How the Bay Delta Conservation Plan addresses the goals and objectives of the Delta Reform Act and the Delta Plan

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At the May 29th meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, the main agenda item for the day was for the Council to finalize their comments that will be submitted on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its environmental documents. To set the stage for the discussion that would follow, the Council first received three additional briefings on reviews of the BDCP documents.

The first presentation was given by Larry Roth from the Council’s independent consultant ARCADIS, who summarized a report that was prepared for the Council to examine how the BDCP conforms with the coequal goals for the Delta and with the policies and directions of the Delta Reform Act and the Delta Plan. Next, the Council heard a summary of the independent science panel’s review of the BDCP’s Effects Analysis, and a report from the Delta Independent Science Board on their review of the BDCP’s EIR/EIS.  After that, the Council then discussed and finalized the comments they would be submitting.

The presentation by ARCADIS is covered in today’s post.  Part 2, posting tomorrow, will cover the science reviews, and Part 3, posting on Wednesday, will cover the Council’s discussion and approval of the comments they will be submitting on the project.

ARCADIS: How the BDCP addresses the goals and objectives of the Delta Reform Act and the Delta Plan

Larry Roth, ARCADIS’ project manager for the BDCP review, began by saying his presentation will cover how the BDCP addresses the Delta Reform Act’s goals and objectives, but it is not a legal review. “We were asked by the Council to assess how the public draft of BDCP plan documents and its accompanying EIR/EIS relate to the goals that are established in the Delta Reform Act and the policies and the recommendations of the Delta Plan,” he said.

He began by giving a brief overview of the BDCP:

  • It is intended to be both a Natural Communities Conservation Plan under state statutes and a Habitat Conservation Plan under federal statutes.
  • It’s a 50-year permit that would enable the construction of new conveyance facilities in the Delta. This includes three new intakes in the North Delta and twin tunnels that would be 35 miles long that are connected to the existing south Delta pumping facilities, and would be operated with new operating criteria.
  • It would also include dual-operations with approximately 50% of the flow going through the new facility on an annual basis and approximately 50% would continue in the through-Delta conveyance.
  • In addition to the new conveyance facilities, there is a conservation strategy to restore the Delta system consisting of 21 other conservation measures.
  • In total there would be approximately 140,000 acres of either new or protected habitat.
  • If approved, the BDCP will become part of the Delta Plan and will become eligible for public funding.
  • To be approved, it needs to be approved as an HCP, as an NCCP, and it must meet the specific requirements of the Delta Reform Act.

Larry Roth 2Mr. Roth then highlighted several of their key findings. “I think first it’s fair to indicate that the goals and objectives in the BDCP are generally in conformance with the coequal goals that are established in the Delta Reform Act and in the Delta Plan,” he said. “The new facilities and operating criteria offer the possibility of system flexibility that could reduce reverse flows and decrease fish entrainment which has been a historical problem in the Delta. And if the BDCP is successful, the conservation measures that are aimed at other stressors may be able to reduce the threats of risk from contaminants in runoff and in discharges from invasive species and from illegal harvest.”

The BDCP does propose to enhance water supply reliability in keeping with the coequal goals and in fact, the new facilities will be more resilient to natural disasters than the existing through Delta conveyance,” he said. “The new facilities, including a new point of diversion and new operations criteria do offer the opportunity to reduce reverse flow conditions in the Delta and the new facilities can contribute to a ‘Big Gulp, Little Sip’ strategy in operations of the water supply.”

But while the BDCP can contribute to a more reliable supply, Mr. Roth pointed out that it is insufficient to fully meet the demand. “In addition, as conceived, and this is because it’s not part of the BDCP, it does not contribute to other aspects of the Delta Reform Act, such as promoting statewide water conservation, diversifying local water supplies, and improving water use efficiency,” he said.

Mr. Roth said that the BDCP could be more effective if combined with other water management actions currently viewed as outside the plan, such as reoperation of both the SWP and CVP, and increasing storage, both above or below ground, particularly south of Delta, but also north of Delta.

The BDCP is not required to address the goals of Delta as a place that were included in the Delta Plan, and they found that it will have a mixed effect in achieving the Delta Plan goals, he said. “The adequacy of the mitigation measures do affect BDCP’s ability to contribute to the goals of the Delta Plan, and we found that if BDCP could strengthen its commitment that it would be more effective in mitigating adverse impacts to Delta communities.”

