The Delta Stewardship Council hears about the portfolio-based alternative for the BDCP


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At the February 21,2013 Delta Stewardship Council meeting, Jonas Minton from the Planning and Conservation League, Dennis Cushman from the San Diego County Water Authority and Greg Gartrell from the Contra Costa Water District presented a proposal that several environmental groups and water agencies are in favor of being evaluated as an alternative to the BDCP’s preferred alternative which calls for a smaller, 3000 cfs tunnel and fewer acres of habitat restoration as well as significant investments in local resource development, improved storage, conservation and recycling.


Jonas Minton began by recounted how at the end of last year, the group came together, concerned that the BDCP approach was not a comprehensive solution: “It didn’t look at storage, it didn’t look at levees, it didn’t look at things you could do outside the Delta.  In fact, it explicitly excluded those.  We became increasingly concerned that by having a non-comprehensive look, that was leading to a real skewing of what BDCP was looking at in terms of design and operations.”  And so the group developed this proposal as a framework.

Seven urban water agencies from both northern and southern California, three business groups, four environmental groups, and fourteen elected officials which include congressional representatives and county supervisors in the Delta are in favor of looking into this alternative idea, said Mr. Minton, noting that the list even includes Congressman George Miller who spoke of the need to analyze this alternative, saying: “This is the kind of fresh approach that is needed to protect the Bay Delta environment, state taxpayers, and meet California’s water needs.”  Mr. Minton said: “He is speaking specifically to the need to analyze this alternative including new conveyance, and to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time Congressman Miller and several other of these folks who have endorsed looking at this and have said, let’s look at an alternative that includes new conveyance in the Delta.”

The conceptual alternative includes a 3000 cfs facility that would not be stand alone but would be dual conveyance.  “We’re not abandoning the south Delta,” said Mr. Minton.    He also noted that the BDCP’s analysis of a 3000 cfs is not the same as this alternative, which is a comprehensive approach that includes south of Delta storage and significant investments to achieve 1 million acre-feet of local water supplies that would reduce demand on the Delta.

It’s just not what you build it’s how you operate it.  We are suggesting they analyze what the fishery agencies worked on last year, what they thought would be protective of the Delta.  That will not provide as much water as all of the exporters would like to see.  OK, they are going to have their alternative, we think this is one that needs to be looked at,” he said.

The proposal will reduce reliance on the Delta through local investments.  “You will hear a lot about how much water any of these alternatives can provide, and that’s determined by using the CalSIM model.  One of the drivers of the CalSIM model is the sucking – it’s how much water is being pulled out of the Delta.” So when Dennis talks about demand reduction impacts, that translates back into the Delta into that operation and how much you can get at what times.”

By improving water agency integration, such as surface and groundwater storage.  Mr. Minton cited the example of Diamond Valley Lake in Southern California.  “Met likes to keep that full.  I understand that, it’s south of Delta, what if you have a problem along the aqueduct or the pumps.  But if you could use that to store Big Gulp water then release it into your groundwater basins – that would take institutional arrangements that would have to be worked out, but then you’d have more room for the next Big Gulp and you haven’t thrown that water away.  So there are things that can be done to be more efficient,” said Mr. Minton.

He continued: “The predicate for BDCP is ‘Big Gulp, Little Sip,’ but if you don’t have a big stomach to store the Big Gulp when it’s there, what do you get? You get big gulp, big gulp.  And you have heard Sunne McPeake talk about the importance of storage.”  One possibility for more south of Delta storage is to enlarge San Luis Reservoir.  There are seismic deficiencies to be dealt with, but the potential exists to expand the reservoir at the same time the seismic issues are dealt with.  So in thinking about enlarging the reservoir:    “My advice to the new Bureau regional director is think as big as you can possibly think.  Don’t look at small; see how big you can, and bring it down.  By the way, I’m with an environmental organization.

Levee improvements are needed because the south Delta facilities will still be used:  “It means those levees are going to be important forever.  They are important for whatever that time period is from today till when new conveyance is built if it is built, and they’ll be just as important afterwards.  So we’ve included funding for that.

The proposal includes 40,000 acres of floodplain and tidal marsh restoration:  “40,000 acres.  Not 80,000, not 100,000, not 130,000.  Would I like to see a lot of habitat restoration?  You betcha!  Is it realistic?  No.  It aint gonna happen.  You can’t do that many acres.  And even if you could, it would probably be a really bad idea to go out there and do it all at once before you learn from your mistakes,” said Mr. Minton.  “The contractors already have an obligation to do about 20,000 acres of habitat restoration under their biological opinions.  So how much more can you do in a time period?  Maybe another 20,000, where you have willing landowners and you’ve worked it out with the counties, and so forth.”

