California Water Commission, part 3: An update on Sites Reservoir

Commission 2At the July 16 meeting of the California Water Commission, Jim Weiking from the Department of Water Resources and Thad Bettner with the Glenn Colusa Irrigation District gave a presentation on the North of Delta Offstream Storage Project (NODOS), otherwise known as Sites Reservoir.  Their presentation included a detailed discussion on how Sites would add flexibility to the state’s water system overall, as well as an update on the status of the project.

Jim Wieking, Department of Water Resources Statewide Infrastructure Branch

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The documents released so far are essentially preliminary drafts, not public drafts, began Jim Wieking, noting that there’s a preliminary administrative draft EIR, a progress report put out by Reclamation and DWR at the end of last year, which is essentially the first half of a draft feasibility report, and the preliminary design and cost estimate report that was put out by DWR in May, he said. In addition, They relied on some analysis and studies done related to sensitivity analyses, and how does the project perform with BDCP in particular.

The planning process starts with identification of problems and needs where we identified some primary and secondary objectives, he said, noting that today’s presentation would focus on the ‘wet’ benefits of water supply, ecosystem restoration, and water quality improvement, and not the other benefits, such as flexible generation, flood protection, or emergency response.

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_3_Powerpoint_NODOS_Page_04He then presented a graphic that shows how NODOS fits with the other existing parts of the storage system in Northern California. “Trinity, Shasta, Oroville and Folsom are elements of the CVP and the SWP; they are the primary storage facilities and they are the ones that the operators really focus on in terms of how does our system look and what can we do this year,” he said. “There’s a lot of attention on those facilities and how much water in them this year in particular.”

We also recognized during our assessment of problems and needs that there was a system need for flexibility, especially related to storage, which has been significantly diminished over time,” he said. “Essentially what’s happened is the upstream reservoirs are relied upon for more and more water actions, so there’s an increased amount of water supply increased instream flow requirements, and increased water quality standards in the Delta, and all those things require more and more of those upstream reservoirs. So what we’ve seen over the history of the projects is that the flexibility of the system has diminished, especially in these northern California reservoirs.”

The planning process looked in detail at three alternatives, A,B, and C, with the main differences between the them being size, diversion and release capabilities. He said that Alternative A has a 1.2 MAF reservoir and the ability to divert 2000 cfs from the Sacramento River through a new diversion, in addition to diverting through the existing Tehama-Colusa and GCID canals; and then a 1500 cfs release capacity to get water back to the river and to support a number of benefits associated with the project. Alternative B is has a bigger reservoir at 1.8 MAF but it does not divert but does release through the new pipeline, and then Alternative C has the bigger reservoir, 1.8 MAF, and ability to divert 2000 cfs and release 1500 cfs.

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_3_Powerpoint_NODOS_Page_08He then presented a slide showing the yield of the project. He explained that in this chart, they’ve identified all the ‘wet’ purposes and uses of water that will be consumed. He noted that for water supply, the numbers show how much additional water is delivered to customers or to users, including municipal, industrial, agricultural and refuge supply. The darker blue bars represent dedicated water releases to improve water quality in the Delta at specific times of the year, he said. “That’s a benefit to both users of water in the Delta, because the water quality is improved, and also to ecosystem conditions in the Delta and to habitat.

The ecosystem restoration component is represented by the tan quantity at the top of the bars, he said. “This is the quantity of water that’s actually increased in outflow at the Delta so we’ve measured the full yield or benefit of the project, because it’s either a delivery of water that wasn’t delivered in the no action case, or it’s an amount of water that’s actually consumed, either a dedicated water quality release, or an ecosystem restoration action that usually happens upstream, but in this case, it’s the amount of water that actually flowed out the Delta because of that ecosystem action,” he said. “On average, from A to C, you get 400,000 to 500,000 AF of project yield or water supply to these three uses. In dry and critical years, and these are singular years in the record where the system is drier or more critical, you get a larger quantity of water, 500 to over 600,000 AF, and we’ve designed the project to emphasize those drier year benefits.”

The flexibility of the system is improved, he said. “We don’t give this benefit a quantified economic value, but we’re suggesting that the system is significantly improved because we’ve added water to the system,” he said. “Because of Sites’ location, it’s able to not only store water at Sites, but also get water back into those upstream reservoirs that have become so constrained over time, so Trinity, Shasta, Oroville, and Folsom, you’ll see that the conditions for storage in those reservoirs are improved with Sites.”

