California Water Commission part 4: Briefing on Water Storage Integration and Delta Vision Foundation Policy Paper​

Commission 2At the July 16th meeting of the California Water Commission, Charles Gardiner from the Delta Vision Foundation gave a briefing on an upcoming water storage integration and Delta Vision Foundation policy paper.  He began by saying he would give some background on the work they’ve been doing over the last six months, and after which Marguerite Patil with the Contra Costa Water District and Ron Jacobsma from the Friant Water Authority will discuss their projects. Then, Maurice Hall from the Nature Conservancy will talk about the work they’ve been doing on the concept of integration of these and other storage projects into the overall system.

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When the Delta Vision Foundation released their report card which was focused on the actions needed to help fix the Delta, the stakeholder panel at the time urged the Board to help foster a more intelligent conversation about an integrated approach as a way to solve the big challenges in the Delta, he said. They convened a number of discussions, and one of the concepts that evolved was to have workgroups discuss the different components a Delta solution, such as regional water management, water storage, headwaters management, and other things, he said.

Gardiner 2The workgroup that generated the most traction was the workgroup on water storage, primarily due to the sense of urgency, Mr. Gardner said, noting that it was a relatively small but a very diverse group that included people who have been working closely on the storage issues over the last 10 to 15 years as well as some members of the environmental community, the business community, the chamber of commerce, the farm bureau and others who have been working on the groundwater challenges.

The fundamental question the workgroup addressed was what does it take to get to implementation, so the group spent quite a bit of time discussing that, he said. “We were really focusing more on how do we get from where we are now to that point of the funding decisions, so we spent quite a bit of time talking about it, examining what’s happened so far, and looking at where the gaps are.”

Mr. Gardiner said there were three particular areas that the group focused on:

  1. Flexibility: How to increase flexibility in the system, and how to analyze new storage projects in the context of the water supply system. There are two aspects: One was looking at a more integrated view of surface and groundwater storage, with and without Delta conveyance in order to understand system-wide how we can maximize our benefits, and the other was how to make these projects viable so that local and regional water interests can understand what they are getting out of it, it’s cost effective, and people come to the table with money to pay for that water, he said.
  2. Institutional: What are the institutional challenges that we need to overcome to move decisions forward. The group considered that these projects have to be implemented as a partnership between the public benefits and the local and regional water interests who are interested in the water supply benefits and we think there’s some improvements we can make in the planning and design phase of these projects to improve that negotiation between the state and regional interests, working together to figure out how do we bring together public benefit dollars and local and regional water user dollars to make a project work, he said.
  3. Funding. They didn’t really address the implementation funding, the construction costs, and the bond discussions; they looked at more near-term funding needs and in particular, funding the kinds of analyses that really get us to the decisions, he said. “We think that there’s an immediate need for some money to look at the system-wide integration of surface and groundwater storage so everybody can understand better the benefits and values of integrating storage and where storage is going to be most valuable, and there’s more work to be done at the local and regional level to really dig into and understand the viability of these projects, so those are the primary things we looked at.”

He then turned the floor over to Ron Jacobsma.

Ron Jacobsma, Friant Water Authority

Ron Jacobsma, General Manager for Friant Water Authority, then gave an update on Temperance Flat. He said currently, they were doing the draft environmental statement analysis, but DWR doesn’t have funding so they are not participating as the lead agency for CEQA, but the discussions are continuing.

Back in 2008, the Bureau put together a plan formulation report which stressed integrating Temperance Flat with the Delta. “We know we have to make changes in the Delta,” he said. “Either we can get the fish populations up or we have to do some infrastructure there, or whether it’s big gulp, little sip, but getting export levels up on average closer to the historical mark but in an environmentally, less impactful way, or maybe avoid all the impacts that we’re currently facing.”

Jacobsma 1At the time, we were excited about that because Temperance Flat in our backyard is a great water supply for us, but not affordable for agriculture if we had to go it alone, he said. “Now if we can integrate that and have some partners and manage the project in a way where we have environmental public benefits, particularly in light of the river restoration program that’s ongoing, then we all of the sudden have a project that’s viable.”

