Governor releases water portfolio including voluntary agreements, Delta Tunnel and Sites Reservoir

By Dan Bacher | 

The Gavin Newsom Administration on January 3 released a controversial draft water resilience portfolio containing a suite of 100 “recommended actions” to help California cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, declining fish populations, aging infrastructure and other challenges. 

Salmon advocates criticized the portfolio for supporting agribusiness-promoted voluntary agreements for the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems, promoting a single-tunnel conveyance project and fast tracking the Sites Reservoir, arguing that these actions could equal “death for salmon.” 

In a press release, the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture said they developed the draft to fulfill Governor Gavin Newsom’s April 29 executive order calling for a portfolio of actions “to ensure the state’s long-term water resilience and ecosystem health.”

“Shaped by months of public input, the draft portfolio outlines more than 100 integrated actionable recommendations in four broad areas to help regions build water resilience as resources become available, while at the same time providing state leadership to improve infrastructure and protect natural ecosystem,” according to the agencies. “Those areas include:
  • Maintain and diversify water supplies: State government will continue to help regions reduce reliance on any one water source and diversify supplies to enable flexibility amidst changing conditions. Diversification will look different in each region based on available water resources, but the combined effect will strengthen resilience and reduce pressure on river systems.
  • Protect and enhance natural ecosystems: State leadership is essential to restore the environmental health of key river systems to sustain fish and wildlife. This requires effective standard-setting, continued investments, and more adaptive, holistic environmental management.
  • Build connections: State actions and investment will improve physical infrastructure to store, move, and share water more flexibly and integrate water management through shared use of science, data, and technology.
  • Be prepared: Each region must prepare for new threats, including more extreme droughts and floods and hotter temperatures. State investments and guidance will enable preparation, protective actions, and adaptive management to weather these stresses.”
“This draft portfolio has been shaped to provide tools to local and regional entities to continue building resilience and to encourage collaboration within and across regions,” Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said. “At the same time, state government needs to invest in projects of statewide scale and importance and tackle challenges beyond the scope of any region. Taken together, the proposed actions aim to improve our capacity to prepare for disruptions, withstand and recover from shocks, and adapt from these experiences.”

The press release also stated, “To develop the portfolio, state agencies conducted an inventory and assessment of key aspects of California water, soliciting broad input from tribes, agencies, individuals, groups, and leaders across the state. An interagency working group considered the assessment and input from more than 20 public listening sessions across the state and more than 100 substantive comment letters.”

“From Northern California to the Central Valley and the South, Californians from cities, farms, and other sectors are working together to develop innovative solutions to the climate-related water challenges that the state is already experiencing and that are expected to worsen,” said California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld. “This draft portfolio is an important step toward building resilience to ensure the long-term health of our water supplies and ecosystems.”

The Newsom Administration highlighted the voluntary agreements and the single Delta Tunnels as “solutions” to California’s water problems in the news release.

“Since taking office, Governor Newsom has partnered with the Legislature to tackle California’s drinking water crisis, supported development of voluntary agreements to improve environmental conditions in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems, and advanced a single-tunnel conveyance project under the Delta to protect a key statewide water source from levee collapse caused by flood or earthquake risk and saltwater intrusion as sea level rises,” the release stated.

Members of the public will be able to submit written feedback on the draft portfolio through February
7. A final water resilience portfolio will be released soon after that. 

In response to the water portfolio’s release, Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon, stated, “The governor is prioritizing fast tracking the Sites Reservoir, which is a threat to the Trinity and Sacramento Rivers, voluntary agreements related to flows, and a new one tunnel proposal in his water strategy.”

“While there are also some great conservation proposals in this plan, a massive new reservoir that targets water from the state's best remaining salmon rivers, undermining state regulation for flows, and the one tunnel proposal taken together could equal the death of the North State's salmon. Anyone that cares about Northern California's salmon and water quality should be concerned with the governor's water portfolio,” Chichizola concluded.  

In a similar vein, the Sierra Club California Water Committee on Twitter described Newsom's Water Resilience Portfolio as “a supermarket of solutions good and bad including ocean desal, water transfers, more surface water storage (Sites Reservoir). It prioritizes voluntary agreements rather than hard flow targets and goes all in for the single tunnel.”

Jim Brobeck, water policy analyst for the Aqualliance, said the water portfolio “contains some decent urban conservation intentions but is dominated by the wet dreams of the water market by expanding unsustainable, demand-driven infrastructure.” 

“His absence of courage to demand the retiring drainage impaired lands on 1 million acres of San Joaquin Valley land that relies on imported irrigation water spells doom for the great central valley. Furthermore, the portfolio will encourage urban sprawl on the inland Southern California desert,” Brobeck stated. 

