Water Rights Protection
The existing water rights orders governing releases from Reclamation's Folsom Dam do not protect either recreation or fishery resources of the lower American River — a state and federal wild and scenic river. Working with the Sacramento Water Forum, FOR is working to prepare and submit a new water right proposal for adoption by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Water Use Efficiency
FOR will mobilize grassroots and lobby for state legislation to implement that Governor’s call to increase water conservation in California by 20%. In addition, we will work to ensure that this policy includes agricultural as well as urban conservation. FOR will also support a model landscape ordinance, which if adopted by local governments will significantly improve the efficient use of water for landscape irrigation, and other opportunities to improve water conservation.
FOR Challenges Water Contracts in Court
Friends of the River and others have filed suit in state court challenging the routine approval of interim federal water contracts for the sprawling Westlands Water District in the southern Central Valley. The Water District issued a three-paragraph notice that declared valid and harmless the renewal of eleven water export contracts for more than million acre- feet of water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The purpose of the lawsuit is to guarantee full public disclosure and environmental review of public water contracts. Other plaintiffs include the North Coast Rivers Alliance, Save the American River Association, and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. (read the press relase)
Under state law, Westlands conducted its own environmental review for renewal of the interim federal contracts. Not surprisingly, the District announced just a few days before Christmas last year that the renewal of contracts for more than a million acre feet of northern California water wouldn’t require any environmental disclosure of the impacts of those contracts on Delta fish and wildlife or the rivers that are the ultimate source of the water. The water contracts were renewed even though numerous federal and state agencies have become increasingly concerned about the harm these export contracts were having on the Delta, which is the largest estuary in the western United States.
The renewal of Westlands water contracts also comes just a few months after the California Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger approved controversial water policy legislation that some claim would change how California water is managed. Apparently, the new water policy legislation failed to have any impact at all on the business-as-usual renewal of the contracts, which will ensure continued if not increased fresh water exports from the failing Delta.
“With little or no public review, the Westlands Water District wants the government to sign off on these destructive water exports”, stated Steve Evans Conservation Director for Friends of the river. “They are slipping this by and trying to avoid the responsibility for reducing damage to the Delta and its tributary rivers.”
“These massive commitments of water to less than 600 corporate agricultural users are a direct threat to the Delta and to the Trinity River, which is the ultimate source of the water,” declared Frank Egger, President North Coast Rivers Alliance. “We need to make sure that the vast fortunes of Westlands corporate famers are not increased at the expense of the North Coast or California’s salmon fishing industry.”
“The Winnemem Wintu, a traditional people of California, see the folly of the government’s plans relative to the Delta and pray for people of reason to wake up and help protect the estuary from over pumping and the damage these plans will wreak upon the water and resources of this state,” stated Mark Franco, Headman Winnemem Wintu Tribe. “Water is the lifeblood of our people and we stand ready to protect it with our colleagues across California’s social justice movement. This rash plan will only serve a few people and will impact the rights of our future generations.”
Westlands Water District is trying to lock up over 1.186 million acre feet of water a year in exports from the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. The federal contracts will deliver to Westlands nearly three times more Delta water than southern California urban areas receive under state contracts. The water is diverted from the Trinity River into the Sacramento River, and then exported from the Delta. American River water behind Folsom Dam is often used to reduce agricultural pollution in the Delta, which is intensified by the export of large amounts of fresh water contracted by Westlands.
No analysis or disclosure of the impacts to the Delta, Sacramento, Trinity, and American Rivers was provided. Typically this environmental analysis must be done by independent scientists that take into account public disclosure of all the environmental impacts, but in this case the district approved their own documents. Irrigation of these lands on the west side of the southern Central Valley has long been recognized as a source of selenium deaths and deformities in wildlife at the now closed Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.
“Massive exports that irrigate these selenium lands moves pollution down slope to the San Joaquin River and the Delta,” stated Felix Smith spokesperson for Save the American River Association. “Water supplies from the American and Sacramento Rivers are going to be left on the hook to dilute the pollution. It won’t work. We will deaden the migratory birds and fish of the Delta just as we did at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.”
The groups filing the lawsuit want full disclosure under the California Environmental Quality Act of the pollution and potential environmental harm from locking in massive water exports from the Delta estuary, which provides migration corridors for two-thirds of the state’s salmon and nearly half of the waterfowl and shorebirds along the Pacific Flyway.
Agriculture is vital to California’s economy and our culture. We must ensure that our farmers succeed and our food supply flourishes. At the same time, we know that water is a precious resource, not just for farming but for the health of our rivers as well. Every gallon that is wasted carries a real cost for our environment and our economy.
Fortunately, technological advances in water conservation now make it possible to use far less water to raise our crops. This is important, because four out of every five gallons of water stored in California flow to agriculture. California should utilize state-of-the-art techniques to improve agricultural water conservation by 20%. The more water we conserve, the more we can reduce pressure on our severely stressed rivers.
Making this change requires political will. Currently, water is heavily subsidized, hiding the true cost of delivering it. In fact, urban water users pay much more for a gallon of water than agricultural users. On the farm, flood irrigation and other wasteful practices remain appealing when water is so cheap.
It’s time to support both our farmers and our environment by making major state investments in water-saving technologies. Helping farmers convert to modern irrigation systems costs far less than building dams or pumping water across the state to keep crops watered.
Investing in water conservation makes good economic sense. Read more here.
Encouraging Farmers to Conserve is the Right Place to Start
The timing for necessary changes never seems to be good. Right now we are in a state and federal budget crisis and a drought, so no one is anxious to suddenly change course. But the sooner we start working together to incorporate these changes, the better our water situation will be. As Peter Gleick states in his 9/9/08 editorial in the Sacramento Bee, “It is time for California to implement economic and environmental policies that support agricultural water conservation and efficiency, both for the good of the environment and for the health and sustainability of our farmers. Let’s figure out how to do more with less.” Read more >
Save Rivers at home
Believe it or not, we currently use less water for urban consumption now than we did 40 years ago even though the population and our economy have grown dramatically. Cities like Long Beach, San Diego, and Los Angeles have invested in water-conserving technologies and made a huge impact as a result.
Urban water conservation saves taxpayers’ money because the less water your city uses, the less you have to pay for. Using recycled water for golf courses, gardens, and freeway embankments makes economic and environmental sense.
The truth, though, is that we could be doing more. We can reduce urban water use by 5% even as the population increases using existing technologies. A smart plan would involve every city and town installing water meters and requiring all new homes to use water-saving technologies. The fact is, when people keep track of how much water they use, and when they have to pay for wasted water, they take water conservation seriously.
Every gallon saved helps restore our rivers.It isn’t hard to do. Learn about the 3 easy steps, by clicking here.