What is the issue?

Submitted: Jul 13, 2015
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 All one has to do is take a drive out of any town in the Central Valley, pass brown lawns in town verging into parched horse lots next to ranchettes on the periphery to the green green orchards and vineyards and flowing canals of the agribusiness zone, to realize just how rotten this state government and congressional delegation really is.

The water board wrings its hands and retired top water bureaucrat, Less Snow, who headed every agency in the last 25 years that helped destroy the Delta, mildly mouths a plea to "reform" Prop. 218, an unlikely course of state-government action. But the water board hides behind Prop. 218, and has the vapors rather than risking a challenge from the redoubtable -- but not always right -- Jonathan Coupal and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association's legal raiders, a very, very Eighties coterie  of  private property selfies that needs to be extirpated along with the endangered species its obstructions would help crash this summer.

The issue is: does the state have the authority in emergency situations to regulate the use of water -- even by means of raising water rates beyond costs -- or do private property rights trump the regulatory power of the state?

We doubt the issue will ever see a court because the state doesn't have enough conviction in itself or clear enough idea of what its duties and responsibilities are. Badlands would not be the first to recognize something evident for more than 30 years -- that the state Capitol of California has, in the words of a district representative of a long-serving member of the state Assembly,  "a 10-foot thick glass wall around it." Of course, the wall is much more overt since 9/11 provided the excuse for tedious security checks at the few entrances to the Capitol still open.

The public is not welcome in the state Capitol except as tourists being guided to admire the historic architecture and away from the business conducted there.  This is good for special interests and bad for the public interest.

But this is, as usual, just how it looks from the naive environmental view, which we feel includes all the people, flora and fauna, and the young as well as the old, and the unborn who will inherit what's left of the earth if the present generation doesn't completely consume it. It is also guided by a simple ethical principle, often mentioned in medicine: Do no harm. Nature, taken as a whole in which humanity and its business affairs are only parts however imposing, is under great stress this year. As the most conscious, most adaptable species, we ought to choose to work with the total natural environment, considering it our one and only world, rather than fighting over it like hyenas over a dead Gnu. -- blj

 

"The state is not rushing out here to supplant local authority and local control," said Max Gomberg, a senior scientist at the board...Lester Snow, who leads the California Water Foundation, says that law, Proposition 218, should be reformed because it's deterring water-saving efforts.

"We are pushing people to conserve, and we have systematically withheld some of the tools they need," he said. -- Fenit Nirappil, AP, July 8, 2015

7-9-15

AP/Contra Costa Times

California water board not keen on cutbacks

By Fenit NirappilAssociated Press

http://www.contracostatimes.com/tri-valley-times/ci_28456537/california-water-board-not-keen-cutbacks

 

 

 

SACRAMENTO -- California water regulators heard proposals for a statewide drought fee and hefty fines for water-guzzling homeowners as part of a Wednesday workshop discussing how to implement Gov. Jerry Brown's order for water pricing to maximize conservation.

Officials at the State Water Resources Control Board said they weren't looking at a total overhaul of water bills across the parched state dealing with its four-year dry spell.

"The state is not rushing out here to supplant local authority and local control," said Max Gomberg, a senior scientist at the board.

Joe Grindstaff, general manager of the Chino-based Inland Empire Utilities Agency, suggested California could set a state standard for reasonable residential water use and impose fines on local agencies whose customers use too much.

"The truth is you can have a really nice lawn and really nice life living within those standards," Grindstaff told the board.

Members of the state water board appeared cool to the idea, with one quipping Grindstaff would need police protection because so many people would hate the idea.

The board didn't take any actions Wednesday and didn't indicate any future plans for increasing the price of water.

A law accompanying the California budget allows agencies to slap the worst water wasters with fines up to $10,000. Another bill, SB 789, that would have allowed water departments to impose a 300 percent tax on the heaviest water users' bills, has stalled because it lacked support.+

Conservation experts agree the price of water is among the best ways to encourage savings, but the legality of such tactics have come under scrutiny after a court struck down punitive rates in the Orange County city of San Juan Capistrano.

