News from Restore the Delta: November 24, 2014

“Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.”
― Richard Bach

First – RTD Happenings
Second – Senator Feinstein Happenings
Third — Delta Stewardship Council Happenings : “Will the state think your Delta island is worth saving after a flood?”
Fourth — California Water Commission Happenings
Last – Spanish Tunnel Happenings

First – RTD Happenings

We are sad for ourselves, but happy for Jane Wagner-Tyack. Jane is now pursuing independent water work and continuing in her important roll with the League of Women Voters. Over the last six years, Jane has done a great deal of outstanding research and analysis for Restore the Delta, for which we are forever grateful. We made a film together, and grew RTD from a few hundred followers to tens of thousands — all together. But fortunately, we still live close by, and can eat lunch together and continue to laugh about the absurdities of California water.

The good news for RTD is that Tim Stroshane will be taking on the role of policy analyst. Tim has many years of experience working on California water and has quite an extensive resume. Tim can be reached for his RTD work at And if you want to contact Jane, you can now reach her at

Second – Senator Feinstein Happenings

California Senator Dianne Feinstein announced Thursday November 20th that she was stopping further negotiations of a “drought relief” bill with select members from the House of Representatives.

None of the bill’s provisions were vetted in public before her announcement.

Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times editorials expressed strong concern regarding Senator Feinstein conducting talks with House Republicans to develop the legislation.
“Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Republicans have been secretly negotiating drought relief legislation that could severely alter California water policy. She should know better,” commented the Bee.

Reports from various sources indicated that the secret bill would be a mash-up of separate bills authored by Senator Feinstein and House Republicans, including current minority whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, earlier this year, but which failed.

“We are deeply concerned that there will be destructive elements in the reconciled bill that were in past versions of either or both bills,” Conner Everts, co-facilitator of the Environmental Water Caucus wrote to the Senator on November 18th.

Senator Feinstein issued a statement on the 20th stating that “although we have made progress, it has become clear that we will be unable to present an agreed-upon proposal before Congress adjourns this year.”

Restore the Delta is grateful that Senator Feinstein has decided to work on the bill through “regular procedures” next session. And as always, we will continue to advocate as to why water quality and quantity must be protected for the economic and environmental health of the San Francisco Bay Delta estuary.

Third — Delta Stewardship Council Happenings : “Will the state think your Delta island is worth saving after a flood?”

The Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) announced to the California Water Commission on October 15 the launch of its “Delta Levee Investment Strategy” planning process. Cindy Messer, chief of planning for the Council, told the Commission that the strategy is “a comprehensive levee investment and risk reduction strategy, an update of Delta Plan provisions, and a computer-based decision-making tool for future use.”

In her presentation to the commission, Messer said the strategy addresses two key purposes of the Delta Reform Act: reducing risks to people, property, and State interests, and contributing to achieving the coequal goals for the Delta.

As with DSC’s lackluster efforts to reduce reliance on imports from the Delta by water contractors and the state (which is now in litigation), the Council expects to use vaguely defined “state interests” to avoid protecting people and property in the Delta vital to protecting the Delta as an evolving place and achieving the coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration.

The strategy will also recommend levels of improvement for levees on some islands and recommend allocating costs to island beneficiaries, said Messer. The computer-based decision-making tool will allow the Council to input information to update the strategy and tiered ranking. The tool will apparently dictate policy through automated analysis. It will be key for Delta interests and the public to understand what the criteria are that the computer-based decision-making tool will rely on for its policy recommendations to the DSC.

The Public Policy Institute of California did a similar, but more primitive analysis in 2008. That study concluded that even with generous rebuilding cost assumptions, only 25 of 34 islands’ levees would be rebuilt in the event of catastrophic levee collapse. [Robyn Suddeth Jeffrey F. Mount Jay R. Lund, Levee Decisions and Sustainability for the Delta, Technical Appendix B, August 2008.]

Council staff and consultants are now compiling existing data and information on levees, islands, and the environment before work begins with a series of technical experts to vet the information and data that will be used. In early 2015, intensive work on the computer model will enable the DSC to identify those Delta islands of sufficient economic value whose levees could be repaired or replaced in the event of catastrophic flooding. “Portfolios” of island projects will be identified which meet key state objectives.

Before the CWC in October, Messer did not state what criteria would be used to develop the portfolios and assign value to different Delta islands.

Messer pointed to a similar tool used in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to help frame decisions about levee investments there. Louisiana developed the computerized tool with a budget of $50 billion and generated portfolios of projects. She argued that it makes sense to utilize this approach for Delta levee investments given certain similarities.

The Council is trying to create an open and transparent process. There will be four public meetings throughout the process. The Council’s staff developed an issue paper, released in September that brought together key issues that the strategy must address. The Delta Plan directs the Council to develop the funding priorities for Delta levees in consultation with the Commission.

Water Commissioner Daniel Curtin asked Messer if there is a cost estimate and funding sources for the project. She replied there is no specific budget yet, but the computerized tool will allow the DSC to input available funding to determine what actions can be taken within budget limitations.

CWC Chair Joseph Byrne, a partner at southern California law firm Best Best & Krieger, asked how the DSC plans consult with the Commission. Messer suggested that the Commission be updated on the process in early 2015, invited the Commission to participate in public meetings, and offered to send progress updates. The DSC will brief the Commission when documents are prepared in 2015.

