As we launch into the new year there is good news about one of our state’s most persistent problems – water. For as long as most of us can remember, water users have retreated into their corners, demanding their share of water, with all water-users suffering in the stalemate. Status-quo policy hasn’t helped struggling fish populations, farms, or urban users, including residents of Santa Clara Valley and the East Bay.
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A simple web search will pull up nearly a million articles, videos and photos featuring Frank Gehrke. He’s no fashion icon like Kim Kardashian or a dogged politician like Gov. Jerry Brown. But he has broken a lot of news. Sometimes, it’s bad news, like California suffering yet another year of drought. That’s a realization he alluded to in 2014, when he measured the snowpack near Lake Tahoe.
One of the keys to former Gov. Jerry Brown’s success as California’s chief executive over the past eight years was the stellar group of individuals he recruited as his top environmental and water officials. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial, senior environmental appointments suggest that he is wisely following in Brown’s footsteps. Californians can only hope his water leadership team turns out to be equally strong. Newsom’s first two environmental appointments are his most important, and his choices are impressive indeed.
With a decarbonizing electricity business and the West perennially coping with drought, pumped-storage projects would seem to be the ideal win-win solution. Carbon-free electricity is generated by water from an upper reservoir falling on a turbine. Water is then pumped from the lower reservoir back to the upper reservoir chiefly using renewable power to be used again and again. Federal legislation signed in October may provide a boost to pumped storage projects under development by lengthening the duration of preliminary permits issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The new law, named the Water Resources Development Act, extended the duration of a FERC preliminary permit for pumped-storage projects to four years.
Lake Mead, the biggest source for water in the Southwest, is on the verge of reaching a critically low level. Gov. Doug Ducey said, “this is by far the most pressing issue we face as a state.” Arizona is facing a deadline to come up with a plan to conserve Colorado River water feeding Lake Mead. That deadline is two weeks away on Jan. 31 and the governor and legislature are running out of time.
The weather has yet to be influenced this winter by a warmer Pacific Ocean and likely won’t be impacted in a major way, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. Federal climatologists reduced the chances that an El Nino will form in January or February to 82 percent, down from 96 percent a month ago. If an El Nino does occur, it will be weak, according to NOAA. “Significant global impacts are not anticipated during the remainder of the winter, even if conditions were to form,” the agency stated, in its monthly outlook on sea-surface temperatures along the equator.
“Have you ever wondered how you can save money on your water bill?” So begins, in a perky female voice, the 1-minute video overview of the new WaterSmart online tool being offered by the Valley of the Moon Water District. It promises instant cell-phone alerts of high water use, upcoming bills, track leaks and costs, and recommendations on ways to reduce water use and achieve lower water bills. That’s the promise of the WaterSmart “customer water portal” now offered by VOMWD, characterized as “an online tool for customers to look at their water use information,” according to interim VOMWD general manager Matthew Fullner.
In an attempt to block the state’s plan to divert more water toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and away from the Bay Area, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has filed a lawsuit arguing the project could significantly reduce the local water supply. If the plan advances, the water district might have to spend millions of dollars to obtain alternate water supplies and pull up more groundwater.
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it, simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it. In the early 1800s this estuary teemed with salmon migrating to and from the rivers of the Sierra Nevada. Salmon were, as documented in photographs, so plentiful that you could harvest them from the river with a pitchfork.
In a New Year’s Day essay in this newspaper, Valley attorney and scholar Grady Gammage, Jr. argued that 2018 may have been a watershed year in Arizona, as the people of this state broke habit and showed up at the polls in droves. “…They made discerning judgments,” wrote Gammage. “A pragmatic Republican governor was reelected by a wide margin, and yet, those same voters chose a Democrat for United States Senate: A Democrat who said she wanted to ‘get stuff done.’ “Maybe this means electoral politics is becoming more moderate, more focused on results than on scoring philosophical points.”