California Water Commission: Water storage, dry conditions, “Safeguarding California”, and an update on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

california water commissionAt the California Water Commission’s January meeting, the Commission re-elected the Chair and Vice-Chair to another one-year term, heard briefings on the Delta Stewardship Council’s water storage issue paper, the dry conditions, the Natural Resources Agency’s Safeguard California Plan, and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Agenda Item 5: Election of chair and vice-chair

The California Water Commission began its first meeting of the year by re-electing current Chair Joseph Byrne and Vice Chair Joe Del Bosque to second one-year terms as leaders of the Commission.

Joseph Byrne, Chair, of Los Angeles, was appointed to the Commission by Governor Schwarzenegger in May of 2010.  He is an attorney in the law office of Best, Best & Krieger, LLP and a member of the firm’s Environmental & Natural Resources Law, Special Districts, Municipal, and Business Services practice groups.

Joe Del Bosque, Vice-Chair, of Los Baños, was also appointed to the Commission by Governor Schwarzenegger in May of 2010. He is president and chief executive officer of Empresas Del Bosque, Inc., a diversified farm in the San Joaquin Valley, and serves as Chair of AgSafe, a nonprofit organization which focuses on safety for ag workers. He is a member of California Farm Bureau, California Latino Water Coalition, and Western Growers Association.

Agenda Item 6: Water Storage Issue Paper, Randy Fiorini

Randy Fiorini, a member of the Delta Stewardship Council, then briefed the Commission on the Council’s Water Storage Issue Paper.

The Delta Plan, adopted in May, has 73 recommendations and the issue paper deals with two of those, Mr. Fiorini began.  The first recommendation is for the Bureau of Reclamation & the Department of Water Resources to complete the studies of Sites and Temperance Flat, and if they are found to be locations that are suitable for water storage projects, ‘to get on with it and get it done,’ he said.  The second recommendation is to seek out potential smaller projects throughout the state that with a little impetus and assistance could help increase water storage capacity, both above and below ground.

CWC Fiorini 1Mr. Fiorini explained that in 1999, CalFed recognized need for water storage as well as the need to reoperate the system by storing more water in wet years that would then be available in dry years for both water supply reliability and ecosystem health.  This led to a search which considered 53 suitable locations, of which five were ultimately selected.  Of those five, Sites and Temperance Flat are the only projects still under discussion and they have been under study since 2000.

Many of the locations that were rejected at the time were summarily dismissed because they were less than 200,000 AF and didn’t fit the CalFed criteria for large projects that could be used to reoperate the system.  “Many of those locations look a lot different today than back then, so we’ve recommended that the list of potential locations be reevaluated,” he said.

There could be even more potential projects than just those the 53 that were identified at the time as it was more of a literature search and not a statewide survey or any other rigorous effort, he said, noting that in the Turlock area where he is from, there are three uncontrolled streams that are a nuisance during the flood times.  “All have suitable locations for flood control facilities that could be used to store water and that could be used to recharge groundwater in an area that is currently in severe overdraft, but those weren’t on that list,” he pointed out.

The Council has recommended that the Commission survey every public water agency statewide to determine what the potential projects in the area and what benefits they might produce, such as hydropower benefits, water supply benefits, ecosystem benefits, and flood control benefits.  He noted that the Commission had initiated this process and thanked them for acting on the recommendation. “What I hope is that the Water Commission would take ownership of this process, determine which of these projects has statewide importance and then the last two recommendations in this issues paper, take us to the next step, which is funding and permitting.”

The current year punctuates the need for more water storage.  “As we now know, California is not very well insulated in dry periods, and if we’ve learned anything in the 76-77 drought, the 86-92 drought, the 2007-8-9 drought, is that water storage capacity, both above the ground and below the ground is critical to help us get through periods of drought without a detrimental effect on the economy,” said Mr. Fiorini.

Executive Officer Sue Simms said that they have been meeting with state and federal agencies as well as working with the Delta Stewardship Council to put together a draft survey.  ACWA is also assisting with the mechanics because they have a system and the infrastructure to contract all of the water agencies, she said.  The draft survey is currently being circulated, and they hope to distribute it to the water agencies by the end of the month with initial results hopefully in March.  “It’s a very simple online survey.  We thought it better to err on the side of simple so people will complete it and not think it’s so cumbersome that they set it aside,” she said.

Commissioner Delfino asked if the survey included questions that would help identify projects that would provide not only a benefit for local and regional water reliability, but also a statewide benefits in the reoperation of the system as a whole.  Mr. Fiorini responded that the survey will provide the information and it will be up to the Water Commission and others to determine which projects have statewide benefits, such as supplementing instream flows for the environment or flood control benefits.

