Interior Secretary Zinke Agrees: Sacramento Water Grab “Unacceptable”

Zinke Directs Staff to Propose New Plan

News Release

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s visit to Don Pedro and New Melones Reservoirs at the request of U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) continues to yield results for the Valley, with Secretary Zinke issuing an internal memo Friday declaring the state’s proposed water grab an “unacceptable restriction” that reduces the Department of the Interior’s ability to deliver water and directing his agencies to propose a plan within 25 days to maximize water supply, construct new water storage, and resolve issues with the state, among other directives.

“After our tour of local reservoirs, Secretary Zinke recognizes that Sacramento’s water grab would cripple our communities, farms and water storage infrastructure,” Denham said. “Our water, our water rights, and our future depend on stopping this wasteful plan.”

Rep. Jeff Denham, photo courtesy of his Facebook page

Previously, the Bureau of Reclamation, within the Department of Interior, issued an official comment on the state’s proposed water grab, noting the plan “directly interfere[s] with the New Melones Project’s ability to store water” and “elevate[s] the Project’s fish and wildlife purposes over the Project’s irrigation and domestic purposes contrary to the prioritization scheme carefully established by Congress.”

The agency’s comment also specifies that siphoning off at least 40 percent of the Central Valley’s rivers during peak season would result in significant reductions in water storage at New Melones and result in diminished power generation as well as recreational opportunities. The agency recommends the Board reconsider and postpone the scheduled August 21-22 public meeting to allow for “additional due diligence and dialogue.”

Recently, Denham’s amendment to stop the state’s dangerous water grab passed the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a Department of the Interior appropriations bill, and put a major spotlight on this issue. The amendment, currently awaiting a vote in the Senate, prohibits federal agencies from participating in the state’s plan to deplete the federally owned New Melones reservoir, which provides water for the Central Valley Project and generates hydropower.

Sacramento’s plan would drain significantly more water from New Melones each year, potentially leaving it completely dry some years. This would put in jeopardy critical water supplies for Central Valley farmers and communities who rely on the water for their homes, businesses, farms, and electric power. The amendment takes this issue head-on to protect Valley water.

Denham will continue fighting to protect Central Valley water, support science-driven river management plans that revitalize our rivers without recklessly wasting water, and push major policies like the New WATER Act that will solve California’s water storage crisis and keep the Valley fertile and prosperous for generations to come.

See the memo from Secretary Zinke here, or to read the full comment from the Department of the Interior on the state water grab plan, click here. For more information about what Denham is doing to fight for water in the Valley, visit www.Denham.house.gov/water, where you can also sign up to receive periodic updates on his work in Washington to improve local water infrastructure, storage and delivery.

Temperance Flat Awarded $171 Million in State Water Bond Funding

$171 Million is Far Less than $1 Billion Sought

News Release Edited by Patrick Cavanaugh

The California Water Commission has granted state water bond funding of $171 million to the central San Joaquin Valley’s proposed Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir project. The action came during a Water Commission hearing recently in Sacramento.

The $171 million award under the state’s Water Storage Investment Program is well short of the $1 billion in funding that had been sought when the application process was launched by the project’s lead agency, the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority (SJVWIA), but is still very welcomed.

Mario Santoyo

“It is far less than what we originally asked for,” said Mario Santoyo, SJVWIA Executive Director, “but these state funds remain an important part of Temperance Flat’s financing that we have long looked toward along with federal and local investor funding. We have continued to move steadily forward working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Interior Department and the investor’s group that has taken shape.”

Project proponents were disappointed by a May 4 Water Commission action that turned down Temperance Flat public benefits scoring the project needed to achieve all the state project funding the SJVWIA had sought. They were also surprised by another Water Commission decision to not make available early funding to the SJVWIA for predevelopment environmental and permitting work.

Santoyo said reconsideration of that action may be sought.

“We’re still moving forward and are not giving up,” said Steve Worthley, SJVWIA president and Tulare County Board of Supervisors chairman. “We’re pushing ahead because this project would be a major valley tool in complying with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act along with improving water supply availability and reliability and flood control. Temperance Flat would improve water supplies for disadvantaged communities and urban areas, and create tremendous water management flexibility, not to mention significant benefits for the environment.”

A number of interested water agencies from many parts of the valley are exploring project financing options. The Bureau of Reclamation is pursuing completion of an updated Temperance Flat feasibility study.

Temperance Flat would be located on the San Joaquin Valley above Millerton Lake, northeast of Fresno. The new reservoir would contain 1.3 million acre-feet of water storage space, 2½ times the capacity of Millerton Lake behind Friant Dam.

Temperance Flat is viewed as a vitally-needed means of capturing and storing high flows of water generated in big water supply years. Much of that water is currently being lost to flood releases from Friant Dam due to Millerton Lake’s small storage capacity.

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.”

