On March 20th, a public meeting to review the first four chapters of the preliminary draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan took place in West Sacramento. It was the first chance for the public to ask questions about the newly released documents, and with an estimated 150 people in attendance, there were many.
Jerry Meral, Deputy Resources Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency, sat nearly alone at the head table, with only ICF International senior ecologist Dr. David Earle at his side. In front of him, a room filled to capacity with mostly Delta residents and advocates. A tough crowd indeed.
Jerry Meral began by stating that the material released is not for official public comment; a formal public comment period will come in the summer when the final draft Plan and environmental documents are released. However, he’s more than happy to hear input from the public today. Mr. Meral suggested those reviewing the documents to look for the major issues where they think the Plan is wrong or look for things might have been missed. Comments can be sent to the email address at the website; however, official responses will not be prepared for the comments received at this point, but all comments received will be read and considered as they continue to refine the document before it is released to for formal public review this summer, he said.
The purpose of the meeting today is to review chapters one through four, to hear comments and to answer questions. Chapters 5 through 7 are scheduled to be released on March 27th, with the next public meeting to follow on April 4th. The remaining chapters will be released at the end of April.
Jerry Meral was joined at the table by Dr. Chris Earle, senior ecologist for ICF International, the lead contractor on the project. Meral outlined the procedures for today’s meeting. The presentation has been broken up into five segments with a public comment and question period following each segment. And with that, the first presentation began.
PRESENTATION FOR CHAPTER 1
Dr. Earle said that there have been significant changes since the first administrative draft, and that he will highlight the those changes in his presentation as well as give a general overview. It’s going to be a rather high-level overview because the plan is quite lengthy, he said: “We made the mistake of printing out all the chapters a couple weeks ago, and it was 2 feet thick. That did not include the appendices, which adds another 4500 pages.”
“Chapter 1 presents the BDCP as a comprehensive conservation strategy for the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta that is intended to establish compliance with both the endangered species act and the Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act, which are respectively federal and state laws. It amounts to a very thick and complex permit application that establishes compliance with those laws. As such, it creates a HCP and an NCCP,” he said.
The permit applicants include the California Department of Water Resources, the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, and a variety of state and federal water contractors. The plan covers about 750,000 acres, and includes the statutory Delta, Suisun Marsh and the Yolo Bypass. The plan only covers activities that occur within this area, with most activities not being subject to the jurisdiction of the plan, he said.
“The plan has been designed to restore and protect ecosystem health, water supply, and water quality,” said Dr. Earle. “The unification of those concepts, of ecosystem health and water supply and water quality are critical. One of the principal focuses of the plan is the restoration of aquatic ecosystems within the Bay Delta area, although it also covers a wide variety of terrestrial natural communities as well.”
The plan is intended to create a stable regulatory framework and is expected to result in long term permits and authorizations under the state and federal endangered species acts, NCCPA. The Plan only focuses on the operations of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project; other activities that also use water are not covered.
Chapter 1 also describes the 57 covered species; three have been dropped since last year as it was determined two of them were extremely uncommon in the plan area and the plan would have a very minor impact on them, and the third turned out to have abundant populations outside of the plan area.
The permit term for the plan is 50 years. There are also six other large plans that are going on either within the Delta or in neighboring areas that are intended for the management of sensitive species and their habitat, and collaboration with those plans will be necessary in order to produce regionally significant contribution to the conservation of these species.
Read Chapter 1 of the preliminary draft of the BDCP by clicking here.
Question: Does the BDCP plan to take money for habitat restoration for non-appropriated monies which lie dormant with the DWR from the passage of previous water bonds?
Jerry Meral answers: “I would say no, unless it was specifically authorized to be used for this purpose. I am not aware of a lot of money left over in those bonds that can be used. It wouldn’t be illegal to do that, but I am not aware of any plans to do that,” he said, noting that conceivably if there were funds left over that were authorized for exactly the same use, it would be legal to do, but it would be up to the agency assigned those funds, and the legislature may have to appropriate them as well.
Question: Isn’t it true that bundling things like habitat restoration with the tunnels skews or stacks the deck in favor of the tunnels? Why don’t you include those things with all the reasonable alternatives and not add those to create a more favorable picture for the tunnels? As Professor Jeff Michaels pointed out, those things have nothing to do with the tunnels.
Jerry Meral answers: “This is a habitat conservation plan. If we want to go through section 10 of the endangered species act or the NCCPA under state law, then we have to have a plan that covers all the species that are affected in our plan area by our project. The alternative you are suggesting, in a sense, is why don’t you propose to do the tunnels under section 7 which is what’s been happening all these years. That could be done, but the environmental benefits of doing that would be a lot less than completing a whole plan. It’s an option … we hope that the benefits that come out of the section 10 process, the Habitat Conservation Plan process, will be larger than if you just did the tunnels and associated mitigation,” he said, noting that it will ultimately be up to public to decide whether the extra process and expense has been worth it.”
Question: What are you planning to do about selenium? It’s on the valley floors, it’s on our farmland. My question is, when we have 11,500 cfs reverse flow in our Delta, when our salt water starts coming up, how are you guys going to stop it?
Jerry Meral answers: “The selenium question is going to be addressed in the EIR/EIS scheduled for release this summer. Nothing in the plan area generates selenium but it does come into the Delta. We will have to address that. … We are not prepared to go into that today, but we will. That will be at topic of discussion, and will be in the EIR/EIS because it’s an environmental impact of something we’re doing.”
