Environmentalists urge conservation as Calif. lawmakers bicker over drought

SACRAMENTO Calif. Tue Jun 10, 2014 6:51pm EDT

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SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - Drought-stricken California could increase its water supply by a third by reusing water that would otherwise go down the drain and saving storm runoff, environmentalists said on Tuesday amid wrangling over the state's response to dry conditions.

The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute came as Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature bickered over whether to ask voters to spend money on new reservoirs and other water storage projects, or concentrate more on conservation and recycling efforts preferred by environmentalists.

“With widespread adoption of available water conservation and efficiency improvements, demand can be met more readily, less expensively, and with less pressure on our tapped-out rivers and groundwater basins," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute sustainability group.

California is in its third year of a catastrophic drought that has forced farmers to fallow 400,000 acres (160,000 hectares) of land, dried up wells and left streams so low that fish have difficulty migrating.

Reusing water from laundry and other efficiency measures would help the state save up to 14 million acre-feet of water a year, the groups said. That is more than a third of the 36 million acre-feet the groups say can safely be used most years. California currently draws about 43 million acre-feet a year, with urban areas using 9 million, their data showed.

The report came a day after a coalition of Northern California leaders called on the Legislature to include funding for new storage facilities, including reservoirs, in a bond measure lawmakers hope to put before state voters in November.

To make the ballot, the bond measure must be passed by lawmakers and signed by Governor Jerry Brown by June 26, but negotiations have bogged down as Republicans fight for reservoirs and other storage projects, and Democrats push for conservation and recycling projects.

A deal in the state Senate to include funding for a reservoir appeared to be coming together this week, but was not finalized by Monday, a source close to the negotiations said.

A water bond is already slated to go before voters in November, but its $11 billion price tag is unpopular. The new one would replace it.

Brown, a Democrat who has steered a centrist course on spending, has said he would support a bond only if it were structured to win support from lawmakers and the public.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (2)
pebowles wrote:
The report contains exactly zero examples of a particular crop or region where these magic “improved” techniques will save water. Farmers already have spent hundreds of millions for system improvements, and the techniques of irrigation timing are well known and practiced already. No doubt even more progress can be made (not nearly to the extent the authors claim); but not if the farmers go out of business because they get no water. All this report is is a bunch of loose generalities and looser conclusions, with absolutely no specifics.

Jun 11, 2014 2:44pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
FarmWater wrote:
Beware offers of easy money, rapid weight loss, and simple California water solutions. Environmental interest groups, like Pacific Institute and NRDC have sought for years to sell the public a message of vast waste, which when eliminated – will solve our every water woe. Unfortunately, this report is more of the same. Previous research on which agricultural water conservation potential in this report was soundly dismissed by leading agricultural researchers in 2009. There simply isn’t 5 million acre-feet of water being wasted by the farmers growing our food and fiber.

Where appropriate, and as feasible, California’s farmers are already investing ind rip and precision irrigation, soil moisture monitoring, and irrigation scheduling. From 2003 through 2013 California farmers have invested about $3 billion upgrading the irrigation systems on almost 2.5 million acres.

Farmers are also intelligently selecting furrow irrigation, which, when coupled with laser leveling, adept irrigation practices, and careful monitoring has been proven by irrigation researchers to be highly efficient. Growers choose their irrigation methods based on the crop, the terrain, the geology, as well as economics. They manage that water to ensure optimal plant health, food and fiber productivity, as well as cost.

The water problems facing our state demand serious solutions.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Jun 11, 2014 2:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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California's historic drought

With reservoirs at record lows, California is in the midst of the worst drought in decades.  Slideshow