At the July meeting of Metropolitan’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee meeting, the bulk of the meeting was taken up by a visit from Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot who discussed the Governor’s water resilience portfolio and reiterated the Newsom Administration’s support for modernized conveyance in the Delta. That was followed by a robust discussion that included further discussion of Delta conveyance, water storage, emerging contaminants and PFAS, among other things.
Metropolitan Chair Gloria Gray introduced Secretary Crowfoot, listing his previous positions which include the CEO of the Water Foundation, Senior Advisor and Deputy Cabinet Secretary with the Brown Administration, the West Coast Regional Director for the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Senior Environmental Advisor then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
“Since he was appointed by Governor Newsom, Secretary Crowfoot has been willing to engage in frank discussions on the important water issues facing the state with his openness to hear from those with diverse perspectives and his commitment to make thoughtful decisions that will strengthen California’s water future,” Chair Gray said. “We look forward to working with him, especially on the Governor’s Water Resilience Portfolio, Delta conveyance and other actions to ensure safe and reliable water supply.”
Secretary Wade Crowfoot then gave the following update from the Newsom Administration, acknowledging that there’s a lot of attention in the media on Governor Newsom’s priorities in regards to early childhood, immigration, and the housing crisis, but not so much about his water priorities; however, he assured the Governor is committed to addressing the state’s water issues.
“In order to have a prosperous future in California and to continue to grow and to continue to sustain our quality of life, we need strong water strategy and we need a strategy that will ensure the resilience of our water system,” Secretary Crowfoot said. “We know that we face a series of impacts from climate change, including intensifying drought and floods, worsening wildfire risks, and these all place strains on our systems.”
“At the same time, we’re growing. We’ll be a state of 50 million people in a couple of decades and we enjoy the world’s fifth largest economy, which we are committed to continue to grow. All of that means that we have to be quite forward looking as it relates to water supply and ensuring resilient supplies for communities, and then also continuing to take care of our environment, which makes California in incredible place it is to live.”
WATER RESILIENCE PORTFOLIO
[pullquote]“We’re really starting to look at what do we need to do now to ensure that we have a water system in 2050 that continues to provide reliable water supplies to communities and includes the health of our waterways, both for drinking water, recreation, and of course fish and wildlife. So over the coming months, we will be developing that road map which we’re calling the Water Resilience Portfolio.” –Secretary Crowfoot[/pullquote]
“The Governor has instructed me as the Resources Agency Secretary and my colleague Jared Blumenfeld at the California Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Karen Ross from the Department of Food and Agriculture to come together over the next six months to develop a road map for the Newsom Administration over the next four years which we’re calling the Water Resilience Portfolio,” said Secretary Crowfoot. “That is to work across agencies to identify what are the priority investments, policies, and programs the Newsom Administration needs to put in place to ensure a resilient water system for coming decades.”
“We’re really starting to look at what do we need to do now to ensure that we have a water system in 2050 that continues to provide reliable water supplies to communities and includes the health of our waterways, both for drinking water, recreation, and of course fish and wildlife. So over the coming months, we will be developing that road map which we’re calling the Water Resilience Portfolio.”
“The Governor set forth an Executive Order back in April that identified a set of principles that should guide the process, one of which is really looking at what are the decisions that we have to make that provide multiple benefits. So for example, water supply projects that can benefit both the environment and communities. How do we integrate technology? What are the no regrets steps that we need to take right now?”
“So you all as Directors at Metropolitan should have a very clear understanding of where our priorities lie for the Newsom Administration on water come Thanksgiving.”
Secretary Crowfoot next reiterated the Newsom Administration’s commitment to improving water conveyance in the Delta, while also acknowledging that the state needs to modernize and safeguard other significant water infrastructure such as the California Aqueduct and the Friant-Kern Canal that have been damaged by subsidence.
He said there are two major vulnerabilities to the water system, the first being earthquakes “The USGS, the foremost experts on seismic risk in California, suggests that there’s a 66% chance – a two-thirds chance – that a major Northern California earthquake could occur in the next 40 years that may very well take out levees in the Delta. If that is the case, the experts suggest we will lose our fresh water supply through that surface conveyance for months, if not over a year or two. What do I explain to people is the US has never experienced a catastrophe like a lack of fresh water to over 25 million Californians, so if it was earthquake risk alone, that would be a need to create a secondary conveyance that is earthquake safe.”
