On Wednesday, March 19, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority  ((DCA) held their monthly Board meeting via web conference.  For the meeting, DCA engineer Phil Ryan presented maps of a modified WaterFix project, with two intakes, a single tunnel, and new access roads.  A second set of maps for a potential eastern alignment of the main tunnel was also presented.
The DCA Executive Director’s report stated,
There were two meetings of the Stakeholder
Engagement Committee in February. The first meeting
(Feb 12) focused on design, siting, and logistics of launch
shafts. The engineering team presented a shaft siting
methodology and analysis results and invited feedback
from the SEC members. The second meeting (Feb 26)
focused on design, siting, and logistics of retrieval and
maintenance shafts.
The DCA has been reviewing individual system
components with the SEC working our way form North to
South. The Committee has asked that we start providing
more “system-wide” information so the upcoming
meetings will look at the entire alignment with selected
sites to help facilitate SEC feedback.
The Executive Director’s report showed that the March 25 Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meeting was cancelled, but meetings scheduled for April 22 and May 27 are still planned.  The DCA continues planning to require responses to the proposed Delta tunnel design, in spite of a heartfelt plea by Delta residents to postpone further stakeholder engagement until the public health emergency is more under control.
The DCA Executive Director’s report shows that the DCA is still trying to meet the original engineering schedule, in spite of the pandemic.  The conceptual tunnel and shaft engineering design is scheduled to be finished in May of 2020.
Finishing the tunnel and shaft design by May of 2020 with any real Delta stakeholder input would appear to be increasingly unrealistic.  On Saturday, March 21, at Governor Newsom’s request, President Trump declared a major disaster in California. As of Monday, March 23, 2020, COVID-19 cases in the United States are doubling every two to three days.
The DCA’s plan to conduct Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee meetings by web conference during what is likely to be the height of the pandemic in California simply fails to consider the very real impacts on Delta communities.


Under the supervision of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) is providing “engineering, field studies and design work to inform the environmental planning process, and assist[ance] in evaluating and minimizing community impacts” for the Delta Tunnel project.

On December 4-6, 2019, the DCA convened an Independent Technical Review Panel for the single tunnel project design.  The panel included engineers from major international tunneling contractors – Herrenknecht, Dragados, Kiewit, Frontier-Kemper, Obayashi, and McMillen-Jacobs.


For the review, the Independent Technical Review Panel was given a copy of the July 2018 WaterFix Conceptual Engineering Report, even though all project approvals have been rescinded. A draft copy of a construction schedule for a project with a single tunnel in the WaterFix main tunnel alignment, which is now called the “Central Corridor,” was also provided.  Clearly the DCA has been considering a modified version of the WaterFix project.

But as explained in our February 24, 2020 blog post, the Independent Technical Review Panel threw a major monkey wrench into those plans.  The panel unanimously found that the Central Corridor  is ‘impractical,” and recommended that the route not be studied further.

On January 20, 2019, the Department of Water Resources issued a Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report on the Delta Conveyance.   Potential routes included both the Central Corridor and an Eastern Corridor.

Single tunnel NOP map

On January 31, 2019, the Independent Technical Review Panel submitted their formal report to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority.   The report was not disclosed until mid-February, when it was included in the packet for the February 20, 2020 Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Board meeting.

Both the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority, and the Department of Water Resources have since rejected the recommendations of the Independent Technical Review Committee.  The minutes of the February 26, 2020 DCA Stakeholder Engagement Committee meeting record that Ms. Mallon as stating:

As part of the ITR team’s analysis, they took a bus tour around the Delta. As contractors, their perspective is about ease of access to locations, how to get workers and equipment to possible siting locations, as well as rescues in case of emergency. From this standpoint, Stockton looks great. DCA’s first reaction to that, however, is that there are environmental justice (EJ) and air quality issues. DCA could have told the ITR team that they went outside their purview in remarking on the corridors, but instead their recommendation was included in the report and made transparent to SEC members.

Carrie Buckman, the Department of Water Resources’ Environmental Program Manager  stated:

The recommendations in the ITR are not necessarily determining factors for the overall project, and it is too early in the process to know whether or not those recommendations will be used to make ultimate decisions. The ITR is one piece of information in a large process that will include a lot of other pieces of information. The ITR is useful to help understand the logistical challenges of the Central Corridor and helps bring greater understanding to what would need to be done in order to resolve the logistics issues, but the ITR recommendation is in no way a screening out of the Central Corridor.

Thus it seems clear that both the DCA and DWR are continuing to pursue a single tunnel in the Central Corridor / WaterFix project alignment, even though the Independent Technical Review Panel stated that the logistics for the Central Corridor made it difficult to even bid.

