The pieces of the political puzzle appeared to be in place in June when top state and federal officials reached agreement on a vision for balancing the Bay-Delta’s competing interests, releasing “California’s Water Future: A Framework for Action.”
The Framework Agreement and subsequent Record of Decision (ROD), released in late August, capped more than five years of effort to resolve problems stemming from the Delta’s dual role as the hub of the state’s water system and home to a wide variety of fish and wildlife, including several endangered species.
But a significant piece of the Delta picture is missing after state legislators rejected key appropriation ($135 million) and governance bills in the closing minutes of the legislative session.
The defeat in the state Legislature and a looming fight in Congress over CALFED’s reauthorization and a $60 million federal allocation cast an air of uncertainty over the next step in the lengthy Bay-Delta process – implementation of the plan.
Top Davis administration officials, however, vowed that portions of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program will move forward this fall, and that they will pursue state legislation to establish an official oversight commission in the next legislative session.
Republicans, in particular northern California lawmakers, declared the bills’ defeat a victory.
Conflict has long been the watch-word for California’s Delta region where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers converge and their fresh water meets the salt water of San Francisco Bay.
The goal of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program was to turn conflict into consensus and develop a 30-year collaborative plan to address four main problem areas: ecosystem health, water quality, water supply reliability and levee system integrity. The ultimate “Delta fix,” officials stressed, would be one in which “everyone would get better together.”
“Only six years ago we were at a stage where there was conflict over everything and we had reached a stalemate over resolving the problems,” said Alf Brandt, federal agency coordinator for the U.S. Department of the Interior and a participant in the Framework negotiations. “The Framework provides a way for us to make the Delta system work for the whole nation. It gives us a process for resolving conflicts.”
Like the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord, the Framework Agreement generated a temporary truce within the water world. Representatives from the urban/business, environmental/fishing and farming organizations were all on stage with California Gov. Gray Davis and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt the day the agreement was announced. Many stakeholder groups have since voiced cautious optimism about the plan and released statements of support. Newspaper editorials have been generally positive, praising officials for coming to an agreement.
“CALFED has done a good job of breaking down barriers and increasing communication and partnerships among the agencies,” said Cynthia Koehler, an attorney at Save the Bay.
But while most of the stakeholder groups appear ready to offer conditional support for elements in the Framework Agreement, in-Delta water users and others in northern California are not.
“My initial reaction to the Frame-work,” said Attorney Dante Nomellini, is it’s bad for the Delta, bad for northern California and bad for the state in general.” Nomellini, who represents the Central Delta Water Agency, said the plan favors Delta exports to the detriment of those who divert their water before it reaches the Delta or from the Delta itself.
North state political leaders were equally critical, contending that the public was not given adequate input into the Framework Agreement and ROD, and that the proposed CALFED governance commission would have had too much power and too little northern California representation.
What appeared to particularly rankle some was the decision to move the lengthy Delta debate behind closed doors to finalize the Framework Agreement; over the years, CALFED had become well known for its hours of public discussion over water issues, innumerable meetings and reams of reports.
“CALFED’s governing group and political leadership must make decisions in the bright lights of public scrutiny. If CALFED decisions are made in secrecy, those decisions will be challenged,” said Charles Willard, a Tehama County supervisor and representative of the Regional Council of Rural Counties (RCRC).
Drafters of the agreement say the behind-the-scenes bargaining was critical to bring the CALFED Bay-Delta process to closure and finalize a plan of action. They also say that it will take a continued commitment from political leaders, the governor and the secretary of the Interior as well as stakeholders to implement a Delta decision.
“To make this kind of a comprehensive program work will take sustained effort by a whole lot of people. There are no quick fixes to conflicts over supplies from the Delta,” said Patrick Wright, deputy secretary of the California Resources Agency. “The plan as a whole provides significant benefits for all components of the program.
