California Water Issues

Last update 5/5/2010 – See the Save the California Delta Alliance website www.NoDeltaGates.com for current news and information.

[Disclaimer: This page is for friends of the Duck Pond and contains Jan’s current opinions and findings gathered since August 2009.]

The California Delta is in crisis: The demand for water is higher than the supply. The Government has expedited 5 Water Bills (voted on at 3 AM Nov. 4, 2009) to “fix” the problem. While the state’s current direction MAY provide additional water to farmers short-term, long-term it WILL cause:

  • Damage to the environment
  • Significant negative impact to the Delta communities
  • Long-term negative effects on the entire state’s economy

Projects (e.g., 2 Gates) have been attempted to be sped in place stealth like but have been stopped for now due to citizen involvement. But the 2 Gates project may not be “dead” yet. And other larger, more impactful projects (e.g., Peripheral Canal) are moving forward.

This page is a CALL TO ACTION for all Californians to push the state to re-think the current single-focused direction. The Peripheral Canal is a solution to the wrong problem. The problems we need to address are how restore the Delta ecosystem and protect the aquifers, reduce the demand for water and improve and regionalize the water supply. But a change in direction won’t happen without citizen involvement.

What can WE do?

  • Vote AGAINST the Water Bond Bill in November 2012
  • Contact your legislators and let them know your concerns
  • Become informed about the water issue – read, attend events
  • DONATE to the STCDA – a grass roots organization that has already made a difference !

Wherever in California you live, the state’s current direction is going to ultimately have a very negative effect on your economy and life. Because they are not good long-term solutions.
Recent articles/papers about the State’s water issues are listed below:

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The Problem

California’s Water Issues are broad and complex. The last few years of drought have brought reduced snowfall resulting in less water flowing into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers that ultimately empty into the San Francisco Bay.

The Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta is the largest fresh water estuary in the Western hemisphere, home to fish, waterfowl, and other species. After the gold rush, a series of levees were built, reclaiming much of the rich, fertile delta for farmland. The levees also created navigable waterways enjoyed by tens of thousands of Northern California boaters and fisherman. And many, like me, who found the Delta a beautiful, scenic, recreational area moved to communities on the Delta to enjoy life here.

Meanwhile, many water districts state-wide have been extracting fresh water from the Delta for their communities’ drinking water and agriculture. Large pumps near Tracy California extract significant amounts of water into the California Aqueduct to route southward.

If we look at the water picture holistically, it seems clear the steps needed to solve
the state’s water crisis without causing environmental impact, without negatively impacting the state’s economy, and without negatively impacting the Delta communities includes changes in our approach to agriculture to take the price of water into consideration (see Farming in the California below) plus water conservation and ground water management. Unfortunately, this is not the path the State is currently on.

For additional historical background/information see State Water History below.

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What’s the “Right” Answer

The right answer is to provide long-term protection for California’s natural resources, improve
regional self-sufficiency, while reducing the need for water without impacting the economy. This can be done by taking the following steps:

  • Enact strong laws to protect the state’s resources:
    • Protect and restore the Delta as an important natural freshwater estuary
    • Only extract “excess” water from the Delta
    • Realize the state’s drought situation will continue or worsen
    • Put a cost on water – it isn’t free
    • Protect the groundwater aquifers – if they collapse they aren’t recoverable
  • Increase regional self-sufficiency:
    • Invest in projects like Tulare Lake Basin
    • Build local reverse osmosis and/or desalinization systems
    • Implement groundwater cleanup/re-use projects
  • Reduce the demand:
    • Analyze the true economic value of crops (which types, where)
    • Stop farming where selenium is an issue
    • Implement urban AND agricultural conservation
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The State’s Current Projects and Plans

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and the Peripheral Canal

The Governor has made it his mission to “solve” the water issues but unfortunately he and his “Delta Vision” commission are focused solely on how to take more water from the Delta rather than a comprehensive state water plan.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan organization was created. It sounds like an organization to help the Bay and Delta but it is being funded by the Metropolitan Water District and its function is to facilitate obtaining permits for a Peripheral Canal. After attending a 5-hour BDCP workshop September 22, 2009 on parts of Chapter 3 (of an 11 chapter document), I found that unfortunately it is not a “Conservation” plan and has a high probability it will destroy the Delta. The science presented was faulty, the conclusions suspect. And actions to repair the damage already done by years of excessive pumping is tied to obtaining permits to construct the Peripheral Canal. That is, although the last 10 years exports caused the damage, repair is prioritized after a plan to export even more water.

