In its own little world

H.R. 1837, the “Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act” now making its way through Congress, would render the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) largely irrelevant.

So it is curious that the Legislative update to the Stewardship Council last week didn’t mention H.R. 1837. Staff were more interested in a measure by Congressman Garamendi dealing with flood plain exemptions for ag structures. Chair Isenberg asked staff for an update on H.R. 1837 next time, but he and councilmember Felicia Marcus expressed doubts about its passage.

On the update on BDCP, DSC executive officer Joe Grindstaff noted release of over 10,000 pages relative to the effects analysis, with reactions expected in 30 days. He says the schedule is slipping. There might be an announcement by the participants of the proposed plan by July, with the environmental documentation several months later. The effects analysis is still lacking critical information, such as the flows analysis. Grindstaff said the Science Program wants to do a comprehensive review and will wait for the critical information and take their time to do the job right.

We reported last month (February 13, “Much ado about nothing”) on the findings of the Delta Watermaster, Craig Wilson, regarding the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) compliance and enforcement investigations of water diversions in the Delta. Last week, the DSC heard that report, which is worth mentioning again.

Wilson noted that the proponents’ intention was to root out water rights violations, but he was just seeking to establish “certainty” of water use, especially for riparian and pre-1914 diversions over which the SWRCB has little jurisdiction. His written report concluded that “[Since] October 2008, the State Water Board and its staff have investigated and evaluated water rights for over 1000 properties in the Delta. . . . Many of the cases were closed based on preliminary investigation. Most of the remaining cases were also resolved based on further review. To date formal enforcement action has been taken in 12 cases involving illegal diversions and failure to file reports.”

South Delta Water Agency general counsel John Herrick notes that as a result of the Watermaster’s enforcement actions

  • no diverter has been found to not have a water right, and
  • no diverter has been found to be diverting water in excess of his/her license (in those cases where licenses came into play).

A few cases are still pending, which means the diverter is still providing evidence to support the claimed right.

The only caveat to this is the Woods Irrigation Company (WIC) hearing, which resulted in long proceeding and an Order that stated WIC could only divert 77.7 cfs, but had diverted more than that in the past.  This decision was based on a finding of a pre-1914 right.  The Order was voided by a court a short time later, and the court also found that the SWRCB was without authority to issue cease and desist orders against people holding riparian or pre-1914 water rights.  That court decision is being appealed.

At the outset, there were statements to the effect that these investigations would reveal perhaps a million acre feet of illegal diversions in the Delta. Not much to show for the efforts of some 24 staff members and millions of dollars in expenditures.

A report from DWR on the Delta levees elicited (finally!) a lot of interest from the Council members in seeking ways to protect important interests in the Delta under some method of prioritization. We expect that the sixth draft of the Delta Plan will recognize that efforts of Delta islands to improve levees to a PL 84-99 standard configuration are consistent with the Delta Plan, based on the public discussion and renewed discussion with Joe Grindstaff.

Notably, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) was very clear that the state’s assets are not well protected in the Delta.  On Friday, there was some discussion of how the DSC should be involved in prioritizing levee investments.

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