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.

[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.

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.)

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.


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.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | January 13, 2020

Evaluation of Governor’s proposed Climate Resilience Bond

This is an evaluation of the proposed Climate Resilience Bond in the Governor Newsom’s proposed 2020-2021 California Budget, and associated parts of the Newsom administration’s Draft Water Resilience Portfolio. This evaluation is done in comparison with the Principles for State Investment of Climate Adaptation, developed by California Water Research as part of the Water Portfolio Recommendations of the One Water Network of environmental organizations.

Our first principle for state investment in climate adaptation is:

  1. The first priority of the state must be increasing resiliency of the existing built environment, and protecting vulnerable populations from catastrophic effects of climate change. Catastrophic climate change effects include severe droughts, river flooding, heat waves, fires, and inundation from sea level rise.

The proposed Climate Resilience Bond does have clearly defined categories for river flooding, wildfire, sea level rise, and extreme heat. However, the biggest category is $ 1 billion for “Regional and Inter-regional Water Resilience.”  This category is vague and not clearly tied to drought resilience.

climate resilience bond

The definition of  the “Regional and Inter-regional Water Resilience” category in the Governor’s budget states:

Resilience—$1 billion to support various water management programs and projects with a focus on regional and inter-regional water projects, including but not limited to: Integrated Regional Water Management projects; multi-benefit stormwater management; wastewater treatment; water reuse and recycling; water use efficiency and water conservation; water storage; water conveyance; watershed protection, restoration, and management; and water quality. This funding specifically supports the regional resilience approach identified in the draft Water Resilience Portfolio.  (p. 122.)

But a search for “regional resilience” in the Water Resilience Portfolio does not turn up any clear definitions of the term with respect to climate adaptation. The discussion on page 16-17 simply states:

Local and regional water agencies are well positioned to deliver needed improvements to water systems. […] They work together to secure water, steward natural river systems, reduce flood, drought, and fire risks, and prepare for the future. […]

At the same time, state government plays an important role in water management. […] State government must focus on enabling regional resilience while continuing to set statewide standards, invest in projects of statewide scale and importance, and address challenges beyond the scope of any region.

Without any clear definition in the Draft Water Resilience Portfolio tying “regional resilience” to achieving drought resilience, the $1 billion proposed for “Regional and Inter-regional Water Resilience” in the Climate Adaptation Bond risks simply being an enormous taxpayer subsidy for a shotgun approach by water agencies.

The issues with multiple regional shotgun approaches may best be explained by considering the many divergent definitions of water supply reliability.  This was ably explained by Walter Bourez, Senior Water Resources Engineer for MBK Engineering, in the Delta Independent Science Board’s 2016 Water Supply Reliability Panel.  Bourez stated:

You can actually Google it and find definitely dozens and dozens of different definitions of water supply reliability,” he said. “CUWA defines it as the ability to consistently meet demands, CalFed defined it as the probability that a system does not fail, and a famous UCD professor is quoted as saying, ‘the likelihood that I can get all the water I want cheaply.”  […]

 “There are a lot of tradeoffs in the system,” he continued. “Water supply reliability in one area of the state could mean less reliability in another area. There are tradeoffs between water deliveries, Delta outflow, and environmental flows. North of Delta deliveries versus south of Delta. 

Just as there are tradeoffs between reliability of water deliveries, Delta outflow, and environmental flows, North of Delta deliveries versus South of Delta, there are conflicts and tradeoffs in definitions of drought resilience for these different regions and different beneficial uses.  The proposal in the Water Resilience Portfolio to “coordinate local actions” will not address the failure to clearly define the desired outcomes.

Our second principle for state investment in climate adaptation is,

The state must invest in increasing resiliency of ecosystems in the face of climate change.

So let’s look at investments in ecosystem resilience.  The Climate Resilience Bond does provide $140 million for freshwater ecosystems:

Enhanced Stream Flows and Fish Passage—$140 million to remove barriers to passage of native fish species and provide enhanced water flows, and reconnect aquatic habitat to help fish and wildlife endure drought and adapt to climate change.

