Thursday, January 29, 2009

More bad news for farmers

It just keeps getting worse for farmers all over the state.

The state Department of Water Resources today released the results of its second snow survey of the season, which show snow water content at just 61 percent of normal. It's a sharp decline from the last survey, taken in late December, which indicated snow water content at 76 percent of normal.

"We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history," DWR Director Lester Snow said in a statement. "It's imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses."

The continuing dry conditions (last weekend's local rain notwithstanding) are combining with regulatory restrictions on pumping from the Delta to create a perfect storm for local farmers.

We'll probably have a story on this in the Irrigator next week. In the meantime, here's the full text of the DWR press release on the snow survey:

DWR Announces Snow Survey Results

SACRAMENTO – The Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) second snow survey of the winter season indicates snow water content is 61 percent of normal for the date, statewide.

“The low precipitation in January and snowpack results from today’s survey indicate California is heading for a third dry year,” said DWR Director Lester Snow.  “We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history.  It’s imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses.”

Manual survey results were taken at four locations near Lake Tahoe, and combined with electronic readings, indicate a statewide snowpack water content of 61 percent (49 percent in the Northern Sierra, 63 percent in the Central Sierra, and 68 percent in the Southern Sierra.)  Last year at this time, snowpack was 111 percent of normal, but the driest spring on record followed resulting in a second consecutive dry water year.  Daily electronic readings may be accessed at

Local water agencies are updating Urban Water Management Plans, and DWR is facilitating what water transfers may be available through its Drought Water Bank program.  Many providers have already enacted mandatory or voluntary water rationing and it is likely more agencies will require some form of rationing if dry conditions persist. 

Storage in California’s major reservoirs is low.  Lake Oroville, the principal storage reservoir for the State Water Project (SWP), is at 28 percent of capacity, and 43 percent of average storage for this time of year.  With only two months left in what is normally the wettest part of the season, it is growing increasingly unlikely that enough precipitation will fall to end the drought.

Continuing dry conditions and regulatory agency restrictions on Delta water exports are limiting water deliveries to farms and urban areas.  A Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect salmon and steelhead is expected in March and is the latest action that may further reduce pumping capability.  DWR’s early estimate is that it will only be able to deliver 15 percent of requested State Water Project water this year to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Southern California.

Gov. 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.  Today’s drought and regulatory restrictions underscore the need to take action to safeguard tomorrow’s water supply.

Here are results from today’s manual survey at Phillips Station and other sites near Lake Tahoe:



Snow Depth

Water Content

% of Long Term Average


7,600 feet

40 inches

13 inches


Phillips Station

6,800 feet

34.6 inches

13.1 inches


Lyons Creek

6,700 feet

45.4 inches

15.5 inches


Tamarack Flat

6,500 feet

37.4 inches

13.2 inches



Importance of Snow Surveying

Snow water content is important in determining the coming year's water supply. The measurements help hydrologists prepare water supply forecasts as well as provide others, such as hydroelectric power companies and the recreation industry, with needed data.

Monitoring is coordinated by the Department of Water Resources as part of the multi-agency California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. Surveyors from more than 50 agencies and utilities visit hundreds of snow measurement courses in California’s mountains to gauge the amount of water in the snowpack. The following websites offer an overview of important snow survey information.

Snowpack Site

Reservoir Storage Site

Snow Survey Illustrated

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wal-Mart files papers with Patterson

Wal-Mart recently submitted an application to the Patterson Community Development Department indicating they intend to bring a store to the city.

Big box rumors have been running rampant for years now, but this is the first official action any massive retailer has taken to locate in Patterson.

Details — like where the proposed store would go — are a little scarce right now, but at 4 p.m. I'll get a chance to review the application and the plans that were submitted with them. Expect details galore on the Web site tomorrow.

Friday, January 16, 2009

City attorney: No decision on West Park appeal

George Logan, Patterson's city attorney, said the City Council made no decision during last night's closed session about whether to appeal a Fresno Superior Court judge's decision to throw out the city's lawsuit against West Park. And they might not decide anytime soon.

Logan said the city has 60 days to appeal after the judgment is entered — a formality that still has not been completed. He said it's likely the council will meet again in closed session, possibly in a month or so, before deciding anything.

As for the city's chances in an appeal, Logan was optimistic. He said the famed Save Tara case, used as precedent by both sides in the West Park case, was decided by the state Supreme Court because it failed in a trial court. That gives Logan some hope.

"Trial judges are just not as particular at enforcing environmental laws as appellate judges are," Logan said. "You get a better sense of justice in the appellate courts."

The council must also weigh the cost of moving forward with the case. In the revised budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year — which the council will review at its regular meeting Tuesday — the amount alotted for legal services nearly doubled from $140,000 to $275,000, the largest increase of any item in the budget.

"I think we'd have a very good chance on appeal, but the council will have to make that decision," Logan said.

UPDATE: Reporter John Saiz just spoke with Councilwoman Annette Smith, who wouldn't speak much on last night's discussion but did confirm that cost will be a factor in the council's decision on the case. She said the council has requested information on how much the suit has cost the city thus far, and that report could be available as early as next week.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Council to weigh options in West Park case

The City Council will hold a special meeting in closed session at 6 p.m . Thursday to discuss the recent dismissal of the city's lawsuit against West Park. They could decide to appeal the ruling, or they could decide to cut their losses. Stay tuned.

If the city does not appeal the case, the next bit of drama for West Park would likely come this summer, when the draft environmental impact report is released for public consumption. I'm sure the council — along with the guys and many others — is eager to see what sort of mitigating measures developer Gerry Kamilos has in mind to handle the numerous concerns local residents have.

Friday, January 9, 2009

City's suit against West Park dismissed

The city of Patterson's lawsuit against Stanislaus County and West Park has been dismissed before making it to trial, Patterson city attorney George Logan confirmed Friday morning.

I'm not sure how big of a victory this is for the county and developer Gerry Kamilos — because I don't get the feeling they ever thought they might lose, and they seemed confident all along that the suit was without merit — but it's a pretty big loss for the city in its attempts to stop this project completely. A court has now ruled that the county so far has done nothing wrong in its dealings with Kamilos. The next major hurdle for the project will be the environmental review that is currently ongoing.

Two questions are plaguing me at the moment, and I don't yet have an answer for either:

1) How much money did the city spend on this case, and was it at all worth it? Could any result have made it worth it? That might be an unfair question.

2) What, now, will become of's lawsuit against the county and developer — a lawsuit that, by my very cursory perusal, appeared quite similar to the city's?

Hopefully I'll have some answers to these questions soon. I'll post here when I do.

In the meantime, Saturday's paper needs to be put to bed. By the way, don't expect to see anything about this in Saturday's issue (we're past that deadline already). But definitely keep an eye out on the Web site and in Wednesday's paper.

12:05 p.m. Update: Becky Campo says the City Council will likely have a special closed session meeting early next week to determine their next action, if there is any. They could appeal the ruling, or they could set their focus on the upcoming environmental review, or they could do some combination of the two, I imagine. Campo doesn't consider this a huge loss, because even though the city didn't accomplish everything it hoped, it at least made its concerns heard loud and clear. Gerry Kamilos declined to comment for now, saying he wants to wait until he's read the full ruling before saying anything about it (possibly later today). Fair enough. President Ron Swift said his group's lawsuit is "sufficiently different" from the city's, but the group will meet with its attorney before deciding whether to go forward with its case. He did say they had been waiting to see what would happen with the city's case, and it appears as though the Stanislaus County court was waiting as well, as no hearings had been scheduled since the lawsuit was filed in September. More to come, but perhaps not today.