"Chinatown" and "Day of the Locust"-level flak

The drama! The panic! The fear! Visions of people dying of thirst in yet-unnamed Southern California suburbs. Millions of acres of farm crops disked under.


At the Monday meeting in Los Banos with farmers, Bureau of Reclamation staff and Rep. Jim Costa is reported to have said that California has a perfectly good water system for 20 million people, the problem being that we have now around 38 million people and rising.

Costa might have added the suspicious that beyond 20 million people, California was well over the carrying capacity of its natural resources without putting them into a destructive spiral that has now produced what he called "the perfect storm."

The salmon must return to the rivers where they were born. People don't have to migrate to California.

From Prop. 13, to term limits in the state Legislature that delivered the Legislature to lobbyists, to electrical utility deregulation, to the recall that elected the governor to the real estate boom to the real estate bust, and two bad precipitation years, the crucial political decisions in California have been made by developer lobbyists who own the state Legislature and local land-use jurisdictions solely for the benefit of developer profits.

1978: Prop. 13-- CA population, 25 million
1990: Term limits in the state Legislature -- CA population, 27 million
1996: Electrical utility deregulation -- CA population, 30 million
2001-03: Energy crisis, recall election -- CA population, 32-33 million
Present: CA population, 38 million

The political necessity of 38 million people afraid of water shortages or perhaps merely made uncomfortable by water shortages, along with Valley farmers screaming bankruptcy, will overwhelm political and legal arguments for preservation of the state's environment. However, even in this darkest hour there is hope. Empty, foreclosed houses and unsold houses litter the urban areas of the San Joaquin Valley. These represent the saving grace of showers untaken, toilets unflushed, lawns and gardens unwatered. Who says that finance, insurance and real estate corporations are not green and are not taking an active part in saving water and reducing global warming? As for our swelling homeless population, their ubiquitous baby carriages produce no smog and guzzle no gas.

One Badlands editor reports: "Me and the wife have been trying to get pregnant with no success. Then I got one of them peripheral canals and now we got triplets and one of them is pregnant."
Badlands editorial board

Department of Water Resources
California Water News
A daily compilation for DWR personnel of significant news articles and comment

June 6, 2008

CALFED wins ruling on Delta: But wording may help losing side defeat canal
The Stockton Record – 6/6/08
By Alex Breitler, Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO - The government was legally justified when it did not consider cutting water exports as one way to solve the Delta's problems, the state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

But one attorney said language in the ruling may actually help Delta farmers and environmentalists in their renewed fight against a peripheral canal.

In 2000, the state-federal partnership known as CALFED released a major environmental plan that listed three broad alternatives to improving the Delta.

None of those alternatives included reducing the amount of water that is exported from giant pumps near Tracy to portions of the Bay Area, the southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

Delta farmers sued. They lost in Sacramento County Superior Court, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. That court said the state's population would eventually adjust to the new realities of less available water.

The state Supreme Court decided the matter once and for all Thursday, saying CALFED's entire purpose was to reduce conflicts over water, and that the agency was justified in deciding that slashing water exports from the Delta would only make things worse.

Much has changed since that original plan was issued. CALFED is widely considered a failure - a bill pending in the state Legislature would eliminate it altogether.

Meanwhile, officials have moved on to new planning processes in the Delta, including consideration of a peripheral canal.

But the court's decision Thursday is not moot. CALFED's plan is still the foundation for many studies that are under way in the Delta, said CALFED spokesman Keith Coolidge. And the ruling will be looked to by those who are crafting new strategies.

That's why Stockton attorney Dante Nomellini, although on the losing end, was encouraged.

The court acknowledged that federal and state law means water exports must be "subordinated" to environmental needs, he said.

CALFED was based on the theory that it's possible to restore the Delta's ecology while maintaining or even increasing water exports.

"If practical experience demonstrates that the theory is unsound, Bay-Delta water exports may need to be capped or reduced," the ruling says.

Good news, said Nomellini, who represents Delta farmers.

"I think it's a very important statement that will have an impact" on current Delta planning, he said.

The State Water Contractors, which represents 27 agencies that receive Delta water, praised Thursday's ruling, calling ecosystem and water supply "co-equal goals."

But an environmental group, the Planning and Conservation League, called it an "unfortunate" decision that relied on an outdated understanding of the relationship between water exports and the Delta's ecosystem, including fish species whose numbers have plummeted under CALFED's watch.#

Department of Water Resources
California Water News
A daily compilation for DWR personnel of significant news articles and comment

June 6, 2008

1. Top Items -

Drought declared in California for the first time in 16 years
Contra Costa Times
Schwarzenegger proclaims that California is in a drought
Los Angeles Times

Governor declares drought in California
San Francisco Chronicle

Schwarzenegger hopes drought decree is wake-up call
Sacramento Bee

Governor declares drought - without mandatory rationing
San Jose Mercury News

More cuts loom as drought declared
Greater conservation effort needed, water officials say
San Diego Union Tribune

Governor Declares Drought in California
New York Times

Drought officially arrives
Governor's budget would borrow from lottery to cut deficit
Los Angeles Daily News

Y-S region, valley still in good shape
Marysville Appeal Democrat

Governor declares drought
Suppliers use transfers, surcharges to handle deficit
Redding Record Searchlight

Governor declares drought
Fresno Co. supervisors to seek county resolution.
Associated Press

Drought declared in California for the first time in 16 years
Contra Costa Times – 6/4/08
By Mike Taugher, staff writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the first statewide drought in 16 years Wednesday, setting in place measures to head off severe shortages next year and lending a boost to his plan to raise more than $11 billion to upgrade the state's water delivery system. The governor did not call for rationing, but his plan seeks funding for conservation programs, attempts to encourage water transfers and orders adjustments in the timing of water deliveries to free irrigation supplies for farmers.

