Dept. of the Interior Moves forward on the Expansion of Shasta Dam
News Release Edited by Patrick Cavanaugh
The U.S. Department of the Interior is moving forward on the enlargement of Shasta Dam, a critical water storage reservoir in California. This expansion comes as a direct result of Rep. Jeff Denham’s Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act language and $20 million in funding approved in March of this year.
“We’re moving forward with building more water storage for the first time in decades,” Denham said.“Real progress and results are what California needs if the next generation wants water.”
The total expansion of Shasta Dam will raise the dam by 18 ½ feet and provide an additional 630,000 acre-feet of stored water for families, farmers, and cities, delivering more water and improving reliability for farmers and communities. The expansion will also help reduce flood damage and improve water quality in the Sacramento River to revitalize fish populations and foster a stronger ecosystem.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, which is leading the expansion effort, construction contracts for the dam are expected to be issued by December 2019, and the entire project is estimated to cost $1.4 billion. The project is eligible for additional financing through Denham’s New WATER Act, which provides financing opportunities for water infrastructure projects and will reduce the cost to water users.
The Denham New WATER Act language is expected to be signed into law in the coming weeks to make major water infrastructure improvements a reality in the Central Valley. This success comes on the heels of major developments in the fight against Sacramento’s water grab, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue voicing support for Denham’s efforts to stop the state’s Bay-Delta plan.
For more information about the enlargement of Shasta Dam, click here. To learn more about what Rep. Denham is doing to fight for water in the Valley, visit www.Denham.house.gov/water, where you can also sign up to receive periodic updates on his work in Washington to improve local water infrastructure, storage and delivery.
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.
U.S. Department of Interior’s Tom Iseman Assesses California Water
Tom Iseman, deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, in an exclusive interview with California Ag Today’s farm news director, Patrick Cavanaugh, assessed how California is faring given the drought.
Cavanaugh: I see you as someone who focuses on not just solutions but also the issues and tragedies caused by the extended drought in California. From your perspective, how is California doing and how could things be better?
Iseman: First of all, I think California is obviously on the leading edge for a lot of reasons, but the state is in the midst of an extended drought. So it is really forcing us to be smarter about how we address these water scarcity challenges. I have been very impressed with the way we have been able to really work together—the Bureau of Reclamation working with the state, the water users and the conservation groups—to think about how we can stretch our limited water supplies to meet these different purposes.
Cavanaugh: Obviously the country is not able to build another Hoover Dam, but does the Interior understand that we need more storage in California for the rainy days?
Iseman: Absolutely. There are different ways to do it, so we are looking at a number of projects. One is raising Shasta Dam; one is a new reservoir possibly on the upper San Joaquin River (Temperance Flats); and Sites Reservoir.
Cavanaugh: But those projects are a long way off, and they may never be built. What can California do now to increase its water portfolio?
Iseman: There are smarter ways we can build smaller-scale storage and new ways to operate our facilities to stretch water supplies to our advantage.
Cavanaugh: Could you talk about how we can use water differently? Desal is more expensive water, but water needs to be more expensive. When water gets more expensive, people conserve more, right? Talk about your vision of desal in America, particularly in California.
Iseman: Generally, clean water technology is a big part of what we need to be doing. It is not just building new storage; it’s being smarter with what we have. So, technology is a great way to do that. We have desalination, water recycling and water reuse. Having these options creates an opportunity for more partnerships. So now you can have cities recycling their water and sending their water supply to agricultural water users—a win-win situation. The city gets some revenue and deals with its wastewater, and agricultural water users get a new supply. That is the way we should be thinking—about the possible partnerships to take advantage of these options.
Cavanaugh: People building desal plants in cities like Santa Barbara, mothballed the plants when the rains came. We need to make desal part of the culture of these cities located on the ocean. I mean, does the Department of the Interior see that as a rational thing to do?
Iseman: It’s interesting. Obviously it has been done in other places, and they have invested quite a bit of money here in California. It comes down to economics; we don’t make the decision about whether a city builds or doesn’t build a desal plant, but it is part of the water supply list, potentially.
The challenges with desal is just the cost right now and how much energy and waste it can produce. And they are comparing that to the other options out there. Are there other technologies out there that we can use? Are there water markets or water rights I can acquire? Is there potential for new storage? I think the cost will help sort that out.
The part that cost doesn’t address in some ways—and it can be built in—is the uncertainty. One thing, I think, about a desal plant that people like is that you know there is going to be a water supply if you are on the ocean. And if you have the money and can generate the energy, you can get the water. As you see more uncertainty in our climate and in our existing water supplies, that would be one argument in favor of desal.
Cavanaugh: It is stable.
Iseman: Yes, and we need reliability.
Cavanaugh: Well, you talked about the cost and the economics, but we all need to pay more for water, and I’d be the first one. It would make everyone conserve more, right?
Cavanaugh: Maybe, raise the cost of water $10 a bill?
Iseman: Well, I’m not going to say we are going to raise people’s water rates, but if you talk to the industry and look at the future of the industry, a lot of people say, ‘People need to pay more for water.’ That is how you get the investments.
The federal budget is constrained; they are not going to be there when we are going out and building Hoover Dam in ten years. We just don’t have that kind of resources anymore. So the question is, how do you get more revenue stream in to help contribute to the cost of those investments? And that goes back to rates. And at some point, we will have to decide how much we pay for water and how much we value our water.
Cavanaugh: Thanks for being aware of all this. Are you encouraged we will find solutions?