He said that they looked at four other major environmental projects as part of their work: the Everglades, the Lower Colorado, the Platte River, and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration. “We found that in comparison, features of BDCP governance have contributed to success in these similar restoration programs for large aquatic systems,” he said. “We do think that improved coordination with the Delta Stewardship Council, the Delta Science Program, the ISB, and I might add, other science programs within the Delta, will certainly benefit the implementation of BDCP.”

The BDCP’s budget overall appears to be reasonable and properly allocated, he said, noting that their findings are largely based on the review of the work done by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. “The sources of funding are plausible but are not guaranteed, particularly those for the ecosystem restoration, and because of potential concerns for regulatory assurance, the budget may prove insufficient and the state may face additional costs if the restoration efforts do not succeed as planned,” he said. “The Legislative Analyst’s Office found that potentially the cost of real estate acquisition could be underestimated because of the BDCP’s own demand for real estate within the Delta.”

Regarding adaptive management, Mr. Roth said that it’s an important tool to be able to address uncertainties and be able to improve the opportunities for success. “The adaptive management plan as presented in BDCP is generally consistent with the 9-step plan in the Delta Plan, but would certainly benefit from interaction and coordination with the Stewardship Council and the Delta Science Program and other science programs to have an active role in defining the details of adaptive management and the implementation of it,” he said. “We found that the adaptive management as proposed would benefit from a more proactive approach and a wider use of large scale experimentation. In order to be successful, the adaptive management needs to be accompanied by timely adjustments so that it can contribute overall to the success.”

It’s very important to keep in mind that while the adaptive management is crucial to the success of BDCP, it is not a panacea and it is not something that should be counted upon as the complete safety factor in the event that things don’t work out as planned,” he said. “It doesn’t relieve the need for appropriate mitigation of adverse impacts that’s planned in advance.”

GovernanceHe then presented a slide of the BDCP’s governance structure. He noted that the Implementation Office is headed up by a Program Manager and it includes a Science Manager; it is directed by the Authorized Entities Group. The Authorized Entity Group is comprised generally all the water agencies including the water contractors, and the Permit Oversight Group us comprised of the fish agencies, he said. There is a Stakeholder’s Council that advises the Implementation Office that is an opportunity for local Delta people, other agencies and NGOs to provide input to the Implementation Office, he said.

In general we saw that the governance offered some benefits,” he said. “The Authorized Entity Group does provide for oversight and accountability and the Permit Oversight Group does serve as the final authority for changes. We found with our study of other large restoration projects in aquatic systems that the process of development of annual work plans and development of annual budgets can be successful in improving focus and coordination.”

There are also a number of concerns identified with the potential governance, he said. “One is that the program manager has significant amount of responsibility but limited authority,” he said. “The Implementation Office itself lacks contracting authority which means it’s going to have to refer back to the Authorized Entity Group to enter into contracts, whether it be for real estate acquisition or construction or design, and the Implementation Office really has no role at all in two of the major conservation measures: CM1, the conveyance facilities and CM2, the work in the Yolo Bypass.”

Mr. Roth said they identified a number of concerns with the BDCP. “The key concern is the uncertainties that are associated with BDCP,” he said. “First, all of the other conservation measures CMs 2 through 22 are presented at the programmatic level. There’s a lack of specific location and design details, which makes it very difficult to assess the actual benefits that will accrue to covered species because of the vagueness in the programmatic level descriptions. It’s also very hard to assess the impacts that would flow, such as impacts to agriculture and cultural resources within the Delta.”

The benefits of habitat restoration may be overstated,” Mr. Roth said. “There’s an implicit trade of water for habitat here, and the benefits of the actual restoration on the covered fisheries may be overstated. Certainly we found that the timelines for achieving the benefits may be overly optimistic by as much as perhaps ten years. The time that it takes to acquire the land, make the designs, do the construction, and realize the benefits from the restoration may be significantly overstated in BDCP.”

The uncertainties in modeling and the compounding of uncertainties may make it difficult to accurately predict what those outcomes actually can be, and then also of real importance is the significant uncertainties about the availability, reliability and sources of funding for the restoration measures in the long term,” he continued.