The drought declaration reflects the state's increasing vulnerability to water shortages and heralds what appears to be years of uncertainty about state water supplies.

Since the last major drought, from 1987 to 1992, California's population has grown by 8 million and Southern California's access to Colorado River water has been clipped by 500,000 acre-feet, enough for 1 million families.

Meanwhile, court-ordered restrictions on Delta pumping to protect collapsing fish populations are making it more difficult to meet water demands, particularly from San Joaquin Valley farmers who rely on Sierra runoff to irrigate their crops. And those restrictions will make it more difficult to refill many reservoirs when the drought ends.

"If it starts to rain again, we're not OK," said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. "This is the most serious situation I've seen us face in my 30-year career. "... The situation is so bad in the San Joaquin Valley that a lot of folks could go belly up."

Schwarzenegger blamed the situation on the state's failure to build big new reservoirs in recent decades, which he called "absolutely insane."

He said he would continue pushing for an $11.9 billion water bond he wants to get on the November ballot to build dams, construct a more efficient method of delivering water through the Delta region and a host of water use efficiency and environmental improvements.

"Our drought is an urgent reminder of the immediate need to upgrade California's water infrastructure," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor ordered state agencies to begin setting up a water bank to transfer water from those who have it to those who do not next year, if needed, and increase advertising for water conservation. He also ordered state agencies to seek federal money for water conservation programs and shift the timing of water deliveries to Southern California to help free up supplies for San Joaquin Valley farms.

But those are only stopgap measures meant to soften the blow if next year is dry.

"It's going to get worse," the governor said.

While the drought is grabbing attention, water officials say the problems are much deeper than the weather. A court has sharply cut water deliveries out of the Delta to correct flaws in an illegally issued permit that was supposed to protect Delta smelt under the Endangered Species Act.

The same court on Friday will begin considering whether further restrictions are required to correct another illegally issued permit that failed to protect salmon and steelhead.

Meanwhile, yet another fish species, longfin smelt, is being considered for endangered species status and that could lead to even more water delivery restrictions.

"As the ramifications of the salmon start to hit us, and the longfin smelt, I think we've got to expect even less water than we get now," Quinn said.

The drought caught many Californians, particularly skiers who remember strong January storms, by surprise.

In fact, the past two years are only marginally drier than 2001 and 2002 and are not as dry as 1987 and 1988, according to state chief hydrologist Maury Roos.

But state water officials say the past three months have been the driest March, April and May combination recorded since record keeping began in 1922.

And, because last year was also dry, reservoirs are depleted and much of the state's snowmelt is soaking into the ground instead of running down rivers.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.3 million people in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, last month declared a drought emergency and imposed mandatory water rationing. The city of Long Beach and the Westlands Water District in the San Joaquin Valley are also rationing, and other water districts across the state are calling for voluntary conservation and stiffening penalties for waste.

For customers of the Contra Costa Water District, the drought means their Delta water supply will turn saltier this year and that will increase the need to take fresh water out of Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

The water district's assistant general manager, Greg Gartrell, said that although the orders issued by the governor were not dramatic, "fundamentally, they're the most important thing you can do."

"If everybody does a little bit, it saves a hell of a lot," he said.#


Schwarzenegger proclaims that California is in a drought
Los Angeles Times – 6/5/08
By Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a statewide drought Wednesday, warning that California's water supply is falling dangerously low because of below-average rainfall and court-ordered water restrictions aimed at protecting fish.

"We must recognize the severity of this crisis we face," Schwarzenegger said at a Capitol news conference. He said this spring has been the driest on record in Northern California, which supplies most of the water to the state.

Along with the proclamation, the governor issued an executive order intended to speed transfers of water to areas experiencing the most severe shortages, help local water districts boost conservation efforts, identify risks to the state's water supply and assist farmers.

The governor stopped short of declaring a water emergency. Administration officials say Wednesday's move is a first step, putting Californians on notice that large-scale rationing could be coming if the situation does not improve. Some areas of the state are more vulnerable than others.

The governor said his proclamation adds urgency to a proposal he has been pushing for years to borrow $11.9 billion for new water projects such as reservoirs, river restoration and water-quality improvement. Schwarzenegger would like the Legislature to put such a plan on the November ballot, but lawmakers have balked amid opposition from environmentalists, who argue that new reservoirs threaten wildlife and fish habitats.

California has no official guidelines for what constitutes a statewide drought, and the governor's proclamation this early in a dry spell is unusual. The state is in its second dry year.

When the last such proclamation was made, in 1991, former Gov. Pete Wilson waited until the fifth dry year. Only a month ago, the state's meteorologist said California was not in a drought.

Administration officials say the governor is moving proactively because of unique circumstances that could cause the water situation to rapidly deteriorate. They point to a federal court order last summer aimed at protecting endangered smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that has put a substantial share of the state's water supply off-limits.

Additionally, state Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow said odd weather patterns, perhaps related to global warming, are creating problems for the water supply.

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which accounts for a large share of the state's water supply, was at 97% of normal in March. By May it was down to 67% of normal. Warm weather throughout the spring caused the snow to melt quickly, Snow said, with much of the water evaporating instead of running downstream into reservoirs.

"The snowpack has been disappearing, and it has not manifest itself as runoff," Snow said.

Most of the state's residential customers are unlikely to face severe water rationing this year. But they are being asked to cut back their use. Major conservation campaigns have been underway in many parts of the state.

Water districts in several cities, including Long Beach and Oakland, are imposing restrictions on outdoor water use and are asking residential consumers to cut their overall use by 10% to 20%.

