Water Storage

The capability to store more water above the Folsom Dam increases the viability of the American River Parkway, protecting it from the regular flooding, erosion, and loss of habitat in the process, which makes this a must read from Agnet West.

An excerpt.

The California Water Commission is officially accepting applications for water projects that seek some of the funding from Proposition 1 that passed in 2014. The bill allocated funding for future water projects that would strengthen and update an old and ailing water infrastructure. “California’s surface-water infrastructure really hasn’t been upgraded since the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, depending on what project you are looking at,” California Water Alliance Executive Director Aubrey Bettencourt said. “The original water system, if you talk to some historians, they will tell you it was never completed.”

The system was originally designed for two users: cities and agriculture. Bettencourt said a third user was added during the 1970s. “That third straw, government-mandated environmental protection programs, has become the biggest user. It requires exactly 50 percent of the surface-water supply designated for these programs,” she said.

The last time the water system was upgraded, California’s population was approximately 25,000,000 people; it’s now almost 40,000,000. Bettencourt said the combination of an old system, a third surface-water user and an increase in population means there is a need for a “massive system upgrade.”

It has been 28 months since the water bond allocated money for water projects. The language in the bill stated applications for projects would not be accepted until over two years later, in December 2016. The recent call for applications is about three months behind that schedule, which Bettencourt says is bittersweet.

“We have known this for a very long time. We have seen this coming, and we know the level of upgrade we need to do,” Bettencourt said. “We passed a water bond back in 2014. But we also knew that part of that deal was that it was going to be almost three to four years before a shovel hit dirt … They are not even allowed to issue funding for those projects until December of 2017.”

Since the passage of the bill, many storage projects have been publicly discussed. Many believed during the recent drought period that water strains could have been eased slightly if the state was able to capture and store more water during years that saw above-average rain and snow. “We already know, because these are projects that have been in the works for almost 40 years, that there are a couple of major surface-water projects, including Sites Reservoir up in Sites Valley in the Sacramento area,” Bettencourt said. “There is also the Temperance Flat Reservoir, which would be a dam within a dam at Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin, which would increase the surface supply there exponentially as well. And then you’re also going to see proposals for raising Los Vaqueros Reservoir submitted.”

Other projects, besides additional water storage, can and likely will be submitted as well. Bettencourt said the language in the bill says the first priorities the commission must consider for projects is their ecosystem impact and their benefit specifically to the Delta well. Other projects could include water recycling, water capture and groundwater storage. Bettencourt said there could be a wide variety of proposals.

“Based on some of the letters I have seen going out over the last two years to the commission, even from food processors who are looking at the chunk of money to go toward water recycling projects to go on plants, there could be a lot of diversity in the projects that apply for funding,” Bettencourt said. She added that after the Oroville dam crisis, there is talk about that funding just going toward maintenance of existing facilities.

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam, Water

Build the Dam

Climate change presents us with another reason to increase the building of dams, as this article from Stanford University notes the increase of rain rather than snow that climate change predicts.

An excerpt.

Here’s a question that Stanford climatologist Noah Diffenbaugh gets asked a lot lately: “Why did California receive so much rain lately if we’re supposed to be in the middle of a record-setting drought?”

When answering, he will often refer the questioner to a Discover magazine story published in 1988, when Diffenbaugh was still in middle school.

The article, written by veteran science writer Andrew Revkin, detailed how a persistent rise in global temperatures would affect California’s water system. It predicted that as California warmed, more precipitation would fall as rain rather than snow, and more of the snow that did fall would melt earlier in the season. This in turn would cause reservoirs to fill up earlier, increasing the odds of both winter flooding and summer droughts.

“It is amazing how the state of knowledge in 1988 about how climate change would affect California’s water system has played out in reality over the last three decades,” said Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth System Science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

Diffenbaugh, who specializes in using historical observations and mathematical models to study how climate change affects water resources, agriculture, and human health, sees no contradiction in California experiencing one of its wettest years on record right on the heels of a record-setting extended drought.

