Joint Informational Hearing: Natural Resources and Water and Select Committee on the Delta: “The BDCP: Overview of the Issues”

State Capitol - Front #1Amid the controversial remarks and charges of lack of stakeholder participation, Brown Administration officials had their chance to defend the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to legislators at the April 30th joint hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and the Select Committee on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird, Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham, and Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin were present; notably absent was Deputy Director Jerry Meral.

Prior to the start of testimony, Congresswoman Doris Matsui addressed the committee members, calling the Bay Delta Conservation Plan “the most important public works project in front of California today” and expressing her concerns about the project’s impacts on Sacramento and Northern California. “After spending $15 billion to build this water project, there will be tremendous pressure to maximize its water delivery output, potentially leaving Northern California with no recourse.  It will leave us high and dry.  The list of negative impacts to Sacramento County goes on and on, but the BDCP framework lacks any enforceable assurances or protections for Sacramento County from the project’s impacts.

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]”We gave up our ability as a legislature to say yes or no to this project, to deal with the costs, in very real ways.  And it may be time to reassert that role when we are confronted with the vast array of implications for the state and for this region.”  –Senator Wolk[/pullquote]

The plan also excludes any meaningful role for Northern California in the governance of the BDCP.  We are relegated to the role of stakeholder Council, which can only give input and has no decision making authority.  And the new information coming out about a joint powers authority made up of a majority of Delta water exporters is absolutely alarming, said Ms. Matsui.  “Moving forward, we have a real opportunity to get this right. Unfortunately, the current plan falls significantly short.  We can and we must do better for California.  We must work together to ensure that any Delta plan does not negatively impact Northern California.  I pledge to work with all of you to make sure California gets a project that doesn’t sacrifice Northern California interests in the process.”

Senator Lois Wolk then set the stage for the hearing: “The Congresswoman was absolutely correct when she spoke about in essence this being one of the most if not the most complex, expensive and right now controversial water projects in the recent history of California, and believe me, water has had no shortage of complex, expensive or controversial projects.”

Senator Wolk expressed her concern that many of the concerns and issues that were highlighted before the Committee in March of 2012 still remain.  “I think concerns that were there have become more and more troubling as they aren’t addressed sufficiently,” she said.  “ … We gave up our ability as a legislature to say yes or no to this project, to deal with the costs, in very real ways.  And it may be time to reassert that role when we are confronted with the vast array of implications for the state and for this region.”

The purpose of the hearing was to give the administration an opportunity to describe the project and answer questions from the members, said Senator Fran Pavley.  There will be a follow-up meeting on the 14th of May where they will hear from representatives about their perspectives and thoughts on the BDCP.  They will hear public comments at that time, and the public can also submit their comments on the project directly to the committee, she said.


Secretary Laird then introduced Director Bonham and Director Cowin, adding  “I am fond of saying that the dual coequal goals are represented in each one of them.  And they have worked really closely together to try and resolve issues being true to their responsibilities and the coequal goals.”

The window for making progress in California water only seems to be open at certain times and then only temporarily, he said.  “The legislative package in 2009 appears to have opened a window right now that is unique and cries out for action.”

The status quo right now is such that it serves virtually no one and so looking at those goals and those problems, the legislature gave direction on how to address them,” he said, noting that the Act created numerous structures and didn’t hand the entire series of issues to any one of those structures, so it can be difficult for people to understand who has responsibility and who doesn’t.

Everyone in California is firmly committed to one of the two goals, and yet there was a certain elegance in what the legislature did because you can’t achieve the goal that’s closest to your heart without achieving both of them, and we have been charged with working on that balance,” he said, noting that the BDCP has been ongoing for seven years, so the project is not being rushed.

As the administration has been working through the process, “we’ve made adjustments based on all stakeholder input, not just Northern California but Southern, not just the Coast but the Valley, not just people that might be involved in agriculture but people that are involved in environmental organizations,” said Mr. Laird, pointing out that the tunnel proposal a year ago was at 15,000 cfs, less than half the size of the 1982 peripheral canal,  and in July, it was further downsized to 9,000 cfs.