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_3_Powerpoint_NODOS_Page_10He said on a long term average, storage north of the Delta is improved about 1 MAF to 1.4 MAF. “That means that when operators look at the system like they’re looking at it this year, searching for every drop of water, they would see an additional 1 MAF to 1.4 MAF on average,” said Mr. Wieking.

One of the things we’re trying to do with the project is improve the cold water pool in those existing reservoirs,” he said. “Having the cold water pool in an off-stream reservoir is a lot less important. Having it in those existing reservoirs where the fisheries are dependent upon those cold water pools downstream of Shasta, Trinity, Oroville, and Folsom is much more important.”

One of the commissioners asks him to explain further.

Mr. Weiking explained that with Sites Reservoir integrated into the system, water can now be called for from not just Trinity, Shasta, Oroville and Folsom, but from Sites as well, so the additional storage in the system can now provide water for existing uses.

Weiking 2Let me give you an example,” said Thad Bettner. “The American River and Folsom Reservoir operations. Any time there’s a Delta water quality problem and the projects are exceeding standards, the first thing that they do is they immediately go to Folsom Reservoir and pull on Folsom to increase the flows in the American River in order to put more fresh water in the Delta. The American River below Folsom is currently operated fairly tightly for fisheries already so it’s protecting salmon and steelhead. Any time you start to play with the flows on the American, you could potentially impact storage, which can impact the Sacramento Valley urban customers and their water supply by taking water out of Folsom, as well as potentially affect some of the fishery actions that are already occurring on the American. With Sites in place, you could not pull on Folsom but pull on Sites instead because it’s more or less equal distance upstream up the Delta and could provide that fresh water to the Delta.”

Mr. Bettner pointed out that Sites is located on the Sacramento River, which is a much larger watershed than Folsom. “Especially looking forward on climate change, the Sacramento River system is much more resilient because it’s not a snow-fed system – it’s about 75% rain and 25% snow,” he said. “So as we look forward with climate change, we’re expecting about the same amount of runoff from the Sacramento River watershed so you have a more reliable supply to fill Sites.”

Mr. Bettner then gave an example of how water could be left up in Shasta for the cold water pool. He explained that currently, both his agency and the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority divert water off the Sacramento River through the summer season. “What we would do if Sites were in place, we would divert water down into the lower half of our service areas, take that water directly out of Sites, and deliver it through our service area and leave the same amount of water that we’ve otherwise diverted up in Shasta to increase and expand the cold water pool.”

Mr. Weiking then gave some numbers for perspective. “Average condition is about 7.5 MAF in these four reservoirs; Sites would improve somewhere between 13 and 19% the storage in those reservoirs,” he said. “In drought conditions, the storage condition is about 4.8 MAF in those four reservoirs, so the improvement there is about 17 to 23% improvement.”

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_3_Powerpoint_NODOS_Page_11He then turned to restoration. With Sites Reservoir, there is about 100,000 AF made available for the ecosystem, which is the amount of water these ecosystem actions cause in additional flow out the Delta, he said. “When we’re totaling the total water supply for the project, we show that about 100,000 AF number, but we’re doing much more than that. In terms of volumes of water, the ecosystem actions are more significant than that,” he said. “These ecosystem actions include improving the cold water pool at Trinity, Shasta, Oroville and Folsom; it includes temperature releases on the Sacramento River to supplement existing releases so that temperatures can be improved in the upper Sacramento River, stabilizing flows in both the American and the Sacramento, and increasing flows downstream by reducing existing diversions during the spring to fall normal diversion period.”

He explained that the purple line is just to give you a reference point for what we’re showing as a water supply for ecosystem restoration, but the volumes of water there include cold water pool, stabilizing flow and reducing diversions. “You can see that the ecosystem gets more water in those dry critical years, and that has a lot to do because we really need to improve the cold water pool conditions at the upstream reservoirs during those types of years,” he said.

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_3_Powerpoint_NODOS_Page_12The third objective set out for us by the Water Action Plan is resilience, he said. “What happens if the future is different than we think it might be? What if those assumptions are different? What if there is a BDCP implemented? What if climate change occurs?,” he said, presenting a slide depicting how Alternative C’s water benefits and diversions to Sites Reservoirs play out under various alternative futures. “We’re showing Alternative C because it has the biggest effect on the system. … In terms of the water supply, water quality and ecosystem, you can see the amount of water that’s going into Sites Reservoir on average in these different conditions. You can see the amount of water you’re able to divert under the BDCP condition is a little bit less.”