But without tying investments in freshwater ecosystems to investments in “regional resilience,” and to clear, biological targets for enhanced flows, this investment seems unlikely to succeed. Similarly, the $270 million in the Climate Resilience Bond for “systemwide multi-benefit flood risk reduction projects” is not tied either to specific objectives for flood control, or to clear, biological targets for habitat restoration.

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

The lack of specific objectives for flood control is quite problematic, because there is no specific funding in the Climate Resilience Bond for investments to protect smaller communities that are increasingly vulnerable to flooding.  Without clear and specific objectives for protecting vulnerable populations, it should not be assumed that this goal will be achieved.

Our third principle for state investment in climate adaptation is,

We must recognize that demand for funding for climate adaptation measures will exceed availability.

For this reason, the Climate Resilience Bond needs to do a better job of targeting funds where they are most needed to address risks of drought, river flooding, wildfire, sea level rise, and extreme heat.  The Climate Resilience Bond should avoid “shotgun” approaches. Having separate categories for “Safe Drinking Water” and “Sustainable Groundwater Management” is a start.

Our fifth principle for state investment in climate adaptation is

We must develop clear, objective goals and priorities for state investment in climate adaptation, as well as criteria for evaluation of proposed projects. Clear and measurable targets must be set for Water Portfolio investments.

The Water Resilience Portfolio was developed over a very short period, and simply does not have enough clear, objective overall goals and priorities. Nor are there clear criteria for evaluation of proposed investments. These must be developed for the Portfolio to achieve its goals.   The Water Resilience Portfolio proposal to

Gather stakeholders from across the state each year to discuss progress implementing this portfolio and more broadly achieving water resilience across the state.  (32.2, p. 26.)

is simply not a substitute for the state setting clear, objective overall goals and priorities for climate adaptation.

Our fourth Principle for State Investment in Climate Adaptation is,

We must ensure that the best available, independent science is used to evaluate proposed state investments in climate change adaptation, to ensure that those investments truly increase climate resiliency.

There is also no proposal in the Water Resilience Portfolio for an evaluation of proposed state investments using the best available, independent science. Instead, the Portfolio proposes to:

Establish an inter-agency and public-private task force that includes diverse stakeholders to prioritize key scientific questions statewide that must be answered to better inform water managers about how to best manage water supplies and flood risk for all of California’s needs. (23.1, 24.)

While robust stakeholder engagement is a worthy goal, it should not be combined with setting priorities for key scientific questions and scientific research.  This should be done by scientists, not those who benefit from water sales or from investments in specific projects.  Determining key scientific questions should be the role of independent agency scientists at the Delta Independent Science Board and the Delta Stewardship Council,  the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, state and federal fisheries biologists, the US Geological Survey and US Army Corps of Engineers, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, and of researchers at the University of California and California State Universities.  To do otherwise risks politicizing science used in climate adaptation planning, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | November 18, 2019

Delta tunnel contract negotiations: water grab?

DeltatunnelseaThe Department of Water Resources has been engaging in negotiations with the State Water Project Delta export contractors on an Agreement in Principle for a contract to pay for the “Delta Conveyance Project” (aka the Delta tunnel.)

This post discusses the November 14, 2019 drafts of the Agreement in Principle. There is a fifth draft offer by the Department of Water Resources and a sixth draft offer by the SWP contractors, who are calling themselves the “Public Water Agencies” or “PWAs.”

The draft Agreements in Principle show that, while the single Delta tunnel capacity is likely to be less than Governor Brown’s twin tunnels project, the SWP contractors are proposing that it be operated in ways that could significantly increase Delta exports. Key provisions are explained below.

Defines the proposed Delta tunnel project for CEQA

According to the drafts exchanged by DWR and the SWP contractors, the Agreement in Principle will be used to define the proposed project description for the purposes of CEQA.

