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The SJV Water Blueprint is not resilient in concept (3 of 3)

My initial objection to the Resilience Portfolio was that it was a weasel phrase that could mean anything to anyone. It consists of a buzzword and a strategy, both flexible.  But if the word “resilience” retains any shred of meaning, it excludes the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint. The SJV Water Blueprint is anti-resilience.

The purpose of the Water Blueprint is to maintain maximal irrigated acreage in the Valley, at the expense of every conceivable peripheral water source, at any cost. “Resilience” is starting to mean as little as “sustainable”, but it does not mean bolstering one million acres of overexpansion into marginal ag lands with no regard to the economic costs to taxpayers nor environmental costs to the water sources.

Setting demand at the uppermost engineered possibility and straining every limit to fulfill that demand is not resilient. Resilient would be protecting and supporting the couple million east side acres that we can farm in any water year, with a comfortable buffer that is intermittently farmed in wet years. Resilient is working within the cheap, solid parts of our existing engineered system, spending user fees to modernize them if needed. Resilient is maintaining ecosystems through wet and drought years. Resilient is acknowledging supply constraints (like keeping some fish alive and passing a cost-benefit analysis) and using a little less than that.

Let’s play out the concept of the SJV Water Blueprint for another decade or two. Even if we waved our magic wand and put the elements of the Blueprint in place now, it wouldn’t cover the increased ET from climate change, nor the possibility of drought at the sources.  When the new 3MAF from the Blueprint isn’t sufficient, by the logic of the Blueprint, the next thing to do would be to reach out for the next available source. Their ag demand must be met, so they would then reach north for the Wild and Scenic Rivers, or east for I don’t even know which Sierra lakes. Cost is no object, by the logic of the Blueprint. This notion, that maximal irrigated acreage creates a fixed demand that must be met by reaching ever outward for MOAR WATER is inherently not resilient.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint has no place in a Resilience Portfolio.


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What is the SJV Water Blueprint? (2 of 3)

Far as I can tell, it originated with the Friant Water Authority. Here is the mission; here is an interview that touches on it; here is the  engineering proposition (Item 6); here is a draft of the lovely brochure (pages 6-7, after some budgeting).  I could do a whole post on how visual language is converging for all the water documents and you can’t tell them apart anymore. But first, let’s figure out what the Valley Blueprint IS. In their language (top of pg 2):

Foundational to the Water Blueprint will be the development of a set of projects and associated operations that would bring the Eastern San Joaquin Valley into balance while avoiding as much land retirement as possible. This plan will include a comprehensive look at local, regional, and statewide activities and investments that, collectively, will aim to resolve 2.5 million acre-feet per year or more of regional overdraft. Given the magnitude of the problem being addressed, this plan will need to look ambitiously beyond the range of projects that have previously been contemplated for the region.

Full props. They did indeed take an ambitious scope. The premise is that no lands should go out of production in the Valley as a result of SGMA. Because growers over-expanded their current water supplies by a million acres, the shortfall when they are not allowed to mine groundwater is 3 million acre-feet/year (but we all know it was 5MAF/year during the drought). The Valley Blueprint aims to get that back by resuscitating every project that has ever been scrapped for failing a cost-benefit analysis or an environmental analysis. And why not! Now is their moment. The Trump administration doesn’t give a shit about either of those and the Newsom administration appears to be playing along as well.

Here is how the Friant Water Authority shows the problem and the solution:

MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_04

The problem is that they are using 2-3 (but sometimes 5)MAF/year more water than they have, and they believe no land should go out of production. The solution?MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_06

Their solution is every expensive piece of water they can engineer to them. I do not exaggerate.
MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_07
MBK Sustainability Blueprint for Friant 022819_Page_23

There is more in the powerpoint; some reservoir operational rules that will screw fish and amplify droughts. But what there isn’t is any cost or history or analysis. Because none of this is new. Most of these projects have been rejected for cause every time they’ve come up. It isn’t like these were good options that we happened to reject because we’ve never wanted water before.

