Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): water use

What can Nebraska teach the American West about managing water? A lot.

Nebraska is one of the top producers of corn, soybeans and hogs in the country. With 91 percent of the state's total land area dedicated to agricultural production, a lot of water is needed to support all of Nebraska's farms and ranches.

Fortunately, the state sits atop one of the largest underground aquifers in the world. The High Plains Aquifer, commonly referred to as the Ogallala Aquifer, underlies parts of eight states from Texas to South Dakota, and is a vital resource to Nebraskan farmers.

But as farms have expanded and demand for agricultural products has grown, pressure on the aquifer has increased and groundwater levels have been in steady decline for decades.

Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

For California water managers, establishing new traditions takes time

The California Water Commission sent ripples through the water world recently when it gave tepid “public benefit” scores to 11 water storage projects vying for taxpayer funding.

Project proponents were understandably frustrated, and many were openly critical of the Water Commission’s process for determining public benefits. After all, they’re vying for a big pot of public money – $2.7 billion that was set aside in 2014 with the passage of Proposition 1 – and their public benefit scores are a key factor in determining whether or not they get funded.

But let’s not be so critical. The Water Commission has been handed a difficult task, and is doing the right thing by carefully considering and scrutinizing each project. Here’s why.

Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , | Read 1 Response

Where’s the snow!? What a dry winter might mean for Colorado

We finally got a little dusting of snow last weekend. But snowpack in Colorado and throughout the West remains exceptionally low.

La Niña has wreaked havoc on weather systems around the country, sending storms to Baton Rouge, San Antonio and Boston, while Colorado, California and pretty much the entire Southwest United States stay dry. Colorado is at 68% of normal snowpack with the southwest Rockies in even worse shape. The Sierra Nevada snowpack – a key source of California’s water supply – is at 30% of average. Many parts of New Mexico have received less than a half inch of rain, making it one of the driest starts to a water year on record in the state.

Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

7 lessons from a California water leader on managing for the future

David Guy is president of the Northern California Water Association (NCWA), an organization committed to ensuring that water supplies are available for the Sacramento Valley — both for today’s users and for future generations.

“The Sacramento Valley is a rich mosaic of farmlands, cities, rural communities, refuges, managed wetlands and meandering rivers,” David said. “Every drought we experience reveals numerous pressures on the water supplies that support this vibrant region. We have to be motivated and forward-thinking to advance the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the Sacramento Valley by enhancing and preserving its water rights, supplies and water quality.”

I recently had the opportunity to speak with David about his role at NCWA, some of the challenges that he and the region face, and how to prepare for the future. Here's what David had to say. Read More »

Posted in Ecosystems, Habitat Exchange, Water / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

California’s rural water systems needs leaders. Who will step up next?

Water leaders from 13 communities throughout California's San Joaquin Valley attended the Leadership Institute to build engagement capacity and share lessons about small water system management. (Credit: Kike Arnal)

There I was again, in the car on Highway 99, on my way from San Francisco to Visalia, in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley. I had made the trip a dozen times over the past year. But this trip was different. This time I was headed to a reunion.

Back in December 2016, I wrote about a cohort of 30 community water advocates who had just graduated from the Rural Water Boards Leadership Institute – a joint effort sponsored by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Self Help Enterprises and Environmental Defense Fund to train residents in the San Joaquin Valley on how to engage on state water policy. Participants spent six months attending workshops and learning about California’s landmark law to end groundwater over pumping and how the law – known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA – might affect their small community water systems. They discussed methods for engaging state policy makers and learned advocacy and communication skills.

Now, almost a year after their graduation, these water leaders were meeting again to catch up, share stories and explore new opportunities to learn from one another. Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Sunshine, beaches and…saltwater intrusion? Solving for groundwater decline on California’s coast

Many groundwater basins in California remain significantly overdrawn.

For much of its history, California was the Wild West when it came to groundwater. Thirsty cities and farms could freely pump from underground aquifers with little to no oversight. If you could build a well you could take the water.