The Peripheral Canal projects include damming Middle River, removing access to Mildred Island anchorage, and restricting boating even more substantially than the 2 Gates. The 2 Gates are only the first of nine gates proposed by the BDCP, not as “Fish Protection” gates but rather as “Salinity” gates.

This means the BDCP plan includes allowing salt water to intrude far up into the fresh water estuary.

Worse, the Peripheral Canal is a solution to the wrong problem. See Farming in the California below.

More will be added to this section …

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2 Gates “Fish Protection” Project

The 2 Gates “Fish Protection” Project proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamations. (It was actually written by and paid for by the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California). The stated purpose was to “protect” the endangered Delta Smelt.

But the real objective was just to keep the smelt from getting to the Tracy pumps where they were getting caught and thus appease the environmentalists. Hence to avoid future judge orders restricting pumping and, in fact, to enable increased exporting of water from the Delta.

The smelt, like the salmon, steelhead trout, and other species that live in the Delta, are endangered because of many issues caused by excess water exports, not just because some are caught in the pumps themselves. The “2 Gates” might keep the smelt from migrating to the area where the pumps operate. But they would also keep the smelt from their spawning ground, trap them behind the gates where their predators would quickly decimate them, disrupt other species migratory habits, and cause other widespread issues throughout the Delta.

Plus, the “2 Gates” (which are basically dams) would severely impact recreational boating, impact safety rescue operations (coast guard, marine sheriffs – could cost lives), impact local economies, and negatively affect the fish and wildlife. The list of concerns and issues with installing gates in primary navigation waterways is long and significant. In addition, the gates would isolate Discovery Bay by periodically closing off the only unbridged waterway from that town to the rest of the Delta thus could easily end up impacting home values as well as boating safety.

Thanks to the new grassroots organization, the Save the California Delta Alliance (STCDA) – www.noDeltaGates.com, Discovery Bay and nearby communities were mobilized, attending meetings, sending comments to the US Bureau of Reclamations (responsible for the project) and to their representatives at state and U.S. levels.

And they were heard! They met with Congressman Jerry McNerney (a meeting organized by County Supervisor Mary Piepho). And the Obama Administration currently has put the project on-hold.

Related Information:

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Issues in the State

Farming in California

Eighty percent of the available water in the state goes to agriculture. California produces 21% of the milk, 23% of the cheese, 92% of the grapes for the entire US. Obviously farming is an important economy for the state. But is all of the water used being put to optimum use? Water use for agriculture is 80% of the state’s water whereas agriculture (including indirect benefits – labor, etc.) contributes only 7% to the state’s economy in total. Intel alone brings more economic value to the state.

Are all crops the “right” crops for California? Some experts are now raising the concern that 40% of the water farmers’ use is for water-intensive crops such as cotton, rice, alfalfa, and irrigated pastures. Yet these crops only contribute ½ of 1% to the state’s economy. In addition, harvesting techniques for these crops are highly mechanized resulting in low employment. Growing cotton, rice, alfalfa and investing in ranching utilizes a significant amount of water and provide low returns to the economy. Is the right trade-off being made between these crops versus the value of water? Why do farmers grow these crops? Because the current incentive to farmers is to use water because it’s “free” and cotton, etc. are high margin crops. (High margin for the farmers but low value for the state).

