At the November meeting of the Delta Protection Commission, Cindy Messer from the Delta Stewardship Council gave a presentation on the Council’s Delta Levee Investment Strategy and DWR’s Paul Marshall updated the Commission on the Drought Contingency Plan.
Delta Levee Investment Strategy
Cindy Messer, Deputy Executive Officer of Planning with the Delta Stewardship Council, began by noting that the Council was mandated to develop a strategy for state investments in levees, and that an interim policy was developed as part of the Delta Plan. “There’s actually a regulatory policy in Chapter 7 of the Delta Plan right now that has interim priorities for state investments in Delta levees, so what we will be doing through this process is updating those priorities,” she said.
She presented a slide with the water code portions that apply to the development of the levee strategy. “In the second water code section, 85306, if you read through it, what it indicates is that this levee investment strategy must address both project levees, which are those that are part of the State Plan of Flood Control as well as non-project levees,” she said. “What this means for us is that it’s a broader scope and a broader arena of stakeholders that we need to be talking to – not only state agencies, but also local agencies, federal agencies, and stakeholders in general.”
There are three primary outcomes of the Delta Levee Investment Strategy, she said:
A Comprehensive levee investment and risk reduction strategy: “What it will do is update state investment priorities for both project and non-project Delta levee operations, maintenance, and improvements,” she said. “This investment strategy will help ensure that the state uses a coordinated and systematic approach to approving projects not only public safety, but also ecosystem conditions and economic sustainability in the Delta, as well as for the state.” The strategy will be developed using extensive stakeholder engagement as well as an independent peer review panel to review the approach and methodology, as well as undergoing the CEQA process, she said. The strategy will contain a tiered ranking of investment or projects for Delta islands and tracts, recommendations around different levels of improvements or levels of protection afforded by levees in the Delta, and a methodology for cost allocation amongst the different categories of beneficiaries, she said.
She noted that there is some overlap with Delta Protection Commission’s levee assessment district feasibility study. “For us, we’re really keeping it to categories of beneficiaries, and looking at how to allocate costs across those,” she said.
Changes to interim Delta Plan policy: “The second outcome that we anticipate from updating the strategy is making changes to the Delta Plan and its provisions,” she said.
A computer based decision support tool: “One of the outcomes is that we’ll be utilizing a computer-based tool to help us with the investment strategy and with decision making,” she said. “It won’t do it for us, but it will be a tool that gets us there. It’s a tool that the Stewardship Council will retain ownership of. It’s very flexible, and it will allow us to update the investment strategy as new information and new data is generated.”
She then presented a slide of the project planning process, noting that they have broken the project up into six phases over a two-year time frame. “We started in July of this year,” Ms. Messer said. “We’ve completed Phase 1, which was about getting organized, getting the project team together, and figuring out what the work plan is to get us through the remaining five phases, and developing an outreach strategy and a communication plan. We’ve made it through that process, and right now we’re in the middle of Phase 2, which is the phase where we’re compiling information.”
Ms. Messer emphasized that they would not be generating any new data or information in this process. “We’re going to be relying on existing information, and we’ve been going to a variety of different sources, different agencies, and different stakeholder groups, getting out there to understand who has information and how can we get a hold of it. It’s logistics. The data is information about island conditions, levee conditions, what are the assets protected by the levees on the various islands, beneficiaries information, and also threats and hazards.”
They’ve also been beginning a lot of discussion around defining the objectives and launched their stakeholder engagement activities, including meeting with various agencies and groups, she said. Two public workshops are scheduled, one in Clarksburg on the 8th in the evening, and another one in Brentwood on the 11th of December in the evening.”
During Phase 3, the focus shifts to compiling the data, she said. “We’ll be doing some analyses around risk and looking at probabilities, generating some analyses of estimated annual damages, looking at consequences of the risks that the Delta levees are faced with, and what that would mean under certain scenarios,” she said. “We’ll begin to look at risk reduction options – the different projects and investments and how those might come together to meet our primary objectives.”
At the end of phase 3, the independent peer review process will begin, she said. “These folks are going to be brought in to take an independent very thorough technical evaluation of our approach and our methodology; they will look at the information we’re using,” she said. “The panel consists of seven nationally and internationally recognized experts in their fields which range from levees and flood management to environmental impacts, economic impacts, social and human issues, water quality, water supply. We’ve tried to bring experts in to represent the different facets we need to be looking at and addressing in the investment strategy.”
Phase 4 is expected to begin in the spring or summer of 2015. “In this phase, we’ll have the peer review process and then figure out what we’re going to do about their recommendations, comments, and questions, how that results in changes to our process and address those,” she said. “Shortly after that, we anticipate being able to have some output coming out of our computer based decision support tool.”
Phase 4 will be a very iterative process, Ms. Messer said. “The project team will generate some output, which we’ll bring out to different venues – public meetings, agency meetings and briefing such as this, and putting it out there to get some review, input, questions, concerns that will allow us to go back in and make some changes, and bring that back out again.”
