Santa Clara Valley Water District BDCP workstudy session, part 2: American Rivers John Cain and The Nature Conservancy’s Leo Winternitz discuss the BDCP

South Delta

Photo by Chris Austin

So what does the environmental community think of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan? In order to understand the details of the Plan better, earlier this year American Rivers and The Nature Conservancy commissioned an independent science panel review to evaluate the draft documents of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  (Click here for the report.)  At the November 8 workstudy session at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, John Cain from American Rivers and Leo Winternitz from the Nature Conservancy discussed the panel’s findings, and gave their perspectives on what is needed for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to be successful.  During the public comment, Kate Poole spoke about the NRDC’s portfolio alternative.

(Note:  This is the second of three-part coverage.  Links to all three parts are at the bottom of this post.)

John Cain, American Rivers

American Rivers hasn’t taken a position on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, but we’ve been very engaged with the development of the plan since its inception,” began John Cain.  “We are pretty clear, though, that the status quo is simply not an acceptable alternative; we are not interested in perpetuating the status quo.  We really want to help find a solution.”

John Cain 1He said that coming up with a solution is really elusive from a scientific and ecological perspective, but also from a political perspective.  “I grew up in Southern California, and I have lots of family in northern California.  I simply cannot convince any of my cousins or in-laws that the BDCP or the Governor’s tunnels are a good idea.  They don’t really care what I have to say about it; they have already made up their mind.  And that’s a real challenge that all of us who want to change the status quo have to confront.”

American Rivers hasn’t taken position on the current plan, although we’re actively working to figure out how we can make it better, and hopefully we would like to take a position on the Plan,” he said.  When they learned it was at least 15,000 pages, he contacted Leo Winternitz and they both agreed they needed to have an independent review of the Plan to give their Boards and leadership the confidence that they were making the right decision.

The panel was given six questions to answer:

  1. Do operations shift Delta exports from dry years to wet years?  “That seems like something that many people can agree on; wouldn’t it be great if we could take more in the wet years when it’s not as needed and let’s back off in dry years.”
  2. Are the impacts of the new north Delta facility that the Department of Water Resources calls a conservation measure, are they actually fully assessed and mitigated?
  3. Are in-Delta conditions significantly improved for smelt, both Delta smelt and longfin smelt?
  4. Will pelagic fishes benefit from floodplain and tidal marsh restoration?
  5. Does the plan provide an effective governance structure?
  6. And, is there a robust science and adaptive management plan for the BDCP?

I want to make clear that this report is not American Rivers report, I don’t think the Nature Conservancy owns this report, this was a report we asked an independent panel to develop,” he said.

The independent panel consisted of Jeffrey Mount, a professor emeritus at UC Davis; William Fleenor, an engineer at UC Davis;  Brian Gray, a law professor at UC Hastings; Bruce Herbold, retired from EPA, and Wim Kimmerer.  He disclosed that while Jeff Mount is on the America Rivers Board of Directors, “he absolutely takes no direction from me, I can assure you of that.”

John Cain also noted that the report was paid for with funding from the Bechtel Foundation, it did not go through American Rivers or the Nature Conservancy.

The panel made an interesting point that there were three types of uncertainties that make it difficult to evaluate the report and draw conclusions, he said.  “There are scientific uncertainties and there are modeling uncertainties – what we have with BDCP is models on top of models feeding into other models.  The panel described the modeling effort as ‘heroic’ and ‘state of the art,’ but there are a lot of uncertainties with these model results,” said Mr. Cain.  “And then there’s what they call behavioral and regulatory uncertainties – there are a lot of description about and projections about how people behave, but there are questions about if it will really work that way.”

So turning to the independent panel’s answers to the questions:

1. Do operations shift Delta exports from dry years to wet years?  “For the most part, they do not.  In most dry years, there are no substantive changes over the no-action alternative,” he said.  “They do point out that there are some differences which could be very significant for Delta smelt, but by and large this just doesn’t change the status quo about how water is diverted that much because the system is so heavily constrained by upstream water rights, by regulations, by upstream reservoirs, and by water quality standards in the Delta.”

A big point that the panel was making was that trying to develop a plan within all of the constraints that we already have on us almost guarantees that you’re going to develop sort of a sub-optimum plan,” he said.  “Wouldn’t it be great if we could work together to figure out a way of unconstraining the system a little bit so we could develop a more optimal plan for the Delta.”

