LA Times: As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other states that take water from the lower Colorado River are nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway.

Under the proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking order. California’s huge river take would drop 4.5% to 8% as the shortage progressed.

With occasional years of relief, the river that greens farm fields and fills faucets from Colorado to California has been stuck in drought since 2000. A shortage declaration has been looming over the seven-state basin for more than a decade, only to be narrowly averted time and again when rain and snow in the upper basin pushed reservoir levels above the trigger point.

Nearly two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have taken their toll on Lake Mead, a major source of water for Southern California. (John Locher / Associated Press)

But flows into Lake Powell — one of the Colorado’s two massive reservoirs — fell to a little more than a third of the average for the April-through-July period this year. And September’s inflow was negligible, less than 1% of the average. Looking at those numbers, federal officials say the U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage in 2020.

“It’s pretty clear we’re in a deepening long-term drought cycle,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has been importing Colorado River water to the region since the early 1940s. “It’s in everybody’s interest to prevent the system from cratering.”

The basin’s entire storage system is 47% full. Lake Powell, which stores runoff from the upper basin and releases it to Lake Mead, is 45% full. Mead, the source of Southern California’s river water, is 38% full.

The Interior secretary has never declared a shortage on the Colorado. But it has been known for years that the river is over-allocated. The basin states divvied up the flows in the early 20th century — a period that in hindsight was unusually wet and presented an unrealistic picture of what the Colorado could produce year in and year out.

Diversions are regulated by a complicated system of river compacts and water rights that call for Arizona and Nevada to take the first cuts in times of a lower-basin shortage. California, with some of the oldest river rights, is further down the line.

The sprawling Imperial Irrigation District and other farm districts in southeastern California control roughly 75% of California’s 4.4 million-acre-foot share. Imperial is the single largest user on the entire length of the river, which starts at the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies and has an average annual flow of roughly 15 million acre-feet.

Metropolitan has nearly doubled its base allocation of 550,000 acre-feet through agreements with Imperial and other irrigation districts that fallow crop land and sell their unused river supplies. Those deals would help cushion Metropolitan, which serves Southern California, if a shortage is declared. (An acre-foot is enough to supply more than two households for a year.)

Metropolitan would also benefit from water it has been able to bank in Lake Mead under 2007 drought guidelines that have allowed states to leave unused portions of their river allocations in the reservoir. Under the previous use-it-or-lose-it rules, states had to take their full allocation every year.

The 2007 framework specified that the Department of the Interior would declare a shortage when Lake Mead’s elevation hit 1,075 feet. Nevada and Arizona, which have rights junior to California, would then start delivery reductions.

Under the proposed drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would continue to take the first cuts, which would be deeper than outlined in 2007. At the same time, California would reduce its river diversions when Mead levels hit 1,045 feet — earlier in the shortage than previously envisioned.

California’s cuts, shared by Imperial and Metropolitan, would increase as the lake level dropped but be no greater than 350,000 acre-feet a year.

Arizona is still working out the details of how to apportion its cuts among in-state users. And the lower-basin water districts have yet to approve the drought plan, which parties are hoping to finalize by December.

“I’ve got my own people asking tough questions. But I believe we can do it,” Metropolitan’s Kightlinger said.

A drought plan will not end debate among lower-basin users, who are confronting the fact that their use is outstripping the long-term supply.

“It’s not sustainable,” Kightlinger said. “We have to push it down or grow supply” with other sources.

The complete article by Betine Boxall can be read here.

Imperial Valley Press: IID pushing forward on plan to place additional water in Lake Mead

The Imperial Irrigation District is working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the other Colorado River Basin States to create a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Below is a clip from the Imperial Valley Press regarding IID and the DCP:

IID representatives, along with members of the various Colorado River water contractors, on Sept. 17 and 18 participated in a basin states meeting in Las Vegas hosted by the bureau to explore the creation of a basin-wide DCP.

Brenda Burman is the Bureau of Reclamation's 23rd Commissioner
Commissioner Brenda Burman

“I attended the Colorado River meeting in Las Vegas to discuss the drought contingency plan process with the two basins and seven states that are in this process and identify critical next steps,” IID Board President James C. Hanks, Division 3, said during the regular board meeting Tuesday afternoon. “These meetings were led by Reclamation Commissioner Brenda W. Burman, and I can report that while there is still no DCP, there is considerable interest on the part of the Bureau of Reclamation … in completing one before the year’s end.”

