Imperfect & Lousy Solutions: what’s a county of origin to do?

Pinecrest Reservoir, watersource of the Stanislaus River & many Tuolumne County residents

Intelligence in on Friday was that the Joint Committee in Sacramento is moving swiftly forward on the Delta bill(s) despite opposition from minority committee members and others – some of whom you’ve heard from in the last week. Word is that new language crafted without minority input will be dropped into the bills (or single bill?) on Monday. We’ll watch for the new language and post it, if available.

If the five Delta bills together or  individually were the only imperfect solutions being bandied about that we need to watch carefully from a county of origin perspective, that would be scary. But wait, there’s more.

Aside from the Delta bills, because we have two of three major donor watersheds to the San Joaquin River (the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers) in Tuolumne County and no water rights, that should get your attention. To protect recreation and environmental uses, State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) staff made a bid last year to prohibit PG&E’s right to sell water to Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) if levels in Pinecrest Reservoir drop below a certain point in dry years. That action is currently under review but if upheld, the SWRCB could deny TUD water – and that means every customer on the TUD system – by mid-summer in very dry years.

Feds/State gonna solve water crisis too

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has been out to California on water issues twice this year. Secretary Salazar appointed Deputy Secretary David Hayes (who previously worked in the Babbit administration and lobbied for Southern California’s Metropolitan Water) to work with Schwarzenegger’s Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow to “solve the water crisis.” The three of them, a Troika of sorts, are planning to heal the Delta, protect endangered species, meet the need for increased water exports, etc. What a deal!

Mr. Hayes has been travelling the state this summer, meeting with competing interests to understand needs and positions in preparation for the announcement of the solution later this year. I am not aware of any meetings held with local governments and interests in the counties of origin that supply water to the Delta via the San Joaquin River. Doesn’t that seem an pretty big oversight?

Unrepresented interests in this secretive process will find the Troika’s solution far from perfect, especially since interests talking with Hayes include those seeking more water – wherever it comes from. If you do some thinking, it’s not too difficult to identify the high risk for loss and negative water supply over time in counties of origin.

But back to our unbiased presentation of perspectives. It is important to acknowledge that science demonstrates there has been a trend of decline in some species and there is a serious problem in the Delta. A scholarly lecture on hypotheses for the decline of fish populations over time is posted below. 

“Alien invaders, endangered natives, and declining fisheries: a history of fish in the upper San Francisco estuary,” is a 1+ hour presentation made by Dr. Peter Moyle, Professor of Fish Biology at UC Davis. His presentation was made at the Metropolitan Water-supported Water Colloquium series held at UC Berkeley. It’s long, but provides additional important information on the condition of the Delta.


Despite Dr. Moyle’s stated support for and hope that Calfed would be the best vehicle to solve the Delta problem at the time of his presentation, the state/federal Calfed solution to restore the system and its ecosystems did not work, thus the five Delta water bills and efforts of the Troika.

Dr. Moyle speaks to the issue of the proposed peripheral canal in his online talk and also testified in favor, we believe, earlier this week in Sacramento. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that the sponsorship of the Water Colloquium by Metropolitan Water and his invitation to speak and endorsement of the peripheral canal are not related.

Crisis in San Joaquin Valley could be felt here

Tulare Congressman Devin Nunes wrote to President Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger to look to New Melones Reservoir for additional water to address the mandated San Joaquin River restoration and resulting crisis to local farmers and communities. He wrote asking the President and Governor to:

“…act immediately to ameliorate the economic destruction that’s already occurring in California. There are actions that can be taken. For instance, New Melones Reservoir, which is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, currently holds nearly 1.2 million acre feet of water. Historically, water from this reservoir has been used primarily to enhance fisheries in the Stanislaus River. However, current needs demand that this water be made available to farmers and cities outside of the historic place of use, and it is within the discretion of your agencies to enable this change.” 

Hmmm… As I understand it, Congress gave Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties first preference to obtain water rights on some water in New Melones in exchange for the significant amount of private acres that were inundated when the reservoir was created. Because of the significant cost of pumping the water uphill for use in Tuolumne County, that water has never been claimed by the county or TUD. Could Congressman Nunes be referring to our water in addition to that which he names above?

So, back to the most recent developments in the San Joaquin Valley water crisis.  In addition to the requirement to divert water from agriculture to restore the San Joaquin River, the Endangered Species issue raised by the much-publicized crash of the Delta Smelt, other species, and habitat impacts, Central Valley project pumps were ordered turned off to the grave detriment of communities and agricultural operations south of the Delta.

