Attorney Suggests That Meters Go on Pumps Now for SGMA

Meters Could Help From a Legal Standpoint

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

There are different options available to make the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) a bit easier on farmers. Lauren Layne of Baker, Manock & Jensen is helping her clients in the Central Valley carry out the SGMA Act in the most beneficial way possible.

“We want to see the Central Valley thrive. So we represent irrigation and water districts who are the local agencies that are forming these groundwater sustainability agencies, and I serve as a council to a number of those groundwater sustainability agencies as well,” explained Layne.

According to Layne, a lot of farmers are considering fallowing certain land to put in recharge projects that will allow them to regulate irrigation, while simultaneously being beneficial to the groundwater basin as a whole.

Layne also highly encourages growers to install meters or transducers to monitor how much water is being used, and what the groundwater table looks like.

“Data is very, very, important from a legal standpoint. It’s important to have the information as a backup for any argument we’re going to make,” she said.

If the cost of installing a meter is an issue, Layne is working on an incentive program that will grant funding to farmers and incentivize them to put meters on.

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.

Assemblyman Adam Gray: Need Real Changes for Water Future

Everything is On Table For California’s Water Future

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Now is the time to unite and plan California’s water infrastructure. That’s what Adam Gray told California Ag Today recently. Gray is the California State Assembly representing the 21st Assembly District, Merced and Stanislaus Counties. He said there is an urgent need for unification in regards to California’s water and the need for real changes to be made for future generations.

“It’s that famous quote, ‘Water’s for fighting. Whiskey’s for drinking.’ All we do is spend our time fighting, and we cannot continue to divide the pie. We have to grow the pie. That means targeted, intelligent investments in storage, projects like Temperance Flat, projects like Sites Reservoir,” Gray explained.

It is hoped that these reservoirs get California through years of drought, and will help us utilize water and years of heavy rain.

“It also means recycling, groundwater recharge, desal, and it means communities working together to make sure we have the conveyance systems in place to move that water around and meet the need of every Californian, and stop forcing people into false choices,” Gray said.

“The environment versus drinking water for schools. These are false choices. We can do better, we can do more,” he continued.

“We, as Californians, need to look past the short term into the long term. It’s important to look out for future generations and keep their needs in mind, as well,” Gray said.

“There’s no silver bullet solution, as is true with anything. There are always costs of doing business, there are always compromises to be made, if we can agree on the target.” he noted. “And the target being meeting the needs of not just of this generation, not just today, but of our children’s generation and our grand-children’s.”

“We need to make the same smart, significant investments that our grandparents made to provide us with this great economy that we have here in this great agricultural valley,” Gray said.

Supporting Temperance Flat to Increase Groundwater Recharge

Building Above Ground Water Storage Enables Groundwater Recharge

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Dramatically helping to recharge groundwater storage is one of the major benefits of the proposal to build Temperance Flat Dam behind Friant Dam, located to the north and east of Fresno. The new dam would triple the storage that is currently available with Friant Dam. Mario Santoyo, the executive director of the San Joaquin Water Authority, is helping the organization prepare the package to submit to the Water Commission by the August 14 deadline.

“We will be making timed releases to various water districts and amenities that will have groundwater recharging basins,” Santoyo said. “First, we need storage and then some time to move above ground water to underground storage. This is a physics necessity and directly counters those who argue we should not build above ground infrastructure if we need only underground storage. Well, if you don’t have above ground water storage, you ain’t putting any below. It is as simple as that.”

Water in Friant-Kern Canal
Water in Friant-Kern Canal

“There are two water conveyances from Friant and [the proposed] Temperance Flat Dams: the Friant-Kern Canal – the longest of the two primary canals – and the Madera Canal. Friant moves water south to Bakersfield, and Madera conveys it north to Chowchilla.”

“We will have one of the strongest applications to receive monies,” said Santoyo, assuring that the water authority will receive the package on time.

Now this is important,” Santoyo stressed. “A new video, ‘Build Temperance Flat,’ is now on YouTube. The video aims to educate Californians on the importance of building Temperance Flat Dam.” Santoyo urges those who are on social media to send the URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f30o_dQNmn8  “to as many people as you can!”

Groundwater Recharge at Terranova Ranch

Major Groundwater Recharge Program at Terranova Ranch Progresses

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Don Cameron, manager of Fresno County-based Terranova Ranch has been working with the Kings River Conservation District (KRCD) on a groundwater recharge plan for nearly 20 years to convey floodwaters from the Kings River across Terranova Ranch and other properties in the area. “It has been a long, hard, committed struggle,” said Cameron, “but in 2011, we got Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) involved.

“Once we submitted our grant application to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), they reviewed it and awarded us a $5 million grant, which really got the project off the ground,” said Cameron.

“We are in the third year of work with the grant and we are currently doing the environmental studies with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). We are still very much involved in the engineering phase and we are putting a lot of agreements together with all the neighboring agencies that we have to work with,” Cameron said.

