January 20, 2017

Temperance Flat Dam boondoggle marches on

a1_g0805_temperanceflat_for_webFriday, July 1st, will mark an escalation in the attack on California’s rivers and evidence-based water policies. On that date, the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the recently formed San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority will publicly launch a joint effort to complete technical work needed to finish a feasibility study on the proposed Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir. If built, the 665-foot-tall, 3,360-foot-wide dam on the San Joaquin River in the San Joaquin River Gorge would be the second tallest dam in California. This is bad news for the San Joaquin River and the fish and other wildlife that once made it home.

The San Joaquin has eight existing dams, and most of the river’s flow is already captured and diverted. The river rarely flows into the ocean. Additionally, all of the water in the river is already spoken for—the state has promised more water than is available by a whopping 861%. Any “new” water would go to existing users, and it would be irresponsible to promise “new” water to anyone.

Californians can produce more water for less money

A beautiful whitewater run on the San Joaquin River Gorge. Photo by Paul Martzen.

A beautiful whitewater run on the San Joaquin River Gorge. Photo by Paul Martzen.

The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that the $2.8-billion Temperance Flat Dam will yield 19,000 to 30,000 acre-feet of water in dry years and 61,000 to 87,000 acre-feet in normal years. We can produce more water for less money by increasing groundwater banking, reusing and recycling water, and harnessing flood flows into natural flood basins. Additionally, efficiency frees up water—California residents saved 1,300,000 acre-feet in the 8 months between June 2015 and March 2016.

Reclamation has spent approximately 36 million tax dollars to date studying and promoting this project. The new effort is to finish documentation so the project can compete for state water bond funds. 2014’s Proposition 1 water bond designated $2.7 billion for “public benefits” of water storage projects; the Temperance Flat Dam project will request more than half of this total: $1.4 billion! Central Valley agribusiness will be the primary beneficiaries of this project, but taxpayers will be the primary funders.

The project will harm salmon

Although Reclamation claims that one of the primary project purposes is for “environmental benefits,” independent biologists have found that Temperance Flat Dam will harm salmon habitat and degrade downstream water quality.

Temperance Flat Dam will flood important ecological, recreational, cultural and community values within the San Joaquin River Gorge

Millerton Cave in the San Joaquin River Gorge. Photo by Steve Evans.

Millerton Cave in the San Joaquin River Gorge. Photo by Steve Evans.

Over 54,000 people enjoy visiting the San Joaquin River Gorge each year, boosting the local economy. This gorgeous area is home to the unique Millerton Cave System, a Native American Educational and Interpretive Center, a ~10 mile whitewater run, numerous hiking and equestrian trails, rich botanical resources, and 30 known and possible sensitive, threatened, or endangered species. The Bureau of Land Management has recognized the outstanding values of the San Joaquin River as it flows through the Gorge, and has recommended this reach for designation as a National Wild and Scenic River. All of these habitats, recreational, and cultural resources will be inundated if the proposed dam is built.

The Sierra Club and at least seven other advocacy groups are working to stop this project and redirecting our public resources to developing sustainable water practices and technologies. Contact the Bay Chapter Water Committee co-chair Heinrich Albert at heinrich.albert at outlook.com to learn more.

>> View the Temperance Flat Dam fact sheet

–Heinrich Albert










Secret Contra Costa Water District ‘Twin Tunnels’ deal sells Delta short

The critically endangered delta smelt could disappear if more fresh water is diverted from the Delta. Photo courtesy USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Flickr page.

The critically endangered delta smelt could disappear if more fresh water is diverted from the Delta. Photo courtesy USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Flickr page.

Recently, a backroom deal was made between Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) and the State Department of Water Resources that sells short CCWD customers as well as Delta fish and farmers.

The story began when CCWD opposed a petition by the State to divert more fresh water from the Sacramento River around the Delta as part of the controversial twin tunnels, or “WaterFix,” project. CCWD was against the proposal because it would negatively impact water quality throughout the Delta, including sites where it draws water for its customers.

On March 24th, in a closed-session meeting that wasn’t announced ahead of time, the CCWD’s Board of Directors approved an agreement with the Department of Water Resources to get upstream water from the State to offset the impact of the proposed twin tunnels — in exchange for CCWD dropping its opposition to the diversion petition.

