My View: California’s Water Policy Too Late, Fails to Note the 800-Pound Gorilla

These NASA images from 2013 and 2014 illustrate the impact of the drought.
These NASA images from 2013 and 2014 illustrate the impact of the drought.

While the big news was Governor Brown’s Wednesday announcement of the first mandatory water restrictions in state history after reports that the snowpack is at a remarkable 5 percent of normal, the question is whether it is too little, too late, and misses the key factors contributing to the crisis.

As the Bee put in an editorial: “Brown is to be commended for heeding the alarm bells. But California’s response to this slow-motion natural disaster has been nerve-wrackingly tentative until now.”

As the Bee points out, “The timeline on the groundwater management legislation passed last year was so, well, watered down by agriculture lobbyists that communities don’t even have to have a plan for sustainable water management until 2020, or achieve it until 2040.”

The LA Times notes that, while Governor Brown’s drought restrictions focus on urban water use, agriculture is the biggest water user – by far. Urban water use is less than 25 percent of California’s overall water use, and that includes lawns, parks and golf courses.

The Times writes, “It’s ineffective policy to crack down on watering suburban yards while largely ignoring the vast, still-green expanses of the state’s fruit and vegetable garden.”

Jonas Minton, who is water policy advisor for the Planning and Conservation League and a former state water official, argued that “state officials should clamp down on groundwater pumping and plantings of thirsty new crops.”

However, others believe “that agriculture has already suffered severe cutbacks as a result of the drawn-out drought, now in its fourth year. For the second year in a row, Central Valley farmers without senior water rights are expecting no deliveries from the valley’s big federal irrigation project.

“Growers who get supplies from the State Water Project will receive only 20% of requested deliveries this year. Farmers left more than 400,000 acres unplanted last year, dealing a $2-billion blow to the state’s agricultural economy.”

“I think much of California is all of a sudden waking up to the fact that the drought is not theoretical. It’s going to manifest itself in ordinary Californians’ lives for the first time. Well, our farmers have been feeling it for a while,” said Chris Scheuring, a water attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The Times reports, “Agricultural mandates were fewer and milder. Irrigation districts were directed to develop drought management plans that include supply and demand data. Agencies in basins where groundwater has been overpumped must immediately monitor groundwater levels. And the State Water Resources Control Board was told to crack down on illegal water diversions and ‘those engaging in the wasteful and unreasonable use of water.’”

The Times cites Jeffrey Mount at the PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California) who told them that “growers have been dealing with water cutbacks for years.” He said, “It’s our view that government probably is not going to do a very good job of deciding what should and should not be grown.”

Others note that 40 percent of residential water use in the state is for landscaping, therefore “urban cuts don’t have the same economic impact as slashing irrigation deliveries.”

Still, the discrepancy is alarming. Mother Jones reported back in January that California almonds use as much water in one year as Los Angeles uses in three years.

But the problem is, the almond market, which was at $1.2 billion in 2002 was quadruple that at $4.8 billion by 2012. According to the article, “One reason is that the average American now eats two pounds of the crunchy snack per year—more than twice as much as a decade ago. But the biggest demand is coming from abroad: The US now exports 70 percent of almonds.”

The problem is that nuts are probably not the crop best suited for California. “Nuts use a whole lot of water: it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. “

The article notes, “Residents across the state are being told to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns, but the acreage devoted to the state’s almond orchards have doubled in the past decade. The amount of water that California uses annually to produce almond exports would provide water for all Los Angeles homes and businesses for almost three years.”

How much damage are they doing? Mother Jones notes, “The center of almond farming—and the farming of lots of the US’s fruits and veggies—is exactly where the worst, the most extreme drought is taking place. To make up for the water shortage, farmers are pumping groundwater—the underground water that feeds aquifers, serving as a savings account of sorts for the state’s water supply.”

Those are the same regulations that have been pushed over for 5 to 30 years.

And it’s not just nuts and agriculture getting questioned.

Reuters this week reports, “Nestlé is wading into what may be the purest form of water risk. A unit of the $243 billion Swiss food and drinks giant is facing populist protests for bottling and selling perfectly good water in Canada and drought-stricken California.”

