TRT Critique of SFPUC Brief

Response to the SFPUC’s Document Titled: “State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Revised Substitute Environmental Document (SED): Potential Impact on San Francisco Bay Area”

Response prepared by the Tuolumne River Trust
Contact: Peter Drekmeier, Policy Director, peter@tuolumne.org, (415) 882-7252
Date: February 2, 2017

We believe that increasing unimpaired flows on the Tuolumne River to help revive the San Francisco Bay-Delta can be achieved without negatively impacting the Bay Area economy.  The point-by-point critique below will show that the SFPUC’s claims of potential economic impacts are based on a seriously flawed analysis, and did not come to pass during the drought.  Instead, at the height of the drought, the SFPUC had multiple years of water left in storage, and the Bay Area economy grew, both in jobs and economic prosperity.

We encourage the SFPUC to follow the best-available science and play a leadership role in balancing environmental needs with a reliable water supply.  Bay Area residents have repeatedly demonstrated their concern for the San Francisco Bay-Delta, with 70% voting to tax themselves in June (Measure AA) to restore the Bay’s wetlands.

SFPUC Statement:
Our analysis of the 2012 recommendation (35% unimpaired flows) shows a significant economic hit to our service area:

  • 50% shortage of water due to rationing during droughts.
  • Economic impact of 188,000 jobs lost.
  • $49 billion annual cost to the local economy.

TRT Response:
Please view a brief video slideshow about the SFPUC’s socioeconomics analysis at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJQ5RhdU6vY&feature=youtu.be

The figures cited above were produced by economist David Sunding in 2009.  In 2014 he produced an updated draft study with much more detail.  It reduced the worst-case scenario for projected economic impacts significantly, yet the SFPUC continues to cite the 2009 figures.

Even the 2014 figures are extremely inflated.  Had they been correct, we should have seen a loss of $6.5 billion in sales and 25,000 jobs last year when rationing was at 30%.  On the contrary, the economy grew and jobs were created.  According to the CA Employment Development Department, San Francisco added more than 125,000 jobs between 2010 and 2015, despite the drought.

In reality, it is unlikely the SFPUC service territory will ever suffer economic losses as a result of releasing more water into the Tuolumne River to restore the ecosystem.  This is because the SFPUC has so much storage (almost 1.5 million acre-feet) that it buffers the system from extended droughts.  For example, after the recent four-year drought, the SFPUC still had enough water in storage to last three years.  During water year 2016, which was a normal water year, the SFPUC captured enough water to last two-and-a-half years, and the system filled to 80% of capacity.  This January, the Tuolumne reservoirs were so full that water had to be released into the River to create space in the reservoirs for flood control, and the entire system will fill this year.  There will be enough water in storage to last six years.

While providing some environmental benefit, excess water released into the Tuolumne could have benefited the ecosystem over the past few years.  Furthermore, it would have offset any water supply deficit that might have occurred during those years had the Bay Delta Plan been in effect.

Regarding the SFPUC’s claim that the Bay Delta Plan could result in a 50% shortage in water, please see our response below.

Again, please view our much more thorough analysis at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJQ5RhdU6vY&feature=youtu.be

SFPUC Statement:
Without a predictable water supply, we are jeopardizing growth and development across the Bay Area including much needed housing projects from San Francisco to San Jose.

  • East Palo Alto has already halted 11 development projects because the city cannot guarantee water supplies.

TRT Response:
This statement suggests that East Palo Alto’s water shortage is a result of limited water supply, which is not the case.  East Palo Alto’s shortage is a result of an unfair water allocation.

Individual Supply Guarantees (permanent water supply allocations) for the SFPUC’s wholesale customers (represented by BAWSCA) were first established in 1984.  The SFPUC allocated a perpetual supply assurance of 184 million gallons of water per day (mgd) to its wholesale customers, and those customers together determined how the water would be allocated amongst themselves.  East Palo Alto’s allocation was set at a ridiculously low 1.96 mgd.

During the 2015/16 fiscal year, BAWSCA’s member agencies used 126 mgd, far below their 184 mgd cap.  There’s plenty of water available, it just isn’t allocated equitably.

The Cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View are currently exploring transfers of some of their excess water allocations to East Palo Alto, and these are likely to happen this year.

SFPUC Statement:

  • For example, if San Francisco had to reduce water use by 40%, that would limit us to 25 gallons per person, per day.

TRT Response:
This statement suggests that San Francisco might have to reduce its water use by 40%, which is not the case.  According to the SFPUC’s Water System Allocation Plan, the SFPUC would be entitled to 98.1% of its water allocation during multiple dry years.[1]

SFPUC Statement:
The 2016 SED concludes incorrectly that San Francisco would not have major impacts because we could obtain additional water through other means:

  • Water transfers: Especially during times of drought, it is unrealistic to expect other parties who need the water themselves would sell us their water.

TRT Response:
As explained above, it is unlikely the SFPUC would need to purchase water from other agencies because it has enough storage to buffer the system against droughts.

The alleged $49 billion figure for economic impacts cited by the SFPUC suggests that for every acre-foot of water lost, the economy would lose more than $400,000.  SFPUC customers currently pay about $1,500 per acre-foot, and the Modesto Irrigation District charges farmers about $15 per acre-foot.  It’s ludicrous to suggest there wouldn’t be a willing seller for less than $400,000 per acre-foot, or even a small fraction of that amount.  For comparison, recycled water costs a little more than $2,000 per acre-foot.

SFPUC Statement:
Solutions must include both flow and non-flow measures to improve habitat conditions on the Tuolumne River while providing customers with reliable water supply.

TRT Response:
For more than two years the environmental community has attempted to engage the Tuolumne River water diverters in a Scientific Evaluation Process (SEP) that would bring together biologists from water agencies, state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and non-governmental organization to assess biological goals and objectives for the Tuolumne and establish a roadmap to achieve them.  We’re still waiting for a response.

The State Water Resources Control Board has clear jurisdiction over instream flows.  It’s jurisdiction over non-flow measures, such as habitat restoration and controlling non-native predators, is less clear.  Habitat restoration, for example, depends on willing land owners, so the State Water Board has not included non-flow measures in the Bay Delta Plan.

However, the Bay Delta Plan does acknowledge that non-flow measures could play a role in the recovery of native fish species, and a key component of the Plan is an adaptive management framework.  Phase 1 of the Plan proposes starting with 40% of unimpaired flow on the San Joaquin River’s three major tributaries between February and June, but allows flexibility to go as low as 30% or as high as 50%, depending on whether biological goals and objectives are met.

The challenge with non-flow measure alone is that water diversions on the Tuolumne River have reduced the actual flow on average to just 21% of annual unimpaired flow, dramatically altering the ecosystem.  The lower Tuolumne is now slow-moving and warm, creating ideal habitat for non-native species, such as bass and water hyacinth, that thrive under such conditions.  Native species, which evolved with faster-moving, colder water, are now at a competitive disadvantage.  Without addressing the altered ecosystem, recovery of fish species with non-flow measures alone is not possible.

SFPUC Statement:
Instead of adopting a flawed plan, we believe the best solution is a voluntary agreement with the SFPUC and other affected stakeholders including the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts.

TRT Response:
Pursuing a voluntary agreement is fine, as long as it’s not just a stall tactic.  In fact, settlement negotiations for the Tuolumne have been underway for two-and-a-half years.  The reality is that any solution must include higher flows.  The best available science makes it clear that flows are the most important factor in reviving the Bay-Delta and rivers that feed it.  Flows affect fish migration, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, water quality, floodplain inundation (critical habitat for juvenile fish rearing) and even predator avoidance.

Please view a video slideshow at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofiJ-iI7uJE&t=16s

SFPUC Statement:
Our analysis of the 2012 recommendation (35% unimpaired flows) shows a significant economic hit to our service area:

  • 50% shortage of water due to rationing during droughts.

