CSPA in the News
Two top California water officials retire amidst growing opposition to Delta TunnelsDec 6, 2016 Read Online
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One of CSPA’s many strategies in the past several years has been to defend the federal Clean Water Act from attack. Much of this defense has been in the context the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) relicensing of hydropower projects. Section 401 of the Clean Water Act requires that an affected state certify that certain actions (like a FERC relicensing) conform to state water quality laws. In California, the State Water Board has the authority over these certifications.
Recent federal Energy legislation, pushed heavily by PG&E, would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reject a state’s decisions. Since FERC consistently make less protective decisions about rivers affected by hydropower than the State Water Board, this would be a bad change in law. CSPA and hundreds of other conservation groups fought this change in Congress for a year and a half, and so far we have defeated it.
In late November, 2016, Idaho Power Company filed a petition asking FERC to rule that the Federal Power Act preempts state law in a case in Oregon. The case involved the relicensing of the Hells Canyon hydroelectric project on the Snake River, where the Snake is the border between Idaho and Oregon. In CSPA’s view, this petition was not really about federal preemption of a specific state law. Rather, it was a collateral sneak attack on the state of Oregon’s exercise of Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. An adverse ruling would give FERC the power over the states that PG&E is trying to create in its Energy legislation.
CSPA decided that this attack was significant enough to warrant action, even though it was out of state. Working with two national groups, a state river organization from Idaho, an Oregon legal advocacy group, and two Snake River watershed groups, CSPA assembled a motion to dismiss Idaho Power’s petition. The motion was filed on December 30, 2016.
On December 16, 2016, CSPA’s Bill Jennings and Chris Shutes made presentations to the State Water Board regarding the need to increase flow from the San Joaquin River into the Delta. The hearings held in Stockton are part of Phase I of the Water Board’s update of the Bay-Delta Plan.
Bill Jennings discussed five major flaws in the “Substitute Environmental Document” (SED) that the Board is using to evaluate changes to the Plan. 1) The SED does not include the mainstem San Joaquin in its analysis, and does not propose requiring equitable flow out of Friant Dam. 2) The SED makes no defensible scientific justification for recommending that 40% of February-June unimpaired flow be released from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers; more is needed. 3) The SED contains no analysis of how the Board will balance resources and offers no quantification of the benefits of improved flow. 4) The SED’s recommendation to weaken south Delta salinity standards relies on an outdated report with identified errors in analyzing impacts to Delta agriculture, and the SED does not analyze impacts to fish and aquatic vegetation that would result from weakening the standards. 5) The SED does not describe how Plan’s the salmon-doubling goal, which has been law for over twenty years as salmon populations in the San Joaquin collapsed, will be enforced.
Chris Shutes discussed four major points in his presentation. 1) California and the San Joaquin tributaries in particular have an unsustainable agricultural business model founded on the overallocation of water. 2) The urban model passed by the legislature in 2009, 20% reduction in urban water use by the year 2020, is a better model for agriculture than the existing boom or bust cycle that the SED accepts. 3) The SED uses modeling unrealistically to avoid defining the proposed project and its impacts. 4) San Francisco and the Bay Area have to do their fair share in improving flows in the Tuolumne River. Following Chris’s presentation, Peter Drekmeier of the Tuolumne River Trust provided further discussion of San Francisco’s obligation and analysis of how San Francisco has exaggerated impacts to the Bay Area of increasing Tuolumne River flow.
The complete video of the December 16, 2016 hearing can be seen at:
Bill Jennings speaks from 5:50 to 5:59. Chris Shutes speaks from 2:12:50 to 2:19.
Peter Drekmeier’s presentation on impacts to the Bay Area can be seen at 2:19 of the video. A related video from the Tuolumne River Trust can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJQ5RhdU6vY&feature=youtu.be
On December 1, 2016, CSPA provided testimony before the State Water Resources Control Board in the hearing on the proposed Delta tunnels, known inaccurately as the “California WaterFix.” CSPA joined in presenting testimony with witnesses from the California Water Impact Network and AquAlliance.
