Making every drop count: The future of water storage in California
With $2.7 billion soon to be available from Prop 1, panel discusses how best to spend the available dollars and how to integrate new storage projects into the state’s overall water system
Last November, voters approved Proposition 1, which allocated $2.7 billion to pay for public benefits of water storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, are cost-effective, and provide a net improvement in ecosystem or water quality conditions. A variety of storage projects qualify under the measure, not just surface storage, but also groundwater storage, groundwater contamination projects that provide a storage benefit, and conjunctive use and reservoir reoperation projects.
Per the bond language, the types of public benefits that can be funded through Proposition 1 are ecosystem improvements, water quality improvements, flood control, emergency response, and recreation benefits. No project can receive funding for public benefits that exceeds 50% of the project costs, and of the public benefits that are funded, half must be for ecosystem improvements. In addition, the projects are to ‘provide measurable improvements in the Delta ecosystem or to tributaries of the Delta’.
The California Water Commission is currently developing the regulations for determining public benefits, with those regulations being completed and money ready to be disbursed potentially on December 15, 2015.
At December’s ACWA conference in San Diego, Lester Snow, Executive Director of the California Water Foundation; Joe Byrne, Chair of the California Water Commission; Jay Lund, Director of Center of Watershed Sciences and adjunct PPIC fellow; and Randy Fiorini, Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council discussed the future of water storage in California, and how those funds should be spent.
Moderator Paul Kelley began by recalling that the path to the recently voter-approved water bond actually began back in water legislation passed in 2009. “There was a bond measure that was included in that particular package; there was also an agreement to reconstitute the Water Commission,” he said. “Five years later we have a bond measure that has passed and $2.7 million available in it for water storage.”
He acknowledged that the bond contains funding for many other items, but the focus of this panel session would be on how the state can facilitate and integrate current and future water resources and maximize them with storage as a component of that, as well as some of the opportunities for increased storage in California, both above and below ground.
LESTER SNOW, Executive Director of the California Water Foundation
Lester Snow began by saying that we draw a lot of attention to storage issues when there’s a drought, but when the reservoirs are full, not so much, and that’s the nature of water that we all know. “The Corps of Engineers talks about the political public half-life of the flood being 6 months, and for a drought, it’s about two weeks once the reservoirs are filled,” he said. “Now we’re acutely aware of the need for storage and we’re long past the time to add more storage to our system.”
“I want to put storage in a broader context,” he said. “We need to stop talking about storage as if it’s a project. We envision this dam and there’s water behind it, but we need to start talking about storage infrastructure as a much broader approach to storing water in the system. We need to be creative in the approach to it. We can’t assume that the funding in the bond, the $2.7 billion, is already allocated to projects that we’ve been talking about for three decades. We need to be creative in how we add storage to our system and that’s essential.”
The year 2014 has been a special year with the historic drought, the Governor’s Water Action Plan which was a very clear articulation of a integrated approach to dealing with the state’s water problems, historic groundwater legislation something heretofore people thought impossible, and then the passage of the water bond, he said. “Storage is woven through all of these,” he said. “The lack of storage in the first, and the need for storage in the other three.”
“The biggest issue is the condition of storage that we have today,” he said. “All of them are way below average, and some of them, especially in some of the ag storage facilities are at historic lows in terms of how much water they have in them.” He pointed out that there isn’t any forecast that says that the drought is going to end anytime soon.
When we talk about storage, it’s important to consider how the water infrastructure system in California evolved, he said. “It evolved from the two basic factors that the water occurs up in the mountains and we need it somewhere else, and it occurs very erratically,” said Mr. Snow. “So over the years, we developed a system to store that water to carry between wet and dry years and the massive canal systems that cover the entire state. It’s the envy of the world in terms of our ability to store water and move water.”
California’s water system has lost reliability for a number of reasons, such as increasing population, aging infrastructure, groundwater overdraft, degraded ecosystems, increasing conflict, management fragmentation, and uncertainty due to climate change, he said.
