By Kristi Diener, Fourth Generation San Joaquin Valley Farmer
Delta smelt are poor swimmers. When they have to swim against voluminous outflows, they struggle. They also lack endurance for distance and swimming against currents. This was the result of the taxpayer-funded swim performance test conducted more than 20 years ago. Why is this important?
Delta smelt live in the freshwater/saltwater mixing zone made up of outflow from the fresh waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, and the inflow of saltwater pushed towards that freshwater from the ocean tides. Smelt leave this mixing zone in search of freshwater to spawn, in the late winter to early spring. It is the same time of year when the outflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers are at their peak. Recently, water surging out from the rivers was equal to 104,900 basketballs per second!
If the smelt are able to swim against these powerful outflows, they don’t go too far, and generally spawn pretty close to the nearest region of freshwater they can find in the delta. However, most smelt being surveyed during spawning are not in the delta at all, rather, in the much smaller waterways to the north where there is a fraction of the freshwater outflow. Twenty-one years ago, UC Davis acknowledged outflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers are actually too high for the endangered smelt!
Let’s jump to the “pumps.” They are about 60 miles away from where smelt live in the mixing zone of the Suisun and San Pablo Bays. The pumps capture water at the south end of the delta, where it later flows into storage at San Luis Reservoir. Eventually, it is conveyed south to 2/3 of the state.
Water that is not captured by pumping surges out from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers into that mixing zone. These pumps are routinely throttled back because, according to the Smelt Biological Opinion, smelt are in danger of getting sucked-in and killed. The result of not pumping is huge losses of water for human use and huge increases of outflow from these two rivers into the ocean.
So how many smelt, who lack endurance for long swims according to the swim performance test, are actually surveyed near the pumps and at risk of being liquidated? Every month, a trawl survey is conducted to count smelt and find out where they’re hanging out. I pulled up the fish distribution maps for every monthly trawl over a 10-year period. The closest a smelt has been surveyed near the pumps is about 30 miles away from them, seven years ago.
Still, in spite of their own swim performance tests, the opinion is that smelt swim about a 60 mile, squiggly endurance course, destined for the pumps. Remember, they spawn in freshwater, but actually, live back in the mixing zone where they must return. Nonetheless, this opinion is the very hypothesis that ratchets back pumping at full capacity and prevents the securing of water for humans. There are many other facets of the opinion that are questionable as well. Incidentally, just two smelt have been surveyed anywhere in the last 10 months.
Here’s the good news. President Trump signed an executive memo in October, requiring the Biological Opinions to be reviewed and updated. The science is well over a decade old. Please notice it is called an “opinion”, not a fact. Trump set a timeline and a deadline to get it done too. The assessment phase had to be completed by January 31, and it was. The deadline for the new Opinions to be issued is 135 days after the assessment, which I calculate to be around June 15th. I’m counting.
In the next couple of months, we’ll likely be hearing a whole bunch of malarkey coming from the folks favoring water for the sea in the name of fish, instead of for humans and the earth. There will be an uproar when the Biological Opinions are revised to actually help endangered fish, instead of being used as a vehicle to implement an agenda of man-made water shortages, more regulations, increased fees, and new taxes. You will hear misinformation, but you will know the truth.
Award-Winning film by Juan Carlos Oseguera Expands
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
An award-winning documentary film on the California water crisis, The Fight for Water, has made its debut this week on Amazon Prime. This is its largest release, as Amazon has over 90 million Prime members in the U.S. alone.
Since its release in 2012, the documentary film has gone on to screen at numerous national and international film festivals, where it also won awards, and has continued to hold numerous community, library and college screenings around the nation. Because of this ongoing success, the film’s distributor, Passion River Films, felt the film could still find a greater audience through this online venue as well.
The 78-minute long movie features interviews with farmworkers and farmers, many who were members of the Latino Water Coalition. The Fight for Water film spotlights the 2009 historic Water March from Mendota to the San Luis Reservoir, as well as telling the stories of two central San Joaquin Valley farmers, Joe Del Bosque and George Delgado.
“Understanding water issues have captured the attention of many, not only in California but also around the nation and the world, the documentary serves not only as an educational film on water, but also offers a historical perspective on environmental issues,” said filmmaker Juan Carlos Oseguera.
The film specifically chronicles an environmental decision that affected a community, united an entire region and galvanized the entire state into action, all to fight for their right to water.
Les Grober Explains Increasing San Joaquin River Flows
This is part 1 of a 2-part series.
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
California Ag Today conducted an extensive interview with Les Grober, assistant deputy director, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB, Water Board) Division of Water Rights, regarding the Water Board’s proposal to adjust the flow objectives on the San Joaquin River to protect fish and wildlife. The plan, specifically, is to divert 40 percent of water flows from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers that flow into the lower San Joaquin River.
Hearing on the Potential Changes to the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay-Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta Estuary: San Joaquin River Flows and Southern Delta Water Quality and on the Adequacy of the Supporting Recirculated Draft Substitute Environmental Document.