That is showing there is a responsiveness to the input that is coming from stakeholders in terms of balancing it in terms of the dual goals. “


It was then Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin’s turn.  “I don’t think it is news to anyone that the Delta is a complex place,” began Mr. Cowin.  “It is vitally important to California for its ecological values and water supply and that was of course reflected very clearly in the coequal goals that the legislature placed into statute in 2009.  I also don’t think it’s really much of a debate anymore that the status quo in the Delta and a future with no action for the Delta is simply unacceptable for either coequal goal at this point, so we’ve got to chart a course to change the future in the Delta if we want to protect a vital part of California’s natural resources and the state’s economy.”

He said that the one quote in the PPIC report just released that day that stood out to him was ‘Although scientific understanding of the ecosystem is vastly improved, the Delta’s complexity makes uncertainty inevitable.’  “That’s the world we live in today and we need to find ways to move forward in light of that uncertainty and also in light of the atmosphere of mistrust that seems to exist between many parts of the public, public agencies, and state and federal government in general, so our challenges are big.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]” … we need to find ways to move forward in light of that uncertainty and also in light of the atmosphere of mistrust that seems to exist between many parts of the public, public agencies, and state and federal government in general, so our challenges are big.”  — Director Mark Cowin[/pullquote]

We are still just in the beginning parts of that real public process; the material we have put out over the last month and we will continue to put out over the next month are all administrative draft materials.  We are still shaping our proposal before the official public process begins for all of this,” he said, adding that it was still an uphill road to get the proposal out to the public, absorb the input and suggestions, and then to shape the proposal in a way that works for as many as possible.

The first two groups of chapters were rolled out in March, and then in early May, the administrative draft of the EIR/EIS will be available, he said.  “And on the week of May 20th, we expect to release the remaining chapters of the BDCP, including most importantly, the benefit-cost analysis and the financing plan.”

The BDCP won’t solve all of the state’s water problems, Mr. Cowin pointed out.  “To get management of California’s water resources to where we want it to be, to protect our economy, our environment, and our quality of life, we’ve got to aggressively move forward with more water conservation, more water recycling, more water storage, groundwater management and aquifer remediation, and all those other local strategies that go into a portfolio approach,” he said.  “The fact is we’re making pretty good progress throughout California in implementing these strategies,” he said, noting that $1.4 billion in general obligation bond programs that has been invested has resulted in 2 million acre-feet of water per year, either through supply augmentation or demand reduction. “That’s a substantial part of our water needs in California,” he said.

Other state and federal sources have contributed another $800 million towards water projects over the last decade, and that combined total of $2.2 billion in state and federal investment has leveraged an additional $3.7 billion in local and regional investment in portfolio type projects,” he said.  “This is extremely important; it’s not widely reported, but good news for California water management, and we’ve got to continue this momentum.”

However, these investments and strategies must be supported by a foundational level of water supply of the Delta to safeguard our economy, Mr. Cowin said.  “And by foundational, I don’t mean guaranteed supply, I don’t mean a bigger supply.  I mean an amount of water that can be safely exported from the Delta consistent with the coequal goals and with a high bar of habitat conservation plan and NCCP standards for recovery of species.”

The new plumbing in the Delta has the inherent value in correcting reverse flows that are harmful to fish and currently restrict exports,” he said, noting that the 700,000 acre-feet that was unable to be exported due to pumping restrictions is not an unusual event; it happens year after year.  “The important point that is hard to get across here is this inherent benefit of correcting reverse flows is true, no matter what level of Delta outflow is placed upon the projects as a requirement.”

Simply having the plumbing in place can provide flexibility that can create an ability to move up an additional 1 million acre-feet of water per year.  “That water could be used to provide for different levels of outflow when it’s needed to benefit fish, it could be provided to boost exports in time of need, so this is just additional flexibility that new plumbing helps us resolve,” he said.

The future water supply reliability for California is going to be defined by the level of local options that are implemented like water conservation and recycling, and the level of Delta supplies,” he said.  “Every time we reduce exports because of a new fishery requirement as required under the ESA, that means the next recycling project, the next water conservation project goes towards making up the difference instead of being used to add resiliency to the system to help us deal with population growth, to help us deal with climate change, and the other uncertainties we know we’re going to face in the future.”