In response to statements by Kathryn Mallon and Carrie Buckman, Stakeholder Engagement Committee member Dr. Mel Lytle, the Deputy City Manager for the City of Stockton, stated,

The people brought in to conduct the ITR were major experts on very difficult projects. Werner Berger [Herrenknecht] is tunneling beneath the Alps. The team at McMillen Jacobs are the ones who engineered the third intake on Lake Mead that was so dangerous and controversial. The things they said should not be discounted. The ITR didn’t just address logistics. Drive length and TBM maintenance was also addressed. They also addressed posed questions for consideration such as how to respond if the TBM gets stuck. Their input should be very seriously considered, and it was no accident who DCA brought in to participate in the process. The team even included the firm who was in charge of the Alaska Way Viaduct [Dragados], where the 57-foot TBM “Big Bertha” got stuck underneath the city and it took 2-3 years to figure out how to resolve the problem.

The proposed project is a 40-foot diameter TBM that is tunneling 40 miles. There may be four TBM’s, but the process is the same. What happens if the TBM gets stuck? What about safety in the tunnels? These questions raised by the ITR team really need to be expounded upon. Logistics, worker safety, tunneling through a gassy area, etc. are all important considerations. The ITR was a watershed moment for SEC members because it raised a lot of important issues that there have been questions about.

After the “watershed moment” for the DCA’s Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee, the DCA has arranged for the committee members to have private bus tours of the two alignments.  The bus tours were not disclosed on the DCA’s website nor are they open to the public, or even to outside experts working with Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee members.

The DCA’s lead Counsel, Joshua Nelson, stated today that the DCA’s partner agency (DWR) would not allow the tours to be open to the public.  Nelson also stated that since the tours would be split so as not to have a quorum of Stakeholder Engagement Committee members on any one tour, he thought the tours are not subject to the Brown Act.

The private tours arranged by the DCA for Delta Stakeholder Committee members contrast poorly with tours set up by other state agencies.  The Delta Independent Science Board had a boat tour of the Delta on May 2nd of last year with the US Geological Study.  The tour was both noticed on the Delta Stewardship Council’s website, and open to the public as space allowed.   The Delta Protection Commission also had a tour of the McDonald Island Gas Field on July 18. The tour was both noticed on the Delta Protection Commission’s website, and open to the public as space allowed.

The Department of Water Resources’ Notice of Preparation for the Delta Conveyance Project shows two potential alignments for the main tunnel.   The “Central Corridor” is the route of the former WaterFix / twin tunnels project.  The “Eastern Corridor” is closer to I-5.

Single tunnel NOP map

The Department of Water Resources did not disclose that an Independent Technical Review Panel, consisting of engineers from major tunneling contractors, found that the Central Corridor route (the WaterFix project route) is impractical due to access problems.  The January 31, 2020 report of the Independent Technical Review Panel was disclosed in the February 20 meeting packet for the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Board.  The report stated:

The consensus among the ITR was that the Central Corridor is logistically impractical and the ITR does not recommend this corridor be further studied. The shaft locations are located a significant distance from Interstate 5, accessible by only farm roads with hindrances such as narrow weight-restricted bridges and single lanes. This makes supporting large operations, which requires a constant transfer of materials and people in and out, impractical and expensive as well as difficult to price. In addition, addressing safety, including hospital access and tunnel safety duplication, creates a costly layer or redundancy without definitive costs.

The Independent Technical Review Panel instead recommended that a “far eastern” route be studied.   The ITR recommended that one of the shafts be shifted closer to industrialized Stockton, stating, “[t]his site allows for segment production if desired and barge facilities to be developed. It is also adjacent to rail.”

Far Eastern tunnel route

The Department of Water Resources did not include the proposed Far East Alignment Corridor in the Notice of Preparation.

Ironically, in February 2010, the Independent Technical Review Panel for the twin tunnels project made the same recommendation, namely “a realignment of the tunnel conveyance to the east would yield better conditions both for constructing tunnel shafts (portals) and for boring the tunnels.”  But DWR’s Engineers rejected the Eastern Route, stating:

Relocating the tunnel to the eastern side of the Delta would put it outside the Conveyance Planning Area and would in all probability cause a delay in the environmental process.  An eastern alignment for the tunnel would also be much longer and would cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion more than the current alignment.

Ironically, the 2020 Independent Technical Review Panel for the single tunnel found that the Central Corridor route would likely cost more than the Eastern Route, stating:

While it was recognized that extensive roadway, levee, and likely barge improvements could be constructed as part of the project for the Central Corridor, the ITR offered:

    • The cost of improvements to provide reliable and safe access and egress at each site would exceed the cost of additional length of tunnel required for the East alignment. […]
    • Labor and construction safety costs, regardless of improvements, are too uncertain to price due to the location and distance from any shaft on the Central Alignment to developed land/communities.

DWR’s deferral of consideration of mitigation for transportation impacts and safety costs in the twin tunnels environmental documents delayed accurate comparison of the costs and difficulties of the central and eastern tunnel routes for a decade.

President Trump is going to visit the San Joaquin Valley this week, and is likely to announce approval of plans to dramatically increase federal exports of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the San Joaquin Valley.  Experts have predicted that the increased Delta pumping will have catastrophic impacts on endangered fish in the Delta and migrating salmon, as well as worsening Delta water quality.

While the gutting of Endangered Species Act restrictions on Delta pumping will increase profits of industrial growers on the West side of the San Joaquin Valley, it is not likely to help impoverished local communities such as Huron and Mendota, which have been impacted by large scale land fallowing due to soil and groundwater salinization.

