At the July 25th meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, council members heard a presentation on the challenges of managing the Delta’s salinity during times of drought.
Salinity in the Delta is largely a tug of war between the daily and seasonal tides pushing in from San Francisco Bay and the flow of fresh water coming down through the rivers and heading out of the Delta towards the Bay. Salinity in the Delta is regulated to protect municipal and industrial, agricultural, and fish and wildlife uses, and if the saltwater intrudes too far into the Delta, it can make the water unusable. Since the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation manage the most of the water stored in upstream reservoirs, as well as the flow structures and pumps in the Delta, they have the primary responsibility for managing salinity in the Delta.
On the panel are John Leahigh with the Department of Water Resources, Mark Gowdy from the State Water Resources Control Board, Cindy Garcia with DWR’s Municipal Water Quality Investigation’s Program, and John Herrick with the South Delta Water Agency.
Sam Harader, Program Manager with the Delta Science Program, began with a short video from the Bay Delta Live website to demonstrate how salinity changes and moves in the Delta over time. The video is based on the actual data from the first half of the year, with the blue representing fresh water and the red representing the more saline water. The video shows depicts how far salinity intrudes into the Delta at various times of the year. Notice how the precipitation in February and March begins flowing down into the Delta from north from the Sacramento River and south from the San Joaquin River, pushing the salt water back to the confluence of the two rivers. In May and June, the animation shows how far the salinity intrudes absent the freshwater flows to push it back.
- Note 1: To view this animation at the Bay Delta Live website using the most recent information, go here: http://baydeltalive.com/salinity
- Note 2: To view this animation with Sam Harader's narration, click here for the webcast video, and click on the icon for Agenda Item 10. Sam presentation begins at about 2:40:00.
Mr. Harader then turned it over to the panelists.
John Leahigh, Principal Engineer for State Water Project Operations with the Department of Water Resources
John Leahigh is the Principal Engineer for State Water Project operations, and is responsible for the day-to-day management, the annual operations planning, and the regulatory compliance and reporting activities of the State Water Project.
He began by saying that the subject of Delta salinity management is complicated and complex, but he would try to compress it down to a short presentation that will cover how the projects operate and how they develop the supply for the projects, how this affects Delta salinity, and the salinity standards themselves specifically, as well as the knobs that the projects have to turn to manage that salinity. He would then end with the unique challenges they are facing this year that hopefully they will not have to encounter next year.
Mr. Leahigh began with ‘Project Operations 101,’ explaining how the major water projects develop their water supply. “All the reservoirs – Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, and San Luis Reservoir – are storing natural flows that are in excess of all the other beneficial uses that are occurring in the winter and the spring,” he said. “That’s our opportunity to store that water so that we can release it later, typically summer and fall, to meet beneficial uses in the system. That’s an important concept, and it may be fairly intuitive and obvious, but it’s important to keep in mind when we look at some of the challenges we face this year, for example, on the stored water component of this picture.”
“Part of that storage is for the beneficial uses of the customers of the CVP and SWP, but even before we can provide that supply to our customers, we have to connect the supply from the north to the customers in the south,” he said, presenting a slide showing the extent of salinity intrusion before and after the upstream reservoirs were built. “To do this, a large portion of that stored water needs to open up a fresh water corridor through the Delta so that the supply is usable throughout the year.” He noted that the graphic shows that they’ve maintained this freshwater corridor throughout the year.
The State Water Board determines what is excess in terms of beneficial use, and sets the amount of the natural flows that must be allowed to pass through the reservoirs upstream into the Delta to provide inflow and salinity management with the Bay Delta standards, he said. To protect beneficial uses in the Delta, the State Water Board develops a water quality control plan for the Delta, and then ties the Department of Water Resources’ and Reclamation’s water rights to meeting those standards that are set forth in the plan.
There are standards for fish and wildlife, for M&I use, and for agricultural use, and they vary geographically throughout the Delta, as well as by month and by year type, Mr. Leahigh said, presenting a graph of Bay-Delta standards by type mapped on a timeline. “This gives you an idea of all of the standards that are in effect with the operational and flow standards on the top in blue and the water quality standards on the bottom for the three purposes: M&I, ag, and fish and wildlife uses.” He noted that the water quality standards mostly deal with salinity, and that the ag standards are more geared towards the timing of the irrigation season, which is April through August, while M&I standards are in effect pretty much year around.
