Congress makes move on state water

March 1, 2012

A partisan majority in the U.S. Congress Wednesday approved a wide-reaching California water bill providing a gift-basket of benefits to farmers and striking down existing state law. [SacramentoBee]

The bill, by Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Visalia, stretches out and sweetens contracts for irrigation supplies, boosts deliverable quantities of water for agriculture, and bypasses a state plan still in the making.

Nunes’ bill takes direct aim at fishery protections unique to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta which have evolved over the years in an effort to maintain the delicate ecosystem in that resource-rich region. Pumping operations by export systems have dramatically impacted the life cycles of the Delta smelt, a key food substance for anadromous fish like salmon, steelhead, and striped bass which inhabit the waters. The tiny fish and their eggs are sucked up and destroyed by huge pumps which move export water into the State Water Project.

During certain periods, water is released into the bay estuary to improve the health of the fishery. Nunes sees that as a waste of water.

Nunes told his colleagues that “flushing water into the San Francisco Bay is not helping to recover species, and people are suffering needlessly.”

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Nacimiento Water Project is looking better all the time.

If this action kills the salmon, someone needs to kill Nunes. Another uneducated politician being bought out by the big agri-business down south.

@ Mary Malone, Great commentary and information!

HEY! Everybody quit having babies! Problem solved, next question?

Is this news or commentary? ‘Partisan Majority’, ‘gift basket of benefits’, ‘stretches out and sweetens’ are phrases that do not seem neutral.

As long as I have lived on the central coast, the farmers have been trying to keep their EXISTING water deliveries, which were taken by executive fiat, preventing many farmers from irrigating their land, and making water contracts they had WITH THE STATE meaningless, all to preserve one variety of smelt.

This water is needed to grow the food WE eat. The article is written in such a slanted way, that it sounds like the US Congress is taking the state’s water, when in point of fact they’re making the state honor its existing water contracts with the farmers.

We only eat a very small portion of the food produced in the Central Valley – how many cans/packs of almonds do you consume???

Oh yes, we grow rice …… what on earth is the government thinking here? Rice, which consumes a lot of water, growing in an area where 70% of the water is lost to evaporation before getting to the roots of the plant. They are also subsidized by the government NOT-TO-GROW at times. Yep, waste our precious water and hard earned money in taxes for this idiotic program.

And where are they going to get this water?



State officials are bracing for more bad water news about the Sierra snowpack when surveyors go back into the field Tuesday. Electronic readings released Thursday show the water content in the snowpack at 30% of normal for this date. And it’s just 25% of the average usually measured on April-1, when the snowpack is at its peak and the spring melt begins.

Because of dry weather this winter, state officials warn that they will be able to deliver only half of the water that has been requested.

–Associated Press.”



On February 24, 2012, those opposing new residential development in California were handed a great, big weapon by mother nature.

On February 24, 2012, the average Sierra snow-pack water content measured at only 30% of the normal level for that date, and only 25% of the normal normal level for April 1.

The California State Water Project (CSWP) is a huge, powerful agency which controls the complicated transfers of water from Northern California (where water is plentiful and humans are not) to Southern California (where the reverse situation occurs). Water agencies and agricultural interests contract with the CSWP for delivery of this water. Many Southern California water agencies and other interests are 100% on the water delivered from the CSWP.

The percentage of the amount of contracted water delivered to the contractees varies. The amount each contractee must pay for water each year, however, does not. No matter the percentage of contracted water delivered, the contractee must still pay CSWP for the entire contracted amount of water.

The amount of water delivered is heavily influenced by California weather, especially how it impacts the amount of the Sierra snow-pack water content. Throughout the winter, measurements of the depth and water content of the snow pack are taken. Based on these measurements, the CSWP makes predictions on the percentage of contracted water it will be able to deliver to its contractees.

Although the CSWP makes predictions on water deliveries earlier in the water year, to a large part, most State water deliveries, as well as negotiations between other agencies for water contractors throughout the state for water sales, are based on the April 1 snow-pack reading.

California is about a month away from the April 1 drop-dead snow-pack Sierra snow-pack measurement date. However, the CSWP has already predicted (based on the February 24 snow-pack reading) it will only be able to deliver 50% of the water contracted by urban water contractees. According to an article from the Visalia Times Delta newspaper, the CSWP will be able to deliver even less (22% to 35%) of the water contracted by agricultural interests.

This is a big exclamation point emphasizing the unreliability of CSWP deliveries. This calls into question the viability of water delivery to our president residents–certainly, there is a problem with delivering water to new development.

Throughout California, cities, counties and water agencies have new residential developments in the approval and planning stages. The availability of State water is the justification often used by developers for new development when, clearly, California’s future water supply is not a guaranteed.

Indeed, the Department of Water Resource’s “Final State Water Project Delivery Reliability Report 2009” forecasts continued decrease in the reliability of the CSWP deliveries. This report estimates future water deliveries to be about 60% of the amount contracted by the agencies.

Largely absent from the newspapers, especially local newspapers where new development is in the works, is any mention of the CSWP’s predicted ability to delivery only 50% of the water it has promised to deliver.

The unexplained failure of the Jones Tract levee in June 2004 exposed the vulnerability of the Sacramento delta levees, an integral part of the California State Water Project.

This is the 500-pound gorilla in the room developers and their friends in local government agencies are desperately hoping the local residents won’t find out about…at least until the developers’ projects are approved.

