BDCP Delta Tunnels: Fatal Flaws Remain

For Immediate Release: Friday, December 19, 2014
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; [email protected]; Twitter: @shopcraft; @MrSandHillCrane; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 [email protected]; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta

BDCP Delta Tunnels: Fatal Flaws Remain
Still Take Water above Delta, Violate Clean Water Act, Doom Salmon

Sacramento, CA – Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build Peripheral Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today said a slight revision of the proposed project “removes none of the fatal flaws, including removing water before it flows through the Delta, violates the Clean Water Act and degrades Delta families’ drinking water, and continues to threaten salmon extinction,” Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of RTD. “You can dress it up, you can dress it down by making the project look less industrial. But if you divert the Sacramento River from the Delta, it will kill the SF Bay-Delta estuary. It is still a water grab and slightly lessening the construction impacts means nothing.”

The tunnels’ opponents called upon Gov. Brown to “abandon the doomed project” and instead embrace a sustainable water solution that is fair to all Californians. That solution includes reducing Delta water exports, strengthening Delta levees, and investing in regional water independence through sustainable programs.

“These minor changes appear to save money for the water-takers on construction and possibly operation costs, but they still do not address local concerns. It is a misnomer to call the new configuration ‘gravity flow’ as if it will operate on its own. The River flows by gravity. This system will still require pumps, and a tremendous amount of energy to operate,” said Osha Meserve, counsel for Local Agencies of the North Delta (LAND). “They have lost even more ability to operate the experimental intakes in ‘real time’ to protect fish, with the pumps so far away”

• Local tunnel critics have never focused on the pumping plant structures on their own as being a major concern. It is misleading to say this minor project change addresses local concerns.

• The so-called temporary electricity transmission lines (10 years) are still a major bird strike concern. All they have proposed to mitigate this impact is to install bird diverters, which have limited effectiveness, especially in foggy or nighttime conditions. There is also no direct monitoring of bird strikes being proposed. They intend to just do a population survey of the Greater sandhill cranes every five years to see if the population has changed. If it has gone down, it is not even clear what the response would be to assist in the crane’s survival.

• Taking some tunnel impacts (tunnel launch sites and muck) off of Staten just places them in other islands to the north and south. These areas also contain important bird habitat and productive farmland.

“84% of the water in low-water years would still have to be taken from the existing below-Delta pumps – continuing the massive fish killing that has gone on for decades and threatens extinction of salmon, smelt and other species. The BDCP still takes the fresh water that presently flows through the Delta from above the northern Delta boundary, causing harm to the farmers who currently draw water within the Delta,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “The fight over the BDCP tunnels and the future of the Delta is California’s fight over whether we will have a sustainable economy and environment, or if we will succumb to the top 1% of corporate water interests controlling rivers, streams, fisheries, water rates, family farming, local development, and spending from the general fund – all in all – access to the California dream.”

The tunnels opponents outlined a sustainable solution to our water challenges. “We need to face the fact that the State has over allocated up to 5 times more water than is normally available in the Delta watershed,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “We need to invest in water recycling, conservation, stormwater capture, groundwater cleanup, and new water-saving technologies that provide local jobs and reduce reliance on the over pumped Delta.”


The type of media work we do: “Drought talk around Thanksgiving table: Farmers versus urbanites” by Steve Scauzillo of San Grabiel Valley Tribune

Drought talk around Thanksgiving table: Farmers versus urbanites
By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
POSTED: 11/29/14, 3:00 PM PST

Would your Thanksgiving table be ruined if the stuffing or side dishes did not contain almonds?

No, of course not, notwithstanding Martha Stewart’s recipe for chorizo-almond stuffing or your sister-in-law’s infamous green beans amandine.

Then why are our water policymakers treating the almond farmers like they were producing a life-sustaining staple?

In a severe drought, urban users like you and I are asked to cut back on water use, but farmers, who get close to three-quarters of the water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, don’t have to change their ways.

That sums up the main argument from Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a group that opposed the $7.5 billion water bond known as Proposition 1 and believes building our way out of the drought won’t work.

But it is not that simple.

Barrigan-Parrilla wants to see West-side San Joaquin Valley farmers change their business model by growing more tomatoes and cantaloupes instead of water-hogging almonds or rice. In short, she and many others I get letters from whenever I write about water conservation want to see a balance of effort. If ordinary city folk are forced to cut back, what about farmers? And what about developers building new homes all taking more water?