The problem with Selenium. The west side of the San Joaquin valley is the worst place for farms. More than 900 acres there contain a large amount of a very bad chemical, selenium. When mixed with water (i.e., irrigation), it turns into soluble form which is very mobile and there’s no feasible way to remove it. Selenium doesn’t go away. In the 1980s, scientists at the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge discovered massive fish kills and tens of thousands of dead and deformed birds from a gradual buildup of selenium. The farms in that area drain into a large catch basin. It gets into the environment and can get into the food chain. And, like mercury, it isn’t broken down over time. It would be better for the state to idle those farms and pay the farmers than use the water and continue the selenium pollution.

The aquifers. Because of the last four years of drought and because farmers have planted orchards in land where their earlier agreement was only for seasonal crops, when the water exports are low, farmers begin pumping water from their local ground aquifers. This is causing a crisis. Read more about this crisis in the section on The California Aquifers below.

The Farm Bureau’s Focus. Farm Bureau’s focus is, of course, to aid the farmers and advertise that California crops are highly significant. It’s interesting that the Farm Bureau statistics and numbers show that agriculture only uses 41% of the state’s water and shows that almost half, 48%, is for the “environment”. They blamed current water shortages from both the drought and “an artificial drought” caused by the judge’s order to stop pumping due to Delta Smelt endangerment rather than accepting both issues are due to a true drought.

Removing protections from the ESA. A key goal the Farm Bureau is to modify the environmental species act (ESA) to stop protection for endangered species in favor of additional water exports. Of course this would be a devastating move for the Northern California Estuary and all wildlife there.

Helping solve the real problem instead of inciting unnecessary fear. Recently when asked to respond to the idea that some farms should not be farmed (due to selenium) the retort is “Do you want to buy food from Mexico?” Instead of inciting fear and concerns about food availability, we need to encourage the Farm Bureau to help evaluate the cost/benefits of crops versus water consumption and issues with selenium and propose solutions that will benefit both the farmers and the state overall. It seems this approach would be the most significant part of a long-lasting solution.

The farmers deserve our support! The farmers who are growing valuable corps on fertile, rich farmlands definitely need water for their crops. They provide a great contribution to the economy and the US. It a small majority of farms, those irrigated by the Westlands Water District, growing water-intensive crops and using farmlands full of selenium and other chemicals that need to be evaluated for both their crop selection and land quality.

Bottom line As Dr. Lawrence Kolb, Former Water Quality Control Board Assistant Director has said: “The elephant in the bathtub is agricultural water use!” We need to stop farming the west side of I-5 and stop growing water-intensive crops that contribute little to the state’s economy. That is an ideal way to reduce agricultural water needs without hurting farmers, the economy, or reducing real food production. The Peripheral Canal is a solution to the wrong problem.

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Environmental Issues

Section to be updated … Stay tuned.

Related Information:

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Boating Issues

The 2 Gates Project and other proposed plans of the Bay and Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) totally disregard any impact on recreational boating, commercial boat requirements, and the community’s boating safety. This is not only disappointing since it may cause inconvenience, it is extremely concerning because the communities here are based on boating. Impacts to boating affect our local economies, businesses and home values. Not to mention our safety and hence our lives. Yet moving water south seems to take higher precedence than the communities’ safety and economy.

Oddly, the inconvenience proposed would not be tolerated if it were affecting other sports or activities. Imagine if people in Sacramento were told they could not drive to Tahoe during the month of December to ski – Highway 80 would be closed for 20 hours/day. Or that there was a decision to shut down Tahoe ski resorts since skiers make the snow dirty hence drinking water needs more filtering. Or that campers couldn’t camp in Desolation Wilderness in June because of similar concerns. Of course any of those actions would be looked upon as ludicrous and would not be tolerated. But for some reason, when boaters face similar impacts, it isn’t thought of as a “real” concern. Or the issues are downplayed.

But the issues are serious, more than simple inconveniences.
From the top level, design of the 2 Gates project would create a significant safety issue for boating.

