October 25, 2014

Water bond virtues and vices lead Sierra Club California to a neutral position on Prop. 1

Sacramento Delta.

Photo via Daniel Parks on Flickr Creative Commons.

The $7.5 billion Water Bond (Prop. 1 on the November ballot) passed the legislature with near-unanimous votes and has been signed by the Governor. This is a very complicated bond with billions of taxpayer dollars at stake. The Club’s “no position” stance acknowledges the benefits of the bond, while also taking into account major concerns.

The Good:

There are some very substantial environmental benefits outlined in the bonds. These include about $1.3 billion for non-controversial watershed restoration; $810 million for regional water management, storm water management, and efficiency; and $900 million for groundwater treatment, planning, and management. We strongly support these conservation and restoration programs. The bond will allocate more than $500 million to ensure safe drinking water for low-income disadvantaged communities in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and provide funding to clean up groundwater pollution in the Los Angeles basin. Real dollars will be available to ensure that communities around the state that are literally without water because of severe drought and serious groundwater pollution will get clean drinking water.

The proposition also explicitly prohibits spending any of the funds on the construction, design, maintenance, operation, or mitigation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Governor Brown’s proposal to build twin tunnels around the Bay Delta in order to ensure the continued export of unsustainable quantities of Delta water to Southern California.

The Bad:

So what’s not to like? Unfortunately the water bond also authorizes $2.7 billion (more than one third of the total bond package) for development of three environmentally damaging water storage projects. Because the water bond required a 2/3 vote in both houses of the legislature, Republicans were able to drive a hard bargain and obtain the $2.7 billion for surface storage in the Central Valley, including three projects Sierra Club has opposed because they are over-priced, inefficient and unneeded. These are the proposals to raise the Shasta Dam, and to build two new dams, one off-stream using Sacramento River water at Sites (Colusa County) and one upstream of Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River (Temperance Flat).

New above-ground storage projects would not only damage their local ecosystems, but would be bad investments, providing little additional water at enormous cost. According to an analysis done by the Fresno Bee, the five major reservoir projects being studied by the State (Temperance Flat, Sites, and raising the Shasta, Los Vaqueros, and San Luis Reservoir dams) would provide only an additional 520,000 acre feet of water in a dry year at a combined cost of $8.86 billion dollars. That’s a cost of $17,000 per acre-foot, or 8 times the record prices being paid for water in this critically dry year! The reason new and raised dams won’t deliver much additional water is because most of the water they are capable of storing is already spoken for.

The world is much different today than during the dam-building heyday in the 20th century. Climate disruption has begun and precipitation patterns are already changing. New dams won’t respond to that. The sooner the special interests that drive dam development in this state recognize this 21st-century reality and focus instead on moving aggressively to enable regional resiliency through conservation, efficiency, recycling, storm water capture, groundwater management and the like, the better off we will all be.

Lobby EBMUD for Mokelumne Wild and Scenic protection

Photo by Katherine Evatt.

Photo by Katherine Evatt.

Your support for SB 1199—state Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne River—is needed on Tuesday, August 12. SB 1199 has traveled a long road, but last week it was put in “suspense” at the Appropriations Committee. That means it is alive, but side-tracked.

