Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Butterflies Are NOT Free, Especially When They're Butterfly Valves Connected to Delta Pumps

Control valve for one of the six pumps at the Central Valley Project's Jones Pumping Plant at the southern end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Last Friday, I spent 10 hours with my old friends at the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Forty members of various District advisory committees were given a one-day tour of our newest water importation system, the San Felipe Division of the Federal Central Valley Project. For a more complete history of this project click here.

The purpose of the tour was to educate the committee members and let them engage with the District staff and two Board members (Nai Hsueh and Linda LeZotte) about the water pumping, storage and conveyance infrastructure in place to obtain this imported water. More importantly it also showed us what's needed to maintain the continuance of supply tapped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. I was invited as a retired Director, although lately I've been advertising Being Unretired. During self-introductions, I said I was with the tour to also discuss how the SCVWD can rely LESS on the Delta imports and more on locally produced recycled water. I also said that we need to protect the quality of our valuable local groundwater basin by creating a Coyote Valley Organic Farming Preserve.

My seat mate on the tour bus was Mark Turner, President of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, who was brand new to the job and eager to learn more about our valley's water resources management. Sitting next to Professor Ferraro and right behind the staff and Board members, he was in a great place to do just that.

Our first stop was at the US Bureau of Reclamation's visitors center on Highway 152,  overlooking the Los Banos Grande Dam and 2 million ac-ft capacity reservoir. Today, the reservoir sits at 15% of its capacity and has been the poster child for agriculture's wrath for the fish-protection restrictions on the Delta pumping. This reservoir receives water pumped by both the Federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. President Kennedy joined Governor Pat Brown in 1961 for the groundbreaking ceremony.

Both aqueducts deliver water into the O'Neil Forebay, from which a battery of pumps lifts the Delta water into this enormous off-stream  reservoir. These same pumps spin backwards to generate electricity as water is later released to farmers throughout the San Joaquin Valley. This year, through ecosystem collapse mitigation measures, pumping from the South Delta was curtailed and a million ac-ft of water was instead released through the Delta to avoid further harm to endangered fish species.

The San Felipe Aqueduct draws water from Los Banos Grande Reservoir by a 300 ft lift station at the west end of the reservoir. Twelve- 2,000 HP pumps push the water up to a terminal tank, which feeds the tunnels,. The tunnels were drilled by a Federal contractor through the Gabilan Mountains, between 1978 and 1987. Pipelines take the water south to San Benito County Water District and north to Santa Clara Valley Water District, terminating at a 12,000 HP pump station at the base of Andersen Dam in Morgan Hill.

The primary reason for this tour became clearer as our second stop was on the banks of the Sacramento River near the town of Hood, about 10 miles south of California's Capitol City of Sacramento. Visiting this site gives me the same feeling I had after walking through a Civil War battlefield. It was here that the Peripheral Canal would have diverted water from the Sacramento River, if a 1982 referendum had not stopped its construction. In many ways this was a Civil War in the Bear Republic of California. While the pumping from the Delta had been ongoing for decades, Delta and Northern California interests were calling the Peripheral Canal a water grab by Southern California. The referendum campaign demonized San Joaquin farmers and other water contractors south of the Delta as extravagant water wasters, undeserving of this precious water supply they had grown used to over the past decades.

Thirty-some years later, Governor Jerry Brown's Administration 2.0 is again trying to fix the Delta ecosystems and make water deliveries south of the Delta more reliable. This time, knowing both the opposition and the future impacts of sea level rise, the proposed water bypass is a pair of twin tunnels to deliver cleaner water to the pumps in the South Delta. The co-equal goal with water delivery reliability is ecosystem restoration. Returning 140,000 acres of farmland to aquatic habitat will enable fisheries to re-establish healthy and sustainable communities in the greatly human-modified environment of today's Delta.

The tour stopped for lunch at an East Bay Regional Park named Big Break Visitor Center at the Delta in Oakley and adjacent to a now-flooded island, which was ironically already called "Big Break." The most fascinating feature in the park was a walkable 2500 sq ft. relief map of the Delta and surrounding area, from Mt. Diablo to Sacramento.

