Originally published in July 2023 print edition.
By Scott Hamilton, president of Hamilton Resource Economics
The Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley is a coalition of community leaders, businesses, water agencies, local governments, and agricultural representatives working together to advance common-sense water solutions for our region. Its mission is to unify the San Joaquin Valley’s voice to advance an accessible, reliable solution for a balanced water future for all. Concerned about wanting to make real progress towards increasing water supplies within the Valley and recognizing that any water project in California faces significant challenges, the Blueprint hired the Hallmark Group as Project Manager for the Blueprints water projects. Hallmark has a proven track record on project management having worked on projects for UC Merced, UC Davis, the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, the California Water Fix, BF Sisk Reservoir Expansion, and Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion. Hallmark’s team for the Blueprint includes Chuck Gardner, Hallmark’s president, Cutis Creel, well known to most in Kern County as past general manager of the Kern County Water Agency, and Maddy Benner as project coordinator.
Hallmark officially started work on March 1. Since then, they have developed criteria to identify high-priority projects. The selection criteria are points-based and include project feasibility, yield, cost per acre-foot of yield, the potential to benefit multiple interests, level of potential opposition to the project, scale of geographic benefit, time to benefit, benefits to disadvantaged communities, and advancement of state policy. Initially, Hallmark will focus efforts on a few yet-to-be-identified high-priority projects – efforts intended to improve cost-efficient water supply. That is only one part of the Blueprint’s ongoing focus. Hallmark brings a wealth of valuable management experience to Blueprint’s other endeavors.
Blueprint President Ian Lemay is interested in articulating a set of Blueprint projects. The identification of those projects will fuel ongoing discussions at the Blueprint board. At a high level, the Blueprint seeks more water from the Delta, improvement of drinking water supplies, advancement of water-supply projects identified in groundwater sustainability plans, restoring infrastructure impacted by subsidence, development of new conveyance to get water to where it is needed, inter-regional planning and developing an environmental vision for the San Joaquin Valley. That is undoubtedly an ambitious list, but progress is being made.
Regarding inter-regional planning, the Bureau of Reclamation provided a million dollars to the California Water Institute and the Blueprint to update the water plan for the San Joaquin Valley. The previous plan was completed before the implementation of SGMA, which demanded a radical rethinking to address water challenges in the Valley.
Regarding new supplies from the Delta, the Blueprint will likely take a renewed interest in regulations that limit water supply with the addition of Hallmark to the team. The State Water Contractors, including the Kern County Water Agency, are already actively involved in a re-consultation process to improve Delta operations. Also, plans are moving forward to develop a pilot project for fish-friendly diversions in the Delta (a means of diverting water without harming fish) with the expectation that water exports can be increased during periods of high outflow.
Regarding conveyance, the Blueprint completed a high-level study for a new mid-Valley Canal to bring surplus federal water into the Valley last year. There are times during wet years when more water could be exported from the Delta, but there are no more “homes” (i.e. places) to store water. New conveyance from the Aqueduct would increase the ability to divert water to groundwater storage. An economic analysis of a new canal has been placed on hold pending the results of efforts to increase Delta exports.
As for an environmental vision, a collaborative effort parallels the Blueprint – the Collaborative Action program for the San Joaquin Valley is underway. One of the work teams within that effort is identifying environmental projects to enhance ecosystems within the Valley. That group includes representatives from responsible environmental groups such as River Partners, Sustainable Conservation, and The Nature Conservancy.
One area still needing more work from the Blueprint is identifying unmet water needs for rural communities. Public agencies such as the State Water Resources Control Board and NGOs such as Self Help Enterprises are working to improve water supplies for rural communities. The extent to which the needs of some communities remain unmet is not yet known.
The water challenges facing the San Joaquin Valley are significant, but a team of competent water managers is not backing away, a team made even stronger by the addition of the Hallmark Group.