At the BDCP Nov 29 public meeting, a glimpse of the BDCP's operating criteria, a cost benefit analysis to be conducted, stakeholders discuss participation and more

We don’t have what all of you want, which is the proposed project,” began Jerry Meral.  “We’re not there yet.” However, it is important to continue the public meetings and give as much of an update as possible, he said.  A draft document will hopefully be available for public review at the end of January or beginning of February that will contain the operating criteria for the new facilities, details of the conservation measures, the effects analysis, and more.

Besides the draft plan itself, the other document being generated is the EIR/EIS.  Because the EIR/EIS is a state and federal government document, there are more levels of review to go through and so consequently that document won’t be available until late spring for official public comment. “But we want to get to you as soon as possible the proposed project, which is what everyone wants to see,” said Mr. Meral, emphasizing that examples presented in the materials today are only representative examples and that the proposed project is not settled yet.


Jennifer Pierre from ICF International began her presentation by recapping events since the February release of the draft plan.  At that time, an administrative draft of the BDCP was provided to agencies who were asked to comment on the effects analysis, and to specifically to focus on chapters 3 and 5.  Many comments were were received from USFWS, NMFS, DFG and the Bureau of Reclamation; ICF has been responding to these comments and working with the fish agencies to resolve outstanding issues.

There are 17 operation criteria that drive seasonal, monthly and daily operations of Conservation Measure 1 (BDCP-speak for new facilities) which include flows in the Sacramento River, approach velocities, and pulse flows. Criteria for south Delta operations include Old and Middle River flows and the head of Old River barrier.  The decision tree or alternative scenarios for Delta operations would work in the fall and spring seasons.

In the revised plan, proposed operations are to move the main point of diversion to the Sacramento River and include a nonphysical fish barrier in Georgiana slough which is hoped to partially or fully address the issue of reverse flows.

Conservation measures proposed for the Yolo Bypass increase the frequency and magnitude of flooding especially in wetter years which will substantially expand spawning and rearing habitat for several of the species.  It also includes passage improvements on the Fremont Weir to help upstream migration for sturgeon and salmon.

As for Delta outflow, Ms Pierre said that there were variations on what fall and spring outflows might look like, “ but when you look at the modifications of the points of diversion under BDCP, what you find is that the way we could now operate with BDCP around any of these variations really gets us closer to something that mimics the seasonal patterns of the natural hydrograph because you’re reducing the pull of water through the Delta and instead, it’s a more east-to-west direction.”

For the South Delta, there are biological goals and objectives to help improve the survival and migrating salmon through that part of the Delta. “A lot of what BDCP is able to accomplish by moving the point of diversion is to much better protect San Joaquin River fish”, said Ms. Pierre, “and what we are evaluating is its ability to do so.” The head of the Old River barrier helps keep fish on the San Joaquin on the migratory route, helps maintain water levels for south Delta farmers, and can assist in salinity control in the south Delta.  By relaxing the use of the south Delta facilities, more normative flows will be created and more water can move out to the Bay, said Ms. Pierre.

The North Delta Diversions Operations Criteria chart depicts how the bypass flows work.  The driver for the amount of water that can be diverted from the three intakes depends on the actual flow of the Sacramento River, and only when the river is running at relatively high can 9000 cfs be fully diverted, said Ms. Pierre.

This chart is relatively simplified in terms of how much water can be diverted, but:  “The idea is that you allow a large pulse of water to come down the river, and then you start to slowly ramp up until you meet your maximums, based on restrictions and the total flow of the river.  So as you can see, in a very dry year, the north Delta intakes wouldn’t even be being used,”  said Ms. Pierre.  Instead, the South Delta pumps become relied upon and the north Delta intakes aren’t really put into play, she noted.

