FRIDAY MID-DAY UPDATE: Supreme Court lets stand decision upholding Delta Stewardship Council’s authority; Feinstein, Harder introduce water management bill; Reclamation recaps the week’s accomplishments

Supreme Court lets stand decision upholding Delta Stewardship Council’s authority for sustainable management of the Delta

From the Delta Stewardship Council:

The California Supreme Court Wednesday (April 12) denied the petition for review and request for de-publication made by the State Water Contractors in response to an April 10, 2020, Third District Court of Appeal decision. As a result, the appellate decision, which upheld the central role of the Delta Stewardship Council in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water management and land use planning, remains intact and is governing law. The Appellate Court decision had sided with the Council on all remaining issues from a suite of 2013 lawsuits that challenged the Council’s Delta Plan, its long-term sustainable management plan for the Delta. By declining to hear the petition for review, the Supreme Court put an end to this fight over the scope of the Council’s authority and the validity of its Delta Plan.

“We appreciate the validation of the Council’s authority to achieve the state’s coequal goals for the Delta, measure progress appropriately, reduce reliance on the Delta for water supply, and improve habitat and water supply reliability,” said Council Chair Susan Tatayon.

“After a seven-year court battle, I am pleased that the Delta Plan is firmly in effect, and the Supreme Court and the Appellate Court acknowledged the broad discretion the Delta Reform Act confers to the Council,” said Council Executive Officer Jessica Pearson.

Immediately after the Plan was adopted, 26 parties – local agencies, organizations, and individuals – filed seven lawsuits in three counties – later consolidated – arguing that some of the policies and regulations in the Delta Plan were in conflict with the 2009 Delta Reform Act.

In 2016, the trial court sided with the Council on almost all points, but invalidated the Plan because, the Court said, it lacked legally enforceable, quantifiable targets for certain objectives and inadequately “promoted” options to improve the way water projects move water across the Delta.

The Council and other parties appealed, which placed the decision to invalidate the Plan on hold pending the April 10, 2020 appellate court ruling, and in the intervening years the Council proceeded both to implement and amend the Plan. The Appellate Court ruling found specifically that the Council’s regulatory policies align with the Council’s authority under the Delta Reform Act, and that the Council has discretion to determine whether performance measures should be regulatory. It also found that the Council’s alleged failure to promote conveyance options and to have sufficiently specific performance measures were both moot because of subsequent amendments to the Delta Plan.

The trial court had earlier upheld all other portions of the Delta Plan, and the Appellate Court affirmed those decisions. The Appellate Court held that the Council’s appeal procedures are valid and that the Delta Plan was based on the best available science. It rejected an argument that the Council could not enforce the state’s policy of reduced reliance on the Delta.

Developed to achieve the state’s coequal goals of a reliable statewide water supply and a protected, restored Delta ecosystem in a manner that preserves the values of the Delta as a place, the Delta Plan now includes 14 regulatory policies and 95 recommendations. Collectively, these policies and recommendations address current and predicted challenges related to flood management, land use, water quality, water supply reliability, and the Delta’s ecosystems.

Created in 2009, the Council has a central role in guiding and managing the long-term sustainability of the Delta that goes beyond ensuring regulatory compliance with the Delta Plan regulations. This includes directing actions across state, federal, and local agencies that support the coequal goals and promote a shared body of transparent science upon which to base decisions.

Feinstein, Harder introduce water management bill

From the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala D. Harris and Representative Josh Harder (all D-Calif.) introduced the Snow Water Supply Forecasting Program Authorization Act to establish an airborne snow observatory (ASO) and measurement program within the Department of the Interior. Without accurate readings, water managers could be forced to unnecessarily release water from reservoirs or use it for groundwater pumping, resulting in millions of dollars in financial losses.

“Smarter water management in California starts with more precise readings of our mountain snowpack,” said Senator Feinstein. “Our bill will ensure the federal government continues investing in proven snowpack measurement methods like the airborne snow observatory. This will help improve water conservation, supply and delivery forecasts across the Western United States.”

“Many of our rivers are born in the mountains – without accurate snowpack readings, we end up wasting our most precious resource – water – as well as millions of dollars in public funds,” said Representative Harder. “Creating a unified central program to get our water users the info they need is good for our farmers, good for conservation practices, and will end up saving a ton of money in the long-run.”

Last December, NASA ended its ASO program that measured snowpack depth and water content using an airplane-mounted light detection instrument, commonly known as LiDAR, coupled with an imaging spectrometer. This bill would replace the NASA program with a new program at the Department of the Interior to improve the understanding, management and deployment of snowpack measurement technologies used for seasonal water forecasting. It would also provide a total of $15 million in funding for fiscal years 2022 to 2026.

Conventional survey techniques can only achieve 50 to 90 percent accuracy when measuring snow runoff. The ASO technology developed by NASA can perform more precise measurements, increasing the accuracy to within 96 to 99 percent when paired with conventional techniques. More precise measurements allow water managers to make better determinations on water allocations – using more water when it’s available and conserving water when it’s not.

