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Saturday, March 14, 2015

California’s Big Water Plans; The End of Private Water Rights?

Jamie Lee

Drought-stricken California, which just had its driest January ever recorded, smashed another dismal record last month: the hottest February. This will be the 5th year in a row of historic drought in California, breaking a 120-year-old record.

California is the largest populated state in the country. One out of eight Americans reside in sunny, warming, no rain, CA. Our economy is recognized as the 8th largest in the world with Central Valley farmers producing some 42% of the nations food supplies for decades.

For the second year in a row the Federal Water Agency, which controls CA mountain snowpack runoff, announced that zero water would be allocated to the 3300 state water agencies that it has supplied water to from the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges for the past 54 years. Until recently the state's “ice chest” had accounted for 44% of the state's annual water budget.

Last year, many Central Valley farmers had to fallow their fields when their water allotments were cut to 5% of normal, by Fed and State water agencies. The only exceptions being for those with grandfathered water rights, who can take as much as they like and are making millions and millions selling to those without these exclusive water right privileges.

In a March 2 study last week from Stanford University, reported in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists are suggesting that we have “entered into a new era where nearly every year we have warming temperatures we will have low precipitation.” The report goes on to say that “essentially all years are likely to be warm – or extremely warm – in California by the middle of the 21st century.”

The ski industry and supporting tourist business around Lake Tahoe is in chaos. Baseline snowpack and skier traffic are down some 75% of normal and the only thing frozen around Tahoe these days are real estate sales.

Californians aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of our collective “new normal” of hotter weather and little precious rain. In Colorado they have been consistently shattering record warm temperatures by some 5-15 degrees. Eastern Colorado had record high temperatures of 82 degrees in early February.

Alaska, again this year, is consistently recording warmer temperatures than Texas, up to some 20 degrees above normal so far this year. It has gotten so bad up in the once Great White North that this week the Iditarod dog sled race had to move 225 miles north. Snowfall in Anchorage was one-quarter of normal for the year.

In the forests of Mendocino County where I live we are seeing trees literally exploding from the inside out. Once majestic beautiful Tan, California and Scrub Oak trees have succumbed to increased pest manifestation and infestation due to lack of water root moisture and are just toppling over everywhere.

Strangely, our government officials are silent as to calling for an all-out effort by all to preserve and conserve what water we have in this major crisis.

Golf courses are still being watered with only voluntary cut backs “requested”. Non-reclaimed water car washes, some facilities using 100 or more gallons of water per car, are still going strong. Energy frackers are still being satisfied with hundreds of thousands of gallons of potable drinking water per well site.

Building permits are still being issued for new wineries in Sonoma and Napa Counties. New housing and other constructions projects the same. North Bay wine sales hit records again this year.

Manicured lawns in the bedroom communities of Marin have never looked better. Restaurants are still pouring water to patrons without request.

Business as usual. Business must grow. Nasdaq just went over the 5,000 mark, an all-time record high. The banksters are very fat, wealthy and happy while Central Valley farmers are readying to fallow more Ag land and try to figure out how they can stay in business again this year.

Yet behind the scenes, in the dark recesses of California State governance, there is much scheming, plotting and long-term planning going on for the protracted, decades and decades long predicted water shortages ahead for us all.

Governor Brown is quietly proposing bills and passing legislation to literally build many more damn dams throughout the state in low-lying basins. The cost estimate from the Governor’s office is one half a TRILLION dollars over the next few decades.

This is in addition to the $20 billion we currently spend annually for water management in the state. Last November, voters passed Propositions 1 & 2 to fund some $18 billion in additional bonds to primarily build-out two large dams each estimated to be one-third the volume of Lake Shasta. One proposed to the East of Lake County and the other near Fresno in the Central Valley.

Arrogantly and boldly, Brown announced these massive building and spending plans just a week before state voters approved Proposition’s 1 & 2, yet few local and state news services even carried this important announcement.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 10/24/14:

‘California’s growing population and dwindling water require up to $500 billion in additional investment in water in coming decades, and new state fees for water users could be one way to pay for it’, a water plan released Thursday by the state’s top water officials said:

‘Currently, governments spend about $20 billion annually on California’s water supply, or $200 billion over 10 years’, said Kamyar Guivetchi, head of integrated water management for the Department of Water Resources.”

