California Water News
A daily compilation of significant news articles and comment
August 10, 2009
2. Supply –
Amid drought, Sacramento water use climbed
Sacramento's top water users
Amid water crisis, local farmers adapt
North County Times
El Niño conditions revving up in ocean
Well-wishers: Water problems appearing as drought continues
Water shortage forces landscaping decisions
Ventura County Star
A look at future home water use
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Amid drought, Sacramento water use climbed
By Charles Piller
As the state entered a severe drought, many of the city of Sacramento's biggest water users increased their watering dramatically, including some familiar locations: the City Cemetery, Land Park and Curtis Park.
A Bee investigation of water use in Sacramento, based on an examination of three years of metering records, reveals city government itself as the top water scofflaw.
Even when Sacramento issued its first-ever "spare the water" alert this summer, forbidding outdoor watering by residents from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the city's own park and cemetery workers apparently missed the memo.
At 2 p.m. on one recent triple-digit day, a mother goose led a line of goslings across Land Park's cool, sodden fairways. Golfers darted under sprinkler-water rainbows.
In the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery off Broadway and Riverside Drive, streams from antiquated jets pooled on crypts. The cemetery may host a drought-resistant garden of native plants maintained by volunteers, but its overall consumption grew by 76 percent from 2006 to 2008, the second-fastest rise of any large user.
Such bad habits are the norm at city agencies. Overall water use at metered city properties shot up by 22 percent in those three drought years, even though water available locally for all users rose by less than 4 percent.
Marty Hanneman, an assistant city manager who oversees utilities, could offer no explanation for the watering transgressions, though he suggested that cemeteries and parks might need more water during a drought.
Last year the city spent about $700,000 on water for its own operations.
"We know we are viewed as not very good stewards for water. We want to change that," Hanneman said. "We want to be known as the water conservation capital, the green capital."
Mayor Kevin Johnson called The Bee's findings "outrageous."
"We're going to have to learn to use water smarter, which is a new way of thinking in our city where residents have tapped into two major rivers for generations," he said. "We need to light a fire under the city's efforts to save water so we can be a shining example of how to use water more efficiently instead of being a showcase of waste and inefficiency."
Johnson pledged to speed up efforts to put in place rigorous conservation measures at all city properties.
Citing a state law protecting the privacy of utility customers, the city agreed to share data only for its top 50 water users. The data contain many blatant gaps, errors and ambiguities, but the Department of Utilities said it did not have the staffing to answer many key questions about them.
Among the top 50 users, The Bee also found steep increases from 2006 through 2008 at some private companies and other public agencies.
Some of those customers were bewildered by the city's data, which they said did not reflect their experience. Others offered reasonable explanations for the changes.
For example, bottling plants for 7-Up and Alhambra Water spiked due to increased production. The Marina Vista family housing project, operated by the Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency, had higher occupancy. The Campus Commons Golf Course used more water in 2008 only because it was shut down for course changes during 2006 and part of 2007.
Sacramento is among a handful of California cities that resisted water meters for decades until a state law enacted in 2005 mandated universal metering within 20 years.
Practices here still lag behind most other California municipalities, which have adopted aggressive conservation measures. On average, Sacramento residents consume 236 gallons each per day, more than twice that used by their counterparts in Los Angeles.
The city itself is partly to blame, experts said.
Peter H. Gleick, an internationally known energy and resources specialist who heads the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, said Sacramento's own water usage and its apparently haphazard oversight of major users suggest that it is "not really serious about water management."#
Sacramento's top water users
Bee Research by Charles Piller; Source: City of Sacramento
The biggest local water users in 2008 and their increase.
