Maven’s Minutes: The Delta Stewardship Council discusses near-term strategies and implementing the Delta Plan as the final documents are prepared for release, and the Delta Science Board proposes an engineering review of the BDCP
The final Delta Plan and related documents are on track to be posted at the end of the month, the Delta Stewardship Council discusses near-term strategies and implementation of the Plan, and the Delta Science Board proposes to conduct an engineering review of the BDCP in this first of two-part coverage of the November 15th Delta Stewardship Council meeting.
- The final version of the Delta Plan, the supplemental EIR, and the draft rulemaking package will be available on November 30. Both of the supplemental PEIR and the rulemaking package will be open for a 45-day public comment period that will close on January 14th. The earliest the final Delta Plan could be adopted by the Council is on April 12th. Jump to Section
- Council staff is working to assemble and convene the Interagency Implementation Committee. The first formal meeting is tentatively scheduled for February with draft organizing documents, near-term actions and ad hoc work groups anticipated to be on the agenda. Jump to Section
- The Council discussed near term strategies in the Delta, with the end result being that the Council has requested staff to return with more details about the current projects underway as well as the proposed projects. Jump to Section
- With the anticipated release of the BDCP and the accompanying EIR/EIS, staff discussed with the Council their role as a responsible agency for the EIR and their potential role should the EIR be appealed. Also, the Delta Science Program is proposing to conduct an engineering review of the BDCP. Jump to Section
FINAL DELTA PLAN AND RELATED DOCUMENTS TO BE RELEASED (Agenda item 7a)
During his report, Executive Officer Chris Knopp updated the Council on the status of the release of the supplemental EIR. At the last meeting, it was announced that the supplemental EIR would be delayed because of problems with the contractor in meeting the deadline. Mr. Knopp said that due to a lot of effort on the part of both the contractor and Council staff, the issues have been resolved and everything is on track for a November 30 release date.
During agenda item 7, Delta Plan Program Manager Cindy Messer updated the Council on the progress of the final Delta Plan and associated documents. On November 30, the final draft Delta Plan, the recirculated volume of the draft supplemental EIR, and the draft rulemaking package will be posted, with both the supplement EIR and the rulemaking package being open for a 45-day public comment period that will end on January 14. On January 24, a public hearing on the rulemaking package will be held as part of the regularly scheduled Council meeting. In late February or March, Council staff will return to bring in comments received on the documents for discussion and direction. The earliest date that the Council could adopt the final Delta Plan would be on April 12th , and that is if everything is accomplished in one Council meeting.
Chair Phil Isenberg asked if there were any possibilities for accelerating the pace for final Council action, even if by only a couple of weeks, noting that with an April completion date, it is still a 16 month delay over their statutory deadline. Mr. Isenberg stated that he does not want another extension, and that it his opinion that no extension should be granted without a vote of the Council: “I want to get the earliest possible notice of problems, I want to make sure everyone is held accountable to the time. We’ve published seven drafts of the Delta Plan over the last year and a half; it’s not as if anyone is surprised about what we’re proposing to do.” Return to Meeting Summary
IMPLEMENTING THE DELTA PLAN: CREATING THE INTERAGENCY IMPLEMENTATION COMMITTEE (Agenda Item 7b)
Delta Plan Program Manager Cindy Messer updated the Council on the progress towards assembling and convening the Interagency Implementation Committee to implement the Delta Plan with the first formal meeting planned for February. The staff report, Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee: Its Mission, Membership and Organization, has more details on the background, mission, function and membership of the committee. Staff recommends that either the Executive Officer of the Council or an interested council member lead the Committee. The staff is also recommending that the Committee members themselves be at the Deputy Director or higher level in their agency for the most effective and meaningful decision-making capability.
Moving forward, staff is proposing to hold two informal meetings in the upcoming months prior to the first full Committee meeting that is planned for February. In the first two meetings, staff will draft a document that outlines the mission, vision statement, goals and objectives, and the roles and responsibilities of Committee members. The document will hopefully be complete by the February meeting and ready for the Committee to adopt at that time. The February meeting agenda will also include the creation of ad hoc work groups to focus technical expertise and staff on whatever issues the Committee has deemed needs to be addressed, as well as near term actions. First year agenda items include developing a charter or formal agreement and a work plan for the Committee.
