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.

[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.

[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.

[4] Taking from the Taxpayers: Reselling Subsidized Water, Environmental Working Group, February 10, 2005.

[5] Mike Taugher, “Gaming the water system,” East Bay Times, May 24, 2009.

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.

2 thoughts on “The disappearance of the CALFED environmental water budget

  1. This investigation summarizes and explains the destruction our salmon and other species dependent on aquatic habitat that should have been–but was not–provided as required by law in the Bay-Delta. It is a very sad story indeed.

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