Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | August 6, 2019

CWR comments at the Water Board’s Water Portfolio Listening Session

The State Water Resources Control Board held a listening session to receive input on the Water Portfolio.  Deirdre Des Jardins made the following comments for California Water Research on deep adaptation to extreme impacts of climate change — droughts and flooding.

Water agencies need to plan for reliability of ecosystem water during droughts. There were far too many water agencies that came before the Water Board in 2014 to request relaxation of minimum instream flow standards. This should be the last resort during droughts, and only done after implementing Stage 4 drought curtailments.  If California water agencies fail to do this, aquatic ecosystems will not survive climate change.

The Water Board also needs better funding for its core missions. In 2003, at the beginning of the state’s budget crisis, the legislature cut all general fund funding for the Water Board’s water rights division. The Legislative Analyst’s Office noted that this budget cut would increase the backlog of water rights applications.

This is now a major issue with SGMA. The solution is not for the Board to streamline water rights applications statewide, but to provide adequate funding for the Board to evaluate existing permits and instream flow needs.

Another essential need is for critical evaluation of whether climate adaptation projects will actually provide the benefits that they claim. It is being claimed that Sites Reservoir provides flood protection. But it’s an offstream reservoir. It is being claimed that the Delta tunnel will provide mitigation for sea level rise, but the performance of the North Delta intakes has never been evaluated for current estimates of high sea level rise.

The Department of Water Resources has proposed that the state provide vastly increased subsidies for water supply projects. But in adapting to climate change, the state needs to first prioritize funding for protecting vulnerable communities that do not have the resources to adapt to climate change. Their needs include not just drinking water, but also protection from inundation due to flooding or sea level rise. If we continue to fail to adequately fund flood protection, the future consequences could be disastrous.

Finally, our state patterns of land use are unsustainable. Not only do we have massive groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley, satellite mapping showed 955,000 acres on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that is moderately to severely impaired by salinity. We simply do not have the resources, either with surface water or with funding, to sustain these patterns of land use and also deal with the disruptions of climate change.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | August 6, 2019

DWR rescinds engineering performance standards for Delta tunnel

The Department of Water Resources delegated the design and construction of the WaterFix project to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority in the October 2018 Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement.   The Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement included performance standards for the engineering design of the project. The performance standards included requirements that the Delta conveyance be designed to withstand a maximum earthquake, and to have a 100 year lifetime.

The June 2019 Amendment to the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement rescinded the engineering performance standards.  This should be of concern to water agencies evaluating whether to participate in the Delta conveyance project.

The requirement for a 100 year design lifetime is particularly important because of sea level rise. The impact of sea level rise on the North Delta intakes was last evaluated in 2010.   The hydrodynamic modeling assumed 55 inches of sea level rise by 2100, which is about half that of current maximum estimate of 10 feet.

SLR 2200

US Army Corps of Engineers   Sea level rise in the Delta through 2200

The 2010 modeling also evaluated the impacts of widespread levee failure, but used a grid from the Delta Risk Management Strategy modeling that only went as far north as Isleton and Bouldin Island.   So the modelling implicitly assumed that only levees in the South Delta would fail.


 Grid used for modeling of salinity intrusion for DRMS and North Delta intakes

For these reasons, California Water Research  has recommended that more hydrodynamic modeling be done to assess the impacts of extreme sea level rise on the previously proposed North Delta intake locations.

The Delta Independent Science Board made similar recommendations in their 2014 review of the Delta conveyance project, stating,

If the effects of major environmental disruptions such as climate change, sea-level rise, levee breaches, floods, and the like are not considered … one must [not] assume that the actions will have the stated outcomes.

Without such an assessment, there is insufficient information for decision makers to evaluate the Delta tunnel as a water supply project.

Governor Gavin Newsom stated in his February 12, 2019 State of the State address that he did “not support the WaterFix as currently configured.  Meaning, I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done. That’s why I do support a single tunnel.”  The meaning of Governor Newsom’s statement is the subject of active negotiations between the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the State Water Contractors (SWC.)

DWR and the SWC have begun negotiations on a potential State Water Project contract amendment to pay for a single Delta tunnel.  Under a settlement agreement with Planning and Conservation League over the Monterey amendments, the negotiation meetings are required to be public. The first negotiation meeting was held on July 24, 2019.

