Temperance Flat Denied Funding

All Hope Dries Up

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Again, it came down to fish, specifically Chinook salmon, that forced the proposed Temperance Flat Dam out of the race for Proposition 1 funding for building new water storage projects.

Mario Santoyo and Temperance Flat Denied Funding
Mario Santoyo fought hard for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

For more than 20 years, the Temperance Flat Dam proposal was passionately advocated with unwavering support by Central Valley cities and the San Joaquin Valley Infrastructure Authority (SJVIA) who were behind the application. Temperance Flat came crumbling down Wednesday at the California Water Commission (CWC) meeting in Sacramento on the second day of discussion.

On Tuesday, CWC staff members assigned to crunch the Public Benefit Ratios for the project were solidly encased in concrete, refusing to grant the project any consideration for its ecosystem restoration benefits. The Dam would provide critical cold water to flow down the San Joaquin River, thus helping the salmon spawn.

CA Water Commission kills Temperance Flat funding
CA Water Commission denied funding for Temperance Flat Dam.

And while the official public benefit calculation came up short today, proponents already saw that the project was already on life support Tuesday, with a dire prognosis.

“Stunned is an understatement,” said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the SJVIA, who has worked for more than 18 years on the project. “Temperance Flat is the most critical water project ever proposed for the Central Valley, which is ground zero for significant water shortages that will not go away.”

It all boiled down to the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment (EDT) model that was approved by Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources. Despite both approvals, that model did not jive with the Commission staff’s model, which undervalued the project’s public benefit ratio, killing the opportunity for Temperance Flat Dam to receive funding of more $1 billion for construction.

“We are working in an area of great uncertainty in professional judgment,” Bill Swanson, vice president, Water Resources Planning & Management for Stantec, a global planning and engineering firm, who presented data for the SJVIA. “We do not have fish in the river. We do not have empirical data. The only issue available to us is a comparison of how the system would respond to changes in flow, temperature and habitat,” Swanson said.

“That’s the reason we used the EDT model, the same model that the Bureau of Reclamation has used in their models of flow,” Swanson explained. “The SJVIA’s challenge was how to take the results of that model and analyze them to a level of detail that distinguishes the precision that we might want to have around the results,” said Swanson.

Bill Swanson
Stantec’s Bill Swanson advocated for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

“I’m very disappointed with the way they scored a great project that needed to be built,” noted Santoyo. “And I am not happy about one commissioner from Orange Cove who stabbed us in the back and scolded us on why we did not meet the Public Benefit Ratio. We did meet and exceed that ratio, but the CWC disagreed with our ecosystem restoration model that had been used by both the state and the feds.”

Several Water Commissioners publicly wrangled with their staff on how they could make the project work. They sought areas to increase the project’s cost-benefit evaluation to get it funded.

Commissioner Joe Del Bosque read the ballot text of Prop 1, approved by California voters by 67 percent in 2014. He reminded those present that voters expected a water storage project to be built, adding, “We need to find more certainty in order to get Temperance Flat built.”

Commissioner Daniel Curtain distinguished two parts to the discussion—physical and monetary. “Take a look and see if there is a physical benefit for ecosystem restoration. Finding a potential benefit and attaching a potential monetary benefit could be helpful,” he said.

The project was also short on points for recreation opportunities on what would be a new lake behind the 600-foot high dam east of Fresno, behind Friant Dam. Commissioner Joseph Byrne said he hoped for more thought given to the recreation cost benefit. “Intuitively, zero benefit does not make sense. We need a higher level of confidence in the estimated recreation cost-benefit,” he said.

CWC staff stipulated that while the newly created lake behind Temperance Flat Dam would accommodate boating activity, the lack of camping, hiking, and other activities within the existing San Joaquin River Gorge neutralized any recreation benefits.

If built, the Temperance Flat Reservoir would contain 1.26 million acre-feet of new water storage above Millerton Lake, northeast of Fresno. Temperance would have helped provide a more reliable supply of fresh drinking water for disadvantaged Valley communities. It would have enabled below-surface groundwater recharge, addressed extreme land subsidence and provided critical help to farmers facing severe groundwater restrictions due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Santoyo said the SJVWIA spent more than $2 million on the California Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by Commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers California’s Central Valley Project for the U.S. Department of the Interior, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. Santoyo said those studies supported the finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferred location for such a crucial project.