The backing of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Board is absolutely critical now to show needed strength and help the bill to advance. The EBMUD Board meets this Tuesday, August 12, at 1:15 pm, at 375 11th Street in Oakland. If you are available, please attend this meeting and urge the Board to adopt a position of active support for SB 1199. Briefly state one or more of the following points:
  • It is in the best interest of EBMUD customers’ drinking water supply and future salmon restoration efforts to protect the 37-mile stretch in question from the construction of upstream dams or diversion facilities.
  • EBMUD should not defer to Tea Party-dominated Amador County, where a small group of politicians continues to try to impose language on the bill that would set a terrible precedent, weakening the California Wild and Scenic Act itself and endangering future bids to protect other rivers.
  • Major constituencies in the EBMUD service area have passed resolutions of support for Mokelumne Wild and Scenic protection, including the Richmond City Council (in 2009), the Berkeley City Council (in 2009), and the Oakland City Council (this month). The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors  recently reaffirmed its support.
  • Sierra Club California—representing the views of nearly 150,000 Californians—and the San Francisco Bay Chapter strongly advocate state Wild and Scenic protection for the Mokelumne River.
  •  Passage of SB 1199 will allow all Californians, including communities in the watershed, to benefit in perpetuity from the environmental, recreational, scenic, touristic, cultural, and historic values the Mokelumne River offers.
If you can’t attend the EBMUD Board meeting in person, please send a short email incorporating the above talking points to the following EBMUB Boardmembers:
Your local advocacy can make a real difference in our struggle to help preserve a unique natural resource in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Save the “Moke,” a river for all! Read more about this issue in “Wild and Scenic protection for the Mokelumne River is not out of the woods.”

Wild and Scenic protection for the Mokelumne River is not out of the woods

Wild and Scenic Mokelumne River Your help is needed for a final push to keep the Mokelumne River permanently free of additional dams and major new infrastructure!

SB 1199—state Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne River authored by Berkeley Senator Loni Hancock and co-sponsored by Foothill Conservancy and Friends of the River—has thus far survived the gauntlet of the state legislature. Having passed through the Senate and the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, the bill now must make its way through the Appropriations Committee on August 6 before it can face a full Assembly floor vote and make it onto the Governor’s desk.

SB 1199 would ensure that the approximately 37-mile stretch of river in question, just upstream of the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s (EBMUD) Pardee Reservoir, will maintain its fine habitat and recreational, cultural, economic, and scenic value. The bill enjoys strong support both in the Bay Area and in the Sierra foothills counties of Amador and Calaveras that border the river.

“Upcountry” Amador County and foothills water agency officials oppose SB 1199, fearing that the bill’s passage would cut them off from future Mokelumne water rights. According to information provided by the bill’s sponsors, however, precedent from other California Wild and Scenic rivers shows these fears to be unfounded.

EBMUD, which delivers water to approximately 1.3 million customers in the East Bay, derives 90% of its supply from the Mokelumne River. Sierra Club Bay Chapter members have joined with Foothill Conservancy and Friends of the River members in lobbying EBMUD to support SB 1199. Directors Andy Katz, Doug Linney, and Lesa McIntosh  were readily supportive, but others—having been heavily lobbied by other water agencies and local governments on the “Moke”—have been slow to embrace SB 1199.

On June 24, the board voted unanimously to modify its position slightly, from “oppose if amended” to “support if amended.” It is a move in the right direction, but several directors want to see the bill amended to the satisfaction of the most staunchly-opposed upcountry interests before giving it their full support.

While the state Assembly Natural Resources Committee passed SB 1199 in a 6-3 vote, its chair, Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro, also requested that Senator Hancock do everything in her power to find acceptable compromise language. It will be a challenge to reach a compromise without voiding the protective powers of a Wild and Scenic designation. A strong show of support from Assemblymembers could help pressure the holdouts in Amador and Calaveras Counties to agree to reasonable provisions.

With the legislature in recess through early August, Assemblymembers will be in their home districts gauging their constituents’ views on pending legislation. Let’s be sure that they hear from many of us that we want the “Moke”—a river for all—to be saved for posterity!

For more information on SB 1199 and the Mokelumne Wild and Scenic campaign, go to www.foothillconservancy.org.

WhatYouCanDo

Contact your EBMUD director and ask them to adopt a full “support” position for SB 1199.

Visit, call, write, or email your Assemblymember and ask them to pledge their support for a broadly protective SB 1199. Ask your friends and relatives in other parts of California to do the same, particularly if they are in Central Valley and Southern California districts.

If you are in Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s district (20), your voice is especially needed! Urge him to vote “aye” on SB 1199 at the Appropriations Committee!

Attend the August 6 Assembly Appropriations Committee meeting and briefly state your support for SB 1199!

