Joint informational hearing on the BDCP, part 2: Delta stakeholders give their perspective

Committee 2 On February 25, 2014, the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife held a joint informational oversight hearing on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

The hearing was organized around two panels of speakers: the first panel consisted of Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird, Director of Department of Water Resources Mark Cowin, and the Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Chuck Bonham, who gave an update on the plan since the last oversight hearing held last spring.  For coverage of that panel, please see part 1 here:  Joint informational hearing on the BDCP, part 1: Secretary Laird, Directors Bonham and Cowin on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

The joint informational hearing then continued with a second panel of Delta stakeholders who gave their perspective on the BDCP.  Seated on this panel were Steve Arakawa, manager of Bay Delta Program for Metropolitan Water District; David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association; Doug Obegi with the NRDC; Marguerite Patil with Contra Costa Water District; Jason Pelteir with Westlands Water District, and Larry Ruhstaller, San Joaquin County supervisor and chair of the Delta Protection Commission.

With the hearing already behind schedule after the first panel, each of the speakers on the second panel were held to a five minute time limit.

Steve Arakawa, manager of Bay-Delta initiatives for Metropolitan Water District

Steve Arakawa began by saying that this year is even more challenging than 1977, given the hydrology and the population level.  “The drought is a reminder of the importance of a water system that is capable of capturing and storing adequate supplies in wet years in order to minimize the impacts of dry cycles,” he said.  After the impacts the region experienced during droughts in the 1980s and 1990s, Metropolitan made investments in storage and conveyance within Metropolitan’s own system in order to be able to store more water in wet years when it is available, he said.  He pointed out that investments in conservation and efficiency programs and measures have been able to provide about 1.3 MAF per year which is close to what the State Water Project has been capable in the past of delivering – another big change since the 1990s.

Arakawa 1But the water system that we have today in the Delta is not capable of reliably capturing ample supplies,” Mr. Arakawa said.  “We have a lot of challenges.  We need to manage around the fisheries and we need to manage around the weather, and that’s going to be important and how to get to a BDCP that provides for supporting the coequal goals of restoring the Delta ecosystem and improving water supply reliability.  The compromise or the effects of not having adequate system not only affects our own service area but affects areas up and down the state.  It affects the SF Bay area, the Silicon Valley, the North Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley; certainly we have a state interest in having a reliable system and a healthy ecosystem in the Delta. The legislature recognized that back in 2009 when they passed the 2009 Delta Reform Act along with other very important policy goals and established the coequal goals that are so important to driving what we are trying to do today.”

The Metropolitan Board of Directors established what they felt were key policy benchmarks for what we would be looking to achieve, said Mr. Arakawa.  He then listed those benchmarks:  “First is water supply reliability and being able to count on the state project supply for reliable amount.  Two is to improve the export water quality.  Three is to provide flexible pumping operations to reduce the conflict between delivery of water and fish impacts, fourth is to enhance the Delta ecosystem and to restore habitat in the Delta for more natural system, fifth is to reduce the seismic risks facing the delivery system for 25 millions Californians, sixth is to reduce the climate change risks that we face and to protect the supply from those climate change risks.”

Going back through those benchmarks and looking at how the draft BDCP matches up against those, starting with the first one, water supply reliability,” began Mr. Arakawa.  “The BDCP proposal …

Chair Pavley then stopped Mr. Arakawa, and told him his 5 minutes were up.

David Guy, president of the Northern California Water Association

David Guy began by saying he would touch on four things that have changed since the last oversight hearing.  “The first is obviously the drought,” he said.  “You can’t ignore it; Northern California is facing a drought like we’ve never seen before and to be honest, it’s having a pretty devastating effect on cities, on farms, on birds, on fish – it’s affecting the whole suite of beneficial purposes in the Sacramento Valley and I think that’s something we can learn from as we go forward in talking about this and other pieces.”

