The 11th Biennial State of the Estuary conference held in October, 2013, brought together the leaders from the state’s resource agencies to discuss the multiple planning processes going on and share their views on how these processes will work together. The panel discussion, One Estuary, Many Plans: How Will They Work Together?, was moderated by Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. Seated on the panel were Chris Knopp, the Executive Director of the Delta Stewardship Council, Chuck Bonham, Director of Department of Fish and Wildlife, Mark Cowin, Director of Department of Water Resources, and Mike Machado, immediate past executive director of Delta Protection Commission.
Felicia Marcus began by saying that the panel discussion was designed to answer the how the different planning processes all interact and fit together. “We’re seeing so much more state-led activity on the Delta then we’ve seen in decades,” she said. “It is really heartwarming to see the leadership happening at the state level through two governors, the legislature engaging and the agencies engaging, which is terrific.”
In 2009, the legislature stepped in and said that a more coherent set of strategies for the state was needed, but in particular for the Delta and the creation of the Delta Stewardship Council is one piece of it, she said. “The goal was the coequal goals of reliable water supply and ecosystem restoration but it was to be also achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique aspects of the Delta as an evolving place,” said Ms. Marcus. “It’s important to get all three of those pieces together – it’s the coequal goals done in a manner that respects and recognizes the Delta. … it does show that the legislature was thinking very heavily, as well as the stakeholders who helped get it passed, about us having a more coherent and coordinated approach to this very important part of the country.”
Chris Knopp, Executive Director of the Delta Stewardship Council
“I really appreciate the subject being the integration of these plans because it’s really why the Delta Stewardship Council is here,” said. Mr. Knopp. “The Delta Stewardship Council had its origins in the 2009 Delta Reform Act. The Delta Reform Act is a response to the frustration in the legislature and in the community over inaction with CalFed and before that, with inaction between the state and federal agencies and the inability to get something done.”
The Delta Stewardship Council was created as a bold experiment by the legislature, a new form of governance, to try and break the deadlock, he said. “Basically, the legislature envisioned the Delta Stewardship Council as having certain ability to break that deadlock and they did that through a legally enforceable plan,” he said, noting that the Delta Plan has 14 enforceable policies and 73 recommendations. “Those recommendations are important because those recommendations actually are actions to be taken by other agencies. The Stewardship Council doesn’t replace any agency, doesn’t take over their authority, but what we do is coordinate and integrate those actions. Those 73 recommendations are in fact actions of other agencies that are presented in one coherent package knitted together into something that hopefully is going to make a difference in the Delta.”
The Stewardship Council was created to create a form of accountability in the Delta, not only for the Delta Plan through its performance measures, but also for the Delta itself, said Mr. Knopp. “The Delta Reform Act requires that we create an implementation committee, and those agencies charged with implementing BDCP have to create an annual report and submit to that the Delta Stewardship Council who then replies with recommendations. The caveat here is recommendations; we cannot change the basic substance of an NCCP or an HCP. And lastly, it creates a scientific foundation for moving forward.”
The Delta Plan, which just became effective on September 1st, is fundamental, he said. “It’s all about balance and achieving the coequal goals of a reliable supply of water and restoring the Delta ecosystem, but doing it in a way that’s respectful of the people who live in the Delta. It’s a long-term management plan that coordinates a lot of the major actions in the Delta and it does that through 14 enforceable policies that are now regulations, and the 73 recommendations, which is that mixing of agency actions.”
The 14 policies create 6 priority restoration areas, require a reduction in reliance on the Delta, preserves floodways and floodplains, and it does it all with best available science, he said.
The Delta Science Plan is similar to the Delta Plan in that the goal is to coordinate and integrate various scientific efforts that are going on in the Delta. “So One Delta, One Science is a nice catchy phrase for that integration and collaboration and that transparent science, but it has a more pointed purpose to it and that’s to create priorities and a focus for the different programs that are operating in the Delta, to standardize those operations in terms of doing monitoring, how we are doing adaptive management, and how can we synthesize that data and make it available more quickly.”
The Delta Plan Implementation Committee demonstrates how individuals and projects can fit together, but it’s also about how Delta agencies submit annual reports to the Delta Stewardship Council, he said. “The Council has to provide agencies with recommendations, but those recommendations cannot affect the habitat conservation plan or the NCCP. But there’s a lot of space in between, and that’s how fast are you doing things, how are we achieving the coequal goals as we go forward, how are we maintaining that balance, because balance is going to be an absolute essential item of coordination among these plans.”
