Editorial on Delta Tunnel Project

A Social Justice Perspective on the Delta Tunnel Project

By Gary Kremen

As California confronts increasing water challenges, the most equitable statewide solution from a social justice perspective is the single-tunnel project proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, known as the Delta Conveyance Project.

More than 27 million Californians rely on imported drinking water conveyed through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This imported water also serves millions of acres of local agricultural lands and vital wildlife refuges.

The reliability of that imported water supply is threatened by a variety of risks, including climate change, sea level rise, increasing regulatory restrictions, seismic risks and deteriorating ecosystem conditions. The Delta Conveyance Project will help address many of these threats.

The project proposes the construction of a single tunnel that would provide an alternative conveyance pathway for moving water from the north Delta to the existing pumping plants in the south Delta. The addition of intakes in the north Delta would allow operational flexibility to adjust to where fish are at a given time and protect our water supply from saltwater intrusion.

This enhanced flexibility will reduce the number of fish that end up in the existing pumping plants. The project includes state-of-the-art fish screens that minimize the number of fish impacted by water diversions. The project would improve water management for California communities, farms, fish and wildlife.

Scientists have predicted that climate change will result in more spring runoff and less snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. There is not enough storage to capture this additional runoff.  Having the ability to rapidly move water south cushions inevitable climate change effects.

The levees that make up California’s water distribution system in the Delta are not engineered to withstand major earthquakes. There is a high probability of a major earthquake within the next 25 years which could cause catastrophic levee failure, which would result in seawater inundation, interrupting fresh-water deliveries to more than 27 million people.  COVID-19 demonstrates that unexpected disasters happen.

In a catastrophic levee failure, who stands to be hurt the most? Not the affluent, as we have seen in this COVID-19 crisis; they have second homes, alternative sources of food and access to health care. It would hurt poor, working class and middle-class people the worst.

The alternatives to not having a tunnel are grim, especially given California’s excellent record on conservation and its growing population. One viable option is ocean desalination.  However, the same NIMBYs who don’t like the tunnel don’t like desalination. Maybe their ocean views will be impeded? For those few water districts near the ocean, the cost of desalination is at least three times the cost of the water yield from the tunnel.

Why not recycled wastewater? All over California there are ambitious recycling programs. The cost of recycled water, like desalination, is at least three times more expensive than water from the tunnel. Depending on expensive water sources exclusively would disproportionately hurt low-income families.

Reduced water to Central Valley agriculture would mean higher prices for food, higher carbon footprint from food importation and decreased food security. Higher food prices disparately affect those who are poor and vulnerable. It is well documented that the transportation related pollution for importing food especially damages communities of color.

Opponents of a tunnel project never say their position will lead to higher water prices and reduced water reliability, which leads to higher food prices, and can even lead to class-based disparities in health outcomes.  Other opponents seemingly promote the protection of endangered species, while others seek to ocean harvest the same species with fishing practices that kill whales.  Real estate speculation by some opponents of the project isn’t helping the health of the Delta.

Water agencies statewide have done an excellent job of becoming more water efficient while supplying water to a growing state population and keeping the environment healthy. For these reasons, the Delta Conveyance Project will further California’s goal of achieving water justice.

Gary Kremen is elected to the Santa Clara Valley Water District board of directors and is vice chairman of the Delta Conveyance Finance Authority, gkremen@valleywater.org. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

 

 

More Surface Water For Farmers

The Need for More Water South of the Delta

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

With the initial allocation of only 15% on the federal side for water deliveries for farmers, it’s more important now that more water come through the Delta instead of being needlessly sent to the ocean.

Michael Frantz who owns Frantz Wholesale Nursery, along with his brother in the town of Hickman (Stanislaus County). He also sits on the board of the Turlock irrigation district, which delivers water to thousands of acres of almonds and walnuts.

“Increasing flows South through those Delta pumps. So critical this year. Clearly we need to be able to export as much water out of the Delta as we can environmentally and scientifically do, is a net win for all the people in California,” said Frantz.

“I’m sensitive to the Delta farmers who need to see Delta outflow to keep the salinity from building up in their channels. I recognize that’s a concern of theirs, but the reality is this state allows millions, tens of millions of acre-feet on some water years to escape out to sea,” said Frantz. “Those pumps should be turning at full speed, pushing water down into the South Valley where it could be applied on farms and allowed to percolate down into the aquifer and help recharge and rebuild a healthy aquifer.”

