Cuts to drought response in California budget shortchange resilience, access to water

Governor Brown’s revised state budget axed more than $100 in funding for drought response. This is a shortsighted response to what could very well be an ongoing problem of weather extremes–both droughts and storms that severely test the state’s water infrastructure, agricultural sector, and overall climate resilience.

According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News , a proposed budget increase of $179 million was reduced to $63 million, as a result of the five-year drought’s official “end” in April.

Much of the smaller increase will go to CalFire, which faces the fire risk of more than 100 million dead trees in the Sierra Nevada, and to helping with emergency water supplies in Central Valley towns which lost water wells to the drought. There will also be about $12 million earmarked for inspections at large dams in California and to beef up emergency plans and flood maps in order to prepare for events similar to the Oroville Dam emergency earlier this year.


But deep cuts in drought management funds imperil the kind of broad climate-focused planning that the state needs to do to prepare for a probable future of increasing “drought or deluge” weather patterns. Funding ought to be retained to investigate and establish best practices for water conservation and efficiency, especially while the effects of five years of drought are still fresh in the public mind.

Moreover, long range planning must be rooted in principles of environmental justice. Water is a human right, and scarce resources must go first to the people who will use it for basic human needs–drinking and sanitation.

We call for California to go into long-term climate resilience, conservation, and efficiency studies with an eye to making these practices the cornerstone of a sustainable California water system–not the controversial Delta Tunnels project. We agree with Executive Director of Restore the Delta Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla that “the only way to guarantee a sustainable future for California is to plan for prolonged droughts punctuated by cycles of flood and to create water efficiency projects at the local level. This was done in Australia when they abandoned their large pipeline project for local water conservation systems. The Delta tunnels will not serve Californians during periods of drought, or during flood when waters are filled with sediment.”

Long-term drought will be back–it’s not “if” but “when.” When California again goes years with rainfall and snowpack far below necessary levels, systems built on efficiency and conservation can defend drinking water and public health by ensuring that existing water supplies are protected and directed where they are most needed: to drinking water, sanitation, the management of our fisheries, environmentally-appropriate agriculture, and the preservation of our environment.

Tonight on National Geographic, a look at water and power in California

Big storms and a generous Sierra snowpack indicate that the historic California drought may be coming to an end (though whether it will end with a return to even-tempered weather or be replaced by more climate weirdness remains to be seen).

A new documentary promises to shape our appreciation of how water politics have shaped, and been shaped, by which entities hold power in the state, and it airs tonight on the National Geographic channel at 9 p.m. Eastern. Entitled “Water and Power: A California Heist”  and directed by Marina Zenovich, it looks at how heedless groundwater tapping and secret deals over water rights have endangered the sustainability and safety of California’s water.

The Los Angeles Times praised the film’s long view of policy, from the Monterey Amendments on, and called the film “a Compelling picture of timeless greed.” Hopefully documentaries such as this help bring the era of backroom deals and thoughtless overuse of water to an end.

You can listen to an interview with Zenovich here.

A video report on a victory through SB88

Follow this link to watch a video report on the effect that the Human Right to Water law, SB88, has had for the residents of Matheny Tract, California.  Matheny Tract is a small town of about 1,000 people in the Central Valley. A majority of its residents are immigrants who live under the poverty line. And many of them can’t remember the last time they had access to clean water. For eight years, Matheny Tract residents lived with known poisonous water, contaminated by arsenic and by pesticides from nearby fields.

As of last week, the town has access to clean water. That’s because of SB88 in California, a new law that makes providing clean water the responsibility of the state and gives California the ability to force nearby cities like Tulare to share its clean water supply with impoverished communities like Matheny Tract. Just as they have for the past eight years, Matheny Tract pays for its water, but now, it’s water they can use.


California’s Thirsty Almond Acreage Increased by 60,000 Acres in 2015!

by Dan Bacher, Daily KOS

As Governor Jerry Brown urged Californians to “Save Our Water” by taking shorter showers and letting our lawns turn brown, corporate agribusiness continued to expand its acreage in water-intensive almond trees in the Central Valley.

California’s 2015 almond acreage is estimated at 1,110,000 acres, up 6 percent from the 2014 revised acreage of 1,050,000, according to a California Department of Food and Agriculture report released today.

That’s up 60,000 acres from 2014’s estimated acreage. “Of the total acreage for 2015, 890,000 acres were bearing and 220,000 acres were non-bearing. Preliminary bearing acreage for 2016 was estimated at 900,000 acres,” the report stated.

Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera—all located in the San Joaquin Valley—were the leading counties in almond production. These five counties had 73 percent of the total bearing acreage. Nonpareil continued to be the leading variety, followed by Monterey, Butte, Carmel, and Padre.

“This acreage, planted in Drought Year Four, commits about 180,000 AF/year to those trees, a constant burden on groundwater basins and our political system for every one of the next twenty-five years,” commented “Had the Brown administration banned new permanent crops in basins with declining groundwater levels, that demand might be in annual crops, flexible in times of high climate variability.”

The almond acreage was estimated at 870,000 acres at the beginning of the drought, according to That means that the total almond acreage in California increased by 240,000 acres during the drought!

Representatives of fishing groups, environmental organizations and Indian Tribes have criticized the expansion of acreage for almonds, a water-intensive crop, at a time when Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, and other fish populations are being driven closer and closer to extinction by poor water management by the state and federal governments—and when urban users are mandated to cut back on water use by 25 percent.

Last March, Stewart Resnick, Beverly Hills billionaire and the largest tree fruit grower in the world, revealed his efforts to expand pistachio, almond, and walnut acreage during the drought at the annual pistachio conference hosted by Paramount Farms.

During the event covered by the Western Farm Press, Resnick gloated about the increase in his nut acreage over the previous ten years, including an 118 percent increase for pistachios, 47 percent increase for almonds, and 30 percent increase for walnuts.

Resnick and his wife, Lynda, are among the most avid proponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s California Water Fix, the new name for the Delta Tunnels, potentially the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history. The tunnels will divert water from the Sacramento River for export to agribusiness corporations on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California water companies, and oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods in Kern County.

See this story for more information about the Resnicks and their influence over the UC system and California politics.