Metropolitan’s Special Committee on the Bay Delta hears an overview of the Cal Water Fix documents and an update on drought operations in the Delta

Metropolitan Building SliderboxMetropolitan staff review what’s in the documents and explore what the project might yield; Drought operations update includes the effect of the Delta salinity barrier

At the July meeting of Metropolitan Water District’s Special Committee on the Bay-Delta,  committee members were briefed on the recicirulated environmental documents for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, now called the California Water Fix, which is more commonly referred to in the mainstream press as the Delta tunnels project. The meeting also included an update on drought operations in the Delta.

Overview of recirculated documents for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California Water Fix documents

Bay Delta Initiatives Program Manager Steve Arakawa began by noting that Metropolitan staff are reviewing the document and will be determining the consistency with the direction that the principles the Board has adopted, assessing the business case, and providing ongoing updates to the Committee as additional information becomes available.

The Bay Delta Conservation Planning process starting back in 2006 with the signing of a Planning Agreement, commencing what Mr. Arakawa described as extensive planning process and technical evaluation of for the different resource areas, including water supply and water quality.  An administrative draft was released in March of 2012, a second administrative draft in May of 2013, and the public draft released in December of 2013 with a formal comment period which lasted through July of 2014.

The documents are referred to as ‘partially recirculated’ because, as a result of comments that were made in the public review period, parts of the project have been modified; those parts of the document that have been released for further public review. The public comment period closes October 30th. “The state is saying final documents anticipated in late 2015 or early 2016,” Mr. Arakawa said. “Staff’s judgment is probably early 2016, maybe the first quarter of 2016.”

He noted that the California Water Fix policy direction was released by the state in January of 2014. “It’s important to recognize that this proposal for how to address Delta issues is in the greater context of a statewide approach to overall water management that includes water efficiency measures, habitat restoration, storage, and things like that,” he said.

The Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors approved the Delta Action Plan Framework in June of 2007, which is the overall basis for how Metropolitan has participated in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan planning process, Mr. Arakawa explained. “Since the proposal has improved diversion point in the north Delta and improved Delta delivery system, the conveyance criteria that the Board adopted in 2007 is a key basis for how we would evaluate the performance.” He noted that there are other Board policies that have been adopted that address other Delta issues, as well as a series of funding agreements and participation agreements.

The state has broken the project into two parts, based on a permitting approach that is different than what was originally proposed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. “The California Water Fix is the part of the proposal that deals with water delivery system and water conveyance, or adding that North Delta intake in addition to the existing south Delta intake,” he said. “It would provide for the upgrade to the delivery system, and it includes the mitigation that would be required in order to implement that project. The California Water Fix would be water contractor funded tunnel facilities and mitigation.”

The California Eco Restore program includes everything that is not mitigation as part of California Water Fix, and would be a part of how the state would move forward with ecosystem restoration. “In April, they highlighted 30,000 acres that they would be pursuing moving forward with in the next 5 years in order to accelerate implementation of habitat restoration,” he said.  “This would include some of the habitat restoration that’s required under existing biological opinions, but would include some increment of additional habitat to help with improving the system in the Delta. The part that is not required by regulation would receive broader public funding, but this would be the early start to the broader ecosystem restoration effort in the Delta as the state would proceed out into the future.”

Mr. Arakawa pointed out that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan contained an integrated set of conservation measures – both tunnel water delivery system and habitat restoration and measures to address stressors, but now the California Water Fix is the new diversion point and tunnel with the California Eco Restore program restoring habitat that is different from mitigation for the tunnel.

Key differences

He then summarized the key differences between the new California Water Fix proposal and previous iterations of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan proposals:

Design modifications: Design modifications have reduced the footprint by about 50%. Removal of the pumping system from the north Delta and the consolidation of facilities in the south Delta reduces impacts to the nearby Delta communities. Reducing the need for long-term power lines benefits species and reduces visual impacts, and from an engineering standpoint, by locating the pumping faculties in the south Delta, it is believed that the tunnel would have less, operating and maintenance costs over time.

Reduced construction impacts:  By configuring the sedimentation basins to be one large earthen bay rather than several concrete bays, it significantly reduces the amount of concrete needed, thereby reducing construction activity and in turn, reducing traffic, air quality, noise, and other construction related impacts. Changes also include the use of more state-owned property.

