Water Project: California Reservoir Watch

The background: The state Department of Water Resources announced yesterday that its “initial allocation” of supplies for the next year is 5 percent. What that means: It’s only promising to deliver 5 percent of the water that customers have asked for. The reason: Three low-rainfall years–nothing Mother Nature can’t handle, but a disaster for us humans–and some limits placed on water shipments to protect endangered fish. The reaction: Agriculture and other water contractors say it sure looks like the sky is falling. So does the governor, whose biggest agenda item for his last year in office is getting the voters to pass an $11 billion bond for water projects. The rhetoric from the water interests has led some environmentalists and other water-policy skeptics to say the 5 percent allocation is little more than a scare tactic to sell the bond.

Whatever the case may be, I noticed an interesting thing in the documents the Department of Water Resources released with its allocation announcement: The water managers are cutting the promised deliveries to 5 percent even though a chart (PDF) they put out shows they have 20 percent more water in the bank than they did last year–when the initial allocation was 15 percent. One of my colleagues at KQED asked the department’s deputy director about this, and the initial answer was along the lines of, “That’s weird–I don’t know.” Later, she suggested the chart was wrong because it didn’t take into account the fact some of the water in storage is already committed to other customers and can’t be allocated. (As a matter of fact, current combined storage at major reservoirs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin system is running 17 percent ahead of last year at this time; of course, last year was really, really bad, and that same group of reservoirs is only storing 72 percent of average for this date.)

The chart still hasn’t been fixed, though, and it lends credence to the arguments that the allocation–which is only a beginning number and is likely to be adjusted far upward as the season progresses–is being used to aid the bond campaign.

Anyway; Since I got into all this stuff yesterday, and since reservoir levels are such a big part of this debate and the state’s well-being, I put together a map showing where the biggest reservoirs are and the current storage levels. Here it is:

View KQED: California Reservoir Watch in a larger map

Spare-Time Work Project

As I was saying the other day, California’s new water bond measure sure is interesting. The voters will be asked next November to let the state borrow $11.14 billion for a whole slew of water projects: water conservation efforts, water reclamation, water recycling, groundwater monitoring, drought relief, and measures that will let local and regional agencies do semi-water-related things like build bike paths near rivers. A good piece of the $11 billion will simply be a pile of cash for the Legislature to sit on and hand out to worthy dam projects and other water-development initiatives. Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill calling for the bond measure yesterday, and he’s talking as if it’s a done deal. At the same time, snipers have appeared. Legislators from both parties are saying the initiative is flawed and padded with unnecessary spending. Some reporters are getting in on the act, too. I decided to find the text of the bond bill myself and pore through it. Once I started to do that, I started thinking of ways to highlight the spending provisions. A spreadsheet? That’s good if you like raw data. A map? It seemed doable, so I went to work on Google Maps. The result–still a work in progress, and sing out if you have any suggestions–is here and also embedded below. We put it up on a KQED page, it’s gotten passed around some on Twitter and maybe elsewhere. And tonight I found out that one of the governor’s press aides was consulting it (well–the press aide is a former colleague of mine).

View California’s Water Bill: Where Would the Money Go? in a larger map