LA Times: As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other states that take water from the lower Colorado River are nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway.

Under the proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking order. California’s huge river take would drop 4.5% to 8% as the shortage progressed.

With occasional years of relief, the river that greens farm fields and fills faucets from Colorado to California has been stuck in drought since 2000. A shortage declaration has been looming over the seven-state basin for more than a decade, only to be narrowly averted time and again when rain and snow in the upper basin pushed reservoir levels above the trigger point.

Nearly two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have taken their toll on Lake Mead, a major source of water for Southern California. (John Locher / Associated Press)

But flows into Lake Powell — one of the Colorado’s two massive reservoirs — fell to a little more than a third of the average for the April-through-July period this year. And September’s inflow was negligible, less than 1% of the average. Looking at those numbers, federal officials say the U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage in 2020.

“It’s pretty clear we’re in a deepening long-term drought cycle,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has been importing Colorado River water to the region since the early 1940s. “It’s in everybody’s interest to prevent the system from cratering.”

The basin’s entire storage system is 47% full. Lake Powell, which stores runoff from the upper basin and releases it to Lake Mead, is 45% full. Mead, the source of Southern California’s river water, is 38% full.

The Interior secretary has never declared a shortage on the Colorado. But it has been known for years that the river is over-allocated. The basin states divvied up the flows in the early 20th century — a period that in hindsight was unusually wet and presented an unrealistic picture of what the Colorado could produce year in and year out.

Diversions are regulated by a complicated system of river compacts and water rights that call for Arizona and Nevada to take the first cuts in times of a lower-basin shortage. California, with some of the oldest river rights, is further down the line.

The sprawling Imperial Irrigation District and other farm districts in southeastern California control roughly 75% of California’s 4.4 million-acre-foot share. Imperial is the single largest user on the entire length of the river, which starts at the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies and has an average annual flow of roughly 15 million acre-feet.

Metropolitan has nearly doubled its base allocation of 550,000 acre-feet through agreements with Imperial and other irrigation districts that fallow crop land and sell their unused river supplies. Those deals would help cushion Metropolitan, which serves Southern California, if a shortage is declared. (An acre-foot is enough to supply more than two households for a year.)

Metropolitan would also benefit from water it has been able to bank in Lake Mead under 2007 drought guidelines that have allowed states to leave unused portions of their river allocations in the reservoir. Under the previous use-it-or-lose-it rules, states had to take their full allocation every year.

The 2007 framework specified that the Department of the Interior would declare a shortage when Lake Mead’s elevation hit 1,075 feet. Nevada and Arizona, which have rights junior to California, would then start delivery reductions.

Under the proposed drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would continue to take the first cuts, which would be deeper than outlined in 2007. At the same time, California would reduce its river diversions when Mead levels hit 1,045 feet — earlier in the shortage than previously envisioned.

California’s cuts, shared by Imperial and Metropolitan, would increase as the lake level dropped but be no greater than 350,000 acre-feet a year.

Arizona is still working out the details of how to apportion its cuts among in-state users. And the lower-basin water districts have yet to approve the drought plan, which parties are hoping to finalize by December.

“I’ve got my own people asking tough questions. But I believe we can do it,” Metropolitan’s Kightlinger said.

A drought plan will not end debate among lower-basin users, who are confronting the fact that their use is outstripping the long-term supply.

“It’s not sustainable,” Kightlinger said. “We have to push it down or grow supply” with other sources.

The complete article by Betine Boxall can be read here.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s Geothermal Energy Proposal Prevails in Senate Appropriations

Sacramento, California – Thursday, in the midst of fevered policy discussions surrounding the fate of California’s clean energy future, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia successfully advanced AB 893, his proposal supporting geothermal, out of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The geothermal procurement mandated in this measure is of immense significance to the Riverside and Imperial County communities in Garcia’s district.

