Of the 38 million people affected by the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), at least 60 phoned in to get an update last week. The public meeting held in Sacramento was chaotic, with sounds of dogs barking, neighborhood chit-chat and the double-toilet-flush from the call-in listeners who forgot to mute their lines.
Despite the bizarre atmosphere, serious clarifications were made regarding the big-picture plan to build two giant tunnels through or around the Delta—the largest estuary on the West Coast.
Gov. Brown’s tunnel conveyance plan continues to dance around the science, although the project’s leaders have publicly claimed to embrace it.
The latest news? The current plan being pushed ahead is an operations proposal known as Alternative 4. That alternative intends to raise the limit on exports for south of delta contractors from an average of 4.9 million acre-feet to 5.3 million acre-feet.
And that may be a problem—4.9 isn’t an arbitrary number. It’s a vetted biological opinion put in place to keep key species, such as delta smelt, chinook salmon and steelhead from perishing forever. Among other things, water diversions and pumping have severely impacted the beleaguered estuary. Giant pumps sit in the south Delta and send water uphill to drier parts of the state, including Los Angeles, the Central Valley and Santa Clara. When the pumps operate, rivers flow in the reverse direction and entrap fish trying to spawn. On average, 95 percent of juvenile San Joaquin River salmon and 60 percent of Sacramento River salmon don’t survive migration through the Delta. The biological opinion limits the damage.
“It was widely recognized that the alternatives analyzed in the February effects analysis would lead to further fishery declines and the likely extinction of several salmon runs,” said Kate Poole, Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The state has promised that BDCP would be a science-driven process and would recover the ecosystem and imperiled salmon and other fisheries.” Choosing Alternative 4 means that the process is not being driven by science, Poole added.
What’s driving the process seems to be the state and federal contractors who are funding the BDCP, and their interest lies in increasing water exports.
Regardless, fish and other wildlife need fresh water flowing through the system, and a lot more than they’re getting. The public trust recommendations for flow, as set forth by the State Water Resources Control Board, would limit exports to 3.7 to 3.9 million acre-feet. That’s more than a million-acre feet less than the current proposal.
But there is a caveat. The current plan suggests that by increasing land habitat more water can be exported—although it is unclear whether scientific studies will validate that.
“They keep saying trust us; we will build it now and figure out the science later,” said Bill Jennings,the Executive Director of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). “We no longer trust those who guided these species to the brink of extinction to do the right thing. The science and assurances must come first.”
State and federal wildlife agencies are responsible for permitting the BDCP, and they are trying to ensure that science does come first, but they’re still working out the numbers. Remediating habitat is an important part of that process as well. The Delta has only five percent of its original wetlands intact.
The costs are another matter. It’s an expensive project and who will pay for it appears to be in flux.
“At least they are being honest that they expect more water,” said Dr. Jeffrey-Michael, Director of the Business Forecasting Center at the Eberhardt School of Business. “But from a benefit-cost perspective for the state, 5.3 million acre-feet is still not enough to justify the costs of the project. It is not a good project for the state. The fact that they won’t do an official analysis shows the truth to that. If they could prove its value, believe me, they would do it.”
The project cost hovers around $23 billion, with an additional $1.1 billion in debt servicing for 35 years. The debt costs nearly double the price. Currently, contractors are set to pay 75 percent of the costs, and taxpayers the other 25 percent. But those percentages will be adjusted in the future, as noted at the meeting.
Funds from state bonds provided 78 percent of the financing for the construction of the original State Water Project.
Other details were not discussed, in particular, the total capacity of the system to export water. The topic makes local delta farmers nervous. They rely on fresh water from the Sacramento River to irrigate their crops, and the tunnels may affect that. At the meeting, one commenter verbalized his concern that the project would “bleed the river dry.”
The current alternative decreases the intake size of the proposed tunnels and limits tunnel exports to 6.5 million acre-feet a year. But that’s an incomplete picture of the system. The pumps in the southern end of the Delta will still be there, and they also have a similar export capacity.
Thus, the only physically limiting factor is the size of the California Aqueduct. The system would have the capacity to export nearly 10 million acre-feet a year.
Mike Taugher, Communications Director for the California Department of Fish and Game, carefully noted that the state pumps have always had the capacity to export more water, but they’ve always been limited by operational regulations.
What next? More meetings and a forthcoming Environmental Impact Report.
California — As voters received their absentee ballots for the 2012 primary election, the California’s 13th Assembly District voters also received a negative campaign mailer by JobsPAC —a mailer that made Xochilt Raya Paredes reconsider her candidacy. Continue reading
EDITORS NOTE: Earlier this year, Investigative Reporter Deanna Lynn Wulff discovered the Peripheral Canal‘s 12 Billion dollar projection may be closer to 40 billion.
SACRAMENTO - Assemblyman Bill Berryhill announced April 24, 2012 that the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife passed out two common sense water measures, Assembly Bills 2421 and 2422.