CCWD operates under the State’s Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires that local agencies conduct their business in open meetings “…to facilitate public participation in local government decisions and to curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation…” In violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Brown Act, there was no release of a public agenda nor announcement of the closed session. The board didn’t even report on the substance of the agreement in open session at the public meeting during which the closed session was held.  A subsequent news release just said that the Board of Directors would review details of the agreement at the April 6th board meeting.

On April 2th, East Bay Times reporter Denis Cuff broke the story in an article titled “East Bay Water District’s Delta Deal raises eyebrows among environmentalists.” At the April 6th board meeting, details of the agreement were at last revealed to the public, but there was no opportunity for input into the decision since action had already been taken.

CCWD’s decision to enter the agreement was extremely disappointing and a significant departure from past policy. The board’s action runs contrary to interests of its constituents as well as the Delta environment. By obtaining more higher-quality water upstream of the Delta, less fresh water will run into and through the already threatened estuary. This at a time when indicator species such as the critically endangered Delta smelt have declined significantly in numbers and now face extinction.

For decades, CCWD fought alongside Contra Costans to protect the Delta in order to save fish populations and to protect irrigation sources for farmers. In 1982, CCWD was a leader in the successful effort to defeat the Peripheral Canal, which 96 percent of Contra Costa residents and a majority of State voters opposed. Now the Peripheral Canal is back, renamed the “WaterFix.”

There are many protests in play against the State’s change-of-diversion petition that would make way for the twin tunnels; DWR is trying to buy them off one by one. Building the tunnels hinges on the willingness of water agencies — including several in the Bay Area — to pay for it. Bay Area residents will be directly affected by the tunnels, and can have a voice in these decisions by urging our water agencies to stand firm in protecting the Delta and opposing the tunnel plan. Deals like CCWD’s agreement will strengthen the tunnels’ proponents, and put the Delta in greater jeopardy.

CCWD’s decision violated its legal requirements to be transparent and accountable to the public. The Board should hold a public hearing on the agreement as soon as possible to reconsider its position. The Sierra Club recommends that the CCWD board revoke the settlement agreement with the State and reinstate their protest against the WaterFix tunnels.


Send a letter to the CCWD Board of Directors and General Manager Jerry Brown, 1331 Concord Avenue, Concord, CA 94524.  Tell them that because they violated specific provisions as well as the spirit of the Brown Act on a critical and controversial issue — the twin tunnels deal — they should hold a public hearing as soon as possible to reconsider their position. Urge them to revoke the settlement agreement and reinstate their protest of the twin tunnels.

If you’re interested in this and other water issues, consider attending a meeting of the Chapter’s Water Committee. The Committee meets the third Monday of each month — in person at the Bay Chapter’s Berkeley office in odd-numbered months; and via conference call in even months. For more information, you can reach out to Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier at mindspring.com or (510)336-1102.

– Bay Chapter Water Committee

Urban Water Management Plans: what are they and why do they matter?

659A thin sheen of water in its various forms — snowpack, rivers, aquifers, estuaries, wetlands — feeds all life forms in naturally dry California. This tenuous system is stretched to the breaking point as we divert from the environment approximately half of the entire supply for human activities. Groundwater levels are at record lows, the SF Bay-Delta is becoming increasingly saline, and Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon are close to extinction. To reverse these trends and prepare for climate-change impacts we must reduce water diversions even as the state’s population increases. Urban Water Management Plans (UWMPs) represent a potentially useful tool for monitoring and better managing available water resources.

A “Potentially useful”planning tool

The greatest human consumer of California water resources is agriculture, which represents approximately 80 percent of human use. The remaining human uses of water in homes, schools, hospitals, businesses and industries are gathered under the label of “urban use.”

Water suppliers for the urban-use sector have evolved since the 1800s into a dizzying patchwork of agencies that include private and public, wholesalers, retailers, special districts, city water departments, county water agencies, groundwater districts, and more. In 1983 state legislation called the Urban Water Management Planning Act was passed to encourage a higher standard of planning at these agencies. It required agencies to submit plans to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) at regular five-year intervals, reporting on the forecasted future water demand in their service area and detailing how water would be provided over the next twenty years to serve future growth, including under varying drought scenarios.