[pullquote]“I don’t ever explain this as a question of ‘if’ we need modernized conveyance. The Governor’s been very clear; we need modernized conveyance through the Bay Delta and the question is, how?” –Secretary Crowfoot[/pullquote]
“The other major risk we face is rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion, and if you follow the science, it suggests there will be major saltwater intrusion into the southern Delta. We at the state developed some guidance for infrastructure development with the Ocean Protection Council, and it said, if you are a state agency and you are building infrastructure that you want to exist and be operating in 2100, you need to plan for between 5 and 10 feet of sea level rise.”
“The South Delta is about 3 feet above sea level. So if we’re looking to safeguard that water supply from those two mighty river systems to the rest of California, we have to capture that water during wet periods at a higher level. At the North Delta, it’s 15 feet above sea level. And so when we’re talking about really protecting our water supply against sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, the underground conveyance or the tunnel becomes quite important.”
“I don’t ever explain this as a question of ‘if’ we need modernized conveyance. The Governor’s been very clear; we need modernized conveyance through the Bay Delta and the question is, how? There’s obviously a lot of details around what that looks like and how that gets built, but from my perspective, it’s not a question of ‘if’. So while we’re assessing these priorities for the state on water, you will certainly see a central priority to do all that we can to actually get modernized conveyance done.”
[pullquote]The Newsom Administration doesn’t support the twin tunnel project. We support a single tunnel, smaller capacity project that we think is feasible because its impacts can be limited and its affordable and it can get delivered under this administration. –Secretary Crowfoot[/pullquote]
Secretary Crowfoot acknowledged the time and effort spent on the Water Fix and the concern that the Newsom Administration has stepped away from that specific project. “We’re clear that the Newsom Administration doesn’t support the twin tunnel project. We support a single tunnel, smaller capacity project that we think is feasible because its impacts can be limited and its affordable and it can get delivered under this administration. So we have set forth on a new process to advance single tunnel conveyance. We wasted no time after the Governor’s State of the State speech, we’ve made it very clear that we are advancing environmental review on a new project.”
“At the same time, we are advancing design and engineering on that project. One of the challenges with Water Fix from my perspective is the lack of details as it relates to the project, and as a result of that, the band of potential impacts was very large, and if you are somebody that is concerned about the impacts, it was really hard to know exactly how the project was going to manifest. The new approach is to actually invest in design and engineering to really flesh out what this project looks like. It will improve the discussion around how do we mitigate impacts, and it will strengthen the environmental review that gets done on the project.”
“Also, once the environmental rule is complete, we will minimize the time that gets lost designing and engineering the project because that will have been on a parallel path. We think that’s an important new feature of our efforts.”
“The easiest thing politically would be to kick the can down the road, and to not take on this question of conveyance. While our administration felt like we needed a different project than the twin tunnels, we are committed to advancing conveyance, not because Metropolitan asked us to or not because of who is working on this, but because California needs it. If we’re going to actually advance a resilient water future in California, we need to modernize conveyance. So by Thanksgiving, we’re looking forward to delivering this road map that will really be clear in terms of the broad portfolio of investments that we need to diversify our water supplies, take care of our rivers, our environment, but then also be making progress on the conveyance project.”
“We anticipate having a notice of preparation for the CEQA document by September-October timeframe, and are well underway advancing that, as well as that design and engineering work that will both inform the environmental review and move the overall project forward on a parallel track.”
Secretary Crowfoot then took questions.
LA’s efforts to diversity water portfolio
The discussion section began with a prepared statement by one of the committee members only identified as one of the Los Angeles delegation members on the Metropolitan Board:
“As you know, in February, Mayor Garcetti announced that LA will recycle 100 of its wastewater by 2035. Currently 2% of the cities water supply comes from recycled water and LA’s water treatment facilities. Increasing Hyperion’s recycling capabilities to 100% by 2035 will help to increase that number to 35%. In addition, the City of Los Angeles strongly supports the water resilience portfolio initiative that meets the needs of the state and the city’s communities, economy, and environment to maximize local resources that includes recycling, conservation, expanding stormwater capture and groundwater recharge.”
The Director cited Mayor Garcetti’s plan to maximize the city’s local water to 70% by the year 2035 and includes achieving 100% reuse at the Hyperion plant. He noted the city has already reduced its gallons per person per day by 20% in 2017 in response to the recent drought, and is currently holding at about 106 gallons per person per day. Los Angeles is implementing a plan to double stormwater capture, and a strategy for implementing groundwater cleanup in the San Fernando Valley.
“We support a fix in the Delta that includes a one tunnel conveyance approach, supported also by the mayor,” the Director continued. “It is important for LA ratepayers that the charges for the fix in the Delta are not regressive and do not deter investments to local agencies for improving water use efficiency and to achieve state mandated targets, increased recycled water use, and enhanced stormwater capture to help recharge aquifers and clean up contamination in the San Fernando groundwater basin.”
