Delta Stewardship Council looks at conveyance, storage, and water project operations, part 2: Environmental and Water Supplier Perspectives

DWR Delta Minor Slough #5 sliderboxPPIC’s Dr. Jeff Mount, The Bay Institute’s Gary Bobker, and water resources consultant Maurice Hall give environmental perspectives; ACWA’s Tim Quinn and NCWA’s Todd Manley follow up with the water suppliers’ views

The language in the 2009 Delta Reform Act laid out a specific pathway for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to be included in the Delta Plan through a different pathway that was distinctly different from the consistency certification process the legislation specified for other projects in the Delta.  However, the legislation also specified certain conditions that the BDCP must meet: the most notable of those being that the BDCP be completed as a Natural Communities Conservation Plan.

In April, the Administration announced a new preferred alternative called California Water Fix, which essentially abandoned the NCCP approach and instead, they will now seek permitting of the conveyance facilities through the more traditional Section 7 approach, the same regulatory approach used by other SWP and CVP facilities.  Habitat restoration will now occur under a parallel program called California Eco Restore.

If the BDCP had been completed as an NCCP and incorporated into the Delta Plan, it would have added significant details to the Delta Plan regarding conveyance, operations, ecosystem restoration, and governance.  In anticipation of the successful completion of the BDCP, many of these issues were not fully addressed in the first Delta Plan.  The Council did pledge to revisit the issue if the BDCP were not successfully completed by January 1 of 2016.

Following through on their pledge, and preparing for a greater role in the process, the Delta Stewardship Council started addressing the issue of whether to amend the Delta Plan at their July meeting.

In the first installment of coverage from this meeting, Council members were presented a draft problem statement, and then heard from Dr. John Kirlin, professor of public policy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law; Dr. Sam Luoma, a research ecologist with the John Muir Institute of Environment at the UC Davis; and Karla Nemeth, Deputy Secretary for Water Policy at California Natural Resources Agency.  For coverage of part 1 of this meeting, click here:  Delta Stewardship Council looks at conveyance, storage, and water project operations (Part 1)

In this second and final installment of this agenda item, Dr. Jeff Mount, Gary Bobker, and Maurice Hall give the environmental perspective on conveyance, storage, and water project operations, followed by Tim Quinn and Todd Manley giving the water supplier view.

Panel 2: Environmental perspectives

Senior Engineer Anthony Navasero then introduced the second panel: Dr. Jeff Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California; Gary Bobker, Program Director for the Rivers and Delta program at The Bay Institute; and Dr. Maurice Hall, water resources consultant.

JEFF MOUNT, Senior Fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California

Dr. Jeff Mount began by saying that in terms of the Council setting up principles for water storage projects and conveyance projects, and how they might be integrated, he would argue that they already have them. “You spent years developing a Delta Plan,” he said. “I sat on the Independent Science Board for many years and watched the process of the development of the Delta Plan, both iterations of the Independent Science Board, and when I think about this … you already have it in place.”

Jeff MountHe pointed out that they have the ability to test a project that is brought before them based upon the core founding principles already established. “Improved operational flexibility to meet the coequal goals as you have defined them; better storage and storage management, both surface and groundwater; improved conveyance for supply, quality, and habitat; reduce conflict between supply and ecosystem needs; reduced reliance on the Delta for supply – all of these are litmus tests,” he said. “I would add the other one, probably the least well defined one is an unclear principle regarding the Delta as an evolving place and how that fits in with it. So my recommendation is you’re set, you’re ready to go. As these things come forward, you have that set of tools because these are ultimately subjective. Members of the Council decided the priorities years ago with guidance from the legislature.”

My argument is keep it simple; don’t try to overprescribe your principles because you will regret it,” he said. “We tend to overprescribe everything in the Delta, which is part of the reason if you are a Delta consultant, it’s a terrific gig. We continuously overprescribe everything in the Delta, we try to make things as narrow as possible. … We try to overprescribe to overprescribe outcomes and make assumptions about how the world is going to look in 20, 30, 40 years, and we’re inevitably wrong in that regard, so keeping it simple is going to be key.”

Dr. Mount then turned to the uncertainty question. “We’ve gotten our tail wrapped around the axle, to mix a metaphor, on trying to reduce uncertainties in this process, and if we know anything now, we have done a good job on some things, but in general, our uncertainties are large and they remain lasting,” he said. “They are probably the most enduring thing we have (that and meetings) in the whole Delta process is uncertainties, and although we have reduced them, we’ll be growing new uncertainties every day, so the problem of overprescription is it doesn’t allow us to handle uncertainty well.”

We can’t predict the future, he said. “Think of how we did ten years ago in predicting what the future looked like; we did a lousy job. We did a lousy job twenty years ago for sure on predicting what we’d be looking at today, so again my advice is to not over constrain your principles.”

Flexibility is going to be important for addressing future challenges, he said. “In the future, Karla Nemeth brings you the new version of California Water Fix and Eco Restore, and asks you to approve this and to incorporate it into the Delta Plan, and although that’s not what the legislature had in mind, you guys are going to have to some gymnastics on that, again I would argue that you need to accept something that has maximum flexibility,” he said. “You have to know yourself that it’s going to be something that continuously adjusts course but still operates within those principles, that the principles are loose bounds, and there’s going to be a lot of variation within it.”