Hearing begins at 9:00 a.m. on the following dates:
November 29, 2016 Joe Serna Jr. CalEPA Headquarters Building, Byron Sher Auditorium, 1001 I Street, 2nd Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814
December 16, 2016 Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium, Main Hall, 525 N. Center Street, Stockton, CA 95202
December 19, 2016 Multicultural Arts Center, 645 W. Main Street, Merced, CA 95340
December 20,2016 Modesto Centre Plaza, Tuolumne River Room, 1000 K Street, Modesto, CA 95354
January 3, 2017 Joe Serna Jr. CalEPA Headquarters Building, Coastal Hearing Room, 1001 I Street, 2nd Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814
California Ag Today: At a recent public workshop in Sacramento, Les Grober, you cited some statistics that show the Water Board really has not done a lot—or much of anything particularly—in the San Joaquin River in terms of helping salmon. Is this accurate?
Grober: Yes. I did not discuss specifically the flow benefits or the fish benefits, but I did explain there are times between February and June when flows are critical for salmon. During the months of March and April, especially, less than 10 percent of the water flows than would be there normally if you were not storing it or diverting it.
California Ag Today: So the Water Board proposes taking 40 percent from the rivers to help the salmon?
Grober: I posed the question, “If there is a species that has adapted to 100 percent flow, how likely would it be that it could be successful with less than 10 percent of that?” If you look at the overall statistics between 1984 and 2009 for the three tributaries (Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers), the average flow during the February through June period was 40 percent on the Stanislaus, 21 percent on the Tuolumne, and 26 percent on the Merced.
California Ag Today: So you need water from all three tributaries to accomplish the objective?
Grober: Currently, there are flow objectives only for the San Joaquin River at Vernalis where the San Joaquin River flows into the Delta. The current objective skews the flows so they are coming from just the Stanislaus River, which has problems achieving those flows at all times because it is all coming from one location. It also does not achieve the fish protection goals because it’s all coming from the same location.
So, based on the core science, we are proposing to establish objectives on the three salmon-bearing tributaries to the San Joaquin River. This is about reasonably protecting fish and wildlife in the San Joaquin River.
California Ag Today: So the Water Board is not trying to protect the salmon at any cost, which is the mandate from the Endangered Species Act?
Grober: The proposal is not establishing flows that provide absolute protection. We are establishing flows to reasonably protect species—in this case—fish and wildlife.
California Ag Today: The Water Board earlier proposed the need for 60 percent to be unimpaired flows?
Grober: The science developed over the years has shown that if you were not going to consider any other uses of water, like agriculture, drinking water or anything else, the number you would need is 60 percent of unimpaired flow.
California Ag Today: Due to agriculture pushback, the new goal is 40 percent?
Grober: That is why what we are doing now is very hard. We’re doing the balancing that says we have the science that shows the need for increased flows. We have all the information that shows how important the current uses of water are now for agriculture and municipal supply and hydropower. so how do you come up with a balance that takes into account all of that information?
California Ag Today: We have been following closely the extraordinarily increased flows through the Delta and to the Pacific Ocean, which seemed to be No. 1, a total waste of freshwater, and No. 2, at least a few acre-feet could have been pumped into the San Luis Reservoir for cities and farmers.
Grober: It would be interesting to see the numbers that you are citing because, during this recent drought, in particular, there have been greatly reduced flows throughout the system—not in any way—by any stretch—increased flows. In fact, the Water Board approved emergency change petitions not to increase flows, but to do just the opposite.
In general, they have relaxed or shifted downward required flows so there would be more water available to be smartly used for multiple purposes, not just for fish and wildlife, but also to get more water for public interest uses.
California Ag Today: We know that flood control pulse flows are difficult to capture, but it seems that some of that great volume of water could be pumped southward.
Grober: Many times, people will fail to notice or acknowledge that during periods of high rainfall and high flow, a lot of water goes out because it cannot be captured. So very large quantities of water go out because of flood flows and high flows.
This is not to say that there are no constraints, at times, on what can be diverted or exported to protect fish and wildlife due to objectives, the State Boards, the Water Quality Control Plan, or biological opinions. But much of that water that people look at and say, ‘Why is that all going out?’ — a lot of that is flood flows that cannot be captured. So it ends up looking like a very big number, but it is not a number that can be captured because, as you can imagine during wet years and high flow times, it is almost too much. People can’t capture it.
California Ag Today: So there is not even an effort to export that water to those who need it — farmers and communities?
Grober: Like I said, there have been constraints on export pumping. But those constraints are intended to provide some protections for fish and wildlife, while at the same time they are opportunities for getting water for other uses. So I see a lot of overstatements.
California Ag Today: Again, when there are pulse flows, why can’t we collect them and exported them? Why can’t we just turn up the pumps to capture some of the extra water moving through the Delta to export it to farms and cities?
