Archive | Water

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Flooding alfalfa fields to recharge aquifers

When the rains return to California and the Southwest, and they will, a promising way to recharge aquifers is by deliberately flooding alfalfa fields, as well as fallow fields.

Deliberately recharging groundwater allows aquifers to be managed more like surface reservoirs, and has the potential to increase the state’s water storage capacity by millions of acre-feet. During periods like the current drought, there’s little or no extra water available for groundwater recharge. But in wet years, it may be possible to devote substantial volumes to replenishing aquifers.

Over a six-week period in February, March and April, Dahlke oversaw a test in Siskiyou County in which 140 acre-feet of water were applied to 10 acres of alfalfa. That’s well over twice the amount of irrigation water the field typically gets in an entire year.

“It was just pouring into the ground,” Dahlke said.

The water percolated readily into the earth and the groundwater table in the vicinity of the farm rose quickly

John Fleck adds:

The premise: recharge is good if you have the chance, but land set aside exclusively for the purpose is at a premium. But there’s plenty of alfalfa land where you could try this.

One more example of the adaptive capacity offered by the queen of forages.

My hunch is that this works best in places where there’s already alfalfa being grown in a basin shared with municipal pumpers. I’m thinking especially Central Arizona, where you’ve got 160,00 acres of alfalfa in Maricopa County alone.

Let’s hope the coming El Nino dumps enough water so farmland can be flooded and aquifers recharged. Given the complexity of water law, any water used for this shouldn’t count against someone’s allocation.

Posted in Water0 Comments

"Godzilla" is out of control. A Warner Bros. film

‘Godzilla El Niño’ coming to California

"Godzilla" is out of control. A Warner Bros. film

We lived in southern California during the last two big El Niños and they are indeed doozies. Torrential storms slam into the state one after another. Roads flood. Houses slide down hills. And reservoirs fill up. The crucial question is, will the storms hit far enough north to replenish parched lakes and reservoirs? The answer is probably yes. The Sierras are already experiencing unusual wet weather. A storm just dumped four inches of hail in Donner Pass. The Colorado Rockies had an unusually wet June. The New Mexico drought is over. Clearly, the weather is changing.


You know how that climate guy was calling the coming El Niño, now taking shape in the Pacific, a “Godzilla El Niño” a couple weeks ago? Well now more experts are weighing in saying it’s most definitely going to get the official categorization of a “strong” event by the end of this month.

Southern California rain is helpful. Rain in northern California is what matters. That water flows to the Sacramento Delta then is sent south to Central Valley agriculture and the gaping maw of southern California.

The El Niño hitting the mountains of the north is critical because California’s vast waterworks rely on rain and snow from the Sierra to supply farms and cities. By contrast, much of the rain that falls in Southern California ends up in the ocean.

The area north of San Francisco, where California’s largest reservoirs — Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville — sit, has an equal chance of a dry or wet winter.

That could change if El Niño continues to muscle up, enabling storms to elbow into the north. That’s what happened during the two biggest El Niños on record, in 1982-83 and 1997-98.

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California Sacramento Delta islands are sinking


As if California didn’t already have enough water worries. Water flows down from the Sierras to the Sacramento Delta, and then much of it goes to southern California. The delta is the most crucial water supply in California. Delta islands and surrounding areas contain immensely fertile farmland as well as cities. The problem is, they are generally lower than the water level in the Delta, protected by levees. The levees are old and the islands are sinking. If levees fail, it would be a catastrophe for residents and imperil southern California water supplies.

Delta farmers say, ‘We take good care of our levees.’ I understand their point. They have made heroic efforts. The simple fact is there have been 144 levee failures. There have not been many lately. We have not had high inflows, high winds and high tides. But it’s almost akin to saying it’s been a long time since an earthquake.” According to Mount, risks in the Delta are high because “there are multiple potential causes.” Then he reels them off: overtopping, seepage, under-seepage, quakes. Ah, and rodents.

Every island that fails will subtract huge amounts of Sierra stream flow that might otherwise go into reservoir storage.

Trust of Southern Californians, however, is as rare as hens’ teeth in these parts. Having identified me as a reporter from Los Angeles, Miller says accusingly, “What bothers me is they [scientists and policy-makers] worry about if the Delta is flooded then you won’t have clean drinking water. If the Delta is flooded, we’ll drown!”

There are no easy answers here. Upgrading levees is expensive and may not even completely solve the problem.

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Monthly percent of normal precipitation. May 2015.

Spring and summer rain in Colorado means no shortage declaration. Whew

Monthly percent of normal precipitation. May 2015.

Monthly percent of normal precipitation. May 2015.

Water geeks are closely watching Lake Mead water levels. If the lake drops below 1075 feet, it triggers a mandatory shortage declaration, which would lead to all sorts of nasty consequences, cause serious water conflicts, plus much gnashing of teeth. Trust me, no one wants to go there. Happily, an unexpectedly rainy spring and summer in Colorado means this almost certainly will not happen in 2016 or 2017.