Logistically, Terranova Ranch is in an ideal location to capture potential floodwaters from the Kings River. Adjacent to the North Fork of the Kings River where floodwaters move though the James Bypass to the Mendota Pool, Terranova Ranch, provides the operation a unique opportunity in terms of groundwater recharge.

“We are taking farmland that is in production, and when the floods come, we will direct floodwaters across that land and neighboring land, to recharge the groundwater in our fields,” said Cameron. “We have proven that we can recharge in existing vineyards and tree-crop orchards, as well as in tomato, onion and carrot fields before we plant. We can use the floodwater across our farmland so that we do not need a dedicated basin dug out just for a recharge.”

“We know we can recharge anywhere on our land,” explained Cameron. “We can even turn off our pumps and use the water on the land to irrigate, through our drip systems. There are a lot of different ways to attack the problem. We think this is the best fit for our area, and we hope to be successful in rebuilding our groundwater supply,” said Cameron.

“The plan is to dedicate about 250 acres of ground for recharge,” said Cameron. Low levies will be built around the land when floodwaters are anticipated. We may have crops planted on the fields,” but Cameron hopes to be able to predict floods prior to planting a crop. Nevertheless, Cameron said, “We will flood crops if we need to.”

When the fields are flooded, the water may be as much as 2 to 3 feet deep, or as little as six inches deep. But the goal is to keep the water continuously on those fields to continue the recharge.

And since this is a large project involving state money, CEQA must be involved. Cameron emphasized, “We want to be sure that there is no environmental damage to any possible endangered species anywhere near our farm or near the project we are doing. There are state and federal laws that we have to abide by and so we need to jump through those hoops to get the project approved to completion,” said Cameron.

“We have been working with the project for a long time and we think its time has come,” said Cameron. “We are in the fourth year of a drought now and there is a lot of interest in putting water underground now, rather than building dams. We think dams are necessary as part of the overall water storage for irrigation, but we need both aboveground and below-ground storage.”

Cameron contends this groundwater recharge plan could improve groundwater quantity and quality fairly quickly, and be implemented faster than trying to build a large dam in the state. “We want to do our part here,” he said. “We would hate to see all the floodwater flow by during flood periods. It’s smarter to capture those stormwater flows on the land and into the ground water reservoir. We think it’s a real win for the whole state,” he said, adding there has been a lot of interest in duplicating this type of project throughout the state.

Cameron noted the project is perfect for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2015. “We are going to be ahead of the game on this, which is where we want to be,” he said.

Yet, not fast enough. Though a sizeable El Niño may pound California this fall and winter, bringing potential floodwaters to many rivers, the paperwork for the Terranova Ranch recharge program will not be completed in time. Cameron and the KRCD have been pushing to complete the project, but the agencies that need to sign off are numerous, including:

  • California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) – because floodwaters will be moving to additional landowners east of 145.
  • Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) – because water will need to flow under a natural gas pipeline.
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – because a major cement structure with gate valves must be in place for the floodwater to be extracted from by-pass. “This will essentially mean that the levies will be breached,” said Cameron.

Again, the floodwaters will be flowing north and to the east, to several landowners in the region. Cameron and KRCD have been doing all the setup for everyone, not just themselves. “We hope, in long term, to expand the recharge project to 16,000 acres,” said Cameron.

Water Storage Needed for Farms and Communities

Doug Verboon on Needed Water Storage

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Water storage remains a major concern for many farmers. Doug Verboon, a Kings County supervisor and walnut farmer, attended the California Water Commission meeting on Oct. 14 and called it a rare opportunity for farmers and community members to petition for water storage.

“As farmers, we want the water for farming,” Verboon said, “but as supervisors, we need it for community use and disadvantaged communities. Yet, as farmers who have been complaining about the lack of water storage for years, this is the one chance in our lifetimes to get more storage built. We need to get over our differences, get together and make this happen.”

“We want to make sure the Water Commission fully understands the importance of adding more storage today,”Verboon continued, “because without more storage in the flood years, we will cease to exist in the dry years.” Verboon explained the Valley has waited too long to increase storage since the drought in 1977.

“This is our opportunity now to jump on the bandwagon,” he said, “and get more storage built. We’ve already passed the bond. We need the money spent right here in our Central Valley. It doesn’t need to go to Los Angeles; it doesn’t need to go to San Francisco. They have a lot of infrastructure. They have a lot of money. They pay for their water. They’re strong. They can build new reservoirs without any environmental problems at all. We need the help today to build this project at Temperance Flat.”

Should El Nino bring significant rain, Verboon said the Central Valley has the infrastructure to help capture the rain.Verboon said the Kings River, for example, has regularly spaced recharge basins along its length, “but they have been dry for the last ten years. Growing up we used to water ski and catch crawdads in those lakes; they were always full. You can’t fill them up today, so as it rains, if it rains, we need the environmentalists to lay off us a little bit and let us put some recharge in our groundwater storage to help the disadvantaged communities by diluting the water that’s gone bad on us. Our water used to be a little acidic, but now it’s really salty as overdrafting depletes it. We’re not farming any more ground than we have before. We need to take advantage of whatever rain we get, recharge our groundwater and move forward.”