Congress and the State Water Board

Congress passes end-of-session water legislation 

Bill would test Endangered Species Act

State Water Board presses on downstream flows

Chair Felicia Marcus asks San Francisco for innovation

The water system issues at stake for restoring Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley are minor compared to those in the Bay-Delta. Congressional legislation, passed last week, urges increased water deliveries from the Delta and would put the Endangered Species Act under increased scrutiny.

Both houses of Congress have just passed the Water Resources Development Act - a bill originally sponsored by outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer which included non-controversial funding for water recycling and improving the water system in Flint, Michigan.

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Delta exports are more than 20 times the volume of San Francisco's Tuolumne River diversions (values in acre-feet).

A week ago, however, Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield) slipped a legislative "rider" into the bill. Provisions in the 80-page rider would increase water supplies for many cities and farms while diminishing protection for salmon, Delta smelt and other fish. In particular, the legislation, if signed by President Obama, would:

1. Transfer from Congress to the President the ability to authorize construction of dams under certain conditions, and

2. Guarantee water delivery volumes for some federal water contractors in the Central Valley. 

The legislation clearly states that it would neither diminish protections for fisheries afforded by the Endangered Species Act nor do anything to interfere with California law. Fishery advocates do not agree - Doug Obegi, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council told the san Francisco Chronicle "It is going to be headed to court. It is wholly inconsistent with state law."

As the Federal WRDA bill threatens to diminish protection for fisheries, the State Water Board continues its efforts to provide additional protection. The Board proposes to increase flow to the Delta from rivers in the San Joaquin Valley, including the Tuolumne where San Francisco gets most of its water.

Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle includes an editorial opinion by State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus, titled "SF should help state devise plan to share California water". Marcus praises the City for its environmental values and innovative thinking, and concludes by saying "we are hoping that San Francisco uses its unique position, skills and values to help bridge divides between communities, farms and fish, and find creative ways to help all three thrive."

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Senator Boxer, who is retiring, was displeased with the rider, and has pledged to fight it after she leaves the Senate.

 

 Marcus' gentle plea stands in sharp contrast to the terse statement made two months ago by Harlan Kelly and Nicole Sandkulla, respective leaders of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, "this proposal means we would have to fundamentally rethink where we get our water in drought years".

Restore Hetch Hetchy respects and supports the State Water Board's efforts to fairly balance how much water is extracted from our rivers for urban and agricultural uses with how much should be left in the natural environment downstream. We take no position, however, on what specific volume of the Tuolumne River's natural flow should be allowed to remain instream.

Restore Hetch Hetchy does believe, as our supporters well know, that San Francisco can and should modify its water system to lessen its impact on the environment upstream in Yosemite National Park. A solution for the lower river may make it easier to find a solution for Hetch Hetchy Valley. So we will be engaging in the State Water Board process, and will make a public presentation at its hearing in Merced on December 19. I will let you know how the hearing goes.