Wet winter upends California water politics

Wet winter upends California water politics

 

Drought-busting levels of rain and snow have put pressure to lift emergency restrictions on usage, but California regulators declined to ease up on the longstanding curbs.

“Amid the ongoing succession of storms, water managers up and down the state are urging regulators in Sacramento to permanently cancel historic, emergency drought rules that have been in place for 18 months,” U-T San Diego reported late last month. “It’s an escalation of their ongoing opposition to these restrictions, which already have been eased considerably since homeowners and businesses were first forced to cut consumption by a statewide average of 25 percent. California doesn’t have an official definition for statewide drought, leaving it up to the governor’s discretion on when to announce an end to that designation.”

Swift, uneven progress

But in a new report, the State Water Resources Control Board insisted that the drought’s persistent impact had to be mitigated further before any changes could be considered. “Some reservoirs remain critically low and groundwater storage remains depleted in many areas due to the continued impact of prolonged drought,” they concluded, according to the Sacramento Bee. “Precipitation cannot be counted on to continue, and snowpack levels, while above average for the current time of year, are subject to rapid reductions as seen in 2016 and before.” While the extraordinary rules imposed to conserve water were on track to expire at the end of this month, the board planned to extend them 270 days into the future.

The caution struck a contrast to the swiftness of California’s transformation from dry to wet. “According to the U.S. drought monitor website,” HotAir noted, “there are no areas of exceptional drought left in the state.” Updated data, the site observed, “indicates that one year ago 64 percent of the state was considered to be under either extreme or exceptional drought conditions, the two highest categories. Now, largely thanks to the storms over the past month, that figure has dropped to 2 percent.”

Continued challenges

Water districts have now had to scramble to figure out how to store what could be excess water if the new trends continue. Although the pathway to new storage initiatives has been cleared and funded, the state’s bureaucratic process will add extra time. “In 2014, voters approved a $7.5 billion water bond, including $2.7 billion for storage projects, to provide funding to water projects and programs throughout the state,” KXTV recalled. “Since then, government agencies across the state have been developing the process for accepting proposals.” This month, the station added, “the Water Commission will consider bids on numerous water storage projects across the state.”

And milder drought conditions have persisted. “Overall, the monitor … showed 51 percent of California remains in some form of drought, but that’s down from just over 57 percent last week and compares with 81 percent three months ago,” CNBC reported. And in a twist adding an unexpected layer of politics to the fraught question of resource management in the most beleaguered parts of the state, some Central Valley water officials became the focus of a misspending scandal. “An irrigation district in Central California’s prime farming region gave its employees free housing, interest-free loans and credit cards that the workers used to buy tickets for concerts and professional sports games, possibly breaking the law,” said state officials according to NBC Bay Area. “Employees at Panoche Water District based in Firebaugh used the credit cards to buy season tickets to Raiders and Oakland A’s games and attend a Katy Perry concert, officials said.”

The long view

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has kept a focus on what regulatory framework will persist even after all drought conditions have been adequately mitigated. “Brown has asked the state agency to design new conservation rules for water districts that will stay in place regardless of whether California is in drought,” according to U-T San Diego. “In the long run, the governor and state regulators are moving forward with their plan to establish permanent usage budgets tailored to each water district, as well as a suite of other regulations governing water consumption. The new rules are expected to include caps for both indoor use and outdoor water use, taking into consideration differences in weather patterns and other factors from one geographic region to another.”

