California Water 4 All Initiative On for 2016, with 2018 as Backup

California Water 4 All Initiative Still On for 2016, with 2018 as Backup Plan

Late last week, word spread that the @CaWater4All Initiative may postpone the Water Priorities Constitutional Amendment and Bond Act proposition from the 2016 ballot to the 2018 ballot. California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh, farm news director, spoke with Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance, which is behind the initiative, with major funding by California Westside Farmers State PAC (FPPC #1381113).

Cavanaugh: Is the @CaWater4All Initiative campaign still slated for the 2016 ballot?

Bettencourt: We did not stop the campaign, but we do have two deadlines. In other words, we are looking at all options. We are still on track for 2016; we are not letting up on gathering signatures. And if for some reason we reach the April 26, 2016, deadline for placement on the November 2016 ballot, but with an insufficient number of signatures, then we will steer for the 2018 ballot. I feel strongly that support is still there to pass the measure.CaliforniaWater4All

Cavanaugh: So there is a full-court press for unpaid volunteers to get the signatures by the 2016 ballot deadline. How will you ramp up the volunteers to sprint to the finish line?

Bettencourt: We are working on strengthening and systematizing our volunteer coordination across fourteen counties so it can be replicated among the various teams in Riverside, Los Angeles and Fresno, for example, working in concert. We know what works for each team, and we want to share event promotions and workloads and more.

Our ground game for the next few weeks will become completely guerrilla. I’m actually surprised how well developed our infrastructure has become statewide already, and I think with a little more coordination, it will be a force of nature.

We are also continuing to build connections outside of agriculture because this issue is so much more than agriculture.CA Register to Vote

Finally, if conditions change on paid-signature gathering pricing, we of course will return to paid collection.

Cavanaugh: Will the signatures for the 2016 ballot be valid for the 2018 ballot?

Bettencourt: Absolutely.

Cavanaugh: I understand one reason you added the 2018 option was the sudden and crazy surge in street price for paid signature gatherers – more than double their previous rate?

Bettencourt: There are currently 12 propositions in the state that need signatures, so the price per signature has jumped from $2.00 to $5.00 and could go higher in a last ditch scramble to qualify by the April 26 deadline. Never before this year has an initiative signature gone above $3.00; this is truly unprecedented! We had budgeted to gather signatures at $2.65 to $3.65 each, normally a strong offer, but it would be irresponsible and unsustainable to be caught in the frenzy and pay double for signatures without guarantee of qualification. Such an expenditure would have implications for the fall election campaign for the measure if we qualify. For this reason, we simply told the company to pause on gathering signatures for the time being, but to remain on stand-by. We expect the market will shortly calm down.

Cavanaugh: So in tapping the breaks on the professional signatures, you are now relying on the volunteer base to get the needed number?

Bettencourt: We have swung our resources over to maximize our already strong volunteer side. We will continue our fundraising, of course. If we reach the week before the April 26 deadline and think we have enough signatures, we will turn them in to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. If not, we will continue collection until we qualify for the 2018 election instead.

Cavanaugh: Are there any benefits to being on the 2018 ballot?

Bettencourt: Yes, there are a couple of positives to rolling to 2018. When the April 26 deadline hits, the other 11 or so propositions that are paying $4 to $5 per signature may all either qualify, roll over, or drop out. Then the initiative market stabilizes, we can jump back in and pay only $2 per signature or less, a significant savings. With no other propositions on the street, the price will drop, the field will be clear and our efforts will yield higher numbers of signatures.

More importantly, if we were to qualify for 2018, we would be among the first propositions to qualify, and we would be higher up on the ballot. Ballot position is important; if you are low on the ballot, the likelihood of getting a ‘yes’ vote is generally more difficult.

Sign of drought Westlands Water District TurnoutThe mid-term election without a presidential election can also create a less expensive election with fewer initiatives. And with Governor Brown a lame duck in his last year as governor in 2018, he may be less inclined or he may lack fundraising capacity and resources to fight our initiative. Some Democratic candidates for his seat are already declared opponents of High-Speed Rail, so that would also help.

Cavanaugh: What about the provision in your initiative that would reallocate $8 billion in unused High Speed Rail (HSR) bonds to water storage? Will that fund be essentially empty in 2018?

