Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
The drought may be over and Central Valley farmers are getting more water than they have in years, but that hasn’t stopped congressional Republicans from resurrecting a bill that would strip environmental protections for fish so more water can be funneled to agriculture.
The bill is likely to meet the same fate as others before it, despite farmers having a new ally in the White House and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. After passing the House of Representatives last week, the bill faces near-certain death in the Senate, where California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris still have the power to kill it. President Donald Trump, who vowed during a Fresno campaign stop last year to “open up the water” for farmers at the expense of fish, is likely to never see the bill cross his desk.
Nonetheless, the legislation by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, offers a window into the unrelenting mindset of California’s agricultural lobby as it seeks to secure water for well-funded farming groups.
Some version of Valadao’s bill has been introduced off and on since 2011 without success. And, last year, with Feinstein’s support, farmers succeeded in pushing through a controversial bill easing some of the environmental restrictions on pumping water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for delivery to San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities. Former President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.
Read more at: California water wars rage on as farmers seek more water that now goes to fish | The Sacramento Bee
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, was tapped Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown as the state’s new director for the Department of Water Resources, handing a veteran of North Bay politics and water policy a central role in Brown’s controversial bid to overhaul California’s water system with a $17 billion pair of tunnels under Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Davis, 54, has led the county Water Agency since 2010 and is set to begin in his new post in Sacramento in August, pending confirmation by the state Senate. The Department of Water Resources is the lead state agency providing water for 25 million residents, farms and business.
Its most contentious proposal under Brown is the pair of massive tunnels intended to convey Sacramento River water under the Delta and deliver it to users to the south, including farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.
“The governor supports that California WaterFix and so do I,” Davis said Wednesday, using the nickname for the disputed project that pits Northern California water and environmental interests against influential agricultural and urban users south of the Delta.“
I will be a major participant in that effort,” Davis said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was on an unrelated trip to lobby for funding to support long-range weather forecasting.
Davis would succeed former DWR Director Mark Cowin, who retired late last year along with the agency’s chief deputy director, Carl Torgersen. The appointment comes as the state continues to emerge from a historic five-year drought, with a push to fortify supplies, build new reservoirs and protect the environment — initiatives that can be in conflict.
Davis said there is “a long way to go” in addressing the state’s water demand and a need to “find a balance” between water supplies and protection of “habitat and fisheries.”
Read more at: Sonoma County Water Agency manager named head of California Department of Water Resources | The Press Democrat
Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, AP WIRE
National Marine Fisheries Service: California WaterFix Biological Opinion
Gov. Jerry Brown won crucial early approval from federal wildlife officials Monday for his $16 billion proposal to re-engineer California’s north-south water system, advancing his plan to build two giant tunnels to carry Northern California water to the south even though much about the project remains undetermined.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave their green light by finding that the project would not mean extinction for endangered and threatened native species of salmon and other fish. The project, which would tap part of the flow of California’s largest river, the Sacramento, would change the way the San Francisco Bay Area, the farm-rich Central Valley and populous Southern California get their water from what is the West Coast’s largest estuary.
The twin tunnels, both four stories high and 35 miles long, would be California’s most ambitious water project since the 1950s and 1960s. Then, Brown’s father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, helped oversee building of the pumps, dams, and aqueducts that move water from the green north to more arid south. Supporters say the tunnels are needed to modernize and secure water deliveries from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, now done by aging pumps that pull the rivers and the fish in them off-course.
Read more at: AP Wire
Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, THE WASHINGTON POST
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.
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.
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
In 2003 Riverkeeper engaged residents and activists in the Lower Russian River when the public learned about plans to drop the summer flows in the river by up to 80%.
In 2008, the Russian River Biological Opinion (RRBO) was approved by NOAA Fisheries in order to mitigate negative impacts from the operation of the two Army Corps dams, water supply operations and flood control activities. The RRBO section titled “reasonable and prudent alternatives” stated that salmon would benefit if we cut summer flows by 70% in an attempt to improve estuary conditions for juvenile salmon by maintaining a closed estuary. The rationale was that lower flows would help maintain a closed estuary but over the last several years it is clear that goal will be difficult to meet due to natural ocean conditions.
