Metropolitan’s Bay-Delta Committee hears an update on Delta restoration projects, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and the Delta Plan

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On January 22, 2013, Metropolitan Water District’s Special Committee on the Bay-Delta heard an update on restoration projects currently underway in the Delta, the latest on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and an update on the Delta Stewardship Council and the Delta Plan.

AGENDA ITEM 3A: UPDATE ON BAY-DELTA HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECTS

Metropolitan’s Program Manager Randall Neudeck updated the Committee on the status of habitat restoration activities underway in the Delta.

Mr. Neudeck began by pointing out that the biological opinions for both the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon require about 8000 acres of tidal marsh restoration and between 17,000 to 20,000 acres of seasonal floodplain restoration.  The BDCP, as currently proposed, is planning to restore up to 113,000 acres, with about 65,000 acres of that being for tidal habitat restoration.  “The projects that we are doing now under the current biological opinions will be credited under the long-term habitat conservation plan,” Mr. Neudeck noted.

Mr. Neudeck said that Metropolitan is working through the State and Federal Water Contractors Agency (SFCWA) to help implement these projects.  Metropolitan is also working with local counties and cities to do good outreach and to form good partnerships.

Our strategy is to target benefits for multiple species and to create a mosaic of habitats, he said.  “We’re not looking at just trying to improve one species, we’re looking at Delta smelt, salmon, splittail, and longfin,” noting that they are also working on a willing seller-willing buyer basis as well as trying to maximize the use of existing public lands.

For near term habitat restoration projects, there are areas in the Suisun Marsh, Cache Slough, Dutch Slough, Consumnes, and the Yolo Bypass that are suitable for restoration.  These areas are located around the perimeter of the Delta, because the interior Delta is subsided 10 to 25 feet which is too deep for tidal marsh restoration, he said, noting that the land needs to be around the tidal zone, plus or minus a foot.

Tule Red Restoration Project: Suisun Marsh was originally 74,000 acres of tidal marsh, but now it’s 50,000 acres of diked wetlands, which are mainly used for the 152 duck clubs in the area, he explained  This property is about 370 acres right on Suisun Bay, and the purchase of the property also includes 1600 acres in the bay itself.  The land is at the right elevation, so all we have to do is notch the levee and create some very easy dendritic channels, and we can produce good food for the fish, rearing spots, and hiding spots, he said.

Yolo Ranch Project: Metropolitan is participating with SFWCA on this restoration project located in the Yolo Bypass on property owned by Westlands.  There is no levee and there is good land-water interface.  The strategy with projects like these, Mr. Neudeck said, is that a study done a few years ago found that fish that were reared in the Yolo Bypass were significantly larger than those that stayed in the main stem of the Sacramento River.  “What we’re trying to do is if we can put fish in the Yolo Bypass, they’ll get better food, they’ll grow bigger, they’ll have more chance of making it when they get out to the ocean,” he said.  The environmental documents for this project are currently being drafted and are expected to be out soon.

Knaggs Ranch Pilot Project: Under most habitat projects, the land is usually taken out service from agricultural production; however, with this project, the land is being farmed during farming season, and in the winter season, water and fish can be brought onto the property where they can grow.  Last year, it was only a 5 acre pilot project, but this year, it is expanding to 25 acres.  The long term goal is to do these types of floodplain projects within the Yolo Bypass, and through the BDCP, reengineer the weirs so that the Yolo Bypass floods more often, maybe as much as 7 out of 10 years or more, Mr. Neudeck said, noting that this project is supported by counties and cities, as well as a number of environmental organizations.

There are a number of other projects currently underway in the Delta, including projects related to carbon sequestration on Sherman and Twitchell Island.  On Twitchell Island, a carbon sequestration project that began as 15-acres, over the years, has been increased to 600 acres.  They are mainly trying rice farming to see if it can accrete the land, he said, noting that the land is 20 feet below sea level and therefore too deep for tidal marsh restoration.  On Twitchell Island, the project could be up to 1,000 acres by 2017, with potentially 3000 acres on Sherman Island by 2017.

A Department of Water Resources report in May of 2012 determined that the Delta emits about 8 to 10% of the state’s greenhouse gas, cars on the road emit 40%, while the SWP only emits about 2 to 4%.  There may be opportunities out in the Delta to do carbon sequestration, Mr. Neudeck noted.

  • For Randall Neudeck’s powerpoint on Delta restoration projects, click here.

AGENDA ITEM 9B: UPDATE ON THE BDCP

Metropolitan’s Bay-Delta Initiatives Program Manager Steve Arakawa then gave a verbal update on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

The past two months, the primary activity has been to complete the next draft of BDCP along with the associated environmental documents.  The consultant, ICF, is in the process of finishing the documents that will make up the next administrative draft, he said, which is expected to be available around the middle of February.

