Lawsuit Endangers Reliable Water and Food Supply

Byron, CA (June 11, 2021)Legal action initiated by a coalition of California environmental interest groups could disrupt reliable water supplies for nearly 100 water purveyors from Shasta Lake to Sacramento, across the Central Valley, Silicon Valley, and beyond.

In a recent court filing, Restore the Delta, Planning and Conservation League and the Center for Biological Diversity, who had already sued the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the United States Department of Interior, named nearly 100 Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID), as defendants. The complaint seeks to invalidate, without cause, CVP water contracts that are foundational to California’s water supply, especially for its agricultural industry that provides more than half of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

The heart of the plantiffs’ case is the “conversion” of CVP contracts from “long-term” or “interim renewal” contracts, which Reclamation would renew upon expiration, to permanent contracts. BBID acted in good faith utilizing a provision in federal legislation known as the WIIN Act to convert its CVP contracts to repayment contracts, carrying a perpetual term.  The purpose of the conversion simply allows BBID, and other CVP contractors, to immediately repay Reclamation a debt obligation; it does not alter the operation of the CVP or the quantity of water that a contractor is entitled to receive.  BBID’s conversion was a common-sense, financially prudent move benefitting the District’s agricultural growers in San Joaquin County.

So, what’s the sticking point? Environmental interests argue Reclamation was legally obligated to perform an intensive ecological review before it converted BBID’s and other contractors’ CVP contracts. And because Reclamation didn’t do so, the complaint argues, those contracts violate the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Here’s the reality. The WIIN Act directs Reclamation to execute these contract conversions when a contractor requests it. In other words, federal law mandates these contract conversions. In any event, the prospect of a lengthy, expensive, and ultimately redundant review process (when other than the method of payment, the substantive contract obligations do not change) is a poor use of taxpayer resources.

The complaint further argues that the new contracts essentially guarantee a CVP contractor its full supply.  In fact, prior to execution of the new contracts, Reclamation rarely provided a 100% allocation to its CVP contractors due to a host of hydrological, regulatory, and environmental factors.     For example, BBID endured three consecutive years of a 0% allocation during the last drought.  This reality will not change with execution of the new contracts.   This year, under the new repayment contracts, BBID’s initial 5% allocation for irrigation was first suspended, and now eliminated altogether in the wake of our second straight dry winter.  This year, water for municipal and industrial purposes has been drastically reduced from 55% to 25%.

We all recognize the great challenges ahead. Instead of lawsuits like these, we must focus on finding common ground and funding meaningful, multi-benefit solutions that balance the beneficial uses of California’s water supply and protect our environmental resources in the face of of diminishing supplies and increasing demand.

Notice of Public Meeting: Draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan

East Contra Costa cities, water districts and the County, known as the East Contra Costa (ECC) Groundwater Sustainability Working Group, have joined together to prepare a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The draft GSP will comply with recent laws that have changed the way Californians are required to manage their groundwater and will assist the region in maintaining a sustainable groundwater basin.

Please join us On-Line on June 23, 2021, 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Register Here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8897997274454333199

During this public meeting participants will:

  1. Learn what the new law (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act [SGMA] is and how it affects East Contra Costa;
  1. Receive an overview of what is in the draft GSP;
  2. Learn more about Key Topics, Technical Work, and Findings to Date;
  3. Discuss the potential for undesirable results (in the context of SGMA) that the GSP will work to prevent;
  4. Learn how to provide input on the draft GSP.

The workshop will include opportunities to ask questions and provide feedback on the discussion topics. Due to ongoing public health considerations this will be an on-line only meeting.

If you need any assistance participating in this meeting, contact facilitation-team@comcast.net to receive other options.

For additional information about SGMA, the draft ECC GSP, to provide more detailed comments, or to be included on the email list, please send us an email, groundwaterinfo@dcd.cccounty.us

“Planning a secure groundwater future”

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Water Supply Cuts Demonstrate Need for Long-Term Investments, Solutions

Sacramento, CA (May 28, 2021) – In the midst of worsening drought conditions, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) on Wednesday announced deeper water supply cuts for farms and communities, including those served by the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID).

The initial 2021 Central Valley Project (CVP) allocation for south-of-Delta CVP contractors including BBID was first set at 5% and then suspended until further notice. Reclamation announced the allocation has been eliminated altogether. The allocation for M&I water service contractors was also reduced from 55% to 25%.

BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore said in response:

“We recognize the difficultly Reclamation faces in fulfilling Central Valley Project water deliveries in a critically dry year. It yet again underscores the need for significant regulatory reform and diverse, meaningful engagement from federal and state leadership.