One of the purposes of the Delta Stewardship Council is to create a new form of accountability, and that has to do with performance measures and how the plan is being implemented, he said. Is it working but also what is the health of the Delta and what are the outcomes of all this activity that we’re talking about?
Mr. Knopp said the key to success is trust and cooperation, which is hard to say in front of those who have seen the struggle that’s been going on for so long in the Delta. “I think what it means under policy and science is to maintain an independent unbiased science, keep scientists out of policy and policymakers out of science; and have a clearly defined role for that interaction between policy and science,” said Mr. Knopp. “It’s really tough to do this in reality. It is very difficult. But it’s one thing that we will achieve.”
Local, state and federal agencies need to place the achievement of the coequal goals above individual interests and to basically trust that the goal of achieving a balance will result in the outcomes we’re after, he said. “Stakeholders need to remember that balance is the objective, and we have to maintain a robust involvement with our stakeholders to achieve that, but in the end, action is the requirement.”
In summary, the Delta Plan represents a bold experiment in government, said Mr. Knopp. “It is intended to create a new agency focused on a broad perspective with the objective and means to integrate and coordinate the authorities and resources of other Delta agencies through new laws and actions to be carried out by those agencies using their resources and their authorities. It’s that integration that CalFed failed at. Through a new accountability function, and through a mandatory coordination among Delta agencies, and through the Delta Science Plan, through coordination, integration of various science efforts in the Delta.”
Chuck Bonham, Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife
“I’m not going to talk about the Delta per se, I’m not going to talk about the many proceedings underway; I want to talk about some of the thinking I’ve been going through,” said Chuck Bonham. “I am kind of sharing with you out loud. It’s sparked by a feeling of change in the air because of fall which has me thinking about certain topics.”
Recently Mr. Bonham was reading the article, “Static Law Meets Dynamic World” written by Holly Doremus, a professor at Berkeley Law. “She really focused on this idea that way back when, maybe 20, 30, 40 years ago, a lot of our views were that the future landscape was based on a static concept and that made sense when you considered our early preservationists who really thought if you locked up certain land in a certain state and preserved it, things would become wild again – this idea that if we would just leave it alone, nature will move back to the more perfect Eden. And at the same time, in the world of ecology, many were talking about this idea of a state of relative stability or equilibrium in our natural world.”
By 1992, Eugene Odom, a proponent of the idea of equilibrium, had actually turned around and was declaring that our ecosystems are far from a state of equilibrium. “She cites a person named Dan Farber who wrote an article in 1994 in the Loyola Law Review, and I’m going to quote this footnote that Professor Doremus mentions. This if Farber writing: “’When information’s base is itself subject to rapid change, it makes little sense to agonize over today’s decisions, when it is likely to require revision tomorrow anyway.’”
“Now this is the part where you may be asking yourself, what is he talking about and how is it relevant to this panel. I think evolution of thinking and change is needed within those of us in leadership positions in government, and that this commitment to new thinking may be more important than any specific proceeding that’s underway in the Delta.”
“I’ll give you four examples,” said Mr. Bonham. “My first example is about science. I don’t know whether this fits as a paradox; it might, but I certainly believe it’s ironic. On one hand, the Delta estuary is probably one of the most heavily studied places in the world, and at the exact same moment, there are many important unknowns about its current state and its future. That’s either a paradox or its incredibly ironic. And at first, when I started this job, that frustrated the heck out of me. But the change I’m going through is to ask myself, do I just need to get over it and accept the fact that the duality may exist in our science in the Delta.”
“Second example: Quantity,” said Mr. Bonham. “This is my first time in government. The number of ‘what the heck’ moments is pretty large. It took me a year and I kept asking, what’s going on in the Delta. The number of individual proceedings and plans is astounding. Again, my thinking at this moment in time is maybe I just need to get over that and realize the issue may be less about the quantity of effort underway and more about how we’re managing ourselves together through that thicket.”