 

Harder’s SAVE Water Resources Act Takes Final Step Towards House Passage

 Harder Bill Will Make Massive Investments in Local Storage Projects, Water Infrastructure, Research

 

WASHINGTON – The first bill introduced by Representative Josh Harder (CA-10), the Securing Access for the Central Valley and Enhancing (SAVE) Water Resources Act passed in the Natural Resources Committee today on a vote of 19-12. The bill provides a wraparound approach to addressing water issues facing the Central Valley by supporting local water storage projects, spurring innovation, and making long-overdue investments in our aging water infrastructure. This is the final step in the legislative process before the bill receives a vote in the full House of Representatives.

 

“My job is to teach these people in Washington what we need in the Valley – the top of that list is investments to protect our water,” said Rep. Harder. “This is a huge win for our area – it’s got local support from folks on all sides of the issue and it makes the investments we’ve needed for decades. Next stop is the House floor.”

The SAVE Water Resources Act touches on a broad range of water policy areas aimed at increasing water storage opportunities, spurring innovation in water sustainability, and making responsible federal investments in our aging water infrastructure. In brief, the bill:

SUPPORTS LOCAL WATER STORAGE PROJECTS

Improves water storage by requiring the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite feasibility studies for four specific storage projects in the Central Valley, including: Sites Reservoir, Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir, Los Vaqueros, San Luis Reservoir, and Pacheco Reservoir and provides $100 million in storage funding. Last year, Rep. Harder secured $14 million in federal funding for several of these projects – the first funding for a new surface water storage project in his district in 50 years.

Helps farmers prepare for SGMA by leveraging federal resources to identify prime locations for groundwater storage and recharge in California and across the Western United States.

SPURS INNOVATION

 

Creates the “X-Prize” program to incentivize private sector development of cutting-edge water technology including desalination and water recycling.

Invests in water reuse and recycling by increasing funding for WaterSMART programs from $50 million to $500 million and extending the program’s authorization.

INVESTS MILLIONS IN OUR AGING WATER INFRASTRUCTURE

Establishes a water infrastructure and drought solutions fund to provide $300 million for water surface and groundwater storage, water reclamation and reuse, and WaterSMART program projects.

Creates an innovative financing program which would provide low-interest federal loans to fund local water infrastructure projects.

Reauthorizes the Rural Water Supply Act, which requires the Bureau of Reclamation to work with rural communities to improve access to safe and clean sources of drinking water. 

The SAVE Water Resources Act previously received a hearing in the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee.

Imperial Irrigation District Re: Salta Sea Water

IID seeks resolution over mitigation water delivered to Salton Sea in 2010

To focus its efforts on future Colorado River negotiations, the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors has authorized its general manager and management team to work with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to resolve a longstanding issue over the district’s 2010 pre-delivery of mitigation water to the Salton Sea.

Nearly a decade ago, to satisfy mitigation obligations for 2011 and part of 2012, to meet existing permit requirements in support of the Quantification Settlement Agreement and to avoid associated financial risk, the district pre-delivered 46,546 acre-feet of its consumptive use entitlement to the Salton Sea.

“IID asserted then, and continues to assert today, that the consumptive use of Colorado River water for QSA environmental mitigation purposes was an appropriate and prudent action,” said IID Board President Erik Ortega. “We recognize that others may have a differing view and we will agree to disagree. However, the recent action taken by this board demonstrates a commitment to finding common ground and resolution in support of the river.”

The board’s action falls closely in line with its resolution, adopted November 18, that establishes parameters for future Colorado River negotiations. The 2007 Interim Guidelines, currently in effect, expire at the end of 2025.

IID’s general manager and designated staff will work with the Bureau of Reclamation to present a proposal for the board’s consideration in the near future.

Westlands Could Get Permanent Federal Water

Huge Water Contract for Westlands

From Families Protecting the Valley

www.FamiliesProtectingTheValley.com

 

According to the L.A. Times, the “Westlands Water District, a sprawling San Joaquin Valley farm district with ties to the Trump administration, is poised to get a permanent entitlement to a massive quantity of cheap federal irrigation supplies.”