“As a society in the U.S., we seem to not want to reinvest in our infrastructure,” Mr. Snow said, noting that a piece on the TV show, 60 Minutes, recently highlighted the poor condition of the nation’s bridges and the billions of dollars needed to be invested in that alone. “We don’t seem to be doing a very good job on that and I don’t think we’ve done a very good job on water. The bond is a down payment to get us started.”
Mr. Snow also noted that management fragmentation is an issue. “Reservoirs owned by local agencies, state agencies, and federal agencies make it difficult to coordinate the operation,” he said.
Climate change is causing a significant change in our fundamental water flow patterns, as well as our snowpack. “We built a whole system based around snow accumulating and melting slowly, and running off into our reservoirs, and that is changing,” he said. “It has been changing for some time.”
He then presented a graph of runoff from spring snowmelt in the Sacramento River. “This is the percent of runoff in any given year that occurs as a result of snowpack melting, so this is the April through July runoff and you can see a very steady decline in the percent of the annual runoff that occurs during that period, meaning less snowpack and more runoff as a direct result of rain. The point it it’s changing the way our water occurs.”
Mr. Snow presented a picture of Lake Oroville in November of 2014 and said, “If all we’re going to do is add a couple more reservoirs to the system, they would all look like this today. Every one of them would look like this, that’s why we need to think of investing in storage infrastructure.”
He then gave four recommendations he termed ‘paths’ to additional storage:
- Focus on long-term carryover storage: “Not just to fill a reservoir and use it next year, but classic annual carry-over. We need to focus on carrying over wet year water to dry years. If all we’re doing is bumping yield a little bit, we’re not preparing for the kind of drought conditions we’re experiencing now, and we’re likely to experience in a more severe way in the future.”
- Coordinated reservoir operations: “We need to deal directly with the fragmentation of operation, local, state, and federal. … We are addressing this in some places, but we need to do a better job of coordinated operations to get the most that we can out of the reservoirs that we have.”
- Groundwater storage: “We need to do everything we can to encourage groundwater storage. One of the motivations for passing a groundwater bill was to bring a structure in place that would incentivize people to store water in groundwater basins. In some cases if you went to the expense of developing recharge basins, buying surplus water and putting it in the basin, somebody else could pump it out. There needs to be a structure in place that incentivizes getting excess water when it’s available, putting it in the basin and holding it for the long term.”
- Conjunctive management: “How you operate the system together to optimize and in effect maximize the amount of storage that’s available, and incentivize people investing in storage projects.”
We need to be thinking of storage infrastructure in more integrated ways, he said. “You can’t fix the problem that we have by simply building a reservoir, or you would hear some say if we did a better job in conservation, we’re going to fix our problem – it’s just not true. There has to be a very focused and comprehensive approach to investing in the system,” he said.
“While we’re here today to talk about the $2.7 billion in the bond, there’s other money in the bond that goes to investing in these other kinds of activities,” he said. “When you look at the potential yield out of some of the reservoirs that have been talked about for several decades, they pale in comparison to the amount of water we dump into the ocean every year in the form of wastewater, so to simply do a new reservoir and not address our water reuse situation is fool hardy and a waste of money.”
“It takes this whole comprehensive approach of investing in the system in all of these different areas, and making sure we’ve got storage added to the system to get us through these kinds of drought years that we’re experiencing,” he said.
The drought conditions are likely to continue in 2015, Mr. Snow said. “We’re going to continue to have water shortage issues and it’s going to rivet our attention,” he said. “The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act needs to be implemented. Difficult to pass, very challenging to implement. But there’s an opportunity for storage because in fact, effective implementation of the groundwater act requires additional storage, there’s no question about that. Implementing the bond in a comprehensive fashion, and something will happen with the BDCP in 2015.”