At the July 24 meeting, the State Water Contractors presented a First Offer to DWR.  The State Water Contractors seek an Agreement in Principle that would allow the SWC to define the Delta tunnel capacity and general configuration, including the tunnel alignment, number of intakes, and pumping station capacity.

Meanwhile, in consideration of Governor Newsom’s direction, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority is reportedly considering four potential alignments for the Delta tunnel project in the DCA’s engineering design process.  The potential alignments include the “previously preferred” Waterfix tunnel alignment, and one nearer to I-5 that would avoid some of the major impacts from project construction on Delta recreation, Delta tourism, and Delta legacy towns.

Metropolitan Water District has bought two of the Delta islands in the WaterFix project main tunnel alignment, Bouldin and Bacon Islands, and CalTrans has constructed an interchange for the project at Highway 12 on Bouldin Island.  So it seems likely that the State Water Contractors are proposing that the main Delta tunnel alignment not change.

Bouldin tunnel

WaterFix main tunnel alignment on Bouldin Island with tunnel muck areas

For operations, the State Water Contractors are proposing that the Delta tunnel be a State Water Project facility, integrated into the State Water Project.  The SWC propose to define “Delta Conveyance Project Water,” which would be “the additional amount of total SWP water that can be conveyed with the Delta Conveyance Project compared to the amount that can be conveyed without the Delta Conveyance Project.”

The  State Water Contractors are also proposing that water agencies opt in to participate in the Delta tunnel project.  SWC who choose to participate would pay for a share of the available Delta tunnel capacity, up to their Table A allocation. The proposal states that the SWC believe that the Delta tunnel would be fully funded by the opt in framework, but propose an iterative procedure for determining participation as the design of the Delta tunnel is developed.

Meanwhile, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority is pushing forward with engineering work on the Delta Conveyance project and submitting the bills to DWR.  Unless agreement is reached, DWR may run out of funds to pay the DCA.

Further negotiation meetings are scheduled for July 31, and August 7, 14, 21, & 26.

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | July 16, 2019

Speculative financing for Delta tunnel engineering work

The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) is a Joint Powers Authority created in 2018 by Metropolitan Water District, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Kern County Water Agency, and the State Water Contractors. The DCA was delegated the powers of the Department of Water Resources to design and construct the WaterFix / twin tunnels project.

In January of 2019, the DCA signed a $93 million contract with Jacobs Engineering for engineering design services for the WaterFix project and a $75 million contract with Fugro for geotechnical services.  In April, the DCA signed a contract for $40 million with Parsons Transportation Group for a Project Management Information System, cost and schedule controls, and program reporting.  But at the direction of Governor Newsom, all WaterFix project approvals were rescinded on May 2, 2019.  Work has nevertheless continued under the engineering contracts.

The continuing engineering work is being financed under a June 2019 amendment to the WaterFix Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement (JEPA,)  The amendment allows DWR to authorize and pay for design work on a single tunnel project, retroactive to May 2019.  The budget in the JEPA amendment (shown below) states that the DCA is planning to spend over $100 million for each of fiscal years 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-2022.

DCA budget and schedule

The DCA appears to be attempting to continue the original WaterFix engineering design schedule as much as possible, given the new direction on the project.   The WaterFix project engineering design was originally scheduled to be completed in 2022.

But how is the engineering work on the single tunnel being paid for, given that all project approvals were rescinded?   The meeting materials for the July 2019 Design and Construction Authority Board meeting show no current funding commitments. The cash flow projections (shown below) show the DCA is relying on a $19.7 million loan from DWR for expenses for the next few months. Future cash flow relies on yet-to-be-made commitments by State Water Project contractors starting in September 2019.  A footnote below the graph states that the majority of State Water Project contractors are “anticipated” to “seek and receive funding approval from their respective Boards between November 2019 and February 2020.”

DCA 7-19 cash flow

The DCA is also signing a $10 million lease for office space at 980 9th Street. According to the July meeting packet, the DCA Director is seeking authorization for a letter of credit from a bank that the landlord could draw on as necessary “if the DCA defaults on the lease.”


Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | July 8, 2019

Assessing the Delta tunnel project as a seismic upgrade

Governor Newsom’s April 29, 2019 Executive Order mandated that the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency assess “current planning to modernize conveyance through the Bay Delta with a new single tunnel project.”

