katz, UCLA's Chief Sustainability Officer and co-chair of a UC system-wide water task force, said every campus has created a water action plan focused on reducing consumption. UCLA is installing artificial turf on its intramural field, retrofitting fixtures such as toilets and developing a smart water filtration system.
Combined with other efforts, the campus expects to save millions of gallons of water each year, she said.
Brown's order requires agricultural districts in depleted groundwater basins to share data on groundwater use with the state.
“The agricultural community is already being hit very hard,” Marcus said.
For the second year in a row, Central Valley growers without senior water rights are likely to get no supplies from the valley's big federal irrigation project. Last year farmers idled about 500,000 acres for lack of water, and this year they may be forced to leave even more cropland unplanted.
“Some people want to say, ‘What about the farmers?' And farmers want to say, ‘What about those people watering their lawns?'” Brown said. “We all have something to do, and we can all do a little better.”
San Francisco Chronicle
California drought: Brown orders 25 percent water use reduction
By Peter Fimrite, Melody Gutierrez and Victoria Colliver
PHILLIPS, El Dorado County — Standing in a browned meadow that should have been buried in deep snow, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered California’s first-ever mandatory water cutback, imposing a 25 percent reduction to force residents and businesses to significantly tighten up water use.
Brown’s historic executive order came Wednesday under sunny skies in theSierra Nevada as he stood with snow surveyors who had not a flake to measure on the ground at Phillips Station. The news statewide was worse than expected: Snow depth was calculated at 1 to 2 inches — far from the record low of 27 inches in 1977 during one of the state’s worst droughts on record.
“People should realize we are in a new era,” Brown said. “The idea of your nice little green grass that gets water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.”
Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to make the water reductions mandatory by requiring water districts to force restrictions on urban water users. Currently most agencies have asked customers to voluntarily cut back. The 25 percent is based on water usage from 2013.
The water board is expected to release draft regulations in the middle of April and approve the regulations in early May.
Additionally, Brown’s order:
•Requires campuses, golf courses and cemeteries to install water-saving systems to meet the 25 percent reduction.
•Prohibits new homes and developments from irrigating with drinkable water unless a water-efficient drip irrigation system is used.
•Bans cities from watering ornamental grass on public street medians.
•Requires 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state to be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping through programs with local governments.
•Creates a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old water-guzzling appliances with more efficient ones.
•Requires farmers to report more information on their water use to state regulators.
•Increases state enforcement of illegal diversions of water or unreasonable water waste.
'We have to pull together’
Brown said local water agencies must adopt emergency regulations to adjust their rate structures to ensure water reductions are rewarded and to discourage water waste.
“We have to save water however we can, and we have to pull together,” Brown said.
The Sierra snowpack is a crucial barometer of how much water the state will have available in the current year. California is in its fourth year of drought, and with the Sierra snowpack recording new lows not only in the depth but in the water content of that snow, little runoff is expected to replenish the state’s reservoirs. The water content was 5 percent of normal on Wednesday — the lowest it’s been since records were compiled starting in 1950.
Snowmelt makes up 60 percent of the water that is captured in California’s reservoirs and, during a normal year, it provides about 30 percent of the state’s overall water supply.
“This is bad news in terms of the state’s water picture,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program.
Reservoirs in bad shape
The state’s largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, has 74 percent of what it normally holds at this time of year. Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir and the most important source for the State Water Project, is carrying 67 percent of what it normally holds at this time of year. Some reservoirs serving farming communities are perilously low, such as the McClure Dam on the Merced River, which stands at 16 percent.
Snow surveyors take manual measurements at more than 230 places to record the Sierra snowpack. Gehrke said an “astounding” number of the sites have been bare this year — as many as 60 to 70 percent. The statewide snowpack average is 63 inches on April 1, the date water resources officials use as a benchmark because it is when the snow normally begins to melt and fill up the state’s reservoirs. Last year, the snowpack was at 33 inches.
This year’s statewide average is 1 to 2 inches.
“No one has seen anything like this,” Gehrke said. “This is absolutely the lowest amount of snow on record. There is no doubt about that now.”
The governor’s move follows his earlier calls on Californians to voluntarily cut back 20 percent of their water use.
“We are getting about 9 percent,” Brown said. “That’s not enough.”
A 25 percent mandatory reduction in water use across the state would save approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, which is nearly as much water as is currently in Lake Oroville.
Water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said the agency has the authority to fine water agencies that are not complying with the mandatory 25 percent cut with a $10,000-a-day fine and “we aren’t afraid to use it.” The governor’s announcement did not come as a surprise to local water agencies.
“We were waiting for a miracle March, but it was miserable March instead,” said Abby Figueroa, spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District. “We knew this was coming, and we were working toward having as much of a drought response as possible.”
District ponders next step
The East Bay district’s board is considering a drought surcharge of 25 percent on average on all users so that it can buy additional water, Figueroa said.
The East Bay water agency is also considering imposing excessive-use penalties on customers who consume four to six times as much water as average.
Steve Ritchie, assistant general manager of water for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, commended the governor’s response.
“He hit it hard. That will get people’s attention,” Ritchie said.
The agency is awaiting additional direction from the California Water Resources Control Board, but Ritchie said he expects the restrictions to target the highest per capita users and outdoor irrigation use.
“It’s a good time to think about whether or not to kill your lawn,” he said.