IID to state of California on Salton Sea restoration: “But you guys promised!”

The Imperial Irrigation District earlier this month threw down a significant marker in the ongoing struggle to deal back overuse of Colorado River water with a petition to the California State Water Resources Control Board demanding action on restoration of the Salton Sea.

The sea’s decline is one of the knock-on effects of efforts to untangle an over-allocation of the river’s water, and it is arguably the most difficult to solve. Everyone’s easy answer to bringing consumption and supply into balance (“easy” being a relative term here) is to move water out from southeastern California ag (primarily Imperial) to the urbanized L.A.-San Diego strip. But the Salton Sea, an accident of history that now lives on ag runoff, will inevitably suffer as a result.

There are two big concerns – air pollution from the drying playa, and loss of critical habitat, especially for birds.

Imperial’s argument in its SWRCB petition (pdf here, and worth reading if you have the time and want to understand the arcane details of the problem) is that when California water leaders approved a sweeping agreement in the early 2000s (the “Quantification Settlement Agreement,” known as QSA) to reduce the state’s Colorado River water by moving ag water to cities, dealing with the Salton Sea was part of the deal. IID argues that it’s been holding up its end of the deal, developing the institutional tools to move ag water to the coast, but that the state has not lived up to its obligation in return to come up with a plan for the Salton Sea. The canned press statement from IID board president Jim Hanks says it all:

“The mitigation water delivered to the sea under the original state board order ends in 2017,” said IID board President Jim Hanks, “and the state is no closer to implementing a restoration plan today than it was in 2003. IID and its urban partners have met all their water transfer milestones and stand ready to continue doing so in the future, but the state’s failure to act, along with an already-receding shoreline and the looming deadline of 2017 pose a direct threat to not only the residents of the Imperial and Coachella valleys but to the long-term viability of the QSA.” (emphasis added)

IID is asking the SWRCB to force the state to get serious, suggesting some very clear process steps for near-term action. And that last little bit, which I highlighted, suggests the threat. Here’s the language from the petition, with emphasis from the original:

[I]f the QSA is to continue – as IID believes it should – it must continue in its entirety, including through the State’s commitment to restore the Salton Sea.

The QSA is critical to California living within its 4.4 million acre foot per year Colorado River allocation.

Ian James’s Desert Sun story makes clear what is at stake here:

IID officials said the petition is aimed at keeping the water transfer deal in force. They said that while the water transfer is clearly needed during the drought, it’s also crucial to avoid a public health crisis as the lake recedes.

“This is being interpreted by some as a provocative act, and I want to be very clear that our intention at IID is to uphold the QSA, not to upend it,” Kelley said. “We’re very mindful of the deepening drought in California and the continuing drought on the Colorado River, so this situation at the Salton Sea, if it isn’t addressed, it doesn’t just threaten the residents of the Imperial and Coachella valleys. It has a bearing on the viability of these water transfers that are so important to the state.”

Water buffalos – embracing the pejorative?

I tend to hear the term “water buffalo” as pejorative – the old, lumbering water managers of a bygone era of dam-building and overconsumption. Not so, say the folks at the Central Arizona Project:

Just what is a water buffalo? In Arizona, they are those iconic figures who had the foresight to plan ahead to meet the water needs of a growing desert community. Without them, we might not have the Central Arizona Project and the state’s water situation might be bleak.

 I stand corrected, I guess.


Annals of adaptation: Cally Carswell on desert cattle

In High Country News, Cally Carswell has a story about the criollo (“a name that is endlessly fun to recite. These are criollo cows. (Try it: cree-oh-yo.)”:

There’s anecdotal evidence that criollo will eat more of the shrubs and tougher grasses on degraded grasslands, but no hard data yet on whether that amounts to a statistically different use of the landscape.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why don’t we go back to buffalo?’ ” Gonzalez muses, bracing himself against the fence. “Well, in dry lands, why don’t we go back to criollo?”

Worth a read.

Stuff I wrote elsewhere: NM water policy tools poorly suited for the job

From this morning’s newspaper, a look at the latest proposal to pump rural groundwater to New Mexico’s populous middle (behind Google surveywall):

Depending on your view of the issue, this is either: a) an innovative approach to bring new water to the Middle Rio Grande Valley, or b) an inappropriate attempt to privatize a public resource that could devastate the rural community where the water originates.

Currently, the proposal has entered a new state of legal limbo, with both proponents and opponents forced to spend money on lawyers to fight it out, but with no clear process for sorting out the underlying questions.

For the record, I’m agnostic on the proposal. My interest is in the process by which we solve these sorts of questions. And on that score, it’s increasingly clear that our current laws and policies are not up to the task of determining whether “a” or “b” is most consistent with our values and long-term interests.

Kelly Redmond to be honored for climate work

Kelly Redmond, deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, is being honored at next month’s AGU meeting in San Francisco for being generally awesome.

Kelly’s one of the best climate scientists I’ve ever encountered at overcoming the “loading dock problem“, by which scientists do knowledge and leave it out there in a box for non-scientists to consume. Kelly spends a lot of time working his way around the West, trying to figure out what climate science consumers (like me) need and then acting as a go-between. From DRI’s writeup:

“Kelly is all about climate science and communication credibility – not just among our science colleagues, but with everyone else too. If you want to communicate climate knowledge to decision-makers in the Southwest or Western US (or probably anywhere else), there is no better source of know-how or the energy to get it done than Dr. Kelly Redmond,” one member of the AGU award nomination committee stated, when asked about Redmond’s career.

In the Colorado River Basin, a slow start to the 2014-15 water year

We’re about 20 percent of the way into the fall-winter-spring snow accumulation season in the Colorado River Basin, and the current snowpack upstream of Lake Powell as estimated by the CBRFC is 61 percent of average:

Snowpack above Lake Powell, courtesy CBRFC

Snowpack above Lake Powell, courtesy CBRFC

It is worth remembering, as the Bureau of Reclamation notes in its weekly water supply report (pdf), that “values may vary significantly from week-to-week this early in the water year.”



Persimmons from California's Central Valley

Persimmons from California’s Central Valley

Despite California’s epic drought, there were Central Valley persimmons this afternoon in Talin Market, Albuquerque’s international district grocer, when my sister, Lisa, and I stopped by to pick up a few things.

They were priced at $1.29 a pound, with the box label suggesting they had come all the way from Gridley, Calif., a little town midway between Yuba City and Chico in the valley’s northern stretch. It’s not a big persimmon hot spot, recording just 78 of California’s 4,091 acres of persimmons in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. (pdf here, not surprisingly Fresno County is the state’s largest persimmon producer)

It is interesting to think about how and why persimmons make their way from Gridley to my local Asian market.