Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

The afternoon panel contained five folks chosen to lead a focused discussion on their thoughts on Providing a More Reliable Water Supply for California.  Although much of what folks had in the way of recommendations sounded good in theory, there was a real lack of specifics that could be utilized by the council.

Recommendations from Ellen Hanak (Public Policy Institute of California) were a bit too grandiose (i.e. regulate ground water use, urban/ag  conservation, conveyance), shifting the focus away from tangible goals and dragging some of the discussion into an economic Never-Never Land.  In this fantasy realm, as long as you can sell water at a profit, it is economically beneficial and therefore intrinsically “good.”  So the Council should aid in facilitating the long-term sale of water from agricultural uses to urban allocations, phasing out and reducing the production of what Hanak describes as low value agriculture crops.  Later on, Phil Isenberg pointed out that having government facilitate the transfer of water from one region to another to be sold to the highest bidder might just sound bad to some people.

Council member Randy Fiorini asked Hanak  why she recommended the State Water Resources Control Board be the body to implement groundwater regulation as opposed to more local and voluntary compliance as in AB 3030.  She responded that things would have to get really bad before there would be sufficient participation in voluntary compliance.  She said that what she was proposing wasn’t an adjudicatory action, but conceded that that might be the end result.

David Guy (Northern California Association of Water Agencies) spoke of optimization of public resources while adding that restoring a historic hydrograph was unrealistic.  He called for “stabilization” of the Delta.  I’m not sure what he meant by that, but I’m also pretty sure that isn’t what the legislation called for.  He promoted the most recent PPIC report, then went on to give some lip service to promoting regional sustainability and the role of “supporting actors” outside the legal Delta.

Guy also talked about stabilizing the Delta, this time on levees, and prompted an inquiry from Gloria Gray about levee prioritization, which made me wonder:

There is some logical difficulty for arguing that the Delta is such an invaluable hub of the vast network that is California ‘s water system, worthy of all the attention, public resources, and political debate and gridlock, while Delta Levee Maintenance funding sits in limbo.  Improving the reliability of Delta levees and therefore the conveyance of water down our state could be achieved at a fraction of the cost of all the studies, reports, theoretical discussions, and public outreach. The panel agreed that nothing is going to happen on the ground in the way of constructing conveyance for some 15-20 years at the very least (I’d say indefinitely, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion).  Delta levees need maintaining in the future, so I would think that it would be in everyone’s best interest to continue the funding of ongoing projects in the Delta.  I hope to hear the Council recommend the same.

Jonas Minton (Planning and Conservation League) spoke well on his outlined “Top Four Actions To Achieve Co-equal Objectives.”

  1. Get the SWRCB to start updating flow standards now for existing conveyance and set standards for new conveyance.
  2. Prioritize Delta levees for improvement and approve funding consistent with those priorities.
  3. Call upon BDCP and other stakeholders to conduct due diligence review of a 3,000 c.f.s. conveyance.
  4. Work with Delta interests and other including Metropolitan Water District and Westlands on phased restoration projects.

Kamyar Guivetchi (DWR) spoke on the need for increased government oversight and data in pursuit of actually getting something accomplished.  Good Luck!  He also went on to lobby for the creation of what he referred to as the “Water Resources Investment Fund” to increase system wide efficiency and leverage funds in Integrated Regional Water Management Planning (IRWMP) to promote regional self-sufficiency.

Jason Peltier (Westlands Water District) took time to critique the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and regulatory cutbacks of water deliveries.  He had a graphic showing CVP Storage vs Agriculture Service Allocation (1952-2010).  Initial and final agriculture service allocations lined up nicely until 1989.  Then the effects of a drought kicked in; winter run salmon were put on the ESA list; and the Central Valley Project Improvement Act re-allocated over one million acre feet from historic uses to the environment.  CVP operators and managers have been skittish ever since, delaying allocation decisions.  On the surface, this seems to affect cropping decisions, but not enough to slow down Westlands’ replacement of annual crops with permanent tree crops.


DSC member Patrick Johnson requested total water use (project and ground water) data and cropping patterns from Peltier, who agreed to provide them.

Peltier then started out with a promising commentary on Delta levees, conceding that there has never been a levee failure in the Delta due to an earthquake, that risk potential and figures in DRMS may have been exaggerated, and that a Do Not Resuscitate list of Delta islands was helpful only for the sake of discussion.  Then he digressed to a contradictory discussion about the inevitability of a changing delta landscape and “letting islands go” in the future, just as we have in the past (i.e. Franks Tract).Peltier defended the construction and design of a 15K cfs facility because ” We’re settled on 15,000.”


He went on to urge the council to divide their Plan into two sections: 1) a report and recommended actions in the Delta, and 2) other recommendations for areas outside the Delta.  I believe that’s where issues like groundwater regulation and selenium impaired agriculture run-off would get lost in the discussion if he were full in charge.


At the end, Peltier appealed to his base one last time.  He called for existing agencies to “do their jobs,” lashing out at fish agencies for having a narrow-minded pump-centric view of the world and expounding that the “little genius” to be found in BDCP was their earth-shattering ability to look at a suite of stressors. Genius?  In BDCP?  Well I guess, if genius is about holding onto dated ideas from the past.  And, of course, we must consider the source.

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