How much are they supposed to get?  “1.15 million acre-feet of water.”


BUT…”There is no guarantee it will get that, since Westlands is low in the federal project’s pecking order and is among the first cut in times of shortage. Since 1990, it has received its full allotment in only four years.”  Conclusion:  Even with all the water available last year they only received 55%.


The article goes on to say “long-term control would also allow Westlands to make lucrative water sales to thirsty cities and other agricultural agencies”…Conclusion:  BUT, “To date Westlands hasn’t sold any water outside of its district. We don’t sell the water for a handsome profit.”


Why were they able to make the deal?  “Westlands asked for the new agreement under provisions of the 2016 WIIN Act, which opened the door for all reclamation contractors across the West to convert their water service contracts to permanent contracts if they repaid what they still owe federal taxpayers for construction of a federal water project.”  Conclusion:  So, they followed the law. 

So, how much do they still owe?  “In a letter to Westlands, the reclamation bureau last year estimated that the district owed the government $320.5 million as of June 2018.”


BUT, “In 2015 Westlands struck a settlement over drainage services that courts had ruled the federal government was legally obligated to provide…Under the settlement, Westlands agreed to assume drainage responsibility, said it would permanently retire 100,000 acres of badly drained land and would also accept a 25% cut to its water contract.”

SO, “In return, the government agreed to forgive Westlands’ construction debt — then roughly $350 million — and give the district a permanent contract for the reduced delivery amount.”  


Conclusion:  If you follow the story you can see the federal government had some obligations with regard to drainage, and made a deal for Westlands to assume the responsibility in exchange for the water contract.

  
The headline – Feds set to lock in huge water contract for well-connected Westlands Water District – would have you believe Westlands is getting something because of their powerful connections.  Conclusion:  It looks like they just followed the law and made a deal.

New Biological Opinion Adds Flexibility to CA Water System

FARM BUREAU: FISHERY PLANS SHOULD ADD FLEXIBILITY TO WATER SYSTEM

 

New biological opinions for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta open the way toward additional flexibility in the California water system, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation. CFBF President Jamie Johansson said the opinions released today by federal fisheries agencies enhance prior protection for fish while adjusting operation of water projects to improve water supplies.

“Everyone wants to see endangered fish recover,” Johansson said. “But the methods of the past haven’t worked. Doubling down on those failed methods would make no sense. It’s time to try something new, and we’re satisfied that the career scientists at the federal agencies have taken the time they need to create well thought-out plans that reflect advances in knowledge acquired during the past 10 years.”

Johansson said the biological opinions can lead to progress in restoring balance to California water management.

“We expect these new biological opinions to approach fishery recovery through a variety of tactics, including habitat restoration, improved science, and flexibility in dedicating enough water at the right time to maximize fishery benefits and improve water deliveries to people,” he said.

“Narrow solutions based only on water flow mandates have failed to restore fisheries, at great loss of water for people. Water used for environmental purposes should be analyzed for efficiency, just as people are when they water their lawns, run their dishwashers or irrigate their crops,” Johansson said.

 “Californians face a challenging water future as we seesaw between extreme drought and flood, incorporate new restrictions on groundwater and work to accommodate a growing population while enhancing the environment and sustaining agricultural production,” he said. “We hope these new biological opinions will move California toward those goals, and that state and federal leaders will work together in pursuing them.”

 

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 36,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.

 

Surface Water is the Key to SJV Farming Future

Water Projects Were Built to Deliver Surface Water to Farmers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Water is always a concern while farming on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Daniel Hartwig is the resource manager of Huron-based Woolf Farming and Processing. The company is a multi-generation and multi-crop farming business. Hartwig explains how monitoring and being proactive helps them stay ahead of some of the water issues.

Like everybody, we’re concerned that there’s not going to be enough water to do everything we’re currently doing,” Hartwig said. I think we’re just waiting to see and trying to be proactive and get ahead of a lot of these water issues, but at the same time, we’re monitoring it and hopeful that there will be more surface water to make up for what we might be stopped from pumping.”

Not having surface water is a big problem on the west side.

The entire reason the California Aqueduct and other canals were built was to have surface water to mitigate against the issues they had back in the twenties, thirties, and forties. Back before there was surface water available,” Hartwig explained.water

Hartwig said he thinks that President Trump’s memorandum could be helpful.

