Melinda Terry’s presentation to the North Delta Water Agency: “BDCP’s conditional mitigation – Is it enough?”

Walnut Grove

Walnut Grove, north Delta

The North Delta Water Agency sits in the cross-hairs of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP); with all of the planned intake facilities to be built within its boundaries, Melinda Terry, the Agency’s manager, often describes it as being “ground zero” for the BDCP.  The North Delta Water Agency’s territory encompasses about 40% of the Delta and stretches from the southern edges of the city of Sacramento south to include Staten and Tyler Islands, and from as far east to include parts of Interstate 5 all the way out to Sherman Island in the western Delta.  It is about 300,000 acres of productive farmland that overlays portions of four counties and includes the communities of Freeport, Clarksburg, Courtland, Walnut Grove, and Isleton.

The North Delta Water Agency’s primary purpose is to assure and protect the water supply and water quality for landowners within the Agency boundaries, and to ensure that the terms of the Agency’s water supply and water quality 1981 contract with the Department of Water Resources are enforced.

On October 2nd, Melinda Terry, Manager of the North Delta Water Agency, gave a presentation to the Agency’s members on the impacts of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan on the farmers and residents within its boundaries.

You are aware of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that the state and federal governments are pursuing,” began Melinda Terry.  “It’s otherwise known as the old peripheral canal; now it is tunnels, but it’s the same concept being moved forward.  And we have the same Governor as we did then, too – isn’t that interesting … so as much as things change, they obviously stay the same.”


Melinda Terry, Manager of the North Delta Water Agency

Whenever an infrastructure project is planned, the state and federal agencies are required by law to do the environmental review to inform the public of the impacts on natural resources and species as well as the local impacts of the project, Ms. Terry explained.  “They haven’t been talking a lot about the actual on-the-ground impacts to you,” she said.  “A lot of the reason that they’re doing this project is for statewide water supply and a lot of their focus is on the benefits associated with that for the folks that are in the Bay Area, Southern California, and large portion of the San Joaquin Valley farming communities.”

The environmental review document is 25,000 pages, and so Ms. Terry said she would be giving just a brief overview of what some of the impacts are and what chapters they are described in so that residents would know where to look to try to ascertain how the project might impact them.

When you look at the EIR/EIS, it’s 25,000 pages, and there are 750 impacts identified in all of those chapters,” said Ms. Terry.  “Out of those, there are 48 that are called ‘significant, adverse, and unavoidable’.  And ‘unavoidable’, in terms of CEQA and NEPA (the environmental review laws) means that yes, we’re going to damage and do some kind of harm to the environmental resources, but we’re not going to remediate or repair it; that gets left on you, and so those are considered unavoidable.”

The goal is to try and mitigate to remediate the impacts to a level of ‘less than significant’, said Ms. Terry, “but again, there’s 48 that are considered ‘unavoidable’ and are left upon the Delta to essentially assume the cost for what that impact will be.”

The environmental documents are supposed to provide enough detail of the project to for those reviewing the document to know if all of the impacts have been identified and accounted for.  However, many of the chapters don’t have any ‘baseline conditions’, said Ms. Terry.  “For the conveyance facilities themselves, they are planning on this being considered a project level analysis, which means if they get their permits approved, it is ready to go to construction.  They’ve given you enough detail of that project.  But the problem is that they didn’t do a lot of analysis.  They put if off into the future.  So sometime before construction or after construction, they’ll start doing some studies and determine some of these things.”

There are a lot of things that are discretionary and conditional, said Ms. Terry.  “It might be if it’s cost effective or if it’s feasible, or that frankly it’s just discretionary on the BDCP folks themselves to decide whether or not you actually have an impact,” said Ms. Terry.  “I’ll say discretionary because when I ask, how did you come up with that, they didn’t really have an answer because they haven’t yet done the analysis.  They needed to identify something, so they are using their best professional judgment versus a study at this point.

Appendix 3-B is a listing of their environmental commitments.  “It’s a 38 pages of listing all these plans and things they are going to come up with later, like a traffic mitigation plan or a hazardous waste mitigation plan,” said Ms. Terry.  “Again those have not all been developed yet, but they have intentions.”  There were also things that showed up in their modeling in the Effects Analysis that did not get translated into identifying impacts, she added.