“When you look back at the historical record of climate in California, you see this pattern of intense drought punctuated by wet conditions, which can lead to a lot of runoff,” said Diffenbaugh, who is also the Kimmelman Family senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “This is exactly what state-of-the-art climate models predicted should have happened, and what those models project to intensify in the future as global warming continues.”

That intensifying cycle poses risks for many Western states in the decades ahead. “In California and throughout the Western U.S., we have a water system that was designed and built more than 50 years ago,” Diffenbaugh said. “We are now in a very different climate, one where we’re likely to experience more frequent occurrences of hot, dry conditions punctuated by wet conditions. That’s not the climate for which our water system was designed and built.”

Viewed through this lens, the recent disastrous flooding at Oroville Dam and the flooding in parts of San Jose as a result of the winter rains could foreshadow what’s to come. “What we’ve seen in Oroville and in San Jose is that not only is our infrastructure old, and not only has maintenance not been a priority, but we’re in a climate where we’re much more likely to experience these kinds of extreme conditions than we were 50 or 100 years ago,” Diffenbaugh said.

Posted in Environmentalism, Shasta Auburn Dam

California Discourages Building New Housing

Which is the only conclusion you can reach reading this story from City Journal about the mass of regulations housing developers face in California.

An excerpt.

Stories about the desperate living arrangements of highly compensated California tech workers sound like tales of Third World misery. One newspaper reports that a Silicon Valley engineer pays $1,400 a month just to live in a closet. He’s squeezing his wallet for the privilege of having a “private room” in a house where five adults live in bunk beds in a single bedroom. Another media outlet reported that a Google engineer moved into a “128-square-foot truck—in the company’s parking lot” because the cost of living in a real house was just too much.

Housing is so expensive across California that Joel Singer, CEO of the California Association of Realtors, said last fall that “only about one-third of our fellow citizens can afford to buy a median-priced home in the Golden State, down from a peak of 56 percent just four years ago.” Californians who own their homes spend more than a quarter of their total income on housing, the highest ratio in the nation. In 2014, Golden State renters paid 33.6 percent of their income on housing—third-highest in the nation. Despite rent-control laws—actually, in part due to those laws—San Francisco has the most unaffordable rental costs in the world, according to Nested, an international real estate service. Los Angeles is tenth on the list. Three of the five costliest housing markets in North America are found in California: San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles.

The housing crisis isn’t confined to the state’s elite coastal enclaves. In Riverside County, part of a region east of Los Angeles known as the Inland Empire, only 39 percent of households “are able to purchase a median-priced home, which in February was $334,440 for a single-family home,” the Desert Sun reported last March. The national average is 58 percent.

The California housing crunch is the product of a dire shortage of homes. Over the last decade, developers have built an average of 80,000 homes each year. But that number is about 100,000 units short of what’s needed to keep up with demand. According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the state will need to build roughly 1.8 million units between 2015 and 2025 “to meet projected population and household growth.” That would be like building more than 10 new Oaklands or nearly six new San Joses over that time.

Developers aren’t fools. They know that there is a great demand for housing in California. The profit motive would make them happy to build all those additional Oaklands. But California’s regulatory climate and development policies have eaten away at that incentive. The hurdles to building homes are high and solidly rooted: the most imposing is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which allows opponents of development to shut down projects in the courts, often with no environmental basis. But because the lawsuits can disrupt and suppress projects, the law has become, as the Hoover Institution’s Loren Kaye says, a “tool for abuse.”

Other barriers include the steepest impact fees in the nation, in some cases nearly $25,000 per unit; affordable-housing mandates in more than 170 jurisdictions that require developers either to choose between building units at below-market value or face government fines; local anti-growth policies; and rent control.

The regulatory regime even includes parking mandates that require, for example, a development to have at least one parking space for every bedroom in the project—a formula that absurdly still applies when only one driver lives in a three-bedroom apartment housing five people. A Southern California Association of Governments report says that sometimes housing units are removed from a project just to accommodate these local minimum-parking mandates.

Posted in demographics, Economy, Government


An excellent post from the California Water Blog.

An excerpt.

