NEWS WORTH NOTING: OIG report raises possibility of USBR claim to millions in water transfer revenue; CDFW awards $14.4M for restoration projects; State Water Board adopts ag order for Eastern San Joaquin River watershed; E. Porterville water supply project connects 755 homes

Inspector General Report Raises Possibility of USBR Claim to Millions in Water Transfer Revenue

From Somach Simmons & Dunn:

An investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding the Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR) administration of federal water projects ended abruptly upon discovery that the USBR was neglecting its potential entitlement to millions of dollars in revenue related to water transfers. The USBR’s response to the investigation has the potential to significantly reshape the water transfer market in California.

The OIG undertook a review of the USBR’s administration of water transfers and conveyances in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies, but stopped short of providing a determination on the USBR’s compliance. Instead, the OIG issued a report on January 17, 2018 identifying a potential opportunity for the USBR to recoup revenue from contractors who profit from the conveyance of non-project water through federal facilities under the Warren Act of 1911 (Pub. L. No. 61-406). Because the OIG found no formal legal opinion on whether the USBR is entitled to such revenue, the OIG’s report requests that the USBR seek a legal opinion on the application of the Warren Act.

Click here to continue reading at Somach Simmons & Dunn.

CDFW Awards $14.4 Million for Fisheries Habitat Restoration and Forest Legacy Projects

From the Department of Fish and Wildlife:

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today announced the selection of 38 projects that will receive funding for the restoration, enhancement and protection of anadromous salmonid habitat in California watersheds, as well as forest legacy restoration.

The grants, which total $14.4 million, are distributed through CDFW’s Fisheries Restoration Grant Program (FRGP). They include $480,605 allocated for timber legacy restoration projects and approximately $13.9 million for anadromous salmonid restoration projects. FRGP monies come from a combination of state sources and the federal Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.

“Restoration of salmon and steelhead habitat remains as challenging as ever,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said. “California is still dealing with the lasting toll of drought and now the aftermath of wildfires, both making this effort more difficult. It remains as important as ever to continue to support the work of our state’s restoration leaders through projects like these.”

In response to the February 2017 FRGP solicitation, CDFW received 104 proposals requesting more than $41 million in funding. All proposals underwent an initial administrative review. Those that passed were then evaluated through a technical review process that included reviews by CDFW and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.

The 38 approved projects will further the objectives of state and federal fisheries recovery plans, including removing barriers to fish migration, restoring riparian habitat, monitoring of listed populations, and creating a more resilient and sustainably managed water resources system (e.g., water supply, water quality and habitat) that can better withstand drought conditions. These projects further the goals of California’s Water Action Plan and CDFW’s State Wildlife Action Plan, as well as addressing limiting factors specified in state and federal recovery plans.

The list of approved projects is available on the FRGP website.

State Water Board Adopts Agricultural Order for Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed

From the State Water Resources Control Board:

The State Water Resources Control Board today adopted an order revising agricultural requirements for the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed to reduce nitrate contamination of groundwater and surface water.

Following extensive public comment and expert input, the order is aimed at protecting communities that rely on groundwater for their drinking water. Nitrate contamination of drinking water is a widespread problem that poses serious public health risks. Nitrates can also have adverse impacts on surface water and aquatic ecosystems.

The order also directs protections for surface water and groundwater quality from other chemicals, including fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that many be found in agricultural discharges.

The order revises waste discharge requirements for the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed issued by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2012. The watershed comprises an area of about one million acres of irrigated agriculture in the eastern San Joaquin Valley.

The order also establishes a model for all regional water boards to follow in their subsequent orders to reduce pollutants from irrigated agriculture around the State. The order directs the regional water boards to revise their agricultural orders to incorporate testing of drinking water quality for on-farm wells and address the long-term goal of improving groundwater and surface water quality through monitoring and controlling agricultural practices, specifically nitrogen management.

To improve monitoring of nitrogen impacts, the order directs the regional water boards to require the reporting of nitrogen application to crops from fertilizers, organic soil amendments, and in irrigation water, as well as data on nitrogen removed when crops are harvested and taken from the fields.

For the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed, starting in 2021, the order extends some of the same nitrogen reporting requirements previously only required for areas considered high vulnerability for impacts to groundwater to all agricultural areas, with some exceptions.  The order makes other changes to the reporting requirements, including the inclusion of new reporting on potential groundwater loading from nitrogen fertilizer use and targets for groundwater quality.

The order also directs the regional water boards to require that growers report on the management practices they are implementing to control pollutants in addition to the use of nitrogen. Reporting the amount of nitrogen applied and removed, along with management practices, allows analysis by the regional water boards of whether regional regulatory programs are effective in protecting water quality to assure that progress is made.

The Board also required review of how the different regional board approaches to the irrigated lands programs are doing within three years of the date of the order.

To protect people presently using on-farm drinking water wells, starting in 2019, the order requires that growers monitor for nitrate levels in on-farm drinking water supply wells and notify the users of those wells if water is found to be above drinking water standards. This provision will come into effect if there are no statewide programs requiring the testing of domestic wells by January 1, 2019.

Addressing water quality impacts associated with agriculture poses a complex challenge. The same activities that are relied upon in producing an essential and reliable food supply, such as pesticides used to control pests, nitrogen to fertilize crops, and irrigation to water crops, also may have environmental consequences. Further, many of the impacts from agriculture are due to historic rather than existing practices.  The order seeks to take advantage of technical advances that allow for more precise use of agricultural inputs to minimize potential overuse of these inputs, which should make California agriculture more sustainable.