In addition to Representative Harder, the House version is cosponsored by Representatives John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), TJ Cox (D-Calif.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

The bill is supported by water associations and districts across California, including the Association of California Water Agencies, Turlock Irrigation District, Modesto Irrigation District, South Valley Water Association, Friant Water Authority, Family Farm Alliance, Kings River Conservation District, San Juan Water District, City of Folsom and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

“The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) applauds the introduction of the Snow Water Supply Forecasting Program Authorization Act by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Josh Harder. One of ACWA’s highest priorities is strategic water management through the use of improved technologies. This legislation provides water managers with new snowpack measurement technologies that can assist in increasing water supplies, improving water management efficiencies, and enhancing flood control measures,” said Dave Eggerton, executive director of ACWA.

“I want to thank Senator Feinstein and Congressman Harder for working with TID over the last year to introduce this important legislation,” said Dr. Rob Santos, president of the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors. “Our water resources are far too valuable to rely on the inconsistent 75 year-old technology in modeling snowmelt and forecasted runoff to optimize the management of our water storage reservoirs. TID is proud to be one of the first water managers in the country to put this cutting-edge technology to use. This bill will build on the great technological advances of the last decade and ensure that the Federal government continues to play an active role in expanding the adoption of these technologies.”

“We applaud Senator Feinstein and Congressman Harder for their forward thinking and dedication to advancing water management in California. Together with our Tuolumne River watershed partners, MID has had proven success in utilizing this science-based, data-driven forecasting technology,” said Paul Campbell, board president of the Modesto Irrigation District. “This bill ensures that we will continue to have the very best tools and technologies to enhance our water modeling and management and without a doubt, help us navigate California’s dynamic weather patterns.”

“As one of the original funding partners for the ASO program, the South Valley Water Association sincerely appreciates Senator Feinstein and Congressman Harder for the Snow Water Supply Forecasting Program Authorization Act, which would ensure continued federal support for the ASO program.” said Dan Vink, executive director of the South Valley Water Association. “This critical legislation will ensure that the Bureau of Reclamation has the tools it needs to precisely measure snowpack in the Upper San Joaquin watershed, which will benefit flood control, water supply and the environment in the San Joaquin Valley.”

“Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) technology generates data that greatly improves our ability to estimate water supply and runoff in the Western United States,” said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance. “This bill establishes a program within the Department of the Interior that will help improve the understanding, management, and deployment of snowpack measurement technologies and seasonal water forecasting in order to increase the accuracy of runoff models. We appreciate and want to thank Congressman Harder and Sen. Feinstein for their leadership on this issue, and we’re hopeful that this legislation will allow for continued ASO application in California and the expansion of ASO technology application throughout the West.”

“In California, we’re finding that the conventional methods of measuring snowpack can, in some years, result in estimates that can be ‘off’ by 40%-60%,” said Jason Phillips, CEO of Friant Water Authority. “As demand for water supplies to meet human and environmental needs increases throughout the West, we can no longer afford these costly errors. ASO is proven technology that reduces the “guesswork” of water supply forecasting so that water managers can make decisions that maximize the beneficial use of the supplies we have, especially during times of scarcity.”

“This bill will continue to advance the important role of forecasting hydrology, which directly leads to more informed planning and better management of our water supplies for people and the environment,” said David J. Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association.

Reclamation delivering California water supply reliability

From the Bureau of Reclamation:

Commissioner Brenda Burman issues the following statement regarding recent Reclamation actions to improve California water supply reliability:

“President Trump issued the Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West in October 2018, followed by the Memorandum on Developing and Delivering More Water Supplies in California in February 2020 — both providing specific instructions to improve water supplies — and Reclamation is delivering. In the last week alone, Reclamation has taken five separate actions to improve water reliability for farms across the state and communities from the Bay Area to southern California. From the north to the south, Reclamation is delivering for California. With our partners, we are working hard and keeping our promises.”


Last Thursday Reclamation released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the raise of Shasta Dam by a modest 18.5 feet to the 600-foot dam. This raise would provide an additional 634,000 acre-feet of storage — enough water to support two million people a year. Updating the environmental documents to include new science related to the updated Central Valley Project biological opinions brings us one step closer to making this practical project a reality. Additionally, last Friday, Reclamation announced a proposal to modernize accounting procedures for the Central Valley Project Improvement Act to provide financial certainty to our water and power customers.

On Tuesday, Reclamation transmitted the Modification Report for the B.F. Sisk Safety of Dams project — the largest dam safety project in Reclamation’s history — to Congress. Modernizing this structure will ensure the dam can safely and reliably deliver benefits while continuing to serve the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. Reclamation is paving the way to make this happen, along with our partner, the California Department of Water Resources.

Yesterday, Reclamation presented Congress with the Final Feasibility Report for the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Project. Reclamation partnered with Contra Costa Water District in the Bay Area on the project to increase storage capacity in the reservoir by over two-thirds, from 160,000 acre-feet up to 275,000 acre-feet. This expansion project, providing additional storage capacity on an existing footprint, would provide increased water supply reliability and operational flexibility to the Bay Area, the Central Valley Project, and Central Valley wildlife refuges.

Also yesterday, Reclamation released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed raise of B.F. Sisk Dam for additional water supply in San Luis Reservoir. Reclamation is partnering with the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority on this prudent project that would be implemented in conjunction with the dam safety modification project.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email