The 2012-2016 drought has made many of us keenly aware of how “empty” our groundwater “reservoirs” have become. As the recent series of atmospheric rivers have left us with a massive snowpack, full surface water reservoirs (with some exceptions in southern California), and soggy soils, some questions are frequently asked:

Is the drought over, even for groundwater – if not, when will well owners see full recovery of their water table?  And could the massive amounts of runoff be captured to accelerate replenishment of our depleted groundwater aquifers?

The short answers: while the surface water drought is over, the groundwater drought is not. How much longer may it last? As a rule of thumb, in many areas it will take as many above average to wet years to recover our groundwater storage, as it has taken to draw it down. And while excess runoff can be used for recharge, California currently lacks the infrastructure and capacity to divert and hold flows like those released over the Oroville spillways for infiltration and groundwater storage.

Why does groundwater storage recovery take so much time? Groundwater is by far our largest of the four water reservoir systems in California, where agriculture and urban users consume about 40 million acre-feet (MAF) each year, mostly from spring to fall:

Mountain snowpack, in an average winter and spring, holds about 15 MAF

Surface water storage reservoirs have a total capacity of 40 MAF

Soils store many 10s of MAF of our winter precipitation for use by natural vegetation, crops, and urban landscaping

Groundwater reservoirs are endowed with well over 1,000 MAF of freshwater

Dynamics of groundwater storage and water level change – a history lesson

How much and when groundwater levels rise and fall varies greatly around the state. But there are some common patterns. Seasonal variations occur due to California winters being wet and cold while summers are dry and hot. Water levels rise during winter and spring due to recharge from precipitation and recharge from streams that carry winter runoff (plenty of bank deposits), while groundwater pumping is limited (small account withdrawals).

On the other hand, groundwater levels decline during the summer and fall, when pumping exceeds local recharge.

In some regions, such as the Borrego Valley basin, the depletion has been a steady decline: each summer, water levels are drawn down more than they recover in the following winter, regardless of how wet the winter may be. In other places, the decline in groundwater levels may be less obvious:  year-over-year water levels fall during drought, but recover during wet years. But the recovery during a series of wet years doesn’t make up for the depletion during dry years, resulting in long-term overdraft.

Over the past 100 years, overdraft has drained groundwater resources by 150-200 MAF, with most of that depletion occurring in the middle and southern Central Valley, and in southern California. The overall decline in groundwater storage, time and again, has led to costly replacement of wells that have become too shallow to dip into a falling water table, land subsidence, seawater intrusion in coastal basins, water quality degradation in other basins, and depletion of streams that depend on groundwater for base flow during California’s long dry season.

Groundwater levels (and storage) also change over the longer term, in response to drought or wet years. In dry years, it is common to see water levels recover less during the (dry) winter. With the early onset of irrigation in the spring and lack of surface water leading to replacement with groundwater pumping, water levels drop quickly in the summer following a dry winter.  In wet years, the opposite occurs: water levels recover more strongly after a wet winter and groundwater levels are not drawn down as much in the summer, resulting in a net year-over-year rise in water levels.

Groundwater levels are the indicators that show how this bank account is performing. Rising groundwater levels mean increasing storage – more savings. Falling groundwater levels mean decreasing storage – running a deficit.

With this endowment, groundwater storage works like a large bank account. We run deficits in dry times, taking out more than we deposit (more pumping than recharge); and we run savings in wet times, depositing more into the account than what we withdraw (more recharge than pumping). Ideally, over the longer term, the savings match the withdrawals – groundwater recharge matches groundwater pumping.

Posted in Water

County Homeless Center Idea

The Sacramento Bee editorial comments on a good idea, but only serving 75 people hardly qualifies it as a serious move considering there are estimated between 2,000 to 3,000 homeless in the County, with only a few hundred or so beds available now.

The model we have found that has applicability to Sacramento is the Haven for Hope program in San Antonio Texas, which we wrote about and is posted on our website news page as Homeless Transformation Campus, September 28, 2015.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

Sacramento County will consider creating a shelter modeled after the Navigation Center in San Francisco.

