Water Politics and Immigration Debate Collide

Photo retrieved from: www.palmspringslife.com

“With California in the throes of a historic drought, those issues are converging here in the Coachella Valley, a place best known for its lush resorts and the Coachella Music Festival, but also home to a $600 million dollar agriculture industry.

Many of the farm workers here live off the grid in makeshift mobile home parks that are not connected to the water and sewer systems most Americans take for granted.

Water shortages across California have put a greater strain on groundwater resources in these communities — increasing the concentration of contaminants in the well water that they depend on. But the politics of piping clean water to these homes, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, are complicated. Many of the families are of mixed status, some legal and some not, sparking debate over the amount of taxpayer funds that should be spent.

Congressman Raul Ruiz, who grew up in this valley as the son of farm workers and became a doctor, said there are serious health issues at stake within these communities, which he and other activists describe as a cornerstone of the U.S. economy.

In the midst of the drought, he said, many of the farm workers who live here must pull more water from the wells: “and these wells already have arsenic, chromium, selenium and other contaminants in the water. What you’re doing is you’re increasing the concentration of these contaminants in the well water that humans are consuming.”

“They live in a completely different reality of water issues than the rest of the state,” Ruiz said. In some areas, he said, “we have six times more than the limit of arsenic that is considered safe for human consumption.”

The congressman and non-profit groups have advocated for public and private dollars to be put toward cleaning up the water in the mobile home parks throughout the Valley. Last year, Ruiz secured more than $7 million worth of U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to help deal with the issue. But he argues it deserves far more attention — which is not a simple matter in the midst of roiling immigration debate.”

Read more: CNN


California Farmers Fight for Century-Old Claims to Water

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“The California State Water Resources Control Board in June told holders of claims staked more than a century ago to turn off the spigots or face daily fines of as much as $1,000 and $2,500 per acre-foot. The agency then was hit by at least five lawsuits.

The warnings came as a four-year, record-setting drought squeezed California’s $43 billion agricultural industry and led to mandatory, statewide water restrictions for the first time. Cattle rancher Mario Arnaudo lost the main supply he used to irrigate 700 acres (280 hectares) of alfalfa and pasture grass when his district, which held water rights more than a century old, cut him off after getting a notice.

“That’s all our income,” said Arnaudo, 21, whose family has owned his ranch east of San Francisco since the 1960s. “If this continues, we’ll have to sell off a lot of our herd and start laying off our employees.”

There are about 14,620 so-called senior water right claims, according to Timothy Moran, a water board spokesman. Some predate 1914, when permitting laws were established.

The state has sent notices to holders of about 300 of those claims for whom there’s no water to accommodate them. Fifty-five percent have agreed to comply, Moran said.

Stratified System

California’s hierarchical system for doling out water favors those who hold rights older than 1914. Those with claims after 1914 are typically the first and only group to face curbs in a shortage. They began getting notices in April.

“It does point to the severity of the drought and the fact that we need to get to the next level of water-rights users,” said Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources at the University of California. “Some of it’s posturing and putting up a fight and saying, ‘Look, we’re not going to take this easily.”

For Jeff Shields, general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District in Manteca, it seems wrong that the state has told farmers they can no longer take water to which they’ve had access since Millard Fillmore was president. The agency is suing the state.”

Read more: Bloomberg


$1.3 Billion L.A. River Habitat Restoration Plan Unanimously Approved in D.C.

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“The ongoing efforts to revitalize the L.A. River reached another milestone today, as the $1.3 billion river habitat restoration plan outlined by the city was unanimously approved this morning by the Civil Works Review Board of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington D.C.

“Today is the culmination of more than a decade of work and marks an important milestone in our efforts to restore the Los Angeles River,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti in a press release. “Because the Army Corps of Engineers has now given its official blessing, we have an opportunity to transform both the river’s aquatic riparian ecosystem and our city.”