“We’re seeing a federal policy shift,” he continued. “What potentially worries me about some of the debate I’ve seen is creating the illusion you can fix California’s water problems by lessening some of the environmental protections. That might yield a little piece of water, but we need to invest in the system. We cannot allow that to be an excuse to not invest in infrastructure. For me that means that the federal, state and local governments all need to invest in basic infrastructure.”
“So finally, this is the system,” he said. “We do divide it up; there’s a lot of fragmentation in terms of governance and jurisdictions, but it actually is tied together. There can be benefits that spread to the ecosystem from a groundwater recharge program. We can take our wastewater and recharge groundwater or free up surface water for somebody else to use. We have to invest in this system in a comprehensive way.”
JOE BYRNE, Chair of the California Water Commission
Joe Byrne then gave an overview of what was in the water bond in regards to water storage and the role that the California Water Commission will be playing in the process.
“We have the task of trying to figure out the language in the bond, how to interpret that and then how to create a process that is intelligent and satisfies what was desired in the legislation and consistent with the governor’s Water Action Plan,” he began.
Mr. Byrne said that, besides the water bond, the Commission has other statutory responsibilities, including advising the Director of the Department of Water Resources, issuing a annual report on the State Water Project, and approving all new rules and regulations, as well as being the eminent domain body for the Department. He noted that the Commission recently completed regulations for agricultural water measurement, but the most significant responsibility is the $2.7 billion in the water bond.
The $2.7 billion is to pay for public benefits associated with water storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, are cost effective, and provide a net improvement in the ecosystem and water quality conditions, and these three conditions must be consistent for any project that is funded, Mr. Byrne said. “We’re supposed to create a competitive process that ranks potential projects based on the expected return for the public investment as measured by the magnitude of the public benefit,” he said. “So we have to create a way for us to rank projects based upon the public benefits that are submitted in the application.”
There are a variety of projects eligible for funding in addition to the CalFed storage projects (which are Sites Reservoir, Temperance Flat Reservoir, and expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir). Also eligible for funding from water bond funds are groundwater storage projects, groundwater contamination prevention or remediation projects that provide storage benefits, conjunctive use and reservoir reoperation projects, and local and regional surface storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, Mr. Byrne noted.
“The water bond language also specifies that all projects that are funded have to ‘provide measurable improvements in the Delta ecosystem or to tributaries of the Delta’, so one of the things we’ll have to figure out is what does that mean and how far afield of the Delta can you be to provide those benefits,” Mr. Byrne said.
The public benefits that qualify for funding under the water bond are ecosystem improvements, water quality improvements, flood control benefits, emergency response, and recreational purposes, said Mr. Byrne. He also noted water bond funds cannot pay for more than 50% of the total project costs, and that half of the public benefits must go towards ecosystem improvements.
“As you can see, there’s a heavy emphasis on ecosystem improvements, and I think it’s consistent with the California Water Action Plan, which is looking at a variety of things and not just my project for me and that’s it,” he said. “There’s going to need to be more to projects than that.”
Mr. Byrne said that the money cannot by allocated before December 15, 2016, which is the same date by which the Commission needs to adopt regulations. The regulations are to adopt methods for quantification and management of public benefits, and must be done in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board, he said.
“So I think you’re getting a sense of how it’s complicated,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out what ecosystem improvement is, and we’re also going to have to figure out a way for us to quantify and potentially rank projects and look at benefits as against other benefits and come up with a way to weigh them.”
“The regulations must include priorities and relative environmental value of ecosystem benefits as provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and also the relative environmental value of water quality benefits as provided by the State Water Board,” he said. “And before money flows, according to the bond, there are certain provisions that require that if there are public benefits that are going to be achieved by the project, ultimately contracts will need to be in place with whomever is responsible for ensuring that those benefits take place. … They’re going to have to show that those benefits are going to be established and maintained over time.”