Rank by total water use Name Annual Consumption (Gal) Change 06-08
1 Sacramento Power Authority Power Plant 311,614,825 -2.41%
2 Sacramento Power Authority Power Plant 293,874,988 -3.16%
3 UC Davis Medical Center 152,657,226 14.38%
4 Sacramento County Jail 125,090,284 10.41%
5 City of Sacramento Land Park 110,756,360 19.93%
6 City of Sacramento Tahoe Park 99,905,124 4.38%
7 Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District plant 92,775,936 56.51%
8 Dr Pepper Snapple Group plant 92,004,000 54.75%
9 California State University Sacramento 83,820,132 N/A
10 HP Hood LLC 73,112,512 N/A
11 Mercy General Hospital 61,986,012 3.93%
12 California Emergency Food Link 60,715,908 13.8%
13 Proctor & Gamble Manufacturing Co. 60,563,316 -13.05%
14 City of Sacramento South Natomas Community Park 57,496,666 N/A
15 Sacramento Coca Cola Bottling Co. 55,500,104 15.79%
16 Alhambra Water plant 51,211,072 26.02%
17 Alsco linen plant 41,557,384 33.16%
18 Sacramento Manor senior apartments 39,665,991 23.33%
19 Southgate Mobile Home Park 39,335,315 -53.88%
20 Luther Burbank High School 38,619,240 31.22%
21 Air Products & Chemicals 36,984,112 13.13%
22 Silverado Family Apartments 36,433,734 N/A
23 The Natoma Co. 34,309,862 0.82%
24 Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center 34,264,384 -7.75%
25 Red Lion Motor Inn 33,919,556 15.26%
26 State Capitol 32,594,848 -11.19%
27 Village Green Mobile Manor 32,234,753 2.2%
28 Sutter Memorial Hospital 32,030,108 8.7%
29 Brookemeadow Community 31,517,728 7.56%
30 Inderkum High School 31,018,064 3.73%
31 Gold State Services 30,439,112 -41.15%
32 Radisson Hotel Sacramento 30,157,864 -27.23%
33 Los Rios Junior College 30,013,276 0.54%
34 Almond Growers Exchange 29,604,344 35.31%
35 Elder Creek Transfer/Recovery Inc. 29,280,684 103.3%
36 Confernce Claim End Board 28,960,294 -3.42%
37 City of Sacramento Curtis Park 28,795,008 23.71%
38 John Stewart Co. 27,678,992 11.66%
39 Campus Commons Golf Course 27,468,056 N/A
40 City of Sacramento City Cemetary 26,924,260 75.52%
41 Bouwfonds Tuscaro LP 26,608,604 N/A
42 City of Sacramento North Natomas Community Park 26,518,096 N/A
43 Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency Marina Vista senior housing 26,314,640 22.76%
44 USAA Realty Co. 26,031,896 4.68%
45 Sutter General Hospital 25,860,604 -18.24%
46 Valley High School 25,616,756 16.34%
47 Soutwind Mobile Estates 24,636,876 -13.56%
48 GTE Regional Data Center 24,607,704 4.68%
49 City of Sacramento Natomas Park 24,012,296 11.4%
Amid water crisis, local farmers adapt
North County Times-8/9/09
By Chris Bagley
The continuing drought may be accelerating farmers' long-term shift away from tree fruit and toward products with higher values, market niches and opportunity for tourism tie-ins, according to an annual survey and interviews with people in the industry.
San Diego County's 2008 crop report, released Thursday, showed reduced production of avocados and small increases among citrus fruits, all of which require heavy irrigation and generally produce less than $10,000 in crops per acre per year.
By contrast, production of flowers, nursery crops and shrubbery expanded substantially, according to the report.
Cacti require very little water but bring in more revenue, about $86,000 per acre last year. Indoor flowers brought $499,000 per acre, according to the report.
Such plants occupy just a fraction of the land given over to groves and are far less visible because they require flat patches of land off the beaten path, a contrast to the avocado trees clinging to the craggy slopes that line North County's highways and byways.
But nurseries are replacing avocado and citrus groves in a wide, level swath of Valley Center east of Cole Grade Road and north of Valley Center Road. A number of new horse stables have also popped up, said Gary Arant, executive director of the Valley Center Municipal Water District.
Arant said two classes of avocado growers are using 34 percent and 50 percent less water this year than in recent years, with the drought forcing the suspension of water discounts.
"What we're seeing now is a lot of trees being let go," Arant said. "Hopefully, some of the avocado guys can survive."
Eric Larson, director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said tourism and food processing are two ways for farmers to increase the value of the raw crops. Both tactics are evident in the wine industry: Vineyards themselves often yield less than $2,000 an acre in terms of grapes alone, but wine sales can bring much more.