2.  Are impacts of the north Delta facility fully assessed and mitigated?  “They give praise to the Yolo Bypass concept, but with that accepted, all of the mitigation approaches have high uncertainties.  They say additionally, success is only likely to occur if there is a robust adaptive management and a real-time operations program, and the plan provides neither,” said Mr. Cain.  “Those are their findings, not ours.  I know they contradict what Carl had to say.  You can take a look at this report yourself, and I think it’s very clear, and they substantiate that to some degree.  It may be a difference and a matter of disagreement and degree as opposed to an absolute disagreement, but those words are pretty strong and those are their words.”

3.  Are in-Delta conditions significantly improved for smelt?  “So this is good news for the proponents of the BDCP; improvements in the Old and Middle river flows in the south Delta under the high outflow scenario and the low outflow scenario result in substantial decreases in entrainment, leading to significant increases in long-term survival percentages for Delta smelt,” said Mr. Cain.  “However, if you read the report a little more closely, they think that the actual flow events that lead to this are modeling anomalies and they don’t’ expect them to actually occur because of these modeling uncertainties and behavioral uncertainties.  So there’s room for hope here, but even this positive conclusion has an important caveat.”

4.  Will pelagic fishes benefit from floodplain and tidal marsh restoration? “They found that the plan appears to be too optimistic about the benefits tidal marsh,” he said.  “This isn’t for salmon, this is for the smelt species, the pelagic fishes.  They do, however, say that many other species will benefit from tidal marsh restoration, and they say a lot of very good things about floodplain restoration in the report.”

5.  Does the plan provide an effective governance structure?  “While most of the panel was technical in nature, a lot of the conclusions come from Professor Brian Gray at UC Hastings, and he found here that the BDCP blurs the lines between implementation and regulation,and grants the permittees unusual decision authority; it thereby places undue financial responsibilities on the state and federal governments,” he said.  “Now to be fair to the project applicants, we’re told that they have corrected some of the deficiencies in the plan, and we’ll be happier with how it is structured, but unfortunately we haven’t seen the revised plan so as far as we’re concerned, this review still stands until we actually see a new plan that addresses these issues.”

6.  Is there a robust science and adaptive management program?  “Here they conclude that their review of the decision tree process indicates that it is unlikely to achieve the goal of significantly reducing uncertainties before the north Delta facility is constructed, so lots of work needed on this point as well.”

“I really hope that you all get a chance to review this report,” Mr. Cain said.  “I’ll just tell you my short conclusion from this … there is a lot of uncertainty, it’s going to cost a lot of money, the plan’s adaptive management program will not work even if operated as promised, the plan doesn’t appear to make a big difference in either of the coequal goals, in part because the system is so constrained, and the plan gives lots of authority to people and institutions that are not trusted in Northern California and particularly the Delta.”

This is getting at both the scientific problem and the political problem that we have,” he said.  “I have what I call a 6-point plan, things that I think we should work on to make the Plan better, and I hope that there’s a lot of flexibility in the next several months to actually make the plan better.”

AR 13 urbanizationThe first point is to prevent Delta urbanization, he said.  “This is a map we made with UC Berkeley in 2006, and the red areas are all areas that are slated for urbanization.  It just seems like it’s a big mistake to let this happen while we’re trying to spend billions of dollars on a conservation plan for the Delta, and unfortunately the Delta Stewardship Council and nobody else seems to be doing anything about it,” said Mr. Cain.  “We think it will decrease water quality, it will preclude restoration opportunities, and it will constrain upstream reservoirs because of how they will have to be operated to manage flood hazards for the newly built downstream communities in the floodplains.  And it just increases risk to the state and federal government when these areas flood and we as taxpayers all have to help bail the flooded residents out.”

AR 14 floodplainsThe second point is to restore and expand floodplains, he said.  “This is a picture of what the Sacramento Valley looked like on the left, almost all of the floodplains in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys have been lost, and all that exist today are managed wetlands for the large part,” he said.    “Floodplains grow salmon, and this is a great opportunity for us to work together to figure out how to restore as much floodplain habitat as possible.  There is a separate effort going called the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and there’s over 2 billion of Prop 1E funds that are available to change the flood management system.  If we did it right, we could do it in a way that not only reduces flood risk for the communities of Lathrop, Stockton and Sacramento, but also significantly  improves ecological conditions for those of us that rely on the Delta.”