Water quality: Additional work that was done to analyze the impacts of the proposed project on water quality in the Delta, based on that analysis, the recirculated documents show that there’s revised conclusions that reduce the amount of significant impacts to the Delta system, he said.

Regulatory approach: The regulatory approach under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan would have been a Section 10 and Natural Communities Conservation Plan approach under the state law, but the California Water Fix is an approach more in line with how the projects are operated today which is a federal Section 7 permit and a state section 2081 permit.

More on the change in regulatory approach

Mr. Arakawa then gave some further details on the regulatory change, explaining that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s approach involved a 50-year permit, but the level of uncertainty was significant about the effects on the species over that time period with projected climate change as well as the general uncertainty of the science; it made it very difficult to identify what would be needed over that period of 50 years in order to successfully come to closure on a BDCP that would allow for take under the federal and state endangered species act. So instead, they are looking to pursue a permit under Section 7 and Section 2081 that would address that situation by not having to agree to that long-term period of permit, he said.

3a_Presentation_Page_11Mr. Arakawa said noted that Section 7 would have a lower level of assurance by nature than the habitat conservation plan or NCCP. “What the water contractors are looking at are if there are mechanisms that would help in reducing the amount of uncertainty if the state pursues a Section 7 approach,” he said. “Are there things that can be done to help bolster the value of the project and the operating requirements and rules for how things would work.”

One example might be the science that is continuing to evolve. “It doesn’t stay static at all, and so can there be an agreement on the process for evaluating that science and determining what kind of operations are necessary in order to protect the Delta and also provide for reliable water supply. I think key to this kind of mechanism is, is there the potential to agree on a scientific decision making approach that would address those kinds of things.”

Alternatives in the documents

The documents still include the BDCP’s original approach, so sixteen alternatives are included, which includes a No Action Alternative, a through-Delta alternative, a canal option, and alternatives for intakes anywhere from 0 up to 5, different operating capacity from 3000 to 15,000 cfs, and restoration from anywhere from 8000 acres up to 150,000 acres of habitat.

There are new alternatives in the recirculated documents, Mr. Arakawa said. “There’s a new No Action Alternative that would be based on the Section 7 and 2081 endangered species act permitting process, but also there would be three other options, including a 3000 cfs system, a 9,000 cfs system, and a 15,000 cfs system, with the 9000 cfs alternative being the state’s proposed project which is identified as alternative 4A,” he said. “So when the state talks about the California Water Fix, they are really speaking of the proposed project, labeling it Alternative 4A and the capacity of conveyance being 9000 cfs. That would be three intakes at 3000 cfs each and the regulatory approach would be the Section 7 and Section 2081 approach.”

Project water supply yields

He then discussed the water supply information available in the recirculated documents.

3a_Presentation_Page_17He then presented a bar chart showing projected long-term CVP and SWP deliveries under different scenarios, noting that the far left hand side shows the projected amount of deliveries with existing regulations and no action at 4.7 MAF, using a range of hydrologies that have occurred in this historic record.

The far right hand side shows the range that was projected with the BDCP, which was 4.7 to 5.6 MAF. Mr. Arakawa noted that it was a range, depending on the amounts required spring and fall outflow. To the left of that bar is the expected range of deliveries under Cal Water Fix or Alternative 4A.  “This range narrows things down,” he said. “It essentially says the existing biological opinion requires the fall Delta outflow, so that’s in the baseline, so the range is now the spring flow. Will there be a need to provide for that kind of spring flow? 4.7 to 5.3 MAF. So that’s what’s covered in the EIR, it has those brackets.”

We’re still showing ranges because that’s what is in the environmental document,” he said. “Certainly when the state finishes its consultation process with the fish agencies, there will be a proposed operation, and if it goes forward the way they expect, it would be somewhere within that range. From there it would hopefully be a scientific process for determining what gets looked at between now and the start of operations when the project is fully constructed, and then what happens on an ongoing basis going out into the future in terms of fine tuning the required operations for the system.”