EIR Figure 3-18: Conceptual Rendering of On-Bank Intake Facility

EIR Figure 3-18: Conceptual Rendering of On-Bank Intake Facility

The North Delta has the majority of what is going on with the BDCP because all the three intakes with their pumping plants will be in the north Delta,” she said.  “They are each about 60 acres …  It’s quite large.  It’s a 3000 cfs pumping facility.  … the fish screens are very long, because in order for the fish and not be harmed and that they can still swim by the sucking action, they have to disperse it.”  There are sediment ponds and substations, and the tunnels themselves, plus a lot of other tunnels that go in-between those pumping plants, she said.

When I added up the length of all three intakes, it equals about a mile long of intakes, so there will be about a mile within a four mile stretch of the Sacramento eastern bank that will have the fish screens on them,” she said.  “During that time, you’ll have coffer dams; they’ll have to put coffer dams out in the river which will narrow the river as well.”

There will be concrete batch plants and fueling stations, and barges:  “Six barges are going to be put in because some of the preformed concrete pipes are so huge that they can’t really drive them on the freeway, so they’ll bring them in by barge, six of those,” she said, noting that 25 million cubic feet will be coming out during tunnel construction, so there will be about 1600 acres with muck on them.  “You’re ground zero here for all of the facilities,” she reminded.

The majority of the planned habitat is in the north Delta as well, primarily tidal wetlands in the Cache Slough complex and tidal wetlands and floodplain inundation in the Yolo Bypass, she noted.

Regarding surface water impacts, “there are a lot of things that will happen if you take 650,000 acre-feet of water and put it into the Yolo Bypass for several months for fish habitat; that reduces the amount of water going down the Sacramento River because it will come out at Rio Vista instead, and then the intakes will be pumping 6 to 9000 acre-feet as well,” she explained.  “So when you look at the Plan’s Chapter 5, the Effects Analysis chapter, that’s where it really gives a lot of description of some of the impacts because it’s their modeling.  … The purpose of the Effects Analysis is to look primarily at the effects on fish, but you can start making translations when you see things like if it reduces Sacramento River flows, and if you have an intake, it’s going to affect that.

064Each of the new intakes in the north Delta reduces the flow by about 3000 cfs.  The 650,000 acre-feet that will go into the Yolo Bypass is planned to be diverted at about a 6000 cfs capacity; that will reduce the Sacramento River north of there, so it’s a flood benefit if you will to those folks, by 3 feet,” she said.  “So, clearly we’ll have some change.  I haven’t been able to quite figure out, it doesn’t say specifically how much, but I’ll try and give you an idea.”

The documents were very clear that the amount of water going into Sutter and Steamboat Sloughs will be lower, said Ms. Terry.  “If you kind of think about the south Delta pumps … they have lowered water elevations in the south Delta so at certain times of the year, every year, they build temporary barriers in order for that water to come back up so that the ag irrigators can access their water,” she said.  “That potentially could happen in our future, particularly since the North Delta Water Agency contract says the State Water Project cannot alter those water elevations to the detriment of the channels or the water users. It doesn’t matter if it’s up or down, because even if it goes up you’re harmed potentially by surface flooding.  They currently do not have a fix for that in there.”

“There are habitat projects planned in Cache Slough complex that are going to require the removal of nine diversions by year 10 and an additional 15 by year 50, for a total reduction from 47 to 23,” said Ms. Terry.  “The other thing about Cache Slough is that it’s projected to result in reduced tidal range and have unidirectional flows in Sutter and Steamboat Sloughs.  …   Some of the habitat that will be done will reduce the actual tide flux, so it may not come as far, so you’ll just get potentially unidirectional flows.”

For some farmers, because of how in the Delta, the surface water is tied to the groundwater which is tied to the tide – they are all tied together,” she said.  “Some may only run their siphons when the tide comes in twice a day.  That’s potentially harming to them.”