AB 2421 requires that an independent third party Cost/Benefit analysis must be completed on any plan that is submitted as part of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Many in the Delta have strongly expressed skepticism to the BDCP’s ability to achieve the co-equal goals that were mandated by the Legislature in 2009. Nearly all of the options being studied, including a tunnel that could divert the entire Sacramento River around the Delta, will have a significant financial burden on California. Continue reading
Sacramento, CA — The Consulate General of Mexico in Sacramento participated in a visit from a delegation of the LXI Legislature of the Senate of Mexico to the California State Assembly. The visit was in response to an invitation from the California State Assembly Speaker, John A. Perez, in response to his visit to Mexico City in September 2011.
The Mexican delegation seeks to promote and keep open communication channels with the California State Legislature, as well as acknowledge the leadership of the legislature in promoting a constructive approach to address the phenomenon of immigration and to the several issues on the bilateral agenda with Mexico.
The delegation will be headed by Senator Silvano Aureoles Conejo, vice president of the Senate, and includes Senator Adriana González Carrillo, president of the Committee on Foreign Relations, North America, Senator Claudia Sofia Corichi Garcia, secretary of the Committee on Foreign Relations, North America, and Senator Amira Gómez Tueme, secretary of the Committee on Foreign Relations, North America.
SACRAMENTO, CA – There’s no doubt immigration reform has a long way to go to ensure family reunification and a path to citizenship for the undocumented community. We must continue to fight for a federal DREAM Act and demand an end to Secure Communities and 287(g) programs that allow state and local law enforcement agencies to partner with ICE. But I remain hopeful because California had major victories last year that prove just how powerful uniting with dignity as our moral compass can be.
The big unveiling last week, long anticipated, was the estimated cost of the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan’s (BDCP) tunnel conveyance system, or peripheral canal. The total cost estimates for the entire project, which proposes to fix California’s water system, are now approximately $23 billion, which includes construction, habitat restoration, monitoring and adaptive management. However, that’s just the base estimate.
The debt servicing costs associated with the project are $1.1 billion a year for 35 years, which significantly increases the price.
So what will citizens, rate payers and water districts get in exchange? Two 33-foot-diameter tunnels, which would carry part of the Sacramento River’s flow underneath the Delta for 37-miles to the California Aqueduct. There, the water would be pumped and distributed to state and federal water contractors, which include farmers, cities and water districts in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
But there are considerable hurdles and doubts about the project. Among them, whether the water will actually be available and how the project will mitigate its environmental effects.
BDCP plans to increase water exports to 5.9 million acre-feet, which is 16 to 24 percent higher than average. And that’s troubling given the public trust recommendations for rivers and the Delta, as set forth by the State Water Resources Control Board. Those recommendations indicate the need to reduce Delta water consumption by nearly 50 percent.
(Learn more about the public trust recommendations here.) While these recommendations must be weighed against economic needs, the indication is clear: California has to reduce surface water use to keep its ecosystems intact.
Why? The Delta is home to more than 750 species of plants and animals, 33 of which are endangered, and likely to go extinct within the next 25 to 50 years, if not sooner. This includes chinook salmon, Delta smelt and steelhead. While the Delta’s decline is due to many factors, including pollution, invasive species and loss of wetlands, one of the primary reasons for species loss are water diversions and excessive pumping in the estuary. The San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers are the Delta’s primary tributaries, and the San Joaquin River has often run dry due to diversions, and the Sacramento River, which once flowed out to sea, is used to convey water to federal and state pumps so that it can be exported.
So why build the tunnel? The pumps kill thousands of fish annually and alter the habitat of the estuary by creating a north to south flow across a tidal ecosystem, which would naturally flow east to west. The proposed tunnels would move the intake upstream to locations that might be less harmful. It would also secure water exports from threats such as earthquakes, floods and sea level rise. Some state and federal contractors view the project as vital to the state’s economic well being, but others are highly critical.
“Everyone knows that they want more water from the Delta, and you can’t revive the system and bleed more water from the system. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” said Lloyd G. Carter, former Fresno Bee reporter and President of the California Save Our Streams Council. “It’s a shell game, and the legislature won’t even do the most basic examination of the cost.”
Thus far, the BDCP has no plans for a cost-benefit analysis, which might indicate the value of the project to citizens and water districts over the long term.
“Because of its large costs and significant impact on those who do not benefit from the project, it’s appropriate to perform a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis,” said Dr. Jeffrey Michael, Director of the Eberhardt School of Business. “But the BDCP is only doing a cost feasibility study, which simply answers the question, whether it can be paid for, and who will pay for it. The question is, should we build this project?”
Regardless of costs, the project does not directly address the need to reduce surface water consumption in order to increase river flows. Some suggest that the state and federal water systems aren’t currently set up to respond to a changing environment.
