California water wars among cities, farmers, salmon conservation
The California drought is in its fourth year, and tensions are mounting in many cities where water is scarce. Mountain House, California together with 113 areas with senior water rights face the possibility of having their water supply cut. The state water-access rights established as far back as 1903 are being suspended. Mountain House is searching for alternative water sources before the city of 14,000 is left high and dry.
According to the Public Policy Institute, statewide average water use is roughly 50% environmental, 40% agricultural and 10% urban. However, the percentage of water use by sector varies dramatically across regions between wet and dry years.
The tensions center mainly on the disparity between agricultural use and what cities and homeowners use. Approximately nine million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing roughly 80% of all human water use.
This week the conflict between the two groups escalated when a consortium of mostly urban water districts filed a complaint alleging Delta farmers are stealing water, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.
The urban group of 27 agencies, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta put water quality at risk by diverting more water than is within their rights. The consortium, called the State Water Contractors, and made the filing with the State Water Resources Control Board.
“These landowners in the Delta have long-standing water rights that entitle them to water when nature provides it – but those rights do not entitle them to stored water paid for by others and intended for the environment,” said Stefanie Morris, acting general manager of the contractors group. “If nature ran its course, the Delta would not be suitable for drinking or farming this summer,” they said in the report.
Dante John Nomellini, who represents the Central Delta Water Agency, said the complaint amounts to the water agencies “playing a game.” His district serves about 120,000 acres in the heart of the Delta.
“When it comes down to us, they claim we’re taking their stored water,” he said. “Well, it’s commingled with our water. And the law is clear when you commingle your water with somebody else’s you cannot deprive them of the water to which they’re entitled ...”
Protecting California salmon
State and federal officials stated they will continue to restrict water flows out of Lake Shasta to protect endangered salmon. Shasta is the largest reservoir in the Central Valley Project, which is the federal network pumping water to the entire state.
The current temperatures in Shasta are warmer than expected because of low levels which are also keeping the water release on hold. The California State Water Resources Control Board manages and regulates the release of water from state and federal projects, dams and reservoirs in order to keep stream temperatures cool enough for Chinook salmon to spawn.
In an unfortunate release in 2014 from Lake Shasta the water was too warm and caused a die off of incubating salmon eggs in the upper Sacramento River; therefore, steps are being taken to prevent another occurrence.
Fall El Niño could bring rain
El Niño occurs when ocean water temperatures climb above average across the central and eastern Pacific, centered on the equator.
“The warmer sea surface water strengthens the storm track over the Pacific Ocean and across the southern United States, especially during the winter, spring and autumn months of the year," reported by Accuweather.com.
El Nino brought relief to the Texas drought; therefore, meteorologists are pondering whether the same phenomenon will provide relief for California this fall.
Early predictions indicate the current El Niño pattern will strengthen and peak sometime in the autumn of 2015.
"If this is the case, then California has a good chance at being pretty wet for the upcoming winter. Conversely, if El Niño peaks at moderate level or weakens by early fall, it becomes more dicey in terms of storms and rainfall for California,” they said.
The El Niño of the winter of 1997-98 was one of the strongest on record and delivered storm after storm to California. The storms unloaded 20-30 inches of rain in California with yards of snow in the Sierra Nevada.
This would be exactly what California needs; however, water restrictions and conservation should remain the new normal in the state. The future of water in California can no longer rely on rainfall and snowpack to supply the growing agricultural needs of the state.
is retired and lives in Clearlake, California. She has three grown
children and one grandson and a Bachelor’s degree in Health Services
Administration from St. Mary’s College in Moraga California. On the
home front Dava enjoys time with her family, reading, gardening, cooking
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