With climate change, diversion capability actually goes up,” Mr. Wieking said. “What we discovered is that portion of the Sacramento River is significantly dependent upon rainfall runoff rather than snowmelt, so it has a runoff pattern that is fairly consistent, whether you have climate change or not, and so our ability to capture water actually goes up under climate change conditions.”

He noted that one difference between the BDCP in the alternative futures is that because the water quality improvements are so big with BDCP, they didn’t dedicate a portion of the project to provide a water quality improvement and so they shifted those benefits to water supply and ecosystem, which is why the dark blue part of the bar disappears with BDCP.

He noted that the yield and the total performance of the project goes down just a little bit with BDCP. “Our view of the project is the project is extremely resilient to BDCP, or climate change or both,” he said.

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_3_Powerpoint_NODOS_Page_13Here’s the bottom line,” he said, presenting a slide showing the estimated costs. “Alternative A, B, and C costs range from $3.6 to $4.1 billion. The benefit cost ratio, when you look at the benefits described in the feasibility documents, is 1.3 to 1.4, in that range.”

The Water Action Plan directs us to work specifically with a number of people – the legislature, Reclamation, and the Sites JPA, he said. “The goal is to put together a funding partnership that can develop a financeable multi-benefit storage project … we’re fortunate to be working with the Sites JPA to make that happen.”

I’m looking at the numbers on the money and it doesn’t quite square up for me,” asks Commissioner Curtin. “The only difference between B and C in your chart is the diversion canal. So the cost of the diversion canal costs about half a billion dollars?

Yes,” replied Mr. Weiking. “It’s a pumping plant, it pumps about 13 miles across the Sacramento Valley. … One of the things we found out early on in this study is that the really expensive part of the project isn’t the dams or the reservoir facilities themselves; it’s the conveyance, so we do a little bit of improving to the existing conveyance, but not much, but the little bit that we do do is pretty expensive. The pipeline is expensive, and the pumping plants are very expensive.”

Thad Bettner, General Manager at Glenn Colusa Irrigation District

Thad Bettner, General Manager at Glenn Colusa Irrigation District as well as one of the members of the Sites Reservoir JPA then addressed the Commission.  “A lot of times we get caught up in the process and we forget about our objective or our goal,” Thad Bettner began. “Seeing a bond pass this November, having this JPA come back before you in summer of next year with a project we’d like you to approve. We’d like to get out environmental document, feasibility study, and permits done in 2 years, and build a project in 5 years. Those are some realistic goals we have set for ourselves, and we believe that through a good partnership with you folks, working with DWR and the Bureau we can accomplish that. We wanted to give you a vision of things that are really possible. We’re not talking about the Bay Bridge, we’re not talking about the bullet train, we’re talking about some fairly simple things like building earthen dams, pipelines, and pumping plants which people do every day.”

Thad 2Mr. Bettner said that within the JPA, Glenn and Colusa County are included. “When we formed the JPA, we thought it was very important to have the counties represented since this project is in their county,” he said. “We have issues related to relocating roads, we have people who need emergency services, things like that, so having the counties engaged is important and they’ve been great partners.”

The JPA includes the Glenn Colusa Irrigation District, the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, Reclamation District 108, Maxwell Irrigation District, and Yolo County Flood Control Water Conservation District, and DWR is a non-voting member, he said.

Mr. Bettner said that the language exists in all the various bond versions that the JPA could be eligible to receive money from the California Water Commission for building a project that has public benefits, so they’ve been following the bills that are currently being discussed and looking at the regulations to try to and stay consistent. “We hope this is the future we’re all going to be sitting in,” said Mr. Bettner. “We’d hate to have the bond renegotiated and have the language changed; we’d hate to have to have you change your regulations, but we’re trying to abide with what we know is out there.

This spring, Congressmen LaMalfa and Garamendi wrote HR 4300, a bill authorizing the Sites Reservoir project. “It authorizes the Bureau to continue its feasibility study, and if the federal government deems the project is buildable, the federal government or Congress can authorize money to the project,” explained Mr. Bettner. “It hasn’t done so yet, but it could, or if for whatever reason the Secretary determines that it’s not in the best interest of the Bureau to do it, they can hand the project over to us, the JPA, and we’d move forward with it. So, the legislation itself has a lot of flexibility in how we can move the project forward from a federal perspective.”