“My experience is that you can manage through these kinds of conundrums if you’re oriented around certain principles or values, and I see these in natural resource problem solving,” he continued. “Relationships matter. At the end of the day, it may be more important, my relationship with Felicia or Mark or Chris or Mr. Machado and how we want to solve problems than our individual turf or actual proceeding. We need a commitment to civility, because frankly, when we move off into a world of ad-hominem attacks, we’re just taking our energy away from problem solving. Conservation, environmental protection, and regulatory certainty – they are not mutually exclusive. And lastly, doing nothing is no longer an option. Status quo? It’s a punt to our children. The problems are only going to get worse.”
“Next example, self governance,” he said. “Our department rarely leads any one of these particular proceedings in the Delta. More often, we are a participant in a variety of forms – offering a scientific opinion to the water board as its redoing flow considerations, thinking about how I personally can become a member of the Implementing Committee at the Stewardship Council to shape where we may do restoration, making our department available at an open door level to hear from local communities because in my experience, you can’t do restoration on the back of local landowners, you have to do it with them in a collaborative way, or asking Mark Cowin, how might we do FloodSafe projects that achieve multiple benefits.”
“More importantly, we’ve got to turn self governance and hard critical thinking to ourselves. I’m stunned often how much our departments spend time fighting with each other rather than solving something together, so what we’re trying to do in our department is first create an air traffic controller to keep track of everything, and Carl Wilcox has agreed to be the person in our first-ever permanently-created special advisor position for the Delta,” he said.
“Last example: scale of intensity may be exactly what we need,” he said. Recalling a recent article about the Elwha River restoration, “the writer was interviewing Mike McHenry, who is a fisheries biologist for the Lower Elwha tribe, and Mike said, ‘When I got into wildlife biology, I never thought I’d be working with excavators, but I came to realize that if you want to return nature back, you have to go big.’ And I wonder whether we’re in a moment of time as to the Delta where we may actually need to go big to help bring nature back.”
My last comment is an expression of another thing I am struggling to get over, said Mr. Bonham. “I have never pinned down the total accuracy of this, but I have seen over the years this story in the literature. After World War II, Winston Churchill goes on a speaking tour in America, he’s at Washington University in Saint Louis. He takes the podium, says something like, ‘I love coming to America and I love Americans even more, and I love you so much because you can always be counted on to do the right thing – after you’re tried everything else.’
“I used to think this story was for the purpose of well, we eventually get it right. But as I’ve been challenging myself and our department to think about the Delta, I actually believe this story may be more about something else. It might be about the fact that we keep trying,” he said. And given my thinking about a dynamic state of nature, not one stuck in equilibrium, in a future where we may need to go bold, and in a future where we need different relationships between us as leaders in our respective capacities and you in yours. At the end of the day, the take home may be that we have to keep trying.”
“That was just perfect,” said Felicia. “There’s no underestimating the power of the fact that we all get along and we’re all problem solvers and our direction from the Governor is to work with each other. Even when we disagree vigorously, we do it with respect, which I think is terrific … ”
Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources
“I really have listened to Chuck before, and despite some of his references to Death Stars in relationship to Delta pumps and things like that, I really do associate myself with his remarks,” began Mr. Cowin. “The big question is how are these plans all going to fit together, and I’ve got to agree with Chuck again that relationships matter, but at the end of the day, these plans aren’t going to fit together because of the perfectly crafted legislative guidance or our sparkling personalities, but because we’re going to be motivated to make them work together for a common good, and I think that’s really the primary message I want to get through today.”
Mr. Cowin said that he would be talking about four of the Department’s programs that affect the Delta, starting with State Water Project operations which obviously have a big influence on the Delta. “One of the biggest signs of hope that we can change the course in the Delta regarding project operations is what we’ve done to stem the tide of litigation by operational decisions in federal court by moving towards a collaborative approach,” he said. “Obviously we have a lot more work to do but we really have established a framework where we can have a more fluid dialog, more transparency in decision making, and that’s giving a lot of newfound confidence in water agencies that we can work with wildlife agencies. I think it’s incredibly important that we continue to make progress.”
Longer term, ‘One Delta, One Science’ means working towards common science to help our future decisions, he said. “That’s going to be extremely important as well, but carrying that further, the big banana here is how can we carry this into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the ultimate integration of efforts. What we’re after here is a comprehensive approach that will be adaptively managed over time to deal with multiple stressors in the Delta. We’re raising the bar from what we have now, which is an ESA approach to mitigating our impacts towards contributing to conservation of species. And that’s extremely important and it gets to the goal of sustainability that is so important for us all right now.”
