News from the Front Lines of the California Drought Struggle: May 2015

[Editor’s note:  California continues to struggle to maintain water supplies for all of its citizens in the face of an ongoing, severe drought over much of the state. Here are excerpts from three items on the California State government website. Those of us who were fortunate to hear new ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke’s presentation at the April Phoenix Chapter meeting can appreciate the contrast between the state of affairs in California, and the state of affairs in Arizona.]

Drought Triggers Need for Installation of Emergency Salinity Barrier on Delta Channel

Temporary Barrier Would Deter Saltwater and Protect Delta Water Quality

April 15, 2015 | SACRAMENTO — Faced with potentially insufficient water supplies to repel salinity in the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), in consultation with federal and state water and wildlife agencies, is moving to install an emergency, temporary rock barrier across a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta channel.

DWR seeks to install a single emergency salinity barrier across West False River in May, to be removed six months later in November. State and federal water and wildlife officials, working as a Real-Time Drought Operations Management Team, have determined that the barrier would help deter the tidal push of saltwater from San Francisco Bay into the central Delta. The barrier would be essentially a pile of basketball-size rocks across the 750-foot-wide channel that still allows limited water flow upstream and downstream, depending upon tides. DWR, operator of the State Water Project, is seeking multiple permits from various agencies to accelerate installation.

Keeping saltwater from the central Delta is a priority, as a large portion of the state’s freshwater supplies travel through this part of the Delta. The barrier would help prevent saltwater contamination of water supplies used by people who live in the Delta; Contra Costa, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties; and the 25 million people who rely on the Delta-based federal and state water projects for at least some of their supplies.

Typically when saltwater threatens to encroach deeper into the Delta, water project operators try to repel it either by slowing the pumping of water from the Delta or increasing the amount of water flowing into the Delta from upstream reservoirs.

In this fourth year of drought, Delta pumping by the state and federal water projects is already negligible. It takes three to five days for fresh water released from Lake Oroville or Shasta Lake to reach the Delta. An emergency barrier would provide an additional tool to help limit salinity intrusion prior to arrival of fresh water from upstream reservoirs.

More here

Governor Brown To Help Cities Bolster Water Waste Enforcement, Streamline Environmental Review Of Water Projects

April 28, 2015 | SACRAMENTO — Governor Brown, meeting with mayors from across the state, today announced he will propose legislation to help local officials better enforce conservation requirements and will direct state agencies to streamline environmental review of local water supply projects.

“These measures will strengthen the ability of local officials to build new water projects and ensure that water is not wasted,” said Governor Brown. “As this drought stretches on, we’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to help communities save more water.”

The proposed legislation will give new enforcement authority to local entities that don’t currently have it and increase potential penalties against water wasters. It will specifically:

  • Establish a new penalty of up to $10,000 per violation, expanding on $500 per day maximum infraction established in last year’s drought legislation.
  • Allow penalties to be issued administratively by wholesale and retail water agencies, as well as city and county governments. This change speeds up an infraction process involving courts that was established in last year’s emergency drought legislation.
  • Enable these entities to enforce local water restrictions against water waste, as well as conservation restrictions established by the State Water Resources Control Board.
  • Allow local public agencies to deputize staff to issue water conservation-related warnings and citations.

This legislation will give all water agencies and local governments a consistent, minimum set of enforcement authorities to achieve required water conservation. Local water agencies with existing authorities to enforce against water waste can continue to use those authorities. Under the proposed legislation, any monetary penalties from this enforcement will be used for local conservation efforts.

Separately, to streamline environmental permitting for critical water supply projects, the Governor has directed his Office of Planning and Research and other state agencies to help local water agencies reduce the time required to comply with state-required environmental reviews. These permit streamlining efforts will focus on projects that can increase local water supplies with limited environmental impacts. The Governor’s Office will also explore legislative changes that can speed-up delivery of critical water supply projects.

More here

State Water Board Curtails Sacramento River, Delta Junior Water Rights

May 1, 2015 — With California’s extreme drought resulting in insufficient water to serve all water-right holders, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) announced today that junior water-right holders in the Sacramento River watershed and Delta are receiving curtailment notices. The notices advise the recipients to stop diversions of water and allow it to flow to more senior water-right holders, as required by state law.

California water rights law is based on seniority. In dry years, when there isn’t enough water in the system to serve all water-right holders, those with more junior water rights may be required to stop diverting water from rivers and streams before restrictions are imposed on more senior water-right holders. Approximately 5,740 junior water-rights in the Sacramento River watershed and Delta held by 2,772 individuals and entities will receive curtailment notices.

Curtailment notices were mailed out last week to 1,611 junior water right holders in the San Joaquin River and Scott River watersheds.

Most of the water rights being curtailed in the Sacramento River watershed and Delta are for agricultural use. A total of 4,421 (77 percent) of the water rights receiving the curtailment notices in the Sacramento watershed and Delta list agricultural uses as either the only or one of the uses for the water. Agricultural uses — such as irrigation, stockpond or livestock watering — are listed as the sole water use for 3,018 (53 percent) of the water rights.

This marks the second consecutive year that junior water-right holders on the Sacramento River Watershed and Delta have been curtailed. In the pre-drought years, these water-right holders reported average diversions of five million acre feet from June through September. Last year, due to insufficient flows, these water-right holders were prohibited from diverting any surface water during that same period. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland were fallowed and thousands of farmworkers lost their jobs last year due to the drought.

Water-right holders under a curtailment notice can still access water previously stored for them in reservoirs. If that’s not available, they will have to find another source of water, such as groundwater or purchased water, or stop using water. Water right holders are cautioned that groundwater resources are significantly depleted in some areas. Violations of curtailment notices are subject to fines up to $1,000 per day and $2,500 per acre-foot of water, cease and desist orders or prosecution in court.

The Governor’s Drought Executive Order mandates that the State Water Board adopt and implement emergency regulations that among other things require the curtailment of diversions when water is not available under the diverter’s priority of right.

Under the state’s water-rights system of “first in time, first in right,” junior water-right holders are those with permits, licenses, registrations and certificates issued after 1914 by the State Water Board and its predecessors, also referred to as “post-1914 appropriative rights.”

More here

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