Washing cars and driveways is banned in some places, as is serving drinking water in restaurants unless the customer asks for it.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on Wednesday voted to put such restrictions in place, subject to City Council approval. DWP officials said they expect to have up to 18 "drought busters" patrolling neighborhoods and ticketing offenders.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 18 million people, will consider asking other member cities and counties to adopt such measures June 13. The proposed resolution would also encourage local governments to consider tiered rate structures that encourage conservation, mandatory installation of low-flow toilets when properties are resold, and rebates for consumers who install water-saving devices.

Timothy F. Brick, chairman of the district board, warned the state is "entering a new and worrisome water era."

Farmers could be particularly hard hit. In the San Joaquin Valley, water shortages this year could force some to abandon tomato crops during the summer.

Schwarzenegger warns that conservation will help the state address such mounting water problems in the short term only.

"Our drought is an urgent reminder of the immediate need to upgrade California's water infrastructure," he said. "I hope the legislators get the point. . . . Let's fix all of these things that need to be fixed rather than waiting and waiting and waiting."

The governor noted that in 2006 the state had so much rain and snow that "raging storm water drained off into the ocean without us catching it" as large reservoirs released excess water. "Today, those same reservoirs are 40% below capacity. It is absolutely insane."

Environmentalists on Wednesday said the governor's call to bring his bond package before voters as soon as possible was misguided.

"I don't think we are at this point where people are not going to have water if we don't put his package on the November ballot," said Jim Metropulos, a senior advocate with the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club and other conservation groups said they would like to see a water bond package geared toward projects they view as more beneficial to the environment.

The Natural Resources Defense Council released a statement encouraging the governor to focus on his goal of reducing water usage in California cities by 20%. A bill the group sponsored that would set such a target for the state, AB 2175, recently passed the Assembly. #


Governor declares drought in California
San Francisco Chronicle – 6/5/08
By Kelly Zito, Matthew Yi, staff writers

California's water crisis intensified Wednesday as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the first statewide drought in 17 years - setting the stage for drastic cutbacks and for diverting supplies from the relatively water-rich to the water-poor.

Schwarzenegger called for a 20 percent reduction in water use statewide and urged local agencies to bolster conservation programs and to work with federal and other authorities to help farmers who are suffering huge financial losses and abandoning crops in droves. Schwarzenegger lacks the authority to impose statewide rationing, though the Department of Water Resources could slash water supplies to local agencies, which then would be forced to institute rationing.

"There is no more time to waste because nothing is more vital to protect our economy, our environment and our quality of life," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor's pronouncement follows the driest spring on record and two years of below-normal precipitation. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, the backbone of the state's water supply, stands at two-thirds of normal; dusty banks line many important reservoirs; and environmental rulings have slashed water pumped from the crucial Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta - all while California's booming population threatens to overwhelm some of the state's key infrastructure.

Some water districts, including the East Bay Municipal Utility District, already have imposed rationing and threatened to fine or reduce water supply to customers who violate the restrictions. Most of the remaining Bay Area water districts have asked for voluntary cutbacks on the order of 10 to 20 percent.

But as the dusty days of summer approach, more districts are likely to make restrictions mandatory. The picture looks increasingly grim if the next winter brings scant rain and snow.

"If we get a third consecutive dry year, we're going to have serious, serious problems, and I don't know the answer," said Ted Thomas, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources.

Parceling out water

The state department will assess the neediest districts in the state - many of which are in Southern California - and begin coordinating transfers of water. Plans also include establishing a state water bank, built on water purchases from some farming districts.

Because water can't simply be rerouted from one area to another, transfers usually entail trading the rights to local water supplies. In other words, a Southern California district, which normally receives an allotment from the delta, instead might draw from a neighboring district's surplus. That, in turn, would free up water from the delta for Bay Area counties.

"Next year could be a very different situation," said Patty Friesen, spokeswoman for the district. "If we continue with drought conditions, there is no surplus."

Farmers in some of the most fertile stretches of the Central Valley have found little relief thus far. The Westlands Water District supplies growers of $1.3 billion in cotton, tomatoes, garlic and onions in western Fresno and Kings counties. This week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cut the district's water allotment to 40 percent of normal, forcing about one-third of the district's farmers to decide which crops to irrigate or write off for this year's harvest.

"This is the first time in the history of Westlands Water District that our growers have had to do this," said spokeswoman Sarah Woolf, adding that the district was formed in 1964. "It's just unbelievable."

More infrastructure needed?

The governor used his announcement to pitch his proposed solution: an $11.9 billion water bond that would pay for new dams, an idea that Democratic legislators have resisted.

Schwarzenegger and his supporters, including many in the agriculture industry, argue that California desperately needs to build more water storage and improve water delivery systems to allow the state to better manage its water resources during dry years.

"In 2006, for instance, we had more water than we knew what to do with it. Raging storm water ran off into the ocean without us capturing it. Shasta and Folsom reservoirs were forced to release billions and billions of excess water. Today, those same reservoirs are at 40 percent capacity. That's absolutely insane," he said.

Environmental groups, however, contend that the state is sitting on $5.9 billion from a 2006 water bond. What's more, they say, the state hasn't done its utmost to conserve.

"That bond money is part of the regional planning process. If a local agency wants to work on groundwater management, conservation, surface storage, the state can use that money to partner," said Barry Nelson, western water project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The simple fact is, those projects aren't ready to go, and conservation is."

Nelson and his peers in the environmental movement agree the state is in a dire water shortage. However, they are worried that some hallmark environmental rulings could be thrown out. Laura Harnish, regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the governor could use his declaration of drought as a stepping-stone to designating a statewide emergency.

"We've had a lot of hard-fought wins for the environment, and in an emergency crisis the environmental safeguards can be the first to get discarded," she said.