The hearing specifically addresses, in the current phase, whether allowing the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project to construct three new points of diversion in the north Delta would injure legal users of water.
Attorney Michael Jackson represented all three organizations and made a half hour opening statement.
Chris Shutes testified for CSPA that the proposed change would in effect create a new, mega-water right for the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation, and would lead these agencies to operate project reservoirs more aggressively. This would increase the risk that the projects would run out of water for multiple uses, including water deliveries.
Tom Cannon testified that the standard that project proponents proposed to meet – compliance with the existing Delta flow and water quality standards – is likely to change and in any case does not prove that the project won’t injure legal users of water.
Dr. G. Fred Lee testified that diverting water north of the Delta would reduce the inflow of water from the Sacramento River, increasing the pollutant load in the Delta.
Bill Jennings testified that the proponents had not shown the effects of their project on CSPA’s land at Collinsville, that the project would degrade Delta water quality, and that the proponents’ testimony contained numerous flaws.
A video of the testimony of CSPA and its associates, including cross-examination, is available at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/board_info/media/dec2016/cal_waterfix_hearing120116.shtml
While the presentation of testimony and cross-examination lasted one day, this one day represents many weeks of preparation and monitoring of the proceeding. CSPA’s experts in this process are largely, to date, unpaid for this enormous effort. Please consider an end-of-year donation to help CSPA beat the tunnels.
On November 17, 2016, CSPA’s Water Rights Advocate Chris Shutes joined a panel discussion on the proposed Sites Reservoir. The panel was held at a conference in Chico produced by the north state non-profit AquAlliance, and also featured Jim Watson of the Sites Joint Authority and Steve Evans of Friends of the River.
If constructed, Sites would flood the Antelope Valley west of Colusa and would be filled with water diverted from the Sacramento River. CSPA’s presentation points out that many impacts of such a facility would depend on how it was operated, which is unknown at present. So although some of the advertised benefits could come to pass, it is also likely that the reservoir would worsen conditions for fish. At the top of the list of probable impacts is reduced outflow from the Delta: CSPA’s presentation shows that if both Sites Reservoir and the proposed Delta tunnels had been in place in 2016, up to half of the “excess” outflow from the Delta would never have reached San Francisco Bay.
CSPA and allied groups in the Foothills Water Network (FWN) filed an extensive protest of Nevada Irrigation District’s (NID) application to construct a large new dam on the Bear River near Colfax. FWN protested the application for “Centennial Reservoir” on October 25, 2016.
In proposing Centennial Reservoir, NID has dusted off a 90-year-old concept and gussied it up with a one-dimensional application of climate change science to justify building an expensive reservoir that it doesn’t need and can’t pay for without state or ratepayer subsidy.
In the protest, FWN calls out NID’s high water use and inefficient infrastructure; the lack of water in the Bear River to support NID’s “county of origin” application and NID’s prospective unauthorized reliance on Yuba River water; NID’s efforts to bully the Bureau of Land Management out of the way; and NID’s apparent end-around past licensing hydropower facilities at the proposed new dam. FWN also protests a long list of negative environmental impacts, including all those attaching to inundation of six miles of river; reduction of high flows in the lower-most sections of the Bear River that provide low velocity juvenile rearing habitat for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon; and impacts of reducing unregulated flow from the Bear River into the Feather River, the Sacramento River, the Delta, and San Francisco Bay.
If Nevada Irrigation District perseveres with its Bear River folly, this battle will be protracted.
CSPA and Friends of the River (FOR) have filed an amicus brief arguing that the procedures of state law are not preempted by federal law in California’s application of the federal Clean Water Act. The brief argues in favor of the state’s procedures for issuing a water quality certification for FERC hydropower licensing, including the requirement that the state apply the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
FOR and CSPA filed the brief on October 19, 2016 with the State Court of Appeals, Third Appellate District, in support of a position against federal preemption taken by Butte and Plumas counties in their ongoing litigation against the Department of Water Resources.