The drought we’re dealing with today is a terrific litmus test for any project brought before you, Dr. Mount said. “When you are thinking about your principles, keep saying how would this have performed? And then the first thing you have to do is not only how would this have performed, but why is it what you’re telling me about how it’s going to perform is wrong.”

Dr. Mount used the current drought as an example. “As one of your principles, you want to reduce conflict between the environment and water use,” he said. “The assumption that the temporary urgency change petitions to the State Water Resources Control Board have returned more than a million acre feet from what was supposed to be Delta outflow for the environment, but the amount of water that has gone toward the environment during this drought represents, last year in 2014, represented about 5% of the total available water. It’s not the 50% these people keep talking about, it was 5%. And why is that? Because we have the ability to change the rules as we go … Look carefully at the assurances that are made within these projects. There are all these vast assurances which can always be changed in the future.”

There are a lot of ‘what-ifs’ so it all boils down to governance, he said. “So I ask you this. When somebody comes to you and you have your set of principles, where is the governance that will make sure that you deliver on those principles? I’m not sure I understand at this point in the new [California Water Fix] where the governance side works to be able to deliver on those principles. So when you’re looking at it, my advice is, principles which are not rigid and narrowly defined, … I would suggest to stick to those original principles, recognizing that we’re going to bounce around within them, producing good governance that can actually keep it within those principles meets within the Delta Plan, whether that governance is you or the organizations that are set up to actually run it. Use the drought as your test of the viability. Where are the assurances that you receiving likely to not be realized within it? That’s probably going to be a good test of it, and avoid the infinite details problem that we’ve seen so much in the past.

And with that …

GARY BOBKER, Program Director for the Rivers and Delta program at The Bay Institute

Gary Bobker began by noting that today’s discussion was precipitated largely by the change in status from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to the Cal Water Fix. “This is important because in previously considering it as something that was to be folded into the Delta Plan, it represented an approach to managing the Delta and changing conveyance in the framework of complying with a very high standard set by the federal Endangered Species Act and California Natural Communities Planning Act, and that is to recover an endangered species to support the conservation of the communities and habitats that sustain those species.

Gary BobkerSo when looking at anything that has to do with storage, conveyance, or water operations in general and how you might fold any approach into the Delta Plan, the first thing you have to start with is what’s the environmental baseline in which changes to water operations occurs,” he said. “I would suggest that that baseline, as set by the original intent for BDCP, is pretty high one. It also happens to be one of your coequal goals which is to restore the Delta ecosystem.”

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan didn’t get there, and the administration has lowered the goal posts, for better or for worse. “There is no longer a project to transform conveyance or operations which meets that goal post, so one thing important for you to do is figure out what threshold you should hold any set of projects or overall strategy for changing conveyance and operations and to see whether it meets that.”

I agree with Jeff that you should be flexible about the means by which you achieve ends, but I think you should be very specific about the ends you mean to achieve,” he said. “We all know that we’re going to be wrong about all of those things, we’ll be wrong about how we should fix things and we’ll be wrong about the threshold that we think we’re trying to achieve, but without defining some end point, well then you’re pretty much operating in chaos, and flexibility won’t help you very much.”

Making some progress on defining a set of ecosystem metrics that define the threshold that you are going to hold operations, conveyance or other changes to the system to is extremely important, not only for providing a threshold for consistency and compliance, but for then establishing a threshold for how assured are the changes going to be in terms of reaching those ecosystem metrics, Mr. Bobker said.

I’ve spent much of my professional life helping to design regulations that are adaptive, that are sensitive to hydrology and other conditions and one of the greatest examples of that are the water quality standards adopted by the State of California under the federal and state Clean Water Acts,” he said. “Here in the drought now we’ve seen relaxation of those standards for several years in a row, even though those standards were designed to deal with these kinds of conditions, and so we are seeing a level of performance for the environment which is a fraction of what we intended even under a flexible, adaptive regime. Which is perhaps why we’re seeing populations of species at a fraction of what they were twenty years ago – less than 1% for some of the most sensitive species of the populations we had 20 years ago.”

There are a lot of good principles in the Delta Plan, but sometimes they are a little anodyne –they can mean what you like, so you need to put more flesh on it, advised Mr. Bobker. “Restoring the ecosystem is a threshold in the law; let’s define what that is and then hold projects to it,” he said.

Mr. Bobker said the Council also needs to put more flesh on the ‘wet versus dry’ paradigm. “One of the greatest truisms that we resort to in California water is that we’re putting too much stress on the environment in dry periods and that we have great surpluses under flood conditions and so part of what the engineering genius should be is to move some of the surplus into the deficit periods,” he said. “The problem is that what I think will happen more and more over time is that dry periods will mean the most extreme one or two percent of conditions and wet means everything else, and that’s a recipe for disaster. That is basically what we’re doing now.”

There’s no question that there are circumstances under which there is water that is surplus to the needs of the environment, but the fact is that in drier conditions, species and habitat don’t do well; they contract, that’s natural,” he said. “When it’s wet, they grow, and so it’s that cycle of growth in the wet period, contraction in the dry period, that actually defines the estuarine ecosystem. And if we start reducing the benefits that the wetter periods provide for species and habitats, then we completely cutoff potential for recovery of species and habitats. That’s not going to work; it means we won’t meet the coequal goal of restoring the Delta ecosystem, so we need to think very carefully about what are the conditions under which surplus flows are available for consumptive use.”