The company argues, “It does nothing harmful in the watersheds where it operates.”

The article reports, “The Swiss firm drew 50 million gallons from Sacramento sources last year, less than half a percent of the Sacramento Suburban Water District’s total production. It amounts to about 12 percent of residential water use, though, and is just shy of how much water flows from home faucets in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In other words, Nestlé may be bottling more than locals drink from the tap.”

The article, on the other hand, notes, “Consumers can only blame themselves, of course, for buying so much bottled water. The average price for a gallon is $1.21, according to the International Bottled Water Association. For just $1.60, Californians could purchase 1,000 gallons of tap water, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

“Moreover, Nestlé’s water business is its smallest and least profitable, generating a trading operating profit last year of 10.3 percent – less than half that of its powdered and liquid beverages unit. With California imposing a 25 percent cut on residential water use, Nestlé Waters may want to consider turning off its own taps.”

The bottom line is rather obvious – California’s water concerns are likely to take a huge economic toll and part of the problem has been officials being very slow to address this issue. Now it is unavoidable.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Barack Palin

    How’s the mandatory cutback going to affect us here in Davis when pretty much everyone has already been cutting their use over the last few years?  I know there’s not a whole bunch of room for me to make more cutbacks with the conservation I’ve done already.


    1. Don Shor

      We won’t know until the State Water Resources Control Board issues the regulations that implement the governor’s emergency order, and the water agencies (city of Davis in our case) act to establish any enforcement of those regulations. I think the SWRC will be acting in May.
      Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board:

      The water board will release draft regulations in mid-April to implement the order. It plans to approve the regulations in early May.
      Marcus said local agencies will receive targets for cutting water use based on how well they’ve done so far
      Local agencies that have been slow to conserve since then will feel the order’s effects most dramatically, Marcus said.
      “You’re rewarding the early adopters … and you’re saying to the laggers, ‘You have to make a change,’” she said.
      In September, Davis residents had cut their water use 28% compared to September 2013. I think 2013 is going to be used as the baseline year, and the governor’s order is for a 25% cutback. So if Davis residents continue to conserve close to what they have been doing, the impact of this order locally should be minimal.

      Water use by almonds has become the journalistic cliché of 2015. Does anybody bother to look up the number of inches of water used by high-density walnuts, cling peaches, or alfalfa hay? No. If the tree growers have water, they’ll irrigate. If their water is cut back, they’ll cut back. They already have in many areas. Overdrafting of groundwater is a real issue in some areas, not in others. Not every almond grower is over drafting local water supplies; in fact, that problem is largely occurring in parts of the San Joaquin Valley. The problem is, the state doesn’t have the data to enforce groundwater reduction; actually, it doesn’t even really have the legal authority to do so yet. So data collection is paramount, and that is underway. The state is prioritizing data collection and management in high-use groundwater areas where subsidence is known to be occurring. How they’re exactly identifying that, I don’t know. But agriculture has taken a major hit with water supplies already.

      1. Doby Fleeman

        Interesting observations.  Your comments about current water policy seem particularly cogent in context of this article.  The notion that the state doesn’t have the legal authority to curtail excessive groundwater extraction, or that it is only now waking up the reality that it should be monitoring the status of this limited,  essential resource.

        On the issue of subsidence, there seems to be some pretty clear evidence of its negative impacts in the Central Valley.  I’m guessing that with today’s GPS technology and the type of instrumentation employed for monitoring of earthquake activity that its shouldn’t be too difficult to determine the precise changes over time.  Perhaps Jim Frame could fill in the blanks.

        Perhaps with more data, agriculture and our farmers would be better positioned to make more calculated and strategic decisions about the best locations in context of long-term sustainable water supplies.

        1. hpierce

          Doby… am guessing Jim could tell you about subsidence and how that messes up vertical control.  Have long been interested in earthquakes, their causes and effects.  Never read about GW having anything to do with earthquakes.  Layers of the crust where GW exists and where earth movement due to EQ occur, are WAY far apart, even if you theoretically have GW travelling downward at a fault line.