Guy 1The second thing is the California Water Action Plan,” said Mr. Guy.  “We laud the effort by the Governor and the administration to broaden the thinking with respect to water policy, and I think there are a lot of very good things in the water action plan.  We have honed in on two elements of that.  There is a statement from the Northern California Water Alliance that talks about the first part being regional sustainability – a provision passed in 2009 by many of you.  We’re embracing that and figuring ways to advance regional sustainability within the region.  The second part of that is the Bay Delta, and that poses a little bit different dynamic because we want to make sure that any Bay Delta dynamic does not affect our ability to be regionally sustainable in northern California, and that includes for cities, farms, fish, birds, recreation – the whole suite of things.”

The third point is the BDCP,” he continued.  “With respect to BDCP, we’re still watching flows and fees.  Flows and fees are obviously the two issues obviously in Northern California that we are looking at and we’ll be commenting on that like everybody else in the state.”

With respect to flows, it still feels to us that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be flows from Northern California required to support the project, and whether it’s through the BDCP, the State Water Board, or some related process, that fear is very much in Northern California’s mind,” said Mr. Guy.  “We have been looking at some modeling for the BDCP and we’ll be describing that as time goes on, but we’re seeing some flaws in the modeling with respect to the BDCP and we are not able to understand what is exactly being proposed.  We think that there’s operational scenarios in our view that potentially could help a BDCP, but it doesn’t look to us that we have gotten there yet, and those operational scenarios will need to work for California as well as those relying on the BDCP.”

Finally, it’s years like this that really highlight the value of storage, he said.  “It strikes me that there’s a real opportunity here.  I think is the first order of business is to get through this current dry spell and there are a lot of efforts being done for that, but I think as part of that we ought to learn from this and look at ways that the next time we get into this dry cycle, which I suspect is not going to be the last in our lifetime, that we think about ways to have storage, and that includes surface storage, groundwater storage, and existing storage.”  He added that he thought ought to be exploring projects like Sites off-stream reservoir in the west side of the Sacramento Valley because that would be an opportunity to put water in a reservoir and have it available in years like this, and with that he concluded his testimony.

Doug Obegi, Natural Resources Defense Council

Doug Obegi began by saying that his organization sees the 2009 Delta Reform Act as the key to solving California’s water supply and ecosystem problems.  “We hold those goals and statutory commands very dear, things like reducing reliance on the Delta, on meeting the NCCPA which the legislature described as the gold standard of ecosystem recovery, making sure that we do invest in local supply solutions and meet the coequal goals, and that we can’t have one or the other.

Obegi 1NRDC has proposed an alternative that includes new conveyance, he said.  “We are open to new conveyance unlike some environmental groups.  Many of them have joined us in asking for analysis of this proposal which includes a single tunnel and a smaller intake in combination with investments in local and regional water supplies.  Unfortunately, it’s not being analyzed in the EIR/EIS by the state.  We continue to push for that kind of analysis. The preliminary modeling that we’ve seen shows that it likely will outperform a larger facility, both in terms of overall water supply and in terms of financing, as well as ecosystem benefits, but obviously that’s the point of the EIS/EIR is to do that analysis so we don’t have to do it.”

NRDC has significant concerns in three areas, Mr. Obegi said:  water supply reliability, ecosystem and fisheries performance, and financing.  “In terms of reliability, obviously even with a large new facility, we rely on the south Delta pumps for half to two-thirds of the water supply, and BDCP proposes no investments in levee stability and upgrades,” he said.  “That’s why we included more than $1 billion in levee improvements in our portfolio approach, and we believe that ultimately, we need to make those kinds of investments.  As Director Cowin mentioned, Southern California which has invested massively in conservation and is reducing reliance on the Delta, is in better shape going into the drought.  We think that’s a lesson that all of us should be learning.”

In terms of the ecosystem benefits, we are very concerned,” he continued. “Right now, the modeling in BDCP shows that salmon populations generally decline; some of them go potentially extinct, and more importantly, survival through the Delta is actually reduced as a result of BDCP.  So this is not just climate change, and ultimately we need to manage our system of reservoirs and canals in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  We cannot do nothing to affect our reservoirs and let salmon go extinct because salmon support thousands of jobs in communities across Northern California and Oregon.”