Mr. Arakawa noted the other two bars shown on the chart. “The 3.5 MAF bar, that is something that was included in the BDCP document, Chapter 9,” he said. “When Dr. David Sunding came down and showed you his economic analysis for the state, he also showed what if there is no investment, what happens if we project out what the fish agencies are saying are necessary, flows and operating requirements in order to protect the Delta, what kind of supply would you get under that condition, and that 3.5 MAF was described in the economic analysis, looking at what kind of value is there to the proposed project when you look at the prospect of losing additional supply.”

He noted that there will be a new economic analysis to update the numbers, “but it does give you an idea of if the fish agencies continue to pursue certain operating and flow requirements, what kind of supplies would be provided to the state and federal projects.”

The middle bar is the earthquake scenario, Mr. Arakawa said. “We’ve shown you a bar of 1.0 to 1.5 MAF in the past, which is the range of what we think would occur if there was a significant earthquake but a plausible earthquake based on the number of faults that are through the Delta or adjacent to the Delta,” he said. “If you had that kind of plausible earthquake but a significant earthquake that would result in a number of Delta islands flooding, levees falling and islands flooding because the significance of the ground motions from that plausible earthquake. … we estimate about 1.5 MAF of what I would characterize as intermittent deliveries, so you wouldn’t have ongoing deliveries like we have today; you would be delivering when the Delta is fresh enough to divert.”

3a_Presentation_Page_18He next presented a slide comparing projected deliveries under various hydrologies with the existing regulations and with the California Water Fix in place. He pointed out that in the wetter years, the range for the California Water Fix is greater than the existing system. “Metropolitan’s water supply strategy under the IRP is really aimed at trying to take advantage of above normal and wetter types of years to store water and to put that water in surface storage and groundwater storage in order for our region to be able to draw on that in dry years, as we have been the last several years of drought.”

Looking further into whether the project can produce more water in wetter years

Metropolitan staff is beginning some additional analysis beyond what is included in the environmental documents to see if the system really will produce more water in wetter years. “The numbers in the EIR are modeled studies using monthly average figures but in real time, flows can vary very significantly, particularly in storm periods, so we wanted to look at a year like 2012-13 … in this year, there were significant storms in the December – January period, so we wanted to see how the flexibility of the intake system could actually work to the benefit of both fish and water supply reliability.”

3a_Presentation_Page_19Mr. Arakawa presented a chart, showing the Delta outflow for the two storms, noting that the first storm event occurred in December and lasted 14 days. “It provided a significant amount of acre-feet that went out to the ocean, about 880,000 acre-feet is what we estimate; the second storm was about 14 days and a little bit greater magnitude of flow going out as Delta outflow,” he said.

He reminded that this is analysis by Metropolitan staff and is not included in the EIR. Met staff superimposed actual state and federal water exports using data the DWR collects, and asked if there were a proposed project like the California Water Fix in place, what kind of additional flexibility would that provide? “The white line is intended to show that if you were to operate the system with the proposed rules, 9000 cfs, what kind of additional flexibility would that provide, recognizing that a certain amount of outflow and all the other water quality requirements still need to be met, but still trying to capture those high flows.”

This kind of analysis shows that there’s a good amount of capability to capture these additional stormwater flows that occur in this watershed,” Mr. Arakawa said. “The trick is you meet the standards, you take advantage of this additional flexibility and you capture the stormwater flow to put it into storage so you can use it later.”

3a_Presentation_Page_20He then presented some preliminary analysis from other years, noting that staff is working on a more extensive analysis. “These are all preliminary because we are still working through them but we do believe that if you were to have a system in place with these excess flows, there would be a good amount of additional flexibility,” he said. “The key then would be are there places to store the water so can you take advantage of the supply when it actually occurs. There are going to be some years like 2011 where the runoff is so great that you can’t take advantage of all of it, and then there’s years like the 2013 example where we knew we had places to store that water, so that would be a benefit to the region.”

We’re going to continue to evaluate this and we’ll be bringing that analysis back to you so that we can determine whether these kinds of real time operations demonstrate that this added flexibility really does have the ability to make our supply reliability more reliable and providing more insightful information than just looking at the modeling studies that are in the EIR,” Mr. Arakawa said.