12 comments

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  1. Nick Machiavelli
    Nick Machiavelli 8 February, 2017, 06:57

    Because there is no accepted definition of “drought”, drought is anything the governor or a journalist wants it to be in Postmodern California. But by historical standards, California did not have a drought but a structural water shortage. Four out of five years on average are Dry Years (it rains but not enough to replenish reservoirs) and one year is a Wet Year (a flood year when reservoirs fill up to rely on for 4 years). So history makes its own definition of the reality of drought and implies that California needs 4 years of water storage on hand after a Wet Year. But it has way less than that, ergo, a structural water shortage not a drought. California had a drought in 1982 to 1988 and the Colorado River system has been experiencing a drought for some time. But there was no recent drought in California because “drought” is normal. This kind of fake news is what we get when we let politicians control the narrative by journalism that merely regurgitates what officials tell the public without alternative voices being “tapped”. And Lake Casitas, which serves the Ventura area, is still only at 37.% full today despite recent rains and has not been this low since the 1960’s. So the report that “there are no areas of exceptional left in the state” is erroneous. And the Metro Water District of So Cal recently gave back some of its allocated water on the Colorado River system because of real drought. In sum, news sources on the California drought remain “all wet”.

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  2. Nancy
    Nancy 8 February, 2017, 09:58

    This is what happens when the people give up power to faceless regulators.

    Reply this comment
    • DC1
      DC1 8 February, 2017, 11:53

      But that is precisely what the voters of this state continue to do via their ballots.

      Reply this comment
  3. Ron
    Ron 8 February, 2017, 11:15

    RIGHT ON – Nick and Nancy

    Reply this comment
  4. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 8 February, 2017, 15:39

    Will Moonbeam still push through his rediculous Global Warming regulations even though Global Warming/Climate Change is a total hoax and fruad

    Reply this comment
    • Weatherguesser
      Weatherguesser 10 February, 2017, 09:38

      Of course he will. This is not really about Global Warming/Climate Change at all — it’s about Government control of darned near everything. Just lately we’ve had a UN IPCC bigwig admit exactly that, AND a couple of days ago one of NASA’s scientists blowing the whistle on NASA’s “cooking” of the historical data to make the (totally discredited by evidence) models look better. There’s no science here, just a bunch of mostly Government-funded hacks who decided that CO2 was the culprit and SET OUT TO PROVE IT. To do that, they concocted models that basically were set up to prove their point, and then when the data didn’t bear them out, they “adjusted” the data. It’s BOGUS!!! As a meteorologist myself (MS in Meteorology and Oceanography), I cringe at what these people try to pass off as science, and at the fawning acceptance of what they say by the media and the politicians. It’s quite possibly the biggest scam ever perpetrated on the world.

      Reply this comment
  5. Dude
    Dude 8 February, 2017, 19:20

    “Wet Winter up ends California Water Politics”

    I’ll take that as a confession that the government manufacturers climate issues so they can do things they normally couldn’t get away with.

    Reply this comment
  6. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 9 February, 2017, 08:42

    Lets see Julia(Butterfly)Hill and her fellow tree sitters get frozen out of their tree stands

    Reply this comment
  7. Dork
    Dork 10 February, 2017, 07:20

    Why don’t these Counties and Cities that have plenty of water and storage just declare themselves SANCTUARY CITIES from burdensome regulations handed down by a government trying to break up families by cutting off their water.

    Reply this comment
  8. Weatherguesser
    Weatherguesser 10 February, 2017, 09:45

    And meanwhile, trillions of gallons of water run down California’s rivers to the sea, while Central Valley farmers continue to suffer. I have a question for the protectors of the Delta Smelt — if the only way we can sustain your precious smelt during droughts is by releasing water from the (man-made) reservoirs down the rivers (vice to the farms), what the heck did the smelt do during drought seasons (and there were plenty of them) BEFORE we built the reservoirs?

    Reply this comment
  9. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 17 February, 2017, 16:04

    Wealthguesser. Yeah as if some stupid 3 inch fish was now some kind of deity to be worshiped and make sacrifices for like the pagans did its like in the Klamath Basin where in 2001 they cut off the water becuase of two worthless trash fish(Lost river and shortnosed sucker)and a salmon(Coho)which can be bought at the store and this bit with the Spotted Owl the eco-freaks claim it needs old growth timber but one was found nesting in a K-Mart sign and the Marbled Murrlet supposedly neded oold growth timber as well but a range map in any bird guides their range is all the way to the panhandle of Alaska which is treeless tundra

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