Ag Today Tuesday, March 17, 2015

As California drought enters 4th year, conservation efforts and worries increase [New York Times]

The rainy season drove into California in December with wet and windy promise: soaking rain, snow, dark gray skies and a flash of hope that the drought that has scorched this region had run its course. And then came January — with record high temperatures and record low rainfall. And now, as the end of the official rainy season approaches — this state gets 90 percent of its water from December through April, most of it in December and January — California is facing a punishing fourth year of drought.
Endangered Delta smelt may be extinct [Capital Public Radio, Sacramento]
“Prepare for the extinction of the Delta Smelt in the wild,” UC Davis fish biologist Peter Moyle told a group of scientists with the Delta Stewardship Council.
He says the latest state trawl survey found very few fish in areas of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where smelt normally gather….Moyle says the population of Delta smelt has been declining for the last 30 years but the drought may have pushed the species to the point of no return. If the smelt is officially declared extinct, which could take several years, the declaration could change how water is managed in California.
State backs Salinas Valley well monitoring [Monterey County Herald]
State regulators on Monday approved a critical well-monitoring program that should give the public a better idea of the groundwater situation in the Salinas Valley.
After years of urging county officials to set up the program, the Department of Water Resources signed off on a plan to provide detailed well information and groundwater levels to a centralized, public database that many consider key to monitoring California’s groundwater as the state enters its fourth year of drought….Officials at the Monterey County Water Resources Agency have said the delay was due to its reliance on private well owners — those owners initially balked at some of the state’s disclosure requirements. Environmentalists have also speculated the agriculture industry, which has strong representation at the agency, did not want regulators and the public nosing into the Salinas Valley’s water situation….But Alejo said the farmers he spoke with did not take issue with the state’s monitoring program, and pushed the agency to file a plan.
Water agencies, Agua Caliente tribe face off in court [Palm Springs Desert Sun]
Lawyers for two local water districts and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians wrangled in a federal courtroom Monday, debating whether the tribe has a right to groundwater.
The Agua Caliente sued the Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District two years ago, arguing that the tribe has had a right to use groundwater since the 1870s, even though it’s never exercised it. While the federal government has sided with the tribe, the water agencies have argued that letting the Agua Caliente pump groundwater could interfere with their ability to manage water supplies sustainably. U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal said he expects to issue a ruling within a week. If he rules in favor of the Agua Caliente tribe, the lawsuit would move on to the question of how much groundwater the tribe has a right to — although the water districts would likely appeal Bernal’s ruling first.
Editorial: With reservoirs depleted, Water Resources Control Board must restrict water use [Sacramento Bee]
Amid the worst drought in at least a generation, and possibly the worst in modern California history, the state Water Resources Control Board today will consider tougher restrictions on outdoor watering by residential and business users. The action is long overdue….Urban water use accounts for only about 20 percent of water consumption statewide. Agriculture uses the other 80 percent. If the drought continues, the state may have to find a way to shift some of the water now used on farms to the cities. If that day comes, it will involve a messy and potentially lengthy battle over water rights and the future of agriculture in this state….The water board should adopt the rules today, and local water agencies and governments should enforce them strictly in the months ahead.
Farmers still dealing with effects of slowdown at Port of Oakland [Marysville Appeal-Democrat]
A labor dispute once again shut down the largest container terminal at the Port of Oakland last week, which did little to help the recovery from a previous dispute that had slowed West Coast ports to a crawl. It’s having an impact on Yuba-Sutter growers and businesses. The Oakland International Container Terminal, which is operated by SSA Marine, was shut down at noon Wednesday, but the port was up and running again on Thursday….Meanwhile, local farmers are still feeling the consequences of the labor slowdown that started in November. The subsequent backlog of shipping containers clogging ports have caused delayed shipments, lost sales, upset customers and costly port charges.
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