Question: The second purpose of the plan is “to create a single regulatory framework.” Is the plan itself going to do that, or are there certain parts of the plan that will do that? What are the parts outside of the plan that would tend to destabilize the regulatory framework?
Dr. David Earle replied that the plan itself will receive authorizations that establish consistency with CESA, NCCPA, and NEPA and that by doing so, the principle avenues of contention with water exports in the Delta will be addressed. “For instance, in particular the biological opinions for the operating criteria that govern the withdrawals that occur at the SWP and CVP pumps in the south Delta have been a point of great contention since nearly the 21st century, and those issues would be resolved by this plan. And then they would be resolved with a durable solution that involves the collaboration of the permit applicants with the fish and wildlife agencies over the next 50 years. And so that’s a relatively stable regulatory environment compared to what we’ve been operating under.”
Jerry Meral added that there are other agencies with permitting processes that the project will need to go through in order to proceed, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the State Water Resources Control Board, and some other regulatory agencies. “We hope not only that we have some stability in the area of endangered species management which we need, but also in terms of our state and federal permits for diverting water and our operating permits for the Corps of Engineers. There are other regulatory frameworks we hope this will help.”
Question: Will the Delta Plan being scheduled to be finalized this summer, is the BDCP expected to be incorporated into the Delta Plan?
Jerry Meral replied yes, noting that per the Delta Reform Act, if the BDCP is approved as an NCCP, it could be appealed to the Delta Stewardship Council. “They would have to make a decision as to whether it passes muster as an NCCPA, and if so, then it would be incorporated into the Delta Plan. So the Delta Plan, in a sense, has a hole that will have to be filled by the approval of the BDCP, but that would come subsequent to the work we’re doing here today and for the next many months.”
Question: Regarding water quality … one of the concerns of a number of people in the Delta is that the project is going to degrade water quality. Can you be more specific about which water quality is going to improve? What about water quality in the south Delta?
Jerry Meral replied that the EIR/EIS will discuss water quality in detail as well as mitigations, noting that it’s a major topic that they have been working with the agencies in the Delta to address the concerns.
Anne Spaulding, City of Antioch: “In the background on page 1-1, the plan says it provides substantial benefits including improving reliability of water supplies and improving Delta water quality. So at this stage, Antioch and others are concerned about degraded water quality, and your plan states you will be improving water quality. So I want to make a note of that because we don’t see that. … During the steering committee days, we gave lots of oral and written comment, and my question is will these comments be included in the EIR/EIS?”
Jerry Meral replied that he assumes those comments are part of the administrative record, but “whether they are part of the EIR/EIS, I don’t know the answer.”
Osha Meserve, Local Agencies of the North Delta: “Reading Chapter 1, reading the description of the public process, having been in the early days of BDCP steering committee, in read like a different story than the one I recall,” she said, noting that it was impossible to get materials, and ‘it was just who you knew and how you could get in the door’. A lot of really important decisions were made in those early days, including the decision to pursue conveyance as part of this conservation plan. “This is critical that it be a fair reflection of what occurred and I don’t think it is a fair reflection of that right now. … We’ve certainly seen progress and we appreciate the dialog, but I think this section really overstates the case in terms of the job done on public participation.”
PRESENTATION FOR CHAPTER 2
Dr. David Earle next presented Chapter 2, which discusses the existing ecological conditions in the plan area, noting that the chapter has not changed much since 2009. However the appendix 2A, about 900 pages long, contains biological information on each of the covered species and has been almost completely updated since appearing in draft form a year ago.
The chapter describes the existing historical and ecological conditions in the plan area, and includes a summary of biological diversity, noting that the Delta’s biodiversity includes about 40% of the total vertebrate species and 60% of California’s native species. The chapter also summarizes environmental conditions both upstream and downstream of Plan Area insofar as they are relevant to what goes on the Plan area, said Dr. Earle.
“Appendix 2A is very important if you want to evaluate the biological effects of the plan. It presents about 20 pages on each of the covered species,” said Dr. Earle, noting that the appendix provides the theoretical basis for the habitat suitability models. “There’s also a Chapter 2 appendix on climate change implications which is new since a year ago, and describes in general terms how climate change is expected to influence the plan area over the course of the next 50 years,” he said.
Comment: Melinda Terry said that she hadn’t read the chapter yet in its entirety, but it doesn’t sound like much has changed. “I am really concerned about how the current conditions are being described. And I went into great length and detail in my comments before … existing conditions are often described in a way we would not agree with. … It’s really concerning to me sometimes when you keep reading our levees are falling apart and not recognizing the improvements that have been made; subsidence is actually slowing down, and the fact that your project could contribute to that, grading, borrow pits, and even if you put tunnels underneath, that’s going to cause the land on top to go under. The project may make it worse than what we’re currently experiencing,” she said, noting that the statement that bothers her the most are the ones about seismicity and arkstorms: “‘either of these events could make it impossible to use the Delta as a water supply for years or even permanently.’ I mean that’s just so outrageous in terms of impossible. Really? Because we’ve had failures like Jones Tract and that affected water quality. We recovered pretty quickly.” She added: “The Delta is just one portion of the CVP and SWP. The tunnels are 35 miles long. There is another 700 miles of aqueducts that could fail in an earthquake and shut everything down. It’s not just here … “
Comment by Burt Wilson: Mr. Wilson began by noting that diversions increased from 2002 to 2006 to make up for Metropolitan’s loss of Colorado River water, and it took a federal judge to sop it. “That is what caused the deterioration of the Delta. Now the twin tunnels are not going to make any new water. I think the whole answer to section 2 is to put more water in the Delta and forget about the tunnels. That’s what you need. The quality of the water will improve immensely and everybody’s going to be happy … (applause) … and you don’t have to have all of these make work projects for science.”