About a third of the irrigated land in the San Joaquin Valley has naturally occurring salts, and was reclaimed by dumping tons of gypsum onto it and flooding it with water.  The gypsum reacts with the salt to create sodium bicarbonate, which is then washed down into the groundwater.  Since west side soils are underlain by a clay layer, unless the soil is drained, the groundwater eventually percolates back up into the root zone, and the land loses productivity.  Sometimes salt even appears on the soil as a white crust.

Salt Crust Tulare Lake Basin

Land with salt crust, Tulare Lake region     California Water Research

The soils are further impaired by the presence of boron, a naturally occurring trace mineral.  Another trace mineral, selenium, is toxic to fish and wildlife. The federal government paid to retire 37,100 acres of land in Westlands in 2002, due to high concentrations of selenium in the soil.

But the Valley has hundreds of thousands more acres of marginal land that is likely unprofitable to farm.  Remote sensing data shows 519,000 acres of land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and in the Tulare Lake region that is strongly or extremely impaired by salinity.  Another 436,000 acres of land is moderately impaired by salinity and could go out of production over the next 20 years.


Salinity on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley        Scudiero et al.

Growers have been fallowing salt-impaired land and reallocating surface water supplies to permanent crops on better land.  Westlands Water District’s 2017 Water Management Plan Update shows a loss of 174,602 acres from irrigated production since 1985.  On page 35, it shows 143,820 acres exempt Agricultural Best Management Plans (BMPs) because the land has been converted to non-irrigated uses, including dry farming, grazing, and solar power.

Westlands 2017 BMPs

Local communities have been left to deal with blowing dust and the loss of local jobs.  The town of Huron is an example.  Two of five residents live in poverty.  “Agua es vida,” they have been told by the growers.  “Water is life.”  But the simple fact is that there is currently no financially viable way to bring the salt-impaired lands back into production.   And many farmworker jobs are also being lost to mechanization.

Westlands fallowed

Fallowed land, Westlands Water District       California Water Research

Huron’s Mayor, Rey Leon, sees the future of Huron in Westlands’ planned 20,000 acre solar farm and the Valley’s growing renewable energy industry. The UC Berkeley Labor Center reported that construction of Renewable Energy Portfolio projects created 88,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley between 2002 and 2015.  Energy efficiency projects created another 17,400 jobs. A 2017 study found that entry level jobs on 27 solar projects in Kern County were largely filled by workers from disadvantaged communities. Of 1,862 entry-level workers, 43 percent lived in disadvantaged communities, and 47 percent lived in communities with unemployment rates of at least 13 percent.

Westlands solar park

Westlands Solar Park        Sierra2theSea

Leon’s February 14, 2020 Editorial in the Fresno Bee stated,

“We can save our Valley communities and create a better world for future generations… We need more rooftop solar and battery storage at our homes. We need electric cars and buses with solar-powered charging stations in our neighborhoods. And we need new solar and wind farms combined with large-scale energy storage to ensure that clean energy is always available.

[…] These projects can be paired with substantive community benefits for equity in opportunities, including student scholarships, skills upgrading and employment. This approach will allow us to transition away from polluting fossil fuels once and for all while we uplift our community and quality of life.

It seems clear that the future of Huron and other west side San Joaquin Valley communities lies in a transition to a sustainable economy with good jobs, not in unsustainable industrial agriculture.

This post was updated to add a map of Westlands’ solar park.



Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | February 11, 2020

The disappearance of the CALFED environmental water budget

The 2000 CALFED Programmatic Record of Decision (ROD) was celebrated as a “new way forward” for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The collaborative CALFED framework was the foundation for the State Water Board’s implementation of the 1995 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, and the finding that the WQCP flows would be adequate to protect Delta fisheries.



The cornerstone of the CALFED ROD was a 1.18 million acre-foot environmental water budget, which has largely disappeared. Since the governance structure of CALFED and the CALFED environmental water budget is very similar to the collaborative governance and environmental flows proposed in the Voluntary Agreement Framework, it is essential to consider what happened with the CALFED environmental water commitments.

The CALFED environmental water budget had two components.  The first, Tier 1, was the 800,000 acre-feet of Central Valley Project yield that was dedicated to fish and wildlife in the Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992.  The second, Tier 2, was the Environmental Water Account.

  1. Environmental Water Account

The Environmental Water Account totaled 380,000 acre-feet of various “assets.” The table below, from p. 58 of the CALFED ROD, shows the mechanisms by which water was to be made available, and the amounts of water.  The mechanisms are similar to those in the Voluntary Agreements.

Environmental Water Account CALFED ROD

Funding for purchases of water for the Environmental Water Account was from bond proceeds.  The funding was discontinued by the state legislature after investigations showed the Environmental Water Account purchases were being gamed by Stewart Resnick and the Kern County Water Agency.  The Environmental Working Group’s investigation in 2005 was scathing[4] :

From 2001-2004, KCWA sold 277,400 af of water to the EWA at an average price of $198 per af, for a total of $54.9 million. The Agency’s profit was $38.6 million — an average of $9.6 million per year. Overall, KCWA has received more than one-third of the total expenditures by the EWA, and by far more money of any other individual water agency.  KCWA has perfected a scam in which taxpayers subsidize its below-market purchase of a public resource (water), then must pay much more to buy the water back in an attempt to restore another public resource (fish).