Instead, she said, policymakers must look for sustainable long-term answers to the state's water supply problems, and consumers must look for novel ways to curtail their own use.

"The positive thing that comes out of a crisis like this is that people are going to have to dig deep and get creative to conserve, and we'll see how far people can go," Harnish said.

Water use restrictions

Northern California
East Bay Municipal Utility District: Implemented mandatory water rationing; considering increases in water rates.
Santa Clara Valley Water District: Urging customers to cut water use by 10 percent.
Contra Costa Water District: Urging 10 percent reduction in water use.
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission: Calling for voluntary conservation.
Zone 7 Water Agency (Alameda County): Asking for 10 percent water use reduction.
Sonoma County Water Agency: Asking for voluntary conservation; considering mandatory conservation depending on water levels in Lake Mendocino.
North Marin Municipal Water District: Urging residents to reduce outdoor watering and to achieve a 15 percent reduction in use.
City of Roseville: Declared Stage 1 drought alert April 30 due to a 25 percent reduction in supplies from Folsom Reservoir; customers asked to cut water use by 10 percent.
Sacramento Suburban Water District: Outdoor watering limited to odd/even day schedule.
Regional Water Authority (Sacramento area): Airing radio announcements regarding water conservation.

Central Valley

Kern County Water Agency: Voluntary water conservation in place. Growers are using banked groundwater supplies to offset the loss of 200,000 acre-feet of surface water due to dry conditions, court decisions.
Westlands Water District: Mandatory rationing in place through Aug. 31. One-third of farmland is being fallowed. At least 500 jobs lost.

Southern California

Several areas have imposed mandatory water rationing, including Long Beach Water Department, Rancho California Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Source: Association of California Water Agencies #


Schwarzenegger hopes drought decree is wake-up call
Sacramento Bee – 6/5/08
By Matt Weiser and Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, staff writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared Wednesday that California is in a drought, a move that included no immediate conservation orders but may lead to more aggressive water-saving efforts in many parts of the state.

Water experts said the declaration could wake up water consumers who have been complacent and lead to significant conservation.

"What you will see up and down the state is water agencies pushing much harder on their customers to cut down on water use," said Laura King-Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Contractors. "The era of polite requests for 10 percent water cuts is over."

On Wednesday critics quickly hit the declaration as appearing more symbolic than substantive. An accompanying executive order contains directives to the Department of Water Resources that mostly give new thrust to existing programs.

The governor's drought declaration is the first since 1991.

While California has experienced many droughts, it has never established rules to formally declare one.

Just last month, state officials would not use "drought" to define the ongoing water shortage.

Wednesday's declaration, the governor said, was based on mounting social and economic effects from a second dry year.

"There are businesses right now that are suffering," Schwarzenegger said. "We are really holding back our economic growth."

The current shortage is driven both by persistent dry weather and legal actions to protect endangered species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the water source for about 25 million people. Both major rivers feeding the Delta are considered "critically" dry this year.

The northern Sierra Nevada, stronghold for much of the state's snowpack, experienced the driest spring in more than 70 years. The city of Sacramento saw the driest spring since record-keeping began in 1849.

The runoff forecast for Sierra Nevada snowmelt through September stands at 59 percent of average and may decline further. A new forecast is expected Friday.

The reason, said Elissa Lynn, Water Resources senior meteorologist, is that much of the available runoff this year was soaked up by soils already parched after last year's dry winter. A windy spring also caused some unexpected evaporation of snow.

"It certainly is a poor outlook," said Lynn. "You just can't have your season shut down like this on March 1. So this is extreme."

Worst-hit so far is the San Joaquin Valley, where Delta water deliveries already have been curtailed to protect the threatened Delta smelt. Valley farmers have lost some crops and soon may be forced to let others die.

Schwarzenegger directed officials to help speed water transfers to areas with the worst shortages, help local water districts with conservation efforts and assist farmers suffering losses.

Water Resources appointed two existing employees to coordinate transfers and conservation.

The action falls short, said Mindy McIntyre, water program manager at the Planning and Conservation League. She said the governor should have called for mandatory conservation, stormwater capture or water recycling.

McIntyre's group supports a bill, now stalled, to require new developments to offset their water demand by funding reuse and conservation elsewhere.

"It's very encouraging the governor is recognizing the importance of water efficiency, and he needs to implement policies that will get us there. Just recognizing it is not enough," McIntyre said.

Asked why the emergency didn't warrant forced conservation, Schwarzenegger said he would have been second-guessed no matter what he did.

What the declaration does, he said, is tell all Californians "there is a serious drought and … we want everyone to work together to conserve water."

Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who chairs the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, praised Schwarzenegger's actions.

"I think the governor has a bully pulpit, and he uses it effectively. That's a good thing," she said. "There's tremendous support up here (in the Legislature) for responding quickly."

Several pending bills aim to address the state's water crisis. One would impose mandates to carry out Schwarzenegger's previous call for a 20 percent per capita cut in water use by 2020.

The governor used Wednesday's declaration to push his plan for revamping California's water infrastructure. He proposes a $12 billion water bond for projects including conservation, groundwater storage, and Delta upgrades.

Its biggest feature is controversial: $3.5 billion for new reservoirs.

Schwarzenegger called on the Legislature to work with him on water proposals but said he would bypass lawmakers and use an initiative to fund the bonds "if that's what it takes."#


Governor declares drought - without mandatory rationing
San Jose Mercury News – 6/5/08
By Mike Zapler. Staff writer

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday declared a drought in California - a largely symbolic move intended to jump-start conservation efforts and push the governor's own ambitious plan to beef up the state's water infrastructure.

