Breaking News: Contracted Contractual Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Breaking News: 

Promised Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Delta Smelt Among Many Reasons for Pumping Constraints

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Farmers in the federal water districts of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted only five percent of their contracted water this year; yet they are at risk of getting even less due to pumping constraints. Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a Los Banos-based federal water district explained, “The original forecast had full pumping in June, July, August, and September.

“Because of the temperature constraints and because of the water quality standards,” Peltier stated, “we’ve been operating only one or two pumps. There’s just not enough water flowing south to meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) obligations to the exchange contractors, the [wildlife] refuges and the urban agencies, along with the 5% allocation to the ag services contractors,” he noted.

SLDMWAPeltier is concerned for those in the Central Valley, and water agencies are working frantically to find answers. “We’re working on it,” Peltier affirmed. “We’ve got a lot of engineers and operators preparing spreadsheets and analyzing both the variables and what changes could be made to avoid lower water levels at San Luis Reservoir.”

Commenting on this year’s deliveries, Peltier stated, “No doubt we’re in an unprecedented operating environment. Here we are, eight months into the water year, and we just got a temperature plan for Lake Shasta—that is driving the whole operation—the project. Limiting releases like they are in the temperature plan [designed keep the water cold to protect winter-run salmon eggs]at least we thoughtwould allow Reclamation to hold the commitments they made. But we’re on razor’s edge right now,” Peltier explained.

Peltier described how the process is holding up water release, “The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to keep as much water in storage as possible, in order to keep the cold water cool as long as they can. This is all to protect the winter-run salmon eggs that are in the gravel right now, protect them until the weather turns cool and things naturally cool down. Then they can release water. Shasta’s been effectively trumped by another million-acre feed because of this temperature plan.”

Peltier further noted that the Lake Shasta temperature plan has not allowed water to flow into the Sacramento River. It has severely impacted growers in Northern California on a year when the northern part of the state received above average rain and snowfall during the winter.

“People diverting off the river in the Sacramento Valley have had their own water level issues. There hasn’t been enough water coming down the river to get elevation enough adequate for their pumps. There’s been a lot of ground water pumping,” he said.

The nearly extinct Delta Smelt has been a longstanding issue for those affected by California’s drought. After the past five years of sacrifice, even more water is being taken from agriculture and cities to help save the fish from extinction.

“We’ve got the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wanting significant increases in delta outflow over the summer, supposedly for the benefit of delta smelt, another operational complexity that is sadly not based on any science that we could see. The agencies have their beliefs, and they have the power,” said Peltier.

Featured photo: Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.


California Ag Today will update readers on Bureau of Reclamation announcements about the 5% contracted water delivery federal water district growers were expecting.

BREAKING NEWS: California Water Authorities Sue U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The following is a joint statement by Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District on today’s filing of a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation to reassess its Endangered Species Act (ESA)-related actions.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Fails to Consider the Environmental Impacts of Biological Opinions Which Have Been Devastating Communities

FRESNO, CA-TODAY the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) and Westlands Water District (WWD) filed a lawsuit in federal court to compel the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) to examine the effectiveness of the existing measures intended to protect endangered species, the environmental impacts of those measures, and whether there are alternatives to those measures that would better protect both endangered fish species and California’s vital water supplies.

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority The existing measures, adopted in 2008 and 2009, are based on biological opinions issued under the Endangered Species Act.  The measures are responsible for the largest redistribution of Central Valley Project and State Water Project (water supplies away from urban and agricultural uses and have jeopardized the water supply for waterfowl and wildlife refuges.  Since 2008 and 2009, the farms, families, cities and wildlife that depend upon Central Valley Project and State Water Project water supplies have suffered substantial environmental and socio-economic harm from the reduced water deliveries caused by the existing measures, with little apparent benefit for fish.

Reclamation adopted the existing measures without any review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Federal courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, held this action violated NEPA, and Reclamation was ordered to perform environmental review.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote:

It is beyond dispute that Reclamation’s implementation of the Biological Opinions (BiOp) has important effects on human interaction with the natural environment.  We know that millions of people and vast areas of some of America’s most productive farmland will be impacted by Reclamation’s actions.  Those impacts were not the focus of the BiOp….  We recognize that the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) will not alter Reclamation’s obligations under the ESA.  But the EIS may well inform Reclamation of the overall costs – including the human costs – of furthering the ESA.

The court-ordered review provided Reclamation a rare opportunity to reexamine the necessity for and the benefits of the existing measures, as well as the resulting impacts on the environment and water supplies, potential alternative measures, and new information and studies developed since 2008 and 2009.  It provided Reclamation an opportunity to make a new and better-informed choice.

