‘It’s up to all of us’

San Joaquin County pieced together a 30-second water conservation commercial that aired recently on Comcast.

The ad cost about $9,000, county Public Works staff recently told water commissioners. Check it out:

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‘We’re heading for Venus, and still we stand tall’

This blog will be silent until Wednesday, July 30. So, in honor of Tuesday’s twin tunnels comment deadline, here’s a little something to motivate any last-minute letter writers.

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Fish passage above dams “incredibly foolish?”

I asked Doug Demko, a fisheries biologist who consults for water districts, what he thought about plans to restore migratory fish above large California dams.

Demko called the idea “incredibly foolish.”

“It creates more problems than it solves, and it’s hugely expensive,” Demko said.

You’d have to either trap both incoming and outgoing fish and truck them around the dams, or build some kind of passage facility like a massive fish ladder, he said..

After all that effort, predatory nonnative fish are still going to gobble up the baby salmon and steelhead as they swim downstream toward the ocean, Demko said. (To be fair, the recovery plan unveiled earlier this week does address predator control — passage above dams is only one aspect of the broad plan.)

But an unrealistic aspect, in Demko’s opinion.

“There are so many significant issues, lower hanging fruit that need to be resolved or fixed” before discussing passage above the dams, he said.

The recovery plan recommends at least studying fish passage above Camanche, New Hogan and the Stanislaus River dams, including New Melones.

Decide for yourself; read the recovery plan. And here’s my write-up focusing on how Stockton’s little Calaveras River fits into the big picture.

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Water surpasses air quality as No. 1 concern

For the first time since the Public Policy Institute of California began environment surveys in 2000, residents are more worried about water than air pollution.

And it’s not even close.

That interesting tidbit comes from the depths of the PPIC’s latest poll, released tonight.

Thirty-five percent of poll respondents said that water supply or drought is the most important environment issue facing California today. That’s an increase of 27 points since July 2011, the PPIC reported.

Just 14 percent of respondents named air pollution as the top concern in this latest survey, a decline of 13 points during the same time period.

A large majority (75 percent) favors local water districts requiring residents to reduce water use, PPIC reports. And the current $11 billion water bond has a slim 51 percent support from likely voters (61 percent support from all adults).

Read the full survey.

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(Ground)water on the brain

San Joaquin County's latest groundwater trends. The red arrows represent wells where water levels are dropping.

Responding to Sunday’s story about groundwater levels dropping in east San Joaquin County, reader Robert Lee offers this suggestion:

“Groundwater is subject to the ‘tragedy of the commons,’ whereby an aquifer theoretically owned by all those who own land above it may be drained by the farmer with the biggest well. But there is a way to ensure that the water, or its value, is fairly shared.

“Let us say that an aquifer is defined by geological experts. Then we can clearly say that this water is ‘owned’ by all those whose property overlies the aquifer so defined, in proportion to the acreage they own.

“Let an elected body decide how much water can be sustainably pumped out of this aquifer, this season.

“Then those who want water can bid for this water, each requesting so many acre feet at his offering price.

“The bids are accepted, starting from highest to lowest, until the ‘safe’ amount of water to be drawn that season is allocated, and the total funds received, less the amount required to operate the water management district, is distributed to all the landowners who ‘own’ the aquifer.

“Simple enough, though safeguards would have to be applied to prevent one entity from purchasing all the water, and thereby creating a seller’s market.

“I have been working for a water district for over 40 years, so I know a little about water.”

Any more ideas? If you send them, I’ll post them. This state can use all the ideas it can get.

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‘Better pay attention to your mail’

That’s some free legal advice from Delta water attorney Dante Nomellini.

Nomellini pointed out at a meeting last week that farmers or other water users who fail to respond to curtailment notices could face fines.

It’s true that the State Water Resources Control Board ultimately decided that senior water rights holders — those whose rights predate 1914, or whose land directly abuts a river — are not subject to emergency rules bypassing the normal curtailment process.

But those growers may still receive notices telling them to stop taking water. The difference is that the normal, lengthier appeals process will be available to them.

“We’re not out of it yet, but it appears there won’t be a slew of threats against the pre-1914/riparian water right holders until the irrigation season is over,” said another Delta water attorney, John Herrick. “That’s an optimistic view of it.”

Still, Nomellini added, “You’d better pay attention to your mail from now on. Anything that looks like it might relate to water could have a penalty associated with it” for failing to respond.

“…The excuse that my wife didn’t pick the mail up, or my husband got it in his pickup and didn’t look at it,” might not hold water, he said.

(That’s my pun, not Nomellini’s.)

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What’s on tap — week of July 21 and beyond

Tuesday, July 22: Stockton East Water District weekly board meeting. Noon, 6767 E. Main St., Stockton. Agenda available here.

Wednesday, July 23: San Joaquin Bike Coalition’s weekly ride. 7 p.m. behind the Empire Theater in Stockton. Anyone with basic bike riding skills welcome. More details here.

