Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, part 4: New momentum for habitat restoration, integrating flood and ecosystem planning in the Yolo Bypass

Flooded Fremont Weir SliderboxReclamation, DWR, and Yolo County official report on progress on integration efforts in the Yolo Bypass

In between Sacramento and Davis lies the Yolo Bypass, a narrow strip of land that finds itself in the crosshairs of federal, state, and local interests and multiple projects that seek to integrate agriculture, wildlife benefits, and public access, all while maintaining the bypass’ critical function of flood protection for Sacramento.

At their November 2014 meeting, Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee members heard about the integration efforts underway; at the May meeting, committee members received an update on the progress made since then.

KRISTOPHER TJERNELL, Special Assistant on Water Policy at the California Natural Resources Agency

Item_3c_California_Natural_Resources_Agency_PowerPoint_Page_01Kristopher Tjernell began by giving his appreciation for the Committee’s continued to coming up with strategies and collaborative efforts to pursue the coequal goals for the Delta, and in particular, for fostering a dialog in which we can discuss how the Yolo Bypass itself plays a role in the achievement of the coequal goals. He noted that in all the topics discussed today, there’s been a common theme of collaboration and working across agencies. “So I think that what you’re about to hear, the issue is exactly the same, and just a different context, but the value of that type of collaborative effort rings true here as well,” he said.

It’s my belief that there’s no other place in the Delta that is as narrowly perched on the proverbial fence between business as usual on one side, and a trend-setting example of multi-agency collaboration and integration on the other,” Mr. Tjernell continued. “I’m here to make sure that the side of the fence that we land on is the side of collaboration and integration, not for the sake of collaboration and not for the sake of integration, but because those are the means to an end that couldn’t otherwise be realized as effectively – an outcome whereby we collectively achieve in a single 60,000 plus or minus acre footprint, nationally significant ecological restoration, innovative multi-benefit flood management projects, and the continued prosperity of regional agriculture, and recreational economies.”

Kris TjernellMr. Tjernell then reviewed the basics: The Yolo Bypass is a 60,000-acre flood control facility authorized by the federal government back in 1917, and can carry up to 80% of the total flows moving through the system during flood events. “It’s also ground zero for implementation of the 2009 NMFS biological opinion which requires on the order of 17,000-plus acres of enhanced floodplain habitat, plus fish passage improvements throughout the bypass, and both of those, for the most part, really need to be implemented on a similar time frame,” he said. “The bypass is roughly 60% in private ownership, and most of that is in rice, grazing, and other agricultural uses, and roughly 40% is in public ownership, most of it is managed wetlands along the ecologically depleted Pacific Flyway.”

The question before us all is how do we move forward, given limited resources, and where public accountability imperative is the demand; government efficiency and guidance plans like the California Water Action Plan that call for multi-benefit approaches to water infrastructure projects,” he said. “I’m pleased to report that since the November committee meeting, much work has been done at all three levels of government, to help answer this and other important questions. We don’t’ yet have all the answers, and at some point, we will need executive level direction on specific approaches to alignment and integration, but I believe today you will see the tremendous progress that has been made over the last six months.”

He then introduced his panelists: David van Rijn with the Bureau of Reclamation, Jeremy Arrich with Department of Water Resources, Division of Flood Management, and Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza.

DAVID VAN RIJN, Bureau of Reclamation: Yolo Bypass Salmon Habitat Restoration and Fish Passage Project

Item_3c_California_Natural_Resources_Agency_PowerPoint_Page_03David van Rijn began by saying he would be talking about the Yolo Bypass Salmon Habitat Restoration and Fish Passage Project that the Bureau of Reclamation and DWR is currently undertaking as part of the requirements of the NMFS 2009 biological opinion. The biological opinions require a number of Reasonable and Prudent Actions (RPA); this project deals specifically with RPA Action 1.6.1 to increase seasonal floodplain inundation in the Lower Sacramento River basin, and RPA Action 1.7, to improve fish passage throughout the Yolo Bypass, and specifically the Fremont Weir, he said.

In 2013, Reclamation and DWR provided National Marine Fisheries Service with an implementation plan for both of these RPA Actions, and in that implementation plan, the habitat restoration was going to be analyzed at a programmatic level, and then the fish passage was going to be implemented at a project level,” he said. “Then in 2014, NMFS requested that we actually take a look at the habitat restoration at the project level.”

Item_3c_California_Natural_Resources_Agency_PowerPoint_Page_04He then presented a schedule for completing the project, noting that the blue bars represent the original schedule looking at a programmatic level for the habitat restoration components, and the orange bars represent the additional time to finish up with the environmental documentation. “The star on the far left represents exactly where we’re currently at where we’re actually developing the alternatives for the draft EIS/EIR, so under the current schedule, we should be completing the draft EIS/EIR at the end of 2016, and about year after that, we should have the final EIS/EIR, and then we’ll move into the design and construction.”

