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.

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Water Board’s Water Grab From Rivers Will Impact Domestic Water

State Water Resources Control Board Plan is “Pseudo-Science”

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Over one thousand farmers and stakeholders gathered at the California state capital building in Sacramento in August to protest the California Water Resources Control Board’s recent proposed Water Grab.

Ronda Lucas, General Counsel with the Modesto Irrigation District, explained to California Ag Today that the water board’s plan would severely impact Modesto citizens.

Modesto Irrigation District provides surface drinking water to the city of Modesto.

“If you take away Modesto Irrigation District surface water, you take away the domestic water supply for the entire city of Modesto, and they did not consider any of that in there,” Lucas said.turlock irrigation canal

The California Water Resources Control Board seriously underestimated the impact that their water grab would have on surrounding communities.

“Their science is shaky at best; it’s pseudo-science frankly,” Lucas said.

Modesto Irrigation District has spent more than $25 million in studies for over a decade specifically on the Tuolumne River with their partner, Turlock Irrigation District.

“We have presented them with a plan that gives them more fish that is sustainable, that protects groundwater, that protects surface water, and that allows everybody to get better together. This is our river,” Lucas said.

Also, Don Pedro is one of the few reservoirs and facilities that has zero state funding. The residents of Turlock, Turlock Irrigation District, and the Modesto Irrigation District paid 100 percent with a little federal money with Army Corp to build that facility.

“Because of that foresight, the state is going to come and try and take it and it is not theirs to take and we cannot let it happen,” Lucas explained.

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40 Percent Water Grab Continues to Be Big Concern

Growers Will Fight Back

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Recently, over one thousand farmers and other stakeholders attended a rally in Sacramento outside the capital building, protesting the California State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed Water Grab, which consists of over 40 percent of the water from Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers to increase flows for salmon. California Ag Today spoke with Ronda Lucas, General Counsel with the Modesto Irrigation District.

Unfortunately, the state does not need to pick this fight, but they are choosing to.

“In ignoring our science in the process, one of the major deficiencies of the plan is the state board’s refusal,” Lucas said.

Rhonda Lucas

Lucas would like the water board to be intellectually honest about the linkage and the impact this will have on groundwater.

“They simply say that we’ll just get more water. There is no more water,” she said.

California is not in a critical overdraft area.

“Our sub base in the Modesto subbasin is in better shape than many, but that’s because we’ve been such good stewards,” Lucas said.

This plan will destroy the health of the groundwater basin.

Lucas says that many communities in the area could be impacted heavily. Some communities’ sole water source is groundwater, and this plan will dry up their drinking water.

“There will be school children that don’t have the basic needs to live, and we know it. And we’ve told the state board that, and they don’t seem to care,” Lucas said.

The bigger problem that is not well known is that the state is trying to come in and run the dam operation long-term.

“If the state is in charge of Don Pedro and the running of our facilities, which we believe to be illegal, we do not know what they are going to do because they have not had a good track record thus far,” Lucas explained.

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State Water Resources Control Board Grab for Salmon Will Impact Federal Water

Feds and State Usually Do Not Work Well Together

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today continues our report on the recent water rally in Sacramento at the capital building. Farmers and stakeholders attended to protest the California State Water Resources Control Board Proposed Water Grab 40 percent of the water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers redirected to increase flows for salmon.

U.S. representative for the 16th district Jim Costa explained how federal and state water projects would be drastically impeded.

There are distinctions between state and federal laws as relates to water. However, there are federal water projects. In this case, New Melones  Dam, a Federal Central Valley Water Project site, will be severely impacted, which could be a problem for the Water Board’s plan,” Costa said.  “With all of the challenges in water, none in the last 20 years have worked together between the Central Valley Water Project and the State Water Project.”

 Adam Gray, 21st district assemblymen representing Merced and Stanislaus counties, explained the fight with the water resources board over the years.

“For the six years I’ve been in the assembly, we have been fighting this fight with the state water board, and despite repeated concerns that we have raised, testimony that I provided and members of my community have provided, the state continues to ignore the concerns and the farmers are not happy,” Gray said. “We are going to raise our voices as loud as they need to be and talk to whoever we need to talk to to get a fair deal on this.”

“The irrigation districts have science-based plans that involve habitat restoration, water, rebuilding a river, and dealing with non-native predators,” he said. It is not going to be easy, and it is going to take sacrifice to make a fair deal. All they want to do is take, take, take, and it is all water with no consideration for those other things.”

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“Waters of The State” is Severe for Ag

“Waters of the State” Offers New Regulations

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today spoke with Kari Fisher, counsel with the California Farm Bureau Federation, recently to discuss how the California State’s Water Resources Control Board is aggressively moving to finalize new “waters of the state” procedures and a new wetlands definition by the end of the year. Farmers and industry groups say the action would create new regulatory boundaries.

Farm groups also say the proposal creates mandatory permitting programs for waters of the state, resulting in permit requirements for more proposed projects, operations, and maintenance activities. Legislation is in its final drafting stages.

“This was drafted by the State Water Resources Control Board, released in July. They have been working on different versions of it since before 2008,” Fisher said. “This has been a long-term process and they aim to fix some regulatory gaps.”

Some of these gaps were created by U.S. Supreme Court cases. “That is where the original iteration of this wetlands and dredge and fill policy and procedures came from,” Fisher explained.

The draft was released in July of 2016. “This summer, they released a revised draft, and it does change the direction of where the procedures were from last year,” she said.

Many believe that this has a chance to come light, due the federal government’s position on waters of the U.S.

The Water Resources Control Board has received hundreds of letters from agriculture, building industry and other groups voicing concern over wetlands procedure.

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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)

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