Tag Archives: California drought

Should California expand reservoir capacity by removing sediment?

No matter what your opinion is of the water situation in California, certainly the need for more capacity and production (i.e. desalination) is vital for a state that is home to roughly 40 million people and is for the most part a semi-arid region.

San Luis Reservoir

San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos, California, is the largest off-stream reservoir in the world

I have long wondered why more water capacity and retention plans weren’t created in the Los Angeles area, which I lived in for the better part of five decades. A handful of towns here and there did but most did not, expecting water to keep flowing from regions like the Southern Sierra and the Colorado River. Here on the Central Coast in Paso Robles, where I’ve now lived for seven glorious years, we too are working on garnering water from every resource available (go here and here for more on Paso’s water issues).

Sadly, politics plays a destructive part in the problem and in fact one of the reasons the San Luis Reservoir – which is the largest off-stream reservoir in the world – lacks water is due to pumping restrictions instituted by the federal government. Along with runoff from rain, San Luis gets water from the Delta and in-turn supplies much of the Silicon Valley with its drinking water.

Although state and federal politics get in the way, growing capacity is a viable option to help with California’s ongoing water problems and this blog (see below for full story by Jay Lund) offers some insight into how that may work and if it’s feasible. I believe everything must be done and expansion of current reservoirs through sediment removal should definitely be explored.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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California WaterBlog

ShastaShasta Reservoir. Source: California Department of Water Resources

By Jay Lund

Removing sediment from reservoirs is often suggested as a potentially better way to expand storage capacity than raising dam heights or building new reservoirs. This is a natural notion to explore given the cost and likely environmental impacts of traditional expansions.

For perspective, the construction cost of conventional reservoir expansion is about $1,700 to $2,700 an acre-foot (af) of storage capacity. For example:

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Luis Nunez and Venture Vineyard Zinfandel – Updated

I wrote about a tiny vineyard with a huge passion a few years ago that oddly helped me get a pretty good part-time gig with Yahoo! as a sports writer.  The story was about Luis Nunez’s very small vineyard and his enthusiastic passion of trying to make the best Zinfandel he could.  This is a follow-up and although there were some rocky roads along the way, let’s just say he’s done a remarkable job.

Starts with medals

Without retracing his early steps, Luis, a retired peace officer, had finally produced in a bottle, his first wine called the Anomaly.  It was apropos name for this was just second-year vines that produced a Zinfandel that was astonishingly good.  How good was it?  It received a Bronze medal in the Orange County Fair, one of only a couple contests he entered the wine in.  Remember, this was the second year the vines produced grapes!  Not only that, but his label earned him a Gold medal.

Christian Lazo Wines helped Venture Vineyards quite a bit in the early going.

Christian Lazo Wines helped Venture Vineyards quite a bit in the early going.

Christian Lazo Wines deserves part of the credit because they offered their insights and facility to help Luis create this surprising and rambunctious upstart of a Zin.  With such a small quantity of wine though coupled with friends, neighbors and family members clamoring for this amazing vintage, it wasn’t a year before the wine was gone.  Which as it turned out was just as well.

Doing it the old fashion way, Luis didn’t want any filtering of his product as he sought just the raw pure wine.  A little more than six months after bottling, the wine started to turn in color and although the flavor seemed to standup, the Anomaly wouldn’t have made it past a year.  Maybe a lesson was learned.

The Shark

A bittersweet situation as you can imagine, Luis was determined to make the next batch of wine better.  This vintage would be named the Shark and like its namesake, it had to fight and dig deep taking on all nemesis’.  Like a Great White, the Shark vines would have to show they were great grapes, working through spring freezes and mildew battles (because of late rains) – but in the end, Luis and his young but formidable vines were able to produce roughly 50 cases.

Not to be outdone, the label is also a Gold winner.

Not to be outdone, the label is also a Gold medal winner.

Although reluctant, Luis filtered this batch and then had several in the wine industry taste the still young wine.  Even other vintners, who aren’t prone to brag on someone else’s wine, told him he had a winner.  He decided to put the Shark in a handful of fairs and wine contests such as the prestigious International Amateur Wine Competition and won multiple medals including a Gold.  And to put a period on this standout vintage it not only earned a Gold; but, this time the Shark bit off a bigger prize … Double Gold!