These are all things that I noticed in chapters other than the water supply chapter in the EIR/EIS,” said Ms. Terry.  “They didn’t actually mention any water supply problems to Delta residents, farming or domestic, from the change in these surface water elevations that is really very clearly identified in an Effects Analysis that was done for fish.  That’s just one of the examples of one of the things where we said, you didn’t analyze this.  It shows up in your plan but you didn’t analyze it in your EIR/EIS and if you knew how water works in the Delta, you would understand how serious those changes in elevations mean in terms of accessibility for that water.

065The Plan is not done, so keep that in mind,” she reminded.  “Everything that is here could change, and some of it has already.”

There wasn’t any mitigation identified in the chapter on water supply in the environmental impact report, so if you are a farmer and you live in a region and somehow you think changes in water elevations are going to affect you, I suggest you comment on that,” she said.

Regarding groundwater supplies, the biggest impact to groundwater is the dewatering activities associated with the construction of the conveyance facilities.  “According to their EIR, it’s going to lower the groundwater levels somewhere between 10 and 20 feet,” she said, noting that the higher figure of 20 feet appeared to be more in the south Delta.  “There are dewatering wells every 50 to 75 feet around the perimeter of every intake … There are 12 to 15 ventilation shafts along the tunnel alignment, they have to dewater those …  the facilities all have extensive dewatering that will occur until they have enough of the project built that they don’t have to do that. …  Because all of our folks are on well water, this is going to be a serious issue.”  She noted that this could potentially affect the communities of Courtland, Freeport, Hood and Isleton.

It talks about the radius of influence which they’ve identified as being 2600 feet from around one of those dewatering wells … that bubble could potentially get larger but that’s what you’ll see around every single one of those.  And as you see it says, ‘municipal and domestic wells could experience significant reductions in yield and may no longer support existing land uses.’”

The purpose of the environmental process is to try and mitigate for impacts, and they have recognized that dewatering activities will have an impact, she said.  “But, as you see, they still have to do the future studies to determine info on the amount of wells that are within that 2600 foot radius; they haven’t really gone out and figured out how many wells that there are yet.”  If they determine there are impacts to municipal or domestic wells, they have three options, she said: They could install sheet piles to try and prevent watering from getting to the well, deepen the well, or secure potable water supplies from offsite sources.

Delta FarmAg supplies were a little bit different, however.  “For ag supply, it was a choice that if we can, we’ll get you another source, but we may just compensate instead.  The mitigation for ag wells says “if feasible”, said Ms. Terry.

They would also be implementing velocity dissipation features such as rock or grouted rip-rap, because the groundwater removed from dewatering must be discharged somewhere, she explained.  “So they will be discharging all of that removed groundwater that is being removed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for years, into either the river directly or into drainage systems that are nearby.  So for the river anyway, they are saying they may have to put in rock because we’re going to have increased velocities if we’re discharging a lot of groundwater there.”

Even these impacts remain significant because the replacement water supplies may not meet the preexisting demands or planned use demands for the affected parties, particularly for the agriculture.  So this is one of the significant and unavoidable impacts that are one of the 48 impacts that I was describing,” said Ms. Terry.  “These are what I call the “sorry, Charlie” mitigation; if we can we will, but if not, sorry, Charlie.”

“If you think about the domestic water, on the one hand, they were very clear that they will figure out how to find replacement water, but the problem is, I thought, if I live in a house and my water is not running anymore and I can’t take showers or do laundry or what have you, how are you replacing it?  Is it coming in a truck?  Who gets to decide how much water you’re replacing?  Are you going to look at what my average use is?  … I have no idea other than they are very sure they are going to make sure to deliver water to you.

Ms. Terry pointed out that if they dig your well deeper, that will cause increased pumping costs.  “Who is going to pay that monthly bill for that extra pumping? because as you all know, that costs more and that’s a forever cost put on to you and that was not identified.”

066A large construction footprint affects everything, Ms. Terry said.  “The drainage facilities, all the canals and pipes that are used for irrigation and drainage …  I remind people that a reclamation district is not just about levees.  The Reclamation Law was about draining so that you could farm, and because of the shallow groundwater, in many places it is a constant battle.  Even the drainage systems on each island are very similar to our flood control system in that it operates as a system.  If you disconnect one place, now it’s not going to work, and that it also works for gravity typically on these islands so that’s going to be affected.”

