NEWS WORTH NOTING: New governor brings hope for a new partnership on the Merced River; Sierra Nevada Conservancy awards over $26 million for forest health projects; Lawsuits target Trump’s war on transparency at EPA, Interior Department

New Governor Brings Hope for a New Partnership on the Merced River

An open letter to Governor Newsom from the Merced Irrigation District Board of Directors

We, the Board of Directors of the Merced Irrigation District (MID), want to commend Governor Newsom for his recent changes in appointments to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). We believe those changes, together with other key appointments he has made in his administration, provide a new and much-needed opportunity to take a step back from the contentious last decade we have been living through in the water community. We have an opportunity to make real progress for Merced River salmon and water quality improvements in California.

As part of starting fresh with this new opportunity, we want to provide the Governor and the new appointees throughout his administration with some facts as to why, from our perspective, MID was unable to reach a framework for settlement with the State prior to the SWRCB’s adoption of their Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and SED. Quite simply – MID was being asked for far more water than any other party, on an equity or statistical basis, without any valid justification, support or documentation. The State never provided any documentation or data to support their water demands, and the state also never acknowledged the lack of equity in relation to our watershed yield and water storage ability compared to the settlements on other rivers and systems being embraced by the state negotiators.

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To use a phrase commonly used in negotiations by others – the state has been looking to test a hypothesis. The hypothesis proclaimed by CDFW since 2012 – “We won’t know what kind of natural production we’re going to get until we start increasing flows to see what natural production we can achieve.” Wait, what? The state wants our community to give up our senior water rights, storage rights and our community’s economy to “test a hypothesis?” And their hypothesis means the taking of water from our community – and sending it to the ocean with the faint hope that salmon numbers will improve?

We can tell you there have been far more discussions about how much water can flow to the ocean than there has been about actual proven lifecycle management strategies to boost salmon populations. Some of the state’s leaders have ignored the realities of anything but their own science and dismissed the impacts our disadvantaged community will bear. These include impacts to our community’s drinking water quality and supply, as well as our local environment. How can MID negotiate the future of our region under these circumstances? It frankly cannot, and we will not.

Before we suggest a path forward, we need to stress we as a Board have an established track record of being realistic, progressive and pragmatic. If invited back to the settlement table, MID will continue to proactively negotiate in good faith, and we will support and embrace a settlement we and our biologists believe will address the core issues affecting salmon populations in our zone of influence, the lower Merced River. But we cannot defend a settlement plan that science and reality does not support. We cannot defend a plan that dumps precious water to the ocean without knowing exactly what benefits will be attained to finally solve the salmon issue. We are willing to do our part and then some, but we are not going to “settle” for the sake of settling.

The path forward involves the following: First, the fundamental ideas behind and driving the SED must be set aside. We understand the time and money involved in developing that plan, but anyone who has worked on any significant public or private project understands there sometimes comes a point when a reset button is needed. The flaws in the SED, both factual and legal, are obvious and undeniable. As painful as it may seem, the time to push the reset button passed a long time ago, but it is not too late. Second, a realistic comprehensive flow and non-flow salmon lifecycle plan needs to be negotiated for a set term encompassing several salmon lifecycles.

We have been and continue to be willing to discuss new and significant new water releases into the Merced River. We support new flows coupled with in-stream and side channel river restoration projects, predation control, and physical and operational salmon hatchery improvements. We also support peer-developed and reviewed monitoring by a science panel to include local and national fishery experts. Monitoring is vital to the success of combined flow and non-flow actions to support the development of the best modern science to inform and address salmon lifecycle issues.

Opportunity has already been lost. If MID had been taken up on its offer to implement the S.A.F.E (Salmon, Agriculture, Flow and Environment) Plan years ago, significant new flows would have already been in the Merced River and vital habitat restoration projects would have been completed. The S.A.F.E Plan would have created habitat for thousands of new spawning sites (Redd’s), and floodplain rearing habitat would have been increased by 300%. But instead opponents of Merced ID have embraced the high-stakes game of ‘take it all.’ This is not productive.

We sincerely welcome this new opportunity to work with Governor Newsom, his staff, and the members of the SWRCB. We hold a genuine hope that the divisions that led us all to court can be set aside and new relationships can be built with the ultimate goal of improving salmon populations and their habitat. We are open to being a proactive part of a solution to some of the larger water quality issues that have plagued California for decades. But most importantly, we look forward to doing so in a way that protects our community, not destroys it.

Sierra Nevada Conservancy awards over $26 million for forest health projects; receives $2 million grant to improve forest health and fire resilience

From the Sierra Nevada Conservancy:

Sierra Nevada Conservancy Governing Board awards over $26 million for forest health projects

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) Governing Board recently authorized over $26 million in funds for 35 projects that will reduce wildfire risk, protect water supply, and restore forest and watershed health in the Sierra Nevada region. The projects awarded support the goals and objectives of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program, a large‑scale restoration program designed to improve ecosystem and community resilience in the Sierra Nevada. This program is coordinated by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and implemented through a strong network of state and federal agencies, local government, and tribal, private, and nonprofit partners.

“Building resilience in the Sierra Nevada is our primary focus, and the funding authorized by our board demonstrates the SNC’s commitment to increasing the pace and scale of restoration across the region,” says Angela Avery, Executive Officer for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. “We’re proud to be supporting these projects and the partners who will be implementing them on the ground.”

