North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program: A New Water Source for Valley Farmers
Part One of a Five-Part Series
By Brian German, Associate Editor
Anthea Hansen, general manager of the Patterson, Calif.-based Del Puerto Water District, described the exciting work to bring more water stability in the form of recycled water to multiple Central Valley cities—in our five-part series on the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program(NVRRWP).
“After six and a half years of effort,” Hansen said, “we have fully completed all of our environmental documentation, and most of the permitting is in hand.” Recently, the partners have interviewed and selected the preferred firm to construct the Modesto component of the project, so that process is underway.”
NVRRWP is a collaborative partnership that includes the cities of Modesto, Turlock and Ceres along with the Del Puerto Water District and Stanislaus County to solve the region’s water supply and reliability problems. The program will provide a new source of water for agricultural customers in the Del Puerto Water District (DPWD), whose supplies have been severely impacted by drought and by environmental restrictions on pumping water from the Delta. Hansen noted the collaboration was the largest obstacle they were able to overcome.
“One of the biggest things that happened recently, a day we were all looking forward to,” noted Hansen, “is when the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation(Reclamation) executed the record of decision for our project, a document that supports not only the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation but also the signing of a long-term contract. It will allow us to convey and store the recycled water in federal facilities,” she said, “and it will also support the sharing of a portion of the water with the wildlife refugees south of the Delta. That was a big milestone for our project.”
The cities of Turlock and Modesto will provide treated, recycled water to the Del Puerto Water District through a direct pipeline into the Delta-Mendota Canal. The district will then distribute that water to the agricultural customers within its service area.
After so many years already invested in the project, Hansen is excited the plan is coming together. “We worked lockstep with Reclamation for over three years,” Hansen said, “and we did some very extensive and thorough analysis. We had a great team and a good working relationship, and it looks like we are nearing the end of assembling all of the different pieces of this very complicated puzzle.”
California Water 4 AllInitiative Still On for 2016, with 2018 as Backup Plan
Late last week, word spread that the @CaWater4All Initiative may postpone the Water Priorities Constitutional Amendment and Bond Act proposition from the 2016 ballot to the 2018 ballot. California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh, farm news director, spoke with Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance, which is behind the initiative, with major funding by California Westside Farmers State PAC (FPPC #1381113).
Cavanaugh: Is the @CaWater4All Initiative campaign still slated for the 2016 ballot?
Bettencourt: We did not stop the campaign, but we do have two deadlines. In other words, we are looking at all options. We are still on track for 2016; we are not letting up on gathering signatures. And if for some reason we reach the April 26, 2016, deadline for placement on the November 2016 ballot, but with an insufficient number of signatures, then we will steer for the 2018 ballot. I feel strongly that support is still there to pass the measure.
Cavanaugh: So there is a full-court press for unpaid volunteers to get the signatures by the 2016 ballot deadline. How will you ramp up the volunteers to sprint to the finish line?
Bettencourt: We are working on strengthening and systematizing our volunteer coordination across fourteen counties so it can be replicated among the various teams in Riverside, Los Angeles and Fresno, for example, working in concert. We know what works for each team, and we want to share event promotions and workloads and more.
Our ground game for the next few weeks will become completely guerrilla. I’m actually surprised how well developed our infrastructure has become statewide already, and I think with a little more coordination, it will be a force of nature.
We are also continuing to build connections outside of agriculture because this issue is so much more than agriculture.
Finally, if conditions change on paid-signature gathering pricing, we of course will return to paid collection.
Cavanaugh: Will the signatures for the 2016 ballot be valid for the 2018 ballot?
Cavanaugh: I understand one reason you added the 2018 option was the sudden and crazy surge in street price for paid signature gatherers – more than double their previous rate?
Bettencourt: There are currently 12 propositions in the state that need signatures, so the price per signature has jumped from $2.00 to $5.00 and could go higher in a last ditch scramble to qualify by the April 26 deadline. Never before this year has an initiative signature gone above $3.00; this is truly unprecedented! We had budgeted to gather signatures at $2.65 to $3.65 each, normally a strong offer, but it would be irresponsible and unsustainable to be caught in the frenzy and pay double for signatures without guarantee of qualification. Such an expenditure would have implications for the fall election campaign for the measure if we qualify. For this reason, we simply told the company to pause on gathering signatures for the time being, but to remain on stand-by. We expect the market will shortly calm down.
Cavanaugh: So in tapping the breaks on the professional signatures, you are now relying on the volunteer base to get the needed number?
Bettencourt: We have swung our resources over to maximize our already strong volunteer side. We will continue our fundraising, of course. If we reach the week before the April 26 deadline and think we have enough signatures, we will turn them in to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. If not, we will continue collection until we qualify for the 2018 election instead.