It comes back to defining the metrics of the conditions under which species grow and habitats thrive, he said. “Are there wet conditions that are really good and are there wet conditions that maybe the effects, if you manipulate the hydrograph for less? Probably, but until we define those metrics, you won’t know.”

Storage and conveyance need to be designed with nature and a 21st century climate in mind, said Mr. Bobker. “It is not that we folks in the environmental community think that under all conditions, new dams and canals are worthless or make no sense; I’ve been an advocate of a small, isolated facility for a long time and I think there are conditions under which storage makes sense, but sort of traditional storage and traditional conveyance is not making much sense in an environment where the natural snowpack reservoir is decreasing,” he said.

We’ve built out most of the surface storage reservoir sites so the reduction of the snowpack is not really going to help us if we invest a lot in big reservoirs that have very small yield,” he said. “We should be looking at how changes in the lower part of the physical system – floodways, flood basins, wetlands, etc. – how can we use the places where in a flashier, warmer climate increased rainfall is going to go, instead of a slowly draining snowpack. How do we use those kinds of areas to achieve water supply benefits and provide environmental benefits so we are meeting the coequal goals at the same time?

It will require the kind of imagination of the people who designed the California water project 100 years ago, only with a 21st century mentality about environmental ethics and a 21st century awareness of climate change, and if we had that kind of thinking about the system, we could actually put investments in assets that would not be stranded, he said.

With respect to the state’s policy of trying to reduce reliance on the Delta, Mr. Bobker said that the Council has been one of the leaders in trying to address and define that, and while some progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go. “In thinking about storage and conveyance, the real issue is first of all, what are water districts and water entities doing to reduce their reliance on imported water,” he said. “Are they addressing that to the optimal extent? What is the optimal extent? Is there a reason to start setting targets for what we expect in terms of reducing reliance, and when we model changes to storage and conveyance, are we looking at what the options are in terms of alternatives, in terms of local water supply, local water recycling, local groundwater use, etc. when we do that analysis? Very often we talk about these things but when we actually analyze changes to the system, we’re not really looking at those kinds of options, so these are the kinds of tests that you should be setting in terms of determining whether changes to storage and conveyance makes sense and are consistent with a plan that’s supposed to achieve coequal goals.

And I think I’ll leave it at that …

MAURICE HALL, water resources consultant

Maurice Hall began his comments by focusing on the idea of flexibility. One component of flexibility is the recognition that we have a more variable hydrology than what we have had in the past, he said. “I had an entire class on how the different distributions apply to the historical data and how you use that historical data to predict what’s going on in the future and now we know that the future hydrology or water supply is not the water supply that we thought we had when we designed all of our systems,” he said. “We’re inherently going to have to deal with a more variable water supply than we’ve had in the past, and we’re going to have to recognize that as we move forward in managing our systems.”

Maurice HallAnother aspect of flexibility is that over the years, we have designed our system in many ways to try and take the variability out of it, Mr. Hall said. “We use storage to store the water from one time to another so that we can deliver a fairly constant flow of water to the different needs for the farms and the cities,” he said. “If you look at our hydrology, our water supply goes up and down, and while our water use goes up and down, it goes up and down a lot less. In some ways, the things that we do that we generally think of as good, like improving efficiency in cities and improving efficiency in agriculture and changing to permanent crops, reduces the ability to adapt to that flexible hydrology and that flexible water supply. So we really do need to think about ways to recognize we have this variable water supply and adapt, not only with storage and carrying water over from wet periods, but also in adjusting how much water we use.”

One of the reasons I emphasize this is because there is a common perspective that storage is going to fix the problem – that if we could just build enough storage, we would be able to supply our needs on that regular basis, and frankly that’s not the case,” Mr. Hall said. “Right now we are consumptively using more water on average than we have in water supply. We can capture a little more and offset that, but as a study that I helped produce with Jay Lund determined, there’s a limit to how much storage we can use. Empty storage doesn’t do very much good if it’s empty 90% of the time.”

The third point on flexibility is recognizing that our needs are changing, Mr. Hall said. “One of the recurring themes that I’ve heard is that everyone – municipal entities, agricultural entities – are recognizing that they are changing their behaviors,” he said. “Most of our modeling and analysis that we’ve done to shape our new system is based on some projection of a continuation of things as business as usual or the way things have gone in the past, and my point here is that regardless of what we model now, there are new ideas and new projects that are going to be implemented in the future that are going to change how our water is used and the availability of water.”

Just as an example, if there is a tunnel built and we have new conveyance, there’s going to be investment in other infrastructure such as groundwater storage or perhaps other small reservoirs that are going to change how that project and that investment benefits us in the future,” he said. “That’s all to say that we need to manage and think about that flexibility and in every new project that comes up and consider how we can design that project to provide more flexibility because that’s what is needed.”

One important change is the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Mr. Hall said. “As we progress in that implementation, we’re going to learn and get a lot more understanding of what the implications are of bringing our groundwater basins into balance,” he said. “I’ve been deep into this for many years and there’s a lot of things that I’ve tried to get across that haven’t yet risen to the top. We’re going to have a much different vision of how some tunnels would be operated and how many acres of agriculture we can provide water to reliably so we need to think about how do we build flexibility in the system.”

