President Signs Rep. Jeff Denham’s Water Storage Legislation

President signs Denham Water Storage Legislation

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

 President Donald Trump signed into law recently legislation written by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) to authorize financing of new water storage projects as part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (WRDA).

 “With the signing of this bill into law, we are bringing water home to the Valley,” Denham said. “I’ve been fighting since day one in Washington to build more water storage for our farmers and neighbors. Today, we celebrate future generations having access to the water they need and deserve.”

 Denham’s New WATER Act provides financing for water projects throughout the western United States, including new reservoirs, below ground storage projects, recycling, and desalination projects. For Sites Reservoir alone, this policy will save hundreds of millions of dollars in construction costs and significantly lower prices for water users.

Rep. Jeff Denham

In California and across the west, this means billions of dollars saved as we build the necessary infrastructure to capture the plentiful run-off from the Sierras, which can be used to irrigate the Valley and save for the dry years. During the rains of 2017, we saw how our inadequate storage quickly filled reservoirs, wasting water, and led to flooding and levee breaches—issues Denham secured language for in the WRDA bill.

Additionally, the bill enhances long-delayed and badly needed local flood protection for more than 50,000 Valley residents. Rep. Denham hosted the highest ranking civilian responsible for water infrastructure in the Army Corps of Engineers, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Rickey “R.D.” James, in Manteca recently to ensure quick completion of ongoing construction and prioritization of the projects in the bill.

The Army Corps is responsible for managing these projects, and R.D. James saw firsthand how critical water infrastructure is in Stanislaus and San Joaquin County, including the levees near Manteca that were breached in 2017. These levees are currently being restored with federal funding.

To build upon these infrastructure improvements, additional Denham language in the WRDA bill makes additional levee authorizations in San Joaquin County eligible for federal resources to protect our communities. Denham also included language to expedite the feasibility study of the Mossdale Tract, or Reclamation District 17, which includes the French Camp veterans treatment facility.

A Second Major Blow For Temperance Flat Dam

Water Commission Staff Again Slaps Down Temperance Flat Project

Editor’s note: In a stunning decision, California Water Commission staff, once again, rejected the Temperance Flat Dam Proposal. The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, which is managing the planning and building of Temperance Flat Dam, issued the following statement:

Water users, counties, and cities across much of the San Joaquin Valley have again found the California Water Commission staff to be unbending over efforts led by the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority (SJVWIA) to both develop Temperance Flat Dam and create badly-needed additional San Joaquin River water storage in a major new Central California reservoir.

Mario Santoyo, the Executive Director of the SJVWIA is stunned by the California Water Commission’s staff’s decision.

The Water Commission staff today reacted to the SJVWIA appeal in February of an earlier very low public benefit ratio score by assigning only a token improvement in point totals. Temperance Flat’s public benefit ratio was increased from 0.10 to 0.38. A score of 1.0 has been generally considered a minimum for an application to advance, reflecting the bond measure’s emphasis on benefits stressing the environment and flood protection.

Temperance Flat, which would be a reservoir containing 1.3 million acre-feet of new storage space above Millerton Lake northeast of Fresno, is one of the state’s two largest proposals seeking to be awarded some of the $2.7 billion in Proposition 1 funding for new storage projects.

The SJVWIA, in its application, calculated the Temperance Flat Project should have a public benefit ratio of 2.38. In its appeal, the SJVWIA sought a total of $1.055.3 billion in Proposition 1 funding under the Water Storage Investment Program but the latest CWC staff action would yield, if granted by the full commission, just over $177 million.

The other large proposed project, Sites Reservoir in Northern California, was similarly rebuffed.

“Once again the California Water Commission staff has hijacked what the people of California wanted and voted for,” said SJVWIA Executive Director Mario Santoyo. “The Water Commission staff has again failed to recognize the value of large storage projects by keeping Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoirs well below the 1.0 scoring level.” He noted only two of the remaining 11 projects had scores higher than 1.0. Both are small surface storage proposals. “We are, to say the least, disappointed and dumbfounded by this action.”

“This scoring is devastating but the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority is not giving up,” said Steve Worthley, SJVWIA president and chairman of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. “We’re going to take our case directly to the Water Commission staff next Wednesday (April 25) and then to the water commissioners themselves May 1-3.

The commissioners were assigned by Proposition 1 to make the decision on this. It’s important to remember that two-thirds of those casting ballots on Proposition 1 in the 2014 general election favored these bonds and what really attracted that level of support was the bond’s much-needed funding for major new storage projects such as ours.”

