At the June 23rd meeting of the Metropolitan Special Committee on the Bay-Delta, committee members were updated on drought operations in the Delta, and informed that the recirculated BDCP documents were imminent; they also heard an update on Bay-Delta Accord restoration projects.
Here’s a rundown of the main parts of the meeting.
Update on drought operations in the Delta
Program Manager Randall Neudeck began the presentation on this agenda item by noting the three main points he would be discussing are that salinity and bromide water quality levels are higher than average but within regulations; DWR completed installation of the temporary salinity control barrier in False River on May 28; and the State Board recently issued additional curtailments in June on all post-1903 senior water right holders within the Sacramento-San Joaquin watersheds, including in-Delta water right holders.
But first, he began with current and forecasted operations. Currently, most of the state’s reservoirs – Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, San Luis, Diamond Valley, and Lake Mead – are all within 40%; it adds up to about 4.3 MAF, he said. By October, most of the reservoirs are expected to be hovering in the 20 percents, with both Shasta and Oroville having about 1 MAF, he said. “Folsom is actually going to drop 14 feet; it’s going to get down to the lowest on record, about 118,000 AF of storage,” he said. “The previous low was in January of 2014 of 162,000 AF.”
However, Lake Mead is expected to effectively stay the same, Mr. Neudeck said. “There were some big storms in the Colorado River watershed in May, and that the latest forecast from the Department of Interior, the lake is going to rise about 150,000 AF by October, so effectively the same percentage, 37-38%.”
Mr. Neudeck noted that the State Water Resources Control Board sent out curtailment notices in April and May for all post-1914 junior right holders in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin watershed. In late May or early June, the in-Delta users voluntarily agreed to cutback or do land fallowing up to 25%, and just as of June 12, the State Board sent out additional notices of water right curtailment notices to post-1903 senior water right holders.
DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation have submitted an update to the Temporary Urgency Change Petition that will be taken up by the State Water Board in a public workshop on June 24. Measures in the petition include reduced exports at the state and federal projects, modifying Delta outflows, more flexible cross channel gate operations, and modification to one salinity compliance point in the western Delta, he said.
“All these are the same as last month, they are just tinkering with them a little bit to try to save as much water in the upper reservoirs so that they will have enough at the end of the year,” Mr. Neudeck said. “Specifically one of the actions that the Bureau is looking at is the Sacramento temperature management plan. They want to ensure there’s enough cold water up in Shasta at the end of the year to meet a certain temperature requirement for spawning Chinook salmon. In general, these proposals try to balance the short term and long-term needs of the habitat and health and safety.”
The Department of Water Resources completed installation of the temporary salinity barrier in False River on May 28. “The barrier is put in there because of the low outflows of fresh water from the reservoirs,” he said. “They are putting in the barrier to help out keeping some of the salts out of the south Delta.”
Mr. Neudeck presented a graphic of the salinity forecast in April from DWR, showing the effect with and without the barrier. “It’s about 100 milligram per liter TDS reduction or salinity reduction is what the forecast was,” he said. “The next line is the actual, and you’ll see it goes up higher. What happened is DWR is operating on a fine line, and in May, there were some high neap tides that came in; the forecast model didn’t predict it and so we got some additional salts in the south Delta. That will take a few weeks or upwards of a month to blend that down and get that out, but our water quality staff and Bay Delta staff are watching this closely and working with the DWR to ensure that doesn’t get any higher.”
He then briefly ran down legal actions currently taking place:
“In June, the State Water Contractors sent a filing to the State Board,” he said. “The claim is that the south Delta farmers are unlawfully using water that the public agencies have stored in the reservoir, and the State Board is looking at that action and will take it up.”
“There is litigation on the False River barrier from the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy, and Reliability,” he continued. “That group, commonly referred to as CESAR, submitted first under the state court system a temporary restraining order in May and was denied on that; just about three weeks ago, they submitted it under the federal court, and just last week, the federal judge denied the temporary restraining order under federal court as well. Both motions are still open under the state and federal court, and so our legal staff is tracking that and we’ll keep you updated.”
“There is additional litigation on the drought operations – the Temporary Urgency Change Petition,” he said. “The plaintiffs under this – environmental interests, CSPA, the CWIN, AquAlliance and RTD, they are claiming the both the Bureau and State Board violated a number of acts, and they filed that in the US District Court.”
The floor was then opened up for questions.
Director Larry McKenney asked that with conditions being what they are with lower than normal reservoirs and hotter than normal temperatures, do they anticipate having to release more water than they normally would?
Mr. Neudeck said that they are working with some of the Northern California agricultural interests to try to have them take water later than normal so they can keep more cold water in Shasta. “They are releasing more water out of Folsom, that’s why Folsom is getting lower, and they are trying to maintain a bigger cold water pool. There’s a point up there called Clear Creek. They are trying to meet a 57-56 degree temperature, so that later on in the year when the salmon come up and spawn, they’ll have that temperature to spawn. Last year, the State Board was criticized because they did not meet that temperature, and there were reports that 95% of the salmon run had died.”