If the drought becomes Thanksgiving Day or weekend conversation, just make sure the carving knives are safely put away. Remember what Mark Twain said: In California, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.

Environmental groups always talk about getting farmers to use less water by growing more appropriate crops. They pick on growers of cotton, rice, vineyards and almonds because they use more water than other crops. But making such a switch may not be practical. Almond trees take years to produce. Should farmers cut them down? Also, reducing crop yields means higher prices at the supermarket produce section. Already, the drought will raise supermarket prices 2.5 to 3.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Plus, there’s the issue of food. We need water to survive but we also need food. In the list of the Top 10 agriculture-producing states in terms of cash receipts, California is No. 1, the USDA reports.

At the root of Barrigan-Parrilla’s argument: Agriculture, with 70 percent of water from an ailing Delta, produces crops that account for 2 percent of California’s Gross Domestic Product. The 30 percent of Delta water given to coastal agencies and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 5,200 square miles of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties — about 19 million people — serves a trillion dollar economy.

“Where does it make more sense to share it, with the trillion dollar economy or the one with the 2-3 percent GDP?” she asked rhetorically.

In this farm vs. city argument, where do we draw the line? Who draws it? If we get rid of almonds, should we get rid of iPhones? The microchips inside them require water to manufacture.

Bill Patzert, one of the foremost weather scientists who works at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, wants to see California appoint a secretary of water who would tell farmers not to drill new wells that can shrink aquifers. “Some of those aquifers in the Central Valley go back to the ice age,” he said.

San Diego, which must import nearly all its water (it has no ground water), went from 600,000 to 3.5 million population in the last 60 years. That many more people and developments means a tougher water appetite to quench, he said. “There is no central planning (for water in the state). There is nobody who can tell the farmers that when you are in a multi-year drought, you can’t grow almonds,” Patzert said.

If rationing starts, we may need someone to make such decisions. But as it stand now, this can’t happen without new laws or new leadership.

Steve Scauzillo covers transportation and the environment for the Los Angeles News Group. He’s the recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz or email him at [email protected]

Original source.


News from Restore the Delta: December 17, 2014

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
― Benjamin Franklin

A less than tasty appetizer for 2015
A mixed up salad: Learning Delta Water Management
The Meat and Potatoes of the Tunnels Project
Remembering our friends
And Christmas Cookies

A less than tasty appetizer for 2015

Federal drought legislation failed to pass in the Senate this year and failed to move forward on the budget despite a Rule Committee waiver to legislate on an appropriations bill. We are grateful to our colleagues in numerous other environmental organizations and our participatory members for making your opposition to this legislation loud and clear to our elected representatives.

But, we are not out of the woods yet.

Proponents of this drought legislation want to weaken environmental protections and grab water. Unfortunately, when Senator Feinstein speaks about those impacted by the drought, she continues to talk about a narrow group of interests in the San Joaquin Valley, those who want the water, and does not mention the cities, communities, farming and Bay area tourism industry that is tied to the health Bay-Delta estuary. Delta farming and fishing, SF Bay and coastal fishing, and Bay-Delta municipalities are not invited to participate in negotiations regarding this push to increase exports from the estuary. Moreover, fisheries protections were only in place for a total of 57 days dispersed in intervals during the first half of 2014 – not exactly the cause behind reduced exports during a severe drought year.

Without a doubt, we will be calling on you all in 2015 to fight similar legislation. We will remain vigilante.

A mixed up salad: Learning Delta Water Management

By Stina Va
Learning Delta Water Management is a new series of columns by Stina Va, which will track the learning process that an engaged member of the public must undergo in order to understand Delta water management.

On December 2nd, 2014, the Delta Conservancy, a state agency and major beneficiary of the 2014 water bond, convened a group of water experts for their public workshop in Sacramento to discuss the topic of instream flow in Delta tributaries. These panelists were a group from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), South Delta Water Agency, Mountain Counties Water Resources Association, and the Earth Law Center.

Although panelists acknowledged and discussed the critical issue of deficient instream Delta flows, neither panelists nor the Delta Conservancy sought to properly define the concept of instream flow, which was the essence of the event.

Novices to water policy matters, such as myself and most members of the public would likely assume that instream flows means what it sounds like, which is “water flowing in a stream channel.” In the Delta, however, State and federal operations ultimately control the movement of Delta instream flows, not natural forces. Because most rivers are controlled, the national Instream Flow Council defines instream flows as “water flows and levels that support ecological functions in waterways.” In the Delta, they are operated according to state and federal water quality standards, instream flows have come to represent what it takes to keep a stream alive at minimum levels. Instream flows are more than a superficial appearance, as evidenced in panel presentations.