For more information on any of the above or to help with this campaign, contact Chapter Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at 510-336-1102 or sodier at mindspring.com.

Will Mokelumne River win state “wild and scenic” protection from the legislature?

The Mokelumne River's Elektra Run. The lower part of the Electra Run would have been under water if Pardee Reservoir were enlarged. Photo by Katherine Evatt.

The Mokelumne River’s Elektra Run. The lower part of the Electra Run would have been under water if Pardee Reservoir were enlarged. Photo by Katherine Evatt.

Update (May 31, 2014): SB 1199, to give wild-and-scenic protection to the Mokelumne River, passed the state Senate today. Now it moves on to the Assembly.

State Sen. Loni Hancock has introduced Senate Bill 1199, proposing state wild-and-scenic-river protection for the Mokelumne River.

We who drink water from the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) have a special responsibility towards the Moke­lumne, from which we get 90% of our water.

The Moke—as it is affectionately called by communities on the river—starts high in the Sierra Nevada near Ebbetts Pass and flows west through the foothills of Amador and Calaveras Counties. PG&E’s hydroelectric system generates power from the river before EBMUD’s two major dams—Pardee and Camanche—impound its waters and divert them to the East Bay. Other local water agencies take sips along the way. What is left of the Moke eventually meanders into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta near Stockton.

Despite dams and diversions, the Moke­lumne serves active fisheries, Native Californian culture, and recreational and economic interests, and is an important symbol and centerpoint of upcountry life. A proposal by EBMUD to enlarge Pardee Reservoir and submerge more of the river as part of its 2040 Water Supply Management Plan was finally dropped in 2012 after a lengthy battle by foothill communities, ultimately including a successful lawsuit. But EBMUD and other agencies on the river could at any time resume their efforts to build more and bigger dams.

A 37-mile long portion of the river just upstream of Pardee Reservoir is eligible for federal protection as a wild and scenic river, but current prospects for a successful vote in Washington DC appear slim. Therefore Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the River, and others are now focusing on a bid for state wild and scenic designation. The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted its unanimous approval in February. While not as powerful as federal protections, this would be a solid step toward saving the remaining free-flowing portion of the river in perpetuity. The existing EBMUD and PG&E facilities that supply our water and produce power on the Mokelumne would not be affected.

The Sierra Club participated in the 2009 campaign to oppose EBMUD’s expansion of Pardee. That year the club made it a specific element of its California Water Policy to support wild and scenic status for the Moke. The Sierra Club appreciates and strongly supports Hancock’s legislation!

WhatYouCanDo

Contact  your state senator and assembly­member at:

State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814,

or you can find e-mail information at:

http://assembly.ca.gov/assemblymembers
http://senate.ca.gov/senators.

Urge them to support SB 1199. EBMUD customers should emphasize that you want to ensure that what is left of the free-flowing Mokelumne River serves the environment and its local communities, and protects the quality of the East Bay water supply.

On May 13 the EBMUD Board voted to oppose SB 1199 unless it is amended. Contact your EBMUD board­member at:

P.O. Box 24055, MS 42
Oakland, CA 94623-1055
www.ebmud.com/about/board-directors.

Urge the Board to reconsider and support SB 1199.

To help circulate petitions, contact Bay Chapter Water Committee co-chair Sonia Diermayer at sodier@mindspring.com.

For more information go to www.foothillconservancy.org

Sonia Diermayer

Meeting water needs through savings, not tunnels

20140222drought

There are better ways to address California’s water challenges through regional solutions to improve water security–improving water independence, creating jobs, and reducing environmental impacts.