Going forward …

Our key considerations for looking at the recirculated documents include looking at the cost and schedule under the new approach, the amount and reliability of water supplies, how we can craft certain mechanisms such as the scientific decision making process to be able to fine tune the operations, and the role of the contractors in all of that.

[Slide 22] Mr. Arakawa then laid out a path for what will happen in the upcoming months, noting that he didn’t have any dates, but that it was more of a framework to think about the next year. Currently they are reviewing and evaluating the recirculated documents, and will be providing information on their comments, the analysis of benefits, and other things. After the close of the comment period, there will be discussions on cost allocation, what other agreements are needed, and other upcoming decisions. The first half of 2016, there will be a record of decision for both the state and federal side, a decision made on the Section 7 and 2081 permits, and approval of certain associated agreements to support implementation of the project.

So in summary, we’re going to continue to bring you back information on our analyses,” Mr. Arakawa said. “Today we wanted to give you an idea of what’s been included in the recirculated documents, the different alternatives and the ways of looking at the supply benefits based on what’s in the document, also a glimpse of how Met staff is looking at the supply capabilities of the added flexibility, and how we might think about things going forward in the next several months.”

The floor was then opened up for questions.

Discussion highlights …

Director Steiner clarifies that 25,000 acres of the 30,000 acres of habitat restoration called for with the Eco Restore program is that which is required by the biological opinions … ?

Mr. Arakawa confirms. “Yes, that’s made up of a combination of the tidal habitat and the floodplain habitat so about 25,000 acres. When Chuck Bonham came down to talk with your board, I think the message was we need to get started on this, we need to pursue it, and get things done in the next period of time, and I think he was even orienting towards the governor’s remaining term, so they are really committed to trying to get that moving in the next few years.”

Director Steiner notes that in regards to increasing assurances, the main concern now is the reliability because it’s pretty clear we’re not talking about that much more water, if any. “Those pictures show that it may be exactly what we have now. So on the reliability, that seems to be a place where we really need to be focused on, trying to get those assurances from the Section 7 moved down that continuum … ”

Yes and I chose to emphasize the science decision making process or other aspects,” said Mr. Arakawa. “But I just wanted to say I mentioned the outflows as part of that, but there are other operating proposals that reduce the export capability, and with this new added flexibility, understanding how much susceptibility the fish are to entrainment or the fish actually getting into the pump area, I think that’s another part of the science decision process, so I wanted to bring that up as well.”

I’m trying to understand the added flexibility,” said Director Steiner. “Right now we have Section 7 and we’re going to have Section 7 under the new, so the added flexibility is what we’re able to figure out to get added flexibility?

The added flexibility would be really understanding the science and whether certain flows that are being proposed are necessary going way out into the future,” responded Mr. Arakawa. “Because the new intake system is actually reducing the amount of reverse flow because you’re taking water from the north end, it’s actually a big benefit to fish in the south Delta, so getting a handle on what is the entrainment risk of the fish with real time operations and with the added flexibility of the new intake, we think those are fair examples of how the science can fine tune how the system can be operated.”

Director Steiner refers to slide 19 with the different supply scenarios. “We’re not returning to pre-Wanger back under any of these scenarios, right?

When you talk about pre-Wanger, you’re talking about 5.9 MAF for the two projects ?” said Mr. Arakawa. “I showed you the range. There’s a good number of actions that were included in the biological opinion including Old and Middle River constraints so no higher reversals than a certain amount. I think that the ideas under the adaptive management science decision approach, you would look at both the existing biological opinion measures as well as the proposed measures under this project. I’m not making a judgment on how successful we’ll be on either of those, but the project could look at both the existing operation under the biological opinion, as well as what’s being proposed under the project, so I wasn’t ready to say we couldn’t get any of that back, but I also recognize that what’s the ranges in the EIR, so that’s what we’re working within.”

Director Lewinger directs to slide 17. “If we’re going with Section 7 instead of Section 10, under Section 10 we had certainty, but under section 7, isn’t is possible that we’re going to slip back to the BDCP regulations without a north intake … wouldn’t that be the lower end of what the project could produce?