Compliance is measured generally on 14-day or 30-day averages and is tied in with natural tidal cycles that occur, and with the Delta being the interface between the fresh water and salt water flows at sea level, the tides drive the big tug of war between the salts and the fresh water, he explained.
- Reservoir releases: “It’s either in the winter or spring, we’re allowing so much of the reservoir’s inflows to pass through to provide inflow to the Delta to control the salinity; or in the summer and the fall, we’re releasing previously stored water to add to the inflow to the Delta to repel that salt water intrusion,” he said.
- Delta Cross Channel Gate: “The Cross Channel gate makes more efficient use of that freshwater that is released into the Delta, and provides a more direct path to the Central Delta, and down Old and Middle River towards the export facilities,” he said. “That’s a key component – a key knob to turn.”
- Exports: “We can modulate those to the extent that we reduce those exports we can increase the total Delta outflow and therefore control salinity in that respect,” he said, noting that this knob was not really available this year. “The fact that we were dealing with such low exports in June meant that wasn’t even a knob to turn. We were essentially already down at minimum levels of exports, so it did not allow us to react quickly to salinity events.”
“We cannot talk about salinity management in the Delta without talking about the tides,” he said. He explained that there are two components to the tides: the daily cycle and a monthly cycle. He presented a chart of the stage at Martinez, noting that the location is right at the interface between the San Francisco Bay and the Suisun Marsh. There is a daily cycle of two ebb and flood tides per day, with a four foot difference between the ebb and flood tides, he noted.
“If you multiply four-foot stage change throughout the surface area of the Delta channels – that’s a large amount of water that’s moving back and forth through that area, and so the result is the huge tidal flux that we see daily, twice per day, into the Delta, and of course the salts follow the flow.”
He said that in the Suisun Marsh, they see tidal fluxes of over 300,000 cfs. “To put it into context, if 300,000 cfs were the inflow into Folsom Lake, that would essentially fill Folsom in a day and a half, so that’s the amount of flow that we’re talking about that’s occurring on a daily basis. Even things such as X2 position is something that’s not static, but is moving several kilometers per every few hours, twice a day, so when we talk about X2 position, for example, we’re talking about an average X2 position.”
On top of the daily flood-ebb cycle, there is the monthly neap-spring cycle that is driven by the orbit of the moon around the earth. “Essentially there are seven days of general filling of the Delta, followed by seven days of general draining of the Delta. On top of that daily cycle, there’s this monthly change as well, so the salts tend to creep in more prominently in the spring tides and less so in the neap tides.”
The tides that have been discussed so far are astronomical tides, and since they are based on the movement of heavenly bodies, they are predictable, but unfortunately, that’s only one aspect that drives the tides, he said. “The other aspect is meteorological conditions, which are highly uncertain and highly variable, so you get a storm event, you get a storm surge, you get the onshore winds associated with that, you get low barometric pressure, and all of those have bearings on the tidal changes.”
He presented a slide of the stage of the San Joaquin River at Antioch. “What I have circled in red is where there was a storm event during this time period which overwhelmed the astronomical effects of the tide and so meteorological effects take over,” he said. “Why that’s important is that the projects need to respond to that sort of salinity event that may be created by that.”
There is a time lag with reservoir releases, he said, noting that it takes five days for the water to travel from Shasta, three days from Lake Oroville and one day from Folsom before there’s an effect in the Delta. Modifying exports has a quicker response and can generally affect salinity within a day with a reduction at the export facilities, he said.
The other question is where does the water come from when a change is necessary, he said. It could be a reservoir or it could be the export facilities, so Coordinating Operations Agreement (COA) is used to determine where the contribution is made from, he said. “The COA is in effect a water rights settlement agreement between the two projects as far as assuring the responsibilities for meeting the Bay-Delta requirements,” he said. “It dictates on a daily basis who is responsible for making up any shortages in the system and if there is excess flows, how those benefits are shared, so that agreement addresses both of those factors.”
