Delta Levee Investment Strategy Update: Delta Stewardship Council accepts the Delta Levee Investment Issue Paper

The San Joaquin - Sacramento delta, as seen from a ship traveling through the Stockton Ship Channel on September 24, 2013.

The Delta Stewardship Council votes to unanimously accept the Delta Levee Investment Issue Paper, setting the framework for upcoming policy discussions

The Delta Levee Investment Strategy project is an 18-month multi-agency effort led by the Delta Stewardship Council to update priorities for state investments in Delta levees. The strategy is intended to guide the ongoing investment of State funds that considers the assets protected by the levees, the exposure of the levees to different risk factors, and appropriate cost allocation for this protection among the beneficiaries.  The levee investment strategy also must recognize that water supply, ecosystem health and the unique values of the Delta are also valuable assets to a wide range of beneficiaries and Delta stakeholders.

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Developing the Delta Levee Investment Strategy is a multi-phased process that includes data gathering, substantial public outreach to Delta residents and stakeholders, development of a computer decision making tool, as well as numerous policy discussions to come over the upcoming months as the Council hammers out the details. At the heart of those discussions will be the Delta Levee Investment Issue Paper.

After months of development and a public comment period, Council staff was back at the December meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, seeking the Council’s acceptance of the final draft of the issue paper.  Deputy Executive Officer Dan Ray explained that the levee strategy issue paper is really an issue identification document. “It’s purpose is to try and make sure we’ve identified properly the issues you want to make sure are addressed as we proceed with the levee investment strategy, to make sure it properly identifies those issues and that it is an acceptable place to start,” he said. “We haven’t laid out any policy recommendations that we’re asking you to endorse, or set any direction now; those are actions that will happen beginning in the next quarter as we continue to work with our consultant team. We are not seeking endorsement today, but acceptance.”

Pages from 15-0109_Levee_Investment_Strategy_Issue_Paper
Click here to read the final draft of the levee investment issue paper.

Cindy Messer, Deputy Executive Officer of Planning, reminded the Council that the draft of the paper was brought before them in September, with the public comment period lasting through the end of October. “We received some comments through that process, but what we’ve done since that time is to take your feedback, take public comment, incorporate as appropriate into the draft paper, make some revisions, and what we’re bringing back today is what we hope is a final draft of the paper,” she said.

Supervising Engineer Dustin Jones then briefed the Council on the comments received from the public and the revisions that were made to the issue paper. Comments on the paper closed on October 27. Comments were received from the California Central Valley Flood Control Association, Central Delta Water Agency, Contra Costa Water District, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Water Resources, Local Agencies of the North Delta, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the State Water Contractors. Mr. Jones said the comments ranged from basic edits to the paper, and clarifications, as well as additional discussion on certain items that people wanted to see.

He noted that some of the comments were geared more towards the Delta levee investment strategy rather than the issue paper; the comments were separated as to which ones specifically dealt with the issue paper and which ones needed to be kept in mind as they go through the strategy development process. “That’s something that we’re trying to keep in mind through our public outreach and stakeholder meetings,” he said. “We’re trying to make more of a clear distinction on the purpose of the issue paper and how this forms the questions that will need to be addressed, and then the process that this is leading into where some of the questions will be answered.”

Some of the comments asked for further scientific analysis to be used during development of the Delta levee investment strategy, he said. “One of the items that we’ve been saying at the public outreach meetings is that we’re using the best available existing data, and so we did receive some comments that there should be further scientific analysis to be done that would be beneficial as we’re going through the Delta Levee Investment Strategy development. Those are items that we’ll have to consider as the project proceeds.”

Council member Patrick Johnston asks what ‘more scientific investigation’ means.

Dustin JonesMr. Jones gave the example of sea level rise. “One of the assumptions in the issue paper, someone made a comment on the 55” sea level rise that was mentioned in the issue paper, so people wanted to see more in-depth analysis of whether or not that number is actually accepted or the source of the number,” he said.

The way the Delta levee investment strategy is set up right now, we have the science policy interface really occurring through the scientific peer review process of the methodology for the levee investment strategy,” added Ms. Messer. “Some of the commenters were asking for more integration of scientific review and expertise all the way through the process. … There were some specific comments in terms of science and information, but also this comment or request to have more science-policy interface as we walk through the whole process.”

Mr. Jones then resumed his presentation, noting that they have put together a response matrix of the comments, formulating a response for each one which will soon be made public. “We just need to work through some of the language of it just to make sure we’re addressing everything properly, and our goal is to put that out there,” he said.