“Finally, in terms of financial issues, we believe there are still very significant concerns about costs, both in terms of cost overruns and who is going to pay,” said Mr. Obegi.  “We think there’s a real concern that urban Southern California and Santa Clara Valley will be asked to subsidize the agricultural contractors who get about two-thirds of their water from the Delta through these two water projects.  That has a significant impact, not just on ratepayers and disadvantaged communities, but it also could preclude those investments in local water supplies.  And what we’ve seen in polling that LA Times has done as well as recent polling that we released today, those polls found very strong public support for local and regional water supplies to address the drought, and found very little support, only 10% of the voters who were polled supported a $14B two-tunnel proposal.  85% either supported no investments in the Delta and just investments in regional supplies, or a smaller single tunnel proposal that takes less water from the Delta.

I think the public opinion is shifting,” Mr. Obegi said.  “I think drought is starting to convince people that we can improve our regional supplies in a more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way and I hope that we can convince the state to actually analyze our portfolio approach and move forward with a lot of things that they’ve put in their water action plan,” he said, adding that he shares Mr. Guy’s commendation for the state for really putting forward a great water action plan.

Marguerite Patil, Contra Costa Water District

Marguerite Patil began by noting that the Contra Costa Water District is a public water agency serving 500,000 people in Central and Eastern Contra Costa County.   “Part of our service area is actually located within the legal Delta, and we actually own and operate four Delta intakes with state of the art fish screens.  We care a lot about the Delta because it serves 100% of our water supply.  We are one of the first Central Valley Project municipal and industrial customers, and we also hold our own water rights for diverting Delta surplus into our off-stream Los Vaqueros reservoir, which is known for providing high-quality drinking water supplies, protecting us against droughts, it also does some innovative things with ecosystem protection and provides emergency storage.”

Patil 1Our agency agrees that the Delta water system is in need of changes to meet the coequal goals, and when I say coequal goals, I’m not just talking about reliability and healthy ecosystem, but really we see reliability and water quality as linked,” said Ms. Patil.  “We feel a comprehensive solution of integrated and linked actions is needed, including additional storage.  We feel actions must give equal priority to statewide water supply reliability, Delta ecosystem and water quality in the Delta.”

Ms. Patil noted that at this time, the CCWD Board of Directors has not take a position on the BDCP.  They are monitoring the project and reviewing the document, and are preparing to submit formal comments which will focus on the potential impacts to CCWD in three areas: water quality, water supplies, and finances.  “Our expectation is that any significant impacts would need to be fully mitigated by the project proponents,” she said.  “There is no reasonable belief that that’s not going to happen at this point, but always think it’s a good time to remind folks about the importance of mitigation.”

The BDCP documents disclose a number of actions that will provide significant impacts to water quality, she said.  “This is for a variety of reasons including relaxation of Delta salinity standards and reducing freshwater inflow that will appear in the south Delta,” she said.  “Now we’re anticipating increased salinity levels at our intakes but we also see related concerns, things like elevated organic carbon, algae, and other taste and odor compounds that make water treatment process much more difficult.

The BDCP documents didn’t really identify any significant impacts to water supply, Ms. Paril acknowledged.  “Our concern is really one of what I just call the pie,” she said.  “If the pie – the water supply for the CVP is not getting any bigger as a result of the project, then there is a concern among our agency that will the existing supplies be reallocated favor the folks that invested in this project.  We also see the potential for the project to reduce the amount of time that we can use our Los Vaqueros water rights, and that will reduce our drought supplies and emergency storage.”

We’ve invested over a billion in the past 20 years, not only in Los Vaqueros but also in a comprehensive suite of things including recycled water and conservation to make us more resilient to droughts and future climate change,” she said.  “Now we believe every agency has to make its own decisions on investments, but we just believe if a water agency is going to benefit from a water project, it’s appropriate that they pay not only for the construction and the operations, but also the mitigation.  And as a contractor, we want to make sure that the CVP doesn’t improperly allocate costs to contractors like ourselves who do not benefit.”