Larson, whose organization represents local farmers and ranchers, pointed to the Temecula Valley as a model. The region's wine industry is less established and much smaller than those of the San Joaquin, Napa and Sonoma valleys, but it's closer to the more heavily populated Southern California coast and has become a popular destination for limousines and other day trippers, Larson noted.
He also pointed to the Lavender Fields, just east of Lilac Road in Valley Center, and to the Carlsbad Strawberry Co., both of which sell directly to visitors. The strawberry company uses its fruit in a range of jams and sauces and offers pick-it-yourself buckets in the weeks after its main harvest.
"Farmers are going to have to grow high-value crops or find marketing niches," Larson said.
To be sure, county statistics suggest that new groves have been planted alongside rural estates and in the backcountry in the last decade. But it's an expensive process that doesn't always pay off in times of water shortage, Arant said.
Meanwhile, avocado and citrus trees have made way for houses in more accessible areas.
Growers in the eastern Temecula Valley and the Morro Hills area of northern Oceanside have made proposals to accommodate development within agricultural lands.
Developers sought to subdivide several tracts of land in Temecula Valley after an insect-borne bacteria wiped out more than half of Temecula Valley's vineyards starting in 1999. Developers and vintners backed new zoning rules allowing clustered residential estates in conjunction with replanted vineyards.
Riverside County's government approved the rules in late 2005 and the first resulting development in May 2007.
In Morro Hills, growers met with neighbors late last month to gauge their feelings toward new development in the agricultural area. Citing water costs and shortages and the likelihood that coastal real estate values will rebound in the next decade, growers said large-scale agriculture may no longer be the most economical use of the land.
It's a decision that many coastal growers have made in the last generation, San Diego County Agricultural Commissioner Robert Atkins said last week.
"If you're not growing a high-dollar return, you're not going to farm any more," Atkins said.#
El Niño conditions revving up in ocean
By Paul Rogers
The phenomenon known as El Niño — where Pacific Ocean waters warm up, often bringing wet winters for California — is intensifying, according to a new report by federal climate experts.
As California struggles with its third year of drought, the report predicts moderate-to-strong El Niño conditions for this winter, with water temperatures rising to levels not seen since 2002, and perhaps approaching those of 1997-98, one of the highest rainfall years on record all over California.
"El Niño conditions are strengthening. We expect at least a moderate event this winter, and possibly a strong event," said Michelle L'Heureux, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and author of Thursday's report.
The conclusions were based on temperature readings from dozens of buoys, along with satellite images and the predictions of numerous computer models from scientific agencies around the world.
The El Niño now under way doesn't guarantee that California will receive drenching winter rains. But the stronger the conditions and the warmer the water, the greater likelihood.
Since 1951, there have been six winters with strong El Niño conditions. Some of California's wettest winters occurred during those strong El Niño winters.
In more moderate El Niño years, when ocean waters are warmer than normal, but not extremely warm, rainfall sometimes is above normal, but just as often below.
During the last moderate El Niño, in 2002, for example, rainfall was 103 percent of normal in Northern California, but in a similarly moderate El Niño in 1986, rainfall was just 60 percent of normal.
So could California's drought, now in its third year, be coming to an end this winter?
"That's the $64,000 question, or maybe the $64 million question," said Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University and 24-year forecaster with the National Weather Service.
"With the weak and moderate El Niño events, the rainfall is mixed. When we get into stronger El Niño events, the chances improve of a wetter winter."
Northern California is experiencing its first drought since 1992. A fourth winter with below-normal rain could lead to strict rationing statewide next summer, with fines and "water cops" patrolling neighborhoods.
With that backdrop, many California water officials perked up last month, when NOAA announced that the Pacific Ocean was officially experiencing El Niño conditions. Thursday, NOAA said those conditions appear to be strengthening.
"It's encouraging," Null said. "I'm sure the water managers are all rooting for a strong El Niño. That's what the ski resort operators want. That's what the power companies want for their dams."
Although scientists don't know the exact causes, El Niño begins when trade winds that normally blow westward weaken. That allows warm Pacific Ocean water near the equator to spread east, toward South America. The opposite, or a cooling of the water, is called "La Niña."