He said the portfolio confirms the intention to “privatize aquifers through groundwater banking, streamlined water transfer/sales, & artificial recharge of intentionally overdrawn basins,” citing the following statements from the portfolio:

"Explore ways to further streamline groundwater recharge and banking efforts… Create flexibility for groundwater sustainability agencies to trade water within basins by enabling and incentivizing transactional approaches, including groundwater markets..." 

"Regions need physical connections—new pipelines and aqueducts and storage places to help move water from places of surplus to places of scarcity..expanded capacity of federal, state, and local conveyance facilities to enhance water transfers and water markets.."

"Ease movement of water across the state by simplifying water transfers. Substantially reduce approval time for transfers… Develop best practices for inter-and intra-basin groundwater trading programs.."

Brobeck stated, "In other words, the water marketers want to perpetuate the myth of ‘surplus Sacramento Valley Watershed water’ and to eliminate comprehensive environmental review of using Sacramento Valley aquifers to boost San Joaquin Valley irrigation/sand California urban sprawl water supply. These taxpayer subsidized water privatization plans will not restore San Joaquin/Tulare basin aquifers/streams/rivers and will terminate the balance of Sacramento Valley agriculture, aquifers, streams, fish and native vegetation." 

“Is Newsom with his new Water Resilience Portfolio telling water agencies they can do what they want because it's all good? Except, of course, they must pay for his single tunnel,” Brobeck concluded.

Maurice Hall at the Environmental Defense Fund, a group that promotes market “solutions” to environmental problems, lauded the portfolio:

“EDF is encouraged to see the Newsom administration lean in to build climate resilience into California’s overtaxed water supply system. The draft water resilience portfolio released today has an appropriate emphasis on ensuring all Californians have access to clean drinking water and puts forth an ambitious agenda that balances the many uses of California’s water, including enhancing and protecting the fish and wildlife that depend on our streams, rivers and wetlands. We look forward to working with the administration to strengthen the environmental measures outlined in the portfolio and then quickly moving forward to implement the highest priorities.” 

The State Water Contractors, the beneficiaries of the State Water Project, joined the Environmental Defense Fund in praising the portfolio.

“The draft portfolio released today recognizes the importance of building a water supply that is more sustainable and more resilient to the increasing impacts of climate change,” said Jennifer Pierre, General Manager of the State Water Contractors. “We stand behind the state’s commitment to address the important issues facing the Bay-Delta and our state, including the need to complete a voluntary agreement and modernize conveyance, as a part of a broad package of local and regional water actions to benefit all Californians. If we are to meet the challenges ahead, we must work quickly and collaboratively, basing management actions and decisions on the best available science.”

The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, an Astroturf organization established by executives of Stewart and Lynda Resnick’s Paramount Farms, now called the Wonderful Company, praised the portfolio, but said at the same time that the “portfolio fails to address the growing impacts of water scarcity on rural farming communities throughout the Central Valley of California.”

“The Newsom Administration’s highly anticipated Water Resilience Portfolio presents an impressive suite of actions that will certainly advance California water management,” according to the group. “The Natural Resources Agency, CalEPA, and California Department of Food & Agriculture’s plan offers new opportunities to improve the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem through enhanced monitoring and incorporation of adaptive management based on the best available science, enhance conveyance and storage, and address the impacts of climate change.”

“The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta remains concerned, however, that the portfolio fails to address the growing impacts of water scarcity on rural farming communities throughout the Central Valley of California. While the portfolio recognizes land fallowing resulting from implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and increasingly limited surface water supplies, it stops short of providing real solutions to address the impacts to residents, farms and small businesses that depend on reliable water supplies,” said Bill Phillimore, Coalition for a Sustainable Delta President. “The state needs to provide more concrete solutions to a problem that will have far reaching impacts on millions who live and work in these regions.” 

It is important to note that Governor Newsom received a total of $755,198 in donations from agribusiness in 2018, based on the latest data from That figure includes $579,998 in the agriculture donations category, combined with another $116,800 from Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoons Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the Wonderful Company and the largest orchard fruit growers in the world, and $58,400 from E.J. Gallo.

By vetoing SB 1, supporting the voluntary water agreements, backing the Delta Tunnel, hiring grower William Lyons as a special "agriculture liaison" to the Governor's Office, overseeing the issuing of a new draft EIR that increases water exports for the state and federal projects rather than reducing them and releasing a controversial water portfolio that includes fast tracking the Sites Reservoir, Newsom is apparently bending to the will of his agribusiness donors.

The release of the portfolio takes place at a critical time for salmon, Delta smelt and other San Francisco Bay-Delta fish species. For the second year in a row, the California Department of Fish and wildlife  in its annual fall midwater trawl survey in 2019 found zero Delta smelt during the months of September, October, November and December.

Found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, the smelt is an indicator species that shows the health of the ecosystem. Decades of water exports and environmental degradation under the state and federal governments have brought the smelt to the edge of extinction. For more information, go to:…

Information on how to submit written feedback on the draft can be found at

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2019. All right reserved.



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