          Oh, and Jim could tell you how earthquakes can mess up horizontal and vertical control… great pictures of slip and/or thrust faults that change the scenery are many!

        2. Doby Fleeman

          hpierce –

          Thought here was merely that the same type of GPS technology used to measure earth surface elevations could be employed to measure short and long term changes in at-grade surface elevations in suspect zones.

          My experience with subsidence is the Signal Hill area of Long Beach where the problem was more on a scale that you could see it with own eyes.  In that case, the product being extracted was crude oil.  Don’t really know if there are any useful analogies between the extraction of oil versus deep aquifer groundwater.

          A quick Google and I’ve answered my own questions.  USGS has been monitoring the issue extensively due to concerns about potential damage to the Callifornia Aquaduct.  These reports are located at:

          A more detailed report of conditions along the Delta-Mendota Canal, where localized subsidence between 1926-1970 exceeded 8.5 meters, can be found at:






        3. hpierce

          Doby… depending on the nature of GW aquifers, including soil type, thickness, hydrostatic pressure from the supply to the aquifer(s), subsidence can vary widely… the chief problem is if an aquifer compresses, due to subsidence, that capacity is generally lost… forever, except possibly in geologic time.

        4. TrueBlueDevil

          Signal Hill? Try many areas in and around SH / Long Beach. Tere are places where it looks like the elevation dropped 4-5′ before they learned to pump water in to replace the removed oil.

          1. Don Shor

            Presently there is nothing constraining the use of groundwater. It isn’t really even being measured.

        5. hpierce

          Doby… re: your 7:27 post (727, reminds me of a plane crash!)  No,  I did not say we should ‘over-extract’, and never will.  I know the consequences.

        6. wdf1

          This is a well-known and popular image demonstrating ground subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley due to groundwater pumping over a 50+ year period.

          The Santa Clara Valley (“Silicon Valley” area) is also known for ground subsidence due to pumping.

        7. tribeUSA

          Doby–yes, it’s my understanding that since circa 2000 modern GPS systems combining satellite and ground station reference networks can map changes in elevation with a resolution on the order of a few cm or less with  fine areal resolution (I think by calibrating satellite lidar and radar returns using the GPS station data) over large areas and regions. I believe such high-resolution elevation data for many regions of the world has been archived on a seasonal and/or annual basis since circa 2000 (lower resolution maps archived previously, since circa 1970s, using lower resolution GPS and satellite radar data if I remember correctly).

          I believe specialized types of strainmeters have also been deployed for subsidence monitoring; and they are detect sub-cm changes in elevation.

          You may have heard of the wonderful GRACE tandem satellites, which have been extremely successful in measuring changes in groundwater mass (or volume) seasonally in most of the world’s land surface over the last decade or so, based on extremely small changes in gravity (microgravity changes). The GRACE data have a resolution corresponding to just a few cm (water equivalent) of water; but only over large regions and not smaller areas. These data indeed have been extremely valuable in quantifying the depletion time-line of central valley groundwater volume over the last decade.

        8. Doby Fleeman


          Thanks for the additional technical background.

          Given this accumulation of knowledge, how then has it been employed in guiding water policy planning over the past decade?  Given this data, in concert with information regarding annual precipitation, have these demonstrated, long term trends resulted in any substantive policy changes in approach to allocation and pricing policy?



          1. Don Shor

            1. It hasn’t.
            2. There is not a direct correlation between water used in a particular part of the state and the local annual precipitation. We bring water in from other places nearly everywhere in the state. The history of our state involves moving water from the east part of the state to the west and south.
            I’m curious about your questions. What are you getting at?

        9. Doby Fleeman


          Fair question.  What am I getting at with my questions?

          I grew up in Lower California, home to Chinatown and Mulholland Drive.   We’ve moved well beyond those days, but I fear their influences still linger.

          At one time, not so long ago, there were no fishing limits, now there are.  At one time, not so long ago, we could burn wood in our fireplaces, now there are limits on the types of equipment allowed and days when burning is entirely prohibited.