TRT Response:
This statement is false.  According to the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan environmental document:

“The 1922-2003 average calculated volume of water potentially available to CCSF under the Raker Act was about 750 TAF/y (thousand acre-feet per year, or 670 mgd)…According to a SFPUC planning document, an average of 244 TAF/y (218 mgd) is diverted from the Tuolumne River…based on data from 1989-2005.”[2]

The amount of water potentially available to the SFPUC on the Tuolumne is three times the amount it has diverted historically.  Last year water use was 30% lower than in 2005.  15% of the SFPUC’s water comes from the Bay Area – a supply that will not be affected by the Bay Delta Plan.  Between 2010 and 2014, the SFPUC’s 2.6 million customers used between 220 and 225 mgd.  In 2015 they used 195 mgd.  In 2016, they used 180 mgd.  During droughts SFPUC customers step up and conserve.

As explained above, the SFPUC has enough storage to last six years.  Right now, even after the recent drought, the SFPUC has enough water in storage to last longer than 1987-1992 drought.

The SFPUC’s basis for analysis since 2009 has been to assume a worst-case economic scenario during droughts and argue that this is the only possible outcome.  A contract between the SFPUC and the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts, known as the Fourth Agreement, obligates the SFPUC to produce 51.7% of any increase in Tuolumne River flows required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  However, the State Water Board is not a party to the Fourth Agreement, and has no authority to enforce it.  The Fourth Agreement is silent on flow increases that might be required by the State Water Board, but each iteration of the SFPUC socioeconomics analysis is founded on the assumption that the SFPUC will be responsible for 51.7% of increased flows, and that SFPUC will find no replacement water if needed.

In testimony to the State Water Board, the SFPUC stated, “In presenting potential water supply and socioeconomic effects from certain interpretations of the Raker Act and the Fourth Agreement, San Francisco does not thereby waive arguments it may have about how the Raker Act or Fourth Agreement should or will be interpreted in future proceedings.”  Obviously, the SFPUC intends to challenge any application of the Fourth Agreement if necessary.

[1] SFPUC Urban Water Management Plan, Table 8-2 — http://www.sfwater.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentID=8839

[2] Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, Substitute Environmental Document, Appendix L, Page L-4.

The SFPUC’s Socioeconomics Study Is Flawed

The Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan aims to achieve the co-equal goals of protecting fish and wildlife and ensuring a reliable water supply. Phase 1 of the Plan proposes to require 40% of unimpaired flow (what would naturally occur in the absence of dams and diversions) to be released into the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers, down into the lower San Joaquin River and out to the San Francisco Bay-Delta between February and June. Adaptive management would allow flows to be increased or decreased by up to 10% depending on whether biological goals and objectives are met.

In an OpEd published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 9, 2016, the General Managers of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) stated, “Our initial economic analysis of the first iteration of this plan forecast up to 51 percent rationing, resulting in 140,000 to 188,000 jobs lost in the Bay Area. These same forecasts also show between $37 billion and $49 billion in decreased sales transactions.”

The Socioeconomics Study referenced in the above quote was seriously flawed. Had it been accurate, we should have expected to see a loss of $7 billion and 24,510 jobs during the last fiscal year when water use in the SFPUC service territory was 32% below the SFPUC’s average year water supply. Obviously, that did not happen.

Background

On March 13, 2014, the SFPUC released its draft Socioeconomics Study, and on April 9, 2014 a coalition of environmental groups submitted comments that pointed out a number of flaws in the Study. To date, the SFPUC has yet to respond, but continues to cite the Study.

We found the following flaws:

  • The Study confused water demand with supply. Instead of calculating reduction percentages based on supply, it worked off of demand. This failed to credit the role conservation plays in allowing demand to be met when supply is reduced. Reductions would come from supply, not demand.
  • The Study assumed reductions in water supply would be imposed on the SFPUC’s entire Regional Water System, and not just the Tuolumne portion of supply. In an average year, 15% of the SFPUC’s water supply comes from Bay Area sources. The Bay Delta Plan will not affect this portion.
  • The Study failed to sufficiently analyze the important role storage carryover and replenishment play in the SFPUC’s water supply. For example, after five years of drought, with the Tuolumne watershed receiving normal precipitation last year, total SFPUC storage is currently at 80% of capacity. We have enough water in storage to last four-and-a-half years at pre-drought levels of use.