  • Residential water-efficient technologies. Landscaping uses roughly half of residential water. Replacing thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping, installing smart irrigation technology, using rainwater and graywater, and promoting aggressive rebate programs for efficient appliances could reduce urban water use by 30%.
  • Maintenance of existing infrastructure. About 10% of urban water is lost through leaks in aging distribution infrastructure, wasting energy and precious water. Let’s fix the leaks.
  • Water meters for all households. California should accelerate the timeline for every home and business to have a dedicated water meter. Cities currently have until 2025 to complete this process.
  • Detailed usage reports for consumers. In one portion of an East Bay pilot study, home usage reports led to a 6.6% reduction in water use.
  • Water recycling. Recycling of municipal wastewater could be expanded to save up to 2.3 million acre-feet annually, according to the Department of Water Resources.
  • Improved agricultural water efficiency. Agriculture uses 75 – 80% of California’s water. Agricultural conservation strategies—including weather-based irrigation controllers, drip irrigation, and climate-appropriate crop selection—could yield over 3.4 million acre-feet in water savings.
  • Sustainable groundwater management. California is one of the few states in the nation that does not regulate groundwater. As a result we’re experiencing unsustainable levels of overdraft (removing too much groundwater), damage to aquifer (underground) storage capacity, and dramatic land subsidence.
  • Water-neutral development. SB610 and SB221 require proof of available water supply for new development projects. These laws should be strengthened to more effectively prevent unsustainable growth.

Such measures could reduce statewide water demand by 9.7 million acre feet/year. That’s more water than is exported from the Delta even in rainy years.

The tunnels are a risky and expensive proposition.

The tunnels would provide a false sense of water security and encourage unsustainable use of water in cities and farms across the state.

This project would burden Californians with an enormous financial commitment without guaranteeing any additional water for agriculture or urban areas. In dry years like 2014, which scientists predict may become the norm due to our changing climate, there may not be enough water to move through the tunnels.

If we gamble $67 billion on building the giant tunnels, there will not be enough money to invest in local solutions that would improve water security throughout the state and create local jobs through investment in smaller infrastructure projects.

WhatYouCanDo

Write to the Governor at:

State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
http://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php

Ask him to continue focusing on developing regional resilience to drought and to drop his proposal for Delta-damaging tunnels.

For more information, go to http://california2.sierraclub.org/issues/waterandwetlands/baydeltaprotection#.UyLFaq6veRk

Berkeley Climate Action Coalition quarterly dinner, meeting, and drought discussion — “California’s Drought: How did we get here? What can we do?”

20140222droughtCalifornia’s Drought: How did we get here? What can we do?”

Wednesday, March 26, 6 – 9 pm, Ed Roberts Campus, Osher Rooms, 3075 Adeline Street (between Tremont and Woolsey Streets, at Ashby BART). Accessible by the #12 and #49 AC Transit buses. Wheelchair-accessible.

This past January Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency in California due to extreme drought conditions. Just what has led to our water woes and what can we do about them? Join speakers from East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Water Committee, Greywater Action, and the city of Berkeley for brief presentations and discussion about the East Bay’s water supply, on-the-ground actions you can take, how the “twin tunnels” proposal fits in, and longer-term solutions. Co-hosted by the Sierra Club Bay Chapter.

We’ll share a delicious meal, network, and move forward with Coalition projects. Not yet part of a Coalition working group? This is a great opportunity to get involved in a transportation, energy, water, land-use, or outreach project. Invite friends, colleagues, and neighbors, and help keep growing our local climate movement!

The event is free, but we do need your RSVP by Wed, March 19, to leah@ecologycenter.org or (510)548-2220, ext. 235.

A turning point in California’s water policy?

We are living in interesting times.

Within the last two weeks, the governor introduced the strongest environmental budget proposal since he was elected in 2010.

Among the highlights are about $8 million for groundwater-data collection, assessment, and management; $20 million for water efficiency, including reducing energy use for water pumping; $30 million for watershed and wetland restoration; and more than $472 million in regional water management.

For years, and most recently in a white paper, Sierra Club California and our members and activists have been calling for greater focus on these areas of water policy. These are among the areas that can, if given the right attention, resolve the state’s water supply problems and make it unnecessary to move growing amounts of water out of the sensitive San Francisco Bay Delta.

Following on the budget proposal by about a week, the governor signed a drought-emergency declaration. For the third year in a row, California’s rainfall and snowfall were well below normal in 2013. Now, in this first month of 2014, the drought is getting downright frightening.