Just in closing, we continue to encourage the BDCP proponents to identify a comprehensive, cost-effective solution that’s affordable, can be implemented with little or no opposition, and it does not place an undue burden on our customers,” concluded Ms. Patil.

Jason Peltier, Westlands Water District

Jason Peltier said he would start by defining two broad context centers.  “One is the broad context of the role of the Delta in terms of conveying water to agriculture in our state,” he said.  “There are a hundred million acres of land, 9 million acres of irrigated land, and of that 9 million acres, 3 million acres receive a portion of their water supply through the Delta, so one-third of California agriculture.  That third is today looking at a zero water supply surface allocation from the CVP and the SWP along with a lot of other folks who have reductions.”

Peltier 1We have a huge stake in how the Delta functions and the fact that it is broken,” said Mr. Peltier.  “We are in a state of crisis today as we have been for 20 years in the CVP where we’ve seen water reallocations to the environment and higher priorities for environmental values have caused us to face 40, 60, 90% and almost certainly this year, 100% cutback – this year, it’s not a regulatory drought as most of the last 20 have been, but it is a drought of incredible proportions.”

Mr. Peltier agreed with Director Cowin’s and Doug Obegi’s comments about the importance of local investment.  “We have invested and our farmers have invested in the face of the shortages and lack of reliability of the CVP, hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.  “We’ve taken hundreds of thousands of acres of land out of production in the district.  We bought it back from the farmers and don’t irrigate it anymore.  80% of our district is in drip or micro-sprinkler, just to name a few, so we have made huge investments.  Those investments are not paying off for us this year because of the hydrology and they are hardly paying off in normal years when we have regulatory-induced drought.”

Something that has not changed since the last hearings are the challenges, said Mr. Peltier.  One of the top challenges in his mind is the ability of the federal and state fish agencies to make decisions in the face of uncertainty.  “We hear repeatedly from the federal fish agencies that there is so much uncertainty about what would happen if we created new habitat and created new diversion points that they don’t know if they can permit this, so they are going to be deciding our future, there’s no doubt about it.  And I don’t know that they can decide.  I just don’t know if they have it in them to make the decision given the uncertainty.”

The second challenge is the landing a project that works,” said Mr. Peltier.  “We don’t have a project that works today from our perspective.  We don’t have a project that has adequate water supply and that has costs that we can afford or assurances that we can go into the future knowing we have a reliable water supply, so we have a lot of work to do, as the Director and the Secretary said, to get to a point where we have a project that actually works, not just for the exporters, but to address the continued declines of fisheries in the systems and the local issues in and around the Delta.”

Larry Ruhstaller, County of San Joaquin and Chair of the Delta Protection Commission

Let’s face it – the BDCP is fatally flawed,” began Larry Ruhstaller.  “Legally, scientifically and financially.  It doesn’t meet the requirements of the state and federal laws, it fails to conform to the 2009 Delta Reform Act, and the cost of the plan, if anybody in charge actually has the courage to do a true cost-benefit analysis, will prove it prohibitive to ag and urban water users.  The independent scientists already known that the plan is incredibly incomplete and based on vague guesses.  This is just not the local Delta interests saying this.  Take a look at San Diego County Water Authority’s analysis of the BDCP presented to Assemblymember Frazier’s committee a few weeks ago.  No less than Standard & Poor’s has questioned the viability.”

Ruhstaller 1Number two, just in, we’re in a drought.  Who could’ve guessed,” continued Mr. Ruhstaller.  “Well we could have and we should have because this is not the first drought in California.  We’ve had many.  Unfortunately, we have not planned to develop the water supply to increase or we have only put limited time and money into these efforts.  And we’ve spent a lot of money for the planning of the tunnels.  Didn’t we learn anything from the history of the development of the Central Valley Project or the State Water Project?  Maybe as one water expert recently noted, it’s because some of the state administration simply don’t know what they want to do and can’t articulate a clear water policy.  If they want to see a real plan that meets the goals of the 2009 Delta Reform Act, all they need to do is look at the Delta Protection Commission’s peer reviewed Economic Sustainability Plan.”