The 4th District Court of Appeal said charging heavy users incrementally more per gallon without showing it cost more to provide violated a 1996 voter-approved law that prohibits government agencies from overcharging for services.

Lester Snow, who leads the California Water Foundation, says that law, Proposition 218, should be reformed because it's deterring water-saving efforts.

"We are pushing people to conserve, and we have systematically withheld some of the tools they need," he said.

Two-thirds of water districts use some form of tiered water pricing to encourage conservation. Many say their rates are legal because higher water use requires them to tap more expensive supplies.

While the governor's order calls for the board to help develop water rates and penalties to maximize conservation, the workshop discussion also veered into a statewide water fee that would help pay for infrastructure projects during the drought.

 

“It’s a big deal,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the agencies pushing for the tunnels...

“We’ve got to find a way to address the water supply uncertainty in the Delta,” said Jason Peltier, chief deputy general manager at Westlands Water District, the sprawling agricultural agency near Fresno that would be one of the chief beneficiaries of the tunnels."

“They’re going to leave millions of people up here with dirty, contaminated and salty water,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of the advocacy group Restore the Delta."

 

7-9-15

CBS Sacramento

Delta Tunnel Project Under Environmental Review

July 9, 2015 11:46 AM

http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2015/07/09/delta-tunnel-project-under-environmental-review/

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Officials have released environmental reports supporting a proposal to build two large tunnels to send fresh water around California’s delta.

State and federal authorities said Thursday they’re seeking public input. The controversial plan would take water 30 miles around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through two tunnels for use by farms and communities as far away as Southern California.

The project has been under development for eight years. A major revision this year splits up tunnel construction from efforts to restore delta wildlife habitat and dramatically reduces the area targeted for habitat restoration.

Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin says the revised plans will modernize California’s outdated water system.

Attorney Osha Meserve criticizes the project, saying it is a water grab that will harm the delta’s endangered fish.

 

 

 

7-9-15

Sacramento Bee

California unveils revised blueprint for Delta tunnels

Massive environmental review spells out project changes

Environmentalists still not swayed

Funding for project remains unclear

BY DALE KASLER

and ryan sabalow

http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article26872906.html

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration took a significant step toward building a pair of water tunnels through the Delta on Thursday, unveiling the fine print on a redesign that state officials say would reduce impacts on the landscape, improve conditions for endangered fish and enhance water supplies for millions of Southern Californians.

The state Department of Water Resources released hundreds of pages of documents, known as an environmental impact statement, spelling out details of changes that have been previewed by the governor in recent months.

The environmental documents released by DWR didn’t appear to change anyone’s mind. Opponents continued to dismiss the effort as a Southern California “water grab” that would worsen, not improve, the Delta’s damaged ecosystem. Proponents said the project is desperately needed to fix California’s man-made water-delivery network.

Either way, release of the documents marks a milestone in the $15 billion project, which has been in the works since 2006. The statement, the product of a lengthy study required by law, provides the most detailed blueprint yet.

“It’s a big deal,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the agencies pushing for the tunnels.

But completion of the documents hardly guarantees the controversial tunnels will get built. Federal and state environmental agencies still must sign off, and opponents could file lawsuits to block construction. While the plan doesn’t need the Legislature’s approval, political opposition from Northern California could interfere. Some of the cities and farm districts paying for the system have hesitations about steep costs.

The tunnels would have a dual mission: to help stabilize the environmentally fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and improve delivery to customers of the State Water Project and the federal government’s Central Valley Project.

“There is an urgent need to improve the conditions for threatened and endangered fish species within the Delta,” the environmental statement said. “Improvements to the conveyance system are needed to respond to increased demands upon and risks to water supply reliability, water quality, and the aquatic ecosystem.”