Two additional pieces of legislation were adopted in 2003. The “Show Me the Water” bills (SB 610 and SB 221) were intended to coordinate water supplies and local land-use decisions by requiring water agencies to prepare written water assessments and assurances that they would be able to supply water to new residential developments of 500 units or more.

Thus Urban Water Management Plans, working in tandem with SB 610 and SB 221, form the basis for important development and growth decisions. They are potentially helpful tools for preventing unsustainable growth. But that requires vigilance to make sure that the plans present a realistic picture.

Risks of UWMPs

At their worst, Urban Water Management Plans start with overinflated assumptions about population growth or a projected quick rebound in per-capita water use to pre-drought levels (which history has shown is not what typically happens; after drought restrictions are lifted water use rises slowly). These faulty assumptions result in high demand projections that create a perceived need for additional water imports and expensive new infrastructure.

Projections for water availability can be equally flawed. Those districts obtaining water from the State Water Project — which collects water from rivers in Northern California and redistributes it south — currently rely on a Delivery Capability Report that is still based on pre-2003 data, thereby promising unrealistically high amounts of water to its contract agencies. Overly optimistic supply projections lead to agencies routinely rubber-stamping unsustainable development projects.

Los Angeles’ 2010 UWMP plan, for example, overestimated average annual deliveries from the State Water Project to Southern California’s water wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District, for the most recent ten years by a factor of two, and overestimated the minimum amount of water it would receive in a critically dry year by a factor of three.

Opportunities from UWMPs

At best, UWMPs can provide a clear advance warning that some agencies might not be able to meet demand during a protracted drought. That can force leadership to strategize ways to immediately start reducing demand levels and identifying local backup supplies. New development, if permitted at all, would have to be designed to be water neutral or provide offsets. An offset could involve, for example, paying for the swapping out elsewhere of old, inefficient toilets, or rerouting of graywater from showers and laundry to replace potable water used in outdoor irrigation at existing homes.

The UWM planning process should have been able to prevent the near disaster that occurred last year involving Mountain House, a planned community of 11,000 homes near Tracy in San Joaquin County. The unincorporated community came close to running out of water when its sole supplier’s Delta water rights were terminated due to California’s historic drought. This and many other examples up and down the state illuminate the need to further tighten water planning statutes and requirements when new growth is proposed.

Get involved

Water suppliers across the state are finalizing and approving their 2015 Urban Water Management Plan updates for submission to the state by July 1, 2016. The draft documents can generally be accessed on agency websites and are open to public comment for some period of time prior to final adoption. Find more information about what the state requires in UWMPs here.

A link to EBMUD’s Draft 2015 UWMP is online here. The SFPUC’s Draft 2015 UWMP can be found here.

UWMP updates are one area where the public can get directly involved in shaping local policy that has an impact on how we allocate scarce water resources for human uses and what we leave for the environment. If you’re interested in getting involved in this or other local and state water-resource policy issues, consider attending a meeting of the Bay Chapter’s Water Committee. The Committee meets the third Monday of each month — in person at the Bay Chapter’s Berkeley office in odd-numbered months; and via conference call in even months. For more information, you can reach out to Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier at mindspring.com or (510)336-1102.

– Sonia Diermayer for the Bay Chapter Water Committee

At California Rivers Day, tell our legislators to say ‘no’ to new dams

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California has over 1,400 named dams. All but two of our major rivers are dammed and most are dammed multiple times. Despite this, California’s current drought has been used to fuel a stampede for building still more dams. New dam proposals threaten several of the remaining free-running stretches on California rivers, including the upper San Joaquin, Merced, and McCloud.

Dams built in the last century were placed to get the “biggest bang for the buck” — while environmentally destructive, they may have made economic sense. Today all the “reasonable” dam sites have been filled. Dams currently being promoted generate very little “new” water. They make no economic sense, and the major beneficiaries (large agricultural companies) will not pay to build the dams or even annual dam operation costs. Building these new dams will continue the long history of building destructive dams with public funding so as to provide greatly subsidized water to the “water aristocracy”. This perpetuates a vicious cycle, as cheap water increases demand (irrigated acreage in California continues to expand despite the drought).

