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Delta Flows: November 5, 2013


The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft a-gley. (Often go wrong.)
– Robert Burns

Playing favorites at the Water Board?

The Central Delta Water Agency (CDWA) is calling on the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to enforce the same water quality standards against the State and federal water projects as it would against other diverters of Delta water.

At issue is the SWRCB decision this year to relax water quality standards in the Delta for exporters while holding extra water at Shasta Dam for later cold water releases to benefit migrating fish. The SWRCB “rebalanced” exports in anticipation of a critically dry year. But the CDWA notes that under Water Right Decision 1641 (D-1641), the agreement that governs State and federal rights to export water from the Delta, water year classifications already adequately accounted for variation in the amount of water available and for the ability of the water projects to meet water quality standards.

Says CDWA, “There should be no further balancing and changes to the standards except through an appropriate SWRCB proceeding with CEQA compliance. . . . The flexibility is in the amount of surplus water available for export not balancing the degree of violation of the standards.”

CDWA argues that other actions were possible to provide for cold water storage at Shasta. Says Dante John Nomellini, CDWA manager and co-counsel, “The absence in the correspondence of the project operators, the fish agencies and the SWRCB of any consideration or even mention of the possibility of reduction of exports to save cold water in Shasta for fish is disturbing and raises the possibility of a concerted plan to violate the water quality standards to favor exports from the Delta (emphasis added).”

During the time the water quality standards in the Delta were being violated, some agricultural users in the Delta were unable to divert water for their own crops.

As Mike Machado, former State senator and former direction of the Delta Protection Commission, reminded an audience at this year’s State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference in Oakland, the Water Board has issued the State and federal water contractors contracts for 8 million acre feet a year from a system in which 5 million anticipated acre feet were never developed. Until the contracts are brought into line with the reliable yield, we can expect to see more of the kinds of water quality violations that we have seen this year.

Keeping the troops in line

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is finishing up the 2013 California State Water Plan, a plan it revises every five years. This is a massive undertaking by hundreds of DWR employees. Hard as it is to believe, many of those employees know as little about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) as the average Californian does.

Some of them are even doing work that makes BDCP look like the bad idea that it is. Why should we keep directing large amounts of California’s finite supply of fresh water to the southern San Joaquin Valley, where aquifer depletion is so out of control that no amount of transferred water can fix it and where climate change modeling suggests that irrigated agriculture will be unsustainable?

But leaders can’t allow mere facts to get in their way. That might explain why Brown Administration officials have announced their own California Water Action Plan to “focus on the reliability of our water supply, the needed ecosystem restoration to bring our water system back into balance, and the resilience of our infrastructure.”

Never mind that no amount of ecosystem restoration can ever bring our over-subscribed water system back into balance.

The announcement of this California Water Action Plan by the Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Department of Food & Agriculture never mentions “tunnels.” It borrows much of the language of the California Water Plan about conservation and increased local and regional self-reliance, pays homage to the co-equal goals, and calls for improved flood protection.

We have a California Water Plan, a Delta Plan, a Bay Delta Conservation Plan, various water quality control plans, and a Central Valley Flood Control Plan. Why do we need another plan? Well, it looks like the Department of Food & Agriculture isn’t getting what it wants out of those other plans.

The announcement says, “California’s nearly $45 billion agricultural industry remains one of the state’s largest and most important economic sectors. A reliable supply of water is a key element of this thriving industry.” Agriculture is certainly important, but at less than 2 percent of the State’s GDP, it is hardly one of the state’s largest economic sectors.

The Kern County Water Agency has its own reservations about continued participation in the BDCP. The agency is concerned that fisheries and water quality issues that will govern project operations haven’t been resolved. It is concerned about how financing and expenses will be handled and how costs will be allocated among the State and federal water projects and public water agencies.

It refers to water as an “asset.” We doubt that Kern County planners plan to put all their water asset eggs in the basket of agriculture, no matter what the Department of Food and Agriculture chooses to imply.

Now about the California Water Plan: In January, Governor Brown’s office will get the Plan to review – the last step in the five-year planning process. This is a document that is supposed to inform legislators and other policymakers. Obviously the process wasn’t moving fast enough or achieving the right “spin” to suit the Administration’s tunnel objectives. But the Water Plan still includes a lot of useful information.

It includes regional reports for each of California’s ten hydrologic regions, with special “overlay” reports for the Mountain Counties on the west side of the Sierras that are the primary sources of the state’s water and for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Take a look at the Delta Regional Report if you’d like to see what policymakers from other parts of California might be reading to find out about the Delta region. Here’s a link to the public review draft of the Delta regional report. Here’s a link to the comment worksheet. The comment deadline is December 9, and DWR is looking for content comments rather than wordsmithing.

You might want to look especially at content related to levee conditions and levee maintenance. You might also want to look at the maps and tables at the end. Don’t feel that you have to read the whole thing in order to comment.

Speaking of comments . . .

In a little over a month, just in time for the winter holidays, we’ll all get a look at the BDCP and its EIR/EIS for formal public review. Restore the Delta is sponsoring a workshop on November 13 that will include tips on how citizens can respond to this huge document. With all the unaddressed negative impacts of the Peripheral Tunnels plan, there is plenty to comment on. The workshop will also give an update on Eminent Domain issues. Featured speakers are attorney Tom Keeling and Melinda Terry, General Manager of the North Delta Water Agency.

The workshop will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Reserve at Spanos Park, 6301 West Eight Mile Road in Stockton. A donation of $20 at the door is suggested to cover costs, but nobody will be turned away. Of course, unless, they are a water exporter or official with the Resources Agency or DWR. See our website for reservation instructions.

Yard signs now available in Rio Vista

We’re pleased to announce that Rio Video is now a distribution point for yards signs, bumper stickers, and information packets. Here’s the address:

400 Main St
Rio Vista, CA 94571
(707) 374-2567

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