Ms. Terry said that she didn’t really see where they were going to be sure there was funding available to fund mitigation for impacts they haven’t finished the analysis for.  “There will be a lot of discretionary things here in terms of who’s really adversely affected, and after the fact, it becomes much more difficult once you’ve already been harmed. You’ll end up in a lot of legal situations to try to be reimbursed.”

Typically in large projects such as these, there is a third party compensation fund and a process identified for people to file for and receive compensation if they are harmed once the project is underway, said Ms. Terry.  It problematic without it, such as what happened with the Sacramento River restoration:  “Almost immediately, because more water was coming down, the farmers were getting the seepage and their crops were being harmed, and they immediately were suing and they had to sue because there was no process already set up, so it’s more much difficult to do that.”

The conveyance is Conservation Measure 1, and all the rest of the measures are Conservation Measures 2 through 22,” she said.  “The other conservation measures also have effects such as the increased inundation that is being planned as well as the tidal marsh; it would increase seepage and groundwater levels.  Many of you know the last time Prospect Island had a lot of water on it, Ryer Island was experiencing seepage and they had monitoring going on there right now because of that.

“It’s usually nice if you can figure some of these things out ahead of time rather than have to rely on good faith or money because if the project construction part has overruns, which all infrastructure projects typically do, and the larger they are, the larger the overruns typically, that really does mean less money to try and take care of these monitoring things.   …  I can’t tell in the budget how much money is set aside for some of these activities, whether it’s doing the studies, whether it’s doing the monitoring, reimbursing people, or paying to reconnect their drainage. … they didn’t break it out, they just lumped it all together,  but again, if you have the actual capital costs go up, I’m going to assume it’s going to leave less money to do these other activities.

They did say that they plan to monitor the groundwater prior to implementation, but again they are going to be the ones to determine whether it’s unacceptable degradation of the quality,” she said.  “And they did say they will provide comparable water quality pre-project if the well is degraded, but again, there’s a lot of discretion there for them.”

085Some of these things tie together, she said.  “In the EIR/EIS, they indicate they will interfere with the approximately 150 drainage systems.  They haven’t done an analysis; it was their best guess, but now, I not only have issues of water supply but now I am worried again as the reclamation district in keeping the surface flooding down.”

The documents say there will be reverse flow areas, she said.  “The south Delta pumps create reverse flows; well, guess what – we’re going to have reverse flows at Georgiana Slough and the cross channel, according to the EIR/EIS, so really they may end up with the fishery agencies complaining about the same stuff but now in a larger part of the Delta.”

Another thing that wasn’t identified in the EIR/EIS was the impacts of thousands of construction trucks on the levees.  “One of the things they didn’t analyze was that if you have thousands of really heavy trucks on a daily basis for 10 years, what does that do to levee underneath?  Because when you look at their transportation chapter, their consultants only analyzed two things: one was the increased traffic that all of you will experience, and the pavement conditions.  OK that’s nice but what about what’s underneath the pavement?  And really for most of their projects, they are on project levees, which as you know are the Army Corps, they are part of the state plan of flood control … and it’s getting harder and harder to stay in for a number of reasons but this will complicate it if you’re degrading that levee.”

When groundwater is drawn down, construction and sinkholes could become an issue as they have in other parts of the state, Ms. Terry said.  “If we have dewatering going on for 5 or 6 years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we’re going to have pile drivers at all three intakes, at every ventilation shaft, and at the forebay location …  with dewatering, you don’t have water underneath there and now you’ve got ground shaking going on and the trucks rumbling over.  There’s a lot of combination of things that could really lead to something like that. I asked if they analyzed it.  That is one of the things that they did identify … and they plan to analyze that but they haven’t done it yet.”

There are over 1000 steel piles to be put in, she said.  “I couldn’t figure out how many days it takes … it was unclear because I couldn’t tell if they could get one put in per day or not … I might be worried that this has an impact on levee stability, but really its talked about quite extensively in their noise chapter … They will plan to try to use different types of sound enclosure measures, but their EIR admits there is only so much you can do, especially when you start putting six to 10 of them going at one time … plus you’ve got the trucks noise, the concrete batch plant noise, they all go on together.”

