Don Curlee: Agriculture, urban goals are similar in California

The powerful Westlands Water District recently withdrew its support for the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, action that might light a fire under other water organizations in the state.

The bold action by Westlands indicates that it is no longer willing to put up with unwanted and unmerited federal interference in the conscientious efforts by water interests in California to make the best use of water.

Westlands’ concerns regarding political interference by the Department of the Interior and its creation of further water restrictions without scientific basis are well-justified. Among other questionable activities, this department has been criticized recently by federal and state legislators for holding secret meetings on its planning process and for manipulating science to support its drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the loss of 12,000 jobs.

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New Report Targets Unreasonable Water Use in California

Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson will present a highly anticipated report to the State Water Resources Control Board on January 19 suggesting that a particularly contentious area of California water law, the California Constitution’s “Reasonable and Beneficial Use Doctrine,” be applied more broadly.

In his report, Wilson recommends that the State Board employ this doctrine to promote agricultural water use efficiency. The doctrine states a water right does not include the right to waste water and mandates that “the water resources of the state be put to beneficial use,” according to the Planning and Conservation League Insider (http://www.pcl.org).

A small percentage of increased agricultural water use efficiency adds up to significant water savings in California, according to Wilson. The report recommends that the State Board convene a “Reasonable Use Summit” to develop specific actions to improve efficiency and create a “Reasonable Use Unit” within the Division of Water Rights.

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Expert urges agriculture water use changes

An expert says small changes in agricultural irrigation practices could eliminate wasteful water use.

Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson says in a report being presented to the State Water Resources Control Board next week that California should crack down and aggressively enforce the state’s ban on wasteful water use.

The Los Angeles Times reports Tuesday that Wilson proposes broader enforcement of the state Constitution’s “reasonable use” doctrine rather than current case-by-case enforcement.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/01/11/state/n054733S81.DTL#ixzz1AkUIlw4h

The continuing fight for Sacramento Delta water

1,300 miles of ancient, earthen levees protect and encircle the Sacramento Delta.  Some say this leaves the area, and its crucial water supply vulnerable to an earthquake. Others opine that the levees are sturdy enough. That something seemingly as simple as agreement over the safety of levees can’t be reached is a telling indication of how politically contentious the Delta is. It’s been this way for decades too.

It’s all about the water, and who will control it and where will it go. Delta residents and environmentalists have somewhat overlapping interests. They want most of the water to stay in the Delta so the wildlife, fish, and birds will be protected and the area remains a natural resource. In opposition to them, but hardly allies, are farming interests in the Central Valley and the Los Angeles / San Diego water-devouring monsters to the South.  Everyone wants that water, and more than a few of the players are politically connected with major financial resources. Add to that a multiplicity of federal, state, and local agencies with regulatory power over the Delta and you get a rather complicated game indeed, and one which is played using brass knuckles. The politics of water in California has always been a barely disguised street fight.

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California’s Delta Water Blues

“Complaints are everywhere heard that the public good is disregarded in the conflict of rival parties.”
— James Madison, The Federalist, No. 10

Gilbert Cosio stands with his feet spread, one foot higher than the other, astride a sloping, 100-year-old levee surrounding Bouldin Island, 40 miles due south of Sacramento, Calif. We’re here to take a look at improvements that Cosio, a civil engineer, has made to this levee, part of a serpentine network of flood control infrastructure that was imposed piecemeal over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries on the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The levee was originally made from dirt that Chinese “coolies” dredged from the swamp to carve out cheap farmland for California’s new white settlers. Today, it and the hundreds of Delta levees like it must do more: They must — as they’ve been doing since the 1850s — keep the water out of the farms, many of which have fallen below sea level because of soil subsidence. But they must also keep San Francisco Bay, contiguous to the Delta’s western edge, from flowing into the Delta. The miles of levees surrounding Delta land also confine the estuary itself, creating a quasi-natural reservoir for freshwater that’s pumped to 28 million people and billions of dollars of croplands, from Silicon Valley to San Diego. And the levees don’t just protect farms and the estuary; they keep cities and suburbs and crucial infrastructure dry.

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Bay Delta conservation plan loses support

On the heels of the withdrawal of support for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan by Westlands Water District, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority has voted to suspend continued funding for the plan. 

The authority, which serves 29 member agencies throughout the Bay-Delta, and other public water agencies that rely on water supplies pumped through the Delta, have invested almost $150 million and more than four years toward the plan’s development. It’s estimated it will cost another $100 million to complete the plan, according to the authority. 

According to the agencies, federal regulations have reduced California’s public water supplies by more than a third in the past three years and now the Department of the Interior is proposing even more regulatory restrictions.

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Population, immigration, and the drying of the American Southwest

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The looming water crisis in the American Southwest – and the role of immigration-driven population growth – is the topic of a paper published this month by the Center for Immigration Studies and authored by New Mexico journalist Kathleene Parker.

The paper, “Population, Immigration, and the Drying of the American Southwest,” online at http://cis.org/southwest-water-population-growth, explores the link between the possibility of the potentially catastrophic economic and environmental water crisis and the fact that the Southwest is the fastest-growing region of the world’s fourth-fastest-growing nation – a growth rate earlier cautioned against by various presidential commissions. It also looks at how that growth rate is driven by historically unprecedented immigration – legal and illegal – into the United States, the world’s third-most-populous nation after China and India. Immigration is responsible for more than half of the population growth in the Southwest this past decade, and nearly all of the growth in the largest southwest state, California.

Such high immigration has happened absent discussion or acknowledgement of its impacts on population or limited resources, such as water. Parker presents evidence that indicates there is insufficient water for the region’s current population, much less the larger future populations that will result if immigration continues at its present high rate.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/29/3218296/population-immigration-and-the.html#ixzz16inTPvbZ

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