We are certain that our partners at the Delta water agencies and reclamation districts will be watching this process closely, and we will keep you updated on what transpires.

Of course, we find it fascinating that the State believes that each island in the Delta is an island onto itself, and that their engineers and experts have not grasped how levee maintenance and the integrity of each island has an impact on the levees and integrity of neighboring islands. Delta islands are like a puzzle. One cannot simply be “taken out” without changing the entire picture.

Fourth — California Water Commission Happenings

DWR staff announced at the California Water Commission’s November 19th meeting that they will prepare a work plan and draft regulations for implementing the water bond storage grant provisions beginning immediately. They anticipate starting a public review process to develop the regulations in January 2015.

Water bond regulations are important because they will determine the criteria used by the storage grant program approved in Proposition 1 by California voters. In 2013 the Commission, with help from consultants, developed rationales and criteria on “public benefits of water storage” anticipating passage of the bond.

Commissioners came back to this point several times during the meeting, despite the fact that the rest of the meeting was a series of panels about water conservation and water use efficiency success stories in California.

Commissioner Kim Delfino (of Defenders of Wildlife), for example, pointed out that storage projects should be able to justify their public benefits by the Delta ecosystem benefits they can provide, in addition to recreation and fish/wildlife benefits.

Later in the meeting Anthony Saracino asked panelists to comment on the relationship of conservation/efficiency benefits to public benefits of storage. He prefaced his question by indicating that the public benefits of storage work they’re doing “will be one of our legacies” as a commission.

Delfino expressed concern that the “scope and scale” of the work plan is “mind-boggling,” adding “there is a lot of money involved here, with no legislative oversight, so we have to hold ourselves to the highest standards” implementing the program.

Sue Sims, Executive Officer of the CWC, assigned the commissioners “homework” to include identifying problem areas for interpretation in Proposition 1 and identifying questions they may have about storage grant program implementation.

Delfino also requested of Sims that “if we’re getting letters about bond regulations, please circulate them.” Sims said she would. Correspondence would be uploaded to the Commission’s web site ( as well.

Joseph Byrne, chair of the Commission, and a partner at the southern California law firm of Best Best & Krieger, suggested canceling the December meeting and instead hold a meeting in January on the work plan.

Byrne noted that the Commission may need to increase the number of meetings they have in 2015 in order to accommodate the workload associated with integrating their public benefits work into drafting and approval by the Office of Administrative Law of the water bond regulations. Their timeline is to have them completed and approved by December 2015.

Restore the Delta will be watching closely the “public benefits” case that gets made for Delta fisheries and communities.

Last – Spanish Tunnel Happenings

In June 2004, the government of Spain rejected development of a massive tunnels scheme to divert the Ebro River in the northeastern Basque region to southeastern Spain, despite having begun to build it.

The government’s reasons for discontinuing the project were environmental and economic. At the time, Spain’s cabinet instead backed an alternative plan to construct 15 new desalination plants that would provide the same amount of water at less cost.

To do the Ebro tunnels project, the previous Spanish cabinet would have built 100 new dams and hundreds of kilometers of irrigation channels to transfer water south from the Ebro.

There are several parallels between Spain’s Ebro tunnels project and California and its Delta Tunnels project:

• Spain has a Mediterranean climate, similar to California.
• Like California’s Central Valley, the Ebro watershed is already heavily dammed: 187 dams in a 33,000 square mile watershed. By comparison, Central Valley has 22,500 square miles.
• The Ebro project in the north would have constructed a tunnel to divert 100 billion liters of water per day, in English units about 26.4 billion gallons per day, or about 29 million acre-feet per year that would be transferred north to south by the tunnel. This is about 5 times greater than the last decade’s average Delta exports.
• According to Wikipedia, the Ebro’s mean annual flow decreased by approximately 29 percent during the 20th century due to many causes: construction of dams, increasing irrigation diversions, and evaporation from reservoirs (higher than the rainfall, due to low rainfall, high sunshine and strong and dry winds). Withdrawals from our Delta have been estimated by some to be as much as 50 percent of mean annual flow.
• Flow patterns are highly altered throughout the Ebro as they are in the Central Valley watershed of the Delta. In the Ebro’s estuary, at high river discharges tidal influence can occupy the last 5 kilometers (3 mi) of the estuary, but at much lower flows, salty tidal flows can reach 18 kilometers (11 mi) to 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the mouth of the Ebro. Daily and seasonal changes in the flow pattern have also occurred from changes in the watershed.

Basically at flows about like the Sacramento River this summer the tides bring salt water about 11 miles upstream, and farther when flows are below 3,000 cfs. At higher flows, the tides only come upstream about 3 miles.

We know from studies completed by the Pacific Institute and reports from the Southern California Watershed Alliance that Spain does an outstanding job in the areas of conservation and water efficiencies both in the urban and agricultural sectors.

Original article from BBC reporting Spain’s rejection of the tunnels project:

Imagine having Basque separatist politics overlaying California water politics! Then again, someone was thinking about dividing up the State earlier this year. We would rather that California follows the Spanish water conservation model instead!

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