It also demands substantial investments to mitigate the very real short-term impacts to our growers in San Joaquin County and other communities impacted by a 0% CVP allocation, as well as for long-term sustainable solutions to bolster our resilience against this drought – and the next, and the one after that.

Between the October 2020 to May 2021, nearly 3.3 million Acre Feet of water passed through the Delta and flowed out to the Golden Gate Bridge – two thirds of the Delta inflow. Had we been able to capture even a small fraction of that water, it would have dramatically improved the situation we find ourselves in today.

We missed the opportunity to do so because of outdated environmental policies that have proven ineffective for restoring declining fish populations, and due to a lack of progress on building and expanding storage facilities to store water when it’s abundant, for dry years exactly like this.

We must work together in the months and years to come to reshape the CVP – its critical infrastructure, and the regulations that govern it – in order to meet the needs of our communities and provide reliable water for agriculture.”

Updated CVP Allocation Announced; Water Unavailable Until Further Notice

Sacramento, CA (March 23, 2021) – Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) updated the water allocation for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). Reclamation kept its initial 5% allocation in place, but suspended availability of that water until further notice. BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement: 

“We recognize that California is in the midst of extraordinary dry conditions, forcing Reclamation to take a measured approach to balancing regulatory and contractual obligations for the Central Valley Project. 

Today’s announcement unfortunately creates additional uncertainty and financial strain on growers in BBID’s CVP Service Area. The time to purchase crop insurance has come and gone, and crops are already in the ground. 

The District will pursue water transfers to meet the needs of our growers, albeit at a much higher cost than CVP water. 

We appreciate the Bureau’s commitment to preserve its initial allocation as hydrology continues to worsen. Our second straight dry winter — punctuated by a lack of significant snowfall during the month of March — makes it all the more challenging to meet the complex, diverse water needs of the state.”

Reclamation’s announcement preserves the allocation announced in February, but delays access to that water.

California’s Department of Water Resources also reduced the allocation for State Water Project Contractors from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Dry Winter, Low Water Allocation Demand Long-Term Solutions

Sacramento, CA (February 23, 2021) – In the midst of persistently dry winter weather, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) today announced an initial 5% Central Valley Project (CVP) allocation for South-of-Delta CVP contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). The current statewide snowpack average is hovering just above 50%.

“We wish the initial allocation were higher, but we recognize the difficult position Reclamation is in given the lack of precipitation,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “In recent years, we have seen two extremes of California weather: record drought and record-setting rain and snow. Meeting the water needs of our growers – and the state – is a problem best solved with flexible, multi-year resource management based on our latest science.”

“It demands investment in the upkeep and restoration of our critical water facilities, in the enhancement of our ability to store water when it’s plentiful for the next drought we know is coming, and in common sense policy that removes bureaucratic hurdles,” Gilmore continued.

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA), which represents 27 member agencies including BBID, joined the call for sustainable solutions. SLDMWA members provide water service to approximately 1,200,000 acres of irrigated agriculture, 2 million people, and 130,000 acres of wetlands within the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

“Healthy and sustainable food production is a national security issue and the Authority’s member agencies serve the urban and agricultural communities that grow a significant portion of the nation’s plate,” said SLDMWA Executive Director Federico Barajas. “As a community, region, state and country, we need to work collaboratively to improve the resilience of California’s water system in a balanced way, particularly with the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Authority staff will continue to work with Reclamation and its member agencies to analyze hydrologic conditions in hopes the allocation can be increased as early as practicable.”

In a news release, Reclamation said it will continue to monitor hydrology as the water year progresses, looking for opportunities for operational flexibility.

Trump Administration Advances Plan to Increase San Luis Reservoir Storage

The following news release was originally issued by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (Water Authority). The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District is a member agency of the Water Authority.

san luis reservoir and b f sisk damSACRAMENTO, Calif. – Today, the Bureau of Reclamation sent Congress the final feasibility report for the B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project. This marks an important step forward in returning water supply reliability to south-of-Delta farmers, local communities, and wildlife refuges.

“Reclamation has worked hard to make this important project for California’s water supply a reality,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Dam safety improvements at B.F. Sisk are gearing up; now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity and increase water supply in San Luis Reservoir—a win-win for the many that benefit from San Luis Reservoir water.”

Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority partnered to investigate adding 10-feet to the crest of B.F. Sisk Dam while implementing dam safety modifications. The additional space would be used to store water that could be delivered to south-of-Delta water contractors and wildlife refuges. This water would be used to meet existing contractual obligations and not serve any new demands.