For most folks, this likely seems way “inside baseball.” For those of us in the trenches of hydropower relicensing, an adverse ruling would mean that the State Water Board’s ability to check to power of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could be severely diminished or even eliminated. Weakening the authority of the State Water Board in these matters is something that the hydropower industry (including PG&E) has been aggressively pushing through federal legislation for well over a year: it’s that important.
The brief was authored by FOR’s Senior Counsel Bob Wright, FOR’s legal intern Brittany Iles, FOR’s Senior Policy Staff Ron Stork, and CSPA’s FERC Projects Director Chris Shutes. CSPA is grateful to FOR for its excellent legal work and for Mr. Wright’s representation of CSPA in this matter.
Mike McKenzie, plier of Delta waters for striped bass over many decades, moved on to purer waters on September 25. Striper Mike was well known as a superb striper fisherman, but fished for all kinds of fish all over California and neighboring states during his long lifetime.
Striper Mike came to fish conservation from the hands-on direction. Mike was a member of the Department of Fish and Game’s Striped Bass Stamp Fund Committee in the 90’s and early 2000’s. More recently, Mike was relentless in opposing the efforts of water agencies to weaken protections for stripers: he raised money for successful litigation that beat back an attempt to blame stripers for the decline of other fish, and he helped organize anglers in two major efforts to stop the Fish and Game Commission from weakening fishing regulations that protect stripers. Mike was a long-time supporter of CSPA, and handled membership and donations to the organization for several years.
Mike grew up in Contra Costa County during a time when there were still trout in some of the small streams in the Oakland-Berkeley hills. He loved to talk about fishing these streams as a boy, as well as about trips to Sierra trout streams.
Mike was an industrial electrician during his career and a blue collar guy in perspective and temperament. He believed in first-hand experience, he lived through a whole lot of it, and he made the most of it. Mike came from what is unfortunately becoming a passing epoch in which a blue collar guy could make a good living, buy a good boat, and have time to fish in it. And there was an awful lot of good fishing in California in the sixties and seventies.
With Mike’s death, anglers and fish lovers lose a piece of what some call institutional memory, but what is better thought of as living history. We’ll all miss him. Those of us at CSPA will all try a little harder because of him, and, if we have any sense, we’ll all fish a little bit more often.
Additional testimonials and remembrances about Mike are on Dan Blanton’s bulletin board, http://www.danblanton.com/bulletin.php
CSPA is a formal protestant and party of record in the continuing battle over the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR) scheme to construct twin tunnels to divert the Sacramento River under the Delta to facilitate water deliveries to southern California that is now before the State Water Resource Control Board (State Board). Part IA & B, of the evidentiary hearing, is scheduled to last for 55 days and is focused on injury to existing legal users of water. Part II is scheduled for next year and will focus on harm to fisheries and public trust resources.
The concept that you can take millions of acre-feet of additional water from an estuary that has already been deprived of more than half its historical flow and not cause harm to existing individuals, fisheries and other public trust resources that depend on water quantity and water quality is, on its face, absurd. CSPA’s attorney Mike Jackson and FERC Projects Director and Water Rights Advocate Chris Shutes have relentlessly cross-examined DWR/USBR witnesses in Part IA of the hearing and exposed many of their distortions, misstatements and flaws in their direct testimony.
CSPA has riparian water rights at its property in Collinsville, near the junction of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. For Part IB, which will begin on 20 October 2016, CSPA has submitted testimony and supporting exhibits that establishes that it and other legal users of water will be grievously harmed by the WaterFix project. Specifically, CSPA’s Executive Director Bill Jennings, Chris Shutes, water quality consultant Dr. G. Fred Lee and fisheries biologist Tom Cannon provided extensive sworn testimony on fundamental flaws in DWR/USBR’s Case-in-Chief and the extent of injury that legal water users in the Delta will suffer should WaterFix be approved.
On Tuesday, August 2, 2016, the State Water Resources Control Board took an important action to protect the spring-run Chinook salmon in Butte Creek. Butte Creek contains the only run of spring-run Chinook in the Central Valley that is considered “viable.” CSPA has been working to protect this keystone run of fish since 2003 and before.
