Posted on Categories Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Landmark lawsuit settlement between environmentalists and state water boards strengthens Delta protections

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Three California environmental nonprofits secured a landmark settlement agreement with the California State Water Resources Control Board to uphold the common law Public Trust Doctrine and other legal protections for imperiled fish species in the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay/Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta Estuary.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (“CSPA”), the California Water Impact Network (“CWIN”), and AquAlliance, brought sweeping claims against the State Water Board. It alleged that the agency’s management of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta displayed an overarching pattern and practice of:

failure to comply with the Public Trust Doctrine;
failure to implement Sacramento River temperature management requirements;
failure to ensure that fish below dams be maintained in “good condition”; and
acceptance of water quality below minimum Clean Water Act standards.

“The Water Board’s long-standing pattern and practice of inadequately implementing foundational environmental laws has brought the Central Valley aquatic ecosystem to the brink of collapse. This settlement agreement is a major step forward, compelling the State Water Board to fulfill crucial legal requirements it had previously ignored,” said Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.

Read/download the full press release here

Source: https://mavensnotebook.com/2020/07/21/lawsuit-settlement-landmark-lawsuit-settlement-between-environmentalists-and-state-water-boards-strengthens-delta-protections/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Lawsuit challenges California’s failure to address State Water Project’s threat to Bay Delta, salmon runs

Center for Biological Diversity, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Four environmental groups sued the California Department of Water Resources today over its approval of the long-term operation of the State Water Project, the massive system of dams, pumps and aqueducts responsible for siphoning water from Northern California to Southern California. The project approval also failed to analyze the environmental harms of building a new diversion tunnel to send water south.

Today’s lawsuit, brought by the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Restore the Delta, and Planning and Conservation League, challenges the agency’s implausible conclusion that the project, which starves the San Francisco Bay-Delta of freshwater flows and has devastated most of the Delta’s native fish populations, will have no environmental consequences.

“It’s time for the state to be honest about the damage being done to the Delta ecosystem and our native fish by the unsustainable water diversions of the State Water Project,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need increased freshwater flows to restore the Delta. The Department of Water Resources can’t pretend that diverting even more water under this project would be benign.”

Just weeks before the department approved the long-term operation of the State Water Project, it announced that it was pursuing the “One-Tunnel Delta Conveyance Project,” the latest version of the enormous tunnel that could increase the siphoning of Delta water. Although the tunnel would be part of the State Water Project, the department failed to consider the tunnel and its effects from water diversion in its environmental review.

“It’s bad enough that the department thinks the State Water Project has no environmental consequences,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “But it’s completely absurd for the agency to separate the long-term operation of the State Water Project from the tunnel project, which it’s actively promoting as part of that long-term operation.”

In 2019 Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he was abandoning the California WaterFix project, which would have created two 35-mile long, 40-foot wide tunnels to carry water south without passing through the Delta and nourishing its ecosystems. The Department of Water Resources has subsequently pursued a single tunnel project, but the smaller project still threatens further damage to salmon and other fish runs and the health of the Delta.

“Salmon, Delta smelt, farmers and towns all depend on the continued flow of fresh water into the Delta,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla with Restore the Delta. “The state’s long-term plan for running the State Water Project just hides its determination to close the spigot.”

Source: https://mavensnotebook.com/2020/04/29/this-just-in-lawsuit-challenges-californias-failure-to-address-state-water-projects-threat-to-bay-delta-salmon-runs/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Trump delivers on pledge for wealthy California farmers

Ellen Knickmeyer & Adam Beam, WSLS.com

Hoisting the spoils of victories in California’s hard-fought water wars, President Donald Trump is directing more of the state’s precious water to wealthy farmers and other agriculture interests when he visits their Republican Central Valley stronghold Wednesday.

Changes by the Trump administration are altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output. Climate change promises to only worsen the state’s droughts and water shortages, raising the stakes.

