Updates from the Delta Regional Forum, part 1: The Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, and the Delta Plan

Click here for more from the Delta Stewardship Council.

On September 19, the Department of Water Resources held a Delta regional forum as part of the update to the California Water Plan.  Part of the forum was dedicated to updates on some of the relevant planning processes currently underway involving the Delta.  This post will cover the information presented regarding the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, and the Delta Plan.  Part two, posting tomorrow, will cover the Delta Regional Monitoring Program, the State Water Board’s water diversion reporting, and an update from DWR on the Integrated Regional Water Management Strategic Plan and the Flood Futures Report.


Diane Riddle from the State Water Resources Control Board updated the forum on the status of the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan update.

Delta-1-Feb-2013She began by noting that the State Water Board’s mission is to preserve, enhance and restore the quality of California’s water resources and ensure their proper allocation and efficient use for the benefit of present and future generations.  She explained that the Board has dual authorities over water allocation and water quality protection of California’s waters to protect beneficial uses such as municipal uses, agricultural uses, hydropower generation, and fishery and other related environmental purposes.

When the Board protects these beneficial uses, we perform what is referred to as balancing,” she said.  “We look at both the needed water quality and flow requirements to protect the beneficial uses and the potential ancillary effects of that on hydropower production, economic impacts and related issues and just the general planning needs of the state.”

The water quality control plan sets beneficial uses and water quality objectives to protect those beneficial uses along with a program of implementation to meet the objectives and monitoring to ensure that the objectives are being met, she explained.  “The Bay Delta Plan and water quality control plans are not self-implementing; they must be implemented through other measures.  Specifically the Bay Delta Plan is primarily implemented through water rights requirements which occur through a separate process here at the Board.”

The water quality plans are updated periodically; currently the Board is reviewing the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan and its implementation, and also working on establishing flow requirements for priority tributaries for the Delta.  The update is occurring in four phases along multiple timelines.

Phase 1

The phase 1 effort is focused on San Joaquin River flows for the protection of fish and wildlife beneficial uses, and southern Delta salinity objectives for the protection of agriculture. A draft SED was released at the end of December of 2012; a hearing was held in March of this year.  “We’re currently in the process of revising the draft document based on the public comments we’ve received and input from our Board members,” said Ms. Riddle.  “We are planning to release a revised draft Substitute Environmental Document by early 2014 and bring it to the Board by mid-2014.”

Phase 2

The phase 2 process involves the review of fish and wildlife objectives including Delta outflows, Sacramento River flows, Suisun Marsh salinity, export constraints in the southern Delta, and cross channel gate operations, said Ms. Riddle.  “We’ll also be considering potential changes to the interior and western Delta and other agricultural, municipal and industrial salinity requirements, though our focus this time is primarily on fish and wildlife beneficial uses.”

DWR Delta patterns #1The Board issued a notice of preparation pursuant to CEQA in January of 2012, and a scoping meeting was held in May.  A series of public workshops were then held to inform the scientific basis for the establishing the potential changes; the workshop topics included ecosystem changes in the low salinity zone, Bay Delta fishery resources, and analytical tools.  A summary report from those workshops was released earlier this year, and the Board had an informational meeting to discuss the next steps for Phase 2.  The recommendation from the Delta Science Program was to conduct further workshops to resolve some of the areas of uncertainty and disagreement that were identified in the January report.

The two workshops planned are on Delta outflow and related other stressors, and in-Delta flows and related other stressors.  The first workshop is scheduled for November 12 – 14 of this year, and the second workshop is scheduled for January of 2014.

Phase 3

The implementation phase will proceed the planning processes for the first two phases is completed.

Phase 4

Map of Delta tributaries, from the State Water Board
Map of Delta tributaries, from the State Water Board

Phase 4 involves developing flow objectives to protect public trust resources and other beneficial uses of water including agricultural, municipal and hydropower uses for priority tributaries to the Delta.  The Board is currently developing a process to develop those objectives that will be tailored to each tributary and its unique characteristics and considerations.

In 2010, the Board released a report that was required by the Delta Reform Act on the schedule and estimated costs for developing the flow requirements.  “It’s probably out of date already, but it was our best guess at the time of what the schedule and costs might be for doing this kind of work,” Ms. Riddle said.  “We’ve been consulting with the fishery agencies to identify high priority tributaries and methodologies for establishing the flow requirements.  Currently we are coordinating with the Delta Stewardship Council to identify a preferred method for developing the flow objectives.”  The Board is planning to have the tributaries work completed by 2018.

The Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan and the BDCP

In regards to the Bay Delta Plan and the BDCP, “our current plan is the baseline for the BDCP analysis –  that is the 2006 Bay Delta Plan, and we’re currently in the process of reviewing that plan so it’s uncertain at this point what the potential changes will be in the future, but we know that we’re going to be updating those requirements,” she said.  “So in order to inform that review and the BDCP analyses, we’ve asked BDCP to perform a broad range of analyses to inform our planning processes.  In addition to that, the BDCP will likely mean changes to the Bay Delta Plan or mitigation for the potential impacts to water quality.  They will also need water right change petitions to be approved by the Division of Water Rights, so both of those activities would come before the Board.  In addition, a water quality certification pursuant to the Clean Water Act is also going to be needed, and those are all going to coming before the State Water Board.”

There is the possibility that we would proceed with the consideration of the change petitions before we’ve updated the Bay Delta Plan,” continued Ms. Riddle, “but if that were the case, the likely outcome would be that there would be a reopener for the flow requirements, so we’re going to be in discussions with DWR about a preferred approach.  I’m not sure that the proponents of the BDCP would be satisfied with that approach; I think they want some sort of guarantee on what the requirements are that are going to be placed on the project such that they can have a better idea of what their potential water supply impact may be.  That’s why we’ve requested a fairly broad range of alternative flow requirements that expands to the upper limits of what we think will likely be potential considerations for flow requirements for the board.”

For more information:


Bill Edgar and Kim Floyd from the Central Valley Flood Protection Board updated the forum on the regional flood planning efforts.

The Central Valley Flood Protection Board is the state agency charged with overseeing flood management in the most flood prone area of the state – the Central Valley.  Bill Edgar began by noting that with the 2007 flood legislation, the Board’s name was changed from the State Reclamation Board to the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.  The legislation also set specific duties and responsibilities for the Board, one of those being to adopt a flood protection plan.  “After a lot of hearings and many hours of testimony and drafts, an adoption resolution that was up to 26 pages was adopted on June 29, 2012,” he said.  “That plan is now in effect; it is a plan that has a certified environmental document and is fully operational at this point.”

Regional flood management planning regions;
Click for a high-res version (pdf download)

The regional planning effort that is currently underway is a follow-up to the resolution and the plan, he said.  The regional planning effort is fully funded by Proposition 1E funds and will be completed by the end of 2014.  The regional plans are to be integrated into the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan when it is updated next in 2017.

There are six regional planning areas; stakeholders include the residents, property owners, all the flood and water management agencies, the land use agencies, agriculture interests, environmental interests, and permitting and resource agencies.  There is a coordinating committee that meets monthly to discuss problems and issues.  “It’s an informal state and local committee open to all interested participants and it is a forum to try and identify and evaluate and resolve basin-to-basin and region-to-region conflicts during the planning process,” he said.  “The coordinator is funded through a regional planning grant and is overseen by the Central Valley Flood Control Association.  Average attendance at those meetings is 70, on the phone and in person.”

Kim Floyd, coordinator for the coordinating committee, then gave an update on where each of the regions are in their planning processes.  “There were originally 9 regions; we’ve narrowed those to six; regions came to us on their own to partner around common flood control facilities or watersheds,” she said.  “Every one of these regions is approaching things differently as you would imagine since it is a locally-driven plan.  Again, this is a paradigm shift for everyone because we’re doing something bottom to top, instead of top-down directive where we are reacting.  It’s pushing people outside their comfort zone in some cases and it’s been a really good thing.”

Ms. Floyd said the Feather River, Lower Sacramento and Delta North regions are the furthest ahead in their planning processes, which might be expected because they are heavily urbanized.  “They also have been funded for early implementation projects, which the other regions do not have the benefit of those funds or those projects yet.  They are really focusing on what they can do for small communities.”

The Feather River region is to the point where a draft plan is almost completed and ready for public review.  The $405 million Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority took care of some of the urban areas, so the region is now focusing on plans for small communities.

levee erosion
Levee erosion in the Sacramento area
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Lower Sacramento Delta North region has just finished a problem identification report that’s available on its website, and is to the point of starting to work on prioritizing projects.  “That’s going to be the next challenge these regions face is that we have these projects, we’ve identified the problems, we have the projects, now how are we going to prioritize which rises to the top in terms of funding,” said Ms. Floyd.