Our state has many effective and sustainable means to meet our water needs. Over a six-month period in 2015, California urban residents saved over one million acre-feet of water through conservation and improved water-use efficiency. That total is greater than the projected average annual yield from all the proposed dams  —dams that would cost over $8 billion!

Join Sierra Club and other environmental groups to let our legislators know we need to protect our rivers and say no to corporate welfare to build new dams. Come to Sacramento on May 18th for California Rivers Day.

For more information contact heinrich.albert at outlook.com or visit the California Rivers Day webpage.

Expanded Peninsula Watershed docent program will increase public access, protect vital water supply

The Crystal Springs Reservoir is part of the Peninsula Watershed, a vital water source for San Francisco and suburban water districts. Photo by David Hallock.

The Crystal Springs Reservoir is part of the Peninsula Watershed, a vital water source for San Francisco and suburban water districts. Photo by David Hallock, www.flickr.com/oruwu.

The Peninsula Watershed in central San Mateo County has the highest concentration of rare, threatened, and endangered species in the nine-county Bay Area — a truly remarkable fact considering the area’s proximity to highly developed urban areas. The 23,000 acres of the watershed lands are protected and managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) with the primary purpose of production, collection, and storage of the highest-quality water for the City and County of San Francisco and its suburban customers. In order to protect this precious water supply in an era of longer and more severe droughts, access to much of the area is restricted to a handful of well-used trails, except under the auspices of a docent program.

Under the docent program, volunteer guides lead hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians into watershed lands three days a week (You can learn more and sign up for a trip here). The docent program has increased public awareness and support for the watershed’s diverse natural habitats and wildlife while at the same time helping to prevent unauthorized off-trail use and trespassing. That in turn reduces the potential for catastrophic wildfires (the area has been designated a “hazardous fire area” by the California Department of Forestry) and degradation of water quality in the four reservoirs.

Mountain bicycle and other advocates are lobbying the PUC to consider opening remote areas of the Peninsula Watershed lands to unrestricted access — not only along the unpaved and unfenced service road on Fifield-Cahill Ridge, but also on numerous other interconnecting service roads and trails. Unfortunately, unrestricted access increases the likelihood of public health impacts, including fire risk and degraded water quality, as well as harm to habitats and wildlife.

Allowing uncontrolled access to the watershed’s remote areas would tremendously increase costs to taxpayers, as people will inevitably trespass into protected, sensitive areas. Fencing to prevent access would interrupt established wildlife migration corridors and would not deter all trespassers.

Rather than opening the area to unrestricted access and the risks associated with it, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups are calling for the successful, existing docent program to be expanded and upgraded. An excellent model for a well-managed and effective docent program is at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve on Stanford University lands south of Crystal Springs. A similar program could be instituted for the Watershed.

A number of Peninsula Watershed trails are already open every day to unrestricted access. The popular 16-mile Crystal Springs trail east of the reservoirs near Highway 280 serves over 325,000 people each year.

This is not the first time the San Francisco PUC has considered allowing unrestricted access in the watershed lands. In 2002, the PUC considered and ultimately rejected the idea due to serious concerns raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Health Services, and many environmental groups over water quality, fire, and wildlife. The docent program was created at that time to respond to the call for more public access. Now the docent program should be expanded and upgraded.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution affirming that the primary function of the watershed is protection of our water supply and preservation of natural resources, while allowing increased public access through an expanded docent program rather than uncontrolled access. The Sierra Club, Golden Gate and Sequoia Audubon Societies, California Native Plant Society’s Yerba Buena and Santa Clara County Chapters, and the Committee for Green Foothills all support this approach.

Lennie Roberts, San Mateo County legislative advocate, Committee for Green Foothills; Mike Ferreira, chair, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter; Arthur Feinstein, Executive Committee member, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter

A mega-marina for mega-yachts at Treasure Island?

The cove as it is now, with the marina tucked into the northeast corner and the dragon boating racecourse marked with lines.

The cove as it is now, with the marina tucked into the northeast corner and the dragon boating racecourse marked with lines.

A long dormant proposal by commercial developers to close off most of Clipper Cove at Treasure Island and convert the cove into a large luxury marina has moved off the back burner now that Island development is moving forward, prompting a campaign by local supporters to save the cove.