Grober: There are constraints on what are called reverse flows in Old and Middle Rivers (OMR), which is a critical area of Smelt risk. This is part of the biological opinions intended to protect smelt and salmon at critical times that happen to coincide occasionally with higher flow events.
That is one of those times when it’s kind of striking a balance as well. The flows are still not optimal for the protection of the species, but certainly, from the water supply perspective, they are not seen as optimal for the water supply. That makes all of this so very hard. How do you strike that balance?
California Ag Today: You talk about striking a balance. It seems that the environmental side gets nearly 100 percent of what they need and Ag gets nearly zero.
Grober: Where is Ag getting zero?
California A Today: There are Federal Districts on Fresno County’s Westside that for several years have received zero water allocation. This past season, they were promised 5 percent, but they were not able to get the entire amount.
Grober: If I may, it is clear that you have a certain view on this.
California Ag Today: Absolutely. It just does not seem that agriculture has a seat at the table.
We’ll continue Part Two of this series tomorrow. We’ll discuss, among other things, that if the proposal goes through, farmers would be forced to use more groundwater.
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.
Peltier 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 thought—would 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.
Jim Costa, Congressman for the 16th Congressional District of California that covers all of Merced County and parts of Fresno and Madera Counties and includes vast areas of agricultural land, is not happy with the water situation in California. Costa stated, “To be sure, we are still in a water crisis even though we have had some good [wet] months.”
“Sadly those good months have seen too much of that water going out to sea—as opposed to getting into the San Luis Reservoir and providing water for our Valley—whether for the East side or the Westside. It is a fight that I have been engaged in for years, but most recently, I have been trying to ensure that we are pumping at the maximum levels even under the flawed biological opinions that we are having to contend with.”
Costa explained that while the pumps have been turned up over the past month, sometimes to the maximum level, “the San Luis Reservoir is only 51% full, and now we are are still looking at a 5 percent water allocation for Federal water users. This has been avoidable, and it is unconscionable and immoral. Let me repeat that, it has been avoidable, and it is immoral and unconscionable that we, in fact, are in this predicament. It is largely because we have failed to take advantage of the El Niño months of December and January.”
Assessing our winter water losses,Costa remarked, “Since January 1st, we estimate that we have lost over 440,000 acre-feet of water. This freshwater—440,000 acre-feet—would make a big difference to our Valley, which has been water-starved from a combination of 4 years of drought, plus the flawed biological operations of the Federal and State Water Projects. So, we have to fix this broken water system, bottom line.”
Justification for Reclamation’s 5 Percent Allocation
Following the stunning announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) on Friday, April 1, 2016, of a 5 percent water allocation for Federal water users south of the Delta, Patrick Cavanaugh, deputy editor with California Ag Today interviewed Louis Moore, deputy public affairs officer with the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) Mid-Pacific Region based in Sacramento regarding justification for the low allocation for the Central Valley during this El Niño year.
Cavanaugh: We are all stunned in Central California with that 5 percent water allocation to Central Valley Project water users. With so much hydrology in terms of rain and snow this winter, it seems impossible that farmers and cities could only expect 5 percent!
Moore: Yes, understood. I will try to explain what our logic is behind the 5 percent allocation.
Cavanaugh: Yes, I would like just one reason for the 5 percent. We cannot imagine why so much water is going to waste.
Moore: So basically when we looked at the hydrologic conditions in preparation to make the allocation announcement, we found that regionally, water has fallen differently in the various basins. There was substantially more rain and snow in the mountains in the Oroville and Shasta Dam areas that caused those reservoirs to increase storage quite rapidly. Over at the New Melones Reservoir, which provides water to the south, the storm systems did not materialize and did not produce large sums of runoff; therefore the reservoir storage is low.
Cavanaugh: But the snow that could fill New Melones has not yet melted. And, as you said, there is a lot of water in northern California, and there is a system to get it southward to farms and cities.
Moore: So this is the initial allocation that is out today. We are hopeful that conditions will improve; and if they do so, we can make an adjustment to what the allocation is.
Cavanaugh: You did not mention San Luis Reservoir, a major reservoir jointly run by the state and federal governments that could have had more water pumped into it during the recent high flows, particularly given the flood releases from northern California.
Moore: Water is being pumped into San Luis, and it is for a combination of reasons. Sometimes the natural runoff causes different flows into the systems, but we have to regulate the water that goes through the Delta. San Luis is a shared Federal and State reservoir with legal criteria under which we operate. So we have to be very careful about what waters we can push through the Delta. But we were still providing water to that system.
Cavanaugh: Well, Louis, clearly more water should have pumped into the San Luis Reservoir. On April 2, it was only 52 percent full and, given the flood releases, it should have been more. Californians on farms and cities south of the Delta are frustrated. They assert that far too much water is wastefully flowing out to the ocean—way more than necessary for the protection of species and the prevention of salt-water intrusion. Please explain why so much fresh water, nearly 800,000 acre-feet have flowed out to sea.