In terms of reoperation of the system, CalFed was looking at projects that were 1 million acre-feet or more; however, it can take decades to get through these studies, pointed out Mr. Fiorini, and if there’s no champion to push for the project, it’s likely to languish in the study mode.  Sites and Temperance Flat are important and could add a lot of utility to reoperating the system, he said, but in the same time since those studies have been underway, Metropolitan Water District has identified, permitted, funded and built Diamond Valley Lake and Contra Costa Water District identified, permitted and funded the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir.  “Those two areas today are in a much better position to weather a drought then they were in 1986-92.  They learned that they needed to make those investments,” said Mr. Fiorini, noting that it’s much harder to find champions for statewide projects.

Out of CalFed’s list of locations, about 12 were in the coastal foothills along I-5 and would be excellent places to store water in wet years and either use directly for water supply or as a recharge basin to resupply the overdrafted groundwater, he said.  “I think south of the Delta, one of the single biggest important reasons to build additional storage in these smaller pumped storage projects is that they will lend themselves in helping to recharge the overdrafted groundwater, both on the east side and the west side,” he said.

Commissioner Orth pointed out that Integrated Regional Water Management is the difference between now and when CalFed began looking at storage projects. “We’ve got a different framework today than we did ten years ago and I think the survey can be potentially informative,” he said, but he cautioned that sometimes respondents can limit their answers to survey questions because they are trying to figure out why someone is asking this information, such as for regulatory purposes or to pay more fees.

Mr. Fiorini noted that the state of Texas recently passed a constitutional amendment to create a revolving fund of $2 billion for water project investments with the ability for public agencies to use those funds being limited to a list that the legislature has approved.  “In my personal opinion, California could do the same thing with storage,” he said.  “If we were to take a surplus and put it into a revolving fund for loans, it would make the public agencies that are being surveyed about potential storage sites a lot more interested in doing something, especially if they knew there was money available.”

The message of Integrated Regional Water Management is really the answer that we have to continue to focus on,” said Commissioner Curtin.  “The legislature will focus on discrete elements within any water plan … whatever everybody’s favorite or unfavorite issue is.  I’m really hoping we can talk about the flexibility in the entire system and how integrated regional water management is critical to this. … I want to make sure every chance we get, we highlight the inter-regional elements and the ability for whatever is being done at the legislature in a bond to make the whole system work.”

  • Click here for the Delta Stewardship Council’s Water Storage Issue Paper.

Agenda 7: Dry Conditions Update

Next, Jeanine Jones then updated the Commission on the dry conditions.  The snowpack is tracking along with the driest year of record and storage continues to decline, she said, and there are a number of things happening to address the situation.

SWP 012014

Reservoir conditions as of January 20, 2014

To be prepared should the conditions remain dry, the Governor appointed an interagency Drought Task Force in December which has been meeting regularly, taking status reports, looking at readiness conditions and considering what could be done, she said.

The Department of Water Resources is also working on a number of different activities, including holding workshops to help small systems deal with the impacts of drought.  “This is a community that, because they are so small, it’s difficult to reach out and work with them collectively, and we work through the California Rural Water Association to reach these folks,” she said.  “We’ve been doing drought training already, but we would like to highlight this issue as a concern at the statewide level and we would appreciate the Commission’s help in that.”  Ms. Jones noted that they were working on a workshop in Southern California, one of the areas where there’s a large number of small systems that are being impacted.

DWR is working with the State Water Resources Control Board to comply with the Executive Order to expedite water transfers and streamline the contracting process to make it easier for transfers to occur; however, Ms. Jones noted that there’s not a lot of natural flow coming into the system so there probably won’t be many transfers this year.

Proposition 13 funds for agricultural water conservation loan funds have previously gone unused, so DWR is working to figure out how to put those to use.  “Those funds have been underused because the terms were not attractive the way they were presented, so we are trying to reappropriate those funds and make them more accessible for the ag community,” she said.  The Department is also tracking subsidence conditions and working with Bay Delta regulatory agencies to try and operate as efficiently as possible in the Delta to balance the impacts that we know will occur among all of the competing uses for water in the Delta, she said.

The drought has impacts, many of those in areas one might not expect, such as the North Coast, which is an area that is so wet that they don’t think about drought preparedness, she said.  The impacts are generally felt earliest along the North and Central Coast, which are areas that depend on rainfall to fill reservoirs and/or unreliable groundwater sources.  There are also small systems throughout the mountain and foothill areas, including the interior foothill areas of Southern California and eastern San Diego County, she noted.  “In 2007-09, communities like Idyllwild actually had to haul water because they didn’t have the precipitation to support their groundwater sources,” Ms. Jones noted.