The term El Niño — or "little boy" in Spanish — was originally used by fishermen along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru to refer to "the Christ child" because the phenomenon appeared every three to eight years around Christmas.
In addition to people, El Niño conditions also have dramatic effects on fish, whales, birds, sea lions and other species. Warm water from the equator moves north in an ocean current along California called the Davidson Current. With it come fish normally found only in warmer areas.
"In the last big El Niño, they were seeing striped marlin off San Francisco, and tuna species that you might find out of San Diego were being caught off Monterey," said Jim Covel, a biologist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
On the negative side, all that warm water can limit upwelling, the process by which cold ocean water filled with plankton and other nutrients is pushed to the surface, providing a smorgasbord for birds, fish and other marine life.#
Well-wishers: Water problems appearing as drought continues
By Heather Hacking
Two groups of people working hard to make a living from the land are finding things more difficult this summer as a third year of drought continues in the Sacramento Valley.
Scattered problems have been expected throughout the county, as the groundwater system, well depths and maintenance of wells varies.
In this case, two neighboring small-scale farmers have been able to work out a water sharing deal that will help them limp through the current growing season. However, if the drought continues, their story may be shared by more people dependent upon well water.
Growing Resourcefully Uniting Bellies, GRUB Cooperative, is a group of people living in a large house on Dayton Road.
The group of 13 residents strive to live sustainably, growing their own food, raising chickens, using sheep for weed control, composting, and many other practices.
Residents have formed a Community Supported Agriculture group, where consumers subscribe to receive food. Other projects include selling produce at local markets, building a garden for visits by school children, and composting.
The house also offers periodic educational programs, such as sustainability-related films and discussions.
They lease the property and farm 3 acres, as well as additional land nearby. For irrigation, they have a 185-foot-deep well that draws water at a depth of about 80 feet. Their pump is small, at three horsepower.
When GRUB leased the property last year, the Mau family had already been farming for the past six years on seven acres, with a sublease from the main house.
The property owner allows the Mau family free use of the land, and they have paid for electricity for a separate well. That well is about 30 to 35 feet deep and fed by an underground spring. The aged, 10-horsepower pump has had just enough pressure to reach the edge of their 7-acre growing area.
Stephanie Elliott, a resident of the GRUB house, said that in times when nearby orchards near the Mau family farm are irrigated, the water in the shallow well sometimes dried up.
When the farmers waited until irrigation was done, they had enough water for their food and flowers grown for local farmers markets and a strawberry stand on McIntosh Avenue.
But this year, the water is not recharging enough to sustain the Mau family's planted fields.
With the crops on the nearby Mau family farm in jeopardy, the residents of the GRUB house talked about the situation and hooked up a system so the Mau family can receive water from the deeper well, divvying up the use of the water for the main property.
The Mau family now waters on Tuesdays and Friday.
Even with the water-sharing deal, it's likely the Mau family will lose some of their crops, Elliott said. The pressure from the three-horse-power pump has difficulty reaching all the way to the edge of the fields of the Mau family.
"The big issue for them is what crops they want to save," Elliott said.
The strawberry fields are the farthest away from the pump, along Dayton Road.
Elliott said the hope is that intense ag watering in the area will taper off soon, and that the water in the well formerly used by the Mau family will have water again.
The current deal is that the Mau family can share the main water source until October. Elliott said the residents at the GRUB house are glad they were able to help this year, and were able to find a balance, she said.
But unless the current drought ends, the water situation could continue to get worse. Estimates for deepening the wells or replacing the pumps are cost-prohibitive for either of the small farms.
The Butte County Department of Water Resources has been saying for several months that August could be the time when big trouble with vulnerable wells begins.
With the drought, areas farmers tap into shared groundwater. County water leaders have said that if the drought continues, people may need to work together to share the resource. That's one of the reasons the county has set up a management system, so that if groundwater problems occur in the future, there is a way for individual property owners to talk to each other and see if they can solve water issues.
Paul Gosselin, director of the Department of Water and Resource Conservation, said the situation out on Dayton Road sounds like what water managers had feared might begin to happen.
There have been calls from people having trouble with wells, especially those that have not been well maintained, older wells and/or shallow wells.