Unfortunately, Reclamation neglected to take advantage of that opportunity. In November 2015 Reclamation completed an EIS that did not examine whether the measures are necessary or effective for protecting endangered fish populations.  Instead of analyzing the existing measures, Reclamation accepted them as the status quo.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The EIS did not identify any mitigation for the water supply lost to these measures, despite current modeling that estimated how the existing measures would reduce the annual water delivery capabilities of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. Loss was estimated to be over 1 million acre-feet on a long-term average and in spite of years of harm caused by implementing the measures.

Nor did the EIS try to identify alternatives that could lessen these impacts.  Reclamation attempted to minimize the impacts of lost surface water supply by unreasonably assuming the lost supply would be made up from increased pumping of already stressed groundwater supplies.  In its Record of Decision issued January 11, 2016 Reclamation announced that it would continue on with the existing measures, and provide no mitigation.

It is inexplicable that Reclamation would pass up the opportunity to reassess the existing measures and make a much more careful and robust analysis than what is found in the EIS.  NEPA requires no less.

The lawsuit filed today seeks to compel Reclamation to do the right thing and perform the analysis it should have.  If successful, the lawsuit may ultimately result in measures that actually help fish, and identify mitigation activities or alternatives that lessen or avoid water supply impacts that millions of Californians in the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project depend on.

Many of those affected reside in disadvantaged communities and are already struggling to pay for a water supply made scarce by layers of other, yet equally ill-advised bureaucratic regulations.  California’s water supply is too precious for Reclamation not to make the best informed decision it can.

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.

Senate Water Bill Hopeful

Senate Water Bill Introduction is a Glimmer of Hope for Water Agencies

FRESNO, CA – Last week’s introduction of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s legislation, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015, is welcome news for the people of the State of California and the Central Valley enduring another devastatingly dry year. Once again, multiple Central Valley water agencies joined together to express their unified voice in support of an expeditious passage of this Senate water bill. This bill comes on the heels of the introduction and passage by the House of Representatives of H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015.

 “We are encouraged by Senator Feinstein’s actions with the introduction of this legislation. There is no time to lose as the damaging effects of the drought continue to wreak havoc on local communities, businesses, farms and farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley and other regions of the State. Immediate solutions are needed, and the District looks forward to working with Members of both the House and Senate to find a reasonable solution that will benefit our great State.”

–Don Peracchi, Chairman of the Board, Westlands Water District

 

“The South Valley Water Association thanks Senator Feinstein for introducing the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015 and encourages the balance of the Senate to make quick work in passing the bill immediately upon return from the August recess. This is a further important step to get legislation that will help those many farms and communities in California who are going without water. We look forward to the members of Congress resolving key differences between the California Emergency Drought Relief Act and H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, and finding real water supply solutions. The members of the South Valley Water Association stand ready to assist in any way we can.”

–Dan Vink, Executive Director, South Valley Water Association

 

“The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority thanks Senator Feinstein for the introduction of the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015. We realize this is another important step to passing a bill out of the Senate later this year that provides a meaningful legislative solution to the long-standing water supply shortages that is crippling the state. We are optimistic that members of Congress and the Senate can resolve the key differences in this bill, and the previously passed House Bill H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015. The Authority looks forward to working with our legislative leaders to pass legislation that benefits all of California.”

–Steve Chedester, Executive Director, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority

 

“There is no more important issue facing the Valley than the drought. It is a statewide crisis with the most direct and severe impacts in the Valley. The Kern County Water Agency appreciates Senator Feinstein’s and Senator Boxer’s efforts to help reduce the drought’s terrible impacts by introducing a bill in the Senate that can improve water supplies for farms and cities. We are anxious for the House and Senate to start working on a compromise between Congressman Valadao’s bill and the bill in the Senate, and we encourage the Senate to take swift action on the Feinstein/Boxer bill so that process can begin.”

–Ted R. Page, Board President, Kern County Water Agency

 

“No area of the State, and perhaps the nation, has suffered more disproportionately the harmful stress of chronic water supply shortages. The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority is appreciative of the effort of Senators Feinstein and Boxer on the recently introduced California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015 bill in the Senate. This bill is not only important to the San Joaquin Valley, but it is also vital for the entire state of California. We encourage the Senate to act swiftly, and encourage both the House and Senate legislators to begin work immediately on a meaningful compromise bill to ensure that long-awaited and much-needed relief is realized.”

–Dan Nelson, Executive Director, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority

 

 “Friant Water Authority welcomes the introduction of Senate Bill 1894, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015, and we thank Senator Feinstein and her staff for all their efforts in bringing this bill forward. The immediate task is to pass Senate legislation so that work can begin to craft a compromise with the House-passed legislation. Our farms and communities have suffered more under these water cutbacks than any other area in the nation. Our people are desperate for solutions that will provide real water for our area. This bill is a critically important step in the process of developing compromise legislation that can be signed into law by the President this year. As the bill advances, Friant looks forward to working with our representatives on both sides of the aisle to achieve drought legislation that will provide real relief for the 2016 water year and beyond.”

–Eric Borba, Chair, Friant Water Authority

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.