AR 16 YoloThe changes proposed to the Yolo Bypass are really great, but he’s been working for 12 years on such changes and there’s only been minimal progress, he said.  “It’s actually required by the biological opinion to do some large scale floodplain restoration here, but unfortunately in the BDCP, it’s not slated for completion until after the new facility is built, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to expedite this much faster.  It’s mostly a lot of bureaucracy and we could work together to try and overcome that bureaucracy.”

We’re also proposing a bypass in the north Delta along the Yolo Bypass called the Sacramento Bypass; also in the south Delta there are opportunities for a bypass that could really protect the communities of Lathrop and Stockton,” he said.  “Expanding the Yolo Bypass would lower flood stage in the city of Sacramento during a 200 year event by 3 to 4 feet.  That is enormous, yet the flood agencies haven’t figured out how to expand the floodways.  It’s too complicated for them, so they just want to fix the levees in place.  And the reason is that if we try to touch the flood bypass, you’ve got to talk to the Corps of Engineers, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, and Yolo County, or the other County or the other jurisdiction and you can’t get anything done. But if we could all work together, we could use a lot of the money that’s currently in the bank to pay for these projects, reduce flood risk, and restore a lot of salmon habitat.  We think that doing these things ultimately expands the floodway downstream of the reservoirs and increases flexibility for how you can operate the reservoir.

AR 19 HydrographRestore the shape of the natural hydrograph is also important.  “The reservoirs have really altered the natural hydrograph which reduces the frequency of floodplain inundation,” said Mr. Cain, presenting a slide of a hydrograph on the Feather River below Oroville Reservoir.  The hydrograph showed how the dam changed the natural hydrograph after the construction, and how the hydrograph was changed even more after the water quality control plan was implemented in 1995.

He explained that the water quality control plan imposed an export inflow ratio in the Delta.  “It said you can only divert one-third of the water that flows into the Delta during the spring months, so how did the State Water Project adopt that rule?  It tried to reduce the deliveries into the Feather River during the spring months and then would only release the water after the EI window closed on July 1st,” he said.  “So you can see today as a result of regulations we have in the Delta, the highest flows of the year on the Feather River are in July and August, but under natural conditions, the highest flows of the year are in April and May.  Today, the lowest flows of the year are in April and May, so not only have our reservoirs really altered the hydrograph, but the rules in the Delta really alter the hydrograph, and you’ll find from the Mount report that unfortunately, the proposed BDCP solution does not do enough to address this.  They do, however, think the high outflow scenario is much more preferable in terms of reshaping the natural hydrograph.”

AR 22 HybirdPart of our 6 point plan is that we absolutely have to move the point of diversion and have dual conveyance,” said Mr. Cain.  “However, we think it’s important for the BDCP project proponents to reconsider their intake strategy and their intake alternatives.  Not so much the size of the tunnel – we disagree with other environmental organizations that think a small tunnel is going to be preferable.  It might be what we have to do politically, but from a physical perspective, a large tunnel that allows us to divert lots of water when it’s super-abundant seems like it’s the best for meeting the coequal objectives.

But we don’t think that the BDCP project applicants actually explored any significant variation in alternatives for intakes,” he said.  “I happen to believe that the location of all of these intakes is simply an artifact of the fact that everyone thought we were going to build a canal, not a tunnel, and if you build a canal around the Delta, the only place you can take water is this area downstream of Sacramento.  But if you have a tunnel, you have much more flexibility for where you are taking water out of the Delta, and I hope that the project proponents will focus more energy on that.”

We think a western alignment would allow for a much greater opportunities for intakes,” he said, pointing on the map to potential locations in the western Delta.  “We also think it’s very important to improve the south Delta conveyance, but the existing BDCP doesn’t do a lot to change the south Delta conveyance.  We think that there are some opportunities to make the south Delta work better in combination with the new north Delta and we have been asking for that evaluation for a long time.”

The fifth point is to significantly increase outflow, he said, noting that this is the most controversial thing they were suggesting.  “Our organization is not going to measure progress or the success of a solution based on how much it cuts back exports,” said Mr. Cain.  “Our goal is not to cutback exports for the export community.  We would like to see the export community use their water more efficiently, but that’s not our marker of success. The more the science comes out and and because it’s not just an ecological problem, it’s a political problem, we think the best way to get the BDCP permitted is to develop a plan that actually makes a commitment to significantly increase outflow.  Not by 1 or 2 % but by 10 to 20%, enough to really ring the bell, and then go tell people, this is a plan that does what everyone in Northern California thinks is necessary to protect the Delta; it increases outflow.”

