From serious concern to blistering criticism for Gov. Brown water restrictions order

ruth lake 1

Ruth Lake


Excerpts from today’s TS story:

Speaking a few hours before the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve previously state-mandated water regulation on Wednesday night, district General Manager Greg Orsini said that they will likely run out of the ability to make further cuts before it runs out of water.

“Our per capita consumption of water is lower than the state average,” he said. “We’re only going to be able to cut so much water before we ask people to stop taking showers and washing clothes and drinking from faucets.”

Unlike most areas in the state where reservoirs are depleting, Arcata, McKinleyville and several other municipalities in the Humboldt Bay region enjoy a surplus of water at the Ruth Lake reservoir, which is currently at full capacity. The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District holds water rights to the reservoir and sells the water wholesale to the municipalities and other industrial customers. District General Manager Carol Rische said her district has requested to be exempted from the state’s past two water mandates due to the “surplus” of water, but the state has denied both requests.

“When we’re seriously in a shortage and we ask the community to do things to conserve, we want them to trust and believe in us,” she said. “That’s one of the things about this that has been a little frustrating for us.”

full story here:
Excepts from E&E Greenwire’s DROUGHT:

Brown’s edict appeared to unmask some long-simmering tensions between urban and agricultural demands. University of California, Los Angeles, law professor Jonathan Zasloff in a blog post responding to the executive order asked, “Are California’s new mandatory water restrictions an April Fool’s Day joke?”

“It’s important to keep one number in mind: one-sixth. That is the amount of California water that goes to one crop: alfalfa,” Zasloff wrote. “It’s a pretty low-value crop. And it is not even for human consumption directly; it is used for cattle feed. It could be grown much more easily in the better-watered eastern US, but why should farmers worry about it? They are getting free water based on antiquated water rights law.”

During the conference call with state officials, there were questions about the reason for targeting urban users when the agricultural sector consumes 80 percent of the water for human use.

Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter


Excerpts from Dan Bacher piece Governor Brown’s drought order lets corporate agribusiness, oil companies off the hook. In Daily KOS

For the first time in state history, Brown has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville, according to the Governor’s Office.

His executive order also features “increased enforcement actions,” including calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.

In addition, the order called for “streamlining government response to the drought,” including prioritizing state review and decision-making of water infrastructure projects and requiring state agencies to report to the Governor’s Office on any application pending for more than 90 days.

To read the full press release and executive order

After the Governor held his press conference, Adam Scow, Food & Water Watch California Director, released a statement blasting Governor Jerry Brown’s Executive Order for calling for mandatory water reductions while not addressing the state’s “most egregious corporate water abuses” by agribusiness and oil companies.

“It is disappointing that Governor Brown’s executive order to reduce California water use does not address the state’s most egregious corporate water abuses. In the midst of a severe drought, the Governor continues to allow corporate farms and oil interests to deplete and pollute our precious groundwater resources that are crucial for saving water.

The Governor must save our groundwater from depletion by directing the State Water Board to protect groundwater as a public resource. Governor Brown should direct the Water Board to place a moratorium on the use of groundwater for irrigating crops on toxic and dry soils on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley. In the two year period covering 2014-2015, the Westlands Water District is on pace to pump over 1 million acre feet of groundwater – more water than Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco combined use in 1 year. Much of Westlands grows water-intensive almonds and pistachios, most of which are exported out of state and overseas. This is a wasteful and unreasonable water use, especially during a severe drought.

Governor Brown should also stop the ongoing contamination of groundwater aquifers by toxic wastewater from oil and gas operations. It is disturbing and irresponsible that the Brown administration continues to allow oil companies to contaminate and rob Californians of these fresh water sources. Given that there is currently no safe way to dispose of toxic wastewater, the Governor should place a moratorium on fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques to prevent the problem from getting even bigger.”

Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, said Brown’s proposed Drought Barriers on the Delta will push the Delta “closer to collapse.” The group said these barriers threaten salmon while the Governor refuses to put restrictions on “corporate mega-farms.”

“Whether it’s the barriers or the Delta tunnels, it is apparent how little Governor Brown cares for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. He has not insisted on the fallowing of fields during the drought by junior water rights holders. He is pushing Delta smelt to extinction, setting up our salmon fisheries for failure, and sacrificing sustainable six-generation Delta farms for almonds, fracking, and speculative desert development,” concluded Barrigan-Parrilla.



Record Searchlight Editorial

At this point, four years into the drought, nobody should be surprised that Gov. Jerry Brown has issued the strictest water-waste prevention and monitoring measures in state history.

The only surprise is that the actions didn’t come sooner — say last year, when Brown declared the drought was a state of emergency.

But hope springs eternal and politicians like to take their time. We can only guess the rains that pelted us for much of December looked so promising the bureaucrats were temporarily distracted.

In fact, those of us who don’t live in towns or districts with limited annual water allocations probably haven’t been paying much attention either. Last year Brown ordered voluntary 20 percent reductions in water use, but Californians exceeded that goal only once — hitting 22 percent in that very soggy December.

Just days ago while signing a $1.1 billion emergency drought relief bill, Brown darkly promised there was more regulation to come.

But his executive order Wednesday is lopsided, relying more on cuts by local water users and providers, who use 20 percent of the state’s water, and issuing lesser orders to agriculture, which soaks up 80 percent of the state’s supply. Nor does it mention oil companies and the water used for fracking.