“Anything that’s going to help give us water and allow it to be more reliable is very helpful. However, the issue is timing and … anything that’s going to take more time is more water loss, and that creates a struggle for all of us, he explained.

“Regarding pump drilling, there are always discussions going on, but I don’t think we’re at the point yet where we can make any of those decisions just because we don’t know for sure what’s … going to come down the pipeline,” Hartwig said. We’re evaluating, and we’re monitoring, and trying to be involved in these groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) discussions.”

Again, having surface water is the key to the future, noted Hartwig.

“The lack of surface water is a huge problem. I mean, we would not have to pump as much groundwater if we were able to get as much water as we are supposed to be receiving from the state and federal water projects,” Hartwig said.

Assemblyman Adam Gray Speaks Out on Water Grab

Water Board Must Understand the Impact of Taking Water from Farms and Communities

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

At the recent Water Rally in Sacramento, more than 1000 farmers and other stakeholders were protesting the California Water Resources Control Board, which is proposing a water grab of 40 percent of the water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Rivers to increase flows for salmon. According to Adam Gray —21st District State Assemblyman, representing Stanislaus and Merced—counties said that large losses would occur in jobs and profits if the water grab is implemented.

“This is thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic loss to agriculture, to California, and we can’t afford that,” Gray said. “Not to mention the impact on drinking water in communities. Most of the communities in my district are on well water, and what people don’t think about is when you take water away from farmers and that water doesn’t go back into the ground. That further depletes our groundwater and our aquifers, and it creates more subsidence and environmental issues.”

Gray said that this is not about the environment versus business, or fish versus people. This is about the whole community, the schools, the ag economy and a lot of job losses for the people he represents.

“It’s dishonest; the Water Board is not admitting that there’s going to be an impact in the affected areas. They say farmers are going to offset the water losses by pumping more. Well, you and I both know with the implementation of SGMA and all of the other challenges, that’s not a reality,” he said.

“So how about we sit down and come up with a water plan that takes everybody’s needs into consideration and again, I’m not an us versus them advocate,” he said. “Southern California needs water, the coast needs water, northern California needs water and the San Joaquin Valley needs water. How about we sit down and make a water infrastructure plan for the next hundred years that serves all Californians.”

Gray said the farming community will stand up for the investments made to secure water.

“We are not going to lie down. We’re not going to apologize for being a farming community,” he said. “We’re going to stand up; we’re going to defend the investments we’ve made and the long-term planning we did, and we’re going to ask the state to step up and do some of their own.”

Officials Angered Over Temperance Flat Lack of Funding

The Will of The People Was Ignored

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

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.

California Water Commission members facing the room, with staff at table in front of them. The staff made all decisions based on NRDC and CA Fish and Wildlife recommendations, killing Temperance Flat funding.

“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.

To Feed the Nation, Farmers Need Water

California Water Alliance is Good for All

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Founded in 2009, the California Water Alliance is the leading educational voice and authority on California water. The Alliance is a 501c4 nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advocates for the water needs of California families, cities, businesses, farms, and the environment. The California Water Alliance is working to assist the farming community in multiple ways. Being transparent is at the forefront.

William Bourdeau

William Bourdeau is executive VP of Harris Farms and a board member of the Alliance. The alliance is telling the truth and being transparent, and that is very important, he said.

Bourdeau explained that California farmers, need water to feed the nation, and it is important to take an interest in the agricultural industry.

“The farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are the most regulated, the most skilled, and the hardest working people I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “Water and food are critical to any nation, and it’s not only important so we can provide the food for our children, but it’s important for national security reasons.”

“And this is not a California-centric issue. We grow food that people eat all across the country, and so everybody needs to take an interest in this and understand that it’s important that we have a vibrant agricultural industry because, without it, we will become vulnerable,” Bourdeau said.

The understanding of what factors are associated with farming in California is important for the general public to be educated. Anyone that is consuming safe, affordable, nutritious food needs to better understand where that food comes from and what effort is required to produce it.

“This isn’t easy. There are many, many factors that increase the challenge and risk associated with growing food. It’s capital intensive. It requires water. There are many, many opportunities to fail and we’re underappreciated and over-regulated,” Bourdeau said.