[env-trinity] ERNEST CONANT: Federal priorities for Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region for 2019

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Apr 17 10:38:04 PDT 2019

Note the important reference to the Trinity and Klamath rivers.TShttps://mavensnotebook.com/2019/04/17/ernest-conant-federal-priorities-for-reclamation-mid-pacific-region-for-2019/

ERNEST CONANT: Federal priorities for Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region for 2019
April 17, 2019 Maven  Meetings
Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director talks about progress made in implementing the directives in the Presidential Memo

At the Friant Water Authority’s Annual Dinner held in Bakersfield last week, the keynote speaker was Ernest Conant, who was appointed Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region on January 17th of this year.   Mr. Conant is no stranger to Kern County, having worked for many years at the Bakersfield law firm of Young and Woolridge.  He’s also familiar with agricultural issues, himself being a member of a six generation farming family.

During his speech, he talked about the work the Bureau of Reclamation is doing to implement the directives in the Presidential Memo, Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West, which was signed by President Trump in October of 2018, touching on the challenges on the Klamath, the Coordinated Operating Agreement, the reconsultation on the biological opinions for the state and federal water projects, and the voluntary settlement agreements in the works for the Bay Delta watershed.

Challenges on the Klamath

Ernest Conant began by saying that he has been spending a lot of time on the Klamath.  The Klamath is similar to the Central Valley Project but on a smaller scale in terms of Endangered Species Act issues.   The big difference between the Klamath and the CVP is that there are six tribes that claim water rights that go back forever and therefore have priority, and that’s challenging.

In the Presidential memo, there was a directive to prepare new biological opinions for the Klamath by April 1st.  The Bureau completed the Biological Assessment and delivered it to the wildlife agencies just before Christmas; despite the shutdown of the federal government, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service did get the biological opinions completed by the April 1st deadline.

“This Monday at the Water Users Meeting, we were able to announce the water allocation for the Klamath Project, which otherwise would have been subject to a court-ordered injunction,” Mr. Conant said.  “We’re pleased that we got that done, but of course not everybody is satisfied with it, and lawsuits have already been filed.  I’ve been named in two lawsuits; that’s how I’ve started my career at the Bureau of Reclamation.  And there’s many more to come.”

Mr. Conant pointed out there is a connection with Klamath and the CVP.  “The downstream tribes are constantly putting pressure on the Klamath Project and the CVP to provide additional releases from the Trinity to protect salmon, and overtime, the amount of water that goes across the mountain over to the Sacramento watershed from the Trinity has been reduced in order to meet those demands.  That was not impacted by this most recent biological opinion, but that’s the pressure that continues and why the CVP has to continue to pay attention to what’s going on in the Trinity basin, which in turn affects the Klamath Basin.”

Three-prong approach to Central Valley Project challenges

With respect to the Central Valley Project, Mr. Conant said Reclamation has a three-pronged approach to the Central Valley Project that started last fall under the leadership of Commissioner Brenda Burman.  She has spent a tremendous amount of time here and continues to monitor the situation, so she’s very engaged with what’s going on in the mid-Pacific region, he said.

The first component is the Coordinated Operating Agreement, which is the agreement authorized by Congress between the state project and the federal project that was put in place in 1986.  “It was needing to be updated as the way it was being structured was disadvantaging the CVP,” he said.  “So there were tweaks made to the COA as part of this overall package and that has benefitted the CVP.”

The second component is what Bureau staff calls the ‘ROC ON LTO’ which stands for ‘Reconsultation on Long Term Operations of the CVP and the SWP.’  “This reconsultation is really a big deal because it affects not only the CVP but the State Water Project, so when you combine it, you’re talking about serving somewhere around 4 million acres, including a good part of Kern County and supplying at least part of the water supply to two-thirds of the population of the state,” he said.  “The CVP and the SWP are now operated under biological opinions that were done in 2008 and 2009 and they are in need of updating.  There’s been a lot of new science developed, and the overall approach is to apply new science and not release water and not release water just for the sake of releasing water, which was kind of the approach under the old biological opinions.”

The Presidential Memo directed them to deliver the Biological Assessment by January 31st, so one of his first tasks was to transmit the 800-page document to the federal wildlife agencies who have 135 days or by mid-June to provide the biological opinion.

Another key part of the Presidential Memo was that it required that the Secretaries jointly designate one person to be the coordinator of all these different agencies, and that person for the Klamath and the CVP reconsultation is Paul Souza, the Regional Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“He’s done an amazing job to try and move this process forward and do it in a balanced way, so hopefully with Paul Souza’s leadership, we’ll get this done and done on time,” he said.  “As you all know, this is extremely important although it ties to the Delta.  As you all learned in 2014 and 2015, ultimately your water comes not just from the San Joaquin Valley, but it really comes from the Delta.  And so that’s what you always have to keep in mind on the Friant system is you that have to be engaged with whatever is going on in the Delta.”

The third component, which is more in the category of trying to keep things from getting worse are the Voluntary Settlement Agreements.  The State Water Board adopted flow standards for the Lower San Joaquin River tributaries of flow regimes of 30-50% of unimpaired flows, regardless of what the actual scientific needs are, he said.  “This was highly criticized, but nonetheless, that’s the direction they were headed and so in a remarkable effort, the Bureau, DWR, all the federal and state contractors, most of the tributaries all came together and put together a series of agreements, called the Voluntary Settlement Agreement, and that was presented to the State Board for their consideration on December 12th.  Unfortunately, they didn’t adopt the proposed settlement, but they did direct the staff to go evaluate it, and so that’s the process we’re now in.”

The State Water Board is evaluating the proposal that was put forth in December and it’s now being refined.  As an additional complication, there has been a new change in leadership on the state side: a new governor, a new secretary of resources, new secretary of EPA, and a new chairman of the State Board.  “This has created a new opportunity with some new faces and the Secretary of Resources in particular and the Secretary of the EPA are taking a very active role in addressing the Voluntary Settlement Agreements,” Mr. Conant said.  “I frequently have interactions, particularly with the Secretary of Resources, and with the Department of Water Resources director, so the state seems to be engaged.  We’re trying to do what we can and I think they are trying to do what they can to bridge the gap and get DWR and the Bureau working in tandem.  There’s a lot of things we’re working on jointly and the Voluntary Settlement Agreements is part of that.”

Revised CVP water banking guidelines

Mr. Conant also noted that new revised guidelines for water banking would be out for public comment.  “This is driven by SGMA and the general approach would be to remove some of the restrictions on where you bank your water so that you could bank it anywhere in your subbasin under certain conditions rather than having to go through additional approvals to do so,” he said.  “That’s going to be coming out for your review.  I know everybody won’t be 100% satisfied with it but keep in mind that these guidelines have to be written in a way that the apply to the whole CVP and not just Friant.”

A plea for unity

Lastly, Mr. Conant closed with a plea for unity between the two Friants and to continue to work together to bridge the gap.  “At times it’s been challenging having two Friants going in different directions,” he said.  “I’m pleased there are directors and managers here from the other Friant.  I would encourage you to continue to work on that and find a way to get everybody on the same page, which I think is in your best interests.”

   - For the Presidential Memo: Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West
   - Coordinated Operating Agreement:  Original agreement here; Addendum here
   - Reconsultation on CVP/SWP: Updates to the Coordinated Long-Term Operation of the CVP and SWP and Related Facilities
   - Voluntary Settlement Agreements: Voluntary Agreements to Improve Habitat and Flow in the Delta and its Watersheds
   - CVP water banking guidelines: Reclamation seeks comment on draft changes to Central Valley Project water banking guidelines
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