Bettencourt: We double-checked with attorneys engaged in fighting HSR and with the Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) group. Both said the HSR Authority could not access that funding in the interim, unless they were to fulfill their complete system plan. Given they are not close now and never have been, and HSR continues to be held accountable through the courts, it is highly unlikely they will be able to touch that money in the next two years.

Cavanaugh: And what about the Prop 1 dollars allocated for more storage? Will the funding still be available in 2018?

Bettencourt: I’ve been told there is currently an estimated $40 billion worth of water projects competing for the $2.7 billion of Prop 1 funding, including Sites and Temperance Reservoirs and numerous groundwater projects and water recycling programs, and more. And Prop 1 does not guarantee the construction of any one of them. For the next two years, the California Water Commission will try to finalize its criteria and process for considering and valuing project applications, approve some project applications, and perhaps appropriate funds to them. If the Water4All initiative qualifies for the 2018 ballot, we have two years to make the same case that we have been making so far:

  • There is not enough money to build the water storage, groundwater recharge, stormwater capture, water recycling, etc. the state needs.
  • The timeline does not work. The Bureau of Reclamation is clear—without a significant and immediate expansion of new surface water storage, Californians will be 4.9-6.2 million acre-feet short of having enough water to serve our families, farms and protected environment.

Cavanaugh: Can you explain how growers in northern California will be safe with their senior water rights if the initiative passes? There seems to be great concern there.

Bettencourt: There are two specific exemptions within the Water4All Initiative that protects all established water rights structures in California—the foundation and bedrock of our water system. Keeping these rights protected and intact when we wrote this initiative was critically important. So, our constitutional amendment refers only to prioritization of beneficial uses, which is defined as the purpose for which water is used after it has been diverted by rights. It does not change the underlying rights, whether senior or junior, consumptive or non-consumptive, or any rights subject to contractual agreements such as those held by the Sacramento River Exchange Contractors with the Central Valley Project.

By definition, beneficial use is subservient to water rights. Our constitutional amendment, as well as in the statutory bond funding portion, has specific exemptions for all pre-1914 water rights, area or origins and existing water rights structures.

Cavanaugh: It seems, then, the initiative strengthens senior water rights?

Bettencourt: Many attorneys who have experience on matters specific to pre-1914 and other water rights, have said the initiative actually strengthens existing water right structures.

It reaffirms both the past decisions of the people of our state and our earlier legislature that respectively created Article X of the Constitution and the California Water Code’s laws. Moving Section 106 of the Water Code to the Constitution resets water law to a preexisting legal framework that long guided California’s water-use decisions, but is now muddled by the courts and legislature. Restoring this clarity will yield lasting benefits to the state’s people.

It will end attempts to grab water from existing rights-holders and divert it away from the purposes for which our water systems were designed and built.

Stockton Wins Appeal to Pump From Delta

Stockton can continue to pump water from the Delta this summer, ensuring that its new $220 million drinking-water plant – funded by ratepayers – will not stand idle.

The city was one of thousands of junior water-rights holders in the Central Valley ordered to stop taking water in recent weeks because of the drought.

That water was needed by those with older, more senior water rights, the State Water Resources Control Board said at the time.

The city appealed, arguing that its circumstances are different. Under a special section of state water law, Stockton is allowed to pump only as much water from the Delta as it releases back into the Delta at its wastewater treatment plant, a few miles downstream.

Ultimately, the state agreed, acknowledging in a letter that the city’s permit is “unique” and saying that the city can continue to take the water.

“It’s good news,” said Bob Granberg, assistant director of the city’s Municipal Utilities Department. “We’ll be able to back off groundwater pumping, and that will definitely help.”

The Delta water should help the city avoid any unusually aggressive water conservation requirements or rationing, he said.

The fact that Stockton will be drinking from the Delta this summer after all does not diminish the need to conserve. While the city has not taken any unusual steps to reduce water use, the rules that are in place every summer still apply.

Those rules include no outdoor irrigation from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., no washing cars unless hoses are equipped with nozzles, and no washing driveways and sidewalks except with pressure washers, among other requirements.

“We keep reminding people to conserve, and reminding them of the restrictions that are in place,” Granberg said.