There are always trade-offs with the knobs and the Cross Channel Gate is a prime example, he said. “It’s better for water quality to have those gates open, but that interferes with the fish migration periods, so both in the water board’s water quality control plan and in the biological opinions, there are certain periods where we are not allowed to have the gates open. Of course, there’s a cost to that, both in terms of salinity and in terms of water supply, because essentially when those gates are closed, it becomes a much less efficient operation as far as getting the fresh water flows into the system to meet the standards and it requires either additional flow from upstream or less exports in order to compensate for a closure of that gate.”
The overarching and specific challenge this year was the lack of storage, he said. “The storage that’s necessary to be gained in the early part of the year to meet all the beneficial uses later in the year, one of them being keeping that fresh water corridor open, was greatly compromised by the fact that as of late January, we had the driest precipitation on record for the Northern California and reservoir levels were extremely low. In fact, not only were we not gaining storage, we were still losing storage as of late January, so that was a huge concern.”
The water projects petitioned the Board for modifications of some of the standards in the spring in order to lessen the need for releases from the reservoirs, so as much water as possible could be kept to meet beneficial uses later in the year. “Some of those trade-offs would include temperature management, so some of that storage was necessary to build up the cold water pool so that we would be able to make appropriate releases to benefit the salmonid species in the summer and fall,” said Mr. Leahigh.
Emergency drought barriers were contemplated as we continued to see dry conditions after January and it was forecasted that there wouldn’t be enough storage to release from the reservoirs into the Delta to control salinity, he explained. “So as a crutch, the emergency drought barriers would at least mitigate the extent of salt water intrusion into the Delta because of lack of fresh water,” he said. He explained that the function of the two barriers north off of Sutter and Steamboat sloughs would be to raise the stage in the Sacramento River and push more of the limited fresh water through the cross channel into the Central Delta to make more efficient use of that limited fresh water, and the barrier at West False River would limit the salt water intrusion from the tides.
Because of the above-average precipitation received during February and March, the drought barriers did not need to be installed, he said. He then presented a slide that depicted how salinity had changed throughout the year, using the EC at Clifton Court Forebay as an example. “Because of the lack of very low inflow into the Delta due to the dry conditions over the course of late fall into winter, into late January, EC levels continued to climb. We actually did exceed 1.0 for a period of a number of days as was the case at Jones Pumping Plant as well. That was not out of compliance with D 1641 because it’s based on a 30-day running average, so it was a couple days over but it did not exceed the 30 day average.”
“You can see then the improvements on the salinity,” he said. “The lower graph shows the flows on the Sacramento River at Verona, and you see a number of natural pulses that occurred due to the rain and the runoff downstream of the dams. The dams, themselves, were at minimum releases, trying to store as much water as possible for use currently and in the fall. The amount of precipitation that we did receive in those two months was just enough for us to limp along and continue on through this year.”
“We started to have some increase in salinity in June,” he said. “We were able to adjust our releases to insure that the salinity did not get to the level it did back in January, and that was because of the fact we were able to store a sufficient amount from February and March to offset that salinity increase.”
“Going into 2015, one thing is that we’re going to be in a worse condition as far as storage is concerned, so storage levels in all the reservoirs will actually be lower going into 2015 then they were going into 2014, so of course that’s great concern,” he said. “The drought management tools we have on the table are the same ones that were used this year or that were contemplated to be used this year, so we would continue to look at very low delivery capabilities from the projects, more likely to be cutbacks or shortages to the settlement contractors this coming year, and we would also probably look at modified Delta standards if absolutely necessary, and at worst case, we continue to pursue the planning for possible drought barrier installation in 2015 as a last resort.”
“Now we all hope we don’t end up there, but that’s sort of our contingency planning that we have in place should the need arise into 2015,” he said.
“So that concludes the remarks that I had … “
Mark Gowdy, Division of Water Rights, State Water Resources Control Board
Mark Gowdy then discussed the salinity effects on agriculture in the south Delta. He noted that his primary responsibility as a senior water resources control engineer is working on the phase one update to the Bay Delta Plan, which is focusing primarily on San Joaquin River flows as well as southern Delta salinity objectives and their implementation. In his presentation, he discussed how salinity in irrigation water affects crops, focusing on the southern Delta, as well as update what’s happening with the southern Delta salinity objectives.