Secretary Crowfoot responded by noting that they have been tracking Mayor Garcetti’s leadership on water, and it’s well aligned with the Governor’s vision for diversifying supply portfolios. “We will not be able to remove dependence on importing water at some level from our major river systems, but should we be reducing the dependence? Absolutely. It’s just the smart thing to do moving forward. We really appreciate Met’s leadership on recycling for example and advancing this pilot project. We really hope that evolves into a major recycling program which is beneficial to greater LA. And we’ll certainly take up the mayor on his invitation to engage more directly specifically on the portfolio.”
Delta conveyance concerns
Director Glen Peterson (Las Virgenes Municipal Water District) asked, “You said that you want to deliver under this administration a facility. Is there any assurance that’s going to happen?”
“No,” responded Secretary Crowfoot. “What you’ll get from me as Secretary is being direct and candid and transparent. There are a lot of factors that we don’t control. But what we do control is essentially the priority we’re placing on this, so know that our agency is working with other agencies on a weekly basis to move the project and forward and we’ll do what is under our control to actually deliver the project.”
Director Steve Blois (Calleguas MWD) notes that he represents the northern-most member agency serving 630,000 in Ventura County which is 95% or more dependent upon the state water supply, unlike the city of Los Angeles which has a much broader area and can take water from multiple sources. “A major recycling facility anywhere else within the District really does us very little good other than the indirect benefit of increasing supply to all of Southern California. Therefore, we’re particularly sensitive to the reliability of whatever Delta conveyance we end up with.”
“We have watched the project being downsized from 25,000 cfs many years ago to 15,000 cfs to 9000 with Cal Water Fix, and now we don’t know what we’ve got,” continued Director Blois. “It’s less than 9000 and we don’t know anything more than that. What I am particularly interested in and my question to the point is, is there any way to speed up what project we physically can count on so that we as the Metropolitan Board can say ok, we can maybe spend some money towards that engineering design effort because we’re going to be very hesitant to spend any more money unless we’ve know we’ve got something that is actually going to be of some beneficial use for all of us and particularly my district.”
“This is a beneficiary pays project as the water consumers are paying for the project, so at the end of the day, if it doesn’t provide a capacity for an operational profile that works for water users down here, it’s not going to get done,” said Secretary Crowfoot. “Our hope that is by that Notice of Preparation date, September-October, that there is a preferred alternative that is identified, including capacity in terms of cubic feet per second. That CEQA document will also identify other alternatives as it needs to, but you’ll have a good understanding of at least what is the preferred project.”
Secretary Crowfoot acknowledged that the pumps are not restricted by physical limitations but the regulations and laws. “What we’re looking to do more broadly is really move from sort of management by regulation and litigation to more of a collaborative management between water users and other stakeholders. We’re very specifically focused on what are known as the Voluntary Agreements for the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems, so we have this conversation on conveyance happening, but we also have a very important regulatory process at the State Water Board to update the Bay Delta Water Quality Plan that’s decades late in terms of being fully updated.”
Secretary Crowfoot noted that there are currently Voluntary Agreement negotiations underway with water users and environmental conservation groups to meet the goals that the Water Board has to meet under state and federal law, but in a more collaborative nimble way that actually allows water users to volunteer water and increase habitat restoration efforts.
“What I’m getting to is the physical capacity of the tunnel is important, but it is not in my mind the fundamental restriction,” he continued. “The restriction is finding a management approach that avoids making extinct fish while taking advantage in a nimble way of getting us as much water through the Delta and exported during these wet periods. And we think with these voluntary agreements could be a paradigm shift. I don’t suffer any illusions that there won’t be litigation even against the voluntary agreement, but what we’re working really hard to do is trying to figure out a way that can work for water users, water agencies, but also the environment. So I’m hoping whatever the capacity of the single tunnel is, it’s really paired with a really thoughtful approach to actually managing the exports in a way that works for people and nature.”
Director Brett Barbre (Orange County) pointed out that it wasn’t going to cost the state one penny to build the twin tunnels. “I’m befuddled as to why. We had a plan, it was ready to go, and in the previous administration, that was moving forward, and now it’s all changed, so I’d be interested in what scientifically changed that decision.”
