Farmers and Others Give Testimony on Water Bond

Farmers and Others Give Testimony on Water Bond

February 1, 2014


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Scores Voice Concern at Hanford Water Bond Hearing

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

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A packed crowd in Hanford at special hearing on proposed Water Bond.

A packed crowd in Hanford at special hearing on proposed Water Bond.

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It was the 12th regional hearing for the California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, and by far the most passionate in Hanford California, at the Kings County Government Center Friday.

On the table is a Water Bond proposal that is far less than what was passed by a bipartisan vote by the California Legislature in 2009. The most glaring change is a $1.5 billion dollar proposal for storage—half of the $3 billion  that was in the original proposal.
Several hundred concerned citizens packed the hearing room as well as an overflow room. And more than 50 members of the public stood up to give personal testimonies regarding their concern of the drought and the need for sensible solutions. The hearing started at 5pm and went to 8 pm.

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Anthony Rendon

Anthony Rendon

“We have heard you and appreciated what was said,” said Assembly Member Anthony Redon, Chair of the committee from Los Angeles. “This was by far the biggest, most passionate crowd that we have encountered during our hearings.”

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“2013 was the driest year in history and Governor Brown declared a statewide drought. A failure to prepare is unacceptable and we cannot keep kicking the can down the road in terms of water security. California’s population will be almost 50 million by the year 2020,” said Rendon. “We are on the edge of disaster. Now is the time to do something to help protect our citizens, farmers and economy,” noted Rendon.

In 2009 the Assembly passed an $11.14 billion proposal, which has twice since been delayed from being placed before voters. This past year, the Assembly took an entirely new approach to developing a water bond than it did in 2009. The 2013 process included convening 13 public hearings—including 3 in the Assembly, 2 in the Senate and 8 regional hearings across the state.

Rendon said, “The water working group in the process reflects the diversity of California, and has produced, to date, a $6.5 billionwater bond tailored to state-wide needs for water infrastructure. That proposal includes $1 billion for maintaining and improving drinking water quality, $1.5 for protecting rivers and wetlands, $1.5 billon to fund integrated water management, $1 billion to protect the California Delta that is critical to the state’s water supply, and $1.5 billion for the development of water storage projects.”

“This version of the bond proposal is the first step in establishing state priorities for water funding. The amounts can change but the principles will endure. Ultimately these informational hearings and ongoing discussions with Governor Brown and the Senate will eventually dictate what goes before voters for approval.”

Following Rendon’s remarks, there was testimony from an expert witness panel of the community. They included:

·      Dave Orth, General Manager of the Kings River Conservation District;

·      Maria Herrera, Director of Community Advocacy, Community Water Center;

·      Bent Walthall, Assistant General Manger, Kern County Water Agency;

·      Tony Azevedo, Manager, Stone Land Company;

·      Mario Santoyo, Executive Director, California Latino Water Coalition.

“In 2009 our priorities were a bit interesting for an agricultural water agency,’ said Walthall. “Our first priority was the Delta ecosystem, and that’s because the Kern County Water Agency was one of the proponents of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), which involves the Twin Tunnel plan, a major focus of our agency.”

Brent Walthall

Brent Walthall

“Also, much of our emphasis on the 2009 proposal was on the public financing for the state and our involvement with the BDCP, other water agencies and  our federal partners at a equal level,” said Walthall. “And we were very much involved in the development of the Delta Plan, an important step in helping the Delta Work as a comprehensive unit rather than 300 different public agencies.

“Today, things are very different,” said Walthall. “As everyone has noted here, it’s all drought–all the time. And that is where we now focus our attention. To be blunt, it makes it very difficult to focus on the Water Bond. And the reason is simple: A wildly successful Water Bond this year still doesn’t address the water problems thisyear,” said Walthall “And for most of us, the house is on fire. And we are working on putting out  the fire, instead of buying fire insurance for next year. Nonetheless, the Water Bond is still important because this will not be the last drought in California.