Part of the agencies’ assessment of that planning should include an independent, objective assessment of the Delta tunnel’s performance in a large earthquake. The assessment needs to look into why Metropolitan Water District’s analysis of whether the tunnel lining will survive a large earthquake assumes the tunnel is constructed in very dense soil.  This assumption is questionable.


In April of 2018, California Water Research collaborated with the Sierra Club and other Southern California environmental groups to send a letter to the General Managers of Metropolitan Water District, and Kern County Water Agency, and the CEO of Santa Clara Valley Water District, explaining that the Delta tunnels were not being designed to withstand a Maximum Considered Earthquake on nearby faults. The letter concluded,  “[t]he Department of Water Resources and Metropolitan Water District must analyze the performance of the Delta tunnels for all seismic hazards in the Delta, including the.. Maximum Considered Earthquake.”

MWD commissioned an evaluation of the performance of the proposed Delta tunnel lining for a Maximum Considered Earthquake in the Delta, a 2% in 50 year, or 1 in 2,475 year event.  The July 2018 analysis concluded the tunnel lining design would perform adequately and no changes to the design were needed. (Arup 2018.)

But there were major limits to the new analysis by Arup. The analysis for a Maximum Considered Earthquake only considered ground shaking at Clifton Court. The analysis also assumed that the soil column at Clifton Court was very dense. Based on this assumption, the analysis concluded that the ground shaking at the depth of the tunnel was about one-third that of the ground shaking on the surface.

chart seismic

As explained below, the assumption that the soil column at Clifton Court is very dense is inconsistent with geologic maps of the deep sedimentary deposits in the Delta. The conclusion that ground shaking at the depth of the tunnel is one-third that of the ground shaking on the surface is also not consistent with measurements from a down-hole seismic array at another site with deep sedimentary deposits, La Cienega in Southern California (Grazier 2004.) Measurements at La Cienega show that for strong earthquakes, ground shaking at the proposed Delta tunnel depths is about 70% of that on the surface (Hu 2005.)

Seismic hazard maps from the California Geologic Survey show no regions in the Delta near Clifton Court Forebay with very dense soils. The CGS map below shows the soil density for areas in the Delta near Clifton Court. (CGS 2018.)   Interpreting the CGS map requires a little explanation.

Geologists and geotechnical engineers estimate the density or stiffness of soils with shear wave velocities (Vs.)  For earthquake engineering, they consider the average shear wave velocity over the top 30 meters (100 feet) of soil.   Average shear velocities above 750 m/s correspond to rock. Average velocities above 360 m/s correspond to very dense soils. Velocities above 180 correspond to stiff soils. Velocities below 180 correspond to soft soils.

The CGS map shows that, in general, the only very dense soils near Clifton Court are in the Diablo Mountain range (at the bottom left corner.)  The soils at Clifton Court are generally stiff (Vs = 294.)  The soils at Bacon Island are generally soft (Vs = 176.)

Woodward quadrangle

Perhaps the sediments Clifton Court Forebay increase in density with depth?   The graphs below show shear velocity vs depth in two boreholes at Bacon Island and Clifton Court, from Kishida 2009. There start to be layers of very dense soil at Clifton Court at about 25 meters (82 feet depth.)  The graph shows essentially no layers of very dense soil for Bacon Island.


It is unclear how MWD could have concluded that soils at Clifton Court are “very dense,” except by cherry picking the properties of deep layers of soil.

For evaluation of the seismic performance of the Delta levees in the Delta Risk Management Strategy, on the other hand, DWR’s contractor cherry picked the lowest shear velocity values from specific boreholes.   This was criticized by the US Geologic Survey as not standard engineering practice.

If the DWR’s contractors analyze the seismic performance of the Delta levees as if they were built entirely on soft soils, and MWD’s contractors analyze the performance of the Delta tunnel lining as if it was built entirely in very dense soils, it will likely result in a large over-estimation of the seismic benefits of the Delta tunnel.

An objective, unbiased analysis of the benefits of the Delta tunnel as a seismic upgrade should use the same geotechnical assumptions for both the “without project” conditions and the “with project” conditions.


