EPA Blasts State’s Water Grab

EPA’s Acting Secretary Andrew Wheeler Visits The Valley With Congressman Denham

News Release Edited by Patrick Cavanaugh

Following his recent visit to the Valley, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in Sacramento, expressing concern over several aspects of the proposed Bay-Delta plan. A copy of the letter is available here.

In the letter, Wheeler questions the effectiveness of drastically increasing flows to improve native fish species when studies show several additional factors contribute to their dwindling populations—including predation from non-native species, which the Bay-Delta plan does not address.

“I’m pulling every available resource to stop the state’s dangerous water grab,” said U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock). “Both the Department of Interior and EPA have now directly weighed in against Sacramento’s plan to steal our water.”

Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager Steve Knell said: “Finally, EPA Administrator Wheeler’s letter has put common sense back on the table in addressing the State’s draconian Water Plan. Thank you Congressman Denham for your efforts in bringing Mr. Wheeler to our area to hear our concerns.”

“This State Water Plan will devastate water storage in our dams, drive river temperatures to lethal levels and destroy the very fish species we at the local level are trying to protect. Our rivers deserve better. We have the science to show this, we have provided it to the State, and they have ignored it. We continued to advocate that sending more water down the river and not addressing other stressors is not an answer, and the State has ignored that too.”

South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Peter Rietkerk said: “On behalf of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, I would like to thank you and your staff for bringing Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to our region on October 11, 2018. The meeting was a success, and our message was clearly heard, evidenced by today’s letter from the EPA to the State Water Board. We’ve continued to lament the devastating impacts of State’s plan to local drinking and irrigation water supplies, and to protected fish species within our rivers, and it is great to know that the EPA has listened and will be looking for balance and accountability from the State Water Board if they choose to approve this outrageous plan.”

At Denham’s request, several key administration officials have visited the Central Valley and have been actively engaged in policies to fight Sacramento’s water grab and increase water storage for our farmers and residents. This is the latest result of many such actions.

On July 27, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman submitted a strongly worded comment expressing serious legal concerns with the latest Bay-Delta amendment. The comment followed a visit by U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke to our impacted reservoirs at request of Denham on July 20. Additionally, Zinke sent an internal memo to DOI agencies on August 17 requesting all Central Valley Project authorities be provided to him for disposal to combat the state’s plan.

Following Denham’s September 28 letter requesting executive action, the President signed a memorandum to bring more storage to the Valley and address hydroelectric relicensing at Don Pedro, requiring agencies to consider local plans like the Tuolumne River Management Plan developed by Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts. Denham previously released an animated video on NMFS Sacramento’s dangerous water grab.

As a follow-up to the presidential memorandum, Denham recently hosted a call with senior administration officials from the Bureau of Reclamation to discuss the details of the memorandum, next steps in the process, and allow irrigation districts and farm bureaus an opportunity to ask questions.

The president’s order supplements legislation authored by Denham to support innovative financing opportunities for water projects throughout the western United States. Denham’s New WATER Act (H.R. 434) passed and was signed into law as part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (WRDA). Eligible projects include new reservoirs, below ground storage projects, recycling and desalination projects. This legislation supports large projects like enlargement of Shasta Dam, construction of Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat Dam, and expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

SOUTH SAN JOAQUIN IRRIGATION DISTRICT IN CRITICAL DROUGHT EMERGENCY

SSJID Begins Season Conserving Water for 2016

by Laurie Greene, CalAgToday reporter

As the Stanislaus River watershed enters its fourth year of consecutive drought conditions,  South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID)‘s water supply may not last through the end of the 2016 irrigation season. Therefore, with the season starting on March 15, the SSJID Board of Directors unanimously adopted a drought conservation program on March 10th to reduce the quantity of water used for the purpose of conserving the water supply for the 2015 and 2016 irrigation seasons. The District adopted a strict water allotment of 36” because studies have shown that more than half of its irrigators use less than 36”.  Irrigators must determine how and when to use their allotment.

Along with the 36” limit, allotment transfers will be allowed. The general rule will be that growers can increase or decrease their water supply by transferring all or a part of the 36” allotment between land parcels, with some exceptions. A District application form will be required for transfers, and the deadline for applications will be May 10. Parcels in a single transfer agreement will not need to have the same owners. Only parcels located in the District territory are eligible for the water transfer program. Transfer agreements will be for one year only and will be irrevocable.

The Board has also established a 10-day rotation schedule.

Agricultural water deliveries will be cut off once their allotment is used. SSJID’s online bill payment and consumption history service, available on the SSJID website, will update usage daily; however, the information will be three days old. Season-to-date usage will be shown on each customer’s monthly bill.

Basically, New Melones Reservoir, the source of SSJID’s water supply, is running out of water. The troubling pattern of long, warm dry spells between rain events in the upper watershed is continuing with the result of very little runoff into New Melones Reservoir when it does rain, as the ground and vegetation is so dry that it is soaking up all available moisture. Precipitation in the upper watershed has been 60% of normal since October 1, and has worsened: January was the driest January in history, and no snow fell below 8,500 feet of elevation in February. As the snowpack declines, the New Melones is expected to decline to “dead pool” in September.

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWB) has issued an advisory that Curtailment Orders for Junior Water Rights holders are possible, given the bleak storage levels in all of the reservoirs, including New Melones. There is not enough water in New Melones to meet the Bureau of Reclamation’s regulatory needs and the District’s hard cap of 225,000 acre-feet this year. Any additional inflow or any conservation saved from this year’s total of 225,000 acre-feet, potentially as much as 39,000 acre-feet, will count toward 2016 water needs, so stringent conservation measures in the District will be so important during 2015. Every drop of water saved this year may be needed in 2016.

The District understands this will be a serious hardship for many and will offer irrigator assistance. For more information, call SSJID at (209) 249-4600.

(Sources, South San Joaquin Irrigation District; SSJID caps water deliveries for first time, by John Holland, Fresno Bee; Water Education Foundation)