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Following Walthall’s testimony was David Orth, the general manager of the Kings River Conservation District, with 1.2 million acres in total service area in the Kings River watershed which overlies 28 water rights holders on the Kings River system. The District works very closely with 14 incorporated cities.

David Orth

David Orth

“We have more than 100 disadvantaged communities in the top half of our district alone, many of which are struggling with drinking water issues.”

“We believe that there should be significant investments in both surface and groundwater storage. “We also believe that the $3 billion in funds for storage in the 2009 proposal is necessary to make significant investments in expanded storage capability.”

Orth also spoke about Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM), which was adopted by the California Legislature in 2002 and added to the California Water Code. “It was set up to encourage local agencies to work together to maximize our local and regional capabilities,” said Orth. 

“The voters of previous water bonds have significantly invested in IRWMs, allowing significant funding to come into local regions such as ours to invest in infrastructure in terms of ground water storage, groundwater management capabilities, drinking water supply improvements, and water use efficiency,” said Orth. “And there has been a tremendous amount of success with that investment locally.”

“Our major goals are to address the overdraft within the Kings River Basin, which has an annual overdraft of 120,000 acre feet per year, which is more than it can sustain. Interestingly, the amount of surface water that leaves our Basin during flood release is greater than 120,000 acre feet on average; in fact, it’s closer to 200,000 acre feet. So investments in storage, both surface and groundwater, are the ways that we can attain a balance in the Basin, combined with significant investments in local water use efficiency.”

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“Addressing water quality, specifically for disadvantaged communities, is a high priority of our focus,” said Orth.

“Over the last 11 years, we have received $54 million in state and private grant funding and have leveraged it to nearly $90 million in local projects, enabling us to create 20,000 acre feet more in recharge capacity,” Orth noted. “And we have future projects on our list that will either reduce demand or capture additional flows that will provide another 100,000 acre feet of demand reduction.”

“If we can achieve proper funding support in the Water Bond, then we can achieve balance in our basin in a very short period of time,” Orth said.

Following Orth was Maria Herrera, Director of Community Advocacy, and Community Water Center. The Center, based in Visalia, primarily works with disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley to insure that the citizens in those communities have access to safe, clean and affordable drinking water.

She stated that many communities are still receiving their water from very old infrastructures, with some above-ground piping more than 100 years old. In addition,  much of the groundwater in many of these communities has high nitrates and other contaminants, which affect their drinking water.

“It’s not just failing infrastructure,” said Herrera. “A large number of low income, farm working communities served by private wells are also struggling with water quality problems, both on the drinking water side but also on failing septic systems. We must keep funding in the Water Bond to help with improving all these systems.”

Following Herrera, was Tony Azevedo, a third-generation Kings County farmer and Manager of Stone Land Company, based in Stratford Calif.  He is also a board member of the California Water Alliance.

Tony Azevedo

Tony Azevedo

“Water is not one dimensional, this bond should not be one dimensional, and we as farmers do not operate as one dimensional. Being a farmer in a federal water district, we must have Delta sustainability and we must have water storage in the system, as weather patterns are cyclical.  Just four years ago, we had more water than we knew what to do with, and we could not capture it all. And here we are, four years later, and our system is empty.”

“We have communities that are predicted to be out of water this summer, and that’s unthinkable. We definitely have a wreck on our hands, and we need a bond that is done right. The bond has to be big enough to do the job. We need a bond that will work for our population growth and our agricultural industries. Had we passed the bond four years ago in 2009, we would be well on our way into infrastructure improvements today.”

Mario Santoyo, Executive Director, California Latino Water Coalition was the last expert witness. He focused squarely on the critical need for the Temperance Flat Reservoir and insisted that $3 billion is the minimum needed to get such a project underway.