Today, as we’re looking at the current alternatives under consideration, the Bureau wanted to maximize public benefits and to integrate the project, but they didn’t do so as far as Delta connectivity, he said. “What they really did was they shared the water amongst interests who could help pay for the project. That too, is understandable, but from our view, you can try and optimize a project, but you may make it less viable. You’re not going to be able to build a project in somebody’s backyard if the locals aren’t supportive of that project and they’re only going to be supportive if they get some type of a significant benefit out of it.”

Mr. Jacobsma said they have asked the Bureau to look at another alternative that provides a greater local water supply within Friant as well as the San Joaquin Valley. “We have groundwater overdraft issues, we need to capture the flood flows, so how can we move that around and really enhance conjunctive use, and how can we move that forward.”

We also want to look at supplemental information outside of the federal feasibility requirements, such as if we had different levels of exports in the Delta, regardless of how its achieved, but if we can get there, how can we integrate Temperance Flat and who would be the additional beneficiaries from that project, he said. “That could include large urban areas in and outside of the valley, so we’re hoping that becomes yet another alternative or at least supplemental information that we believe will be important,” he said.

The public benefits differ, depending on how the project’s run, he said, noting that the Commission hasn’t formally set the rules on determining public benefits, so they are trusting the experts right now.

Obviously we’re very interested in advancing the water bond and having it sufficient to get us started down implementation of the California Water Action Plan, and that bond money in my mind is what’s going to put the action in the action plan,” he said. “Otherwise it’s good ideas on paper, but how do we really move the ball. In our view, that bond really provides a lot of incentives throughout the state to move forward on a number of projects.

In regards to the cost of the water per acre-foot: “I can tell you this,” said Mr. Jacobsma. “ What used to scare water contractors in our area relative to costs has changed dramatically because of this year. When you’re facing tens of thousands of acres of permanent plantings being taken out for the first time in 65 years of the project, and with citrus estimated at over $50,000 an acre in lost productivity, a cost to get a reliable water supply that is in the hundreds of dollars per acre-foot is much more palatable than it would have been ten years ago.

Marguerite Patil, Contra Costa Water District

Marguerite Patil, Special Assistant to the General Manager of Contra Costa Water District, then gave an update on the expansion of Los Vaqueros reservoir.

Contra Costa Water District completed the first phase of the reservoir expansion from 100,000 AF to 160,000 AF two years ago, she began. “We barely were able to get about 130,000 AF in there before the effects of the drought really started to be felt for us,” she said. “We’re seeing very poor water quality in the Delta and also increased demands, but the good news is that we’re already putting the reservoir to its test. We’re delivering water right now as we speak to our partners in the Bay Area that are very severely impacted by the drought, so we’re moving water today and seeing the benefits of it, so that’s the good news.”

PatilThey are working on the next phase of the expansion, looking at sizes up to 500,000 AF with 275,000 AF being the most likely scenario, she said. “Like Thad and Jim talked about, the dam is cheap. An earth-fill dam is very affordable. What kills you is the conveyance costs, so we’re taking a look at a 275,000 AF reservoir and seeing where can we save money on intakes – can we do without an additional intake in the Delta, can we live with our intakes at Old River and Victoria Canal, how can we optimize the size of the conveyance, and how can we best connect to our fellow agencies in the Bay Area, so that’s the kind of optimization that we’re doing right now.”

We’re fortunate that we have a great partnership with Reclamation, and we’ve absolutely had a lot of support from DWR, but they are pretty much out of money to look at storage options, so we’re doing what we can with our own money and with money from Reclamation,” she said. “I think we’ll be ready to come to you when that day comes if the bond moves forward, and I think we’ll be ready to present a compelling case, so more on that to come.”