But despite the sparse rainfall totals for a second straight year, the governor stopped short of declaring a statewide emergency or imposing mandatory rationing throughout California, saying he wanted to allow time for voluntary measures to work.

Making the first drought declaration since 1991, Schwarzenegger spent much of his Wednesday news conference extolling his $11.9 billion water plan, which he wants to put on the November ballot. Democrats have blocked the plan in large part because it calls for building dams, but Schwarzenegger said the dry conditions demand that lawmakers act.

"I hope legislators get the point," he said. "Let's get to work and let's get a water infrastructure package done this year."

In addition to $3.5 billion for dams, the governor's plan includes billions for water conservation efforts as well as for shoring up the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Democrats said Wednesday that the governor continues to give conservation short shrift.

A busy Legislature

Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, who is sponsoring legislation calling for Californians to cut per-capita water use by 20 percent by 2020, said a deal is probably unlikely anytime soon. The Legislature is consumed by a budget deficit exceeding $15 billion, he said, adding that the shortfall also could give voters pause about authorizing more borrowing.

"I think it's going to be hard this year," Laird said.

Schwarzenegger's drought declaration came in the wake of the driest March and April on record for the Sierra Nevada, a crucial source of water for California. The final snowpack measurement last month was at 67 percent of normal, and runoff into rivers was 55 percent of normal.

Meanwhile, several of California's major reservoirs are at less than two-thirds capacity, and some water districts have already resorted to mandatory rationing. The East Bay Municipal Utility District, for example, is prohibiting using water for decorative ponds, irrigating lawns more than three times a week, and washing cars with hoses that don't have shutoff nozzles.

"Customers who violate these rules may be subject to fines, water flow restrictions, or loss of water service," according to the district's Web site.

Conservation request

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is in significantly better shape, thanks to an extensive system of reservoirs and a large aquifer that traps rainwater. But it, too, is asking people to conserve. A request to customers last year to voluntarily reduce water usage by 10 percent has so far resulted in savings of 3 to 5 percent, said Susan Siravo, a spokeswoman for the district.

Another dry year next year could bring mandatory rationing to Silicon Valley, she said, although the district hopes to avoid that by educating homeowners about what they can do to cut their water usage. Rebates, for example, are offered to people who install low-flush toilets or side-loading water-efficient washing machines.

Schwarzenegger said the most severe water shortages are occurring in some Central Valley farming communities, where water shortages are threatening crops and halting new developments. An executive order the governor signed in tandem with the drought declaration calls on the Department of Water Resources to facilitate transfers of water to parts of the state facing severe shortages.

Exacerbating the situation are federal restrictions on pumping water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect endangered fish species.

"The governor is dead-on in drawing the public's attention to the fact that we're facing a very serious situation," said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

But it's far less certain that Schwarzenegger's announcement will achieve his other goal: reaching a deal with Democratic lawmakers on a water bond plan.

"I've always said that the worst time to do long-term water planning," Laird said, "is under the pressure of a drought."


More cuts loom as drought declared
Greater conservation effort needed, water officials say
San Diego Union Tribune – 6/5/08
By Michael Gardner, Mike Lee, staff writers

SACRAMENTO – During the last punishing drought 20 years ago, La Mesa accountant Spencer Harris dutifully installed low-flow shower heads and collected shower water to fill the toilet.

Even after the emergency passed, Harris continued his conservation habit by nourishing plants with tap water saved while waiting for it to get hot enough to wash dishes.

“I could start going somewhere else to take showers, but it's pretty hard to cut back anymore,” Harris said.

But more cuts loom – whether voluntary or forced – as California's drought threatens to persist and court-ordered restrictions continue to significantly squeeze north-to-south water deliveries.

“We must recognize the severity of the crisis we face,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said yesterday as he formally declared a statewide drought.

That set in motion conservation programs and projects to aid parched regions, particularly stricken farmers along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Schwarzenegger also urged water districts across the state to push customers harder to save even more, but stopped short of ordering statewide rationing.

“We are very cautious. We want to make sure we all work together,” the governor said during a news conference. He suggested that his goal is to avoid Draconian measures in the future.

Caution also is the watchword among San Diego County water officials. They welcomed the governor's strategy, saying stepped-up conservation has to be given a chance to work before imposing mandatory rationing.

“We're taking it very cautiously here,” said Fern Steiner, chairwoman of the San Diego County Water Authority. “We would like (water-use habits) to be changed forever. We'd like lifestyle changes.”

Rationing is highly unlikely for 2008, Steiner said, but added, “We'll have to take 2009 as it comes.”

Despite improved conservation by many, water officials say a greater effort is needed by all. More water must be wrung out of the system or it will be just a matter of time before rationing comes, some officials believe.

“We don't see the types of savings that we've been asking for,” said Jim Barrett, San Diego's director of public utilities. “What we may have to do is move to mandatory conservation sooner than we would like.”

That worries businesses.

“If we start with allotments or rationing, it could potentially be very adverse to our industry,” said Jimmy Jackson, vice president of public policy for BIOCOM, the regional biotechnology trade group.

That's partly because biotech companies need lots of water for laboratories and equipment, and to keep buildings at a consistent temperature, he said.

“It's not one of those things where if you don't have as much water, you can just cut back here or there,” Jackson said.

At the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association, executive director Namara Mercer said her members are putting water-conservation reminders in guest rooms and retooling their operations.

“I think everybody in San Diego hopes that it won't come to mandatory water conservation,” Mercer said.

Marney Cox, chief economist for the San Diego Association of Governments, said that if it comes to that, it “could push the region over the edge into a recession. We already are in a slowdown, and it looks like we will have to cut back even more on water, and in turn that will mean a slower economy.”

The governor's declaration could give water agencies political cover to impose tougher restrictions on water use, said Michael Cowett, a longtime water lawyer in San Diego County.