Question from internet: What are the measures being taken to protect water interests upstream of the Delta region in conjunction with the Delta water users and the water contractors?
Jerry Meral answers: “We have said consistently and will say again in the future that we don’t want to impact the water rights or the water quality or water supplies of those upstream of the Delta, which is the Sacramento and the San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries. Those water rights holders are very concerned that we might adopt a feature of the plan that would inevitably impact them in one way or another in a bad way, and we are going to extraordinary efforts to make sure our plan doesn’t do that. We will not ask the State Water Board to require anyone upstream of the Delta to change their water operation in compensation for something that we’re going to be applying for. It’s been a consistent theme for the last several years and we’re going to continue that.”
PRESENTATION FOR CHAPTER 3
“Chapter 3 presents the conservation strategy for the BDCP,” said Dr. Earle. “It’s divided up into sections … The first section is on the methods used to develop the conservation strategy and is supplemented by an appendix that discusses the history of developing the strategy; then there is a lengthy section on biological goals and objectives; these are basically the performance standards for the plan and are the goals and objectives the plan intends to achieve over the course of its term. And there’s another equally lengthy discussion of the conservation measures. These are basically programs, 21 of them, that are intended to be effective on the ground and to be used to achieve the biological goals and objectives.” He also noted that the chapter also discusses important related actions occurring in the Delta, and a discussion of adaptive management, monitoring and research.
Chapter 3 has significantly more details on Conservation Measure 1 since the February 2012 draft, and the discussion of adaptive management and monitoring now has clear procedures: “it describes a blueprint for how the adaptive management program would actually work, rather than just discussing in conceptual terms what adaptive management is,” said Dr. Earle. There is also a new appendix describing the history of the development of the conservation strategy, as well as an additional new appendix that specifically lists the monitoring and research actions that are required.
The chapter also discusses the approach to the aquatic resources conservation strategy, a three part approach consisting of water measures that are primarily associated with the management of water diversions and flow within the Delta; habitat measures that are primarily concerned with the creation of natural community types that provide habitat for covered species; and measures that deal with a wide variety of ecosystem stressors that have been contributing to decline of fish species in the Delta, Dr. Earle explained.
The over 200 biological goals and objectives are detailed in the 400 page section, said Dr. Earle. “Biological goals are the broad biological goals that are intended to be achieved by the plan. They are readable. Biological objectives, for the most part, are extremely technical statements of exactly what is intended to be accomplished. As far as possible, these are ‘SMART’ objectives: they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and limited by time,” he said, adding “many of them are only attractive reading for a scientist or a lawyer.”
The objectives and goals are classified according to whether they are landscape-scale, natural communities-scale or species scale. Landscape goals include assembling a reserve system, restoring ecological processes, and connecting fragmented natural communities. Natural community goals mostly target acreage for each of 13 the natural communities that is either going to be protected or created, as well as address ecosystem-level objectives. Species-level goals include goals to deal with the terrestrial species and plant species, as well as fish species.
For most of the fish species, there are three types of goals: to increase abundance, to improve passage, and to improve habitat. Using the Delta smelt as an example, “there is a goal for Delta smelt that is intended to increase abundance, which says increase end of year fecundity and improve survival, and it goes on for quite a few more words about how that exactly is going to be achieved. For instance, for one of the objectives it says ‘to increase fecundity of delta smelt over baseline conditions as measured through field investigations and laboratory studies conducted for the first 10 years and refined through adaptive management.’ This is intended to give you a sense of the language that’s used in here and the specificity with which these objectives are set up,” Dr. Earle said, noting that other goals and objectives include increase the quality and availability of habitat for all life stages of Delta smelt and providing refuge habitat where they can avoid predators and they can have better luck foraging and generally to increase habitat quality.
Chapter 3 also discusses in detail the 22 conservation measures, which are the actions that are implemented to meet the conservation requirements of the ESA and the NCCPA and are the actions taken on the ground, explained Dr. Earle. “The conservation measures taken as a whole are designed to meet the biological goals and objectives, but there’s no simple mapping between the two. So the conservation measures serve a variety of different biological objectives; some are biological objectives are met by a single conservation measure. It’s not a simple relationship between the two.”
The conservation measures are each defined by function, by what the measure is intended to accomplish, the location where it happens on the landscape, the time frame when it’s going to be implemented and for how long, and the performance targets which are going to be measured by monitoring, and finally by the uncertainties. “There are research needs connected with nearly every one of the conservation measures, and in some cases, extensive research needs, and these are identified in the chapter,” he said.