Mr. Hall acknowledged that one of his core interests is providing more environmental benefits, and that he admires the setup and the work of the Council since the Council was established with the coequal goals in mind. “We have come a long way in our thinking, but I think we still can go even further,” he said. “As we conceptualize projects and even in the discussion of the projects, even though we talk about the coequal goals, generally the projects are looked at as water supply projects that allow us to continue to do something fairly close to status quo or what we’ve been doing in the past without having environmental impact and perhaps with some environmental benefits added on. Now that’s not always true; there are some really inventive projects that have emerged and have been designed with that in mind, but I’d like to encourage us to think more about, for every project that is conceived to meet some water supply goal, think of that project as an environmental project that actually provides benefits to fish and wildlife and if we get some water supply benefits along the way, that’s very good.”

Mr. Hall advised that as projects come forward, look at them with an eye towards the maximum benefit to the environment that the project could provide. “Things like having dedicated storage for environmental purposes – imagine what we could do in a drought year if there was a storage that was allocated specifically for the environment to provide for refuge water supply or flooding rice fields that are needed for the birds,” he said. “Having dedicated groundwater storage and surface water storage for the environment, and being able to manage that storage and the use of that water flexibly for the most urgent environmental needs as the conditions see fit, rather than having a commitment to a certain water supply along the way … certainly it requires some good governance to think about what are the highest needs for that.”

In summary, Mr. Hall recommended the Council examine projects brought before them to see if they are integrating groundwater and surface water deliberately up front. “If a new surface reservoir is built, for instance, but if it isn’t built, designed and governed in a way that works deliberately in combination with groundwater storage, then it is almost certainly not providing as much benefit as it could,” he said. “In addition, every project should be looked at as a multi-benefit project, balancing between the environmental benefits that the project provides and water supply benefits that the project provides.”

Mr. Hall added that paying for environmental benefits can be a challenge. “We have some mechanisms in place now with the water bond that can help in that matter, but going forward, we’re going to need to have more routine and reliable ways of paying for those environmental benefits,” he said.

So I will stop my comments there … “

Panel 1 Discussion highlights

Mary PiephoCouncil member Mary Piepho, referring to one of the questions listed in the staff report, asks what types of outcomes should we avoid versus what are we trying to achieve?

Dr. Mount said it gets back to not trying to overprescribe what is going to happen. “You should avoid overprescribing outcomes, because we don’t know what they are going to be and we have to have some flexibility and some structure to adapt to that,” he said. “That’s something that BDCP ran afoul of was trying to develop a 50-year permit with narrowly defined goals and objectives and performance measures, and the lift was certainly too hard.”

One of the things that I worry about most over the long term is developing water supply infrastructure that we lose flexibility in the long-run,” Dr. Mount continued. “One of the things we need to be aware of in the valley is as the SGMA comes on in 2020 and we actually start to implement those plans, we’re going to see a level of hardening of demand for water in the system, which is going to be a little frightening to deal with. As you start looking at Water Fix and Eco Restore, the pressure that the SGMA is going to put on that I think is going to be immense, and you should be looking forward in that regard. That’s a backwards way of saying don’t think today that it’s going to be the same tomorrow as it is today; the pressures that are going to come from that Act are going to be quite considerable on the Delta.”

Gary Bobker said that while the Bay Delta Conservation Plan was guilty of overpromising as a lot of projects are, it’s his belief that the more clear you are about defining outcomes is how you know whether overpromising is occurring or not. “It’s easy to get away with overpromising when you are vague about what it is your promising, but when you get specific about what kind of benefits are going to be created by this and how are we going to allocate assets to meet those benefits, I actually think that it helps you define how realistic and how achievable something is, so I would agree with the overpromising but I wouldn’t take the moral there.”

Mr. Bobker warned of stranded assets. “You want flexibility, but what you want to make sure is your investments are in things that are really resilient and allow you to respond to the broadest range of changing conditions, and the more they are designed for a specific projected future that doesn’t encompass a range of other predicted futures are more likely to have wasted your investment,” he said.

Mr. Bobker also advised the Council not to wait to allow somebody else to define success in meeting the coequal goals. “I think to a certain extent the Council has always figured there will be certain things that occur through BDCP and the State Water Board to define success of the ecosystem and probably some other processes that define success for other parameters, and I’m not sure it’s the wisest thing to think that those folks are going to define what the outcomes are that you want from the Delta Plan.”

Mr. Hall said that two important things are hardening of demand in the Delta watershed and that the reduction in flexibility of agriculture to adapt to changing water supplies is going to continue to be problematic. “One of the things that is also happening even over the past fairly recent years is that we’re actually expanding water use in agriculture in the Central Valley and even though we’re already well established as being well over allocated, new agricultural lands are being brought under cultivation that’s putting another demand and in many cases, it’s permanent crops, it’s a hard demand, so paying attention to whether or not projects either directly or indirectly are facilitating hardening and certainly not an expansion of demand is an important aspect.”

Susan TatayonCouncil member Susan Tatayon asks, “What would your vision be for a storage and conveyance system that takes us 50, 100 years from now that is flexible, adaptable, incorporates the environment and considers benefits, and allows maybe even spot water transfers, given limited resources, such that those transfers achieve the benefits we desire. Paint me a picture, what would that look like?