Campaigning in the Central Valley farm hub of Fresno in 2016, Trump pledged then he’d be “opening up the water” for farmers. Candidate Trump denounced “insane” environmental rules meant to ensure that enough fresh water stayed in rivers and the San Francisco Bay to sustain more than a dozen endangered fish and other native species, which are struggling as agriculture and development diverts more water and land from wildlife.

Visiting Bakersfield in the Central Valley on Wednesday, Trump is expected to ceremoniously sign his administration’s reworking of those environmental rules. Environmental advocates and the state say the changes will allow federal authorities to pump more water from California’s wetter north southward to its biggest cities and farms.

The Trump administration, Republican lawmakers, and farm and water agencies say the changes will allow for more flexibility in water deliveries. In California’s heavily engineered water system, giant state and federal water projects made up of hundreds of miles of pipes, canals, pumps and dams, carry runoff from rain and Sierra Nevada snow melt from north to south — and serve as field of battle for lawsuits and regional political fights over competing demands for water.

Environmental groups say the changes will speed the disappearance of endangered winter-run salmon and other native fish, and make life tougher for whales and other creatures in the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.

After an initial study by federal scientists found the rule changes would harm salmon and whales, the Trump administration ordered a new round of review, California news organizations reported last year.

Read more at https://www.wsls.com/news/politics/2020/02/18/trump-delivers-on-pledge-for-wealthy-california-farmers/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Newsom is being played by Big Ag on Delta water

Editorial Board, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Governor must use best available science to protect California’s fresh water supply

He won’t admit it, but Gavin Newsom is being played by Big Ag interests as he tries fruitlessly to negotiate a truce in California’s water wars.

The governor’s apparent willingness to play into the hands of monied, agri-business players at the expense of the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta remains the biggest mystery of his short tenure. It also threatens to trash his reputation as a strong protector of California’s environment.

The Delta supplies water for 25 million Californians, including about one-third of Bay Area residents. Scientists agree that allowing more, not less, water to flow through the Delta and west toward San Francisco Bay is essential for protecting fish life and providing a clean supply of drinking water for current and future generations. That means restricting pumping of water out the south end of the Delta into Central Valley farmland.

The governor has been trying for months to get the major urban and ag players to reach a voluntary agreement on water flows from the Delta. His stated goal has been to avoid the lengthy lawsuits that follow a state mandate. But on Dec. 10, the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural district in the nation, threatened to pull out of the talks. Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham said “it would be impossible to reach a voluntary agreement” if Newsom followed through on his November pledge to sue the Trump administration over the federal government’s plan to pump more water south to Central Valley farmers.

It’s the same strategy Westlands used in September to pressure the governor to veto SB 1. The bill would have established as state standards the federal environmental protections that existed before Trump became president.

SB 1 offered Newsom the tool needed to thwart the Trump administration. It might have also given the governor leverage to bring environmentalists and farming interests to the table to reach a voluntary agreement on Delta water flows. But the governor caved to Big Ag interests in hopes that they would work cooperatively on a negotiated deal. We see how well that strategy worked.

The question now is whether Newsom will capitulate again to agriculture interests by backing down on his promise of a lawsuit to block the federal government’s planned increase of Delta water diversions.

The governor has repeatedly made clear that he “will rely on the best available science to protect our environment.” That science is unequivocal.

In the same week that Newsom vowed to sue the Trump administration, the state released a draft environmental impact report based on “a decade of science and a quantitative analysis of best-available data on flows, modeling, habitat and climate change impacts.” The report made clear that the operating rules proposed by the Trump administration “are not scientifically adequate and fall short of protecting species and the state’s interests.”

The scientists in charge of the drafting the federal government’s environmental impact plan said much the same. That is, until the Trump administration got wind of the conclusions and promptly replaced the scientists. In short order, a new report emerged saying pumping an additional 500,000 acre-feet (one acre foot of water is enough to supply two households for a year) to the Central Valley wouldn’t hurt the Delta’s health.