Conservation Measure 1 has been refined and has changed quite a bit since it was presented a year ago. “The purpose of the measure is to construct and operate a facility that improves conditions for covered species and natural communities while also improving water supply. The problems that are meant to be addressed by this measure include reverse flows in the Old and Middle rivers, entrainment and salvage and predation in the south Delta, the effects of the Delta cross channel, flow modification effects that would occur on the Sacramento River as a result of the north Delta diversions, the effects of climate change which is expected to alter Delta hydrology and topography appreciably over the course of the next 50 years, the effects on Delta outflow, and the recognition of the considerable uncertainty of how these effects would work out over time,” he said, noting that with the possible exception of climate change, all of these have been for many years, been important considerations in any solution to Delta water management.
The new water facilities are now proposed to have three 3000 cfs intakes; a year ago five were proposed. Each will have highly designed fish screens. “There are actually quite a variety of different studies that are going on right now looking at existing fish screen facilities on the Sacramento River system and at modeling and other factors in designing these fish screens. This is very much an ongoing process,” he said, noting that there’s not a lot of detail on that in this draft; the details on the fish screens will be included in the public draft that will be released later this summer.
There are 2 35-mile long tunnels that convey the water to the south Delta facilities; the switch to gravity-fed is one thing that has changed; it will save an enormous amount of electricity that would have been needed to operate the pumps, he said. “The facilities also include a new head of old river operable gate which is intended to address both water quality and fish migration and flow issues that are currently associated with the operation of the south Delta pumps,” he said.
The chapter describes the criteria that determines how the facilities would be operated. There are five different criteria, Dr. Earle explained: Old and Middle River flows, Head of Old River gate operations, outflow, bypass flows past the intakes in the Sacramento River, and the export-inflow ratio, which is the ratio of water that’s flowing into the Delta compared to the amount of water that is allowed to be pumped out of it.
For managing outflow, we have introduced the concept of a decision tree, said Dr. Earle: “Basically the decision tree recognizes that based on best available science, there is a certain amount of Delta outflow that is necessary to support longfin smelt based on spring outflow, and Delta smelt based on fall outflow. However, there are considerable uncertainties in the relationship between outflow and those two species populations. It’s expected, since this is an active area of research, that where will be significant improvement in available science concerning that outflow-population relationship over the course of the years until the north Delta intakes can become operational.”
“During that time, it may become possible to allow a different outflow. So in the decision tree, there is one outflow called the default outflow, which is a very high outflow value that would occur if in ten years, we still have the same understanding of the relationship between outflow and species populations. And there’s another option, which is reduced level of outflow, which would be achievable if science shows that species populations could be maintained at that lower outflow level,” he explained, adding that there is agreement that there should be flow criteria that relate Delta inflows to water exports, but those criteria are still under negotiations, so no formal numbers are proposed in this draft of the plan.
To view all the documents and appendices related to Chapter 3, click here.
Click here for a fact sheet on the biological goals and objectives.
Click here for a fact sheet on ecosystem restoration.
Click here for a handout regarding Conservation Measure 1.
For further details on Conservation Measure 1, especially regarding the decision tree to determine project exports, see Chapter 3, Section 3.4.1, which begins on page 421 of Chapter 3.
Click here for a background document on the BDCP’s proposed operational rules.
Question: What about the CVPIA’s doubling goals for all anadromous fish species in the Delta? Do any of these include the doubling goals that are mandated by federal law?
Dr. Earle answers: “The BDCP only has the potential to influence these fish while they are in the Plan area. Some of these fish spend less than 1% of their lives in the Plan area; steelhead, for example. Consequently, we cannot establish firm population goals for the salmonid fish, although we have done so for the smelts. For the salmonid fishes, what the plan proposes are objectives that increase the survival of these fish during their passage through the Delta. The survival objectives in conjunction with objectives that improve spawning success, habitat quality in areas upstream of the Delta, would achieve the CVPIA goals.”
Question: Our rivers are flowing at 2500 cfs, we have an 11500 cfs reverse flow, now you are going to add another 9000 cfs reverse flow? You guys are going to ruin the Delta. … What are you going to do if it doesn’t work?
Jerry Meral answered that the flow criteria is a step function: “In no case could we ever divert more than about 30% of what is flowing in the Sacramento River. Often it is less than that … so we can’t really divert much more than we are now; we are changing the place of diversion. If the question is are we going to reduce the flow of the Sacramento so much that more salinity intrusion is going to happen or is the river level going to drop, we couldn’t do that under the criteria we are proposing for CM1,” he said, adding that the State Water Board has different criteria about water quality standards and they can impose additional conditions.
Question: I’ve always been interested in the idea that the water facilities and operations is a conservation measure; that kind of defies logic when the habitat and Delta is the way it is partly because so much water has been taken out … If this is a HCP, if the State Water Board determines that lower flows are required, would this plan require higher flows to benefit fish?
Jerry Meral: “It’s possible. The Water Board has, as part of its mandate, balancing uses, so they have to balance human uses, natural uses, outflow, and things like that, and they might decide in their balancing process they require less outflow, then we would have to adopt to meet the goals and objectives in the BDCP. We won’t know the answer to that question until they finish their process and we finish ours. We could adopt higher outflow requirements in this plan than the board will adopt, but we won’t know for sure that the board is going to do.”
Question: Why is the BDCP going forward before the State Water Board has set the flow standards?