Mr. Hall said one important thing is that we should define to the best of our knowledge what the environmental needs are, and have a clear description of the broad range of environmental water needs that we have to the best that we know about them, such as flows for fish and water supply needs for migratory birds, and have that basic environmental baseline well established and understood. “Then have some sort of oversight body that makes decisions, day to day, based on current information about where to send the water for the environment,” he said. “You would have environmental water allocations that have some flexibility to use according to the current conditions in the water year, and you make decisions about allocating that water for the environment; you allow for mechanisms, you have more a robust system for trading, you have a funding system that’s able to provide water for the environment through that trading system when it’s needed. Having a more robust and flexible and nimble water trading system is essential; that said, those trades and the way it is executed need to be thought through in a very rigorous way to make sure that you’re not sending water downstream and causing more damage, either short term or long term, where the water is being traded from.”

Mr. Hall pointed out that he didn’t include a specific storage or conveyance system in his response. “In my view, it’s more important to think about how you use the water that you do have rather than figuring out how to maximize the amount of water that you use, so if you can envision a storage project that provides some additional water and it is worth the investment, then you might have a little more water to manage among the different demands. So for instance if we built the tunnels and that provided some additional water and some flexibility to move that water, then you can operate with that flexibility. If you don’t have those tunnels, then you have to operate within that flexibility, and so your allocation between the needs should be based on what your current system and then there should be a robust dialog about whether the additional benefit that some new project provides is worth the investment.

Dr. Mount said that they’ve written extensively about this at the PPIC and he agrees that it’s all about flexibility and being able to operate it as a system. He then offered up a ‘wild vision’: “Imagine that the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project are merged into a single public utility that is managed as a public utility, much like a regulated public utility, maybe answers to the Delta Stewardship Council, maybe the oversight occurs there, but it functions as a system, first and foremost. The big stumbling block in all of this is the strategic decision we have been unable to walk forward into or back into and that is how to deal with conveyance in the Delta. I cannot paint this in starker terms. We have to make a decision – a strategic decision in here to either go forward with some kind of a conveyance system which produces reasonable reliability, or start to learn to live with less water from the Delta and those adaptations that have to take place. This is a strategic decision ultimately, and we keep trying to back into it, walk into it, we try to go sideways into it, we’ll probably have a referendum on it, but that ultimately decides your vision for what that system might look like in the future. … imagine this novel concept: that we actually understood who is using how much and where in the system. So in my vision when I look forward to the future is a truly much more integrated rather than distributed system that we have now, and indeed markets play a extremely important role in adapting to future shortages.

We have to establish a water right for the environment, a public trust water right that just is the base and stop frittering around the margins,” said Gary Bobker. “Until we do that, until we set a significantly sufficient adequate and protective baseline for the environment, we’re not going to be effective in either achieving ecosystem or water supply goals. If we set a sufficient baseline and we open up the rest, then we don’t have to go through command and control structures about telling people what to grow. It’s like: here is what you have, here are the mechanisms that you have to compete for it

Mr. Bobker then offered a slightly different idea of an integrated system. “It seems to me that we have a lot of storage reservoirs in the system that try to capture or replicate or replace the natural storage in snowpack, but what we don’t have is a lot of regulating reservoirs of the kind that existed before the Central Valley was developed, where once either rain fell or snowmelt start to drain out, water moved through the valley and it moved in very complex ways – it didn’t just rush out to the ocean, it overflowed riverbanks, it went into huge floodbasins, percolated into the groundwater, supported immense riparian belts along the rivers and wetlands, and that created not only a very rich ecosystem but it created this enduring water supply in the valley. It seems to me that we have the ability to try and recreate some of that, especially as our snowpack diminishes, that a connected system where we expand our floodways, we slow water down as it moves through the Central Valley, and we allow it to spread into areas that are great for the environment. … That’s the kind of system we should have where water that’s dedicated to the environment moves through the system and creates multiple benefits, it creates habitat benefits, it creates water quality benefits and wetlands, it recharges groundwater, some of it is available to be used as local supply in transient storage situations – there are all kinds of ways in which we could create a benefit from that new sort of integrated system, but requires a bit more imagination that I think we’ve dedicated to it so far.”

Panel 3: Water supplier perspectives

The third and final panel was comprised of Tim Quinn, Executive Director of ACWA, who advised the Council on general principles, and Todd Manley, Director of Government Relations for NCWA, who discussed how his organization was working towards sustainable management to meet all the water uses in the Sacramento Valley.

TIM QUINN, Executive Director of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA)

Tim Quinn, Executive Director said he had five observations to share with the Council. “First, ACWA has a lot in common with the perspectives of this Council because like the Council, we by our very nature take a statewide view of all of these things,” he said. “I have a very broad, diverse membership; they want all the votes to rise with the tide, nobody gets to drill a hole in the other guys boat to get ahead, so comprehensive solutions are really important to my board of directors, and that’s a hallmark of what ACWA stands for.”

Tim QuinnThe second observation is that you can’t investigate any of the investments we need to make in the future in isolation from the others, he said. “I think Gary Bobker very accurately observed that there’s been overpromising about Delta solutions,” he said. “If you talk about any of these tools by themselves, you are going to be overpromising, because it’s only the integration – the collection of them together – that will provide tangible results for coequal goals and statewide solutions, so as difficult as that is and as scary as it can be for a project proponent, you have to force these things to be thought about together.”

Observation three is that it’s a pretty long list that needs to be considered as a package that is operating together. “Conveyance can’t be considered alone; it has to be considered in conjunction with storage, that’s when it’s most often coupled with conveyance and storage,” he said. “But it goes way beyond; you’ve got to couple infrastructure investments with demand reduction investments, something we’ve been doing a very good job of. Most of you know I spent most of my career as a manager in Southern California and the formula they put together was reduce demands, invest in storage, what you don’t need to consume you can store, so those two investments leverage each other. I think the rest of California needs to be looking at that lesson very seriously and it does play back as to how you operate and think about investing in Delta conveyance.”