Clipper Cove is considered one of the Bay Area’s most valuable open-water resources, being one of the safest, most protected areas in the Bay for public recreation and boating instruction. Currently, Clipper Cove is home to youth sailing, disabled sailing, dragon boating, the Cal sailing team, Olympic class racing, keelboat raft-ups, kayaking, paddle boarding, high school and collegiate competition, and more.

The Cove is also home to the non-profit Treasure Island Sailing Center that every year puts over two thousand San Francisco public schools kids on the water — many for the first time ever.

2015 proposal submitted by the marina developers. The marina would be expanded several times over and moved out of the Cove’s NW corner, effectively closing off most of the cove.

2015 proposal submitted by the marina developers. The marina would be expanded several times over and moved out of the Cove’s NW corner, effectively closing off most of the cove.

The scale of the marina as currently proposed is much greater than can be accommodated without significant negative impacts on public access and use of the Cove, particularly on youth and community sailing. In a letter to the Treasure Island Development Authority, Bay Chapter  chair Becky Evans noted that the Club is also concerned about the potential impact on views of open water, potential restriction of space for anchor-outs, and detrimental impact on the eelgrass beds near the shore of Yerba Buena Island.

A look at the architectural drawings presented by the developers reveals a mega-marina designed for mega-yachts. Under the developer’s proposal, 372 slips would be built with an average slip size of 54 feet and two finger docks per slip. The marina would also provide docking for mega-yachts up to 175 feet in length. In contrast, South Beach Marina, a modern marina located adjacent to AT&T ballpark in San Francisco, has an average slip size of 36 feet and only one finger dock per boat.

To get a sense of the loss that would be incurred in closing off and converting most of Clipper Cove into a marina, compare the size of Clipper Cove in this map against the size of McCovey Cove next to the AT&T ball park. McCovey Cove is one of the larger protected coves in San Francisco, yet it is dwarfed by Clipper Cove.

To get a sense of the loss that would be incurred in closing off and converting most of Clipper Cove into a marina, compare the size of Clipper Cove in this map against the size of McCovey Cove next to the AT&T ball park. McCovey Cove is one of the larger protected coves in San Francisco, yet it is dwarfed by Clipper Cove.

Supporters of Clipper Cove are challenging the current marina proposal and calling for a temporary hold on development in the Cove so that the current public use of the Cove can be properly assessed and the cost and benefits of a mega-marina properly considered.

For more information go to www.saveclippercove.org.

Hunter Cutting

Speak out against Delta Twin Tunnels at March 16 Tri-valley water agency meeting

Image courtesy Restore the Delta.

Image courtesy Restore the Delta.

The Zone 7 water agency is scheduled to vote to support the Delta Twin Tunnels project (now dubbed California “WaterFix”) at a public meeting on March 16th.  They need to hear from area residents like you who oppose the Delta tunnels — join us and speak out!

WHAT: Zone 7 water agency board meeting, citizens forum
DATE: Wednesday, March 16th
TIME: 7 pm (the citizens forum will occur at the beginning of the meeting)
LOCATION: 100 N. Canyons Parkway, Livermore

If you can attend the meeting and would like additional Sierra Club talking points, email Bay Chapter Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier at mindspring.com. We will have Sierra Club stickers available to identify attendees.

Zone 7 sells treated water primarily to four retail water agencies: the California Water Service Company, the cities of Livermore and Pleasanton, and the Dublin San Ramon Services District. Not only will the Twin Tunnels project result in higher water rates for residents being served by these water districts, but as a State Water Project contractor it is likely that they will also use parcel/property taxes to pay for the project, even though you will not receive any additional water.

In addition, Zone 7 Water Agency’s calculations are based on a 40% contribution from the Westlands Water District to the project’s total costs. However, Westlands officials have recently stated in public meetings and to the press that they are not moving forward with any further financial contributions.  In addition, they are in hot water with the SEC for “Enron-style” accounting. That means that smaller water agencies, like Zone 7, will have to come up with the additional funding.

If you can’t be attend the meeting, please send a brief message to the board voicing your opposition to the Twin Tunnels project. Send your email to: BoardofDirectors@zone7water.com.