While the BDCP does improve water supply reliability for the users of water that’s exported from the Delta, because of water quality concerns, it may not improve reliability for users of in-Delta water,” Mr. Roth said. “And the requirement for consensus in the adaptive management program may actually delay actions if the decisions are not made in a timely manner.”

The mitigation for potential adverse impacts should not be deferred to the adaptive management phase, echoing what I said earlier that adaptive management is not a panacea,” he said. “The mitigation should be planned in advance and adaptive management should be used to adjust as we learn how that mitigation is worked.”

The resilience and recovery of conveyance facilities from levee failure is not addressed and this does constitute roughly 50% of the flow which is through Delta,” he added.

There’s a challenge in achieving balance between the coequal goals on the water supply reliability side,” said Mr. Roth. “The benefits to the water users will actually begin as soon as water is diverted by the intakes into the new conveyance facilities, but on the other hand, the benefits to the ecosystem may not be realized for perhaps 20 years or more, and it begs the question, what if the restoration does not work as anticipated – have we achieved the desired balance in the coequal goals.”

Larry Roth 1Whether the regulatory assurances are commensurate with the conservation assurances is also important, said Mr. Roth. “The fish agencies are empowered by the regulations to provide regulatory assurances and BDCP is asking for a 50-year permit. The payback point for the investments in the conveyance facilities by our analysis looks to be approximately 40 years, and it’s certainly reasonable for contractors to be seeking some level of security in their investments, but is that appropriately balanced with the assurances that the ecosystem will be developed in a successful manner within the same time frame. The fish agencies are able to provide that regulatory assurance based on the appropriateness of the plan, particularly with respect to the quantity and quality of the data, the level of knowledge and the use of the best available science through the plan, and emphasizing here again, the funding issues, the sufficiency of funding of the plan and its contingencies.”

Mr. Roth then had some recommendations, but he noted that they are more food for thought, both for the Council and for the BDCP agencies:

  1. Specify feasible and enforceable mitigation measures for water quality impacts, and if specific mitigation cannot be offered, than detailed performance standards should be offered instead.
  2. More thoroughly identify specific mitigation measures for many of the adverse impacts to the Delta as a place, including agriculture, recreational impacts, impacts to community character, and impacts to aesthetics and cultural resources.
  3. Reduce uncertainties to achieve a better balance of the coequal goals by increasing confidence that the restoration measures will work by using a large-scale experimental approach in the development of the restoration opportunity areas as opposed to small scale experiments. The BDCP would benefit from improved guidance on timing, location and design details for many of the conservation measures that are now presented only at the programmatic level, and improved confidence in the funding of the conservation measures.
  4. Improve the adaptive management program to assure timely decision making.
  5. Ensure that the conservation assurances are commensurate with the regulatory assurances.

And with that, Mr. Roth concluded his presentation.

During the brief discussion period, Councilmember Phil Isenberg reflected on the current drought and the ‘Big Gulp, Little Sip’ strategy. “Given the recent drought that we’re in, and taking the largest public debate possible, it seems to me that there is no guarantee that when we get in our next drought that water users, particularly junior water right holders, will ever accept the argument that they take cuts first, and instead demand that the system supply them with all the water they would prefer to get, thus undercutting the argument of big gulp in wet years, little sip in dry years,” he said. “It’s a nice slogan, I like it, I think it expresses good policy, but I can’t imagine any fundamental change in arguments and discussions in the future …

There are two sides to that issue,” responded Mr. Roth. “It’s the supply side, if you will, and that is if there’s water to be stored in a wet year, can we do it, and our point is that the BDCP does provide some flexibility in that. I think BDCP’s own analysis, and I may not have the numbers exactly correct from memory, but right now, San Luis Reservoir can be filled with current operations approximately 50% of the time, perhaps less, and with the proposed conveyance in BDCP, they are estimating it could be filled more than 80% of the time, so a significant increase in the amount of water that can be stored south of Delta. How that’s allotted during drought is a separate matter, I would say. Storing it on the one hand, but then how that stored water is used and allotted is a different policy issue.”

Coming tomorrow:  The Delta Stewardship Council hears summaries of the independent science panel’s review of the BDCP’s Effects Analysis and the Delta Independent Science Board’s review of the BDCP EIR/EIS.

For more information …

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