          For better or worse, with respect to water resources, it only seems logical to expect that we will begin to see more order brought to the process and perhaps a greater degree of permitting.  From the standpoint of economics and taxpayer burden, it seems reasonable to expect further movement – statewide – towards a set of standardized rate/source pricing which would reflect and assess all direct and indirect costs associated with water storage, distribution and management.  I don’t know if there is or could be such thing as a universal, standardized unit cost of water based on aggregate supply and demand.  In the long run, one imagines a system in which each user category is paying its fair share of the overall costs of collecting, storing, distributing and managing this shared, public resource.

          The biggest concern, particularly once we begin to see the investment banking community moving into the agricultural space, is that something might be amiss with respect the water pricing and allocation systems.  Whether there is the potential for a system to offer inappropriate or non-sustainable incentives – through tax or insurance incentives or mispriced water costs, or supporting new planting in areas deemed marginal – those should be major concerns for our future generations.



        10. tribeUSA

          DF–the technical information on subsidence rates (including those I alluded to and other monitoring programs) and on groundwater depletion (including GRACE and many other groundwater monitoring programs & investgations) have been part of the package that has and continues to inform DWR, regional water quality control boards, policymakers in Sacramento, and stakeholders (e.g. irrigation districts); including the recent groundwater management legislation (I forgot the AB#). It’s a big mix of technical and other information that is put together in reports to inform the legislators & such technical reports were undoubtedly cited in the AB–I’m not involved with this and have not seen the AB; but I would suspect the large subsidence rates observed in many areas over the last decade or more, and the large groundwater depletion rates in these and many additional areas, have each likely substantially impacted the motivation for and crafting of the legislation (and will continue to have an influence on future policy).

      2. wdf1

        Don Shor:  Water use by almonds has become the journalistic cliché of 2015. Does anybody bother to look up the number of inches of water used by high-density walnuts, cling peaches, or alfalfa hay?

        Likely I don’t know much about patterns of agricultural growth compared to you, but I think one of the major journalistic pieces that started the discussion of water use by almonds vs. other uses during this drought was this article from Mother Jones:  Invasion of the Hedge Fund Almonds:

        almonds, along with California-grown pistachios and walnuts, are becoming so lucrative that big investment funds, eager to get in on the boom, are snapping up land and dropping in trees.

        1. Doby Fleeman


          In this year of the deepening drought, it looks like the conversation and coverage on this issue is expanding.  See today’s Sac Bee for a Forum article titled “State’s ag water supply needs realignment” :

          I find it frustrating that it is apparently not within the purview of the State Water Commission to analyze or comment on these types of policy related matters as they take up the issues of new water storage infrastructure.




          1. Don Shor

            I don’t have an online subscription to the Bee, so I can’t read that article. The author is from a very liberal activist group. But I don’t know what the policy prescriptions are without reading the article.
            The fact is that for a lot of the biggest farm businesses in the state, ag water is instantly rationed every year, by the agencies that control the state and federal water projects. They get their allotments, or not, depending on availability. Those that rely on the state and federal water projects have taken HUGE hits in the last couple of years, and it is costly and not always practical for them to replace that water with groundwater. Fortunately for our local farmers and local economy, Yolo and Solano farmers don’t rely on water from those projects, and our water availability here is pretty good considering the magnitude of the drought.
            There have been plans moving forward for two reservoirs for a number of years now. Sites Reservoir could be developed pretty quickly. Prop 1, which would fund this, passed by a substantial margin in November.

        2. Doby Fleeman


          At least for today, the full article appears to be accessible via browser.

          I don’t follow this organization, but the author does seem to agree with your conclusions about there being sustainable versus non-sustainable growing regions for nut crops.  In the article, he comments:

          A good place to start is the recently established almond empire, which in the last five years, has doubled on the dry west side of the Central Valley. Historically, farmers have produced almonds sustainably in wetter parts of eastern and northern California, but rising global demand has spurred growers to plant almond and pistachio trees galore on the dry and salty soils of the west side.

          The Westlands Water District, the largest irrigation district in California and home to rampant almond production, has pumped more than 1 million acre-feet of groundwater in the past two years – more water than Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco combined use in a year.