Furthermore, after the Socioeconomics Study was released, BAWSCA (which accounts for two-thirds of system demand) revised its 2040 demand projections downward by 20%. Therefore, future demand projections cited in the Study are no longer accurate.

Water Use Was 32% Below Supply in FY 2015/16

During the 2015/16 fiscal year, water demand in the SFPUC service territory was 180 million gallons per day (mgd) – 32% below the average year supply of 265 mgd. The following charts from the SFPUC’s Socioeconomics Study suggest that a 30% reduction in supply would have resulted in $6.5 billion in sales losses, $570 million in welfare losses, and 24,510 lost jobs. This did not happen. In fact, our economy was stronger than ever.

table-5-3

table-5-1

table-5-4

Even before the drought kicked in, water demand was down around 225 mgd. The graph below shows that water use in FY2015/16 was lower (180 mgd) than during the 1997/98 drought, despite a large increase in population and jobs in the SFPUC service territory.

avg-delivery

Source: SFPUC

Future Demand Projections Have Decreased

The top chart below from the Socioeconomics Study suggests water demand from the SFPUC’s wholesale customers in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties (represented by BAWSCA) would be 212 mgd in 2035/36. The bottom graph shows BAWSCA’s revised demand projections reduced by 20%. They now expect to need only 168 mgd from the SFPUC by 2040. The Socioeconomics Study is obviously stale, and should no longer be referenced.

table-3-6

Source: SFPUC Socioeconomics Study

projected-demands

Source: BAWSCA

Water Supply Carryover and Replenishment

The SFPUC owns several reservoirs in addition to Hetch Hetchy and has a water bank at Don Pedro Reservoir that allows them to capture and store water when there’s excess in the system and then borrow off of it in dry years. Total storage equals 1.458 million acre-feet (an acre-foot is 326,000 gallons). After five years of drought, with last year being a normal precipitation year, the system held 1.144 million acre-feet of water on October 2, 2016, and the rainy season had just begun.

Before the drought kicked in, the SFPUC service area used about 250,000 acre-feet of water per year. At 80% capacity, there’s currently enough water in storage to last 4.5 years.

reservoir-storages

Source: SFPUC

According to the Substitute Environmental Document (SED) prepared by the State Water Board for the Bay Delta Plan: “The 1922-2003 average calculated volume of water potentially available to CCSF under the Raker Act was about 750 TAF/y [thousand acre-feet per year]…According to a SFPUC planning document, an average of 244 TAF/y is diverted from the Tuolumne River…based on data from 1989-2005…” The SFPUC is not short on water.

The SFPUC’s Obligation Under the Bay Delta Plan

At this point it is unclear what portion of increased flow the SFPUC will be responsible for. A contract (known as the Fourth Agreement) between the SFPUC and the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts (which own and operate Don Pedro Reservoir) obligates the SFPUC to provide 51.7% of any increase in flow required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). However, the State Water Board is not a party to the Fourth Agreement, and has no authority to enforce it. The Fourth Agreement explicitly addresses flow increases pursuant to a “Federal Power Commission license requirement” and is silent on flow increases that may be required by the State Water Board.

In its Socioeconomic Study, the SFPUC worked off of the assumption it would be responsible for 51.7% of increased flow, making the economic impacts appear much larger than they will likely be. However, in testimony to the State Water Board, the SFPUC stated, “In presenting potential water supply and socioeconomic effects from certain interpretations of the Raker Act and the Fourth Agreement, San Francisco does not thereby waive arguments it may have about how the Raker Act or Fourth Agreement should or will be interpreted in future proceedings.” Obviously, they intend to argue against being responsible for 51.7% of increased flow.

The Bay Delta Plan SED states, “The State Water Board may assign responsibility for meeting the flow objectives through a proceeding amending the agency’s water rights to require compliance with the objectives. In a water right proceeding amending water users’ rights, the State Water Board generally would assign responsibility for meeting the objectives in accordance with the rule of priority and other applicable law. At this time, it cannot be predicted how such responsibility would be allocated in a future proceeding among the water right holders on the Tuolumne River.”