Water markets are another aspect of California water policy that has to be thought of in the context of conveyance solutions, as well as investing in the upper watersheds. “We need to manage the system from the groundwater basins at sea level to the watersheds above the rim dams with new conveyance, with new storage; it all has to come together in a integrated fashion,” he said.

I will make one observation about the conveyance element,” Mr. Quinn said. “I think of it in my own mind as a leveraging element; you can’t expect much of it alone. You have to analyze it in context with other things, but it tends to enable almost all of the other elements of your package. It makes storage work better, it makes habitat investments work better, it makes the market work better, and I don’t see how you possibly get sustainable groundwater basins in 2040 and healthy economies on top of them if you haven’t solved this comprehensive problem including a Delta conveyance solution by 2040.

The fourth observation is that you need to help us figure out how we integrate all of these pieces into something that makes sense, Mr. Quinn said. “I think that integration is the Council’s job and that’s why ACWA supported the creation of this council in the 2009 legislation. We have been before this council a number of times pleading for you to help work through the process and help herd the cats towards integrated outcomes where you’re just not realizing we have to invest in a, b, and c, we have to integrate a with b with c, and they function much better if you integrate them than if you don’t.”

It sounds easy but it’s really hard, but the California Water Commission can do a lot in this regard,” Mr. Quinn said. “ACWA has made statements before them urging that as they allocate their $2.7 billion for storage projects, they ought to be figuring out what it means to integrate that storage with conveyance with groundwater basins, with sustainable outcomes, and they ought to increase the rewards to projects that see that bigger vision rather than projects that are developed, conceived, and operated in a silo in isolation of other things.”

My last observation – those of you who know me know me to be an optimist, so I want to end on an optimistic note,” he said. “Your job is hard, it’s really hard but it’s not impossible. This world that we’re managing is so different; I would date my entry into the water management business about 35 years ago, and the world that we’re operating today is so different. We have made so much progress that it’s kind of startling. … I can remember as a youngster at the Metropolitan Water District in 1985, somebody on the board would give the ‘complete the State Water Project’ speech … I think we’re all better off for not doing storage on the north coast rivers. I’d like to see us finish this conveyance thing, but that didn’t mean the world ended. We’ve been replacing that supply element with alternatives fiercely, per capita demands have come down almost 50% in my career, and they’ll keep going down because we will keep innovating, we will keep doing technological change, we will keep reducing the amount of that we need to use per capita, per house that gets developed, etc; but that won’t solve the problem, it too has to be integrated into a broader set. If we can do some of this integration around the things in Proposition 1, around the Delta proposals coming out of the Brown Administration, as long as we hold it together and get people like you to help us integrate it, and you force us cats to be herded in the right direction, I think the world will be a much better place when I retire than when I went into the doors of the Metropolitan Water District in December of 1985.”

Glad to answer any questions.”

TODD MANLEY, Director of Government Relations for NCWA

Todd Manley, Director of Government Relations for NCWA, gave a presentation that covered three topics: the salmon recovery plan, Pacific Flyway issues, and Sites Reservoir.  He began by noting that his organization represents water management and local government entities in the Sacramento Valley. “We’re upstream from the Delta, we’re not reliant upon the Delta,” he said.

Todd ManleyThe overarching principle for water management in the Sacramento Valley is to manage the resource in a sustainable manner, he said. “When I say that, I mean that we’re managing it for all beneficial uses: this includes the environment, urban uses, as well as agriculture,” he said. “We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul; we’ve got to be managing the resource so that those needs are all being met, and I think that’s really important because it really does create this foundation where you could be making some wise decisions.

This is heavily reliant on ever-increasing efficiency, and we’re really looking that as the goal and the standard – to forever be increasing the efficiency of the system, recognizing that we are in a recoverable loss system, so water that’s diverted off of the rivers that is not utilized on the ground eventually returns to the rivers and so there is a dependency on those return flows,” he said. “We want to make sure we recognize tradeoffs when we’re making more localized decisions, but when we’re looking at efficiency, we’re looking at it at the local level as well as the regional level and looking at those benefits that those provide.”

Salmon Recovery Plan

Salmon are a big driver for how water is managed in this state, particularly in the Sacramento Valley, said Mr. Manley. “We have instream flow criteria and we have temperature criteria that really is driving the operations for the reservoirs in the north state, and so salmon are an important driver for that and it needs to be recognized.”

salmon-runsThey have been in the process of developing and implementing a salmon recovery program for the region, building upon several decades of work improving salmon habitat, he said. “This has been an ongoing issue; it’s been something that’s been a struggle quite frankly just because of the nature of the fish and how they spend their life cycle, going out to the ocean for a good portion of that time and then returning upstream,” he said.

I’m happy to say we’re on the cusp of completing our salmon fish screen program,
he said. “Over two decades ago, a list of high priority diversions was developed by the state and federal agencies and we’re down to the last two … When we were looking at this a couple of years ago, we recognized that we were getting towards the end of this program and we were going to be achieving the goals we were established there, so we were looking towards the next step, and what we developed was the salmon recovery program.”