Over the last four years, the Commission has been working with staff to develop draft regulations which have been posted on the Commission’s website since November of 2013, Mr. Byrne said. “We’re going to have a very public process over the course of the next year plus,” he said. “We hope to have a very public process so that we get input and don’t come up with something that then is considered and criticized by folks who maybe haven’t been participating, so we’re going to be very open and transparent over the course of the next year and a half to figure out what those draft regulations will look like and to develop some of those criteria.”
The Commission has already been discussing how to define the various benefits. “Is it a recreation benefit if there’s more water in the system so you can fill a public pool? Probably not. Is it a recreation benefit if you’re adjacent to a new reservoir? Probably,” he said. “You can imagine on the ecosystem improvement side, it gets quite complicated – things like certain types of fish or species and how does it all relate, and how to value those and potentially quantify them is something that we’re going to have to figure out. Also we considered that water quality benefits can be ecosystem benefits or it could be some benefits that fit into multiple categories, and that becomes important when you remember that 50% of the public funding is for the ecosystem benefits.”
Mr. Byrne said the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board are supposed to provide them with environmental ecosystem priorities, such as those that provide recovery for endangered species or those that rehabilitate natural processes, or for water quality side, things like temperature improvements or dealing with mercury control.
“We’ve put these on paper in the draft regulations, but I should emphasize it’s very much a draft, and it represents what we’ve felt at the time was worth putting out to the public and where we were in our thinking,” he said. “It’s where we’re going to pick up once we go back in January.”
Monitoring and management of the project is also important, Mr. Byrne said. “In our regulations, we are requiring that there be an operations plan and a reporting a plan, so over the course of time, there’s a guarantee of what people are indicating in applications will actually happen, and it needs to be mapped out in the application.”
Mr. Byrne said that there are some preliminary details online which gives a good sense of where the thinking is at this point. “Of course, there are a lot of blanks to fill in, and that’s what we would welcome the public to attend all of our meetings and to provide that input,” he said. “We’ll have many, many stakeholder meetings.”
“So as you can tell, it’s not simple,” he said. “My thoughts are that it is very consistent with the Governor’s Water Action Plan, which is looking at more of an integrated approach. It’s also very consistent with the IRWM movement and the whole regionalization and looking at not just your own project, but looking at overall benefits.”
“It is for projects that improve the overall water system,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be the whole system; it can be a small part of it, but more than just one entity. How is it going to make it work better, and how is it going to help us to address this situation like we are in right now.”
“So with that … “
For more information …
- For more on the development of regulations for determining the public benefits of water storage projects currently underway at the California Water Commission, go here: Proposition 1 Water Storage Investment Program: Funding the Public Benefits of Water Storage Projects
JAY LUND, Director of the UC Davis Center of Watershed Sciences and adjunct PPIC fellow
Jay Lund began by giving his main points up front:
1. Storage is part of a system with inflows, conveyance, & demands: “Storage is a major part of a big system, and the integrated system aspect of storage in California’s water performance is really important,” he said. “It’s part of a system that not only has storage, but it has inflows, it has conveyance, and it has demands. It has all kinds of demands – lots of different agricultural demands, lots of different urban demands, all in different places, lots of different environmental demands all in different places, recreational demands, hydropower, all those things.”
2. Not all storage is equal: “You’ll hear lots of people talk about losing 14 million acre-feet of snowpack due to global warming, so we need to build 14 million acre feet of storage someplace,” he said. “Anybody have a 14 million acre-foot place that I could dam up? All storage is not equal, and I’m going to give an example of that.”
3. Storage without water is useless: “Any of you have had teenagers at home at one point? You have a refrigerator, you may have a large refrigerator, how does food get into that refrigerator? Somebody had to put it in there. A refrigerator without Mom and Dad to put something in there is useless.”
4. Storage will be used differently: “We’re going to be building more conjunctive use with it, we’re going to be doing more multi-benefit activities, we’re going to be trying to get more out of the environment in it, and water commission is even going to pay you to do this,” he said.