The San Joaquin regions are focused on developing the emergency response components of the plan. The City of Stockton has a lot of levee mileage and a large number of properties in special flood hazard areas, so their levees are not providing at least 100 year flood protection, she said.  The Mid San Joaquin region has just had several more reclamation districts removed from federal emergency repair program eligibility so they are no longer eligible for emergency repair funding so that’s been a primary concern.  Upper San Joaquin is really concerned with impacts to flood facilities as a result of subsidence, so they are also looking at trying to complete that emergency response segments of their plans before the next flood season, she said.

For these regions, small communities and ag communities are going to be the biggest challenge because they don’t have the capacity to fund local cost shares for state-funded or federally-funded projects,” she said.  “They are going to have to come up with a way through partnering with conservation programs or other creative efforts to get the funding that they need to bring their levees up to provide adequate flood protection.  In some cases, we’re not even talking about getting to 100 year flood protection, just improved flood protection for these communities.”

Agricultural communities are being mapped into special flood hazard areas which inhibits their ability to develop; if there is less than 100-year flood protection, there are building restrictions along with costly flood insurance requirements, she said.  She has met with property owners who have been farming the same property for five generations who have buildings, such as barns, that are going to need to be replaced but can’t be due to an inability to obtain a building permit.  “So it’s been a big push to involve the ag community with efforts to find other ways to provide these communities the protection they need or at least relief from the FEMA requirements so that we can continue to push ag as an economic driver in our state,” she said.

Ms. Floyd said it has been challenging to involve the NGOs:  “They are tapped out, they are limited in their resources and we have lots of planning efforts like this going on that compete for their attention, so we really want to be sure they have a chance to be in on the development of these plans and not just simply reacting to plan once they are developed,” she said.

Most of the plans are on track to be completed by the middle of next year, and will be considered by the state as it works through its system-wide planning for the 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.

The infamous wine cellar levee Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The infamous levee wine cellar
Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mr. Edgar added that encroachments are a big problem in the system.  “There are illegal noncompliant encroachments that have been installed in the levee system.  We have one guy in Solano County who decided to dig into the levee and build himself a wine cellar.  We’re not going to tolerate that,” he said.  “It’s a public safety issue and the flood control association helped us get some legislation which will help us take care of those things.”

He noted that since December of last year, over half of the reaches in the entire system have been pulled out of PL 84-99, the program that provides emergency funding if they fail during a flood.  “Half of the system is in ineligible.  This is a big huge problem.”

Ultimately these plans will identify potential projects to address the problem,” added Ms. Floyd.  “The plans have a rough financing element so we can get a general idea of the cost and we’re likely to see that potentially in another bond that will go before voters because we simply don’t have the resources to pay for everything that needs to be done.  1600 miles of levees, half of which are no longer eligible for federal funding.”

For more information:

  • Click here to visit the Central Valley Flood Protection Board online.
  • Click here for more information on the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.
  • Click here for a photo gallery of some of the Central Valley levee deficiencies identified by the Army Corps during levee inspections in 2010.


Kevan Samsam from the Delta Stewardship Council then gave an update on the Delta Plan.  He began by noting that the Delta Stewardship Council was created in 2009 by the legislature as part of the Delta Reform Act.  “The Delta Reform Act is what we live by, it outlines what are our expectations are and what we need to accomplish; we are adhering to that as much as humanly possible,” he said.

Rio Vista BridgeA variation of the coequal goals has been around for decades; “what’s new is that it is now policy in the state of California, and that policy is statewide water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration and protection in the Delta,” he said.  “Something else that’s new is that there is this new component for the Delta as a place.  There is recognition of the people of the Delta, and that the coequal goals will be achieved in manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural and agricultural resources of the Delta as an evolving place.  Something that also came out of the Delta Reform Act was a new policy of reduced reliance on the Delta.”

Over 250 stakeholder groups, organizations and individuals participated in the development of the Delta Plan since the first draft was released in February of 2011.  The Delta Stewardship Council adopted the final Delta Plan in May of this year; the regulations became effective on September 1st of this year.

The Delta Plan talks about reducing reliance on the Delta.  “Before you come to the Delta for more water, you need to do everything you can to improve your own regional self-reliance, and decrease your reliance on the Delta,” said Mr. Samsam.  “Are you doing your agricultural or urban water management plans?  Are you complying with the 20% reduction by 2020, are you looking at other sources, are you conserving?  We are not saying you can’t come to the Delta, but you need to do what you can to increase your self-reliance before you come to the Delta for more water.  We can reduce reliance on the Delta.  Water efficiency and water conservation – the Delta Plan puts that into policy.”