Cavanaugh: Are there any benefits to being on the 2018 ballot?
Bettencourt: Yes, there are a couple of positives to rolling to 2018. When the April 26 deadline hits, the other 11 or so propositions that are paying $4 to $5 per signature may all either qualify, roll over, or drop out. Then the initiative market stabilizes, we can jump back in and pay only $2 per signature or less, a significant savings. With no other propositions on the street, the price will drop, the field will be clear and our efforts will yield higher numbers of signatures.
More importantly, if we were to qualify for 2018, we would be among the first propositions to qualify, and we would be higher up on the ballot. Ballot position is important; if you are low on the ballot, the likelihood of getting a ‘yes’ vote is generally more difficult.
The mid-term election without a presidential election can also create a less expensive election with fewer initiatives. And with Governor Brown a lame duck in his last year as governor in 2018, he may be less inclined or he may lack fundraising capacity and resources to fight our initiative. Some Democratic candidates for his seat are already declared opponents of High-Speed Rail, so that would also help.
Cavanaugh: What about the provision in your initiative that would reallocate $8 billion in unused High Speed Rail (HSR) bonds to water storage? Will that fund be essentially empty in 2018?
Bettencourt: We double-checked with attorneys engaged in fighting HSR and with the Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) group. Both said the HSR Authority could not access that funding in the interim, unless they were to fulfill their complete system plan. Given they are not close now and never have been, and HSR continues to be held accountable through the courts, it is highly unlikely they will be able to touch that money in the next two years.
Cavanaugh: And what about the Prop 1 dollars allocated for more storage? Will the funding still be available in 2018?
Bettencourt: I’ve been told there is currently an estimated $40 billion worth of water projects competing for the $2.7 billion of Prop 1 funding, including Sites and Temperance Reservoirs and numerous groundwater projects and water recycling programs, and more. And Prop 1 does not guarantee the construction of any one of them. For the next two years, the California Water Commission will try to finalize its criteria and process for considering and valuing project applications, approve some project applications, and perhaps appropriate funds to them. If the Water4All initiative qualifies for the 2018 ballot, we have two years to make the same case that we have been making so far:
There is not enough money to build the water storage, groundwater recharge, stormwater capture, water recycling, etc. the state needs.
The timeline does not work. The Bureau of Reclamation is clear—without a significant and immediate expansion of new surface water storage, Californians will be 4.9-6.2 million acre-feet short of having enough water to serve our families, farms and protected environment.
Cavanaugh: Can you explain how growers in northern California will be safe with their senior water rights if the initiative passes? There seems to be great concern there.
Bettencourt: There are two specific exemptions within the Water4All Initiative that protects all established water rights structures in California—the foundation and bedrock of our water system. Keeping these rights protected and intact when we wrote this initiative was critically important. So, our constitutional amendment refers only to prioritization of beneficial uses, which is defined as the purpose for which water is used after it has been diverted by rights. It does not change the underlying rights, whether senior or junior, consumptive or non-consumptive, or any rights subject to contractual agreements such as those held by the Sacramento River Exchange Contractors with the Central Valley Project.
By definition, beneficial use is subservient to water rights. Our constitutional amendment, as well as in the statutory bond funding portion, has specific exemptions for all pre-1914 water rights, area or origins and existing water rights structures.
Cavanaugh: It seems, then, the initiative strengthens senior water rights?
Bettencourt: Many attorneys who have experience on matters specific to pre-1914 and other water rights, have said the initiative actually strengthens existing water right structures.
It reaffirms both the past decisions of the people of our state and our earlier legislature that respectively created Article X of the Constitution and the California Water Code’s laws. Moving Section 106 of the Water Code to the Constitution resets water law to a preexisting legal framework that long guided California’s water-use decisions, but is now muddled by the courts and legislature. Restoring this clarity will yield lasting benefits to the state’s people.
It will end attempts to grab water from existing rights-holders and divert it away from the purposes for which our water systems were designed and built.
U.S. Department of Interior’s Tom Iseman Assesses California Water
Tom Iseman, deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, in an exclusive interview with California Ag Today’s farm news director, Patrick Cavanaugh, assessed how California is faring given the drought.
Cavanaugh: I see you as someone who focuses on not just solutions but also the issues and tragedies caused by the extended drought in California. From your perspective, how is California doing and how could things be better?
Iseman: First of all, I think California is obviously on the leading edge for a lot of reasons, but the state is in the midst of an extended drought. So it is really forcing us to be smarter about how we address these water scarcity challenges. I have been very impressed with the way we have been able to really work together—the Bureau of Reclamation working with the state, the water users and the conservation groups—to think about how we can stretch our limited water supplies to meet these different purposes.