From my position, as director of DWR, I feel it would be economically irresponsible for California to arbitrarily limit exports beyond what is needed to recover the Delta ecosystem, and meet all in-Delta water quality requirements.  That’s the balance we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

My final point, new conveyance doesn’t mean that the state loses interest in Delta levees.  Even under our current BDCP proposal, we would still export about 25% of state and federal water supplies from the south Delta pumps,” he said.  “So Delta levees remain not only an important element of the state water supply system, but also of course to protect valuable agricultural land, unique habitat, small and large communities and other critical public infrastructure in the Delta.”

Thanks to passage of propositions 1E and 84, the state has had significant funds to invest in levees, already investing about $300 million in Delta levees since 2005, and will continue to do so, he said.  “We have about $300 million left for that investment; but that won’t complete the job.  We know we need to move forward, both in improving Delta levees, improving emergency response and helping us deal with the coming effects of climate change.”

The important word of the day is balance.   How do we achieve all of those goals and objectives in a balanced way that is right for California.”


Chuck Bonham began by saying that he personally takes the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and what the department brings to the discussions very seriously.  “At some point in this process, DWR and Director Mark Cowin will submit an application for review; that is an important distinction for our department between offering opinion, advice and input, while reserving decision making to avoid being predecisional,” he said, adding that once they receive the packet, they will review it to determine if it can be permitted.  “We are not there yet, but that’s on our horizon.”

I struggled this morning on my commute with ways I could bring up a topic which I worry is in the background but on your mind like it’s on my mind,” he said, and he heard the song “Once in a Lifetime” from the Talking Heads.  “Part of the song is … “ you may ask yourself how do you find yourself here, you may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong” and I thought that was perhaps the way to bring up a topic on my mind.”

You may ask yourself, can the Delta be saved?  You may ask yourself, should it be saved?  You may ask yourself what does save mean, and could you find a consistent definition given that so many diverse interests care so deeply about the Delta?  You may ask yourself, how could it be saved given it’s one of the most complex and always evolving places on the planet?  Now my answers to those questions are to tell you what our department is focused on with clarity and resolution,” said Mr. Bonham.

I know, first, that now is the time to try, because if we don’t, our problems will only get worse,” he said.  “I am certain that if we don’t address our ecological problems today, our children will have a more difficult challenge.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“You may ask yourself, can the Delta be saved?  You may ask yourself, should it be saved?  You may ask yourself what does save mean, and could you find a consistent definition given that so many diverse interests care so deeply about the Delta?  You may ask yourself, how could it be saved given it’s one of the most complex and always evolving places on the planet?  — Director Chuck Bonham[/pullquote]

Second thing I know, it’s not going to be easy.  But in my view the BDCP, as of today, in draft form, is a good faith effort to do the third thing that’s on my mind, which is achieve both of the coequal goals that you established in 2009. Our department represents one of those goals,” he said, noting that the department’s mission is to take care of the state’s animals and plants and the habitat they depend upon for their ecological value as well as their use and enjoyment.

However, it will take much more than a successful BDCP to ensure a healthy ecosystem, Mr. Bonham said.  “We will need a productive and ultimately successful State Water Board process around flow requirements, we will need to foster long running and effective relationships with landowners around how we may restore the landscape, we need to work well with the upper Sacramento River water users community to consider restoration and flow contribution there, we need to ensure we complete the restoration of the main stem San Joaquin River and we need to build a relationship with those who operate water projects in the tributaries to the San Joaquin and have a conversation potentially about their proportional contribution,” he said.

There are ecological components to the BDCP that show hope in the framework and science that has brought us to where we are today, he said.  “First, I think it’s important to understand that this conservation plan is about more than one species.  Typically in my experience, we end up arguing about a project or change of project operations for the benefit of just one species; here we are looking at 57 …   That’s a good approach when it comes to conservation planning.  Not just one, but the full panoply of species.”

