Monday, March 10, 2014

Response to the Drought

Environmental Water Caucus Unveils Real-Time Drought Response

by Dan Bacher 

As the drought continues, Governor Jerry Brown and other politicians continue to promote the Bay Day Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels as the "solution" to California's water problems.

Others in Congress, such as Representatives David Valadao and Devin Nunes and House Majority Leader John Boehner, are using the drought as an opportunity to promote legislation that will eviscerate protections for Central Valley salmon, in order to ship Delta water to corporate agribusiness interests and oil companies, and to build more dams throughout the state.

On the other hand, the Environmental Water Caucus, a broad coalition of fishing groups, Indian Tribes, conservation groups and environmental justice organizations, has released a response to the drought pointing to ways that permanently use less water and better manage the hundreds of existing dams and reservoirs that already exist.  

"With a history of recurring drought in California- 40% of recent years have been drought level years -California ought to be well prepared for these conditions.  Instead we have another of the usual 'emergency drought proclamations' from the Governor," said Nick Di Croce, Co-Facilitator of the Environmental Water Caucus.
Di Croce cited the kinds of actions that are "really needed to get us out of this recurring cycle," as recommended by the member organizations of the Environmental Water Caucus. These include:

Provide funding of mandatory programs for urban and agricultural efficiencies and conservation.  This would include measures such as incentives to purchase high efficiency toilets, clothes washers and dishwashers, storm water capture, urban landscape replacement, groundwater cleanup, waste water treatment and recycling, green water infrastructure, and higher technology farm irrigation practices and equipment.  All of these actions have proven successful in the recent past, especially compared to the costs of water from new dams.

Develop water pricing guidelines to incentivize reduced use of urban and agricultural water with local baselines and steep upward price escalation for usage above the baselines.

Develop enforceable regional per capita water usage targets based on the efficiency and conservation measures adopted.

Report and monitor groundwater usage in order to minimize groundwater overdraft.  California is the only major state that does not monitor or control its groundwater. 

Retire impaired farmlands in the San Joaquin Valley which now pollute our groundwater and rivers and use excessive amounts of irrigation water; these lands could be repurposed as solar farms.

Develop water pricing incentives for planting crops which directly contribute to the nation’s food supply.  As we reach the limits of our water supply, we need to question the use of that valuable resource in order to ensure the best use of our water.

Reduce exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta to a sustainable level aimed at protecting our water supplies as well as fish and habitat.

Operate major dams with a larger reserve held back for the 40% of low water years that can be anticipated.  The major orientation of dam operations should be to protect water quality, drinking water, fisheries, and habitats.

Reduce water district contract amounts to a more reasonable level in keeping with future reduced water supplies and to eliminate the current “paper water. ”The state has promised 5-1/2 times more water rights than the water that actually exists," said Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), a member organization of the Environmental Water Caucus.

Restrict the use of water for fracking oil and natural gas.  The limitations of our water supply require that we not use that resource for a completely new water polluting industry. 

Assure that adequate water supplies are provided to disadvantaged communities and that the water quality for poorer communities meets healthy standards.

"These are the kinds of actions that will be a real and permanent drought response," emphasized Di Croce.

I agree. There is no need to build the twin tunnels or new dams when all of these much better options for restoring the Bay Delta Estuary, California rivers and coastal waters while providing water for the needs of Californians are available.

Likewise, we must ban the environmentally destructive practice of hydraulic fracturing that uses precious water needed for drinking water supplies, family farmers and fish at at a time when California reels from the impacts of a record drought. We cannot allow one single drop of water to be used to expand fracking in California.

The member organizations of the Environmental Water Caucus include the AquAlliance, Butte Environmental Council, California Coastkeeper Alliance, California Save Our Streams Council, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Striped Bass Association, California Water Impact Network, Clean Water Action, Citizens Water Watch, Desal Response Group, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Environmental Protection Information Center, Earth Law Center, Fish Sniffer Magazine, Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the River, Food & Water Watch, Granite Bay Flycasters, Institute for Fisheries Resources, The Karuk Tribe, North Coast Environmental Center, Northern California Council, Federation of Fly Fishers, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Planning & Conservation League, Restore the Delta, Sacramento River Preservation Trust, Sierra Club California, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Southern California Watershed Alliance and Winnemem Wintu Tribe.

For more information, go to:

Nick Di Croce, Co-Facilitator, Environmental Water Caucus, 805-688-7813
Conner Everts, Southern California Watershed Alliance, (310) 804-6615
Eric Wesselman, Executive Director, Friends of the River

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