Jerry Meral answers: “We are investing a quarter of a billion dollars in this BDCP process. And in doing that, we are learning an enormous amount about the species that we are trying to protect which is a primary goal of the State Water Board. That is something they have to consider is protecting the biological resources. I would venture to say that there’s no way the Board would have been able to do the kind of research of receive the kind of testimony that we’re going to be able to provide to them as they go through the standards setting process. And if we can demonstrate that we are, in fact, achieving our goals and objectives or there is reasonable likelihood we can do that, the Board will take that into account,” he said.
“But they don’t have to adopt it,” he added. “I get the feeling that people think that if BDCP is presented to the State Water Board, that it’s a take it or leave it situation. It is not. They have independent discretion. … They want to see the data that we’re developing so that they can make an informed decision; there is no way that they would have been able to do the kind of work that we’ve done because we’ve invested a lot of money in it and frankly they need that kind of information to make those kinds of decisions. I would dispute that we’re out of sync with the water Board; I think they would tell you that we’re not, and I think their process will work better once they see what we have to offer.”
Comment: You also made the comment that other agencies are waiting for the data you are developing. That is kind of like the fox guarding the hen house. You’re developing the data. What about independent people developing the data who have differing opinions. That’s part of the problem here. BDCP is developing the data. … The citizens of California are not being properly represented when the only studies that are going to be made available are yours, and not one that is produced by a neutral party.
Jerry Meral answers: “I understand that. The state itself in its condition could not have afforded to pay for this, but maybe that would have been more desirable in some ways because it would look less biased, but I will say that the people who are examining this data have a lot of capabilities of their own to examine our modeling and to decide whether we are biased or slanted one way or another. It’s not a totally one-sided affair. Beyond that, the regulators have their own capability, so even though we indeed paid for our consultant to do this, the regulators, the fish agencies, the water board and so on, are not receiving funds from these interests so they have an independent capability to examine it. And beyond that, we all know in California, the courts make the final decision on these things. I understand your point, but there are checks and balances.”
Question: Are the tunnels the same size as when they were first proposed?
Dr. Chris Earle answers: “The tunnels are a larger diameter now. That was one of the changes that accompanied the shift from pumped flow to gravity flow. Because they don’t have pumps, the water flows through them more slowly, so they are larger to accommodate that.”
Question: One of the objectives is to convert 5000 acres to protect fish in the south Delta. Why so much land for fish?
Jerry Meral answers: “One of the objectives we have especially for the salmonid species is improved floodplain … we’re seeing that if you increase floodplain productivity, you’ll increase the likelihood of survival of salmon, steelhead, and so on. In the south Delta, we’ve been told by the biologists we’ve consulted with that there’s very little floodplain habitat there, and so the fish tend to be flushed through rather quickly and don’t have a chance to grow up, so there is some evidence – not conclusive yet … – increased floodplain habitat in the south Delta could result in higher productivity for the salmonid fish.”
Question: But farming coexisted with the salmon for years flourished with the farming, until the 60s and the State Water Project. “It is not the farming, it is not the levee, it is the pumping. I can not understand why your plan does not completely investigate the costs and the benefits of reducing the pumping. Put that together with a state of the art fish screen in the south Delta. $4 billion spent of CalFED money on habitat restoration in the Delta and we still don’t have any fish screens.”
Jerry Meral counters: “We know that the fish screens at the state and federal projects are really inadequate … those are faulty and could be improved somewhat. The pumping that is having an effect … we do know that a lot of the fish coming out of the San Joaquin River are lost to the system, just as you describe. But one of the drivers in this is to divert water up in the Sacramento River to avoid so much of the diversion of the fish in the south Delta. It is a primary purpose and a benefit of the project. One of the reason its called conservation measure 1 is it would help conserve the salmonids in the San Joaquin River. In so far as reduced pumping, we will have to look at alternatives that will result in reduced pumping, and you’ll see those in the EIR/EIS and they will be described in detail, and one of those could be selected.”
Question: Why aren’t fish screens in the south Delta included in the plan?
Jerry Meral answers: “There are, of course, fish screens and they have been improved in the past, but whether or not you can improve them enough to achieve your biological goals and objectives is pretty doubtful. Because when you picture these fish screens in the south Delta, the fish get down there, and let’s say they are screened out. Well what does that get them? A life of misery in Clifton Court Forebay, which will be a very short life. You’d have to continue trap them, haul them, dump them in at Antioch, and it’s a bad system. There’s no way to bypass them. The south Delta is a trap once they get down there. You can’t bypass them, they can’t get back into the natural channels … in the Sacramento River they can go by and head out to the ocean.“
Comment: “My point is that the tunnels are not a conservation measure. BDCP stands for Big Dumb Concrete Pipe. If you’re a water contractor, for the last 30 years, what you want is to get your intakes away from those pesky smelt in the south Delta and the other constraints in the south Delta, and put them up near Courtland where you can pump all the water you want. And that’s what they wanted in 1982 and that’s what they want now and that’s what’s driving this process. What you’ve built around this bad project, which is the tunnels, is a goodie basket of environmental trinkets to buy off the opposition … the environmental benefits are largely unrelated to the tunnels. We don’t need the tunnels.”