In acting on August 2, the State Board adopted a final Water Quality Certification for the relicensing of PG&E’s DeSabla – Centerville Hydroelectric Project. The final Certification was issued over objections made by PG&E a year ago in a “Petition for Reconsideration” of an earlier version of the Certification. The State Board adopted only a few of PG&E’s objections.
The DeSabla – Centerville Project brings water from the West Branch Feather River over to Butte Creek, providing additional cool water to support Butte Creek’s salmon. Historically, the project also diverted water out of the salmon-holding reach Butte Creek, leaving too little water in the creek during the summer to safely support the salmon. With the Certification, the West Branch water will continue to flow to Butte Creek, but the diversion of water out of the salmon-holding reach of Butte Creek will be discontinued.
After many years of advocacy by CSPA and Friends of Butte Creek, steadfast action by staff from the State Board, and recognition that rebuilding a non-functional 100-year old powerhouse isn’t worth the money, PG&E has announced its intention to decommission the portion of the project that depends on diverting water away from the salmon. Decommissioning will begin as soon as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues a new license for the project. The final prerequisite to license issuance by FERC is a Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
In 2008 and 2009, CSPA made the case to FERC and the resource agencies for keeping as much cool water as possible in the salmon-holding reach of Butte Creek. While FERC ignored our arguments, the State Board took them to heart and even cites them in its Water Quality Certification. By law, FERC must include the Certification in the new hydropower license for the project.
This is a major, long-awaited victory for CSPA, which was the Conservation Group lead for relicensing this hydroelectric project. It is an even greater victory for the spring-run Chinook salmon in Butte Creek.
Link to State Board website where final Certification will be posted: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/ water_quality_cert/desabla_ferc803.shtml
CSPA filed objections on July 12 to testimony and exhibits that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources (collectively, “proponents”) submitted in support of their “WaterFix” effort to construct tunnels under the Delta in order to move water from northern California to points south.
CSPA’s filing to the State Water Resources Control Board was joined by CSPA’s partners California Water Impact Network and AquAlliance. In an unusual confluence of interests and perspectives, numerous water users as well as other fisheries and environmental interests filed objections that are either similar or complementary. If upheld, the objections would exclude large parts or even all of the proponents’ case.
CSPA seeks to exclude submitted evidence on a broad range of legal grounds, which include:
- The proponents have not described the reservoir operations or the operating rules that their modeling simulates. Therefore, any claims in testimony about reservoir operations and their effect on other users of water lack foundation.
- The models on which most of the testimony is based have not been calibrated or validated.
- The proponents’ technical experts inappropriately offer legal opinions.
- Testimony relating to collaborative science and adaptive management is predicated upon speculation, conceptual frameworks, incomplete draft documents and uncertain future decision-making.
- The testimony of many witnesses is “me too” or “and I helped,” and such witnesses should not be allowed to answer questions regarding the written testimony of other witnesses.
Unless the State Board has an epiphany and pulls the plug, hearings on the tunnels are scheduled to begin on July 26. They are likely to go on for well over a year.
State Water Resources Control Board’s WaterFix webpage: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/ programs/bay_delta/california_waterfix/water_right_petition.shtml
The California Striped Bass Association has published an online petition asking the California Fish and Game Commission (DFG) not to pass proposed regulatory changes that would decimate striped bass and black bass populations. The regulations would allow anglers to keep more striped bass and black bass per day, and reduce the size limits for these species, under the guise of bolstering endangered salmon fisheries.
Fisheries Management should be based on science, and the science firmly shows that reduced flows and Delta exports are the real threat to salmon. CSPA addressed the persistent attempts by water and irrigation districts to blame Salmon decline on anything but water diversions in our recent blog Irrigation Districts Can’t See Past Killing Bass to Save Salmon. For a more in-depth crash course in the issues threatening Salmon and Bass we also recommend these posts from The California Fisheries Blog:
- Spring-Run Chinook Salmon – why they fail to recover
- FISHBIO Strikes Again – Predation Is the Problem, Not Water Diversions – Right or Wrong?