The second thing we like in the framework are the biological goals and objectives,” he said.  “I have come to believe that perhaps the most fundamental part for the ecosystem is to design a tapestry of goals and objectives that are about ecological function and species response, then overlay on it science and monitoring, and if we’re failing to achieve any goal or objective, the permit should allow adjustment, up or down, based on response.”

The BDCP’s 214 goals and objectives are specific, they are measurable, they are actionable, they are relevant, and they are time-bounded, and they will be used to track progress and failure, said Mr. Bonham:    “If we’re successful here, what we will have done in my judgment is to marry the coequal goals such that those who rely on water diversions are actually wed to the success of achieving those goals and objectives.”

The Plan includes habitat restoration.  “The Delta was a remarkable mosaic of temporally and spatially connected landscapes.  It is no longer that.  The plan involves recreating much of those natural processes with a target of around 100,000 acres over the life of the plan and 30,000 acres in the next 15 years,” he said.

We’ve got to get off the south Delta.  Two of three fish that are trapped in the south Delta die.  Our migration mortality rates are unacceptable.  On the San Joaquin River side for juvenile Chinook, it’s a 95% mortality rate.  On the Sacramento River, it’s a 60-ish% mortality rate,” he said.  “This is in large part because we have an unnatural flow regime.  Those large pumps at the south end of the Delta change the direction of the otherwise normative flow pattern, and fish are confused and drawn there.”

This framework, we believe, is sound scientifically.  While there is much more ahead of us then behind us, this is how a planning process goes.  We’ve seen a new version of the project from DWR and we are committed to the dialog as we move into the next phase.”


Senator Pavley asked about the timeline.  The EIR will be released in a week, on May 20th, the chapters on financing, then what … ?

Director Cowin answered that it was still largely up in the air.  The administrative draft material has been posted for the public so they can begin to understand the details of the process while at the same time the regulatory agencies and the Department of Fish and Wildlife are reviewing the material and providing comments that will be incorporated into the next draft.  “Of course we would like to do that quickly, quickly being a relative word since we have been at this for over seven years, but our hope is that we will have that public draft out for public consumption this summer.  We originally said we’d like to get it out in July, frankly that time scale is slipping on us, but summer is still well within our sights.”

The public draft will begin the official review period, which will ultimately lead to a record of decision and notice of determination on the project.  “We would still like to say later this year but more likely first quarter of 2014.  The time required to respond to, no doubt, many thousands, tens of thousands of comments will again determine how long it takes to produce the final draft.


Senator Pavley asked Director Cowin what were the biggest unresolved issues that need to be addressed?

Director Cowin:  “Clearly we are still dealing with the science that underlies the project.  It’s the estimation of the impacts of the process and the potential benefits of the project and how those roll up into contributing towards recovery of species.  Our consultants and specialists have their science and reasoning that they’ve applied that are in our draft materials.  The fishery agencies have perhaps a more conservative view, and we are working through those issues, and will continue to work through those issues.  I have high confidence that we’ll get to a place that is acceptable to the fishery agencies and we can do that in relatively short order.

Financing remains an issue.  The financing plan is very general at this point, and more detail needs to be added, Mr. Cowin said, “not only between cost allocations to specific beneficiaries of the project, state and federal water contractors, but also the basic split between the public contribution and the beneficiary contribution, and specifically where we expect the funds to come from to cover the broader public investment portfolio.”

When the financing plan is released, there won’t be a ledger sheet depicting exactly where we expect the funds to come from, said Mr. Cowin.  “We have to finance the public portion of this over 50 years so it will be more of a general expectation of where we expect to achieve those funds. It will obviously take acts of this legislative body and Congress to produce those funds over time, so we can’t predetermine exactly the source of those revenues.”

There is more work to be done to better define the potential impacts of the project, particularly the construction impacts.  “We have a lot of work to do to better define what those impacts will be, and how we can minimize or avoid them.  …  The purpose of the EIR/EIS is to disclose potential impacts, so we take a very conservative view of what those impacts might be.  For instance, the tunnel alignments that are in the document are there for the purposes of predicting what the impacts might be.  It doesn’t mean that it’s our blueprint for construction.    So now the next phase of the work is to work with local interests, landowners, counties, to try to avoid as many impacts as possible and mitigate those impacts where we can’t avoid them.  So that’s another big piece of work,” Mr. Cowin said.