How are we going to do that without cutting back exports?  The way we would have to do that is to increase inflow to the Delta,” he said.  “People have been very hesitant to reach out to upstream diverters and try to extract water out of them; we don’t want to create World War III out of this, but we think it’s possible to develop a global settlement in combination with the Sacramento Valley water users and the San Joaquin Valley water users, so that we can actually achieve greater inflow to the Delta.  Perhaps a water bond could pay for capital improvements that would in essence compensate Sacramento Valley water users and San Joaquin Valley water users in a way that would make it easier for them to provide more inflow to the Delta, so that the exporters could take as much as they currently have and result in increased outflow.”

Mr. Cain said that Richard Roos-Collins is working on trying to achieve these sorts of settlements; “It’s an uphill battle but we think it’s the best opportunity for success, given not only the ecological and scientific problems, but just the really difficult politics of this problem.”

Leo Winternitz, The Nature Conservancy

Leo Winternitz began by saying that The Nature Conservancy was one of the first major environmental organizations to recognize and publicly state the need for new conveyance in the Delta.  “The Nature Conservancy is also one of the largest landowners in the Delta,” he said.  “We own and manage over 10,000 acres of farmland on Staten Island and McCormack Williamson Tract; we grow crops and we manage for wildlife, sandhill cranes and migratory birds; and on McCormack Williamson Tract, there are 1600 acre-island that we’re currently preparing that for restoration to return it to both floodplain and tidal marsh habitat.”

Leo 2Mr. Winternitz said that the Nature Conservancy recognized that the current Delta configuration is terrible for fish and has contributed to the environmental degradation which is an important reason why water supplies for the export community are not reliable today.  “We also recognized that as long as we had to move water to points south of the Delta, that we need a new conveyance and operations system that allows for more natural flow conditions for Delta inflow and Delta outflow.  Today, we’re working with state and federal organizations, with water agencies, with other environmental organizations, to help ensure that whatever BDCP alternative is ultimately selected, is that it will be capable of recovering and restoring native fish and other animal populations and their habitats.”

The Nature Conservancy expects from the BDCP a plan that will make a significant contribution towards the recovery of covered species because this is what is required in the NCCP process, he said.  “The NCCP requires conservation of species as a goal, and the DFW has interpreted conservation of species to mean recovery of species, so in our analysis, recovery and consequently a successful BDCP comes down to six actions which we’ve identified.”

1. More Delta outflow:  The Delta needs more outflow, particularly in the spring and fall periods for both longfin smelt and Delta smelt, and for the food sources -the phytoplankton, the zooplankton – upon which they depend, he said, noting that from the 1930s to the current period, Delta outflow has decreased by over 50%.  “Delta outflow is the freshwater component of the estuary.  It provides for habitat, it sets up gravitational circulations, and it provides for the specific water quality parameters that these native species need during certain life stages.”  The Mount panel report found that the high outflow scenario of the BDCP provides only limited benefit for Delta smelt and longfin smelt, he pointed out.  “If our goal is significant contribution to recovery, then we have to provide more than a limited benefit.  And this suggests looking, and they conclude this as well, looking at options for significant increases in outflow, including finding sources of water outside of the BDCP.

2. Reduction of reverse flows:  There needs to be a significant reduction of reverse flows in the south and west Delta, and a new conveyance facility would be able to address this, he said.  “It would take water from the Sacramento River in the northern Delta and transport that water, allowing the provision for more natural flow conditions in the south and west Delta – if it’s operated like that.  The Mount report indicates that there could be significant improvement in Old and Middle River flows that would provide improvements in long term survival for Delta smelt – if the rules described in the modeling scenarios they looked at become the operational rules for the project, and there is uncertainty about that at this time.”

3.  Habitat restoration: Restoration of wetlands, tidal marshes, floodplains, and riparian corridors where feasible.  “The BDCP has set a challenging goal of restoring over 100,000 acres over a period 30 to 40 years.  This will take a while; it will not be cheap.  Recognize though, that over the last 150 years, 95% of tidal wetlands have been lost throughout the Delta, Suisun Marsh and San Francisco Bay.    These are the kinds of habitat that our native species evolved with, so if you lost 95% of it, regardless of the debate out there, you would think that to help recover the species, you’d try and reintroduce the habitat that they evolved with.”