‘State officials are calling for another $500 billion in coming decades. That includes $100 billion in flood-control projects and $400 billion to fund a wide range of projects proposed by different regions of the state’, Guivetchi said.

The plan looks as far ahead as 2050, spanning a period when California will be dealing with everything from shrinking snowpack, rising seas and encroaching salinity in waterways to more frequent droughts under climate change.

The plan envisions growing cities increasingly taking more water, farmers using less, and water costing more in general. ‘It shouldn’t be a surprise’, Cowin said, that ‘water is going to cost more for Californians in the future.’
Included in these large-scale projects are for two 30-mile tunnels long planned to take water from the Sacramento River to give to Southern California. (Governor Brown had said these plans were scuttled (read delayed) in favor of getting Prop. 1 & 2 passed last November.)

So the state is deep as to the planning for a new era of warming temperatures and little rainfall while informing farmers, both big and small, to expect much less water while residents of the state can expect continued rising water costs.

Central Valley farmers had been supplying some 43% of the nation’s food until last year. Now they are being told that no water is coming again this year and they can expect less water in the future as well. Expect food prices to continue to soar again across the country.

Private Water Rights being taken away as well?

In addition, a month before that announcement, Governor Brown also signed into law the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014”:

This three-bill state legislation, (AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley) and SB 1319 (Pavley), requires the formation of new local groundwater sustainability agencies responsible for establishing long-term locally-based groundwater management plans and ultimately protecting groundwater quality within their jurisdictions.

‘A central feature of these bills is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally. Local agencies will now have the power to assess the conditions of their local water basins and take necessary steps to bring those basins in a state chronic long-term overdraft into balance,’ the governor said in his official signing message.

The new groundwater legislation also requires local water agencies to replenish underground aquifers that have been depleted. Farmers will likely have to meter their wells, and some may be forced to cease or dramatically reduce pumping, according to the new bills.

If local water agencies fail to comply with the new rules, state water officials will have the power to do whatever is necessary to enforce the legislation. ‘The cost of doing nothing is the biggest economic gamble,’ State Senator Fran Pavley said. ‘Thousands of homes and small farms cannot keep pace with the race to drill deeper and deeper wells.’

‘We have to learn to manage wisely water, energy, land and our investments,’ said Gov. Brown this morning. ‘That’s why this is important.’  (Source)
Also, according to the new groundwater law:
  • By 2017, groundwater management agencies must be created across California.
  • By 2020, groundwater basins that are “overdrafted” (meaning more water is being pumped than replenished) must have “sustainability plans.”
  • By 2022, all other basins must have such plans.
  • By 2040, all “high and medium priority” basins must achieve sustainability
According to the above bill legislation, smart meters will be required on all private water wells through newly created local groundwater agencies. If the local agencies do not provide adequate enforcement, the state is declaring that they will intervene.

Just this week several Northern California water agencies announced they are likely to be raising water tax bills by some 33% this year. They blame the need to hike fees on the successful voluntary cutbacks made by residents over the past couple of years. “You do good, we tax you more” is the states reward for those who conserved. Residents are also to see water allotment restrictions announced as well. (Source)

While amidst the driest, warmest spring on record in California with worsening conditions looking forward, tee times are filling, businesses are a building and lawns are a-watering while the state’s only answer is to build more damn dams, jack up water fees and take away private resident water rights.

With mandatory vaccine laws coming to California this year along with the greatest prolonged drought in its history we can expect to begin to see people relocating out of the state this summer and further intrusion of our private lives by the police state.

And with the end of large-scale farming in the state and water controls from the state to be put on private wells, we can also expect to see real estate prices head south quickly by summers end, especially in areas of severe water shortages like the Central Valley and those counties that rely on local reservoirs and mountain runoffs for their water supplies.

The California dream is fast become its own worst nightmare of realities for decades to come by not taking critical steps to save what water we have during this multi-generational crisis upon us now.

You can read more from Jamie Lee at his site Tabu Blog, where this article first appeared.

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