The ball is in Newsom’s court. The governor should follow through on his lawsuit against the Trump administration and act on the best available science to secure California’s fresh water supply.

Source: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/12/29/editorial-newsom-is-being-played-by-big-ag-on-delta-water/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , ,

Delta tunnel: MWD weighs moving intakes 20-30 miles north for sea level rise

Dierdre Des Jardins, CALIFORNIA WATER RESEARCH

On Wednesday, August 28, 2019, the Sacramento Press Club hosted a panel discussion, “Droughts, tunnels & clean water.” The panel included Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of Natural Resources, Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager and CEO of Metropolitan Water District, and Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors. Stuart Leavenworth from the LA Times moderated the panel.

The Newsom administration has committed to modernizing Delta Conveyance to protect water supplies from earthquakes and sea level rise. In a July 8 update to the Metropolitan Water District’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee, Crowfoot stated, “if you are a state agency and you are building infrastructure that you want to exist and be operating in 2100, you need to plan for between 5 and 10 feet of sea level rise.” Crowfoot emphasized that sea level rise was one of the reasons the Newsom administration supported the Delta tunnel, stating, “when we’re talking about really protecting our water supply against sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, the underground conveyance or the tunnel becomes quite important.”

The Newsom administration has relied on assertions by the Department of Water Resources that the North Delta is 15 feet above sea level. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 12 blog post, this assertion is misleading. In the North Delta, only the top of the Sacramento River levee is 15 feet above sea level. Elevations at Courtland and Hood range from -1 to 8 feet above sea level, and the bottom of the Sacramento River is over 20 feet below sea level. California Water Research has recommended that new modeling be done of the performance of the North Delta intakes with high sea level rise.

During the Q&A period at the Sacramento Press Club luncheon,Deirdre Des Jardins advised the attendees of these facts. She asked Kightlinger and Pierre if they would commit to modeling the performance of the North Delta intakes with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure. In response, Kightlinger stated that MWD is looking at moving the Delta tunnel intakes 20-30 miles north to accommodate sea level rise. Kightlinger stated that MWD is evaluating the increased costs of a longer tunnel, versus the benefits of extending the lifetime of the project.

It is unclear what intake locations Kightlinger was referring to. But in 2010, the Department of Water Resources evaluated two sets of locations north of Freeport, which would resist salinity intrusion with 10+ feet of sea level rise. The first set includes two locations on the west bank of the Sacramento River in South Sacramento, the second set, two locations upstream of the American River confluence. A third set of alternative locations was downstream of the confluence with Steamboat Slough. (see below.) These would benefit salmon but have less resistance to salinity intrusion.

These alternative locations were considered and rejected in 2010, partly on the basis of modeling by Resource Management Associates (RMA) which was interpreted to show no impacts from salinity intrusion at any of the proposed intake locations. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 6 blog, the 2010 RMA modeling is obsolete and has major limitations. The 2010 RMA modeling assumed 55 inches of sea level rise, and no failure of North Delta levees. The California Ocean Protection Council’s current estimate of maximal sea level rise by 2100 is 10 feet or 120 inches. This is over twice the 2010 estimate.

As part of “assessment of efforts to modernize Delta Conveyance,” California Water Research has recommended that the Newsom administration document that the WaterFix intake locations need to be reassessed for performance with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure.

Source: https://cah2oresearch.com/2019/09/02/delta-tunnel-mwd-weighs-moving-intakes-20-30-miles-north-for-sea-level-rise/

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , ,

California governor makes big change to giant Delta water project

Kathleen Ronayne, ASSOCIATED PRESS

California Gov. Gavin Newsom scrapped a $16 billion plan Thursday to build two giant water tunnels to reroute the state’s water system and instead directed state agencies to restart planning for a single tunnel.

The move came after $240 million has already been spent on the project championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to divert water from the north to the state’s drier south.

Newsom had signaled the move in his February State of the State address. He made the change official when he asked state agencies to withdraw existing permit applications and start over.