IID is exploring the creation of a DCP in concert with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that would expand how much water it can store behind Hoover Dam in Lake Mead. The DCP would only be approved by IID if it were to ensure that such water can be withdrawn on demand, that the authority to unilaterally preside over local agricultural water conservation methods are solely the purview of IID and that such an agreement would not put the Salton Sea at further risk of drying up due to lower water inflow.

The article can be read here.

From the Desert Sun: California farm baron offered to drop water lawsuit — if his family got a special exemption

This was posted on the Desert Sun’s website yesterday. A must read…

A lawsuit in California’s Imperial Valley could determine who controls the single largest share of Colorado River water in the West — a few hundred landowning farmers, or the elected five-member board of the Imperial Irrigation District.

But a newly obtained document shows that the farmer who filed the lawsuit,

Water runs through the Imperial Valley

Mike Abatti, was willing to sidestep that explosive legal question — if he and his family got a special exemption from a plan that could have limited his access to Colorado River water.

Abatti “would be willing to dismiss the present litigation with prejudice in exchange for a binding commitment from the IID to supply Mr. Abatti, his brother James Abatti, and father Ben Abatti with the water they reasonably need for farming,” Hejmanowski wrote.

If the three Abattis had received such an exemption, it could have angered other farmers — if other farmers ever found out about the deal.

“Mr. Abatti is willing to consider different structures and terms for documenting (the proposed settlement) so that it poses the least potential difficulty for the IID in regard to other persons,” Hejmanowski wrote.

IID didn’t accept either settlement offer.

The entire story can be read by clicking here.

Who Controls Distribution of the Imperial Valley’s Water?

While looking around the Internet we came across this great article on The Desert Review by Brian McNeece. Please read it as it is a very important take on the water in the Imperial Valley.

Some locals have asked, “What does it matter who controls the water?”  It matters a lot.  Farmers rightly claim that they contribute the majority of value to

Farmland in the Imperial Valley

the local economy. They also claim that if they were to control the water, the Imperial Valley would be in good hands….

If you are one of about 500 farmers here, being in control of the water sounds mighty sweet, but if you’re among the other 179,500 residents of Imperial County, you might want those decisions to be made by elected representatives sworn to uphold the public good.

Link to the article at The Desert Review is here.

 

DesertReport.org: Can Importing Water From The Gulf Of California Save The Salton Sea?

The following excerpt is from an article was posted on March 11, 2018 at DesertReport.org.

Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate, Pacific Institute:

A lot of people are saying you need to import water from Mexico to save the Salton Sea, but there are several challenges. It would require permission of the Republic of Mexico, which is currently not very fond of our President. Even at the best of times, when there is clear mutual interest such as delivering water to the Colorado Delta, it’s taken five full years to reach agreement between the nations.

There are ecological challenges. Theoretically you could put a pipeline or channel below the biosphere core area and avoid harming a pretty productive estuary. There’s also the Vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. You wouldn’t want to bring them into whatever pipeline or canal you’re developing.

Photo above: Bombay Beach on the east shore of the Salton Sea – with the water already far off in the distance. Photo by Craig Deutsche.

The second challenge is cost: the California Department of Water Resources estimated the cost at $30-40 billion dollars. That’s because one of the key challenges with any kind of import plan is that, along with that water you’re importing a lot of salt – and you need to get rid of it.

If you simply propose to bring in water and not export salt, what you do is address the dust control problem, but not the habitat challenge. It’s fairly easy to bring in a lot of water without having to worry about pumping that water
back out. So if your intent is simply to have a brine lake where Salton Sea is, you can do that.

So there are the issues of cost, salt balance, and the Mexican negotiation – all of which by my estimate would take 20 to 30 years before you get the solution you’re looking for. The Salton Sea will be completely different than it is now.

 

Does the idea of importing water to the Salton Sea distract from what can be done now?

Right, so that’s the major problem. Even if you could snap your fingers and all of a sudden there was a restored Salton Sea and you could bring in all this water, in we’d have a real conversation about whether it is worth all this additional money to have a whole Salton Sea? But when people continue to point to this solution, it distracts from what we really need to be doing right now, which is investing money in public health and protecting the environment and rebuilding habitat at least along the shoreline. And then hopefully get some kind of deeper North Lake where you can get a real fishery habitat.

Those things seem to be achievable in what should be the relatively short term, versus under the very best circumstances seeing some resolution with the import plan.

The other potential challenge is people say “oh we’re going to desalinate the water with all this geothermal resource at the Salton Sea and put some of that water back into the Sea.” But Geothermal is not cheap, and building desalinization plants is capital intensive. But the bigger problem is that once you get higher quality there, someone will buy it.