Director Fern Steiner asks about the unexpected tide – that is the reason the salt is so high right now?
“That’s correct,” replied Mr. Neudeck. “The atmospheric conditions – there was lower lows as far as pressure and so more tides came in, and there’s some higher winds that brought it in. Remember, the Department usually works with a fairly good buffer and they’ll push out the salts a little more than what is required, but because we’re in a drought year, that buffer is smaller and smaller. Even though they are keeping watch on this, remember when they are releasing water, they have to release it two to three days beforehand and hopefully hit the certain point in the Delta so it pushes out the salt. In this case, they didn’t hit it perfectly; the models underestimated the amount of tides that were coming in, and because of that you see what happened.”
Director Steiner asks if there is concern that the barrier could have affected that when those tides came in.
Mr. Neudeck replied that he did not think so; the salt was coming in at the beginning of May and the barrier was not finished until May 28. “Effectively, the barrier wasn’t in before the salt got on the other side of the barrier. It’s going to take some time; we were hoping that it would go down quicker than this, but it hasn’t. The amount of water coming out of the San Joaquin River is very low, it’s only about 160 cfs, so not a lot of water you can blend out of that, but we’re going to keep watch on this.”
Director Steiner asks if there is any thought that they might have to move up the date for taking down the barrier if this doesn’t come down any faster than it is right now?
“I don’t think so,” replied Mr. Neudeck. “The barrier actually will help this out, it will prevent the salt from getting in and if you take the barrier down, you’ll have more tides getting into Frank’s Tract, more tides getting into the south Delta, pushing more salts.”
Director Keith Lewinger asks if, because of the unexpected tides, with the barrier there now, would that have prevented the extras salts being flushed out?
“I don’t think so,” said Mr. Neudeck. “The Delta is a big sloshing environment and back and forth, and the barrier helps keep the compliance point right below the barrier, south of the barrier for Contra Costa in compliance, and it will help out in the future by lessening the amount of salt that gets down to the south Delta and down to the Banks Pumping Plant. So if you had the barrier out, it would require more outflow to continue to pushing that salt out.”
“So we’re having to release less water to push the salt out,” said Director Lewinger. “Has anybody done any calculations to estimate how much water we’re saving with the salinity barrier?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Neudeck. “The TUCP has a number of actions. In any operation in the Delta, there’s various things that are controlling – sometimes it’s Delta outflow, sometimes it’s the compliance point at Rock Slough and other areas. In this case, it’s the compliance point on the Sacramento River. Now this barrier is in the south Delta and really has no effect on the water quality or that compliance point on the Sacramento River, so in effect, the barrier does not save water. It does improve water quality in the south Delta, but it doesn’t save any water in storage. However, if you take all the actions under the TUCP, they are saving water. All those actions to date have saved about 400,000 acre-feet of water, and under the State Board, that water can be used for habitat restoration, or health and safety purposes.”
“I want to make sure I’ve heard you right,” said Director Lewinger. “This salinity barrier really isn’t saving any water but it’s improving water quality in the south Delta.”
Mr. Neudeck confirms.
New Bay Delta Conservation Plan documents expected soon
During the Bay Delta Manager’s report, Roger Patterson said the progress is imminent on the recirculated documents. “On June 15, the Bureau of Reclamation published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register, which is the first official notification that recirculated documents will be released shortly for public review. Our understanding the documents were finished up last Friday and have been handed over to Reclamation and probably will show up on July 10, that’s when the next federal notice comes out. So we’re anticipating July 10 is when the federal register will say we are making the revised documents available for public comment, and they say they are going to do it for a 45-day comment period.”
Mr. Patterson said that it’s his understanding there will be three primary changes in the document:
The first is that they have made some changes in response to comments received by other agencies such as the EPA or the Corps of Engineers. “They’ve taken those into account and tried to be responsive in the recirculated documents to some of those concerns,” he said.
Second are the changes in the preliminary engineering design concepts previously announced, such as moving the major pumping facility down to Clifton Court, downsizing some of the infrastructure around the intakes, and removal of permanent power lines. “A lot of these were in response to concerns by folks in the Delta, so that will be described in great detail how the redesign looks. I don’t know if there will be an updated cost estimate associated with that or not. We have said we think that’s important to see how that’s affecting the costs, but I don’t know if that will be there or not.”
The third change will be the addition of three additional alternatives. “One will be the 9,000 cfs three intake facility that could be permitted under Section 7; it will have all the mitigation necessary for the conveyance but it won’t have the big habitat restoration components and all of those other conservation measures. They are also doing a 3000 cfs single intake to look at that as one bookend, and then they’re going to look at a 5 intake 15,000 cfs on the other end, so we’ll have the new 9000 that we know about, but they will also look at 3 and 15 as new sub-alternatives in the document, and they’ll have the mitigation associated with those, etc.”