Recognizing the negative impacts of unchecked pumping, the state stepped in and, in 2014, passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA makes local agencies responsible for bringing priority groundwater basins into sustainability – meaning many water managers now need to find new ways to meet their water needs.

Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed

Teetering on the edge of disaster. What’s next for the Salton Sea?

We’ve seen it coming for years. The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, has been in a slow and steady decline for decades. And things are likely to get worse at the end of the year.

That is, unless the state steps up and honors its commitment to manage and restore the sea.

A looming deadline

The Salton Sea was created in 1905 when floods breached a levee on the Colorado River, sending a wall of water through Imperial Valley and to the Salton Sink, a natural desert bowl roughly 230 feet below sea level. Water accumulated there and ultimately created the Salton Sea. For decades after that Colorado River water continued to sustain the sea as it passed through Imperial Valley farms as irrigation runoff.

Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , , | Read 6 Responses

California’s upcoming water bond measure will do more than meets the eye

California Capitol Building, Sacramento

There’s a lot to like about SB 5, the $4 billion parks and water bond legislation signed by Governor Jerry Brown, qualifying it for the June 2018 ballot.

For starters, its largest allocation – $725 million – will go toward building new parks in underserved neighborhoods. That’s a good thing for communities who are often overlooked when it comes to environmental investments and protections.

But that’s not all. SB 5 contains some funding programs unlike those seen in past park bonds. A renewed focus on the agricultural community and the Salton Sea is a clear sign that California is taking a magnifying glass to the most serious resource issues in the state. The bond’s “hidden gems” aim to make California more resilient to the droughts, downpours and wildfires that are expected to intensify as a result of climate change.

That’s a good thing for all Californians, not to mention the state’s wildlife. Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

4 reasons why Arizona water is on the right track

The Lake Mead "bathtub rings,'" as seen from Hoover Dam.

Drought is the new normal in Arizona and the Colorado River Basin. The Colorado River is over-allocated, and potential reductions in Arizona water deliveries have become more and more likely.

Just last summer, we watched Lake Mead drop to one of its lowest levels ever. And even with a wet winter this year, Lake Mead’s elevation remains low. The river that provides 40 percent of Arizona’s water supplies needs our help.

A new deal

This summer, several parties came together to sign a “system conservation” agreement to address the situation. The State of Arizona, City of Phoenix, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Walton Family Foundation agreed to compensate the Gila River Indian Community to leave 40,000 acre feet of its 2017 Colorado River water entitlement in Lake Mead.

This is about 1.3 billion gallons of water, which is roughly the amount needed to serve 100,000 people in a year. The conserved water is designated as “system water” to help keep Lake Mead from falling below 1,075 feet – the elevation at which a federal shortage declaration is triggered and water delivery reductions are mandated (as stated in the proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan between Arizona, California, Nevada and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation).

Read More »

Posted in Water / Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Crops, water and habitat: This California farmer's winning trifecta

Cannon Michael is the president of Bowles Farming Company.

During times of water scarcity, like California’s recent drought, it’s tempting to take on a binary view of the world.  This was definitely the case with agriculture, which appeared to be at odds with everyone: farms vs. fish, farm vs. cities, farms vs. regulators.  As a dominant water user in the state, they were easy targets.

But when one digs deeper, it’s obvious that many in the agricultural community want to move beyond this debate and do things differently. Yes growing food and fiber takes water, but there are plenty of farmers laser-focused on improving efficiency, maximizing multi-benefit solutions and striking a balance between growing crops and preserving the environment.

I recently visited with Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Company, which oversees an 11,000-acre farm near Los Banos in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He is the great, great, great grandson of Henry Miller, “the Cattle King of California,” so farming is in his blood. He has senior water rights, and while he still had to make difficult management decisions during the drought, he ended up with more water than many of his neighbors and found ways to share it, a tremendous display of collaboration in the farming community. Read More »

Posted in Habitat, Water / Also tagged , , , , | Read 3 Responses