There are still governance issues to be resolved, such as finding the appropriate role for Delta interests to give them their appropriate voice in both development of the final plan and implementation of the plan.  “There are other things I’m sure, but that will keep me busy.”


Senator Pavley asked if there were short-term solutions that we should be focusing on?

Director Cowin answered that DWR has been engaged with stakeholders to try and develop a list of projects that receive wide support and can be implemented to improve conditions in the Delta, and the Department will continue to invest in Delta levees through the levee subventions program and special projects program.  DWR is continuing to work with Delta counties and CalEMA on emergency response plans in the Delta, and will continue to work to deploy materials that can be used throughout the Delta in light of an emergency.


On the water management-ecosystem management side, we are actually at a cusp of a very important process,” Director Cowin said.  The biological opinions, issued by USFWS and NMFS, were sent back to be redone by Judge Wanger a couple of years ago.  “Just recently we have put a coalition of plaintiffs, defendants, and interveners together to go before federal court to extend the remand schedule.  We’ve done this for a very important reason.  We think if we can work collaboratively towards developing a science program that will provide a better underpinning to the next set of biological opinions, we can come up with a basis for those opinions that has a better buy-in and keep us out of court,” he said.

It’s extremely difficult to try and devise a collaborative process and a collaborative adaptive management program while you’re in court with the folks you’re supposed to be collaborating with.  So this is an extremely important test for us and I’m very proud actually that the five agencies, the wildlife service, the two federal fish agencies, and BOR and my department have been able to work to bring the litigating parties together to try to develop this collaborative science and adaptive management program.  I don’t know if it will work, but we’re going to give it our best try and hopefully that will move us towards the kind of collaboration that the PPIC report yesterday said is so necessary to try and improve conditions for us all,” Mr. Cowin said.


Senator Pavley asked about the size of the tunnels.

Mr. Cowin replied that what’s in the plan now are 2 40-foot tunnels that would convey 9,000 cfs under gravity flow.  “The question is could you move more water than that through those 40 foot tunnels?  With modification, probably so.  We’d have to add pumping plants, we’d have to perhaps redesign them with a steel liner inside, I don’t know.  We haven’t got a final design for that yet.  But the engineering design will be made for 9,000 cfs.  They are big because we want to move the water by gravity; it helps us reduce our energy requirements, it helps reduce the size of the transmission lines that go to the facilities, and of course helps with greenhouse gas emissions.  So that is the intent of the larger diameter tunnels.”


Senator Galgiani asked at what point will the Administration be coming to the legislature to seek approval and be asked to vote on whether to move forward with the financing of the project?

Secretary Laird answered: “In essence, the water package of 2009 contemplated the direction to the project without it returning it to the legislature for final approval.  Obviously, as Director Cowin said, to the extent that some of the habitat restoration activites require funds over time, there will be interaction with the legislature on that, but we’re operating off of what was put forward in the water package in 2009.”

Senator Galgiani clarified: “I am speaking directly to the billions of dollars for the water conveyance portion that would certainly take public dollars …

Secretary Laird: “There are no public dollars contemplated to go into that.  That is beneficiary pays so the water users would pay for that facility.  The only public dollars that are contemplated in this are related to the wetlands restoration that I just referred to.”

Director Cowin explained the line between the beneficiary portion and the public portion of the financing plan. “Right now the state and federal projects operate under section 7 of the ESA.  They are required to mitigate for their impacts.  The standard here is what is necessary to avoid jeopardy of the species, or in other words, extinction of the species.  Under HCP which we’re pursuing now, the standard is different.  It provides for recovery or contribution to the recovery of species.  The difference between what the projects would be required to do under mitigation under Section 7 and the higher standard for a HCP is really the line between the investment we’re looking for from the water agencies that receive the water benefits and the public benefit that were looking for state and federal funding to provide for.


Senator Monning noted that he represents the Central Coast, the vast majority of whom are not beneficiaries of Delta water, and asked how the Delta would enter into the interests of Central California?