“We need standards when it’s dry, yet the current practice is for the Board to relax standards when it is dry,” asserted John Herrick of the South Delta Water Agency (and Restore the Delta board member) in his panel presentation. Herrick said that in dry times, the State Water Board routinely relaxes its own standards, which the board has done throughout 2014 and in the past 7 years.

During his panel presentation, Herrick noted that, “in most months of most years, the San Joaquin River does not even reach San Francisco Bay.” Part of the reason for that is that the federal Central Valley Project has allowed diversion of the upper San Joaquin River by Friant Dam near Fresno to Tulare and Kern counties. He criticized the State Water Board for setting the area of its Bay-Delta Quality Control Plan so that the upper portion of the San Joaquin River is severed from the rest of the Delta watershed, rendering half a million acre feet of potential instream Delta flows of water south to San Joaquin valley agricultural interests, unavailable by regulation to the Delta.

Daniel Schultz, public trust unit chief of the SWRCB, presented a very brief panel presentation that focused on describing the planning stages of the state’s current work on Delta instream flows, which is being carried out through Phase 4 of the Bay Delta Quality Control Plan. Phase 4 involves revising flow objectives and non-binding flow criteria that will result in standards for instream Delta flows. Notably, flow objectives require the considerations of competing uses of water and economic costs unlike the non-binding technical-based flow criteria. Phase 4 may also consider implementing and adaptively managing Delta tributary-specific policies that seek to mimic natural instream flow in order to benefit salmonid populations in the Sacramento River watershed.

“Someone’s ox will get gored,” Herrick warned more than once. He summed up government initiatives as, “shifting one region’s water shortage to another.” According to Herrick, the amount of export pumping by state and federal water conveyance systems, in the lower San Joaquin River, is greater than actual instream flow and pumping changes the direction of channel flows, so fishery flows (planned in Phase 4 by Schultz) will be powerless against such a “horrible, messy, complicated system.”

Clean Water Act (CWA) expert Linda Sheehan, who is executive director of the Earth Law Center based in Fremont, challenged the SWRCB’s work, arguing that the CWA’s standards are a federal mandate to fully protect the most sensitive beneficial use in a water body.

In contrast, said Sheehan, state water quality law allows the Board to enforce flow objectives providing just reasonable protection of beneficial uses, a significantly weaker rule. While the state board prefers to regulate to this standard, the most sensitive beneficial uses, she said, are protection of endangered species, such as Chinook salmon and Delta smelt. This is important because resident killer whales off California’s coast are now listed as endangered due to declining Chinook salmon populations. This means, she said, that the scope of the instream Delta flow problem extends beyond the Delta to the ocean offshore. She recommended that the State Water Board adopt instream flow water quality standards using the more holistic and stronger Clean Water Act rules, and warned that the state must not set flow objectives weaker than the CWA and/or with considerations of economic costs or competing uses, or risk imminent extinctions and litigation.

Panelist John Kingsbury of the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association emphasized that Sierra mountain counties are vital because of instream flows they provide throughout the Delta watershed. His association serves most of the Sierras, from the southern tip of Lassen County to Fresno. While favoring the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), he thinks expanding a broader range of water storage capabilities and yield, is urgently needed in order to address adverse climate change impacts that will continue to diminish water supply in the Sierras in the long-term. These could include such initiatives as sedimentation of reservoirs, meadow restoration, raising and updating water infrastructures. Dangerous wildfires, floods, and extreme weather events will worsen the issue of adequate instream Delta flows without these efforts, conveyed Kingsbury.

“Governor Jerry Brown said there would be no new obligations on upstream users for Delta protection” through instream flows to the Delta, said Kingsbury. “The state and federal governments will make sure implementation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan will not impose any obligations on water users upstream to supplement flow in and through the Delta,” he added.

Since Schultz’s revising process of Delta instream flow objectives will take several years of planning, there may not be much in the way of new instream flows to benefit fish in the Delta unless the State Water Board goes against the governor’s statement to supplement flows to the Delta from upstream users. Given that the governor appoints some state board members, this does not appear likely.