“Salinity, as it pertains to agriculture, is concerned with the concentration of various ions in the water,” he said. “Contrary to what the name suggests, it’s not just about sodium chloride. It’s about all dissolved ions, including calcium, magnesium, and others.”
“A very convenient although crude way to measure these concentrations is to measure the water’s ability to conduct electricity,” he said. “With more positively and negatively charged ions in the water, electricity can move more readily and so measuring conductivity provides an indirect measure of the ionic concentration in the water.”
There are several different units for conductivity and it’s a source of confusion, he said. We often refer to salinity in terms of millimhos per centimeter (mmho/cm); agricultural literature uses deci-Siemens per meter (dS/m); and the municipal water community often uses microsiemens per centimeter, but the numeric values are all the same, he said.
Total Dissolved Solids is another way people have evaluated salinity, but it’s a rather cumbersome procedure, so measuring EC is quicker and is really the standard for research, objective setting and compliance, he said.
Under the Clean Water Act, Porter Cologne and other laws, the State Water Board is responsible for identifying beneficial uses and developing objectives for their protection, and the Bay-Delta Plan is the document where we identify those beneficial uses for the Delta and establish the salinity objectives, he said. These objectives are then implemented through water rights decisions, the most recent being D 1641, which makes requirements for meeting those objectives part of the water rights for the projects, he said.
Currently, the objectives for the Delta for salinity, and these are southern Delta, is .7 millimhos per centimeter (0.7 mmho/cm) in April through August as a 30-day running average of daily maximums, and then 1.0 mmho/cm for the months of September through March, he said.
In a court ruling in 2006, the State Board committed to reevaluating the salinity objectives, looking at the methodologies used to calculate soil water salinities in the development of the objectives, and in particular, take a closer look at how precipitation should be factored in, he said. As part of that effort, the State Water Board hired Dr. Glenn Hoffman, a nationally recognized expert on salinity who is retired now from the USDA Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, he said.
Geographically, we’re talking about the very southern tip of the Delta, he said, he said, presenting a map of the area. “The objectives that I had pointed out to you earlier apply at these four locations: the San Joaquin River at Vernalis where the San Joaquin enters the Delta, and then three interior locations as shown on the map.”
Salinity-related effects on crops can be broken down into three general categories, Mr. Gowdy explained: There is the stress that the salt in the soil water in the root zone puts on the plan; there are also effects if the ratio of sodium ions to other ions is too high because the sodium interacts with the clay particles, not affecting the crop but affecting the soil; and then there are the direct ion toxicity effects on the plant when there’s too much chloride or boron.
Dr. Hoffman determined that the second two types of effects really weren’t an issue in the southern Delta given the soil conditions and the constituents in the water, so the focus is really just on the first category of effects, Mr. Gowdy said.
The evapotranspiration needs of a plant are satisfied by applying water to the soil, and that water is either precipitation which is salt free, or irrigation water, which can have varying amounts of salt, he said. The plant will uptake water by a process of osmosis, which is very similar to the process of reverse osmosis where clean water is extracted from salt water, where the plant takes the water and leaves the salt behind, he explained. The salts start to accumulate in the root zone and as it increases, the plant has to exert more energy to extract the water from the increasing gradually saltier water in the root zone, and by expending this energy, it takes away from energy to grow, stunting the growth of the plant, and ultimately affecting the yield, he said. The concentration of salt determines how much flushing of water is needed through the root zone, he said. “The more water you apply to the surface relative to the needs of the plant, the more water will drain through and flush soils out and reduce stress,” he said.
The term for this is called a leaching fraction, which refers to the amount of water that drains through and flushes through the soil column relative to the amount that’s applied, he said, explaining that a .2 leaching fraction would mean that 20% of the applied water is actually flushing through the root zone. That’s an important term in the calculations or the estimation of objectives, he said.
Some crops are more sensitive to salinity effects than others for a given amount of evapotranspiration, and salt concentrations, so we used DWR crops survey data from 1976, 1988, 1996, and 2007, and broke crops down by salt sensitivity, he said. “Out of roughly 100,000-110,000 acres of irrigated acres in the Delta, about 10% were salt sensitive, and these are crops such as dry beans, almonds, and walnuts. About 60% were moderately sensitive, and those include tomatoes, corn, alfalfa, squash and vineyards. There’s actually been a slight increase in the amount of salt sensitive and moderately sensitive crops over the 30 year period.”