Mr. van Rihn said that getting this far has taken a lot of coordination and input from local entities. “In 2013, we had our scoping meetings, we had two of them; we also identified an existing organization and group already formed that had the majority of our stakeholders already participating in the group, so we took advantage of the Yolo Bypass Fisheries Enhancement Planning Team as a venue through which we could easily communicate to majority of our stakeholders our current progress as well as get input on our efforts as we were going through the planning process. So that was a really big benefit.”

He noted that the county was a critical stakeholder because all of their actions are taking place within Yolo County, so they did a lot of outreach to county representatives, even having one on one meetings with supervisors to keep them informed.

In November of 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation completed a value planning effort, which is a week-long process whereby local landowners, federal regulatory agencies, state agencies, and environmental groups take a look at the project. “It’s a process to make sure we’re really challenging our assumptions and are really developing well thought-out plans early on the planning process and not waiting until we get to the design and construction phase,” he said.

David van RijnWe also realized there were a lot of other groups that were out there that don’t necessarily always attend these various groups and activities, such as SAFCA, Department of Flood Management with DWR, so we made sure we outreached and coordinated with them throughout the whole process,” he said. “There are a lot of groups out there so we tried to coordinate and make sure that our efforts weren’t interfering with what they were doing and we could actually work together.”

The majority of what we’ve been doing has been coordination with all these different groups,” he said. “It wasn’t until about fall of 2014 when Kris came to this group and suggested what if we actually integrated the projects completely. So in November, Kris brought us all together at the Department of Flood Management, and we started really talking about what would integration look like, and we actually got a lot of progress going. We were talking about what the purposes were to make sure the purposes linked together; we looked at what assumptions people were making, what data they had collected, and who had they talked to versus who had we talked to. We formed task groups to look at key functions within integration and how do we integrate the NEPA CEQA process. Would the Corps of Engineers be the lead agency or Reclamation be lead or would they be co-lead? A lot of questions about funding, communication, and how would all that work in integration, so the two teams are currently working side by side.”

Mr. van Rihn said that Reclamation and the Yolo Project will continue to work in these working groups and really define what would integration look like to both the flood schedule and the Yolo project schedule, as well as to keep working with NMFS.

The whole intent of this project is to meet the obligations in the biological opinion and the RPAs, so if integration isn’t going to get us to that objective of meeting the biological opinions, we need to sort of rethink of how we’re doing integration,” he said.

JEREMY ARRICH, Department of Water Resources, Division of Flood Management

Jeremy ArrichJeremy Arrich began with some reminders of how the flood system functions. “The original purpose of the Yolo Bypass was primarily to divert peak flood waters off of the Sacramento River mainstem during high water events, and it served that purpose well, although not perfectly over the years,” he said. “Today, the Yolo Bypass landscape is valued for multiple purposes. It’s valued for its function as a flood protection facility, but also as a vibrant agricultural economy, a refuge to many bird and mammal species, and its value for migrating fish. There’s also recreation and educational opportunities that the Yolo Bypass provides so it’s a tremendous resource for our region.”

The problem from a flood perspective is that this system is really old,” he continued.  “We have aging infrastructure, and the system wasn’t really designed to meet the multiple purposes that we expect it to meet today. It certainly was not designed to meet the needs in to the future with changing societal values as well as climate change and different hydrologies that we expect to come through the system.”

An additional pressure on the Yolo Bypass that many people don’t think about is that we’ve invested billions of dollars in urban flood protection projects in the Sacramento region, West Sacramento region, and some small communities, and we’ll continue to make those investments,” he said. “The bypass system in the Central Valley provides a level of resiliency that is not offered by just protecting levees in urban areas, so when we invest these billions of dollars now, we’re expecting those investments to last into the future. If we don’t take care of the bypass and provide that additional flexibility and resiliency in the system for future climate change, different hydrologic variability scenarios, then we’re going to be looking at those investments questionably down the line.”

Item_3c_California_Natural_Resources_Agency_PowerPoint_Page_09The best way to provide that resiliency from a flood perspective is to expand the system of weirs and bypasses, so the Yolo Bypass feasibility study is part of the overall Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update process which is due to be presented to the Central Valley Flood Protection Board in late 2016 for the 2017 update,” Mr. Arrich said. “As part of that effort, we have basin wide feasibility studies that are ongoing so that we have feasibility studies that tackle the entire Sacramento basin. The Yolo Bypass feasibility study is a subset of the planning work that’s already going on as part of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan update, so I think it’s important to note that it’s all the same process and effort but we did staff up and refocus our resources to expedite this portion of the feasibility study because of the tremendous opportunity that’s in front of us today with all the major planning efforts converging in the bypass. It’s not complete yet, but we got the majority of the work done in six to nine months.”