Cavanaugh: Obviously the country is not able to build another Hoover Dam, but does the Interior understand that we need more storage in California for the rainy days?
Iseman: Absolutely. There are different ways to do it, so we are looking at a number of projects. One is raising Shasta Dam; one is a new reservoir possibly on the upper San Joaquin River (Temperance Flats); and Sites Reservoir.
Cavanaugh: But those projects are a long way off, and they may never be built. What can California do now to increase its water portfolio?
Iseman: There are smarter ways we can build smaller-scale storage and new ways to operate our facilities to stretch water supplies to our advantage.
Cavanaugh: Could you talk about how we can use water differently? Desal is more expensive water, but water needs to be more expensive. When water gets more expensive, people conserve more, right? Talk about your vision of desal in America, particularly in California.
Iseman: Generally, clean water technology is a big part of what we need to be doing. It is not just building new storage; it’s being smarter with what we have. So, technology is a great way to do that. We have desalination, water recycling and water reuse. Having these options creates an opportunity for more partnerships. So now you can have cities recycling their water and sending their water supply to agricultural water users—a win-win situation. The city gets some revenue and deals with its wastewater, and agricultural water users get a new supply. That is the way we should be thinking—about the possible partnerships to take advantage of these options.
Cavanaugh: People building desal plants in cities like Santa Barbara, mothballed the plants when the rains came. We need to make desal part of the culture of these cities located on the ocean. I mean, does the Department of the Interior see that as a rational thing to do?
Iseman: It’s interesting. Obviously it has been done in other places, and they have invested quite a bit of money here in California. It comes down to economics; we don’t make the decision about whether a city builds or doesn’t build a desal plant, but it is part of the water supply list, potentially.
The challenges with desal is just the cost right now and how much energy and waste it can produce. And they are comparing that to the other options out there. Are there other technologies out there that we can use? Are there water markets or water rights I can acquire? Is there potential for new storage? I think the cost will help sort that out.
The part that cost doesn’t address in some ways—and it can be built in—is the uncertainty. One thing, I think, about a desal plant that people like is that you know there is going to be a water supply if you are on the ocean. And if you have the money and can generate the energy, you can get the water. As you see more uncertainty in our climate and in our existing water supplies, that would be one argument in favor of desal.
Cavanaugh: It is stable.
Iseman: Yes, and we need reliability.
Cavanaugh: Well, you talked about the cost and the economics, but we all need to pay more for water, and I’d be the first one. It would make everyone conserve more, right?
Cavanaugh: Maybe, raise the cost of water $10 a bill?
Iseman: Well, I’m not going to say we are going to raise people’s water rates, but if you talk to the industry and look at the future of the industry, a lot of people say, ‘People need to pay more for water.’ That is how you get the investments.
The federal budget is constrained; they are not going to be there when we are going out and building Hoover Dam in ten years. We just don’t have that kind of resources anymore. So the question is, how do you get more revenue stream in to help contribute to the cost of those investments? And that goes back to rates. And at some point, we will have to decide how much we pay for water and how much we value our water.
Cavanaugh: Thanks for being aware of all this. Are you encouraged we will find solutions?
Iseman: We talk about California everyday; we are all very aware of the things that are happening. But I really gained an appreciation of the innovation, the energy and the cooperation of people here—the commitment they have in dealing with these issues. I was glad to be a part of it.
Call these Senators, starting with CA and moving onward.
Say you are calling regarding HR 2898 and want the Senator to vote YES!! They may ask for your zip code and say they will pass along your concern.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) TODAY released the following statement after the House of Representatives passed the Western Water and American Food Security Act:
“The House today passed a drought bill that included some useful short-term provisions as well as some provisions that would violate environmental law. While I cannot support the bill as passed, I remain hopeful we can come to an agreement that can advance through both chambers.
“House Republicans are right that we need to increase the flexibility of the state’s water delivery infrastructure. We need to facilitate water transfers and maximize water pumping without violating environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act or biological opinions, and we must do this using updated science and real-time monitoring. Provisions to accomplish this were in the bill the Senate unanimously passed last year, and I plan to include them again this year with added environmental protections.
“I also believe we must look closely at ways to support water recycling, storage, desalination and groundwater replenishment projects. There are already 15 ocean desalination projects and 65 water recycling projects being considered throughout California. These types of projects—as well as building or increasing reservoir capacity—must be a part of any long-term solution.
“To get a bill through the Senate and the House we’ll need to include provisions that benefit the entire West and help support the development of alternative water infrastructure. If the climate continues to warm, as I believe it will, these alternatives will be key.”