The core strategy is pretty simple, said Mr. Cowin. “We want to recover these populations of endangered species, thereby stabilizing the operational rules that control project operations and stabilize a sustainable foundational amount of water supply for those 2/3rds of Californians that depend upon Delta water deliveries, he said. “Pretty simple in the concept but very difficult, of course, in crafting the plan and making the decisions necessary to give people confidence. We’re at this level of investment, and this level of disruption in the Delta, but I want to make this point … we don’t see BDCP as solving California’s water problems. It has to be part of an Integrated Water Management approach. I really do believe this evolution towards Integrated Water Management is one of the most significant things in California water policy over the last couple of decades.”
“I want a give a plug for the California Water Plan update which features Integrated Water Management,” he said. “Our public draft of the update 2013 is available now for your review, and I think there is an amazing amount of information that will help guide decisions in the future in the document.”
Other state agencies have been participating in the last couple of updates of the California Water Plan, which gets to the coordination issue. “We’ve got a dozen or two dozen agencies in state and federal governments that have some sort of water responsibilities and we’ve brought them in at the program level to help develop the content of the plan.”
“The other part of Integrated Water Management that falls into the Department of Water Resources sweet spot is the grant program that we operate to help incentivize local collaboration at the regional level,” he said. “We’re not sitting on our hands in California; we’re making tremendous progress towards improving regional self reliance. Over the past ten years or so, we’ve been able to provide about $1.4 billion in grant funds by DWR that has leveraged $3.7 billion in local investment towards hundreds of local projects that reduce demand or improve local water supplies. We estimate that it provides about 2 million acre-feet of water per year, or 4 million households worth of water. That’s tremendous progress. We have more work to do in the future; I think that we need to have even stronger collaboration with other state agencies in guiding that program and making sure that we’re using that to best advantage to meet all of our water management objectives in California.”
The Delta levees program is obviously extremely important, he said. “I will remind folks that the BDCP proposal is a dual conveyance proposal, so we’re not only looking at improvements in the way that we divert water from the northern part of the Delta, but we will continue to operate the south Delta pumps to some extent in the future as well. So Delta levees are important, not only for that but for all of the communities and other infrastructure out in the Delta. We’ve been able to invest about $300 million since 2005 in Delta levee improvements and special projects, and we have another $300 million available in existing bond funding. We need to continue to work with the Delta Protection Commission and Delta Stewardship Council on an investment strategy on how to spend that money. Obviously, that’s still just a down payment; we’re going to have to come up with more sustainable amounts of funding to get what we need in the future from Delta levee performance.”
“So let me wrap it up with my version of motivational speech here,” said Mr. Cowin. “Our agencies will be able to work together because we are motivated to do so. All of our missions include an aspect of promoting the vital economy on the basis of a sustainable ecosystem. And if we can all agree to that, and we can agree that part of sustainability is, I don’t get mine at your expense, then we’re motivated to work together. The best way for my agency to achieve its mission is to help your agency achieve your mission. That’s the motivation, and we need persistent leadership to press that down through our agencies, and I’m confident that folks at this table are willing to put the effort in. It will take effort, so we don’t come here today with all the answers as how these plans are going to fit together, but we are highly motivated to make them work together.”
Mike Machado, immediate past executive director of Delta Protection Commission
Mike Machado began by saying he would be discussing the Delta Protection Commission, it’s role in protecting the Delta, and the background and reasons for being skeptical of the Delta Reform Act and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
“The challenge of restoring the Delta and providing water outside the Delta has been talked about, studied and proposals have been made ever since the Delta was reclaimed from swampland, and the Delta Reform Act was the very first time we find linkages, cooperation and interdependence between various agencies involved with oversight and governance in the Delta,” said Mr. Machado, noting that the Delta Reform Act established the coequal goals, the Delta Stewardship Council, and the Delta Conservancy.
Mr. Machado then gave some background on the Delta Protection Commission. The Commission was formed 20 years ago in response to the pressure to urbanize the Delta. At that time, the legislature divided up the Delta into the primary and secondary zones. The secondary zone is under the jurisdiction of the Delta counties: Contra Costa, Solano, Yolo, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. For the primary zone, the Delta Protection Commission is charged with developing a resource management plan regarding land use in the primary zone. The five Delta counties are required to have general plans consistent with the resource management plan and the commission has the authority to review and deny proposed land uses in the primary zone.
