We want to save water — but how much?

Californians are well aware of the drought. More than two-thirds say it’s a big problem in their part of the state, with Northern Californians generally more concerned than Southern Californians, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released tonight.

But the poll also reveals that most people aren’t sure exactly how much water they’re supposed to be conserving.

That number depends on where they live and who their water supplier is. And only 30 percent of all adults surveyed said they know their conservation goal. Folks in L.A. were the least likely to know (24 percent) with residents of the Bay Area and the Central Valley the most likely to know (38 percent and 35 percent, respectively).

I don’t know how reasonable it is to expect random people who pick up the phone to know the exact percentage reduction required where they live. Those mandates, after all, range from 4 percent to 36 percent depending on how much water each community has already saved. I have trouble remembering some of the Stockton-area targets without looking them up, and it’s my job to know this stuff.

Nevertheless, “an unwritten goal is just a wish.” So reads the quote beneath my wife’s photo in her high school yearbook. It’s tough to hit a target when you don’t know what it is.

Then there’s the whole Nor Cal-So Cal rift. Not only are the folks down south less likely to know how much water they are supposed to save, but they are also less likely to consider the drought to be a “big problem” in the first place. (Central Valley = 76 percent; Bay Area = 73 percent; Orange County/San Diego = 68 percent; Inland Empire = 64 percent; and L.A. = 62 percent.)

Southern Californians are also less likely to be following drought news closely, the poll suggests.

Strangely, however, they are more likely to say that their neighbors — other people in their own region — should be doing more about the drought. And I’m not quite sure how to explain that.

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Sierra surprise: There’s water

Backpacking in drought years can be a drag. Your body demands fluids, and you long to drink from a cold and sweet source, but the mountains can offer only warm, tepid water from stagnant lakes.

That’s why it was so exciting this weekend to find running water — and lots of it — at Bull Run Lake, elevation 8,300 feet in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness off Highway 4, near Ebbetts Pass.

The north fork of the Stanislaus River was running nicely near Stanislaus Meadow. And tributaries much higher in elevation were flowing as well, even Bull Run Lake’s inlet stream within a half mile of its source.

All of this would seem to be positive news for water users who rely on New Melones Lake, which captures Stanislaus River runoff. The lake today is 24 percent of normal. (Not that a few cubic feet per second from a small stream is going to boost that number very much).

Where’s all this mysterious water coming from? Record outdoors columnist Pete Ottesen says the major Sierra thunderstorms in recent weeks have helped significantly. I wonder if those same thunderstorms also helped to temporarily recharge springs that feed into some of these drainages.

Whatever the cause, prepare for rock-hopping and perhaps even log-crossing if you venture into the Sierra soon. Don’t wait: I wouldn’t bet on these relatively high flows lasting too long.

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Bowl movement

If you lived through the drought of the late 70s or the drought of the late 80s and early 90s, you remember the ol’ brick in the toilet trick.

Problem is, we now know the brick in the toilet isn’t such a good idea. Bricks decompose in water and foul up the plumbing.

So, meet the 21st century equivalent: Drop-A-Brick.

That’s Paula Sison, with the nonprofit Rising Sun Energy Center, explaining how the rubber Drop-A-Brick works. It’s a pretty simple concept: Fill the “brick” up with water, dunk it in the toilet tank and you’ll get all the water savings of a regular brick, without the plumbing problems.

Of course, you could do this with a bottle or some other container. But this thing actually looks like a brick. How cool is that? It’s a nod to a tradition that is etched into California’s drought culture.

How can I get a Drop-A-Brick, you might ask? You can order one for $15. Or, better yet, sign up for one of Rising Sun’s free energy and water-use assessments, offered in Stockton for the first time last fall and again this summer until Aug. 6. If you’ve got a somewhat thirsty toilet — 1.6 gallons per flush or more — then you’ll have the choice of selecting a Drop-A-Brick as your free gift at the end of the visit.

Rising Sun has conducted these assessments for 15 years in the Bay Area, but Stockton is the only market right now where the nonprofit is testing the Drop-A-Brick. Aren’t we special?

I sense a worthy community project here. Call it a bowl movement.