5. Storage decisions should be cold and calculating: “We hear a lot of people talk about storage, either for it or against it, it’s kind of a religious issue with people,” he said. “I’m the geeky professor; I’m here to say you should be making this decision with a very cold, hard calculation. This is a matter of billions of dollars of the people’s money; and we really want to have this be successful, because if we’re not successful, we’re not going to have more water bonds. Maybe that’s good or bad, depending on what side your on, but we have a responsibility to the performance of the system and to the money to do a good job of it.”
He then presented a slide with three different figures depicting California water. “I like the middle one myself, which is how most people understand California’s water system,” Mr. Lund said. “With floods and droughts, people sometimes at least want to have information on the middle. If I’m talking about wastewater, people actually don’t want to know.”
The map on the right shows the extensive water infrastructure in California, with the different colors indicating the type of entity operating the system: state, federal, or local. “We have to have more integrated systems, but integration is hard,” he said. “How easy is it for you to integrate with your neighboring district? Now how about your neighboring district and two other districts, four federal agencies and a couple of state agencies?”
Integration is hard, and we don’t make it any easier for ourselves, he said. “How do we make financial transactions and contractual transactions easier with the federal agencies, state agencies, and with neighbors – and some of it is just politics; people have had to deal that with since the times of Ancient Rome.”
“Storage moves water in time, just like your refrigerator moves food in time,” he said. “We use it to store floods so there isn’t flooding, and we use it to store water in the wet seasons so that we have water for dry seasons and water for droughts.”
Using the chart of groundwater levels at Galt as an example, he said, “You can see it goes up and down every year, that’s what we would call seasonal storage, from wet season to dry season. Then you can see the big long dips that might last several decades, those are droughts – very long refill-drawdown periods.”
In terms of water storage capacity in California, Mr. Lund said total capacity of groundwater is estimated at about 140 MAF with some estimates going higher; surface storage is about 42 MAF. “If you take all of the proposed surface storage facilities that are talked about and being studied, they are on the order of 4 of 5 MAF,” he said. “This gives you an idea of how much you can expect out of just the storage component by themselves; if you don’t leverage it with other things, you’re not going to get very much.”
“Let’s look at the use of storage – groundwater storage and surface water storage,” Mr. Lund said. “The lighter color here is seasonal storage; that is how we transfer water from our wet season to our dry season. We use surface storage mostly for that but we use a fair amount of groundwater storage for that, too. When it comes to droughts, we use groundwater more than surface water; when you get more than a two or three year drought, you’re relying almost exclusively on groundwater storage to get through that drought.”
“So the idea of getting through century-long mega-droughts because you built surface water storage = we modeled those cases, those reservoirs never fill up,” he said. “It’s groundwater; that’s all you got.”
He then presented a slide of historical groundwater pumping in the Central Valley. He noted that the majority of pumping has been in the Tulare Basin. “When the new projects have come on, from time to time, it’s gone down and then it’s come back up,” he said. “The Sacramento Valley is getting into pumping more in a bigger way, recently. My window on how California water works is very weird; it’s about where my students get hired. I’ve been noticing a lot of my students getting hired by counties in the Sacramento Valley to do groundwater. They are getting serious about something. You don’t hire PhDs for nothing.”
“All storage is not equal,” Mr. Lund said, quoting Allen Hazen who said, ‘With a larger reservoir, there is some increasing gain with further size; but in a diminishing ratio.’ He presented a slide, noting that it was a model for the Kern River. “I modeled it as a simple model with today’s hydrology and historical hydrology,” he said. “You can see if you didn’t have any reservoir at all, you could have about 75,000 AF firm yield – water delivery that you would never see shorted in a repeat of the historic record.”