“Reasonable people differ on the impacts of the capacities of those tunnels,” Secretary Crowfoot said. “Reasonable people have different opinions in terms of the deliverability of the project based on its costs. I think most people agree that reducing the capacity will reduce the potential impacts and will reduce costs. I can appreciate that Metropolitan was willing to finance a large portion of the larger project. We believe that the smaller project will have more manageable impacts and will be more affordable to deliver. I totally take your point on the fact that this is not a tax payer driven project and greatly appreciate Metropolitan’s leadership on conveyance to date. What I can tell you is we are committed to the single tunnel conveyance and we’re going to move it forward. I can totally understand the frustration given all of the time and energy spent on the last project, but moving forward our vision is to modernize and safeguard this conveyance, so we’re going to spend our time and energy doing that.”
Emerging contaminants (PFAS, PFOA)
“Integration to achieve resilience all over the state is sometimes appropriately done at the state level but more often it’s done at a regional level, so what I’m hoping is that when we get the water resilience portfolio, we’re not going to see a document where the state tells us all the things we should do,” said Director McKenney. “Hopefully the water resilience portfolio will create a state framework for facilitating and using regional planning efforts. Metropolitan is very proud of its Integrated Resources Plan. And to create that kind of resilience, you have to be able to plan for a lot of unforeseen challenges. This morning we heard a compelling presentation about the emerging problem in groundwater PFAS. I’m sure you’re aware of that. That’s typical of the type of thing we encounter. It’s likely going to result in, at least for a period of time, a lot of agencies cutting back on their local supplies and relying on Metropolitan’s imported water supply, and those things are going to come and go. And we’re always trying to integrate our planning to address them. Hopefully the water resilience portfolio will recognize that and try to find ways to facilitate that kind of regional planning.”
“In particular, the kind of regulatory alignment that you’re using in the voluntary settlement agreement strategy is very important, even for us here,” Director McKenney continued. “It would be much more likely for us to be able to achieve resilience if we could, that the state regulatory agencies to come into our planning processes with a coordinated voice and tell us what they think the priorities are going to be, let us do that balancing of benefits and know that we’re going to be able to live with that, and that’s worth money to us, it’s worth more money than state grant programs or other kinds of subsidies. Do you think it’s possible that the state water resilience portfolio is going to address those kinds of concepts?”
Secretary Crowfoot agreed that the answers are found at the local and regional level, noting that 85% water spending happens locally or regionally; also, different regions face different challenges so building resilience looks different in greater LA than in the Central Valley or on the North Coast. “I think you’ll see a very heavy focus on supporting regional leadership within the portfolio and you should hold us accountable for that,” he said.
“Secondly, to the extent that we can align our regulations, we want to,” Secretary Crowfoot said, noting that Governor Newsom is interested in agencies working together on solutions, and not get caught up in agency silos or statutory authorities. “My request to you would be have smart folks at the local level help us understand what those alignments are, because we don’t actually see the impact of this stove-piped state regulation like you all do.”
Director John Morris (San Marino) echoed the concerns about PFAS. “The regulations on those that can severely impact our groundwater supplies when we’re not ready for improved reliability of surface water supplies, and I hope those types of impacts could also be looked into in terms of resiliency.”
Secretary Crowfoot agreed that contaminants of emerging concern and particularly the PFOA and PFAS are a huge national crisis. “Our challenge is how do we protect human health in a way that actually allows water to be continued to be served. We need a balance. We obviously need protective standards given these are all really nasty chemicals but we also need a regulatory approach that is workable for local agencies.”
Director Adan Ortega noted that many in Southern California would like to have the guarantee of conveyance that protects baseline supplies and the integrity of local resource portfolios, given the millions (if not billions) in investments that have been made, including safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities and water recycling.
“It’s important for us to have a baseline supply that doesn’t keep us to the law of diminishing returns, where we do less recycling because of higher salinity values and lower conveyance volumes or because of the regulatory framework that the state has,” he said. “The recent PFAS action that was going to be taken by the Division of Drinking Water would have cost the city of Fullerton four of our wells, it would have resulted in about $50 million in added purchases for us of imported water which would have been a setback for the administration’s resiliency plan.”
Director Brett Barbre (Orange County) pointed out that the Colorado River has 15 million acre-feet average flows and 60 million acre-feet in storage, and yet in California, there is 32 million in flows and less than 16 million in storage. “Part of what’s been a huge benefit in California has been the snowpack, which is roughly 15 million acre-feet a year. Studies are showing that between 45 and 60 percent of that snowpack will be gone by the end of the century. So what portion of the conveyance and the whole resiliency package will be in significantly increasing the amount in storage? Because we know storage works. Diamond Valley is the perfect example of an above ground storage that can take huge flows and then be used to refill the groundwater basins and keep them replenished. Can you give us assurances, since we’re going to be footing 50% of the bill for this, that we’re actually going to get some storage and some long-term benefits for the customers here in Southern California?”