The Agreement in Principle defines the “Delta Conveyance Facility” as a water diversion intake structure or structures on the Sacramento River, connected by a single tunnel to the facilities at Banks pumping plant.

DWR’s negotiator revealed on November 13 that for the purposes of the Agreement in Principle the assumed capacity of the State Water Project share of the Delta tunnel is 6,000 cfs.  That value is used in both November 14 draft offers.

Reliability “not a purpose”

The SWP contractors have rejected language stating that the Delta tunnel “will provide benefits to the SWP as a whole, including potentially enhanced water supply reliability.”  Current drafts state that “This is not a purpose of the AIP” (Agreement in Principle.)

Opt-in and increased diversions

The drafts state that the Delta tunnel project will be “opt-in,” that is, only SWP contractors that choose to participate will pay for it.  The opt-in framework is similar to that proposed for the CVP share of Governor Brown’s WaterFix project.

The drafts define “Delta Conveyance Facility water” as “water attributable to the Delta Conveyance Facility.”  They state that DWR operational scheduling and accounting processes will distinguish between water under current contracts (Table A water) and
“Delta Conveyance Facility Water,” i.e. “additional water diverted at and attributable to” the Delta tunnel.

The drafts also state that to the extent DWR moves water under the existing SWP contracts with the Delta tunnel, participants in the project “will be given a first priority of available capacity to move up to that same amount of non-project water at Clifton Court Forebay Intake.”

The drafts do not specify the “non-project water” that could be exported, but it could include water available under Reclamation’s Central Valley Project permits, water from Sites Reservoir, as well as water acquired by purchase or condemnation.

If the SWP share of the Delta tunnel is not full, the drafts allocate any remaining available capacity to the participating State Water Project contractors.  Only if none of the participating contractors use the remaining capacity, is it offered to the non-participating SWP contractors.


Given the provisions of the draft Agreement in Principle, it is difficult to see how the Newsom administration can continue to claim that the Delta tunnel project is about State Water Project water supply reliability, and will not be used to increase Delta exports.


Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | October 14, 2019

Climate change and instream flows

During the 2012-2016 drought, the State Water Resources Control Board temporarily suspended at least 35 minimum instream flow standards. The Department of Fish and Wildlife reported in 2015 that there had been 783 fish rescues in 52 different watersheds, comprising 51 species, and more than 264,000 fish. Six hundred wild McCloud River redband trout were captured and held in nine holding tanks in the Shasta River fish hatchery until stream conditions improved.  In the Scott River, an estimated 116,000 endangered Coho salmon were rescued and relocated. This was crisis management.

In reviewing the effects of the 2012-2016 drought, Hanak, Mount, Chappelle and Lund et. al. noted that “many of California’s aquatic ecosystems remain chronically starved for habitat and water in all years,” and that as a result, “native species enter droughts with diminished and geographically limited populations, only to encounter greater stresses during drought.”  In the Delta, critically endangered Delta smelt may have gone functionally extinct from relaxation of minimum Delta flow standards.

Unless we do a better job of keeping water in our rivers and streams, California’s native aquatic species will not survive climate change.

Scott River, Reach 14, August 2014      CDFW / NOAA Fisheries et. al.
Cooperative Report of the Scott River Coho Salmon Rescue and Relocation Effort, August 2015.

Comprehensive instream flow standards

During the 1976-77 drought, Governor Brown created a Commission to Review California Water Rights Law.  The blue-ribbon panel was charged with reviewing the Water Code in light of the drought and Article X, Section 2 of the California Constitution on “Reasonable Use” of water.  The Commission’s 1978 Final Report recommended increased protection for instream flows, and providing for better management of groundwater.  The groundwater recommendations were ahead of their time and were not implemented for decades.  For instream flows, the Commission proposed:

  1. That comprehensive instream flow standards be set on a stream-by-stream basis by the State Water Resources Control Board and that the Board comply with these standards in its administrative and adjudicatory decision making; that instream flow standards be expressed in terms of certain quantities or flows of water which are required to be present at certain points along the stream at certain times of the year to protect fishery, wildlife, recreational, aesthetic, scenic and other beneficial instream uses; and
  2. That compliance programs be developed where it is determined that the limitations on administrative actions imposed by the instream flow standards are inadequate to secure the beneficial instream uses of water envisioned by the standards.

