Agricultural leaders from cities, along with state and federal officials representing the Central San Joaquin Valley, are reeling with anger and disappointment with the California Water Commission’s failure to fund the Temperance Flat Dam storage project.
“The California Water Commission have ignored the facts and their own guidelines and have ignored the will of the people,” said Lee Brand, mayor of Fresno. “We believe the voters, especially those in the Central Valley, overwhelmingly passed Proposition 1 where there was an expectation that their hard-earned money would be spent to help build water storage.”
“We desperately needed the Temperance Flat project. It will help us secure our water supplies against the droughts we know surely come,” Brand said.
The push to get funding for Temperance Flat dam was truly a valley-wide effort, with supervisors from Fresno, Kings, Madera and Merced counties, along with many cities and water agencies.
“Voters not just in the Valley but across the entire state should be upset over this decision. It is unthinkable that the Water Commission did not understand the benefits of the temperance flat project,” Brand said.
“Clearly all of us … are disappointed and clearly many of the voters in this valley are angered because we have been overlooked in terms of the water needs that are so essential for our valley,” said Jim Costa, D-CA 16th District, which includes Fresno.
“The Valley needs a reliable supply of water, and we supported this initiative on the basis that we would gain a more reliable supply of water. And clearly the recommendations of the Water Commission who took their staff’s lead was a very, very big disappointment for me. And I think all of us,” Costa continued.
“We’re not given up. That’s the bottom line. We’re not giving up,” he said.
California has general elections coming up on November 6th, and campaigning is already underway for the June 5th primary. California Ag Today recently met with Travis Allen, a state assemblyman running to be the next governor of California.
“One of my 5 point plans is very simple: to complete the California state water project,” Allen said.
One of his goals is to help complete the water project with more water storage in California. (Editor’s Note: We were not able to reach Travis Allen regarding the failure of the California Water Commission in funding Temperance Flat Dam.)
Allen wants to, “cut California’s taxes, get tough on crime and repeal the soft-on-crime laws of Gov. Jerry Brown.” Other goals include fixing the roads, expanding freeways, and repealing the gas tax without any new taxes.
“We are going to fix our broken education system,” he also said.
Allen wants to ensure there is enough water for the Central Valley.
“We have all of these extreme environmental regulations that are literally regulating our farmers out of business,” he said.
The State Water Resources Control Board has taken a heavy-handed approach in the valley and it affects everyone across California, not just the people who live in the Central Valley.
“Remember, the fruit and vegetables that are grown right here in the Central Valley are enjoyed not only throughout California but throughout the country and throughout the world,” Allen said.
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Temperance Flat Denied Funding All Hope Dries Up
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Again, it came down to fish, specifically Chinook salmon, that forced the proposed Temperance Flat Da...
Again, it came down to fish, specifically Chinook salmon, that forced the proposed Temperance Flat Dam out of the race for Proposition 1 funding for building new water storage projects.
For more than 20 years, the Temperance Flat Dam proposal was passionately advocated with unwavering support by Central Valley cities and the San Joaquin Valley Infrastructure Authority (SJVIA) who were behind the application. Temperance Flat came crumbling down Wednesday at the California Water Commission (CWC) meeting in Sacramento on the second day of discussion.
On Tuesday, CWC staff members assigned to crunch the Public Benefit Ratios for the project were solidly encased in concrete, refusing to grant the project any consideration for its ecosystem restoration benefits. The Dam would provide critical cold water to flow down the San Joaquin River, thus helping the salmon spawn.
And while the official public benefit calculation came up short today, proponents already saw that the project was already on life support Tuesday, with a dire prognosis.
“Stunned is an understatement,” said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the SJVIA, who has worked for more than 18 years on the project. “Temperance Flat is the most critical water project ever proposed for the Central Valley, which is ground zero for significant water shortages that will not go away.”
It all boiled down to the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment (EDT) model that was approved by Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources. Despite both approvals, that model did not jive with the Commission staff’s model, which undervalued the project’s public benefit ratio, killing the opportunity for Temperance Flat Dam to receive funding of more $1 billion for construction.
“We are working in an area of great uncertainty in professional judgment,” Bill Swanson, vice president, Water Resources Planning & Management for Stantec, a global planning and engineering firm, who presented data for the SJVIA. “We do not have fish in the river. We do not have empirical data. The only issue available to us is a comparison of how the system would respond to changes in flow, temperature and habitat,” Swanson said.