Where a school once stood in the Mission District, there’s still a sense of waiting for the bell to ring. Pale yellow portables ring a courtyard with benches and tables, shade tents and potted trees. It’s impeccably clean and quiet in the middle of a Friday.

But instead of desks and whiteboards, the portables contain sturdy cots, freezers full of packaged meals, a dining room, meeting rooms, laundry facilities and showers. In one corner of the lot, a line of five shipping containers holds the possessions of 75 homeless men and women who used to live in one of the many encampments spread throughout the Bay Area.

The Navigation Center and a sister operation several blocks away gave city outreach workers enough space and credibility with homeless people to fully clear several tent cities so far, said Sam Dodge, deputy director of San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The model’s success led city leaders to approve more centers, three of which will open this year.

After removing a homeless encampment from a park along Islais Creek, “It’s a public place again,” Dodge said.

That idea appealed to Sacramento County Supervisors Phil Serna and Don Nottoli, who have struggled for years with the impact of homeless campers on the American River Parkway. The two supervisors on Friday toured the Navigation Center in San Francisco along with county staff, Director of Homeless Initiatives Cindy Cavanaugh and Ryan Loofbourrow, head of Sacramento Steps Forward, the county’s primary homeless services coordinator.

At Tuesday’s Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting, Cavanaugh will outline an ambitious plan to move Sacramento’s homeless population into housing that includes a facility modeled after the San Francisco program, dubbed the Full Service Rehousing Shelter.

The county “has looked at the San Francisco model for the Full Service Rehousing Shelter because of the success they have had in engaging people who have been homeless for a long time in services and housing,” Cavanaugh said. “The approach meets people where they are and offers respite and stability so people can take the next step.”

Three other proposals are part of the package – redesigning the family emergency shelter system, sustaining long-standing programs at risk of losing federal dollars and launching a Flexible Supportive Housing Program that pairs housing with mental health services and addiction treatment for those facing the biggest obstacles.

The county price tag for all four is slightly more than $3 million in new spending for 2017-18 and $5.4 million annually thereafter. Sacramento County is also counting on help from Sutter Health, the federal government and general funds dedicated for Sacramento Steps Forward.

Posted in Government, Homelessness

Science & State Water Politics

Validating what everyone following the subject already knows, this story from Fox & Hounds is a must read.

An excerpt.

A new environmental study, published in in the prestigious North American Journal of Fisheries Management, reveals that Governor Jerry Brown’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) imposed so-called pulse-flow release requirements on water rights holders affecting several California rivers, operating from unproven beliefs the study now shows were without sufficient scientific basis.

Pulse flows, as ordered by the SWRCB, are short-term increases in outflow releases from California’s numerous dams. These flows have cut water deliveries to millions of Californians, forced some to drink foul-smelling water and required hundreds of thousands of acres of food-producing farmland to remain empty and unplanted.

While the SWRCB insists these pulse flows ease the passage of migrating fish, numerous parties, ranging from private citizens to the California Department of Water Resources, have labeled such releases as “ineffective,” “misguided” and “excessive.”

They are right in their criticism as the new study finds the SWRCB’s pulse flow requirements do not help migrating fish and in fact actually harm fish.

Why does the SWRCB rely on [Alt] Science — a slang term for what many feel is junk science — and false impressions of pulse flows to shape public policy?

The paper, “Environmental Factors Associated with the Upstream Migration of Fall-Run Chinook Salmon in a Regulated River,” by Matthew L. Peterson, Andrea N. Fuller and Doug Dempo, appeared in December. The peer-reviewed research was conducted on the Stanislaus River over 12 years, from 2003 to 2014.

Ironically, the SWRCB imposed its increased flow requirements on various irrigation and water districts only after it observed voluntary pulse flow tests by Oakdale Irrigation District, beginning in 1992. The District sought to learn whether pulse flow releases would benefit migrating salmon and steelhead. In 2003, Oakdale’s ratepayers provided funding to help the researchers begin their study, and District-funded trials and fish counts have continued to the present date.

To Oakdale’s surprise and dismay, the SWRCB quickly made pulse flow requirements mandatory across many state rivers and many other water districts before clear evidence of any beneficial effects on fish could be established. Millions of acre-feet of water have been spilled for such releases over the past decade.