“As you increase the storage capacity from 0 to 100, you get quite a bit of increase in the delivery, about 1 for 1 because I can refill that size of a reservoir basically every year, from the wet season to the dry season,” Mr. Lund said. “My yield is 1 to 1, but as I build this thing bigger and bigger, I get less and less out of it because I can’t hardly refill it. The total average annual inflow for this river is about 500,000 AF per year, so I will never, no matter how big I build the reservoir, ever be able to get more than half a million acre-foot a year of deliveries. Remember, it’s like a refrigerator. You have to put something into it before you can get something out of it.”
And you don’t want to put all the storage in one place, he said. “One of the hard things about California water is most of the very good dam sites that are the most productive for water supply delivery already have pretty substantial reservoirs on them,” he said. “So we’re getting pretty low yields at a pretty high expense, and we really have to integrate these with other things to get the most bang for the buck.”
In the future, storage is going to be used differently, Mr. Lund said. “We’re looking at managing cold water for fish,” he said. “We’re going to be looking at pulse flows for habitat, and maybe trying to make some of those pulse flows also recharge groundwater basins. We’ll be doing a lot more regional conjunctive use activities; and statewide conjunctive use where we try to reoperate the Sacramento Valley in conjunction with water storage in the Tulare Basin for uses in other parts of the state, such as the Bay Area and Southern California.”
This does create challenges with integration, because the people who control the groundwater basins are different than all those agencies that control the surface water basins and the demand, he said.
“Water markets are very important,” he said. “That’s one of the most reliable way to persuade someone to behave differently – pay them. We’ve seen a lot of creativity stimulated by small amount of water markets we have in the system. You don’t’ actually have everything in the system be a market; if you have maybe 5 or 10% of the water subject to market activity, it’s actually enough to make things work pretty well.”
He then presented a table showing the value added storage capacity, noting that the table lists the main reservoirs in the state. Using a statewide model with a historical climate and a warmer, drier climate, the model was used to estimate the economic value of additional water storage, considering different levels or urban water conservation, and with full Delta exports and with no Delta exports.
“You can see north of the Delta, if you end water exports, the value of storage north of the Delta goes down,” he said. “If you increase water conservation in urban areas statewide, the value of water storage pretty much everywhere goes down a bit, and if you go to warmer, drier climate, the value of storage goes up quite a bit. South of the Delta, as you end water exports, the value of water goes up, because you don’t want to lose a single drop down the San Joaquin River.”
He noted that the yellow rows are the exceptions. “When you get a drier climate, the value of storage here goes down. Why is that? We don’t have enough water to fill them. It’s that refrigerator. You went and bought a big refrigerator and then your teenagers left, so you’re stuck,” he said. “So this shows that all storage is different. It depends on where it is, how big it is, how you operate it, it’s all different. It’s not just a transferable sum.”
Mr. Lund then turned to a pilot study that was released recently. “What we did is we looked at four storage programs: two groundwater storage and two surface water storage, each in the northern and southern parts of Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys; each of these had a storage capacity of 2 MAF,” he said. (Click here for the report: Integrating Storage in California’s Water System)
The model was used to estimate the ability to use additional storage today, he said. The top chart is for surface storage. “One of the things we found interesting was that with Sacramento Valley storage and 2 MAF of capacity, we used the surface storage all the time, but in the San Joaquin Valley, with a repeat of the whole historic record, we could only use it really at the most 1 MAF in one episode, so it’s hard to fill storage if you don’t have water.”
The chart on the bottom is for groundwater. “With groundwater, it was even more of a stark difference,” he said. “We could use all the extra groundwater storage capacity in Sacramento Valley, but look at the San Joaquin Valley. All that empty groundwater space they have up there from decades of overdraft and we can’t get any water into it. There’s nobody putting food into the refrigerator.”