Arup, Seismic Review of Tunnel Liner Performance, Appendix M, Conceptual Engineering Report, California WaterFix Byron Tract Forebay Option,  2018. Available at

California Geological Survey, Seismic Hazard Zone Report for the Woodward Island 7.5-Minute Quadrangle, Contra Costa County, California 2018.  Available at

Graizer, V & Shakal, A. Recent Data from CSMIP Instrumented Downhole Arrays. AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts, 2004.  Available at

Hu Jin-jun & Xie Li-li. “Variation of earthquake ground motion with depth,” Acta Seimol. Sin. (2005) 18: 72. DOI:10.1007/s11589-005-0008-x.   Available at

Kishida, Tadahiro & Boulanger, Ross & A Abrahamson, Norman & W Driller, Michael & M Wehling, Timothy. Site Effects for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Earthquake Spectra. (2009) 25 10.1193/1.3111087. Available at

Schaefer, J.  Seismic Review Comments (and Responses) on Technical Memorandum Delta Risk Management Strategy (DRMS) Phase 1 Draft 3 Topical Area: Levee Vulnerability. US Army Corps of Engineers, April 11, 2008.  Available at


On June 10, 2019, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) began extensive geotechnical drilling to evaluate a single tunnel project in the WaterFix project alignment.  The drilling is currently suspended, pending resolution of a Temporary Restraining Order issued by Sacramento Superior Court at the request of Sacramento County.  The work is being done without required county permits to protect groundwater.

The geotechnical work was ordered by the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) ahead of a July 31, 2019 deadline to complete work under a court Order of Entry that DWR initially obtained in June of 2017.  Boring locations in the court order include the WaterFix North tunnel leading from Intake #5, and the WaterFix main tunnel alignment on Venice Island and Victoria Island in the South Delta. The boreholes are 6.5 to 8 inches in diameter and 150 to 200 feet deep.

Intake drilling

According to DWR’s May 22, 2019 environmental document for the drilling, the geotechnical work is being done is to complete geotechnical exploration in the WaterFix project tunnel alignment that began in 2010 and 2011.  The geotechnical work is part of ongoing work under contracts executed in January of 2019 for the WaterFix project.  The DCA signed a $93 million contract with Jacobs Engineering in January of 2019 for engineering design, and a $75 million contract with Fugro for geotechnical services.

Controversy over the geotechnical work

When the geotechnical drilling crews arrived in the Delta, DWR employees distributed flyers characterizing the work as “soil sampling” to “investigate alternative conveyance types and alignment locations.”  Delta residents were outraged.  Delta community and business groups sent a letter to DWR Director Karla Nemeth on June 12, stating

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.

Gary Lippner, DWR’s Deputy Director of Delta Conveyance, responded on June 17, 2019 stating that “[n]either the Department of Water Resources (DWR) nor the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) is continuing work on that project or currently performing any new planning based on the previous WaterFix approvals.”

Kathryn Mallon, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Executive Director, has since clarified that the current geotechnical work is being done in support of a single tunnel in the WaterFix project tunnel alignment.  She stated that the work is needed to “support the preferred alignment of the previous planning work and [is] necessary to answer critical questions related to this particular alternative (eg. pile driving methods and noise levels at the proposed intake locations.)”

With regard to alternative designs, the DCA Executive Director stated,

The DCA has budgeted for and is in the process of preparing a boring plan that is more geographically expansive and includes collecting information in corridors for alternatives that are expected to evolve from the NEPA process, including the previously preferred alternative but not limited to this alternative.

According to the DCA’s Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget, the DCA is planning to spend $82 million over the next 12 months, including $35 million on engineering design and $20 million on field work  ($98 million with contingency.)  When the proposed 2019-2020 budget was released on June 17, Delta community and business groups expressed shock at DWR’s approval of the aggressive schedule, stating:

We strongly disagree with this approach of rushing forward with engineering design and geotechnical work. The way to mitigate impacts of the project on Delta legacy communities and fish is to first reconsider the project design in consultation with Delta stakeholders. This process must start with DWR addressing the requirements of the Delta Reform Act to reduce reliance on the Delta, and to restore, enhance, and protect the Delta as an evolving place. Pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act DWR must also start with an early consultation on historic properties.

The Delta community groups also requested that DWR rescind authorization for the geotechnical work until the appropriate county permits were obtained.

DWR’s Deputy Director Lippner and the DCA’s Executive Director Kathryn Mallon have offered to meet with the groups to “discuss the planning process and hear their thoughts on local engagement.”  But DWR’s attorneys are simultaneously seeking to continue the geotechnical work without county permits.  The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority Board also approved the $82 million budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 at the June 20, 2019 meeting, including $55 million for engineering design and field work.