Secretary Wade Crowfoot acknowledged that appropriately positioned storage has to be part of the solution moving forward, both above ground and below ground. There are tens of millions of acre-feet of available storage in severely depleted groundwater basins, so groundwater recharge needs to be a major focus. “Given that major portions of the state will be under SGMA, have to put groundwater sustainability plans together, submit them to Department of Water Resources in January. There will be a real economic impact of that important and necessary but painful transition to sustainable groundwater. We have to put more water underground.”
We also have to identify the opportunities for above ground storage and how to pay for it. “Public funding was only a portion of those projects, and so on projects like Sites or others, we really collectively have to identify how to get those done,” said Secretary Crowfoot. “There’s complexity around the ability to pay for urban communities that generally pay more for water versus ag communities that have less capacity to pay, but I hope what you’ll see in the portfolio a real clear description of our vision on storage, both above ground and below ground.”
Climate change/extreme events
Director Mark Gold (Los Angeles) asked that with the strong focus on climate in this administration, how do you take that into account, looking at conveyance infrastructure for much more than just the Bay Delta and the adequacy of existing facilities, what about the vulnerability to the extreme events up in Oroville? How is that coming into play in looking at the planning going forward to build in resilience to 2050 and beyond?
Secretary Crowfoot notes that the first part of this water resilience portfolio will be an assessment to identify the best that science can tell us about the specific impacts of the variability of snowpack, projections of atmospheric rivers, and the flooding potential. “We’re essentially designing this road map with the best assessment we can do right now of climate impacts, as well as existing supplies and projected demand, so if we’re successful, we’re going to give a clear understanding from where we sit of what is the challenge moving forward, both in climate change and these other stressors, and that will really structure the recommendations that we make to the Governor … “
Secretary Crowfoot acknowledged that it might not be completed by November, but they will identify to the best of their ability what the vulnerabilities are and a system moving forward for addressing those vulnerabilities.
Water efficiency standards
Director Tim Smith (San Diego) asks about the new water efficiency standards that are being identified for water agencies and how those standards will be integrated into demand forecasting.
Secretary Crowfoot notes that the water efficiency legislation passed last year was intended to establish water efficiency standards for urban water agencies and are not meant to change land use or practices in communities. “We’re not suggesting as a state that you should rip out all of your grass and put in drought-tolerant plants, but what we are trying to do is reduce water waste and the fact is that we can all agree that there is a lot of water wasted in over-irrigation of outdoor landscapes. We believe these new standards will be implemented in a way where urban water agencies can actually abide these standards, continue to support the quality of life and the yards and the homes that people come to expect, but also to reduce water waste, and that’s our goal.”
“Moving forward, as we project demand, yes, we should project urban water demand that is efficient demand. I don’t think we’re going to be unreasonable. If we’re growing to a state of 50 million, I don’t think we’re going to be unreasonable by reducing demand by a radical level. It’s an implementation challenge to get these efficiency standards implemented, so I think our primary focus as it relates to urban water efficiency before we pass any new stuff is to implement these standards in partnerships with locals.”
In closing …
Secretary Crowfoot thanked concluded by thanking the committee for the opportunity to address them. He noted that there are opportunities to for officials and the public to provide input on the water portfolio which are all posted at waterresilience.ca.gov.
Colorado River Resources Manager Bill Hasencamp noted that conditions have improved dramatically since January of this year. Things were looking bleak with runoff forecasted at 64%, shortages on the river projected for 2020, and no drought contingency plan in place. However, the forecast is now at 148%, which is an extra 6 MAF going into Lake Powell than what was projected in January.
This does change the probabilities going forward. Back in January, there was a 30% chance that in the next five years, Lake Mead would get to the critical elevation of 1025′; the updated forecast is now there is only a 3% chance that Lake Mead will get that low, Mr. Hasencamp said. Similarly, Lake Powell had a 16% chance of reaching elevation 3490′ at which point, power generation would no longer be possible; now there is a 0% chance that will happen over the next five years.
“Big turnaround on the Colorado,” he said. “It doesn’t affect the long-term challenges but it provides stability that we can now focus on the long-term imbalance of the Colorado River without having to worry about conditions hitting critical elevations in the next couple of years.”
With the DCP in place, the plan is for Metropolitan to store up to 400,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead which would get Metropolitan’s total water stored in Lake Mead close to 1 MAF.
“Even though it’s been a wet year, the DCP will still trigger reductions by Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico,” Mr. Hasencamp said. “They would all have to leave water in Lake Mead as part of the drought plan next year, even though we’re not in a shortage. And finally, we’re continuing discussions with IID about a possible onramp that IID could participate in the DCP later this year or early next year.”