Addressing Profiteering in the Sale of Water
One of the comments to a recent STCDA email about the Two Gates bill AJR 38 was “Has anyone thought about putting forth a bill that would make it illegal to sell off excess water rights?”
Sounds like Assemblymember Arambula has been trying to do that with Assembly Bill AB 2049. Unfortunately, it failed to pass the assembly this week, not obtaining the votes required. The vote was AYES 38. NOES 31. (FAIL).
Opponents claim that there have been relatively few permanent agriculture to municipal use transfers and that when they do occur “they typically allow a farmer to sell water that will accommodate a different use that has an equal or higher economic value to the state of California” and that “the marketplace should be left to determine the ultimate allocation of SWP supplies.”
The bill was attempting to stop the ongoing egregious money-making such as the $77 million profiteering deal by one landowner last year which was quoted in the bill itself:
“In August 2009, Sandridge Partners, a landowner within the service area of Dudley Ridge Water District in Kings County on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, agreed to permanently sell 14,000 acre feet (af) of its annual SWP entitlement to the Mojave Water Agency, in San Bernardino County, for $77 million dollars. Both the Dudley Ridge Water District and the Mojave Water Agency are SWP contractors. In news articles, Sandridge Partners was quoted as saying it intended to use part of the funding from its sale to Mojave to expand groundwater pumping as a substitute supply.”
Water is transferred from the farm use to municipal use (at a high margin for the user who received it at a reduced and/or subsidized agricultural rate) and then farmers have been pumping water from the groundwater aquifers to make up for the lack of agricultural water needed.
Concerns about the Aquifers
California’s two main river basins and the aquifers beneath its agricultural heartland have lost nearly enough water since 2003 to fill Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir, new satellite data shows according to a Reuters report Dec. 14, 2009. Depleted aquifers account for two-thirds of the loss measured, most of it attributed to increased groundwater pumping for irrigation of drought-parched farmland in California’s fertile but arid Central Valley, scientists said. Satellite studies show that groundwater is being used up faster than nature can restore it.
When aquifers are drained, there is the risk of the aquifer collapsing (which has happened recently in San Jose and in the Central Valley). The problem is, when aquifers collapse, there is no way to recover this valuable storage system.
AB 2049 also addressed better monitoring, management and controls on groundwater use to stop this practice as well. Hopefully this bill will be modified and attempted again.
The Selenium Issue Continues
Then there was the May 27th “Showdown over Selenium”. A broad coalition of 18 organizations, representing fisheries, tribal and environmental interests, opposed the pollution waiver for West side farmers to clean up their selenium discharge. Waste waters from the San Luis Drain are currently 10 times the level considered safe. The coalition believes the pollution should be halted at its source, not sent downstream. See the article for pictures of the deformed embryos of the bird species Stilt collected from a single nest from a Tulare Basin evaporation pond in the Southern San Joaquin Valley in 2001. Selenium from west side San Joaquin Valley farms caused massive wildlife deformities in birds at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, exposed by federal biologist Felix Smith, in Merced County in the early 1980s.
RestoreTheDelta.org reported this week on the results of that meeting:
- West side farmers just can’t make that deadline for cleaning up their irrigation water. They’ve been trying for 14 years and have spent $100 million – although not all their own money, of course. But they need more time to develop a water treatment plant to eliminate contamination from 97,000 acres between Firebaugh and Interstate 5.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has given its approval for a 10-year extension for the Grassland Bypass Project. The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and the California Water Impact Network argued that contamination will jeopardize revival of salmon runs and harm wildlife as far out as Suisun Bay. They said that a two-year extension would have been more reasonable than a full decade.
Farm representatives argue that fish pass through the river when higher flows dilute the selenium level.
Next, the matter goes to the State Water Resources Control Board, which is not known for making decisions that might inconvenience west side agriculture. They apparently still don’t view selenium as a stressor.
Click Here to read more.
Why does it take Lawyers?
I couldn’t help but wonder, when attending the Bay and Delta Conservation Plan workshop last September, when the BDCP/ex-CalFed scientist was defending his knowledge and expertise and explained that he’d spent the last 30 years studying the Delta, when CalFed was then the lead organization, why didn’t they stop the excess pumping that has now brought the Delta to crisis? Why did it take Judge Oliver Wanger to order the pumps be turned off in February because endangered Delta Smelt populations are nearing the pumps and dying. Judge Wagner reversed his ruling May 25th and said “Judge Wanger decided the impact to the endangered fish did not outweigh the needs of farmers.”
An email from Bob Morris May 19th stated that a recent California Superior Court decision ruled that those who illegally divert water from streams and rivers can be sued because the consequent lack of water downstream, with its resultant problems, constitutes a violation of the public trust. Among other things, this ruling means governmental entities that are charged with maintaining such resources can also be sued.
“This new Superior Court ruling on Monday says that anyone who diverts water must provide enough flow for downstream fish and if they don’t they can be sued by anyone,” said Chris Malan of the Livings Rivers Council in Napa. He said there are at least 286 illegal water diversions in the Napa River watershed and that many of them are by vineyards.
The ruling was regarding the City of Calistoga and Napa rivers but could have far reaching affects. It could be a factor in the Delta because local scientists who are studying the Delta crisis do not feel the biggest issue is just the number of smelt being caught in the pumps but rather the lack of sufficient fresh water flowing throughout the Delta due to over-pumping. Rulings such as this, that aren’t a total shut-down of all pumping but may bring about a better analysis of what is required for a healthy Delta, seem like the best hope for getting the state to a more balanced water approach.