Stockton MUD water savings fall to 11 percent

Record file photo

Add Stockton to the long list of communities where water conservation efforts are waning.

Stockton MUD officials have released numbers for August showing 11 percent savings. One month earlier, residents saved 23 percent.

In August 2015, during the worst of the drought, the number was 25 percent. And in June of that year it was 41 percent.

The city’s 11-percent performance in August marked the lowest savings rate in this  region. A more useful way to look at it, however, is that Stockton MUD customers used about 141 gallons per person per day — less than Tracy (151), Lodi (173) and Ripon (299), but substantially more than Cal Water customers in central Stockton (86 gallons per person).

The increase in water use comes two months after Stockton MUD and most other suppliers in California were allowed to ditch their mandatory state-imposed conservation targets. Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said earlier this month that the state is now on “yellow alert” as a result.

Officials have warned that mandatory targets could be imposed once more next year if the state continues to move in the wrong direction. That’s why September’s numbers, which should be released just after the beginning of November, will be so interesting. Stay tuned.

(For those who really pay attention to this stuff, for some reason MUD’s numbers weren’t included with the water board’s usual monthly report. I asked MUD for the numbers independently, and city staff provided them.)

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Cowin on tunnels subsidy: ‘I can put that to rest’

9:50 a.m. — Updated to fix typo in Cowin’s quote

Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources, told water planners in Los Angeles on Monday that the state will not seek a federal subsidy for the Delta tunnels.

Cowin’s comments came after tunnels opponents last month released a draft economic analysis of the project by economist David Sunding, a consultant for the state. Sunding’s report suggested that a hefty government subsidy would be needed for the tunnels to pencil out, which would run contrary to the state’s longstanding position that water users who benefit from the tunnels must pay the full cost.

Here’s what Cowin told board members of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California:

“There’s an overwhelming amount of public benefit in this project relative to the cost. So it’s not surprising to me that Dr. Sunding, an economist, would look at that great benefit and ponder why there wouldn’t be a governmental investment in this project. Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time there’s been a direct state or federal investment in a big water project.

“But I want to be clear: This was Dr. Sunding’s suggestion. You will not find that suggestion in any future draft or final report that comes from the state of California. So I can put that to rest. We’re not asking for a big $4 billion federal subsidy for this project.”

Cowin called the tunnels a “no-brainer” for urban water users but acknowledged they’re a tougher call for farmers.

At the same meeting, a member of MWD’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee attempted to make a formal motion requiring staff to return in November with information about how tunnels costs would be allocated among Metropolitan’s water agencies. He said requests for that important information have been ignored dating back six months.

The motion never made it to a vote, however; instead, the committee chair responded that the allocation issue was not on the agenda as an action item. After an angry outburst from his colleague on the board, the chair said it would be considered as a future agenda item.

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Easy does it

Photo courtesy Port of Stockton

This undated photo, which I grabbed from a recent Port of Stockton presentation, shows the view from the bridge of a massive oceangoing ship as it attempts to navigate a hyacinth-choked Deep Water Ship Channel.

Would you want to steer that thing in those conditions?

The photo goes a long way toward explaining why the port has followed hyacinth issues so closely in recent years. Sometimes, at night in October or November when hyacinth concentrations tend to increase, the ships cannot move through the channel at all because their radar can’t distinguish between mats of floating hyacinth and dry land. And lost time equals lost money.

At a legislative oversight hearing chaired by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani last week in Stockton, state officials said they continue to work on the hyacinth with the help of satellite images that are now helping them better target their spraying efforts. They said they are on track to reach their maximum allowed spraying acreage once again in 2016, thanks to the hiring of new technicians and the purchase of new boats and equipment.

So far, so good.

“This year the season appears to be better,”said Claude Pellarin, owner of Village West Marina, which hauled 500 tons of hyacinth out of its own marina last year alone.

Galgiani agreed that there has been improvement.

“I’ve had people tell me it’s been visibly much better in our area.,” she said. “We are making progress, and that’s wonderful news.”


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Would you walk down this street?

"Walk more" billboard along East Market Street near Aurora Street

This photo begs the question: Would it be wise to create walkable communities before spending money to promote walking?

Moments before I snapped this picture of a larger-than-life San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott smiling down from a billboard, I watched as a little girl with a backpack carefully stepped across the mattress and box springs that blocked the sidewalk on Market Street just east of Aurora Street in downtown Stockton.

When it comes to walking this neighborhood, navigating discarded mattresses may be the least of the little girl’s problems. This is a rough part of town. Drug paraphernalia litters the gutters. Questionable characters inhabit the park across the street. Maybe a year ago, my car was broken into less than two blocks to the west.

Sure, there are sidewalks. But does that alone make this a walkable neighborhood?

Elliott serves on the governing board of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which commonly uses billboards to advertise its clean-air mission. And the district’s efforts don’t end with PR: Policies require employers of a certain size to encourage carpooling and other clean-air habits. Developers are required to build homes in a way that encourages less driving and more walking.