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_2_Powerpoint_Page_07If you look at the project, there are three main components, said Mr. Bettner. There are two main dams and some saddle dams, which are significantly smaller than what Contra Costa Water District built for Los Vaqueros, there are pumping plants which are fairly easy to build, and there is a pipeline.  “Those are really the three main components, and how you change those things around get you to your various alternatives – your costs, your benefits, and how you operate for the beneficiaries purposes – that is what we’re in the process of doing right now.”

Mr. Bettner said they were working on how to make the project affordable. “As I say, anything’s feasible – we can do anything, but we have to look at what’s affordable and what are folks willing to pay. … so we are going through the cycle of looking at the various alternatives that Jim talked about, as well as other alternatives.”

He noted that Mr. Wieking presented three alternatives, but they were looking at a fourth. “Other things that we’ve been looking at is a 1.8 MAF reservoir reoperated to where we’d get about 543,000 AF of yield,” said Mr. Bettner. “Right now what we’ve been trying to do as a JPA is try and share that water supply benefit 50/50. 50% of it is for the ecosystem, 50% of it is for water supply. … We’ve been trying to optimize the yield to also provide optimal public benefits to hit that 50% mark that’s within the bond.”

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_2_Powerpoint_Page_08The fourth alternative has 1.3 MAF of increased storage, and direct benefits for water supply, ecosystem, power and recreation; it costs about $3.4 billion, he said. “We went in and varied the sizes of the pipeline, the pumping plant, how you operate it, and came up with another alternative.”

He said they also looked at another project with everything stripped out; the lowest cost project that looks only at providing two main benefits: water supply and water for the environment, he said, noting that other things could be added in if people were willing to pay for it. “We looked at the smallest project that still minimizes the costs but maximizes the benefits and meets those two needs for the water supply and for the environment, so we came up with a project of about $2.9 billion. So that’s the lower end of the project, is that really what we want to build? Maybe, maybe not, but these are things that we need to look at.”

Mr. Bettner said the JPA is working on an action plan. So far they’ve identified yield and benefits, with or without BDCP and with climate change, and they have a robust modeling tool that integrated with the system that can model how Sites will operate, he said. They’ve evaluated costs, and looked at how to optimize construction and contracting costs to reduce costs as much as possible.  They are currently addressing the affordability and funding options, conducting public outreach and identifying beneficiaries, he said.

Mr. Bettner said the in regards to politics, there are local issues related to the counties, landowners, emergency services, and road relocations which are big issues, as well as HR 4300. They are active and interested where the water bond debate is going and once legislators come back in August, they plan to be engaged in that.

“If you look at state legislation, and where we’re going with groundwater, I think that greatly changes the storage debate, so we think if we get to the point where we have groundwater legislation and having to look at long-term sustainability, new storage is going to have to help meet some of the demands that are currently met by groundwater,” said Mr. Bettner. “I don’t think you can get around that, so how do you factor in storage into the groundwater discussion?

July2014_Agenda_Item_9_Attach_2_Powerpoint_Page_12In respect to next steps, Mr. Bettner said they were evaluating alternatives, and working to establish clear roles with the DWR and the Bureau about who is going to do what and when. He said they recently had a dialog with the NGO community with about 30 in attendance. “The JPA wants to engage with that community to talk about what are the goals and interests that the folks that are managing the environmental resources and stewardship for the state want out of a storage project and making sure we don’t assume what those are,” he said. “We want to try to incorporate to the extent that we can the operations to address that so we are operating this project efficiently for the environment as well.

And that concludes my talk …

Commissioner Saracino asked Mr. Bettner what was the cost per acre foot, who would the beneficiaries be for the water supply component, and how are they working out whether or not they are willing to pay for that?

The question always gets back to how do you pay for it, and that’s the question we have to answer,” Mr. Bettner responded. He said that the $4B project with all the bells and whistles, if assumed 50% public financing and 50% private funding, it’s $800 an acre-foot. The stripped down version, a smaller project with public financing at $1.5B, it’d be $400 an acre-foot. “We’re maybe somewhere in there. … we’re exploring other creative opportunities for financing. Still working on the finance plan.”

Coming next …

  • Posting tomorrow, a briefing on the Delta Vision Foundation’s paper on water storage integration.

For more information …

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