Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Water Security vs. Water Marketing title=
Eight public water agencies from Carpinteria to Santa Maria import water from the California Aqueduct, shown here in Kern County. They want the right to sell some of their surplus state water outside Santa Barbara County. (Photo courtesy of the California Department of Water Resources)
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By Melinda Burns

It’s not long ago that Lake Cachuma, the main water source on the South Coast, was in danger of going dry in a seven-year drought.

Water agencies from Carpinteria to Goleta spent millions of dollars scrambling to buy surplus state aqueduct water from around the state to avert a local shortage. They did so not only because their groundwater levels were plunging and Cachuma was failing, but because their yearly allocations from the aqueduct had dropped to zero.

Yet on Tuesday, the water managers serving Santa Maria, Buellton, Guadalupe, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Montecito and the Santa Ynez and Carpinteria valleys will ask the county Board of Supervisors to grant them the right to sell their state water allocations outside the county – not permanently, but potentially for years at a stretch.

“As water purveyors, we need to have the flexibility to do what we need to do,” said Joshua Haggmark, Santa Barbara water resources manager. “The county, up to now, has said we can’t sell water out of the county. If we can’t use it, we just lose it. It creates an additional financial hardship for our customer.”

For Santa Barbara and Montecito, the big change since the last drought is that they are jointly paying for a $72 million desalination plant that the city built on its waterfront in 2017. With plenty of that water on hand, they don’t need so much state water for the foreseeable future.

“We need to offset that cost somewhere,” Haggmark said. “This isn’t selling our state water forever; it’s leasing our allocation.”

Together, the eight water agencies make up the Central Coast Water Authority, which owns and operates the pipeline from the California Aqueduct in Kern County to Lake Cachuma. Because the county, not the CCWA, holds the pipeline contract with the state Department of Water Resources – a sore point with Haggmark and other water agency managers – they have to get the county’s permission to loosen the water marketing rules.

Currently under the contract, only exchanges of state water, and not outright sales, are allowed: the price is limited by the state and buyers must return the water to the sellers. South Coast water agencies are still on the hook for the extra state water they bought during the last drought.

Water managers want the flexibility to sell state water in wet years because, they say, they have nowhere to store it. But a county staff report for Tuesday’s meeting advises the board not to allow sales of state water outside the county, noting that allocations from Cachuma to the South Coast and Santa Ynez Valley were severely cut during the drought of 2011 to 2018.

“We’re really frustrated with the county’s position,” Haggmark said. “They don’t have any knowledge of water planning or responsibility to ratepayers.”

Supervisor Das Williams, who represents eastern Santa Barbara, Montecito and the Carpinteria Valley, said the managers won’t say whom they want to sell their state water to.

“The response we get is, ‘It’s none of your business,’” he said. “Is this really going to help the water supply, or could this potentially hurt it?

“There is plenty of storage in Cachuma. We don’t want short-sighted decisions to be made that could lead to water being transported out of the county when we might need it here. When you are tempted to liquidate water for money, it puts additional stress on the groundwater basin that sometimes you cannot afford. Without the county, there’s no way to guard the interests of the whole region.”

Up north, Santa Maria, the largest state water contractor in the county, has an entitlement twice as large as the South Coast’s and has long sought more flexibility in water marketing rules. During the recent drought, Santa Maria sold state water to the South Coast.

Twenty-four of the 29 state water contractors in California have already approved the new water marketing rules; Santa Barbara County is one of the last holdouts. That may make it harder for CCWA members to buy extra supplies of state water in the next drought, said Shad Springer, Santa Maria’s director of utilities.

“It’s not that the city has immediate plans to sell water out of the county or anywhere else,” he said. “An important aspect of this is that as these (rules) are being adopted by other water contractors, the old tools may not be available to us. There may not be a market out there where we could import additional water from the existing exchange program.”

Last month, in a bid to win the Board of Supervisors’ approval, the CCWA agreed that each member would have the “first right of refusal” if another wanted to sell state water outside the county.

Lavagnino said he likes that idea.

“I have no beef with the CCWA,” he said. “I want to make sure that somebody else inside the county gets the offer first,” he said.


During the drought of 2011 to 2018, South Coast agencies were buyers, not sellers, of surplus state aqueduct water from around the state. Their yearly allocations from Lake Cachuma were cut severely as the lake shrank to just 7 percent of capacity. The dry lakebed is shown here in 2015. Photo by Melinda Burns.