Tina Leahy Clark asked why the slide is showing full diversions at 64,000 cfs as well as 35,000 cfs, and the water year types don’t seem to correspond, either.  Are you expecting to make full diversions out of the new facility in a year that is not above normal, she asked?  Mr. Meral replied that these figures are based on the bypass criteria given to them by the fish agencies: “This is what they are telling us that could be perhaps safely diverted under some conditions … we didn’t make them up.  They are numbers that the fish agencies so far thought might be possible.”  There’s a lot of refinement that could be done here, and this should be based not only on year types but on flow, he said: “Even in a dry year, you oftentimes have high flows, and if the fish criteria can be met in terms of bypass flows and the other criteria that they have to have, and there are certain conditions at the moment that allow you to divert even though the rest of the year was dry, it is a possibility.  It isn’t a guarantee, because it may be that there is a critical species out in front of the pumps and you can’t divert at that time.”

Ms. Pierre added that the chart is complicated; there are three levels that are triggered based on pulses and different flow amounts occurring for a certain amount of time.  “This graph is representing the maximum flow amount that could occur when Sacramento River flows are at each of these levels … The bar chart isn’t representing any particular year type; it’s representing an instantaneous flow in the river and what the instantaneous diversion could be based on that flow.”  It is very complicated, agreed Ms. Pierre, noting that there is a table in Chapter 3 on the draft posted on the web that shows how the specific triggers will drive the operations and the bypass flow criteria.

The period shown on the chart is the most sensitive fish migration period and was chosen for this example to demonstrate how it operates: “These are instantaneous glimpses but it doesn’t represent the full picture of the range of operations and how complex they are.  I think the take-away should be that is ramps up over time based on the flow in the river, it requires certain triggers to get to the full maximum diversion rate at any given flow regime in the river, and as the years become drier, less and less can be diverted,” said Ms. Pierre.

In terms of decision trees and alternative outflow scenarios, Ms. Pierre said two options were being evaluated for Fall X2: a D-1641 option where outflow would be driven by flow requirements and other salinity based requirements for agricultural users in the Delta, and an option from the FWS RPA of 2008, which specifies the position of Fall X2 and is only implemented in above normal and wet years.  For spring outflows, two scenarios are being evaluated: “What we’re trying to do is get the spring outflow as high as we can under every possible condition without having adverse upstream effects,” said Ms. Pierre.


Carl Wilcox from the Department of Fish and Game said the fishery agencies have been working with ICF, DWR, and the Bureau to address the red flag comments the agencies had made following the release in February 2012 draft.  Specific workgroups have been held for each species and for each run of salmon to examine the effects in relationship to achieving the biological goals and objectives.

While the original project did not include fall X2, the revised project with a decision tree does include Fall X2.  The proposed project is going to be similar to alternative 4 in the draft environmental document.  Additionally, habitat restoration components are being evaluated in relation to their potential beneficial effects and/or their potential negative effects and how those work together with flows to achieve the biological objectives.

Mr. Wilcox reviewed the responses to agency comments species by species.  You can review his presentation on the webcast video from 01:00:00 to 01:40:00.


In the upcoming plan to be released, the direct costs of the BDCP will be fully described in Chapter 8 and Appendix 8.A of the BDCP. This section has been extensively revised from what is currently posted on the website, and the new draft of the plan will have the latest estimates of the costs.

At the earlier Finance Working Group meeting, Dr. Sunding’s presentation noted that economists recognize that benefit streams have time value, and that this is true for both benefits and costs, said Dr. Meral.   Present value says that while the overall costs might be higher in the future, in terms of present value it will be less.  Chapter 8 will take a look at the present value of the various expenses of the BDCP.

Dr. Sunding is working on two projects.  The first is an update on the continuing work of determining the benefits of the BDCP for the various public agencies that are served by water from the Delta.  He is examining the water supply benefits, the impacts of improved water quality, avoidance of seismic risk and a number of other potential benefits.  However, this work cannot be completed until the actual operational data for the project because that will determine the water supplies.  In preparation, he has set up a framework so that when he is presented with the data, he’ll be able to complete the work as soon as possible.

Dr. Sunding will also be working with ICF to do complete analysis of the benefits and costs of BDCP, looking more broadly at some of the other public benefits and costs of BDCP.  The cost benefit analsysis will be an open process and involve other economists, including Jeff Michael from UOP and others.  This is much more detailed and will take a few months to do.  There will be at least 2 or 3 public meetings so the assumptions and the models can be examined as the analysis is being developed.  The Finance Working Group will be the forum for those discussions.  “I do think the public has a right to see this,”  said Dr. Meral.