But now, I guess, is the moment. Trump’s Interior will support this, at every cost. It is the times for grandiose proposals; just weeks ago I proposed a spectacularly expensive set of recommendations with no consideration of cost. Still, as the Newsom administration debates whether to include the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint into the Resilience Portfolio, I remind them that the purpose of the Blueprint is that the lands pictured here continue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for millionaires for a few more years. I invite them to consider an alternative. They could add up the costs of the Water Blueprint and give every agricultural worker on the West Side a check for millions. It would be cheaper and do less damage.


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The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint? What’s that? Looks important. (1 of 3)

Friant Water Authority April , 2019

Austin Ewell gave the board and update on the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint saying the funding/finance/governance committee is looking for further funding. He said Governor Gavin Newsom has been commenting on the Blueprint. … Ewell continued saying the outreach to disadvantaged communities and other matters are being considered. Outreach and engagements committee efforts have not gone unnoticed by Newsom and his ag advisor Bill Lyons. There was a meeting with them and they got to look over the Blueprint. The Public Policy Institute of California has a groundwater effort going and Ewell said that is tying in with the Blueprint. The next meeting will be May 15th. … Phillips said getting all the communities to coordinate on water is more difficult than would be expected. He said the Blueprint is a way for all to speak in a unified voice. The idea of having the Blueprint becoming part of the Governor’s water plan is approaching reality. Phillips also said the actual plan has not yet been released to the public but soon will.

(my emphasis)

Huh. That’s interesting.  The ag big boys say that Newsom is working closely with them on some new Water Blueprint.

Friant Water Authority July 15, 2019, item 6E, bottom of page 1

4) Advocacy & Public Relations: The Committee will continue to work with key stakeholders and the administration to fold the Water Blueprint into The governor‘s Water Resiliency Plan (WRP). The WRP is expected to have a policy paper out in October and additional milestones by the end of this calendar year. The committee continues to meet with key leaders and advocate for use and pursuit of the Blueprint by the Governor.

(my emphasis)

Friant Water Authority July 25, 2019

Consultant Austin Ewell updated the board on the Valley Blueprint. There was a recent meeting of the VB committee. This project, this Blueprint is garnering a very large amount of support and is worthy of a story of its own. A formal organization has been formed with officers and a bank account and is now able to bring in contributions. Ewell said he, Phillips and VB committee member Sarah Woolf met with my favorite NGO/enviros the Environmental Defense Fund. These guys and gals at EDF aren’t your typical clown car full of social warriors. They are working with others and not just filing lawsuits. The VB could and hopefully will become a part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Water Resiliency Plan. There will be another meeting next month. A scope for the socio/economic report portion of the plan will be conducted by a UC Berkeley professor with street cred for the SJW and realistic performance for the rest. One person rhetorically wondered aloud if since it’s coming out of Berkeley the report will be gender neutral. Arvin Edison WSD Director Edwin Camp wisely asked if SB1passes as is will it impact the VB. Ewell said it will go forward either way. Phillips said SB1 will make the need for the VB even more pressing. Phillips said since yesterday’s meeting with EDF he believes the VB is representing water solutions that are true, needed and inclusive. Ewell also thanked Newsom consultant Bill Lyons, who was present. Phillips said the work on the Resiliency Plan there have been good contacts with Wade Crowfoot, Karla Nemeth and others in Newsom’s cabinet. 

(my emphasis)

Well, I haven’t chased any of that down, but I have a couple initial guesses:

  • Oh Dr. Sunding. Again? (If my guess is wrong, let me know! I’ll post a public apology.)
  • EDF, I’ve been skeptical of you since your water market initiative. Used to be that the Natural Heritage Institute was famous for being the sell-out environmentalists, but I haven’t heard from them in ages. Perhaps EDF is stepping into the void.