Contract extension

At Tuesday’s hearing, the board also will consider whether to extend the county’s contract with state Water Resources for another 50 years. The current contract is set to expire in 2038, when the eight water agencies – that is, the ratepayers – will  pay off their debt for the $575 million aqueduct branch to Cachuma.

The CCWA favors extending the contract so that any future costs connected to the aqueduct can be spread out over decades. But the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), and AquAlliance, two watchdog groups, are suing to stop the 50-year extension. They say that that the state’s environmental review failed to consider the cost of future aqueduct-related projects for ratepayers.

Over several decades, the department has considered different plans for improving the health of the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where massive pumps divert water into the state aqueduct. Most recently, the department is proposing to build a $16 billion tunnel under the Delta to protect this critical water source from climate change and seismic threats.

The C-WIN lawsuit notes that historically, the state aqueduct was built on “paper water” and has failed to reliably deliver even half of what the contractors, including Santa Maria and the South Coast agencies, are paying for. A Delta project would not provide a single drop of new aqueduct water for Santa Barbara County, said Carolee Krieger, a Montecito resident and the founder of C-WIN.

“We would be vulnerable to anything the Department of Water Resources wants to build, and we would have to pay our share of it,” she said. “We don’t need to do this. By 2038, we will have paid off the pipeline, and we’re entitled to the water we’ve paid for, indefinitely. There is no new water in the system.”

The CCWA has voted to opt out of the Delta project, but Krieger is not convinced: the project itself has not been approved yet.

“What if they change their mind?” she asked.


Melinda Burns volunteers as a freelance journalist in Santa Barbara as a community service; she offers her news reports to multiple local publications, at the same time, for free.

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a-1615016464 Mar 05, 2021 11:41 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Author Mark Arax also writes extensively on these issues (re the Central Valley and the state of CA). I sent this to him and he voiced strong opinions.

roetter1 Mar 02, 2021 03:06 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

It's very important to ask who is using the water in California? Carolee Krieger of C-Winn points out that 80% of California's water which is subsidized is used by agriculture and this can be confirmed this with the UC Davis Agriculture annual data report . The next fact also on UC Davis's report confirms that of 2019's roughly $50Billion in revenue a whopping $21Billion came from exports. Please folks the big elephant in the room is that you, and the rest of California's citizens are subsidizing global food consumption with your dime and water! That's roughly 30% of all water being used in our state and transported, bought, sold, traded, transferred, and manipulated for the benefit of the these large and growing outside interests/consumers of California agricultural products; California's top 10 export destinations – the European Union, Canada, China/Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, India, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, and Taiwan. Folks these guys are using our resources to feed their growing economies while the middle class homeowner and business owner is put in peril.

When you get your next rate increase just remember that someone in the E.U. or China, or UAE just ate a meal on your dime! Better yet your $$$. First step is to maintain absolute control over our county's water, and then move to contain at the state level. Barter, selling and transfers are not a solution and only put Santa Barbara citizens at more risk for short term gain.

https://aic.ucdavis.edu/california-agricultural-exports-year-2000-through-latest-available-2/

https://www.c-win.org/carolee-krieger

RHS Mar 02, 2021 06:13 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

We are selling alfalfa to China, almonds to the near east because people in CA (actually corporations in CA) have 'grandfather' rights to very cheap water. They do not care about the people of the state, they only care about how to get money. We need to enforce our CA constitution which says waste of water can be stopped even when it is done by people with authority to the water.

Voice of Reason Mar 02, 2021 03:33 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Very true Roetter1. Often if you follow the dollars you'll find the root of the problem.

dennispgerman Mar 02, 2021 02:00 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

The current level of Cachuma is 122,226 ac-ft and the capacity is 188,000 ac⋅ft.
I would say that once the level is closer to capacity this could be done. But, yes, on a case by case basis.
https://www.linkedin.com/in/dennispgerman/

Daffy Mar 02, 2021 10:23 AM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

The users are already paying much more than a few years ago as "supply is limited" and the demand is increasing. Things will get worse when we address the housing shortage and the needs of agriculture. Water managers have a very short term planning horizon that conflicts with the long term needs of the community. Their "money NOW and consequences later" policy will lead us, the rate payers, to a catastrophe. This proposal to sell/lease county allocations is absurd!

a-1614706194 Mar 02, 2021 09:29 AM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

I wonder why the water managers can't get County Supervisors' approval on a case-by-case basis when needed. Why is it necessary for them to get blanket approval to make these decisions out of the public view?