Scientists in the Delta do agree that many of our native species are food starved; there are insufficient food levels to provide for them, food sources such as phytoplankton, green algae, zooplankton, shrimp, and the smaller animals that these fish species eat, he said. The thought is that one reason estuaries are very productive areas is that there is a lot of wetlands where the land and water mix, unlike our estuary today where we have really separated the land from the water.  “Where the land and water mix there is high productivity, and that’s essentially the model about restoring these places for habitat, for birds, but also to produce food.  And I recognize the report says that marsh and floodplain restoration is not likely to create benefits for pelagic species, but that this issue can only be resolved through experiments, by building restoration projects quickly so we can start studying them and learning what it is that they provide.”  He noted that there is disagreement in the scientific community over this particular finding, but emphasized, “the only way we can find out is by doing it.”

4. Specific, measurable and obtainable goals and objectives:  The Bay Delta Conservation Plan must have specific, measurable and obtainable goals, objectives and targets, so we know that what we are aiming for and we can measure our achievements or failures, he said.  “Although the Mount panel did not assess this, from what we know by working with the agencies, is that we are fairly comfortable where the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is headed on this right now.

5.  Science and adaptive management:  “Science and adaptive management are the eyes and the ears of the BDCP,” Mr. Winternitz said.  “They will let us know whether or not we are meeting our objectives and if we are not, then providing information on changes that we should be making so we can meet our objectives.  The Mount report concludes here that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is committed to adaptive management, to address high uncertainties that both Carl and John spoke of.  However, there is limited information on this in the report that they reviewed and based on that limited information, they believe that the decision tree process, which is a very important component of adaptive management and BDCP, is unlikely to achieve the goal of significantly reducing uncertainties before the North Delta facility is constructed.”

6. Effective governance:  “We need a governance structure established to achieve the conservation objectives through management of water operations and restoration.  And the Mount panel concludes here that the draft BDCP governance section blurs the lines between implementation and regulation and grants the permittees, in their words, unusual decision authority.  In addition, the 50 year regulatory assurances in the plan, especially the “no surprises” policy, plays undue financial responsibility on the state and federal governments if modifications to the plan become necessary over the 50-year life of the plan.  The panel recommends substantial revisions to the governance structure including giving full regulatory authority to the permit oversight group, that is the state and federal regulatory agencies, while limiting their involvement in implementing the plan and the day to day decision making, and they also recommend a revision to the no-surprises 50-year permit that says, in essence, that no surprises should be issued every 10 years, based on conditions at the time and prior performance.”

In addition to these six actions, there are two others that are very important components not under control of the BDCP, but are important to contribute to the success of the BDCP, said Mr. Winternitz.  “The first is to continue and maintain strategic investments in levee maintenance and improvements.  We can not ignore the Delta as a vibrant community where thousands of people live.  Perhaps this is not a BDCP matter but certainly should be implemented in close timing with BDCP implementation and funds provided.  The second point is maintenance of water quality in the Delta for agricultural and municipal uses so people can continue to live in the Delta and farmers can continue their livelihood and continue providing for other very important significant natural resources such as migratory waterfowl.  So of course, while BDCP is doing all this, we also expect them to fully avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts to the Delta community.”

“If BDCP does not provide for recovery or contribution to recovery, there will likely be reduced exports that have historically been taken over the last 20-25 years, and this is, we recognize, a huge problem for the export community who are paying the majority of the bills for the BDCP,” said Mr. Winternitz.  “But in the end, it comes down to this.  If the BDCP can restore the Delta’s environment, than there will be water supply reliability.  If the BDCP cannot restore the Delta’s environment, then what we are experiencing in the Delta today, which is a diminishing environment, and unreliable water supplies is like to be our continued future.”


Director Kennedy asked what are some alternative intake locations that Mr. Cain was proposing?

Something that we’re talking about in the Delta Dialogues process is the possibility of having a western intake location,” replied Mr. Cain.  “There’s been a small amount written about this; we don’t think it was properly evaluated in the EIR/EIS process.  There’s a good possibility that having a large intake in the Western Delta is not compatible with Delta smelt or longfin smelt, but I think it’s fair to say it’s attractive to in-Delta stakeholders because it creates a physical assurance that that excessive amounts of water will not be taken out of the Delta and cause the salinity to intrude into the Central Delta.  The concern is that if you have a very large pipe or tunnel to the northern Delta, the rules will be thrown out the window and the water exporters will just pump as much water as they want and they will not try to maintain water quality conditions in the Central and South Delta, and that will greatly harm in-Delta stakeholders.  …  when there’s a lot of water flowing down the Sacramento River, the western Delta is very fresh, why not have an intake in the western Delta, and I think the answer is that it’s probably going to be hard to do with longfin and Delta smelt, but I think it needs to be evaluated.”