Thursday, July 24: Community workshop on Stockton’s general plan. Share your views how the city should grow into the future. 6 p.m., City Hall, 425 N. El Dorado St. More details here.

Friday, July 25: Delta Stewardship Council meeting. Agenda includes discussion of Delta flows and salinity issues. Agenda available here.

Saturday, July 26: Guided photo walk, Cosumnes River Preserve. One-mile loop trip takes visitors through wetlands and riparian forest. 9 a.m., visitor center. More details here.

Saturday, July 26: Wildlife paddle tour, Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. 8 a.m. View river otters, egrets, herons, hawks, pelicans, beavers and turtles while learning about the refuge. The tour takes place in an area that is normally off-limits. More tours scheduled throughout August and September. More details here.

Friday, Aug. 1: Evening opportunity! Wildlife paddle tour, Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. 6 p.m. View river otters, egrets, herons, hawks, pelicans, beavers and turtles while learning about the refuge. The tour takes place in an area that is normally off-limits. More tours scheduled throughout August and September. More details here.

Saturday, Aug. 2-Sunday, Aug. 3: Woodbridge Wilderness Area open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The area is typically open the first three weekends of each month. Explore a quarter-mile of Mokelumne River frontage. Free. More details here.

Saturday, Aug. 9: Electronic waste collection event hosted by Onsite Electronics Recycling. 9 a.m., San Joaquin Delta College Shima 2 parking lot. More details here.

Saturday, Aug. 9: Full-moon “bat paddle” at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Visitors will paddle to the Franklin Bridge to watch 70,000 Mexican free-tail bats fly out into the sky at sundown. Space is limited; RSVP required. More details here.

Tuesday, Aug. 12: Class, “California Camping Basics.” 7 p.m., Stockton REI. Class will cover camping essentials, gear and equipment, and locations. More details here.

Wednesday, Aug. 13: Green Team San Joaquin meeting, hosted by the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce. Guest speakers are James Bohon, assistant sacretary of rthe California Environmental Protection Agency, and the city of Stockton’s David Stagnaro, who will talk about Stockton’s Climate Action Plan. 9 a.m., 445 W. Weber Avenue Suite 220.

Monday, Aug. 25: Sierra Club meeting. Theme: “Diary of a Steelhead Trout: From River to Sea and Back Again.” Stacy Luthy, a marine biologist and coordinator of Friends of the Lower Calaveras River, will talk about how rivers connect to the ocean and the fish that make the journey. 7 p.m., Central United Methodist Church, 3700 Pacific Avenue in Stockton.

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Not quite Sally Savewater, but…

San Joaquin County has launched a new drought website, sjcsavewater.org, which is intended to give residents practical advice and conservation tips.

That info might be especially important now that state officials have approved penalties of up to $500 a day for those who waste water.

The county has also produced a $9,000 commercial that you might have already seen on TV. I’ll post it here, if my technologically-challenged fingers can manage the task.

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The drought, in context

My initial, layperson’s take on today’s drought report:

1) This is a billion-dollar drought — the report predicts $1 billion in crop revenue loss across California, to be exact — but consider the fact that the state enjoys $45 billion in crop revenue in a typical year. So, put in context, the revenue loss this year amounts to 2.2 percent. (These numbers are all laid out on page 15 of the report.)

Jobs: The drought may eliminate 7,500 of them, but in an average year California provides 200,000 ag jobs. So the drought accounts for about a 3.8 percent decline in jobs.

This is important perspective. The drought is terrible. Is it really “crippling” to the state as a whole?

2) The most alarming numbers to me have nothing to do with job loss or revenue decline. They have to do with actual water use.

The new report projects the state will lose 6.6 million acre-feet of water this year, one-quarter of the water that would normally be available. A 25 percent decline.

And yet, when you account for increased groundwater pumping, the state will lose “only” about 1.5 million acre-feet of water, reducing the impact from a 25 percent decline to a 6 percent decline in water supply.

That shows how heavily we’ll be relying on precious groundwater. That reliance may help keep the jobs and revenue losses that I mentioned earlier relatively small, but certainly raises questions about the long-term sustainability of our aquifers.

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‘It is a lost heritage’

Vernal Falls. Photo by Implosiveblue/Wikimedia

Reader Bob Shellenberger laments Stockton’s somewhat severed connection to Yosemite National Park.

He writes:

“California’s two major tourist attractions in the late 1800s were the Calaveras Grove of Big Trees and Yosemite (originally Yo Semite) Valley. The route to both went through Stockton. To visit Yosemite, you either took ‘the train of cars’ to Stockton or came by river boat (my favorite). From Stockton another railroad extended as far as Milton. From there, it was by stage coach to Chinese Camp and the Big Oak Flat route on to Yosemite.

“Stockton was, indeed, the original gateway to Yosemite and the city reflected its pride in this association. The appellation Yosemite was once in common use throughout the city, and, as noted, still includes the name of one of Stockton’s streets.

“It is a lost heritage. Thanks for remembering.”

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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