Environmental community releases water "blueprint" for California

Dialogue on meeting our water needs without dams begins and the public will have to take part or we will get stuck with the bill

by Jenna Olsen

broad coalition of environmental groups from throughout the state of California has released a "blueprint" paper to begin a dialogue with community, business, agricultural, environmental, urban, and other interests ,all needing a sound and clean water future.

The blueprint is a 40-page document that describes an environmentally and economically sound water supply reliability program. For a copy of the document or to arrange to participate in the dialogue on the document, please email a request to: jenna.olsensierraclub.org. The following is a summary of the blueprint.


Blueprint mission

  The Blueprint articulates an affirmative program for improving water supply reliability in California. This blueprint can be the basis of a successful CalFed Bay-Delta plan to restore the ecological health and improve management of water in the San Francisco Bay-Delta system.


Blueprint strategies for water supply reliability

  The blueprint describes a broad range of alternatives to reduce demand for water and increase supply of water, without building costly and environmentally damaging new dams. Some of these approaches include the following.


Demand-Reduction Strategies


 Agricultural water conservation: Agriculture uses over 80 percent of the developed water supply in California. Relatively small changes in agricultural demand can yield tremendous quantities of water. For example, a one to five percent reduction in agricultural demand due to reduction in evaporative losses or other changes in water use could generate 340,000 1,700,000 acre-feet.

Market based incentives: Appropriately regulated transfers, water acquisitions, and paying farmers to fallow their land during a drought could generate a substantial dry year water supply. For example, voluntary dry year fallowing of 5 to 15 percent of the land currently used to grow alfalfa, pasture forage and cotton in the Central Valley and Colorado River regions could potentially generate up to 2.1 million acre-feet.

Urban water conservation: Urban residents and businesses can do their part to improve water use efficiency, by choosing efficient appliances and landscaping for their homes. For example, a 20 percent statewide reduction in landscape water use would yield 520,000 1,400,000 acre-feet. Replacing 50 to 100 percent of the average washing machines in use in 1995 with currently available horizontal axis washing machines could generate 97,000 to 194,000 acre-feet. If businesses become more efficient, they can conserve 350,000 to 650,000 acre-feet of water.

Wastewater recycling: By the year 2020, according to CalFed, over 3 million acre-feet of wastewater will be generated annually by urban coastal areas. By CalFed's analysis, California could recycle over half of this, for total of up to 1,720,000 acre-feet in recycled supply.


Supply-related Strategies


 Groundwater banking: During wet years, we can save water underground where space has already been created from previous pumping. This water would then be available when most needed, during dry years.

Change the operation of existing reservoirs: Throughout California, more than 4,000 existing dams and reservoirs, involving more than 60 million acre feet of combined storage capacity, are operated according to outdated, piecemeal rules. Relatively modest changes in how we operate these can do much to improve water supply reliability. Before rushing to build costly new dams and reservoirs, a comprehensive reassessment of re-operation opportunities is needed.

Restore upper watersheds: Restored meadows could better retain flood flows, slowly releasing the water over time. Such restoration can help minimize flood damages downstream, while also serving to store flood waters for use during drier seasons.

Change Delta operations: By taking less water out of the Delta when fish are most vulnerable, and instead pumping at less sensitive times, we could better protect the Delta and water supplies.


Blueprint recommendations

  • Maximize conservation and recycling potential;
  • Jump-start groundwater management and appropriate groundwater storage;
  • Facilitate appropriate water transfers;
  • Ensure environmental water reliability;
  • Improve the operation of existing dams and canals;
  • Develop accurate estimates for current water supply and demand;
  • Price water to reflect its true economic and environmental value.
  CalFed should:
  1. Include an accurate analysis of how much water we need now and how much we will need in the future. CalFed overstates our current water use by up to 1.2 million acre feet (by omitting conservation successes) and bases future estimates on this inaccurate baseline.
  2. Recognize that the law of supply and demand applies to water. If taxpayer subsidies were eliminated, demand for water would fall.
  3. Analyze promising conservation strategies.
  4. Recognize that a restored environment would reduce water supply uncertainty for users.
  The Blueprint is endorsed by: Save San Francisco Bay Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Bay Institute of San Francisco, Environmental Defense Fund, California Trout, Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform, League of Women Voters of California, Mono Lake Committee, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Sierra Club, Earth Island Institute, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Natural Heritage Institute, Center for Marine Conservation, Clean Water Action, California League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the River, Marin Conservation League, Earth Island Institute.


What's next?

  Since the public hearings in April and May, CalFed has been putting together a "draft phased plan" for California water. The plan is broken up into two stages (Stage 1 is the first seven years, Stage 2 is everything after that). Right now, CalFed's draft plan calls for building of dams in the first stage; decisions on whether to build the infamous peripheral canal have been put off until Stage 2.

Secretary of Interior Babbitt is shep-herding the draft plan (known as the draft preferred alternative) through a series of small group talks. While a few public comment periods remain before the plan is finalized, the plan becomes more and more difficult to change as the process moves forward. The document to be released will be the "Revised Phase II Report" a summary of the CalFed program plans and a description of how the program elements will be implemented (the draft preferred alternative). The Phase II Report will also contain a list of the actions to be undertaken during Stage 1.

Key concerns about CalFed's Stage 1 plans include:

  • Lack of measurable objectives for all of CalFed's programs, and particularly for the ecosystem restoration, water conservation and efficiency, and water quality programs.
  • Plans to begin dam construction, site selection, and permitting in Stage 1, with Shasta and Los Vaqueros Dam enlargements and Sites Reservoirs identified as possible locations.
  • Lack of a commitment to correct methodological flaws inflated demand estimates for cities now and in the future, and a "no action" baseline that assumes more water exported from the delta than is exported today.
  Decisions regarding building a peripheral canal should remain in Stage 2.


Tentative schedule for CalFed


12/15/98: Release "Revised Draft Phase II Report" with draft preferred alternative

12/15/98-2/1/99: Informal comment period (45 days) on "Revised Draft Phase II Report" 4 or 5 informal public workshops held throughout the state

Spring '99: Release of Revised Draft Env. Impact Report/Statement with formal 60 day comment period, 6 formal public hearings

Fall '99: Release Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement

By 12/31/99: Certify EIR/S and sign Record of Decision


Tell VP Gore and Governor-elect Davis "No Dam Deal"

  Let Vice President Gore and Governor-elect Davis know we want the CalFed plan to employ environmentally-benign and human-scale solutions before building more dams on California Rivers.

Call 1-877-8NO-DAMS to send a telegram to Vice President Gore.

Please send a letter of your own to Governor-elect Davis (and Vice President Gore too, if you prefer that to a pre-written telegram):

The Honorable Gray Davis Governor-elect Transition Team, 980 9th Street Suite 1800, Sacramento, CA 95814.

The Honorable Al Gore, Executive Office of the Vice President, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500 or email vice.presidentwhitehouse.gov.

For more info, contact: Environmental Water Caucus, 85 Second Street, second floor, San Francisco, CA 94105; fax: (415) 977-5702; phone: (415) 977-5728; email: jenna.olsensierraclub.org.

The Environmental Water Caucus focuses on improving the CalFed Bay/Delta program, a joint state/federal planning process to address problems associated with the San Francisco Bay/Delta.