          Not only is the west side dry, much of its soil is contaminated with selenium, demanding excessive water to flush it out in order to make the land arable. The selenium-filled runoff is a major environmental problem that has harmed migrating birds and is choking the San Joaquin River with excessive salt. An estimated four times as much water is required to grow an orchard of almonds on the west side as is needed for an almond orchard in Northern California.

          Read more here:
          For someone, like myself, whose building an construction experience – particularly solar installations which are rigorously overseen by policy and planning guidelines to help insure appropriate siting and long term viability,  it is curious how California water policy has evolved  and how, even now, farming appears to be encouraged in areas which would appear to be totally unsuited to long term viability.   I’m curious, why are such policies allowed to continue – and why would taxpayers want Prop 1 monies spent helping to perpetuate these seemingly non-viable types of decisions?




          1. Don Shor

            Interesting, I can open it on my iPad, but when I tried on my laptop I got a subscription popup block.
            Ok, that’s a fairly radical article. In essence, he proposes removing tens of thousands of acres from ag production on the west side of the valley (“it’s time to retire and stop the irrigation of selenium-laced soils on the west side…”). Aside from the fact that his proposal will simply never happen — no way, never, not a chance — it is based on a premise that those farmers would somehow go to the head of the line, always have the full allotment they want, and somehow gain water supplies at the expense of urban areas.
            It’s a polemic, not an analysis and certainly not a plausible policy proposal.
            When big ag firms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley put in woody crops, they know (unless they are totally uninformed) that they will not always get 100% of the water they request. They can still get good yields some years. They can keep their trees alive, though not producing, even with significant reductions in water supply. I have seen studies that show trees can be kept alive with 6″ of water (crop lost for sure, but alive), compared to the 40″ they traditionally use.
            The problem is the heavy use of groundwater during years of low allotments. That needs to be regulated and you need data first to develop regulations. The groundwater regulation bill that the governor signed in Sept. 2014 was historic in beginning that process. I note that most Republicans, some Valley Democrats, and the Farm Bureau opposed that legislation.

      3. zaqzaq


        It might be helpful if you did an article on how we can safely reuse water for our gardens.  Will water that has been through a water softener harm plants or just particular plants.  Same for water that may have some soap or other products in it.  Thanks.

        1. Don Shor

          Quick answer is that water from a sodium-based softener is toxic to plants, although your lawn (if you still have one) can probably absorb that extra sodium without a problem. Potassium-based softeners are not an issue. If you’re using greywater in the landscape you should choose appropriate soaps and detergents. Here’s a good example of what to look out for:

          Here’s a good resource on graywater:

  2. TrueBlueDevil

    We actually have a family of gorillas that this post ignored, most driven by growth meeting no new infrastructure (an unspoken tenant of the left) to meet those new additions.

    1. We’ve added 10-20 million people to our state in the past few decades with little increase in water storage. Most of our fresh water runs out the Golden Gate. And we continue to grow.

    2. We have sites for large new reservoirs near Chico and Fresno, and we could easily expand Shasta Dam, the choice is by how much, and what are the trade offs. We also have numerous smaller sites we can add or expand.

    3. How large can California, once a dessert in many areas, get without substantially increasing our infrastructure?

    4. How will more building and growth affect the environment? This was a huge issue with the Sierra Club and others years back as they were split on legal and illegal immigration due to the stress it puts on Mother Nature.

    5. Is there a capability, and what would be the cost, to tie us into and buy water from Oregon? It might be a good backup plan, or maybe we need to invest in desalination plants. I think I have heard that they require lots of energy, and that they make more sense in combination with nuclear power facilities.

    6. We provide huge amounts of produce for our nation, so I’m not sure we should be clamping down in any extreme ways on agriculture because we have failed to plan for our massive rate of growth

      1. hpierce

        Yeah, but they’re already here.  Your point eludes me.

        Possessing a driver’s license does not improve their immigration status, nor affect the amount of food, water, or schooling they are already using.