Trinity Reservoir Releases Water

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Releases Shared Water From Trinity Reservoir Despite Making Claims Of “California’s Historic Drought”

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (Authority) along with Westlands Water District, according to their press release, has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) from releasing Central Valley Project (CVP) water from the Trinity Division to the Klamath River.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said releases started Friday from Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River, the Klamath’s primary tributary, and would continue into late September.SLDMWA logo
Yesterday, Reclamation announced the release of up to 88,000 acre-feet of CVP water from Trinity Reservoir in the hope of aiding returning non-listed Chinook salmon with the optimism of diminishing the effect of a naturally-occurring disease endemic known as “Ich” (pronounced “ick”) to the Klamath River system to which the Trinity River is connected. This action, which is outside of Reclamation’s authorized place of use, is a repeat of a similar action taken last year with the intention to help avoid an outbreak which has only been documented to have occurred once in 2002. Since 2000, a significant supply of water has been set aside each year from the Trinity Reservoir for fishery protection purposes. Specifically, over the past four years, this has equated to more than 200,000 acre-feet of water lost that was literally flushed down the Lower Klamath River.
“As our state is faced with a water supply crisis affecting every sector of people, businesses, and communities, an action like this is unthinkable. This will cause irreparable damage to drought-stricken communities already facing water restrictions,” said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
The CVP and State Water Project (SWP) provide water for more than 25 million Californians who depend upon a reliable water supply. In the 50-year history of the Projects, water deliveries have never been lower–the CVP is experiencing its second year of a zero water allocation and the SWP sits at a mere 20 percent water allocation.
Reclamation is once again choosing to ignore the harms of its actions through the issuance of a “Finding of No Significant Environmental Impact” (FONSI) that hasn’t been properly analyzed. Further, Reclamation’s decision to release 88,000 acre-feet of CVP water for the Klamath River is a sad irony given that Reclamation is currently unable to meet its legally-mandated obligations within the CVP and SWP.
 Westlands Water District_logo
“The hardworking people of the State of California have been directed by state and federal agencies to conserve water in the form of dying lawns, fewer showers, unplanted fields, trees uprooted or turning brown, and community wells drying up. Yet Reclamation, which has been unable to deliver any water to farmers, has decided to release tens of thousands of acre feet in an arbitrary manner that the courts have previously held to be unlawful.” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District. “The fact that 88,000 acre-feet can be casually released without regard to the potential impacts on the environment, including at risk-species in the Sacramento River and the Delta, is a gross mismanagement of the state’s water supplies. The action filed today is intended to compel Reclamation to comply with its mandatory duties,” said Birmingham.
“During a time when we are experiencing the worst water management challenges in decades, when communities and agriculture throughout the state are suffering severe impacts that have negatively affected our economy, the labor force and the environment, the decision by the Bureau of Reclamation to repurpose precious Central Valley Project water resources to augment Klamath flows for non-endangered fish, an action that is of questionable benefit, is both irresponsible and incomprehensible. While the needs of cities, family farms, and endangered species that rely on CVP resources continue to go unmet, the reallocation of the Project’s limited supply of water defies all logic,” said Jeff Sutton, general manager of the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, an organization that represents seventeen Sacramento Valley water districts that hold CVP water service contracts, that are also highly critical of the action being undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation.
The water planned for release is enough to farm 31,000 acres of food, or to serve the domestic needs of more than 175,000 families for an entire year. The devastating effects of the drought will be felt for decades to come especially if arbitrary decisions like these continue.

WADE: LET THE WATER FLOW!

Let The Water Flow:

Mike Wade Urges Water Board To Let Reclamation Pay Back Borrowed Water

By Laurie Greene, California Ag Today Editor

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, discussed with California Ag Today, his article for the Coalition’s Blog, entitled, “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion.”

“A number of San Joaquin Valley farmers have been working the last couple of years to set aside emergency water supplies through conservation and water purchases on the open market,” began Wade. “That water is set aside in the San Luis Reservoir and currently being borrowed, if you will, by the Bureau of Reclamation to help meet their obligations and ultimately the temperature management plan for winter run Chinook salmon.”

