Dispatch from another planet
by Gene Beley, special to CVBT
August 10, 2013
Comments and background from the author:
• Fish talk at Delta water conference
• “Apparently, salmon are one of the bass’s favorite foods”
In early August I visited another planet: Fresno. I went to learn more about how others feel on the other side of the fence in the farming heartland. I aimed to get as much information and different viewpoints as possible on this BDCP twin tunnel project. Vic Bedoian a radio freelance journalist radio reporter who lives in Fresno jokingly asked me, “Did you bring your bodyguard?”
I learned the water officials would like to ban all bass species from the Delta because they eat salmon. At the end of the first panel with Westlands Water District General Manager Thomas Birmingham and other water officials, a man rose from the audience and suggested that the limit be eliminated on bass and that we pay people to fish to do double duty of eliminating the bass and creating new jobs.
Granted, the meeting was not dull.
Another farmer told how he attended meetings in Sacramento and learned how the cities of Sacramento and Stockton dumped sewage into the Delta and has photos to prove it. He wants that stopped, but the cities’ lobbyists reportedly told them they didn’t have enough money then — to wait four more years. Obviously, he said that is a problem that has to be stopped.
Unlike BDCP meetings in Sacramento or around the Delta where the focus is on the farmers’ potential loss of their properties or residents’ and boaters’ impacts during construction, nothing was mentioned about the mechanics of building the 35 mile long twin tunnels. The entire focus was on the Endangered Species Act Protections and how to reduce regulations to get more water to farmers and cities south of the Delta.
Many other vital issues were covered in the Aug. 3 panel in Fresno. Ray Appleton, KMJ Radio host in Fresno, was the moderator for the panel representing various water contractors and related organizations. He asked the questions and the others would reply.
Here are transcripts of those dialogues:
Q: Mr. Appleton: Let’s talk about the premise that Delta farmers and residents are generally opposed to the twin tunnels—just an assumption—a theory, and often contend that the conveyance of the Bay & Delta Conservation Project (BDCP) and State Water Contractors Project (SWCP) water through the Delta is either taking their water or interfering with their ability to irrigate. However, the continuous movement of fresh water from the upstream reservoirs through the Delta maintains higher quality of water with lower salinity in the Delta channels. In addition, in dry and critically dry years, when there would be virtually no flow from the Sierra Nevada, and most of the Delta would be too salty for irrigation use, the projects move good quality water through the Delta during the irrigation season, thus allowing more land in the Delta to be irrigated before the federal and state projects came on line. That is a long way to get to the question, how has the Delta benefited?
A.: Tom Birmingham, general manager, Westlands Water District: “Indeed, Delta farmers have benefited from the construction of and operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project (SWP). If you look at historical data concerning intrusions of salinity in the Delta, prior to the construction and operation of these two projects, salt would intrude as far north as Freeport and far south as Stockton. The movement of water through the Delta from the Sacramento River to the pumping plants in the south part of the Delta has significantly improved the quality of water beyond what it would be in the state of nature. There is frequently water in the channels in the Delta that would not be there if it weren’t for the (two) projects. This year (2013) is a perfect example. As we’re speaking, the natural inflow to the Delta would not support the diversion of water by water right holders whether they were riparian water right holders or appropriate water right holders.
We hear people say the BDCP has to be developed in a way to respect water rights. We are in complete agreement with that because, over the course of the last 50 years, there has been a significant loss of water because water users in the Delta are taking water they would otherwise not have a right to take.
There are numerous water board and court decisions that have attempted to stop that, but it is something that persists. In response to your question, there have been benefits derived to irrigators in the Delta that result from the operation of these two projects.
Q. Appleton: Will the BDCP in any way adversely affect the ability of Delta farmers to irrigate with Delta water?
A. Brent Walthall, assistant general manager, Kern County Water Agency:
“The BDC is a large document with a lot of study behind it. Part of that study is what are the water quality impacts that will occur if we implement the Bay and Delta Conservation Plan?
“Whether it is a wet year or average year, the modeling indicates there will be little or no impact on salinity in the Delta. For dry years, there appears there will be some small impact. How you read the numbers can be a little bit misleading. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘significant level of impact.’ The level of significance can be one to two per cent change. That is a little bit misleading to say either one. A little bit of reasoning and practical ability will help to resolve that. The BDCP has and will have plans in place to mitigate the impact.”
