Shasta Lake

Shasta Lake on Feb. 1, 2014 with 1.65 milion acre feet of storage.

Some California runoff being stored; just not all of it

Warning: I’m going to jump around a bit, but there’s a point here, so stick with me.

Recent rains in California have helped some reservoir levels so much that state and federal water regulators have finally agreed to increase pumping from the Delta region to off-stream storage sites such as San Luis Reservoir.

While the increased pumping from the Delta is not every bit of what agriculture has been asking for it’s certainly a good step in the right direction. Let’s store the water coming in so it can be used by agriculture, rather than simply letting excess amounts – those over and above what is needed to hold salinity levels in the Delta at bay – surge out to sea as has happened several times this winter.

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California Senator Dianne Feinstein praised the move, even though she has not always been on agriculture’s side in water matters. Feinstein is quoted in one newspaper as saying she hopes the move will provide 500,000 acre feet of water of storage for San Luis Reservoir. That’s a good start.

Since I visited Shasta Dam in early February and took pictures of the lake with its ancient dam construction structures showing (towers typically 100 feet below the surface at full pool), nearly 600,000 acre feet of storage have been added to the reservoir. That’s amazing, but it’s happened before. With all the comparisons to 1976-1977 and how this is dryer than it was then, this provides some hope.

The wet weather tap that turned on for brief periods this spring will likely shut off soon, and when it does, we’ll have to rely on captured storage and measured groundwater pumping for our water needs as the year continues. Let’s hope that captured water can help at least some growers. One grower recently told me that even a little surface water this August would save his bacon and likely keep him from pumping his aquifer dry.

In a totally unrelated water story, the Interior Department reports that a major project on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico will provide much-needed water to Navajos living north of Gallup. The Tohlakai Pumping Plant is being built to deliver clean, safe drinking water to the Navajo Nation.  The project was apparently placed on a high-priority list by the Obama Administration, where it would be “expedited through the permitting and environmental review process.”

Meanwhile, back in California, projects for similar purposes that would also help sustain the state’s massive agricultural economy must slog through their usual and unnecessary processes and environmental reviews.

As noble and necessary as a massive water project on the Navajo Nation is, California has proven that it too can set aside onerous regulations and streamline permitting and review processes to build projects people want. We’ve done it for sports stadiums, now let’s do it for the water infrastructure we so desperately need.



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