Known formally as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the project calls for construction of two 30-mile-long tunnels that would draw water from the Sacramento River and deliver it to the pumps and government-operated canals near Tracy. From there, the water would be pumped, as it has for decades, to 25 million Southern Californians and 3 million acres of farmland.

Brown has made the project a centerpiece of his final term, going so far as to tell critics to “shut up” until they study it further.

Officials say decades of pumping water south through the complex tidal ecosystem has harmed the Delta’s wildlife and habitat, driving some fish species to the brink of extinction. Delta levees have become vulnerable to a major earthquake, which could flood the Delta with ocean saltwater and force a halt to the pumping of fresh water south.

Currently, water deliveries to areas south of the Delta vary dramatically at certain times of the year to protect fish, and the problem has worsened as the four-year drought has constricted supplies.

“We’ve got to find a way to address the water supply uncertainty in the Delta,” said Jason Peltier, chief deputy general manager at Westlands Water District, the sprawling agricultural agency near Fresno that would be one of the chief beneficiaries of the tunnels. Westlands’ water supplies have been curtailed by problems in the Delta, and the drought has triggered the fallowing of thousands of acres.

While the plan is supposed to improve deliveries, the environmental statement said there are no guarantees that south-of-Delta agencies would get specific amounts of water.

The documents shed more light on a change disclosed last December: Officials proposeeliminating the pumping plants originally planned for the tunnel intake facilities on the east bank of the Sacramento River between Clarksburg and Courtland. Instead, the water would travel via a gravity-fed system into the tunnels and be routed into two new pumping plants built on state land near Clifton Court Forebay, near Tracy. From there, the water would be sent to the existing pumps that deliver water via canals to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The revision would eliminate the need for large buildings and “help preserve the views” from Highway 160 between Hood and Walnut Grove, a state-designated scenic highway through the Delta, the report said. DWR said it has “sought to minimize potential disruption and dislocation of Delta residents.”

Nancy Vogel, a spokeswoman for the California Natural Resources Agency, the parent of DWR, said the latest revisions reflect an effort to shrink the environmental footprint of the project, including its construction, by minimizing energy use, emissions, noise and air pollution.

As previously announced, the Brown administration now is proposing to restore some 30,000 acres of habitat in the Delta, about one-third of the original proposal. That restoration would constitute a distinct project, separate from the tunnels. Brown has called the new plan more realistic; environmentalists say it places habitat as a lower priority.

“There’s really no benefit … to the environment. It’s really an infrastructure project to reroute the Sacramento River,” said Osha Meserve, a lawyer for environmentalists.

By pushing huge volumes of fresh water through the tunnels, the project would degrade the quality of water still coursing through the Delta, said George Hartmann, a lawyer for many Delta farmers. That also would affect the quality of drinking water in the East Bay and northern San Joaquin Valley, environmentalists say.

“They’re going to leave millions of people up here with dirty, contaminated and salty water,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of the advocacy group Restore the Delta.

A coalition of elected officials from counties in and around the Delta also voiced concern. The project “really doesn’t fix anything,” Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli said in a prepared statement.

The revised plan drops earlier efforts to obtain a 50-year permit for the project, after federal agencies indicated they wouldn’t support such a plan. The new proposal calls for a permit “of far less than 50 years,” without specifying a time period. Vogel said an unspecified permit would give regulators greater flexibility in operating the tunnels in case environmental conditions worsen.

Such assurances did little to sway enviromentalists, who argue the tunnels would be run full bore no matter what.

Abandoning the 50-year permit also could cause anxiety for the water agencies that are expecting more reliability in their water deliveries in exchange for paying to build the system.

Jim Beck, general manager of the Kern County Water Agency, said now “there’s less assurance” that enough water would flow through the system to justify the expense.

“Does this project have sufficient yield to make it work? Is it affordable?” he said. He said Kern contractors, including some of the biggest farms in the state, need to study the project more.

Other agencies indicated their continued support. Kightlinger said Metropolitan believes a 50-year plan “was a better deal for California.” But he doesn’t think the shortened permit is a deal-breaker.


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