Commentary on Water Issues from Families Protecting The Valley

Unintended Consequences

By Families Protecting The Valley

As Californians endured the drought, they did an excellent job conserving water—maybe too good.  As the article below from Families Protecting The Valley explains, all the low flow toilets, all the 1-minute showers meant less water pushing waste through the sewers.  All that “resulted in corroded wastewater pipes and damaged equipment, and left sewage stagnating and neighborhoods stinking. Less wastewater, and thus more concentrated waste, also means higher costs to treat the sewage and less recycled water for such things as irrigating parks, replenishing groundwater or discharging treated flows to rivers to keep them vibrant for fish and wildlife.”

So now some water agencies are pushing for more outdoor conservation efforts rather than indoor to keep the wastewater flowing.  Adam Link, director of operations with the California Association of Sanitation Agencies asks the key question:  “At what point are you causing more harm than the benefit you are getting from saving those drops of water?”

Another major point we would point out is with the reduced VOLUME of water flows, it has created higher concentrations of pollutants per each gallon of water that gets discharged into the Bay-Delta. With low flow toilets’ rates at 1/2 or lower previous volumes and appliances using less water, all the pollutants that impact fish and people are at double or more on a per-gallon basis getting dumped into the Bay-Delta. Some permit to dump 180 million gallons of sewage water into the Bay-Delta, but the pollutant concentration is double or more.  This makes the pollution from sewage plants going to the delta that much more troubling.

Remember, in 2010, water authorities determined the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant “was discharging too many pollutants into the Sacramento River, threatening public health and harming aquatic life in the Sacrament-San Joaquin Delta.”  The water board found that high volumes of ammonia in the water were disrupting the food chain and endangering fish such as salmon and Delta smelt. Single-celled organisms posed health risks to people who came in contact with the river water.

Wastewater authorities were given until 2021 to remove the ammonia, giardia, and cryptosporidium which endanger fish and humans.  In the meantime, the pollutants keep coming and the policy of cutting off water for farmers is still the favored solution.

This is why farmers are so frustrated.  They see the wastewater situation as the real threat to endangered fish, but water the bureaucrats sole solution to Delta health problems is withholding water from farmers.

More Information at Familiesprotectingthevalley.com

Westlands Water District Corrects LA Times Errors with Full Page Ad

LA Times Wrongly  Attacks Westlands and Refuses OP ED Correction

The Los Angeles Times recently published an intensely critical article about Westlands Water District, which recited many of the false, misleading, or outdated claims made by some of our critics over the years. The Times’ editors refused to print an Op-Ed that the District offered in response. And so the District has taken out a full-page advertisement in the Times TODAY to provide readers with a better understanding of the issues facing Westlands and how we are addressing them. A copy of the advertisement is attached.

I wanted to let you know immediately about this action.

Tom Birmingham

General Manager of Westlands Water District

Westlands’ LA Times Ad

A Little Straight Talk About Agriculture,Saving Water and Drainage

Statement from Don Peracchi, President of Westlands Water District

Westlands
Source: Westlands Water District (wwd.ca.gov)

As the largest public irrigation district in the United States, Westlands Water District draws a lot of attention as well as the criticism that sometimes comes with its successes. This year, one of its most persistent critics, George Miller, is retiring after 40 years in Congress, and to mark the occasion, the Times’ recently unpacked a trunkload of his oft-repeated complaints and concerns about the District.

Some parts of this catalog identify serious issues that were long ago resolved. Others involve legitimate problems which we are still trying to address. And, like many things involving California water, a few are pure, political invention.

The article’s fundamental charge is that Westlands is simply “in the wrong place.” One might make the same complaint about dredging natural marshes in California’s Delta to grow crops in the middle of a saline estuary. Or attack the folly of installing vast farms on the desert lands of the Coachella and Imperial valleys. Or stranger still, decry building a great city on the arid plain where Los Angeles now stands. The point is, these endeavors and dozens more helped to create the prosperity of California by linking our communities together with a modern water system.

The reality is that Westlands is in the ideal place. Indeed, the Central Valley of California occupies the only Mediterranean climate in North America. Weather conditions, rich soils, and the arrival of water in the mid-1960s, have transformed the area into the most productive farming region in America. The communities that have grown there as a result, the thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend upon agricultural productivity, are not “in the wrong place.” They are at home.

The most persistent criticism of Westlands’ role in this transformation has to do with the influence of “corporate agriculture.” That may remain a concern for some parts of California, but not in Westlands or any of the other farming region served by the federal Central Valley Project. When Westlands was created in 1952, major industrial interests, including Standard Oil of California and Southern Pacific Railroad, did indeed own large tracts of land within its water service area.

But that ended in 1982 with the passage of Congressman Miller’s Reclamation Reform Act. That act redefined the qualifications for receiving water from a federal reclamation project; as a result, large corporate entities sold out, the large tracts were broken up, and today in Westlands there are nearly 2,250 landowners and the average farm size is 710 acres. “Corporate agriculture” has lost its meaning. Any corporate structure for today’s family farmers in Westlands is likely to have a mom as its vice president and her child as its treasurer.

Water use remains a constant concern for our farmers. That’s why farmers in Westlands have invested more than $1 billion in water saving techniques and technology. Indeed, even Westlands’ harshest critics have acknowledged that the men and women who today farm in Westlands are among the most efficient users of irrigation water in the world. Westlands is a leader in water conservation, and agricultural experts from all over the world come to the District to learn how its farmers are able to accomplish so much with the limited, and often uncertain, water supplies they have to work with.