There will be a Governance Working Group meeting on December 18 from 9am to 12 noon.


During the meeting, Letty Belin from the Department of the Interior spoke about the federal government’s role in the BDCP process.  She said that although the federal government is not the proponent of this project, the federal agencies that are involved now are the ones that will ultimately make the decision to approve the permit. “This is the most complex HCP ever attempted and we have to succeed,” said Ms. Belin, Therefore the federal government has made a conscious decision to work closely with the state to provide real-time feedback and have all entities working together during the plan development because they recognize it’s important to get it right.  Watching the meeting today, Ms. Belin said, “from our point of view, this kind of back and forth and the transparency … we hope it will be really the most transparent process that could possibly be had.”

Melinda Terry, North Delta Water Agency, expressed frustration that the working groups and the steering committee are no longer meeting, and while Ms. Terry appreciates the release of the draft documents in February, there really hasn’t been a chance to delve into the details since those documents were released and give stakeholder input. What is lacking is a forum for getting into the details, she said: “My one plea is going to be when you come out with your draft, please don’t indicate that it really had all the input of these stakeholders and that we helped develop it, my agency will be put in a position to refute that,” said Ms. Terry. “I think there was an intention to create that process, but in our opinion anyway, it’s failed.”

Mr. Meral replied that once the draft plan is available publicly at the end of January or early February, discussion can begin.  A lot of progress has been made since February, but it is a draft after all, he said, and there will be public comment opportunity.  And in the spring, maybe have meetings chapter by chapter.  “That’s a reasonable concern and that may be a way to address it.”  Mr. Meral also noted that the Governance Working Group would be meeting soon, and the Finance Working Group will be meeting more often as well.

Richard Denton from Contra Costa County echoed Melinda Terry’s statements.  “Letty pointed out that the federal agencies didn’t want to be stuck with a 10,000 page document that they hadn’t had any involvement with.  The Delta counties are going to be in the same position.

Tina Leahy-Clark noted that she’d been involved with this process for six years and that the stakes are high: “For those of us who are following the process, it’s very disturbing when the fisheries agencies who are involved with this process from the very beginning are forced to have to pull a trigger on a red-flag memo earlier this year,” suggesting that some sort of internal review might be necessary.  “We all want to believe that the best science-based process is what we’re doing here and we can have confidence in it, because these are the resources for all the people of the state of California.” Ms. Leahy-Clark said she appreciated Ms. Bellin’s presence here: “and on behalf of those cranky members of us who show up and who talk, it’s because we really care about what is going on here and we really want it to be successful, but there have been red flags other than that memo that we hope are being addressed.”

Ms. Bellin responded: “ I think that the last six to eight months have just been a qualitative great improvement in the dynamic overall and the exchange of information.  I think we have a good working relationship now.  There’s nothing I can show you to say, don’t worry anymore.  I expect everyone to be looking over our shoulders and calling us if we don’t do it right.   Our administration is deeply committed to following the science, and I think we’ve been doing that hand-in-hand with the state right now so that’s a good thing.”


Melinda Terry from the North Delta Water Agency asked questions about specific conservation measures, including a question about habitat restoration projects.  Since Conservation Measure 1 (facilities) is project ready but other conservation measures aren’t, how are you going to deal with that, she asked?  Jerry Meral answered “There’s a concept of rough proportionality that says as you build a facility, if the facility is chosen as the final project, you have to at the same time begin to implement pretty aggressively these habitat measures.  A number of them, not just CM2 and CM3.  The permit will rely on those implementations and if the biological agencies found that we were not implementing things fast enough, could say you’re out of compliance with your permit.  We wouldn’t let that happen, but that’s the power that they have.”

Dr. David Zippin from ICF noted that in Table 6-2 of the Plan lays out the implementation schedule for all the restoration, including CM4, the tidal wetland restoration, although it is being revised.  “We understand it’s difficult and challenging, but there’s going to be a lot of motivation to get it done faster.  We’ve gotten a lot of cooperation from many of the permitting agencies to move things faster.  There are aggressive targets, but as Jerry said, that schedule makes very clear that we will know very soon whether we’re able to meet it or not.”  Dr. Zippin noted that implementation of the project facilities is at least ten years away, but there are habitat restoration goals at 5-years and 10-years to restore 16,000 acres of tidal wetlands that needs to occur before operation of the new facilities even begins.  “It is not accurate to say that the adverse impacts will occur before the beneficial impacts will.”