Moore: We operate to meet endangered species requirements. We operated to meet water delivery requirements through these various systems. These are federal/state requirements and biological opinion that we are operating to. We are trying to make sure we are following the law, so there are combinations of things where Reclamation works with its partners to determine where and how to get the water where it needs to be.
Cavanaugh: Inflows into the Delta were as high as 300,000 acre-feet of water per day, and only a fraction of that has been moved into San Luis with a capacity of 2 million acre-feet. We understand why San Luis is not filled during drought years; but in an El Niño year like this, it’s confounding how Reclamation could justify an initial 5 percent allocation. It defies any logic, all the water, all the flood releases and the 95 percent on-average snow in the Sierras. Again, how can it possibly be justified?
Moore: What I can say is there is absolute consideration and we understand the impact this has on our customers. One of the reasons we waited until April 1 to make this allocation announcement is because we have been hopeful. We have been looking at the storage, snow and runoff to see if conditions improved enough, so we could actually increase what we thought was going to be a worse allocation.
Cavanaugh: Well, it’s laughable—only 5 percent for San Luis, with all the water in the system from the El Niño year! You’re still not answering the question. None of this makes sense to anyone who is a critical thinker. Can you please explain, other than preventing salt-water intrusion and protecting species, why so much more water—over the top—was sent out?
Moore: We are stillcoming out of the fourth year of dry conditions and that’s not news for folks. The dry conditions that we came through up until the fall of 2015 really impacted our ability to move water downstream into San Luis, which is the same water that can be provided to folks south of the Delta.
We completely understand that, but we are talking about timing of the water supply that we received. Of the additional 4.4 million acre-feet of water that we received over the past several months, 2 million-acre feet occurred in March, which was late [for purposes of allocation analyses]. So we are just getting the sum of this water into our system. And we are still hopeful that [these late hydrology] conditions will improve and we can provide additional water.
Cavanaugh: We know that Fresno received 135 percent of normal rainfall this year; it was wet throughout the area. Five percent was stunning to all of us. We know that farmers will never see 100 percent any longer. And possibly we will never see 80 percent any longer. I mean we could have record flooding throughout the state and farmers may not see a 50 percent allocation—even if the Delta Smelt were proven, unfortunately, to be extinct.
Moore: Yeah, I do hear you. But there is a lot of work that goes into developing water deliveries and a lot of coordination as well. I am not blaming it on the laws, but when we sit down at the table with all the interests for water, it literally becomes a discussion on how to distribute the water and meet all that demand. Now we come to these agreements to meet the legal obligations, to meet the contractual obligations and to protect the environment. So this requires a lot of effort.
Cavanaugh: Louis, I do not get what you are saying. In fact, I disagree with what you are saying. The family farming interest got a zero allocation two years in a row, but the environment still got all the water they wanted. So Reclamation is not sitting down with all the interests for water. The environment gets 100 percent of what they need while everyone else get far less—including zero two years in a row—and now only 5 percent.
Moore: That’s part of the legal requirement that we have talked about. It’s absolutely one of entities at the table that has to be managed.
Cavanaugh: Does the Bureau of Reclamation understand that all this water being used for the environment has not really helped the protected species in the Delta? The species continue to decline despite farmers going without water, fallowing land, and laying off workers, and in spite of devastating communities and severely hurting the economy in the Central Valley.
Moore: You know, I hear you. This is a discussion that I absolutely understand. It’s going to take a lot of folks coming to the table and a lot of discussion to change policy, to change the law and to introduce new ideas on how this works. Those are the things that have to happen
Cavanaugh: Can you help us make this happen?
Moore: You know, this is an ongoing discussion, I assure you. You probably see all the legislative reporting that’s done about water management. It is these discussions that somehow need to culminate into the change that you are mentioning.
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance (CalWA or “Alliance”), described the Alliance’s California water ballot initiative to California Ag Today’s farm news director, Patrick Cavanaugh. If passed by the voters, the measure, which rests in the hands of California Attorney General Kamala Harris to approve it for inclusion on the state’s November 2016 ballot, would strikingly change the water horizon for California. The initiative prioritizes all water to go to citizens of California and then to farms, before it reaches the environment. It combines $8 billion from the high-speed rail project funding with the $2.7 billon approved in November 2014 for water storage projects.
CalWA, a non-profit advocacy and education organization that is dedicated to raising awareness about the nature of water, advocates for the short- and long-term, sustainable policy and infrastructure positions that meet the need for safe, reliable and affordable water by the people, cities, businesses, farms and environment in California.
Cavanaugh: You have created a California water ballot initiative that, hopefully, will appear on the November 2016 ballot.
Bettencourt: Yes. It’s known as “California Water 4 All,” and it is really quite simple. After the Water Bond of 2014 passed, the California Water Commission—the fund administrators entrusted with the $2.7 billion allocated for water storage—placed other stipulations on that funding.