3a_Presentation_Page_17Theoretically it could be lower than that,” said Mr. Arakawa. “The 3.5 MAF is just a scenario that was identified with a certain rationale. You could come up with a different scenario …

That was a reasonable rationale,” said Director Lewinger. “That was the difference between Section 10 and essentially Section 7. Now we’re going with Section 7 so why wouldn’t 3.5 MAF be the lower bound?

I think a good portion of that is due to the fact that you have to protect against the entrainment of fish,” he said. “This project is fish-friendly in terms of where the diversion point is in the north and being able to operate that in conjunction with the diversion in the point in the south, so I think the rationale is it helps fix some longstanding problems that have been in the Delta in terms of how water moves through those Delta channels, and that has a biological benefit. Your point is there is no guarantee if you don’t have a section 10 permit, but I think that if we’re able to operate and reduce those reversals and use real-time monitoring, there’s a good chance that you can sustain more reliability than if you didn’t have the intake.”

What we told DWR and we’ll do some of the work ourselves, is that we’ve got to be comparing apples to apples here, so let’s take conditions that might restrict you to 3.5 MAF in the south Delta, because you only have south Delta, let’s add the new conveyance on there and let’s take a look at how that plays out,” added Roger Patterson. “The problem they have in their No Action Alternative is it has less restrictive south Delta operations than what’s in the proposed project and so it gets really confusing, so we have to be able to compare apples to apples so as we march forward over the next couple months, we’ll be able to do that.”

Director Peterson asks regarding the Wanger decision, “Won’t these tunnels make the Wanger decision inoperable because there won’t be as much reverse flow just because you’re pulling from north Delta and maybe the rivers will be flowing more naturally and therefore that decision might fall off the face of the earth. Is that a possibility? A yes or no answer will do.”

Kightlinger: “Yes.”

Director Peterson then moves onto next agenda item.

Update on Delta Drought Operations

Program Manager Randall Neudeck then gave a brief update on conditions in the Delta and the actions that the state and federal agencies have been taking over the last couple months to balance the water supplies available for meeting Delta standards and meeting some flows needed for fishery purposes later on in the year.

Mr. Nuedeck noted that the major reservoirs are dropping by about 4 to 6% per month. The Bureau is currently trying to hold more water up in Shasta, so they are taking more out of Folsom, and due to the May and June monsoonal rains, Lake Mead has stayed about the same. Mr. Neudeck said the projections are that by October, the reservoirs will be down into the 20%s and Folsom even lower than that, with Lake Mead staying the same.

State Water Board actions

As for State Board actions, in late spring they sent out curtailment notices to 9500+ water right holders, curtailing post-1914 and post-1903 senior water rights; there have been no more notices sent out, Mr. Neudeck said. The State Board, USBR, DWR, and agricultural interests having been working to see if they can hold more water back in Shasta for the cold water pool for salmon egg incubation in the fall and winter by modifying the timing of the agricultural diversions and how the flows come down the river; that plan was approved by the State Board in July, he said.

The Bureau and DWR also took some additional measures to modify Delta outflows and to provide some other actions to balance the water supply needs for the fish later on in the year with the current standards that are in the Delta, he said.

Effect of the salinity barrier

3b_Presentation_Page_10Mr. Neudeck recalled how at the last meeting, there was discussion of the effect of the False River Salinity barrier which was completed on May 28. He presented a chart showing the salinity and dissolved solids at Holland Tract, pointing out that the salinity was going up until the barriers were installed, and then it started going down. He noted that the same results were achieved a bit further upstream, farther west, and south.

3b_Presentation_Page_12However, salinity in the southern part of the Delta after they put in the barriers continues to go up, and so we wanted to address that issue, he said. “Salinity comes in from a number of different sources: one is the ocean, one is local ag drainage, one is water from the Sacramento River, and the fourth is water from the San Joaquin River,” he said.

3b_Presentation_Page_13Mr. Neudeck then presented a chart for the San Joaquin River, noting that when the barriers were installed, the salinity in the San Joaquin River still rose. “If you looked at it from this fingerprint analysis, not only do you have high salinity from the San Joaquin River, you have small pumping in our area down in the south Delta, and in addition, you have local south Delta ag runoff that is causing that salinity in the south Delta to remain the same. Normally you would have a lot more Sacramento River coming in that would be fresher, you’d have pumping out of that and you’d have lower salinities.”