To be fair, as a state water board spokesman noted, earlier this year agriculture took “enormous cuts” to water deliveries, but that doesn’t mean that most farms have changed their reliance on thirsty crops and thirstier orchards.

And though the state is implementing a groundwater regulation package, there are no restrictions on pumping from the aquifers. The spokesman pointed out there are drilling and pumping costs for wells, but do those costs mean anything to corporate farmers?

Redding was among many cities that, while implementing water regulations aimed at reducing usage, did not require residents to cut use by a specific percentage. In fact, Redding had enough water to sell some to the perpetually parched Bella Vista Water District.

Now statewide reductions are 25 percent of water used last year — and mandatory. Restrictions imposed by the state Water Resources Control Board will look at per capita uses in each area and those with higher usage last year will have to make it up with proportionally greater reductions this year.

Across the state water agencies are being told to adjust their rate structures to discourage water waste. Surcharges, fees and penalties are suggested too. You use too much — you pay a steep price.

From now on, “permanently,” according to Brown’s executive order, urban water suppliers will report water usage, conservation and enforcement actions to the state. Until now many cities had ignored the state’s request for information.

No matter how much water residents save, their use can’t compare to agricultural users. Though Brown’s order requires drought management plans and steady reporting on how farmers intend to manage water demand during the drought and where they expect to get their water, there are no actual cutbacks. The idea is that through the reports the state will discover, and control or eradicate illegal water diversions.

Brown promises swift action against illegal diverters and “wasteful and irresponsible” water use, but penalties are vague. They need to be spelled out so there’s no question about consequences.

The report does not directly address the vast overpumping of ground water supplies. As National Public Radio reported just hours before Brown’s order Wednesday, farmers have turned to digging more and more wells, to the point where San Joaquin Valley is sinking at the rate of a half-inch a month as wells are literally sucked dry. Farmers have long objected to well-water monitoring on the basis that they own the water under their farms. But the aquifers don’t follow property lines. Wells on one property can’t help but affect surrounding lands.

It’s clear throughout the order that Brown expects cooperation from local water agencies, but nowhere in his order does he directly address how the water board will enforce many of its provisions.

If they are to work and be taken seriously, these new restrictions need evenhanded and steady enforcement across the state. There are always some who will do their best to conserve, with or without penalties, but those who blithely assume others will save for them need to be targeted.

And the governor needs to do something more about corporate water wasters, no matter who they are.





13 thoughts on “From serious concern to blistering criticism for Gov. Brown water restrictions order

  1. Thanks for this TE.

    In almost any discussion of california water someone says something about MJ growers taking water. Also true, and as damaging in it’s own way as almond crops and alfalfa crops are, both crops that take a lot of water, both crops that get mostly exported.
    A recent and new article and report on MJ growing today from RedHeaded Blackbelt

    And thanks for linking to Dan Bacher’s article at Daily Kos, he is doing good work on this issue. Click on his name there to get all his past articles on the same northern california water and fishing issues.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think next time someone claims that Jerry Brown is a Liberal I’m going to go running down the block pulling my hair out, screaming bloody murder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Jim! You got it all wrong…

      Anyone even slightly to the left of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are Liberals (so say Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their devoted followers).

      When you are knee deep in poop; everything else smells like flowers.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t understand what is not liberal about this. This seems pretty apolitical to me.

      If anything a strong government response encouraging conservation is both conservative (conservation) and liberal (effective government used to help solve problems).


      • Neat except for one thing, he’s basically giving the Farmers a pass and they’re the ones who use 80% of the Water.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe it’s my past at a land grant university, but aren’t us city dwellers the beneficiaries of that agriculture. I don’t see the lib/cons difference. I could argue that a strong agricultural economic foundation is a liberal ethic.


      • Yeah, it benefits us city dwellers when some Fat Cat decides to grow Cotton or Almonds in the Desert with cheap Gov’t subsidized water so he can export the products to a foreign market, then when theres a water shortage he can go ahead and do whatever he wants while the people in the Cities cut back their water use by 25% even tho the public only uses 20% of the water.
        After all we need to export Almonds more than we need Salmon. /sarc

        Liked by 1 person

      • And the almond grower guy supports war on Iran because they are his main competitor in the world…nut…market.

        A war monger and evil schemer in my opinion..conservative/liberals …not the issue.

        grift and greed. same old, only now, it’s nuts.

        We are exporting our water in the form of almonds, pistachios, and alfalfa. Read the dkos article and there are more good links there.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. If alfalfa growers had to pay the real costs of the water it takes to grow their crop then would cost as much as low grade cannabis, hey there’s an idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I lived in California from 1974 to 2013. I’ve been through a few droughts where mandatory reductions were required. It worked, even through the bellyachein’. I’m glad I have moved from Humboldt and don’t have to listen to the constant background noise of arguing every single issue addnausium. But Californians love to get into word battles. In the end, only getting involved makes change happen. I did on many issues and made progress on some. So, good luck to you and I hope next winter brings abundance.


  5. Is the value of alfalfa as a nitrogen fixer one of the reasons it is used? If so, it’s not entirely fair to compare it’s water usage as it is helping to prepare the soil for the next rotated crop.


  6. Also, not sure if there has been a change or I’m paying better attention, but this is much more readable and I know going in what I’m getting (ie exerps from…. and bookened with a before and after). Nice, and thank you.


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