Rinconer Mar 02, 2021 09:16 AM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

As reported in The Independent a few years ago, Carpinteria “overpaid” for $45 million worth of water that was never needed or used.
Then a few years ago, a new, younger local man was elected to be on the Water Board, and the locals were very happy to have new blood to stem the “mis-management”. Sadly that man soon died, even though he was very young, in his 30’s with kids.
After that tragic death, the Water Board tried to illegally re-install one of the architects of the $45 million dollar snafu, and was again caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Support investigations of local water boards.

rubyfoo Mar 02, 2021 09:09 AM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

A big NO fro me on the leasing business. The climate is changing in the dryness direction, and I want us (who have no desalination water in our communities) to play it safe with OUR state water supply.

FernaldPoint93108 Mar 02, 2021 09:06 AM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

During a severe drought State Water gives us zero H2O where desalination delivers lots of it.

PitMix Mar 02, 2021 11:20 AM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Theoretically you store your allocation during wet years in Cachuma, and use it during dry years. If you sell the wet year water, then you are up a dry creek during the drought years.

Chip of SB Mar 01, 2021 01:23 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

The mechanics of the water business are complex, but the end result is simple. Your water bill will increase and you will be forced to make due with less water. It’s a shame we can no longer enjoy the lush green landscapes of decades past. Dry yards are now one more manifestation of the decline of the middle class.

PitMix Mar 02, 2021 06:59 AM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Plus break down into small particles that will wash into the ocean for those animals to ingest, much to their detriment. And then we will eat them, completing the cycle.

a-1614652659 Mar 01, 2021 06:37 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

I predict that the plastic lawns will be seen in the future as a ludicrous flash of idiocy. They use less water once installed, but are made of petroleum products, are hot and miserable to sit on/do sports on when it’s hot out, and don’t produce any beneficial oxygen as grass does.

a-1614633050 Mar 01, 2021 01:10 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Once again the hypocrisy/lies of the City SB PW and Manager are exposed. They sold us the need to spend absurd money on the desalination boondoggle (twice) despite protests from folks like myself that said 1. There is plenty of state water to get us through any but the end times drought, 2. We could get water by using waste water instead of desalination at a much cheaper cost. They denied this in the emotional push to get the public to go along with what is probably a corrupt deal. Then they decided that they did not need the desalination water so much and could sell it to Montecito. In fact they sort of subsidized Montecito to take the excess water in order to keep the desalination plant running. Now they propose to sell state water contract rights instead of shutting down desal plant!? We know that state water costs maybe a third as much as desal water but we are going to continue to produce the desal water when we could have cheaper (and better) state water?! Why, because the city agreed with the vendor to pay them for the plant and its costs for something like 30 years. This is incompetence and it isn't like it wasn't known at the time.
Glen Mowrer

a-1614652144 Mar 01, 2021 06:29 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Sensibly common: No. California is a constant cycle of rain and drought. We were not "saved" by the recent rains nor will be "condemned" when the next drought hits. But CA built an infrastructure to move water around the state to mitigate these variations. We did not need the desalination plant and another proof of this is the rush to sell off our rights to cheaper water to protect the desalination plant operation and gull the people into believing that it was a rescue. We have invested over $100M in this desalination folly and it is going to get worse. There are real alternatives which include holding on to the state water project allotments and recycling local water for domestic use.

Sensibly Common Mar 01, 2021 04:26 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Monday morning quarterbacking. We got saved by a couple big rains- that’s it. And people aren’t ready to drink treated wastewater yet. I’m happy that we have desal back on line.

Think Mar 01, 2021 12:52 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

The County is out of line here to interfere with Water Districts. State water is unreliable and Water Districts should be able to sell their allotment and pay for local supplies like desal and recycled water.

It is none of the County's business how local Districts manage their water needs. They know what's best for their local customers. Das Williams statement, shows he clearly doesn't understand how water supply works. The County needs knowledgeable and experienced people. Other County's get it, ours is still learning and making mistakes.

PitMix Mar 01, 2021 12:20 PM
Water Security vs. Water Marketing

Sounds like the CCWA members have not made a strong case to the most important people, the supes. If we have the desal plant, then exchanges with other agencies should be good enough. The 800 lb monster in the room in these talks is LA's MWD. If they can offer outrageous offers to buy any unwanted water, can any of our member agencies hope to match their offer? Probably not. The evaporation rate off of Cachuma is pretty high, so some significant portion of the SWP water probably just disappears. Just like your tax money.

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