Friant District’s ‘Zero’ Disaster Mounts

Parched Trees Being Pulled in Friant Division As Senior Rights Water Releases Begin

 

Zero remains the frustrating word for Friant Division growers who continue to have no Central Valley Project water to use and, in many cases, little or no groundwater available to tap in their desperate efforts to save increasingly moisture-stressed permanent plantings along the south valley’s East Side.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s zero water supply declaration remains in effect for the Friant Division, even as Reclamation increases the Friant Project’s first-ever CVP supply releases to get water to the San Joaquin River’s senior water rights holders downstream, the Exchange Contractors, even though the Bureau has other sources from which to make the exchange supply available.

A Friant Water Authority news release, which gained some national news coverage May 15 when the river releases started, said that date was probably “the darkest and most frustrating day in the eastern San Joaquin Valley’s long and complicated water history” and laid the blame squarely on federal regulatory factors that did not exist in the past’s worst drought events.

In districts along the Friant-Kern Canal with no usable groundwater and which rely entirely on CVP water diverted at Friant Dam from the San Joaquin River, ever-increasing numbers of permanent plantings – mostly orange trees – are already being taken out as more and more growers bow to what they see as the inevitable.
Tens of thousands of acres covered by trees remaining in those districts are doomed to die by late summer if they receive no water. Also promising to wilt are economies of dozens of farm communities and rural areas as jobs are lost, lives and opportunities are uprooted along with trees, and local and regional business, social and civic institutions also find their means of support lost.

A preliminary estimate of losses in just the citrus industry alone has been listed at some $3 billion over the next five years, including crop losses, removal of groves, preparations for replanting and waiting for young trees to commercially produce.

Start of Exchange Releases

Friant’s dispute with the United States government over how Reclamation is managing the river system’s complex water exchange reached the tipping point May 15 when the Interior Department agency began sending water down the river after Reclamation announced it was “unable” to provide the Exchange Contractors with their substitute supplies of Delta water.

That substitute water for the better part of the last seven decades has made possible Friant-Kern Canal and Madera Canal diversions at Friant Dam, as agreed upon in decades-old CVP contracts.

The Friant Water Authority has made it clear its members fully respect and abide by the Exchange Contractors’ senior water rights, which date back to 19th century filings by the historic cattle firm Miller & Lux.

However, Reclamation has more than 200,000 acre-feet of CVP water stored in San Luis Reservoir and is also maintaining increased CVP storage in Lake Shasta. The Bureau decided to use some of these supplies for south-of-Delta wildlife refuges, which primarily benefit migratory waterfowl such as ducks, rather than supplying it to the four agencies known as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors. Refuges are to receive 178,000 acre-feet, and Reclamation estimates that it will provide the Exchange Contractors with 529,000 acre-feet from April through October, using a combination of the CVP’s San Joaquin River supplies and north state water pumped from the Delta.

Senior Water Rights

Friant Division contractors asserted in newly-filed litigation that CVP agreements and senior water rights should compel Reclamation to deliver water to the Exchange Contractors as has always previously been done, from Lake Shasta, the Delta and San Luis Reservoir. (See related story.)  Lake Shasta storage continues to be enhanced by a few hundred thousand acre-feet of water that the National Marine Fisheries Service has stubbornly reserved under a biological opinion for cold water preservation to benefit Chinook salmon later this year.

Friant believes there is no evidence that Reclamation has ever requested consultation on its mandatory performance of the Exchange Contract, and thus, there is no basis for withholding this water under an inapplicable biological opinion.

Friant also contends that the United States is not respecting the Exchange Contractors’ senior rights as a result of Reclamation’s decisions to reserve CVP water in Lake Shasta and San Luis Reservoir for use by junior water rights holders. (Please see summary of Friant’s litigation claims.)

This third year of critical drought conditions has dramatically reduced natural San Joaquin River runoff, meaning that the water Reclamation is releasing to the Exchange Contractors is permanently lost to Friant Division use. Projections are that the river releases may consume most of the river’s remaining supply. The San Joaquin River Restoration’s interim flows were suspended in February because of the drought and are not currently a factor in the lack of Friant supply availability.

Ironically, the San Joaquin River water now being released has always been at the heart of the Friant Division’s supply. In the late 1930s, Reclamation signed a “purchase agreement” and an “exchange of waters” agreement, enabling the agency to divert water at Friant Dam.

In exchange, the Bureau agreed to provide the territory formerly within the massive ranch of the old cattle firm Miller & Lux with a substitute supply of water from the Delta, delivered through the Delta-Mendota Canal.

The old Miller & Lux rights continue to exist and belong to the Exchange Contractors.

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