Writing letters to the editors of newspapers is a positive way to influence others, including government policy makers. Speaking out at city, county and other government meetings can have an impact on a local level.

If you believe California is developed to the limits of its resources, and want your elected politicians to quit rubber-stamping every new development project that comes down the pike, then let them know about it.

The decreased delivery of State Water to its contractee cities and other water agencies is a valid talking point. It speaks to the heart of the problems with the state water project: it is unreliable.

A contractee should be able to meet the water needs of its people without receiving any of the water they have contracted to receive from the state water project, because there is a real possibility that, one year, zero percent of the contracted water is what they will receive.


● DWR Snow Pack Water Equivalent (Inches) as of 2/24/2012

●Compared: 2/24/2012, Average, Average Maximum (yr 1976-1977), Average Minimum (yr 1982-1983)

●California map showing the three Sierra snow pack regions, with the normal level for February 24, and the percent of average snow pack for the average April 1 snow pack level.


Another example of Republicans being for state’s rights until they are against them.

It will be interesting (and expensive, no doubt) to watch the legal challenges.

I presume Cal authorities limit pumping based on ESA protection of the delta smelt. So it’s going to get sticky if their hands get tied in their effort to implement Fed law.

Great for the attorneys on both sides. For the rest of us … not so much.

California AG and So. Cal payed political whores sucking the life blood out of the California Delta.

Great editorial in the LATimes awhile back:


Adding up the water deficit


Even Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir in the U.S., will eventually run dry if its outgo consistently exceeds income.

January 13, 2012 | By William deBuys

Southern Californians are used to turning on the tap, or the sprinklers, and getting the water they want. Their ability to do so depends, in large part, on the Colorado River and the reservoir it feeds, Lake Mead.

Hoove Dam/Lake Mead: (Left) 1983 highest level, (Right) 2009

In 2008, Tim Barnett and David Pierce, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wrote that the lake — a lifeline not just for Southern California but for much of the desert Southwest — would soon teeter at the brink of failure. The Review-Journal in Las Vegas, a city especially dependent on that lifeline, responded with predictable bluster: “We’d love to buy some action on the odds provided by Mr. Barnett and Mr. Pierce. They can name the amount at stake. Are they willing to put their money where their mouths are?”

As far as I know, the Scripps scientists didn’t take advantage of the Review-Journal’s rash offer. Maybe they should have. They knew the odds. So should everyone. There are plenty of reasons the water-happy habits of the modern Southwest are a bad bet:

First, the Lower Basin states of the Colorado River are living beyond their means. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 allocates 7.5 million acre-feet to be divided among California, Arizona and Nevada. Today tens of millions of people from L.A.

Lake Mead, 2009: Lowest level since 1956 (Photo by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos of Lake Mead’s low water levels as of July, 2010. Via Flickr Creative Commons)

and San Diego to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson, not to mention agriculture worth billions of dollars, depend on those flows. Trouble is, those Lower Basin states don’t budget for evaporative losses, for their proportionate share of the U.S. treaty obligation to Mexico or for other water losses associated with the plumbing of the river. As a result, they consistently overdraft their account by 1.2 million to 1.3 million acre-feet per year. That’s an annual deficit of about 17%.

For decades the Lower Basin (mainly California) got away with its profligate habits because the Upper Basin — the states upstream of Arizona — developed more slowly; they didn’t have the means to withdraw their share of the river water (theoretically, an additional 7.5 million acre-feet). Not anymore. The Upper Basin now sucks the life out of the river with gusto. No more leftovers.

More bad news for Lake Mead is that the Colorado River Compact incorporates a nettlesome flaw: Its authors divided up more water than the river can provide…….



Meanwhile, we have the Nipomo CSD building its water “Pipeline to Nowhere,” because a good deal of the Santa Maria water coming through the pipeline is state water…which, by the California State Water Project’s own admission, is unreliable. They anticipate about 60% of what is contracted will be able to be delivered in the future.

Then we have the Price Canyon development, which seeks to add over 300 new residential water users to an already overtapped Five Cities aquifer system.

Correction, both of the Price Canyon and LRDM projects will add 900+ homes. For the most part they are seeking state water for these projects, which as you say is unreliable and they don’t even have enough of that. LRDM which is going to be decided on the 15th of this month is completely dependent on state water but they still don’t have enough state water so it probably will somehow tap into our ground basin. Pismo isn’t supposed to use the water that they already get (Lopez, State, ground) for these projects but they won’t get enough state water so Pismo will have to shell out some of their own water. Price Canyon=600+ homes LRDM=300+ homes. Both projects are currently being considered and they are close together so basicly most of the residents consider them the same project.

I’m torn on this topic. AG is California’s #1 product. We need to help the farmers but you are correct, from what I’ve heard this is the driest year in recorded history. These cities like Las Vegas, Palm Springs and even LA need to do more to cut back. When I look at all the water waisted in LV it makes me sick. Yes I know that they recycle those fountains and all that but as anyone knows just from the heat alone there must be a large amount of evaporation of all that water. Those cities need to do more to encourage people to do away with their lawns and find other ways to cut back. There is more that can be done we are going to hit a crisis here really soon.

Nipomo needs water, I don’t understand what you expect them to do. Although they may not get their full allotment, state water is much more reliable then the ground water (at least in this area).

Could this be a finally glimmer of responsibility?