“In the past,” Wright continued, “it’s been ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the Peripheral Canal, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the Hood diversion, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on barriers in the Delta. … We’re trying to focus on the best mixed benefits of all of these measures.”
The Framework Agreement provides an overview of a seven-year, $8.7 billion program designed to give each of the major stakeholder groups – urban, agricultural and environmental - something. The agreement offers ideas for how to increase water storage and water conservation, improve water quality and restore ecosystem functions through a broad array of projects. But none of the interests got everything it wanted.
The 54-page agreement essentially covers the first seven years, Stage 1, of the ultimate 30-year CALFED Bay-Delta program. It includes timelines and targets, which are spelled-out in greater detail in CALFED’s 6,500-page programmatic environmental documents released July 21. Additional studies and analysis on hundreds of individual actions and proposals still need to be completed, however.
“These are programmatic documents,” said Steve Ritchie, acting executive director of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program. “That’s code for ‘unsatisfying.’ The EIR/EIS offers a broad analysis of these actions. We still need to do site-specific analysis of many, many, many components.”
As this issue of Western Water went to press, the funding and governance bills had just died in the Legislature, and top-level agency representatives and members of the stakeholder communities were waiting to see what would happen in Congress. Some congressional members appeared ready to push harder to ensure water users would receive more reliable water through new storage and caps on environmental water. How that politicking will play out in the final weeks of the congressional session remain to be seen, but agency officials vowed the program will move forward this fall.
“There is too much invested to say we’re going to shut down,” said Tom Hannigan, director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).
Even with the defeat of the $135 million in CALFED funding Davis had included in his 2000-2001 fiscal year budget, the agencies that comprise CALFED have access to some $700 million from Propositions 204 ($390 million) and 13 ($200 million), and the state budget ($28 million).
The CALFED plan itself is extremely comprehensive; the solution will not be implemented overnight, and it will take time to see results. The Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP) alone calls for over 600 different actions. Other elements are equally complex. How to ensure the entire CALFED plan is implemented over the next 30 years given the four- or eight-year cycle of political administrations in California and Washington, D.C., is a major concern.
“If implementation doesn’t happen in a balanced way, the whole program can slip sideways,” said Sunne McPeak, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council and co-chair of the Bay-Delta Advisory Council (BDAC).
One thing is clear: where agencies were once often at-odds over the Delta’s conflicting roles, a new culture of cooperation has emerged. Staff from the 15 state and federal agencies that comprise CALFED meet once or twice a week to share information on Delta water quality, fisheries populations and water supply. Whether the stakeholder groups will remain engaged in implementation of the plan remains to be seen.
“Will the public – the water users and the environmentalists - accept the change in philosophy?” asked Michael Spear, manager of the California/Nevada Operations Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “Will there be a rush to the press, the governor or the Legislature with every perceived misstep? We need a new culture to make the program work.”
This issue of Western Water discusses the Delta deal and what happens next. Much of the information was drawn from the Water Education Foundation’s special “Delta Briefing” held in late July. Because of space constraints, this article focuses on four main areas: ecosystem restoration, water supply reliability (storage and conservation measures), water quality, and implementation of the plan. For more background information on CALFED, please refer to past issues of Western Water and the Foundation’s Layperson’s Guide to the Delta.
NOTE: A complete copy of this 16-page magazine is available from the Foundation for $3. Visit our on-line store and add the July/August 2000 issue of Western Water to your shopping cart.
When I introduced Marc Reisner at the American Bar Association’s conference about a year and a half ago, I took note of the evolution in Marc’s thinking about water resource issues over the last 15 years. It was an evolution that took him from being the author of a best selling book, Cadillac Desert – a book highly critical of the water industry – to his recent reincarnation as a consultant, and agent of change, within the water industry. At the time of my remarks, I noted that I hoped to stay tuned for the latest chapter in his life story. Sadly, the final chapter was recently written and it didn’t have a happy ending.