The economic impacts to agriculture throughout the San Joaquin Valley are well known; perhaps less obvious are the impacts to livestock which depend on grazing lands.  These areas are not supplied by water projects; it either rains or it doesn’t, and ranchers make tough decision to sell herds or buy feed, she said.  “This is of particular concern because we’re operating on a interim farm bill while a new farm bill being debated, but many of the livestock disaster programs authorized in the prior farm bill are in abeyance, pending the new farm bill,” she said.

DWR is also trying to identify hot spots for subsidence in the Central Valley and is working with local partners to try and intensive groundwater monitoring activities in areas where issues may be developing.

Agenda Item 9: Safeguarding California Plan

Safeguarding California

Click here to download the report.

Ann Chan, Deputy Secretary for the Natural Resources Agency then briefed the Council on the newly released draft report, Safeguarding California: Reducing Climate Risk, which is the state’s multi-sector framework for reducing climate risks and preparing for the impacts of climate change.  It is just one portion of the state’s strategy to address climate change and is an update to the climate adaptation strategy that was developed in 2009.

The report is a policy guidance document for the state’s decision makers that highlights climate risks, accomplishments, & recommendations, she said.  It is organized into nine sector chapters: agriculture, biodiversity and habitat, emergency management, energy, forestry, oceans and coastal resources, public health, transportation, and water.

The Safeguarding California plan includes more recommendations that cut across the different sectors, a response to comments received after the 2009 document was released.  “Obviously when we’re thinking about water, and you look down that list of sectors, water touches a lot of those sectors, so for framing purposes, it was important to talk about these in individual sectors but we do reflect those cross-sectoral linkages through the report,” she said.

AC Climate Change stressors on water systemsClimate change impacts to California’s water resources will be widespread.  Climate change is expected to impact not only the state’s water supply,but also  water quality, ecosystems, and hydropower production.  Sea level rise will impact the coast and the Delta. There will be shifts in runoff and precipitation along with massive loss of snowpack.  There will be both flooding and drought, with the largest floods expected to get even bigger.  “There has been some pretty interesting work done by USGS through their ArkStorm project,” said Ms. Chan.  “They have done a project of what a severe winter storm in CA might do, and they project a magnitude of $725 billion of damage with $400 billion in direct property damage.”

Climate change is going to add stressors to the challenges we already have so we’ll see a decline in water availability, but we’re already struggling and have challenges related to that, she noted.  The impacts of climate change on water resources are regionally specific, she pointed out: “It will be different in different places,” said Ms. Chan.  “We know solutions for climate risk really need to be locally developed, and luckily we have some fairly good programs in place that help do this, such as Integrated Regional Water Management process.”

AC Local AdaptationSome of the report’s recommendations for water include preparing for flooding by making levee repairs and reconnecting rivers to flood plains, supporting regional groundwater management for drought resilience, diversifying local supplies, continuing to increase water use efficiency, utilizing stormwater capture, improving water storage capacity, improving the understanding of wildfire risks to water infrastructure, utilizing low impact development to restore natural hydrographs, protecting and restoring water resources for important ecosystems, and investing in climate science and tools.

In addition to sector specific recommendations, there are cross-sector recommendations in the first chapter of the plan.  We also need to develop more sustainable funding sources for dealing with climate risks, she said, pointing out that most of accomplishments so far have been funded out of one-time pots of money.  Climate change will disproportionally affect vulnerable communities so we need to make sure policies take that into account, she said.  “We need to start mainstreaming climate considerations into everything we do,” she said.

During her presentation, Ms. Chan also noted that the state has also established a State, Local and Tribal leaders task force on climate preparedness and resilience that has been established pursuant to the President’s climate action plan.  The task force is looking for sets of recommendations on removing barriers and creating incentives in federal programs to promote resilience as well as what additional information and tools needed to support preparing for climate risks, she said.  The recommendations will be compiled into a report that will be delivered to the President on November 1st.

The draft Safeguarding California plan is out for public comment, with the comment period ending at the end of February.  There will be two workshops this month on January 22nd and January 27th.  There is also a tribal consultation scheduled for the 22nd.

For more information:
  • Click here for the draft plan, Safeguarding California: Reducing Climate Risk
  • Click here for information on the public workshops.