Councilman Randy Fiorini said it was a good start to the process that the legislature has directed the Council to do, however, he noted that the legislature hasn’t directed these other agencies to participate in the Committee, and so they aren’t likely to be enthusiastic about participating: “They are going to view this as another pain in the butt agency that’s forcing them to go to more meetings to do things that they’re planning to do anyway.” We need to take a look at how participating in this Committee is going to help these other agencies, and even then, it’s going to require a significant sales effort: “The most critical thing we will be doing in the next two years is effectively administering the implementation of some of these early actions that we all agree need to be done. If we can’t add value to that process, then we haven’t fulfilled our obligation and duty. We’ve got to get it right.” Besides explaining to the agencies how this is going to make their lives easier and not harder, Fiorini added: “How are we going to be able to manage the work and the implementation in a way that produces results that creates a sense of confidence that we’re about something that’s going to make a positive difference.”
Councilwoman Gloria Gray agreed with Fiorini and asked where the opportunity for public comment would be, as the members of the public might want to weigh in on efficiencies, or what is working or not working? Ms. Messer answered that the meetings as well as the work groups will be open to the public so there will be opportunities for stakeholder participation.
- Click here to read the staff report, Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee: Its Mission, Membership and Organization.
DOING SOMETHING IN THE DELTA: NEAR TERM STRATEGIES (Agenda Item 7c)
Lead engineer Carl Lischeske updated the Council on near term strategies for implementing the Delta Plan. Near term strategies are actions that can and should be done in the next 5 to 10 years to improve conditions in the Delta while the larger issues of conveyance and habitat restoration are being sorted out.
Last meeting, the direction from the Council to staff was for to focus on a few strategies to “do something to prove you can do anything” and to develop strategies that would produce measurable results in the next 5 to 10 years. Some of the strategies should test the best available science and adaptive management goals as outlined in the Delta Plan, and the strategies should be selected in a way that address both statewide and Delta community interests. In terms of financing, assume $1 billion is available, and also consider that beneficiaries of actions taken should help pay for them. These strategies should be things that state and federal governments can use to make decisions about particular actions in the Delta, but let the elected officials decide how to allocate funding among the various projects.
After the meeting, staff came up with some additional criteria: the strategies should support or correspond with a least some of the actions put forth by various ad hoc coalitions, the strategies should be ready to proceed within 5 to 10 years, and the strategies should incorporate innovative governance called for in the Delta Plan, including some accountability for measurable outcomes.
Council staff selected three categories: improving the reliability of CA water supplies, restoring the Delta ecosystem and protecting the Delta as a place, and then selected three strategies under those categories to create a short list of possible near term strategies.
One of the strategies on the list is “reduce vulnerabilities in the current State Water Project delivery system by removing institutional barriers that prevent timely repair and maintenance.” Council member Hank Nordhoff asked how the Council can influence this? Deputy Executive Officer Dan Ray said that the Council could be a valuable ally in getting the attention of other state agencies to help solve the problem and get relief.
The Governor is the decision maker in this case, said Chair Phil Isenberg, who noted that even though the State Water Project is a special-fund agency that is paid for largely by the water contractors, the Governor has been hesitant in this budget climate to give special fund agencies dispensation on hiring and salary adjustments while the rest of the state workforce is experiencing cutbacks. However, four of the generators at Oroville, the keystone of the State Water Project, were out of service because of the inability to pay for competent technicians to maintain, service, and repair that equipment. “The only way to get that problem solved is to say that it helps us solve one of the goals of the state of Califonira which is more reliable water supply. This is not simply a compensation issue for people. It’s related, but it ought not to be the driver,” said Mr. Isenberg.
Another item on the list under the category of ecosystem restoration is managing existing nonnative species and preventing the establishment of new ones. Council member Nordhoff asked if the staff meant enforcing the existing laws or establishing new laws? Mr. Ray said recreational boat inspections have been authorized by the legislature but not yet implemented, and also the science board and others have recommended particular actions for the Dept of Boating & Waterways to better control invasive weeds. Restoration actions proposed in BDCP will rely on the ability to carry out large scale control of invasive weeds that we need to experiment with techniques for that, he said. Ms. Messer noted that the state has an Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan, so the Council could be an ally for supporting and implementing the actions listed in the Plan.