San Luis Delta Mendota WA August 8, 2019

SLDM’s J. Scott Petersen … also said the SJ Valley Blueprint is growing and efforts to get this entered into Newson’s water plan are looking good.

(my emphasis)

Wow. Looks pretty serious. Weird that I haven’t heard much about it. But a Blueprint sounds like those things that the COGS had to do a while back, for transportation.  It is probably really resilience-y.


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I worry about his edge effect.

We all know that in CA water, gallons are a bullshit unit, used to make a tiny amount of water sound big, like skajilliyons and frapilliyon gallons. (I will admit the use of gppd.) But I have finally found the right place to apply gallons.

Perhaps you saw that last year, people in his district realized that Nunes went straight from college to Congress and has never actually farmed. He has never drawn any on-farm income. He is what he looks like: a salaryman in a suit. They sued to get the designation “farmer” off Nunes’ ballot description, seeing as how he doesn’t earn farm income, nor own a farm, nor work on a farm.

Since last year, Nunes bought $15K worth of farm in his district. That turns out to be about 100sq-ft of farm (10 feet by 10 feet). There was much hilarity on Twitter about Nunes’ farm. But we are not here to mock. Surely a man can love his 100sqft of farm as deeply as a 100 acre farm. We are true agriculturalists here, and would like to help him with some calculations.

With 100 sq-ft, Representative Nunes has slightly less than one-third the spacing recommended for one almond tree. I cannot in good conscience recommend to Nunes that he plant a third of an almond tree. Without knowing what he plans to grow, it is hard for me to narrow his irrigation options. Three ten-foot long furrows? At least he would not have to contend with a wheel row. Surely not hand moves, nor a linear move system. One solid set sprinkler should accommodate his needs. Or, you know, a roll of garden drip tape from the local nursery.

We can calculate his water needs.  I assume no pollinator strip and full cover planting.

100sqft is 0.00229568 acres. He ought to be able to get very high distribution uniformity on his acreage, and most crops take about 3.5af/a-year.

Rep. Nunes will need about 0.00803488af/year for his crops. (I apologize for the sig figs, friends. You understand my difficulties here. I don’t want to cheat Rep. Nunes of any of his needed farm water. Think of the farm jobs at stake!)

Even I cannot properly comprehend 0.00803488 acre-feet of water. Finally. After decades in the business, I have found an appropriate use for gallons. Mr. Nunes’ farm will require 2,620 gallons of water/year.


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Voluntary Settlement Agreements and SB1

Water Wrights: Exchange Contractors, Aug 2 meeting.

Under legislation White reported SB 1 has to be amended. White said no one asked Newsom if he’d veto the bill if unamended during the meeting he spent with him. But Newsom has been reported by several good sources as being very aware of the train wreck SB 1 could cause the voluntary agreements – agreements Newsom is in favor of.

Minasian gave his report saying the voluntary agreements are not moving forward, backward or sideways in light of SB 1.

Oh fuck no.

Look. I don’t like the VSA’s. There are all the usual reasons. I don’t believe the districts will offer meaningful water. If there is potential habitat restoration, then it is already owed to us. The enviros aren’t being included in the negotiations, and I certainly have no faith in Bonham to represent the river.

Further, it is morally wrong for the State to be negotiating the VSA’s as it is.  This might be more clear if our nations had Rights of the River, as other countries do. In that case, the river itself would have a fundamental right to exist with a living ecosystem. We don’t have that, but we do have the Public Trust. The people of the California have a right to a living, thriving river and the State has a duty to safeguard that. The VSA’s change the discussion from the primacy of the Public Trust, to bargaining within the riparian and appropriative rights system. Chris Shutes explained that here, where he writes:

[T]hese deals “preempt” a formal balancing of the public trust.  They don’t start from the premise that water for the public trust is primordial and fundamentally different than water for developmental uses.