There is an alternative in the EIR/EIS called the Delta Corridors concept, Mr. Cain said.  “It would effectively allow you, during certain times of the year, to pump from the south Delta without having any entrainment impacts on Old River because it would have a siphon that would go under Old River and just draw from Middle River, so it would create a better migration corridor for salmon moving through the Delta.  It is not a proposal that we support on its own, it’s not a standalone option, but we think it could be a very important component of dual conveyance.”

Director Schmitt asked if it was too late to look at other alternatives.

Absolutely not,” responded Mr. Cain.  “We’ve been asking for many of these things for years.  We’re not litigious, we’re not threatening to sue if they didn’t look at these things.  We actually want to help you devise a solution and we’ve heard that this is an EIR/EIS and comments will be taken and the plan will be changed.  Not that it’s a slam dunk; I don’t want to be so cynical to say that the Governor’s just doing do his thing and force it through; I think it really does behoove all of us to work together to find something that works; we don’t want to spend years more working on this in litigation.  It would be much better to actually come up with a plan that’s good enough for all of us and spend the rest of our time actually implementing it.”

Mr. Cain said that his organization did not sign the portfolio alternative approach, but his organization and many other have been advocating taking this kind of approach.  “The one reason why I didn’t personally sign the portfolio alternative letter, while I agree with almost all elements of the portfolio letter, is that the idea of having a small facility and claiming that it would allow a big gulp, little sip doesn’t pass the red-faced test, in my mind; it is not the proper physical solution; it’s more of a political solution,” he said.  “We just don’t think it’s going to solve the problem because you’re just still going to continue to pump a lot of water from the south Delta. … If you have a small north Delta facility, it basically means you either need to pump more from the south Delta or cut back exports.  Now if we did come up with a plan that included a lot more outflow, and if we reconfigured the plan and evaluated the north Delta facilities a little bit more, we might come to the conclusion that a smaller facility is just good enough, and so we’ll remain open minded about that, but for now, we think we should continue this idea of a big gulp, little sip and try to make sure that diversion facilities have enough capacity.  The Governor’s Water Action Plan is, in a way, more of a portfolio approach and we appreciate that.”

Director LeZotte asked about flow operations.  What’s missing and what should I look for in public draft?

One of our first questions was … we’re changing a system quite significantly, a system that’s been in place and been operating for the last 35-40 years,” responded Mr. Winternitz.  “We’re adding new conveyance, we’re supposedly providing  flexibility to change the way we have operated the system that has led to degradation of the environment.  One of the first questions we posed to the Mount panel group was does operation of the BDCP result in more diversions in wetter periods and less diversions in drier periods.  The reason we asked that question was that replete through literature, through academic science review reports, through the Delta Vision, through the Delta Stewardship Council, DWR literature, all talk about – the majority of impacts to the species occur in the drier years, and when we have wet years, above normal and wet years, they are pretty wet.  Why can’t we take this water in the wet period, store it above ground and underground, reduce our take of water from the rivers and streams in the drier period, and use this water?  This is a good example of achieving coequal objectives.  And so I was very disappointed when the report concluded that in effect, BDCP is taking more in the wet years, but taking about the same amount of water that they have historically taken in the drier years.”

Mr. Winternitz continued: “Now I understand with the old system that we have, that’s what we had to do, but we’re changing, or at least we’re proposing to change that old system, so with that change, we should also have a change in the way we operate this system, and if that requires new storage facilities, and those storage facilities provide for the kind of future we’re facing here with climate change, then let’s get on with it, but don’t use the same operating system that we have used historically for a new conveyance system that we’re putting in place.”

