DAILY DIGEST, 8/12: Delta water agencies file lawsuit against DWR over geotechnical drilling; Wineries worry about impact of water rules; Reclamation’s largest Dam Safety project moves forward; New study says forecasters are overestimating future demand for water; and more …

Good morning!

On the calendar today …

  • LEG HEARING: Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water beginning at 9am. The committee will hear bills on Anderson Dam, wildfires, and other natural resource issues.  Click here for the agendaTo watch the livestream of the proceeding visit: www.senate.ca.gov
  • FREE WEBINAR: Funding Water Infrastructure for the San Joaquin Valley, Part 2 from 10am to 12pm.  Topics include Traditional Funding Approaches for Water Infrastructure Investments in California, Water Infrastructure Improvement Funding Options for the San Joaquin Valley, and Governing Strategy for Water Infrastructure Investment in the San Joaquin Valley. Click here for more information on this event.  Click here to register.
  • FREE WEBINAR: The San Joaquin Valley Blueprint from 12pm to 1:30pm.  Panelists: Ellen Hanak, Public Policy Institute; Michael George, Delta Water Master; Tommy Esqueda, CA Water Institute, and more.  A Water Wrights-Maven’s Notebook production.  Click here to register.

In California water news today …

Delta water agencies file lawsuit against DWR over geotechnical drilling

On Monday, the Central Delta Water Agency, South Delta Water Agency, and the Local Agencies of the North Delta filed a lawsuit against the Department of Water Resources challenging the Department’s adoption of a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for geotechnical drilling related to the Delta Conveyance Project.  The lawsuit alleges, “The MND violates CEQA because, among other deficiencies, DWR: (1) failed to follow the procedural mandates of CEQA, (2) piecemealed the project from the larger DCP, and (3) failed to disclose, analyze, and mitigate the potentially significant effects of the Project. Based on the inadequate and illegal MND, DWR approved the project and filed a Notice of Determination (“NOD”) on July 9, 2020. … By basing its decision to approve the Project on a faulty MND, DWR failed to comply with the informational purposes of CEQA as well as its mandatory duties under the statute.”

Click here to view/download the writ of mandate.

Wineries worry about impact of water rules

A new statewide order affecting how wineries dispose of water could undermine existing regional solutions, winery owners and their advocates say, and would impose new costs as the wine business struggles with tasting room closures and other measures intended to assure employee safety.  Wine and farm organizations submitted comments to the State Water Resources Control Board last week, as it considers the statewide regulation.  Vintner Zac Robinson of Husch Vineyards in Mendocino County said he fears the draft permit will be adopted with little concern for wineries that have been economically devastated during the pandemic. … ”  Read more from Ag Alert here:  Wineries worry about impact of water rules

Reclamation’s largest Dam Safety project moves forward

Today, the Bureau of Reclamation submitted the B.F. Sisk Dam Safety of Dams Modification Report to Congress. This is Reclamation’s largest project under the 1978 Safety of Dams Act, and when complete, will modernize the structure to reduce risk to water supply and downstream communities in an earthquake.  B.F. Sisk Dam is a large embankment dam in California’s Central Valley that was constructed by Reclamation and is operated in partnership with California’s Department of Water Resources. The modification report describes the need for safety modifications and proposes corrective actions, along with other pertinent technical information applicable to B.F. Sisk Dam.

Click here to continue reading this press release.

“B.F. Sisk Dam and San Luis Reservoir provide vital storage for both the federal Central Valley Project and California State Water Project,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Reclamation’s proposed modifications offer the best balance of cost, constructability and risk reduction, and preserve all the benefits that the dam and reservoir currently provide.”

Reclamation has concluded that structural modifications are necessary to ensure the dam can safely and reliably perform while continuing to serve its many beneficiaries. The report presents in detail the technical, economic, environmental, and other pertinent considerations supporting Reclamation’s conclusion.