“I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done,” he has said.

Brown wanted to build two, 35-mile-long (55-kilometer-long) tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River, the state’s largest river, to the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Local water agencies were expected to foot the roughly $16 billion bill.

A single tunnel is expected to cost less, but officials haven’t yet set a price tag, said Erin Mellon, spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources. Nor has the state determined how much water would flow through a single tunnel.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/42964ecbd904409392551d8fdd67ca58

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

The twin tunnels are out—Berkeley experts say that’s a good thing

Glen Martin, CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE

The extravagantly wet winter notwithstanding, California’s water woes are far from over. But recent moves suggest Governor Gavin Newsom is leading the state into a new era of water policy. Last month, he decided to scale back his predecessor’s decades-long effort, the Twin Tunnels, to deliver water from Northern to Southern California.

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick.

This massive project, known as the California WaterFix, was promoted by Jerry Brown as the solution to the state’s agricultural and urban water insecurity and environmental degradation in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. Conceived as two 35-mile-long, 40-foot-diameter pipes buried under the Delta, the Twin Tunnels would’ve incorporated a great deal of concrete, steel, and machinery to move tremendous quantities of water southward. (Read more about Brown’s water plan here.)

Ultimately, though, it was a bridge—or tunnel—too far, even for Brown. And UC Berkeley water experts generally agree Newsom’s move away from the WaterFix is a pragmatic one.

“Jerry really wanted that legacy project, but he overplayed his hand,” says Richard Walker, a Berkeley professor emeritus of geography who has written extensively on state infrastructure, water, and agricultural issues. “The WaterFix was clearly a relic of the past. It doesn’t accord with either the will of the people of California or the actual way that state water management is moving.”

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick, a UC Berkeley alum and the president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, a water-oriented think tank. “It was always clear that you could get far better results spending much less money by exploring other avenues.”

And that’s exactly what experts anticipate Newsom will do. By scaling back Brown’s all-encompassing megaproject, he appears to be moving towards what analysts call a “portfolio” approach—or multiple, integrated programs, including one smaller tunnel.

Read more at https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2019-03-12/twin-tunnels-are-out-berkeley-experts-say-thats-good-thing

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Bay Area salmon advocates decry proposed delta water diversions

Bay City News Service, SFGATE.COM

Officials from a San Francisco-based group dedicated to preserving the region’s salmon habitat say a new federal plan to divert more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and San Francisco Bay would decimate the fish as well as jobs.

“This is a blatant water grab that threatened thousands of fishing jobs and families in California,” said Dick Pool, secretary of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

Added GGSA Director Noah Oppenheim, “The Trump administration won’t be able to get away with killing off our salmon runs if the state refuses to cooperate.”

These comments come in response to Monday’s release by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation of a “biological assessment” helping guide long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, which operate separate but largely parallel canals in the Interstate Highway 5 corridor.

The Trump administration aims to make more water available to the agricultural producers in the central part of the state. The biological assessment is part of that overall plan. It isn’t known yet how much more water state farmers could get.

The GGSA calls the assessment’s assertions “a step towards abandoning federal rules governing the damaging effects of the giant state and federal water diverting pumps in the Delta.”

“We’ve seen what happens when water users are given free rein to divert Bay-Delta water,” said Mike Aughney, another GGSA director, who also published USAfishing.com. He said that before 2008, so many baby salmon were killed that the commercial salmon fishing season was cancelled the following year.

If the state opts to free up additional water to help preserve fisheries, that water would likely come from the State Water Project, which serves a mostly urban use base. The federal Central Valley Project largely provides water for ag producers.

The economic power of the salmon fishing industry, GGSA officials said, is approximately $1.4 billion annually, at current volumes. This includes everything from commercial and recreational fishing, fish processors, equipment manufacturers, the hospitality industry and businesses that support the fishing industry.