That's to be expected when the groundwater drops in drought. Gosselin's department has also been tracking groundwater levels, and has seen drops from 4-10 feet throughout the county.
His office has said people who rely on well water for their homes and crop irrigation need to be prepared. The Durham-Dayton area, for example, is one area where wells have been problematic during previous droughts, sparking county voters to pass rules that prevent export of groundwater outside the county without local approval.
He said people who have not yet had problems with wells should be mindful of their groundwater elevation and take steps to make sure their wells and pumps are maintained.
More dry wells to come?
Ron Stilwell, owner of North State Electric and Pump in Chico, knows from experience that shallow and older wells are most susceptible to going dry.
It varies, because groundwater is complicated, he said. There are also places in the foothills where slow recharge is causing problems in wells 600-700 feet deep.
He highly recommends that people have their wells professionally measured.
One reason to hire a pro is because people who do it themselves run the risk of introducing bacteria into their drinking water, Stilwell said.
He said it is not surprising, after three years of drought, that the 30-foot well is having problems.
"It is pretty widespread right now."
Stilwell said he saw similar situations in the drought of the early '90s, as well as the severe drought in the '70s.
Areas more prone to the problems include the Durham area, north of Chico and Cohasset, he said.
Typically, by September or early October, orchard irrigation slows, and the aquifer revives.#
Water shortage forces landscaping decisions
Ventura County Star-8/9/09
By Nancy Broschart and Jill Sarick
While barbecuing this summer in your backyard, consider this: Outdoor landscaping and lawns suck up 60 percent to 80 percent of Southern California’s water. As water becomes more precious and, let’s face it, more expensive, we will have to decide if our green outside is worth the green inside our pockets.
Can’t imagine rocks and cactuses in your future? There is another practical way to love your outdoors, save money and be a trend-setter. You just have to take your cue from Mother Nature.
Water-efficient landscapes featuring native plants can be lush, beautiful and easy to maintain. Plus, they can save water and energy, and that means more money in your pocket today.
Here are timely tips to conserve water now and get you thinking about converting to a more California-friendly landscape:
Irrigate efficiently. Reduce irrigation cycles by 1 to 3 minutes or eliminate one cycle per week and save 15 to 25 gallons per minute and up to 250 gallons per cycle. Adjusting sprinklers to prevent overspray and runoff can save up to another 25 gallons per day. Water only before 8 a.m. to reduce evaporation and wind interference. If it’s time to replace the controller, consider investing in a new “smart controller” that uses weather information to adjust watering needs automatically. Especially in the summer, these simple changes can add up to water savings fast.
Check your irrigation. Check your sprinkler system to ensure there are no broken heads, misdirected sprayers or leaks. Thousands of gallons are lost to leaks and improperly functioning components. If needed, replace the sprinklers with new, water-saving rotary nozzles that keep landscaping healthy while reducing runoff.
Select water-wise plants. A good selection of low- to moderate-water-use plants well-suited to Ventura County weather can be a great place to start an outdoor makeover. There are beautiful trees, shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses that can complement a functional, water-efficient landscape.
Group plants thoughtfully. By grouping thirsty plants together and separating them from low-water plants, you can design your irrigation system with zones that maximize water efficiency.
Limit grass areas. Keep turf grass, the thirstiest plant of all, to a minimum, or skip grass altogether. Set lawn mower blades one notch higher. Longer grass means less evaporation. You can convert grass areas into a wonderful deck or patio that not only enhances the utility of your backyard but also shows off your water-wise ways.
Think mulch. Save as much as 30 gallons of water per day by using mulch around trees, plants and bare dirt. A 2-to-4-inch layer of mulch evens out temperature and retains moisture. Mulch comes in a variety of forms, including shredded bark, compost or aged sawdust. You can make your own nutrient-rich mulch by composting garden and green wastes.
Plant trees. Trees help to lower air and soil temperatures, reducing plant and soil moisture loss.
Add rain barrels. Be sure to check out adding a rain barrel or two to collect precious rain from rooftops to use later for lawn and garden watering. By storing this free water and preventing it from flowing into the street (and eventually storm drains), you not only save money but also reduce runoff. Storm runoff can send pollutants like sediment, oil, grease, bacteria and nutrients directly into our rivers and ocean.