Examples range from telling residents when they can water and for how long to not processing applications for new water hookups.

“This is going to help the districts . . . be more aggressive,” Cowett said.

The fallout is already punishing local avocado farmers and nurseries as they absorb a 30 percent cut in deliveries from the Metropolitan Water District. Under service agreements, agricultural rationing will tighten every time Metropolitan reduces deliveries to cities and businesses.

At Sunlet Nursery in Fallbrook, Janet Kister has invested in the latest irrigation systems and even computers that gauge how much water should be used. She also drastically scaled back production to keep the plants healthy.

“It's been very difficult,” Kister said. “We're struggling.”

In Valley Center, avocado grower Al Stehly has a question for the governor: What took so long?

“He's only about a year and a half late,” Stehly said, noting the lingering shortages.

He said he has had to “stump” more than 1,000 trees – a drastic measure that keeps trees alive, but not producing.

“I'm always optimistic about the future. Not this time. I don't see any way out of this,” Stehly said. “I may be in a different business next year.”

Water users also are bracing for increases in rates as agencies are forced to implement expensive conservation, buy higher-priced water from Northern California farmers – if they have any – and shore up local storage.

Steiner said the county water authority will try to minimize rate increases. But with water becoming more expensive, there's little question ratepayers will be hit.

“It is a very safe assumption that rates will continue to go up,” she said.

The Vallecitos Water District in San Marcos yesterday approved a rate increase of 9.9 percent in 2009 to cover rising water prices from wholesalers.

“I think we are going to see this kind of rate increase on an annual basis,” said Bill Rucker, the district's general manager.

Districts may resort to “drought pricing” strategies to encourage conservation. For example, during the last major drought – 1987-92 – Vallecitos threatened to charge customers several times their regular rate if they used too much water.

“The fiscal models of the future will have to get very punitive,” Rucker said.

Barrett said the city of San Diego also was looking into charging more for those who use too much “discretionary” water – for example, using more than an allotted amount of water on landscaping.

The current shortage is more grim than it was in the late 1980s. Growth is one factor. San Diego County is home to 3.1 million people, an increase of 24 percent from 1990; California's population of 38 million is 27 percent higher.

Also, scientists warn that the drought conditions may become the norm in the Southwest because of global warming. To complicate matters, the state has a chronic budget deficit, leaving it little flexibility to address a water crisis.

But the most significant factor is the loss of water already in the system, both in the north and south.

California can no longer take more than its share of water from the Colorado River – a once-flush source that helped the region through the last drought. That loss amounts to about 700,000 acre-feet a year, or enough for 1.4 million homes annually. The river basin also is enduring its own drought, although the 2007-08 winter brought above-average snow.

In the north, a federal court order to protect the delta smelt has prevented the state from moving south about 600,000 acre-feet annually. The troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, hub of the state's water network, could continue to complicate north-to-south deliveries even during heavy snow years.

That frustrates Stehly, the avocado farmer. “It's not a water problem; it's a plumbing problem. You can't get it through the delta,” he said. “I don't know what they're doing in Sacramento. They're sitting on their hands.”

Schwarzenegger implied as much yesterday, calling on legislators to approve his proposed $11.7 billion water bond, which would pay for more reservoirs and help restore the delta.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature blocked passage of the bond last year, reluctant to authorize surface storage. Many environmentalists also are opposed. But they praised the governor's emphasis on conservation yesterday.

“Energy conservation kept California's lights on during the last energy crisis,” said Barry Nelson of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Water conservation can keep our taps flowing during this drought.” #


Governor Declares Drought in California
New York Times – 6/5/08
By Jennifer Steinhauer

LOS ANGELES — Its reservoir levels receding and its grounds parched, California has fallen officially into drought, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday, warning that the state might be forced to ration water to cities and regions if conservation efforts did not improve.

The drought declaration — the first for the state since 1991 — includes orders to transfer water from less dry areas to those that are dangerously dry. Mr. Schwarzenegger also said he would ask the federal government for aid to farmers and press water districts, cities and local water agencies to accelerate conservation. Drought conditions have hampered farming, increased water rates throughout California and created potentially dangerous conditions in areas prone to wildfires.

The declaration comes after the driest California spring in 88 years, with runoff in river basins that feed most reservoirs at 41 percent of average levels. It stops short of a water emergency, which would probably include mandatory rationing.

Efforts to capture water have also been hampered by evaporation of some mountain snowpacks that provide water, an effect, state officials say, of global climate change.

A survey this year found that the state’s snowpack water content was 67 percent of average, and the Colorado River Basin, from which California draws some water, is coming off a record eight-year drought, contributing to the drop in reservoir storage.

The drought declaration, made when reservoir levels are far higher than they were when Gov. Pete Wilson issued a similar statement in 1991 — is as much a political statement as a practical one. Mr. Schwarzenegger is pressing the Legislature to approve an $11.9 billion water bond as part of the state budget to pay for water storage and to fix the state’s aging water delivery systems.

The governor, a Republican, has said that addressing California’s seemingly omnipresent water shortage is one of his most urgent priorities, but his ideas have not passed muster with the Legislature in the past.

“This drought is an urgent reminder of the immediate need to upgrade California’s water infrastructure,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “There is no more time to waste because nothing is more vital to protect our economy, our environment and our quality of life.”

A bill to require Californians to cut water use 20 percent recently passed the Assembly. The bill, which requires Senate approval, puts most of the onus on residents, and little on the agriculture industry, underscoring tension over conservation between city dwellers and farmers, who consume most of the state’s water.