The Department of Water Resources and the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority are doing extensive engineering work to assess potential designs for a single Delta tunnel. On June 10, 2019, the Department of Water Resources began geotechnical drilling in the former WaterFix project tunnel alignment and a former WaterFix project intake location. According to the DWR website, the geotechnical drilling is at 19 sites in three Delta counties (San Joaquin, Sacramento, and Contra Costa.) The work requires drilling of 6.5 to 8 inch boreholes to a depth of 150-200 feet. The drilling reportedly requires a crew of five to six people for up to 11 days at each site.

geotech drilling2

Drilling crew in Courtland

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a sensitive area and borehole drilling requires special sealing to prevent contamination of groundwater. On June 7 and June 14, 2019 the counties of San Joaquin and Sacramento notified DWR that the geotechnical work required a well drilling permit. On Monday, June 17, 2019, the Sacramento County Environmental Management Department issued a Stop Work Order for the drilling in Sacramento County. On Thursday, June 20, 2019, the San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department gave Victoria Farms on Victoria Island in the South Delta a Notice to Abate for unpermitted well drilling. The abatement notice documented that Victoria Farms was under court order to allow the drilling.

On Thursday, June 20, the Sacramento County Superior Court granted a Temporary Restraining Order to Sacramento County to enjoin the geotechnical drilling for 21 days. Chris Hunley, the Sacramento County Environmental Specialist who issued the Stop Work Order, stated in a declaration in support of the order:

Unregulated drilling performed in connection with investigations of hydrologic or geologic conditions can be harmful and detrimental to water quality, including potable drinking water supplies, because the drilling can remove or open up preexisting underground geologic layers between aquifers and expose groundwater resources to pollutants, contaminants and sediments from other aquifers that had no prior hydrologic connection.

Most of the Delta area of Sacramento County relies upon wells for drinking water supply. The Sacramento Delta is a sensitive area with respect to groundwater quality. The Courtland area has special annular sealing material requirements to protect high quality waters from degradation by poor quality waters via pathways that are unsealed or improperly sealed. The potable groundwater supply exists at a depth of roughly 120 feet and lower. While borings are not water supply wells, improper construction of borings can potentially negatively affect the region’s drinking water aquifer by creating a hydrologic connection between the dirtier river seepage water at shallower depths and the separate, cleaner groundwater in the lower aquifer.

An improperly constructed or drilled boring could cause irreparable harm to public health because domestic well water could be infiltrated and contaminated by non-potable water from other aquifers as a result of drilling a single bore through multiple aquifers.

As reported by Matt Fleming at CalWatchdog, Sacramento County previously had problems with Caltrans claiming exemption from local agency permitting for geotechnical work and doing improper drilling. In 2014 Sacramento County threatened to fine Caltrans millions of dollars for drilling hundreds of borings over a period of decades in violation of state laws aimed at protecting groundwater. Under pressure from Sacramento and San Joaquin County and other local agencies, Caltrans announced their intent to follow local groundwater protection ordinances and outlined a plan to locate wells throughout the state and work under the proper license.

The Department of Water Resources does not have a similar policies. DWR and the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority are proposing to delete Term 3b from the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement which requires compliance with local permits:

In carrying out its obligations under this Agreement, and without regard to the named Permit holder, the Authority and its agents shall comply with all conditions of all applicable federal, State, or local Permits issued for design and construction of the Conveyance Project.

The next hearing on Sacramento County’s filing to enjoin DWR from doing further geotechnical drilling without the required county permits will be in Sacramento County Superior Court on July 11 at 2:00 pm.

Banks pumping plant

Banks Pumping Plant, State Water Project

In 2018, the California Department of Water Resources delegated the design and construction of the WaterFix project to the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA), a Joint Powers Authority created by the State Water Contractors.  The October 26, 2018 Amended and Restated Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement states

DWR, in coordination with entities that comprise the Authority, has developed comprehensive project specifications and administrative parameters applicable to the design and construction of the Conveyance Project, hereinafter referred to as the “Specifications.”

The agreement further states,

The Authority .. is authorized by DWR to design and construct, or cause the design and construction of, the Conveyance Project in accordance with this Agreement and the Specifications.

