Western Water Excerpt

The CALFED Plan: Making it Happen
Jan/Feb 2004


The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been described as the “switching yard” of California ’s water delivery system, moving billions of gallons that supply the drinking water and irrigation for millions of people. When stakeholders signed the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord, it was a dual-purpose deal designed to preserve, protect and restore the ecosystem and increase water supply reliability.

  In 2000, the state-federal consortium known as CALFED authorized a process that pledged a balanced, continuous improvement in water supply and reliability, water quality, ecosystem restoration and levee integrity in the Delta. Among the projects outlined in the Record of Decision (ROD) is an increase in State Water Project (SWP) pumping to maximize deliveries from the water rich north state to growing communities elsewhere in California .

By 2002, pressure was building on officials to take action on items listed in the ROD, based in part on the belief by many contractors that CALFED’s promises of environmental protection and restoration had taken precedence over improved water supply and water quality. Meanwhile, attention was needed to better coordinate the operations of the state and federal water projects to ensure management that was seamless and free of conflict.

In mid-summer 2003, state and federal officials, along with their export water contractors, met in Napa to discuss ways to resolve operational conflicts to spur implementation of some of the elements identified in the ROD. Participants emerged with a draft matrix of components under the ROD umbrella including increasing the SWP’s pumping capacity to 8,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) during periods when plentiful, high quality water is available. (One cfs equals approximately 450 gallons per minute.) According to the ROD, “such increased pumping is conditional upon avoiding adverse impacts to fishery protection and in-Delta water supply reliability.”

The increased pumping, which is expected to result in an increased yield of at least 200,000 acre-feet of water annually, means more certainty and reliability for water exporters south of the Delta. (An acre-foot of water, about 326,000 gallons, meets the annual indoor and outdoor water needs of one to two households). Under the proposal, about 50,000 acre-feet more in SWP deliveries will be sent to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), a large entity representing the interests of 18 million people in the region.

The package attracted significant interest during the latter half of 2003 as the breadth of its ingredients – from improvements in the south Delta to a renewed Environmental Water Account (see pages 10 and 8 – were outlined within the context of the CALFED framework.

“It’s fair to say this package is the biggest proposal faced by CALFED since its inception,” said California Bay-Delta Authority Executive Director Patrick Wright, at the Authority’s Dec. 11 meeting in Sacramento .

The proposed actions are controversial. Environmentalists, who fear that as much as 1 million acre-feet of additional water will be exported from the Delta, say the water should remain and be directed toward improving the baseline environmental conditions of the estuary. Concerns have been raised as to whether the timeframe leading to increased pumping provides enough time for adequate environmental review.

Barry Nelson , senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the schedule leaves “no time for a balanced package that resolves issues” and that “potential conflicts” exist between the scope of the projects outlined at Napa and the ROD.

Increased delivery to some contractors would occur through an intertie between the SWP’s California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal , part of the federal government’s Central Valley Project (CVP). Plans are for the state to pump 100,000 acre-feet of water for delivery to wildlife refuges in the San Joaquin Valley , freeing up the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) to provide more water to San Joaquin Valley farms. During the next several months, environmental review will proceed on the entire South Delta Improvement Plan, of which the increased pumping is part. A Record of Decision is scheduled for completion in August.

Capitalizing on the CVP’s plentiful storage capacity, officials have outlined a process to use federal reservoirs to store SWP water, a prospect that would provide greater flexibility for carrying over water purchased for transfer.

According to information released by Reclamation, the CVP would make storage “loans” from Shasta Reservoir to the SWP’s Oroville facility to enable earlier, more reliable water supply forecasts when SWP storage is “low or uncertain.” MWD Vice President Tim Quinn told the Senate Agriculture and Water Resources Committee last fall that such coordination of project operations has the potential for wide-ranging improvement in the state’s water supply picture.

“The supply benefits are significant,” he said. “They come from existing tools and as such don’t require large capital investment.”

State and federal officials say the meeting in Napa was overdue and exceedingly necessary to resolve issues associated with better integrating operation of the two water projects.