“That’s the reason we used the EDT model, the same model that the Bureau of Reclamation has used in their models of flow,” Swanson explained. “The SJVIA’s challenge was how to take the results of that model and analyze them to a level of detail that distinguishes the precision that we might want to have around the results,” said Swanson.
“I’m very disappointed with the way they scored a great project that needed to be built,” noted Santoyo. “And I am not happy about one commissioner from Orange Cove who stabbed us in the back and scolded us on why we did not meet the Public Benefit Ratio. We did meet and exceed that ratio, but the CWC disagreed with our ecosystem restoration model that had been used by both the state and the feds.”
Several Water Commissioners publicly wrangled with their staff on how they could make the project work. They sought areas to increase the project’s cost-benefit evaluation to get it funded.
Commissioner Joe Del Bosque read the ballot text of Prop 1, approved by California voters by 67 percent in 2014. He reminded those present that voters expected a water storage project to be built, adding, “We need to find more certainty in order to get Temperance Flat built.”
Commissioner Daniel Curtain distinguished two parts to the discussion—physical and monetary. “Take a look and see if there is a physical benefit for ecosystem restoration. Finding a potential benefit and attaching a potential monetary benefit could be helpful,” he said.
The project was also short on points for recreation opportunities on what would be a new lake behind the 600-foot high dam east of Fresno, behind Friant Dam. Commissioner Joseph Byrne said he hoped for more thought given to the recreation cost benefit. “Intuitively, zero benefit does not make sense. We need a higher level of confidence in the estimated recreation cost-benefit,” he said.
CWC staff stipulated that while the newly created lake behind Temperance Flat Dam would accommodate boating activity, the lack of camping, hiking, and other activities within the existing San Joaquin River Gorge neutralized any recreation benefits.
If built, the Temperance Flat Reservoir would contain 1.26 million acre-feet of new water storage above Millerton Lake, northeast of Fresno. Temperance would have helped provide a more reliable supply of fresh drinking water for disadvantaged Valley communities. It would have enabled below-surface groundwater recharge, addressed extreme land subsidence and provided critical help to farmers facing severe groundwater restrictions due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
Santoyo said the SJVWIA spent more than $2 million on the California Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by Commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers California’s Central Valley Project for the U.S. Department of the Interior, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. Santoyo said those studies supported the finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferred location for such a crucial project.
Water storage is a big issue in California. Tim Quinn, the Executive Director of the Sacramento-based Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), which represents water agencies throughout the state, recently spoke with us about California water and the importance of water storage in the future as well as his experience working with water agencies in such diverse parts of the state.
“My association strongly supports the notion of a comprehensive plan, and they want it to work for everyone,” Quinn said. “In my world, I do not have the northern wanting to sell the southern route or the ag areas wanting to sell to urban dwellers or the reverse.”
But Quinn does describe some tension in the state. “There is a lot of east-west tension in this state. It use to be north and south water, and it’s still there, but not as much as east-west, the coastal demographic,” Quinn said. “It’s the coast versus inland and conservative agricultural California, and so we’re working on building bridges in that regard, but my association represents professional water managers and their boards of directors in the state of California, and they are united in wanting a comprehensive plan to move forward that works for everyone.”
Quinn said that one comprehensive plan that’s beneficial to everyone is water storage. The Association of California Water Agencies doesn’t necessarily promote the building of one specific dam, but instead it promotes improving water storage as a whole.
“If you look at the list, it doesn’t say Temperance Flat and doesn’t say Sites. It definitely says storage, and we strongly support the process that’s going on with the California Water Commission to find the best storage projects for California,” Quinn explained.
“I don’t think we’ll build just one or just two or three storage projects; I think will build four or five or six projects and will build below the ground projects as well,” he said. “My organization is strongly supportive of that comprehensive plan moving forward representing the entire state. I’m not going to say do Temperance Flat and don’t do this one, but projects like the Temperance Flat are part of our future, and I think you’ll see them moving forward.”
Building Above Ground Water Storage Enables Groundwater Recharge
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Dramatically helping to recharge groundwater storage is one of the major benefits of the proposal to build Temperance Flat Dam behind Friant Dam, located to the north and east of Fresno. The new dam would triple the storage that is currently available with Friant Dam. Mario Santoyo, the executive director of the San Joaquin Water Authority, is helping the organization prepare the package to submit to the Water Commission by the August 14 deadline.
“We will be making timed releases to various water districts and amenities that will have groundwater recharging basins,” Santoyo said. “First, we need storage and then some time to move above ground water to underground storage. This is a physics necessity and directly counters those who argue we should not build above ground infrastructure if we need only underground storage. Well, if you don’t have above ground water storage, you ain’t putting any below. It is as simple as that.”