Many of the changes the order incorporates are recommendations from the following: a nitrogen tracking task force and an agricultural expert panel convened as a result of legislation [Chapter 1 of the Second Extraordinary Session of 2008 (SBX2 1, Perata)]; a Board-adopted Report to the Legislature that made recommendation on how to address nitrates in drinking water, and the Board’s previous order from 2013 regarding a petition of the Central Coast Regional Water Board’s agricultural regulatory program.

Program Background
California’s agricultural industry produces more than 400 commodities at more than 75,000 farms and ranches. A significant part of the state’s economy, agriculture is valuable for the food and fiber it produces for people and animals.  Agriculture is especially significant within the Central Valley, where it represents more than seven million acres of irrigated lands, of which approximately one million are in the Eastern San Joaquin Watershed.

At the same time, the water quality impacts from agriculture include toxicity in surface water that threatens aquatic species, and salts,  nitrates, and other chemicals in groundwater that adversely affect the quality of groundwater for irrigation, municipal, and other uses.  An especially significant public health issue, particularly for pregnant women and infants, is drinking water from wells with high levels of nitrates.

The State Water Board and regional water boards have been working with growers and other interested parties to address the environmental and public health impacts from agriculture, while at the same time ensuring the continued viability of agriculture in California. The Central Valley Water Board began regulating agricultural discharges to surface water in 1982 with limited conditions focused on preventing toxicity or excess sediment discharge. In 2003, in response to revisions to legal requirements, the 1982 permit was re-examined and the regulatory strategy was modified to include surface water monitoring to determine if and where irrigated lands might be contributing to water quality problems.

The 2003 changes also allowed growers to form discharger coalitions, with a third-party representative responsible for grower outreach and education and implementation of program requirements. In 2006, the Central Valley Water Board modified the permit again to require management plans where water quality problems had been identified.

In 2011, the Board certified an environmental impact report for a long-term irrigated lands program that would address both surface water and groundwater quality protection and proceeded to issue several watershed- or commodity-specific permits. The Eastern San Joaquin Agricultural General Waste Discharge Requirements were the first of the long-term irrigated lands program permits issued and have been in effect since 2012.

Additional information is available at the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed Agricultural Order webpage.

East Porterville Water Supply Project Connects 755 Homes

Hundreds of Residents Now Have Access to Sustainable Supply

Today, a partnership of state and local agencies, working to help homeowners affected by California’s multi-year drought, finished connecting 755 homes to a safe, reliable, permanent water supply. All households participating in the East Porterville Water Supply Project have now been connected to the City of Porterville’s municipal water system.

“It’s such a relief to have water flowing from the faucet and the shower again. It’s so easy to take it for granted, until it’s gone,” said Amelia Arroyo who received a water connection in January 2017.

Hundreds of residential wells in the small, unincorporated community of East Porterville in Tulare County became dry or contaminated during California’s recent five-year drought. Homes without access to safe potable water received deliveries of tanked water and bottled water. At a monthly price tag of $650,000, this temporary solution was unsustainable for both the state and community members.

“The residents of East Porterville were especially hard hit by the effects of this recent drought,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “Hundreds of homes were at the mercy of Mother Nature as their wells ran dry. Urgent action was needed on the part of many agencies to find short and long-term solutions. It’s satisfying to see a long-term solution now in place for many homes, helping to mitigate the impacts of future droughts.”

Three state agencies – the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the State Water Resources Control Board, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services – partnered with Tulare County agencies and community organizations such as Self-Help Enterprises and Community Water Center to deliver a permanent solution to East Porterville’s water crisis. Construction on the $48 million East Porterville Water Supply Project kicked off in early 2016 with the installation of new water distribution lines to connect homes in East Porterville to the neighboring City of Porterville’s municipal system.

“The goal was to get a permanent supply of safe water to the residents who were without water, or without safe water, as soon as possible,” said Eileen Sobeck, executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board. “The significant impact of the drought on access to safe drinking water for hundreds of local families could not have been addressed without the extraordinary collaboration between state and local governments and the local community groups. We hope the success of the partnerships here will assist in developing new ways of working together and avoid future drought impacts to communities like East Porterville.”

The project was conducted in two phases. The first phase connected about 300 homes that were receiving emergency water deliveries. Those connections were completed in March 2017. The second phase connected about 450 additional households that still had access to water in their wells, but who wished to avoid the possibility of future water insecurity. Of the 1,100 homes eligible for the project in both phases, a total of 755 took advantage of the offer.

“I’m glad to know that my family will always have access to clean water now, drought or no drought,” said Darcy Stroud, who signed up during Phase 2 of the project. “We didn’t sign up right away, but we realized we really wanted the water connection. Better to be safe than sorry.”

“While this project has brought relief to many,” said Arthur Hinojosa, chief of DWR’s Division of Integrated Regional Water Management, “more work is needed to ensure that all California residents have access to clean, safe drinking water. We’re supporting regional work to sustainably manage groundwater basins and promoting water use efficiency and conservation to make sure California’s local and regional water supplies are resilient for all needs.”

Construction will continue through 2018 to complete additional infrastructure supporting the project.

Although the statewide drought officially ended last year, the current water year is off to a dry start and many communities continue to suffer localized drought impacts. Californians everywhere are encouraged to make water conservation a way of life, rain or shine.

View project photos in DWR’s photo gallery , and a new video telling the story of the East Porterville Water Supply Project.

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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