As the Delta Conservancy’s workshop concluded, panelists emphasized the need for holistic solutions and customarily called for stakeholders to come together. Of course, coming together to discuss holistic solutions will ultimately become a political discussion and struggle. Furthermore, the complexity of such matters as instream flows, which took a novice analyst like me a lot of time to fully understand my own notes from the Delta Conservancy’s meeting, will likely discourage huge amounts of public participation. Ironically, I also think more public participation in support of instream flows could lead to better results in the Board’s decision making. The resulting flow objectives coming from the state will likely be politicized flow objectives that will be heavily influenced by special interests.

The Meat and Potatoes of the Tunnels Project

Negotiations between contractors of the State Water Project with the California Department of Water Resources over financing and allocating costs of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s tunnels project got under way last Wednesday, December 10th at DWR’s offices in Sacramento.

However, the first offer from the contractors to DWR will not be tendered until their next meeting, scheduled for February 17, 2015.

The 29 state water contractors get most of their water directly from the Delta.

The future of the Delta is at stake in these negotiations. They in part determine whether the Delta lives or dies, and which other parts of California will benefit at the Delta’s expense, like Silicon Valley, Kern County, and the Metropolitan Water District.

The water contractors told DWR that their negotiation objectives include “greater flexibility for SWP contractors to meet current and future water supply challenges,” and to allocate State Water Project costs of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan “proportionate to the benefits received by individual SWP contractors.”

Key questions center on the cost of the tunnels and who pays, and some contractors are balking. Butte and Plumas counties, who receive SWP supplies from the Feather River before they reach the Delta, have put forward another negotiation objective to give contractors an “opt-out” provision should any decide they did not want to participate or benefit from the Tunnels project. Other contractors are considered on the fence about its cost and financing.

Jonas Minton of the Planning and Conservation League, speaking to the negotiators at the end of last Wednesday’s meeting, urged the parties to address whether amendments to state water contracts will require “step-up” provisions for contractors to pick up additional costs should other contractors default on their payments to DWR for the tunnels, and whether the costs will be allocated among all or only some of the state contractors. A related problem is how tunnels costs will be handled by federal water contractors. He also urged them to clarify whether property taxes will be used in contractor service areas to pay for the tunnels project.

Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network agreed with Minton and urged the parties to avoid “scare tactics that are currently being used to coerce SWP contractors into supporting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Contractors shouldn’t lose their contract allocations if they don’t want the amendments in their contracts, especially if they’ve kept current on their payments.”

These negotiations are public because as part of settlement terms between environmental groups and DWR in 2003 over secretly negotiated “Monterey Amendments” to SWP contracts, the Department must hold all future negotiations with the state water contractors in public.

The parties announced an agreement in principle to extend the existing contract terms from 2035 to 2085 in June this year. This new round of talks centers on amendments that will be crucial to Tunnels financing and cost allocation.

We cannot stress enough the importance of these talks. Through these negotiations, the water takers have to arrive at how the tunnels project gets financed and who pays what for it, or they don’t have a project.

Remembering our friends

Many of you have asked us for news or details on how to reach California water advocate Jerry Cadagan during his recovery. He and his wife Kristin were in a bad accident on Thanksgiving, and Kristin passed away.

Jerry is staying with his family as he heals, and he is following water news at a pace that is comfortable for him presently. He is in our hearts and thoughts at all times during this time of profound change and transition for him.

He is reading emails, and people should feel free to contact him through email. We will let you know when he is ready for snail mail.

And Christmas Cookies

We hope that all of the holidays are joyous, festive, yet relaxing for our readers and supporters. We wish you all and your family members good health, peace, and prosperity in 2015.


Oakland Tribune Editorial: Southern California’s sad water conservation effort

In case you missed it…
December 17, 2014

Oakland Tribune Editorial:
Southern California’s sad water conservation effort

Oakland Tribune editorial © 2014 Bay Area News Group

“… Southern California’s callous disregard for the need for conservation should give Bay Area residents pause when considering the cost benefits of the Delta twin tunnel project.

“The governor’s twin tunnels concept has never made sense to those knowing the fragile nature of the Delta and Central Valley farmers and Southern California urban water users’ endless quest for more water.

“Southern California’s weak conservation efforts should be just one more reason to kill the idea altogether.”

To read the entire editorial click or go here:


Congressional Reps Get It Wrong: CA Drought Primary Cause Behind Low Delta Exports, Not Delta Fisheries Protections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; [email protected]; Twitter:@shopcraft; @MrSandHillCrane; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053;[email protected]; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta

Congressional Reps Get It Wrong: CA Drought Primary Cause Behind Low Delta Exports, Not Delta Fisheries Protections
(Fish get blame as cover for water grab in H.R. 5781)

Stockton, CA- Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build Peripheral Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom salmon and other Pacific fisheries, along with researchers from California Water Research of Santa Cruz, announced today that federal biologists’ findings demonstrate that Delta smelt and salmon protections had little impact on water pumping operations from the Delta in 2014.

