NEWS WORTH NOTING: Congressmen call for cancellation of Joint Legislative Budget Committee hearing; CDFW awards $27.8 million for restoration projects; Third Appellate District extends public trust doctrine to groundwater; Removal effort for Klamath River Dam achieves major milestone

Reps. McNerney, Garamendi, DeSaulnier & Huffman Urge California State Legislature to Cancel WaterFix Hearing

From the Office of Congressman Jerry McNerney:

Today, California Congressmen Jerry McNerney (CA-09), John Garamendi (CA-03), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Jared Huffman (CA-02) sent a letter to members of the California State Legislature, urging the cancellation of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s informational hearing on the Department of Water Resources’ proposed contract extension and amendments – which includes provisions to push forward with the controversial California WaterFix project.

In their letter, the Congressmen argue that the Committee lacks sufficient information to make such a costly decision, citing the pending legal decision in the Department of Water Resources (DWR) validation action. They write:

“As Californians and Members of Congress, we are writing to request that the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (“Committee”) hearing, which was originally scheduled for August 30th and postponed until September 11th, be canceled pending a ruling by the Sacramento County Superior Court on the Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) validation action for the California WaterFix project. In its validation action, DWR is asking the court to affirm that it has the legal authority to issue bonds to pay for the $17 billion twin tunnel project.”

By holding this hearing – which is scheduled for September 11th at 10 AM – the Committee would take the first step towards extending the State Water Project (SWP) contracts through 2085, folding in the WaterFix proposal as part of the long-ago approved SWP.

“This is a backroom tactic to force through Governor Brown’s controversial and wildly unpopular twin tunnels proposal,” said Congressman McNerney. “Californians have already made it known that they do not want this project to move forward, but the state legislature is determined to push this through, despite lacking essential information regarding the validity of DWR’s claim. This short-sighted water grab would saddle Californians with billions of dollars of debt for generations, and holding this hearing would prevent further input from the state legislature or the public.”

“The Budget Committee doesn’t have any reason to renew the State Water Project contract right now, except to try to allow cheaper financing for an exorbitant project that doesn’t even have the authority to receive any yet. That’s putting the cart before the horse,” said Congressman Garamendi. “The disastrous Twin Tunnels project is the death knell for the Delta, and the Budget Committee shouldn’t be helping it at all. But if they’re going to, the least it can do is wait until the courts can validate its authority to issue bonds in the first place.”

“Tomorrow’s hearing is not in the best interest of California taxpayers. Any action by the Committee without resolution on the validation action is premature and presumptuous. Anything else is both financially and environmentally irresponsible, just like the WaterFix project itself,” said Congressman DeSaulnier.

“Holding a hearing on the controversial Waterfix proposal is part of a deliberate attempt to approve financing for the project before its full cost and impact can be evaluated by the public,” said Congressman Huffman. “From the get go, the tunnels plan was a grossly oversized, overreaching proposal that would cost too much, violate state and federal law, and threaten to do great harm to Northern California’s fishing and farming industries, as well as to tribal communities. Now, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee is trying to jam this project through without even obtaining legal authority to issue bonds to pay for the tunnels. This project needs a reality check and the Committee should cancel this hearing until the courts have affirmed its legality.”

The letter was sent to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Chair, Senator Holly Mitchell, and Vice Chair, Assemblymember Phil Ting, as well as California Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and all members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The full letter can be read here.

CDFW awards $27.8 million for ecosystem and watershed restoration and protection projects including fire recovery

From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today announced the selection of 24 projects to receive funding from its Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Prop. 1) Restoration Grant Programs.

The awards, totaling $27.8 million, were made under CDFW’s 2018 Prop. 1 Restoration Grant Programs Resiliency, Recovery and Response Proposal Solicitation Notice.

Of the $27.8 million, approximately $23.9 million was awarded through the Watershed Restoration Grant Program to projects of statewide importance outside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and approximately $3.9 million awarded through the Delta Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Grant Program to projects that directly benefit the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The awarded projects represent priorities outlined in the 2018 Solicitation, as well as the California Water Action Plan. The 2018 solicitation included a specific focus on large-scale wildfire response and Central Valley salmon resilience and recovery.

“CDFW has maintained an adaptive priority-setting approach each year under our Prop. 1 grant program, and we are pleased to fund a number of projects this year that support fire recovery as well as continuing restoration actions,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said. “We are proud to have funded over 100 on-the-ground projects in the four years since the implementation of Prop. 1. These are projects that will continue to deliver benefits to our fish and wildlife, and the habitats where they thrive.”