A year ago, the plan, known as Alternative 20 of the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study, had been recommended for approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after intense lobbying by Mayor Garcetti, including a conversation with President Obama at the White House. “I think we’re on track for the L.A. River,” the president told the mayor at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The $9.71-million Feasibility Study was initiated in 2006 at the behest of the U.S. Congress. The study initially looked into the 32-mile stretch of the river between San Fernando Valley and the City of Vernon, but its scope is now focused on the 11-mile portion that connects Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles. Soft-bottomed in some sections, it is the area the Army Corps has determined to have the greatest potential for eco-system restoration.

Alternative 20 is the most comprehensive of all options outlined in the study. It will restore approximately 719 acres of habitat, including adding a side channel behind Ferraro Fields, widening of over 300 feet in Taylor Yard, and tributary restoration on the east side of the Arroyo Seco watershed, extensive work on the Piggyback Yard, restoration of the Verdugo Wash, and the wetlands of the Los Angeles State Historic Park. It is projected to cost $1.3 billion, after a cost increase from the original $1.03 billion.

The project will now be sent to the Army Corps’ chief of engineer for approval by November. If approved, it will then be sent to Congress for authorization and appropriation of funds, after which the city and the Army Corps can begin construction.”

Read more: kcet.org


Las Vegas Completing Last Straw to Draw Lake Mead Water

Photo retrieved from: www.abcnews.com

“It took $817 million, two starts, more than six years and one worker’s life to drill a so-called “Third Straw” to make sure glittery casinos and sprawling suburbs of Las Vegas can keep getting drinking water from near the bottom of drought-stricken Lake Mead.

The pipeline, however, won’t drain the largest Colorado River reservoir any faster. It’s designed to ensure that Las Vegas can still get water if the lake surface drops below two existing supply intakes.

“You turn on the tap, you don’t think about it,” said Noah Hoefs, a pipeline project manager for the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority. “These are the things being done in order to live the lifestyle we want in the places we want to live.”

It’s the latest example of ways the parched West is scrambling to deal with 15 years of unprecedented drought.

California is encouraging homeowners to rip out thirsty lawns and asking farmers to turn off spigots. And in New Mexico, a $550 million pipeline project would supply drinking water to several communities that run the risk of having wells go dry within a decade.

Las Vegas started in 1999 to conserve, reuse and replenish supplies. When Lake Mead water levels plummeted in 2002, regional water officials began drawing up plans for the pipeline.

“Unlike California and our other partners on the river, we are almost entirely reliant on Lake Mead,” said John Entsminger, water authority general manager. “We couldn’t afford to wait.”

Sin City gets about 90 percent of its drinking water from the lake behind Hoover Dam, itself an engineering marvel that cost the lives of about 100 workers during five years of construction before it was completed in 1936.

The need for the new pipeline can be seen in the wide white mineral band marking rock canyon walls where lake water has receded and the sun-bleached docks at abandoned marinas, left high and dry.

The water level has dropped almost the equivalent of a 20-story building since Lake Mead last topped the dam’s spillways in 1983.”

Read more: abc News


Unnatural Disaster: How Global Warming Helped Cause India’s Catastrophic Flood

Photo retrieved from: www.e360.yale.edu

“The flood had severed the eight-mile footpath to Kedarnath from the rest of India. Kaul took a bus to Guptkashi, the closest town with public transport, but nearly 25 miles short of Kedarnath. He continued on foot, astonished at the scale of destruction even so far downstream. The flood had passed through Kedarnath and surged down the Mandakini, joined by swollen tributaries, gathering force and debris. Kaul saw bare abutments where bridges had stood and foundationless houses dangling above landslide scars. Thirty hydroelectric plants had been damaged or destroyed.

About four miles shy of Kedarnath, he came to the former site of Rambara, a way station that once had about 100 seasonal shopping stalls and several small hotels. Pilgrims had rested there over sweet, milky tea and fried flatbreads and bought camping supplies and religious trinkets. Kaul saw only an empty shelf of bedrock strewn with boulders. “One couldn’t imagine there’d been anything there,” he said later.

