Delta Stewardship Council meeting, part 1: Preparing for the BDCP review, the California Water Action Plan, and implementing the Delta Plan

San Joaquin River, south Delta, Oct 2013 #2

San Joaquin River, south Delta
Photo by Maven

The Delta Stewardship Council held a two-day meeting in November 21-22, 2013. On the agenda for this meeting was the upcoming review of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) documents, a follow-up on the habitat restoration report released earlier this year, an update on the progress being made on the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, a briefing on the California Water Action Plan, and a discussion on developing water storage.

This is the first of three part coverage from the meeting, which will cover the BDCP review, the water action plan, and Delta Plan implementation.  Part 2 will cover the discussion on water storage and will be posted tomorrow.  Part 3, the follow-up on the habitat restoration report and other science coverage will post at a later date.

Reviewing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan documents

Click here for more from the Delta Stewardship Council.

With the release of the public review draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan just weeks away, the Delta Stewardship Council held a joint meeting with the Delta Independent Science Board (ISB) on November 21, 2013 to discuss how the two entities could best coordinate their review of the enormous document as well as fulfill their statutory requirements.

The Delta Reform Act defined specific roles for both the Council and the ISB in regards to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  The Act required that DWR consult with the Council in the development of the BDCP, and it also designated the Council as a responsible agency in the development of the BDCP’s Environmental Impact Report, giving the Council a formal role in commenting on the Plan and its environmental impacts.  Furthermore, if the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) approves the BDCP as a Natural Communities Conservation Plan, that decision can be appealed to the Council.  If the BDCP is approved, it will be incorporated into the Delta Plan.

The Delta Reform Act directs the ISB to review the environmental impact report and submit comments to DFW and to the Council, and because the BDCP is potentially a component of the Delta Plan, the ISB is also authorized to provide comments and scientific advice on the Plan itself.

ARCADIS, an international water resources consulting firm, has been retained as an independent consultant to assist with the Council’s review of the BDCP.  Mr. Ray explained that ARCADIS would be reviewing the plan’s effects on the Delta ecosystem, water supplies, and the Delta as a place.  ARCADIS will also review other key aspects of the BDCP, including its costs and funding, implementation agreement, and regulatory assurances.

They have a team that’s quite experienced with environmental analysts, water engineers, and other folks who have been involved in other large scale management programs,” said Dan Ray, Deputy Executive Officer of the Council.  “They will be preparing an extensive report as well as a draft comment letter on the EIS.”

Additionally, the Delta Science Program will host an independent panel review of the BDCP’s Effects Analysis, the third in a series of reviews that has continued with the same panel.  “This is a panel of folks who have a great deal of experience in these matters from around the nation who will be reviewing the Effects Analysis chapter which provides the scientific rationale about why the BDCP’s Conservation Measures are expected to be effective in achieving the goals of restoring the ecosystem and recovering the species that are covered by the BDCP,” said Dan Ray.

The work of the ISB, ARCADIS, and the independent review panel will combine to provide the assessment of the BDCP that the Council needs, said Dan Ray.

The BDCP’s 120-day public comment period will begin with the release of the public draft documents on December 13, 2013, and close on April 14, 2014.  “The shortest period allowed under California law is 45 days, and the maximum period under the federal NEPA is 180 days, to this is right in the middle,” said Mr. Ray.

ISB members as well as some Councilmembers expressed concerns that it was not enough time to properly conduct the necessary review.  “One of the things we asked for in our earlier reviews that would help the fact that it’s 27,000 pages is a decent summary at the beginning of each chapter that gives us a sense of what’s going on,” asked ISB member Judy Meyer.  “Do you know if that will be a part of it? Because for me, if that’s not there, then it is an unreasonable period of time.  Those summaries are going to be critical.  If they are not there, then I think we have some legitimacy for arguing for a longer period of time.”

If you don’t have a summary, not only is it hard to see how the pieces fit together as Judy pointed out, but it’s hard to have a lot of confidence that the people who wrote it knew what they were talking about, because as a scientists, one of the easiest ways for us to get a read on whether someone knows what they are talking about if they can summarize it well,” said ISB member Jay Lund.

Judy  Meyer asked about the dates that the different reports would need to be delivered by.  Dan Ray said the dates hadn’t been set exactly yet as they were still discussing the scope of work with ARCADIS, but they have generally worked out a schedule where they would be producing interim products that would intersect with ISB meeting dates.  Draft comments would be needed in early March as well as their draft letter in early March so those could be presented to the Council in time to be finalized before the end of the public comment period, said Dan Ray.

So in truth, we don’t have 120 days, we have significantly less, so that’s further reason for concern,” said Ms. Meyer.