Wade said the Bureau’s water obligations also include provisions for summer agriculture south of the Delta, as well as refuge management for numerous listed terrestrial species like the Giant Garter Snake.

Wade estimates the loaned water is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Lending farmers include those who own land on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Valley rice farmers who fallowed land this year to make supplies available for transfers and Friant-area farmers seeking to augment a zero water allocation for the second year in a row.

“We believe the Bureau has an obligation to pay that water back this fall, and we’re urging the State Water Resources Control Board to let that payback happen.” In his article, Wade reported that Reclamation would pay back the water from supplies stored in Lake Shasta as soon as temperature goals for winter run Chinook salmon were met.

Regarding accountability, Wade said, “I believe the Bureau intends to pay it back, but we want the public to understand what’s happening. We want transparency so we can follow this obligation and make sure this fall, when water becomes available, the Bureau follows through to pay it back. People don’t forget.”

Built and operated jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of California, the San Luis Reservoir is at 44% capacity today, according to the California Department of Water Resources’ California Data Exchange Center, but the supply is already divided and allocated. Wade explained, “The water that is currently in San Luis Reservoir under the Bureau of Reclamation’s control is almost exclusively owned by growers who have conserved it or purchased it on the open market. The remainder belongs to the State Water Project and its users. So, there is little or no federally-owned water in San Luis at this time.”

Wade said, “There are a number of factors that contribute to the 4.5 – 4.9 billion dollar projected cost for San Joaquin Valley farmers. First is the actual value of the water that farmers have already set aside. Second is the monetary obligations farmers have contracted to pay Sacramento Valley rice growers for transferred water. The third component is the actual value of potential crop and orchard losses if that water isn’t paid back and farmers lose out on their ability to keep their farms going.”

Wade urged the State Water Resources Control Board, “to facilitate this complex and unprecedented collaboration” and allow Reclamation to release compensatory water as soon as possible.

Let the water flow!

 

Sources: Interview with Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion,” by Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; Bureau of Reclamation; California Department of Water Resources

Featured Image: San Luis Reservoir-Empty, California Farm Water Coalition

Reclamation Announces It Will Dump Water While Thousands Stand in Line for Food Handouts

The following is a statement by Dan Nelson, Executive Director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, regarding the release of water from Trinity Reservoir by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for speculative fishery purposes.

Today, United States Bureau of Reclamation announced it will dump precious Central Valley Project water while the people of our valley suffer from well-documented and widely reported social and economic destruction as a result of government policies compounded by the drought.

While over 2,000,000 acres of farmland throughout the Central Valley, which produces over half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables, continues to have a 0 percent water supply from the Central Valley Project, Reclamation has determined there is somehow enough water available to let it go down the Lower Klamath River in the hope it may help conditions for unthreatened salmon. This decision is wrong – both scientifically and morally.

At issue is fear about a repeat of a fish die-off that occurred in 2002 – the one and only occurrence in recorded history. It is hypothesized that the die-off was caused by a number of co-occurring factors: over-abundance of returning fish, low flows in the river, and the presence of endemic diseases such as Ich.

However, since recordkeeping of flows and the number of returning fish began in 1978, there have been six other occasions when conditions have been similar to or worse than today and no fish die-off has ever occurred.

Since the once in history die-off, Reclamation has provided additional flows upon request on occasions when a repeat was feared. Initially, Reclamation acquired the water from willing sellers but more recently they have simply taken the water from CVP water and power customers.

Again this year, Reclamation received a request to provide additional flows. However, on July 30 they announced they would not do so because the number of returning fish is far below previous levels of concern and, in light of the severe drought conditions, it is vital to preserve as much water as possible for the future. When Reclamation declined the request they stated they would monitor conditions for the outbreak of disease and if emergency criteria were triggered, they would be prepared to respond rapidly.

Today, none of the environmental conditions upon which all previous decisions have been made support Reclamation’s reversal. The number of returning salmon is still well below the established level of concern. In fact, reports from field biologists, fishing guides and fishermen along the Lower Klamath all indicate that the prevalent fish in the river is steelhead, not Chinook salmon.

There are no reports of any disease outbreak, which was the requisite condition for change Reclamation established just weeks ago. The only condition that has changed is the increase in volume in the voices of a few special interests.