“Areas surrounding the Salton Sea are uniquely ripe for renewable energy development, geothermal being chief among them,” stated Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. “Despite the increased reliability of geothermal, these

The Hudson Ranch geothermal facility

resources have been greatly neglected in energy conversations. I introduced AB 893, to make sure that this tremendous regional opportunity is no longer overlooked and can be integrated into California’s overall energy efforts. In addition to helping diversify our renewable energy portfolio, the inclusion of geothermal would unlock many economic as well as public health co-benefits for underserved areas like ours.”

Read the complete article here:  Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s Geothermal Energy Proposal Prevails in Senate Appropriations

Voters Favor New Water Bond.

Voters Favor New Water Bond.

One of the most surprising findings in the July PPIC survey is the strong support for an $8.9 billion state water bond among California likely voters (58%). Support for the bond―Proposition 3 on the November ballot―comes close on the heels of California voters passing a $4.1 billion state water and parks bond in June. What’s going on?

Majorities of California likely voters across partisan and demographic groups and the state’s regions say that water supply is a big problem in their part of California. Water supply and drought were the number one environmental problem named by likely voters in the survey (24%). Since Governor Brown took office in 2011, water supply and drought have been among the top environmental issues named by likely voters, and since 2014, together they have been named the most important environmental issue facing the state.

Voters Favor New Water Bond. What Are They Missing? – Public Policy Institute of California

From the LA Times: Link California’s clean energy to the rest of the west? Sounds great, but it’s risky

Earlier this week the Editorial Board at the Los Angeles Times wrote the following:

Link California’s clean energy to the rest of the west? Sounds great, but it’s risky

By THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD

JUL 02, 2018

The state of California is considering forming a regional electrical grid to jointly manage power transmission in multiple western states, and the potential benefits are enormous: It would provide a gigantic new market for California utilities to sell the overabundance of solar power they generate

Coal in the Western United States

during the day, as well as giving them access to an equally generous array of hydroelectric- and wind-generated electricity from other states to power the lights when the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.

Electricity rates would plunge, supporters say, given that the fuel for clean power is free and infinitely self-renewing. Coal plants and natural gas couldn’t compete over the long run and would shut down because, really, who wants to pay extra for dirty air? And eventually the big western skies would be as clear and carbon-free as they were before the first wagon rattled along the Oregon Trail. Best of all, despite the persistent efforts of the climate change deniers running the federal government, the U.S. would be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Take that, Mr. President!

That’s the pretty picture painted by the people (one of whom is Gov. Jerry Brown) pushing the California Legislature to vote this summer to dissolve the California Independent System Operator, the entity that runs the state’s electrical grid, and replace it with a new regional organization that would buy and distribute electricity among any western states and utilities that want to participate.

But like any big payout, it requires taking a gamble. And right now ratepayer advocates, consumer groups, municipal utilities and some environmental groups say the risks are too great. (Other environmental groups are supporting the big grid proposal because of the potential to spur more states to make the transition to renewables.)

The proposal’s biggest risk is that California would have to hand over control of its power grid to an as-yet unknown entity, sacrificing the safeguards put into place two decades ago after another such gamble — on deregulation — triggered an electricity crisis that plunged the power grid into chaos.

Right now, Cal-ISO is a nonprofit public benefit corporation with board members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. And in addition to adhering to state open-meeting laws and procedural rules, it must operate in the best interests of Californians — not of, say, Utahns, who have already expressed hostility toward California’s climate change policies and their effects on coal revenues. The bill says that the new board must also follow the state’s rules or else California will take its power grid and go home. That’s easier said than done once the state has already signed over management of its infrastructure to a board answerable not to Californians, but to President Trump’s appointees on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Proponents are also worried about a not-inconceivable scenario in which California would be forced to subsidize coal-power plants within the regional market to help Trump achieve one of his campaign promises.

The Legislature should not pass this plan, at least not right now and not in its current form. Under the proposal, the Legislature would give its blessing to the development of a governing board to oversee the regional market without knowing its composition or structure. (The bill specifies that there would be a western states committee with three members from each state to provide unspecified “guidance” to the governing board.) Final details would be worked out later and approved by the California Energy Commission. It’s troubling that the measure provides no mechanism for the Legislature to pull out if the plan evolves into something that may not be in the state’s best interests.