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Animation persuasian

The state has produced some fancy new visual simulations of Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised twin tunnels plan.

The new-look intakes on the Sacramento River:

The “end of the line” at Clifton Court Forebay:

So you can read the 9,000-plus-page EIR over the next 40 days, or you can spend 7 minutes and 4 seconds watching a couple of YouTube videos.

Your call.

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‘A major ruling’

Richard Frank, a professor at the U.C. Davis Environmental Law & Policy Center, weighs in on yesterday’s legal decision blocking the state’s process for curtailing water rights during the drought:

“This is a major ruling, one that casts doubt upon the Board’s long-term ability to enforce its May and June 2015 Curtailment Orders against any of the water rights holders to whom such orders have been issued.

“Of the legal claims asserted by the water districts in these lawsuits, the argument that the Curtailment Orders cannot be enforced without a ‘pre-deprivation (administrative) hearing’ has always been the strongest.

“Given its current, limited personnel and budgetary resources, it seems doubtful that the Board will be able to provide the ‘pre-deprivation hearings’ called for in Judge Change’s order. So it’s unclear whether or how the Board will be able to enforce its Curtailment Orders.

“The big question is whether the Board will seek immediate appellate review of this trial court order. I, for one, think it should.”

If you haven’t seen it, here is the judge’s ruling.

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New look for Smith Canal?

Two visual simulations give us some idea of what the proposed flood-control gate at the mouth of Smith Canal might look like.

First, a boater’s view from the middle of Atherton Cove, looking west toward Dad’s Point:


Future with gate

And now, a look from a private dock along Atherton Cove, a bit closer to the gate:


Future with gate

For perspective, the gate would rise out of the water anywhere from 8.5 feet to 12.5 feet depending on the tide, according to a new environmental impact report.

Wednesday night’s scoping meeting attracted about 40 people, most of whom informally indicated they supported the plan ahead of two other alternatives. Public comments are accepted until Aug. 10.

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‘The flying is so beautiful, it overpowers your fear’

Professional skydiver and BASE jumper Jhonathan Florez, who has Lodi connections, died in a training jump on Friday in Switzerland.

We wrote about him in today’s newspaper. In this video, though, you can hear Florez in his own words describe what it’s like to jump, and why he did it.

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Delta voluntary cuts challenged

The latest lawsuit by a water district with senior rights is significantly different from its predecessors.

While the districts all argue that the state’s curtailment of those so-called “pre-1914 rights” are illegal, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District is the first to challenge the voluntary 25 percent reduction program in which more than 200 Delta growers have reportedly enrolled.

In its lawsuit filed June 26 in Contra Costa County Superior Court,  BBID calls the 25 percent plan a “scheme,” saying it’s not fair for the State Water Resources Control Board to waive enforcement against some farmers while threatening enforcement against others.

BBID also questions the riparian rights claimed by the Delta growers, saying that many of the lands involved in the voluntary program “do not appear to be contiguous to a watercourse” and that landowners have not provided evidence that the water rights for those non-contiguous properties still exist.

All of this “significantly injures” BBID, since the Delta farmers’ thirst plays into the water board’s calculation that there is no longer enough water available for other senior right holders, the lawsuit says.

I asked George Hartmann, one of the attorneys who helped cobble together the 25 percent plan, if he was concerned about the lawsuit.

No, he said.

The state board didn’t agree to exempt Delta growers from future curtailments, Hartmann said; the board merely agreed not to bring enforcement against those who decided to participate.

And that’s the board’s right, Hartmann said.

“To argue they don’t have prosecutorial discretion, I don’t think you’re going to get too far with that one,” he said.

As for BBID’s claim that the riparian rights simply aren’t there, Hartmann said the state is requiring proof of riparian rights to enroll growers in the 25 percent program.

“They (state officials) are not sitting idly by,” he said. “If somebody’s not riparian, they’re going to get kicked out.”