Projects approved for funding through the Watershed Restoration Grant Program include:

Implementation Projects 

  • Restoring Ecosystem Function in the Upper Salt River Watershed ($1,131,333 to Humboldt County Resource Conservation District
  • Upper Truckee River and Marsh Restoration Project ($1,700,066 to California Tahoe Conservancy)
  • Martis Wildlife Area Restoration Project ($3,280,656 to Truckee River Watershed Council)
  • El Capitan Creek Fish Passage Restoration Implementation ($1,179,473 to California Department of Parks and Recreation)
  • Rubber Dam No. 1 System Fish Passage Improvements Project ($5,000,0000 to Alameda County Water District)
  • East Creek Restoration Project ($316,803 to Plumas Corporation)
  • Reidy Creek Restoration and Beautification Project ($380,873 to The Escondido Creek Conservancy)
  • The Road to Recovery: Redwood Complex Fire Restoration – Implementation ($656,902 to Mendocino County)
  • Post Fire Forest Management and Sediment Reduction for Coho Recovery ($1,423,107 to Sonoma Resource Conservation District)
  • Grasslands Floodplain Restoration Implementation Project ($1,342,718 to American Rivers)
  • Robin’s Nest Fire Recovery and Habitat Restoration Project ($301,600 to Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority)
  • West Stanislaus Irrigation District Fish Screen Project ($2,250,000 to West Stanislaus Irrigation District)
  • San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Removal and Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, Phase II ($2,200,000 to California State Coastal Conservancy)
  • Multi-benefit Floodplain Restoration at Dos Rios Ranch and Steenstrup Slough ($1,588,911 to River Partners)

Planning Projects 

  • San Ysidro Creek Debris Basin Capacity Improvement Project ($139,744 to Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District)
  • Cold Springs Debris Basin Capacity Improvement Project ($139,744 to Santa Barbara County Flood Control & Water Conservation District)
  • Romero Creek Debris Basin Capacity Improvement Project ($139,744 to Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District)
  • Mapping, Assessment and Planning for Recovery and Resiliency in Fire-Damaged Watersheds in the Thomas Fire and Whittier Fire Recovery Zones ($382,223 to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)
  • The Road to Recovery: Redwood Complex Fire Restoration – Planning ($88,382 to Mendocino County)
  • Dos Pueblos Creek Restoration Designs ($222,104 to Earth Island Institute)

Projects approved for funding through the Delta Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Grant Program include: 

Scientific Studies

  • Eyes and Ears: Using Lens and Otolith Isotopes to Quantify Critical Rearing Habitats for Salmon Viability ($838,279 to University of California, Davis)
  • Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins in Freshwater and Estuarine Invertebrates: Implications for Managed Species, Their Communities, and Human Health Risks ($612,115 to Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board)
  • Pathogen Screening and Health Status of Outmigrating Chinook Salmon in the California Delta ($733,884 to University of California, Davis)
  • High Resolution Temporal and Spatial Mapping of Mercury in Surface Waters of the San Francisco Bay Delta ($1,708,808 to University of California, Merced)

General information about CDFW’s Prop. 1 Restoration Grant Programs, as well as a schedule of locations and dates for workshops, once available, can be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov/grants.

Funding for these projects comes from Prop. 1 bond funds, a portion of which are allocated annually through the California State Budget Act. More information about Prop. 1 is on the California Natural Resources Agency website.

Third Appellate District Extends Public Trust Doctrine to Groundwater, Finding That Counties Have a Duty to Administer the Trust in Issuing Ministerial Well Permits

From Downey-Brand:

“On August 29, 2018, the Third Appellate District published its long-awaited opinion in Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board (“ELF”), a case involving a challenge to Siskiyou County’s (“County”) issuance of well permits in the vicinity of the Scott River, a navigable waterway.[1]  What commenced as a relatively straightforward case concerning the application of the common law public trust doctrine to groundwater, culminated in an opinion authored by Presiding Justice Vance W. Raye that strays into a number of issues well beyond the core questions in the case, including how the recently-enacted Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) interrelates with the public trust.

While the opinion professes to be “extraordinarily narrow,” that contention belies the opinion’s broad implications.  For the first time, an appeals court has applied the public trust doctrine to the administration of groundwater in holding that counties, as subdivisions of the state, have a fiduciary duty to consider the public trust before authorizing the drilling of groundwater wells whose extractions might have an adverse impact on trust resources.  The Court also rejected the notion—presented by the County on appeal—that SGMA preempts or fulfills counties’ fiduciary duties to consider the trust.  This ruling marks a significant extension of the doctrine since the California Supreme Court’s 1983 decision in National Audubon Society v. Superior Court  (“National Audubon”) and has opened the door to a new frontier for litigation over groundwater administration in California.  … ”

Continue reading at Downey Brand by clicking here.

Removal effort for Klamath River Dam achieves major milestone with issuance of Oregon water quality certification

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) on September 7 issued its final Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the removal of the J.C. Boyle Dam located in Klamath County, OR, determining that dam removal on the Klamath River is expected to improve water quality, restore a more free-flowing condition and benefit fish populations in the long run. Before issuing the final Certification, ODEQ conducted an extensive evaluation of the existing science on potential impacts to water quality and aquatic species from the proposed dam removal.