Sadly, Reclamation and the Trinity Management Council squandered the 369,000 acre-feet of water they had available from Trinity Reservoir for fishery management this year. For years, they have been encouraged to set water aside for contingency purposes. This year, like all others, they have ignored that advice and have once again created a completely avoidable crisis.

No one wants to see a repeat of the fish die-off that occurred in 2002. And, our current understanding of the environmental conditions and science strongly suggests it will not reoccur. This makes the uncertainty that is the basis of today’s decision so egregious. Public policy decisions should be based upon a real and substantiated balance of the risks and benefits.

This is what we know – the fish claimed to be of concern are not present in significant numbers. There is no evidence that the disease of concern is present. The emergency criteria developed by Reclamation and federal fish agencies have not been triggered. The potentially bad side effects to other fish and wildlife, some of which are threatened, have not been studied. And, any potential benefits of undertaking this action are purely speculative.

In contrast, the damage being brought to the families, farms, rural communities, and vital wetlands of California’s Central Valley by government policies will continue. Reclamation’s response to the request from people losing homes, businesses, and hope, for even a little bit of CVP water to lessen the crisis, has been consistently no – there simply is not any more to provide. Until today.

Gov. Brown Issues Executive Order to Redouble State Drought Actions

Governor Brown Doubles Down on Drought

 

With California’s driest months ahead, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued an executive order to strengthen the state’s ability to manage water and habitat effectively in drought conditions and called on all Californians to redouble their efforts to conserve water.

“The driest months are still to come in California and extreme drought conditions will get worse,” said Governor Brown. “This order cuts red tape to help get water to farmers more quickly, ensure communities have safe drinking water, protect vulnerable species and prepare for an extreme fire season. I call on every city, every community, every Californian to conserve water in every way possible.”

In January, the Governor declared a drought state of emergency. Since then, state water officials say that reservoirs, rainfall totals and the snowpack remain critically low. Current electronic readings show the snowpack’s statewide water content at just 16 percent of average.

In the order, Governor Brown directs the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board to expedite approvals of voluntary water transfers to assist farmers. He also directs the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to accelerate monitoring of drought impacts on winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River and its tributaries, and to execute habitat restoration projects that will help fish weather the on-going drought.

To respond to the increased threat of wildfire season, the order streamlines contracting rules for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and CALFIRE for equipment purchases and enables landowners to quickly clear brush and dead, dying or diseased trees that increase fire danger.

The order also calls on Californians and California businesses to take specific actions to avoid wasting water, including limiting lawn watering and car washing; recommends that schools, parks and golf courses limit the use of potable water for irrigation; and asks that hotels and restaurants give customers options to conserve water by only serving water upon request and other measures. The order also prevents homeowner associations from fining residents that limit their lawn watering and take other conservation measures.

The order provides a limited waiver of the California Environmental Quality Act for several actions that will limit harm from the drought.  This waiver will enable these urgently needed actions to take place quickly and will remain in place through the end of 2014.

Continue reading “Gov. Brown Issues Executive Order to Redouble State Drought Actions”

ANOTHER BIOLOGICAL OPINION CHALLENGE

New Biological Opinion for Yuba River Dams!

According to the Association of California Water Agencies, a federal court ordered a new biological opinion (BiOp) for Daguerre Point and Englebright Dams this week.
U.S. District Court Judge Morrison C. England set a May 12, 2014 due date for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to issue a new biological opinion, and told the federal government to not utilize the existing 2012 BiOp in the preparation of the new opinion or in any Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing processes for the two dams.
Yuba County Water Agency, Nevada Irrigation District, Pacific Gas & Electric and other plaintiffs challenged the 2012 BiOp, which identified dam removal and other fish passage improvements as the preferred approaches to improve conditions for spring run Chinook salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon.

 

The local water agencies argued that fish passage improvements or dam removal would negatively impact water deliveries and hydropower generation, and imperil the award-winning Lower Yuba River Accord, a regional agreement benefitting agriculture and fisheries. Furthermore, the plaintiffs said the 2012 BiOp was flawed and violated key elements of the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

 

England issued a stay of proceedings until the new biological opinion is done, and he denied a related lawsuit from a local environmental group seeking enforcement of the 2012 BiOp. He also ordered the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the two dams, to continue taking steps to improve fish habitat on the river.