A. Joan Maher, deputy-operating officer for Water Supply, Santa Clara Valley Water District:
“One thing we hear is the resistance to change in the Delta. But when you look at the studies and look at the future, you look at climate change and sea level rising, it is a given that there will be change in the Delta. The question is, ‘What kind of change? What will it mean to the eco system? What will it mean to reliable water supply for California? That is part of the dialogue that is going on today.”
A.Chris Acree, executive director, Revive the San Joaquin:
“I know the farmers in the Delta are experiencing the reality of where the two projects have brought us to date. The State Water Resources Control Board as early as 1978 started setting standards for the outflow to the Delta and how much water can be exported. In 1978 they said there were some serious concerns. Pumping has increased all the way through the 1980s until today. In 1992 the State Board said there were safe Delta levels of fresh water at about 2.5-3 million acre feet a year of exports. We’re already up to five-10 million acre-feet.
“This Bay Delta twin tunnel project is basically trying to enshrine that level of pumping. I don’t think it necessarily will make anything worse. It would just keep us on the current trajectory to make all the fish species extinct in the Delta. I think the Delta residents are feeling that first hand now. A lot of them believe, if we keep on the current path, without realigning our water rights to something sustainable, their eco system could crash, and they could lose that fresh water supply.”
A. John Coleman, vice-president, Association of California Water Agencies (representing all water contractors) and on the board of East Bay Water Board in the S.F. Bay Area:
“Often the views of people in the S.F. Bay Area are typical of the views here (Fresno). What’s really important to remember is the water system in California is not working. It’s failing. We have a responsibility to BDCP. Hopefully, this water bond will be on the ballot in 2014 so future generations can benefit like we have the first 50-60 years.”
Q. Mr. Appleton, moderator:
“There are many stressors in the Delta that affect aquatic species and their water. They have never been addressed because the state and federal fish agencies have only been asked to review the operations of the BDCP and the S.W.P. at the federal and state pumping plant. What are the other key stressors? Will the BDCP be able to do anything to address them?”
A. Brent Walthall, assistant general manger for the Kern County Water Agency: “When the BDCP first started it looked at only the flow aspects in the Delta. I quickly learned there are a lot of stressors in the Delta. We don’t handle them well or at all. I think the reason is the regulatory agencies are charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act on a project-by-project basis. They don’t get to look at the eco system as a whole, then decide what’s wrong.
“We need to look at the permits for a specific project and decide how to operate that one project. One of the unique aspects of the BDCP is they can look at all those other stressors—and there are a lot of them. The conservation measures in the BDCP number 22—only one of which is the tunnels. The other 21 address all the other stressors and things that biologists have found to be significant—but that we don’t have the same level of understanding.
“As we start to examine those other stressors, we’re learning they are quite important. For example, one is predation of non-native fish on native species, and particularly, the bass species on Delta smelt and out-migrating salmon. Apparently, salmon are one of the bass’s favorite foods. We see on the San Joaquin Delta as much as 90% of the out migrating salmon are lost to predation. So 90% of the fish migrating out to the ocean are eaten before they ever get there. Neither the state nor the Federal water projects ever come close to that percentage. Our percentages are often more in the double or single digits.”
(View his comments here):
Brent Walthall Defends Delta Bass at Fresno's Delta Water Summit from Gene Beley on Vimeo.
(Video by Gene Beley)
A. Thomas Birmingham, general manager, Westlands Water District:
“There are few regions in California that can sustain themselves on water in their vicinity naturally. The State Water Resources Control Board will establish minimum amount flow requirements and minimum amount bypass requirements for the operators of the tunnels. But there is a great deal of debate about the necessity of having certain outflows in order to conserve or recover that at risk species. We are examining that question very carefully. To suggest that a 30% reliable supply should be sufficient ignores reality. We have to figure out a better way to manage our water resources so we can provide both a reliable and an adequate supply of water.
“When the Legislature enacted the Delta Reform Act in 2009 (for information on that law, go to: http://deltacouncil.ca.gov/legislation), one of the critical elements of the Delta plan that is supposed to be achieved is providing enough water to meet the demands for reasonable and beneficial use. That is a concept of adequacy that a lot of people want to ignore.”
Q. Mr. Appleton:
“Computer modeling has indicated that the BDCP will increase the value of water storage south of the Delta. Some people are touting the storage as an alterative to the BDCP, but without the BDCP twin tunnels, there will be few opportunities to maximize existing storage in export areas. How will the BDCP impact the value of initial storage south of the Delta?