In fact, Worthley said, Proposition 1’s major storage provisions were written by the Legislature with big projects such as Temperance Flat and Sites specifically in mind.

In a lengthy letter today to the SJVWIA, the Water Commission staff indicated it accepted many of the arguments raised on appeal by the Temperance Flat project’s planners but increases in benefit scoring that were awarded on each item were merely minimal.

Santoyo said the SJVWIA has spent more than $2 million to date on the Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by the commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers the Central Valley Project for the Interior Department, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. He said those studies resulted in a finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferable location for such a project.

The SJVWIA was organized as a multi-jurisdictional joint powers authority in order to meet the need for coordinated Valley-wide leadership and collaboration in developing the Temperance Flat Project. The SJVWIA was formed by boards of supervisors in Tulare, Fresno, Kings, Madera and Merced Counties and also includes representatives from Valley cities and water agencies.

Worthley said the joint-powers agency’s “focus on our region’s water infrastructure needs is based upon a desire to help resolve the continuing San Joaquin Valley’s water supply crisis, and to capture floodwater flows that can be utilized regionally to help comply with the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. For too many years, the Valley has been enduring water shortages that adversely affect many of our counties’ constituents and the region’s economy. Temperance Flat represents a common sense approach and the Valley’s best opportunity to address these issues.”

Mario Santoyo: Recent Temperance Flat Dam Memo is Misleading

Mario Santoyo: Recent Temperance Flat Dam Memo is Misleading

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

 

A recent memo to the City of Hanford, issued by the Townsend Public Affairs office in Washington D.C., stating the Temperance Flat Dam proposal may not be eligible to receive Proposition 1 funds, was deemed “misleading” according to Mario Santoyo, executive director of the 11-member board of the Joint Powers of Authority that oversees the proposed Temperance Flat Dam.

The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management’s 2014 decision to recommend designation of an 8 mile segment of the San Joaquin River (accompanied by a restricted-use river corridor extending 0.25 miles from the edge of the identified river segment) that falls in the footprint of Temperance Flat as a “National Wild and Scenic River,” has been a concern for awhile, noted Santoyo. “This memo is very misleading,” he said. “It has nothing to do with state bond funding”—California’s Proposition 1 (Prop 1), the legislatively-referred Water Bond (Assembly Bill 1471), passed by state voters on the November 4, 2014 ballot.

USBR Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir
Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir (Source: USBR, “Managing Water in the West: Alternative Water Management and Delivery,” 2014)

“But if the [recommended] designation stays in place,” Santoyo continued, “it would prevent us from building Temperance Flat with any funding. Whether with state funding, federal funding or Prop. 1 funding, it does not get builtperiod,” Santoyo said.

“To be eligible for Prop 1 funding, you have to have a feasibility report,” said Santoyo. “In other words, the federal government has to determine if the project is feasible under Prop. 1 money.” However, doing the feasibility report is part of doing the environmental paperwork. And, if at the end something changes on the conditions that were originally evaluated, then the project could be determined unfeasible.”

“But none of this has happened,” emphasized Santoyo, as the recommendation of this San Joaquin River segment to be designated National Wild and Scenic River has not yet been legislatively authorized. “We are perfectly aware of that hurdle. The designation is one of many things that we have to deal with.”

Santoyo said there would be a discussion this week with the regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation to talk about the Scenic River designation, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as well as technical partnership. “There are a series of things that need to happen to keep advancing the ball,” Santoyo said.

And even though the proposed Sites Reservoir is not subject to the Scenic River designation, it has not passed the feasibility study. “So it even has its challenges,” said Santoyo.

“All the projects have big challenges, but the question is: Do you keep moving forward regardless of how hard the issues are or do you just fold the first time you hit a bump? We are not folding; we are moving forward,” Santoyo said. “Either we shoot hard for currently available options or we shut down and do nothing. Why go through 10 years’ worth of effort to give us this opportunity and not take a shot?” he asked.

Editor’s Note:  Several calls to James Peterson, director of the Townsend Public Affairs federal office were not returned.

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.

David Gutierrez on Dams

David Gutierrez on Dams, Water Management and Economics

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

 

David Gutierrez, chief of Division of Safety of Dams and program manager for the Groundwater Sustainability Program within the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), talked with Patrick Cavanaugh, California Ag Today’s farm news director, regarding dams and the DWR in Sacramento.

