Author Archive

Will there be enough water when the cranes return?

April 4, 2015

Will there be enough water for these Greater Sandhill Cranes when they return to the San Francisco Bay Delta this fall?

greater sandhill cranes

With the state’s snowpack down to 5% of average, the lowest ever recorded, Governor Brown has mandated a 25% water use reduction. This is the first time an involuntary water reduction mandate has been imposed. Although the means to meet this mandate has been left up to the local water districts, Brown’s executive directive includes some public assistance to replace 50 million square feet of lawns statewide with drought tolerant planting as well as reducing water use on golf courses, cemeteries and large institutions. There will also be a short-term rebate program to “provide monetary incentives for the replacement of inefficient household devices.”

It is important to note the inclusion of concerns for “degraded habitat for many fish and wildlife species, increase wildfire risk, and the threat of saltwater contamination to fresh water supplies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta” in his declaration. The Fresno Bee reported today that 50.2% of water use in California is by the environment, 40.9% by agriculture and 8.9% by residents and businesses. Although the 25% reduction is directed only at residential and business uses, water that goes to agriculture will now be closely monitored and evaluated for future plan making. This is an important step.

Everyone needs to use water wisely so that we may have enough water to drink, enough water for wildlife and their habitat, as well as enough to grow our food. The farmers in the Central Valley have already been hit hard with spartan allocations for the year. Produce prices will inevitably rise due to the higher cost of water, and the effect of the California drought will be felt across the country. It all comes down to the availability of water. Let’s all conserve. There is no more water, and what we have we are using up.

* Posted from San Francisco by Barbara Folger, NWNL Project Coordinator.

Will the movie “DamNation” lead to the removal of the lower four Snake River Dams?

February 24, 2015
USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam

USA: WA, Columbia Snake River Basin, Garfield Co., Lower Granite Dam

Since the release of the movie “DamNation” over a year ago, over 72 dams have been removed and over 730 miles of rivers were restored across the United States according to the non-profit conservation organization American Rivers. In January of this year, the producers of the movie met with members of Congress and White House officials regarding the removal of the lower four Snake River dams. Lower Granite is one.

NWNL documented the Snake River on an expedition last May interviewing stakeholders of the river including local farmers, an irrigation association, members of the Nez Perce Tribe, the manager of the Port of Lewiston, Idaho Power spokespersons and conservation organizations. Each group presented what the importance of the Snake River is to them. The only stakeholders we could not interview are the 13 species of salmon, the lamprey, the whales and other ocean-going creatures as well as the riparian vegetation that depend on an abundance of salmon to thrive. They are also voices of the river. Will some or all of the lower four dams be removed?  Check out the facts and myths page on the website of Save Our Wild Salmon. Further information about DamNation and its influence on dam removal is also available.

Blog post and photo by Barbara Briggs Folger.

Disparity in Rainfall between Pacific Northwest and California

March 26, 2014

The latest Columbia Basin Bulletin reports that the US Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from the Dworshak Dam to make room for anticipated above average inflows from the spring snow melts, that have already started. The Dworshak Dam is on the north fork of the Clearwater River in west central Idaho and empties into the Snake River just above the big four Lower Snake River Dams. The storage reservoir water level behind the Dworshak Dam rose six feet between March 1st and March 15th. This is good news for migrating salmon and for the hydro power that these dams produce, but bad news for Californians who didn’t get needed water.

Californians continue to look square in the face of a continued and serious drought. On the California Data Exchange Center’s website for March 20th, there is not one reservoir that is 100% full. The range is 21% to 53% of total capacity except Pyramid and Castaic Lakes, which are 86% and 92% respectively. California is nearing the end of its rainy season and there has not been enough rainfall or snow accumulation to fill these reservoirs. From the Klamoth River in the north of the state to the Colorado Desert in the south, the percent of historic average rainfall in each of the 36 measured areas averages about 29%.

NOAA produced a map of recent precipitation in the West, above left. This shows the higher rainfall in the Pacific Northwest and west central Idaho and dry conditions southward. What is more disturbing is the NOAA map showing the precipitation average over the past 3 years, above right. The end is not in sight.

BF_DSC2805*Posted from San Francisco by Barbara Folger, NWNL Project Coordinator

 

Is the California Drought here to stay?

March 12, 2014

The short answer is an emphatic, “YES!” It is real. Even if El Niño arrives next year, as some climatologists have hinted, California currently uses too much water to allow replenishment of its reservoirs and ground water – now at historic low levels. It is predicted that precipitation levels will fluctuate wildly, as they have historically, while water demand increases. The California Data Exchange Center reports that California reservoirs are at 62.39% of average. Some are as low as 7 and 9%. The Sierra snowpack in the northern part of the state has reached 21% of average, up from 12% before the early March storms. Nowhere in the state is the snowpack above 34% and very little rain is forecast for the rest of this year’s rainy season. San Francisco residents depend on snow melt for their water. Some towns in California are predicted to have no water within 60 days. Irresponsible water use should not drain our precious resource.

One answer is conservation and planning. According to Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson, an expert in environmental and natural resources law and policy at Stanford University, there are many ways that Californians can use less water. At a symposium presented by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Water in the West Project at Stanford University, Thompson proposed that the state protect ground water, protect the environment, avoid building new reservoirs and desalinization plants, set up water exchanges where even fish have water rights, and encourage water utilities to tier water rates.

Many of us who were here in the big droughts of 1976-77 and 1985-86 have already tightened our belts, so trying to reach the voluntary 20% reduction, as requested by Governor Brown, is going to mean even more careful planning. California has more people and less water. The state produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and has the highest per-state cash farm receipts in the nation, per CA Dept of Food and Agriculture. This farmland has international importance as well. It grows 70% of the world’s almonds.

The state needs to put serious water conservation measures in place before any rains that El Nino might bring next year could lull everyone back into complacency.

Related links for more information:

http://west.stanford.edu/publications/video/california-drought-causes-context-and-responses

http://www.aquafornia.com

http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/

*Posted from San Francisco by Barbara Folger, NWNL Project Coordinator

BF_DSC2805

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