Funding for these projects come from Proposition 1, The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014; Proposition 68, The California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018; the Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Fund; Fire Settlement Funds; and the California Climate Investments program. Funding awards were made by the SNC Governing Board at the quarterly board meeting on March 7, 2019 in Cameron Park, CA.

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Approximately $14.4 million in Proposition 1 and Proposition 68 funds were authorized for 23 projects in Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Fresno, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Tehama, and Tuolumne counties. One additional project, funded by Proposition 68 for $163,405, will complete a land conservation assessment across all 22 counties within the Sierra Nevada region.

Four projects were authorized for funding through the Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Fund for a total of $750,000. These four projects support innovative wood product manufacturing and increase rural economic development around wood product manufacturing across the 22-county Sierra Nevada region.

One project was authorized for just over $6 million in funding through Fire Settlement Funds. This project will complete reforestation activities in the Moonlight Fire burn footprint in the Plumas National Forest.

Approximately $4.6 million was authorized for subgrants and contracts to complete components of the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative (TCSI) All-Lands Regional Restoration Program Eldorado Projects/French Meadows Project. The TCSI All-Lands Regional Restoration Program is funded by a $10.7 million grant from CAL FIRE’s California Climate Investments grant program and will implement five separate forest health projects, planning and environmental review for six future restoration projects, and three research projects in Placer, El Dorado, Yuba, and Sierra counties. This project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing GHG emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment – particularly in disadvantaged communities. The Cap-and-Trade program also creates a financial incentive for industries to invest in clean technologies and develop innovative ways to reduce pollution. California Climate Investments projects include affordable housing, renewable energy, public transportation, zero-emission vehicles, environmental restoration, more-sustainable agriculture, recycling, and much more. At least 35 percent of these investments are located within and benefit the residents of disadvantaged communities, low-income communities, and low-income households across California. For more information, visit the California Climate Investments website at: www.caclimateinvestments.ca.gov.

Additional information about each of these projects and the programs that fund them can be found at www.sierranevada.ca.gov in the March 2019 Board Meeting materials. 

Sierra Nevada Conservancy receives $2 million grant to improve forest health and fire resilience

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy announced today the receipt of a two-million-dollar block grant from the California Natural Resources Agency and the Department of Conservation to support the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program, a large‑scale restoration program designed to improve watershed health and community resilience in the Sierra Nevada. The grant will facilitate the development and implementation of projects that improve forest health and fire resilience, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase carbon sequestration.

The SNC has received the award under the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program which is funded by Cap-and-Trade revenues through California Climate Investments. The program aims to help communities prioritize, develop, and implement projects that are consistent with the California Forest Carbon Plan and Executive Order B-52-18, and points to the SNC’s Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program as the model for coordinating and implementing landscape-level forest health projects across the state.

“Healthy forests provide the foundation for safe Sierra Nevada communities,” says Angela Avery, Executive Officer for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. “This grant comes at a critical time and will increase the momentum behind the important work that the SNC and our partners have been doing to build resilience in the Sierra Nevada Region.”

The SNC is one of eight Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program block grant recipients. Other awards were made to support project implementation in the North Coast, Central Coast, Sierra Nevada, Klamath-Cascade, and Southern California regions, and to assist in implementing statewide efforts.

About the Sierra Nevada Conservancy

Created in 2004, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy is a state agency whose mission is to improve the environmental, economic, and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region. The Sierra Nevada Region spans 25 million acres, encompasses all or part of 22 counties, and runs from the Oregon border on the north to Kern County on the south. The Region is the origin of more than 60 percent of California’s developed water supply.

Lawsuits Target Trump’s War on Transparency at EPA, Interior Department

From the Center for Biological Diversity:

The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a pair of lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Freedom of Information Act by failing to make records available to the public. The lawsuits, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., coincide with national Sunshine Week.

Under President Donald Trump, the agencies have weakened their FOIA responsibilities and routinely delayed or denied access to public records.

The Center has submitted a series of FOIA requests to better understand how the agencies are responding to such requests but has not received any responses. The Center is seeking documents that explain the policies and instructions informing records management practices, as well as the EPA’s list of pending public records requests.

“Trump’s agencies are notorious for their lack of transparency, but the EPA and Interior Department FOIA practices and policies are among the worst,” said Meg Townsend, the Center’s open government attorney. “It’s unacceptable. These officials are supposed to protect human health, wildlife and our environment, but they’re busy hiding critical information from the American people.”

In October the Center obtained a guidance document from the Fish and Wildlife Service that aimed to keep the public in the dark about how endangered species decisions are made. That memo recommended that the Service limit the information released to the public about government actions that impact species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Then, in December, the Interior Department proposed rule changes that would hinder public access to records on agency actions that impact wildlife and public lands. The Interior Department’s proposed rule would expand the discretion of agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service to reject records requests made through the Freedom of Information Act by classifying them as “unreasonably burdensome” and by politicizing the FOIA process within the agency.

The Center submitted comments on the proposed changes, but the Interior Department has not confirmed when it will publish the final rule.

“We’re fighting Trump’s anti-science, pro-secrecy agenda because it impacts all aspects of government,” said Townsend. “Without access to public records, we lose our ability to hold our government accountable to its own environmental protection laws.”

Sunshine Week is a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy. Sunshine Week occurs annually around March 16, National Freedom of Information Day.

This Sunshine Week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform plans to hold a hearing regarding the Freedom of Information Act under the Trump administration on Wednesday, March 13.

 

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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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