Drought and Water Links

I’m going to try something new.  Water and this drought are one of the most important policy and political issues we face, if not the most important.  Water, to me, is different than other issues because of it’s essential nature.  There isn’t really too much room for political nuance and the argument basically boils down to ..

Region A:  “The water is mine and here is why.”

Region B:  “No it’s actually mine, and I’ll tell you why”.

This unique political subject requires a unique blogging approach.  I’m going to try to update this page over time.  I’m going to use it as a resource for myself and I’m hoping it might be useful for some of you as well.  Think of this page of Humboldt Water 101 (with a leftward slant) – our resource list – local, state and national media and the intertubes.

Shout out to the Tuluwat Examiner and it’s readers for their coverage of this important issue.   Links like the Daily Kos was via their blog.

Timeline of Coverage:

11/14:  Mother Jones:  California Goes Nuts

But an ongoing almond boom will bear ecological costs along with vast profits. As the water table drops from overpumping, the remaining water picks up higher concentrations of minerals from deep in the earth. When orchards are irrigated with such hard water, the salts build up in the soil, eventually killing the trees. In Fresno County, I saw entire groves of almond trees looking yellow and wan, signs of salt stress. The land around Alpaugh is already too salty to support almonds; that’s why the pistachio is the nut of choice there.

3/30/15  Daily Beast:   How Growers Gamed California’s Drought

The other great unmentionable of California’s water crisis is that water is still priced more cheaply than it should be, which encourages over-consumption. “Water in California is still relatively inexpensive,” Heather Cooley, director of the water program at the world-renowned Pacific Institute in Oakland, told The Daily Beast. One reason is that much of the state’s water is provided by federal and state agencies at prices that taxpayers subsidize. A second factor that encourages waste is the “use it or lose it” feature in California’s arcane system of water rights. Under current rules, if a property owner does not use all the water to which he is legally entitled, he relinquishes his future rights to the unused water, which may then get allocated to the next farmer in line. … Last fall, the legislature passed and Governor Brown signed a bill to regulate groundwater extraction. But the political touchiness of the issue—agricultural interests lobbied hard against it—resulted in a leisurely implementation timetable. Although communities must complete plans for sustainable water management by 2020, not until 2040 must sustainability actually be achieved. The Central Valley could be a dust bowl by then under current trends.

4/1/15:  Governor brown announces Mandatory Water Restrictions

  NYT:  California Imposes First Mandatory Water Restrictions to Deal With Drought

Water has long been a precious resource in California, the subject of battles pitting farmer against city-dweller and northern communities against southern ones; books and movies have been made about its scarcity and plunder. Water is central to the state’s identity and economy, and a symbol of how wealth and ingenuity have tamed nature: There are golf courses in the deserts of Palm Springs, lush gardens and lawns in Los Angeles, and vast expanses of irrigated fields of farmland throughout the Central Valley.

   TS:  Brown orders mandatory, statewide water cuts

California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered officials Wednesday to impose statewide mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history as surveyors found the lowest snow level in the Sierra Nevada snowpack in 65 years of record-keeping. … Here on the North Coast, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, which provides water to several local communities including Arcata and McKinleyville, is in the unique situation of having its main water source — Ruth Lake — full. … Snow supplies about a third of the state’s water, and a lower snowpack means less water in California reservoirs to meet demand in summer and fall.  “It is such an unprecedented lack of snow, it is way, way below records,” Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, said at the snow survey site about 90 miles east of Sacramento.

  DailyKos:  Governor Brown’s drought order lets corporate agribusiness, oil companies off the hook

After the Governor held his press conference, Adam Scow, Food & Water Watch California Director, released a statement blasting Governor Jerry Brown’s Executive Order for calling for mandatory water reductions while not addressing the state’s “most egregious corporate water abuses” by agribusiness and oil companies. …The Governor must save our groundwater from depletion by directing the State Water Board to protect groundwater as a public resource. Governor Brown should direct the Water Board to place a moratorium on the use of groundwater for irrigating crops on toxic and dry soils on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley In the two year period covering 2014-2015, the Westlands Water District is on pace to pump over 1 million acre feet of groundwater – more water than Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco combined use in 1 year. Much of Westlands grows water-intensive almonds and pistachios, most of which are exported out of state and overseas. This is a wasteful and unreasonable water use, especially during a severe drought. …Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, said Brown’s proposed “drought barriers” on the Delta will  push the Delta “closer to collapse.” The group said these barriers threaten salmon while the Governor refuses to put restrictions on “corporate mega-farms.” ..“There is not enough water in the watershed to satisfy the insatiable demands of big agribusiness growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and to keep enough surface water in reserve for urban populations,” Barrigan-Parrilla (of RTD) added.