Protecting our water and using it wisely today will ensure a clean, healthy and safe water supply for our children.
Ventura County’s drinking-water supply comes from a variety of sources. The main local sources are surface water from reservoirs and rivers, and underground aquifers. Most areas of Ventura County also rely on state water imported from other areas of California.
State water is experiencing severe fluctuations both in cost and availability, a trend expected to continue due to drought conditions and environmental pressures. While the city of Ventura is fortunate to rely only on local water sources, conservation should be part of every water-wise household.
Nancy Broschart is a management analyst and Jill Sarick is an environmental coordinator for the city of Ventura.#
A look at future home water use
Santa Cruz Sentinel-8/8/09
By Ron Duncan
Home and business water use in California by 2030 will likely look very different than it does today. Demand for water will have far exceeded current supplies for numerous years.
Emerging from necessity and economics, there will be a convergence of technology, governance and human perspective that will redefine how we use water. People will have stopped using the term "waste water" and replaced it with "resource water." Let's step into a future home and see what it might look like.
Starting in the kitchen, we notice a foot pedal to operate the kitchen faucet flow. No more repeatedly wasting small amounts of water while we move our hands to turn the water off. Just lift your foot off the pedal. There are still little knobs to adjust the temperature.
You notice that there is no water-guzzling garbage disposal. Composting has become as common as recycling tin cans. We all have been told that there is no such thing as food waste -- only future soil.
That credit-card size device magnetically attached to the refrigerator indicates our water usage for the entire home the data is transmitted from the water meter. A red light blinks if we are exceeding our daily "water budget" and a purple light indicates if a leak is detected.
The toilet looks similar, but you can tell it is different. The toilet of the future uses no water; incineration burning at a high temperature is the mode of human waste disposal. Incineration
became necessary not only to deal with the water shortage, but too many pharmaceutical drugs were entering the waste-stream with no way to remove them. Also, discharge flows to the sanitary sewers had diminished to the point due to water conservation that the remaining sewer water could not transport the human solid waste.
While taking a shower you notice the flow is a lot less than in the "old" days, but the spray is acceptable. You appreciate that the water is immediately hot and no cold water was wasted -- all homes have hot water recirculation systems that provide hot water on demand.
Every time you step out from beneath the showerhead, the water stops flowing out. Showers are now equipped with a laser or footpad sensor that eliminates the shower water running when not needed.
Oh yeah, the lavatory sink facet also has a foot pedal like in the kitchen. >From a hygienic point of view, people wonder why foot pedals weren't used a long time ago.
Just outside the laundry room window you observe an appliance-like device that is about the size of a water heater. This "appliance" is a simple, yet sophisticated, mini recycling system that is the "water heart" of the future home. This device takes shower and sink water and makes it usable for washing clothes and landscape irrigation. These mini water recycling units have the advantage of not having large infrastructure costs associated with repiping long distances from a central reclamation facility.
The clothes washer is smaller and the water line feeding the machine is purple. The purple line indicates the water is from the recycling system located outside. Nobody uses potable water to wash clothes anymore.
The landscape is much more native and drought tolerant than in the early 2000s. However, this is one of the few homes that has a small native recreational grass area where the children play. The grass needs much less water than the typical grass of yesteryear, and it is fed recycled water through a subsurface mat-like irrigation emitter. In fact, above ground sprinklers are no longer allowed. All irrigation must use recycled water and be applied below the surface to minimize evaporation.
Irrigation systems of the future will be constructed of quality materials no flimsy punctured black tubing and the installation must be performed by a certified water technician every landscape company has a few on staff. A "smart controller" that receives weather information and monitors soil moisture conditions will operate the irrigation system.
The attractive cobble-lined depression in the landscape receives rainfall runoff from the lot and helps it infiltrate into the ground. This reduces stormwater runoff and increases recharge to the groundwater aquifers.
While there is no crystal ball to predict the future, it is a sure bet that the future home will be equipped to utilize our water resources much more effectively.
Ron Duncan writes a biweekly column for the Sentinel on water-related issues. He is a manager for the Soquel Creek Water District.#
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