Iseman: We talk about California everyday; we are all very aware of the things that are happening. But I really gained an appreciation of the innovation, the energy and the cooperation of people here—the commitment they have in dealing with these issues. I was glad to be a part of it.
There was a time not long ago when much of civilized society considered each drop of river water that reached the ocean a wasted resource.
That was before environmentalists pointed out the benefits of the outflow to fish, wildlife and the ocean ecosystem, setting off an ongoing tug-of-war between fishermen and farmers in California that has reached a critical stage this year as the state struggles through a drought.
One thing that’s become clear amid the fallow cropland and rationing is that there is not enough water storage in California to sustain all the competing interests. The dilemma has again put a spotlight on the precious water that gets away.
In an average year, rain and snowmelt in California generate about 71 million acre-feet of water, some of which is captured in reservoirs or groundwater basins. An acre-foot is the amount needed to cover an acre with a foot of water, enough to supply an average household for a year.
About 32 percent of the 71 million acre-feet are used for agriculture and 10 percent for urban areas, according to the state Department of Water Resources’ chief hydrologist, Maury Roos.
About 35 percent of the total is reserved by law to help river ecosystems, wetlands and fisheries, and to maintain a healthy flow of water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
That leaves about 21 percent of the total to flow out into the ocean without being used for anything, according to Roos’ calculations.
“That is the segment we can capture more of,” Roos said. “If we could store more of that, we would have a larger water supply.”
Trouble is, nobody in California can agree on how, or even whether, to capture it.
Everybody agrees that something must be done to quench California’s ever-increasing thirst. The question is whether the state should spend billions of dollars capturing the water behind dams and distributing it through new pipelines or spend a little less money by maximizing usage through conservation.
A laundry list of proposals, including water recycling, groundwater storage and even cloud seeding, are listed in a working draft of the California Water Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for future management of the resource.
It is nevertheless Gov. Jerry Brown‘s proposal to build twin water tunnels to bypass the delta and take water south that is getting all the attention. The project, which is part of the Delta Conservation Plan, would include restoration of marsh habitat in the delta.
Jason Peltier, the deputy general manager for the Westlands Water District, said farmers generally support the tunnels because the project would free up more water for agriculture.
“Most years there is plenty of water in the system that we can’t get to because of operating restrictions,” Peltier said. “We’ve seen over the last 20 years layer upon layer of regulatory restrictions that have taken away water for humans and allocated it for the environment.”
Problem is, the tunnels could cost anywhere from $25 billion to $67 billion, according to recent estimates.
In a typical wet year, California captures about 10 million acre-feet of water in its reservoirs, about 80 percent of which is held in the state water department’s two biggest reservoirs behind Shasta and Oroville dams.
That’s well below the 43 million acre-feet capacity of the 1,200 reservoirs under the jurisdiction of the state water department. The reason, said Roos, is that the department is required to release water for fish and wetlands management and must also leave space during winters to avoid flood-causing overflows.
Yet, agricultural interests support expanding California’s reservoir capacity by adding 18.5 feet to Shasta Dam and building Sites Dam, near the town of Maxwell (Colusa County), and Temperance Flat Dam, near Millerton (Madera County) on the San Joaquin River.
These proposals, like the tunnels plan, are expensive. The Shasta dam and Sites proposals together would cost about $3.5 billion and add about 2.6 million acre-feet of water to the system, just enough to “take you through one dry year,” Roos said.
Meanwhile, environmental groups mostly oppose the tunnels and water storage projects. The existing dams and conveyance system, they say, cut off the historic salmon and steelhead trout runs and have imperiled other fish populations, like the delta smelt. Instead, they are pushing for water conservation, treatment and recycling plants.
Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist for the Bay Institute, said water bond money would be better spent replacing thousands of old leaking water mains around the state, implementing tiered water rates and building storm-water capture and water recycling systems.
“It simply doesn’t make sense for us to be flushing toilets with pristine water transported miles from the Sierra Nevada,” Rosenfield said. “The notion that it just gets used once and then it is gone is crazy.”
Conservationists point to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as the model for a successful recycling program. The district has built over the past two decades a wastewater treatment and reclamation system that cleans dirty household water and then filters it into the groundwater for reuse later on.
Tom Stokely, the water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network, said Los Angeles County now uses less water than it did 30 years ago despite having at least a million more residents.
“It’s really up to the Legislature and the individual water districts to take this up, but if they use up all their borrowing on the twin tunnels there won’t be money left over for these things,” said Stokely, adding that statewide recycling and conservation programs could save 2 million acre-feet of water a year. “We see it as an either-or scenario. Do we have a sustainable water future or do we spend all our resources on costly tunnels and water storage projects?”
None of the various ideas would solve California’s water shortage problems, which are more severe than most people realize, according to regulators.
Capturing more water
California would need six times more water storage than it now has to make it through a worst-case-scenario drought, Roos said. That amounts to an additional 18 million acre-feet of storage. Water analysts at UC Davis estimate that all of the dam proposals together would only add 4 million or 5 million acre-feet, at a cost of $6 billion to $8 billion.
Meanwhile, demand just keeps growing as more people move into the state. It is a situation that can only get more dire as the world warms up, snow in the mountains decreases and droughts become more common.
Ultimately, Californians will have to come to grips with the fact that, no matter what gets done, the state will never be drought proof, said Jay Lund, the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis.
“I think there will be some ability to improve, mostly in terms of giving incentives to store groundwater in wet years and to move water from north to south – efficiencies like that – but you can’t make it rain,” Lund said. “In the end, we will still be living in a semi-arid climate, and we will still have droughts. Most of what we can do is make it easier to prepare for the next drought.”