The Delta Reform Act reorganized the Delta Protection Commission, giving a two-thirds majority to local governments, being counties, cities, reclamation districts and forced agencies to also sit on the Commission, he said. “It stated that the Commission provides an existing forum for Delta residents who gauge the decision regarding the actions in the Delta and particularly those that are unique, cultural, recreation and agricultural resources of the Delta. It further stated that the Commission was the appropriate agency to again provide recommendations to the Stewardship Council on methods to preserve the Delta as an evolving place.” He noted that the legislature often makes certain phrases but fails to define them. “It did not define what evolving place meant in the Act, and it’s been subject to several different interpretations.”
He added that the chair of the Delta Protection Commission is a member of the Delta Stewardship Council.
“The Commission was given review authority regarding actions by state and federal agencies that affect the unique cultural, recreation, agricultural values within the Delta, and the review was to include but not limited to the impact to cultural, recreation and agriculture,” he said. The Commission was also directed to conduct a feasibility of the study of declaring the Delta a National Heritage Area.
“Often lost in the pursuit of the coequal goals sn the legislative attempt of achieving objectives inherent in the coequal goals and this was specified specifically in the language of the Act,” he said. “I’ll highlight three of these that are relevant and essential to the economy, cultural and recreational values of the Delta. One is to protect and enhance the unique cultural, recreation and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place, two, restore the ecosystem including its fisheries and wildlife as the heart of a healthy estuary, and three, improve water quality, and protect human health and environment consistent with achieving all of the objectives in the Delta. Important to that is that the State Water Board was also charged with doing instream flows to affect volume, water quality and timing of water necessary for the estuary.”
The Delta Reform Act also charged the Commission with producing a Economic Sustainability Plan for the Delta, he said, noting that the report found that the Delta contributes $6 Billion to the state’s economy and almost $3 Billion for the five counties that make up the Delta. “It is the threat to the unique cultural, recreation and agricultural values of the Delta, the threat to in-Delta flows, water quality and in-Delta use of that water that caused the Delta Protection Commission to oppose the current BDCP and request a review of alternatives other than the twin tunnels for an isolated surface facility.”
“A review of past promises made by various entities and agencies sheds light on the Commission’s position and the general distrust by Delta stakeholders of agencies now orchestrating and/or proposing projects in pursuit of the coequal goals,” he said.
Section 11460 of the State Water Code specifies the water within a watershed will not be exported out of that watershed until and unless all the needs of the watershed have been met, he said, noting also that in 1948, the Secretary of the Interior stated that he would not divert Sacramento Valley and any water that might be used in the Valley now or later. “These safeguards have not always been kept, and there are fears that current proposals will not protect area of origins. In addition, section 12200 of the State Water Resource code states that water be transferred from the Delta should be surplus to the needs of the areas of which it originates and be from a common pool. Diversion by tunnels or an isolated facility would be contrary to the concept of common pool and to date, little regard has been paid to surplus water.”
“It has been claimed that Delta diversions and agricultural practices have impacted fish populations, yet the Delta is essentially unchanged physically from 1925, though there are other aspects to the Delta,” he said. “But if you take a look at what has happened to the fish populations – if you look at winter run salmon, steelhead, smelt, the decline in fish populations follows increases in water exports from the Delta. And indeed there are other factors that contribute to the decline but exports seem to be a primary one.”
“Part of the hysteria concerning the need for abandoning the Delta in favor of the twin tunnel proposal is the prediction of imminent failure of the levees, but yet when one looks at the prediction of levee failure versus actual levee failure, there’s been one failure in ten years compared to a prediction of 107 failures,” he said.
“It is the failed promises of exporting water surplus to the needs of the Delta watershed from a common pool, it is threats to the area of origin, it is hysteria over levee failure and the potential abandoning of Delta levees with an isolated facility, it is the loss of 100,000 acres of farmland for habitat, the loss of legacy farms and the effects on the Delta and its communities from the disruption of habitat from over 10 years of construction of the tunnels, and the Department of Water Resources ignoring the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Delta Protection Commission regarding the use of Staten Island – all of these have contributed and caused mistrust and opposition to the plan being set forth to fix the Delta, in spite of the linkages and interdependency among the agencies established by the Delta Reform Act.”
Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board
Felicia Marcus then discussed the State Water Board’s role. “The Delta Reform Act gave the direction that we do a flow criteria report which we did in 2011, and it basically was setting a bookend for what the fish would ask for if they could speak,” she said. “Other water users in the system can speak up loudly for what they’d like to have, but it was our take, just to put it on deck for what it was that the fish would really need. We also have a role in BDCP of giving the water quality certification under 401 to the Bureau of Reclamation and approving an additional point of diversion. In the Delta Reform Act, construction cannot begin on BDCP until we approve that permit which is a full-on water rights permit process with an adjudicatory hearing where we have to find that the project will not adversely affect water quality. We also have to show and determine after a full adjudicatory evidentiary hearing that it won’t adversely affect other water rights holders, and that will involve, I’m sure, a cast of thousands.”
The State Water Board has been working hard on water quality issues and NPDES permit requirements, such as the recent appeal of the Sacramento regional wastewater plant, the irrigated lands permits for agriculture, and stormwater, she said.
With the water quality control plans, the goal is to look at all the beneficial uses of a given water body, she said. “Our goal is to try and maximize all of the beneficial uses in the Delta, not pick winners and losers. People come and argue to us as if we’re going to pick one and forget the others, that we can say, okay it’s all fish now, forget ag, or that we can say it’s all about water supply, sorry fish. And they argue strenuously about what their particular beneficial use of choice really needs. That is totally fine to do and that’s helpful. What’s not helpful is not putting yourself in the position of the decision maker which is what all good advocacy is, and help us figure out how to find the sweet spot. That’s what our charge is, and in that regard, in some ways, we are at heart integrators of multiple uses, multiple agency work, etc. We’re standard setters, and we’re later umpires in this. Sometimes we get hit by foul tips but we are basically the umpires that are trying to set the stage.”
The Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan is being updated in four phases. The first phase, San Joaquin River flow and southern Delta salinity standards is in process right now and will hopefully be done in 2014, she said. “The Bay Delta inflows, outflows and operation requirements including the Sacramento Valley, we wanted to get done by the deadline the Council set for us in 2014, but that’s going to be hard to meet. We’re hoping for 2015.”
After that, the State Water Board will do an implementation plan, which again is a water rights proceeding with full on adjudicatory processes, she said. “It can take years, so we’re also encouraging settlements along the way; it’s what we do all the time because the process is very difficult but frankly sometimes with settlements, you can get better results.”
The program of implementation in water quality control plans also includes recommendations and directions to a variety of other agencies, she said. “People are fond of quoting water quality code section 12347 which really, if you read it, sounds like we can tell everybody what to do, and if they don’t do it, they’ve got to come show why they can’t do it. There’s argument about how much we can do but frankly we would rather get people to do things by MOUs and agreements. I think the Delta Implementation Committee will help us as well so we’ll see how that goes.”
“We are doing expert panels on disputed issues and we’ve asked the Delta Science Program to do those for us in the spirit of that integration and collaboration,” she said.
The Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan will be used by the Delta Stewardship Council in their consistency determinations, and the water board will participate on the implementation committee, she said. “At BDCP we’ve been engaging in reviews of the draft. Part of our delay is hoping to rely on the many years and dollars worth of scientific data that has been happening in the BDCP context. We’ll have to do more on our own. … Our water quality control plan is much broader than Bay Delta, it goes up to the Sac Valley and the San Joaquin so it’s been a balance.”
Finally, the Governor is working on a set of water actions that say what our priorities are going to be over the next 5 years on water, she said. “I think you’ll see that it shows a much broader range of engagement on water supply and water quality, contamination, use of water in the urban and ag arena as well as how it can all fit together better and how we can coordinate more on operations and the like. … It’s not one of those giant plans, it’s more of a list of things to post on the bathroom mirror to see every morning that all of us are supposed to be working on and trying to deliver on in the next 5 years.”