(p. 129.)

Although legislation was subsequently passed mandating the determination of instream flows, doing so has been delayed for decades.

In 1982, the legislature passed a law requiring the then-called Department of Fish and Game to “identify and list those streams and watercourses throughout the State for which minimum flow levels needed to be established in order to assure the continued viability” of stream-dependent fish and wildlife.  DFG was then required to prepare proposed “streamflow requirements” for each stream not later than July 1,1989 (Pub. Res. Code §§ 10001-2.)  The Department of Fish and Game did not even transmit the identification list to the Water Board until 2008. The transmittal identified 20 priority streams and was accompanied by obsolete and incomplete streamflow studies done over the previous 20 years.  The now-called Department of Fish and Wildife has since proposed only two actual “streamflow requirements” for the identified streams, for the Big Sur River and Butte Creek.

In 2014, Action 4 of Governor Brown’s California Water Action Plan mandated that the State Water Resources Control Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife develop “defensible, cost-effective, and time-sensitive approaches to establish instream flows using sound science and a transparent public process.”   However, the action was not even begun until after the drought ended, likely due to agency resource limitations. The chosen streams include:

  • Shasta River, tributary to the Klamath River
  • South Fork Eel River, tributary to the Eel River
  • Mark West Creek, tributary to the Russian River
  • Mill Creek, tributary to the Sacramento River
  • Ventura River

The Water Board passed a resolution authorizing additional funding for instream flow studies for these five streams on October 3, 2019.

Klamath river
Photo by Tupper Ansel Blake,  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In 2010, pursuant to the 2009 Delta Reform Act (Water Code section 85087), the Water Board sent a report to the legislature estimating that comprehensively determining instream flows for 100 priority streams outside the Delta and its watersheds would cost $107 million.  The Water Board has been collaboratively developing analytical tools for assessing instream flow needs that may reduce the costs.

As part of recommendations for the Water Resilience Portfolio, California Water Research collaborated with the One Water Network of environmental groups to propose the following actions:

  1. Launch a major new initiative for the Water Board to set long-needed comprehensive instream flow standards statewide.
  2. Require explicit analysis of the constitutional principles of reasonable use and the public trust doctrine in state water management decisions. Make those principles the foundation of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update.
  3. Determine instream flow needs before consideration of petitions for major new diversions.
  4. Create mechanisms for public funding for alternative water supplies where needed to mitigate impacts of reduced diversions to maintain instream flows.
  5. Provide dedicated funding to support and expand the Water Board’s core water rights and water quality actions.

While the political fashion has swung towards non-regulatory actions and voluntary agreements, such actions have manifestly failed to keep enough water in our streams and rivers for aquatic and stream-dependent species.

Regulatory actions would be consistent with the 1983 California Supreme Court decision in National Audubon Society v. Superior Court that “[t]he state has an affirmative duty to take the public trust into account in the planning and allocation of water resources, and to protect public trust uses whenever feasible.”

They would also be consistent with the 2009 Delta Reform Act. California Water Code section 85023 mandates that “[t]he longstanding constitutional principle of reasonable use and the public trust doctrine shall be the foundation of state water management policy and are particularly important and applicable to the Delta.”

California’s constitutional principle of reasonable use and the public trust are fundamental to creating more resilient aquatic ecosystems in the face of population growth and climate change.

The history of instream flows was researched and written by Deirdre Des Jardins in collaboration with Lowell Ashbaugh and the One Water Network of environmental groups on recommendations for Governor Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio.

This blog post was updated on 10/15/19 to add a picture of the Scott River in 2014.

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