After lunch, we watched some incredible animation of a simulation of multiple levee failures, which are likely to happen during a severe earthquake. The presenter, former DWR employee and Metropolitan Water District consultant Curt Schmutte, outlined the key threats to the Delta levees as well as the stressors to the aquatic ecosystem.

Similar discussions are going on in every water-related venue and gathering. Ellen Hanak of PPIC created this slide:

These realities are difficult to overcome but the same conversation is again taking place as the State and its many Delta water users propose to address the problems. The Delta farmers lead the pack of oppositional sectors. They simply want to maintain the status quo, and continue to have the state fix their levees so the water quality will be protected and the Delta remain an artificially-maintained fresh water pool.

The Delta farmers align themselves with fishing groups, recreational boating interests, and some, but not all, environmental groups. While some NGO's have been deeply involved in developing today's proposed solutions, others won't risk their reputation (and their donor base) to try to educate the public on this very complex problem and the range of solutions being suggested to fix California's biggest water management headache.

Our final stop on the Delta tour was what all this discussion was leading to- keeping the pumps already built in the South Delta running. We toured the Jones Pumping Plant, built by the US Bureau of Reclamation around 1950,  to pump Delta water into a canal which flows upstream in the San Joaquin Valley to the Mendota Pool. This makes 3 million acres of desert bloom with billions of dollars worth of crops.

During our tour, only three of the six pumps were operating, delivering only 5,000 ac-ft of water per day into the Delta-Mendota Canal. Here's a short video of what one pump sounds like:

       C.W. Bill Jones Pumping Plant lies at the terminus of the Delta Cross Channel and moves water into the Delta-Mendota Canal.
       The plant has six separate pumps, built from 1947 to 1951.
       Each pump, powered by a 22,250 hp motor, lifts up to 767 cfs of water 197 ft into three 15 ft-diameter pipes that lead to the Delta-Mendota Canal, for a combined capacity of 4,602 cfs (9,200 ac-ft/day)
       The Delta-Mendota Canal carries water 117 miles upstream through the San Joaquin Valley, terminating at the Mendota Pool, a reservoir on the San Joaquin River.

Nearby, a second set of pumps built for the State Water Project was built in 1960 to deliver water to Kern County farmers, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and, through the South Bay Aqueduct, the South Bay water agencies (Zone 7, Alameda County Water District and Santa Clara Valley Water District.)

SCVWD's costs for being the only water agency contracting with both the SWP and CVP is currently about $40 million per year. The estimated cost for the the BDCP facilities is estimated to be $580/ac-ft on top of our existing costs. Our contractual entitlements total 250,000 ac-ft of of the 6 million ac-ft of total export contracts, or about 4% of the total. The District currently estimates wholesale water rates in the North County to rise from $680/ac-ft to $1344/ac-ft in ten years.

As the title of this post suggests, the additional cost to keep the Delta pumps and their butterfly valves operating will be a very long way from free.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Being Unretired

Being Un-retired
As a Former Director, Santa Clara Valley Water District
Written for Association of Retired District Employees, June 19, 2013

After 23 years of service, in 1995, I resigned my elected seat on the SCVWD Board of Directors and took on the responsibility of leading a newly-formed non-profit organization named The Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center whose mission was to identify sources of water pollution in our local watersheds and convince polluters to change behavior to eliminate their emissions so the water would not require so much costly end-of-pipe treatment. The board of directors of this organization were themselves executives of industry, government and the NGO’s that had filed the Clean Water Act lawsuit against the South Bay dischargers who were then in violation of their discharge permits. Board discussions served as ongoing mediation to determine pragmatic solutions to preventing water pollution and avoid further litigation.

Through numerous educational symposia, we worked with our stakeholders to identify activities and sources, which produced degradation of local water quality.  We worked closely with municipal and industry officials and started with “low hanging fruit” like used oil filter collection/recycling, and began the long process of replacing plastic shopping bags with canvas totes.  We worked hard to get manufacturers to recycle high-quality deionized rinse water and reduce their water demand and sewer discharge by 80%. Harder issues like land use and extended producer responsibility of electronic products generated by many Silicon Valley companies were a tougher nut to crack and eventually made the industrial members lose interest in continuing the dialogue. The Board voted in 2003 to close the organization after eight years and not renew my employment contract.