Taugher’s 2009 article found that “[r]oughly one-fifth of all the money spent to buy water for the program went to companies owned or controlled by Resnick, one of the state’s largest farmers.[5]

The Department of Water Resources’ 2019 Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Long Term Operation of the State Water Project states that the Environmental Water Account was basically discontinued in 2007:

The EWA was initially identified as a 4-year cooperative effort intended to operate from 2001 through 2004 but was extended through 2007 by agreement between the EWA agencies. It is uncertain, however, whether the EWA will be in place in the future and what actions and assets it may include.  (p. p. H-1-1-5.)

Thus the 380,000 acre-feet of water that was to be provided annually by the Environmental Water Account has basically vanished.

2. Central Valley Project Improvement Act salmon doubling water


The Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 dedicated 800,000 acre-feet of CVP yield to fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration. (Section 3406(b)(2.)   This was also known as “salmon doubling” water.  How did this huge water budget for the environment, dedicated in statute, basically vanish?

In the 2005 report, Finding the Water: New Water Supply Opportunities To ReviveThe San Francisco Bay-Delta Ecosystem,[1] the Environmental Defense Fund described how accounting changes for the salmon doubling water largely negated any benefits.  Finding the Water states in part:

Though it was incorporated as a cornerstone of the CALFED Plan, the Interior Department’s 1999 Decision for administering CVPIA Sections B1 and B2 jointly was in force for only two years— 2000 and 2001—after it was signed.

[… ] In 1997,CVP contractors initiated litigation against the United States challenging the Interior Department’s initial interpretation of Section 3406(b)(2).  […] In January 2002,the court issued key rulings that forced Interior to revise its policies […] As a result, virtually all operational changes implemented to improve fisheries would be charged to the B2 account, even if the changes had no effect on contractors. […] In addition, the court ruled that the Interior Department had no discretion to limit how much of the B2 account could be used in meeting its share of WQCP obligations. The effect of these rulings meant that, in many years, the entire B2 account might be applied to meet the WQCP obligations within the Delta, leaving no water to enhance spawning and outmigration of anadromous fish. (p. 10.)

An independent peer review of the CVPIA Anadromous Fish Restoration Program was conducted in 2008, and was highly critical of Reclamation’s implementation of the salmon doubling water budget.  The report stated that the reviewers were “flabbergasted” to learn that none of the 800,000 acre-feet of water dedicated to fish and wildlife was reaching San Francisco Bay[2] :

[…] the panel expected to find that implementation of 3406(b)(2) had occurred in this way: The agencies identify 800 kaf of dedicated storage in the system – essentially, a water volume budget – and then consistent with an identified system-wide flow regime to improve conditions for anadromous fish, Reclamation would release this stored water in requested amounts at the call of the fish managers and then protect that amount of altered flow through the rivers, through the Delta, and into the bay.

We were flabbergasted to learn this is not how the agencies implement this provision.[…]Instead, Reclamation releases approximately 400 kaf from CVP storage each year, aimed at supporting the needs of particular life stages at particular locations. These augmented amounts are then diverted out of the system at a later point. The 800 kaf accounting then includes approximately 400 kaf realized in pump restrictions in the Delta.

This summary basically describes how salmon doubling water has been managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.  But with Reclamation’s new operating rules, even water released from storage for supporting “particular life stages” of salmon may be going away.  Reclamation’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for Coordinated Long Term Operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project[3] states on p. 3-3 :

Reclamation would operate in accordance with its obligations under the CVPIA. This includes exercising discretion to take actions under CVPIA 3406 (b)(2).

The Secretary of Interior may make water available for other purposes if the Secretary determines that the 800,000 AF identified in 3406(b)(2) is not needed to fulfill the purposes of Section 3406.

Thus, between accounting and Reclamation’s new long term operations, the 800,000 acre-feet of salmon doubling water has basically vanished..

In sum, the 1.18 million acre-feet of water dedicated to environment in the CALFED Record of Decision has basically vanished.  Its disappearance is one of the reasons that pelagic fish populations in the Delta have collapsed.  It is unclear that further voluntary efforts to supply ecosystem water would be any more durable.


[1] Rosekrans, S., Hayden, H. Finding the Water: New Water Supply Opportunities to Revive the San Francisco Bay-Delta Ecosystem, Environmental Defense Fund, 2005. https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/4853_FindingtheWater_0.pdf.

[2] Cummins, K, Furey, J.D.: Giorgi, A., Lindley, S., Nestler, J., Shurts, J., Listen to the River: An Independent Review of the CVPIA Fisheries Program Prepared under contract with Circlepoint for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, December 2008. https://www.usbr.gov/mp/cvpia/docs_reports/indep_review/FisheriesReport12_12_08.pdf.

