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In May of this year the State Water Resources Control Board voted to end all water restrictions and let 408 water districts in California decide how much water their customers should consume.

The move has perplexed many people. Moderate to severe drought still grips three-quarters of California, and studies show the state is the driest it has been in 500 years — in advance of a mega drought predicted for the entire Southwest, one that scientists say could last several decades to centuries.

Some say the loss of millions of dollars in revenue because of the restrictions is why many water contractors pressured the State Board to reverse course.  So again, follow the money not the scientific data to see why the decision was made.

Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research and policy group based in Oakland says “I don’t agree with the decision. I think it was premature.  It’s too soon to talk about going back to our old wasteful patterns of water use. I think we’re sending the wrong message to water users.”

In spite of this seemingly dollar motivated lifting of restrictions on water contractors selling water, the drought persists and global warming is a fact and has nothing to do with the bottom line of water contractors.

An article in Auburn Journal indicates “Not only is the Auburn-based Placer County Water Agency [PCWA] able to have enough surplus water stored from its Middle Fork Project in the Sierra to sell 20,000 acre-feet through the Bureau of Reclamation to thirstier areas of the state for an estimated $6 million.”  Who are these “thirstier areas of the state”?  They must be southern California water contractors like Westlands, Metropolitan, Orange.

The conclusion is PCWA is planning to sell $6 million of our water to Southern California.  If the profit motive is the driving force behind the lifting of water restrictions, then the general public and our local Placer County will eventually suffer the consequences mainly through the pocket book with almost certain higher costs for its water with the persistent lack of water and … oddly enough … scare water.  It appears we are taking a great risk selling water we will probably badly need in the future … but there is money involved.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation will pay PCWA $300 for each acre-foot delivered. An acre-foot measure is the equivalent of 325,000 gallons. The water will be delivered through the Folsom Reservoir to support Central Valley Project operations, including providing environmental benefits to the Bay Delta area.

By comparison Nevada Irrigation District sells a miner’s inch to Large Estates for Landscaping for $16; the markup PCWA receives is substantial.

Here are some water figures:

What’s an acre-foot?

  • 1 cubic foot 7.48 gallons
  • 100 cubic feet 748 gallons
  • 1 cubic foot per second (CFS) 450 gallons per minute
  • 1 CFS 646,360 gallons per day
  • 1 million gallons 3.07 acre-feet
  • 1 miner’s-inch 11.22 gallons per minute, 16,000 gallons per day
  • 1 acre-foot 1 acre of land covered 1 foot deep

An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons

I was told by a local water contractor employee that up to 20% of its water disappears through unauthorized use, evaporation, blackberries, leakage, canal failures and other means.  That is a loss that must be corrected as water issues are becoming even more central as the population of California continues to expand and all scientific data indicates extended drought conditions.

 Chinatown is back with a vengeance.

Dylan Huntzinger, a SARSAS volunteer environmental scientist, was asked to conduct an experiment to compare the water consumption of two plants growing along North Ravine in Auburn, a tributary of Auburn Ravine: the coast redwood and the Himalayan blackberry.

His findings indicate the predominant invasive plant along local waterways, the Himalayan blackberry, consumes significantly more water than the coast redwoods that could be used to replace and suppress them.

This project provides great information on how local water contractors like PCWA, NID, and PGE might save vast amounts of precious water.  They could assist landowners living along its waterways, such as Auburn Ravine and Coon Creek, remove Himalayan blackberries and supplement their stream-side vegetation with coast redwoods, which are the trees in Prairie Creek State Park where the symbiotic union between them and salmon has supported both species for eons, and the trees currently being used by SARSAS for restoring North Ravine for steelhead and salmon habitat and spawning.

Huntzinger concludes, “The summer heat drives riparian plants to consume huge amounts of water – water that comes from the adjacent stream, leaving less for fish, wildlife, and paying customers.  While all plants need plenty of water to stay hydrated, some demand more than others.  Our evidence indicates that during the hottest part of the day, a 50-foot tall coast redwood draws about 2 liters of water per hour whereas a 30’x30’ patch of thick Himalayan blackberry can draw over 20 liters per hour.  Thorny, invasive, and water intensive, Himalayan blackberries are shockingly effective at depriving fish and wildlife of the water they need.”  Replacing blackberries with coast redwoods is a giant conservation and money saving move for all, landowners, water contractors and environmentalists.

Those water contractors profiting from the lifting of water restrictions might return the favor to the people by conserving vast amounts of water by the simple removal of one rampantly invasive exotic, Himalayan Blackberries.

The simplest solution is always the best solution.

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