“What limits the ability to store water in the south is Delta conveyance capacity, so we looked at storage utilization with BDCP-ish Delta conveyance, because who knows what it would really be in the end,” he said. “If you increase Delta conveyance capacity, the Sacramento storage utilization is basically the same, but in the San Joaquin, you can now use quite a bit more surface water storage capacity and a bit more groundwater, but not a lot. Here, the limitation was not Delta conveyance or storage capacity, but the ability to recharge groundwater. We had been relying entirely on in-leiu groundwater recharge.”
“So with an integrated model, we have more elaborate ways of recharging groundwater, more storage, Delta conveyance improvements, and integrated operations of surface water and groundwater, and now we’re able to more to utilize the Sac Valley storage, still basically the same, but in the San Joaquin Valley, you can see the groundwater storage moves up quite a bit.”
“One thing I found really interesting is that really under any of these cases, you can’t use anymore than about 5 or 6 MAF of additional storage capacity – surface storage and groundwater – in the main part of the system,” Mr. Lund said. “So the hopeful sign about this is after the $2.7 billion, if you use it to build 3 – 5 MAF of storage, we’re never going to need to do this again, because there just isn’t water to fill anymore. So I think that’s a nice limit to know about.”
“And the amount of water delivery you get out of that, you can calculate also, and the top of the range is about 1.4 MAF, but often a lot of that is from the improvements on the conveyance rather than just the storage,” he added.
Dr. Lund then concluded with his main points. “Integration is hard. We’re always talking about integration, we’re not really setting ourselves up to be able to do it, but it’s really important. So storage requires a system of inflows, conveyance and demands , not all storage is equal, storage without water is useless, storage will be used differently, and water storage decisions should be cold and calculating.”
For more information …
- Click here for the report: Integrating Storage in California’s Water System
- Click here for post from the California Water Blog on this report: Shaping Water Storage in California
RANDY FIORINI: Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council
“I think my job as the fourth presenter is to affirm everything that these three gentlemen have presented,” Randy Fiorini began. “I am in agreement.”
“Lester Snow did a good job of providing a historical overview and emphasizing the need for storage infrastructure, and as we look towards the future, a key role for storage is going to be implementing groundwater replenishment projects, so he touched on that very well,” he said. “Joe Byrne talked about the need to develop procedures to spend $2.7 billion. One of the big roles of the water commission is going to be managing expectations. We know from a survey that was conducted last March that there is a lot of pent up demand in the regional and local areas to do more projects, to add storage capacity, and as well as the ongoing long-term CalFed project studies, so they are going to have an interesting time managing how to distribute that money.”
“Jay Lund is always very entertaining and talked I think presents some realistic expectations and limits on what storage can and cannot do,” he said.
Mr. Fiorini said that the Delta Stewardship Council was created 6 years ago as a new state agency to help coordinate the activities of numerous state, federal, and local agencies. “Implementation and coordination is a big part of what we do,” he said. “To guide that work, we were tasked by the legislature to create a plan. That plan was adopted in May of 2013 and is called the Delta Plan. Some of the findings in the compilation of this Delta Plan indicated that to achieve the coequal goals of water supply reliability for the state and a healthy restored ecosystem in the Delta. There are a number of things that needed to be done.”
Mr. Fiorini pointed out that in 2000, Cal Fed identified five potential storage projects; two of which are still under study, yet during that same period of time, Los Vaqueros Reservoir was enlarged and Diamond Valley Reservoir was built. “What’s the difference?” he said. “The difference is there were local champions, so as we move forward with whatever investments we make in storage in California, it will require a local champion, an agency or a group of agencies that are going to do the hard work to do the proper planning and go through the permitting process because without that, it just will not happen, and that’s a key component.”
Mr. Fiorini then shared some of his ideas on storage. “In terms of on-stream storage, we probably have all we’re going to get in terms of facilities on rivers, but there are some opportunities that exist within those facilities that are in place,” he said. “I’m familiar with the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, and there are a number of reservoirs, a couple that come to mind, that aren’t operating at full capacity because of seismic concerns and others; those are opportunities to not only improve but to enlarge the capacity of existing facilities. You already have the conveyance, you’ve already addressed dead pool because it already exists, so enlarging reservoirs that already exist seem to me to be a very efficient way to address additional storage needs.”