We’re watching this very closely,” said Mr. Neudeck. “The forecast is that it’s going to remain even to this point. But keep in mind, DWR and the Bureau are trying to save as much water for the fisheries at the end of the year, and normally they work with a buffer in there so that if they get a high tide, if they get high winds, if they get low barometric pressures, they can deal with it. That buffer is down to a thin wire, so that’s why we’re starting to see some of these small violations in these water quality standards.”

Delta smelt surveys

Mr. Neudeck said that there have been recent newspaper articles talking about fish extinction becoming increasingly likely. “We wanted to give you a sense about some of the surveys and where they are distributed and how our pumping facilities are affecting that,” he said.

He presented a series of slides showing the Delta smelt numbers for three fish surveys, pointing out that the current numbers are all very low, with the more recent survey showing “0.0”.

3b_Presentation_Page_19He then displayed a slide showing the monitoring stations, noting that some the stations are in black are used to calculate abundance while the stations shown in color are not. “Some of these stations specifically are not used during one of the indexes,” said Mr. Neudeck. “So what I’ll show you here is that even though the index was 0.0, they actually still caught fish at these stations, and what they do when they catch a fish, they multiply that based on a water volume and then they develop an index on it, so when I say index, it’s not the actual population of fish out there. But keep in mind, the population is still very low.”

3b_Presentation_Page_20He then displayed the recent spring survey, noting that most of the fish were far away from the pumps, caught in the Yolo Bypass, the Deep Water Ship Channel and in the Cache Slough area. “This is the recent survey where they had 0.0, and you can see there was still fish caught up in the Sacramento DWSC and Cache Slough, but because those stations are newer stations, they weren’t included in the original index way back when, so they don’t actually count these,” he said. “If they counted them, you’d see a small index, but because they don’t, it’s 0.0.”

3b_Presentation_Page_22He then presented a slide showing salvage numbers from the state and federal water projects and noting that the numbers are very low.

Mr. Neudeck said that they have been working collaboratively with DWR to increase their monitoring of Delta smelt as they can know when to reduce the pumping. “This year, we had some voluntary first flush cutbacks so that operators, DWR and Reclamation and this was supported by the contractors, decided that when that first flush came down and all the turbidity that came down the Sacramento River, that we would stop pumping and allow that turbidity to go by and then pump after that period, so real time monitoring,” he said. “Obviously the long term solution would be an additional intake in the north Delta.”

If there were no water projects …

3b_Presentation_Page_26Mr. Neudeck recalled how Director Atwater had asked at the last meeting what would happen if there weren’t Shasta, Oroville, and Folsom reservoirs. He then presented a slide of analysis by CH2M hill with the present date on the left, and the effect on the Delta if the major reservoirs were not present, pointing out the increased salinity in the Delta under the latter scenario.

In conclusion …

We’re continuing to monitor the water quality and storage, not only with the state and federal fishery agencies but also with our water quality staff,” he said. “The Department is still scheduled to remove the barrier in November and we’ll continue to provide you updates.”

The floor was then opened up for questions.

Discussion highlights

Director McKenney asks, “When we look at the old survey data, how comparable is that data from 50 years ago? Are we collecting the data the same way so it’s all data or have we improved how we are collecting data over time?

This dataset is led by CDFW and they try to keep it as comparable as possible,” said Mr. Neudeck. “That’s why in that one survey, they didn’t include those upper stations. We’ve had a lot of work with them … had discussions about additional surveys out there, but they are very reluctant to change these surveys because of that time period. We know that there’s distribution of Delta smelt is farther out and increased in other areas, but they don’t’ take surveys in … ”

Are we collecting the same way, the trawls are the same? The same methodology as 1959? Same level of effort?,” asks Director Mc Kenney.

Effectively yes, it’s the same level of effort,” said Mr. Neudeck. “There are some additional trawls out there that they do, they do a netting from the side to look at how many smelt they catch and there is some new methodologies they are testing out there, but again these are their three main surveys and these are the ones they report in the newspapers.”

For more information …

You can watch the webcast and access all meeting materials by clicking here.

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