Consider this: Paso Robles is currently the world’s top wine region with California’s heritage grape being the Zinfandel, a popular varietal in Paso.  Luis Nunez’s Shark was the only gold medal awarded this past year to someone from Paso Robles in the Zinfandel category at the International Amateur Wine Competition.  Heady stuff indeed.

This stunning success was great and acknowledged all his hard work and effort to create an ultimate Zinfandel.  However, even though Luis was on top of the world, with high and lows as any success story would go through, having put so much work and effort into the Shark, the following year was tough to manage.  Due in part to the unending Great Recession, Luis’ personal finances wouldn’t allow him to hold on to that year’s vintage, so he sold it to Christian Lazo.

Along with making sure he could keep the next year’s vintage and more resolute than ever before, Luis wanted more.  Boy did he get more … more grapes that is.  All estimations were that he would have a ton and half, which would give him three barrels worth and eventually 75 cases.  Those estimations were low.

Waiting for a bigger and better one?

One of these bins is roughly half a ton of grapes.

The new vintage is called the Bullet and came through with a solid two tons or four barrels.  The vines were picked clean – this time by family and friends and then processed at Falcon Nest.  Barrel samplings at 16 months say the wine is excellent and ready for bottling, but Luis is leaving it in the oak barrels for at least another six months.  A vintner of this talented gift knows when the time is right.

The story is still unfolding as last year’s vintage was smaller with the main reason being the extreme drought we are undergoing in California stunting the growth somewhat.  That led to a ton-and-a-half or three barrels.  Luis sold one of the barrels but has two left of what preliminarily is being called the Rebel.  For now, everyone waits in anticipation of what the Bullet and then the Rebel might bring.

His operation may be small but Luis has invested mightily in tiny Venture Vineyards.  For instance, he controls the temperature and humidity of his oak wine barrels with an enclosed insulated cellar at his property, which has a professionally installed cooling system.

Hurdles remain, but …

The current extreme drought brings on limits to watering (see related articles below under ‘Water stories’) so Luis feels he’s planning on fewer grapes than normal – except we already know what these vines are capable of.  By the way, weather experts say we might have an El Nino coming this year and that would be much needed good news for farmers because the state and federal government have cut off their water.

Luis Nunez and his Venture Vineyards have done what few others could do.  What the future holds for Mr. Nunez is still an open book, but be assured, with the passion to endure and succeed, history has shown us more triumphs are certainly headed his way … and more great wines are headed our way.

Want to know more about or be a part of Mr. Luis Nunez’s success?  Email me.

PS: Sadly, two months later, our good friend Luis Nunez suddenly passed away along with his passion … but his tiny vineyard could be yours. Go here.

Cheers,

Daryle Hier

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Water Versus Food?

The state of California is in a severe drought and though we just had a drenching rain on Super Bowl Sunday, the fact is one storm does not end what still is the driest year on record.  Governor Jerry Brown declared a state-of-emergency and then to exacerbate the situation and make matters worse for farmers, specifically in the San Joaquin Valley, the state has cut off all water from the State Water Project.

Essentially, the Governor and state of California are saying ‘you’re on your own’.  And yet this serious situation doesn’t appear to be making the major headlines with the media who seemed more concerned with toilet fishing in the Olympics than a major food source being driven to the brink.

Farmers still taking the brunt

Delta smelt

Farmers helped build canals for their farms that eventually the endangered delta smelt now inhabits.

Many cities across the Golden State will be hamstrung for water, but those feeling the pinch the most will be farmers.  The region had been already hit hard when water restrictions were imposed to purportedly save the delta smelt that had worked its way into farmer’s canals.  That created unemployment figures that in some areas were 50% and produced losses in the billions of dollars for the state.

The San Joaquin Valley is or at least was considered one of the most productive food regions in the United States if not the world.  However, the valley has been devastated economically by the supposed dangers to the smelt.  Now, with the state denying farms any water at all, the likely destruction of farmland could be catastrophic.  It should be noted that even with the cuts, Fresno County still leads the nation in farming.

The San Joaquin Valley is a large representation of what is going on all over California.  With only urban cities receiving limited deliveries of water, farming communities as well as small towns could be left without.  The state is leaving waters in reservoirs for fish to survive but not farmers.  As was mentioned in our story last week, cities all over the state our nervously looking for water such as what sits underneath the Paso Robles ground water basin.