  • Due to lengthy delays between gate openings (two to ten hours), queues of boats, and their lack of maneuverability will create collision hazards. Single screw trawlers, house boats and sail boats all have high windage problems and must maintain a speed of at least 3 knots to maintain maneuverability.
  • The water velocity, upon opening the gates, will significantly affect maneuverability of boats, increasing the potential for collision and capsizing, especially for the boats mentioned above.
  • The design of the gate structure provides catwalks to the pivot point of the gates. When opened, water flowing through the non-navigable portion of the butterfly gate openings will suck disabled or slow water craft, or boaters not knowledgeable of the gate design under the catwalks, producing a significant safety hazard, including capsizing and / or decapitation.
  • The channels – 75’ and 60’, respectively, are very narrow for large queues of boats and impatient boaters attempting to pass each other in opposite directions.
  • The only alternative out of Discovery Bay is through the Bacon Island Bridge, which has limited hours and needs frequent repairs. This route adds three hours each way to our trawler type boat.
  • Delays to emergency equipment – sheriff and Coast Guard rescues, levee repair barges, etc. have not been studied.
  • The low profile Connection Slough gate could be confused with the close proximity Connection Slough Bridge and be missed by unsuspecting boaters who could then ram the gate.

There is no “Alternative Route.” The only “Alternative Route” from Discovery Bay elsewhere in the Delta is via Middle River. There is a bridge on Middle River, the Bacon Island Bridge, that must be opened for any average-to-large boat to pass through. That bridge has limited hours of operation.

  • Boat trips often require traveling from Discovery Bay to distant areas in one day and hence require needing to leave early in the morning before the Bacon Island Bridge is open. Similarly boats returning often arrive after dark.
  • A significant number of boats travel every weekend during the spring from Discovery Bay to anchor at Mildred Island, a favorite anchorage and the only large nearby anchorage. If boats anchored at Mildred Island need to return home to Discovery Bay, if the Bacon Island Bridge is broken (which occurs several times each season) or if the boater misses closing time, today they can take an alternative route via Connection Slough and down Old River. If Connection Slough Bridge is not open, then they are forced to go all the way up to the San Joaquin River Channel and down Old River, an extra 2-3 hour trip. But there “is” an alternative. If there is a dam on Connection Slough and another on Old River, there is no alternative route if the dams are closed. These boaters cannot “schedule” when they will arrive at the Old River gate. They are trying to return home and are underway. That trip would not get them to the Old River gate until 8 or 9 PM. A 2 to 2.5 hour wait at that point mean the boats would be out to midnight. Or if the operator deems it “after dark”, then it would be 2 AM (a 5 hour wait) before they get home.

Saying boaters can “time” their arrival at the gates is not practical. The USBR 2 Gates document states that boaters will need to plan according to gate schedules.

  • As shown above, boaters cannot schedule arrival times if the issue is they are underway and the Bacon Island Bridge is unexpectedly closed.
  • The gate openings are dependent on the tides and will change regularly.
  • The gates hours of operation will change based on feedback from the scientific experiments and potentially as salt water intrusion increases due to increased water exports. There is no commitment that hours of operation will not increase significantly over time.

Safety. The 2 Gates project described the hydraulic effects of adding 700 feet of sheet piles across an 867 foot opening on Old River and that the flow is anticipated to be 4 feet/second during some times of the day. There are numerous concerns about this flow all year when the gates are opened. That raised several questions and concerns about the safety of boat passage.

  • Could a single screw boat engines (sailboats, houseboats, trawlers) with a maximum speed of six knots safely navigate “upstream” through the gate without losing steerage? Or a disabled boat with engine trouble?
  • When gates are opened for emergency vessels and there could be up to an 18 inch differential, isn’t that similar to a class 3 rapid? That seems like it would suck any waiting boats into the gates. And cause turbulence on the sides with boats waiting for haul-out. A risk small fishing boats and any children or animals swimming off the back of waiting boats on a hot day. Has this risk been analyzed?
  • The sides of the butterfly gates (the non-passage areas where water will flow through) have catwalks which appear to be quite low clearance. What would happen if a ski boat or fishing boat were sucked into/under that area? Could boats be capsized or people decapitated? Could larger boats become stuck against the catwalk or capsize during high flow periods?
  • There is a statement that dolphin fenders (steel piles) will be installed to keep commercial vessels from hitting the gates. Can there be protective fenders, less damaging, installed to protect the recreational vessels as well as the gates?
  • And what happens if a boat gets on the wrong side of the dolphin fenders (between the sheet piles and catwalks away from the opening)? With the increased flow on that side by the catwalks, what is the risk that they cannot safely get back up to the passage, particularly boats with smaller engines?