“So finally, as Yogi Berra said, ‘it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future,’ and these are some of my predictions,” she said. “I just think the point to leave you with is that there’s a lot going on. The coordination and collaboration is happening so much more so than ever in the past. … It’s not going to be simple and it’s not going to be neat but I think it’s all going to converge in the next couple of years. It may be messiest before it comes together but we have to take a different attitude toward adaptively managing ourselves as much as the ecosystem. Again, we’re not looking for unanimity but for engagement and coordination and there’s no silver bullet. What I’m fond of saying is that it’s about belts, suspenders and flying monkeys – whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Follow-up question: Coequal goals
Felicia asks panelists how they see the coequal goals of water supply and ecosystem restoration as well as the concept of respecting the Delta as an evolving place. What does it require you to accomplish and what do you think success would look like?
MARK COWIN: “This new evolution, this new progression in water management really has an overarching theme of sustainability, so where we’re trying to go, and it’s a difficult path, is to achieve a reliable, sustainable amount of water that we can export from the Delta that will serve as the basis for local and regional water managers across the state to make investment decisions on what other types of projects they need to commit to in order to in order to achieve their water reliability objectives. All of this plays out in an integrated water management framework. So that’s the basic strategy here, and again, it takes a big investment, it takes creative thinking , and it takes working together, but I think we can do it.”
CHUCK BONHAM: “I would answer the question by talking quickly about water and restoration. So W H Elgin said thousands have lived without love but not one without water. And therein is the crux of the problem. … Our mission is driven more towards that ecological component but I would tell you I think water reliability need not mean a perception that our agency demands full flow, 365 days a year, every year, in perpetuity. I have found that it’s more about the right amount of water of sufficient quality at the right time of year. … There are plenty of examples where we can sit down with the water user community and sort out what the fish need at a certain times of year as to flow, and what the water user committee may need. And I think that’s the climate we find ourselves in in the Delta. Trying to figure out that overlay between species needs and water user needs and seeing how they mesh up. … You can’t talk about the idea of ecosystem sustainability without committing to some measure of restoration in the Delta. But that doesn’t mean you do it blind. You should be doing it in a way that incorporates local community feedback on location, you should be doing it in a way that you’re not restoring land and water to the benefit of fish at the expense of waterfowl, and you have to calculate whether your restoration can actually produce other benefits. And finally we know that restoring fresh water wetlands is actually one of the most demonstrable ways to sequester and deal with climate change and carbon emissions, so I think the way we get these things done in the future is to find the overlap and pursue those multiple benefit projects.”
CHRIS KNOPP: “One of the key things for our agencies is action and successful action. Progress in the Delta. We’ve been working on these issues for a very long time, and we need to break the status quo, the deadlock and inaction that is currently permeating people’s perceptions of what we’re doing. And I think the key to that is basically establishing that the status quo is not acceptable, that we need to move forward. The status quo in fact is negative for water supply reliability , it’s obviously a negative for the environment, and that there’s a greater good, a greater benefit in public trust in that we can achieve a reliable balance and the idea of balance is something that people are willing to give up some of their vested interests in their self-interests in order to achieve. Progress for me is basically seeing that shift away from self interest toward a common objective of balance and equitable sharing the pain of achieving the coequal goals.”
MIKE MACHADO: “I think the objective of trying to achieve a balanced solution and sharing the pain is appropriate, but I think in doing that, there are certain foundations that have to be established in making policy and implementing it. We need to look at the reality of contracting 8.5 million acre-feet of water when you only have 4.5 million acre-feet of water. The potential abandonment of the common pool concept of surplus water to the common pool for export. One of the things that has substantially changed the State Water Project was the recognition that the environment had a water right and how could we meet that objective. The other thing I think is trust, and that has to do with the implementation of the objectives defined by the legislatures inherent in the coequal goals – it often gets lost in the discussion of the coequal goals with respect to water reliability. … I think from a political perspective there is the implication that the policy is being promulgated from the state to favor one region economically over that of another. And until you can address that issue, too, and the stakeholders involved, the achievement of the coequal goals is going to be somewhat similar to the same hill that CalFed had to try to climb ten years ago.”
Audience question: Climate Change
Felicia Marcus then asked the panelists how the changing climate plays into their thinking.