If the SFPUC’s responsibility ends up being proportional to its percentage of diversions from the Tuolumne, it would be obligated to produce 20% of the increase in flow (80% of diversions are carried out by the Irrigation Districts in Stanislaus County). This would amount to about 45 mgd. Subtracted from its average supply from the Tuolumne (225 mgd), and then adding in 40 mgd of Bay Area water supply, the SFPUC would still have access to 220 mgd.

It’s interesting to note that over the past seven years, the SFPUC service area has averaged less than 220 mgd in water demand. And again, for real impact one must consider carryover and replenishment storage.

Prepared by the Tuolumne River Trust on October 20, 2016.

By Land and By River: Yosemite Backpacking at May Lake and Mt. Hoffman

Tioga Road ferries thousands of RV’s, car-campers, and tourists across Yosemite.  Its smooth asphalt and expansive vistas invite even the most urban visitor to appreciate their surroundings and feel connected to nature. But as we turned off Tioga onto the two-mile, one-land road to the May Lake trailhead, we could sense we were entering into a different part of Yosemite. At the trailhead, we shared a parking lot with High Sierra campers, equestrians, and all different kinds of intrepid explorers. With our packs cinched up and full of clothes, food, and bear canisters, we hit the trail for our 1.2 mile climb to the lake.

Continue reading “By Land and By River: Yosemite Backpacking at May Lake and Mt. Hoffman”

By Land & By River: Tuolumne Whitewater

By Noah Baker, TRT intern

8:30 AM just outside Groveland, California, the last town before Yosemite National Park. The sun is already blazing as four arriving groups congregate at the foot of a wooden lodge. The crew from ARTA River Trips brings out a dry bag for each person to stuff their belongings into and fiddle with folding a good seal. An awkward meet and greet, the potpourri mixes then proceeds onto a worn, yellow school bus. It is time to embark on a rafting adventure. Continue reading “By Land & By River: Tuolumne Whitewater”

Nine Experts to Watch on California Water Policy

This article by Eline Gordts, featuring our own Peter Drekmeier, was featured on News Deeply: Water Deeply. See the original article here.

MORE THAN FOUR years of drought in California have made the need for smart and forward-looking water policy initiatives abundantly clear. About 83 percent of the state is currently still in drought, according to the most recent data by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Continue reading “Nine Experts to Watch on California Water Policy”

By Land & By River: Sea Kayaking

by Kara Kelly, 2016 Sierra Nevada Americorps Partner

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day by the water in San Francisco.

No, I am not writing the introduction to a fictional novel. San Francisco on Saturday, June 18th was phenomenally beautiful, clear and without the usually mild, pushy breeze. It was perfect for a day on the water with new friends and TRT supporters. Continue reading “By Land & By River: Sea Kayaking”

Waterways project brings science to life at every grade

Modesto Bee: River cleanup benefits Tuolumne River in Modesto

 

JW River Cleanup 04
Elias Ruiz uses his Feather Raft to haul tires out of the river

Published: May 22, 2016
Source: Modesto Bee
Photos by John Westberg

About two dozen volunteers spent several hours Sunday removing 79 abandoned tires, about 20 shopping carts and other trash and debris from the Tuolumne River in Modesto. Continue reading “Modesto Bee: River cleanup benefits Tuolumne River in Modesto”

Cherishing Our Rivers: A Journey on the Water with the Tuolumne River Trust

Guest post by Garry Hayes, geology professor at Modesto Junior College and guest on our By Land & By River canoeing trip on Saturday, May 14th.

Check out his blog for more great posts at geotripper.blogspot.com. All photos by Garry Hayes.
Canoeing_Tuolumne
A beautiful day to be out on the river!

Are you lucky enough to live near a river? For much of my life I didn’t have that privilege. Southern California has creeks at best, except when they were flooding and otherwise causing havoc. The creeks often flowed through incredibly beautiful mountains and valleys, but they can’t be a source of life for human civilization. We’re too busy using what little water there is that there is barely enough to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Southern California has to import around 85% of the water that it uses. Continue reading “Cherishing Our Rivers: A Journey on the Water with the Tuolumne River Trust”