Now, the evidence is in. The study shows that pulse flows are a mixed bag. Over 12-years, researchers observed and counted 38,206 Chinook salmon in the Stanislaus River.

“Managed pulse flows resulted in immediate increases in daily passages, but the response was brief and represented a small portion of the total run,” the study continues.

Migration increases stopped whenever river flows increased beyond 700 cubic feet per second. Most SWRCB-mandated pulse flow orders far exceed that rate of flow and actually have a negative effect on fish migration, the study shows.

But don’t confuse the SWRCB with facts.

Now SWRCB is moving rapidly to order even higher flows on all tributary streams of the San Joaquin River, including the Stanislaus River studied by researchers.

“Current management requirements in the Stanislaus River exceed this [700 CFS rate-of-flow] level and adjustment should be considered based on the findings of this study, particularly given the need to balance beneficial uses of a limited water supply,” says the scientific article.

Academics agree that real science — carefully designed to draw on real-world observations and using thorough experiments to determine the benefits of various actions to endangered species — is far preferable to the [Alt] Science assumptions, guesses, and unfounded intentions of the SWRCB or those who encourage the state to increase pulse flows from dams.

California already requires its environmental agencies and their boards and commissions to reflect real science in their regulations and public policy decisions, not guesses.

The state’s water board appears to have disregarded its lawful responsibilities when it imposed pulse-flow requirements and proposed additional unimpaired flows on water managers and users. The recent study suggests its actions may have caused harm to the state’s already endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead species.

Posted in Environmentalism

City of Trees & Farm to Fork

Someone finally puts into print what I and many others have been thinking since the silly painting over on the water tower, both can be celebrated!

An excerpt from Sacramentality.Com

In seeking “to make sure that everyone on Interstate 5 knows that Sacramento is America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,”Sacramento’s friendliest water tower has managed to stir up some controversy. It has riled up a number of this author’s neighbors in Nextdoor Pocket and received a thumbs down from at least one bicyclist. Not surprisingly, Ray Tretheway, the Executive Director of the Tree Foundation prefers the old version.

“It symbolizes why people think so highly of Sacramento – because of its glorious tree canopy. It’s the best (motto) for today and for the future.” – Ray Tretheway

Our city’s Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist, Jack Ohman also offered a number of colorful alternatives (click the link to see all of them). The State Hornet even suggested the tower “can go fork itself.”

Ironically, when the water tower was originally painted in 2003 (at the behest of then Councilman Robbie Waters), the city turned down ideas focused on agriculture to run with the “City of Trees” motto instead. Today, having come to embrace our agricultural heritage, proponents of the change point out that Sacramento is America’s only Farm-To-Fork Capital (most similar cities prefer the term ‘Farm-to-Table‘) but that it is one of many that claim the moniker City of Trees.

Sacramento’s urban forest has been recognized as among the best in the nation and even the world. With 23.6% covered in trees, Sacramento has it made in the shade with the Sacramento Tree Foundation and SMUD encouraging us to do the planting.. Our city was also among the original cities designated as a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation in 1976. Sacramento State was even named a “Tree Campus USA.” Clearly, while we are not the only City of Trees, Sacramento is among the very most deserving of the title.

Trees are also very much worth celebrating. They cut pollution, increase land value and even make you feel younger. They offer incredible bang for the buck in dealing with modern infrastructure and environmental concerns, especially carbon dioxide and other air pollution. The name is also the inspiration for the City of Trees music festival, adding to the cool factor. They also make our city a particularly good destination for an urban hike.

One would hope that Sacramento could be both pro-tree and pro-fork. Celebrating our agricultural and culinary heritage should not have to come at the expense of our urban forest. One wonders if, with a bit more artistic/desktop publishing creativity, both of these identities couldn’t be celebrated side-by-side. Better yet, give the trees back their water tower and create something new to celebrate our beloved tomatoes. Perhaps our city could take inspiration from Chicago’s cows or Austin’s guitars and create a public art program celebrating both our love of forks and tomatoes?

Posted in History