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Schwarzenegger Official Tries to 'Snow' Public with Drought Claims
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Apr 2nd, 2009 7:43 PM
Lester Snow, the Director of the State Department of Water Resources (DWR), used the announcement of the April 2 snow survey as yet another opportunity to promote Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to build a peripheral canal and more dams.

Photo of snow on trees from DWR.
Schwarzenegger Official Tries to 'Snow' Public with Drought Claims

by Dan Bacher

Lester Snow, the Director of the State Department of Water Resources (DWR), tried to "snow" the public by making false claims of a "drought" scenario in California in an announcement on April 2.

DWR announced that their fourth snow survey of the winter season indicates that snow pack water content statewide is 81 percent of normal for the date. True to form, Snow cynically used the announcement to whip up fears about a "drought" in order to boost Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign to build a peripheral canal and more dams.

“A below-average snow pack at this time of year, especially following two consecutive dry years, is a cause for concern,” said Snow in a news release. “Our most critical storage reservoirs remain low, and we face severe water supply problems in many parts of our state. Californians must continue to save water at home and in their businesses.”

On February 27, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger declared a "drought state of emergency," directing DWR and other state agencies to provide assistance to people and communities impacted by the "drought." On March 30, DWR provided the Governor an update on "drought" conditions and recommended strategies. The report and transmittal letter are available for viewing at

Snow touted Schwarzenegger's plan to build a peripheral canal ("improved conveyance") and Temperance Flat and Sites reservoirs as the "solution" to California's water problems.

"Governor Schwarzenegger has outlined steps to safeguard the state’s water supply through a comprehensive plan that includes water conservation, more surface and groundwater storage, new investments in the state’s aging water infrastructure, and improved water conveyance to protect the environment and provide a reliable water supply," the release stated. "Today’s drought and regulatory restrictions underscore the need to take action to safeguard tomorrow’s water supply."

However, a careful review of DWR data reveals that he is not telling the entire truth about California’s water “crisis,” but is carefully selecting the data to cultivate unfounded fears of a “drought” and to promote Schwarzenegger's peripheral canal and dams proposal.

Manual survey results taken on April 2 at four locations near Lake Tahoe, combined with electronic readings, documented statewide snow pack water content of 81 percent. The water content is 87 percent in the Northern Sierra, 80 percent in the Central Sierra, and 77 percent in the Southern Sierra.

"Last year at this time, snowpack was 95 percent of normal, reflecting a drop of over 20 percent from March 2008 caused by the driest spring on record,” according to DWR.

DWR blamed court-ordered restrictions on Delta water exports, needed to protect delta smelt and Sacramento River chinook salmon, for depriving farmers and urban residents of their water. "Continuing dry conditions and regulatory agency restrictions on Delta water exports are limiting water deliveries to farms and urban areas," DWR claimed. "A forthcoming Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect salmon and steelhead may further reduce pumping capability. DWR expects it will only be able to deliver only 20 percent of requested State Water Project water this year to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Southern California."

What Snow failed to mention was the reason why many reservoirs were at record low levels until the February rains was because DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation nearly drained Shasta, Folsom and Oroville reservoirs in 2007 and 2008 to supply Westlands Water District, the Kern County Water Bank and Southern California, including Diamond Valley Reservoir, with northern California water. Fortunately, the February and March rain and snow runoff raised reservoir levels to much higher levels than they were at the beginning of 2009.

The DWR release also stated, “Storage in California’s major reservoirs is low. Lake Oroville, the principal storage reservoir for the State Water Project (SWP), is only at 56 percent of capacity.”

However, Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), noted that Lake Oroville is actually 75% of the 15-year average, by no means a catastrophic level for this time of year.

DWR also failed to mention the other reservoirs that supply water for the state and federal water projects. Central Valley Project reservoirs are in relatively good shape, with Shasta at 77 percent of the 15-year average, Folsom at 117 percent of the 15-year average, New Melones at 74 percent of the 15-year average and Millerton at 95 percent of the 15-year average.

The actual precipitation in state and federal project watersheds also tells a different tale than the one that Snow is spinning. Precipitation on the Sacramento River at Shasta Dam is 77 percent of average, the American River watershed at Blue Canyon is 93 percent, the Stanislaus River at New Melones is 88 percent, and the San Joaquin River at Huntington Lake is 83 percent.

“This is a slightly below average water year, but it is not a dry year and not a critically dry year,” said Jennings.

The doomsday scenario that DWR has conjured up is completely inaccurate, since many Central Valley contractors will receive 100 percent of their water.

"The Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors north of the Delta and Friant Unit contractors in the San Joaquin Valley will receive 100 percent of their water,” said Jennings. “The only people not receiving their full water allocations are Westlands and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD). And MWD is receiving a reduced amount of water because they gave up the urban preference in the Monterey Agreement."

The corporate agribusiness operations that are being hurt the most are the most junior water rights holders in Westlands, who chose to convert from annual row crops to permanent crops.

“If there is an is economic impact to Westlands, it’s from farmers changing from planting the row crops of the past to planting permanent crops like fruit and nut trees - crops that can’t handle drought years and require constant water to keep them alive,” said Jennings. “Westlands Water District deliberately planted crops that would suffer the most in dry years in an effort to have their junior water rights trump the senior water rights holders and public trust resources of rivers, streams and estuaries.”

Thus, the claims of a "drought" by Lester Snow and the Governor are false and are being used to bolster Schwarzenegger’s claims that a peripheral canal and dams are needed to create a “win-win” scenario of “ecosystem restoration” and “solving” water supply needs at the same time.

Snow’s announcement takes place as California fisheries are in their greatest crisis ever. Salmon fishing in ocean waters off California and Oregon will close again this year, with only the possibility of a token recreational 10-day season off Eureka and Crescent City, due to the collapse of Central Valley Chinook salmon populations. Coho salmon populations in coastal streams have reached record lows because years of clear cutting and other habitat destruction, combined with poor ocean conditions.

Delta smelt, longfin smelt, juvenile striped bass, threadfin shad and other California Delta fish have also reached record low population levels, due to massive increases in water exports, increasing levels of toxic chemicals in Central Valley rivers, and invasive species.

“There is no win, win solution,” Jennings said after receiving the “Delta Advocate” award at the Restore the Delta Symposium in Lodi on February 28. “We live in a water-limited state where there is only an average of 29 million acre feet of runoff in the Central Valley, while the State Water Resources Control Board has allocated 245 million acre feet of water rights.”

Jennings condemned the campaign by the Governor, DWR and Senator Dianne Feinstein to build a peripheral canal – and said that we need to compel our regulatory agencies to enforce the water code and Clean Water Act.

“The canal would transfer pumping impacts to the last viable salmonid river in the Valley (the Sacramento), eliminate critical habitat and send numerous species into oblivion, and increase the concentration and bioaccumulation of pollutants,” he said. “It would increase salinity, severely reducing yields of hundreds of thousands of productive farmland, and eliminate tens of thousands of fishing, recreational and agricultural jobs.”

I hope that the public and mainstream media is not "snowed" by Lester Snow's claims of a "drought" in his announcement of the results of the April 2 snow survey. The peripheral canal and more dams would only drive the final nail into the coffin of collapsing salmon, delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, striped bass and other fish populations - and cost an estimated $12 billion to $24 billion to the taypayers in a state already hit hard by the economic crash and a spiraling deficit.

For more information on DWR’s "overblown" drought, read Mike Fitzergerald’s superb article in the Stockton Record: