After nearly a decade of hard work by TRT staff and partners and immeasurable help from supporters, Dennett Dam was finally removed from the lower Tuolumne River in September of 2018. This defunct structure threatened the lives of swimmers, obstructed fish and wildlife passage, and rendered the area useless for recreation for any kind for over 60 years. Check out the video below for more information about the removal of the dam and how TRT is continuing to improve access to the river for local communities.
Join us for the
4th Annual Tuolumne River Film Festival
We’re pleased to announce that this night of fun and films in celebration of the Tuolumne River and the culture that flows from it will once again feature short films from the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, live music by the Tuolumne River Ukulele Orchestra, a Three Twins Ice Cream social, and much more!
It’s been a busy week for our work on the Bay Delta Plan, but before we get into the details, please note that there are two important meetings next Tuesday where the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan will be discussed. If you can attend either meeting, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- August 28, 1:30pm — SFPUC meeting at SF City Hall, Room 400. Agenda available here.
- August 28, 6:00pm — Santa Clara Valley Water District meeting at 5750 Almaden Expressway, San Jose. Agenda available here.
This week’s Bay Delta Plan progress:
On Monday, people opposed to the Bay Delta Plan rallied on the north steps of the State Capitol Building while environmental organizations, fishing groups and tribes assembled around the corner on the west steps for a press conference. That evening, after hearing from both sides of the debate, the Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously (9-0) to support the Bay Delta Plan. You can read about it here.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the State Water Board held a much-anticipated hearing on the Bay Delta Plan. We were notified in advance that a decision would be postponed to a future date to give the Natural Resources Agency more time to negotiate a voluntary settlement. We are not optimistic this will result in any breakthroughs, but there is always hope. The State Water Board is expected to take up the issue again on November 7.
The Los Angeles Times published an excellent editorial — Letting California’s rivers run isn’t a water ‘grab’
KQED published a comprehensive article — San Francisco is Fighting California’s Plan to Save Salmon. Wait. What?
We’re making great progress, and the fight continues next Tuesday. It would be great if you could join us!
As published in the San Francisco Examiner on May 9, 2018
Article by Robyn Purchia
California’s commercial salmon season opened last week, but feasting on the fatty fish is still an upstream battle for many San Franciscans.
Already-low populations of salmon were further decimated by the drought in 2015. This means smaller catches for local fishermen and higher prices this season for The City’s consumers.
“The fishery we see today is based on what happened three years ago,” explained Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Too much water got taken out of the rivers for too long, and the situation was exacerbated by drought. Right now, salmon habitats are miserable.”
Conditions could improve. This summer, the state may finalize its proposal to increase water flow in the San Joaquin River’s tributaries: the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. According to the state, the recommended flow will improve conditions for salmon and other wildlife and still provide enough drinking and irrigation water.
But the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission disagrees. Approximately 85 percent of The City’s supply comes from the Hetch Hetchy watershed, which collects water from the Tuolumne River. The SFPUC is concerned the state’s proposal would put The City in a precarious position.
While the SFPUC’s concern is understandable, it may also be unwarranted. Regional demand for water has declined remarkably over the past 10 years. Protecting salmon isn’t perilous for San Franciscans, even in times of drought. Our conservation efforts should benefit California’s rivers and the wildlife they support.
“I think there’s a win-win,” Peter Drekmeier of the Tuolumne River Trust told me. “The SFPUC can protect and restore the Tuolumne and San Francisco Bay-River Delta region, as well as make sure we have an appropriate water supply.”
Drekmeier pointed to the SFPUC’s own data for evidence. In 2008, the SFPUC delivered a total of 257 million gallons per day. In 2017, deliveries dropped to 180 million gallons per day. That’s a major reduction as the region’s population grew and economy expanded.
San Franciscans deserve a hearty pat on the back for our conservation work.
The Water System Improvement Program, a $4.8 billion program to upgrade the SFPUC’s regional and local water systems, has also enhanced the agency’s ability to provide water in an environmentally sustainable manner. The SFPUC has diversified its supply with groundwater and plans to use recycled water for irrigation and lake-filling soon.
Heat, dry spells and climate change will continue to challenge our growing population. The California drought, which lasted from 1987 to 1992, was a painful lesson for the SFPUC. Officials had not planned for a drought worse than any experienced to that date. The lack of foresight created a situation where San Franciscans were forced to ration their water use.