The snow pack in California is terrible, and the current forecast for the Colorado River Basin is one of the worst in the past 20 years. So there’s just not a lot of good quality water in California or the Colorado Basin. So If you produce good quality water, someone’s going to want it – which means that it’s not going to go into the Salton Sea anyway. So if you desalinate water, what you’re really saying is you’re going to sell that water to somebody else and the Salton Sea is going to be a brine sink.

 

Do you have any other thoughts?

There is so much opportunity out there. I wish they [the state] could get their act together.

The complete article is available here: http://www.desertreport.org/?p=2060

KPBS: The Shrinking Salton Sea Endangers Region’s Health

The Shrinking Salton Sea Endangers Region’s Health

Monday, January 15, 2018

West Shores High School principal Richard Pimentel slips on a cowboy hat before stepping outside. It is a nod to fashion as a response to the region’s harsh desert sun.

The school sits about halfway up the western side of California’s Salton Sea. Modern buildings, concrete patios and walkways and an artificial turf sports field stand in stark contrast to the desert community that surrounds the campus.

Tumbleweed and sand are common fixtures of the town’s yards.

“We are about 30 miles from anywhere,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel’s manner is relaxed and comfortable as he walks among his students during lunchtime.

A smile, a question or a joke come easily.

The Salton Sea at Red Hill Marina

“They’re my kids,” Pimentel said. “You have to take responsibility and ownership of that. These folks have entrusted me with the welfare of their kids. It’s a big deal.”

RELATED: A Look At The Incredible Shrinking Salton Sea

Dust swirls in windy desert valley

Pimentel can guide and encourage, but he cannot shield his students from the dust that swirls in this windy desert valley.

“Any time there’s any kind of a wind, you see the dust clouds,” Pimentel said.

The dust in those clouds contribute to the Imperial Valley’s highest in the state asthma rates, and most people who live here expect things to get worse. That is because the Salton Sea is shrinking, exposing thousands of acres of possibly toxic lakebed to the hot sun and the region’s powerful winds.

Inside the nurse’s office at West Shores High, Pimentel unlocks a metal cabinet. It contains plastic bags from more than 40 of his students who need to bring prescription medicine to school so they can cope with their asthma.

He holds one up and looks through the translucent material.

You can continue reading this great article here.

#Coachella Rising: Aging Farmworkers, Unions, Organic Mangos & the #SaltonSea

A great article from New America Media on California’s #SaltonSea:

Forty one years ago I was a young organizer for the United Farm Workers in the Coachella Valley, helping agricultural laborers win union elections and negotiate contracts. Suspicion of growers was a survival attitude. I was beaten by the son of one rancher in a vineyard, while trying to talk to people sitting in the vines on their lunch hour. When I met with workers in another field, my old Plymouth Valiant convertible was filled with fertilizer and its tires slashed.

 By those standards, I could see that HMS Ranch Management, which manages day-to-day operations for ranch owners, was different. I’m sure Ole Fogh-Andersen, who ran the company, would have preferred that the laborers he employed voted against the union. But when they did vote for it in 1976, he sat down and negotiated. It took quite a while — he was no pushover. But Ruth Shy, a former nun who taught the virtues of patience and persistence, got most of our union committee’s demands into the agreement. I did the field job of keeping everyone on board.
The complete article can be found by clicking here.

USDA Seeks Nominees for National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2017 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is asking fluid milk processors and other interested parties to nominate candidates to serve on the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board. The deadline for nominations is Jan. 12, 2018.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will appoint eight individuals to succeed members whose terms expire on June 30, 2018, and two members to fill vacant positions with terms expiring on June 30, 2019.

USDA will accept nominations for board representation in six geographic regions and two at-large positions. Nominees for the regional positions must be active owners or employees of a fluid milk processor. At least one at-large position must be a member of the general public.

The geographic regions with vacancies are: Region 3 (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and District of Columbia); Region 6 (Ohio and West Virginia); Region 8 (Illinois and Indiana); Region 9 (Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee); Region 12 (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah); and Region 15 (Southern California).

Newly appointed members will serve three-year terms from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2021. USDA will also accept nominations to fill a vacant position in Region 4 (Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina), and a vacant at-large position, each to serve a one-year term expiring on June 30, 2019.

Fluid milk processors and interested parties may submit nominations for regions in which they are located or market fluid milk, and for at-large members.

To nominate an individual, please submit a copy of the nomination form and a signed background form for each nominee by Jan. 12, 2018, to: Emily DeBord, Promotion, Research, and Planning Division, Dairy Program, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Stop 0233, Room 2958-S, Washington, D.C. 20250-0233, or via email at emily.debord@ams.usda.gov. For nominating forms and information, visit the AMS website or call (202) 720-5567