Agenda Item 10: Bay Delta Conservation Plan update

Karla Nemeth, Bay Delta Conservation Plan Project Director, then briefly updated the Commission on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  She started by stating that the public draft of the plan and environmental documents are now out for public review.  The documents were published in the federal register on December 13 which started a 120 day comment period that runs through April 14.  They are also holding public open houses in January and February to explain the plan and the environmental review documents to the public and to record their comments.

Ms. Nemeth said that they had received a number of requests to extend the comment period.  “We’re not making any commitments to do so at this time, but certainly after the series of public open houses, we may re-evaluate that because we do understand that these documents are voluminous.”  She said that they had hoped to address the volume of documents by having released the administrative draft and EIR/EIS documents in July, but “we are absolutely committed to helping the public review and comment appropriately with the best information available.”

Ms. Nemeth acknowledged that there were still some issues under discussion, but the state and federal agencies felt the document rose to the level of an adequate public review draft, so they did release them.

CWC Karla 1The administrative draft of the conservation plan received some legitimate criticisms of a lack of clarity in the governance chapter, she acknowledged.  “In particular, the decision making rules of the regulatory agencies and needed clarity around the regulatory agency’s ability to retain all of their authorities in making decisions around the performance of the conservation plan, the conservation measures and meeting the biological goals and objectives that are laid out in the plan,” she said.  “We believe that the revised public review draft plan does address those issues.”

There were also concerns raised about the dispute resolution process, and the desire for the regional directors of the regulatory agencies to maintain the decision making in a dispute resolution scenario.  “The revised draft reflects a mediation panel that can provide some input into dispute resolution but clarifies that those regional directors maintain their authority to issue a final decision in a dispute scenario,” said Ms. Nemeth.

A lot of comments were received on the administrative draft operations scenario about the spring outflow and the necessity of spring outflow to meet particular species needs, in particular longfin smelt.  “The public review draft clarifies that the regulatory agencies clearly retain their ability to permit a single set of criteria that could include a higher outflow scenario on our scale of operational criteria for the state and federal water projects, so that was a key piece of feedback that we received between May and the new draft that was released in December,” said Ms. Nemeth.

Chapter 8 discusses the Plan’s funding sources, and includes updated costs for the plan, which is now projected to be $24.5 billion to implement the entirety of the conservation plan.   Chapter 8 identifies state and federal dollars that will pay for some of the conservation measures.  “The water users would pay for Conservation Measure 1, which is the facility, its ongoing operations and maintenance, and a portion of the other conservation measures that demonstrate their commitment and requirement under the law to contribute to the recovery of these species,” said Ms. Nemeth.  She acknowledged that more work is needed with the federal partners on the federal contributions to implementation of the plan, “but again, I would describe this as an appropriate public review draft proposal and we are very much seeking comments on the proposed funding sources as described in that chapter.”

An increasing part of the public dialog recently has been focusing on the cost and benefits of the plan and how the state proposes to factor in debt service, particularly on the facilities.  “One point that I want to make very clear is that for the purposes of completing a draft HCP and NCCP, what we have prepared is essentially the proposed cost for implementing the plan as well as proposed potential funding sources on which the regulatory agencies will make a determination that all of these conservation measures are reasonably certain to occur, and so that is the entirety of what this chapter is intended to do,” said Ms. Nemeth.  “There is much more detailed work that needs to be done on the actual financing of the proposed facilities in the plan so a lot of that is premature.”

At this point, DWR is doing a bit of work on potential ways in which bonds could be issued to finance the design and construction of the facilities but nothing has been determined and ultimately those decisions would need to be made after a more detailed financing strategy is identified with the public water agencies that would fund the facilities and so that part of the equation is still coming,” Ms. Nemeth continued.  “We anticipate a lot of public dialog with rate payers and others around their desire to participate in the plan.”

Commissioner Kim Delfino asked when the draft implementation agreement for the HCP and NCCP would be released?

We are working on that right now,” replied Ms. Nemeth, explaining that the draft implementation agreement describes the commitments of DWR, the Bureau of Reclamation and the water contractors.  “We are working on a draft per NCCP, we do need to distribute that for public review and comment over a 60-day period so our hope is to be able to release that for public comment by the end of this month, so that we can open the public comment period on that and close the comment period on both the draft conservation plan and the implementing agreement at the same time in mid April.  That is the current schedule.”

Commissioner Saracino asked what’s next, assuming you satisfactorily address all public comments in April and that there’s no litigation, or at least no injunctions?

We would finalize the documents,” said Ms. Nemeth.  “We anticipate that we’re going to break all kinds of records in terms of the number of public comments, so we would appropriately reserve a comment a final schedule for a ROD/NOD until we close the public comment period in the middle of April.”

In other California Water Commission news:

For more information:


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