Construction Period. The construction timeframe is basically the entire 2010 boating season. During this timeframe, Discovery Bay would be isolated.

  • Boaters would be unable to navigate out of the local area which has no protected anchorages and would be too crowded for safety if all boats were restricted south of the bridge and Old River site.
  • The unreliability of the bridge and uncertainty of boat passage for an entire boating year will significantly impact business, the marina (boats will go elsewhere, not launch in Discovery Bay, move their permanent berths) and boats that move or change their habits are likely to not return in future years. What is the anticipated economic loss to Discovery Bay during 2010?
  • During construction timeframes, traversing the gate areas, when allowed, will pose some additional risk to boaters. Bacon Island Bridge needs to be operational 24×7 to avoid boater risk during construction plus steps taken to ensure safe passage through the construction site is possible whenever the bridge is closed.

Operational reliability: A Delta scientist at the 10/27/2009 public meeting said the planned gate construction is not sturdy enough for that area of the river (due to the river’s width and flow). Sheet pile construction is insufficient to keep the gates from becoming dislodged. If the gates are dislodged and cannot be operated, that could close the waterway. That possibility was not covered in the USBR plan and would be a violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.

Economic Impacts and Home values (not addressed by the USBR documents).

  • Our waterfront homes are today a premium due to ready boating access and swimmable water in our back yards. What will be the impact due to the 2 Gates short-term and expanded water exports if the Gates project proves successful to our home values?
  • Many homes here are 2nd homes for weekend boaters. How many will decide to trade for areas more conducive to weekend activities effecting the already impacted housing situation?
    Discovery Bay and Bethel Island businesses located on the water (restaurants, shops, marine supplies) will be impacted when outside boaters are impeded from easy access to these communities.
  • What is the anticipated loss of revenue by Discovery Bay and Bethel Island from not being able to participate in the large Delta events (Poker runs, bass fishing competitions, etc.) due to construction and thereafter due to gate?
  • New developments are being planned for the east side of Discovery Bay. What will be the impact of restricted boating access making the area less attractive on the land developers?

Even more concerns exist with the upcoming BDCP Peripheral Canal projects which have plans for 7 to 10 other gates throughout the Delta.

What would a good answer be? A plan that attempts to minimize the impact on boats, boaters and the related economy.

It struck me how differently other agencies (U.S. Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers) address impacts to boating. I read an article recently about the new Bethel Island Bridge being constructed. It will be necessary to have a temporary bridge from June to October 2010 while the new bridge is being constructed. The February 5, 2010 Discovery Bay Press reported that the U.S. Coast Guard plans that the draw-section will always be open on weekends and outside work hours from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. And, if having the section in place during work hours proves too disruptive to boaters, the bridge may usually be open and the draw-section only put in place when needed to get workers and equipment from one side of the trestle to the other. Otherwise it would be removed when workers see a boat coming.

How different the Coast Guard approach is versus the U.S. Bureau of Reclamations (USBR) 2 Gates project. The USBR plans were to only open the gate on Old River for 15 minutes every 2 ½ hours during March and June. They say boaters can just wait for the 2 ½ hours if they arrive when it is closed. The Connection Slough gate would basically be closed those months (closed for 20 hours). Other months the gates may be closed for an hour but boaters could wait. While the gates were being installed for four months (an ENTIRE summer), Old River and Connection Slough would be closed.

The USBR plan and approach for boats and boaters is 180 degrees different from the Coast Guard. For the USBR and Bay Delta Conservation Plan, navigation is unimportant.

It’s unfortunate when many people in the communities in the Delta live here for the recreational boating and when recreational and commercial boat navigation is key to the economy and house values. It’s unfortunate that the plans being made for the Delta aren’t taking boating concerns/needs into account.