Resiliency is the main goal for the Lower Sacramento River system, and the objectives are fairly simple, he said. “We want to reduce stages throughout the system,” he said. “We want to reduce water levels because water against levees is not a good thing. The more pressure you have on the levees, the higher change for those levees to fail. So if we can reduce these peak stages throughout the system, then we’ve done a good thing, so that was the focus of our analysis. The other objectives that are important to note are to improve the Yolo Bypass levee integrity, … so where there’s significant levee integrity issues, we want to address those as we’re tackling the rest of the system problems.”

Item_3c_California_Natural_Resources_Agency_PowerPoint_Page_10There are certainly opportunities to integrate ecosystem features into some of the bypass expansions, as well as fish passage, and there’s a lot of overlap between some of the regional elements that are being proposed with what the state is looking at, so we want to accommodate regional elements where appropriate, he said. “The feasibility study was really to evaluate options for improving flood performance in the bypass through the weir and bypass expansions,” he said. “The purpose of the weir expansions is to get more water off of the main stem and into the bypass, so we just want to expand on what it already does today, knowing that we expect larger storms. They could happen today, and certainly with climate change, they could be worse. Once we get that water into the bypass, we have to accommodate for those additional flows. We don’t want to increase stage within the bypass because that would just put additional pressure on the bypass levees so one of our other objectives was to reduce stages within the bypass and the way to do that is to set the levees back, to a degree, within the bypass itself. We looked at a number of options to do that and also opportunities for ecosystem enhancements.”

Item_3c_California_Natural_Resources_Agency_PowerPoint_Page_11Mr. Arrich explained that for the feasibility study, they started by optimizing the expansion of the Fremont Weir and Sacramento Weirs to get more water into the bypass. Once they narrowed the range of weir expansions, they then looked at the setbacks needed to accommodate that additional water. “We started off with about 65 combinations of levee setbacks and different sizes of the weir widening, and we narrowed those 65 down to four state formulated improvement options,” he said. “These four options do represent a reasonable range of what we could expect to do to meet our objectives at different levels. So some of the options do reduce stage throughout the system, but not as much as others. Some of them reduce stage significantly throughout the system, but there are also tradeoffs to costs and to implementability.”

Mr. Arrich said that although the options vary somewhat, they basically found that expanding the Fremont Weir by about a mile and expanding the Sacramento Weir by about 1500 feet was optimal for getting the desired stage reductions at a reasonable cost. “Just to give you a rough order of magnitude, the Fremont Weir is currently 2 miles long, and the Sacramento Weir is about 2000 feet wide, so the Sacramento Weir would be almost doubled and the Fremont Weir would be increased by another third. Those numbers are kind of in the ballpark of where we think things would land from a flood need perspective.”

Mr. Arrich said over the past year or so, they’ve really increased our outreach to local, state, and federal agencies for the Central Valley Flood Protection Planning process and the Yolo Bypass feasibility study portion, and they’ve been really promoting the idea of transparency and of sharing information early and often, before it’s even fully vetted. “We’ve been out on a limb from a traditional DWR perspective in that we’ve shared information but maybe we haven’t vetted and reviewed internally, but it’s good enough to get discussions going, and it’s allowed us to progress at a faster pace than maybe what we would have been able to do in the past.”

Mr. Arrich said they’ve also discussed their efforts with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the local and regional flood planners.

Item_3c_California_Natural_Resources_Agency_PowerPoint_Page_12As an example of the transparency and the early information sharing, we met about three weeks ago with the local agencies and the regional flood planning group and we shared the four options,” he said. “As a result of that meeting, the local agencies asked us if we would consider evaluating a regional option, and we said of course. So they sent it to us, we evaluated on an equal playing field to the four state options, and its part of our analysis. … we haven’t had a chance to fully discuss with them the results of their option and how their option compares with the state options, but this slide here shows the state option 2 happens to align fairly well with the regional option they asked us to look at. There are some exceptions in terms of levee setbacks on the western portion of the bypass, but it’s a good place to start, and another positive outcome to the coordination and collaboration.”

In terms of next steps, Mr. Arrich said they would be continuing to work on our feasibility study, integrating some ecosystem design features into the bypass expansion footprints, doing a cost analysis, and considering the feedback from the board and some of the public at a recent workshop.

We’ll continue working with the regional flood planners and anybody else who is interested in learning more about this,” he said. “We’re happy to sit down with people and go through the analysis and make adjustments. We have tools set up so we can quickly and efficiently go through and rerun any scenario with an added feature or modification. We will continue to work with David and his team and the Corps of Engineers on the overall integration, trying to figure out how we can piece all these parts together and make it work the most effective way possible.

