C-WIN's Fight to End Paper Water with State Board

Lone angler at Clifton Court Forebay, July 2013

 
Photo by Tim Stroshane.

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has the fiduciary duty to grant and revoke all water rights permits for all surface water appropriated after 1914. The SWRCB has concurrent jurisdiction with the courts over water quality and water rights in California. According to the SWRCB’s website:

“Today the five-member State Water Board allocates water rights, adjudicates water right disputes, develops statewide water protection plans, establishes water quality standards, and guides the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards located in the major watersheds of the state. The Regional Boards, each comprised of seven members, serve as the frontline for state and federal water pollution control efforts.”

The SWRCB issues water permits and licenses for the Central Valley Project (CVP) managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and the State Water Project (SWP) managed by the California Department of Water Resources (Department).  The  Twin Tunnels Project will require amendment of the CVP and SWP water permits to allow a change in the point of diversion.  C-WIN intends to follow all aspects of planning and permitting of the Twin Tunnels.

In 2009, the SWRCB, in preparing to update its 2006 Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (“the Bay-Delta Plan”), decided to create a three-phase process that C-WIN is involved in:

  • Phase I: Revise and adopt San Joaquin River Flow and South Delta Salinity objectives in the Bay-Delta Plan, including preparation and certification of a California Environmental Quality (CEQA)-based “substitute environmental document” (SED) in lieu of an Environmental Impact Report.
  • Phase II: Revise and adopt other Bay-Delta Plan objectives (such as Sacramento River flow objectives, export-import ratios, export pumping rates, etc.), including preparation and certification of a SED for the entire Bay-Delta Plan. And
  • Phase III: Conduct an implementation phase (which itself may have a number of sub-phases that have yet to be outlined) that would include administering evidentiary proceedings into water rights and water quality, fishery, and other related matters.

The SWRCB’s program page is located here.

C-WIN's “Paper Water” Analysis

The SWRCB is holding workshops in fall 2012 to gather scientific and modeling information as well as recommended analytic tools for use in the upcoming Bay-Delta Plan revision. C-WIN participated with its partner, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) in submitting testimony on Water Availability Analysis for the Trinity, Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.  C-WIN’s analysis shows that far more in consumptive water rights has been claimed (prior to 1914) and granted (by the SWRCB since 1914) than exists in Central Valley Rivers and the Trinity River.  

Furthermore, C-WIN’s analysis shows that Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) water rights are junior in priority and subject to substantial cutbacks to the needs of senior water right holders.

  • You can view C-WIN’s Water Availability Analysis/Testimony here.
  • C-WIN also prepared testimony on Salt and Selenium Science Modeling for the Bay-Delta that you can view here.
  • C-WIN’s partner, CSPA submitted testimony with C-WIN on Delta flows and water quality here.
  • CSPA’s testimony on Delta Fish and Water Quality Standards can be found here.
  • CSPA’s testimony on and Flow Standards and the Low Salinity Zone is here.

Bureau's Time Extension Requests for CVP

In the fall of 2009, the US Bureau of Reclamation filed petitions with the State Water Resources Control Board requesting a time extension on its Central Valley Project water rights permits. In the fall of 2010, the California Department of Water Resources similarly filed petitions to extend time limits on its State Water Project permits. C-WIN led a coalition to protest these water rights permits as part of the SWRCB’s normal protest process.

The Bureau of Reclamation wants to expand its diversions on the Trinity, Sacramento, American, Old (in the Delta), and Stanislaus rivers. The timing of these petitions suggests the Bureau may be looking for a source of water with which to fill the Twin Tunnels should it be built. C-WIN filed 32 protest petitions in response, arguing that there is no surplus water in these streams when senior water rights and public trust assets are accounted for, and that current operations have been ruinous to salmon fisheries in all of these streams.

California Department of Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Yurok Tribe and Trinity County also filed protests on the Bureau's petitions.

The Bureau's attempt to gain more time to fulfill its water rights is paper water in action: the state water rights permit promises more water to the Bureau than there is water in any of the five streams available to fulfill them, especially when other water right users and the destruction of fisheries and ecosystems in these watersheds are taken into account.

Both the Bureau and the Department have delayed licensing their projects (the next step in water rights after permitting). We believe they  hope to include the Change in Point of Diversion petition for Twin Tunnel facilities among their permits before seeking to license the projects.  During Phase III the SWRCB will make decisions to either license the state and federal projects as is, or to issue time extensions (amending their permits) to allow construction and operation of the Twin Tunnels project. The Delta Plan is likely also to come into play at this stage since it may already include BDCP in its provisions.

C-WIN is participating and will participate in every level of State Water Resources Control Board water quality and water rights proceedings that affect the Sacramento-San Joaquin San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, including permitting for the Twin Tunnels Project.

The US Bureau of Reclamation requested extensions of time on 32 of its Central Valley Project water right permits from the State Water Board on September 3, 2009, in order to fully apply water allocated through these permits to beneficial uses.

California Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service also filed protests on the Bureau's petitions.

The Bureau's attempt to gain more time to fulfill its water rights is paper water in action: the state water rights permit promises more water to the Bureau than there is water in any of the five streams available to fulfill them, especially when other water right users and the destruction of fisheries and ecosystems in these watersheds are taken into account.

I Want to Help continue C-WIN’s engagement with these activities and other advocacy work.