After reviewing the comments specifically addressed to the levee issue paper, several changes were made. “We’re revised some of the discussion of the improvement costs for levee improvements. There was some discussion on whether or not the estimates were too high, or if they were reasonable estimates for levee improvements, so we’ve revised that discussion,” he said. He noted that a table of levee improvement costs estimated through previous reports has been added, as well as feedback from local stakeholders about how reasonable those cost estimates were.

Two chronology tables were added, one of significant Delta events along with some of the agency responses or reports developed following those events, and a second chronology that is an accumulation of different events gathered from other reports that the state and federal agencies have compiled, he said.

Another change was to clarify the distinction between DWR’s two programs, the Delta Levees Maintenance and Subventions program, and the Special Projects Program. “Both of those are run by DWR as a way of funding maintenance and improvements for levees and other projects within the Delta, so with some feedback from DWR staff and other stakeholders, we went though and tried to better draw a distinction between those two programs and what their intentions and purposes are,” he said.

Council strategyMr. Jones said that they added additional text and discussion of habitat considerations in response to comments that there wasn’t enough discussion of terrestrial habitat and other items.

Council member Phil Isenberg commented that the one thing missing is even a ballpark estimate of the amount of money spent by local authorities during the same time period. “Can’t we get a ballpark figure on that? It’s logical to talk about the state investment, but if you don’t also talk about some ballpark figure on the local investment, you just lack understanding.”

Councilwoman Susan Tatayon asks if at any point in the paper, there is a discussion of how the levees are constantly holding back water, or the sunny day levee failure on Jones Tract … ?

As far as Jones Tract, we do mention that as one of the cost estimates that was mentioned in the paper. I don’t know if there’s anything where we specifically mention that the levees are holding back water constantly,” replied Mr. Jones. “I don’t think it was in there.”

The Council pauses to take public comment, hearing concerns from Erik Ringlelberg representing the Local Agencies of the North Delta, and Melinda Terry, on behalf of the Central Valley Flood Control Association. Afterwards, Council member Pat Johnston asked to hear what the next steps are before the Council votes.

Cindy Messer said that the issue paper is a framework for discussion, so one of the next steps will be to start bringing in a subset of those questions or key issues to the Council in the upcoming months for discussion, deliberation, consideration, and some feedback and guidance to the staff, and have the discussion around these bigger picture policy questions. “We’re also to be able to bring in some additional experts and that’s where we’re thinking the science-policy interface type interactions would occur,” Ms. Messer said.

Cindy MesserThe staff has selected six questions that they think need to be addressed first because it’s the bigger picture information that feeds into the development of the strategy such as confirming and defining state interests, she said. Ms. Messer acknowledge that some of the questions may need to be revisited during the process.

The things we want to front load are the things on which the direction from the Council is really important early on, so we can make sure the consultants are focusing on the things that are core interests of yours, and obviously you’re going to be hearing from the public as you give us that direction,” added Dan Ray.

Council member Isenberg moves to approve the issue paper. Council member Patrick Johnston seconds. The motion passes unanimously.

Cindy then discussed the public outreach meetings, one held in Clarksburg early in December, and an upcoming meeting in Brentwood which was postponed due to the storm. “The purpose of this first public meeting is to provide an overview and information about the levee investment strategy, about the work the Council is undertaking and why we’re doing it, our thoughts for how we’ll do it, and then what we really wanted to do was get some feedback on a couple of key points from the participants,” she said. “We wanted to understand if there was information out there that we were not aware of yet that would help in terms of the Delta Levee Investment Strategy, so data, information, reports, and what-not. We talked about the stakeholder engagement and the different phases of when we would be asking for stakeholders to engage. It was a well attended meeting; we had 37 participants outside of the project team.

Ms. Messer said they definitely received some good feedback, with confusion and frustration expressed. “We as the project team walked away with some good information and some lessons learned about as we move forward, so we’ll be gearing up for the Brentwood meeting on January 6,” she said.

The technical portion of our project team has been very hard at work in terms of information gathering,” said Ms. Messer.  “They’ve got a lot of the information together; they’ve been reviewing it and beginning to package it in a way that we as Council staff can begin to look through it to get a deep understanding of the information that’s available, what that looks like and where the gaps may be. That will help us in the discussions as we come back to the Council and also as we move through the project … “

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