A. Ronald Jacobsma, general manager, Friant Water Authority:
“One of the projects we’ve been following very closely for over a decade now is Temperance Flat Reservoir (Fresno County near Auberry). Taking advantage of the flood flows that we can periodically get—when they come—they come BIG like in 2010 and 2011 when we got close to nearly one million acre feet.
“The last two years we’ve been at 40% of average supply. We could have really used that water. The problem is that the low hanging fruit has already been built. We manage 1.8 million acre feet more with a 520,000-acre foot reservoir. So what we’re looking at doing is how to pull additional yield out of that project.
“If you build a million plus acre feet reservoir, the yield is about 150,000 acre feet. That is a key water supply. That’s b out what we’re committing to the environment through our restoration program—or soon will be. If you take two-three billion dollars off that cost for agriculture, it just doesn’t work by itself. But if you can get the Delta reliability back so when we’re moving vast amounts of wet year water, it would run out of storage south of the Delta. In the case of Temperance Flat, there is a way to integrate that storage facility through ground water exchanges. This could potentially double the yield, provide greater flexibility, and provide water quality to urban agencies. Suddenly, this ‘big gulp, little sip’ concept would work a lot better.
“If you can’t take advantage of your wet year flows, you’re not going overall get the same level of water supplies that we’ve become dependent on. So in my view, representing our Board, we think there is a significant connection to how Delta operations come about, the adequacy of water supplies and integration on a more state wide basis.”
Q. Mr. Appleton: Is it ever going to happen on Temperance Flat?
A. Ronald Jacobsma, general manager, Friant Water Authority:
“Maybe—I’m an eternal optimist. If we live to be over 100, I might see it. We had a tour yesterday of Temperance Flat and the Bureau is on track about a year from now. Is this thing feasible? That will give us a signal of whether it can be built. Some of the projects can be run for multiple purposes. Generally, the public should pay part of the cost. The key is getting the first level of feasibility studies in the next year or two.”
A. Joan Maher, deputy operating officer for water supply, Santa Clara Valley Water District:
“Santa Clara Valley’s main interest in BDCP is protesting our existing ground water storage basin. Many people don’t realize that downtown San Jose used to be 13 feet higher than now. It was over-drafted. Our District was formed, water was imported and that land surface subsides was only stopped with the importation of water. That’s happening in the San Joaquin Valley. There are many people who are interested in protecting ground water resources and ground water storage but they don’t necessarily see the connection of needing a reliable supply of water form the BDCP to maintain that storage.”
A. John Coleman, vice president, Association of
California Water Agencies:
“I’ll add that storage this has to be part of the equation. In order to get the support from the Delta communities, which are opposed to BDCP, they have to understand storage is critical. The Bay Aea needs to support storage. California needs to support storage, so that in a dry year when there may be less flow through the Delta, those who have paid for the system have a return on their investment—water above ground or below ground. They will get the deliveries they need. It’s really linked together. The two have to go hand in hand.
Q. Mr. Appleton: John Coleman, your agency represents about 90% of the state’s water agencies. What is your organization’s position on the BDCP? What do you expect from it?
A. Mr. Coleman: “BDCP is an evolving process. We want to make sure it is successful. We’re monitoring it. We’ll be making comments on it. We realize to be successful, is success for the entire state. That’s our approach. We want to make sure it works for the entire state and everyone benefits.
A. Thomas Birmingham, general manager, Westlands Water District: “If you look at the last 20years, there have been many years, including wet years when we have not been able to take advantage of the existing storage. You could build a reservoir and flood the Sacramento Valley and build all sorts of dams in the San Joaquin Valley with surface storage. But if you’re not able to move the water through the Delta, you’re not going to be able to fill the dams. In the history of the last 20 years, San Luis Reservoir does not fill.
“Unless we have the ability to move water from the Sacramento River system across the Delta to the pumps, there is really no additional value of storage south of the Delta. With the BDCP new storage will become incredibly important. We will take a big gulp when the water is available.
“Today when the water is viable like in December of 2012, there was a lot of water in the system and we couldn’t pump it because of restrictions imposed under the biological opinion of the Delta smelt. When the water is available, we need to be able to move it and have a place to put it. Until we have the ability to convey water across the Delta, new storage south of the Delta does not add any added value.