The Executive Summary and additional information on the proposed $1.1 billion project is available at: https://www.usbr.gov/mp/sod/projects/sisk/

The Environmental Impact Statement is available at: https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_project_details.php?Project_ID=34281

New study says forecasters are overestimating future demand for water

Californians have grown used to the idea that water is a precious commodity, one that we risk running out of without conservation.  A new report by the Pacific Institute suggests Californians have learned to conserve so well that water forecasters need to rethink their approach to estimating future water demand. … ”  Read more from KPBS here:  New study says forecasters are overestimating future demand for water

Radio show: Less Snow and More Rainfall Spell Trouble for California

By the 2070s, climate change will reduce snowpack and increase extreme rainfall in the Sierra Nevada and California’s reservoirs will likely be overwhelmed. That’s according to a new study by UCLA climate scientists, who predict that run-off during so-called atmospheric rivers will increase by nearly 50 percent, leading to widespread flooding across the state. We’ll talk about the impact of climate change on Sierra weather patterns and what it all means for the state’s water supply. Guests: Paul Rogers, environment reporter, San Jose Mercury News andAlex Hall, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and director of the Center for Climate Science, UCLA.”  Listen at KQED here:  Radio show: Less Snow and More Rainfall Spell Trouble for California

California initiative to fight plastic pollution submits petitions to qualify for statewide ballot

Supporters of an initiative to reduce plastic waste today submitted more than 870,000 voter signatures to qualify the Plastics Free California initiative for the ballot – significantly more than the 623,212 signatures required.  The initiative was originally on track to appear on this November’s ballot; however, signature gathering was slowed to respect and protect public health as a result of the pandemic. A court extended the original deadline, and a surge of volunteer support provided the remaining signatures needed to appear on the next general election to occur after this November – presumably in November 2022. … ”  Read more from Waste 360 here: California initiative to fight plastic pollution submits petitions to qualify for statewide ballot

Delta to host Fishing League Worldwide event

The 2020 Toyota Series Western Division is set to return to competition next week in Oakley, with the Toyota Series event at the California Delta, Aug. 19-21.  Hosted by the City of Oakley, the three-day tournament will feature a return to action for the region’s best bass-fishing pros and co-anglers as they cast for a top prize of up to $65,000, plus a $35,000 bonus if the winner is a qualified Phoenix boat owner. … ”  Read more from The Press here:  Delta to host Fishing League Worldwide event

Failing to plan for sea level rise — even amid a pandemic — could be catastrophic, experts warn

If California lawmakers set aside climate concerns like sea level rise, and focus only on the pandemic, the state could be setting itself up for an even worse economic hardship, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office cautioned in a report Monday.  “It’s quite tempting, justifiably, to just focus on those immediate concerns, but because we know this is looming on the horizon, we just want to ensure that the legislature and the public keeps an eye on this for the future,” said Rachel Ehlers, a principal fiscal and policy analyst with the LAO. … ”  Read more from Capital Public Radio here: Failing to plan for sea level rise — even amid a pandemic — could be catastrophic, experts warn 

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In regional water news and commentary today …

Santa Clara Valley Water District asks voters for $682 million parcel tax for floods, dams, environmental projects

After years marked by a historic statewide drought and devastating floods around downtown San Jose, Santa Clara County’s largest water provider has decided to ask voters to approve a parcel tax to pay for a wide variety of projects, from flood control to creek restoration, along with some costs of rebuilding the county’s largest dam at Anderson Reservoir.  The measure, called the “Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program,” will appear on the November ballot across Santa Clara County. It would make permanent an annual tax of $67.67 per home that voters approved in 2012 and which is scheduled to expire in 2028. But it needs a two-thirds majority, and potential opposition from some environmental and taxpayer groups could make the vote close. … ”  Read more from the San Jose Mercury News here:  Santa Clara Valley Water District asks voters for $682 million parcel tax for floods, dams, environmental projects

New report says Santa Barbara could see significant impacts of sea level rise in as soon as a decade