As someone who just got 25 draft term papers to review yesterday, remember that it takes very little time to review something that’s very, very good or very, very poor,” said Mr. Lund.  “It’s in that middle ground that it takes time to sort it out and figure out how it can be made better. … I am suspecting it will fall in the middle ground.”

Dick Norgaard expressed his concerns over the schedule.  “If, come December 13th, we have beautiful six-page summaries for each chapter, that would make all the difference in the world,” he said.  “We have two board meetings scheduled, one in mid-January, about 2 weeks after the Effects Analysis panel but about two weeks before the report’s actually provided, and we have another one in late February, so the  February board meeting gives us time to look at a draft.  We would have to have a teleconference to send something to the Council in early March.  Our next board meeting is after the deadline, so we have two board meetings in which to exercise this in.”

Obviously this is going to be a contentious sort of issue and we would like to believe that science is part of the foundation of it,” said Councilmember Judge Frank Damrell.  “If it emerges that scientific evaluation has been done in a half-baked way because of an arbitrary deadline on timing for it, that’s going to come back to haunt everyone, and I think simply in terms of public perception and political reality, those are more reasons to really push this to a maximum time so it can be something that isn’t half-baked.”

If the scientists say they need 180 days, then that’s the way it ought to be,” said Council member Frank Ruhstaller.

“I feel obligated to put forth the minority opinion,” said Council member Randy Fiorini.  “There’s nothing in the BDCP that’s going to be new; much of it has been presented.  There may be a few details that change, but we’ve known that this is going to be released in November or December for a long time.  Everybody should have been gearing up for this. …  The conveyance problems, the vulnerability in the Delta is not going to go away by waiting.  We need to take action.”

If we find that at the 90 day period of time, it simply isn’t enough to do it well and to do it right, we can ask for an extension at that time, but to surrender to a 180 days now without at least giving it a try, given all the advertising and anticipation and advance notice that it’s coming would be, to me, seem premature,” added Mr. Fiorini.

If we have to respond within particular a particular time frame, we can always provide interim comments, then if as these later products come out, supplement our comments and finalize them, we can always do that,” said Jay Lund.  “I have sympathy for both sides of this argument, and certainly have sympathy for Randy’s point of view in the sense that I’m not really that anxious to prolong the agony of this.”

Councilmembers and ISB members discussed the drafting of a letter to request an extension of the review period with staff instructed to return the next day with a letter for the Council to consider.

The following day, Lead Scientist Peter Goodwin returned to the Council and said that the ISB had further discussed how they would conduct the review, and feel they can meet the deadline with a preliminary report, following up with further details afterwards, if necessary.  Councilmembers discussed the letter but decided to continue the matter at their December meeting.

  • Click here for the staff report on the BDCP document review (agenda item 6)
  • Click here for the charge to the ISB for the review of the BDCP documents (agenda item 6)
  • Click here for a summary the BDCP review products from the Council and the ISB (agenda item 6)

California Water Action Plan briefing

Jessica Pearson, Legislative & Policy Advisor, briefed the Council on the California Water Action Plan, which was released at the end of October by John Laird, the Secretary for Natural Resources; Matt Rodriguez, the Secretary for Cal EPA; and Karen Ross, the California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary.  “I just want to clarify, because a lot of people calling this a Governor’s water action plan, right now it is the three Secretaries Water Action Plan,” said Ms. Pearson.  “Now it may end up being adopted by the governor, I’m not clear on what final form it would take, but I did want to clarify that point.”

She said that the water action plan is, in many ways, an internal coordination document, but it’s also been drawn from a variety of discussions the administration had with constituents, interest groups, department staff and experts, and it’s really in response to the Governor’s own request for a document that prioritizes water flood and ecosystem actions across his cabinet.  The administration has been accepting public comments by email, she said, noting that several stakeholder groups have already weighed in.

The plan is organized around 10 categories of actions which include making conservation a way of life, increasing local and regional self-reliance, achieving the coequal goals for the Delta, protecting and restoring important ecosystems, managing and preparing for dry periods, and expanding water storage capacity.   Each of these categories is then supported by a mix of suggested state, federal and local actions in order to achieve those goals.

The timeline for the implementation of the action plan is 5 years, and by 5 years, they have indicated that they hope to conclude the actions within 5 years,” said Ms. Pearson.

The Water Action Plan is supportive of the Delta Plan by mentioning it several times, noted Ms. Pearson.  “Under the achieve the coequal goals heading, the first action is to begin implementation of the Delta Plan, and it then goes on to say that the administration directs all of its relevant agencies to fully participate in the Implementation Committee established by the Delta Stewardship Council,” said Ms. Pearson.  “Some of the more specific actions under the coequal goals section will sound very familiar as they are reflected in our Delta Plan, such as restore habitat in the six priority restoration areas identified in the Delta Plan, complete the BDCP, implement near-term Delta projects, and finish the State Water Board’s Water Quality Control Plan update for the Delta.”