 4/2/15 Coverage:

City Journal [Via Fred Mangels – (read – a conservative/libertarian take)]:  An Engineered Drought

We’re suffering the ramifications of the “small is beautiful,” “spaceship earth” ideology of our cocooned elites. Californians have adopted the ancient peasant mentality of a limited good, in which various interests must fight it out for the always scarce scraps. Long ago we jettisoned the can-do visions of our agrarian forebears, who knew California far better than we do and trusted nature far less. Now, like good peasants, we are at one another’s throats for the last drops of a finite supply.

4/3/15 Coverage:

  TS:  Local water cuts likely despite surplus water reservoir

Speaking a few hours before the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve a previously state-mandated water regulation on Wednesday night, district General Manager Greg Orsini said that they will likely run out of the ability to make further cuts before it runs out of water. … The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District holds water rights to the reservoir (Ruth Lake) and sells the water wholesale to the municipalities and other industrial customers. District General Manager Carol Rische said her district has requested to be exempted from the state’s past two water mandates due to the “surplus” of water, but the state has denied both requests. … Since the Samoa pulp mill shut down, 80 percent of the district’s water demand has been cut, according to Rische.

Regarding industrial consumers such as biomass power producer DG Fairhaven Power, LLC …

“Are you really going to force a renewable power company to reduce its power generation when you also have the goals of a 20 percent renewable energy portfolio?” Rische asked. “… Until we see the final regulations we’re not going to have clarity

  AP:  Klamath Basin irrigators look at another dry year

Natural Resources Conservation Service maps show the Klamath Basin with 95 percent of normal precipitation, but only 7 percent of normal snowpack. Although the project’s main reservoir is close to full, two others are not, and low snowpack means reduced flows into rivers as the summer wears on. Since 2001, farms on the project have had to share water with fish protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, leading to irrigation cutbacks in dry years. The last three years have been dry. Last year, the project got 61 percent of the water needed for full operations, and many expect even less this year.

 Fred Mangels:  Water Restrictions Likely in Humboldt

What really gets my goat is the finger pointing over the water shortages. I hear time and again it’s all agriculture’s fault. A letter to the editor of the Times- Standard today tells us yet again.

4/5/15 Coverage:

 Front Page NYT:  California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth

But even a significant drop in residential water use will not move the consumption needle nearly as much as even a small reduction by farmers. Of all the surface water consumed in the state, roughly 80 percent is earmarked for the agricultural sector. “The big question is agriculture, and there are difficult trade-offs that need to be made,” said Katrina Jessoe, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis.

NYT Editorial:   Watering California’s Farms

Farms in California draw water from three sources: federal and state water projects, waterways they have the right to divert and groundwater reserves. Two of these sources have been compromised by the drought. This year, the state water project will deliver only one-fifth of the amount requested by users; the federal water project will deliver zero.

ABC This Week Interview with Governor Brown
Sacramento Bee Gov. Jerry Brown defends agriculture’s water use amid drought

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, about 9 million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing about 80 percent of the water used by people. Asked about that figure, Brown said, “Yeah, you bet it’s true. But by the way, they’re not watering their lawn or taking longer showers. They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America.”

  • Says Fred Mangels:  “I’m no fan of Governor Brown, but I’m with him on this one.”

4/6/15: Coverage:

Front Page NYT:  Beneath California Crops, Groundwater Crisis Grows

The expansion of almonds, walnuts and other water-guzzling tree and vine crops has come under sharp criticism from some urban Californians. The groves make agriculture less flexible because the land cannot be idled in a drought without killing the trees. Not even the strongest advocates of water management foresee a system in which California farmers are told what they can plant. As the new system evolves, though, the growers might well be given strict limits on how much groundwater they can pump, which could effectively rule out permanent crops like nuts and berries in some areas. … The need for groundwater recharge may ultimately limit how much water farmers can have from the surface irrigation system, even in flush years — the same way that deposits in a bank account limit how many fancy dinners one can eat. Yet in a state where irrigation rights have been zealously guarded for generations, such limitations may not go down easily.

Think Progress:  Despite Historic Drought, California Used 70 Million Gallons Of Water For Fracking Last Year

“It is water that most likely cannot be put back into the water cycle,” he told ThinkProgress. “It’s water that is by and large gone for good.”