“There are two water conveyances from Friant and [the proposed] Temperance Flat Dams: the Friant-Kern Canal – the longest of the two primary canals – and the Madera Canal. Friant moves water south to Bakersfield, and Madera conveys it north to Chowchilla.”
“We will have one of the strongest applications to receive monies,” said Santoyo, assuring that the water authority will receive the package on time.
Now this is important,” Santoyo stressed. “A new video, ‘Build Temperance Flat,’ is now on YouTube. The video aims to educate Californians on the importance of building Temperance Flat Dam.” Santoyo urges those who are on social media to send the URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f30o_dQNmn8 “to as many people as you can!”
Temperance Flat is a Sure Way to Improve California’s Water Infrastructure
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Mario Santoyo is the Executive Director for the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority. He spoke to California Ag Today about Temperance Flat, a proposal supported by the Joint Powers of Authority composed of five counties: Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kings County. In addition to those counties, there are representatives from the eastern side cities, (Orange Cove) and western side cities, (Avenal)
“We also have water agencies, such as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors,” Santoyo said. “The JPA is also in the process of dealing with membership requests by Friant Water Authority and the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority.”
“You can see we’ve got a pretty elaborate team as far as the authority,” Santoyo said. “It was put together in order to pursue funding opportunities both by the state of California and the federal government to build revenue leading towards the construction of the Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir project, which will be located just north of Friant Dam on Millerton Lake, and actually would be built in Millerton Lake … expanding that reservoir.”
The five counties got together on this because they understand fully the importance of creating a more reliable water supply for the area. Santoyo said, “It was proven to be a problem when we had the five-year drought and the Valley had to exercise its groundwater pumping, which plummeted the groundwater levels so much that … it actually resulted in what is now the Groundwater Sustainability Law.”
“So there’s no question this project is greatly needed, and the irony is that this year, coming out of a five-year drought, we’ve got high runoff, and the Bureau of Reclamation had to make flood releases in order to not exceed the capacity at Friant Dam/Millerton Lake,” Santoyo explained. “We fully expect that they will have made up to 2.5 million acre feet of releases down the river to the ocean. Then if you stop and think about what that means, it basically you could roughly say it’s about two years’ worth of water supply for the eastern side of the Valley.”
“There are those who would argue that we would never fill up the Temperance Flat Reservoir,” Santoyo said. “Well, not only have we done it twice this year, we also have a history—a long history—of this … [being] the common scenario.”
When there is high runoff water, it doesn’t come in little bits, it comes in huge amounts. “I think we looked at the record, and 50% of the time that we have high runoff, we usually have to make flood releases in excess of one million acre feet, so that’s why the size that was determined for Temperance Flat was just a little bit over a million acre feet,” Santoyo said.
“Now having that, it’s actually 1.2 million acre feet that it adds to the system. When you add it to … the balance of what’s left with the original, we’re close to 1.8 million acre feet,” Santoyo said.
“It will triple the capacity of Millerton, ensuring that for the future, that [there is] a chance to maximize the available water supply for the cities, for the farms, and most importantly, to recharge the groundwater and put us back into a level that we’re stable and that residents, farmers and others can use that groundwater and not be restricted by the new groundwater sustainability laws,” said Santoyo, adding, “If we don’t solve that problem, the world is going to change dramatically for our farmers, number one, and it will have an immediate effect also on our cities.”
Santoyo describes the recharge opportunities. “What we’ll be doing is with Temperance Flat, we will be making timed releases to various water districts and entities that will have groundwater recharging basins, and they will be syncing it, but you need time,” he said.
“You need storage, and you need time to be able to move water from above ground to below ground. That’s just a physical necessity, and that’s part of the argument against those that argue, ‘Don’t build above, you only need below.’ Well, if you don’t have water above, you aren’t putting it below. It’s just as simple as that,” Santoyo explained.
Temperance Flat would be ideal for the state of California. “The Friant-Kern Canal is the longest of the two primary canals. The other one is the Madera Canal. The Madera moves it north to Chowchilla. The Friant moves it south to Bakersfield, so yeah, those are the primary conveyance systems for farmers and cities,” he said.
Recently a video that educates the public on the value of Temperance Flat, released on YouTube called Build Temperance Flat. We ask all who are active on social media to grab a link of the video and post it on Facebook and Twitter as well as other social media platforms.