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Engineer: Backup water supply for Mountain House was ‘not considered necessary’

Lynn Sutton, a civil engineer who worked for Mountain House developer Trimark and for the Mountain House Community Services District from 1988 to 2003, comments on Sunday’s story about the master-planned community’s water problems:

“When the community of Mountain House was first contemplated in 1988, I advised the then project manager for Trimark that, among other items, an adequate water supply was very important.  I directed him to meet with Tom Shephard who was an attorney specializing in water rights.  At that meeting, Tom indicated that (Byron-Bethany Irrigation District) did have established pre-1914 water rights, which at that time was considered a very reliable source of water.  So reliable that it satisfied state requirements for a secure water supply.  I don’t recall ever that there was talk of a backup source of water.  It was not considered necessary.

“It should be understood that a previous major development called “Diablo Grande” located in Stanislaus County was the actual ”poster child” on water supply.  When the project was approved, there was no defined plan for providing water to the project.  The state took notice of this, and from then on all proposed developments were required to demonstrate that a reliable source of water must be secured before the development was approved.  Mountain House did comply by demonstrating that a secure and reliable source was available from BBID.

“One issue that came up was for Trimark to include a “dual water system” as part of the development.  Trimark fought this idea mainly because of the cost of installing the system. The dual system basically would have taken treated effluent from the wastewater treatment plan and use it to irrigate parks and public open space.  If Trimark would have been required to install such a system, the water demand on BBID would have been significantly less.  It was this issue that brought a lot of complaints from state and local officials, not the fact that Mountain House did not have a backup water supply.

“When the project was approved by the Board of Supervisors on November 10, 1994, I believe there were six unresolved items that county staff and Trimark could not agree on.  They were brought before the board for their final decision.  I don’t recall an adequate water supply was one of those issues.

“Your quote of Ed Simas is fairly accurate.  I feel that the state has fallen down in its responsibility in planning for the California’s future water needs.  What we are experiencing today clearly indicates that more source of water and more storage reservoirs are needed.

“Typically water systems provide storage for (1) fire flow, (2) peak hourly demands, and (3) equalizing flows in the distribution system.  Providing storage for “drought conditions” is simply not feasible.”


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Confused about curtailments? Read the docs

Updated July 11 with judge’s ruling granting a ‘stay’ to the Westside Irrigation District, Woods Irrigation Co. and Central Delta/South Delta water agency

I’m no lawyer. So I’m sure not going to offer an opinion on the new debate over exactly what it means to receive a “curtailment notice.”

But I can post the documents, and leave the opining to you. Good deal, huh?

More legal documents concerning the curtailment of pre-1914 water right holders in California are coming in every day, so I’ll be updating this post as needed.

Banta-Carbona Irrigation District

a) Complaint filed against the State Water Resources Control Board: Click here.

b) Water district’s request for a ‘stay’: Click here.

c) Declaration of state water board’s John O’Hagan in opposition to water district’s response for ‘stay’: Click here.

d) Water board’s motion for change of venue: Click here.

e) Judge’s decision granting change of venue:  Click here.

f) Byron-Bethany Irrigation District letter concluding that a “curtailment notice” does not require water users to stop diverting. Letter includes copy of water board’s opposition to Banta-Carbona stay request: Click here. (In particular, see pages 3-4 and pages 7-8 of state’s opposition, the portions that appear to have prompted Byron-Bethany’s letter concluding that a “curtailment notice” is “not an actual curtailment.”)

Patterson Irrigation District

a) Complaint against the State Water Resources Control Board: Click here.

b) Water district’s request for a stay: Click here.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District/Oakdale Irrigation District/San Joaquin Tributaries Authority

a) Complaint against the State Water Resources Control Board: Click here.

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District

a) Complaint against the State Water Resources Control Board: Click here.

Westside Irrigation District/Woods Irrigation Co./Central Delta Water Agency/South Delta Water Agency

a) Request for a stay blocking State Water Resources Control Board’s curtailment orders: Click here.

b) Declaration of Westside farmer Jack Alvarez: Click here.

c) Declaration of hydrologist Thomas Burke: Click here.

d) Declaration of Wetside foreman Richard Martinez: Click here.

e) Judge’s ruling granting a temporary restraining order preventing the State Water Resources Control Board from enforcing curtailments associated with this case: Click here.

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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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