The last element is integrating science into Delta management using smart objectives with a much closer tie to actual performance and operations,” he said.

In terms of funding:  “What we did was come up with 14 billion, that includes funding for one smaller tunnel, $1 billion for levees, $1 billion for south of Delta storage, $5 billion for recycling, conservation and stormwater capture projects.  And you get the same or more water than you have with the proposal that is currently being considered by BDCP.”

It may not be the right answer, but it could possibly be the framework for an answer, said Mr. Minton.  It’s much more comprehensive and meets the four tests:  it’s politically feasible, it’s technically feasible, it’s financially feasible, and there’s a case to be made for public benefits and public funding.  “So our ask is not that you say ‘this is it, go for it,’ our ask is that you encourage the folks working on BDCP in the administration and the water user community to be open to talking with us and others as well; they might find there something in the comprehensive approach that might make some sense,” he said, adding “My take is BDCP is stuck.  If it weren’t stuck they’d be here, you’d see the financing plan – you’d see it all.  I’m thinking it’s stuck, so how do we get stuff unstuck.”


Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority then took the floor.  “On January 16, the San Diego County Water Authority joined with EBMUD, SFPUC, CCWD, Alameda County Water District, and the City of San Diego and Otay Water District in a letter that asked that the BDCP fully analyze the portfolio approach as an alternative in the BDCP process in its analyses.  Our request for an evaluation is not an endorsement of the portfolio approach as the solution or project for fixing the Bay Delta.  We are simply asking that the portfolio approach, which combines conveyance project with more south of Delta storage, investments in local water supplies, improvements to critical levees that will be needed to improve dual conveyance through the Delta, and improved regional coordination and water management along with the habitat restoration be evaluated as a comprehensive package as an alternative.”

The approach could potentially achieve the coequal goals at a lower cost and provide resources for greater investments in local water supply development, lessen the opposition to a conveyance project in the Detla, and it would be easier to build, more likely to be built and could be brought online sooner than the larger proposed preferred project, he said.  “While we believe the portfolio approach holds the promise to achieve these worthwhile goals we won’t know for sure unless it is evaluated in equal measure to the facility-only alternatives now being considered.”

San Diego has reduced its dependence on the Delta, Mr. Cushman said, noting that in 1995, San Diego relied on Metropolitan for 95% of its supplies, but over the last two decades, by employing a diversification strategy, the water authority and its 24 member agencies have reduced their purchases of supplies from Metropolitan by half.  Further reductions are planned by the end of this decade.

Mr. Cushman noted: “We’re not alone in reducing our reliance and purchases from Metropolitan.  All of Metropolitan’s member agencies are investing in greater local supply development and conservation.  MWD has already experienced a 30% sustained drop in water sales and has reduced its forecasts in the future, more than 20% from its earlier projections.  And its member agencies have aggressive plans to further reduce their purchases of water from MWD in the future.”

Metropolitan’s member water agencies have identified up to 1.2 million acre-feet of new local water supply development in their urban water management plans, which is significant, as Metropolitan contracts for roughly half of the State Water Project’s water.  “Of that 1.2 million acre-feet, 415,000 acre-feet are in the planning stages, and the other 800,000 acre-feet are potential projects that could be brought online between now and 2035, the 25-year horizon of the urban water management plans.”

However, Metropolitan doesn’t recognize this, Mr. Cushman pointed out.  “Metropolitan Water District, in its 2010 urban water management plan, has considered only 103,000 af realistic. …  if Met doesn’t recognize this million acre-feet, they are considering that a future demand on what – a future demand on Met and by extension, it’s sources of supply – the Colorado River tapped out … so its really a demand on the Delta.”  He noted that the Carlsbad Seawater Desalination Project, now currently under construction in San Diego County, was not incorporated into Metropolitan’s water supply demand projections.  “That is but one project not evaluated, not considered to be real, in the demand projections being estimated for water supplies coming out of the Bay Delta,” said Mr. Cushman.

The portfolio approach recognizes the increasingly important role of local water supply development while also recognizes that money and ratepayer tolerance for rate increases is not unlimited.

Mr. Cushman concluded: “As we sit here today, we do not know if the portfolio approach or something that looks like it is the right solution to the problems in the Delta, but if the portfolio approach can achieve the coequal goals at a lower cost, if it can create additional south of Delta storage to capture more water in wet years, if it can free up billions of dollars for local supply development and conservation, if it can improve Delta levees that will still be relied upon for through Delta conveyance, if it can reduce opposition to new conveyance in the Delta, and if it could be built sooner, then wouldn’t it be wise to perform the analyses now, so that it remains a viable option to help meet California’s future water needs.  We believe the answer is yes.”