(This got a big clapping response from the audience.)
A.Brent Walthall, assistant general manager for the Kern County Water Agency:
“A good example of how that works is the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District built Diamond Lake Reservoir that had 800,000 acres of surface storage. That reservoir fills only when they have enough water on the State Water Project side. So there’s a whole new reservoir in Southern California that is now at risk for not being filled—simply because they can’t convey the water across the Delta.
“In my own Kern County Water Agency, we built the Kern Water Bank and several other ground water banking facilities that also rely on Delta suppliers in order to be filled. Between Metropolitan and Kern, we have somewhere between two million acre feet of storage that is at risk for not filling because we can’t move water across the Delta.
“We have water in the reservoir north of the Delta. Shasta often has water that caries over. When we can get the current storage to work and match with the storage we’ve already built south of the Delta, then we will have a water storage system that functions more efficiently. The idea that we need more storage south of the Delta is just not born out of the fact we have so much storage south of the Delta that remains dry in years like this.
A. Chris Acree, executive director, Revive the San Joaquin:
“One proposal we’ve always supported is the Tulare Lake Basin as a storage option. That could capture new floodwaters from about five different rivers. When we talk about BDCP and the twin tunnels, we have to remember we are not proposing any new water supplies—just the reliability of what’s happening now that’s causing the Delta decline.
“There are new storage options that provide new water supplies but the tunnels are not one. A lot of people are looking at that as a new source of supply or new development, new projects, but we have to remember, that is just to sustain what we have now. If you don’t’ have water now, it’s not likely that this expensive project will give you water in the future.
A. Thomas Birmingham, general manager, Westlands Water District:
“I do not want to suggest to anyone that the operation of the Projects do not affect species in the Delta. But as suggested by the earlier discussion, there are numerous factors that are affecting the abundance of the species. A couple years ago, the Public Policy Institute of California put out a report that said if you shut the two major water projects down entirely, quit diverting water upstream, quit pumping water out of the Delta, there is still more than 50% chance that the species of the Delta that are currently at risk will go extinct. To suggest that what we have done over the course of the last 30 years to protect these species is working is absolutely nuts! The species have continued to decline. The whole purpose of the BDCP is to take a different approach, rather than focusing species by species restrictions or regulations—some of which conflicted with one another.
“A classic example: In a 2008 biological opinion for Delta smelt, there are outflow requirements that conflict with the requirements of the salmon biological opinion that requires water be maintained upstream in storage to provide cold water for the protection of salmon. You can’t do both. The BDCP wants to take a more holistic approach—an eco system approach to try something different.
“All the studies done today suggest, if we are going to save species in the Delta, if we are going to improve the economy in California, we have got to do this project. The handwriting has been on the wall for more than 20 years. We have got to do this project!”
Q. Moderator Ray Appleton: “Question for Joan Maher… “The water from the Delta not only serves agriculture, but also plays a major role in urban areas. So how do urban areas view BDCP?
A. Joan Maher: “I can certainly speak for the South Bay area of Santa Clara County and Alameda Countries that are served by the State Water Project. It is really vital to our water supply. Forty per cent of the supply that we need to sustain our economy and our people comes through the Delta. In some parts of Alameda County, over 80% of their water comes from the State Water Project so there is a risk for us if the problems in the Delta are not addressed.
“Obviously, we are doing integrated planning. You heard about integrated planning for the San Joaquin Valley and we’ve been doing that for some time. Even with doubling the amount of conservation and tripling the amount of recycled water, yes, we are going to reduce our reliance on the Delta, but we need reliable supplies from the State Water Project and Central Valley Project.
Q. Mr. Appleton: “Are Santa Clara Valley urban water users being affected this year by what’s happening in the Delta?”
A. Joan Maher: “The primary impact is the cost because w are drawing from the ground water from the semi-tropic water bank reserves in Kern County. We do two-year forecasts. If there were a repeat of this year next year, we would be implementing—in all likelihood—water use reduction measures.
“The other impact would be water quality. When the San Luis Reservoir drops very low, there’s up to 20 feet of algae that is drawn into the intakes at the Pacheco Pumping Plan and delivered to our water treatment plans in Santa Clara County. This algae laden water can shut down filters and cause taste and odor problems. Ultimately, if San Luis Reservoir drops too low, we are unable to pump and meet our demands.”