The Voluntary Settlement Agreements are an initiative by water users, aided and abetted by the California Departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife, to substitute private agreements in place of balancing the public trust.  …  CSPA’s fundamental disagreement with the Voluntary Settlements is that they place the system of water rights priority before the public trust; water for the public trust becomes the sloppy seconds of business as usual.  The argument is with relegating the public trust to leftovers, not with the size or quality of the leftovers.

Governor Newsom understood the meaning of a fundamental right when he legalized gay marriage. He understood that when a fundamental right is at stake, it is wrong to bargain for functionally equivalent “civil unions” that could happen faster or get sued less. If he internalized the fundamental right of a river to exist (either for itself as an entity, or for the people of the State), he would understand that bargaining about it as an economic commodity is morally wrong.

So the VSA’s suck because the State is bargaining on morally faulty grounds, excluding some interests, and getting a bad bargain. Fine. We knew all that.

What I didn’t know before reading this report from the Aug 2nd Exchange Contractors meeting is that the Newsom administration is fucking up this negotiation. All other qualms aside, that first paragraph makes it clear that the water district interests think the Newsom administration want the VSA’s more than water districts do.  The water districts think that the Newsom administration wants the VSA’s so badly that he will veto environmental legislation in order to get the VSA’s.

Whoever is running these negotiations, up in Agency? You have fucked up. The only possible posture that the State could have taken is that you are dying to go ahead with the State Board’s instream flows, but out of the goodness of your heart and your sweet cooperative nature, you will give the water districts six months to make you their best possible offer.  After that, you will no longer be able to restrain that rabid beast Esquivel, and the State Board will go ahead with their process.

Instead, whomever is negotiating for the State has compromised so much that the districts have accurately come to the conclusion that the administration wants the VSA’s more than they do. They have stopped being afraid the State will enforce the BATNA. So they have the Newsom administration by the balls and they’re starting to squeeze (‘you can have the VSA’s if you veto enviro legislation’).  This is a complete reversal of the rightful negotiation power between the parties. The VSA’s were never a good idea, but seeing that the Newsom administration is getting played makes them that much worse.

I am afraid that the thing that the Newsom administration wants more than living rivers is a history of “deals” that they can point to when he campaigns for president in 2028. I picture Crowfoot imagining himself as Secretary of Interior and murmuring ‘the Crowfoot Compromises? Oh no, that’s too much. It’s just that I love a win-win solution so damn much.’


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A old-style blog commentary post

Maven’s Notebook recently pointed me to Don Wright’s water blog, and I could not love it more. He travels to water meetings in the San Joaquin Valley, writing each up. This is the window I’ve always needed. I regret that I have not been reading every post from the very beginning. Mr. Wright, I love your work and hope that it goes smoothly for you always.

I don’t know whether it needs to be said that Mr. Wright and I substantially disagree, from our base assumptions through to our conclusions. I see myself in his every characterization of an ignorant environmentalist and supporter of a strong role for CA government. That is OK. We don’t have to agree. I can nevertheless look for insight in his reports on San Joaquin Valley water meetings.

But before I try for insight, I will warm up with some simple schadenfreude. From Westland Water District’s May 21st meeting:

Birmingham said the Twin Tunnel plan was withdrawn from the State Board and a one tunnel plan is being looked at. He said Westlands is looking into whether or not it will be able to recover some of the money it put into the twin tunnel program. Shelly Ostrowski reported from Sacramento DWR is looking into this.

A HAH HAH HAH HAHAHAHA HA HaHaHA HA HAHAHHA hah hah aha ha ha ha!  HAH HAH HAH HA Ha hahahahaha hah hah ha hah ha ha.  Oh man. HAH HAH HAH HA Hhahahahaha.  I bet they want some money back. They poured money into that black hole, and got some big ass reports to show for it. Supported some city enviro consultants for years. Unlike the money they pour into buying elected officers and astroturf bullshit, they may get nothing for those millions. Poof! Gone in one announcement.