Osha Meserve disputed the statement: “I really disagree with that.  The impacts will occur as soon as you begin construction.  You’ve got major dewatering activities on the Sacramento River, you’re going to be taking out thousands of acres of farmland that are really important habitat for migratory birds as part of the Pacific Flyaway, having huge impacts on Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, a lot of impacts on boating, recreational opportunities in the river, and aquatic species as well so I think it’s myth or fiction that there’s going to be time to get the benefits of habitat restoration going before you’re feeling the impacts.”  Ms. Meserve questioned whether the habitat restoration would ever occur given that there still isn’t any information about how the habitat retoration projects called for in the project will actually get paid for, and adequate funding is a requirement under NCCPs and HCPs.  “We’re not really believing this story at all,” she said.

Mr. Meral replied that construction impacts must be mitigated as we construct, and this should not be construed with the habitat restoration efforts, which are separate.


BDCP benefits in a dry year:  An audience member said that at the Finance Working Group meeting held earlier in the day, Professor Sunding said during his presentation that most of the benefit for BDCP occurred in a dry year, so if you’re not going to move water out of the north Delta in a dry year, how does BDCP give you a benefit?  Mr. Meral answered that Professor Sunding was focusing on the urban water agencies who tend to have some sort of water storage that they can rely on in a dry year.  The benefits of BDCP to the urban agencies occur primarily in the dry years because the BDCP program was able to transmit to water to them in the wetter years that they could store in their surface or underground storage so that in a dry year they could draw on it. “Those dry year benefits came from extra water or sufficient water being put into storage so it could be drawn on in drier years.  And that assumes that agencies have some sort of surface or groundwater storage, and most agencies do,” said Mr. Meral.

Guaranteed deliveries: Burt Wilson, Public Water News Service, asked if guaranteed deliveries during times of drought or low-flow going to be part of the BDCP?  Jerry Meral answered that if you left out the word “guaranteed”, he’d say yes.  “Very little in life is guaranteed, especially in this programCould we guarantee deliveries under any circumstances? No.   Under a variety of years, very likely … but guaranteed, I don’t think we can promise that.”  Mr. Wilson responded that he was asking this question because earlier a lot of people were looking for guaranteed deliveries.  “All of us would like guarantees,” Mr. Meral responded.  Jason Peltier, Westlands Water District, added “On behalf of Westlands anyways, I can say that we have never ever asked for guaranteed water supply; we want an improvement over the world we’ve been in for 20 years where we’re looking at 40 to 60 to up to 90 percent reduction in contract quantities; we want that to get better.  But we’ve never said guaranteed.”

BDCP and upstream water rights:  Bill Wells said that at the press conference in July, Jerry Brown had assured people that the Sacramento watershed would be protected, so is that going to be ‘cast into concrete or etched in bronze?’  Jerry Meral replied that it’s very important to the upstream water rights holders that the BDCP not affect their water rights, water operations, hydro, and other things that are important to them.  “We want to answer that question always and continuously, we’re not going to affect the upstream water rights holders, we’re not going to rely on flows from their reservoirs or their water rights or their riparians.  Those interests should not be affected by the implementation of the BDCP.”

The number and size of the intakes: Melinda Terry asked if during the discussion to reduce the number of intakes down to three, was there any discussion of reducing the size of the intakes themselves, because 3,000 cfs is much larger than urban intakes and other intakes on the river?  Michael Tucker of the NOAA noted that the intake for GCID that is of the same size, and at Red Bluff, the intake is 2500 cfs. “Certainly a very different ecological situation there but the same fish are swimming by,” he said.  As for the intake size,  the Fish Facilities Technical Team studied this issue; they looked at different sizes and numbers of intakes and this was what they felt was they felt would have the best likelihood of success.