Pulling out

Ironic sign for farmers

Ironic sign for farmers

Nut farms which use more water than say vegetable crops will see owners prone to pull the trees for crops that don’t require as much water.  Such may be the case with grapes as well.  Vineyards are more efficient than nut trees but vintners are getting anxious and in some small instances, vines are being pulled.

Concerns of Californians are all about the lack of water.  The question though has to be asked as to whether some fish and urban populations should take more of the brunt of this problem or are we going to risk farms and food instead.

Although there are questions about just how much more storms are is in store for the state, even if the rest of winter was steady with rain, major issues will continue, as sides are being taken between water and food … and farmers.

Mahalo,

Daryle Hier

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Is There A Water Shortage In Paso Robles?

This is just food for thought and by no means am I an expert on the water situation here on the California Central Coast … just someone who makes extremely unique wine barrels but now finds himself as a concerned citizen who would like to see all the information laid out on the table.

As almost any Californian can tell you, we are in a severe drought.  In a two-year period in Paso Robles, we’ve had about five inches of rain and over the last year, it’s less than two inches.  Heck, the way the news Drought-soiltalks about it nationally, I’d be surprised if not most of the country and even the world knows we have had a lack of rain in the Golden State for the past couple of years.

This is of a major concern for the folks in the North County area of San Luis Obispo County, sometimes generalized as Paso Robles.  Recently named the world’s ‘Wine Region of the Year‘, Paso Robles – or Paso for short – vineyards have become serious business here in wine country.  However, like any other farmed product, grapevines need water.

Unilateral emergency dictates

With a sudden sense of urgency, near the end of last summer, the San Luis Obispo County Supervisors voted autonomously for what was essentially a two-year emergency moratorium on new vines being planted, which some feel was warranted.  Technically, a grape-grower can plant new vines but there’s a ’1-to-1′ ruling that states a new vine can only be planted for every one that is taken out of the ground.

Now there’s good news in that the value of property will go up because if anyone wants to expand, they will have to buy someone else out.  I’m sure those who are in the real estate business are happy as well as those land owners who want out.  Still, it affects the industry negatively due to the fact nobody can expand, in-turn stifling business in what was the ever-growing Paso viticultural business.

Extra water?

All of this created by the lack of water – or at least the supposed lack of water.  See, the Paso Robles water basin is the largest natural underground aquifer west of the Rockies.  Yes, we are in a drought and we just came out of another drought just a handful of years ago.  The underground reserves are down which might be of some concern.  However, why is the county trying to set up a water district with an idea being that they would be a water bank for outside water agencies?

PRGroundWaterBasin

The Paso Robles Ground Water basin running essentially with the Salinas River is the largest underground aquifer in the West.

As a citizen who figures that sooner or later the city and county will be restricting our water usage to conserve water so that we don’t run out, will we be selling that same water to other districts desperate for water?  There is seemingly a detachment from logic that says if indeed San Luis Obispo County is in need of restricting citizens water usage so that we don’t run out, that we can’t turn around and sell what extra water we do have to some other place in the state.  Unless of course, Paso has more water than the political lords are willing to let on.

Again, I’m ready for conservation modes and in fact we already have certain restrictions on water use in the city of Paso Robles that says we can only water three times a week and other relatively common sense approaches to water usage like not letting a hose run without a shutoff nozzle.

The title question of the story: Is there a water shortage in Paso Robles? – Isn’t being directly answered.

Trampled rights?

Already the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is undermining land rights by infringing on a property owners’ rights to his or her own water.  Further, the city of Paso Robles has stopped any new drilling for water within city limits, even though the land owners have a right to the water below them.  Some have fought back and you can go here for more on that (or an additional source: Cal Coast News).

Water gushing How this turns out, I don’t particularly know but at the very least, more information should be made public – yet that doesn’t appear to be the case.  Something else to consider is who’s to profit from selling our underground water if indeed it is sold to outsiders?  Are some of the power brokers in the county vying for a huge payoff at the expense of local citizens?  There are extremely desperate communities in need of water during this drought (see San Jose Mercury News) and they might go to any length to get it.

This doesn’t feel right.  In a day and age when there’s little or no transparency within federal, state and now local governments, just exactly what is our water situation?  I would hope more citizens start clamoring for additional information on just what is happening behind closed doors along with what subversive politicking might be going on.  Even then, we may not be getting the truth … but the truth is what we need to pursue.  Is there a water shortage in Paso Robles?

What do you think?

Cheers,

Daryle Hier

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