Put Your Public Water Outreach Programs on Steroids

Water Storage Projects are Essential To Counter Inconsistent Wet Weather

By Stephen Baker, Operation Unite

How can the short memory of the public maintain the long-term commitments of water projects and conservation behaviors? On one hand, California’s recent extended drought demonstrated that the public water users could reduce their water use, but can it be maintained permanently?

And then there is water storage.

Water storage projects are essential to counter the inconsistent presence of natural yearly precipitation and sporadic wet winters, but is the public supporting projects that get the job done? Water shortage is imminent without an ability to treat, store and, ultimately, satisfy the demand of the 40 million Californians while, at the same time, maintaining a healthy environment. And without adequate water storage, we rely on groundwater aquifers. Unfortunately, this is also a bit of a sore spot. The public water users either feel that groundwater is theirs for the taking, or they consider groundwater as someone else’s problem. Either way, communities are fragmenting from misunderstanding, misconceptions and the politics of water.

Thanks to Climate change, these issues are each magnified. Climate change is now instigating our communities to adapt. Adaptation means that we have an infrastructure and public behavior that allow easy management when highly variable conditions occur.  What we need is buy-in from the public that is unwavering throughout the life of the project. It’s just not happening fast enough. It’s time to put your public water outreach program on steroids!

I know you can relate to these conditions because water purveyors, County Board of Supervisors, cities, GSAs, and Flood Control Districts face this each day with every project. Ask yourself: Are you building permanent public buy-in, or is it a fragmented and fleeting commitment? Conventional outreach methods have their successes, but it is hard to effectively engage from across the room. We need to get more personal.

It’s about relationship, and relationship is a two-way street. It is one thing to respond to the squeaky wheel and very much another to manage the entire machine in a manner that the machine operates successfully. Having the right relationship leaves your public knowing that you care and confident that you are considering an alternative that generates confidence. It gets even better. When a good relationship is built, we work better together, even when there are disagreements. Working together means you listen to understand. This is a major contributing factor needed in today’s diverse world, where building and maintaining a healthier community is critical. It even leads us to many other benefits that have nothing to do with water (e.g. homeless problem, fire safety, community economics, crime). Building relationships does take time, but if approached innovatively, it can be accomplished effectively and within a shortened period of time.

You currently engage in many public meetings, forums, private meetings, social media, conferences, and workshops on water projects. Each of these gatherings is an opportunity to build a relationship with specific emphasis on the quality of interaction. When done effectively, you will recognize that your public and you are coming together. Enhancing everyone’s ability to hear and be heard each will contribute to building healthy relationships. The vehicle for this to happen can be provided by new relationship-building tools.

So, if the strategy is about building a relationship, how is it actually developed? It’s about communication.

Many times, an opinion on communication strategy success is measured based on the number and type of events that are scheduled. Although this effort may satisfy regulatory or legal requirements, it misses the mark because the numbers of events independent of one another usually stall out in effectiveness, and you miss the opportunity to completely succeed. Let’s not forget the content of the event itself. This is where the steroids come in. Supplementing your current water outreach programs with some enhancement tools will increase public interactions and decrease pushback. Why lollygag reaching your success? Let’s get the job done.

We need communication tools that ramp up positive outcomes of your current efforts. Tools involve a mix of strategy and conduits of communication. When addressing strategy, plan a dynamic set of actions that are pre-assessed with knowledge of your public. Frequently revisit the pulse of your public through a variety of personal encounters and modify the strategy as needed. As we said earlier, we need to get more personal. There are new tools that effectively provide a community level of personal connection with a water project, and this is where the steroids come into view.

Communication is where the magic takes effect. Simultaneously connecting at varying scaled levels brings both the emotions and analytical understanding into focus with the meaning of your water projects. Accomplished effectively, this strategy of communication under the influence of the proverbial steroids develops a public that pushes a water project forward. The public will understand the value of water and the project’s relevance to their lives. At the end of the day, you feel heard, everyone is on the same page, and the project is completed on time and on budget. You even have money left over for the next project. Life doesn’t get better than that!

Stephen J. Baker is a Hydrogeologist and Founder of Operation Unite, a group that has developed communication tools for building mutually beneficial, engaged, and collaborative relations with the public and water projects. He can be contacted at stevebaker@operationunite.co or +1530-263-1007.