There’s no ticking clock here. California isn’t in danger of falling behind in its green power goals. In fact, it is well on track to have half its power come from renewable sources by 2030, as mandated by state law. Nor is there reason to think renewable power won’t catch on if there’s no regional market. Solar- and wind-generated electricity is getting cheaper every year. Someday — possibly very soon — an interconnected multi-state regional electric grid may be the safest and most sensible way to go for the next phase of clean power. But the risks are simply greater than the need at the moment.

Link to editorial here.

By Ray Dorantes at KYMA: Over 200 million dollars for Salton Sea restoration project

EL CENTRO, Calif. – Over $200 million dollars from Proposition 68 and state funds are being invested in the Salton Sea. State officials at a press conference said they’re working to prevent a regional environmental disaster.

California State Senator Ben Hueso and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia hold a press conference in El Centro.

West Shores Vice-Mayor Mark Gertz said it’s about time because the area is becoming a major health hazard.

“Because the lives of the residents and the flora and fauna of the Salton Sea basin are life-depending upon that. The local high school in Salton Sea has four times the state level of asthma. School children in mecca are getting nosebleeds and asthma much higher than the state levels,” Gertz said.

Senator Ben Hueso, 40th Senate Disctrict, said he understand the problem.

“It’s not just a Riverside or Imperial Problem, it’s a statewide problem that people should be very concerned about not addressing,” Hueso said.

State Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia explained the allocation of the funds.

“It’s broken down into a 170 million dollars that will go directly to the Salton Sea management program for this first phase of this 10-year plan. It is 30 million dollars that will go directly to the Salton Sea authority to begin these efforts immediately. And then ten million of those will go towards the 20 million-dollar cost of cleaning up the new river,” Garcia said.

Gertz appreciates the amount but said that it’s not enough to solve a problem that has a price tag in the billions.

“This will not fund all of the ten-year plan. To not address the sea at large is going to incur long-term disastrous results,” Gertz said.

You can read the complete story and watch a video here.

“That’s why we oppose AB 813, for the third time in three years…”

We received the following email last week from the Sierra Club. It is worth reading, then calling you state Senator and Assemblymember to tell them you oppose AB 813 too!

Sometimes wonky, inside-baseball issues can wind up creating worrisome risks for the environment, communities and workers.

Whether California should become part of a new, multi-state regional transmission organization (RTO) that oversees how electricity flows around the west is just such an issue. The idea is sometimes referred to in the press as a regional grid.

In simple terms, the idea is to create a collaboration of several states, including California, that would be able to easily sell energy back and forth across state lines and throughout the west.

Wind turbines

So everyone who loves renewable energy should just get on board this peace train, right?

Wellllll, not exactly. As it turns out, without the right kinds of boundaries and rules, this great idea can go quickly amok.

For instance, as Sierra Club’s experts on how energy companies and markets in the west work note, it’s very possible that if not designed the right way, a regional grid could result in “resource shuffling.” That is, it might actually encourage certain coal-heavy power companies to extend the life of their plants in one part of the west and shift the renewable energy to California. Or it could fire up more natural gas plants here and in other states.

All that extended and increased use of fossil fuel plants to accommodate the ability of California’s “excess” renewable energy to flow east and the Interior West’s supply to flow to California can add up to more localized air pollution, especially for communities already struggling with dirty air, and more greenhouse gas pollution. That equals human health and planet health impacts.

There are also economic risks that cut to the core of whether California will build a more equitable economy.

California has been steadily adding renewable energy to its energy mix. This has meant lots of new jobs building big and small renewable energy generation. And not just any jobs, but good-paying jobs. Many of these jobs are held by union labor and come with good healthcare benefits and retirement plans. These are jobs that demonstrate that you can have a clean environment and a living wage.