“ODEQ’s final Section 401 Water Quality Certification brings KRRC one step closer to fulfilling its mission of returning the river to a more natural state, improving water quality, and restoring fish passage,” said KRRC Chief Executive Officer, Mark Bransom. “This final Certification is a significant milestone for KRRC, as it is one of several major permits and approvals we require to proceed with dam removal.”The Certification conditionally affirms KRRC’s dam removal project will comply with all water quality standards, limitations, and restrictions set by Oregon law and the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), which requires state governments to certify that anything released into the nation’s waters – including water releases from removal of a hydroelectric project – complies with water quality standards. The certification process included an open and transparent public review process to ensure all interested parties had an opportunity to provide input.

ODEQ stipulated certain mitigation measures and monitoring requirements KRRC must implement as conditions of the Certification. These include the development of plans for water quality management; measures to protect fish passage, suckers, and the western pond turtle; reservoir area management; remaining facilities and site restoration; erosion and sediment control; spill responses; waste disposal; and others. Throughout the project, KRRC will provide water quality monitoring data and all required compliance reporting to ODEQ.

The J.C. Boyle hydroelectric development is part of the Lower Klamath Project that also includes the Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and Iron Gate facilities in Siskiyou County, California. The ODEQ Section 401 Water Quality Certification specifically addresses the proposed actions located in Oregon. The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) will address the removal of the facilities located in California under a separate water quality certification. KRRC anticipates it will receive a final certification from the SWRCB in 2019. In addition, KRRC will require approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on its applications to transfer and surrender the dam licenses before it can proceed with dam removal. Those applications are pending.

A complete copy of the Certification is located at www.klamathrenewal.org/oregon-water-quality-certification/

PG&E Moves To Auction Off Eel River Dams Amid Growing Seismic Safety Concerns

From Friends of the Eel River:

Utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) began seeking potential buyers today for two aging dams on the upper Eel River, even as new questions emerge about the vulnerability of the larger dam to seismic shocks. A conservation group working to remove the dams released a technical analysis today that identifies an active landslide above the upper dam as “a significant geological hazard to the dam.” The report show how the slide is likely to move significantly in response to the kinds of seismic events a nearby fault could generate.

Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam were built to divert water from the upper mainstem Eel River to the upper East Branch of the Russian River through Potter Valley. Together, the two dams and associated diversion works are called the Potter Valley Project, which is licensed as a hydroelectric project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The entire Project is now being re-evaluated in a FERC relicensing process that may conclude as early as 2022.

Any new FERC license for the Potter Valley Project is likely to impose new requirements that the 130′ Scott Dam be significantly modified to provide passage for salmon and steelhead. However, despite the fact that the Eel River dams are twice the age of Oroville Dam — which nearly collapsed despite routine safety inspections — FERC has refused to consider dam safety issues in the proposed relicensing of Scott Dam and the Potter Valley Project.

A key safety concern is the proximity of Scott Dam to the Bartlett Springs fault complex. The Bartlett Springs fault was not identified until the 1970s, some fifty years after Scott Dam was constructed within a mile of the most active portion of the fault. It is now clear that the more than one hundred mile long Bartlett Springs fault is capable of producing very significant earthquakes, possibly greater than magnitude 7.

Unfortunately, most of the existing information about the Bartlett Springs fault and the susceptibility of Scott Dam to a seismic event is concealed behind a bureaucratic shield of secrecy. Under the provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act, a wide range of information critical to assessing the safety of dams is classified as Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII) and kept secret from the public.

Against this backdrop, Friends of the Eel River commissioned Miller Pacific Engineering Group to assess the potential for an active landslide above Scott Dam’s left (southern) abutment to affect the dam and its reservoir during a seismic event. Miller Pacific applied the analytic techniques and standards used by both California’s Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) and FERC’s own Dam Safety program. The analysis indicates that “landslide displacements will occur during a strong seismic event.”

Miller Pacific’s results suggest that the landslide mass, which measures approximately 500 feet in length and 160 feet in width, extends to potential depths of as much as 110 feet. The landslide appears to contain more than 8,000,000 ft3 (cubic feet) of material estimated at approximately 130 pounds per cubic foot. During a seismic event, the force at the toe of the landslide could be 125 million pounds.

Miller Pacific engineers concluded “it is our professional opinion that the large landslide complex adjacent to, and possibly below, the left abutment presents a significant geological hazard to the dam that requires further investigation. Since the dam acts as a strut across the Eel River, the landslide mass may be applying a significant soil pressure to the dam. In addition, the preliminary calculated seismic displacements are enough to cause concern about uplift or damage to the dam from landslide movement during a strong seismic event.”

“This analysis provides another sobering note for parties who may be considering attempts to purchase the Eel River dams,” said David Keller, Bay Area Director for Friends of the Eel River. “The enormous liabilities this significant dam failure risk poses compound the already mounting costs of maintaining and operating the dams.”

Friends of the Eel River (FOER) is one of a number of conservation, fishing, and other groups working to remove the dams from the Eel River and restore the Eel River’s once prolific salmon and steelhead fisheries.

The Miller Pacific analysis and accompanying technical memo, as well as supplementary materials, are available for review HERE.

 

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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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