The Delta Protection Commission. The Delta Protection Act of 1992 provides for regional coordination by establishing the Delta Protection Commission. The Commission is to develop a long term resources management plan for the Delta Primary Zone. The goals of this regional plan are to “protect, maintain and, where possible, enhance and restore the overall quality of the delta environment.” (See the overview doc at Click Here). The first goal states: “The Delta is a popular area for water-based recreation such as
fishing, sailing, and water-skiing.

An objective of the regional plan for the Primary Zone is to maintain, and possibly enhance, recreational opportunity in the Delta.”

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Delta Communities Issues

Section to be added … Stay tuned.

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The California Aquifers

California’s two main river basins and the aquifers beneath its agricultural heartland have lost nearly enough water since 2003 to fill Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir, new satellite data shows according to a Reuters report Dec. 14, 2009. (see also Water www.SisWeb.org page.) Depleted aquifers account for two-thirds of the loss measured, most of it attributed to increased groundwater pumping for irrigation of drought-parched farmland in California’s fertile but arid Central Valley, scientists said. Satellite studies show that groundwater is being used up faster than nature can restore it.

When aquifers are drained, there is the risk of the aquifer collapsing (which has happened recently in San Jose and in the Central Valley). The problem is, when aquifers collapse, there is no way to recover this valuable storage system.

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The Issue of the Aging Levees(?)

Section to be updated … Stay tuned.

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Salt Water? Fresh Water?

Confusion reigns in the water wars. UC Davis “scientists” testified for the Fish & Game that the issue with declining fish population is that the water isn’t salty enough. Dr. Gregory Gartrell from the Contra Costa Water District and others have proof they were wrong. The Delta has been a freshwater marsh for the last 2500 years!

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Tracking Where we Are

State Water History

Many water districts have been extracting fresh water from the Delta for their communities’ drinking water – for local counties (Santa Clara, Alameda, Sacramento, and Costa Contra counties) and more remote areas of the state (Westlands Water District for Central California agribusiness and Metropolitan Water District for LA and other Southern California uses).

Westlands and Metropolitan Water Districts were given contracts to allow them to extract the “EXCESS” water from the Delta – water beyond that which was needed to maintain the health of the estuary. Spring run-off water and other excess. Large pumps near Tracy California extract significant amounts of water into the California Aqueduct to route southward. The need for water in central California has expanded over the years as agribusiness has extended turning previously arid land into profitable farms. But the problem is no one knows what “excess” is. How much is too much?

Not all of the water is well-used. Unfortunately, many farmers have been selecting high-water, high margin crops such as rice, cotton, and orchards. Other farmers have found it more advantageous to let their farms go fallow and resell their water allotments to developers wanting to expand communities in Southern California and the Mojave desert (one farm family made $77 million in one year alone by reselling their water rights!) For too many, the Delta has been a plumbing fixture and water has been cheap.

As water export amounts increased in the early 2000s, although warnings came from environmentalists about the adverse effects on the Delta wildlife and ecology, pumping increased and the ecology collapsed. Coupled with the drought, the salmon have been decimated (resulting in a ban on Commercial salmon fishing off the coasts of California and Oregon for the past two years). The ecosystem is collapsing, fish species are in danger. The water is polluted and salt levels are increasing. Delta farmers are faced with using salty water containing a high percent of chemicals (selenium, boron, arsenic) from the run-off from Central California farmlands. The pull of the pumping has reversed the natural flow of the Delta coupled with the high salt content from Central Valley farm run-off has been confusing salmon and other fish trying to migrate back to the ocean. That plus the smaller species such as the Delta Smelt getting caught in the pumping stations caused an environmental emergency resulting in a judge order to stop the Tracy pumps for a few months last year. The restricted pumping and natural drought caused concern about how to continue to meet the need for fresh water.

Meanwhile additional pumping facilities come on-line. A new East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) intake facility recently began operations near Freeport. That facility came about after about 20 years of lawsuits challenging EBMUD’s water rights on the American River. The court’s compromise required EBMUD to take water off of the Sacramento River instead. Much of our water policy in California happens through the courts, unfortunately.

The Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) has water rights through the Central Valley Project, that are different that EBMUD’s (EBMUD takes water through the State Water Project). CCWD’s water supply is in pretty good shape, because they have the Los Vaqueros Reservoir. When CCWD first built the reservoir and again more recently, CCWD has been asking other water agencies if they wanted to become partners in Los Vaqueros. Most of the water agencies in the area (Alameda County, Zone 7 (also in Alameda County) and the Santa Clara Valley Water District) have chosen a peripheral canal instead of using Los Vaqueros, unfortunately.

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Tulare Lake Basin

This is an interesting proposal that has the potential to really improve the state water situation with much less environmental impact. This is a proposal by the San Joaquin Valley Leadership Forum that supports safe, clean, reliable drinking water supplies.

Tulare Lake Basin – Surface/Groundwater Storage for
Water Quality, Quantity, and Reliability.

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Current Legislative Actions and Issues

The five current Water Bills were passed at 3 AM Nov 3, 2009. The processes used during the passage of the bills was “draconian”. Legislators opposed to the bills were limited to speaking only 1 minute each. Sacramento was a nocturnal town – with closed door negotiations and 3 AM votes. The resulting Bills are weak and full of loopholes. For example, while there IS “flow criteria”, there is no resulting limit on exports. A lot of “special deals” added to the bills and the bills add new layers bureaucracy. There is now a spider web of organizations involved in Delta projects. In the center is “The Delta Plan” (whatever that is). Four of the 7 members of the new Delta council are appointed by the Governor.

Of particular concern is the Bond Package which grew during the night of November 3rd from $8B to $11B. That’s $800 million per year for the next 30 years which will come off the top of the State General Fund– ahead of education, transportation, and other at-risk areas.

Also of concern is that there is no legislative oversight of the BDCP/Peripheral Canal. Rules make it a “conflict of interest” if a legislator sits on the BDCP steering committee and members of the Steering committee need to agree ahead-of-time to support the results of the BDCP. PRIOR to knowing what the results will be. These rules exclude the ability for true legislative oversight.

There have been significant efforts by Contra Costa Supervisor Mary Piepho and the other supervisors from the five Delta counties who have joined together in the effort to create a larger entity with a stronger voice to be heard regarding Water Bills and impacts on the Delta. In general the Delta Counties have been “shut out” of the process. The current Bills exclude the “Delta as a Place” as the 3rd leg of the stool – focusing instead only on the two co-equal goals of water export and the endangered species. That leaves the people out of the process. The current legislative process has resulted in the loss of land use protection. The 5 Delta County effort is to put “Delta as a Place” back into the process. To maintain the health of the Delta and accessibility and to consider the economic and other impacts. And to bring the legislative process into the open. We need to insist on no more 3 AM votes!

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League of Women Voter Water Panel

On January 23, 2010 in Antioch, the League of Women Voters sponsored a panel on “Our Delta Water”. The room was overflowing with interested, concerned citizens. Legislative representatives including US Congressman Jerry McNerney and State Senator Lois Wolk attended. Congressman McNerney gave opening remarks repeating his commitment to the Delta as a resource and to the Delta Communities. Panelists were

  • Dr. Gregory Gartrell, Assistant Manager of the Contra Costa Water District
  • Dr. Lawrence Kolb, former Water Quality Control Board Assistant Director
  • Susanna Schlendorf, 15th Assembly District Director for Joan Buchanan
  • Kari Fisher, Counsel for the Farm Bureau
  • Mary N. Piepho, Contra Costa County Supervisor
  • Karla Nemeth, Resources Agency Liaison to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)
  • David Nesmith of the Environmental Water Caucus

This was a VERY informative event. To view the DETAILED minutes from Jan’s write-up click here. Diablo Valley League’s website is www.LWVDV.org.

Click here to see the questions/answers for the panel on the LWV website.

These are G R E A T questions that hopefully the Delta communities will get answers to from the people pushing for water legislation and removal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) provisions.

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