4/7/15: Coverage:

Kevin Drum:  This Iconic California Drought Photo Is Pretty Personal for Me
Media Matters:  Conservative Media Blame Environmentalists, Not Climate, For California’s “Man-Made Drought”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently recycled many of the same claims it made in a 2009 editorial titled, “California’s Man-Made Drought.” Right-wing website Hot Air dubbed the drought “California’s ‘man-made’ environmental disaster.” And when potential 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described the drought as “a man-made disaster” during an appearance on Glenn Beck’s radio show, Beck demanded to know why “we don’t hear that story on the news at all,” while Rush Limbaugh declared that “there is a man-made lack of water in California,” and “[Fiorina is] right.”

Salon:  Nestlé’s despicable water-crisis profiteering: How it’s making a killing — while California is dying of thirst

In particular, Nestlé has a 25-year contract with the Morongo Band of Cahuila Mission Indians to draw water from wells in Millard Canyon, in the desert city of Cabazon. The plant is one of the largest in North America. …

… pulling water from an oasis magnifies the environmental impact on the desert ecosystem. The water taken out would normally recharge the local underground aquifer or increase flow along a surface stream.

4/8/15: Coverage:

NYT:  In Parched California, Innovation, Like Water, Has Limits

A byzantine system of historic rights established to allocate water across the American Southwest actually encourages overuse. Even today, as almond trees in the Central Valley’s Kern County stand dead, farmers elsewhere in the state are planting new acres with this extremely thirsty crop, which sucks as much water in a year as Los Angeles does in three.

And the decision by Gov. Jerry Brown to exempt farmers from California’s first restrictions ever on water use, even though they consume some 80 percent of the surface water used in the state, underscores the scale of the political challenge.

The state relies on a water cycle that has remained roughly stable for decades: Heavy snow falling in the Sierra in the winter accumulates as snowpack, holding water until it is needed in the dry summer. The state built a sophisticated conveyance and storage infrastructure based on these patterns.

Ongoing Coverage…

4/11/15 NYT:  For Drinking Water in Drought, California Looks Warily to Sea

The facility being built here will be the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, producing about 50 million gallons of drinking water a day. So it is under scrutiny for whether it can operate without major problems.


In San Diego County, which depends on imported freshwater supplies from the Colorado River and from Northern California, water bills already average about $75 a month. The new plant will drive them up by $5 or so to secure a new supply equal to about 7 or 8 percent of the county’s water consumption.

The plant will use a huge amount of electricity, increasing the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming, which further strains water supplies. And local environmental groups, which fought the plant, fear a substantial impact on sea life.

The technological approach being employed here, and in most recent plants, is called reverse osmosis. It involves forcing seawater through a membrane with holes so tiny that the water molecules can pass through but larger salt molecules cannot.

4/13/15  NYT:  In California, a Wet Era May Be Ending
 NYT:  California Releases Revised Water Consumption Rules

The original set of four tiers, with cuts ranging from 10 percent to 35 percent, has been expanded to nine tiers, with cuts ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent. The amount of water that communities would have to conserve was reduced for some, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, and was slightly increased for others, like Beverly Hills.

… The 25 percent reduction reflect the amount of water the state would save this year compared with 2013. The state estimates the new regulations would save 1.3 million acre-feet of water; an acre-foot is what it would take to cover an acre with one foot of water.


Eureka Public Works Director Brian Gerving is asking the City Council to update its water shortage contingency plan and declare a Stage 3 water shortage at Tuesday’s regular meeting, but the actual impact on the city’s water customers is not yet known.

Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District — which supplies water to Eureka, Arcata, McKinleyville and other areas — and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors have both appealed to the state to be allowed to cut water use by 10 percent, rather than the 25 percent mandated in governor’s April 1 executive order. …

…Under a Stage 3 water shortage declaration, Eureka’s water customers may not use potable water to clean driveways or sidewalks, may not fill swimming pools or hot tubs, and may only water lawns or other outdoor plants on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday. Stage 3 also prohibits the city from making any written or oral agreements for new or expanded water service.

NYT:  Farmers Agree to Water Cuts in California (by Jennifer Medina)

But on Friday, in a sign of how the recordsetting drought is shaking up
established ways here, state officials accepted an offer from farmers in the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta to give up a quarter of their water this season, either by leaving part of their land unplanted or finding other ways to reduce their water use. In return, the state has assured them that it will not seek further reductions for the growing season.

The deal applies only to delta farmers who own property next to a river or stream and have rights to divert water to be used there, or what are known as riparian rights. If farmers with such rights do not participate in the program they could face even deeper cuts later this year, officials said.