For instance, 50% of the water had to go to the environment and 50% had to directly benefit the Delta. Furthermore, the Commission would not release project funds prior to December 2016, so even though voters allocated funding and were promised water storage, construction was not to start for a long time. All these stipulations on the California Water Commission, through no fault of their own, actually challenged and limited the availability of regional water projects.
Then, when the Commission started to monitor both its funding and its responsibility over that funding—which we don’t blame them for, whatsoever—a lot of organizations that had opposed the Water Bond in 2014 for creating new water storage, suddenly started soliciting the Commission with letters saying, “You don’t have to define that water storage component as traditional water storage. You can open up that funding and grant it to anything else. You don’t have to use it for new water.”
We, as an organization, filed a number of letters in response and actually brought it to [the press], “Hey, they are trying to gut this tiny sliver of funding that was allocated in this program voted on by the people of California as a promise to create new water for us in this drought.” And also, “$2.7 billion would maybe build one and one half projects in California.”
We all know our water infrastructure is 60 years out-of-date, and it cannot keep it up with the needs of the environmental community, the government community, the agricultural community, and the urban community. You will hear everyone say that our infrastructure is so out-of-date that it can’t even keep up with the number of people we have or the amount of priorities we have set. Take a look at how various environmental projects end up competing against each other; a good example is when all of this came to light in the 2014 water bond fight.
Look at this year alone; there wasn’t enough water in storage and there wasn’t enough water available anywhere, so state policymakers had to decide between species. Which species were going to live? Which species were going to die? Why? ’Because there wasn’t enough water for all of them.
There are wetlands in Los Banos that never got water. The creatures and animals and species that are dependent on that habitat and viable property for their existence, did not get that opportunity. Why? ’Because an environmental project and species upstream took higher priority. There is not enough water to go around for all of the water users.
Cavanaugh: So what was the thought process behind combining the approved public funding of the high-speed rail project with the approved Water Bond funding?
Bettencourt: We are very connected to our community. We have always heard, “Well what if we could just change the priorities?” So we thought, “What if we could just take that money being used for high-speed rail and use it for water storage?”
Finally, our conversation with a number of our members and board transitioned to, “Well, what if? What would that look like?” Nobody had really looked into it. So our board decided to really invest into what that would look like. Could it be done? We were always told it couldn’t from a practical standpoint or even from a legal standpoint. We spent some time and resources looking into “What if” with some great legal minds in Sacramento.
We spoke with other organizations and people, especially those who had been involved in the rail and transportation side of this equation longer than we had—Citizens for High Speed Rail Accountability, most notably. We started pooling our resources into this inquiry, and sure enough, we found out it could be done.
Cavanaugh: And if the initiative were allowed on the ballot, it would be up to the voters to decide?
Bettencourt: Yes, it would. So, as we looked at it, we figured it was really quite remarkably elegant to reprioritize. And really, the theme of this ballot initiative is priorities. It is about getting our priorities in this state in the right order again and letting the public direct our elected officials with those decisions.
This ballot initiative takes the unissued bond funding from the high-speed rail project, which is about $8 billion, plus the $2.7 billion in water storage money from the 2014 Water Bond, and pools it in a new locked fund. The reason we did that is, quite frankly, “Why would we have two pots of money going toward the same thing?” It all needs to go into this new locked fund with the sole purpose of expanding the supply of new water for the state of California.
That fund can’t be borrowed against, pulled away from or pirated. The only way to change that funding would be to go back to the ballot and get the voters’ approval to move that funding around again.
An elected board would administer the locked fund.
Cavanaugh: ’Not the Water Commission?
Bettencourt: ’Not the Water Commission, nor appointed body at the state level, not even a legislative body. The board would be elected members from each of the water management districts. So, people from your community who have expertise and experience in water in their own region administer this fund that will benefit the entire state. Everybody gets a vote. You don’t have one region of the state having more of a vote than another region of the state; that is not what happens here. Everybody has a vote, and there is one at-large member that everyone in the state gets to vote on.
Cavanaugh: What about the Bay Area, and Los Angeles?
Bettencourt: ’Equal Players. Each of the regions has a representative on the board.
Cavanaugh: They only get one vote?
Bettencourt: That’s right. So, in that structure, the funding is used fairly for the whole state. That is the long-term infrastructure portion of the proposed initiative.
We always talk about how the water crisis in California has two problems. One is an infrastructure problem, and, two: we have a management crisis. We don’t have set rules and regulations for where our water goes and how.
Cavanaugh: Can you elaborate?
Bettencourt: A good example is our own governor is saying he doesn’t have a plan for getting us out of this, and we don’t know what will happen when it starts raining. We don’t know how the system is supposed to be operated. There are no guidelines on the books anywhere right now. And in this time of drought, where you have low supply, you are seeing regulators making ad-hoc decisions. Well, there are no rules and there are no first, second, and last priorities. They are making decisions on a case-by-case basis, and that is no way to solve this.