Sadly, the corner of Market Street and Aurora Street is not a blank slate.

If people in this neighborhood walk the streets, my guess is it’s not because they want to. They walk because they don’t have a choice. This billboard is targeted toward those who drive, and all the outreach in the world might not be enough for them to step out of their vehicles — at least, not here.

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Meet the new neighbors; MWD comes to town

Polite pleasantries were exchanged. A chocolate brownie was offered as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift.

But in the end, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s visit to the belly of the beast — i.e., downtown Stockton, where the Delta Protection Commission met on Thursday night — revealed few new insights about the southland’s recent purchase of 20,000 acres of land in the Delta.

Randy Record, chair of Metropolitan’s Board of Directors, acknowledged that portions of the land could help facilitate Gov. Jerry Brown’s twin tunnels project, which the commission opposes.

But he also said the islands might be even more important if the tunnels aren’t built. Possible uses include fortifying levees to protect L.A.’s water as it passes through the Delta, and restoring wildlife habitat in an effort to improve the Delta’s ecosystem.

Why would the Met care about the health of the Delta? Because the amount of water it can squeeze out of the estuary has been limited by the collapse of the environment.

“We need to help figure out what’s going on here as far as the ecosystem is concerned,” Record said. “We want to be part of a project that helps get things back on track.”

Little has changed since the $175 million purchase was consummated two months ago, he said. Metropolitan has not terminated any farming leases. The land manager who worked for the previous owner is still on the job.  “It’s business as usual,” Record said.

Asked by commissioners about property taxes, he said Metropolitan has “every intention” of paying them.

Steve Arakawa, the Met’s manager for Delta initiatives, said there is “no blueprint” for what to do with the islands. “We don’t have a master plan,” he said.

And, he said, Metropolitan doesn’t want to isolate itself from its new neighbors.

“We hope this is a start in terms of talking about these things,” he said.

Critics of the Met did some talking of their own on Thursday. Delta levee engineer Chris Neudeck asked the commission why Metropolitan did not support a recent bill to indefinitely extend state funding to bolster levees.

“Now that they bought four islands, why aren’t they participating as a good neighbor?” Neudeck said.

(Arakawa responded that Metropolitan opposed the bill because the district wants to see the state’s separate process to prioritize levee investments play out first.)

Others were skeptical that Metropolitan’s intentions were as benevolent as they sounded. A speaker, whose name I didn’t quite catch, began by saying he wanted to quote Mark Twain. Thankfully, it wasn’t the old “whiskey is for drinking” cliche that Twain may never even have uttered.

Instead, the quote was, “When somebody comes explicitly to do you good, you should run like hell.”

All in all, though, it was a civil, if not terribly enlightening, discussion. Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson even brought a brownie for Record, the Metropolitan chairman. Record accepted it with thanks.

Alas, he took it for the road, leaving before he had a chance to hear public comments, much to the dismay of some Delta advocates.

They’d been hoping to get to know their new neighbor just a bit better.

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I’m ready for this — are you?

Snow falls on Sonora Pass today. Photo courtesy the Dodge Ridge Ski Area

Snow fell at Sonora Pass today, the first sandhill cranes have arrived in the Delta and the high temperature in Stockton is in the upper 70s.

If we haven’t turned the corner after another long summer, we’re darned close.

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The man who spread straw, and hope

Michael Kriletich in 2009

Calaveras County farmer and activist Michael Kriletich died a few days ago.

I’m hardly the one to write a news obituary about him. I only met Michael once, in fact. But the impression that he left with me — and the fact that I’d exchanged emails with him just a couple of weeks ago — left me stunned at his passing.

I met Michael last fall on a scarred and blackened hillside outside Mountain Ranch. He and his son, Sean, and a handful of other volunteers, were spreading straw to prevent erosion in the wake of the Butte Fire.

Most of the Butte Fire burned on private land. It was up to property owners to prevent erosion. But many, understandably, felt paralyzed in the wake of the fire. They didn’t know what to do next.

In stepped Michael and Sean. They secured the straw from a rice farmer in the Valley. They arranged for a trucker to pick it up for next to nothing. They stockpiled the straw in the fire area, and then the best part: They rolled up their sleeves, strapped on their boots, and got dirty.

Michael and I chatted while he tossed heavy bales of straw from the back of a pickup. He wasn’t a young man, and it was hard work. Not that he was complaining. Michael spent the time talking about the importance of saving the watershed, of preserving the soil before winter storms washed it into the river.

He also spoke poignantly of all of the people he had encountered while doing this work. Their stories. The carpenter who lost everything in the blaze, down to his very last hammer. The family who lost their stunning, Eden-like landscaping.

Despite the sad stories, Michael told me, he saw a lot of joy as well.

“People are so appreciative of it (the straw),” he said. “They say it gives them hope.”

Michael and the gang were still working when I left late that afternoon. By then the ash was smudged across their faces, broken only by tiny rivulets of sweat.

