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By Tim Hunt

California's permanent state of drought

Uploaded: Jun 28, 2018

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have declared a permanent state of drought in the Golden State.

The governor signed two bills on May 31 that will limit household water usage, regardless of the winter snowfall or how much water is stored in the reservoirs. The new laws require cities, urban water districts and agricultural districts to set annual water budgets. If agencies use more than the budget, the fines are $1,000 per day in normal times and $10k per day during droughts.

For those of us who lived through earlier drought periods, we remember just how difficult it was for Marin County residents in the 1970s to minimize usage to 50 gallons per day per person. Putting bricks in toilets to save water was common in those times.

In 2030, 50 gallons will be the standard per person. It will be will be 55 gallons per day in 2022. There will be an allotment for outdoor use based on regional climates that has yet to be determined. Remember the challenges East Bay MUD customers in the warmer San Ramon Valley with their larger, landscaped yards faced when the district failed to account for differences between them and customers in Berkeley.

Over many years, state law has stiffened requirements for water-conserving fixtures and appliances. These have limited routine water use. For instance, 1.6 gallons per flush toilets are now the only ones sold in the state. And low-flow shower heads and limited flow faucets are common.

Outdoors using drip systems for landscaping and agriculture, such as grape vines, hardens demand. So, when the inevitable drought occurs, reducing water use is much more challenging.

The rebates for drought-resistant landscaping and efficient toilets and washing machines have the same effect of reducing routine water usage.

One of the canards cited for these new restrictions is climate change. The state already is hitting residents with billions of dollars in additional costs (transportation taxes, utility rates for “clean energy” that must be backed up with fossil fuels-based plants for evening hours or cloudy days or days without winds).

It should be noted that agriculture still uses more than 80 percent of the state’s developed water, which is delivered, primarily, through the state and federal water projects. During the recent drought, with permanent crops such as almond trees, stone fruits and grapevines having replaced annual row crops, there was a race to dig deeper and deeper wells that resulted in land subsiding.

To avoid subsidence, there must be ongoing water sources to replace water that is pumped routinely.

The other big caveat is the abject failure of the governor and the state water bureaucracies to build storage. Voters passed a water bond in 2014 that included funds for storage. To date, no bonds have been issued because no projects have been approved. More storage, both surface such as Sites Reservoir near Colusa (an off-stream facility that would greatly improve the flexibility of operations at Shasta dam to enhance cold water flows for fish) and in groundwater basins is necessary.

Zone 7, which provides wholesale water to the Livermore Valley cities and the Dougherty Valley region of San Ramon, has managed its groundwater basin efficiently for decades (it just celebrated its 60th anniversary). When valley residents voted to form the agency, groundwater was being over-drafted routinely.

The agency will have two new directors next month when retired Zone 7 engineer Dennis Gambs and Oliva Sanwong join the board after winning seats in the June election. Incumbents Bill Stevens and Sarah Palmer (the No. 2 vote-getter) also won re-election.

With new General Manager Valerie Pyror in place along with two new board members, the agency could be taking a fresh look at how it operates. One key statewide issue that the Zone 7 board already supported is the California WaterFix, the one or two tunnels under the Delta to move water from upstream reservoirs to the pumps serving the valley, San Joaquin County and Southern California.

It’s important to understand that, since the State Water Project started running in the 1960s, it has used Delta channels to move water south—forcing a north-south flow through the Delta instead of the east-west natural flows.

That’s one of the major problems the tunnels are designed to solve.

The Independent reported winter-time water use ranged from 56.4 gallons per day in the Dublin San Ramon Services District to 64 gallons per day in Livermore. Pleasanton does not separate internal and external numbers, but its total was 141 gallons per day in 2015.