In 2010, Dr. Hoffman reviewed the latest literature on the numerous factors, and then looked at the available data in the south Delta and evaluated whether or not any of these factors or whether they were controlling crop yields in the Delta with the osmotic stress factor being the main problem; sodicity and toxicity were not of much concern, Mr. Gowdy said.
Dr. Hoffman developed a steady state modeling approach to help determine protective objectives, he said, presenting a graph showing the results of dry bean yields versus salinity with a leaching factor of .20. He noted that the Y axis is relative yield and on the X axis, is the salinity concentration in the irrigation water. “What you see is you can have irrigation water salinity up to 1.4 deci-Seimens per meter (dS/m) before you reach a break point and start to see a decrease in yield,” he said, noting that the solid blue line is the calculation of that, assuming average precipitation amounts in the southern Delta.
“However, if you have less precipitation and are relying more on irrigation water which contains salt, you would need to have less salt in the irrigation water in order to maintain concentrations below the impact threshold for, in this case, dry beans,” he said. “You can see with less precipitation you need to have a more protective standard.”
He then presented another slide with the results added for a .15 leaching fraction. “This shows that you can only have salinity in your irrigation water of about 1 dS/m with average rainfall, and if there’s no precipitation whatsoever, the standard goes even lower,” he said. “Dry beans were sort of our canary in the coal mine for objective setting purposes, and .15 seemed to be leaching fraction that was fairly typical for growing dry beans.”
Mr. Gowdy noted that Dr. Hoffman evaluated three crops: dry beans, almonds, and alfalfa. Dry beans and almonds are very salt sensitive, he said. Alfalfa is not quite as salt sensitive but it’s a crop that requires a lot of water, so farmers have difficulty maintaining higher leaching fractions because if they put too much water on the crop, there can be problems with root rot and too much water in the root zones, he said.
“These recommendations then became the basis for the three alternatives that we’re evaluating in the phase one Bay Delta Plan,” he said. “One alternative would be to not change the objectives; alternative two is looking at a 1.0 dS/m objective in all months; and alternative three would be 1.4 dS/m. We would balance the pros and cons of each of these and then the Board will make a decision as to what the right balance is. When we establish objectives, there are a number of implementation measures that would be considered.”
Mr. Gowdy concluded by mentioning that the Central Valley Water Board has organized a coalition of stakeholders called the CV-SALTS process which is looking at objectives and management strategies for salts and nitrate throughout the Central Valley, both in surface water and ground water, so there are other efforts in addition to our objective setting to try to address salinity.
“And with that … “
Cindy Garcia, Chief of the Municipal Water Quality Investigations Program within the Division of Environmental Services
Cindy Garcia, at the Department of Water Resources, began by saying that the program was put together 20 years ago to take a look at drinking water and drinking water constituents and support the operations of the State Water Project as well as other entities and stakeholders concerned with the source water quality coming through the State Water Project. “It’s looking at it from a municipal-industrial or a drinking water treatment plant’s point of view,” she said.
The program was set up to provide stakeholders with an early warning system, she said. They put out monitoring stations in the Delta, and they monitor in real-time at key locations, as well as take grab samples at the laboratories to do analysis for drinking water constituents, she said. That data is made publicly available to support both stakeholders and the operations within the Department, she said.
A problem still to this day is that there are no drinking water standards for surface water, she said. “Drinking water standards were set for treated water, so we provide data on a daily or sometimes hourly basis, and we provide predicting trends and forecasting of what trends may be into the future, and we provide data that supports the models, but we always have to put a disclaimer on it to make folks realize that this is not water that is going to meet drinking water standards unless it is treated.”
“We have some challenges with the regulations being set for chloride in the D 1641 standard, but that is a secondary standard on a treated drinking water standard, so we’re always trying to put out data but also use our expertise and provide support to those that don’t understand, so that we can explain that the data means you’re comparing apples to oranges if you’re not careful,” she said.
It might sound like our program is putting out confusing data but we’re not, she said. “We put out data that is of concern to the drinking water treatment plants, so we’re not reporting chlorides according to the D 1641 standard that they can compare to,” she said. “What we are providing is constituents and data, such as EC, temperature, pH, turbidity, and … organic carbon in either total organic carbon or dissolved organic carbon.”