Number three, let’s stop the endless arguing and get on with it,” he said.  “We in the Delta are creating coalitions and coming up with reasonable cost effective workable solutions now, not in some maybe pie-in-the-sky possibility in ten or fifteen years.  Whether we are from the mountain counties who deal with the start of our watersheds, the Central Valley which is suffering terrible groundwater overdrafts, the Bay Area is concerned what will happen to their San Francisco Bay after we trash the Delta, or Southern California trying to lead the way to regional self sufficiency, we know we should be exploring all reasonable alternatives instead of this constantly dithering that has left us unprepared in the face of this drought.  As the Sacramento Bee recently stated, we’re all in this together.  All of us.  Ag as well as urban should be meeting the state goal of cutting back on our water use by 20%.  We also should be reusing what limited water we have, and yes, we should also likely be paying a market cost for this water.  True, we probably can’t make it rain, but we sure as hell can plan to capture into new storage the rain when it does come.”

I’d like to close with a quote from H.L. Menken,” concluded Mr. Ruhstaller.  “’If a politician found that he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.’  All the Delta missionaries, of which I am one, have asked for a substantial seat at the table and not just be out on the menu.”

Discussion highlights

Senator Wolk referred to the NCWA’s December 3rd principles on the BDCP, and notes that the one principle that isn’t mentioned is governance. She asked David Guy, “You don’t mention governance, which is really, from my perspective, a very important part if not the key, moving forward on this. Was that discussed?  Is that not of concern?

Absolutely, I think governance is on everybody’s mind,” answered Mr. Guy.  “I think part of the challenge right now, looking at BDCP and everything else is just focusing on a certain handful of issues and making an impact on those.  With the governance, we’ve looked at the BDCP chapters, we have some suggestions there.  We would obviously, like you, like to see some broader representation including folks in Northern California and to make sure that there’s truly an input into that project, not just a figurehead mindset. … I think that governance is very important and the fact that it’s not there just means we ran out of paper.

Wolk 2Senator Wolk then asked Jason Peltier that in light of the Standards & Poors report that came out recently, what is his opinion on costs and cost overruns?

There’s no easy answer to that,” replied Mr. Peltier.  “Certainly cost is a great concern as is management of the project.  Management, design, construction, and operation – there’s a less than stellar history in terms of DWR”s ability to build and deliver projects on time and on budget.  … Historically we would have relied on the state and federal governments to construct a project of this magnitude, but the reality is they can’t get to it, so we’re getting on it.  We think that the new role of us directly funding in advance capital construction requires that we have a different role rather than just handing our money to DWR and saying, ‘hope that turns out.’  The management part is important; and certainly the costs.

You’ve heard me say many times that we have to look at the cost of this in the context of what if we don’t do it,” continued Mr. Peltier.  “What are the collateral costs and the societal impacts if we fail to develop a reliable water system for a third of agriculture and half the people of the state?  What are those costs?  Those are significant.  Those will be weighed by our directors and decision makers with the real costs of the project and all the uncertainties that go with it, and it will be a very difficult decision.  Unfortunately we will not have the benefit of a recent poll that I saw that said 100% of the respondents responded affirmatively to the question “would you like all your problems to solve themselves?”  That’s what that poll said.  Huge challenge.”

For more information …

  • Click here for the agenda and meeting materials.
  • Click here to view this hearing on the Cal Channel.
  • Click here to visit the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee online.
  • Click here to visit the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee online.

3 Responses

  1. Karen Medders

    Just one time, can ANY of these legislative Circuses start with IN Delta perspectives???

    Just one time, can in Delta representation NOT be reduced to 2 and 5 minute time limits when the proponents of absolute devastation get to lead off and hog the clock?? every single time.

    Come on Politicians, give the little guy an equal opportunity….seriously, it is exactly why you were elected.

    Just one time.


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