Some of of Kedarnath’s steel-reinforced concrete guesthouses and stuccoed fieldstone homes survived better. Still, nearly three quarters of its 259 buildings had been damaged. More than half had been battered and washed away. The flood took most of its victims in Kedarnath, the season’s first pilgrims. “They were still finding dead people,” Kaul recalled, noting that he had smelled rotting flesh and watched relief workers excavate a severed leg.

Kaul climbed steep hills to an overlook about 2,000 feet above the town. The top of a hulking mountain, nearly 23,000 feet tall and crowned by Chorabari glacier, appeared. It blocked the sky at the head of the valley. At an inflection point, where the slope leveled off, a vast tongue of ice stretched out for a mile. Kaul looked for Chorabari Tal. It should have been visible below him, near the tongue’s tip. But there was no lake to be seen.

Titanic geologic forces had forged Chorabari Tal during the widespread cold spell that lasted from about 1300 to 1870 and is known as the Little Ice Age. The glacier had bulldozed stone into linear piles — moraines — jammed between the advancing tongue and the valley’s bedrock rim. The ice had then receded, leaving the lake’s lens-shaped basin, a depression with no outlet. Rain and melted snow filled it every spring and summer. At times, water drained out through the porous moraine, and the water level dropped.

Now, as Kaul looked down, he saw that the basin was empty. He knew what had occurred: The moraine had ruptured, letting loose the lake’s entire contents in a catastrophic spasm.”

Read more: Yale Environment 360

Environment takes big hit from water-intensive marijuana cultivation

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“Led by researchers from the Nature Conservancy, the study included significant UC Berkeley contributions from freshwater fish ecologist Stephanie Carlson, an associate professor of environmental sciences, policy and management; stream ecologist Mary Power, a professor of integrative biology; ecohydrologist Sally Thompson, an assistant professor of environmental engineering; and applied mathematician David Dralle, a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering.

“The environmental harm caused by marijuana cultivation has largely been ignored, but this is a mistake,” said Carlson. “Marijuana is a thirsty crop that often relies on surface water diversions during California’s summer dry season. While many of our native aquatic organisms are adapted to California’s Mediterranean seasonality, the combination of our current drought and summer water diversions for marijuana could be a one-two punch that drives declines in several sensitive populations.”

Marijuana “green rush”

Much of the work by the UC Berkeley researchers has been conducted in Northern California’s Eel River watershed, which is on the brink of recovery from the damaging effects of half a century of logging and soil erosion.

“The sad fact is that the Eel and coastal rivers like it are on a knife edge,” said Power, who studies food webs in rivers and their tributaries. “All of these wonderful native fishes are on the brink of coming back, and it is very frustrating that their recovery – which has taken 50 years and is actually a fairly encouraging recovery for the fish and for the older Eel habitat – is being derailed by the marijuana ‘green rush’.”

According to government figures, California produces an estimated 60 percent of the marijuana consumed in the United States. In this state, marijuana is primarily grown outdoors in remote forested watersheds. In the state’s north coast region, about 22 liters of water or more per plant per day is used during the growing season, which lasts from June through October.”

Read more: UC Berkeley News Center


Not just Detroit: residents of nearby Michigan city face $11,000 water bills

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“Since last year, the tribulations of neighboring Detroit’s water shutoff program have drawn significant attention worldwide, as tens of thousands of residents faced the threat of the city turning off their tap for owing as little as $150 in overdue water bills.

But Highland Park has endured a water war of its own with daunting, if not more severe, consequences. Thrust into financial insecurity after decades of disinvestment, the city has a problem that residents say they simply cannot afford: Years of dysfunctional service – inconsistent billing, faulty meters, a constantly changing staff – have resulted in some receiving water bills as high as $11,000. (The median income in the city is $19,311.)