What happens if California’s single-state transmission operator suddenly becomes a multi-state entity with states that have cheap labor, cheap land and anti-union laws? Thanks to legislation passed a couple of years ago, the biggest proponent of regionalization, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) hired a consultant to tackle that question.

The answer was that regionalization could likely result in the loss of 110,000 jobs in the energy sector in California. That’s almost as many jobs as there are people in Berkeley.

There’s also an interesting political risk.

There’s a guy in the White House now who doesn’t like—well, apparently actually hates—renewable energy and just about anything California stands for. He appoints the majority of commissioners on the federal body that sets the rules about how RTOs operate their electricity transmission.

If California, which through the CAISO is essentially its own RTO, joins with other states in a new RTO, that new RTO will have a governing board made up of people from the other states. If the federal body comes up with a new rule that California disagrees with, but the other states in the RTO agree with, what happens? Does California just leave the RTO and is that even possible?

Is now really the time to dive into this kind of risk?

These questions and issues are among those that Sierra Club staff and activist volunteers have been asking and raising for the better part of the three years that the legislature has been considering regionalization.

Throughout that time, we have been unable to resolve our concerns. That’s partly because opening up our state to a regional market simply means accepting certain risks. We aren’t willing to put our full faith in the market to deliver an equitable energy economy that benefits–rather than harms–polluted communities and that provides long-term, good-paying jobs. We remain genuinely concerned about exposing California to the undue weirdness of the supreme tweeter’s appointees’ whims.

And that’s why we have most recently opposed Assembly Bill 813, a bill crafted in the open, but not crafted well enough to protect California from the worst potential effects of regionalization. You can read our explanation of our opposition via the letter we signed onto with consumers and labor.

Dozens of other groups have opposed this bill.

But the governor supports it and spent some time the night before it came up for its first committee vote last week calling legislators on the committee and urging them to support the bill. It passed that committee and on Tuesday will face the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill is based on an interesting idea. But it doesn’t provide the protections we need for the environment, public health and the economy.

We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

That’s why we oppose AB 813 and again, for the third time in three years, find ourselves fighting a wonky, inside-baseball issue.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Phillips

Director

 

Colorado River reservoirs expected to be less than half full by Sept. 30

The Colorado River Basin has been in drought for 18 years; how is this going to affect the water that the Imperial Valley receives in years to come?

Colorado River reservoirs expected to be less than half full by Sept. 30

“We’re in uncharted territory for the system,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the water wholesaler for greater Los Angeles, which relies on the Colorado River for a portion of its supplies.

“Everything is new, and it’s all bleak. None of it is positive.”

Click here for the complete story.

From the Daily Mail: A ghost town in the making

With sandy beaches and warm water year-round, Salton Sea in California was the perfect family getaway of the 1950s and 60s. It attracted Hollywood’s elite – Rock

Hudson water-skied there, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis visited their friend Guy Lombardo’s yacht which was moored there. The Beach Boys were members of the North Shore yacht club, Sonny Bono was a visitor and President Dwight Eisenhower golfed there.

Business was booming – hotels, motels, casinos and yacht clubs popped up along the lake’s 116-mile shoreline helping to create enclaves including Bombay Beach and Salton City. Residents and developers quickly reaped the benefits of the influx.

Click here to read the complete article.

Reclamation Commissioner calls for action on Lake Mead “contingency” plans

Brenda Burman is the Bureau of Reclamation's 23rd Commissioner

One of the most important issues in the recent election of Imperial Irrigation District Directors is the management of IID’s Colorado River water. That water is held in trust by the IID for all of its users. There are some who would like to strip the duly elected directors of the right and power to allocate the water. But doing that doesn’t just impact the Imperial Valley, all seven Basin States that use Colorado River water would be effected too. Drought Contingency Plans must be developed in order to avoid federal mandatory restrictions that would reduce water allocations if Lake Mead drops below emergency levels. 

The newly appointed commissioner of the federal Bureau of Reclamation spoke about the need to work together. Read it here: Reclamation Commissioner calls for action on Lake Mead “contingency” plans | Arizona Department of Water Resources