Fortunately, better planning saved city residents from mandatory rationing during the latest drought. At the height of the dry spell in 2015, the agency had enough water supply to last three years. But that doesn’t mean the SFPUC is ready to give up the resource.
“One thing we can’t do is run out of water,” Steven Ritchie with the SFPUC told me. “We have to be appropriately conservative.”
In comments to the state, the SFPUC urged regulators to let water users and other stakeholders negotiate their own solution to California’s water woes. Currently, California is sponsoring settlement discussions among stakeholders. The discussions have lasted more than a year.
“Water users have had decades to try to solve these problems,” Doug Obegi with the environmental nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told me. “Without the state stepping in and determining what kind of flow is needed to restore the rivers’ health, stakeholders will talk themselves in circles.”
Environmental organizations, like NRDC and the Tuolumne River Trust, assert the Bay Area can get by with less water. The Trust analyzed the impact of the 1987-1992 drought using current demand and the state’s proposed flow increase. Assuming no rationing the first two years, 10 percent rationing in years three and four and 20 percent rationing in years five and six, the organization determined the SFPUC would have enough water to meet demand.
The state’s flow proposal also includes an emergency provision to protect water users during another historic drought.
“There’s no way the state would allow the Bay Area to go dry,” Drekmeier assured me.
As the state prepares to finalize its proposal this summer, San Franciscans should envision the future we want. If we want to see affordable, local salmon on the menu and support the fishermen who make that possible, The City shouldn’t oppose efforts to restore habitat in California’s rivers. San Franciscans can contact the commission to voice support for healthy rivers and the state’s proposal.
If we don’t need the water, the SFPUC shouldn’t take it.
For more by Robyn Purchia visit the SF Examiner’s Green Space.
If every year were an average water year, the Tuolumne River could provide enough water to sustain a vibrant agricultural economy as well as a healthy river ecosystem. The problem is there are good years and bad years, and when a number of dry years line up we experience water shortages, often pitting economic interests against the environment.
This year we experienced the opposite, as torrential storms dumped near-record precipitation on the Tuolumne River watershed. The reservoirs filled quickly and, beginning in January, maximum allowable releases from Don Pedro Dam were required to prevent future flooding downstream.
More water in excess of flow requirements was released into the Tuolumne River than what the three water agencies operating on the Tuolumne – the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) – use in about two years.
While it’s likely there will always be a debate over how much water should flow down the river to protect fish and wildlife and maintain water quality, few would argue that there wasn’t a considerable excess of water this year.
So, what could be done to capture and store some of the excess water in wet years for future use during dry years?
The answer lies right under our feet.
Stanislaus County is blessed with excellent soils for groundwater recharge, and sits upon two large groundwater sub-basins – Modesto and Turlock, on either side of the river – with many times the storage capacity of Don Pedro Reservoir. While neither sub-basin is classified as over-drafted, there are concerns that pumping could increase as a result of higher in-stream flows required by the State Water Resources Control Board to help revive the San Francisco Bay-Delta and rivers that feed it. Over-pumping of the aquifer could reduce its reliability and possibly lead to land subsidence, threatening important infrastructure.
It would be prudent to explore potential new recharge opportunities to ensure the continued viability of groundwater pumping without causing harm to the aquifer. Such a program would help meet the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (passed in 2014) requirement that levels of pumping and recharge be in balance.
The Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers Groundwater Basin Association and Turlock Groundwater Basin Association have done a good job establishing Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, as required by SGMA. The next step is to create Groundwater Sustainability Plans. We are hopeful these plans will include active recharge programs during wet years, and look forward to engaging in the process.
The viability of recharge programs has already been demonstrated. For example, a 20-acre recharge basin managed by the Merced Irrigation District replenishes 25 acre-feet of groundwater per day. The State is eager to support similar projects, as funding for earthwork and infrastructure is available through the California Water Bond, which allocated $2.7 billion for water storage projects.
Another option is for the Irrigation Districts to partner with the SFPUC, which might be interested in establishing a groundwater bank similar to its water bank in Don Pedro Reservoir.
With further study and implementation of groundwater recharge, we could capture more water during wet years, improve in-stream river flows every year, and continue to support a prosperous agricultural economy during dry years.
Peter Drekmeier is Policy Director and Zarine Kakalia is a Summer Fellow with the Tuolumne River Trust.
This article appeared in the Modesto Bee. See the original post at http://www.modbee.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article168890667.html