I hardly knew Michael, really. But I learned everything I needed to know about him that afternoon. The best part is that every town, every community has someone like that ready to step up during the darkest of days. And that should be a comfort to us all.

Michael Kriletich and friends spread straw on a Butte Fire-blackened hillside last fall.

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Ready, set, flow

Biologists check for salmon at the rotary screw trap on the Stanislaus River near Escalon. Record file photo

San Joaquin County is gearing up for the next big water tussle — new flow requirements on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, including the Stanislaus.

By definition, if more water must stay in the river, then water users must take less. So you can see why this will be a big deal. KQED does a good job explaining.

I’ve been hearing these new rules are imminent, but I’ve also been hearing that for, like, two months. So who knows when we’ll actually see them.

Water users who may be harmed, however, are already stating their case — or certainly preparing to do so.

Last week, San Joaquin County’s water commission agreed to spend $20,000 for a consultant to study possible economic impacts. The consultant, Stratecon’s Rod Smith, perhaps better known as the “Hydrowonk,” is already doing such a study for neighboring Stanislaus County. San Joaquin will basically piggyback on that study.

Officials in Stanislaus are very worried about the new flow rules. In San Joaquin, the situation is a little different; we’re not all in the same boat, so to speak.

Many farmers on the east side of the county may stand to receive less river water from the Stanislaus. A number of local cities rely in part on the Stanislaus as well, including Escalon, Manteca, Tracy and Stockton (though the latter city is at the end of the line — Stockton hasn’t gotten a drop from the Stanislaus for the past two years).

On the other hand, any additional flows left in the river may benefit downstream farmers in the Delta, on the west side of the county. And any increase in water quality downstream could also help Stockton, since the city now draws a significant share of its drinking water from the estuary.

It’ll be interesting to see how hard San Joaquin County hits this issue, given the potential east-west divide. Though the $20,000 study was approved, three members of the commission abstained. That’s a bit unusual.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District, which holds senior water rights on the Stanislaus, is also preparing for a fight. Last week, Fishbio, the fish consultants who work with the water district, announced that populations of rainbow trout (also known as steelhead, if they’re migratory) are at their lowest level in six years. That’s despite rules that took effect in 2009 that are supposed to help fish.

You can bet this will be a part of South San Joaquin’s case against the new flow standards.

For context, however, as my former colleague Dana Nichols reports, the farmers are the ones who divert most of the water that is available on the Stan.

Stay tuned. Eventually these rules will be issued. If not “imminently.”

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High Sierra helo rescue

Check out this helicopter rescue of a woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The 66-year-old hiker was suffering symptoms of a stroke, but was able to activate a locator beacon indicating that she was in trouble, the Fresno Bee reported. The California Highway Patrol and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office took it from there.

I’ve seen medical emergencies in the backcountry before. They’re scary. Without that beacon the patient in this case could have gone many hours or even days without treatment. A good reason to carry such a device, if you ask me.

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‘Still an opportunity’ to save the smelt?

Shortly before state water officials announced today that most urban water providers will no longer be subject to mandatory conservation targets, three environmental groups pleaded with the same panel for emergency flows through the Delta to prevent extinction of the smelt.

It’s normal for some smelt to die off this time of year as juveniles mature into adults, Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist with The Bay Institute, told the State Water Resources Control Board.

But something must be done to help a larger share of those babies make it to adulthood this year, he said. Most smelt live only one year, meaning every year is critical to the continuation of the species.

Additional flows would push saltwater back toward Suisun Bay. The smelt, which usually hang out near where freshwater meets saltwater, would head west and thus escape the predator-choked open channels of the interior Delta, among other benefits.

“There is still an opportunity to act to improve survival of this species,” Rosenfield told the board.

Despite understanding the need, water managers have allowed the saltier water to linger farther to the east this summer, the enviros say. And extra water that was promised for smelt about a month ago has not yet materialized.

Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council joined The Bay Institute in formally asking the water board last week for an emergency regulation that would increase Delta outflow to “avoid irreparable harm to the public trust.”

It is widely known that the smelt are close to disappearing from this planet. According to the environmentalists’ petition, the smelt was already at a record-low population in 2014; then, in 2015, the fish plummeted another 90 percent.

It’s unclear precisely where the proposed additional flows would come from. The environmentalists suggest tapping reservoirs other than Lake Shasta, whose supply is critical to keeping the Sacramento River cool for endangered winter-run salmon. They also suggest limiting downstream diversions and reducing exports from the Delta.

Their plan drew a stinging response last week from the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a coalition of water districts that relies on Delta exports. The authority calls the concept of more Delta outflow a “more of the same” approach.

“Despite all of the sacrifice, billions of dollars spent, and millions of acre-feet of water dedicated to Delta smelt, their population decline continues unabated,” the statement says. “Farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists — everyone that truly cares about the status of our imperiled fisheries — should be furious. Decades old state and federal policies have failed and brought Delta smelt and salmon to the brink of extinction.”

On that last sentence, perhaps, some enviros and farmers can agree. But for vastly different reasons.

Water board officials said they will discuss the request.

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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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