RECYCLED WATER PROJECT FOR WATER STABILITY, PART 4

Recycled Water Project for Water Stability: Takes Shape, Part 4

By Brian German, Associate Editor and Broadcaster

As part of our ongoing coverage on the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program (NVRRWP), we spoke with Anthea Hansen, general Manager of the Del Puerto Water District. Over the next few months the project will start to take shape following the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signing the Record of Decision last month, the high level of cooperation taking place among all the different entities, and positive public response.

Del Puerto Water District dpwdHansen commented, “I can’t speak enough about our good experience thus far. The cities, partners and consultants on the project have come together to really advance this concept—which was all it was seven or eight years ago —into something that will become a reality.

When demands are low in the Del Puerto water district, specifically in the winter months, water deliveries can flow to storage facilities or the San Luis Reservoir for later usage when demand is high. While many areas have already been using recycled water for agricultural needs, the progress by the North Valley program has inspired some communities to improve their own water policies.

Recycled water has long been used in agriculture in other areas of the state, most notably the Salinas Valley and in the south, maybe a little bit up in the north in the winegrape country. The Del Puerto Water District currently relies on water delivered through the Central Valley Project, which had zero deliveries for the previous two years, and are only providing 5% this year. This new program has the potential to produce more than 30,000 acre-feet of water per year as soon as 2018.

NVRRWP map recycled water
NVRRWP map (Source: www.nvr-recycledwater.org/description.asp)

Among an estimated 100 recycled water projects in various stages of development throughout the state, Hansen stated, “For the Central Valley, I think this is definitely a big first. We received about 14 public comments on the joint environmental document. Of those 14, three or four were letters of support, and we received some broad support from the environmental community. 

A project of this magnitude to deliver needed water stability could also be accomplished in other dedicated communities, according to Hansen. “We believe this project to be a model for other municipal and agricultural agencies in ways to regionally solve issues together, and hopefully, it will be a model for the nation.”

Anthea_Hansen
Anthea Hansen, general Manager of the Del Puerto Water District

“Hopefully,” said Hansen, “people are looking at this as a good example of ways to think outside the box and use available technology to solve problems locally and regionally, which is what we have been forced to do here on the Westside.

“With all the complexities of California’s plumbing,” explained Hansen, “it would be impossible for a small district like Del Puerto to really affect any of the big picture changes, but we certainly do have the ability to affect how we act locally and regionally. I also think the Central Valley has not historically been a magnet for a lot of assistance, programs or changes that work to our benefit, so we have to devise these for ourselves or we’ll be out be of business. I’m very thankful that the two cities—Modesto and Turlockon the east side of the river in our county, were willing to work with us, and I think we have a good partnership going forward.”


AAEES logo Leadership and Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science

 

The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program (Phase 3) won the 2015 Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science™ Competition – Honor Award – Planning from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists.

BREAKING NEWS: California Water Authorities Sue U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The following is a joint statement by Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District on today’s filing of a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation to reassess its Endangered Species Act (ESA)-related actions.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Fails to Consider the Environmental Impacts of Biological Opinions Which Have Been Devastating Communities

FRESNO, CA-TODAY the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) and Westlands Water District (WWD) filed a lawsuit in federal court to compel the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) to examine the effectiveness of the existing measures intended to protect endangered species, the environmental impacts of those measures, and whether there are alternatives to those measures that would better protect both endangered fish species and California’s vital water supplies.

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority The existing measures, adopted in 2008 and 2009, are based on biological opinions issued under the Endangered Species Act.  The measures are responsible for the largest redistribution of Central Valley Project and State Water Project (water supplies away from urban and agricultural uses and have jeopardized the water supply for waterfowl and wildlife refuges.  Since 2008 and 2009, the farms, families, cities and wildlife that depend upon Central Valley Project and State Water Project water supplies have suffered substantial environmental and socio-economic harm from the reduced water deliveries caused by the existing measures, with little apparent benefit for fish.

Reclamation adopted the existing measures without any review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Federal courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, held this action violated NEPA, and Reclamation was ordered to perform environmental review.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote:

It is beyond dispute that Reclamation’s implementation of the Biological Opinions (BiOp) has important effects on human interaction with the natural environment.  We know that millions of people and vast areas of some of America’s most productive farmland will be impacted by Reclamation’s actions.  Those impacts were not the focus of the BiOp….  We recognize that the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) will not alter Reclamation’s obligations under the ESA.  But the EIS may well inform Reclamation of the overall costs – including the human costs – of furthering the ESA.

The court-ordered review provided Reclamation a rare opportunity to reexamine the necessity for and the benefits of the existing measures, as well as the resulting impacts on the environment and water supplies, potential alternative measures, and new information and studies developed since 2008 and 2009.  It provided Reclamation an opportunity to make a new and better-informed choice.