I’m not really the governance expert and its pretty darn complicated issue,” said Mr. Cain, “but I will say one thing to think about is developing the governance and operations plan around the precautionary principle.  Instead of setting up the decision tree to maximize the amounts you can export with the minimal acceptable level of recovery, why not start with a higher level of outflow with more conservation oriented operations, and move faster on things like floodplain restoration, and if we are able to achieve the conservation objectives, then use the decision tree to allow more water to be diverted.  The problem is that there’s not a lot of trust that if we start with a fairly aggressive export plan and then it’s not sufficient after five or ten years, then we’ll start cutting back exports.  There’s a basic level of mistrust there and it’s because the system is so constrained, so it gets back to how can we work together to unconstrain the system.  If we can do that, I think it makes the governance easier.  If we are trying to operate on the margins and develop all of these governance mechanisms around it, there’s just going to continue to be a lot of mistrust.”

Director Kennedy: I have the impression that the BDCP is almost unfixable … My experience with large projects is that if you plan them to death, they die, they don’t get done, so my question is, is it fixable and doable?

I think it is fixable and doable,” responded Mr. Winternitz.  “Recognize that you and your water colleagues have spent seven years developing this and $200 million-plus has been spent so far on the BDCP.  I understand people when they say, haven’t we done enough, let’s put something out, let’s get with it.  I think that money was well spent, and the reason it takes a lot of time is that there are no easy fixes to this.  But I think that we are identifying and finally narrowing it down to what it is that needs to be addressed in order to meet an NCCP standard, in order to address the Delta issues, and essentially that can provide some degree of water supply reliability.  We’re getting there.  You’re not going to get everybody to agree throughout Northern California or even Southern California that this is the right way to go, that there are other alternatives for the state to develop and use its water supplies, but again, I want to point out that as long as we continue to move water from Northern California to Southern California, and we use the Delta to do that, we need a different system.  This system doesn’t work.  So it doesn’t really leave us much choice other than to fix this BDCP and get it going.”

 Kate Poole, Natural Resources Defense Council

During the public commend period, Kate Poole from the Natural Resources Defense Council spoke:

Poole 2Several of my colleagues here, we have been engaged in the BDCP process for many years and have also been very involved in the development and implementation of the Delta biological opinions.  And I think we share some of the frustration that much of that engagement in BDCP has not resulted in changes to the plan or analysis of the kinds of things that we think are critical for getting us to a Delta solution.”

But we do think that there is a solution out there, so one of the key concepts that I want to share with you today is that we don’t think that the Delta solution is a choice between the current BDCP project on the table and the status quo.  There are many other solutions out there that work better for the Delta’s environment, work better for the state’s water supply, and also work better for the communities than the current proposal.”

NRDC has worked with several of your sister water agencies to put one possibility on the table, that’s the portfolio alternative.  Frankly I don’t know that that’s the right solution, but we think it has more potential than the current project on the table.  Part of why we put it out there was is that we think it needs to be analyzed to give us the information that all of us need in order to construct the best solution for the Delta.”

An important consideration for all of you in particular is the impact on rates, and how this very expensive $25 billion proposal is going to affect your rate payers, and how that might crowd out some of the other needed investments that we need to make to reach an overall water supply and Delta solution for this state.  These include things like needed investments in conservation, local solutions, recycling, all of those things that will help the district to become less dependent on the Delta and have a more secure water supply.”

Director Schmitt asked what parts of the portfolio are not being analyzed or not going to be analyzed in the process going forward …

The heart of the portfolio alternative in terms of what’s being analyzed in BDCP is a single bore 3000 cfs facility that is smaller and less expensive.  Right now BDCP has not analyzed a single bore facility so the cost implications of that are a little unknown and the cost savings associated with that.  The other key part and I can’t stress this enough is that the environmental impacts from conveyance are largely dependent on how its operated, that’s much more important than the size.  The fish agencies put together a set of proposed operations that they thought would be protective a little more than a year ago now and those operations are also part of the portfolio alternative but are not being analyzed in BDCP.  I think primarily because they reduce the exports over today’s levels, and the proponents of BDCP have not agreed to analyze that, but frankly that’s where we need to go in order to fix this problem.  We need to make that up with local supply investments.”

For more information:

  • Click here for the independent science panel’s report on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
  • Click here for John Cain’s power point.
  • Click here to watch the webcast of this meeting.
  • Click here for part 1, Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Carl Wilcox.
  • Click here for part 3, Russell van Loben Sels, a fourth generation Delta farmer and the in-Delta perspective.

One Response

  1. David Brower

    Every time I think I don’t need to read another BDCP discussion, you prove me wrong. Clear summary of insightful third-party perspective. If only larger media outlets could pick up on the subtlety of innovative and creative solutions!


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