Secretary Laird answered that the package of 2009 was a broader state policy that included strategies for increasing local self reliance with strategies such as additional conservation and recycling, and he noted that habitat restoration benefits people across the state, particularly if they benefit from agriculture, tourism, state parks or other things that are connected to that.

The water bond passed with the 2009 package had included many different pieces, such as funding for wetlands restoration, Delta counties, conservancies around the state, integrated watershed planning, so that everybody would get something, whether they used state water or not.  “I think the tough policy call that is in some ways above our pay grade is how the legislature chooses if they go into that bond to test those relative balances and in many ways, making sure that certain things that are there stay there, that benefit people on the coast as well as people in other parts of the state,” said Mr. Laird.

Mr. Laird added, “I have just been dying to respond to Director Bonham quoting the Talking Heads, as every day I go to work listening to that great rock poet Mick Jagger, who said, ‘you can’t always get what you want,’ and I am sure some of those things apply … ”

Mr. Bonham said, “May I offer a perspective for that hypothetical individual in Monterey or Santa Cruz that may feel that they are less connected to the Delta … I think for your hypothetical individual in Santa Cruz or Monterey, salmon matter a lot.  And if the BDCP can reduce those high mortality rate in either the Sacramento or San Jaoquin River because we’ve returned to a more normative flow pattern, then the theory must be populations as to those runs of salmon will improve.”

Thank you,” said Mr. Monning. “I think the salmon fisheries show the connectivity of species and ecology, but also the economy, because the salmon fisheries have been a valuable source, both for commercial fishing but also for sport fishing throughout the Monterey Bay and south.”


Senator Wolk then addressed the trio.  “I think the Governor is very fortunate to have the three of you as spokespersons for what this complex BDCP process.  But the public face of this project has been Jerry Meral.  And I know there are concerns about his comments, not just recently, but other comments he’s made.  In Southern California, he talked about the inundation of the Delta and other comments about the BDCP that raise concerns.  What I would like to do is to give you the opportunity as the leaders of the effort to speak to the issue of the Delta and the question is whether or not there is a permanent inundation of the Delta that you foresee, whether the Delta cannot be saved – I really want you to speak to the issue of those comments that are raising an extraordinary amount of distrust on top of the distrust that already exists.”

Secretary Laird said, “I think that the comments that you’ve heard today in detail represent the position of the administration and represent our direction. … The question is how we best manage risk from the place where we are right now?  And that’s what we’re really trying to do.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“What I have found working on water and natural resources in the state of California for over a decade is that we don’t have to fall into the choice between seemingly mutually exclusive options: it’s not fish or farms, people or the environment; the word is ‘and’.” — Director Bonham.[/pullquote]

Direrctor Bonham: “As to saved, candidly, I just have to start the conversation by asking back, what do you mean, save?  Part of the important moment we find ourselves at right now is listening, and understanding best how each of the affected communities define that word.  Our administration, I believe, has that open ear.  If we didn’t, the project would not have already shrunk from 15,000 and 5 intakes to 9,000 and 3.  We have more discussion in front of us on how to ensure the plan can achieve the recovery of those 57 species.  It will be important for me to spend considerable time with my federal counterparts to understand any remaining concerns they may have, and foster that dialog between them, us and the DWR and BOR.

Our mission at the Department requires hope,” said Mr. Bonham, adding that he wakes up each morning not sure how the they will achieve that mission, “but I have to believe that we will because the alternative to that hope and belief is often dismal.  So I come to this dialog every day, intent on doing what we can to ensure a healthy Delta ecosystem, knowing that there are other parts of our community who care about it equally passionately for their economic livelihood and for their sense of place.”

What I have found working on water and natural resources in the state of California for over a decade is that we don’t have to fall into the choice between seemingly mutually exclusive options: it’s not fish or farms, people or the environment; the word is ‘and’,” said Mr. Bonham. “When we allow the debate to become ad hominem attacks on each other, we’re just diverting our energy away from that space we need to creatively solve our problems.  I don’t think this discussion is over with DWR, but I do think we are at a pivotal moment, and I look to you for your leadership on how to sort through it.”