- Striped Bass Status
Before the 2012-2015 drought, Delta smelt had a recovery period in 2010 and 2011. Now, in 2016, there remains an opportunity for some form of recovery, albeit small. What is needed is exactly what the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been pleading for so far this spring to save Delta smelt: more Delta outflow.A careful look at the four figures below indicates that there remains a chance to recover smelt this summer. There is a concentration of Delta smelt near Sherman Island in the west Delta (figure 1). If these smelt can get to Suisun Bay in the coming weeks as they did in 2010 and 2011, where habitat is better and where they are away from the influence of the south Delta exports, then they have a chance.
To move the largest remaining concentration of this species in existence downstream, it will take outflows of about 10,000 cfs. Right now outflows are about 7500 cfs (see chart 1, below), the minimum required under present water quality standards. The fisheries agencies and the water projects need to find a way to make up the difference as soon as possible.
CSPA and allied groups California Water Impact Network and AquAlliance have filed an Objection to an April 19, 2016 Order that allows reductions of April-June flows in the lower San Joaquin River from the flows required in Water Rights Decision 1641.
In the Objection, Petition for Reconsideration, and Petition for Hearing, CSPA argues that the basis on which the Executive Director of the State Water Board ordered the flow reduction followed from inaccurate arguments by the Bureau of Reclamation and Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts. The Bureau and the Districts claimed, at a State Water Board workshop on April 5, that the Bureau of Reclamation did not have any water available to meet its flow requirements. More specifically, the Bureau and the Districts claimed in a presentation at the workshop that the Districts were entitled to the “first” water that enters New Melones Reservoir in any given year. In its Objection, CSPA argues that the Bureau can and must rely on water that is forecasted to enter New Melones Reservoir later this spring, since the Districts don’t need all the water immediately.
CSPA asks that the State Water Board order the D-1641 April 15-May 15 San Joaquin River pulse flows reinstated forthwith and also that the Board require the Bureau to meet other D-1641 flow requirements for the San Joaquin River.
CSPA and allies in the Foothills Water Network submitted 25 pages of comments today on the analysis Nevada Irrigation District (NID) must perform to inform decision making about a proposed new dam on the Bear River.
NID’s proposes to build a new 110,000 acre-foot reservoir with a 275 foot-tall dam on the Bear River. “Centennial Dam” would inundate six miles of the Bear River, flooding a popular campground, more than 25 homes and 120 parcels, and a river crossing that is critical to public safety.
In its letter to NID, the Network asks NID to describe how its $300 million project would actually operate to meet a long list of stated goals. Many of the goals appear contradictory, such as the one that proposes to benefit the Delta by diverting more water, and others that promise to both serve new development and provide drought protection. The Network suggests a range of alternative actions that NID must consider, such as repairing or modifying its aging facilities, improving canal efficiency, incentivizing water conservation on semi-rural estates, stopping leaks, and metering water.
On April 13, 2016, CSPA joined a coalition of environmental and fishing groups to send a letter to California assembly member Susan Eggman in support of Assembly Bill 1713. The bill would prohibit the construction of any infrastructure like the Delta Tunnels unless expressly authorized by an initiative approved by California voters. Assembly Bill 1713 would give power to the ratepayers, taxpayers, and the people who would be most impacted by the irreparable harm caused by the proposed Delta Tunnels.
AB1713 is in response to Governor Jerry Brown’s efforts to construct the mass tunnels, costing upwards of more than 60 billion ratepayer dollars with interest, without a vote by the people of California. The previous “Peripheral Canal” proposed by then Governor Pat Brown was defeated in 1982 by a vote of 63 to 37 percent of the electorate.
Many San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts can’t get past the refrain on the broken record that controlling striped bass and black bass will save salmon and steelhead. They’ll do anything to avoid releasing more water from reservoirs; in many cases, killing bass is held up as the miracle cure that will allow them to release even less.
In an April 9, 2016 article in the Modesto Bee, striped bass are cast as the prime villain, joining a chorus led by several members of Congress who represent the San Joaquin Valley. This is in part because striped bass have state and federal legal protections, and in part because photos of captured stripers disgorging baby salmon are particularly dramatic.