Phases 5 and 6 are about developing documents, she said. “In phase 5, we’ll develop a draft report that includes the strategy, we’ll have a draft EIR that we’ll put out for public review and comment, and we’ll be beginning to look at proposed changes to our regulations in the Delta Plan; that will be heavy on public review with people reading the documents, commenting, and our responses to how we’re going to address those comments,” she said. “In phase 6, hopefully, we move into finalizing all of the documentation and implementing the investment strategy.”
She then presented a slide of the computer-based decision tool that was developed for the state of Louisiana, which is similar to the tool that will be developed for the Delta. She explained that post-Katrina, the state of Louisiana had a budget of $50 billion to reduce risk to the coastal boundaries of the state, and over 400 different projects had been submitted as different means for reducing risk, providing environmental benefits, and building land around the coastal edge to deal with future natural events. “The RAND Corporation developed this computer-based tool that allowed them to take those 400 projects, put them into the tool, and create different portfolios of projects that would allow them to take a look at how well is it addressing the objectives and what were the tradeoffs,” she said. “The tool gives you the ability to say this suite of projects maximizes risk reduction, it has some good land building benefits, it might be neutral or negative on the environmental side, so you can go through and adjust these portfolios and determine how well they meet the objectives and what the tradeoffs are.”
The state of Louisiana and the consulting team then took the portfolios through an iterative process with the stakeholders, eventually selecting 137 projects out of 400. This was put into a strategic plan that was unanimously approved by the state legislature, and they’ve been implementing it since then, she pointed out.. “This is what the Arcadis team came to us with; the RAND Corporation is also part of our consulting team, and given the similarities in our two situations, this made a lot of sense to us to try and to incorporate in developing a levee investment strategy for the region,” Ms. Messer said.
“Once we get to the stage with the portfolios of projects, we’ll be bringing it out to have a lot of discussion, a lot of deliberation, take it back inhouse, come back out, so very iterative,” she said.
The Council is engaging with any and all stakeholders: Elected officials; local, state and federal agencies, including emergency response; reclamation districts; Delta residents, businesses, and landowners; infrastructure, transportation and utility managers, water users; fish, wildlife and habitat related groups; others who benefit from the Delta levee system, and anyone else who is interested, she said. “We are very much of the mind that this is to be a very open, a very transparent, a very engaging process,”
Ms. Messer then gave some of the ways they are getting and receiving information and feedback:
Technical coordination with agencies and specialists to build a solid technical foundation: Ms. Messer said they have technical coordination with different agencies and experts, and are in the process of developing a technical resource pool with various experts in levees, management, ecosystem, water supply, water quality, and other areas that they can use to gather information, vet issues, and receive feedback. “So between the technical resource pool, these discussions, and the independent peer review panel, our goal is to build a very solid technical foundation for this effort.”
Meetings and briefings with various interests, agencies, and elected officials to understand issues and objectives, and public meetings and workshops to inform and deliberate on options and tradeoffs: “We’ll also be offering meetings, briefings, and presentations so we can impart information and so we can understand what the issues are, what the different stakeholder groups priorities, objectives, and concerns are.
Website and information materials to inform and report: “On the Council’s website, we have a webpage dedicated to this project and we are trying very hard to post everything as quickly as we can that we develop through this project,” she said. “We are getting a calendar together so we can populate it with all the public meetings and workshops we’re going to plan for and schedule so people can plug in when they want to and when they need to.”
Commissioner Cabaldon said that he didn’t understand how it all links up with the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, the Army Corps levee program, and others. What is this effort expected to produce that the value over and above the Central Valley plan and some of these other elements?
“The biggest difference in the outcome from this effort is that it will bring coordination amongst all of these different efforts that we recognize have been in place for a long time,” replied Ms. Messer, pointing out that they are working closely with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the Army Corps, and others. “The idea is that there needs to be better coordination and a more systematic approach to what can we do for the money that we have. … we came up with an estimate that to really do the improvements, to get everything moved ahead would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.3 billion to $4.3 billion. Knowing we don’t have those kind of resources, there’s this need to prioritize what gets done for the money that we do have, and what investments will get us furthest down the road in terms of the state’s interests and primary goals and objectives for protecting people, property, and etc.”
Drought Contingency Plan
Paul Marshall, chief of the Bay Delta Office for the Department of Water Resources then briefed the Commission on the Department’s Drought Contingency Plan. He began by reviewing the current drought conditions and noting that the current forecast is for equal chances for precipitation over the next three months.
“The Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation are actively monitoring the Delta and they are operating it based on everything that they are seeing,” he said, presenting a slide of the Delta salinity compliance trend. “This is one of the pages that a lot of our operators turn to,” he said. “It gives us a trend of how things are going over the last week. This particular one is on Delta salinity; the red line on each one of these graphs is the standard we have to meet, and if we’re below it, we’re doing well.”