        Oh, and probably most are currently driving, just without a license or the testing/insurance that a license requires.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Did you read my last sentence?

          That’s one point, the second being how unreliable (or dishonest) our public officials are about our population growth. I think these as important or more important that almonds.

        2. Barack Palin

          Yeah, but they’re already here.  Your point eludes me.

          I think TBD’s point was there are more illegals here than either what the State realizes and what we’re being led to believe.  Yes the ones that were already here were already using resources, but that doesn’t account for the floodgates still being open.  Democrats are in a tough spot, they love illegal immigration but at the same time want to conserve CA resources.  The two don’t mesh.

    1. Frankly

      TBD nails much of the root cause of the problem.

      But the first thing that we need to agree with is that water is not a supply issue, it is a logistics, transportation and storage issue.

      Global water supplies don’t vary.  It is a close-loop system where water is used for various human activities and then it returns to the system to be used again.  Rain provides free transport from mother nature.  When rain diminishes in periods of drought, then there is greater need to rely on man-made transportation and storage infrastructure.

      And we should have been investing in improved transportation and storage infrastructure beginning at least three years ago.

      But instead we get a multi-billion dollar bullet train.

      1. Don Shor

        But of course, any water bond and legislation requires a massive amount of negotiation and compromise. That’s what was done, that’s what got put before the voters, which the governor and other pushed hard to get passed. And that’s what passed. But since you have a visceral personal hostility to Gov. Brown, all you can do is criticize. Why “three years ago”? Why not blame Schwarzenegger, or Davis, or Wilson? Planning for the various infrastructure improvements was actually underway during those administrations as well. But threading that legislative needle required that Delta interests be accommodated, and that all the ‘stakeholders’ at the table be involved. Otherwise, any proposal was sure to get blocked. Each preceding governor found that out, to his detriment. This one took the time to get it on the ballot, even removing his pet delta projects from the ultimate proposal so that it was more likely to pass. And it got done.
        Somehow you seem to have trouble giving credit when it is due.

        1. Frankly

          Three years ago we could make the determination that we were likely in an extended drought.

          I have no more a visceral personal hostility to Brown than I do any other politician failing to do the right things… and certainly less visceral personal hostility than you demonstrate visceral personal hostility to defend everything thing he says and does and does not say or does not do.

          Look at how the governor ran roughshod over stakeholders to get his bullet train… one that isn’t even funded.

          Don’t make excuses for him Don.  Are you two related?

          1. Don Shor

            Are you two related?

            Third time you’ve asked this question. Why?

            Three years ago we could make the determination that we were likely in an extended drought.

            Um, no, that is not a true statement.

          2. Don Shor

            Look at how the governor ran roughshod over stakeholders to get his bullet train

            Irrelevant to this topic, but I opposed the bullet train and voted against it in 2008. It was strongly supported by both Schwarzenegger and Brown. But it was on the ballot long before Brown was elected in 2010.

        2. Doby Fleeman


          I’m kind of surprised that you haven’t yet figured out the relationship between the Bullet Train to Nowhere and the other intended uses for Prop 1 funds.

          It’s becoming more and more obvious that without continued overdrafting of a serious depleting deep aquifer, or massive additional funding of new reservoirs and associated distribution networks, that all farming in the lower Central Valley will become increasingly problematic and expensive.  The solution, why not begin now to convert it to the next great workforce housing center – with significantly reduced water requirements.  How best to get that kick started and get in place a strategy to make whole all those affected landowners?

          As for the remainder of the available propositions’ funding, particularly the proposals for re-investment in water storage and distribution networks – that’s a no brainer.  My only question is how are the new costs of the new water storage and conveyance investments to be repaid?

          It’s a totally separate question – which like we saw here in Davis quickly became “the issue”.   I don’t have a clue as to how water rates are set as between agricultural and urban use, but if 80% of the use of any additional storage capacity is to be earmarked for agricultural use, it would seem to make sense that the rate structures reflect those costs accordingly.  And, on that same issue, if significant portions of the new bond funding is to be used to recharge irrigation aquifers – isn’t it both appropriate and prudent to accelerate the monitoring process sooner than later (kind of like water meters for Sacramento) if we hope to better manage consumption and allocate associated costs?

