Pasadena to vote on increased water restrictions Monday

30 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California drought: Farmers’ ‘senior’ water rights under siege.

Sacramento city residents could be limited to once-a-week watering starting in July if the city is unable to meet its state-mandated conservation goals, under a proposal outlined by city officials. Sacramento-area water agencies recently have put in place a flurry of new outdoor watering restrictions to meet mandatory conservation targets set by the state.

STOCKTON >> A 143-year-old piece of paper proves that Rudy Mussi has a legal right to water from the gently meandering Middle River that nourishes his family farm.As the severe drought in California continues, the following water restrictions and provisions of the South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD) Water Conservation Program and the California State Water Resources Control Board Emergency Water Conservation Regulation are mandatory to conserve water resources.California’s water board awarded $30 million in grant money to 32 agencies, mostly school districts, to carry out water conservation projects, the agency announced Friday. “Students will get to see first-hand how stormwater capture systems work right on their campuses.

Nevada Irrigation District is now calling for a 36 percent reduction in residential water use but admitting that it will be hard for customers to reach that goal. Failure to comply may result in a fine. • Outdoor irrigation may only occur between the hours of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and is limited to 20 minutes per zone per day, on your designated watering days. Those steps include stepping up the city’s “water patrols” with increased monitoring during the morning, evening and weekends, as well as greater incentives to get residents to tear out turf. “If this action plan does not achieve the targeted reductions by July 15, 2015, staff will quickly return to Council with a recommendation to implement Stage 3 of the Water Shortage Contingency Plan, which includes one day per week watering restrictions.” All of the region’s large water districts now restrict the number of days their residential customers can water landscaping.

City staff recommended going beyond those restrictions to include prohibitions on washing hard surfaces with potable water and watering turf within two days of measurable amounts of rain, according to staff reports. The venerable “senior rights” enjoyed by Mussi and about 4,000 other farmers, companies and public agencies — some dating back to the Gold Rush — are the latest casualties of the historic drought. Drip or micro irrigation is exempt from this requirement; Properties with street addresses ending with an even number shall irrigate on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; properties with street addresses ending with an odd number shall irrigate on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. The Municipal Services Committee is also asking the city to consider stepping up its enforcement against those who violate the new restrictions; require properties sold in the city to retrofit to meet current water standards; and approve an ordinance requiring new hotels to reuse water from their laundry to irrigate.

Water Operations Manager Chip Close said the regulation calls on district residential water users to reduce use amounts by 36 percent from 2013 baseline levels. The Environmental Advisory Commission in a letter to the City Council instead urged the increasing the restrictions to Level 3 immediately, as reaching 28 percent seemed “a high hurdle.” The city has reduced water usage by roughly 9 percent since implementing restrictions in 2014. State water board officials said Los Angeles Unified’s $5 million share will go toward building rain gardens, installing permeable pavements, and planting drought-tolerant plans. Once thought inviolable, the senior water rights now face their first real challenge in California history — and they are the focus of the latest installment in this newspaper’s series “A State of Drought.” Farmers consume 80 percent of the state’s water used by humans — and the senior rights holders represent slightly less than 10 percent of all growers. No exemptions from the water restrictions shall be given, except to comply with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Best Management Practices (BMPs), necessary to address an immediate health and safety need or to comply with a term or condition in a permit issued by a state or federal agency or as determined by the District to be in the best interest in conserving water resources.

The recommendations include an exemption for trees and shrubbery, as both city staff and residents expressed concerns that limiting water could forever damage the long-standing trees that line many of Pasadena’s streets. But the district has its eye on Paradise’s 20 percent of high water users who use 47 percent of PID’s water supply equal to about 319 gallons a day. According to a staff report, Pasadena Water and Power is reviewing its pay structure for a future council vote that could include a drought penalty for excessive use.

And this month, the state for the first time ordered property owners to provide proof of these rights, triggering anger and a flood of historic and hastily retrieved documents from hundreds of farms, cities and irrigation districts. District General Manager George Barber said he suspects that most of that water is used on over-watering landscape. “Most plants won’t tell you when you use too much water,” Barber said in an email to The Post. “We think that even with a 50 percent reduction (customers’) landscapes can be fine. Most residential users along with businesses and institutions will have to cut back by about 25 percent, though officials believe that number can be achieved with a cutback in outdoor watering. Irrigation water customers have already committed to one-year reductions of nearly 3,000 acre-feet of water, which is roughly a third of the annual usage of the district’s 44,700 residential users in Nevada and Placer counties, Close said.

The San Juan Water District, for instance, calls for using “the minimal amount of water to keep plants and trees alive.” The city of Sacramento says, “no overwatering is permitted on any day.” Prohibitions on uses of treated water include no outdoor residential watering more than two days per week and a ban on outdoor watering that causes runoff.

But Mussi called the state’s “take it or leave” approach “extortion,” noting that he’s already tilled the soil, signed contracts with canneries and planted crops — an investment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — trusting the time-honored system of water rights. Here in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — home to generations-old family farms amid a network of man-made islands and channels in the nation’s largest freshwater estuary — water is considered a private property right.

Water is almost a birthright in the Delta, where settlers dammed, diked and drained wetlands described as “nothing better than rotting turf and waving rushes €¦ worthless in their natural condition” by a 19th century New York Times correspondent. A second type of senior right — called a “pre-1914” right because that’s the year California established an official permit process for its chaotic and litigious water rights landscape — is equally historic. The junior rights holders, who planted in the arid grasslands and deserts in the southern and western parts of the San Joaquin Valley after 1914, are even far down the pecking order and have already had their water cut.

A UC Davis analysis shows that California’s water is heavily oversubscribed, with five times more water committed to these rights holders than flows through all the state’s rivers and streams combined. Because the state promised more water than it can deliver, farmers such as Mussi — who shares the farm with his brother, son, nephews and their families — are angry that their generations-old rights are being eroded. “To entice people to come here, the state issued a patent, and the water rights came with it,” he said. “Now, it’s like me coming to you and saying ‘Hey, you have a house. One of those bedrooms, I’m going to use it.’” Who, where and what rights will be curtailed in coming weeks remains to be determined, water officials say.

When Australia was faced with a 12-year drought beginning about the turn of the 21st century, Graham said, its governments agreed to manage their water in the national interest rather than on local rights. Graham said he thinks California could create new legal and economic incentives to improve its existing allocation system, rather than a “seizure” of rights, “which is politically and perhaps legally untenable.” The state has a constitutional obligation to “the reasonable use of water and the public trust — this is above water rights seniority,” said Jay Lund, director of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Science.

There’s no timely system of reporting usage, and there’s too little funding to enforce penalties for overuse, he said. “We jumped in ditches to catch catfish.

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