Southern California environment news and trends

Appeals panel halts long-term Delta water contracts in dispute over smelt, other fish

California Dept. of Water Resources

The Delta smelt is around 2 inches long.

A federal appeals court has put on hold more than 40 long-term contracts to send water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and small water agencies.

Environmentalists welcomed the decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, though it doesn't change anything in this drought year. The ruling stems from a dispute involving the delta smelt, a fish the length of your finger.

About six years ago, federal biologists concluded that taking water away from the Delta for irrigation would jeopardize that fish and others. Environmental groups sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, arguing that finding should have been a factor in how the agency determined the amount of water it sends to farms and water districts. 

Eleven 9th Circuit judges--liberal, moderate, and conservative--signed the decision. They ruled federal water managers should have consulted biologists about the health of the smelt - and they noted that the Bureau of Reclamation could have curbed how much water the long-term contract holders got, or modified the contracts to protect the smelt, after the biological opinion was rendered.

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California Drought News: Water opinions split; DiFi takes heat; that lime's gonna cost you

produce fruits vegetables shopping market

Courtesy of UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

A new report quantifies the hit shoppers are likely to take because of the drought.

Today's installment of "Drought News" drills into what Golden Staters are thinking about the dry spell and the impact it might have on their wallets.

  • A Field Poll finds Californians in agreement on the severity of the drought, but not on its cause. A majority favors relaxing environmental restrictions to divert more water to human uses but think farmers can do more to conserve.

There was also broad agreement that agricultural users could drain less water. A clear majority of the state, 54 percent to 30 percent, said farms could conserve water “without creating real hardships” by switching to crops that require less water or using water more efficiently. (Sacramento Bee)

  • California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is taking heat from environmentalists on her bill moving through the U.S. Senate that they say scraps habitat protections in favor of farmers. (SFGate)
  • While it's still not clear how much water Central Valley farmers will get from state and federal water systems this summer, a new report has put a price tag on the higher food costs the drought is likely to trigger. A taste of the findings: lime prices are likely to double. (NBC)
  • A new NASA-funded study links California's drought — and the East's frigid winter — to climate change. It also find this year's weather patterns typically proceed the onset of El Niño conditions. (Think Progress)

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California Drought News: Janet Napolitano and other things that fly

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas watches snow geese take flight over his rice fields in California's Central Valley.

Lauren Sommer/KQED

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas watches snow geese take flight over his rice fields in California's Central Valley.

Thanks to @zandubinscott, we have a new word for drought to try out: sereation.

Use it in a sentence you demand? But of course! I need a vacation from this sereation of unknown duration, lest I lose motivation for my vocation.

Keep the suggestions coming. In the meantime, ACADEMIA:

  • New UC president Janet Napolitano (who's apparently known for some other position she's had in the past) took an aerial tour of areas hit hard by the sereation. This is ahead of a sustainability plan due out this spring that will involve all 10 campuses:
It was Napolitano's first visit to the 330-acre center -- one of nine UC agriculture research hubs that dot California -- where she took a tour of the canola, walnut and blueberry crops planted there. Her visit comes as California faces a third year of drought and one of the driest years on record. Napolitano said the UC system will do its part to help farmers find relief. For example, she said, UC Merced could soon play a more prominent role in agricultural research. (Fresno Bee)

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California Drought News: Drilling for wells is red-hot, and there's more green for purple pipe

melfoody/via Flickr

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir serves the San Francisco Public Utility Commission water and power.

The Central Valley sends ravens with news (on this day after Game of Thrones), but it's news that sure sounds like strategies and tactics southern California has heard before.

  • One of our local water agencies invented the color for "purple pipe," so recycled water has a toehold in this region, but with around $1 billion in taxpayer money available now, the whole state's getting excited about it, writes Hudson Sangree. (Sac Bee)
  • Drilling business is booming with demand for wells. Rigs can't get a rest, according to the AP:
The figures prove it. In Fresno County, which leads the nation in agricultural production, officials issued 256 permits to dig new wells in the first three months of 2014, more than twice the number compared to the same time last year. That includes all types of water wells used for agriculture and homes. In Tulare County, the number of permits issued to dig farm wells alone has tripled to 245. In Kern County, farmers took out 63 new well permits in the first quarter of the year, more than quadrupling last year's number. (Associated Press)

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California Drought News: Fracking (wells), flying (birds), and pricing (water)

Jan Arendtsz

Red-tailed hawk near Los Banos, CA. Pilots near the Lemoore Naval Air Station say they're seeing more hawks and predator birds banging into their planes as dry weather moves their prey closer to base.

Friday's news reminds us that there are winners and losers in the drought.

  • Fractivists are "starting to reap serendipitous marketing ammunition" from the combo threat of drought and earthquakes, writes Al Jazeera.
“They’re skilled at marketing, skilled at hyperbole,” said Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association in Sacramento, a group that represents 550 companies and individuals in the oil industry. “We use less than a total 300 acre-feet of water a year for fracking. That’s equal to what all golf courses in California use in half a day.” (Al Jazeera America)
  • But drought and birds don't mix around a military base. Valley Public Radio's Ezra David Romero reports that pilots around Lemoore Naval Air Station see more "bird strikes" because fallow land attracts prey for birds to eat. According to Commander Joe Guerrein: (Here & Now):

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