There is a TMDL for total organic carbon but not for dissolved organic carbon, she noted. “When you’re a drinking water treatment plant, you don’t care about total; you care about what’s in the water, you care about dissolved, so primarily we ask our constituents what they need and we provide that,” she said. “We’re providing a lot of VOC data and organic carbon data and a lot of bromide data. This is where we get back to salinity.”
One of the constituents of salinity is bromide, with the main source coming from salt water intrusion, Ms. Garcia said. “With the drought and with the non-supply coming down to push that fresh water into the Delta and keep the salinity intrusion out, we do see salinity intrusion at the south Delta pumps. This is most profound for those on the South Bay Aqueduct who get their water in a matter of hours, compared to other stakeholders that may get their water in a matter of days, so the South Bay Aqueduct folks ask us for daily data as well as sometimes hourly data, and we stay in communication with them regularly. We provide enough information fast enough to them so they can react quickly based on our data and take water from Lake Del Valle or switch to groundwater sources.”
The real-time data forecasting system produces data every day which is published in 26-page report that is made publicly available on the website, she said.
Ms. Garcia noted that her program also provides support services on special studies within the Department, as well as information and expertise to stakeholders if they have a need.
“And with that … ”
John Herrick, Counsel and General Manager for the South Delta Water Agency
John Herrick began by saying while he could discuss numerous issues, but today he would just discuss salt in the Delta. “A number of things do need to be mentioned,” he said. “The first is that I believe the Delta Plan, as well as the original 2009 Act, encourages us and directs us to improve water quality for all purposes. Various efforts are going on, especially with regard to water quality in most of the Delta, and those are admirable, but how they will pan out, we don’t know. But there aren’t any efforts to improve water quality in the south Delta.”
“My area experiences a different problem than most,” he said. “When the tide comes in, that water is normally anywhere from .3 up to .5 EC maybe at worst. That’s good for us because that’s dilution water for the bad water that enters from the San Joaquin River. Although it contains salts originally derived from the ocean, our problem is that the San Joaquin River salts are coming into our corner of the Delta.”
If the salts were of a lower concentration of spread out over time, they might not be a problem, but they come in high concentrations and sometimes all year. “When you have the flow of the San Joaquin River coming into the Delta, containing all this salt, if it doesn’t go anywhere once it gets there, then it collects, and that’s the problem.”
“Most people don’t understand that the San Joaquin River is, for the most part, not connected to the Bay,” he said. “The amount of flow in the river, even in a normal year, sometimes will be 5000 cfs at most, but in many years, it’s much lower than that. In summers, it’s been as low as 500 cfs in recent history and this summer it’s right now about 260 cfs. That amount of water, just through riparian evapotranspiration and evaporation, disappears before it reaches any part of the Delta so unless the water which carries all the salt goes somewhere, the salt stays in our area. You need substantial flows just to get past normal processes … if you don’t have more than that coming in, then the salt doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Now, to exacerbate that, the projects have export pumps in the south Delta, and they remove water, too,” he said. “So even if we have more water than we locally use coming into the Delta from the San Joaquin, it still doesn’t leave the area because the export pumps take it. Now, when they take the salt, it gets delivered to various places, but some of it gets reapplied south of us and then drains back into the river so there’s a big circle going around.”
“In normal year types, the projects are managed to maintain X2 and so they try to maintain that at a certain position between Carquinez and the confluence, but there isn’t any mechanism that flushes the salts out of our area,” he said. “There’s no upstream storage dedicated to pushing the salts out; there’s some upstream storage dedicated to dilute it, but nothing gets it out of the area, so we have serious problems.”
“Now when I say there’s no process to improve south Delta water quality, I want to stress that,” he said. “We have a lot of things going on, we’ve got the CV-SALTS process, but that’s not going to result in less salt coming down the river … what CV-SALTS is trying to do right now is that they are trying to coordinate the salty drainage with river flows that have assimilative capacity so that it all doesn’t come down in one slug. Try to even it out. All that means is that times that we now have good water quality will be worse, because they will reschedule drainage to those times of good water quality and make it worse.”