The number to watch is a Lake Mead elevation of 1,075, and the date to watch is January 1. The forecast in the latest 24-month study puts us at 1,082.12 on Jan. 1, 2016. That means that unless something crazy happens, like El Chapo’s tunnel dudes drill a hole in the bottom of Hoover Dam and steal 700,000 acre feet of water, it looks like a 2016 shortage declaration is completely off the table.

For 2017, things are also looking better.

The Colorado River is a major provider of water for seven states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) as well as Mexico. Rules and laws governing it are a bewildering thicket indeed. It is the most litigated river on earth.

Don’t you just love the two boat Arizona navy?

The compact was the fruit of several years of negotiations among the states. The seven states had previously formed the League of the Southwest in 1917 to promote development along the river. In 1921, Congress authorized the states to enter into a compact for allocation of the river resources. The agreement was approved by Congress in 1922, the same year it was signed.

In 1934, Arizona, unhappy with California’s decision to dam and divert the river, called out the National Guard and even commissioned a two boat “navy.” The matter was eventually settled in court.

The agreement was controversial even at the time, however. Arizona, for example, was dissatisfied with the lower basin allotment and refused to ratify the agreement until 1944. The specific allotments were disputed by Arizona until the United States Supreme Court upheld the amount in the 1963 decision in Arizona v. California. The agreement ended many years of dispute, clearing the way for the Central Arizona Project, authorized by Congress in 1968.

Meanwhile, El Nino continues to gain strength and could be the biggest in fifty years.


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California judge halts state attempt to impose water cutbacks

A California judge says the State Water Resources Control Board cannot impose water reductions on local water agencies. The state will unquestionably try to route around this temporary restraining order by re-writing their curtailment orders. The State of California may pretend this isn’t a big deal, however it is, as it directly blocks state regulators from mandating water cutbacks. It also highlights just how insanely convoluted and dysfunctional the antiquated spaghetti mess known as California water law is. California is attempting to deal with a major drought using water laws that should have been re-written decades ago.

A Sacramento judge has thrown a wrench into the California State Water Resources Control Board’s efforts to impose water cutbacks on several of the state’s senior water rights holders. In a July 10th order, Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled that the Water Board’s administrative process, designed to implement drought-based water reductions, violates the due process rights of several water and irrigation districts to whom the Board issued cutback orders. Judge Chang issued a temporary restraining order barring the Board from enforcing its administrative directives.

We don’t need no stinking judge telling us what to do.

State officials dismissed the ruling as inconsequential.

Water board attorney David Rose said the curtailment letters may be problematic and need revision. But he said Chang’s finding doesn’t change the fundamental fact that the board can — and will — crack down on those who take water illegally.

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Delta-Mendota Canal reverse pumping

California water districts forced to reverse canal flow

Delta-Mendota Canal reverse pumping

Several water districts in the California Central Valley, as usual, stored water in the San Luis Reservoir, assuming they could swap that water for water coming from the Delta-Mendota Canal this summer. However, this year, because of the drought, there is no incoming canal water. The water districts are installing pumps to reverse water flow in the canals and pump the stored reservoir water uphill for 62 miles back to where it came from, lifting it 18 feet along the way. Fuel for the pumps will cost $500,000 a month. It’s either that or orchards and crops die.

In a desperate move to keep six Northern California water districts from going dry, the Delta-Mendota Canal will carry water uphill for the first time in its history.

Nine giant pumps are being installed in three locations to lift canal water a total of 18 feet along a 62-mile stretch from the San Luis Reservoir in Merced County to the city of Tracy in San Joaquin County.

Although the project is expensive, Martin said there was no alternative.

“The situation is so dire that if our districts don’t get this water, they lose their orchards,” Martin said. “If they lose their orchards, it’s a billion dollars worth of loss.

These are real farmers with real families. Whether orchards should even have been planted in the Central Valley is indeed a valid question. However, the orchards are there, and they need water or the trees die. If that happens on a mass scale, the economic impact will be devastating.

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Homer Simpson

Mountain House CA water shortage due to dimbulb local govt

Homer Simpson

Mountain House CA, a planned community of 12,000, had ample warning in 1994 it should have a backup water supply and ignored it. Today, its sole source of water has been shut off by California due to the drought and Mountain House is forced to buy expensive water on the open market. This is a clear example of how incompetent governance combines with greedhead developers makes drought much worse than it should have been.

Mountain House gets water from the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, which has usually unassailable senior water rights. Except when it doesn’t. Rather than get a backup supply, and knowing Byron-Bethany has its supply cut back during an earlier drought, Mountain House chose to ignore all that, and is now in deep, mostly self-inflicted trouble.

But there was at least some concern about that water supply in 1994, when the Mountain House environmental impact report warned that Byron-Bethany’s supply “may be diminished by future federal and/or state regulatory actions.”

There was precedent for that statement. Byron-Bethany had been among those senior water users curtailed during the 1970s.

The environmental report also called for “adequate raw water storage” to make sure the town would have at least some water on hand if its supply was cut off. Today, Mountain House has tanks that can store about a week’s worth of water for its more than 14,000 residents.