        3. Frankly

          Um, no, that is not a true statement.

          Um, yes, it is.  But it makes sense that you would discount it given that accepting that truth puts a hole in most of the rest of your Brown excuses.

          Remember 2011… beginning March 2011?  2011 was not a drought year.

          But then came 2012 and it was confirmation that this was a more extended drought.

          1. Don Shor

            Frankly, we had no idea in 2012 that we were going to have an extended drought. Honestly, I follow rainfall projections and climate patterns because they affect my livelihood. I make business decisions based on projected rainfall. Your statement is false. We did not know in 2012 that we were entering a sustained period of drought. We did not know then, or even the next year, that we were going to have an historic drought. We actually saw a very real likelihood of a strong El Niño last year, which failed to materialize. Nobody predicted the magnitude or duration of this drought. Your statement, to repeat, is wrong.

            The “Brown excuses” theme is getting very tiresome. Please stop.

        4. TrueBlueDevil

          How much fresh water was unnecessarily let out the Golden Gate in 2010 or 2011?

          We had a previous water bond fail because the left was playing politics with it, and that is why this bond measure was vague so that there wouldn”t be an organized opposition. … time will tell how much money really goers to water storage / important improvements, versus liberal feel-good projects.

          1. Don Shor

            Define “unnecessarily” and “feel-good projects.” A lot of it is for Delta restoration, habitat, maintaining the fisheries, etc. That’s all part of that negotiation and compromise that I was talking about. That’s how politics works.

        5. Doby Fleeman


          So, to your latest post, and during this process of negotiation and compromise, who is going to be sitting at the table and representing the voice of common sense?  We already know that our elected legislators on both the left and right are hugely beholden to big moneyed agribusiness and their oft time cohorts in the environmental sector, followed closely by the construction trades.  But where does that leave the lowly taxpayer who ultimately will be expected to shoulder the added burdens?  How does their get heard amongst the clamor?

          It ain’t like it is in Davis, where everyone get’s their time at the podium and knowledgeable, local citizens are pitching in to work through the issues in a manner acceptable to the majority of the residents.

          The idea that we can’t even ask about how the rates will be set or how the costs are to be allocated or why there aren’t regulations on overdrafting ancient groundwater reserves, or when are they going to begin actively monitoring groundwater pumping – those are the kinds of questions that leave most people ill at ease with the direction of our legislative process.



          1. Don Shor

            Taking these one at a time:

            — “The idea that we can’t even ask about how the rates will be set”
            Each water district sets rates by its own formula. Water prices vary wildly around the state. There is no uniform basis for making water rates that I can determine. The only thing hindering a wild, open market for water is delivery infrastructure, which is probably a good thing if you value continuing to grow crops in the Valley. As you probably know, Southern California water districts have been shopping around up here for water supplies. Look at the unit cost for desalinization at the plant that’s opening up near Carlsbad.

            — “or how the costs are to be allocated”
            They’re bonds. Hard to say how the infrastructure will be factored into the pricing. State and federal water projects were paid by taxpayers, and I don’t think those base costs are a specific part of the unit cost paid by the water buyers. I don’t honestly know if anybody could exactly answer your question.

            — “or why there aren’t regulations on overdrafting ancient groundwater reserves.”
            Historically groundwater has not been regulated. California is not unique in that regard. The law signed in 2014 begins that process. It was just there for the taking. Not all groundwater is ancient.

            — “or when are they going to begin actively monitoring groundwater pumping.”

            That’s part of the law. As a landowner I’ve already been contacted by a local resource agency that is collecting preliminary information for the state. Just the process of determining who is responsible, accessing all the property rolls, contacting the owners, discerning how many active wells there are (as well as fertilization practices, drainage issues, etc.), is quite an undertaking. So honestly, the process is just beginning. It was an historic law, and it was passed over opposition from Republicans and farm interests. But I think people now realize that you can’t make good policy without the data. This drought has perhaps made people more aware of the need for a more coherent statewide water policy. But we have hundreds of water agencies in varying conditions as to water supply.