[3] US Bureau of Reclamation, Final Environmental Impact Statement for Coordinated Long Term Operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, December 2019. https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/includes/documentShow.php?Doc_ID=41664.

[4] Taking from the Taxpayers: Reselling Subsidized Water, Environmental Working Group, February 10, 2005.  https://www.ewg.org/research/taking-taxpayers/reselling-subsidized-water.

[5] Mike Taugher, “Gaming the water system,” East Bay Times, May 24, 2009.  https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2009/05/24/gaming-the-water-system/.

This post is based in part on comments submitted with the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the California Water Impact Network, and AquAlliance on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Long-Term Operations of the State Water Project.

In the 2018 California Water Plan Update, the California Department of Water Resources defines sustainability as follows:

“Sustainability of California’s water systems means meeting current needs — expressed by water stakeholders as public health and safety, healthy economy, ecosystem vitality, and opportunities for enriching experiences — without compromising the needs of future generations.” (p. 20.)

The 2018 California Water Plan Update also proposed the use of “sustainability outlook indicators,” to reflect the societal values of “public health and safety, healthy economy, ecosystem vitality, and opportunities for enriching experiences.” In May of 2019, DWR proposed a set of “sustainability outlook indicators” for developing desired outcomes for water management in the state.  The “sustainability outlook indicators” are referenced on page 116 of the Draft Water Resilience Portfolio‘s “Inventory and Assessment of California Water.” 

For surface water supplies, DWR’s proposed indicators of a “healthy economy” and “reliable water supplies” only include delivery reliability of the State Water Project, Central Valley Project, and Colorado River Aqueduct systems. (p. 37, reproduced below.)

DWR reliability

These “sustainability outlook indicators” for surface water do not consider any alternative surface water supplies, which have significantly less environmental impact, and less embedded energy use than shipping water long distances.  The energy intensity chart below is from Professor Robert Wilkinson’s presentation to the Water Commission’s Water Portfolio Listening Session:


Clearly importing water to Southern California from the State Water Project and the Colorado River has a much higher embedded energy use than any water supply alternative except ocean desalination.  The Department of Water Resources’ proposed “sustainability outlook indicators” for a healthy economy thus completely fail to consider the greenhouse gas footprint of the State Water Project, Central Valley Project and the Colorado River Aqueduct.  These indicators are not suitable for developing desired outcomes for state water management in an age of climate change.

DWR’s sustainability outlook indicators for “reliable water supplies” are also contradicted by development of regional and local water supplies in Southern California. Metropolitan Water District recently projected that if future local water supply projects in the region are fully implemented by 2040, average demand for imported water would be less than 1.2 million acre feet per year.

MWD supplies

Full implementation of these local projects and projected conservation in Southern California would not only be consistent with the mandates of the Delta Reform Act to reduce reliance on the Delta, it would result in significantly less embedded energy use and GHG emissions.

California needs water management for the 21st Century.


Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | February 4, 2020

Governor’s Climate Bond Language on “Resilience Principles”

California Water Research’s January 13, 2020 blog post criticized the Newsom administration’s Draft Water Resilience Portfolio for not actually defining resilience.  The Governor’s 2020-2021 budget proposed a $4.75 billion Climate Resilience Bond, which would allocate $1 billion to the Department of Water Resources to spend on “regional and inter-regional water resilience” projects without defining what “resilience” meant.

The Department of Finance has just released the language for the Governor’s proposed 2020 Climate Resilience Bond.  The bond language defines “Resilience Principles” for investment in climate adaption in section 80202(b), and they are actually quite good:

 (b) To the extent practicable, a state agency allocating funds available pursuant to this division shall prioritize projects that advance the state’s resilience principles, as established by the State of California’s Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program, which include:

(1) Prioritize integrated climate actions, those that both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to climate impacts, as well as actions that provide multiple benefits.

(2) Prioritize actions that promote equity, foster community resilience, and protect the most vulnerable. Explicitly include communities that are disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts.

(3) Prioritize natural and green infrastructure solutions to enhance and protect natural resources, as well as urban environments. Preserve and restore ecological systems (or engineered systems that use ecological processes) that enhance natural system functions, services, and quality and that reduce risk, including but not limited to actions that improve water and food security, habitat for fish and wildlife, coastal resources, human health, recreation and jobs.

(4) Avoid maladaptation by making decisions that do not worsen the situation or transfer the challenge from one area, sector, or social group to another. Identify and take all opportunities to prepare for climate change in all planning and investment decisions.

(5) Base all planning, policy, and investment decisions on the best-available science, including local and traditional knowledge, including consideration of future climate conditions out to 2050 and 2100, and beyond.

 (6) Employ adaptive and flexible governance approaches by utilizing collaborative partnership across scales and between sectors to accelerate effective problem solving. Promote mitigation and adaptation actions at the regional and landscape scales.

(7) Take immediate actions to reduce present and near future (within 20 years) climate change risks for all Californians; do so while also thinking in the long term and responding to continual changes in climate, ecology, and economics using adaptive management that incorporates regular monitoring.