The article quotes Doug Demko, President of the Fishbio consulting firm, and unabashedly states that Mr. Demko’s firm “has worked with districts seeking a way around … increased flow demands.” The article attributes to Mr. Demko the assertion that [his] 2012 study showed a 96 percent loss of juvenile salmon in the Tuolumne River downstream of Waterford to predation.
Review of the study shows that the estimate of loss is based on the recovery of a grand total of 46 juvenile salmon (21 in March and 23 in May) from the stomachs of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and striped bass. Most of the bass captured during the study had no salmon in them at all. At flows of 2100 cubic feet per second (cfs), the survival of juvenile salmon was almost three times higher that it was at flows of 400 cfs. In a poster describing the results of the study, Fishbio attributed to stripers a “potential” impact of only 14.7% of overall predation by bass in the Tuolumne. One should be careful about the “potential” however, because the poster also extrapolates the 46 juvenile salmon actually recovered to a “potential” predation impact of 42,000 in the river. There are so many assumptions, including the assumption that salmon’s migration rates in the river are constant: they are not.
CSPA and more than 150 other environmental, fishing, environmental justice and tribal organizations have submitted two letters regarding the supposed three-year update of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. A letter to the State Water Resources Control Board urges the State Board to complete the update after years of delay. A second letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges the EPA to step in and complete the Plan itself because the State Board hasn’t done the job. The Water Quality Control Plan deals with Delta inflow and outflow requirements in addition to water quality issues as such.
The letters’ signatory groups represent millions of Californians. These groups have united because the wait for scientifically justified, protective water standards has taken far too long.
The notion that the update will take place every three years has become a bad joke:
- 1995 was the last time the State Board substantively or comprehensively updated the current water quality standards for the Bay-Delta estuary.
- In 2009 the State Board initiated its current review of the standards.
- Today, after seven years, the State Board has yet to complete even an environmental document for amendments to the Plan. In the interim, instead of adopting new protections, the State Board relaxed standards during the drought. This completely devastated two year classes of multiple Chinook salmon runs, pushed two species of smelt to the brink of extinction, and caused significant harm to other fish and wildlife beneficial uses.
- Mid-2018 is the recently revised date the State Board says it will complete the Plan.
The current water quality standards are failing to protect fish and wildlife and must be updated. The letters ask the agencies to complete the Plan by the end of 2017.
Oral Comments of Chris Shutes, CSPA Water Rights Advocate, to the State Water Resources Control Board, April 5, 2016. Item 9: 2016 Operation of New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River [based on notes as read; exact delivery was slightly different]
During the drought, Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts lived off Bureau’s [of Reclamation] storage in New Melones while flow at Vernalis was reduced to a trickle. In 2014, gross farm revenue in Stanislaus County reached a record $4.397 billion. We don’t know what it was in 2015. In 2016, OID and SSJID want the Bureau and the Board to cut Stanislaus River flow requirements by between 200,000 and 300,000 acre-feet so the districts can sell 65,000 acre-feet of water that the Bureau is storing, for just under $20 Million. The so-called “conserved” water becomes free insurance for these districts if 2017 is a dry year. The scheme is breathtaking.
The proposal before you turns the principle of the public trust on its head. The public trust protects the needs of the rivers as first priority; developmental uses are limited by the needs of the public trust. As the Light decision stated it, “[W]hen the public trust doctrine clashes with the rule of priority, the rule of priority must yield.”
That’s not how it’s working here. It’s a completely new paradigm. Now the rivers get the leftovers. Water to protect fish is dependent on its sale. Even VAMP [Vernalis Adaptive Management Program] reduced exports during the San Joaquin pulse, but now it’s fine if water designated for fish protection escorts fish directly to the Delta pumps. It’s okay because someone who wasn’t using the water anyway is making millions in the bargain. This subordination of the public trust to developmental uses raises at least four major policy issues. Your Notice says there are no policy issues raised by this proposal. That’s just not correct. Continue reading
On April 1, 2016, CSPA and a coalition of environmental groups submitted their second letter in two days to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), urging the SWRCB to dismiss the upcoming California WaterFix hearings. The new letter comes after the Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) announced a settlement agreement with the Department of Water Resources (DWR).