The consequences of turning off the pumps and the resulting impacts on local economies and crops has been devastating – unemployment is said to be 40% in some places and without water many crops have died. Farmers and farm workers are marching in protest and the frustration in the San Joaquin Valley is beyond a fevered pitch. A resolution called the Turn on the Pumps Act of 2009 presented to the House by Congressman Devin Nunes was met with stony indifference in Washington (see for yourself here):


And there’s another complication. A group called  Families Protecting the Valley posted the video below about an effort to take more water for the environment from the Merced River through the renewal and renegotiation process of Merced Irrigation District’s FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) license, now underway.


As you have read over the last few days, there are many passionate opinions about the five Delta bills and why they will or won’t work to solve problems in and beyond the Delta. There is also passionate disagreement about what is causing the problems. Some folks say it’s water exporters and pollution from big agriculture, others say it’s urban runoff. Secretary Salazar, in his testimony before Congress in July blamed a system that was designed to serve 18 million that is actually serving 30 million people. Still others say it’s the crash of the Delta Smelt or a “man-made drought” caused by enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.

The point of providing you with this Delta water bills series featuring various perspectives, news about increasing environmental demands for water, information about San Joaquin River issues, and tidings on federal/state efforts to solve California’s water crisis is to illustrate that this problem is:

  1. very serious,
  2. very big, and
  3. very complicated.

California does not have enough water to go around. Something’s gotta give. The Joint Committee wants to tell California how they’ll solve the problem – the Governor and Secretary of the Interior do too – but no one is talking about how counties of origin will likely be compelled to provide a large part of the mitigation for the problems downstream so that other areas can continue to thrive. That’s just wrong.

There are MANY interests and strong voices working actively to redistribute water allocations and delivery systems. Everybody who’s anybody in California water (and plenty of “nobodies” too) has been camped out in Sacramento, trying to influence the Joint Committee whose solutions to this point aren’t merely imperfect, they’re lousy for Tuolumne County and our future.

What to do? Joint Board Study Session to decide

If you are concerned about our future and the water we rely upon to survive and thrive, please join us at 1:30 pm this Tuesday afternoon for a joint study session between the Board of Supervisors and the Board of TUD. We’ll meet in the Supervisors’ Chamber at 2 South Green Street (4th floor).

Members of both Boards need to hear YOUR informed perspective as we discuss where to go from here and how to deal with some scary water scenarios. Both Boards need to be encouraged to do whatever it takes to gain the ear of those coming up with imperfect and lousy solutions.

2 thoughts on “Imperfect & Lousy Solutions: what’s a county of origin to do?

  1. Teri, It would be nice to have had more time to announce the TCBS / TUD hearings that are on for tomorrow. As a summertime user of Pinecrest Lake, I have been following the water rights fights pretty closely. Let me know when Toulumne County wants to give up all of the money that comes in from tourism – isn't that one of the major, if not the major, income source of the County? Nobody wants the residents to go without water, however the regulation of the lake should be a joint agreement based upon comsumptive needs and recreational needs. When PG&E has Pinecrest Lake up too high in the early summer months (late May / early June) there is no, or very little beach available. Also in the late summer (late August / September / early October) if they let the late out too far the mud pits and rocks show up also limiting pleasurable use of the lake.
    With TUD experiencing major water losses in their distribution system and pushing for more and more development, wouldn't you think that they also have some responsibility for water conservation? Where is it?
    The National Forest Homeowners Association, in a nationwide survey, has come up with a figure of $7,500 per year per cabin spent within a 50 mile radius. For Pinecrest this would be an even greater amount because of the metropolitan aspect of the region. The Forest Service has about 700 permits in the Pinecrest Recreational Basin — this computes to over $5.25 million coming into Tuolumne County. Surely this is of value and should be considered. If you ask the voting residents of the County to diminish the financial value of the Pinecrest Recreational Basin and therefore raise their taxes, I think you know what they'll say — let's start conserving our precious water and come to some reasonable agreement over it's shared use.
    I, personally, don't think that you can point at the State Water Resources Board and label them as a villian. Take a close look at TUD, who have no defensible water rights, and see what they have / have not done.
    While it may be politically correct to take a stand against those in power, however I would like politicians to have a balanced view on issues before they start taking sides. Feel free to share this with others at the hearing tomorrow, due to the last minute notice (maybe it was published somewhere and I missed it) I have other plans and will not be able to attend.


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