Tunnel size: A participant asked why if the intakes have been downsized to 9,000 cfs, why hasn’t the tunnel size been downsized as well?  Mr. Meral answered that in order to deliver the 9,000 cfs by gravity, the tunnels have to be larger, and if the tunnels were downsized, the water would have to be pumped, greatly increasing energy costs and greenhouse gases.  “That’s a policy choice.  That could be done.  You could really downsize the tunnels, put a lot of energy behind them and pump water through them. … That’s not the environmentally preferred alternative.  … I would not an advocate of adding pumping through the tunnels if we can avoid it.”

Salmon and Combined Scenario 5: Nick di Croce, Environmental Water Caucus, said that a Combined Scenario 5 was presented in a meeting that had a low amount of exports; we expected it to be released but it hasn’t been yet.  Do you plan to release that CS5 plan?  Mr. Meral said that they did plan to release CS5, but the flows in CS5  were protective for a lot of different species and that it is hard to meet the requirements of all the species all at once; it might not pay off for the fish as one might hope.  There are conflicts with the heavier outflows that cause conflicts and problems for cold water storage that would negatively affect the salmon runs. With 11 aquatic species to be protected, what we’re trying to do is optimize conditions for all the species of concern,he said, but it’s not as simple as it might appear: “the idea that just outflow is going to take care of all species probably isn’t going to work well, as the danger in losing the cold water in the upstream reservoirs is very high and you could lose some of the protections you need for those salmon runs,” said Dr. Meral.

Environmental Water Caucus has it’s say:  Nick di Croce, noting that the public comment period was cut short at the last meeting, read a prepared statement:  “I am Nick Di Croce, one of the facilitators of the Environmental Water Caucus.  As you already know, most of the environmental organizations that make up the Caucus are opposed to the tunnels or any other peripheral conveyance intended to divert Sacramento River water under or around the Delta.  We view BDCP as an “impending environmental and financial disaster, whose costs and unsettled financing are going to bury the tunnel-oriented project.”  (Pun intended)   Our organizations have questioned the Interior Department and the Resources Department on what the real costs of fixing the Delta are, who is really going to pay for the project. and where the water is going to come from.  Our questions have not been answered. … ”  Read the full text of Nick di Croce’s statement here: EWC BDCP COMMENTS

State Water Board criteria: Burt Wilson, Public Water News Service, said that the State Water Board had told him that they needed a flow of 11,400 cfs past Chipps Island to keep silt from building up, provide flushing action, and keep salinity out of Delta.  Are you going to take that as a criteria and work that backwards as to how much you can divert, he asked?   Jerry Meral replied that no matter what, if the State Water Resources Control Board issues criteria, we’ll have to meet it: “The State and Federal projects are subject to the Water Board’s jurisdiction, and so they have the ability to take all of the flows that the fish agencies are looking at and add on criteria to protect things like existing M&I diversions in the Delta, agricultural water quality, salinity in the western Delta, they can do that and they have with D1641.  That’s just what the projects have to live with.”

Science review:  Mindy Simmons asked if will there would be a review by the National Academies of Science (NAS) or the Delta Independent Science Board (DISB) during the draft period before the plan is finalized? Jerry Meral replied that an NAS review only happens when it’s requested by a federal agency and he doesn’t know if any of the federal agencies are considering asking for that review.  Dr. Zippin said that there was a review of the preliminary effects analysis by the DISB prior to the release of the documents in February, along with a commitment to follow up.  Although that follow-up has not been scheduled as of yet, it will definitely occur before the plan is finalized.

Intermediate forebay: A participant asked about the purpose and location of the intermediate forebay.  Mr. Meral replied that the intermediate forebay is where water is collected after its pumped from the river and from there, the water enters the tunnels.  The forebay is useful because it allows you to operate the system by gravity, and without it, it would be necessary to pump.  The location of the forebay is not determined yet.  Several different locations are being considered and analyzed for their impacts.

NOTE:  This is not intended to be a complete transcript of the meeting.  For all the details and discussions, please refer to the webcast video (see link below). In addition,due to the disjointed nature of this particular meeting, the sequence of presentations, questions and discussions has been rearranged for organizational purposes and easier reading.



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