Sample comment language provided by Restore the Delta:

Dear Zone 7 Water Agency board members,

Instead of spending more money on planning and supporting the Delta tunnels, which will not meet standards under the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act for protection of the Delta, it would be much more cost-effective for Zone 7 Water Agency to continue to pursue the good conservation measures that are currently at work, and to draw available water from the Delta during wet periods.

As a water rate payer and property tax payer, I do not want to pay money for a project that will not create additional water supply.  I do not want to pay money for a project so that Zone 7 Water Agency moves into the water resale business. In addition, seeing that Westlands Water District officials are facing an SEC fine for “Enron” style accounting and are saying in public meetings and to the press that they are not contributing their 40% share to the total cost of the project, Zone 7 will be on the hook for significantly more money as the years go by.  And for what?  To help State Water Project contractors in the Southern part of the state?

As part of the Bay-Delta region, it makes more sense for Zone 7 Water Agency to align itself with other Bay-Delta communities to protect the long term health of the SF Bay-Delta estuary. The Department of Water Resources’ own modeling and climate change modeling by independent scientists shows us that there is going to be less and less water available from the Delta watershed.How can Zone 7 invest in what will ultimately become a stranded asset? Please VOTE NO against CA WaterFix/Delta Tunnels.

March 11 hearing announced on impacts of Twin Tunnels on SF Bay

Photo courtesy www.protectourwater.net

Photo courtesy www.protectourwater.net

In a significant victory for Bay Area opponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed water conveyance tunnels, California State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), in coordination with San Francisco State Senator Mark Leno and Supervisor Scott Wiener, has announced a hearing in San Francisco to examine impacts of the proposed tunnels on San Francisco Bay itself.

WHAT: Hearing on pending Delta decisions and their potential economic and other impacts on San Francisco and the Bay Area
WHEN: Friday, March 11 at 10 am
WHERE: Milton Marks Auditorium of the Milton Marks Building, 455 Golden Gate Avenue.

The public will be encouraged to speak during the public comment segment, particularly focusing on the potential impacts to SF Bay.

The tunnels project—“California Water Fix”—will intercept pristine Sacramento River water at the top of the Delta, further depriving San Francisco Bay of critically important freshwater flows. The project will pump this water south, mostly to huge agriculture export operations in the southern San Joaquin Valley—in dry years as well as wet ones. The experimental tunnels will be 40 feet in diameter and 30 miles long, and will be buried 150 feet deep under some of the most ecologically sensitive lands in the state. The project will take 15-20 years to complete, at a cost of up to $67 billion.

The Delta water tunnels project remains unfamiliar to most Bay Area residents, even though it poses a grave economic and environmental threat to the region. State officials have consistently deflected queries about predictable impacts: the 48,000-page project draft includes only a few paragraphs on San Francisco Bay, and claims that effects of water diversions will be negligible.

For more information, visit www.protectourwater.net or read more in the Yodeler.

Westlands water deal threatens health of the Delta

Map of the Westlands Water District

Map of the Westlands Water District

In a settlement with grave implications for the imperiled environment of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Interior Department on September 15 turned over to the Westlands Water District the responsibility for cleaning up toxic irrigation drainage water that has damaged 285,000 acres of farmland within its boundaries. The deal would guarantee Westlands, located in western Fresno and Kings counties, a supply in perpetuity of taxpayer-subsidized water drawn from the Trinity River and the Delta, eliminating a previous requirement to renew the contract every two years. The district would also be relieved of a $375-million-dollar interest-free debt to taxpayers for construction costs of the Central Valley Project, the massive federal water delivery system.

The Interior Department touted the agreement, which requires congressional approval by January 2017, as a savings to taxpayers of $3.5 billion — the estimated cost of cleaning up the district’s toxic drainage. This is misleading, however, because if the federal government had cleaned up the drainage problem  as required by the courts, Reclamation law would have obligated Westlands to reimburse the government (and the taxpayers) for the entire cost of the cleanup.

The soil in nearly half of Westlands’ 600,000 acres contains shallow, salty groundwater that impedes crop growth. All of the land within Westlands is plagued by high amounts of mineral salts and selenium, a naturally-occurring trace element left by an ancient sea. The salts are harmful to crops, and selenium in irrigation drainage can kill and cause severe birth defects in fish and wildlife.

