The water wars around us

A high ranking state water official - one who is privately but sadly not publicly supportive of our campaign - recently described Hetch Hetchy as "a real estate issue, not a water supply issue". We agree.

We do not object to San Francisco's use of Tuolumne River supplies. But we do insist that water not be stored in Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. 

(We understand San Francisco may see it differently. But the amount of supply that must be recaptured through additional system investment is a tiny fraction of that dedicated to fishery and wetland protection over the past two decades.)

Nearby, however, water wars in California are reigniting in a big way.

Yesterday Congressman David Valadao unveiled the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 - developed at the behest of San Joaquin Valley agricultural interests . The bill purports not to "eviscerate the Endangered Species Act" but does seek to "rebalance water policies in California and the West". 

Valadao's bill includes a long list of provisions designed to increase water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley agriculture at the expense of flows now dedicated to protecting fisheries - including endangered salmon and Delta smelt. 

State officials are concerned in part because many aspects of the bill conflict with California law. Doug Obegi of the Natural Resources Defense Council responded to the bill quickly as usual. 


Principal California surface storage proposals. (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Valadao's bill also seeks to expedite efforts to build new reservoirs. It would reduce the Interior Department's budget by $20,000 per day if studies are not completed on time. 

Proposition 1, the water bond that California voters passed in November 2014, directs the California Water Commission to consider public funds for the "public" benefits of new storage, and specifically names the reservoirs identified in the Valadao bill - Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoirs as well as the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir. Whether Proposition 1 will allow proposals to consider raising the height of Shasta Reservoir is presently a matter of dispute.

Congressman Huffman will be introducing his own bill. He seeks alternatives that do not weaken environmental laws, but expand supplies and improve efficiency for everybody's benefit. He is "crowdsourcing" his bill - asking all Californians for input as an alternative to Valdao's "backroom deal". Huffman's bill, however, is unlikely to gain traction as his party is in the the minority. Still, we will provide some thoughts next week about how California can deal with its current drought and those to come.

Debate over the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 is likely to be intense over the next several months as it winds its way through the House of Representatives before any consideration by the Senate. 

There is no obvious explicit connection between our campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy and the Valadao bill, or the Huffman bill for that matter. The modest water supply improvements necessary to make restoration possible are minor compared to what is at stake in the Delta and the interconnections between the two water supply systems are seldom used.

But it is hard to ignore the big fight that is brewing. As we pursue our litigation against the ongoing operation of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in which we will present alternatives to keep San Francisco whole with respect to water supply, we will keep an eye on the water supply and environmental protection issues that surround us.