Commentary on Water Issues from Families Protecting The Valley

Unintended Consequences

By Families Protecting The Valley

As Californians endured the drought, they did an excellent job conserving water—maybe too good.  As the article below from Families Protecting The Valley explains, all the low flow toilets, all the 1-minute showers meant less water pushing waste through the sewers.  All that “resulted in corroded wastewater pipes and damaged equipment, and left sewage stagnating and neighborhoods stinking. Less wastewater, and thus more concentrated waste, also means higher costs to treat the sewage and less recycled water for such things as irrigating parks, replenishing groundwater or discharging treated flows to rivers to keep them vibrant for fish and wildlife.”

So now some water agencies are pushing for more outdoor conservation efforts rather than indoor to keep the wastewater flowing.  Adam Link, director of operations with the California Association of Sanitation Agencies asks the key question:  “At what point are you causing more harm than the benefit you are getting from saving those drops of water?”

Another major point we would point out is with the reduced VOLUME of water flows, it has created higher concentrations of pollutants per each gallon of water that gets discharged into the Bay-Delta. With low flow toilets’ rates at 1/2 or lower previous volumes and appliances using less water, all the pollutants that impact fish and people are at double or more on a per-gallon basis getting dumped into the Bay-Delta. Some permit to dump 180 million gallons of sewage water into the Bay-Delta, but the pollutant concentration is double or more.  This makes the pollution from sewage plants going to the delta that much more troubling.

Remember, in 2010, water authorities determined the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant “was discharging too many pollutants into the Sacramento River, threatening public health and harming aquatic life in the Sacrament-San Joaquin Delta.”  The water board found that high volumes of ammonia in the water were disrupting the food chain and endangering fish such as salmon and Delta smelt. Single-celled organisms posed health risks to people who came in contact with the river water.

Wastewater authorities were given until 2021 to remove the ammonia, giardia, and cryptosporidium which endanger fish and humans.  In the meantime, the pollutants keep coming and the policy of cutting off water for farmers is still the favored solution.

This is why farmers are so frustrated.  They see the wastewater situation as the real threat to endangered fish, but water the bureaucrats sole solution to Delta health problems is withholding water from farmers.

More Information at Familiesprotectingthevalley.com

Congressman McCarthy: Water Projects Needed Instead of High Speed Rail

McCarthy Introduces Legislation to Repurpose High-Speed Rail Funding to Water Infrastructure Projects

News Release

Congressman Kevin McCarthy introduced legislation recently that would repurpose recovered federal funding from the California High-Speed Rail project to critical water infrastructure projects in California and the West. McCarthy released the following statement on this legislation, H.R. 1600, the Repurposing Assets to Increase Long-term Water Availability and Yield (RAILWAY) Act:                                                                                   

“The California High-Speed Rail project is a boondoggle that California and American taxpayers must move on from. Since its inception, the project’s costs have ballooned while oversight and accountability within the California High-Speed Rail Authority has been nonexistent. Last month, Governor Newsom in his State of the State rightfully recognized these shortcomings and announced an end to the project as it was put to the voters.”

Congressman Kevin McCarthy

“The RAILWAY Act would end the Federal government’s involvement in this failed endeavor by repurposing up to $3.5 billion in recovered Federal funding for the California High-Speed Speed Rail project to water storage infrastructure projects as outlined in the bipartisan WIIN Act. Under the WIIN Act, five storage projects in California are advancing, and when completed, could provide 5 million acre-feet of additional water storage in our state. This is a far better use of taxpayer money that can address more important needs in our state.

 “California has experienced over five years of drought, and people across the state have felt the consequences, with entire communities on the brink of disaster due to lack of water. The RAILWAY Act would address this crisis head-on by providing significant funding for what California really needs: infrastructure projects that help our state capture and store water during wet years for use in dry ones. The RAILWAY Act builds on the success of the WIIN Act by continuing to increase California’s drought resiliency and helping ensure our communities, families, and farmers have access to life-sustaining water.” 

 Every Republican Member of the California Congressional Delegation joined McCarthy as cosponsors of the RAILWAY Act. Below are their quotes:

 “California farmers and families need a reliable water supply, not an extravagant high-speed rail line. This bill will redirect crucial funds and resources where they’re most needed—particularly in water infrastructure projects—to help ease the burden on Central Valley communities struggling through the water crisis.” –Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22)

“The RAILWAY Act repurposes funding from the most wasteful project in California’s history and invests it into some of our most critical water storage projects. That’s a win for taxpayers and a win for California’s future. We know California experiences periods of droughts followed by periods of significant rainfall. The RAILWAY Act provides a common sense solution to this problem by building storage projects to capture more water in wet years in order to sustain California families and our economy through the dry years. Building water storage is long overdue. It’s time to stop watching water be diverted into the ocean and start acting to capture and store that water.” –Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42)