We address the long-term shortage by expanding our water supply with more storage. Expanding the water supply for everyone increases the flexibility of our system, overall, for the environment, for agriculture, and for the communities of our state.
Cavanaugh: Is a constitutional amendment part of the initiative?
Bettencourt: The theme of this ballot is to get our priorities straight. We are taking what is already in the California Water Code that was passed in 1928. The people of California said, “This is the way we want our water used and in this priority,” and it was put in the California Water Code. Since then it has been subjectively adhered to.
But we take what was in the California Water Code—the intention of the people of California—put it into the State Constitution. And we say, “Reasonable and beneficial use of water is for people, food security, irrigation; and then everything else.” And we define what that is.
It is very simple. It is nothing new. It is already out there; but what is so important is that it addresses theimmediate, and it instantly hands down the guidelines:
So, this is how we operate the system.
This is how we make these decisions.
These are the rules and orders of operation.
This is how we get ourselves out of the drought.
This is how we get our system back up and running. This is how you address the short-term: by setting the priorities, making them clear, providing guidelines to the regulators so they can do their jobs on behalf of the people of California to get us out of this drought and protect us from future droughts. From an operational standpoint, this provides the certainty we need in our water supply that we just don’t have. Also, when you expand supply for everybody, you gain back flexibility in the system.
Cavanaugh: That’s great, because as we know, the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir can move water North or South and really help out if a seismic event were to occur in the Delta. How do we get around the Environmental Species Act (ESA) rules that affect the Delta?
Bettencourt: That is all federal, and this initiative does not address federal law. This is purely California-only. However, I think, should this measure pass, it would bump against the federal statute from an infrastructure standpoint because California pays for half the cost of an infrastructure project and from an operations standpoint as well. How would the federal regulatory system affect this California measure, should it pass? A new dialogue with the federal government would have to ensue after state voters adjust the priorities for our water supply.
Cavanaugh: So “California Water 4 All” is going to address water infrastructure. Of course, you can leave the whole ESA out of the conversation. So are building dams beyond Temperance, plus the Cross-Valley Canal the top priorities?
Bettencourt: Yes, we outline four specific projects within the infrastructure component of this initiative: Temperance Flat and Sites are the two darlings of the recent new water projects. In addition, we outline raising both Shasta and San Luis, which would minimally impact the environment and maximally impact water supply. The cost is low because while you are building on existing infrastructure and having less impact on the space you are taking up, you end up capturing more water utilizing existing footprints, which is great.
So we outline those four specific projects, which leaves almost $5.5 billion for additional regional water projects with the stipulation of creating new water. One good example is our partners in the Southland have a mandate from both the state and federal governments to capture and use storm runoff, but they don’t have the mechanisms to do that.
This ballot initiative could help them capture and store rain runoff in Southern California, which would provide more local regional water and increase flexibility to move water around the state north of them. So it is all about capturing more water and expanding supply, so we have more supply to go around.
Cavanaugh: It appears the best part of this initiative is that it benefits everyone in the state.
Bettencourt: Absolutely, and that was important to us when we crafted this initiative, that it couldn’t be so tight. This proposal really does benefit the entire state, not only from the macro-economic standpoint, such as new reservoirs; we are talking about groundwater recharge, storm water runoff, water recycling, desal, all of these projects would have a nice pot of money with the explicit direction of creating new water supply. And the best part about this entire initiative is it doesn’t cost anybody anything.
Cavanaugh: That must ring very nicely up there in Sacramento.
Bettencourt: It does. There is no new burden on the taxpayers; these are dollars that already been approved of by the voters. The only thing we are doing is reprioritizing. It is no different than if you are at home considering, “Well, I’d really like that new pair of shoes, but I have a leaky toilet I must fix. I’m going to take that money and say, “The shoes are great. I love the shoes. They get me to where I want to go, but the toilet is kind of mandatory right now. It is the only one in the house and that’s that priority.”
We have only one water supply, and transportation is absolutely important…
Cavanaugh: You are talking about the health and safety of the state—not just drinking water—but health and safety.
Bettencourt: The health and safety of our state and its environment are absolutely important. We were talking about this as a team, and someone on the team said, “This is about survival. In order to survive, you need to know what your need and use priorities are.”
California voters have made priorities of water need and use very clear, and it is time that we put that first so we can afford everything else. This is a great state and our organization always advocates from the position of, “We should be able to BE the Golden State and grow and revolutionize going forward over the next century. And that will happen if we get up to speed and have our priorities straight to meet and provide the most basic needs of the innovators and doers of California.
So we have written the initiative; that was a heavy lift. Then we found two great proponents in California State Senator George Runner, Vice Chair of the Board of Equalization, and California State Senator Bob Huff to act as our submitting proponents. We, at CalWA, are the sponsoring organization, and we have submitted the package to Attorney General Harris.