Comment from Melinda Terry: “It’s very frustrating to hear Dr. Earle talk about the fragmentation of natural communities and wanting to those fix those, wanting to remediate the levee channels … those have been in existence for over 150 years, and for 130 of those at least, we weren’t having these fishery crashes. Our communities were farming and not having this kind of harm, and yet now, since we’ve had the water projects come into place, now those who have been farming and living that way and not harming those fish are asked to bear the burden and not do things so that others can farm somewhere else … “
Melinda Terry continues, saying there are many pages, many questions and not much enough time to review them. Where can these questions be answered? “This is not giving my agency, whether it’s the flood control agencies I represent, or the north Delta water agencies enough information about water quality and other requirements .. I have lots of questions about the conservation measures and the effects of those, but I am time limited here, and I just don’t know how to deal with that.”
Delta resident comment: We talk about Katrina. I’m sorry but I still haven’t seen a hurricane yet on this west coast, I haven’t seen 20 foot storm surges, and I don’t see a US Army Corps of Engineers’ wall that failed here. We talk about the earthquakes and the ‘catastrophic’ failure of the levees – catastrophic is your word – in an earthquake. There hasn’t been a levee failure due to earthquakes in the levees, ever … we’re going to scare the hell out of everybody and make them think we’re in dire straights but this whole thing is ludicrous, expensive and unworthy of taxpayer dollars.
Commenter: A fellow commented earlier about the earthquake thing and you said it didn’t come from you guys, but somewhere, somebody started this earthquake mythology around here. There’s never been a Delta levee failure because of an earthquake …
Jerry Meral answers: “The idea though no earthquake has happened to damage a Delta levee is irrelevant because we haven’t had an earthquake of the size that we did in 1906 since the islands have subsided and since the levees were built up … There may be a dispute among experts; certainly Delta levee engineers believe they’ve built good levees and we, the state, have invested over $300 million trying to prove them right, but there is a substantial body of opinion in the earthquake engineering community that says, in fact, those investments will not suffice if a large enough earthquake comes along. I don’t want to find out, so let’s hope an earthquake doesn’t come along soon. But it’s wrong to say that there’s no respectable body of engineering opinion that feels that those levees may fail in an earthquake. Many respected experts think they might.”
Question: I am a little concerned about the costs of mitigation … as I understand it, the water contractors are going to pay for mitigation for the actual footprint of where their project is going to be, but then all of the rest of the conservation measures, the new habitat that is going to have to be constructed aside from that; aren’t those going to be general obligation costs after that point?
Jerry Meral: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Question: If you are saying because of all these constraints on the water and all these different agencies that are controlling that, that actually the amount of water that they want won’t actually be diverted? Then why would they build it?
Jerry Meral answers: “Because they want to have a reasonable prospect for having a stable supply of water. When you are operating a water agency, you don’t want to have this kind of supply, because your people want to have water every day. This plan is their best hope, I think, of stabilizing their supply. They are not looking to double their supply, they are not looking to radically increase their supply, this is the best chance they have, in compliance with our state and federal laws, to get that stable supply. It’s a little bit of a gamble if it will work out. But it is an investment I think they’d be wise to make because we’re facing a lot of challenges in meeting the supply needs that we have.”
Question from Anne Spaulding, City of Antioch: What happened with the State Water Board’s outflow alternative; has it been incorporated or is it part of the alternatives? Are there any other alternatives that will look at increasing not decreasing Delta outflow?
Jerry Meral answers: “We have been asked by the State Water Board, as one of the alternatives considered in the EIR/EIS, to consider a much higher outflow alternative, so we will have that as a fully analyzed alternative in the EIR/EIS.”
PRESENTATION FOR CONSERVATION MEASURES 2 THROUGH 11
Conservation Measure 2 is probably the second largest conservation measure in terms of affected acreage, said Dr. Earle, noting that this is a more programmatic conservation measure than the other ones because the Yolo Bypass Fishery Enhancement Plan is still under development, and is expected to be completed about the fifth year following BDCP authorization. “Essentially the focus is on works that will increase inundation of the Yolo Bypass because it’s potentially a fabulous place to grow fish food and ease passage so fish can move both upstream and downstream through the bypass and to improve the availability of food,” he said.
Some of the projects proposed in the bypass are already being implemented out there; the continuation of those activities would be covered under BDCP. Some of the projects might be able to proceed without having to go through the full CEQA/NEPA compliance, while others would have to await the completion of the CEQA/NEPA process, he explained. “All of these projects are to be completed by year 25 of the BDCP with the remainder of the plan term being devoted to the operations and maintenance.”
Melinda Terry: “There are all kinds of questions revolving around this project that is not some day in the future … it’s starting right now … it’s very frustrating … but I’d like to see us get on a dual process here of talking about the biological opinion projects that are your accelerated restoration program part of your BDCP, and get on a schedule of talking about those today projects, because they are happening,” she said. “Those three projects are being done as part of the biological opinions, which goes back to the question of mitigation versus what the public is paying for. The biops have to do with having to do mitigation for the ESA take occurring at the south Delta pumps … on those projects that are biops, those get counted as mitigation and in Chapter 8 we’ll see those are being paid for by the water contractors? or by the general public? Because to me, they are associated with their take permit, not the greater BDCP … “
PRESENTATION ON CONSERVATION MEASURE 3:
Dr. David Zippin from ICF took over this portion of the presentation. Conservation Measure 3 is one of the natural community protection measures and addresses the creation of a reserve system, he said. The goal is 62,455 acres of habitat either restored or protected. The map is organized by conservation zones, and there are targets that are natural community specific, and in some cases, geographically specific. There is a requirement to achieve all restoration and protections by year 40 so that we have an additional ten years to make sure the projects are succeeding.