On May 2, 2019, DWR’s Delta Conveyance Office sent a letter to the DCA stating that all approvals for the WaterFix project had been rescinded.  The letter also stated,

As the Department embarks on a new environmental review process and pursues new environmental permits, it will do this in tandem with design and engineering work needed. This work will occur in close partnership with the State Water Project Contractors funding the project. This approach provides the greatest opportunity to deliver a project ready for construction with minimal delay.

The Board of Directors for the DCA met on Thursday, May 16, 2019 in Sacramento.  The Directors heard an “informational item” on a resolution authorizing the Executive Director to negotiate an amendment to the October 23, 2018 Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement “to permit the DCA to provide engineering, design, geotechnical, environmental and similar services in support of the environmental analysis for a potential Delta conveyance project.”

The DCA Executive Director’s written report to the Board stated that the DCA is continuing to provide invoices to DWR’s Delta Conveyance Office.   The engineering and geotechnical work on the project was also reported to be continuing under the existing contracts with Jacobs Engineering and Fugro.

The Executive Director’s written report to the Board also outlined a “stakeholder engagement plan” for Delta tunnel project revisions:

3) The DCA worked closely with the DWR Communications team to help develop the stakeholder engagement plan. The DCA will take a significant role in actively engaging the community in understanding the project impacts and developing mitigation measures.

4) The Engineering team has been working on a revised work plan that focuses activities on advancing the engineering to better support the environmental review process and the stakeholder engagement program.

At the meeting, the DCA Board of Directors approved a procurement policy which authorizes the DCA Executive Director to award a “Direct Contract” for “change orders/amendments” to the project.   This would potentially allow the DCA to award a contract for revisions to the WaterFix project directly without any competitive bidding process.

A separate provision in the procurement policy could exempt direct contracts from separate approval by DWR’s Delta Conveyance Office.   These are the relevant provisions in the procurement policy:


(c) Direct Contract. Notwithstanding Subsections (a) and (b), the following contracts may be awarded through direct contract:

.               (4) If the contract is with any governmental agency

(5) Change orders/amendments.

(e) DCO Concurrence. Prior to the award of any contract under Subsections (a), (c) or (d), the Executive Director shall obtain the concurrence of the DCO regarding the noncompetitive procurement method. The Executive Director may obtain DCO concurrence on a per contract, per type of contract, or any other method as agreed to by the Executive Director and DCO. Notwithstanding the foregoing, DCO concurrence is not separately required for a contract if the DCO reviews and approves this Policy, and the procurement of the contract is conducted in accordance with this Policy.(underlining added.)

Delta stakeholders are closely following the DCA actions.  Several Delta attorneys were present for the meeting, as was Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, a Delta legacy community member, and the Executive Director for Restore the Delta.



Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | May 11, 2019

SCVWD pulls purchase of 5,257 acres of Merced ranch land from agenda

The May 14, 2019 Board  Agenda for the Santa Clara Valley Water District included a closed session item to discuss “setting negotiation parameters” for the purchase of 17 parcels of land in Merced County.

County tax records show that the parcels total 5,257 acres, and are owned by 4S Ranch Partners LLC.  The parcels are within the Grasslands Wildlife Management Area, which is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as winter wetlands for waterfowl migrating on the Pacific Flyway.  The parcels are encumbered by conservation easements.

Grasslands WMA

Grasslands Wildlife Management Area                        Source:  USFWS


On May 9, 2019, Katja Irvin, chair of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter Water Committee, sent comments that the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board needed to disclose the rationale for the land purchase and hold a hearing.   The following day, the item was removed from the Board meeting agenda.

Controversial Groundwater Transfer

In 2014 and 2015, 4S Ranch Partners LLC and neighboring SHS Ranch transferred 13,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater to the Del Puerto and Patterson Irrigation Districts.  The groundwater was pumped from 14 wells on the ranches into Bear Creek and the unlined Eastside Bypass Canal.  Both flow into the San Joaquin River.

The US Bureau of Reclamation prepared an Environmental Assessment which found that the transfer of up to 26,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater from the parcels from 2014-2018 would have no significant impact.   Reclamation’s environmental assessment relied on oral statements by Stephen Sloan, an owner of 4S Ranch Partners, that groundwater levels in the area were stable. The Merced Irrigation District disputed this statement, commenting that well records showed that groundwater levels in the area were declining.  MID asserted that the groundwater export would have adverse effects on the Merced groundwater basin.