Unfortunately, Reclamation neglected to take advantage of that opportunity. In November 2015 Reclamation completed an EIS that did not examine whether the measures are necessary or effective for protecting endangered fish populations.  Instead of analyzing the existing measures, Reclamation accepted them as the status quo.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The EIS did not identify any mitigation for the water supply lost to these measures, despite current modeling that estimated how the existing measures would reduce the annual water delivery capabilities of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. Loss was estimated to be over 1 million acre-feet on a long-term average and in spite of years of harm caused by implementing the measures.

Nor did the EIS try to identify alternatives that could lessen these impacts.  Reclamation attempted to minimize the impacts of lost surface water supply by unreasonably assuming the lost supply would be made up from increased pumping of already stressed groundwater supplies.  In its Record of Decision issued January 11, 2016 Reclamation announced that it would continue on with the existing measures, and provide no mitigation.

It is inexplicable that Reclamation would pass up the opportunity to reassess the existing measures and make a much more careful and robust analysis than what is found in the EIS.  NEPA requires no less.

The lawsuit filed today seeks to compel Reclamation to do the right thing and perform the analysis it should have.  If successful, the lawsuit may ultimately result in measures that actually help fish, and identify mitigation activities or alternatives that lessen or avoid water supply impacts that millions of Californians in the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project depend on.

Many of those affected reside in disadvantaged communities and are already struggling to pay for a water supply made scarce by layers of other, yet equally ill-advised bureaucratic regulations.  California’s water supply is too precious for Reclamation not to make the best informed decision it can.

Storm flows lead to challenges for water system

By Kate Campbell; Ag Alert

After enduring three of the driest years in state history, nothing could be more heartening to farmers and ranchers than the steady march of Pacific storms that reached California this month. But good news is tempered by the knowledge that a few strong downpours don’t translate into full reservoirs and abundant supplies — and the storms revived concern about how state and federal water systems manage storm flows in a drought year.

The state’s reservoirs stand at about 57 percent of average, slightly below this time a year ago and well below full capacity.

“We’ve had years past where rain and snow didn’t continue into the New Year,” said State Climatologist Mike Anderson, pointing to the moisture cutoff last January that assured shortages for farmers who rely on surface water deliveries from the state and federal water projects.

“So far this year, precipitation levels depend on where you are—north of a Bay Area-Tahoe line, precipitation is above average, but in the south, levels are actually below average,” Anderson said. “In addition, there’s also below-average snowpack across the entire Sierra Nevada.”

He said most of the storms so far this water year, which began Oct. 1, have been warm, meaning snow accumulations aren’t building the way water managers hope. Sierra snowpack currently is about 50 percent of average, he said.

While December storms dropped significant precipitation, the California Farm Water Coalition noted last week that many of the state’s agricultural customers in the federal Central Valley Project worry that this year’s zero deliveries of surface water will be repeated in 2015.

“In the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water were in the system at the same time delta pumps were almost completely shut down,” coalition Executive Director Mike Wade said.

As these storms have come in, Wade said the water storage situation is similar to what was seen a year ago—except the state’s reservoirs are now lower.

“It’s very frustrating to watch water flowing through the system without being captured,” he said. “We have constraints in the delta that hold down the amount of water we catch to the bare minimum because of protections for delta smelt.”

During the height of the stormwater pulse moving through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta last week, he said, less than 10 percent of the surge was captured for storage and use next summer.

The state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said last week they are experimenting with pumping reductions to prevent a “turbidity bridge” from occurring in the central and south delta. Delta smelt are attracted to turbid, or cloudy, water because it makes the tiny organisms it feeds on more visible and provides shelter from potential predators, such as non-native bass.

DWR described the strategy this way: “Forgoing the capture of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water may allow water project operators to avoid the loss of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water supply later in the winter.”

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, Erin Curtis, said the storms present challenges in operating the system “to balance the critical need to quickly increase water supplies south of the delta while being cautious to not trigger environmental restrictions that could constrain delta operations and ultimately reduce the overall supplies.”

Representatives of agricultural water users said they’ll be closely watching the results of the operational change.

“It will be interesting to see if this is a worthwhile new operating principle at the beginning of each season,” said Chris Scheuring, an environmental attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “The downside is that it might turn out to be a waste of water.”

“Clearly there is risk associated with a decision like this,” Wade said. “We hope the risk pays off.”

Fresno County farmer Dan Errotabere said due to the “turbidity bridge” theory and the lack of water transfer from the delta into storage, there’s serious concern about water supply management on the part of San Joaquin Valley farmers who rely on the state and federal projects for water deliveries during the growing season.

“Managing water during a drought is critical,” Errotabere said, noting that he fallowed 1,200 acres this year. “We’re losing opportunities now and, if the available supplies aren’t managed to capture available water to the fullest extent, we may not see a water allocation for the next crop year.”