“It doesn’t change the salt coming into the area; and it really doesn’t change the amount of water coming into the area, because New Melones controls the salt by releasing water, and if it doesn’t need to make releases, it won’t,” he said. “So, if it’s above the standard it makes releases, if it’s below the standard, it doesn’t make releases. Whether you shift that salt around to other different times has no effect on the amount of salt reaching the area, the only thing that matters is whether the salt leaves the area.”
Mr. Herrick then went back through some history. “The projects have been operating on the CVP for 50 years or more and the salt issues have been known from the very beginning,” he said. “People have struggled with how to solve it. It’s not an easy answer. In 1978, the current standards were developed, and then it took many years until they got implemented, but in the 1995 water quality control plan, the state board set the standards at .7 and 1.0 EC, and they had a water rights hearing to implement those in 2000 … well unfortunately for the south Delta, that contained a little footnote that said that if the projects do a certain thing, then the standards revert from the .7/1.0 back to 1.0 all year.”
Through court proceedings, the court said that if the Board wanted to reset the standard, it had to be set through a water quality hearing, he said. “It’s kind of complicated, but the court said that you can’t just change it in the application, you have to change it in the determination of what’s good for beneficial uses. So, unfortunately for my clients, rather than say okay, we’ll just implement the standard like we intended to, the State Board said let’s worsen water quality, let’s relax the standard. Now at the time, in our opinion, there wasn’t any evidence for that and subsequently people have made allegations in their studies, so the State Board has embarked upon a program to make the water quality in the south Delta worse.”
“Now that should be contrary to all of our goals,” he said. “The question is how to meet the standards, not how to relax them so you can meet them.”
“There are various things that can and might be done,” he said. “As you know, the Sacramento River dams release water to maintain X2 … there are reservoirs on the San Joaquin system that could be under some theories obligated to do that. In addition, the permits for San Luis Reservoir, which receives export water, are also burdened with these water quality standards, so water that you divert from the state and federal pumps and put it in San Luis could also be released back into the river to maintain water quality. Not that’s very controversial and nobody wants to do that, I’m just telling you that’s one way of doing this.”
“The current situation we find ourselves in is that is in order to meet water quality standards, last year and this year, we rolled the dice that natural flow will take care of that, and we lost,” he said. “They were losing storage upstream to meet in-Delta water quality requirements, and we have to use storage now to meet these requirements, so it shouldn’t matter whether the storage is in Shasta or San Luis, if those permits have an obligation to meet those standards, then it should be available. Again, that’s very controversial, but it’s something that we need to look at.”
“The issue we have to struggle with is that we have a drought situation,” he said. “In any particular year, we can look at reservoir storage and say okay, if it doesn’t rain for the next 9 months, how much water do we have. We can do that. And then we can say, if it doesn’t rain, maybe there isn’t any water for other purposes, only for future water quality obligations. Now that’s a policy decision; one could easily conclude no, the needs of other beneficial uses trump that and we have to use some water for some purposes, not save it for later purposes. That’s fine but that’s the struggle we have to go through.”
“That’s a tremendous decision. If we turn back the clock to last spring, how much exports would we allow?” he said. “Since last spring, we’ve exported at least 3 MAF of water that absent an export, would have been in storage and would have allowed us to meet rather than relax this year’s standards, and maybe next year’s standards. That’s a very tremendous and difficult decision because it affects the people who use the export water, but that’s what we have to struggle with.”
“I hope everybody is clear that if it doesn’t rain for the next 9 months, we’re done,” he said. “Because many of the reservoirs, if not all of them, will be at dead pool, which means there’s no water in the rivers. Not some, but none. If there’s no water in the rivers, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta becomes the ocean after a few months. That’s catastrophic beyond any description.”
“So that’s what we have to struggle with,” he said. “We have a system that allows us to store water to meet obligations and to meet beneficial use, consumptive use needs, but when we run into dry times, we run out of water, so how much of this year’s exports and any year, do we have to give up in case the next year is dry or a drought? Those are tremendously difficult issues.”
“Now I’ve got all sorts of other things to complain about which I won’t, but I really do appreciate the opportunity to come here … “
Chair Randy Fiorini asks if there are any questions, and there are none. “Thank you all very much,” he said. “You’ve made it very clear that we’re dealing with a very difficult situation that could become more difficult, so our prayers go with you.”