Rep. Nunes’ losing his shit and the Delta Stewardship Plan (which I am just about to read) are exciting and dramatic and all, but the most interesting water news I’ve seen is this story about the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors and Reclamation. You should watch this as it develops; there is a lot of wet water at stake in the Settlement Contracts.
The Settlement Contractors are farmers along the Sacramento River that were farming before Shasta Dam was built. When the feds built Shasta Dam, they turned the Sacramento River into entirely controlled flow, and promised (settled with) the pre-existing farmers that they would provide them with as much water as they had always used out of the Sacramento for free (since that is what they already had).
That’s not unreasonable. The dicey part is whether the amounts of base flow in the Settlement Contracts are really the amount that farmers had been using. Sadly, the re-negotiations for the forty year Settlement Contracts happened during the Bush administration (2004ish), whom I don’t think wanted to take a hard look at that. Anyway, when you hear about farmers in the Sac Valley paying tiny dollars for their water, it is very likely to be settlement water, thought to be theirs before Shasta Dam was built, untreated and delivered in the run of the river.
This news story interests me because it looks like Reclamation and the Settlement Contractors are contesting some of that base flow. Looks like they’re fighting over how much of that water can be applied to meet endangered species needs. If I’ve understood it from the news article, the Settlement Contractors are saying “No, our contracts say that Reclamation can only adjust those flows by 25% in emergencies and stuff.” Maybe Reclamation is saying “No, we all pretend that water is original Sacramento River flow from before Shasta Dam, and original Sacramento River flow is just as subject to the Endangered Species Act (and the Public Trust Doctrine) as any other water.” It is a very interesting fight, even more interesting for being about substantial amounts of real water only a day or so upstream of the Delta.
CORRECTION 2/25: Sorry, guys. I had the argument wrong. I got an email explaining that the dispute is over whether project water can be reduced to meet ESA needs. Base water is the water I was talking about above. Base water is the water they were using out of the Sacramento River before the feds built Shasta Dam. Once Shasta Dam was built, the feds offered the same contractors a chance to buy “project water.” That’s water that the dam stored that wasn’t available to the contractors before. By my new (still not very thorough) understanding, this dispute is over project water. Of course, I don’t understand why base water (original Sacramento River flow) is untouchable. Probably because the rights are so old. I know that’s how we do things, but it isn’t much of a reason.
You know what would be great? If the news story linked the letters they mention, so I could read the sources a little farther back.