He said he’s grateful for recent rainfall that helped reduce the need for irrigation of his winter garlic and wheat crops. The rain also helps leach salt, which has built up in the soil due to the region’s widespread use of drip irrigation and saltier groundwater.

“We’ve got to get off the groundwater because of its lower quality,” said Errotabere, who is vice chairman of the CFBF Water Advisory Committee, “and we need legislation to make sure good-quality irrigation water is put into storage. The rainy days are slipping away and we may find there’s no more available water to capture.”

Vince Dykzeul, a diversified grower from Modesto, urged creation of new water storage to help water managers respond to the ebb and flow of storms.

“If it’s true the climate is changing,” Dykzeul said, “if we’re going to have larger storms and longer droughts, then we need more water in storage to respond to these changing conditions. Water storage increases system flexibility and, if done right, everybody wins from having more water available.”

He noted that his farming operation is particularly vulnerable to flooding.

“Without adequate infrastructure to control storm waters, that’s when we have trouble,” Dykzeul said. “Nobody wants to talk about managing flood while managing through a drought, but I know the benefit of keeping both sides of the coin in mind.”

Federal weather forecasters said last week they expect continued average to above-average rainfall across California during the next three months, predicting an easing—but not an end—to the severe drought of the past several years. There’s also a 65 percent chance of weak El Niño conditions developing in the Pacific Ocean, which could influence winter precipitation, although experts say “anomalies” in climate patterns create forecast uncertainties.

“It’s not likely the drought will be broken this year,” said Steve Baxter, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster. “But it’s likely (California drought) conditions will improve.”

Court Rules for Environmentalists in Water Fight

An appeals court said TODAY that federal officials should have consulted wildlife agencies about potential harm to a tiny, threatened fish before issuing contracts for water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, as reported by Paul Elias of the Associated Press.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act when it failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service in renewing 41 contracts a decade ago. The appeals court sent the case back to a trial judge for further proceedings.

The ruling arises from one of several lawsuits filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmentalists seeking to protect the Delta smelt. The ruling won’t affect water flows because protections for the smelt were kept in place during the lawsuit.9th Circuit Court of Appeals

“This about how we are going to manage the water in the future,” said Douglas Obegi, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Water-rights holders and government lawyers argued that consultation wasn’t necessary because the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was required to renew the contracts and had no discretion over terms of the agreement that would control water levels in the Delta.

But the 9th Circuit disagreed, saying the Bureau had discretion over price and delivery times of the water, which affect water flow. Therefore, it has to consult with one of the other two agencies. The court also said that the bureau wasn’t required to renew the contracts.

Stuart Somach, a lawyer representing water-rights holders who intervened to fight the lawsuit, said the ruling “destabilizes” the state’s water-allocation system because it raises uncertainty over the contracts and water delivery.

Somach said he and his clients are still mulling their options, which include petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. They could also try to convince the trial judge to keep the contracts in place, he said.

His clients own water rights with or without contracts, which ensure predictable water allocation, Somach said. Predictability is lost if the contracts are invalidated, he said.

“The big loser in all of this is the state of California,” Somach said.

Source: Paul Elias, Associated Press.

 

Plaintiffs among the cluster of cases:

Natural Resources Defense Council; California Trout; San Francisco Baykeeper; Friends Of The River; The Bay Institute, All Non-Profit Organizations, Plaintiffs-Appellants, And Metropolitan Water District Of Southern California, Plaintiff In Related Case

V.

Defendant-intervenors–Appellees:

Jewell Associates, Lp; Reclamation District 1004; Beverly F. Andreotti; Banta-Carbona Irrigation District; Patterson Irrigation District; West Side Irrigation District; Byron Bethany Irrigation District; Carter Mutual Water Company; Howald Farms, Inc.; Maxwell Irrigation District; Meridian Farms Water Company; Oji Brothers Farms, Inc.; Henry D. Richter; Sutter Mutual Water Co.; Tisdale Irrigation And Drainage Company; Windswept Land And Livestock Company; City Of Redding; Coelho Family Trust; Eagle Field Water District; Mercy Springs Water District; Oro Loma Water District; Conaway Preservation Group; Del Puerto Water District; West Stanislaus Irrigation District; Fresno Slough Water District; James Irrigation District; Tranquillity Irrigation District; Christo D. Bardis; Abdul Rauf; Tahmina Rauf; David And Alice Te Velde Family Trust; Fred Tenhunfeld; Family Farm Alliance, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority; Westlands Water District; California Farm Bureau Federation; State Water Contractors; California Department Of Water Resources; Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District; Natomas Central Mutual Water Company; Pelger Mutual Water Company; Pleasant Grove- Verona Mutual Water Company; Reclamation District 108; River Garden Farms Company; Princeton-Codora- Glenn Irrigation District; Provident Irrigation District; Kern County Water Agency