Across the state, many districts and municipalities are instituting or considering recycling, rationing and higher fees for excessive use. For instance, Los Angeles officials recently announced their intentions to begin using heavily cleansed sewage to increase drinking water supplies.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District and the Long Beach Water Department, serving districts at opposite ends of the state, have made water rationing mandatory.

“Some cities and regions are rationing, some are doing nothing and a group of people are in the middle,” the director of California’s Department of Water Resources, Lester A. Snow, said in a telephone interview. “The governor thought it was important to step out in front and get ahead of this. It is in part to avoid an emergency.”

In a telephone interview later, Mr. Schwarzenegger said, “Water is like our gold, and we have to treat it like that.”#


Drought officially arrives
Governor's budget would borrow from lottery to cut deficit
Los Angeles Daily News – 6/5/08
By Kerry Cavanaugh, staff writer

After two years of little rainfall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought Wednesday that will trigger water-efficiency and -conservation programs across California.

The governor's announcement came hours before the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power approved new water-conservation rules for residents and businesses that will limit everything from lawn watering to car washing.

The board also approved penalties and fines starting at $100 for those who ignore the new water-conservation rules.

If approved by the City Council, Los Angeles will soon begin fining residents for wasting water for the first time since a drought in the early 1990s.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city has long been encouraging voluntary conservation programs, but the drought situation has become so serious that L.A. must demand conservation.

"Some people have joined the effort and others have not," the mayor said. "We have to take measures to conserve, even where they require mandatory measures that require fines to get folks to do what we should all do - and that is to protect this very precious resource."

The governor's declaration of a drought adds urgency to the DWP's effort. This is the first time a governor has announced a statewide drought since 1991.

Rainfall over the past two years has been below normal, with some Southern California communities receiving only 20percent of their expected rainfall in 2007.

Reservoirs that store the state's water supply are low, and imported supplies from the Colorado River have been reduced because of a drought in that region.

The Department of Water Resources found that snowpack in the Sierras - which supplies much of the state's water - was 67percent of normal, and runoff into California rivers was expected to be 55percent of normal.

"Some local governments are rationing water, developments can't proceed and agricultural fields are sitting idle," Schwarzenegger said.

"We must recognize the severity of the crisis we face."

The governor's executive order directs the Department of Water Resources to arrange water transfers to areas suffering from emergency shortages; to work with local water agencies to improve conservation efforts; and to expedite grants to municipal water districts.

Southern California is especially vulnerable to drought because the region relies heavily on water imported from the Sierras and the Colorado River.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California - the wholesaler that supplies most cities in the region - next week will consider stronger calls for conservation.

"As a short-term, stopgap measure, Metropolitan is drawing on its significant reserve supplies," said Timothy Brick, chairman of the MWD's board of directors.

That includes relying on Diamond Valley Lake, the MWD's main water-storage reservoir. But the lake is already 55feet lower than full storage.

"But with the worsening problems in the (Sacramento) Delta, there is no guarantee Southern California can replenish reserve supplies whenever this drought cycle ends," Brick said. "It is vital to stretch our reserve supplies for as long as possible."

Los Angeles has historically fared well during previous droughts because it was able to import water from the eastern Sierras through a city-owned aqueduct. However, environmental lawsuits and settlements have dramatically reduced how much water L.A. can take from the Owens Valley.

Those settlements - coupled with the drought on the Colorado River and a court decision involving an endangered fish that affects water transfers from Northern California - have limited L.A.'s water supply.

Last month, Villaraigosa outlined a plan to conserve and recycle enough water over the next 20 years to serve an expected 500,000 more Angelenos without having to import more water.

That includes reviving a once-controversial project to mix treated sewage water into the drinking water supply. It also called for stronger city laws on water conservation.

The DWP unanimously approved those new rules Wednesday, including prohibiting lawn watering between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. or whenever it rains.

It would also limit irrigation to 15 minutes a day, and penalize people who over-irrigate and let the water flow into the street or sidewalk.

Meanwhile, if residents want to wash their cars, they'll have to use a hose with a nozzle or shut-off device.

Restaurants would be prohibited from serving customers a glass of water without being asked, and hotels would have to offer guests the option of leaving their sheets and towels unwashed during their stay.

Offenders would be given one warning. Then fines would start at $100 for the second violation and increase up to $300 for residential customers. Commercial customers' penalties for the second offense start at $200 and increase to $600.

Also Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a rebate program for residents in Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts who install indoor and outdoor water-saving devices.

The districts include areas in Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Acton, Val Verde, Kagel Canyon and the Antelope Valley.

DWP commissioners endorsed the new city rules and higher fines Wednesday, saying they believe Angelenos understand the severity of the drought and the possibility that global warming will mean more droughts to come.

"In the past we thought we were dealing with a brief drought situation that would come and would go," said Commissioner Wally Knox.

"I don't think there is a person in this room ... who thinks we're dealing with a temporary situation. I expect to live the rest of my life in whatever it is we're going into." #


Y-S region, valley still in good shape
Marysville Appeal Democrat – 6/5/08
By Ryan McCarthy, staff writer

The Yuba-Sutter region, close to the Sierra snowpack and above the Delta, is a good place to be during a drought.

"The Sacramento Valley is pretty well protected from all but biblical droughts," said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Residents in Yuba City and Marysville, while encouraged to continue water conservation, shouldn't see any direct impacts from the governor's official declaration that California is in a drought, said local officials.

Bill Lewis, utilities director for Yuba City, said the municipality can meet customers needs through at least 2008.

Shannon Dean, spokeswoman for the California Water Service Company that supplies Marysville, said she doesn't anticipate any impacts because of the drought declaration. "It will help reinforce the message that water is a precious resource," Dean said of the declaration.

Yuba City's water supply originates from Lake Oroville and comes via the Feather River, Lewis said. The city's location avoids relying on water routed through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Lewis noted.