This timing coincided with my medical leave to get bi-lateral hip replacement, giving me back the mobility that I had suddenly lost earlier in the year. The next few years were the closest I came to being retired. My wife, Cari, was happy to have me home to complete many of my long-deferred maintenance projects on our creek-side home. I sold the last of the moving vans I owned, as I knew those days were certainly behind me. (Many ARDE members were former clients of Ferraro Van Lines.) I used the money from selling the truck to install 36 100-watt solar voltaic panels on my roof plus a solar water heater.

My desire to return to teaching to give back what I had learned during my unconventional engineering career took several years to materialize. I had applied to teach at both San Jose State and De Anza College soon after retiring from SCVWD. I had taught courses at Santa Clara University and Evergreen College during the mid 1970s, and in 1986 I taught a course at SJSU on Groundwater Remediation as a way to better understand the cleanup technologies and our precious groundwater basin.

In 2009, the SJSU Environmental Studies Department needed a lecturer, on very short notice, to teach Water Policy and Water Management to non-engineers in the College of Social Sciences. Since I already had prepared a syllabus for one of these courses when I had applied earlier, I was able to “hit the ground running” and was hired and have been on the faculty since then, enjoying the role of professor and resident “water guru,” as my department chair calls me. I’m also planning on applying to teach similar courses at Santa Clara University and give back to the Jesuit teaching syndicate that educated me at Loyola (Marymount) University in Los Angeles.

In May of 2013, I decided to get back into politics by applying for a vacant seat on the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (OSA) Board of Directors to fill out the term of the director in my electoral district, who resigned when his family relocated.  This position also required someone who could “hit the ground running” so the OSA Board chose a candidate who had held the seat before the current incumbent.

However, when I interviewed for the OSA position I addressed the board in a way that would educate the agency and promote my passion for protecting water quality. Knowing the high porosity of the Coyote Valley alluvium and other ecosystem values it contained, I summarized all the reasons that the Coyote Valley should be preserved as permanent open space:
       Laguna Seca should be preserved and re-established as a vernal wetlands, creating habitat and reducing potential flooding in downtown San Jose
       A wildlife corridor across Coyote Valley should be established between Diablo and Santa Cruz range
       Buffer setbacks from main stem of Coyote and Fisher Creek should be preserved to protect the ecosystem of the riparian corridor.
       Remaining lands should be preserved as organic farming to minimize adverse impact to aquifer water quality

Finally I proposed a financing option for the Coyote Valley acquisition:
A Joint Powers Authority with Santa Clara Valley Water District. The rationale for this is based on SCVWD’s Water Supply goal in its ends governance policies to aggressively protect groundwater from the threat of contamination. SCVWD also has a Water Resources Stewardship goal to promote the protection of creeks, bays and other aquatic ecosystems from threats of pollution and degradation.

This partnership would give access to existing and future State and local water bonds as a significant funding source. The current Open Space Credit, applied to subsidize agricultural pumping rates, of $6.5 million per year is enough to service the debt on $65 million in revenue bonds, providing funds for acquisition of 6500 acres @$10,000/acre.

I followed this effort with discussions with four of the seven sitting directors of the SCVWD Board and received favorable responses.

In June 2013, I attended a SCVWD stakeholder meeting reviewing the Open Space Credit currently applied to commercial agricultural water rates and presented this proposal for their consideration as well.

This may well be the biggest pollution prevention project ever funded by the District, but one that will benefit future generations with a clean, safe and reliable groundwater supply in perpetuity.

After that, maybe I can really retire. What that will look like would involve continuing to raise fruit and vegetables at home and in the Guadalupe Community Garden, the first one in California permitted to use recycled water. It would also include continuing my campaign to extend that previously mentioned farm water subsidy to urban community agriculture, including larger commercial ventures like Veggielution in San Jose and Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale. I’ve asked Senator Jim Beall to consider a bill to remove the “commercial” restrictions for receiving the subsidy so all community gardens in the county could receive irrigation water at the lower rate. After all, the Valley of Heart’s Delight still exists; it’s just hidden beneath our feet.