At that time, Riverkeeper stated that cutting flows would increase nutrient concentrations and end up harming juvenile salmon in the estuary by growing too much algae, which affects dissolved oxygen levels. Fast forward to last summer and we had flows in the 70 cubic feet per second range that is close to the proposed 70% reduction and we had our first ever toxic algae outbreak that killed at least two dogs.
At the same time, our understanding of fish population dynamics supported by many fishery biologists is that food production in the river above the estuary would be negatively affected by cutting flows by up to 70%.
The Draft EIR was released from the Sonoma County Water Agency in mid-August. Read the EIR here.
Russian Riverkeeper is concerned with likely water quality problems if flows are allowed to stay below 100cfs throughout the summer months. One of our goals is to ensure water saved from reduced flows is not put up for sale but reserved to mitigate potential water quality impacts.
The comment period for this Draft EIR ended on Friday, March 10. The Sonoma County Water Agency now will read all the comments and questions, and will reply to all of them. They hope to have the Final EIR done by the end of 2017. Then it goes to the State Water Resources Control Board for final approval.
Click here to read Russian Riverkeeper’s protest letter to the State Water Resources Control Board: RussianRiverKeeper Protest Pet12497a 9Mar17
Source: Russian River “Low Flow E.I.R.” | Russian Riverkeeper
Joseph Serna, LOS ANGELES TIMES
California’s San Joaquin Valley continues to sink at an alarming rate because of groundwater pumping and irrigation, according to a new study by NASA. Ground levels in some areas have dropped 1 to 2 feet in the last two years, creating deeper and wider “bowls” that continue to threaten the vital network of channels that transport water across Southern California, researchers say.
The findings underscore the fact that even as record rain and snow have brought much of California out of severe drought, some parts of the state will probably struggle with water problems for years to come.
Despite a new series of storms that battered California this week, state water regulators decided Wednesday to maintain drought restrictions for at least a few more months as they continue to assess recovery.
Researchers said subsidence has long been a problem in parts of California. “But the current rates jeopardize infrastructure serving millions of people,” said William Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources. “Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley.”
Subsidence occurs when water is removed from underground aquifers and the surrounding soil collapses on itself. Even if the underground water is replenished, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously.
Read more at: San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says – LA Times
Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES
Guernewood Park residents weren’t exactly crying ‘Oh, thank-you’ this week to a Christmas gift of raw sewage from their Occidental neighbors.
“Totally unacceptable,” said Susan Packer, a Guernewood Park vacation homeowner whose property is on Riverside Drive adjacent to where the County of Sonoma wants to deliver Occidental’s sewage.“
This is a residential neighborhood,” said Packer, writing on the Nextdoor Guernewood Park email site where alarmed neighbors are now talking about the plan, announced two days before Christmas, to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal. “We should not be the repository of Occidental’s problems,” said Packer.
The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) sent notices of the project to Guerneville neighbors two weeks ago describing the project and opening a public review window that closes in two more weeks, at 5 p.m. on Jan. 23. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to give final approval after a public hearing scheduled for March 21.
Some Guernewood Park neighbors say that’s too fast and the rush to bring Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville seems a little hurried considering that Occidental residents have been arguing for more than 20 years about how to dispose of their sewage. One thing Occidental ratepayers agree on is that it’s too expensive to keep the sewage in Occidental when it can be trucked to Guerneville where the town treatment plant operates at about half capacity.
But the abrupt notification and brief public review window are problematic, said Guernewood Park resident Richard Skaff.
“Things have been happening with no public discussion,” said Skaff, who asked newly elected Fifth District supervisor Lynda Hopkins this week to hold a community meeting in Guerneville so that “local residents could hear about the plan and provide you with their thoughts and concerns,” said Skaff, in an email to Hopkins this week.
The Occidental Sanitation District would transport about 15,000 gallons of raw sewage per day to a Russian River Sanitation District lift station sandwiched between Highway 116 and Riverside Drive in Guernewood Park. From there the sewage would be mixed with Guerneville’s sewage and pumped to the River District treatment plant on Neeley Road in Vacation Beach.
The Guerneville Transport Compliance Project would enable Occidental to stop draining its treated wastewater into Dutch Bill Creek in the winter.
Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay said anyone with questions about the Occidental project should call her for information and guidance on the environmental issues and approval process. Her number is 524-8578.The public review period ends Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. Comments should be submitted to Jeff Church, 404 Aviation Blvd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Guerneville: ‘no thanks’ to Occidental sewage – Sonoma West Times and News: News
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.
Water Maven, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK
With the critically endangered Delta smelt on the brink of extinction, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Bay Institute today called upon the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to issue emergency regulations and release the fresh water the smelt need to survive. Water is currently being diverted away from key waterways that feed the San Francisco Bay Estuary, depriving the fish of essential freshwater flows and limiting its chances of survival.
Click here to read the 12-page letter to the State Water Board
Following are statements from Defenders, NRDC, and The Bay Institute:
Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife: “Decades of state and federal agencies’ mismanagement of the San Francisco Bay Estuary, compounded by several years of drought, is causing catastrophic harm to wildlife in the estuary. The Delta smelt is circling the drain because this iconic estuary has been starved of water. We are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to comply with its legal obligations and save this fish before it is gone forever.”
Kate Poole, Water and Wildlife Project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council: “The Delta smelt is the canary in the coal mine for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, and its condition indicates that the estuary is suffocating. Water agencies failed to heed the urgent call of biologists to keep more fresh water flowing through the Delta this summer to revive the ailing habitat. Now it’s time for the State Water Board to step in and stave off extinction of the first in a long line of imperiled Delta species, including native salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.”
Gary Bobker, Rivers and Delta program director at The Bay Institute: “It’s shocking enough to realize that what was once the most common resident fish of the San Francisco Bay Estuary is now the rarest, because of decades of mismanagement that the drought has only made worse. It’s unthinkable to contemplate that the Delta smelt may go extinct this year because state and federal officials continue to fail to act on the science that shows that providing a small portion of the flow that once sustained this species – and many others now in decline – could help prevent that from happening. This unique species’ fate is in the hands of the State Water Board now.”
Read more at: MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK – Water news
Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER
The Russian River, as we know it today, arises in the pine-studded hills surrounding Potter Valley, with an overwhelming infusion of Eel River water helping it on its way as it tumbles down into the Lake Mendocino reservoir. The river’s western fork trickles out of the fir-laden hills north of Redwood Valley, in the vicinity of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery: an outpost of the Ukranian Greek-Catholic Church.
The two forks come together at the precise location of the Mendocino Forests Products (aka Mendocino Redwood Company) mill in northern Ukiah, which draws on an annual water right of about 90 acre-feet in the course of annually producing more than 45 million board feet of lumber. As it leaves Mendocino County, the river cuts through a spectacular serpentine canyon best known as the location of Frog Woman Rock and drops into the Alexander Valley, where it is fed by water that drops from the world’s second largest geothermal power plant, and from Mount St. Helena: the highest point in the Mayacamas mountain range.
Perhaps the real clincher occurs about 10 miles upstream of Guerneville, where five Sonoma County Water Agency radial wells — collectors that extract water from an aquifer with direct connection to a surface water source, in this case the Russian River — receive water filtered through 60 to 90 feet of naturally deposited sand and gravel. The Water Agency then pumps the water into a lengthy aqueduct system, which supplies ever growing Sonoma County to the south, including two cities that are in altogether different drainage basins: Petaluma and Sonoma.
The water doesn’t stop there. Some of these liquid resources reach northern Marin County — particularly Novato, which receives 75% of its water from the Russian – and some ends up all the way in southern Marin County. Among those that receive the Sonoma County Water Agency’s deliveries are the working-class Bay Area suburb of Marin City, teenage home of legendary hip-hop martyr Tupac Shakur, and Sausalito, the upper-crust town on the North Bay’s fringes that practically bumps right up against the Golden Gate Bridge.
From the perspective of many contemporary Mendocino County leaders, the original sin that created this far-flung arrangement, and put Sonoma County in the position to profit from all these water sales, was the late-1950s deal that financed Coyote Valley Dam and Lake Mendocino. In the mid-20th century, Sonoma County was determined to acquire rights to the upper Russian River’s water, and also to provide flood protection on behalf of the bustling river-centric recreation and hospitality industries on the lower river reaches in Guerneville and Monte Rio.
Read more at: The Russian River: Everybody Wants Some, But… | Anderson Valley Advertiser