Conservation 4 is about restoring at least 65,000 acres of the various kinds of natural tidal communities. The timeline is to restore 16,300 acres by year 10 and 25,975 by year 15. 10,000 of those 65,000 acres are designed to be upland transitional communities which will accommodate the sea level rise that we expect in these wetland communities, and allow wetlands to migrate upslope in response to sea level rise. Right now there is very little room for that to occur, said Dr. Zippin.
Conservation Measure 5 is about restoring 10,000 acres of seasonally inundated areas or floodplain especially in the south Delta to support a variety of communities. We’ll also be doing restoration of the valley foothill riparian forest extensively in the south Delta, mingling that with nontidal freshwater perennial emergent wetlands, nontidal perennial aquatic, as well as flood-plain compatible agriculture, Dr. Zippin said, noting that agriculture will not be eliminated in the south Delta; where these restoration projects are occur, it will look more like the Yolo Bypass does today.
Conservation Measure 6, channel margin enhancement, is much more limited in scope – 20 miles of riverbank on one side of the river; this will help if it’s done in strategic locations, Dr. Zippin explained. “What we’re intending to do here is where floodplain restoration is not possible, when you’re not able to set back the levee extensively, there would be very small setbacks to provide room for riparian areas on the rivervine side of the levees. This is a community that has been lost or degraded throughout the Delta and we want take a modest step to recover some of it.”
Conservation Measure 7 is restoration of riparian natural communities and is geared mostly towards the covered terrestrial species like the riparian brush rabbit, riparian woodrat, and a number of covered bird species, Dr. Zippin explained. It will benefit quite a few of our covered species and substantially increase the amount of riparian forest and scrub that is in the Delta today. This habitat has been lost – 90 to 95% over historic levels.
Conservation Measure 8 focuses on grassland natural community restoration, which focuses on terrestrial species exclusively with 2000 acres of grassland restoration in areas on the fringes of the plan area where it is feasible. Conservation Measure 9 provides for 15 acres of vernal pool and alkali seasonal wetland areas, a modest amount in part because the plan area itself doesn’t have very much of these communities, Dr. Zippin said, and we have a limited ability within the plan area to do this type of restoration. Conservation Measure 10 provides for 1200 acres of nontidal marsh restoration, which is important for the garter snake and western pond turtle, among others.
Conservation Measure 11 is about how we manage these communities we are protecting and restoring. “You can’t just restore something and walk away, you can’t protect the land in easement and walk away. You have to manage it actively,” he said
Question from the internet: How does BDCP’s planned rate of restoration for the next decade compare to the rate of restoration over the past decade?
Jerry Meral answers: “If you look around the San Francisco Bay Area, you will see tens of thousands of acres of restoration in the north bay, the south bay, a lot of places. If you look at a comparable map of the Delta, you will see nothing, because there has never been a planned active restoration project anywhere in the Delta. It’s not entirely for lack of trying; there’s the Dutch Slough project and a couple of others that have been attempted, but they are still not completed. You do see restoration projects created by nature like Liberty Island, but not really planned, and so the planned rate of restoration is dramatically greater than the historic one.”
Part 2 of the internet question: Assuming the BDCP’s planned rate of restoration is greater than the historical rate (yes), how does BDCP propose to accomplish this, given how hard it is to ‘touch the water’ in the Delta and Corps projects are described as ‘multi-generational’?
Jerry Meral answers: “The questioner has put their finger on something important. It’s very hard to get projects permitted in the Delta because it is such a developed place. We have pipelines, we have power lines, everyone and their brother is worried about what will be the impact on a neighboring island or on water quality. These projects are very hard to carry out. The Yolo Ranch project … will be an interesting test of whether we can actually carry out these restoration projects. Still, given the fact that we’ve done tens of thousands of acres in San Francisco Bay, it’s hard to imagine we can’t do it in the Delta, but it is extraordinarily difficult, so I appreciate the question and we’ll be challenged by that, I’m sure.”
Question: In regards to restoration in the South Delta, the plan is looking to restore 5,000 acres. There are no landowners who own more than 3000 acres, and most of them much less than that … what if you cannot find enough willing landowners?
Jerry Meral answers: “We’re pretty confident we can find willing landowners to participate in this; it’s going to take a while. There are values beyond agriculture that we’re trying to preserve here … but if anyone thinks we’re going to undertake all of these habitat projects and not have any conversion of land from agriculture to habitat, that’s just not possible. We think we can do it by approaching willing landowners and making arrangements with them.”
Response to Jerry: I am from the south Delta, and people there don’t think that one acre of their land should be traded so that someone can have a permit to pump water off the Sacramento River and put it in tunnel. All I can say is 50 years won’t be enough.
Another question: What if there are no willing landowners?
Jerry Meral answers: “We’re not going to completely abandon the possibility of condemnation as any other public works project does. The highway department has never said we’ll only deal with willing sellers because you can’t have a highway that stops here and starts again there. … We’re not going to commit to not using that tool because we may have to, but we don’t want to, and we think we can do without it.”
PRESENTATIONS ON OTHER STRESSORS CONSERVATION MEASURES
The other stressor conservation measures are not about restoration of habitat or natural communities but are instead focused on aquatic ecosystems, said Dr. Earle.