Now the Attorney General has 50 days from November 13, 2015 to say, “Yes this can go on the ballot,” and to return it with a suggested title and ballot summary or how it will appear on the ballot to be read by the voter.
We have also held required meetings with the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which score the ballot measure’s costs to the taxpayer. The costs will be budget neutral because there are no new funds. So, after 50 days, we will know whether or not we will be permitted to qualify for the ballot. We are hoping we will be, at which point we would have until April 16 to get 900,000 signatures of California voters to qualify automatically.
Cavanaugh: April 16 is not a lot of time before the election.
Bettencourt: That’s right. So everyone with a ballot initiative has to follow these rules: 50 days then hit the streets and get the signatures. This is the campaign mode so voters can make this decision in November 2016.
Cavanaugh: Do you anticipate any lobbying from Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office?
Bettencourt: No, It’s strictly in Kamala Harris’s hands on this one. We are permitted to suggest our own title and summary, but the decision will come from her office. I think over 100 ballot initiatives have been submitted.
Our biggest concern is that someone will say there are too many initiatives. Secondly, how do we stand out among so many other ballot initiatives?
Cavanaugh: How do we ensure this initiative stands out? It is going to be competing for attention in a presidential election year, as well as a big election year in the state, so it is no easy undertaking.
Bettencourt: The feedback we are getting is voters want to make this decision. They want to say, “Yep, we are changing priorities, not that we think certain projects are not important. We believe certain projects are more important than others at a given point in time.”
Cavanaugh: Doesn’t it seem like the best time to do it? A poll of California citizens shows they are concerned. The top priority, behind jobs, is water availability.
Bettencourt: Yes, the Public Policy Institute of California’s polls over the last year support that. And I think the Hoover Institute conducted an independent survey of California voters at the beginning of last year, ranking the top 36 priorities of the state: number 36 was high-speed rail and number 2 was water. So the California public is stating, “This is our priority now.” We want to make sure we give the voters of California an official opportunity to say that.
Cavanaugh: While we wait for the Attorney General’s approval or disapproval, where can we get more information on California Water 4 All?
Bettencourt: Visit our website: CAWater4All.com. There you will find the language of the ballot initiative. You’ll be able to read the legalese, first-hand. It is about 25 pages—could be worse; could be better.
We worked really hard to make that tight. You’ll also find summaries of the initiative, how it benefits the environment, what the facts are on high-speed rail and why all of a sudden we think high-speed rail needs to be a different priority at this point. What are the facts on water supply and where are we on our storage? Where are we regarding the competing mandates on our existing supply? Why are changes in direction and priority needed? We must create certainty in our water supply so we can get out of this drought and we need to know how to handle the next one when it comes.
Cavanaugh: Comment on your outreach for people to connect with you on the website to increase voter awareness of what’s going on.
Bettencourt: We are setting up this campaign to be as interactive with constituents as possible. Right now during the 50-day period, there is not much to do besides staying connected with us. We’ll be communicating on a weekly basis, if not more often. We’ll share not only what are other people saying about the initiative, but also where we are in the process: when it is time to sign up, to volunteer and to help us gather these signatures and where to get them.
If you visit the website, CAWater4all.com, you’ll can register with your email, your cell phone if you choose, and your zip code so we know your location in the state. You’ll be able to stay connected with us on next steps in the process and be active with us as well. There is also a donation page. This ambitious endeavor is going to take time, treasure and talent, so we need all the help we can get.
Cavanaugh: Once on the ballot, what do you envision initiative cost will be?
Bettencourt: The rule of thumb for an average statewide campaign in California when we took this on was $10 million, and that is the operating budget we are thinking about here. So, this is going to take little donations and big donations. But more importantly, this is going to take spreading the word, so we really encourage people to get connected.
Cavanaugh: Other social media?
Bettencourt: All social media: @cawater4all on on Twitter and cawater4all on Facebook as well.
Assembly Member Patterson Accuses NRDC and Governor’s Office of Bias
By Laurie Greene, Editor
“We are being lied to,” declared Jim Patterson, who represents the 23rd Assembly District in the California State Assembly since 2012, at his recent drought forum in Clovis.
“I have come to the conclusion there is a power structure led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the governor’s office and in the bureaucracies,” Patterson explained. “They are not telling us the truth. They do not abide by their own agreements, and they have a bias against the very water technology and the water systems that have made California a ‘Golden State’. They are biased against dams, reservoirs and conveyance, and every time I turn around, I find another example.”
“We need to have regulatory relief from the State of California in order to buildTemperance Flat (a proposed dam project on the San Joaquin River) and its conveyance systems and to build the improvements at Shasta Dam and Reservoir and at Sites Reservoir,” said Patterson.
“And yet,” he continued, “I know for a fact that we are not going to get that regulatory relief. Nevertheless, the governor and this legislature have given that very same regulatory relief to the Kings’ Basketball Stadium in Sacramento (Golden 1 Center) and to two big NFL football stadiums in the state.”