“Off-stream storage is probably the most likely area where we will see new development, both above ground and below ground; it will also be a very integral part of facilitating groundwater recharge,” Mr. Fiorini said. “Additional investments are going to have to be made in flood flow captures, creating basins for groundwater recharge, building infrastructure to connect to adjacent districts who have surface water and surface water that’s available in times of surplus to utilize, but these are perhaps areas where some of the bond funds can be utilized.”
“We need a statewide plan; additional storage will be an integral part of helping to address the coequal goals,” he said. “There’s probably not many places that are more dependent on surface water storage and those releases than the Delta. The Delta depends upon freshwater supplies, largely from releases from upstream reservoirs. It depends on water stored for salinity control. The drought has really sharpened focus on how important that water storage is, and when we don’t have it, how critical things can get.”
We need to find a way to streamline permitting, Mr. Fiorini said. “Any time you have something to build in California where there is local, regional, or statewide significance, it requires a lot of permits,” he said. “I come from a farming background and a business background, and I look at this with somewhat of a disappointed view towards our permitting process for water projects. They are designed to protect, but sometimes I think the way it all rolls out, it’s almost designed to prohibit. We have to find a way to consolidate the permitting process for this $2.7 billion plus additional funds that will be spent in the next ten years to help streamline this to get projects done that need to get done in an efficient yet environmentally friendly manner.”
“The last item I will throw out is that if we could predict what the weather is going to be in six months, we could operate this system a lot better and so my challenge to the science community is help us come up with better long range accurate weather forecasting,” he said. “Currently, I tell people anything beyond 3 days is a guess, but I think we have the technology and the brain power to do better than that, and that would certainly help to maximize a little greater efficiency out of the existing system that we all depend upon.”
“And so with that … ”
Audience questions and answers
An audience member asked Joe Byrne how groundwater storage would meet recreation and ecosystem improvement goals?
“The general criteria are what they are, and we’re going to do our best to eliminate what is very obviously not included, or shouldn’t be included,” he said. “It will be open to the applicants to present projects and hopefully we’ve provided enough clarity, but I’m sure there are many examples of groundwater projects that can help with water quality and ecosystem improvements. You’re going to have to meet the criteria, especially the 50% ecosystem improvement criteria if you want to get funding.”
Moderator Paul Kelly added some ideas. “Some of the things that people have contemplated is that having a groundwater storage project would allow an irrigation district to curtail surface diversions during critical fish periods because now they have additional surface storage, so you can get the fisheries benefits or ecosystem benefits by operating your groundwater storage to curtail diversions you would not have otherwise been able to curtail. There may be some theories – I don’t know how the commission would look at this, of being able to maintain a higher elevation for recreational purposes through the same method.”
An audience member commented that he hoped that the state in the future will provide greater funding and interest for recycled water storage. “Our water district and other water districts that have rather large recycled water systems are running into problems because we produce recycled water 24/7, but the demand is higher in the hot months and less in the winter, so we don’t have enough storage capacity to meet all of our needs throughout the whole year. If we’re looking at a potential reservoir that we could convert and enlarge, I don’t think it would fit all the criteria that the bond money has, but in the future, I hope the state will give greater recognition that if you have greater storage for recycled water, then we can reduce the amount of water we have to move through the Delta or bring in from the Colorado River to meet our needs.”
“We need to move away from what we’ve been thinking for decades and start being very creative on how we can bring storage to the system, and I couldn’t agree with you more about investing to take greater advantage of our wastewater,” said Lester Snow. “We have a three year drought, and during that three year drought, we pumped a little over 4 MAF of watstewater into the ocean. Wouldn’t we like to have that 4 MAF now? I think so, so we’ve got to make sure we’re going things to facilitate that.”