The Delta Plan recommends that State Water Resources Control Board update its water quality objectives and they are working with our science program to enact that, he said.  “The Delta Plan has other policies and recommendations, one of them being improved conveyance; also finish storage statewide studies and actually go ahead and start making some decisions.”

Recommended Areas for Prioritization and Implementation of Habitat Restoration Projects From the Delta Plan
Recommended Areas for Prioritization and Implementation of Habitat Restoration Projects
From the Delta Plan

The Delta plan identifies six priority restoration areas that need to be protected and restored:  the Yolo Bypass, the Cache Slough Complex, Cosumnes River, Mokelumne River confluence, Lower San Joaquin, Suisun Marsh and islands in the Western Delta, said Mr. Samsam.  “The Delta Plan also includes recommendations on how to reduce some of the ecosystem stressors, there are policies to prevent the wrong kind of ecosystem restoration from occurring, so it’s a mixed bag of what we can do to improve as we move forward and how to hold the line and let things degrade further.”

The Delta Plan takes into account the Delta as a unique and evolving place, so the Delta Plan has some policies to address this such as requiring these facilities consider local land use decisions before they are enacted, protecting rural lands for agriculture, and protecting farmers from eminent domain by requiring that farmers be willing sellers, just not take their land, he said.  The Delta Plan calls for the designation for Delta as a Natural Heritage Area, encourages recreation and tourism, and enhancing the Delta’s legacy communities.

And lastly, the Delta Plan has policies and recommendations to reduce risk in the Delta, said Mr. Samsam.  “One of them is trying to develop a regional Delta flood assessment district, we’re trying to trying to protect the floodplains and the floodways by preventing encroachments into them, and there is a statute provision that we prioritize levee investments in the Delta.”

The Delta Plan is going to rely on science, said Mr. Samsam.  “Best available science is going to drive the decision making, and as part of the regulatory policies that the Delta Stewardship Council have are requiring best available science and robust adaptive management plans. … We actually have an independent science board that reports to the Council so we’re confident that we can do our part.”

The Delta Plan will be implemented in several ways, explained Mr. Samsam.  The statute requires that an interagency be convened.  The Delta Plan has recommendations that rely on other state agencies to implement – we don’t have the ability to require those recommendations, so one of the things the implementation committee may work on is how to get the recommendations out there and to fruition, he said.  A coordinator has been hired for the committee, and Council member Randy Fiorini will be the Chair.

Right now we’re trying to outlay a skeleton of how this is going to work,” said Mr. Samsam.”The actual committee we expect is going to be heads of state agencies; we’ll meet twice a year, set the agenda, and having subcommittees and workgroups – that is what we’re envisioning.  We haven’t actually laid that out yet, but that is the path that we’re going.”

Fig2-3_Covered_ActionsThe Council has regulatory authority that pertains to covered actions, he said.  “Covered actions are actions undertaken by state or local agencies.  They self-certify that their actions are consistent with the Delta Plan.  We have 14 policies that they need to be consistent with.  The determination that a particular covered action is consistent with the Delta Plan is appealable and a hearing will be held by the Council to make a final determination.”

A covered action is defined by statue, he said.  “It must take place in the Delta, there must be a local or state agency component or if it is an action undertaken by a private individual, if there is a nexus to state or local agencies, it becomes a state or local agency’s responsibility to carry through with the covered action consistency process,” he said.  “Covered actions have a significant impact on the achievement of one or both of the coequal goals and government sponsored flood control programs.”

Regarding how the BDCP and the Delta Plan fit together, Mr. Samsam said, “The Delta Stewardship Council is not directing how BDCP will look like – how much flow should go through how many tunnels.  We recognize that conveyance is needed for statewide water reliability, improved reliability of water conveyance, and we also recognize that ecosystem is a huge part of the coequal goals.  So when we talk about BDCP, we are not necessarily talking about the BDCP that is currently out and on the streets.  We recognize that California has some pretty robust permitting and environmental laws; any BDCP that is finally permitted will have gone through CEQA, will have gone through NEPA, any concerns will be addressed to meet the requirements of the NCCP and HCP are rigorous, within the DRA there are some additional requirements; there needs to be a permit from the SWRCB, and that decision by fish & wildlife to grant the NCCP is appealable to the Council.  So when we say we support the successful permitted BDCP, is a project that is either a really good project for the state, or it’s a project that’s highlighting that our laws really don’t work, and I don’t think that’s the case, so we’re talking about a  project that’s going to do what it’s going to do.  It’s going to be successful.”

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