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Mario Santoyo

Mario Santoyo

“No one wants to say it here, but I will,” said Santoyo. “A real water bond builds you real infrastructure, not little projects that kind of help you day-to-day. We need something to help the state, long-term. This is what our leaders did in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s,” said Santoyo. “That’s why we have what we have in California. If they had not built the Central Valley Project, (CVP), if they had not built the State Water Project, had they not built the big reservoirs, we would not be the California we are today,” he said.

“There were leaders early on who made these big and hard decisions; what we are asking of the Assembly Committee is to be the same level of leaders, and make those tough decisions,” noted Santoyo.

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Santoyo said the Committee should realize that they are holding the meeting in the Central Valley, which has been hit the hardest in terms of water shortages. “There is no question about it. The people you see in this room and in the overflow rooms have been hit so hard that they have been put into the unemployment lines. Their businesses have shut down, their farms have been fallow,” he said.

“Yes, we are in a drought, and we need to worry about it; yet, if we do not fix this on a long-term basis, we will continue to have this fire over and over again. So I would say, the priority from the Committee’s perspective is the Water Bond,” noted Santoyo.

“Above-ground storage is the foundation of all significant water projects. If you don’t have above-ground storage then you really don’t have a water project,” explained Santoyo. “If you look at Shasta, that’s what provides the water to the CVP; if you look at Oroville, that’s the basic supplier of State Project.”

“Right now, our water supplies are way below what the driest year has ever been, and that was in the 1920s. We are in a crisis. We are in a time where there is no water, so the real question becomes what do you have in savings? There are no savings that will help us this year, and that’s why we are in trouble. The point is above-ground storage is the savings account for these kinds of years,” he said.

Santoyo then gave a detailed explanation of what Temperance Flat Reservoir could to for the state. He said it would be an expansion of the existing reservoir in Millerton Lake (Friant Dam). He showed a chart that reflected both the frequency and the volume of flood releases that occur in the Millerton Lake Reservoir. “It happens a lot and in a big magnitude, and nearly every time there is a flood release, it is more than 1 million acre feet going to the ocean,” he said.

Santoyo explained that this happens because the existing reservoir is about .5 million acre feet in total, but nearly every year, 1.8 million acre feet in runoff occurs, so you can see that the numbers do not balance. What this means is about 450,000 acre feet are lost to the ocean on average each year, essentially one full reservoir.

“If you look at the past 30 years, 14 million acre feet has gone to the ocean, which represents 90 years’ worth of water supply for the city of Fresno. If we could save the inflow, we would not be in the crisis we are in today,” he said.

Santoyo noted that Temperance Flat would be the only reservoir (if built) that could move water north into the Delta and south of the Delta. No other reservoir can do that, and it’s important because it would provide public benefits to people in the Delta and those living south of the Delta, including Los Angeles and San Diego.

“We are talking about integrated operations where the San Luis Reservoir and Temperance can work together and move water back and forth so as to optimize the storage in both of them and reduce losses,” he said.

This is especially important should there be a Delta failure due to a seismic event or other situation, preventing Southern California from accessing water from the Delta. So there must be a secondary source as a backup, and Temperance Flat would be the solution.

“It is so critical that we do not have less than $3 billon for above-ground storage.  As much as I would like to say we needed $5-plus billion for water storage, the reality is that we negotiated it to $3 billion, and it would be a good kick-start to get the projects built,” he said.  “Most people note that $3 billion is where the line is drawn.”

And of course we will also need continuous appropriations to continue investing in these big projects. It will take billions and billions to complete and maintain these projects, and to be able to get funding from the state requires financial commitment from the beneficiaries (water users.) Unless they are assured that this project is moving forward, it’s difficult for them to sign that dotted line.

“In fact, Senator Diane Feinstein has been very clear from day one that continuous appropriations must be in the package,” said Santoyo.

Following Santoyo’s comments were more than fifty public comments from farmers, farm bureau representatives, local city councilmen and women, local county supervisors, farm organizations, and concerned citizens.

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