The San Joaquin River, which helps
drain California’s Central Valley, has been negatively impacted
by construction of dams, inadequate streamflows and poor water
quality. Efforts are now underway to restore the river and
continue providing agricultural lands with vital irrigation,
among other water demands.
After an 18-year lawsuit to restore water flows to a 60-mile dry
stretch of river and to boost the dwindling salmon populations,
the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement is underway.
Water releases are now used to restore the San Joaquin River and
to provide habitat for naturally-reproducing populations of
self-sustaining Chinook salmon and other fish in the San Joaquin
River. Long-term efforts also include measures to reduce or avoid
adverse water supply impacts from the restoration flows.
The Amended Plan … has touched off a series of lawsuits due
to its controversial unimpaired flow requirements for the Lower
San Joaquin River and its tributaries … The Federal
Government’s lawsuits challenge the Amended Plan by asserting
that it fails to comply with CEQA and congressional mandates
that control the operation of the New Melones Dam, which is
part of the federally run Central Valley Project (CVP).
When the State Water Resources Control Board voted in December
to adopt the Bay-Delta Plan, its members ignored the direction
of former Governor Brown and current Governor Newsom to pursue
voluntary agreements with our irrigation districts. Many saw
this as an act of defiance by former Chair Felicia Marcus, the
executive director, and many of the activist staff.
Now that the federal government has filed its own lawsuits
against an unimpaired-flows plan for San Joaquin River
tributaries, farmers and other parties to the lawsuits wait to
learn where they will be heard–and prepare for a lengthy court
battle. California Farm Bureau Federation … filed its own
lawsuit against the unimpaired-flows plan in February…
Turning the tables on California, the Trump administration sued
Thursday to block the state’s ambitious plan to reallocate
billions of gallons of river water to salmon and other
struggling fish species. … The State Water Resources Control
Board voted in December to reallocate the flows of the San
Joaquin River and its tributaries. The move is designed to help
steelhead and salmon by taking water from San Joaquin Valley
farmers and a handful of cities.
Groundwater helped make Kern County the king of California
agricultural production, with a $7 billion annual array of
crops that help feed the nation. That success has come at a
price, however, as decades of unchecked groundwater pumping in
the county and elsewhere in California have left some aquifers
severely depleted. Now, the county’s water managers have less
than a year left to devise a plan that manages and protects
groundwater for the long term yet ensures that Kern County’s
economy can continue to thrive, even with less water.
Rate increases are being proposed in part to help pay for
improvements to the Regional Wastewater Control Facility, which
is set to go through the first phase of a modification project
aimed at extending the life of existing amenities at the plant.
The modification project will also improve working conditions
for employees, and bring the site into compliance with national
pollutant discharge standards.
On our Bay-Delta Tour June 5-7, participants will hear from a
diverse group of experts including water managers,
environmentalists, farmers, engineers and scientists who will
offer various perspectives on a proposed tunnel project that
would carry water beneath the Delta, efforts to revitalize the
Delta and risks that threaten its delicate ecological balance.
Any new path on California water must bring Delta community and
fishing interests to the table. We have solutions to offer. We
live with the impacts of state water management decisions from
loss of recreation to degradation of water quality to
collapsing fisheries. For example, how can new and improved
technology be employed to track real time management of
Field D-17 on the Bowles Farming Company’s ranch in
California’s Central Valley is dry and unplanted when I visit
it with Emery Silberman in the spring. … Mounted there, he
shows me, is a small piece of equipment from a company called
WaterBit that’s designed to provide more granular control of
conditions in the field … to save on valuable resources like
water and fertilizer.
Probably the least expensive option, estimated to cost $150
million to $250 million, would expand the canal’s upper portion
— the part visible from the surface — from about 60 feet to as
much as double that width, but only along the 25-mile problem
section. … An alternative approach, estimated to cost about
$400 million, would be to build a nearly identical canal
adjacent to the existing one in the areas that have experienced
the most subsidence.
Water storage at New Melones Reservoir in southeastern
Calaveras County is currently at 84 percent of its 2.4 million
acre-feet capacity – 35 percent higher than its 15-year average
for March… Although the dam’s emergency spillway has never
been tested, Reclamation has been proactively releasing water
in anticipation of snowpack runoff.
Here in California, the San Joaquin Valley is a hot spot for
unsafe drinking water. The region has more than half of all
public water systems that are out of water-quality compliance
in California, but just 10% of the state’s population. … We
talked to Veronica Garibay—co-founder and co-director of the
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability—about ways to
ensure community involvement in water management
Water is coming out from Friant Dam into the San Joaquin River.
The dam is at about 82 percent of capacity, and the warm
weather is melting the mountain snow. Michael Jackson, area
director for the Bureau of Reclamation, says the flow out of
the dam is being increased. Flood releases don’t usually start
until April, so the extra water is good news for valley
growers, with extra irrigation water available.
When a wild river floods, water and sediment spills over its
banks onto adjacent land, it builds up a natural floodplain.
Floodplains allow a river’s high flows to spread out and slow
down, forming temporary reservoirs that pool over the rainy
season. That means more water percolating down into underlying
aquifers … and less floodwaters barreling toward cities.
The statewide snowpack has reached 160 percent of its annual
year-to-date average and the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra
Nevada can be seen from Highway 198. … But, if you think
that’s a lot of rain, think again. Sunday marks the 113th
anniversary of the 1906 flood, which filled Visalia’s downtown
streets with about a foot of water. The water didn’t dissipate
for 10 days.
Implementing the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act—which requires overdrafted groundwater basins to achieve
balance between supply and demand by the 2040s—could require
taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of
production in the San Joaquin Valley. … We talked to Soapy
Mulholland, president and CEO of Sequoia Riverlands Trust,
about this impending challenge.
Subsidence and socialism are two “S” words that wouldn’t seem
to have much in common, especially here in the San Joaquin
Valley. Nevertheless, for insiders in the Valley’s intricate
water game, the words are inextricably linked.
For a region so crucial to the growth of California as we know
it today, you might think there would be libraries full of
books about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And yet, as UC
Merced scholar Gregg Camfield wrote several years ago, the most
obvious thing about the literature of the Delta “is how little
there is.” Advocates of the largest estuary on the west coast
of the Americas are trying to collect those scattered bits and
pieces in a new anthology of the Delta.
When it opened in 1951, the Friant-Kern Canal carried at least
4,000 cubic feet of water per second along its route from
Millerton Lake, north of Fresno, to Bakersfield. Then something
unfortunate happened. A 25-mile stretch of land between Terra
Bella and Pixley began to sink, and kept sinking, to the point
that the canal’s gravity-powered water flow has slowed to about
1,700 cubic feet per second. … Federal and state officials
would like to restore the canal to its original capacity, as
would the seven municipalities and 18,000 family farms using
the canal. But how? And where would money for repairs come
Bills introduced last week by Bakersfield Republicans in
Sacramento and Washington, D.C., would redirect money from the
state’s high-speed rail project toward reservoir projects, as
well as repairs to Friant-Kern Canal. … The proposals by U.S.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy and state Assemblyman Vince Fong seize upon
a common frustration among many valley Republicans that
billions of state and federal dollars dedicated to high-speed
rail would be better spent on capturing water from wet years…