Federal biologists reported to the Delta Stewardship Council at the November 20, 2014 meeting that Delta exports were governed by the biological opinions for Delta smelt and salmon just 36% of the time that they were in effect in the first half of 2014. Through scattered periods from February to May, state and federal water export pumps were restricted in the South Delta for Delta smelt protections a total of 21 days, while salmon biological restrictions totaled 36 days.

Deirdre Des Jardins, principal with California Water Research, explained, “This just means that the biological opinions were in effect, not that they had any real effect on water exports.”

Des Jardins elaborated further by noting that “Mike Chotkowsi, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Delta Stewardship Council in November that because of dry and low flow conditions, Delta smelt stayed ‘largely in the Sacramento River side of the estuary, and the result is we had relatively few concerns about Delta smelt. The Fish and Wildlife Service did not issue any determinations in water year 2014 that affected water operations. There were essentially no salvage of Delta smelt adults this past year and there was very low salvage of larvae.’”

Federal biologists also explained at the November DSC meeting that they found that the main constraints on exports from the Delta were reduced reservoir releases and low Sacramento River flows, according to their “Annual Report of Activities.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director with Restore the Delta added, “The biologists’ findings contradict claims that endangered species regulations protecting Delta smelt and salmon species are responsible for low Delta exports during the drought. Such claims are used by Congressional supporters of H.R. 5781, the supposed “drought relief” bill. Clearly, they do not understand the facts, or they are deliberating misrepresenting the facts so as to convince other members of Congress to support the water grab for big industrial growers in the Westlands Water District.”

Though this information was available in November, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 5781 on December 9, 2014. The Brown Administration in California and the Obama Administration in Washington, DC, both oppose the bill. Its prospects for passage in the lame-duck Senate are poor this month, but there could be renewed legislative battles over the bill’s provisions in 2015.

This report shows that operations of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project were largely due to the effects of drought and can’t be blamed on the Endangered Species Act,” added Barrigan-Parrilla.

Restore the Delta Research and Policy Analyst Tim Stroshane explained, “Reduced reservoir releases in early 2014 were due partly to low river flows and the need to harbor dwindling supplies to meet contractor demands. What supplies remained also had to be balanced with the need by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to protect cold water supplies in reservoirs for use later in the summer and fall to help salmon returning to spawn upstream of the Delta. In other words, these agencies were doing what the public expects: managing supplies for use throughout the year for both agricultural use and fisheries.”

The DOSS Group (Delta Operations for Salmonaids and Sturgeon) noted back on April 29 that “flows are so low in the Sacramento River that fish might not be moving or be able to avoid the rotary screw traps.” Des Jardins explained, “The California Department of Fish and Wildlife trucked Nimbus (American River, east of Sacramento) and Coleman (Battle Creek, north of Chico) hatchery fish to San Pablo Bay, 30 miles west of the Delta, to overcome low flows, which obstructed young fish migrating to the Pacific Ocean in April, May, and June.”

“Early in 2014, the Bureau and DWR persuaded the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce minimum Delta outflow requirements to 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but this caused problems with salinity intrusion for both agencies’ projects,” said Des Jardins. Reducing Delta outflow requirements helped somewhat with reservoir storage, but it reduced the amount of outflow that normally blocks incoming tidal flows to the Delta. State board water quality standards limit pumping when salt concentrations are high in the Delta, as they were during much of 2014. And neither DWR nor the Bureau want to pump salt water to their customers south of the Delta. The report given to the Council stated that the main purpose of state board water quality objectives in effect was to manage salinity in the Delta.”

“With H.R. 5781 in place in 2014, the Bureau would have added insult upon injury delivering salty water supplies to the unemployed residents of Mendota and other drought-stricken communities of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “We’ve said all along about bills like this: they can’t make it rain in the valleys and snow in the Sierra. Blaming their drought year problems on endangered species in the Delta is just plain misplaced.”

The Smelt Working Group, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, monitors conditions affecting Delta smelt under a 2008 biological opinion on how to protect and recover its population. As recently as 30 years ago, Delta smelt numbered in the hundreds of thousands of fish according to state fisheries data. Today, its population is estimated at a few thousand at best.