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Which S.J. River Settlement Are We Talking About?

Bottom line, the River Settlement today is a sham with no possibility of achieving both goals, while devastating the East Side with losses of surface water.

Feb 07, 2014

As the partisan bickering over water legislation has become a deafening roar, we are struck by the fact that they are not arguing over the same River Settlement.


The original spirit and intent of the Settlement had two simple goals: 1. Try to re-establish a self-sustaining salmon run on the S.J. River that had been dried up some 60 years ago by federal legislation, and 2. to mitigate the water losses to the East Side of the S.J. Valley.


These were laudable goals and every party to the Settlement agreed to try their best to accomplish them. In fact, Senator Feinstein even had the parties sign a 'blood oath' pledging to work vigorously for these goals with integrity. Frankly, if this was the Settlement we were talking about, we do not know of anyone who would object.


But, that is NOT the Settlement we are talking about today. Shortly after the signing of the Settlement on Sept. 13, 2006, the environmental parties to the Settlement started filing their Delta lawsuits. These lawsuits had the dual effects of taking water away from the West Side, but also resulted in the federal government not being able to re-circulate the restoration water back to the East Side. Of course, this made the 2nd goal of mitigating East Side losses virtually unachievable.


Remarkably, legislators beholden to the environmental movement refuse to acknowledge the environmentalists violation of the 'blood oath'.


In addition, the funding to fully accomplish the the necessary structural changes in the River to accomodate salmon runs is not there. A Bureau of Reclamation official readily admits the funding is not there and he does not forsee when it will be available.


Regarding salmon viability, the environmentalists own data claims that global warming will render such southern locations as the S.J. River as not viable for salmon in the future.


Lastly, the Settlement promised no harm to third parties. However, residents and farmers adjacent to the newly revived S.J. River are already experiencing high water tables threatening their orchards and other crops.


Bottom line, the River Settlement today is a sham with no possibility of achieving both goals, while devastating the East Side with losses of surface water.


Regardless of the rest of the water legislation, both sides should resolve this catastrophe with a simple solution. Agree on legislation to establish a 'warm water' fishery calling for a 'live' river 24/7, 365 days/year. It will not provide salmon, but will provide a robust fishery like exists for 40 miles below Friant Dam now, and it will allow East Side losses to be mitigated.


The following letter is from Congressman Jim Costa to Michael Conner, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamaton. The letter outlines what is possibly a good idea if it results in an honest and open discussion of the River Settlement, but which Settlement are we talking about?

 


The Honorable Michael Conner
Commissioner
Bureau of Reclamation
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240-0001
 
 
Dear Commissioner Conner,
 
 
This letter is to request that the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) convene the Settling Parties to Natural Resources Defense Council, et al., v. Kirk Rodgers, as Regional Director of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, et al., together to reach a timely agreement to extend the timelines on various actions within the Settlement Agreement, approved by Congress in 2009 with enactment of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act (P.L. 111-11). There are a number of reasons to reassess the implementation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act, among these being the drought conditions within California, program delays and the availability of funding.
 
 
California Drought
Two consecutive years of dry conditions, followed by the driest calendar year on record in the state of California, have left our water system in dire condition. Reservoir storage levels are at their lowest carryover levels since 1977, the only time in history a federal drought disaster declaration was issued for California. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced an initial 5 percent allocation for State Water Project (SWP) contractors and Reclamation has indicated that without significant precipitation, many Central Valley Contractors will be faced with no water allocation in the 2014 water year. On January 3, 2014, DWR announced the results of the initial statewide snowpack survey, reporting that snowpack is only 20 percent of average for this time of year and less than 7 percent of peak statewide snowpack. The Governor's declaration of a statewide drought emergency on January 17, 2014, mandated a goal of 20 percent reduction in statewide water use and several urban areas within California are already in a state of mandatory water rationing. Given these conditions, it is imperative that each drop of water in the state be preserved and used for the maximum benefit.
 
 
As you know, the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (Program) is currently releasing experimental flows down the San Joaquin River to determine the suitability of the river channel for fish habitat. It is extimated that approximately 40 percent of these flows are lost to seepage on their way to the Mendota Pool. This year, hydrology indicates that there will not be enough Full Natural Flow on the San Joaquin River to continue the release of restoration flows in the 2014 water year and there is the possibility of Reclamation not meeting its water delivery obligations to water rights holders along the river. Based on the existing hydrological conditions and the continued high pressure ridge that is preventing precipitation in California, it would seem prudent to maximize conservation. The highest level of flexibility regarding the amount and timing of restoration flows must be utilized immediately, particularly in light of the challenges facing the Bureau in meeting its water delivery obligations to contractors.
 
 
Implementation Delays
The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement and the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (Program) is based on two goals:
 
 
Restoration: To restore and maintain fish populations in 'good condition' in the main stem of the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam to the confluence of the Merced River, including naturally reproducing and self-sustaining populations of salmon and other fish.
 
 
Water Management: To reduce or avoid adverse water supply impacts to all of the Friant Division long-term contractors that may result from the Interim Flows and Restoration Flows provided for in the Settlement.
 
In 2006, the parties to the Settlement Agreement agreed that the Restoration program would meet important benchmarks and timelines for each of the co-equal goals. Specifically related to the advancement of the restoration goal, the settling parties and other affected stakeholders agreed that there were ten necessary projects that were deemed to be Phase 1, or the 'highest priority improvements'. These Phase 1 projects were oriented around channel improvements, fish screens, and structural changes and each of these projects would ensure that the actions related to the restoration goal wouldn't create a disproportionate impact to the water management goal or to affected stakeholders. The Settlement anticipated that the Phase 1 projects would be completed by December 31, 2013. As of today, none of the Phase 1 projects have been completed.
 
As the Settling parties and other affected stakeholders know, the restoration goal cannot advance without the Phase 1 projects being completed and without ensuring implementation of the water management goal. These projects are behind schedule and continuing implementation of the restoration goal without the completion of these projects endangers the fish the program is intended to reintroduce. It is imperative that the Settling Parties meet and agree on a revised timeline for the implementation of the program that is consistent with its current status.
 
 
Program Funding
The original estimates for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program ranged from Natural Resources Defense Council's estimate of approximately $250 million to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority's estimate of approximately $1 billion dollars. According to the most recent Framework for Implementation, Reclamation estimates the programs core actions and levee stability goals will cost $1.1 billion through 2025 to fully implement. To date the settling parties have identified approximately $500 milion dollars for the project (not including any annual appropriations by Congress), of which $200 million is not available for use until 2019, and is well short of the necessary funding levels needed to complete the core actions on the current schedule. More than $100 million of the identified money has already been spent, yet none of the Phase 1 projects have been completed.
 
 
In light of these factors, there must be a thorough and realistic evaluation of the implementation schedule of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program. Our current drought is unprecedented and in order to maintain stability within California's water system we must utilize the utmost discretion in each decision made by federal agencies and the other parties involved in the Restoration Program.
 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
Jim Costa
Member of Congress
 
 
Cc: The Honorable Sally Jewell, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Director David Murillo, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Mid-Pacific Region
Administrator Will Stelle, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, Western Region
Mr. Ron Jacobsma, General Manager, Friant Water Authority
Mr. Monty Schmitt, San Joaquin River Project Manager, Natural Resources Defense Council
Mr. Steven Chedester, Executive Director, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority
Mr. Dan Nelson, General Manager, San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority

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