“I believe what came from Napa really did have some positive things,” said Kirk Rodgers, director of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region. “It facilitates transfers, increases project efficiency and diversifies sources for refuges south of the Delta. It fosters cooperation and coordination between interests and lastly, embodies the spirit of CALFED.”

Concerns have been raised about how additional export would affect in- Delta water users, who cite issues such as water quality and whether the proposal intrudes upon the water rights of users in eastern San Joaquin County . Alex Hildebrand, a director with the South Delta Water Agency, said efforts to improve water quality and supply for farmers in the region have not covered “a wide enough scope,” and are not “an adequate assessment of what can be done to manage the hydrology of the overall system.”

Cognizant of the need to protect Delta users from the adverse impacts of increased export, negotiators representing in-Delta water users and export water users have been meeting regularly to iron out the details of a possible agreement that facilitates increased conveyance while improving water quality conditions within the estuary. Contractors who stand to benefit from the Napa Proposal insist that the extra water they receive will not come at the expense of any other interest – urban, agricultural or environmental.

“It is our hope that we will sign an agreement that will provide Delta water users with the assurances they want,” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands Water District. “We also see this as a way to send a signal to congressional delegates that we’re getting our act together.”

The Napa Proposal was driven fundamentally by the need to better coordinate the operations of the two water systems. Tom Glover, deputy director with the Department of Water Resources (DWR), said the gradual scale of increased pumping is designed to occur during periods of high flows through the Delta when conditions are not adverse to the ecosystem or water quality. “We clearly understand that we need an agreement in place with the in-Delta water users that provides assurance of protection of Delta water quality and water levels before we can increase exports,” he said. “Getting better together includes more reliable water supply, improved water quality, better control of in-Delta water levels and continued protection for the environment and fishery.”

Because it was not a public meeting, some claimed Napa was an end-run around CALFED and nothing more than an attempt by powerful southern California interests to strike a deal for more water. The reaction is indicative of the spirited atmosphere that colors California water policy, where finding a consensus-driven middle ground is often an elusive goal as is the perception that water management agreements mutually benefit cities, farms and the environment. State Sen. Mike Machado, whose district includes in-Delta water users, believes CALFED must better address the region’s water quality before the exportation of more water proceeds. He has introduced legislation that would prohibit the increased pumping rate until several conditions are met, including attainment of the water quality standards for which the CVP and SWP are responsible.

“By any measure, the CALFED program is out of balance, the water reliability program is well-funded while funding for the water quality program is extremely underfunded – both for drinking water and agricultural uses,” Machado, D-Linden, said in a Dec. 9 press release. “The goal of CALFED is continuous improvement of the water quality of the Delta and the Napa agreement completely undermines that.”

This issue of Western Water examines the extensive activity associated with the projects and issues related to the Napa proposal – from increasing the state’s pumping capacity to improvements in the south Delta to the creation of a lasting Environmental Water Account to addressing water quality concerns. As of press time, the proposal was far from finalized, undergoing review and possible revision by government agencies and stakeholders.

NOTE: A complete copy of this 16-page magazine is available from the Foundation for $3. Visit our Products Page and add the January/February 2004 issue of Western Water to your shopping cart.

Editor’s Desk

“We knew about you but you didn’t know us,” said Maria Ramirez, the women’s leader in a Mayan village high in the Guatemalan mountains. “We thank you for bringing the water to us. We have nothing to give you, but God knows what you have done.”

The Mayan villagers had fled their communities during the height of the Guatemalan civil war in the early 1980s. They had been back for 11 years but continued to live without clean water for drinking, sanitation and washing clothes. They had been using one polluted spring until the Americans and Canadians from Water For People tapped a nearby spring and brought a simple system to their village providing a cold water faucet for the community.

Just before Christmas, I joined a group from Water For People who traveled to this and other villages in Guatemala to inaugurate water supply systems. We built simple gravity-fed systems to replace polluted pools of water being used by entire communities for washing and drinking. The people of these Guatemalan villages are very proud to work as partners with Water For People, other nongovernmental organizations and the U.S. Peace Corps to bring safe water to their villages.

