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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/

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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

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Why some western water agencies are writing 100-year water plans 

Jerry Redfern, NewsDeeply

The plan calls for increased water conservation through groundwater management (including recharging the aquifer beneath Albuquerque), surface-water management (including protecting current water rights and buying more in the future), watershed restoration, water recycling and reuse programs and stormwater capture and storage.

In February of this year, the largest water district in a state with little water enacted a plan that attempts to manage that increasingly fickle resource for 100 years.
The plan, Water: 2120, is the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) in New Mexico’s blueprint to direct water procurement, protection and use for the next century.
“This really came out of eight to 10 of us sitting around in a room every Wednesday morning and talking this through,” said Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager at ABCWUA and one of the lead planners on the project.
It’s common for water agencies to develop plans looking 20 to 40 years ahead, or in some cases 50 to 60 years. And ABCWUA, of course, has had planning documents in the past, the last one looking 60 years out. But “this is the first one to take into account climate change,” Yuhas said, and “it’s the first one to look out 100 years.” Plus, it covers everything from watersheds to infrastructure to household use.
Other Western water groups are also working on long-range plans. Santa Fe is looking closely at Water: 2120. Next year, Austin Water plans to unveil Water Forward, which it calls, “a water plan for the next century.”
And in Arizona, the Office of Assured and Adequate Water Supply Program at the Department of Water Resources requires new developments in certain metropolitan areas to show they have physical and legal access to water for 100 years.
Read more at: Why Some Western Water Agencies Are Writing 100-Year Water Plans — Water Deeply

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Water contractors push for bigger role in north-south tunnel plan

Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, THE WASHINGTON POST
California’s powerful regional water districts are working alongside Gov. Jerry Brown to take on more responsibility for designing, building and arranging financing for a $15.7 billion twin tunnel project that would ship water southward from Northern California as they push to finally close the deal on the controversial plan, two officials working closely on the project told The Associated Press.
Talks among Brown’s office, state agencies and the water contractors have been under way since May that could lessen the state’s hands-on role in one of California’s biggest water projects in decades, according to the two sources, one a senior official involved in the project, the other an employee working closely on the project.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly reveal details of the talks.Some water district officials said the move, to be done by a group of regional California water agencies in what is called a joint-powers authority, or JPA, would speed up the mega-project, which they say is needed to modernize California’s existing north-south water delivery systems.
Critics who oppose the tunnels said the change could allow California’s big water districts to cut corners on issues affecting public safety and the environment.

Read more at: APNewsBreak: Water agencies push bigger role in tunnel plan – The Washington Post

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Op Ed: California salmon on the brink of disaster

Brian Geagan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sen. Dianne Feinstein just handed the future of California salmon and our fishing economy over to the Trump administration.
During the closing hours of this year’s session, Feinstein worked with congressmen representing big growers in the Central Valley to stick a knife in one of Sen. Barbara Boxer’s greatest accomplishments and also into California’s salmon and coastal communities.
Over the past two years, Boxer painstakingly crafted a bipartisan bill to fund water projects nationwide, a rarity in the age of a gridlocked Congress. That bill included restoration projects for Lake Tahoe and the Great Lakes, funding for the lead contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan and other worthy provisions.
At the last minute, Feinstein, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Central Valley growers conspired to stick an anti-salmon rider on that bipartisan bill. That’s right. Feinstein forced Congress to decide whether to help Michigan children suffering from lead poisoning or California salmon and coastal communities.
Because of this double-dealing, Boxer was forced to lobby — unsuccessfully — against her own bill. This was the last thing she did before leaving the Senate after 24 effective years in office. We should all thank Boxer for her passionate work for California.
Feinstein’s bill gives the incoming administration authority to waive protections for San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta salmon that federal judges and biologists have found to be based on the best information available today. Under President Donald Trump, those weakened rules could result in a disaster for salmon and the jobs that rely on healthy salmon runs.
If you have any doubt about where Trump stands on California’s environment and fishing industry, last June — after the driest four years in state history — he said that there is “no drought” in California. He’s already promised to gut protections for California’s keystone salmon runs to deliver more water to the Central Valley grower who supported him.
Trump and Feinstein appear not to know, or care, that the rivers that flow into the delta and bay support the most important salmon runs south of the Columbia River. Sonoma County is doing a great deal to protect local salmon, but most of the salmon caught off the California and Oregon coasts come from the bay and the delta. Feinstein’s legislation allows Trump to devastate those salmon runs.
Read more at: Close to Home: California salmon on the brink of disaster | The Press Democrat   Brian Geagan is a recreational fisherman and Healdsburg resident.