Conservation groups quickly denounced the agreement for ensuring Westlands vast amounts of inexpensive federal water to irrigate toxic land. Westlands would continue drawing water from the Trinity River and the Delta, an environment already damaged by excessive diversion, with no limits on the size of farms eligible to receive it. The California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), Food and Water Watch, and Restore the Delta summarized its impact: “Water would be provided at lower prices, without acreage limits, and with permanent entitlements. These terms will lead to ever-increasing water deficits for California’s communities, economy, and environment.”

The groups also questioned Westlands’ ability to accomplish the clean-up. Lloyd Carter, president of the California Save Our Streams Council, told the Fresno Bee, “It’s ridiculous that Westlands even claims it can solve the drainage problem when federal agencies, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, did not find an economical and environmentally safe solution.”

The settlement in fact contains no performance standards for Westlands to meet, requiring only that the district become “legally responsible for the management of drainage water” within its boundaries. Kate Poole, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which intervened in litigation over the dispute, pointed out to the Los Angeles Times, “So there’s no indication that they have to do something more than what’s currently happening [with drainage] or that they have to do it by a certain time.”

Environmentalist Carter observed that the inexpensive water provides a further windfall for Westlands, as it can sell its unused supply to urban districts for a sizable profit. Indeed, a very real possibility exists of Westlands transferring its entire water contract to such a district for a huge financial gain. The impact would be devastating to the Delta if the transfer were a permanent one, since even in years of drought urban water districts are guaranteed 50% of their contracted water delivery, while agricultural districts like Westlands can be denied 100% of their water if there is real scarcity, as has occurred in the past two years. This would result in hundreds of thousands of additional acre-feet of water being drawn from the Delta each year during a protracted drought.

Local Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09) called the settlement a “sweetheart deal” that gives Westlands “an advantageous, no-need-to-review contract that could improve the water deliveries they receive from the Delta and further devastate its fragile ecosystem.”

Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at U.C. Davis, observed to the Los Angeles Times, “My hunch is that the more Congress digs into the details of this, the more controversial the settlement is going to get.  And the less are the prospects for a quick and easy congressional ratification.”

David Holloway for the Water Committee

Weigh in now to stop dam funding

Sites Res Location Credit Steve Evans FORWhether California relies on unproductive new dams or instead invests in innovation for water storage rests with how the California Water Commission (CWC) develops its regulations between now and the end of November.

The $7.5 billion dollar Water Bond that passed in 2014 contained $2.7 billion that is to be used for water storage projects, guided by the CWC’s regulations being developed now. Eligible projects include two dams Sierra Club California opposes: Sites and Temperance Flat Reservoir.

Based on early drafts of the regulations, it appears the Commission won’t take climate change into account when quantifying the impacts of water storage projects. That means the regulations will likely favor outdated projects, like Sites and Temperance Flat, that don’t consider changing temperature and precipitation patterns.

But California has an opportunity, through these new regulations, to invest in water storage infrastructure that can better adapt to climate change and prepare for future droughts. Forward-thinking projects, such as groundwater recharge, conjunctive management, and even smaller local rainwater capture projects could be funded instead of dams.

The regulations are entering the final stretch of the development process before being submitted to the Office of Administrative Law. These regulations need to be responsive to the environment and accurately account for the impacts climate change will have on California’s hydrology. This will help the CWC see that when you do the math correctly, dams just don’t hold water.

Sierra Club California staff have been advocating at the CWC to ensure that public money isn’t wasted on useless 19th century relics, like Sites and Temperance Flat. We have argued that using historical data to show how these projects will impact rivers is misleading. Climate modeling should be incorporated to appropriately guide which water storage projects should be funded.


We’re actively commenting on the regulations, but the CWC should hear from the public as well. Write them to let the Commission know that the regulations should accurately account for climate change. Let the Commission know that you oppose destructive dams, and instead favor innovative investments in our future.

Send the California Water Commission an e-mail at CWC@water.ca.gov.

Or write a conventional letter to the Commission at:

California Water Commission
P.O. Box 942836
Sacramento, California 94236-0001

By Kyle Jones, reprinted from the Sierra Club California Capitol Voice October 2015 Bulletin.