Conservation Measure 12 concerns methylmercury management, which is from a legacy from historical activities that occurred upstream in the watershed, he explained. “Most of the mercury that is out there in Delta soils came down along with sediment during the course of hydraulic mining over 100 years ago. And when wetlands are created out there, bacteria in the wetlands tend to take up the mercury in the sediment and turn it into methylmercury, which is biologically active – it’s the bad form of mercury. This has been recognized for years, and in fact there is a SWRCB strategy called a methylmercury TMDL to deal with that, and basically BDCP has agreed in the siting and operation of these restoration sites to be compliant with that TMDL regulation,” also noting that restoration sites will be preferentially selected for minimal risk.
Conservation Measure 13 deals with invasive aquatic vegetation control, another long standing problem in the Delta, Dr. Earle said. Existing aquatic invasive vegetation control programs will be continued and expanded under BDCP. “We’ve done some analysis that indicates that a significant elevation in the current rate of control could essentially wipe out these weeds in the Delta in a relatively short time span of 5 to11 years, after which only small and localized efforts will be needed to keep those plants in control.”
Conservation measure 14 concerns dissolved oxygen levels in the Stockton Deep Water Ship Channel. “Dissolved oxygen levels were seasonally reduced to the point that it was a passage barrier and couldn’t be transited by salmon due to the extremely low DO levels out there. In mitigation for that, a dissolved oxygen aeration facility was installed in the ship channel and has in fact been in operation for years. Continued operation of that project and the expansion of it would become a covered activity under BDCP,” said Dr. Earle.
Conservation Measure 15 deals with localized control of predatory fish. “The fact is that nonnative fish eat a lot of covered fish, particularly juvenile salmon who suffer very high mortality rates during their passage through the Delta,” said Dr. Earle. “However, whether it’s possible to go out there and catch those fish and thereby reduce predation rates on juvenile salmon is something that nobody knows, and it’s a hugely controversial topic. So CM15 is basically a research program that calls for the first 5 years to be focused on a number of research efforts designed to see if it is at least locally possible to reduce significant predation by nonnative fish in certain parts of the Delta,” he said, adding that further action on this will be informed by the results of the research studies.
Conservation Measure 16 involves the installation of non-physical fish barriers, which would be located in areas where there is a high mortality of fish due to predation, primarily. “For instance, there is a high rate of predation for fish that go down Georgiana Slough instead of the main stem, so there has been a nonphysical barrier installed seasonally at the head of Georgiana Slough to divert juvenile salmon so they don’t go down the slough and stay instead in the main stem. This does it by using underwater bubbles, sound and bright lights to keep fish from going down the undesirable area. Similar techniques have been used in various sites and have been shown to be successful,” he said.
Conservation Measure 17 provides funds for increased levels of enforcement to reduce illegal poaching of sturgeon and salmon in the Delta, and Conservation Measure 18 deals with the possibility of conservation hatcheries, with USFWS, UC Davis and DFW collaborating on the development and possible expansion of conservation hatcheries.
Conservation Measure 19 establishes a grant program to introduce improved urban stormwater treatment for municipalities in the Bay Delta area, and Conservation Measure 20 “would establish inspection stations at popular water recreational sites throughout the Delta where educational efforts would occur and watercraft could be inspected to see if they are bringing in any invasive species,” said Dr. Earle, noting that the biggest concern right now is the possible introduction of zebra and quagga mussels.
Conservation Measure 21 is a purely voluntary program that would provide financial assistance and technical guidance for landowners to either screen or remove currently unscreened diversions that may be posing a threat to covered fish species.
Conservation Measure 22 contains a variety of measures to be undertaken to reduce impacts of construction on covered species.
There are important regional actions that are not related to the BDCP either directly or indirectly, but which will forseeably occur in the Delta and which have big implications for the success of BDCP, said Dr. Earle. There are ammonia load reductionsthat are expected from improved treatment at the Sacramento regional wastewater treatment plant and other municipal treatment works in the Delta that may support improved aquatic productivity in the Delta, and Hatchery Genetic Management Plans that areproposed for salmon and steelhead hatcheries in the Central Valley may have possible beneficial effects on salmon and steelhead populations, said Dr. Earle, concluding this portion of the presentation.
At this point, with the scheduled three hour meeting stretching to nearly four and a half hours and a dwindling crowd, Jerry Meral decided to postpone the discussion of adaptive management and Chapter 4 until the next meeting.
“Thank you everyone for staying so long … I am impressed by your stamina. We’ll probably test it again in two weeks.”
Click here for the power point presentation for the meeting.
Click here for the preliminary draft documents of the BDCP.
Click here for a fact sheet on the biological goals and objectives.
Click here for a fact sheet on ecosystem restoration.
Click here for a handout regarding Conservation Measure 1.
For further details on Conservation Measure 1, especially regarding the decision tree to determine project exports, see Chapter 3, Section 3.4.1, which begins on page 421 of Chapter 3.
Click here for a background document on the BDCP’s proposed operational rules.
Note: Not all questions nor all portions of the presentation are included, else it would be so incredibly long and no one would read it. Also, some questions and discussions were moved to group similar topics together for easier reading. Please refer to the video of the meeting or the BDCP preliminary draft documents for additional information and details.