As described in the March 30th blog, the CCWD settlement proposes new project facilities and accompanying impacts, including decreases to Delta inflow and changes to water quality, which are not included in the current project description. New project components have not been subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, nor have parties affected by the proposed changes had an option to protest. Additionally, any potential future settlements between DWR and other water districts will be subject to the same failings as the CCWD agreement.
The SWRCB should dismiss the change petition until such time as there is a stable, complete and fully evaluated. If the SWRCB continues to forward with the Delta Tunnels hearings, the coalition letter summarizes:
“To continue this process seems to us like attempting to audit a bank while a robbery is under way. It cannot possibly result in an accurate accounting, to say the least, let alone protect the due process rights of those for whom the project results in redirected impacts.”
CSPA’s fisheries biologist Tom Cannon gave a presentation entitled “Contributing Cause of Smelt Decline: Water Exports” at a symposium on March 29, 2016 at UC Davis. The theme of the conference, sponsored by the Delta Stewardship Council, was: “Delta and Longfin Smelt: Is Extinction Inevitable?”
In his presentation, Tom put forth the hypothesis that the cause of the probable extinction of Delta smelt was the commencement of operation of the State Water Project’s Banks Pumping Plant in the mid-1970s. When Banks came on line, South Delta exports tripled, going from 2 million acre-feet to 6 million acre-feet per year. Tom’s hypothesis is that the mechanism of likely extinction was entrainment of Delta Smelt into the inflow to State and Federal South Delta pumping plants: exports.
The presentation’s first slide shows the familiar long-term Fall Midwater Trawl Index (Figure 1). Tom emphasized the sharp drop in the Index in 1981 (red circle in Figure 1), the first dry year of operations under the 1978 Delta Plan (water quality standards limiting operations of the Delta pumping plants). He noted that the decline likely started in the mid-1970s, but was most severe in 1981. There were recovery periods in the non-drought years of the 1990’s and 2010-2011. However, in 2001-2005, smelt and other Delta species crashed, a period now known as the “Pelagic Organism Decline,” or POD. Following a mild recovery in the wet year 2011, Delta smelt collapsed to record low indices in 2014 and 2015 (indices of 9 and 7, respectively, not shown in Figure 1).
Other slides depict (1) the huge losses of adult smelt as indexed by January salvage numbers in 1981 (Figure 2), and (2) the salvage counts of juvenile Delta smelt in spring 1981 (Figure 3). The total salvage for January 1981 alone was over 10,000 adult Delta smelt, which compares to a total of 56 in January 2015 and 12 in January 2016. The total juvenile Delta smelt salvage in spring 1981 exceeded 100,000; in 2015, it was 4.
An example of salvage during the 2001-2005 POD is winter-spring salvage in 2003 (Figure 4). Tom attributes the POD decline to the tens of thousands of Delta smelt lost to entrainment in winter and spring, including a likely large number of non-detected larvae under conditions of maximum exports.
According to Tom, export entrainment is the primary causal factor for the death spiral of Delta smelt, not low outflow. There were relatively high or improved smelt abundance indices in 1972, 1990, and 1991 (see Figure 1), which were all years with low outflows but also low exports. This is not to say, however, that low outflows are not also factors that contribute to high entrainment (Figures 2 and 3).
Tom concludes that Delta smelt are virtually extinct because their adult spawning numbers are insufficient to provide recovery even under 2016’s good (wet) conditions. Adult numbers are simply too low to produce sufficient offspring (Figure 5). The proof will come this spring, summer, and fall when indices of Delta smelt juveniles will likely remain critically low and not reach 2010 or 2011 levels, the last years when habitat conditions were favorable.
 Salvage collections are notoriously inefficient on small fish entrained into the pumping plants. Predation loss before entering the salvage facilities has been estimated to be higher than 90%.