“Years of drought in California brought entire cities within months of exhausting their water supplies. In extremely wet years, we have watched our dams spilling millions of acre feet of water to the ocean because of lack of storage. The infrastructure funding provided in the RAILWAY Act will begin to turn this tide in support of water abundance.” –Congressman Tom McClintock (CA-04)

“California’s high-speed rail project has been a very expensive disaster, with costs ballooning so much that voters are no longer getting anywhere close to what they were sold. I agree that all federal funding given to California for this project should be promptly returned and invested in commonsense projects people need, be it water storage or transportation. I have a bill, the High-Speed Refund Act, with a similar goal of reinvesting these funds into useful transportation infrastructure, such as widening Highway 70, three lanes for I-5, improving Highway 99 or 395, or many other real world projects that are actually useful to people in Northern California. Almost any type of infrastructure will be more beneficial and, one way or another, taxpayers deserve a stop to additional waste for this misguided pipedream of high-speed rail.”Congressman Doug LaMalfa (CA-01)

“The last major reservoir in California was built forty years ago. Since then, our population has grown significantly, and we’re ill-prepared to endure droughts. It’s time we take action to increase our water supply and modernize our water infrastructure. This bill makes good use of funds that were already going to be spent in California. I hope that Congress will pass this legislation quickly.” –Congressman Paul Cook (CA-08)

“Efficient water storage and management is California’s greatest need. The high-speed rail project is California’s greatest waste of time. The RAILWAY Act corrects this problem by implementing a common-sense plan to address a significant concern in our state by investing significant and critical resources to ensure we have water availability for the future. I am proud to be part of this effort and will continue working with my colleagues to lead on this important ongoing issue.”  –Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-50)

Background

  • The Federal Railway Administration (FRA) made two grant awards to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project totaling approximately $3.5 billion.
  • On February 12, the Governor of California, in his State of the State address summarized the reality that the HSR project costs too much, will take too long to build, and that “there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego.”
  • On February 19, the FRA notified the California High-Speed Rail Authority it is de-obligating $929 million in unspent FRA grant funding for the HSR project after determining that the Authority “has materially failed to comply with the terms of the funding agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the HSR Project.”  The FRA also indicated it is “exploring all available legal options” to recover approximately $2.5 billion in Federal funds already expended on the HSR project.
  • To view the FRA letter click here.

The RAILWAY Act would accomplish three important things:

  • Ends the California High Speed Rail (HSR) Project: The RAILWAY Act would reflect reality and end Federal participation in the HSR project—consistent with the FRA notification of February 19—in the Central Valley and repurpose funds to critical water infrastructure projects.
  • Increases Drought Resiliency in California and the West: The RAILWAY Act would provide significant funding to the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act program that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) uses to design and construct various large-scale water infrastructure projects in California and the West, including expanding existing and building new reservoirs, thereby increasing drought resiliency in western states.
  • Helps Keep Federal Funds in California: By providing significant funding to the WIIN Act program that the DOI is using to advance the Shasta Dam and Reservoir Enlargement Project, the Sites Reservoir Storage Project, the Upper San Joaquin River Basin Storage Project, the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Phase 2 Expansion Project, and the Friant-Kern Canal subsidence correction project, all which are located in California, the RAILWAY Act would help ensure repurposed Federal funds remain in California to create jobs and build needed infrastructure.

The RAILWAY Act would also repurpose a portion of HSR project funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to award grants to projects designed to help small, rural communities by:

  • Developing new sources of water when residential wells run dry; and
  • Reducing or eliminating elevated nitrate levels in drinking water.

Groundwater and Need for Temperance Flat Dam

To Deal with SGMA, Temperance Flat Dam Must Be Built

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, also known as SGMA, is seen as dire for the future of farming as we know it in the San Joaquin Valley. One thing that could help reduce the threat of SGMA is more storage for surface water deliveries—increased storage such as the proposed Temperance Flat Dam.

Mario Santoyo is the executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority. For decades, Mario Santoyo has been pushing for the construction of Temperance Flat Dam.

“With this new groundwater sustainability law coming into play, it is going to basically shut down a lot of farming,” he said.

If farmers cannot prove that they are putting in as much water as they are taking out of the ground, they will lose their access to the groundwater pumps.

“Farming in the Central Valley is in for a world of hurt. The only thing that can help us won’t solve everything but can help us,” Santoyo said.

It is a major step in the right direction to be able to manage high runoff water that we are otherwise losing to the ocean—meaning millions and millions of acre-feet lost into the ocean.