Greg Gartrell then discussed issues related to conveyance, storage, levees, and operations as they relate to the proposal.

At the press conference in July, the Governor and the Secretary announced that the amount of water exported from the Delta would be determined by a decision tree:  “supplies could go up, they could go down, it depends on how fish does, and that pretty much sums up the level of reliability coming out of the plan right now,”  he said.

But it’s much more than that, said Mr. Gartrell.  The study that is the closest to the preferred alternative is “alternative 4”, which analyzed 9000 cfs operations.  The study showed that alternative 4 the 9000 cfs with operations would increase supplies over current levels by a half a million acre feet, but would actually reduce dry year supplies to as low as a million and a half in a critically dry year such as 1977.  “This is something you expect to have about twice in the past in 100 years and more frequently in the future …  The fact of the matter is that the BDCP does not solve the dry year problem.  It doesn’t matter how big the pipe you have; if you don’t have water to put in it, you just don’t get any water.  That’s why it’s called a drought.  There is no water,” he said.

Mr. Gartrell continued: “50% of the water supply on average comes from the south Delta with the BDCP proposal, but it’s actually 75% in dry years.  So you still highly reliant on that and having a levee program that makes those supplies viable in the future is going to be important in the south Delta.”

If there’s a levee failure, there’s a misconception that the Delta is going to fill up with salt water, but that’s not true; if it occurs in a wet year, it fills up with freshwater, as San Francisco Bay did in 2011.    “In fact the BDCP did a study a couple of years ago that they don’t like to talk about much where they took back to back critically dry years, created a levee failure in that, and the channels freshened up in about 4 months.  It might be longer than that,” he said.

It’s been said that 3000 cfs won’t get you all the water you want if the levees all fail, but the fact of the matter is the 9000 cfs can only be used in the wet years because of the restrictions they put on when you can take water out of the Sacramento River, but in wet years you don’t need the 9000 cfs … in the dry years when you do need it, there’s no water to put in it,” he said.  “You need to explain to me why a 2.2 to 3.3 million af plus storage won’t get you through this situation when you can get through it less than that, down to 1.5 million af on the probability of something that’s going to occur 1 in 10 years.  You’re going to have critically dry years on average about one of out of 10 years, one out of 7 that will be less than 2.5 million af, you can live on that but you can’t live on 3 million af plus what you have in storage, it doesn’t make sense there.”

If you want to have dry years supplies, you have to have more storage, he said, as well a sufficient amount for emergency storage.  Levee improvements will reduce the likelihood of failure in a seismic event, but it won’t eliminate them, he said.  “Storage and reduced use lessens the burden on the Delta and puts the water in the export area where it can be used, but it also increases the size of the pie.  Conveyance redistributes the pie, whether you take it from the north or the south, but it’s really not doing much for you when you really need the water.

The studies are telling us we’re going to be pumping as much as 9 million acre-feet in wet years, said Mr. Gartrell, noting that in 2011, more water could have been pumped, but only 6.5 million acre-feet was pumped because there was no storage.   “That’s not the first time that has happened.  It happened in 95, in 98 … when we get these big storms, they don’t just rain or snow on the Sierra, it’s all across the state.  The ground gets saturated and you can’t put more water in there.  If you don’t have some place to put the water, you can’t take those big gulps,” he said, adding that “in one day this last December, Shasta storage went up over 150,000 af.  That’s where you take the big gulps, in the onstream storage.  You don’t take it with conveyance, it’s just not feasible.”

Mr. Gartrell concluded: “Finally, the portfolio approach can deal with the uncertainty and provides a feasible solution I believe can work for all.  It deals with the need to continue south Delta diversions, it builds in flexibility because if you build it big and then you find out that because of climate change you can’t use it, or you hit your six year drought and you find out what the studies are already telling you, that you’re only going to be using 6,000 cfs max for six years, one of your tunnels is going to be sitting empty.   You’ve still got a mortgage to pay.  If you build it small and you need it bigger later, you can always put in a second tunnel.  I think from my point of view, I’m absolutely certain that this proposal would not be found if studied fairly and comprehensively to be the best alternative, but I am certain that something very close to it will be.”

He added:  “If the State Water Board goes through with increasing flows on the San Joaquin River as they have proposed, and increases outflow and tributary flows as a lot of people believe they will, this will be the alternative you wish you had built.  And I think it has the best shot at making a good business case for a project.