The irrigation district is taking legal action to stop California from curtailing its water. Bizarrely, Mountain View is now buying water from another irrigation district, perhaps showing just how screwy and dysfunctional California’s water delivery system is. Instead of a bewildering patchwork of local water boards and districts, there needs to be serious central planning, and it needs to be enforceable.

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The Water Knife

Eat leaden death, junior rights water thief!

The Water Knife

The Water Knife. Ripped from tomorrow’s headlines! In a near-future when water wars are more than legal and political, screw with Las Vegas water and you will get killed,

The opening scene involves the general counsel for the Southern Nevada Water Authority winning a court curtailment order against an Arizona community whose junior water right use is apparently interfering with Las Vegas’s senior supply. The lawyer hands off the paperwork to the SNWA water rights enforcement team, which takes to the sky in a squadron of armed helicopters and blows up the junior users’ water treatment plant. This assures that water is not taken out of priority.

Water nerds are gonna love this book.

I will definitely be reading it.

Of course the plot is just fanciful speculation. Oh wait…

Arizona says California might want to steal its stockpiled water.

ADWR fully supports the statements made by Governor Ducey. California has put themselves into a dire situation and we anticipate that the federal government will want to help California, which could come at Arizona’s expense. As the governor stated, Arizona should not be punished for doing the right thing.”

Arizona has a point. Why should Arizona be forced to deliver water it has carefully stockpiled over the years to satisfy the gaping maw of California, whose water policy is a pathetic joke compared to Arizona and Nevada. Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson have made huge strides in recycling, reusing, and reclaiming water. California, unlike other western states, still doesn’t regulate groundwater pumping and water usage reporting is mostly voluntary. Yeah, that’ll be effective.

Posted in Water

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Senior water rights curtailed in parts of California

This is a big deal. Under arcane and archaic California water law, those with the oldest rights have highest priority. The State Water Board just took the highly unusual step of curtailing senior water rights in the San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds and Sacramento Delta with a priority date of 1903 or later. This has only happened once before, in the 1970’s, and was not as extensive.

Most of the affected rights holders are agricultural and livestock, so food availability and prices may be impacted. However, enforcement of water law is spotty at best in California, as it relies on a voluntary system of reporting. A big operation facing millions in losses is going to report every drop it uses. Right.

Plus, for those with deep pockets, they can simply pump more groundwater or drill more wells, as doing so is barely regulated in California. Yes, there is a nasty drought. However at least some of California’s problems are of its own making because of its lax water law.

Today’s action is based on reported diversion demands, estimates of natural flows and actual stream flows. Conditions in these and other watersheds continue to be monitored, and curtailment notices for other watersheds and for more senior water right holders in these watersheds may be imminent.

Posted in Water


Islamic State continues gains. Obama Administration clueless


The Obama Administration is willfully and deliberately ignorant about the situation in Iraq and Syria, desperately trying to convince itself and the public that IS hasn’t seized large amounts of territory and weapons. Yet IS has, and the response from DC has been more of the same, bomb them, just bomb them, hoping this time will somehow be different and tactics that have repeatedly failed will somehow prove victorious.

The only way any of this makes sense is to assume the US has an out-of-control war machine whose gaping maw must be fed, regardless of consequence. And liberals, please stop babbling about how this is somehow the fault of Dubya Bush. The truth is both parties own it.

Americans blame Obama and Bush equally for Iraq

The new survey shows that Americans blame his military policy about as much as they blame the Iraqi army (40 percent to 38 percent) for the problems, and a new CNN/ORC poll finds that Americans blame Obama (44 percent) about as much as George W. Bush (43 percent) for Iraq’s problems.

Water as a weapon. Both the US and Iraqi said retaking Ramdi would be simple enough yet, as usual, the propaganda falls way short of the reality.

Islamic State has shut down all the gates of a dam in the recently-seized Iraqi city of Ramadi causing widespread concerns of an impending humanitarian crisis.

Anbar provincial council chief Sabah Karhout told AFP that the IS move lowered the level of the Euphrates River and cut water supplies to government-held areas of Khaldiyah and Habbaniyah to the east.

Gosh, the more weaponry we lose there, the more we must send. I’m guessing profits for defense contractors are soaring.

Dude, where’s my Humvee? Iraq losing equipment to Islamic State at staggering rate

Iraqi security forces lost 2,300 Humvee armored vehicles when Islamic State overran the northern city of Mosul in June 2014, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday in an interview with Iraqiya state television. Coupled with previous losses of American weapons, the conclusion is simple: The United States is effectively supplying Islamic State with tools of war the militant group cannot otherwise hope to acquire from its patrons.

Maybe ISIS isn’t as religious as we think.

ISIS forces controlling Ramadi are ex-Baathist Saddam loyalists

ISIS’s roots in Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party are deep — many of the group’s most devoted commanders, advisers and fighters started out as Baathists. The ex-Baathists essentially run ISIS, and their past is evident in the tactics they are using now.

Posted in Anti-war, Water

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