Snowpack is less than 20% of normal in the Sierra. Mount Shasta, usually topped with a strong icing of snow this time of year, looks nearly naked. Sacramento-area rivers that are usually roiling in January look more like wide streams, and streams and creeks have dried up.

Both the governor’s budget proposal and the emergency declaration contain elements that will help Californians finally get a reasonable handle on how to manage water in this increasingly dry state. This could be a turning point in California’s 164-year-old battle with itself about how to manage a precious resource.

So, as an environmental advocate for an organization that has long pressed for better water policies, I should be encouraged. And I am.

But I’m also aware that not everyone is ready to ditch bad water policy.

The ink was barely dry on the emergency declaration before some editorialists, columnists and Republican legislators, mostly from the San Joaquin Valley, started pushing for more above-ground storage. Some above-ground storage doesn’t require a new dam. Some storage, for instance, involves increasing the use of above-ground percolation systems to replenish groundwater. But most of those who jumped onto the emergency declaration to call for more storage want more dams.

We are living in an era when the earth’s climate is changing because of human-caused pollution, particularly pollution from engines and factories and power plants fueled by oil, natural gas and coal. What used to be the norm for rainfall and snowfall is not likely to be the norm in the future.

That’s why the old ways of doing things won’t work. Putting up a dam to collect water, when there simply isn’t rain or snow, won’t work. Building giant tunnels, at a total cost of more than $50 billion, to carry water that may not be there isn’t a smart investment.

We need to focus money and effort on using more carefully that water we do have. The solutions include conservation, recycling, improving efficiency, patching leaks, pricing water right, and abandoning bad ideas—such as fracking—that waste and pollute water.

This year the governor’s water budget appropriately emphasizes regional solutions and regional resilience. It’s almost hard to believe this is coming from the same administration that has spent the last two years touting the giant Bay-Delta tunnels. Perhaps the drought has provided a reality check.

These are, indeed, interesting times.

Kathryn Phillips, director, Sierra Club California

Delta Group — “Pacific Flyway in the Delta and Central Valley” — Wednesday, February 26

birds--millions cropped 300x221Wednesday, February 26, 7:15 pm, Antioch Library, 501 West 18th Street, Antioch.

At the Delta Group’s February meeting, speaker Mike Moran will tell us about California’s great annual fall and winter bird migration on the Pacific Flyway.

He’ll tell us how the migration has been impacted by, and impacts, human behavior here on earth. We’ll share how avian biology, hydrology, water policy, land use, conservation, and restoration all converge in the Central Valley and Delta. We’ll take a look at where we are now, and how all these factors connect to the future for the Pacific Flyway’s fascinating bird travelers.

Mike is supervising naturalist at Big Break visitor center in the Delta in Oakley. He has been a naturalist for over 25 years, with the East Bay Regional Park District for 19 years, and earlier with the National Park Service, California State Parks, and other park agencies. Mike’s specialties include California water, birds and local history.

Do you want to see some of these birds yourself? Join the Delta Group on Sat., Feb. 22, as we car-caravan into the Central Valley to the Cosumnes River Preserve of the Nature Conservancy and Thornton agricultural area to see migrating birds, including sandhill cranes, ducks, and geese. For details see the Chapter Calendar.

Delta Group program meetings are usually held in February, May, September, and November. A newsletter listing Delta Group programs, outings, and activities is available by sending a check for $5, payable to “Sierra Club, Delta Group”, to:

Janess Hanson
431 Levee Road
Bay Point, CA 94565.

For information about Delta Group activities, call Janess Hanson at (925)458-0860. For information about Delta area environmental concerns, call Tim Donahue at (925)754-8801.

Upcoming hikes and activities

For more information about these activities, see the Chapter Calendar.

Sat., Feb. 8, Benicia State Recreation Area, 1A hike

Sat., Feb. 22, Sacramento Valley and Delta, bird-watching safari

Sat., Mar. 22, Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Antioch, 1A wildflower walk

“Drought Alert: My Food, My Water, and the Mega Water Tunnel Project”–Thursday, February 20

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Dawn breaking at duck blind in the Delta. Photos by Roger Mammon.

