Catalyst: California August 11, 2015
Nadine: Almost all the water for California comes from the mountains surrounding the Sacramento Valley. It’s a tremendous water storage facility that exists in those forest, so if you’ll remember that, so you can see Shasta Lake or Trinity Lake Whiskeytown and what this map will show with a pipe water from Trinity Lake which is a different watershed it is the Klamath watershed over into the Sacramento, and that also augments the Sacramento River flow which in turn goes clear down to Los Angeles where it’s lifted by what some people call one of the wonders of the modern world a pump, that pumps it up over 2000 feet over (unintelligible) and down into Los Angeles.
So it’s a very complex system it was designed to capture snowmelt and now it is suffering because the snowmelt is disappearing and our water events are coming in not in the November December January February snows that were used to but November rains and last year we went with no rainfall clear into the spring and then we had two massive rain events that dumped inches of water on to the mountains that quickly flowed out to the ocean because we didn’t have any way to capture that. So what we’re looking at now is “can we change that system to be able to capture those rain events. And in addition we really can’t talk about water in California unless we’re talk about the watershed that holds this water. So for the last 20 years we’ve been on a collision course of environmental policy that has pitted one species against each other and right now what we have is Spotted Owl policy damaging fishing policy. And because in order to provide the healthy watersheds we really need to be going into the Northern California Sierra forest and telling them, when my father who is six or seven generation Californian as a kid he could ride from one side of the state on horseback to the other underneath a canopy of trees, because there was about 60 stems per acre, now we have in excess of 600 to 700 stems per acre. Brush and trees that is overstocked forest that are unhealthy, and during this drought, whole acres and acres and miles and miles of trees are dying because there simply is not enough water in this Mediterranean climate. And what happened 2 weeks ago was a massive storm, no rain, dry lightning; set fires. So, and they’re not just ordinary fires that are cleaning up the forest floor which would be good. But because there’s so much wood on the ground – deadwood, they’re stand replacing watershed destroying fires that are going to have impact for countless generations because they’re destroying the watershed. About 3 weeks ago, we had a front movement off of a hurricane and it dumped 4 inches of water in a watershed in a day. It was an area that had been burnt and not rehabilitated and that rain devastated that watershed. It washed gravel and took soil that should be on the side of the mountain down into the river and turned the Calamus River from Green to Brown for about a week and a half. So losing our soil and our watershed is not a way to preserve water. And so forest health is a critical component. and you can, I’m going to repost on my facebook page a study done by the associated California Water Association about some of the things we can do to preserve watershed health. The other solution and you can go now to sykes reservoir is looking at how to capture some of that rain runoff. Below Shasta Lake there are two contributors to flood, and as we talk about drought, we also on the end of every drought has been massive floods. Some that have covered the state. In fact, at one time Sacramento was had 5-10 feet of standing water. That’s why the capital today is built up so high is because of the floodwaters that are now stopped by Shasta lake. But in the winter when we get those rain events, if we build Sykes Reservoir, which is offstream storage, and will not impact fisheries, we could capture that rain water and then hold it so in the summer, so that when we need it for urban uses, farming uses and fish, we could let that water go back into the system and help with many of the issues that we’re facing today.
The other thing that I see is that people think that water just gets used once. And if you look at some of the charts that I’ve put up, you can see that every drop of water that comes into California will get put in a farm field, but it goes back especially in the Sacramento valley, it goes back into the river system, and becomes water for fish habitats, recreation, and all of these other uses. The prawn fields that some of my other members have are also some of the most beautiful bird habitats that you’ve ever seen. Rice farms are habitats for countless species of birds and endangered species. So we might use water for rice, but we are also using it for environmental issues as well. I’m not sure how much time I have. So in the past, we’ve gone to single species management to save species, and recently, professors like Michael Rosenzweig have written about how that type of species management that doesn’t take in human interaction, and the fact that 25 million people need drinking water from these forests and the watersheds in northern California. We can have species protection and the values that we hold dear like clean drinking water and clean streams. We can do that, but we have to start integrating our species management in a way that takes into account the fact that we have cities with millions of people that depend on the water and we have species that are endangered.
We don’t have to sacrifice, as Dr. Rosenzweig says. We don’t have to commit economic suicide to save species. We can come up with solutions. His book “Win Win Ecology” is a great book and so is Lynne Ingram’s book “The West Without Water”. I recommend that for everyone that’s thinking about these issues as we go through them. Trying to think of anything else I missed.
Again, water storage is a key component to recycling and repurposing our water. We have to have them all. And, that’s it, I think that’s my 10 minutes.
Keith: Good. Nadine this is Keith Schneider of Circle of Blue. Nadine, could you explain to the listeners the sykes reservoir debate of about whether to build it or not to build it?
Nadine: Ok so, we had a bond a couple of years ago where the people of California said that we need above ground storage. And that was kind of surprising to me that in the past, overwhelmingly because Dan says the kind of evil strawman lately because of their impact upon fisheries. And they have impacted fisheries. That’s why Sykes reservoir is so unique because it’s offstream storage. It’s taking a valley that has no fish population currently there and using it like we would set up a giant bowl up in the mountains, and using that valley to hold what we need. So the controversy is I think misplaced because a lot of the angst about Dan is that their impact on fish habitat which they have had a tremendous impact. The other thing is that there is a large group of people that do not want to see any storage built because they think that it will just make the problem worse because we will continue to sell and use and plan to use water that we don’t have. And so I think their concerns need to be addressed as we move forward. And in this process that we really probably have reached the limit of water that we can add to the system. We can capture more of what we have, but growing the system I think is unlikely, and is probably one of the big concerns that everyone has.