Parts of a South Coast city’s popular oceanfront boulevard could be hit by storm waves and ocean flooding in as little as a decade, according to a new report on sea level rise.  The sea level rise adaptation plan looks at some of the potential impacts on the City of Santa Barbara. The report says the city could face more than six feet of sea level rise by the year 2100, and recommends actions to deal with the issue. … ”  Read more from KCLU here: New report says Santa Barbara could see significant impacts of sea level rise in as soon as a decade

Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project: Restoring Salmonid Habitat with California Department of Fish and Wildlife Proposition 1 and Proposition 68 Funds

CDFW has sponsored large portions of the Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project (MDERP), located in the Ventura River watershed. Overall, the MDERP will enhance 33.6 miles and 2,268 acres of instream and riparian habitat along the Ventura River and its tributaries. The main component of the MDERP is the removal of the defunct Matilija Dam, which is expected to have wide-ranging benefits to local biodiversity, especially the endangered southern California steelhead trout. Dam removal will also release trapped sediment allowing it to move downstream to replenish sediment-starved river sections and coastal beaches. … ”  Read more from the Department of Fish and Wildlife here:  Matilija Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project: Restoring Salmonid Habitat with California Department of Fish and Wildlife Proposition 1 and Proposition 68 Funds

Los Angeles Waterkeeper prevails in historic wastewater recycling lawsuit (press release)

The Los Angeles Superior Court issued a historic ruling, in favor of Los Angeles Waterkeeper, that compels the State’s Water Resources Control Board (California’s lead water quality agency) to analyze whether it is “wasteful” and “unreasonable” to dump billions of gallons of wastewater uselessly into the sea, when it could instead be used productively to ensure the sustainability of California’s water resources.  The plants – Hyperion, Tillman, Burbank and Los Angeles-Glendale — dump an average of nearly 270 million gallons of treated water into the Los Angeles River and Pacific Ocean every day. Hyperion alone discharges enough treated wastewater into the ocean to fill the Rose Bowl 2 ½ times over every day. During most days, treated discharge from sewage plants makes up the majority of flow in the LA River. …

Click here to continue reading this press release.

The precedent-setting decision has the potential to:

• Benefit 10 million residents by increasing local waters supplies
• Reduce the carbon footprint associated with pumping nearly two-thirds of our water from Northern California • Lower rates for utility customers, who now foot the bill for costly imports in an era of increasing water scarcity and insecurity
• Reduce the amount of pollution reaching the LA River coastal waters, which are historically home to the most fouled beaches in the state. In the next two decades, agencies could be compelled to recycle and reuse nearly 500 million gallons of wastewater currently discharged daily into rivers and coastal waters. That’s enough water to meet the needs of approximately 1.5 million families in Greater LA each day.

While the ruling applies specifically to the four facilities that discharge water into the LA River and Santa Monica Bay, it may set precedent throughout the state. Other stakeholders now have legal footing to challenge sewage agencies that discharge treated wastewater into waterways or the ocean, particularly in areas where local water supplies are scarce.

Bruce Reznik, Los Angeles Waterkeeper’s executive director said, “The days are numbered for the environmentally disastrous and economically costly practice of pumping water great distances over mountain ranges, using it once, and then basically throwing it away. We are thrilled with the decision of the Superior Court.”

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In national water news today …

Utilities ordered to forgive customer water debt

” … In a basement room where she assists clients, Ollie Raven, the coalition’s director, sketched the dilemmas that clients on low and fixed incomes face. “Which bill are you going to pay: taxes, mortgage, medicine?” said Raven in an interview with Circle of Blue. For three decades she has guided applicants through the process for federal energy bill assistance. “What is most important? Stay warm? You pay your gas bill. Need your water? Pay your water bill.”  Clients recently have another option for financial relief, one that promises more than a discount. On July 27, the Action Coalition began taking applications for a city program that provides low-income customers who are behind on their water bills with a path to wiping out their debt. An initiative that Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced last November, the debt relief program is the first of its kind to be implemented for a large U.S. city. ... ”  Read more from the Circle of Blue here: Utilities ordered to forgive customer water debt

Why is America running out of water?