Greg Gartrell:  “In terms of how long it would take [to analyze this alternative], a lot of these pieces have been done.  They did a study a long time ago in the BDCP and quickly hid it that showed that this thing really works well with lots of storage and doesn’t work very well without it.  The other thing about 3000 cfs is that when you go through the studies, depending on the operations – as everything depends on the operations and less on size – the studies show that 80 to 90% of the water supply benefit is in the first 3000 cfs, and everything else on the next size increments is marginal after that.”


Fiorini: “One observation I can’t help but make is that you don’t have any agricultural interests signed on to this proposal, and I’m wondering is the California Farm Bureau Federation coming online in support?  Western Growers? Kern County Water Agency?  Is this an urban only proposal or is this a proposal that will provide water supply reliability for all of California?

Greg Gartrell: “In my view, it’s got to do the latter and I think it can get there, but it takes all these components.  What you see first in the very dry years is fallowing and people water their lawns less, but the real economic hit first comes in fallowing.  But you’re not getting more water or a heck of a lot more water out of this program; you’re going to have to believe you get the computer water – you all know what paper water is but there’s computer water, too – that’s where the model tells you can get something that when you go out and look around that you just couldn’t get.”

Jonas Minton: “As Randy is well aware, agricultural folks are following things closely.  They tend to be a little more reserved in jumping on something new is my observation; they look at it themselves and evaluate it carefully.  I’ve had discussions with major agricultural interests, some of whom have been more open to this then urban interests … they are looking at two things, the storage and the benefits that that could provide and the cost – this is much more of a cost issue for agriculture than it is for some of our urban friends.  That’s where they stay in business or not, and when they look at the costs of BDCP, some have big questions …  I know some are looking at it, we’re not pressing them ….

Nordhoff: Do you expect to get agricultural support for doing the analysis?

Minton: “Don’t know.”


Jonas Minton: [On timing and the BDCP] “You can wait until they come out with it.  They [the BDCP] are not going to include it [the smaller tunnel alternative] if they come out on schedule, unless someone comes forward and says they are doing it.  What that means is delay, because eventually they’ll have to look at it.  They’ll figure out under CEQA, NEPA and everything else that they have to look at this alternative, so they’ll have to loop back again and then do another draft.  I’ve done that; I have done these projects.  It’s easier to get it closer on your first draft then have to go back and put it back in, but it’s your level of comfort on this. 

My observation is that legislation in 2009, you were supposed to be big actors in this.  Your plan was supposed to mean something.  You were supposed to influence actions, not just plans, and this is a case where we’d like to see some action.  We want good action; how do we get there sooner rather than later.  I encourage you to exercise leadership.”

Phil Isenberg: “ … You have this cost summary which I thought was a remarkably useful chart in your document, but as I read this, it feels to me as if you think $14 to $16 billion is on the table, for anything that anybody can think up.  But that is not the case.  The offer is $14 to $16 billion from the water contractors for a facility of whatever size they think they want to pay for, plus the required legal mitigation for that project, plus the undetermined ‘we have to do more for CEQA, more for HCP and more for NCCP’ which are undefined.  This portfolio project, both its strength and its weakness, is a broad based approach that goes far beyond the current limits of BDCP.

“How reliable is it to expect local water agencies up and down the state to aggressively do things when they have come here to comment on the Delta Plan and told us ‘nothing should be mandatory, everything should be voluntary, anything you say that should be done like, God save us, we should actually implement our urban water management plan’ – it has been rejected universally.  And this approach – which appeals to me in a broad conceptual sense – this approach is based on the assumption that a good faith effort using what are unconventional alternatives in the water fraternity’s view, will be embraced with wild enthusiasm.  I haven’t seen wild enthusiasm in my experience for anything except for the state and federal government giving everybody a lot of money.  I’ve seen wild enthusiasm for that.”

MINTON:  “What’s the impact on species, not water supply reliability, of a smaller north Delta intake as part of dual conveyance? The benefits to fish would not be as good as the benefits of a 9000 cfs tunnel if it were operated for fish.  But compared to today, if you had a big one, you could operate it just right for fish.  3000 cfs is better than today, and if 9000cfs  isn’t going to happen, does 3000 cfs get all the fish benefits we’d like? No, but it’s better than what we have now, and if we keep dorking around, chasing a project that is not financeable, permitable or whatever, then we’re going to be having this conversation in another 4 years, and you know what we’ll be saying in four years?  We’ve got to get the EIR out …


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