Source: https://www.sfgate.com/news/bayarea/article/Bay-Area-Salmon-Advocates-Decry-Proposed-Delta-13600379.php

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

PCFFA leads suit against State Water Board to protect salmon in the Water Quality Control Plan

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, YUBANET.COM

On Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, a coalition of environmental, fishing, and Native American groups led by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) filed suit against the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board).

Plaintiffs demand that the State Water Board use its own recommendations based on science and environmental law to enact a Water Quality Control Plan protects fish in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers and in the main stem San Joaquin River blow their confluence.

These three tributaries of the San Joaquin River have historically supported vibrant runs of tens of thousands of Chinook salmon annually. Diversions of their waters by municipal water agencies, including San Francisco, and local irrigation districts over the past five decades have severely impacted those salmon runs, pushing them to the brink of extinction. The Water Quality Control Plan approved last month codifies what has heretofore only been a tacit approval of such diversions by the State Water Board.

In 2009, the California State Legislature adopted the Delta Reform Act to compel the State Water Board to take prompt action to save historic salmon runs. In 2010, the Board adopted the recommendations of a staff report which determined that, to save this public trust fishery, the San Joaquin River’s flows should be increased to a minimum of 60% of their historic (“unimpaired”) flows during the critical migration period of February through June.

On Dec. 12, 2018, the Board adopted minimum flow standards of just 40% of unimpaired levels on average, rather than the 60% average that its scientists showed was required to restore salmon runs.

PCFFA Executive Director Noah Oppenheim called Friday’s lawsuit, “a long overdue wake-up call that the State Water Board must now do its job to prevent the imminent extinction of this irreplaceable fishery. For decades this regulatory process has been captured by water agencies with no compunctions about hastening the end of salmon fisheries. Today salmon fishermen and fishing communities are raising their voice.”

Joining the PCFFA in filing suit are the North Coast Rivers Alliance and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. All three agree that unless historic flows are restored immediately, the survival of the Delta’s salmon fishery is in jeopardy. A copy of the verified petition and complaint is here.

Their lawsuit alleges that the State Water Board’s failure to restore adequate flows in these rivers violates the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter Cologne Water Quality Act—which require protection of historic fish runs—and also the Public Trust Doctrine, which forbids the Board from allowing excessive diversions of water needed for the survival of the Delta’s salmon.

“Unless the Board is ordered to comply with the law and these flows are restored at the scientifically recommended levels, California’s salmon will never recover and the fishing families that bring the ocean’s bounty to the public will continue to suffer unjustly,” said Oppenheim.

Source: https://yubanet.com/california/pcffa-leads-suit-against-state-water-board-to-protect-salmon-in-the-water-quality-control-plan/

 

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Stop efforts to kill salmon and fishing jobs

John McManus, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Today, many Northern California commercial fishermen sit in harbors along our coast worrying about their bills and waiting for another disastrously shortened salmon season to begin. Many businesses that serve the normally robust sport salmon fishery also have suffered because of the delay. River fishing guides have lost half their season as well.

Salmon numbers are predicted to be down from the lingering effects of the last drought and the damaging water allocation decisions that put salmon fishing families last. Meanwhile, San Joaquin Valley congressmen are hard at work tilting the balance of water in California toward valley agricultural barons.

These House members are acting like this is their last, best chance for a huge water grab. There are four separate riders in House budget bills aimed at seizing more Northern water at the expense of salmon and fishing families. None are responding to a crisis in agriculture. The past decade has seen record harvests, revenue and employment for California agriculture.

For salmon, it’s another story. During the past decade, California salmon fishermen have seen the two worst crises in state history. Our fishery was shut down entirely in 2008 and 2009 following record siphoning of Bay-Delta water. The Golden Gate Salmon Association and other fishing groups are seeing a second crisis today as salmon try to fight their way back from the drought.

The Bay-Delta’s salmon runs are the most important south of the Columbia River and the backbone of a $1.4 billion salmon fishing industry that supports 23,000 jobs.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8549850-181/close-to-home-stop-efforts