The State made a decision to complete a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis, and that study is being currently being conducted and is expected to be completed in the next few months.

Once the administrative draft comes out, we will then be able to identify the benefits that are being characterized for the water users, as well as the benefits that are being created for the covered species of the BDCP:  “I would expect that in a month from now, we will have a view of that from the posted document on the web,” Mr. Arakawa said.

He concluded by noting that state and federal leaders are continuing to meet on a regular basis to prepare for the administrative draft and to discuss how they will work together and review documents as the BDCP moves to a public draft a little bit later in the year.

AGENDA ITEM 7C: DELTA STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL AND THE DELTA PLAN

Metropolitan’s Special Projects Manager Brenda Burman then updated the Committee on the Delta Plan.

On November 30, the Council released three sets of documents meant to get the Council up and running this summer as a regulatory agency:  the final draft of the Delta Plan, a recirculated draft program EIR which is a continuation of the EIR released last year, and a proposed rulemaking package.

The 45-day public comment period ended on January 14th.  Metropolitan had an integrated team working on it with the legal team doing the bulk of the analysis.  Metropolitan worked together with the State Water Contractors and the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, and filed comments concurrently.  A number of Metropolitan member agencies commented, as did the Southern California Water Committee, and ACWA sent in a hard-hitting letter on the proposed rulemaking package as well, Ms. Burman said.  There were also comments from a number of individual state water contractors and individual federal contractors.

The EIR is largely a legal analysis, explained Ms. Burman: “The goal of CEQA is, was there informed public involvement in decision making? Did drafts provide enough information for decision makers to make decisions?  We concluded overwhelmingly that it did not.  We found problems with project description, the objectives, the analysis, as well as policy issues we had brought to the committee before,” she said.

With the rulemaking package, there will be a hearing to take public comment, and then the Council will decide if they want to make any changes.  Then they will vote to send the package to the Office of Administrative Law, which is a state group that looks at policies and regulations that are proposed by any state agency.  They will have 30 days to review the policies and then send them back.  The OAL will look at a number of issues; one of the most important being does the Council have legal authority to put forward these regulations? Are these rules necessary, are they clear, are they consistent, are they redundant? “We think this is really the first time that an outside agency will be looking in and reviewing what the Council is proposing.  We found that the Council is many respects is trying to exceed its statutory authority, is trying to expand what it’s able to do, trying to expand its regulatory authority into south of the Delta and Southern California and to the Bay Area,” Ms. Burman said.  “We also found a number of the regulations were redundant of other processes going on in other places.”

Ms. Burman continued: “What’s really interesting, going back to the authority issue, is that when you read the Delta Reform Act on its face, it talks about the Council’s jurisdiction, it talks about what the Delta Plan should be looking at.  The jurisdiction is the legal Delta as described and the Suisun Marsh.  They’ve used this description to say, well, if anything is going to happen in the Delta, we can look at what you’re doing in other places, so for Southern California, we can look at the water management decisions you are making when you decide to do anything in the Delta.  We think that is an expansion of their authority,” she said.  In looking at the legislative history, there are comments from Mr. Huffman and Mr. Steinberg that talk about what they meant and proposed by different sections of the Delta Reform Act which support their position that the Council was given limited authorities, she said.

Ms. Burman said that the top three water contractor concerns have not changed, and that the document largely has not changed.  “We believe the Council is using a general state policy of reduced reliance to try and force less water coming from the Delta watershed.  We believe that’s not in their legal purview.  The draft assumes that from this policy, less water will flow from the Delta,” she said.

Other issues that are of concern are that the Delta Plan exempts one-year transfers from review of the Council but only until 2015, creating a lot of uncertainty as to what happens after that.  In regards to the BDCP, the Delta Plan has procedures about how it will handle an appeal of the BDCP.  We believe those procedures need to be updated, Ms. Burman said, and the Council has said they are willing to look at that.

On January 24, the Council will hold a public hearing to take comments from the public on the proposed rulemaking package.  The Council expects to vote on the proposed regulations in the spring and send them to the Office of Administrative Law.  They also plan to certify the EIR in the spring.  “If all goes according to their schedule, that would mean that when the OAL, if they approve the regulations as written, then sometime this summer, the Council would go into action and be a regulatory agency,” Ms. Burman said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  • To view this meeting in its entirety, click here.
  • For Randall Neudeck’s powerpoint on Delta restoration projects, click here.
  • For Brenda Burman’s powerpoint on the Delta Stewardship Council and Delta Plan, click here.

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