For as little as $700, Water For People can bring a “lavamanos” – set of faucets – to a school. In one village we visited, villagers and partners had spent 28 days working from sun up to sunset to bring spring water down the mountain and provide water to 50 families. Guatemalans are being trained as cement masons to eventually completely build such projects for their own communities. The village’s Water Committee ensures that everyone who can works on the project in some way or they don’t share in the benefits.

I went on this trip to see the water projects and learned more is being built than projects – a spirit of cooperation, community and increased education are also products of the work of Water For People. Safe water is a basic human right – one we in the developed world take for granted. Once a community has safe water, the women and children can spend less time hauling water to their homes, thus freeing up time for children to go to school. And all analyses show that as girls in the family become educated, the standard of living of the family will be raised. So water is only part of the story.

The people welcomed us to their communities for the water inaugurations with food, drinks and music. They gave us their thanks but it was clear to all of us that we were given more than we could ever give them. They received our help to bring the water but when they blessed us for our work, we received more than we could ever return.

If you would like to help the work of Water For People, contact me or www.waterforpeople.org

- Rita Schmidt Sudman

In the News

Bush Administration Backs Off Proposed Easing of Clean Water Act Rules

The Bush Administration has withdrawn a proposed regulatory change to the Clean Water Act (CWA) that critics feared would have left millions of acres of wetlands vulnerable to development.

The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants into “navigable” waters without a permit. The proposed revision would have eased the burden on developers, the mining industry, agribusiness and other industries by scripting a narrower definition of the waters subject to the law’s coverage.

U.S. EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said the reversal was intended to be consistent with the administration’s goal of “no net loss” of wetlands. “Across the federal government, the Bush administration has reaffirmed and bolstered protections for wetlands, which are vital for water quality, the health of our streams and wildlife habitat,” he said.

A spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders called the decision “bad for business and bad for wetlands.”

The regulatory change was prompted by a January 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) could not protect intrastate, isolated, non-navigable waters solely based on their use as sanctuary for migratory birds. As a result, administration officials last year announced plans to remove CWA applicability to waterways without annual flows.

After releasing the notice of rule making, officials issued guidance to EPA and the Corps that directed staff to seek case-by-case approval from headquarters before placing isolated waters under CWA protection. Fearful the revision would seriously undermine the level of protection offered to millions of acres of wetlands, leading House members last November called upon President Bush to halt the rule making process.

“Excluding waters from the Clean Water Act will lead to unregulated discharges of pollution into streams, ponds and wetlands and, as this pollution flows downstream, greater pollution of our lakes, rivers and coastal waters,” stated a Nov. 24, 2003 letter signed by 218 House members, including 26 Republicans. The letter was sent after details of the administration’s plan were provided to the Los Angeles Times by a senior government official.

The proposal would have required “regular and continuous flow” between wetlands and tributaries in order for wetlands to be considered adjacent and therefore covered by the CWA. Pipes, ditches, drainage and other connections between navigable waters and tributaries would be removed from the law’s purview. That, according to the National Wildlife Federation, calls into question whether artificial structures that carry drinking water supplies, such as the California Aqueduct, would receive CWA protection.

According to the Nov. 24 letter, the guidance “may remove protection from an estimated 20 percent of the nation’s wetlands, some 20 million acres, as well as countless miles of streams across the country.” EPA received 133,000 comments on the proposal, most them in opposition. Officials in 39 states also expressed opposition.

Information gathered by EPA suggests that about two-thirds of the nation’s streams run intermittently, especially in arid western states. In Colorado , 78,000 of the 108,000 stream miles run dry at some point in the year, according to state data. The Natural Resources Defense Council said the proposal would have created a “new, scientifically illegitimate” category of isolated waters that is “nonsensical from a scientific, hydrological or biological perspective.”

- Gary Pitzer

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