Keith: And tell me if I’m wrong. Again his is Keith Schneider of Circle of blue. I was out there in June and wrote a pretty in depth piece about the Sykes reservoir with Nadine’s help but we’re still.. it’s an expensive project, $4 billion current estimate, that’s in 2015 dollars.
It’s going to take 10 years give or take a few years depending upon debate, planning, funding; to get it built. What’s your sense? And the other piece of it is it can be capable of storing a good amount of water 1.4 billion acre/feet of water capable of releasing 600,000 acre/feet a year into the system which is a good bit of water. But what’s your sense, Nadine, about what there actually will be built?
Nadine: On and off, for the most part I wouldn’t live in California [laughs]
Nadine: All the pessimists moved away years ago. I believe we can get it built. I think the fires this year, the destruction of habitat, I think the impacts driving up and down I-5 and seeing those fallow farm fields, it’s having an impact. I think people are starting to understand. “Oh those people are growing my food, and I want to continue to eat”. Like I joked “If you liked No Meat Monday, you’re going to love No Food Friday”. Cuz that’s where we’re headed.
Keith: Let me ask you another one. Last time we talked, you told me something really interesting about flood irrigation, rice, and levels of aquifer – water storage and aquifers in Northern California; where scientists who have had years ago recommended to reduce flood irrigation in favor of drip irrigation and that smaller sprinklers are a much more efficient use of water may have made a mistake in terms of how much water was available in the regions of aquifers. I wonder if you could tell these people about that.
Nadine: Ok so that gets back to you’ll hear about ground water storage, we want ground water storage. In the Sacramento Valley, If I water my lawn up and letting, that water seeps down into the groundwater and I may be using water, but I’m replenishing the ground water supply. And so when people switch over from rice over to trees, the wells that we have to monitor, and right when I’m at actually has a regional ground water monitoring group which was quite controversial but has been very successful in alerting people when they’re taking more groundwater than they are putting back in. So right now, the Sacramento Valley is in good shape with water. But if we continue to pump and not use the irrigation system, like this year the Tehama-Colusa Canal got no water, so if they couldn’t buy that water from the Glenn Colusa Canal, many of those people that relied on the Tehama-Colusa Canal for water they had to pump water. and you can’t do that as you know; by looking at the San Joaquin Valley. You can’t pump ground water forever, you have to replenish it. And so rice and crops and nut trees that they flood irrigate is a great way to replenish ground water.
Keith: Questions from anybody? Anybody have questions for Nadine? [chime sounds] Go ahead if you have a question. All right, that gives me a chance to ask one more. So during my trip to California in June, I was in the Del Puerto Water District, which is south of the Delta. Uses quite a bit of water every year, 47,000 acres more than half of it almonds, fallowed a lot of fields and the manager of that Water district, a woman named Anthea Hansen was talking to me about water markets and how much she and her growers were paying for water to be transported into the Del Puerto water district. Through the existing canals systems. Much of that water that they were buying was coming from Northern California, I think from your region Nadine. And the cost of that water was over $2000 an acre foot. That is that they were buying millions of dollars worth of water. So as a journalist I’m very interested in doing an article about water trading and water sales, and water availability; but there must be another effect in the growing periods right? If farmers, rice farmers in particular, are selling water. And I’m wondering whether you can help us understand how that works from Northern California, where water sales are occurring.
Nadine: So, economic professors will tell you that commodity products like forestry and farm products have a multiplier that is greater than service. So some people say it’s 5, some people say it’s 7. Every dollar that is spent on growing a commodity and selling a commodity has a multiplier in the local community of anywhere from 5 to 7. So there will be some multiplier in selling water, to the communities like it would have been had that crop of rice had been put in because that rice grower would buy tires from the local tire company and even though many of these people are using that money to upgrade their infrastructure, leveling their fields, buying equipment that they wouldn’t have been able to buy; there does come a place where the tipping point comes where you don’t have anything left to invest. So this year, probably the impact is not going to be that bad, but if the Sacramento Valley, if that was the trend that continues, that would hurt the local economy up here.
Keith: And we’re talking jobs, production; is that what you’re talking about?
Nadine: Yeah, jobs, production, all the things that are related to farming activities. Gasoline sales, bookkeeping, you know, there’s a multitude of things that go along. The farm gives back 7 times into the community. For every dollar that’s spent, 7 come back into the community. And we saw that during the failure and the decline of the timber industry too.
Keith: One minute to go. One last question Nadine, if you would. Your group is expert on the Salmon runs and Salmon numbers. And Salmon drives, appears to be driving a lot of choices and policy about and use of supply of water in California right now. Can you explain how that works, and why that’s happening?
Nadine: Salmon need water [chuckles] and everybody else wants water? Salmon are usually at the bottom. And for the first time in this year and last year, you saw some of the litigation using the Endangered Species act, move that bar over and Salmon became important in that scheme of things. so that’s the big difference. The litigation has taken hold and so Salmon are getting water that they wouldn’t have gotten before.