“Building Temperance Flat, which would provide us additional storage opportunities up to additional 1.2 million acre-feet, will allow us to have carry over water from year to year,” Santoyo said. “This would come in handy when we hit dry years here in California. It would allow us to move water from above ground to below ground, stabilizing our groundwater condition.”

Modesto Irrigation District Files Legal Action Against State Water Board

MID Lawsuit Challenges CA Water Board On Misguided Plan

News Release from Modesto Irrigation District

Modesto Irrigation District (MID) filed a lawsuit on Jan. 10 against the California State Water Resources Control Board in response to their vote to approve Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan.

MID’s lawsuit primarily challenges the State Water Board for failing to comply with both the United States and California Constitutions and the California Environmental Quality Act.

MID is among many parties—including our partners in the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority—who are pursuing independent legal action against the State Water Board.turlock irrigation canal

“The State Water Board misused its power to adopt a misguided and devastating plan,” said MID Board President Paul Campbell. “Given their current plan, we’re left with no choice but to pursue legal action. We must protect our more than 130-year old water rights, our water supplies, and the communities we serve.”

To balance the needs of our environment and customers, MID continues to advocate with our Tuolumne River partners for a durable solution composed of both flow and non-flow measures. Parallel to filing this lawsuit and consistent with the State Water Board’s direction, we’re working collaboratively to present a voluntary agreement for the State Water Board’s consideration in the coming months.

“Our voluntary agreement will ensure water security and reliability, includes environmental improvements, enhances fish populations far beyond what is projected in the state’s current plan and most importantly, guarantees timely implementation,” said MID Board Vice President John Mensinger. “Their plan threatens not only Central Valley ag and urban water users, but also the water supply of more than two million people living in the Bay Area.”

MID’s legal action reinforces our commitment to protect the environment, our customers, our region, and our water supply. For more information and to read MID’s full filing, visit www.mid.org.

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

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

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40 Percent Water Grab Continues to Be Big Concern

Growers Will Fight Back

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

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

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

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

Rhonda Lucas

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

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

California is not in a critical overdraft area.

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

This plan will destroy the health of the groundwater basin.

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

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

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

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

Halting the Sacramento Water Grab

Rep. Denham calls on Congress to halt Sacramento Water Grab by enacting Denham Amendment

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

 Recently, U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), along with thirteen of his California colleagues, sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to make sure Rep. Denham’s House-passed amendment to stop Sacramento’s water grab is included in the next spending bill that is signed into law.

“My amendment halts the disastrous Bay-Delta Plan that would see 40 percent of our water flushed out into the ocean,” Rep. Denham said. “Congress must act to protect the Valley.”

Rep. Jeff Denham, photo courtesy of his Facebook page

 Rep. Denham’s amendment to stop the state’s dangerous water grab passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July 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.

Sacramento’s planned water grab would do irreparable damage to Central Valley communities, directly interfering with the New Melones Project’s ability to store water and the Central Valley Project’s ability to deliver water.

The plan would subvert the will of Congress and jeopardize a significant portion of the nation’s agricultural productivity. Following a visit to New Melones at the request of Rep. Denham, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke sent a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board highlighting serious concerns with the plan and directed his agencies to propose a new plan to maximize water storage and resolve issues with the state, among other directives. 

Rep. 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.

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

Feds and State Usually Do Not Work Well Together

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Malanca Voices Frustration Regarding Water Grab

More Water Storage is What is Needed

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

At the capitol building in Sacramento, more than one thousand farmers and other stakeholders attended a big rally to protest the California State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed water grab of 40 percent of the water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers to increase flows for salmon. California Ag Today met with Steve Malanca, co-founder of My Job Depends on Ag, as he explained the concerns for water storage.

“Being in western Fresno County at Ground Zero, where the water take has been going on for 30 years, we have continually asked for more storage,” he said.

Steve Malanca
Steve Malanca

The lack of surface delivery water and the lack of storage in the state of California is not good for anyone.

“The fish need water. The farms need water. We need fresh drinking water, and the problem continues to get worse with the amount of water we lose every winter out to the ocean,” Malanca said. “If that water could be saved and properly stored … this would generate more cold water for the salmon to live and spawn in. We just want them to know that we need help, but we need more water.”

U.S. Representative for the 16th district Jim Costa also attended the water rally and explained the devastating impact of the water restrictions.

“If there are 40 percent unimpeded flows were allowed to go through, it would have a devastating impact on those counties,” Costa said.

Jim Costa

California has reallocated water in the past and has not had very good results.

“What we have really got to do is talk about other proposals that take into account habitat, non-native predator species, non-point discharge and a balance that makes sense,” Costa said.