[env-trinity] Appeal Democrat: Thirsty state looks to Northern California

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Jan 8 09:23:47 PST 2014


Thirsty state looks to Northern California

By Andrew Creasey/ acreasey at appealdemocrat.com | Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 12:10 am  
SACRAMENTO — As the possibility of a historic drought builds with every dry day, Central Valley water users could eventually turn north for relief.
If they do, they might find the tank already empty.
If there was one picture that emerged from a meeting between the State Board of Food and Agriculture and local and state water agencies on Tuesday, it was that most signs are pointing to a drought on par with the worst in state history and that the San Joaquin Valley is likely to see staggering cuts in water allotments.
The topic of the meeting was water transfers and the need for the state to expedite the approval process. Water transfers have become a buffer against drought for the southern state. With reservoirs drying up and water cuts a looming certainty, water managers in the Central Valley anticipate transfers could again be large parts of their water portfolios.
Mention the idea of water transfers to a resident of Northern California, and it's typical to hear talk about the fear of a water grab.
Currently, any water transfer has to have a willing buyer and a willing seller, so, at the moment, any fears of a grab are unfounded, sources said. But that hasn't quelled concerns.
Reason to be nervous
"When you have 60 percent of the population in the south and about 10 percent north of Sacramento, there's a reason to be nervous, especially when they're building tunnels that increase the water transfer capacity," said Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica.
Walter Cotter, general manager of Browns Valley Irrigation District, said water transfers now don't create a window for a non-northern agency to take water, but he worries about the future.
"My concern is that Northern California does not have the dollars or enough votes to stop a run on Northern California water should the balance of the state decide to come after it," Cotter said. "Our best bet to ensure the entire state has water is to work as a state and keep everybody whole."
The problem is that the drought, in the wake of a dry 2013, has reached the point where even the relatively water-rich North State and Sacramento Delta may not be able to help.
Not enough water
"When you look at water supply in the Sacramento Valley, there's an expectation that there is always water there," said David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association. "There simply isn't going to be enough water to transfer to other parts of the state."
Guy pointed to a convergence of low reservoir levels and low inflow to those reservoirs as the principal cause of the water worries in 2014.
"It's kind of the worst of all dynamics," Guy said. "Through the valley, you will see reductions in surface water supplies unless that changes."
Locally, the Yuba County Water Agency typically transfers the most water around the state. In 2013, it transferred about 60,000 acre-feet, which is essentially taken from the area's groundwater.
The agency has 180,000 acre-feet of groundwater it can transfer over three years, but the needs of its local customers, including eight irrigation district spread over almost 100,000 acres, have to be met first, said Scott Matyac, YCWA water resources manager.
"If it remains dry, it's not certain that locals will have water available to transfer," Matyac said.

‘In a pretty deep hole’
Local and state water managers at a state Board of Food and Agriculture meeting were almost unanimous in their call to Gov. Jerry Brown to officially declare a drought.
"It's easy to say we're going to have a dry year at this point," said Paul Fujitani, chief of water operations for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Mid-Pacific Region. "Even the most optimistic forecasts show a difficult path to an average year. We're in a pretty deep hole right now."
Fujitani said water supplies to southern contractors could be reduced, and the agency would have trouble meeting parts of the Endangered Species Act, if the dryness continues.
Jason Peltier, chief deputy manager of the Westlands Water District, said they've been bracing their water users in Kings and Fresno counties for the possibility of a zero-allocation year.
"Five hundred thousand people's water supply is at risk today," Peltier said. "With the increase in farm production since the last drought in 1977, the stakes have gotten much higher. Looking at those factors gives you the sense of the gravity and the reach of a drought crisis."
With a drought could come fallow fields, with some estimates showing the possibility that 500,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland could go out of production, Peltier said.
"We're entering into uncharted territory," said David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association.
A drought declaration by the governor would give agencies leeway to relax their standards for protection of fish and wildlife and increase their flows to irrigation districts and other users.
— Andew Creasey

CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey.
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