The Salmon Recovery Program recognizes there are flow criteria on all major rivers and streams in the Sacramento Valley and those really do dictate the operations of the reservoirs as well as how water is provided during the water year, he said. “This is in addition to that, so when we talk about looking at reoperations for flows, it would be in addition to those requirements that are already in place,” he said.

Mr. Manley noted that the plan was developed in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and American Rivers, as well as the input of Dave Vogel, a fisheries biologist, and so we developed this not in a vacuum but with a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and American Rivers, and it is also coordinated with NOAA fisheries recovery plan for salmon and steelhead, as well as supporting the goals that are included in the governor’s California Water Action Plan.

These next-generation projects fall into two different categories: The first is the re-managing of flows in addition those already required, and the second is improving habitat. “One of the unique things about the way that we’ve addressed it with this program is looking at the life cycle of salmon when they are upstream from the Delta and targeting projects for each one of those life stages,” he said, noting that there are projects aimed at benefiting migrating salmon, spawning habitat, rearing habitat, and out-migration. “We developed these projects, and they include floodplain restoration, side channel spawning and rearing areas, and the reintroduction of spawning gravel, particularly below Lake Shasta.”

One of the unique things about the program is that in addition to those partners helping to develop the program, there are partners for each of the projects in the program; the first tier projects are those that could be implemented within the next couple of years and provide meaningful benefits, Mr. Manley explained. “We have partnerships that are being arranged to champion these projects and so each project has a champion to move that project forward,” he said. “A good example is the Nigiri Project; this is the utilization of the flooded ricelands are being used to create surrogate floodplain for the rearing of juvenile salmon. John Brennan, a member of my board of directors, and Trout Unlimited have been partnering on this and it’s been a very successful program.”

Another unique thing is that members are now funding and constructing projects outside the boundaries of their district, giving the example of Glenn Colusa Irrigation District’s Painters Riffle project in Shasta County and Reclamation District 108’s engagement in a project to address a problem in Knight’s Landing, located south of their district.

So while obviously flows are very important, we’re looking at opportunities to do these other projects as well and to provide this more comprehensive look at solving the problem for salmon in the Sacramento Valley,” said Mr. Manley.

Pacific Flyway

Another important issue is the Pacific Flyway, Mr. Manley said. “Oftentimes when people think of environmental water, they consider aquatic species, but there’s also a need for terrestrial habitat as well, and interestingly enough, this habitat requires the diversion of water and actually irrigation practice to create, so it’s important,” he said.

pacific-flywayOne of the more vulnerable water uses in the Sacramento Valley is those that are providing Pacific Flyway habitat,” he said. “We’ve really realized that this year and last year, in part because of just the way in drought years we are operating the reservoirs, there just isn’t a water supply available at those times, and coupled with the fact that these water uses are reliant upon junior water rights, and so are subject to curtailment and to Term 91, there just isn’t the water availability. So when we’re talking about sustainability in meeting all uses, as well when we’re looking at how we’re operating the projects, and anything that we’d be doing to address needs in other parts of the state, we need to recognize that there is this water use.”

The unique thing about terrestrial habitat is that they need water year round, not just during the irrigation season, so when we’re looking at operations, that needs to be recognized as part of the scenario, he said.

Just to give a little context to this, in a normal year – not this year, we’ll be substantially less than this, but in a normal year, there’s about 350,000 acres of flooded riceland that’s providing habitat for Pacific Flyway; about 43,000 acres of managed wetlands in the Sacramento Valley, and 27,000 acres of state management areas and national wildlife refuges, so it’s a substantial part of the acreage in the valley,” he said.

Sites Reservoir

As we’re looking at achieving regional sustainability in the Sacramento Valley, as well as looking at addressing needs in the Delta and other parts of the state, we see great promise with what Sites Reservoir could do,” he said.

We need to recognize is that we’re in a new era when it comes to storage projects, and in particular, those that are going to be the targets for investment of Prop 1 dollars because this investment of Prop 1 is going to secure public benefits in these projects, and this is new,” he said. “It’s going to dictate from the onset just how these projects are going to be operated, and so I think this opportunity to secure these benefits is something that needs to be recognized. It provides a great opportunity to really be looking at investing in water supplies for the environment.”

Prop 1 is going to require that those projects that do receive the funding provide a measurable improvement to the Delta or its tributaries, so that’s going to be what the project is going to need to be operated to do, he said. They are also going to be funding public benefits which are defined as ecosystem improvements, the water quality, flood control, emergency response, and recreation. “So all of these are really going to determine how that project is going to be operating, and then it’s going to be a substantial amount in some cases, up to 50% of the project and then the subsequent yield of that project for these public benefits. Most importantly, 50% of this public investment will have to be providing ecosystem benefits, and so I think that’s really going to determine how these projects can be providing these benefits to the ecosystem.”

Sites Reservoir would be located about 70 miles north of Sacramento, west of the town of Maxwell and the most likely alternative would be about 1.8 MAF of storage, with an average yield of about 500,000 acre-feet, Mr. Manley said. “So when we’re talking about that investment in the waters that would be secured for those public benefits, it would be a portion of that water supply every year,” he said.

By DWR’s numbers, they determined that if Sites Reservoir was constructed, that the way that it could be operated in coordination with the other north of Delta storage projects – Shasta, Oroville, and Folsom, it would provide an additional 1 MAF of overall net storage or yield to the system, so that’s important as well, that these projects could be operated differently and could provide additional water supplies,” he said.