JIM PROVENZA, Yolo County Supervisor

For the past roughly six and a half years, I have represented a large portion of the Yolo Bypass and all the ducks and birds that reside therein,” said Jim Provenza. “We really are excited about the level of state, federal, and local cooperation going forward. The state’s continued role in support of the regional flood management planning effort really has been a catalyst towards developing an integrated project.”

A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with Bill Edgar and we were talking about how the various projects seem to be like ships passing in the night,” he said. “You had BDCP and biological opinions over here, you had the flood project over here, and really no talk of coordinating them; we were looking at being in the bypass where most of the impact of both was going to occur, and kind of throwing up our hands and saying what are we going to do about that. Since that, there have been tremendous efforts to get together and talk about ways of addressing it as an integrated project, and from our perspective, this is really a window of opportunity to do things in a different way going forward.”

Jim ProvenzaMr. Provenza said that the projects that have been developed at the local level are the ones that are most successful. “Even if it seems it might take more time to do it, I think it’s going to be more successful and maybe quicker, because you don’t run into the level of resistance that you otherwise would.”

If there is an integrated project, we have the opportunity to address habitat in a way that coordinates with the flood control efforts, but also is respectful of agricultural sustainability,” he said. “I believe that we can sustain agriculture, provide flood protection and do what we need to do for habitat, all at the same time, but it really does take an integrated project with everyone working together. We’ve been working together with Solano County, and SAFCA to develop a plan and we’ve called it the Corridor Management Framework and in the tradition of the Delta and a long tradition, we chose the most boring name possible name, but it’s an exciting concept. It’s an exciting concept because it involves everybody working together to try to develop something that works for local stakeholders and works for state and federal interests.”

Mr. Provenza said that working together is going to take time; it doesn’t happen overnight, but we’re already starting to see the results. “DWR Division of Flood Management’s acceptance of the regionally developed alternative to be presented as part of the Yolo Bypass Feasibility Study, I think is the beginning of the fruits of those efforts. As coordination continues, we are hoping that this early work will develop into an integrated, multi-objective approach to the Yolo Bypass and the Cache Slough complex.“

I would like to reiterate our commitment to a shared vision for this area, but also to take it out to a broader level and suggest that really this is the model of how we can address these issues in the future,” he said. “If we’re successful here, I think we’ll be successful in other areas, and there’s nothing more important now when we’ve reached these crossroads than to move together in a productive, cooperative fashion.”

KRIS TJERNELL wraps it up …

Clearly there’s been fantastic work and a general willingness from the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies to even consider other approaches to achieving these objectives, but it only really works if we can show that it works better, faster, and better ecological outcomes on the back end,” said Kristopher Tjernell.

In order to provide an organizing principle, a common gravitational pull around which all of these efforts could come together, the state has drafted a draft framework for a MOU that has been circulated to some key local, state, and federal agencies currently involved in these discussions,” he said. “The MOU would do a couple things. It would set out a common vision for the Yolo Bypass, even if it’s just two or three high level sentences of what is the vision for this bypass, what does it look like, and how can it serve as a model for public agency alignment and success. It would set a couple principles that would essentially define how the group, how the signatories work together towards specific outcomes, but a lot of those principles were pulled in concept and specifically from the Corridor Management Framework that was developed at the local level, so really showing a lot of deference to the work that’s already been done to articulate how all these pieces could come together. It would also have some specific goals and objectives that could be achieved by date certain. Again, I want to highlight this is a draft …

Discussion highlights

Bill EdgarCentral Valley Flood Protection Board President Bill Edgar said that he was pleased at the progress that has been made. “Our main concern when we brought this up was our planning effort for flood control, which had a deadline of 2017 to come up with its amendments to the existing plan that has been adopted … Our past efforts in flood planning have not been something that had been very good. We’ve done a number of plans before that didn’t go very far. … In this effort, a few of us sat down and decided why don’t we take one specific geographic area, it’s a limited geographic area, and figure out if we can really make integration work, and I think what you’ve seen here is that people at all levels are beginning to try to figure out how all the agencies needs can be met in the limited geographical space, and that’s what we’re faced with.”

Maria Rea 2Maria Rea, Assistant Regional Administrator for NMFS gave some perspective on the NMFS biological opinion. “When we looked at the continued operations of the CVP and the State Water Project, the operations of those reservoirs as they continue to affect access to floodplain for juvenile salmonids is really critical, and as we did our recovery plan, and that lack of access to floodplain habitat is one of the highest stresses for lack of ability to recover these species …. From my perspective, it’s just really key that we try to find ways to get some increased flood inundation and certainly the upstream passage component fixed as soon as possible while still recognizing there may be some larger build out for increased flood capacity that also has to go on, so the staging of these different components is really key and I look forward to that discussion …

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