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Water projects agree to update operations pact

Issue Date: December 26, 2018
By Christine Souza

Intending to create immediate environmental improvement and long-term collaboration, operators of state and federal water projects have updated a longstanding agreement that defines how they share water-quality and environmental-flow obligations imposed by regulatory agencies.

The California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced they resolved differences in an agreement known as the Coordinated Operation Agreement, or COA, approving updates to how the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project operate to meet environmental regulations and downstream obligations.

"The state and federal projects are intertwined, and we have a joint interest and responsibility to ensure our water system meets California's needs, especially as conditions change," DWR Director Karla Nemeth said.

After completing a joint review process, DWR and the bureau reported they agreed to an addendum to the 1986 COA to reflect water quality regulations, biological opinions and hydrology updates. DWR and the bureau noted that they also approved a formula so costs are shared equitably between the two projects, to meet joint responsibilities under the federal Endangered Species Act, including monitoring and habitat restoration. The project operators said they updated the longstanding agreement to address shifts in regulatory responsibilities during the past 32 years and to incorporate newly added facilities.

With support from public water agencies, the bureau and DWR said they had engaged in discussions since August, to address contributions from the CVP, the State Water Project and the public water agencies they serve, to reach voluntary agreements to resolve conflicts over proposed amendments to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update and to revise sharing formulas under the agreement.

Curtis Creel, general manager at the Kern County Water Agency—the second-largest State Water Project contractor—described the agreement as "a water rights settlement between the CVP and SWP" that focuses on how the two would share responsibilities jointly placed on the two projects.

"Consider the evolution of all of the requirements since 1986 to today," Creel said. "Just working through that certainly has been a challenging process, and we now have a way of looking into the future and saying, 'This is how we want to investigate these things and bring them into the analysis.' The agreement provides us with a little bit better roadmap into the future."

The agreement, which calls for periodic review and adjustments on new criteria, has been challenging to accomplish until now, Creel said.

In applying the new agreement, he said, he "wouldn't expect much difference" in operation of the two water projects.

"Reclamation and DWR have a long history of working together to operate those two massive projects," Creel said. "In terms of water supply, it will have probably a bearing on how much water supply one project vs. another project may have expected to receive. DWR has been estimating over a long-term basis there's probably a shift of around 100,000 acre-feet of water supply from SWP to the CVP, as a result of the changes."

Thad Bettner, general manager for the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, which holds a Sacramento Valley settlement contract under the CVP, said the update to the Coordinated Operation Agreement is really about how the two projects share responsibility and share available water.

"There was a need for that agreement to be updated and revised, based on changing requirements on both of the state and federal water projects, and the addendum to the agreement will create some certainty, so both projects can move forward and continue to build on other actions and tools to benefit each project," Bettner said. "While it potentially could be the same or less water available, and there's going to be impacts from that, the trade-off is you are getting some certainty of what the path looks like going forward."

Absent the updated COA, Bettner said, "The world could look very chaotic and uncertain."

Water agencies served by the CVP—including GCID, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Westlands Water District, Central California Irrigation District, Friant Water Authority, Reclamation District 108, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors and Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority—said they supported the agreement, calling it "a paradigm shift in how water will be managed for human and environmental needs and how decisions will be made about the use of the state's most precious resource."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

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

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