First, the State of California’s Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program is administered by the Office of Planning and Research (OPR.)  OPR seems like an excellent agency to do this kind of over-arching planning.

OPR’s seven resilience principles are consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s definition of resilience.  The IPCC defined resilience as “the ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner including through ensuring the preservation, restoration, or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions.”

Based on the IPCC definition of resilience, the principles would help California achieve the stated objectives.  There are many essential bits, including:

  • integrating reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience to climate impacts
  • basing all planning, policy, and investment decisions on the best available science
  • explicitly including communities that are vulnerable to climate change.
  • making decisions that do not worsen the situation or transfer the challenge from one area, sector, or social group to another.
  • taking action to reduce present and near future climate change risks while also thinking in the long term

One challenge is translating OPR’s seven investment principles to actual use when funding is allocated.  One of the best strategies might be for the legislature to create a Climate Adaptation Independent Science Board, under OPR, to review the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program, and related investments.  The structure could be similar to the Delta Independent Science Board under the Delta Stewardship Council.

OPR’s seven resilience principles do have one major shortcoming.  The principles are focused on human systems and so are quite short on ways on ensure that climate investments increase the resilience of ecosystems as well as human systems.  This is essential for investments in drought resilience.  Lund et. al. noted in 2018 that

Drought buffering for the economy in part has been paid for by native ecosystems. […] Successful environmental and ecosystem management will require a more proactive approach, involving planning, organization, and financing of effective actions, including drought planning.

If native aquatic ecosystems are to survive climate change, we must transform water management and water supply investment in the state.  Our human systems have a far greater capacity to adapt.


IPCC, 2012: Glossary of terms. In: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation [Field, C.B., V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, D.J. Dokken, K.L. Ebi, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, G.-K. Plattner, S.K. Allen, M. Tignor, and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA, pp. 555-564. (p. 563.)  https://archive.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srex/SREX-Annex_Glossary.pdf.

Lund, J., Medellin-Azuara, J., Durand, J., Stone, K.  “Lessons from California’s 2012–2016 Drought” 2018. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 2018, 144(10): 04018067. https://ascelibrary.org/doi/full/10.1061/%28ASCE%29WR.1943-5452.0000984.


Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | January 30, 2020

Groups criticize Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir site, environmental report

Patterson, CA

On Monday, January 27, Friends of the River, Save Del Puerto Canyon, California Water Research, and environmental and fishing groups filed comments highly critical of the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir proposed site and the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report.

Del Puerto Water District and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors are proposing to construct the project to store agricultural water supplies. The city of Patterson (population 22,352) is just below the main dam, and local residents are concerned about public safety.

Friends of the River’s senior advocate, Ron Stork, joined Modesto area geologist Garry Hayes and geologist / environmental compliance expert, Dr. Tom Williams, in expressing concerns about the reservoir inundating an area with active landslides.  Stork is widely recognized for warning the California Department of Water Resources of the potential failure modes of the Oroville dam emergency spillway.

Garry Hayes commented:

The discussion in the DEIR [Draft Environmental Impact Report] of the possibility of mass wasting, also known as a landslide, is wholly inadequate. In the event of mass wasting, debris flows may slide into the reservoir, resulting in a lake tsunami.  The tsunami could exceed the dam height, resulting in overtopping of the dam. Seven landslides are within the reservoir inundation zone. The DEIR has no specifics about the age of the failures, or the volume and length, and nothing about the current activity.

The DEIR also does not describe the large slump/earth flow complex, which to the uninformed eye simply looks like a hill, visible to the north from the site of the proposed reservoir, which forms a hummocky topography in the small side canyon.  The toe of the slump is eroded by Del Puerto Creek, which has led to continuing reactivation of the slide.  The public is not informed that standing at the entry into the canyon one can see another large active slump which originated at the south side of the canyon.  That it is still active, i.e. moving, is evidenced by repeated road repairs at either end of the slump.

Garry Hayes’ Geotripper blog post on the landslides in the reservoir inundation zone is available here.  A photo of one of the landslides is reproduced below.

Del Puerto slide

Large landslide in Del Puerto Canyon dam inundation zone       Source: Garry Hayes

Hayes is also concerned that the series of faults in the area are poorly studied and poorly understood.  There was an 1880 earthquake in the area, but it is poorly documented.  The rocks in the area are so soft that erosion removes evidence of past earthquakes.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report proposes to mitigate the landslide risk in the future by preparing a “design level Geotechnical Investigation and Report” and by following the report.  Ron Stork commented:

The DEIR provides no geotechnical analysis supporting the conclusion that any landslides would be slow and at a scale that would not form a lake tsunami or seiche wave of significant magnitude. Landslides are a known risk for dam failure. A large slope failure into the Vajont reservoir in Italy caused a large tsunami which overtopped the dam.

Although the Vajont reservoir had different geotechnical conditions, the lessons learned apply. A detailed geotechnical evaluation of the stability of any areas susceptible to sliding under reservoir conditions should be done before selecting the dam site.  Deferring the necessary geotechnical analysis until after the Water District has approved the environmental review for the site — on the assumption that there will be cost-effective engineering solutions to address this risk — is not good process and assumes facts that may not prove to be true.