In March 2019, storm clouds rolled across Oklahoma; rain swept down the gutters of New York; hail pummeled northern Florida; floodwaters forced evacuations in Missouri; and a blizzard brought travel to a stop in South Dakota. Across much of America, it can be easy to assume that we have more than enough water. But that same a month, as storms battered the country, a government-backed report issued a stark warning: America is running out of water.  Within as little as 50 years, many regions of the United States could see their freshwater supply reduced by as much as a third, warn scientists. … ”  Read more from National Geographic here: Why is America running out of water?

6 former EPA chiefs say ‘derailed’ agency needs reset after election

Six former Environmental Protection Agency chiefs are calling for an agency reset after President Trump’s regulation-removing, industry-minded first term, backing a detailed plan by former EPA staffers that ranges from renouncing political influence in regulation to boosting climate-friendly electric vehicles.  Most living former EPA heads joined in Wednesday’s appeal, with Trump’s first EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, being the notable exception. The six former chiefs — William Reilly, Lee Thomas, Carol Browner, Christine Todd Whitman, Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy — served under Republican and Democratic presidents. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  6 former EPA chiefs say ‘derailed’ agency needs reset after election

Interior memo scaling back bird protections is ‘contrary to law,’ court rules

A U.S. district court struck down the legal opinion used to justify the Trump administration’s coming rollback of protections for migratory birds late Monday, writing that the Department of the Interior memo was “contrary to law.”  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has for over 100 years offered protections to 1,000 different types of birds, instigating penalties for companies whose projects or infrastructure harm them. … ”  Read more from The Hill here: Interior memo scaling back bird protections is ‘contrary to law,’ court rules

Click here to read press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, the NRDC, Audubon, and other conservation groups.

A federal court today overturned a Trump administration reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that had upended decades of enforcement and let industry polluters entirely off the hook for killing birds.

The administration argued the law only applied to intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” killing from industrial activities, including oil spills, electrocutions on power lines, development and other activities that kill millions of birds every year.

The reinterpretation was first put in place in December 2017 through a legal opinion authored by the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior and former Koch Industries employee, Daniel Jorjani. This opinion was already allowing birds to be killed across the country.

Citing “To Kill a Mockingbird,” U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni wrote that “if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”

In rejecting the Jorjani opinion, the court noted that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it unlawful to kill birds “by any means whatever or in any manner” — thus the administration’s interpretation could not be squared with the plain language of the statute.

Had the Trump administration’s policy been in place at the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, for example, British Petroleum would have avoided paying more than $100 million in fines to support wetland and migratory bird conservation to compensate for more than a million birds the accident was estimated to have killed.

The policy was put in place over objections from Canada, a co-signer of the treaty that led to the law. Scientists now estimate North American birds have declined by 29% overall since 1970, amounting to roughly 3 billion fewer birds.

Since the Jorjani opinion, snowy owls and other raptors have been electrocuted by perching on uninsulated power lines in Delaware, Maryland, Tennessee and North Dakota – with no consequences for the responsible utilities. Oil spills in Massachusetts, Idaho and Washington, all of which caused the subsequent deaths of many birds, did not prompt any penalties. Landscapers in San Diego were reported to have thrown live mourning dove chicks into a tree shredder, prompting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services agent to go undercover to investigate. But the case was closed with no action taken due to the changed policy.

“The Trump administration’s policy was nothing more than a cruel, bird-killing gift to polluters and we’re elated it has been vacated,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Birds are in real trouble across the United States. We must do everything we can to ensure they continue to brighten our skies and sing to us in the morning, for which they ask nothing in return.”

“The court’s decision is a ringing victory for conservationists who have fought to sustain the historical interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect migratory birds from industrial harms,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Department of the Interior’s wrong-head reinterpretation would have left the fate of more than 1,000 species of birds in the hands of industry. At a time when our nation’s migratory birds are under escalating threats, we should be creating a reasonable permit program to ensure effective conservation and compliance, rather than stripping needed protections for birds.”