As I write this, most of you know that Marc died of cancer this summer. Marc’s book was the definitive text on the West’s continuing water wars, and his work to bring environmentalists and farm and urban water users together was part of an historic shift in thinking that, hopefully, people working on these issues will take to heart. One last thought – it seemed strange to me that a boxed set of the PBS Cadillac Desert documentary came with a free copy of the movie Chinatown. In thinking about this strange pairing, I realize that in water issues – and indeed within Marc’s larger-than-life persona – myth and reality often blend together. I will miss seeing how the next chapter in his interesting life would have unfolded.
Marc was one of the favorable reviewers of our book Water & the Shaping of California written by Chief Writer Sue McClurg. We unveiled the book in San Diego at our Water Law and Policy seminar. Available in both hard bound and paperback versions, this coffee table style book (12″ x 9″) features 140 photos. Special thanks to the Hans and Margaret Doe Charitable Trust for providing development funds. It was published in conjunction with Heyday Books.
Purchase both the hard and paperback versions through the Foundation or in California Barnes and Noble, Borders or other bookstores. It makes a great holiday gift.
In the News
California water has long been associated with that all-too-familiar quotation attributed to Mark Twain: ” … water’s for fighting over.” The quote is once again apropos as a new water war broke out in August in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
It started when Westlands Water District filed a permit application with the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) to divert, on average, 520,000 acre-feet of water a year from the San Joaquin River (300,000 acre-feet in a dry year; 720,000 acre-feet in a wet year). Citing the state’s watershed protection and area of origin statutes, Westlands officials, in effect, argue that because Friant Dam and Westlands are located in Fresno County, Westlands has a higher priority for San Joaquin River water than east side valley farmers.
Westlands now receives all of its water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta via the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), with a contract for 1.15 million acre-feet per year. But the district has seen that supply cut by as much as 50 percent in recent years, primarily because of efforts to restore the environment – most significantly, implementation of the CVP Improvement Act (CVPIA). Westlands’ officials say if the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) had not cut their supplies so drastically they would not need to tap the San Joaquin River.
The San Joaquin River water targeted by Westlands is now being used by the 15,000 farmers in 25 irrigation districts that belong to the Friant Water Users Authority (FWUA) – members of the CVP’s Friant Unit. Unlike Westlands, FWUA supplies were not cut under the 1992 CVPIA, although the law does require FWUA users to pay fees into an environmental restoration fund.
Fall-out from Westlands’ permit application was immediate and intense. Within days, FWUA had declared war, blasting what General Manager Richard Moss called Westlands’ “Pearl Harbor type attack” in an effort to take away water east side farmers have relied on for some 50 years. Moss said what angered the FWUA the most was the fact that Westlands had secretly investigated this course of action over the last six months – at the same time working with the Friant Unit and other CVP users on contract negotiations.
Other water stakeholders criticized Westlands’ actions, including at least two officials from neighboring Kern County Water Agency (KCWA). These officials indicated that the decision to file a permit for long-term water now used by other growers could cost Westlands some water in the short term – a 138,000 acre-feet transfer agreement.
Several editorials have denounced Westlands’ actions and California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein used an Aug. 23 speech in Tulare County to urge Westlands to reconsider its decision. “To divide the water community and move it away from where we work together as one entity to solve problems around the table in my view is a huge, huge mistake,” Feinstein was quoted in The Fresno Bee.
The Bee quoted Westlands’ Board Chair Al Dingle’s response: “We’re in crises on the west side. … We filed it in dead seriousness. This is not a bluff. We are not going to withdraw.”
In other developments, Westlands’ Board of Directors appointed their General Counsel, Thomas Birmingham, to fulfill the general manager position vacated by David Orth on Aug. 11.
Although the watershed protection and area of origin statutes were primarily enacted to protect northern California counties’ water supplies, some legal experts say Westlands’ claim has some merit. There is no clear case law on these statutes, however, and it is unclear what the State Board will do next. The State Board could deny the permit outright. If it decides to hear the application, it could take years to resolve the issue.