The Delta Plan is incorporated into the water action plan as one of the foundational documents, said Ms. Pearson.  “My reaction is that this document is very positive in that it embraces just not what the Council has been working on for two and a half years with public input, but it gets to the directive of making some of these actions happen through the Implementation Committee,” she said.  “That’s exactly the kind of support that we had hoped for and it’s very positive to see it in there.”

The Plan goes beyond the Delta, noting that it talks about the Klamath River Basin, the Salton Sea and Lake Tahoe.  “It really is the administration’s priorities statewide,” she said.

The three Secretaries are traveling the state, promoting the plan and receiving additional feedback with the idea of issuing a final plan in about two weeks.

I think it’s pretty significant,” said Phil Isenberg.  “Should the Governor say yes, it puts it in one place at one time a list of priorities must concurrently proceed.  That’s the thing that’s been lacking … If it works out the way I think the people who authored it want it to work out, it would be a declaration for the balance of this term and presumptively a new second fourth Jerry Brown term that this is what he wants to see the state agencies achieve.”

  • Click here for the staff report on the California Water Action Plan (agenda item 16).
  • Click here for the draft California Water Action Plan (agenda item 16).

Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee update

Council staff is continuing work on the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee.  Cindy Messer, Delta Plan Manager, Rainer Hoenicke, and Taryn Ravazzini updated the Council on the latest preparations.

Cindy Messer, Delta Plan manager, reported that she and her staff were working on preparations to begin the study for prioritizing state investments in levees, as well as preparing to return to the Council in early 2014 with more on emergency response and preparedness in the Delta.  With the Delta Plan regulations now in place, staff is working on training workshops and early consultations.  She is also working on tracking habitat restoration projects, and some staff members are preparing for the BDCP review.  Ms. Messer is also working with IT on modifying an existing database to incorporate additional information and Delta Plan performance measures.  Ms. Messer said she would like to do more outreach to local, state, and federal agencies regarding Delta Plan implementation and recommendations, but she hasn’t been able to launch that effort due to staffing shortages.  Once the vacancies are filled, Ms. Messer and other seasoned staff will begin more outreach efforts.

Rainer Hoenicke, Deputy Executive Director of the Delta Science Program, said the science program has always been in ‘implementation mode’, having carried over work from the CalFed’s science program.  Now that the Delta Science Plan has been accepted, the science program is ‘in sync’ with the implementation committee design and Delta Plan implementation.  The science program is also working with Ms. Messer on tracking science activities through the database, establishing the policy-science forum, and laying the groundwork for a data summit that will bring together different entities to discuss how to integrate and synthesize information compiled in different databases.

Taryn Ravazzini, Coordinator for the Delta Plan Implementation Committee, said that they have been working to develop the roles and responsibilities of the committee members, as well as identifying the agencies that will be participating.  She noted their efforts recently received a boost from the Governor:  “Within the public review draft of the Water Action Plan, the administration specifically directs all of its relevant agencies to fully participate in the Implementation Committee established by the Delta Stewardship Council, and so we fortunately have great support from the administration at this time and that is very valuable as we seek assistance in coordinating and collaborating to be as effective as possible,” she said.

We’ve made the rounds of all the lead state and federal agencies,” said Councilmember and implementation committee chair Randy Fiorini.  “As we have gone to each of these agencies, we have emphasized how important it is to have the highest level leader involved with the implementation committee, and I would say with maybe one or two exceptions, that request has been received well and we will expect at the first meeting, the directors of agencies, both state and federal, will be present.”

Mr. Fiorini said that there were two steps to go through before the first meeting; the first is to identify what the charge is, and secondly, how they were going to do it.

Ms. Ravazzini noted that the Delta Plan lists at least 21 agencies to participate in the implementation committee, however some agencies have greater responsibility for Delta Plan implementation than others.  She recommends identifying these key agencies whose participation is essential as the core membership of the implementation committee.

The wording of the charge to the committee was discussed, as was the membership of the committee.  Discussions will continue at the December meeting.

  • Click here for the staff report on the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (agenda item 15)
  • Click here for the draft charge to the Committee (agenda item 15).
  • Click here for the attachment on Committee membership (agenda item 15)

For more information:

  • Click here for the agenda and meeting materials.
  • Click here for the staff report on the BDCP document review (agenda item 6)
  • Click here for the charge to the ISB for the review of the BDCP documents (agenda item 6)
  • Click here for a summary the BDCP review products from the Council and the ISB (agenda item 6)
  • Click here for the staff report on the California Water Action Plan (agenda item 16).
  • Click here for the draft California Water Action Plan (agenda item 16).
  • Click here for the staff report on the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (agenda item 15)
  • Click here for the draft charge to the Committee (agenda item 15).
  • Click here for the attachment on Committee membership (agenda item 15)

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