Our interest in water use efficiency has become even more important in the 22 years since Congressman Miller’s Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and a host of new regulatory restrictions redirected more than a third of the water that cities and farms used to receive from the federal project, dedicating it instead to serve a wide range of new environmental purposes. Today, on an annual basis, the federal project manages more than 1.5 million acre-feet of water for fishery flow, waterfowl habitat, to protect listed species, and other environmental uses.

In hopes of restoring reliability to the water system as a whole, Westlands is working with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and other public water agencies throughout the state to support Governor Brown‘s Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Drainage was a major issue on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley for decades before Westlands’ creation. That is why when Congress authorized the construction of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, it mandated that the Bureau of Reclamation provide Westlands with both a water supply and a drainage system. Initially federal officials planned to dispose of the drain water in the Delta. But Congress stopped that project when the drain being built by Reclamation reached Kesterson, and it was Washington as well that decided to designate this new terminus for agricultural waste as a wildlife refuge.

The resulting biological catastrophe should have been predictable. In the years since, the drainage system in Westlands has been plugged, and not a drop of drain water has left Westlands after 1986. Instead, Westlands has helped to fund the development of new methods for recycling drain water. And it has taken nearly 100,000 acres of the most vulnerable farmland out of production. Some of those lands are being converted to solar power development, with the support of numerous environmental organizations.

The drainage problem, however, persists. Federal courts, including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, have repeatedly ordered that federal officials fulfill their obligation to provide drainage. But even though Westlands farmers pay every year for drainage service, the government has done nothing to resolve the problem in Westlands. And the government is facing a mandatory injunction, which it estimates will cost more than $2.7 billion to satisfy.

To avoid that cost, the government approached Westlands to assume the responsibility to manage drainage water within its boundaries. In addition, Westlands would compensate those landowners who have been damaged by the government’s failure to act. As part of a settlement, which is not yet final, Westlands would receive some financial consideration, albeit significantly less than the cost of performing the obligations that Westlands would assume. But there is nothing secret about either the negotiations or the proposed settlement. In fact, federal officials and Westlands have briefed interested Members of Congress and non-governmental organizations on the proposal. And there is no process that is more public than the process that federal officials and Westlands will have to pursue to obtain the congressional authorization needed to implement the proposed settlement.

We remain hopeful that these ideas can still form the basis for a long-term resolution of the drainage debate. This would put an end to more than fifty years of litigation, relieve the federal taxpayers of a substantial obligation, and enable us to move forward with an environmentally sustainable approach to the problem.

Whether that happy outcome would also put an end to the criticism of Westlands, however, is not for us to say.

Don Peracchi was born in Fresno, California to second generation Northern Italian immigrants. His family has lived and worked in Central California over 100 years. He has been farming since 1982 alongside his wife, two sons and daughter in Westlands. He has been involved in career-related board positions including banking, insurance, agriculture and water. He currently is the Board
President of Westlands Water District.

Twin Tunnels Could Produce Friant Dry Year Water Woes

Source: Friant Waterline 

While “progress” on the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan’s ambitious and controversial twin tunnels planning continues to mostly be marked by delay, Friant Division contractors and the Friant Water Authority are looking long and hard at findings in troubling computer modeling.

Friant Water Authority directors were told at their August 28 meeting in Visalia that the twin tunnels proposal to bypass the fragile Delta not only lacks benefits for Friant users, it could actually make Friant’s future dry year water supply problems worse.

‘LOSING PROPOSITION’

“Computer modeling shows it is a losing proposition with less water supply reliability to Friant, particularly in dry years,” said Ronald D. Jacobsma, FWA General Manager.

The FWA and its member districts have been evaluating the state’s twin tunnels plan to determine if Friant users would benefit from the two tunnels’ development. That includes San Joaquin River Exchange Contractor water, Cross Valley Canal water and San Joaquin River Restoration Program recirculation in addition to assumptions as to allocation of costs amongst water contractors.

All of this is crucial in Friant’s BDCP consideration because the tunnels, expected to cost many billions of dollars, are to be financed on a “beneficiary-pays” basis. Jacobsma said project proponents have indicated Friant’s share could be about $3 billion.

“The current process has lots of uncertainty,” Jacobsma said. “The bottom line is they won’t be starting construction any time soon on those twin tunnels.”

MORE DELAY

Delay, in fact, popped up again in late August when the California Department of Water Resources indicated that the BDCP needs more work as a result of the massive volume of public comments received on a draft environmental impact report.

Nancy Vogel, DWR spokeswoman, told the Sacramento Bee, “We’re going through it and we’re going to revise and send it back out for public review. We continue to look for ways to reduce the impacts to Delta residents and landowners.”

With a revised BDCP now scheduled to be released early next year, the newest delay is certain to consume several months. The plan has been seven years in the making.

The entire program’s cost is estimated at $25 billion. The BDCP is not to be funded through the pending state water bonds, should Proposition 1 be approved by voters. The Legislature intentionally kept the bond “Delta neutral” because of controversy surrounding the BDCP and twin tunnels.

The tunnels would be an isolated water conveyance system under the Delta between Courtland and state and federal water export pumping plants near Byron, northwest of Tracy.

EPA CONCERN

Meanwhile, a new wrinkle in the twin-tunnels plan popped up August 28 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested the project could violate the Clean Water Act and increase harm to endangered species. EPA said the project could increase Delta concentrations of salinity, mercury, bromide, chloride, selenium and pesticides.