“Overall, California’s water system functions in ways that are fundamentally different than how major state and federal agencies conceive the water supply system and plan investigations,” said Dr. Jay Lund, Director of U.C. Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. “This causes many federal and state planning studies to be ineffective, costly, prolonged and distracting of public attention, rather than insightful and useful. At the local level, many water districts and agencies are doing a far better job of developing integrated portfolios. They are smart and want to save, and the state is often better in a supporting role.”
Already, individual farmers and local water districts are making smart changes that have big effects.
Since agriculture uses the majority of California’s water, about 80 percent of the average annual supply, its conservation efforts can yield significant water savings. (Learn more about urban conservation efforts here.) But for farmers, dealing with less surface water requires new management techniques and some capital investment, which can cost time and money.
According to the Department of Water Resources, from 1967 to 2007, the gross revenue for California agriculture increased 84 percent from $19.9 billion to $36.6 billion while total crop-applied water fell by 15 percent.
What happened? Farmers became more efficient, each in their own way. A straight-forward fix begins with system evaluations. A farm’s soil, water, climate and slope are analyzed and adjustments are then made. “You can’t generalize solutions, because all farms are different. You have to know the infiltration rate and the time that water sits on different parts of the field to estimate how evenly water soaks in across the field. You also need to know the application and runoff rates, which are somewhat difficult to measure in a surface irrigated field,” said Dr. Richard L. Snyder, U.C. Davis Bio-meteorology Specialist. “The farmer can do this, but it takes work and effort.”
To help with this, the USDA funds the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which provides technical and financial assistance to producers who develop conservation plans. Farmers can receive a 50 percent discount on costs when they implement an efficient water plan.
That may mean moving from flood irrigation to drip irrigation systems. Drip irrigation is the direct application of low pressure water to soil and plants using tubes or tape. If properly applied, it can be the most efficient irrigation method, but it requires up-front capital investment and maintenance.
“Based on the figures that I’ve seen, we get a greater than 20 percent savings of water with pressurized irrigation systems, and that can be quite a lot savings,” said Joe Mota, NRCS soil conservationist. “This is a very popular program; we usually have more interest than funding. With these systems, it’s not just saving water; it’s saving time and energy, and you can spoon feed trees and not apply pesticides or apply very little. It’s all depends on the type of ground you’re on. Drip irrigation systems also reduce erosion as well as make trees and plants grow faster.”
Flood irrigation is still a primary watering technique in California; it uses on average 13.5 million acre-feet a year. Reducing water demand on flood irrigated crops by 20 percent would equal nearly 3 million acre-feet, or about the average annual flow of the Merced and Tuolumne rivers, combined. However, replacing flood irrigation doesn’t work for every crop, and it isn’t the only solution. It’s one of many.
On the water district level, Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) is evaluating a water distribution system on two of its key canals, which may yeild 8 to 10 percent in water savings. “Most irrigation districts are manually controlled. To ensure that all water orders are filled in a canal you send extra water down, and any surplus water spills at the end of the canal,” said Steve Knell, OID General Manager. “The technology, called Total Channel Control (TCC), allows districts to eliminate or reduce this spilling. You minimize the need for this extra water, so you have little no wasted water.” In 2011, the OID installed a TCC system, which uses software, control engineering and a wireless and solar systems to remotely manage flume gates, which distribute water to farms.
Modernizing water districts could produce huge water savings.
OID receives water from the Stanislaus River and New Melones Reservoir. Its estimated annual operational losses vary but are approximately 100,000 acre-feet. Those losses come from spills (17-22 percent), canal seepage to groundwater (32-38 percent), surface evaporation (1-3 percent), riparian losses (1-3 percent) and on-farm losses (45-55 percent). Each area presents an opportunity for increased efficiency, but spills are the current focus.
“OID’s 5-year average of diversions is about 232,000 acre feet, and spill water makes up about 20,000 acre feet of that. So you can see the advantage of a modernization system that focuses on spill savings,” Knell said. “Even if you could reduce spills 75 percent you could generate 15,000 acre-feet in water savings.”
The total cost for the two canal system was $2.9 million; Rubicon Systems America, an Australian company marketing the TCC system, contributed $1.7 million to the project, with OID contributing $1.2 million. The pilot system was installed on 15 out of the OID’s 265 miles of service canals. A complete system is estimated to cost about $30 million.
In past, OID had invested little in replacement and modernization, but that’s changed due to increased revenues. “Until districts manage their water well, farmers have little ability to manage their water well,” Knell said. “It has to start with us.”
STOCKTON, CA — On Friday, January 6, 2012, the Stockton Port received a special package whose delivery not only benefitted Stockton, but turned into a life saving story for Russia.
SACRAMENTO, CA – On January 5, 2011, University of the Pacific Provost Maria Pallavicini announced that Francis “Jay” Mootz has been appointed the next dean of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Mootz is currently the William S. Boyd Professor of Law and associate dean for academic affairs and faculty development at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He will assume his new duties July 1.