Between roughly 2,700 residential and commercial accounts, 129 were assessed water bills of over $10,000, according to Cathy Square, Highland Park city administrator.

“There’s some odd cases where the bills are high,” she says.

Now, residents are being told they have to pay even more for water access – the main item on the agenda for the meeting inside Fogle’s home.

This week, Highland Park’s city council approved rate increases that more than doubled residential bills, a move officials say brings the city back in line with rates it maintained two years ago. For the average household in the city, the quarterly bill will jump from $171 to $376, a 119% increase.

It’s one of several processes in motion to lurch Highland Park forward into the 21st century, officials say. Still, residents say, the cost will keep a necessary resource out of reach for many.”

Read more: The Guardian



Research Confirms Hydroelectric Dams Not Environmentally Friendly After All

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“A new study by University of East Anglia researchers confirms what numerous Indigenous communities have long charged: gigantic hydroelectric dam construction projects are not environmentally friendly, as proponents claim, but in fact pose a profound threat to biodiversity and life in the Amazon.

Widespread Forest Vertebrate Extinctions Induced by a Mega Hydroelectric Dam in Lowland Amazonia was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. The paper examines the environmental impact of Brazil’s Balbina Dam—which is located near the city of Manaus in the Amazonas state and is one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world.

The construction of the dam in the 1980s transformed what used to be a lush rainforest forest landscape into an “artificial archipelago of 3,546 islands,” explains a summary of the research.

Not surprisingly, when hundreds of square miles of jungle were flooded with water, the wildlife who called that forest home—including mammals, birds, and tortoises—suffered dramatic population loss, with large vertebrates completely disappearing from almost all of the artificial islands, the report concludes.”

Furthermore, the summary explains, “Of the 3,546 islands created, only 25 are now likely to harbour at least four fifths of all 35 target species surveyed in the study.”

“Hydroelectric dams have been thought to be an environmentally friendly source of renewable power—and in recent years they have been built to supply the burgeoning energy demands of emergent tropical countries,” lead author Dr. Maíra Benchimol said in a press statement. “Our research adds evidence that forest biodiversity also pays a heavy price when large dams are built.”

Read more: Common Dreams


Photo retrieved from: www.nativenewsonline.net

“The Winnemem Wintu tribe, allies and other tribal representatives will be rallying and waving signs outside the 2nd California Water Summit this Monday, June 29, at the Westin Sacramento to protest Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to exclude California tribes, environmentalists and other important stakeholders in this public meeting about massive state water infrastructure projects.

The summit is being advertised by the Brown administration as a conference to discuss the “latest developments including project selection for the $7.5 billion water bond” that is now available after the passage of the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Act of 2014.

Registration for the summit is nearly an astounding $1,500 per person, and there have been no efforts to include tribal representatives, environmentalists or anyone who is advocating for sound water policy that will benefit future generations, local ecosystems and salmon and other fisheries.

No mention of tribal water rights is listed on the agenda, and it seems the only people attending will be water districts’ staff, government scientists, corporate representatives and other advocates for Governor Brown’s pet water projects like the Shasta Dam raise and the twin Delta Tunnels, both of which would be devastating for salmon and tribal cultural resources and sacred sites.”


Read more: Native News Online


No, California won’t run out of water in a year

Cattle ranch

Retrieved from LA Times

“State water managers and other experts said Thursday that California is in no danger of running out of water in the next two years, even after an extremely dry January and paltry snowpack. Reservoirs will be replenished by additional snow and rainfall between now and the next rainy season, they said. The state can also draw from other sources, including groundwater supplies, while imposing tougher conservation measures.

“We have been in multiyear droughts and extended dry periods a number of times in the past, and we will be in the future,” said Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. “In periods like this there will be shortages, of course, but the state as a whole is not going to run dry in a year or two years.”

Read more: LA Times