CHUCK BONHAM: “We’re scared to death at our department. Our mission is to take care of this state’s plants and animals and the habitats they depend upon for their ecological value and their use and enjoyment for Californians in perpetuity. And on one hand, this state has the greatest biodiversity of any state in the union. The list I am pleased to lead. But sadly, at the same time, we’re at the top of the list on loss of biodiversity. … I think the Delta and just water in general is good place to sort through that. … I’ll tell you that on the Delta, my plea to each of you is wade through the hysteria. I am glad Mr. Machado used that word. From my objective perspective, there’s a fair amount of propagation of hysteria on all sides, and I think at this moment in time what I’d ask everybody to do is take a deep breath and force yourself to rethink anything and everything you’ve ever thought about with regards to the Delta and understand that we need to stop arguing about who water matters to the most and understand that it matters to all of us. So I give you an example of rethinking. Turns out our department went to the legislature in the 60s and said you should not stop the construction of your water conveyance with those pumps in the south Delta, because if that’s how you bend the system, you’re going to produce extinction. Fast forward, lo and behold what do we have, we have a mortality rate for juvenile salmon in the Sacramento of 60% and the San Joaquin of almost 95%. And if you’re a small fish and you get stuck down there in the south Delta, 2 out of 3 fish stuck down there die and that’s because of the reverse flows caused by those pumps. So there is a fair discussion about whether some other conveyance structure can help you deal with that species problem, and that’s what I am asking everyone to do. Just think about this stuff, sort through the hysteria, and we need you thinking critically as Californians because this moment is upon us on what we’re going to do.”
MIKE MACHADO: “I think with respect to climate change, we’ve made monumental progress with glacier steps to recognize it. … In my other life, in agriculture, I’m seeing the effects of climate change now as we shift from moderate climate crops in response to a longer growing season, but they also require an increased demand for water. The other thing that I think you have to look at beyond just what climate change means to the Delta is the watersheds that are going to be affected. If you increase the snow level line starts rising, we no longer have the storage of water to meet the water needs during the summer months, yet all of our infrastructure is predicated on what we thought was the world when we built the dams, not what the world may be in the next 20 to 50 years. And when you take a look at that and when you take a look at the water supply situation and the ability to distribute it, it raises a lot of different issues in terms of those of us who use water, can we continue to do the same as we’ve been doing for generation after generation, and if not, what do we have to do to adapt. … We have a limited amount of water molecules available in this state, so what we have to do is define what those molecules are available, and then determine how you live within it, not create a greater demand, and with that demand, demand more water to meet it.”
MARK COWIN: “I see climate change as the big game changer here. It obviously scares the death out my department as well, but what it does is drive home the point that the status quo can’t be depended upon. In the past, status quo worked for some, but the fact of the matter is that conditions are going to decline for all parts of California, and that’s why we need to make investment to improve things. I would counter Mr. Machado’s points in a couple of ways. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan and the twin tunnels are about modernizing the way that we divert water from the Delta. I think it’s clear from the documents we put forward … we’re not looking to build greater exports from the Delta, we’re trying to do it in a way that is consistent with restoration of the Delta ecosystem so that we can achieve sustainability. This new Delta diversion as Chuck pointed to will help us improve the opportunities to move water which are opportunities to do so without harming fish and that really is the sole reason for putting forward this program. Sure sea level rise, risk of potential failure of Delta levees, and an ability to use south Delta pumps is a great concern, but again the primary motivation here is to modernize the way that we divert water from the Delta in a sustainable fashion. It’s going to take action on all of our parts. No region in California is immune to the effects of climate change. That’s why we have to pull together.”
CHRIS KNOPP: “Just to build on Marks’ comment a little bit, I think that our view of the Delta and the bay estuary has to expand to the upper watershed as well. Right now with climate change occurring as quickly as it is, much more quickly than we anticipated, we’re getting significant changes in vegetation in the upper watershed, and causing larger and larger fires, and I think with that, we have water quality problems, changes in capacity of those streams that support different wildlife. If we’re not looking at this in a more holistic way, I think it’s going to be very difficult to achieve a realistic balance, so that’s more of a short term perspective. I think in the long term, if we’re going to achieve the coequal goals on a moving target, we’ve got to change our thinking to look more at the dynamic future of how that change is occurring and anticipating that as part of our solutions in the future.”
“I think our future generations are going to look back on this time and ask us if we rose to the challenge, which means getting beyond conventional wisdom and if we don’t, history is not going to regard us kindly, so thank you for all of those comments,” said Ms. Marcus.
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