California Ag Today: Please explain the differences between the DWR and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

Gutierrez: This is actually really important to understand. DWR and SWRCB have completely different functions, just generally. We have different functions with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) passed last year. The responsibilities of DWR lie with developing the regulations—the rulesand assisting the locals to be successful. SWRCB is the backstop; they are the ones who are actually going to manage a basin that is not being managed successfully. They are completely different; SWRCB is a Board and DWR is not a board; it’s a department.

California Ag Today: Do you think SWRCB should have been thinking about the things we are doing today 20 years ago?

Gutierrez: On the record, the citizens of California, everybody, should have been thinking about this more than 20 years ago. You can’t really blame one group; all of us should have been thinking about this 20 years ago. We usually don’t solve problems until we get into a crisis, and that is where we are.

Save-waterCalifornia Ag Today: Wasn’t it 40 years ago when the dams were denied or no longer supported by the population?

Gutierrez: So the Central Valley Project and SWRCB were both supported in the 20’s and 30’s, all the way up through the 70’s. After the 70’s, things did change and dams stopped getting built, but also most of the resources were already tapped at that point. So now you are seeing reservoirs being built off stream as most of the resources on stream have already been tapped into. So, there is a little more to it than people being for or against dams.

California Ag Today: Do you think the Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoirs will ever be built?

Gutierrez: It is an economic question, so I bet if you did an economic analysis, during certain times it would be economically feasible, and at other times it would not be. You have got to tie in the value of the water; if water becomes valuable, it is worth doing the project. If water is not valuable, you can’t afford the project.

Interior Assesses California Water

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.

Tom Iseman, deputy assistant secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
Tom Iseman, deputy assistant secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior (Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-iseman-3354aa7)

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?

Iseman:         Absolutely.

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.

_____________________________

Link:

U.S. Department of the Interior

California Water Ballot Initiative

California Water Ballot Initiative May Go to Voters in Nov. 2016

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.

Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of California Water Alliance
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of California Water Alliance

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?”

Fallowed Field in Fresno County, California in 2014 due to zero water allocation.
Fallowed Field in Fresno County, California in 2014 due to zero water allocation.

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?

Central Valley Project (CVP) Water
Central Valley Project (CVP) Water

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 the immediate, 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?

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

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.

Lettuce Harvest in Fresno County
Lettuce Harvest in Fresno County

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.

 The Water Priorities Constitutional Amendment and Bond Act (Source: California Water 4 All, CalWA)
The Water Priorities Constitutional Amendment and Bond Act (Source: California Water 4 All, CalWA)

Links:

California Water Alliance

California Water Code

Citizens for High Speed Rail Accountability

JPA Could Save Temperance Flat Dam

Joint Power of Authority Could Save Temperance Flat Dam

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

A Joint Power of Authority (JPA) is being formed to help preserve money authorized for construction of the Temperance Flat Dam with the passage of California Proposition 1, the Water Bond in 2014. Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, has been engaged in getting the project off the ground.

“It is unfortunate what has happened to the Friant Water Authority leadership and the lack of suitable talent there to run with it. The situation has adversely impacted getting a Temperance Flat water storage program in front of the California Water Commission, whose nine governor-appointed members are responsible for advising the director of California Department of Water Resources, approving rules and regulations, and monitoring and reporting on the construction and operation of the State Water Project. The Water Commission, which elicits preferred priorities from the agricultural industry, will award bond money in early 2017.

The Water Bond approved by voters last fall designates $2.7 billion for water storage. While this amount will help subsidize the construction of the dam, Nelsen noted there needs to be better organization in its planning, “because when we negotiated money for storage planning, we were set on two locations, Temperance Flat, behind Friant dam and east of Fresno, and Sites Reservoir, north of Sacramento. Of course, all along, we have known that farmers were investing a lot of money into it as well, but you have to have a plan,” Nelsen said.

Nelsen explained the JPA consists of city and county leaders as well as farm industry leaders from Merced to Bakersfield, including those from Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare Counties, and will require everyone’s cooperation to get the job done. “The inability to sustain some leadership at the Friant system right now has stalled our ability to make something happen in that regard.

“If we can use the talent within our counties right now to generate some of the proposals until we have the ability to get additional water experts online, I would give those who are working on the JPA all the credit in the world,” Nelsen said.

We are being lied to!

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.”

Jim Patterson, California Assembly Member
Jim Patterson, California State Assembly Member

“We need to have regulatory relief from the State of California in order to build Temperance 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.”Map_of_proposed_Temperance_Flat_Dam_and_reservoir

“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.”

Sign of drought Westlands Water District Turnout“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.”