            “those are the kinds of questions that leave most people ill at ease with the direction of our legislative process.”

            The CalFed process for the Delta was a good example of how the process can work and how it sometimes doesn’t work. But with respect to the Delta environmental issues and water supply through that region, it brought everyone to the table. It was the failure to do so that scuttled the first peripheral canal proposal back in 1980. It’s easier to form alliances to block something than it is to make forward progress. At this point, the Delta policies are coming together in a way that satisfies a lot of the special interests, and the bonds to pay for much of that have been passed. The actual Delta residents are unhappy (ask Lois Wolk). But the process moved forward and involved a LOT of compromise.

      2. TrueBlueDevil

        Don, here were Brown’s plans 5 years ago (2010):

        “He [candidate Brown] said any canal must protect the delta’s ecosystem and must be paid for by those would benefit, not taxpayers. His plan also calls for programs to facilitate water transfers to farmers, increase water recycling and water conservation and improved groundwater supplies.

        “Brown’s opponent, Republican Meg Whitman, also supports a canal, but she has been critical of Brown’s failure to support a 2009 water bond adopted by the Legislature that would set aside money for dams and other water projects around the state.”

        1. Don Shor

          The canal/tunnels don’t appear to be happening, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he pushes for them later in his term. I’m not sure what the point is of your post. Brown did not oppose money for dams or water projects. My recollection is that he opposed some of the higher-cost proposals that were under discussion, and negotiated with Republicans to put a measure on the ballot that had a lower overall price tag. That one, which was the bond that we all voted on, includes substantial funding for dams and water projects.

          1. Don Shor

            Here’s a summary of Prop. 1, the water bond initiative.
            Here is the history of the bond measure that Whitman supported:

            The fifth bill was an $11.14 billion bond proposal, the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010. To get legislative support to pass this bond bill, the leadership included funding for a wide range of projects around the state.

            This water bond was to be voted on in the general election in November 2010, but the Governor pulled it from the ballot with the concurrence of legislators, sensitive to criticisms of what has been referred to as “pork” in the bond and concerned that California’s voters would not support such a large bond during a statewide recession. With minor modifica­tions, the water bond was rescheduled for the November 2012 ballot but pulled again by Governor Brown and legislators for the same reasons.

            So evidently, Brown was more fiscally conservative than Whitman.
            The governor and legislators agreed on a $7.5 billion package. 36% of the funds are designated for state water projects:

            Surface storage projects identified in the CALFED Bay-Delta Program Record of Decision (enlarging Shasta Dam, expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir, building Sites Reservoir, building Temperance Flat Dam)
            Groundwater storage projects and contamination or remediation projects that provide water storage benefits
            Conjunctive use and reservoir reoperation projects
            Local and regional surface storage projects

            12% is for groundwater sustainability:

            Projects dealing with groundwater contamination of drinking water; projects for recharge of vulnerable, high-use water basins.

            The second-largest contributor to the Yes on 1 campaign was the Brown for Governor 2014 Campaign.
            I don’t know how you voted on Prop. 1. I voted for it.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          There have been several versions of a water bond that have been planned for at least 5 years, and several were never put forward because they got loaded down with non-essential items and outright pork.

          The 2010 version may have been Proposition 18, was $11 Billion, and included $2 Billion in outright pork. Beyond that, there was money for tearing out damns, water “conservancy”, water management, etc., and I’m not even sure if there was a single new ground-level water storage project. The polls were running against it failing, so I believe it was pulled.

          1. Don Shor

            Yes. It was pulled, a new bond was put together that cost less and had a balance of new storage and conservation projects. And it passed. Your point?

        3. TrueBlueDevil

          There is a long history here of our legislators focusing on non-core issues. Let’s now see if they can get something done.

          We need more water storage, probably more than they will ever admit. We need water for agriculture, for residents, for salmon, and for long-term storage (for the occasional 3-, 4-, 6-year drought). The left will fight this due their view of environmental issues, and how they often impede infrastructure additions as they see it feeding population growth.

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