The Merced Groundwater Subbasin is a high priority, critically overdrafted basin.  Groundwater mapping shows that the parcels are adjacent to a cone of depression.

The Stevinson Water District has pre-1914 water rights to Bear Creek and a historic agreement with Merced Irrigation District to water spilled into the Eastside Bypass Canal.  Stevinson Water District protested that the transfer would be a trespass to their surface water rights, stating:

This Project appears to be a variation of a project recently abandoned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and the project proponent in late 2013. That project was called the 4-S/Smith Ranch Refuge Water Supply Pilot Exchange Project for the East Bear Creek Unit of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. When that project was proposed, the District expressed concern regarding the connectivity between the groundwater wells identified for use as part of the project and the East Side Canal. Indeed, the records of the USBR confirmed connectivity and recognized that the wells, located adjacent to the East Side Canal, would pump canal water.   The District obtained numerous documents pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request, including well records, reports, and other studies documenting the link between the groundwater wells and local surface watercourses.

Neighboring farmers also strongly objected, and the Merced County Board of Supervisors expressed strong concerns.  As a result of the storm of protests, the groundwater transfer to the Del Puerto and Patterson Irrigation Districts was reduced to 13,000 acre-feet a year for two years.

In 2015, Merced County passed an ordinance which prohibited the export of groundwater from inside the county without a permit from the Merced Department of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health.  However, there is an exemption for water released to replace surface water used for fish and wildlife or downstream water quality or quantity needs:

Reasonable use of groundwater resources to supplement or replace surface water released for other reasonable and beneficial purposes, including but not limited to fisheries, wildlife refuges, ecosystem habitat or downstream water quality or quantity needs, when required pursuant to federal and state law, regulations, licenses, or pursuant to conditions imposed by valid permits.

Santa Clara Valley Water District filed a lawsuit in January against the State Water Resources Control Board over new flow requirements on the lower San Joaquin River.   The District  is in settlement negotiations with the state over the lawsuit.   It seems clear that the 4S Ranch wells could potentially be used to supply water for Voluntary Settlement Agreements.  However, such a use would be extremely controversial.

4S Ranch xfer

4S Ranch, Del Puerto WD and Patterson ID     Source: Reclamation

Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | April 29, 2019

California’s water resiliency strategy should reduce GHG emissions

On Monday, April 29, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-10-19, “directing the secretaries of the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to identify and assess a suite of complementary actions to ensure safe and resilient water supplies, flood protection and healthy waterways for the state’s communities, economy and environment.”   The executive order also states that “climate change is having a profound impact on water and other resources.”

Governor Newsom’s order doesn’t mention reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the state’s water sector.   But this is an important part of achieving our state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2045.

In particular, California’s State Water Project is the single biggest user of electricity in the state.   It takes enormous amounts of energy to ship water hundreds of miles south and up 2,000 feet over the Tehachapi mountains to the Los Angeles basin. While the State Water Project has eight hydroelectric powerplants, they produce only about two thirds of the electricity needed for the project.   As a result, the State Water Project uses electricity from fossil fuel based power plants to ship water south, including the Lodi Energy Center natural gas fired power plant, shown below.


Lodi Energy Center Natural Gas Power Plant

Using fossil fuels to ship water hundreds of miles to water lawns and grow low value field crops is a concept from the 1950s and 1960s. For a 21st century water strategy, greenhouse gas footprints must be considered.

Some detailed recent case studies of GHG footprints are available in “Energy and emissions footprint of water supply for Southern California” by Fang, Newell, and Cousins.  (2015 Environ. Res. Lett.)  The table below shows the authors’ calculations of greenhouse gas footprints for water sources for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.   As LADWP switches to cleaner sources of power in 2020 and 2030, using local sources of water, including recycled water, groundwater, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, results in substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Fang et al LADWP

Urban water conservation provides even greater greenhouse gas emission reductions, because it also results in savings for water treatment, residential water heating, and sewage treatment.   A  California Energy Commission study found that in 2001, 19% of the electricity and 32% of the natural gas use in California was for water conveyance, groundwater pumping and water treatment and wastewater treatment.

By 2030, the Department of Finance has projected there will be 44 million Californians.  To achieve sustainability and resiliency, we can and must reduce our individual water footprints.  We can do so by adapting our urban landscaping to California’s variable, Mediterranean climate, and fully implementing indoor water conservation.

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