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Delta Flows: Actions Over Words 4/27/21

– Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director, Restore the Delta

Last week, an important workshop took place at the State Water Resources Control Board about dam operations and how water temperatures would be controlled with water releases for Sacramento River salmon during this year’s drought conditions.

Today, at the beginning of a significant drought, we are holding less water in our reservoirs than we did at the beginning of the 2013-14 drought. This is not a good place to begin conservation efforts from.

The workshop also included detailed information on current water quality conditions for the South Delta as a result of releases, or rather lack of adequate releases, on the San Joaquin River. Due to timing on other projects, we could not participate in this important workshop for California rivers and the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary but our esteemed associates from NRDC, SF BayKeeper, Golden State Salmon, PCFFA, Save California Salmon, and California Sportfishing Projection Alliances led the way.

Here is part of what we learned from our friends.

The Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) are violating Bay-Delta water quality standards. Here is what we have been told (technical details) followed by our commentary in Italics.
(D-1641 is the water statute that sets salinity conditions in the Delta. X2 is where the Delta transitions from freshwater to saltier water. TAF means thousand acre-feet. 

  1. The Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation announced in the workshop that they would not meet Delta water quality standards this month. They have now indicated that not only will they violate the D-1641 Delta outflow requirement this month in terms of meeting 3 days of X2 at Chipps Island (or Delta outflow of 11,400 cfs) but they will also violate D-1641 Delta outflow standards that require a minimum 3 day average Delta outflow of 7,100 cfs every day this month. It appears that CVP/SWP operations began violating D-1641 water quality standards a few days ago.
  2. These violations of Delta water quality standards are in addition to the fact that Reclamation continues to violate the D-1641 Vernalis pulse flow standard this month, and will continue part of next month. Reclamation refuses to consider additional releases from New Melones to meet Delta water quality standards – not just the Vernalis pulse flow standard but also Delta outflow.

(We understand that Reclamation’s water rights allow them to release water from New Melones to meet Delta outflow requirements because it is an in-basin use, but those releases cannot be exported.)
In other words, Federal and State agencies are simply ignoring Delta water quality standards on the books at the beginning for the drought and the State Water Resources Control Board is not acting for enforcement. 

In addition:

  1. There are apparently significant concerns that Municipal and Industrial Water Contractors who divert from Folsom Dam may run out of water this year in light of the reduced runoff projections. While the end of September storage in Folsom was projected at 246TAF based on the April 1st hydrology record, with the loss of 80 TAF of inflow the reservoir elevation by the end of September might drop below the intakes for several M&I customers. We understand that Reclamation will start cutting reservoir releases from Folsom tomorrow to try to conserve storage, which will be part of the reason why Delta outflow standards are not met this month.
  2. DWR continues to be concerned about the loss of hydropower production at Oroville, which happens roughly when reservoir storage drops below 900TAF. While the 90% forecast originally predicted maintaining 900TAF storage until the end of August, losing 50TAF means that Oroville will likely lose the ability to produce significant hydropower earlier that month. 
  3. The reduction in inflow and violations of water quality standards is also significantly complicating temperature management for salmon in the Sacramento River – as well as worsening temperature conditions for salmon and steelhead on the Trinity, Feather, American, and other tributaries.

What does this mean in terms of Delta outcomes? There will not be enough adequate flow coming down the San Joaquin River system presently worsening water quality conditions as we head into HABs season (May through October). Water quality standards for agriculture will not be met in the South Delta. Decimated Delta fisheries will be stressed further. Our friends and neighbors to the north of the Delta will be plagued with water losses for municipal use. Salmon will be decimated with warm water in the Sacramento River System. 
And New Melones, which is a Bureau of Reclamation Dam for big agriculture, is skating by without any required water contributions to freshen the Delta and to release pressure on the Sacramento River system. This is poor management of the system. 
What will it take for the State Water Resources Control Board to act?
When will the Delta matter enough for enforcement to be real?
How can California Water Boards prioritize the environmental justice principles that they say they champion if water quality standards are not met for Delta communities and other Northern California communities tied to fisheries? 

We desperately need the State Water Resources Control Board to walk the talk before the Delta is further damaged by the looming drought. We will be pursuing this subject further at subsequent State Water Board meetings.
Update on Local Flood Planning 
– Climate Water Advocate, Gloria Alonso
On March 22, 2021, the Stockton Climate Water Heroes joined a training session with Chris Elias, Executive Director of The San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency (SJAFCA). This morning zoom training taught the group about the need to turn neglected assets in the San Joaquin region into community value assets, by bringing infrastructure protection to protect communities from the risks of flooding. 
Chris began the training by introducing the history of SJAFCA and their mission to address flooding by improving the levee system. Following a visual explanation of the current SJAFCA geographic boundary extending to the following areas defined as: North Stockton, Central Stockton, and RD 17 (Lathrop and Manteca). Also, he explained the structure of the SJAFCA GOVERNANCE, mostly composed of electoral representatives from the cities included in SJAFCA’s geographic boundary. 
Before diving into the details of the projects, Chris shared the following formula to understand SJAFCA’s mission: we care about flood risk because the greater the flood risk the greater the consequences for the loss of life and property. He emphasized that, as a community, we are not able to control climate change effects like sea-level rise but, we are able to control the consequences of it. As a community, we are able to estimate which areas and populations will be affected and which property assets will be lost.
The most important topics covered in the training were about federal and local projects that aim to not just control the risks of flooding, but also how we can turn these places into areas that make communities healthier by enabling access to recreational spaces and preserving wildlife, as well as enhancing peoples’ relationship with the built environment.
Educating the public about needed flood control enhancement is part of my work going forward with Restore the Delta. Solutions exist for multiple problems through enhanced flood projects. We will advocate for these ideas to become action items.