Ms. Patil said the cost per acre-foot for the 275,000 AF reservoir hasn’t been determined yet. “What we’re doing right now while we’re moving water into Alameda County is what I call a rental arrangement, so that means that the partners that we’re working with on the South Bay Aqueduct who did not buy into the 160,000 AF reservoir, they are renting storage space; they are buying some water and then we’re conveying it for them. So the cost of that on the current reservoir is about $200 an acre-foot and that depends on how long they hold it after they buy the water before it moves, so that sounds really cheap, but that’s because it’s more of a rental. It’s not a long-term commitment like we’re talking about for the future phase of the expansion or something like a Sites where everyone’s buying it up front.”

Our Board decided that we’re a public agency and we’re not trying to make a profit here; we’re trying to recover our costs, so that’s why we’re pricing it at what it actually costs us to deliver it and sell the water and store it on a rental basis, not what it’s worth on the open market,” said Ms. Patil. “I think we could get ten times that right now if we really wanted to go for it but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do pilot projects, prove the concept, learn through the experience and price it just to recover our costs.”

So I’ll leave it at that … “

Maurice Hall, Nature Conservancy

I’m going to talk about how we came to this table,” began Maurice Hall. “The Nature Conservancy is a conservation organization. We work to protect lands and water on which life depends. And I’m a water resources engineer and think of myself as trying to figure out how to work our system in California to make sure that water shows up where birds and fish and other wildlife and habitats need it.”

Nature Conservancy Slide 3California has a severely modified water system, so if we want the ecosystems that need water to have water when they need it, we’re going to have to think about how to explicitly build those ecosystem needs into the water system, he said. “That means doing things like shaping our facilities, operations, the governance that’s in place and the policies to make sure that ecosystem needs are met proactively alongside the needs of our cities and our farms.”

We would like to meet these ecosystem needs without new dams as we don’t tend to think of that as the best option, he said. But there’s been a lot of discussion about storage, and we’re recognizing that there’s really not enough water to meet all the needs that we have, and so some of the questions that were coming to my mind if these projects are to come to fruition, which ones make the most sense, and can we shape storage if we’re proactive about it and thoughtful about it. “One that is cost effective for California, meets multiple needs, and is really good for nature – if we’re being proactive about how it can be managed and shaped to meet nature’s needs, it’s better than status quo where we end up too often in conflict. Certainly the new era of drought awareness factored prevalently in our thinking. Can we shape things that help address the drought years so that when we have to make choices, there are less of those hard choices to make and that nature comes out better in it.”

He began recognizing that many of his colleagues were having those same kinds of conversations, so he got together with others to do a small collaborative study to explore some these ideas. They assembled a team of experts and chartered a pilot study.

One of the first things we needed to do was figure out how can we actually do an integrated study, and what would it look like, especially thinking how to integrate surface storage and groundwater,” he said.  “Pilot project purposes were to provide some basic clarity on how water storage operates in California – surface and groundwater storage – and develop an analytic method that evaluates storage as part of an integrated system, especially focusing on that groundwater-surface water combination, and conduct a pilot analysis to test this methodology.”

Nature Conservancy Slide 5With funding from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, a pilot study was put together that looked at four concept projects – two groundwater storage projects and two surface storage projects. “We wanted to evaluate these projects’s integration, integrating the surface and groundwater aspects of the project and do it with and without Delta conveyance,” he said.  Simple objectives were dry year deliveries, improving meeting Delta outflows, and meeting the Sac River temperature requirements downstream of Shasta, he said.

Nature Conservancy Slide 8He then presented a slide with the results of the analysis for water delivery increases. “One measure of the performance of the projects is the deliveries for state and federal water projects downstream. As an example, on the far left, you have the project that is operated independently, but then what happens if you improve conveyance and combine it with that surface storage, then what happens if you combine the surface and the groundwater in an integrated way along with the surface storage. … The general trend is that the more you integrate, the more value and storage availability you get from the project, so operating projects independently as just surface storage projects, you don’t get as much bang for the buck as you do if you improve how you integrate that surface storage with groundwater storage in other parts of the system.”