“This decision confirms that Interior’s utter failure to uphold the conservation mandate of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service simply cannot stand up in a court of law,” said Katie Umekubo, senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The MBTA protects millions of birds and the Trump administration’s reckless efforts to rollback bird protections to benefit polluters don’t fool anyone.”

“Today’s commonsense ruling is a much-needed win for migratory birds and the millions of Americans who cherish them,” said Mike Parr, president of American Bird Conservancy. “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of our nation’s most important environmental laws, and has spurred industry innovation to protect birds, such as screening off toxic waste pits and marking power lines to reduce collisions. This decision represents the next vital step on the path to restoring our nation’s declining bird populations and is a major victory for birds and the environment.”

“Like the clear crisp notes of the wood thrush, today’s court decision cuts through all the noise and confusion to unequivocally uphold the most effective bird conservation law on the books–the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Sarah Greenberger, interim chief conservation officer for the National Audubon Society. “This is a huge victory for birds and it comes at a critical time. Science tells us that we’ve lost 3 billion birds in less than a human lifetime and that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change.”

“Migratory birds are once again protected in the United States from industrial and other threats, thanks to a court ruling rejecting the Administration’s blatant misinterpretation of protections Congress put in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife federation. “Common-sense measures to protect birds like the snowy egret, wood duck and greater sandhill crane have been restored, and bird advocates, affected industries, and Congress can now focus on developing a permit program to reduce harms to birds and impacts to businesses through best management practices.”

Legal alert: NEPA Rules Rewrite: Categorical Exclusions and Environmental Assessments

Today, we focus on changes the CEQ has made to clarify and enhance the use of categorical exclusions (CE) and environmental assessments (EA).  As we noted in our previous alert, the beginning of the NEPA process comes where there is a proposed “major federal action.” When NEPA applies, agencies must first determine what level of review is required. The agency has three options: a CE, an EA and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or an EIS. … ”  Read more from Nossaman LLP here: Legal alert: NEPA Rules Rewrite: Categorical Exclusions and Environmental Assessments

Reporting on the State of the Climate in 2019

A new State of the Climate report confirmed that 2019 was among the three warmest years in records dating to the mid-1800s with a short-term warming, but weak, El Niño influence early in the year.  The report found that the major indicators of climate change continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet. Several markers such as sea level and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere once again broke records set just one year prior. … ”  Read more from Climate.gov here: Reporting on the State of the Climate in 2019

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In commentary today …

Is the water all right? asks Maz Ali with Earthjustice

He writes, “In a speech at the American Farm Bureau convention in 2020, President Trump declared, “I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.” The president was talking about Waters of the United States (WOTUS), or the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which the Obama administration created to better enforce the Clean Water Act, one of the country’s most essential and effective environmental laws.  Like other environmental regulations, WOTUS was necessarily complex and grounded in science. But the reason for it was simple: keep U.S. waters clean. So what could be so bad about a law to stop water pollution that the Trump administration would decide to repeal it?  Earthjustice is representing tribes and environmental groups in a legal challenge to this attack on water protections. I asked our experts on the matter to address the president’s remarks. … ”  Continue reading at EarthJustice here:  Is the water all right?

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Today’s featured articles …

DAM REMOVAL UPDATE: Klamath Dams, Matilija Dam, and the Potter Valley Project

The California Advisory Committee on Salmon and Steelhead Trout (CAC) was re-established by the Legislature in 1983 in response to public concern about declining populations of salmon and steelhead.   The role of the public committee is to advise the Director of Fish and Wildlife and the Legislature, via the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (JCFA,) on salmon and steelhead issues within California that are of concern to the public.  The CAC consists of eleven members who are appointed by the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture.

At the July meeting, committee members received an update on the Klamath Dams, Matilija Dam, and the Potter Valley Project dam removal projects.

Click here to read this article.

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Also on Maven’s Notebook today …

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About the Daily Digest: The Daily Digest is a collection of selected news articles, commentaries and editorials appearing in the mainstream press. Items are generally selected to follow the focus of the Notebook blog. The Daily Digest is published every weekday with a weekend edition posting on Sundays.


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