“So that’s what we anticipate,” he said. “Assuming the comment period and guessing at a time frame, this would put you on a track to a ROD early next year sometime. We know how the schedule’s gone on this, but it would be kind of in that kind of a time frame. They have to respond officially to all comments received, both on the first document set and this document set, so that will be a pretty big piece of going to final is official response to all the comments that have come in.”
Director Lewinger asked if there was any major difference between the predicted exports under the old preferred and the new preferred?
“We’ll have to wait and see,” said Mr. Patterson. “We’ve always presented it as this range and I’m pretty sure it will fall within the range. The big driver on that is spring outflow associated with longfin … that will be part of the proposed project, but our understanding is they are making some modifications so it will actually be a little less, look a little bit different than what we presented, so it will be in the range. With fall outflow and spring outflow and even though it’s changed, it will be closer to the lower end of the range than the higher end of the range because you’ve included those two components. That’s what we anticipate.”
Update on Bay Delta Accord restoration projects
In 1994, a historic agreement was made between environmental interests, urban and agricultural, and thirteen state and federal agencies known as the Bay Delta Accord. “During that time it was kind of chaotic,” began Randall Neudeck. “We had just come off a six year drought, environmental interests were pursuing litigation, the State Water Resources Control Board was looking at revising the water quality control plan, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies were looking at their own plans, and so led by the state and federal administration, we all got together and in December, 1994 came out with the Bay Delta Accord.”
The Bay Delta had three components: The first component was flow related-actions, including spring flows and export-inflow limitations; the second component was more operations orientated; and the third component was the non-flow factors including habitat restoration, but it included screening diversions and other actions, explained Mr. Neudeck. “This was really key because it was the first time we had agreement between the state and federal agencies, actually all the interests, that there’s more than just flow that can improve the system, and that we need to look at these non-flow stressor related actions.”
The Bay Delta Accord led to a decade of interim stability, Mr. Neudeck said. “The Metropolitan Board supported early start kickstart funding for this project,” he said. “It was a collaborative approach among all the agencies, and we believe it demonstrated that these non-flow actions were effective at habitat improvement.”
The habitat restoration projects that were part of the Accord were managed by a steering committee of federal, state, and environmental interests that approved and came up with all the requirements for these 48 projects that were completed, he said. Projects completed included diversions, barrier removal, habitat restoration, pollution prevention, exotic species control, monitoring, and others.
In terms of funding, $80 million was leveraged for this effort with the Metropolitan Water District contributing $30 million in early start funding. Other urban agencies also provided another $2.2 million in funding, including East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Alameda County, Contra Costa Water District, and San Francisco PUC, he said, noting that the urban agencies that provided funding were given credit against their long-term ecosystem restoration obligations. The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and other environmental organizations also participated, he said.
He then displayed a map showing the locations of the 48 projects, and noting that the locations are widespread, and include locations in the upper part of the watershed, the Delta, the upper San Joaquin River, and the Suisun Bay. Fish passage projects accounted for 21% and screening of unscreened diversions another 25%; ecosystem restoration projects accounted for 48%, and other – studies and monitoring were about 6%, he said.
He then described two of the projects.
The first one is Butte Creek, located north of Oroville. “Historically, there were hundreds of thousands of spring-run salmon that went up there, but in the early 40s and 50s, dams were put in that river to help out irrigation for farming interests,” Mr. Neudeck said. “What this project did is it removed a number of those dams here; it put some screened diversions in the area, acquired an additional 40 cubic feet per second of flows during critical fish time, and eventually it provided about 25 miles of additional habitat that these spring-run salmon could spawn in.”
The second project is Battle Creek, located below Shasta Dam. “It brings water out of a very steep canyon; the water comes out very cold, it’s very pristine for a number of runs of salmon, not only steelhead, but a number of runs of Chinook salmon,” he said. “They removed a number of diversion dams, they reopened upwards of a little less than 50 miles of habitat up there, and installed fish screens. Some of the numbers, pre-restoration and post-restoration: From a spring-run salmon, 121 returning, pre-restoration and post-restoration upwards up 608; The fall run from 29,000 to upwards of 134,000.”
Other projects included fish ladder and dam removal projects that were completed in 1998 where one-third of the funds for that came from the urban agencies; a pool of funding went to add 4 acres to the Cosumnes River preserve, and a revegetation study with the Army Corps of Engineers.
“In summary, we believe this led to collaborative efforts with northern interests,” said Mr. Neudeck. “It was also a building block, not just for habitat restoration, but for water transfers over the last decade or so. Clearly it opened up areas for spawning, and we believe it showed that ecosystem restoration and other non-flow factors are effective at fishery improvements.”