Because the delta farmers represent only around 5 percent of the state’s growers, it is unlikely that this deal will have a big effect on the overall water supply, said Jonas Minton, a former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources, who is now a private water policy adviser.
Mr. Minton called the deal both “symbolic and potentially precedent-setting.”

“California’s water rights system does not work well with this little water,” Mr. Minton said. “The question is really whether other elements of agriculture, in particular the large corporate farms, will follow suit. If agriculture as a whole came anywhere close to matching the kinds of urban cuts that have been implemented, we would have sufficient water for this year and next.”

The state’s complex system of water laws was established in the 19th century, and those with the earliest claims have the strongest legal entitlement to surface water.

Farmers in the state with so-called junior water rights, whose claims to water came after 1914, have already faced deep cuts or even elimination of their surface water allotment, and many are instead relying on pumping water from the ground. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland have also been fallowed throughout the state.

T-S:  Suppliers await state response forlower conservation

The conservation mandate will take effect on June 1 and last through February 2016. Six municipal suppliers in Humboldt County — Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna, Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, Humboldt Community Services District and McKinleyville Community Services District — were placed into tiers (with cuts) ranging from the low 8 percent to as high as 28 percent.

However, the state’s rules also allow water districts with a water supply that can last up to four years to apply for a lowered conservation rate of only 4 percent.

The analysis of Ruth Lake the district provided with the letter shows that the reservoir was designed to safely yield 75 million gallons of water per day in two successive years of drought. To put that into perspective, the municipal customers — including all five large suppliers previously mentioned — use 10 million gallons of water per day. The loss of the two pulp mills as water customers also reduced the district’s demand by up to 50 million gallons per day, according to the district analysis.

AP (Via T-S): State looks Down Under for drought advice

“Efficiency programs cut their average daily use to 55 gallons, compared with 105 gallons per day for each Californian.”

“The main difference between California and Australia is they’re dominated by a legalistic approach and dominated by rights, and we’ve got a much more public-policy approach.”
Daniel Connell, an environmental policy expert at The Australian National University.

“Revising the water-rights system is a thermo-nuclear issue in California,”

John Laird, California’s secretary for natural resources

Alphabet Soup Agencies:

Association of California Water Agencies: 

“Region 1 is comprised of nine counties including the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Siskiyou, Sonoma and Trinity. Approximately 29 water, utility, irrigation and services districts and cities are members of Region 1. This area is roughly 25,814 square miles in size and has a population of over 1.4 million.”

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

The BDCP is a comprehensive conservation strategy aimed at protecting dozens of species of fish and wildlife, while permitting the reliable operation of California’s two biggest water delivery projects.

California State Water Resources Control Board:  (State Water Board)

The State Water Resources Control Board (the State Water Board) was created by the Legislature in 1967. The mission of the Water Board is to ensure the highest reasonable quality for waters of the State, while allocating those waters to achieve the optimum balance of beneficial uses. The joint authority of water allocation and water quality protection enables the Water Board to provide comprehensive protection for California’s waters. There are nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Regional Boards). The mission of the Regional Boards is to develop and enforce water quality objectives and implementation plans that will best protect the beneficial uses of the State’s waters, recognizing local differences in climate, topography, geology and hydrology.

California Department of Water Resources:

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is responsible for managing and protecting California’s water. DWR works with other agencies to benefit the state’s people, and to protect, restore and enhance the natural and human environments.

Eureka Public Works:

  Director: Brian Gerving

The Public Works Department provides a wide range of basic community services that improve the quality of life. Services include the repair, replacement and maintenance of the City’s public infrastructure, and motor fleet.

The Department includes :

Sewer Collections
Water Distribution
Street and Alley Maintenance
Equipment Operations
Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant

Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District: (HBMWD)

  General Manager: Carol Rische

“Located in the heart of the Redwood Empire on California’s northwest coast, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD) provides water to the cities and communities in the greater Humboldt Bay area. The HBMWD was formed under the California Municipal Water Act of 1911 on March 19, 1956. Its board of directors is composed of one director elected from each of its five divisions.”

McKinleyville Community Services District Board:

By the way, Dennis Mayo, as Board Director??  *Sigh*.