Some of the conclusions of the study were that surface and groundwater storage should be integrated in order to maximize water supply and environmental objectives, and that a system-based analytical approach is needed to identify the most promising storage programs for meeting these multiple objectives, he said. “There are opportunities to more rigorously integrate parts of the system and in particular, look at this surface water and groundwater interaction, so there is a $4B project with a certain amount of storage, can you have a $4.2B project and dramatically increase it by improving how it is integrated with different parts of the system.”

HallGoing forward, water infrastructure studies really need to explicitly consider integrating surface and groundwater storage, integrating new storage components with conveyance improvements, along with many other aspects of integrated water management like water demand management,” he said.

In addition, in our evaluation, our analysis processes are built mostly to work on water supply for farms and cities,” said Mr. Hall. “We really need to more explicitly consider ecological benefits in the water management analysis up front with a wider range of ecological objectives. Environmental advocates and resource agencies that deal with fish and wildlife need to be involved up front in the planning process so they can help shape the analysis so when you get to the end, you have more robust conclusions with respect to environmental needs, and considering nature’s needs up front.

So thank you very much, happy to answer any questions …

Charles Gardiner wraps it up …

Charles Gardiner then returned to the podium, saying that earlier he had mentioned three areas, but there really were four. “The fourth area is leadership and champions for storage and for this kind of integrated approach,” he said. “I would say that in our briefings, there is a lot of interest, but champions have not come forward. There are champions at the local and regional level, you’ve heard from at least three of them today, but we need champions at the state level. Particularly, we need that kind of leadership in helping drag us and push us forward in looking at storage from a system-wide perspective.”

We have big challenges,” he continued. “There’s a lot of discussion of the groundwater overdraft challenge this year, we’ve had historical discussions of the Delta challenge, and there’s the climate change challenge. I don’t think you can solve any of those three without a significant investment in system wide look at storage and moving it forward.”

“We’d like your help in being champions for storage, and whatever you can do to step up and do that, to help find funding to do the kind of work that has to happen in the next couple of years to really get to brass tacks on storage projects,” he said. “It needs to be a state priority. We need to turn what’s in the water action plan into actual action, and we need your help to do that.”

Discussion highlights

Marguerite Patil: “I think what we learned from working with Maurice and learning about the study that his group did is that there’s a real value in having a fresh set of eyes and somebody looking at it from a higher elevation instead of in the weeds … Somebody has to step up and look at the state overall and having a fresh set of independent eyes and a consultant to do that, I think there’s some real value in that, and that’s why we’re proposing a stage 2 independent study. … You want someone who’s a little removed from the day to day work on how to make the system work and also in the individual storage projects. … We’re looking for ideas and feedback on ways to get some state cost share for the study … about a $500,000 study …

Charles Gardiner: “We mention in the report the importance of the public benefits side and we suggested that the state and federal agencies appoint a group to essentially negotiate the public benefits early or get involved early in the planning process or design of these projects. When we met with the fisheries agencies, I think there was good support for that concept. They want to be involved early, they see the benefits of it as it provides better assurances on all sides for that early involvement. The issue is resources and funding for the folks to do that, so that’s another aspect of funding and institutional alignment that would be helpful.”

Maurice Hall:The reoperation of the existing system is absolutely part of what we need to evaluate. That said, there are a lot of constraints – legacy, environmental, and contractual constraints on the storage system that we have. The Nature Conservancy has done a good bit of work in the last several years looking at reoperation concepts in different places as a number of other people have done that and there’s definitely potential to do that, especially if you add in the groundwater storage components. That said, there are limitations to that, and if we’re looking at new storage potential, we definitely need to take advantage of how we operate that with groundwater storage to both maximize the storage capability and to address some of the obvious groundwater issues that we have.”

Charles Gardiner:I think there are clearly progressive levels of detail here. One of the things we see is that this system-wide look is not well articulated and it allows people to say all sorts of things about storage, whether its good or bad or whatever, so we think in and of itself helps. There are also clearly limitations on existing evaluations. … there are constraints in the decision processes underway.”

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