The EIR is very clear that many people will really be forced to abandon their homes because the noise levels,” said Ms. Terry.  “If you had to go through just one summer, that might be one thing, but year after year, it’s very hard.  If you don’t have water in your house as they have indicated that is an unavoidable impact.  … Businesses will be abandoned because that’s where they get their water, too.  Some parcels are identified that you just won’t have access to. …  There are just so many things that will make it hard for you to live here.  It’s like living in a war zone where you are occupied, if you will, for ten years by thousands of trucks rumbling by your home and businesses like tanks, and eventually just like war refugees, you abandon your home and you leave.”

Eminent domain will compensate those that are in the footprint, she said.  “That’s one of the things you may want to really look at in the Plan to see if they have dealt adequately with that.”

In mid July, last year, they made significant changes to the BDCP, downsizing the intake capacity from 15,000 to 0709000 cfs and from five intakes to three.  A month and a half ago, other significant footprint changes were announced.  Those changes will be detailed in the upcoming plan, but include reducing the size of the new forebay, moving it further east and away from the population, and utilizing more pies rather than open trenches.  “So while there are big changes, unfortunately none of those change those 48 unavoidable impacts that I was mentioning.”

“I didn’t really talk about recreation … but if you just think about some of the construction that primarily occurs June through October – particularly the in-water construction is limited to those months because of the fisheries, but that’s when the boating occurs so those in-river activities, whether it’s the barges or the coffer dams, really changes a lot of the recreation.”

Ms. Terry than advised her members.  “There are 25,000 pages.  You do not need to read all those pages.  You just need to read Alternative 4, that’s their preferred alternative. … November 15 is the date that they are planning still, but they’ve had a federal government shutdown so I don’t know if that’s going to affect their ability to stick with their schedule, but currently it’s November 15, 2013.  They have agreed to do a longer public comment period than is required by law, so it will be a 120 day public comment period.   And they are required to really look at comments, so you really need to be a specific as you can in those comments.”

Ms. Terry then explained the importance of the North Delta Water Agency’s water supply and quality contract which was agreed to back when the peripheral canal was first discussed in 1981.  “DWR has done a great job of keeping up and our water quality has been good.  It’s been a good deal, and I don’t think there are any regrets,” she said.  “Part of what was written into that contract was Article 6, which were really physical changes, because at the time, the legislature had approved the peripheral canal and it was assumed that those facilities were going to be built.  The contract says you really can’t alter the surface water elevations to the detriment of the water users or the channels or create unnatural flows such as reverse flows.  It also talks about seepage and erosion damage, because they knew about the project and the types of things that were going to happen, so those were addressed.  As you heard, pretty much all of these appear to be triggered in the EIR/EIS, but so far, I’ve really only had one meeting with Jerry Meral where I’ve explained that here are some of the things that get triggered.”

Ms. Terry said it was one of the reasons the North Delta Water Agency participated in the steering committee.  “It was our belief that it is cheaper and easier to figure out how to fix those problems in the design, but the farther along they get in the design, the harder it is for them to make changes.  That’s concerning because for us we may have to wait until there’s actual impacts and then we’re all in litigation and trying to get repairs and compensation for damage that may have occurred. … So it’d be nice to figure some of those out and we will try, but again they are getting farther and farther along with their project.

Isleton Feb 2013 #1When asked if the project was a ‘done deal’, Ms. Terry said it was really hard to say.  “The fishery agencies, both state and federal, have written a lot of red flag comments for concerns they had; some included the word extirpation which really means extinction – I don’t think they use that word lightly so I think they had a lot of serious issues to be addressed.  … I know they’ve been having those meetings more and they have to figure out exactly what changes they would have to make operationally or design wise to make sure they are addressing those species impacts to the satisfaction of those agencies because they are the ones that will have to sign those permits, or not.  And obviously they would want them to sign them but if they can’t, they can’t.