He then presented a slide of a table from the drought contingency plan, noting that it is more legible in the report. “In the October 15 drought contingency plan, we were supposed to map out what we would be doing for October, November, December and January,” he said. “The only things that are a little bit different than what you would expect in our regular operational methods is that we are proposing to drop some of the Rio Vista flows down a little bit because all summer long, the San Joaquin River has been flowing at about 300-350 cfs – very low flows compared to what it normally puts out. Right now, some of the reservoirs down there have been releasing water for fish attraction flows so that’s brought up the level of flow in the San Joaquin River, so we’re letting them make up some of the Delta net outflow that we need to keep the Delta fresh. So while Rio Vista’s water quality is fine, we’re just not meeting that base number that we normally would.”
“On January 15, we will be turning in a new drought contingency plan for all of 2015,” Mr. Marshall said. “That’s where we have to pull out our crystal ball and guess how we think everything is going to go down, but it does give us a chance to see what January’s hydrology is like. December and January have traditionally been some of our wettest months, but in more recent years, a lot of that has shifted more into the February-March time frame, so it may not give us as much information as we would like, but that’s all we have to go on.”
The Drought Contingency Plan will address operational considerations such as essential human health and safety needs, Delta salinity control, coldwater pool management, adequate fishery protections, CVP/SWP/refuge supplies, and exchanges and transfers. “We will be working on all these considerations with the Bureau of Reclamation, the fish agencies, NMFS, DFW, USFWS, as well as a number of other water agencies throughout the Delta to make sure that we’re trying to meet the needs that we have to meet no matter what,” he said. “At the top of our list is healthy and human safety, so after that, it all works its way down.”
He then presented a chart of Bay Delta standards, noting that there were a number of flow standards and water quality standards that they did not meet over the last year because of low reservoir levels. “These things are likely to be used again in a tight year if we have to,” he said.
Mr. Marshall pointed out that there is a lot more information on the drought at the DWR webpage, including information on past droughts, and things that are being proposed or have been proposed in the past.
Vice-chair Mary Piepho asks about the rock barriers. “Does DWR have a plan of rock barriers that they are considering right now on installing for salinity or flow … ?”
“While we’re developing a contingency plan to possibly put in rock barriers at some time off into the future, it’s one of those last-ditch efforts that we would employ,” Mr. Marshall replied. “We can’t tell you right now as to whether or not we’re going to have the hydrology that drives us to do that, but I can tell you that it’s so dry right now, it doesn’t take much of a dry year to force us into drastic measures. If we do have to take those kinds of measures, we’ll be out here talking to you again and trying to make sure that everybody understands what happens if we do and what happens if we don’t.”
Executive Director Eric Vink asks when they will make a decision about the drought barriers. Will it be on January 15? And if not, when would you expect the Department to make a decision?
“I highly doubt that the report on January 15th would instruct us to start moving in that direction just because we’re still so early in the precipitation season,” replied Mr. Mashall. “We would have to have some sort of indication in probably February to actually mobilize in time to be able to get those in for in to be of any use to us, so if it’s still really bad in February, we may be moving around in that direction. We would always leave the caveat out there that we would not build those barriers if we get enough water to get through the season. It’s our latch ditch effort. It’s so much cheaper for us to not build the barriers than to pull them out.”
Other Meeting Notes …
Appointment of Commission Chair and Vice-Chair: With Chair Ruhstaller termed out of office, the Commission appointed Commissioner Mary Piepho as the new Chair and Commissioner Skip Thomson as the new Vice-Chair, as is the customary rotation.
Delta Flood Risk Management Assessment District (Levee Assessment District): Executive Officer Erik Vink said that there is a Request for Proposal out for the feasibility study with a December 3rd deadline. “The anticipation is that we’ll bring a contract back at the January meeting and being the work in February. That will occur over the course of about a year and we’ll wrap the work up in the spring of 2016. There is some overlap on our effort with the Council’s levee investment strategy effort; that’s purposeful on the part of DWR which is the funding source for both their effort and our effort. We’re going to try and get our work sped up so that it can get more on track with the effort that the Stewardship Council is undertaking.” He noted that he would also soon be making the rounds with a presentation on the project.
Water hyacinth: With the water weed taking over the Delta’s waterways and marinas, the pervasive water weed was the topic of the public comment at the beginning of the meeting, with Clarksburg resident Barbara Daly and Bill Wells from the California Delta Chambers & Visitors Bureau both bringing the severity of the problem to the attention of the Commissioners. Later in the meeting during the Executive Officer’s update, Commissioner Mary Piepho noted that they have added aquatic weed management to one of the workgroups under the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee. The goal is to have a Delta-wide strategy for water hyacinth and the other aquatic weeds plaguing the Delta that includes a short and long term management plans. “We’re really working hard at getting the issue in front of the right people,” she said.
Conflict of Interest Code: Commissioner Cabaldon noted that the code excludes scientists, and asks why. After discussion, the commission decided to refer the matter back to staff to return at the next meeting with clarification and possible changes.