"The water degrades as it goes through the Delta," Lewis said.

Curt Aikens, general manager of the of the Yuba County Water Agency, said he doesn't expect a reduction in the 310,000 acre feet of water the agency provides to seven agricultural districts.

The agency under a long-term contract also sells water to the California Department of Water Resources.

Gary Reedy, a fisheries biologist for the environmental group South Yuba River Citizens League, based in Nevada City, said he urges citizens to look at how politicians in the state may use the drought to support their agendas for dams and other water projects.

Reed said urban water use efficiency measures such as low flow toilets and lining of open water canals are more much effective and financially sound than costly water projects.

Quinn said the consecutive dry years have impacted such agencies as the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California, which receives much of its supplies via the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The metropolitan district, as an example, has bout one more year of cushion because of stored water supplies.

"They're getting close to having no buffer whatsoever," Quinn noted.#


Governor declares drought
Suppliers use transfers, surcharges to handle deficit
Redding Record Searchlight – 6/5/08
By Scott Mobley, staff writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's statewide drought declaration Wednesday was hardly news to north state water suppliers, who already are coping with cutbacks and calling on customers to conserve as sizzling summer temperatures loom.

The Bella Vista Water District has been most draconian, imposing a "drought surcharge" on customers who fail to cut their consumption by 25 percent compared to last year. The district -- which serves a host of agricultural customers along with northeast Redding residents -- will charge residential users an extra 10 cents per hundred cubic feet of water they use beyond the threshold.

Bella Vista officials learned in April that the district would get only half its typical share of federal Central Valley Project (CVP) water. The district avoided mandatory rationing this year only because it was able to get supplemental water from the Clear Creek Community Services District in Happy Valley.

Other cities and special districts relying on federal CVP water have known since April they'll face a 25 percent cutback this year, after a once-promising precipitation season dissipated into the driest spring on record.

Redding, Shasta Lake and smaller suppliers around Shasta County turned to the McConnell Foundation to make up the shortfall. McConnell acquired water rights through the Townsend Flat Ditch Co. and Saeltzer Dam removal deal inked in the 1990s.

Redding also tapped reserves in the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District to close gaps in its supply.

Schwarzenegger on Wednesday ordered the state Department of Water Resources to speed such transfers between agencies with water to spare and those scrambling to serve customers.

Chuck Robinson, water treatment superintendent for Shasta Lake, said the governor's order for more water transfers doesn't much affect the north state, since it relies mainly on federal supplies.

"We had our water situation taken care of by buying some water from the McConnell Foundation -- that pretty much saved us," Robinson said. "I'd like to see a presidential order expediting transfers through the CVP, but I don't see that coming."

Pat Minturn, public works director for Shasta County, said the current drought -- the first in California since 1991 -- sneaked up on water users.

The north state endured its wettest winter in a decade just two years ago. The weather pattern shifted radically last water year, but consumers were still drawing on ample reserves from 2006, Minturn said.

Redding Municipal Airport recorded 1.08 inches of rain during the spring months of March, April and May. That's just under 12 percent of the 9.21 inches of rain the airport would soak up during a typical spring, National Weather Service records show.

The ultra dry spring means yards are already parched heading into the traditional hot months of July and August, when 80 percent of the water consumed in Shasta County goes to keep yards green, Minturn said.

"Folks need to take a long, hard look at their water use this summer," Minturn said.#


Governor declares drought
Fresno Co. supervisors to seek county resolution.
Associated Press – 6/4/08
By Don Thompson, AP

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Schwarzenegger proclaimed a statewide drought Wednesday after two years of below-average rainfall, low snowmelt runoff and the largest court-ordered restrictions on water transfers in state history.

The governor's action comes almost a week after Valley lawmakers and water district officials began urging such a declaration. Hundreds of farmers in the Westlands Water district were facing water rationing even before federal officials announed on Monday that water allocations from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would be cut to 40% of the amount growers contract for with the federal government. They had been expecting 45%.

Farmers in the nation's largest federal water district will be hit hard -- many said they expect to abandon crops or even go out of business for lack of water. And Tom Birmingham, Westlands' general manager, told about 400 people gathered for a meeting in Los Banos this week that "half the people in this room are going to go broke. This is a crisis that has to be fixed now."

Henry Perea, chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, and Supervisor Phil Larson are calling for a special board meeting Friday to seek passage of a resolution declaring a state of emergency in Fresno County due to state and federal water cutbacks.

The governor and top water officials said residents and water managers must react now to cut their water use, or face the possibility of water rationing next year if there is another dry winter.

He signed an executive order directing the state's response to unusually dry conditions that are damaging crops, harming water quality and causing extreme fire danger across California. Many communities already are requiring water conservation or rationing to deal with the shortfall.

The statewide drought declaration is the first since 1991, when Gov. Pete Wilson acted in the fifth year of a drought that lasted into 1992.

Schwarzenegger directed the state Department of Water Resources to help speed water transfers to areas with the worst shortages, to help local water districts with conservation efforts and to assist farmers suffering losses from the drought.

In addition, the governor is naming two "water czars," one to coordinate conservation programs and the other to speed water transfers across the state.

California depends on winter snow accumulating in the Sierra Nevada for much of its summer water supply.

But March, April and May were the driest winter months on record, forcing water use cutbacks by farmers and urban residents alike.

The Western Regional Climate Center in Reno reported that California statewide precipitation during that period was 1.2 inches, or just 22% of average for the 114 years since record-keeping began.

Snow measurements last month found the Sierra held 69% of an average winter. Runoff into California rivers was at 55% of a normal year. The state's major reservoirs are at 50% to 63% of their capacity at a time when they ideally would be full. #


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