To build water saving and conveyance systems, Patterson expects to face a gauntlet of litigation from the NRDC. “Though we have tried over and over again, unsuccessfully, to get the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reformed,” he stated, “the Democrats will do it for basketball and football, but they won’t do it for water. That demonstrates to me they are absolutely disingenuous.”
“Secondly, we were promised money in this budget for the Central California InterConnect,” Patterson said. “Putting an interconnect between the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), best illustrated by the Kings River and San Joaquin River Watersheds in the Central Valley, and the state’s California State Water Project (SWP), exemplified by the San Luis Reservoir system, is critically important. We need to connect those projects so we have water conveyance alternatives to improve water reliability and to save us from the kinds of hard decisions that we’ve had to reach now—to starve a portion of the Valley. Because we can’t get water between the two systems, the situation is real and dire.”
“The governor promised those of us who negotiated the bond the budget would include appropriations for the InterConnect,” Patterson reported. There is no such thing. It doesn’t exist, and it didn’t show up in this budget. The governor didn’t come through on his promises.”
“I have tried repeatedly to talk with the water bureaucracies—appointees of the governor—and ask how I could help them understand the importance of giving us back the water,” Patterson commented. “For example, the water behind Shasta Dam right now has been paid for and banked by our farmers. I’ve asked repeatedly, ‘Why can’t we get the InterConnect funded? You promised us that you would do that.’ I’ve asked, ‘What is it going to take for you to understand the importance of storage in the San Joaquin River Watershed?’ It’s like talking to a wall; I get no answer.”
“So, I have had to come to the conclusion that we’re being misled, and it’s on purpose,” he said. “I just don’t believe this governor anymore. That’s a sad conclusion to have to come to, but I think we are seeing a ‘behind-the-scenes hand of power’ called the NRDC, that runs the governor’s office and the state legislature.
When asked what concerned citizens can do, Patterson answered, “Today we heard a lot of passion. I think we need to turn that passion into significant efforts, politically and organizationally. We have to make a real nuisance of ourselves to the governor and to the legislature until they pay attention to us. I have learned in public life, as mayor and now in the legislature, that those people who stand up and are persistent and persuasive get heard. We have got to continue to step up in ever-increasing numbers and be heard.”
“We also have win some elections,” he emphasized. “We are under a one party-dictatorial rule right now. And I would be saying this even if Republicans were the party in rule. Our founders believed there should be separated powers in government and people in office from all walks of life. These kinds of checks and balances get us to good policy for most people, most of the time.”
“You can’t do that in a dictatorship,” Patterson explained, “and that’s really what we have—one party that has all the levels of power and is using them all against us in Central California. And we’re seeing the result of it.”
Patterson tells other members of the legislature on the committees he serves, “You are literally putting a bait fish that striped bass are eating, ahead of the lives and the wellbeing of people and their property, and you’re blaming us for it. The reality is you’re making a drought that is bad into a drought that is a nightmare.”
“If this were to be compared, for example, to a forest fire,” Patterson conjectured, “and the firefighters were told by the governor, ‘Stop trying to save lives and stop trying to save property; go make sure you save that tree over there because there’s a spotted owl in it,’ people would very quickly tell the governor where to go and what to do.”
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
As we already know, calendar year 2013 closed as the driest year in recorded history for many areas of California, and current conditions suggest no change in sight for 2014.
And, California is experiencing the first zero allocation announcement for all customers of the State Water Project (SWP) in the 54-year history of the project.
According to California Department of Water Resources’ (CDWR)third snow survey of the season on February 27, twenty-nine public water agencies buy water from the SWP for delivery to 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland, revealing a continuation of California’s precipitation deficit during the state’s third consecutive dry water year (October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014). And, the statewide snowpack water equivalent was 6 inches, or only 24 percent of the average for the date.
The snowpack, “California’s largest reservoir”, typically issues about a third of the water used by the state’s cities and farms. And, California’s major reservoirs, themselves, are dangerously low.
A CDWR statement issued yesterday evaluating the snow survey findings, called the results, “an improvement from the previous survey on January 30 that found the snowpack’s water content at 12 percent of average for late January.”
According to CDPR, although it is difficult to quantify an exact amount of precipitation that would alleviate the current drought conditions, it is highly unlikely given historic patterns of the remainder of the rainy season that the drought will end this water year. There just isn’t enough time for precipitation to accumulate at an acceptable rate to alleviate drought conditions or the anticipated impacts to drought-stricken communities.
SWP’s principal reservoir, Lake Oroville in Butte County, is at only 39 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity; Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the (federal) Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 38 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity; and San Luis Reservoir, a important SWP and CVP reservoir , is at 33 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity.
What’s being done about it? When Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January, he directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. CAL FIRE recently announced it hired 125 additional firefighters to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions, the California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought.
Also in January, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture also released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.
Governor Brown has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent and the Save Our Water campaign has announced four new public service announcements that encourage residents to conserve. Last December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California’s preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water.