Dr. Tom Williams concurs with the opinions of Garry Hayes and Ron Stork, stating:

The geological formations and current topography are conducive to mass movements, slumps, and landslides at present and when their lower supporting slumps are wetted and lose strength to carry the loads of the “dry” materials. Many landslides are waiting to happen when they get wet. Numerous slides/slumps may interfere with the efficient and reasonable storage and operations of the reservoir.

The comments note that the Draft EIR rejects an alternative location near Ingram that would not be above the city of Patterson. The location appeared to be rejected because it would store 67,000 acre-feet of water, 13,000 acre-feet less than the Del Puerto Canyon site.

Fishing groups expressed concerns that Del Puerto Creek is the main source of gravel for spawning sites used by White sturgeon in the San Joaquin River.  The comments note that the DEIR does not specify the extent of the impact the project on this substrate, or how it will affect spawning reaches.

Del Puerto Canyon is also the only real public access to the Diablo mountain range from the Northwest San Joaquin Valley. Del Puerto Creek is one of the few westside streams in the San Joaquin Valley with perennial stretches. The creek has rare riparian habitat and contains more than 160 bird species, making Del Puerto the third most diverse bird habitat in the entire county. It has unique geology and has been visited by hundreds of geology students as well as the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Geological Society of America and other national organizations. Residents have formed a Save Del Puerto Canyon Facebook group.

The comments note that the DEIR states that additional conservation by the agricultural water districts is not feasible, although the statement appears to be contradicted by the Westside-San Joaquin Integrated Regional Water Management Plan. The DEIR also does not consider alternative water supplies available to the agricultural water districts. The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, which is being implemented by Del Puerto WD and the Cities of Modesto and Turlock, is currently expected to deliver up to 26,000 acre feet a year of recycled water.  According to the Westside-San Joaquin Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, the districts are also implementing agricultural tailwater reuse projects.


Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | January 27, 2020

Governor’s Climate Resilience Bond – Flooding

As part of his 2020-2021 budget, Governor Newsom has proposed a $4.75 Climate Resilience Bond for the November 2020 ballot.  The Climate Resilience Bond includes funding for adaptation to increased river flooding, sea level rise, wildfires, and heat from climate change, as well as $1 billion for “water resilience.”  This blog post addresses the Governor’s proposal for flood investments.

Climate change will bring increased frequency and severity of flooding to the Central Valley. To avoid catastrophic flooding, major investments will need to be made.

The need for investments for adaptation to increased flood risks is greatest in the San Joaquin River watershed. Climate change models for the 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan Update project a 35-50% increase in 200 year flood flows in the San Joaquin River tributaries by 2041-2070.

The greatest risk to people and property in the San Joaquin River basin is the Stockton Metropolitan area. The US Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that there are 235,000 people and $28.7 billion of damageable property in the 500 year floodplain in the Stockton area, which will largely become the 200 year floodplain with climate change. The Stockton area levees need $1.3 billion in upgrades simply to have adequate protection against current 200 year flood levels.

Stockton 500 year USACE

USACE / Lower San Joaquin River Feasibility Study / 500 yr flood       

The Stockton levees are just one example of critical needs for flood risk reduction.  The planning and investments we make now will determine whether people in vulnerable communities are displaced by flooding at mid-century, or whether they even survive.

In the 2017 Update to the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (CVFPP), the Central Valley Flood Protection Board proposed an investment of $17 to $21 bllion over the next 30 years for flood risk reduction in the Central Valley. This would require issuance of $2.25 to $2.8 billion of flood bonds every four years.  The Governor’s $4.75 billion Climate Resilience Bond proposes $610 million for urban flood control and systemwide multi-benefit projects, for the next four years:

• Flood Control: Urban/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Projects—$340 million for Urban Flood Risk Reduction projects that provide the projected state cost share needs for various priority projects through 2024-25

• Flood Control: Systemwide Multi-benefit—$270 million to support multi-benefit flood risk reduction and ecosystem restoration efforts.

The Governor’s Climate Resilience Bond proposal is a good start, but it is about one fourth of the investment that the Central Valley Flood Protection Board estimated was needed.  The Governor’s Climate Resilience Bond does propose earmarking significant fund for systemwide multi-benefit projects. This approach was recommended by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board in the 2017 Update to the CVFPP.

CVFPP relative investment

2017 CVFPP Update        Current and Desired Investment Distribution

However, the Governor’s bond proposal does not allocate any funds specifically for risk reduction for small communities. The Central Valley Flood Protection Board recommended dedicating of 10% of flood funding for small communities in the 2017 CVFPP.  This would be a relatively small additional investment in the Climate Resilience Bond.CVFPP 30 year investment pie chart

2017 CVFPP   Recommended Investment Mix


The Governor’s budget does not address the chronic under funding of maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation of the State Plan of Flood Control Levees, which the Central Valley Flood Protection Board identified as a critical need. With climate change, this network of aging levees is increasingly vulnerable, as are the communities behind them. The 2017 Update to Central Valley Flood Protection Plan estimated that $131 million is needed annually for maintenance and repair of the State Plan of Flood Control Levees. The Governor’s budget should address this need.

