News from Restore the Delta: August 27, 2014

Diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved,
Or not at all.
– Shakespeare, Hamlet

Full-court press from Westlands
Roll up your sleeves for recirculated BDCP documents

Full-court press from Westlands

by Jane Wagner-Tyack

Westlands Water District irrigators are face to face with the ugly truth of how little water their junior water rights give them when there isn’t any surplus, and how much they have to pay for what they can get.

In July, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) (uninfluenced by exporters, of course) asked the State Water Resources Control Board to order south and central Delta water diverters with riparian and pre-1914 water rights to provide information about what right they had to divert the water and how much they were diverting.

Early this month, Westlands upped the ante on that (excuse our mixed metaphors) by telling the Water Board’s Division of Water Rights that south and central Delta diversions were just flat-out unlawful. Westlands doesn’t believe the Delta Watermaster’s findings that the vast majority of Delta diversions are entirely legal.

Westlands’ allocation of water is zero for this contract year, although they have found water available for transfer, at up to $2000 per acre foot. That transfer water must be coming from north of the Delta because they suspect that it is being unlawfully diverted in the Delta.

Westlands’ letter to the Water Board features a story about a farmer having to tear out 120 acres of almond trees.

Hardly any decent natural flows of San Joaquin River water find their way to the Delta anymore, but Westlands says that’s all central and south Delta diverters have right to because natural flows from the Sacramento River never get that far south. Stored Sacramento River water is Central Valley Project water, and Westlands says that belongs to them. Delta diverters are not allowed to take any of that water that happens to flow past.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) responded by filing a complaint with the Water Board charging that DWR and USBR have been diverting and exporting water to which they have no legal water right. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s own analysis shows that a significant percentage of state and federal water project exports come from the San Joaquin, Mokelumne, Cosumnes and Calaveras rivers. DWR and USBR don’t have rights to divert and export any of those waters. Once in the Delta, water from those rivers is considered “abandoned” and holders of legal diversion rights in the Delta have first claim on the water.

Said CSPA’s Bill Jennings, “Contrary to DWR and USBR’s claim that Delta farmers were illegally diverting water, it is DWR and USBR that have long been stealing water belonging to Delta farmers. USBR has also been illegal taking all of the riparian flow in the upstream San Joaquin River thus depriving Delta water users on the lower river of their fair share of riparian flows.”

So the Water Board has its hands full with all that.

Meanwhile, Westlands has also looked west in search of diverters to blame, in this case to Bay Area users of water from Hetch Hetchy reservoir. A Fresno nonprofit, the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability (CESAR), filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service arguing that the park service has failed to ensure that Hetch Hetchy reservoir doesn’t negatively impact endangered species. The nonprofit says that Hetch Hetchy deprives the Delta of fresh water, increasing its salinity and hurting endangered salmon, smelt and sturgeon.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the nonprofit behind this complaint has ties to Westlands. It looks like CESAR’s lawsuit has less to do with protecting endangered species than with spreading the blame for their decline.

Rounding out this interesting series of developments regarding water rights and water uses was a report issued by UC Davis confirming what others have been saying for years: California’s water rights have been overallocated by at least 5 times. (Find a link here to read the study.)

It’s beginning to look like the Water Board might be forced to start a process to adjudicate Central Valley water rights. That’s a prospect that makes EVERYBODY nervous.

Roll up your sleeves for recirculated BDCP documents

Posted 8/27/14 on the BDCP website:

The Department of Water Resources and the other state and federal agencies leading the Bay Delta Conservation Plan will publish a Recirculated Draft BDCP, Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS), and Implementing Agreement (IA) in early 2015. The agencies are currently reviewing the comments received through the public comment period that ended on July 29, 2014. The scope of the partially recirculated draft documents will be announced in approximately six to eight weeks. The recirculated documents will include those portions of each document that warrant another public review prior to publication of final documents. The public will also have the opportunity to review the final documents prior to their adoption and any decisions about the proposed actions.

Something to look forward to in the new year.

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