McKinleyville Community Services District was created on April 7, 1970 when McKinleyville’s voters voted 589 “yes” votes against 151 “no” votes to form the District. Initially, the District had authority to serve water and treat sewer wastes. In 1972, the voters added street lighting powers, in 1985 the voters added recreational powers and in 1995 the voters authorized construction of the McKinleyville Library. The District boundary encompasses 12,140 acres ranging from North Bank Road on the south to Patrick’s Creek on the north. The District is an independent, special district governed by a five member Board of Directors elected by McKinleyville’s voters. The Directors meet monthly on the first Wednesday of each month to set policy, consider projects and resolve disputes. The Board’s directives are implemented by the District’s 23 full-time and 42 part-time employees.  McKinleyville is the third largest community in Humboldt County with a population of 15,998. We currently have over 5,300 active water services and 4,470 active sewer connections.

Westlands Water District:

Westlands’ dedication to the communities and farms dependent on water deliveries and commitment to the preservation of its federal contract has led to the acquisition of additional water necessary to meet these needs. To support this mission, Westlands has adopted the following goals:

  • Preserve and restore the federal contract water supply.
  • Obtain supplemental water supplies through short and long-term purchases and transfers.
  • Develop a process to examine the various options available for the purposes of supply enhancement and drainage mitigation.
  • Support timely construction of cost-effective facilities to enhance the quality and reliability of water supplies.
  • Conduct the maintenance, operational and administrative functions of Westlands in an efficient and effective manner.
  • Implement and maintain an effective Water Conservation program by providing growers with accurate and current information and technical assistance to aid with water management planning.

Not For Profits:

California Water Impact Network  (C-WIN)

Broken Promises (video)

C-WIN is a non-profit, tax exempt California Corporation that advocates for equitable and environmentally sensitive use of California’s water, including instream uses. We accomplish this mission through research, planning, public education, and litigation.

Food and Water Watch

Overview Video

Pacific Institute

Our aim is to find real-world solutions to problems like water shortages, habitat destruction, global warming, and environmental injustice. Based in Oakland, California, we conduct research, publish reports, recommend solutions, and work with decision makers, advocacy groups, and the public to change policy. Since our founding in 1987, we’ve become known for independent, innovative thinking that cuts across traditional areas of study. Our interdisciplinary approach not only helps us make connections that others miss, it also enables us to bring opposing groups together to forge effective real-world solutions

Restore the Delta

  Over Troubled Water Trailer


California Weather Blog

Daniel Swain is a PhD candidate in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford University. A member of the Climate and Earth System Dynamics Group, Daniel studies the changing character of extreme meteorological events, with a focus on the role of persistent large-scale atmospheric patterns. He holds a B.S. in Atmospheric Science from the University of California, Davis.

Numbers, Charts, Graphs, Sidebars:

  How Much Water Californians Use

Circles on the map show daily residential use in gallons per capita, as reported by nearly 400 water districts. Many factors influence residential water use, like climate, income, lot size and types of homes. The average resident consumed 73 gallons per day in January.

  Draining the Central Valley

(find it halfway down the article)

Eighty percent of the water used by humans in California goes to agriculture. The state’s Central Valley has 17 percent of the irrigated land in the United States and produces a quarter of the nation’s food. But growing that food takes more water than is available from rain and snow, even in wet years.

  A Long History of Drought

(find it halfway down the article)

  How Water Cuts Could Affect Every Community in California
  How to Save Water: The California Way
  Your Contribution to the California Drought (5/21/15)
  From beer to milk, your favorite drinks need water – but how much?
  709 gallons of water were used to make this plate
Mother Jones:
   California’s Almond counties Are Its Driest – and Most Overpumped.
   Where Does Your Food Come From   (Amazing!)
   7 Key Facts About the Drought (Amazing)
  • One walnut takes 4-9 gallons of water to grow.  One almond 1 gallon.

 Other Resources:

Cadillac Desert:  The American West and It’s Disappearing Water  by Marc Reisner

“Water 101” Podcast Covers Challenges, Solutions  by the Public Policy Institute of California. (5/20/2015)

The wide-ranging conversation, now a free podcast, is a 45-minute entertaining crash course in the workings of watersheds, state water policy, and why we need an “all of the above” strategy to solving our water crisis.


2 thoughts on “Drought and Water Links

    1. Thanks M. Great site and group. Posted. I am now versed on what is going on with the almonds and I have to say I strongly disagree with one of your takes. You make many puns that used to make me laugh like “nuts to China” and “grift and greed. same old, only now, it’s nuts.”

      The truth is this (from a Mother Jones article to be linked later). “Yes, botany sticklers, neither peanuts nor almonds are technically nuts; the former are legumes and the latter the seeds of drupes.”

      So unless we are speaking pistachios, we have a pun problem.

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