If you’re the water contractors, you need that stuff figured out because you can’t know how much water you’re actually going to receive from this project unless you know what the operations are going to be,” she continued.  “The other most precarious thing is the financing of this.  I think there’s a lot of angst in a lot of the water contractor agencies if you will of how much their portion is going to be because they will identify not only the water contractors are going to pay their percentage of the plan, but then they have to be very specific as to how that is allocated amongst all the agricultural districts, CVP, and the urban and some ag districts that are in the State project.  They have to be very specific about what portion everybody has.”

Question from audience: “How do we stop this thing?  In the past we always voted on if they wanted to send more water away, and we voted it down.  And now all of a sudden they are shoving it down our throats …?

The project itself will not have a vote,” answered Ms. Terry.  “But 14% of the budget for the BDCP relies on future water bond funding, paying for the public portion which are some of those habitat projects. … “

“I get back to is this coequal?  I don’t think 48 unavoidable impacts in order to create benefits, people coming in to somebody else’s backyard, creating 48 unavoidable impacts in order to create benefits for themselves is not coequal under anyone’s definition.  That’s just not possible,” said Ms.Terry. “The one thing, I’ve said all along, one of the good things about a HCP/NCCP is you can share some of the benefits.  Certainly, the assurances that are given in those documents, if I were somebody going into somebody else’s backyard, I would want to share some of those benefits, and partly because then the people that I’m asking to use their backyard won’t be as upset, but that costs more money, and as I said, money is definitely a precarious thing, cost.  So far they haven’t had those discussions.”

091Courtland pear farmer Tim Neubarth closed out the meeting with some advice for his neighbors.  “The only way you’re going to stop this thing is to be involved, number one – to know what you’re talking about … you’ve got to talk with your friends and neighbors, and you’ve got to back it up with facts, with common sense stuff, not just rhetoric … Number two, I hate to say this because I hate litigation but the only way you are going to stop these SOB’s is to sue the crap out of them.  You sue the crap out of them as an individual, you sue the crap out of them as an association, you sue the crap out of them as a town, Courtland, Walnut Grove, and just inundate these people with litigation where they can’t see straight, and maybe the light will come on that this isn’t worth it for them.”

But you have to have a Plan B,” said Mr. Neubarth.  “You have to come up with an alternative.  Let’s say in our wildest dreams that BDCP goes away.  It falls in on itself as a house of cards and it just collapses.  That will never, in and of itself, stop the issue of what the Delta and its water plays in the water issues of the state of California.  That will not stop them – they will come back again.  It’s started in 1982, it started way before that, it’s back here now, and if you don’t have an alternative, it will show up again somewhere down the road, because everybody and their brother thinks there’s way too much water here that’s going west.

“That may be true – I am not denying that,” continued Mr. Neubarth.  “But what I am saying to you is that if you don’t come up with an alternative, then at some point in time, you may have an opportunity, you may have a window of time to present to those who want to know, and if you don’t have a viable alternative in place, then you lose that window of opportunity.  They are going to say to you, well, you had your chance, now I guess all we’ve got is BDCP, and on we go with BDCP.  You’ve got to have an alternative in place that addresses the issue of where and how much water comes out of the Delta.  Now there’s other issues of storage and conservation and reclamation and recycling and desal and all that stuff, which is all good and all needs to be addressed, but you’ve got to have an alternative in place that addresses the issue of what happens in the Delta, what happens with the Delta’s water supply, what happens, what part does the Delta play in the water supply of California.”

“I will suggest to you that alternative is WDIC – Western Delta Intakes Concept by Dr. Pyke.  Now, I could be wrong because it hasn’t been proven and it hasn’t been validated at this point, but from what I know as a simple farmer in the Delta, this thing makes a helluva lot more sense than BDCP does.”

For more information:

  • Click here for a fact sheet on the North Delta Water Agency.
  • Click here for a 2011 Sacramento Bee article on the North Delta Water Agency and the BDCP.

One Response

  1. Gene Beley

    Excellent report on this meeting! Melinda Terry is the “truth fairy” of the Delta, providing a public service to all citizens in California. She exemplifies a model of what government service should be in our society; the BDCP is the opposite, creating government speak, Orwellian words, and using taxpayer money to hire PR flacks to sell their inconvenient truth messages to the public, hoping to fleece money out of them like shearing sheep for profit.


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