From Fresno ID’s July 16th meeting:

On a side note local television news recently aired a story about the homeless on FID canals and the danger they pose. Claes said the Fresno City Council members offices often call the district to report encampments. I read in Brown & Caldwell a bill was passed to make it a crime to camp out on a levee and a raised canal bank is a levee.

My guess is that bill was passed on the heels of this footage, which made every engineer who saw it gasp in horror. At a public meeting a couple years back, a county supervisor said that they are finding that their rivers can only be as whole as their community, and as our society lets people fall out, the rivers are reflecting it too.  That was when I realized homelessness is a water issue.


I was intrigued by the mention in a couple different meetings in the southern Valley that their GSP’s are coming up with sustainable yields of 0.1-0.2. Of course they are. That was desert scrub before it was converted to orchards. Planting a permanent crop there was always self-evident folly.


I am real interested in the discussions of SB1 and the voluntary settlement agreements, but those will have to wait until next time. Remind me, if I don’t get back to it.


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“Hero insurance companies save thousands from fiery death-trap.”

If we were a culture that took climate change seriously, the tenor of this article would be completely reversed. As written, the article suggests that it is a problem that the high cost of insurance is preventing people from moving to high fire risk areas. Thus:

The refusal of insurance companies to cover homes in fire-prone areas is prompting home buyers to cancel purchases and look elsewhere.

That’s depriving struggling rural areas of one of their most reliable sources of economic oxygen — the steady influx of well-off retirees and other transplants from Sacramento, the Bay Area and other prosperous areas.

“It’s another … hardship that’s hit because of the wildfire issue,” said economist Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific. “We tend to see lower incomes in those areas. People are attracted to them by the housing affordability and rising insurance costs put a real dent in that.”

Pounded by two straight years of catastrophic wildfires, insurers are raising rates, abandoning long-standing customers and refusing to write new policies. Many homeowners are forced to purchase from unregulated “surplus” carriers or the California FAIR Plan, a bare-bones policy that acts as the state’s insurer of last resort. The resulting coverage can cost up to triple what a traditional carrier would charge. Some desperate homeowners are getting quotes of up to $10,000 a year.

Realtors said this translates into lost business. Home buyers give up on purchases, or their lenders scuttle the deal because the borrowers no longer qualify for their loan.

Every single person who does not move into a high fire risk area is a success story. (Also true for floodplains, also true for water short areas.) It is a shame that the State does not have vigorous policies to keep people from moving into fire’s way, but if the same goal is being achieved by insurance companies accurately passing the cost of increasing risk onto those households, well, at least that’s a start.

In a culture that were genuinely afraid of the climate crisis, the same article would have my headline, a quote from a local fire chief who is pleased that he won’t have to defend some rural cabins, and quote from someone who lost their house to wildfire last year and wishes they hadn’t bought. There would be more from insurance executives, explaining how they priced the risk and how it is unfair to compel Californians as a whole to subsidize that risk pool.

The phenomenon that this article describes, that people are becoming aware of the magnitude of the risk (translated through money in an insurance bill) and hence, not moving themselves to the risk is a good thing. After a few more fire seasons, it’ll be reported that way.

So long as I’m talking to reporters, I’ll add that people who lived through foreseeable natural disasters shouldn’t be labeled “survivors” any more.  It glorifies them and sets the stage for rebuilding in place. After all, that label makes them, by nature, someone who survives stuff.  A better term for them would be “escapers.” “Escapers, this time”, would be even better.


This, from the same article:

Meanwhile, the inventory of unsold housing is piling up in the foothills. Janice Wechsler, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the rugged Foresthill area of Placer County, said the problem is worsening as homeowners, irate over rising insurance premiums, seek to get out. She’s hearing of longtime residents of the area looking at moving to Nevada, Oregon and Idaho.

“They’re being canceled, they’re watching their rates tripling or quadrupling,” Wechsler said. “It becomes the proverbial straw. They say, ‘I’ve had enough of this.’”

is fucking nuts. There is no appreciable difference in fire risk between where they live and their destination. They’ll just be underinsured when the fire comes.


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