January 30, 2014

The California Drought

The drought in California is so bad that some Bay Area communities could run out of water within 4 months.

In some districts, the wells are running dry while other reservoirs are nearly empty.
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Some districts have long-running problems that began before the drought. Larger communities like Santa Clara Valley however, have fared better because of long-running conservation programs.

Springs that supply the state historical monument are running at just one-sixth normal and as a result Hearst Castle's fountains and pool are drying up

A powerful ridge of high pressure parked over Northern California has been responsible for a record 52 days of no precipitation in Sacramento.

The State Drought is called a  Disaster In Slow Motion With Wildfires, Dry Wells

So far this year, Cal Fire has responded to more than 400 wildfires that have burned more than 1,000 acres. The five-year average for this time of year is 70 fires and 130 acres.

California  is the nation’s leader in dairy cows, and fourth overall in the U.S. for total number of cattle, trailing Texas, Nebraska and Kansas,  Now ranchers are selling their cattle because there's no grass and little water.

Governor Jerry Brown says he’s prepared to move water from Southern California to drier areas of the state as conditions worsen.

“The president called me today. He offered to do whatever he can do. He obviously can’t make it rain,” he said. “But there are some parts of California that are more privileged from the point of view of water availability than others. So we have systems. We can transfer it. But there are a lot of water rights, a lot of rules, so we’ve got to cut through that and make sure that those who need it most get the water to the extent we have it available.”

This map shows just how bad the drought is today and how badly the Central Valley has been impacted.

 Drought Central Valley

The water shortage like so many other crises in California has been exacerbated by government. Californians are getting another first-hand lesson in the high costs of green regulation.

Local water districts that supply southern California, the Bay Area and the southern San Joaquin Valley may receive only 5% of their contractual allocations this year while growers in the heart of the valley might be cut off completely. Supplies for residents north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta could be sharply restricted for the first time.
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Suffering the most are farmers south of the delta whose water allocations have plunged over the last two decades due to endangered-species protections. According to the Western Growers Association, up to 4.4 million acre-feet of water is diverted annually to environmental uses like wildlife refuges and salmon restoration. That's enough to sustain 4.4 million families, irrigate 1.1 million acres of land and grow more than 100 million tons of grapes.

Farmers are having to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres and pump groundwater, which depletes aquifers and can cause land subsidence. One irony here is that environmentalists are destroying one of FDR's great public-works programs—irrigating the naturally arid San Joaquin Valley.
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California's biggest water hog is the three-inch smelt, which can divert up to one million acre-feet in a wet year. In 2008, federal regulators at the prodding of green groups restricted water exports south to protect the smelt, which have a suicidal tendency to swim into the delta's pumps. While wildlife refuges have continued to receive all 400,000 acre-feet of water they're entitled to under environmental regulations, farmers haven't gotten 100% of their water allocations since 2006. Even during years of heavy precipitation, federal regulators have supplied growers with 45% to 80% of their contractual deliveries.

More on the Green Drought  For the sake of the smelt, California farmland lies fallow.

“Factory” is a good word to describe California’s San Joaquin Valley. But “laboratory” might be a little better, for the region is an agri-tinkerer’s delight. The soil being uncharacteristically fertile and the summers being long and dry, growers are afforded that most valuable of things: control. Emancipated from Gaia’s caprice, farmers here can determine precisely not only how much water they wish to provide to their crops but when to add it, too. Which is to say that, in the Central Valley, irrigation is achieved not by the whimsy of the sky but by deliberately placed pipes, pumps, and microprocessors. It is here that the ancient earth meets the best of technology; where Silicon Valley meshes with the baser elements and, together, they yield life. …. This place is a miracle — a vast greenhouse in which, unmolested by the elements and provided with incomparably fecund terrain, farmers can do their thing as never before.

Just under 13 percent of all agricultural production in the United States takes place in the region, which the locals refer to proudly as “the Food Basket of the World”
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Suddenly, as if crossing a line of demarcation — I am reminded of Checkpoint Charlie, the gate that linked West and East Berlin — we leave healthy fields bursting with life, and we arrive at . . . well, we arrive at nothing: just dust, quiet, and a few pieces of unused farming equipment. It’s quite the shift: a real-life Before and After comparison. And sadly, most of the farm looks like this. Some 9,000 of Harris’s 15,000 acres are fallow — devoid of water and therefore of crops and of workers and of attention. “Uncertainty is the new normal,” CEO John Harris sighs from the driver’s seat, his smile disappearing. “This is no way to run anything.
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That the drought is making planning all but impossible is a refrain I hear all across the region.
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The Central Valley’s woes began in earnest in 2007, when the hardline Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) won a lawsuit against California’s intricate water-delivery system, sending farmers like John Harris into a tailspin. In court, the NRDC’s lawyers contended that the vast pumps that help to funnel water from the reservoirs up in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta down to the Central Valley, to Southern California, and to the Bay Area were sucking in and shredding an unacceptable number of smelt — and, the smelt being protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1994, that this was illegal.
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In 2007, the pumps were turned down; the Delta’s water output was lowered dramatically, contingent now upon the interests of a fish; and the farms that rely on the system in order to grow their crops were thrown into veritable chaos. Predictably, a man-made drought began.

This is a classic tale of activist government run amok — and, too, of the peculiarly suicidal instincts that rich and educated societies exhibit when they reach maturity.
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Driving out of Harris Ranch after my tour, I am met by a string of protest signs that have been erected by a neighboring farmer. “STOP THE CONGRESS CREATED DUST BOWL!” one reads. “NO WATER = NO JOBS!” says another. A third has some choice words for Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer. The farmers here are frustrated, of course. But their unease is nothing compared with that of their workers….

“Seeing what having no water in this valley did to our communities in 2009,” Gutierrez tells me, “I had to get involved. It was devastating: The unemployment rate was 45 percent; people were standing in food lines. It had a terrifying impact…..“People think of rich farmers,” Gutierrez continues, “but they don’t think about the people who actually work on these farms.”
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It is a choice that will be difficult to unmake. Suing is futile. … Because the ESA holds that researchers can declare their work private property, scientists must release only their findings and may keep their data and methods secret. Even when the work has been made public, the government’s case has been flimsy at best.
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Of all our present troubles, California’s farming woes are perhaps the most inexplicably sourced and the most easily fixed. Complacently convinced of their infallibility, legislators in the nation’s richest state have prostrated themselves at the feet of many silly ideas in recent years. But for authorities to have put the livelihood of millions of citizens at the mercy of a tiny little fish is almost too much to bear.
Posted by Jill Fallon at January 30, 2014 10:26 PM | Permalink