The B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Feasibility Report was prepared consistent with pertinent study authorizations, and pursuant to the requirements of Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978, as amended by Public Law 114-113, and the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016. Results of the analyses indicate the project to be technically, environmentally, financially and economically feasible.

“While there is still work to be done,” said Regional Director Ernest Conant, “Reclamation and our partner, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, are very pleased to witness this critical milestone for the project.”

“San Luis Reservoir plays an important role as a lynchpin of California’s water system. The reservoir’s water storage capacity is increasingly important to respond to a changing climate. Increasing water storage is a critical component of building water resilience,” said Executive Director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority Federico Barajas. “We appreciate the collaborative partnership with Reclamation and are pleased to see the Feasibility Report be transmitted to Congress and look forward to advancing this important project.”

Background
B.F. Sisk Dam is a 382-foot high earthfill embankment located on the west side of the Central Valley, about 12 miles west of Los Banos. The dam is over 3 miles long and impounds San Luis Reservoir, which has a current total capacity of around 2 million acre-feet.

A final supplemental environmental impact statement was prepared for the project under the National Environmental Policy Act and released on Dec. 18, 2020; the report is available here: https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_project_details.php?Project_ID=44425.

Update: State-of-the-Art Test Reveals Critical Pipeline in Good Condition (VIDEO)

Byron, CA (December 16, 2020) – A new report released by Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) details the condition of a critical District pipeline following a cutting-edge comprehensive test.

The report, prepared by BBID’s engineering firm, Hazen & Sawyer, reveals the Mountain House Raw Water Pipeline – the sole source of water to the community of Mountain House – is in good condition.

Watch the full update below!

Report Highlights: 

  • The results reveal the success of the proactive maintenance that BBID has been performing on the MHRWP for the last 20 years.
  • Considering the aggressive soils, cyclical operation, high operating pressures, and turbid water handled by the pipeline, less than 1% of pipe segments were found to have any anomaly.
  • Generally, the pipeline was found to be in good condition.

Read the full report here.

 

 

Public Review Sought for Groundwater Sustainability Plan Sections

The East Contra Costa Groundwater Sustainability Working Group is preparing a Draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan (Plan) and seeks input on Sections 3 and 4 of the Plan. The East Contra Costa Groundwater Subbasin is a medium priority subbasin, as determined by the State, and requires preparation of a Plan under the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) is a member of the Subbasin.

The Groundwater Sustainability Agencies received comments on Sections 1 and 2 of the Draft Plan during the summer of 2020. We are now asking for input on Sections 3 and 4 that discuss groundwater conditions, including a Hydrological Conceptual Model and historical, current and projected water supply. Sections 3 and 4 are found at the link below, or email groundwaterinfo@dcd.cccounty.us and request the documents. Comments are due on Friday, January 15, 2021.

Link to document and other information: https://www.eccc-irwm.org/about-sgma

For additional SGMA inquiries, to provide more detailed comments, or to be included on the email list, please send an email. Or, click here for more information about how BBID is working to sustainably manage groundwater.

District Holds First Board Meeting After Historic Merger

Byron, CA (September 29, 2020) – Two century-old irrigation districts in the Tracy area have officially joined forces. In a landmark moment Tuesday, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) held its first regular board meeting since consolidating with the West Side Irrigation District (WSID).

In the early 1900s, the two districts kept handwritten board meeting minutes. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this meeting was held virtually via Zoom.

“This is the culmination of several years of work to bring these two districts together, for the benefit of our growers,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “In today’s challenging regulatory climate, this consolidation will improve water reliability, strengthen water rights, and provide greater financial flexibility to keep our water system performing well into the future.”

In June, the San Joaquin Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted unanimously in favor of consolidating the districts. The former 6,000-acre WSID service area West of Tracy was incorporated into the existing 30,000-acre service area of BBID, establishing a single 36,000-acre district.  Former WSID Directors Tom Pereira and Jack Alvarez have become BBID Board Directors in newly created Divisions XIII and IX, respectively. The former boundaries of WSID are now known as the West Side Service Area. All former WSID employees have become BBID staff.

“This is a great step forward that will keep our farmers in business,” said Jack Alvarez, former WSID Board President and new BBID Board Director. “We are stronger together, with a greater ability to manage costs and provide reliable water deliveries.”

The merger has been in the works since 2016, when both districts first voted to move forward and BBID began managing WSID operations. Landowners expressed their strong support at a public meeting held at the outset of the process. Last year, LAFCO adopted a final Municipal Service Review (MSR) and Sphere of Influence (SOI) prepared by both districts, which includes an extensive review of financial information, infrastructure, and services provided.

BBID previously merged with the Plain View Water District in 2004.