Mr. Isenberg questioned why ‘an improved use of science in water project operations’ is listed under ecosystem restoration: “The Governor and Secretary of Interior said a higher level of science is going to guide both ecosystem restoration and water exports, and for me, that is an overarching issue.” Mr. Isenberg noted that protecting the Delta as it currently exists is also done with spending on existing levees; therefore some of the improvements listed in the first category could have significant benefits to property owners and Delta residents in terms of flood protection. He cautioned on the using support from an ad hoc coalition as a criteria for project selection, and also on “shovel ready”: “In my 50 years of public life, I have never seen a shovel-ready project except for projects that are fully funded by local agencies who wish to have somebody give them money to reimburse them for what they have already spent, and I don’t think that’s what you had in mind.”
Council member Nordhoff asked staff for a timeline on the projects: when is it going to start, when is it going to end, what are the key activities when are those key activities going to be completed, who is responsible for those activities, how much is it going to cost and the economic impact when it’s finished: “It’s no big deal in business to put that together, and if you went before a board or any sort of a committee and didn’t have that, you’d leave the room immediately. We should be able to do that in politics as well.”
Council member Fiorini said that the starting point should be what are the agencies currently working on and what are they planning? Some of the projects on the list are already underway, so what are those projects? Another missing element is the involvement of the Delta Science Program: “To achieve the coequal goals, there’s got to be an agreement up front as to what the problem is, and then to determine with the best available science, what approach are we going to take to fix that. Then, after its implemented, how are we going to monitor that to determine if it’s working the way it should and whether or not it needs to be adaptively managed? The best time to start is with our near term actions; and to get the Delta Science Program involved at the front end and not the back end.”
Council member Gloria Gray asked if the staff used any priorities in terms of selecting the strategies? Staff said all of the strategies are important and are actions that can be taken at this time with existing funds. With many different agencies working on many different projects, staff tried to zero in a small handful of high-priority visible projects that seem to have momentum behind them, have existing fund sources, and where agencies seem ready to move ahead.
ACTION TAKEN: Staff agreed to provide to the Council a revised draft of the near term strategies for the December meeting, taking into consideration the Council member’s comments and suggestions.
BDCP EIR UPDATE: DELTA SCIENCE PROGRAM PROPOSES TO CONDUCT ENGINEERING REVIEW (Agenda Item 8)
In late December or early in the New Year, it is anticipated that the BDCP and its EIR will be released for public review and comment. This is important to the Council because once its approved by the DFG and it meets other statutory criteria, it becomes part of the Delta Plan, said Deputy Executive Officer Dan Ray, noting that the Delta Plan is intentionally sparse in some areas to leave room for it. The Council also has statutory responsibilities to consult with DFG & DWR as they review the BDCP as a designated responsible agency for the EIR, and potentially upon appeal if DFG approves the BDCP. (Click here for Deputy Attorney General Tara Meuller’s memo on the Delta Stewardship Council’s role as a responsible agency.)
Mr. Ray also informed the Council that the Delta Science Program has proposed to conduct an independent engineering review of the BDCP design to look at specific issues that have been raised on engineering aspects of the process, with the hope that some of these issues can be laid to rest. However, at the time of the release of the EIR, the engineering only be about 10% complete, and Lead Scientist Peter Goodwin thinks it would be more effective to conduct the review when the engineering is about 30% complete; this would be early enough in the design that any recommendations could be implemented. Discussions with DWR and Reclamation on this are ongoing.
- Click here for the staff report on the plan to review the BDCP EIR/EIS documents. (Engineering review noted here.)
- Click here for the charge to the Independent Science Board regarding their review of the BDCP EIR.
- Click here for the specific questions the Delta Science Board is being asked to consider for the BDCP EIR review.
- Click here for Deputy Attorney General Tara Mueller’s memo to the Council on their roles and responsibilities as responsible agency for the BDCP EIR.