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.

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.

Spring Storms Boost CVP Water Allocation

Sacramento, CA (May 19, 2020) – Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) issued an updated, increased water supply allocation of 20% for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). The initial allocation had been set at 15%.

Federico Barajas, Executive Director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, issued the following statement:

“During these unprecedented times, we must remember that reliable water supplies are the foundation on which community and economic health is built.

This year’s lack of rain and snowpack has challenged Reclamation’s ability to meet the multiple needs for water deliveries from the Central Valley Project – agricultural water supply, water for ecosystems and threatened species, and water for California’s urban populations.

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority appreciates Reclamation’s ability to carefully strike a balance, given the challenging conditions. The reliability and quantity of surface water deliveries directly impacts the amount of groundwater that is used to produce the food we eat and the water we drink.

Today’s announcement of a water allocation increase has positive benefits for California communities and its environment and reduces the reliance on groundwater aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley.”

BBID is a member agency of the SLDMWA, which serves 28 member public agencies, 25 of which contract with Reclamation for water supply from the CVP.

In a news release, Reclamation credited spring storms for the increased allocation.

“Thanks to April precipitation showing a sizeable water supply improvement for the American River watershed, Reclamation is pleased to announce this increased allocation for CVP water contractors south-of-the Delta,” said California-Great Basin Regional Director Ernest Conant. “Even with the recent gains in water supply, the year as a whole has still been relatively dry. Reclamation will continue to monitor conditions and adjust accordingly. We urge our contractors to continue to exercise conservative use of the resource.”

Further water supply updates are posted at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/cvp-water/index.html. 

Dry Weather Leads to Low Water Allocation

Sacramento, CA (February 25, 2020) – Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) issued an initial water supply allocation of 15% for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID).

After a promising start to winter, dry conditions have returned across California. It has rained more in February in Death Valley than in Sacramento. The statewide snowpack is below average, and the long-range forecast indicates the lack of rain and snowfall may continue.

This image released by the National Weather Service, illustrates the dramatic difference between this year and last year’s snowpack.

“While we certainly wish Reclamation was able to issue a higher allocation, we recognize they must be responsive to our state’s current conditions,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “The looming threat of the next drought underscores the need for adaptative water management. Implementing the new biological opinions abandons an outdated, restrictive approach in favor of real-time, cutting-edge science to best meet the needs of cities, farms and the environment.”

For the first time in a decade, updated biological opinions were issued last week. Those federal rules govern water use through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Had those biological opinions been in place last year, it is estimated that the projects would have been able to save more than one-million acre-feet of additional water. That would be tremendously valuable in any year, but especially in a dry one like 2020. At a 15% allocation, growers in BBID’s CVP service area will have a baseline water supply of just 0.51 acre-feet of water per acre – down from 3.4 acre-feet per acre with a full allocation.

“This initial allocation also underlines the need for investment in our water systems, including increasing storage to save more water during wet years for use during dry ones; and more conveyance to move water more flexibly, ensuring reliability in the face of increasingly unpredictable, extreme weather patterns.”

Growers Faced with Low Water Allocation Despite Plentiful Winter Storms

Byron, CA (February 20, 2019) – BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement, after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) on Wednesday issued an initial 35% allocation for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including BBID:

“Reclamation’s initial allocation tells an all-too-familiar story. Despite above-average water supplies, CVP water deliveries are being restricted by outdated science and failed regulations, forcing growers to make do with less water.

This month, California has seen 18 trillion gallons of precipitation – enough to fill Lake Shasta 12 times. Our snowpack is well above normal. Runoff into many of the state’s main reservoirs this year is projected to be as much as 1.1 million-acre-feet higherthan at this time in 2012. Mother Nature is doing her part.

These overly conservative, low initial allocations unfairly burden the District’s growers and ranchers. They struggle to make informed planning decisions in the face of an uncertain water supply. BBID continues to work for constructive, collaborative reviews of existing regulations, and to ensure that the latest science is put to use for water allocations that impact BBID and the entire state.”

–Rick Gilmore, GM

U.S. Secretary of Interior: “Time for Action is Now”

In a move met with widespread praise and hope in the Central Valley, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior called on federal agencies to act to fix the broken Central Valley Project (CVP). Secretary Ryan Zinke’s memo on Friday directs the development of an action plan to maximize water deliveries and shore up operations of the federally-managed CVP, which Zinke described as being in “…a desperate state of disrepair.”

“For our growers and others in the Central Valley who have borne the brunt of failed policy and mismanagement, this is welcome news,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “The District wholeheartedly agrees with Secretary Zinke: the time to take action is now.”

Growers in Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID)’s CVP service area faced three consecutive years of zero-percent allocations. Even now, with many reservoirs at or above 100% of normal, the South-of-Delta CVP allocation began in 2018 at a mere 20%, and has since climbed to only 45%.

Secretary Zinke’s plan calls for maximizing water deliveries by incorporating the latest and greatest science into the decision-making process. It also includes the construction of new storage for the CVP, a “major source of farms, families, industry and fish and wildlife in California.”

Under the current CVP operation, he wrote, “communities have been harmed, productive land has stood fallow, and the populations of fish these particular water delivery limitations were intended to protect have seen no meaningful improvements.”

“The Secretary’s bold action renews hope for a more equitable approach,” Gilmore added. “We must restore reliability to strengthen the CVP. It is time to consider the reoperation of the Federal and State water projects to provide that much-needed balance.”

The Secretary allotted 15 days to develop an action plan, and ordered the Office of the Deputy Secretary make final recommendations within 10 days of receiving the report.

The full memo is below.

8.17.18 Memo

Water Allocation Remains Low, Despite Full Reservoirs

Byron, CA (May 28, 2018) – Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement, after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) crept up the water supply allocation – from 40% to 45% – for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including BBID:

“The Bureau’s latest allocation increase amounts to a drop in the bucket for BBID’s farmers, who should have been able to count on a much more robust supply in a year like this. The statewide average for CVP reservoirs is more than 100 percent of normal, just one year removed from the wettest year on record.

The still-low allocation – which began at 20% and has gradually increased to 45% – shows that the greatest challenge to reliable CVP water deliveries is our regulatory climate, not Mother Nature.

We join our partners at the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) in calling for change. Overly conservative and restrictive CVP operations create unnecessary hardships not just for farmers, but for the entire state. If the federal government can’t supply requisite deliveries even with abundant supplies, then clearly, the system is broken.”

–Rick Gilmore, GM