Director Cowin then replied to Senator Wolk, referencing a story that he had seen on the NBC Nightly News about the effects of recent catastrophic events and how that is literally changing the map these days, with some places are reconsidering how to manage coastline.  “With sea level rise, we can expect that the coastline of the United States is going to change and we’re going to have to adapt to that.  I find the same thing is true in all of our natural resources management.  We’re going to have to adapt to change.  …  We know that catastrophic events are possible; we need to manage the risk of those events occurring, but I don’t come to work every day expecting that is going to happen and that defines my agenda.  So we need to keep an eye towards managing and learning to manage adaptively in the future as we learn more.”


Senator Wolk asked Director Bonham about the concerns raised by USFWS and NMFS about the project and whether they were going to be addressed.  “The comments that were made go to the heart of ecosystem restoration,” she said, noting issues such as concerns for winter run salmon, the effects of tidal marsh restoration, and others.  She added that the Governor has written a letter saying he wants to move this forward, but when are these basic concerns going to be addressed?

Director Bonham answers:  “I think that one thing going on very broadly is a planning process as it should work.  Here’s what I mean: in Feb of 2012 the DWR produced a version of a draft plan.  Our department and the two federal fish agencies, USFWS and NMFS, identified things we thought were problematic, and since then we’ve been engaged in countless dialogs on how those raised issues should be addressed.  That’s the nature of a planning process.  So you ask, have they been resolved?  I think some.  Are there others? Yes, but that’s also the spirit of a planning process.  We are continuing the dialog.  We’ve given our reaction to the most recent versions, and expect to work out any remaining details.”

As for habitat restoration, Mr. Bonham said, “I think you’re right that on any planning effort, there’s a risk that you overestimate the perceived benefits and underestimate the potential risk and as a project proponent, you may, in fact, have some inherent bias when you’re creating that modeling structure. I think it just exists in us as human nature, and I take a very seriously our federal counterpart’s comments, so we need to really sit down again and ensure we scrub out such bias so that decision makers get a fair and objective synthesis of the information.”

Broadly speaking, that habitat restoration produces benefits in estuaries,” said Mr. Bonham. “What we don’t actually know yet is the scale factor and the biological response at a larger scale.  … We don’t yet know where we may place that restoration, how fast we can do it, and then how immediate, negative or positive, the biological response may be. Which I think requires us to do that scrubbing out of the bias, so you get a fair representation of potential impacts, so you can count expected benefits clearly, and then overlay on it monitoring and adaptive management.

Director Bonham added, “We know that this estuary is one of the most heavily studied estuaries in the world.  And at the same time, there’s uncertainty, so part of the art here is actually an art, less a science.  It’s how do you square a lot of knowledge with a lack of knowledge in particular places and I think if we have a chance to further walk you through the adaptive management framework, I think you’ll find we’re on the right trajectory.

Then Director Bonham turned to winter run salmon.  “This worries me to death.  My last career was as a salmon warrior so I take salmon seriously.  Winter run are a very unique run of salmon stock.  Endemic only to the Sacramento River and whose historical habitat is now restricted only to the mainstem reach from Keswick Dam to Red Bluff Diversion Dam – a small remaining reach.”

You may be referring to both press coverage and the actual comments from our federal colleagues at NMFS who say they are worried about this project in combination with climate change producing the expiration of winter run.  I share the concern, and we’re going to have the conversation, but let me tell you I am confused by that comment in part,” he said.

Mr. Bonham explained: “I went this morning and I read the 2009 biological opinion that the NMFS put out about the coordinated operations of the SWP and the [CVP].  And I’m quoting from page 674 that NMFS put out: ‘the long term effects analysis for winter run reveals that climate change and growth are likely to increase adverse effects, especially associated with temperature related egg mortality on the Upper Sacramento River in the summertime.  In order to address the underlying issues of inadequate spatial structure and diversity and quality of critical habitat, and therefore increase risk of extinction over the long term, a passage program to provide winter run to access their historical run is necessary in order to avoid jeopardy.’  If I go to page 579 of that same 2009 opinion, NMFS said ‘providing fish passage at Shasta, Nimbus and Folsom Dams, which is ultimately the only means of counteracting the loss of habitat needed for egg incubation is the necessary requirement.’”

