Commentary: Innovation will help to meet Central Valley water needs

Issue Date: May 26, 2010
Donald R. Glaser

The C.W. "Bill" Jones Pumping Plant near Tracy moves water from the delta into the Central Valley Project water system.

The three-year drought has delivered a clear message to the Bureau of Reclamation and other California water managers: Be innovative! We need to take a closer look at everything we do as we continue working together to deliver water for all of California's many competing needs.

For Reclamation, this means taking a closer look at all of our projects that store, deliver and manage water throughout California and the Mid-Pacific Region.

Operation of the Mid-Pacific Region's largest and best known project, the Central Valley Project, is extraordinarily complex. CVP operations are driven by a myriad of factors including hydrology, input from other agencies and organizations, numerous regulations, including court decisions, biological opinions, environmental considerations and operational limitations. But despite these many complexities, the water must flow.

Thankfully, aided by improved hydrological conditions this year, Reclamation has been able to provide most of our CVP contractors with 100 percent allocations for water year 2010. However, we are still having difficulty conveying water to the San Joaquin Valley's west side agricultural water service contractors, who recently were allocated 40 percent of their contracted supply. In addition, the allocation for municipal and industrial water service contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta remains at 75 percent.

In response to these challenges, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has committed to working with our partners in an effort to increase water availability to those most affected. Several actions are being implemented including:

  • Making water transfers available from senior east side water users to the Westside, through groundwater substitution and other actions.
  • Working with the State Water Project to operate more precisely in compliance with Old and Middle River flows.
  • Adjusting the timing of water use, or source shifting, to address low-point issues in San Luis Reservoir.
  • Capturing and temporarily using excess San Joaquin River Restoration Program flows in the Mendota Pool.

Despite the improvement in hydrological conditions this year, certain areas of California's Central Valley are having difficulty overcoming the effects of both three years of drought and CVP operational constraints to address water quality and fish species of concern in the delta.

Reclamation must consider uncertain hydrological information, especially early in the water year, and complex operating criteria while making CVP water allocation decisions.

The process begins with gathering of information and input from many federal and state agencies that consider water supplies in storage, forecasted snowpack runoff, flood control operations, regulatory constraints, environmental rules and anticipated export capability.

Reclamation's decisions are also affected by state and federal law, water rights, refuge delivery requirements, Cal-Fed agreements and restoration programs for the Trinity and San Joaquin rivers. Other factors include meeting Endangered Species Act mandates under biological opinions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

These factors have affected a key aspect of the CVP, the export of sufficient water from the delta through the C.W. "Bill" Jones Pumping Plant to meet the needs of the M&I and agricultural sectors in South-Central California. Pumping is impacted, for instance, by factors such as meeting water quality requirements in the delta, preventing entrainment of sensitive species, and meeting flow and temperature needs for fish.

Recognizing the complexity of moving water through the delta, on May 3, the secretaries of Interior and Commerce announced a joint initiative to develop a single, integrated biological opinion for the California-Bay Delta and related water operations for the CVP and SWP. The initiative has a two-fold strategy:

  • Near-term development and analysis of additional science to address issues raised by the National Academy of Sciences with regard to the current FWS and NMFS biological opinions on water project operations. The goal is to incorporate new science into the process for implementing the BiOps by 2011.
  • Develop a single, integrated BiOp based on a joint science program that encompasses input from FWS, U.S. Geological Survey, Reclamation, NMFS and state scientists, all in cooperation with the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.

The goal of the BDCP is to provide both species and habitat protection while improving reliability of water supplies. Development of the plan is being led by state and federal agencies, including Reclamation.

Stepping back from details of the many ongoing programs, we are mindful of our responsibility to work with our partners toward restoration of the delta ecosystem and creating a more reliable water supply for all water users and other stakeholders throughout the region.

(Don Glaser, regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region, oversees management of bureau water projects in an area encompassing the northern two-thirds of California, most of western Nevada and part of southern Oregon.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.