Finally, the detail for the Governor’s budget shows a reduction of seven positions at the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.  Such a reduction would be counter to the critical need for the state agency charged with protecting Central Valley communities from flooding to have adequate funding for planning and analysis.

Today, January 15, 2020, the California Department of Water Resources released the Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the Environmental Impact Report for the single tunnel project.  But engineering design of the single tunnel project has been ongoing since last May, as a continuation of previous design work for the WaterFix project.

The NOP states

The CEQA process identified in this notice for the proposed Delta Conveyance Project will, as appropriate, utilize relevant information from the past environmental planning process for California WaterFix but the proposed project will undergo a new stand-alone environmental analysis leading to issuance of a new EIR.

From the description in the NOP, “relevant information” clearly includes previous WaterFix engineering designs. The map in the NOP (shown below) clearly includes the WaterFix project alignment. The three North Delta intakes are in the same location as the WaterFix project, and according to the NOP, have the same capacity as the WaterFix project intakes (up to 3,000 cfs.) The NOP states that intakes would be constructed in two of the three proposed locations.

For the main tunnel, the Central Tunnel Corridor is in the location of the WaterFix main tunnel alignment. The map in the NOP does show an Eastern Tunnel Corridor, closer to  I-5, but the geotechnical drilling plan shows only “reconnaissance level” drilling along the eastern alignment.

The corridor for the Southern Forebay includes the location of Byron Tract Forebay from the WaterFix project, and the geotechnical drilling plan shows extensive drilling in the location of Byron Tract Forebay.

The potential alignments thus clearly include a revised WaterFix project.

Single tunnel NOP map

As mentioned above, there has also been substantial engineering work on a single tunnel project since DWR rescinded the approvals for the twin tunnel project on May 2, 2019.

The 2018 WaterFix Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement delegated the powers of the Department of Water Resources to design and construct the “Delta conveyance” to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA), a Joint Powers Authority created by Metropolitan Water District,, Kern County Water Agency, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and other State Water Contractors.

Exercising DWR’s delegated authority, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) executed the following contracts for the twin tunnels project, totaling $212 million:

  • Engineering Design  Jacobs Engineering, $93 million
  • Geotechnical services  Fugro, $75 million
  • Power  SMUD, $44 million

as well as contracts for survey, Right of Way mapping, and property acquisition planning. A $40 million contract for Program Management was also signed with Parsons Transportation.

The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority began engineering design of the single tunnel project immediately after DWR withdrew approvals of the twin tunnel project. The June 2019 report to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority shows services performed by Jacobs Engineering under the Engineering Design Manager Contract, including “Assess single tunnel scheme”

single tunnel 2018-19

In June of 2019, several Delta Legacy community groups sent a letter to DWR Director Karla Nemeth, requesting recission of DWR’s approvals of the Delta tunnel project engineering and design specifications, budget, and schedule.  The letter stated:

The WaterFix was a project that Delta residents strongly opposed, and that now has no underlying approvals or environmental review. Allowing the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (“DCA”) to continue preliminary design, survey and right of way mapping, and real estate acquisition planning based on the withdrawn WaterFix project specifications is wholly unacceptable to our communities. To our knowledge, DWR has no approved plans or specifications for the new Delta conveyance.  And if the WaterFix project specifications are being used as the basis for the design of the new Delta conveyance under DWR’s authority, it is predecisional and will prejudice the new Delta conveyance CEQA process.

We are therefore writing to respectfully request that you address the issues with the contracts executed under the October 26, 2018 Amended and Restated Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement.  We specifically request that you direct the Delta Conveyance Office to do the following:

1.     Request that the Design and Construction Authority withdraw the resolution adopting the WaterFix CEQA documents for actions pursuant to the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement.
2.     Explicitly withdraw DWR approval of the WaterFix project engineering and design specifications, budget, and schedule.
3.     Explicitly withdraw DWR approval of the WaterFix project real estate acquisition plan.
4.     Explicitly withdraw DWR’s authorization to commence work on the WaterFix project.
5.     Disclose all invoices submitted by the DCA for the WaterFix project since the Governor’s announcement on February 12, 2019.
6.     Determine whether invoices for work done on the WaterFix project since approval of the project was withdrawn on May 2, 2019 are appropriate for reimbursement.
7.     Disclose the scope of work and schedule on all contracts executed under the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement that are being continued under DWR’s authority.

Instead of rescinding engineering approvals, the Department of Water Resources amended the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement with the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) to authorize engineering design of a single tunnel.  The DCA held off submitting invoices for the engineering work done in May and June until after the amendment to the Joint Exercises of Powers Agreement was signed.  Engineering work on the single tunnel project has continued since that time, funded in part by a $19.7 bridge loan from the Department of Water Resources. Cumulative expenditures by the DCA total about $20 million since May of 2019, according to the January 2020 report.

This post was edited for clarify on January 16, 2020.

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