So one hand, I’m trying to interpret a comment which says the BDCP will cause extinction, and prior, clear, regulatory documents which say the only way you avoid extinction is to provide passage.  So I want to sit down with my federal counterparts and understand exactly what their criticism is,” he said.

Secretary Laird added: “We’re committed to addressing these issues and yes, occasionally, when there’s uncertainty, what structure do we have for managing the uncertainty, but trying to keep to a schedule and trying to address these issues are not mutually exclusive,” he said, noting that after the Governor and Secretary of the Interior’s announcement last July, there was a considerable amount of progress on these issues because people thought there was timeliness required for it.  “And so I really think as we are committed to addressing these issues, keeping a schedule forces people to make sure they are addressed.”


Senator Wolk asked Director Cowin if any of the alternatives been analyzed would result in a reduced demand on the Delta?

Director Cowin answered: “Any plan we put forward is going to have to comply with the 2009 legislation and provide for future reduced reliance on the Delta.  Now you and I know that there are lots of different interpretations of exactly what future reduced reliance on the Delta mean and we’re going to have to continue to work forward with that.  Ultimately the DSC gets to decide whether or not we’ve complied with that portion of the Act.

The really important thing here is that we acknowledge and endorse all of the other water management actions that need to take place in order to get to the level of water supply reliability we want for California, so … we’ve got to continue to press water conservation, we’ve got to continue to press water recycling, groundwater management, etc.  Part of the 2009 legislative package was the 20×20 water conservation bill.  The Department is pressing that forward; we’re on track to hopefully comply with the goals of that bill by 2020, and we’re considering what other commitments we can make,” he said, noting that both Metropolitan Water District and Santa Clara Valley Water District have committed to go in above and beyond the requirements of the 20×20 bill.  “We’ve got to look at this as a portfolio approach, fully agree and endorse that and make progress on all of those other actions to get to appropriate California water management.”


Senator Wolk asked who will have the power to turn off the pumps over the 50-year span of the project?

Director Bonham answered:  “ … I don’t think we’ve fully had the conversation yet, to be candid, but my expectation is we talk about a permit that is based on those 214 biological goals and objectives, and we wed our water supply reliability goal to our ability to achieve our ecosystem goal, and if we fail to achieve those goals and objectives, we’re taking operational decisions over on the project side.  Our agencies, which are the POG, retain a fair amount of that executive control over those kinds of decisions once it comes to implementation over the 50 years.”

Mr. Bonham noted that it is often the case that permitted water projects have an installed capacity greater than its operational capacity.  “Take a look at the pumps in the south now.  I think their installed capacity is around 8500 cfs but they’ve never diverted more than 6800 cfs.  …  historically, in my view, the trend on deliveries is going more restrictive, not less restrictive. …  We saw again this year an instance where the projects were literally being operated based on the presence or absence of 1, 2, 3 or 4 delta smelt, and that all tells me the likelihood that deliveries become more restrictive through the courtroom is greater than the likelihood that deliveries will be more expansive.”

Director Cowin added: “Over the past 3 years as I’ve served as Director, I’ve witnessed this renewed understanding of the tie between ecosystem health and water supply reliability among water managers throughout California, including mangers of the big agencies that contract for water from the state and federal projects.  Obviously there have been cycles of litigation over the biological opinions that control those operations and it’s been heavily contested.  We are at a cusp of a new era.  I don’t know if it will work, but if we can establish a more collaborative approach to developing a science that guides those regulations, we will get more buy in at the very bottom level …  It is that basis of collaboration which really is the heart and soul of the BDCP.   I am very hopeful that it will blossom and we’ll see less contention because we understand fish health and water supply reliability are linked together and we have to promote both.”

Senator Wolk wrapped up the hearing by thanking the three for coming forward, adding “tell your Deputy Director next time he should be here.


  • An agenda, audio recording of the hearing, materials, and a list of selected newspaper article links are available at the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee website by clicking here.
  • Visit the Bay Delta Conservation Plan website by clicking here.
  • Want to dig into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan documents but don’t know where to begin?  Try out the BDCP Road Map!
Print Friendly, PDF & Email