Thursday, February 20, 6 – 8 pm, Castro Valley Library, 3600 Norbridge Avenue, Castro Valley.

Concerned about the drought? Wondering what actions state officials are taking?

The Brown administration’s Bay-Delta Conservation Plan would create two side-by-side underground ‘peripheral’ tunnels, 33 feet in diameter, that would carry fresh water from the Sacramento River, under the Delta, to the federal and state pumps in Tracy. These giant pumps send northern California water south to farms in the Central Valley and urban areas in the East and South Bay, and in Southern California. This controversial plan will be the topic of a forum presented by the League of Women Voters Eden Area, the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Water Committee, and the Castro Valley Library.

Speaking in favor of the tunnels will be Paul Helliker, deputy director, California Department of Water Resources, Delta and Statewide Water Management; and Jill Duerig, general manager, Livermore/Amador Valley Zone 7 Water Agency. Speaking against the tunnels will be Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, executive director of Restore the Delta; and Nick Di Croce, co-facilitator, Environmental Water Caucus. Moderator will be Roberta Bornogovo, chair of the Water Committee for the California League of Women Voters. This will not be a debate. Rather, speakers will present their perspectives, to be followed by a 30 – 45-minute question-and-answer session based on written questions submitted by the audience.

This event is free, but pre-registration is required as seating is limited. To register, go to http://www.eventbrite.com/e/bay-del

ta-conservation-plan-a-discussion-of-the-twin-tunnel-project-tickets-10159283691.

Marin Streamside Ordinance dead after 20 days

Spawning salmon. Photo by Todd Steiner.

Spawning salmon. Photo by Todd Steiner.

Marin County’s “Stream Conservation Area Ordinance”, approved by the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 29 (see Dec. Yodeler, page 5), is no longer in effect.

The ordinance included a “poison pill”: “this ordinance shall not be further enforced or applied should litigation against the County of Marin challenging the validity of any part of this ordinance or its environmental review be filed in a court of law.” Anyone, including a disgruntled property owner, could have killed it. In fact, it was the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), joined by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), who filed such a lawsuit on Nov. 18, challenging the gross inadequacies of the ordinance.

In 2011 SPAWN had sued the county for not implementing a Stream Conservation Area ordinance within the timeframe specified in the 2007 Countywide Plan. In September 2012 Marin County Superior Court Judge M. Lynn Duryee imposed a building moratorium on the San Geronimo Valley until the county passed such an ordinance. In light of the new lawsuit, this Jan. 14 Duryee will hold a court hearing to determine if the moratorium should resume, and whether it should be expanded to all of Marin.

To meet the requirements of the Countywide Plan and the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts, the ordinance should include basic protections for our endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout, including “no net loss” of habitat. Instead the ordinance is riddled with exemptions and exceptions that allow increased development next to streams.

The low water levels of this season’s drought have brought low salmon returns for spawning, and we fear they will lead to a worrisomely small cohort of offspring.

This could put our already endangered coho further into the extinction vortex described by fish experts such as Peter Moyle and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

So, seven years after passage of a Countywide Plan that was supposed to protect our streams and their wildlife, after numerous scientific recommendations and studies, Marin County still lacks a Stream Conservation Area Ordinance. In 2009 the county hired a law firm to draft an ordinance, but it was discarded and ignored. The county has spent millions of dollars, but given no relief to the salmon.

Some have suggested scrapping the whole effort: instead of passing an ordinance with the protections mandated by the Countywide Plan, they would have the county modify the Plan to match the flimsy protections of the ordinance. Such a reversal would cost another several hundred thousand dollars and take two years, and our streams would pay the price.

Other counties around the country have effective stream and riparian ordinances. Santa Cruz has had its ordinance for more than 33 years. Why not Marin?

Laura Chariton, Marin Group Executive Committee