He noted that according to DWR, if Sites had been built, an additional 410,000 acre-feet could have been stored this year. “Interestingly enough, this is not water that would have been released out of Shasta; this is water that falls into the tributaries to the Sacramento River below Shasta, so this is water that currently cannot be captured, but if this project were in place, it could be,” he said. “In coordination with the other storage projects north of Delta, the Department has determined that this year, they would have collectively with Sites, been able to store an additional 900,000 acre-feet of water that would be available now for us to be directing to these different benefits. Shasta alone would have been able to store an additional 280,000 acre-feet of water, so fairly substantial quantities of water, even in a drought year.”

So with that …

Discussion highlights

Susan Tatayon 2Council member Susan Tatayon asks Tim Quinn about the thinking that went into the decision to build Diamond Valley reservoir. Was it emergency drought supply?

Tim Quinn noted that Diamond Valley has multiple functions. “It’s 800,000 acre-feet total storage capacity, the bottom half of it is reserved for emergencies, like an earthquake taking the system out, the top half is managed conjunctively with Met’s State Water Project supplies, primarily; they try to put SWP water in there, not Colorado River water in there because of Quagga mussel concerns. The reason that that happened was the state decided it was not going to be responsible for storage. That’s not a criticism, it just was a fact of life – my generation of water managers walked in to a situation where the previous generation was counting on all those reservoirs that Michael Jackson spoke of. Ironically the year that the state started delivering water into Southern California in 1972, the legislature passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, taking all of those reservoirs off the table, so you had a huge hole in the SWP.”

Storage was vitally important; we had planned on storing water above the Delta, moving it when it’s dry in accordance to contracts, all of which would have been bad for the environment,” continued Mr. Quinn. “There was a pretty dramatic change in storage strategies where you moved the storage south, you put a lot of it underground – for every acre-foot of surface storage facility MWD created, they created 4 or 5 acre-feet of groundwater storage capacity and trying to operate them together. … It was basically driven by an integrated resources supply strategies, it was reacting to environmental circumstances that had already happened, trying to adapt the solution. The storage that Todd is talking about is proactive storage, it’s storage that you’re building to ask yourself how can I operate this system for coequal goals in an anticipatory way, not reacting to what the other guy just did.”

I love Maurice’s definition of coequal goals. It means not maximizing either. We now have tribes who try to maximize and then fight with each other, and somehow we need an institution that’s really doing coequal goals, that will aim at solutions from the beginning that doesn’t maximize either,” concluded Mr. Quinn.

Chair Fiorini asks Dr. Goodwin if he has any thoughts.

I was very struck with Karla Nemeth’s comment just before lunch that you’re unique from the perspective that you’re tasked with looking out 100 years into the future,” said Dr. Goodwin. “That has challenges of its own, but you’re also tasked with looking across this range of timescales. So if we look at the 100 year perspective, what we’re really trying to do is to anticipate the changes rather than be reactive, where we’re reacting to the current crisis … we always seem to be in this reactive mode, but by being able to take a longer view, by the way you structure the science, the way you structure the governance for that is very different to the other two timescales which I think you have to deal with. The 100 year perspective is really trying to understand alternative futures, we don’t have a huge amount of control over what those might be, but how much control can, or how do we influence what those possible outcomes are likely to be.”

Dr. GoodwinDr. Goodwin continued: “But these other timescales that we heard about, often you’re looking 1 to 2 years, what’s the carryover storage of the next year, what are the planning decisions that are going to be made in this next year, and I think one of the things we heard that is somewhat lacking is that there’s big programs and agencies doing certain things on a one-year basis, but all of those cumulative actions sum up to something. There’s a cumulative response of the system as a whole, and that is also lacking, but that’s why you were established. And the third thing from this particular year is there’s a real time operations. You make your planning at the beginning of the year, but as we’ve seen this year, there’s some really big decisions that have to be made on a very short term, and I think one of the things that we’re really lacking is some of the technologies that are already out there, and getting that information quickly and in the hands of decision makers and getting that information out to the public so that they can fully understand the transparency of the decision making. So I wanted to emphasize that in some ways a conflict between how you structure yourselves to cover this enormous range of time span is going to be a challenge, and as you go through thinking how you’re going to adapt to the new responsibilities, how can those three ranges be explored and included …

Senior Engineer Anthony Navasero then wrapped up the agenda item: “What we’ve heard today is as diverse as the problem statement is complex. Some comments on the problem statement are the complexities cannot lead to paralysis; there’s an urgency; during wet years, what are the big gulp conditions to allow for ecosystem recovery during those big gulps; there might be an establishment of environmental water rights as well as investment in upper watersheds. I think there’s some general pillars that we’ve heard today about guiding principles, taking that long term view, the flexibility to handle uncertainties, the urgency for action, seeking authority when needed, learn as we go along, and of course, integration of conveyance, storage, and operations.”

Anthony NavaseroMr. Navasero then laid out the next steps: “We are going to collect any additional specific items the council would like to include for a revised problem statement and prepare a revised statement based on today’s discussions, and to seek guidance from the council on the development of guiding principles. Staff will prepare draft guiding principles to present at the August council meeting, and then prepare and seek adoption of final guiding principles during the September council meeting and the Council’s direction on what type of amendment vehicle should staff be focused on, recommendations and regulations to the current 2013 Delta Plan or for long range planning for the update of the 2018 Delta Plan.”

For more information …

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