An historic Memorandum of Understanding between San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation aimed at developing additional San Joaquin River water storage in the form of Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir was signed on July 1.
Temperance Flat Dam Would Provide Groundwater Relief, Jobs
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Mario Santoyo, executive director, San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority (Joint Powers of Authority), described the major and historic event held last week at the Friant Dam regarding the Temperance Flat Dam and California’s future water supply.
“At the event,” Santoyo said, “a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and the Joint Powers Authority, basically defines what the scope of work is going to be. In essence, it is full cooperation between their technical people and our Joint Powers Authority. Our people are working on tailoring the application to the state to optimize how much money we get from them. Keep in mind, we’re talking big dollars here; we’re not talking a million or a hundred million.”
Santoyo hopes to receive $1B in funding for the Temperance Flat Dam, although “it is going to cost somewhere around $2.8B. The maximum you could ask from the state is $1.4B. We don’t expect to be getting that because there is a lot of competition and there’s not enough dollars to go around. We’re hoping to shoot for somewhere around $1 billion,” he stated.
“In parallel with our efforts with the state,” Santoyo explained, “we’re working on the federal side with our senators and our congress members to obtain what they call a federal construction authorization—which allowsthe federal government to move ahead with this project. Then we work on appropriations,” he said.
Santoyo said the funding necessary to complete and complement dollars from the state will be procured in the same fashion as have projects in the past. “The Bureau of Reclamation typically funds the construction of a project and then recovers the cost through long-term water supply contracts or adjustments to existing water supply contracts,” he stated. “In this case, it would be adjustments to existing water supply contracts.”
Santoyo also noted preliminary feasibility studies are underway. Those already completed triggered the final feasibility report, “which is going through a final upper management review before being released to the public. I think we are all pretty confident it will come out in a very positive manner. I would expect that in the next sixty days,” he said.
The expected completion of the project varies. Santoyo estimated physical completion within five years,” but it has to go through design and environmental paperwork, plus legal challenges could cause setbacks as well. By the time you’re good to go, you’ll end up having this project built in probably under 15 years,” he said.
DAM CREATES NEEDED JOBS FOR VALLEY RESIDENTS
Nevertheless, Santoyo said the benefits of the Temperance Flat Dam project is to creates an economic boom and an increase in available jobs. “You’re going to be spending about $3B here for materials, labor, and everything that goes into it. It will be an economic boom; and once it’s built, we get more water reliability, creating a better situation for the farmers, and that creates employment. I wouldn’t look at waiting 15 years, it starts as soon as we start building,” he said.
“The best year for Temperance Flat is when we have high runoff periods, and we have those frequently,” Santoyo elaborated. “What I’ve determined is that there’s a 50% shot every time we have one that we will be dumping more than a million acre-feet into the ocean. That’s equivalent to a full-year of water supply for the east side of the valley. That’s a lot of water.”
DAM PROVIDES GROUNDWATER RELIEF
“The fact is, without this project, we will not be able to meet the ground water sustainability laws that exist because this water will be necessary to move underground to all these regions,” he said. “Right now, as it stands, San Joaquin River Settlement has taken away the Class II water that used by the Friant contractors to replenish the groundwater. Unless we have a means of replacing it, and that would be through Temperance Flat, we’re going to encounter very serious problems,” Santoyo noted.
“Take the typical example of a year in which we can save a million acre-feet in storage. We are not going to keep it there,” he said. “We are going to move it via the canal systems to the various groundwater recharging basins,” which capture and replenish underground water. “It’s not a matter of whether groundwater storage is better [or worse] than above-ground storage; they work in conjunction with each other to maximize storage.”
DAM SERVES A PURPOSE IN TIMES OF CRISIS
“There are a lot of conversations about the San Andreas Fault rumbling. If we had an earthquake, we could have a seismic event in the Delta,” Santoyo said. “What differentiates this project from all the other projects is that we could take Temperance Flat water and go north via the San Joaquin River to the Delta, or south via the Friant-Kern canal, across the valley canal to the California aqueduct then subsequently down to southern California,” he said.
“In a scenario of Delta failure, in which water was no longer moving to the millions of people in Southern California, that would be a crisis,” he stated, “they would be looking for help in any way, shape, and form. Temperance Flat could do that. That’s one of the public benefits being looked at by the California Water Commission, in a category called emergency services. That was written in there specifically because of Temperance’s capability.”
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.
“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 built—period,” 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.
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.
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?”
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?
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 theimmediate, 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?
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.
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.