Delta Stewardship Council receives progress report on review of Cal Water Fix documents

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Council staff is looking at how the Council’s previous comments and concerns were addressed in the recirculated documents

In July, the Partially Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (REIR)/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California Water Fix was released for public review period which will end on October 30th. As a responsible agency, a role defined for the Delta Stewardship Council by the Delta Reform Act, the Council is provided a formal opportunity to comment on the Plan’s impacts, alternatives, and mitigation measures. Council staff has been reviewing the documents, and at the August meeting, Supervising Engineer Kevan Samsam briefed councilmembers on their progress.

Kevan Samsam began by noting that it’s about halfway through the comment period and still a little early to share any preliminary comments, but today he will be discussing how they are engaged in scrutinizing the document and how the new California Water Fix will work with some of the other regulatory processes, which might provide additional opportunities for the Council to weigh in.

Kevan SamsamHe said that during his presentation, he will be using both the terms ‘Bay Delta Conservation Plan’ and ‘California Water Fix’. “I’m not doing that interchangeably,” he said.  “BDCP is the title of the EIR, and BDCP is the legacy project that included the NCCP and the HCP. The Water Fix is now an alternative under that EIR, so if I refer to BDCP and its EIR, I am using the right terminology. Water Fix is the new tunnel project.”

Mr. Samsam noted that the Council has been actively writing comment letters on the BDCP and its draft EIR starting in 2010 and most recently in the summer of 2014. “While there is a legal requirement for DWR to respond to all EIR comments they receive during these comment periods, they have not done so as part of this recirculated draft,” he said. “Rather DWR will respond to all the previous comments when the produce their final EIR.”

Mr. Samsam said there have been significant changes to the tunnel project that reflect that DWR is responding to some of the major concerns that people have had, and have changed accordingly. “With this new EIR, staff with the assistance of ARCADIS has been looking into how Water Fix has addressed our previous comments,” he said. “For example, the Council previously commented on the adequacy and feasibility of the proposed Delta as a place mitigation measures for impacts to the Delta’s agriculture, recreation, community character and aesthetics. Much of the impacts associated with the BDCP were as a result of the habitat restoration portion – the BDCP proposed some 130,000 acres of habitat restoration which is a significant portion of the Delta. Water Fix only proposes 15,000 acres of habitat mitigation, so from that perspective, the footprint of the impacts are substantially reduced, while there are still a lot of impacts due to the footprint and the operation of the facilities. We are still looking into determining what impacts remain and if the mitigation measures proposed are adequate for those impacts.”

The Council had previously commented on the need to analyze impacts downstream of the Delta in the San Francisco Bay. “Water Fix does now include a water quality assessment of the San Francisco Bay, and we’re trying to look and see if that addresses everything that needs to be addressed,” he said. “There was concern about analyzing sediment load in the San Francisco Bay, so we’re looking into that.”

Water quality impacts were also of great concern to the Council in its previous comment letters, so that is a focus of what we’re looking into,” he said.

The Council had also expressed concerns about the BDCP’s adaptive management program. “With Water Fix and this new document, DWR does acknowledge that they still have work to do on their new adaptive management plan,” he said. “The size and the details of that program will be partially worked out with the Department of Fish and Wildlife as part of their incidental take permit, but they are also asking to engage with our science program and help develop something more long term that would also include the sister program Eco Restore.”

Mr. Samsam pointed out that the Council has its own adaptive management requirement on Water Fix as part of the covered action process. “Our Delta Plan regulation 5002 requires that they actually develop an adaptive management plan before they can start work on this project,” he said.

Staff is currently working on reviewing the document and will have an internal draft around the middle of September; the ISB is working in parallel and will have a final EIR comment letter by September 30, providing staff time to work through the Council’s comment letters and return in October to present the comments in time for submittal by October 30, he said.

In addition to reviewing the EIR, staff is also looking at the other regulatory processes that are happening with Water Fix and how these other agencies evaluate Water Fix,” he said. “We expect that Water Fix is going to file a certification of consistency with the Council; there is an appendix in the document that demonstrates that they are thinking about that and it’s an attempt to meet our consistency requirements.”

In the past few months, staff has met with the State Board and with DFW, and what we learned was that Reclamation is consulting with the federal fish agencies on Water Fix,” he said. “They have produced a biological assessment detailing the project, its operations, and what impacts they think the project will have and they have proposed some mitigation. And the fish agencies will be looking at this project from the standpoint of that is does not jeopardize the continued existence of listed fish.”

DWR and Reclamation are also going to apply for an incidental take permit with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife under Section 2081 of the California Endangered Species Act,” he said. “Fish and Wildlife requires Water Fix to minimize and fully mitigate any impacts of the construction and operation of the project; what’s unique is that the mitigation requirements that Fish and Wildlife put on them must be successfully implemented.”

Mr. Samsam noted that DWR and Reclamation have already petitioned the State Board for a change in the point of diversion for Water Fix. “State Board requires that the new point of diversion and its operations do not unreasonably impact other water users or the environment,” he said. “The filing of the petition with the State Board now limits our ability to talk to the State Board about their hearing process. There are some opportunities for the Council to engage with the Board if it wants to on this hearing process. We can become an active participant in the hearing, or we can be behind the scenes and write letters of support.”

Then DWR will probably file a certification of consistency with the Council, demonstrating with detailed findings that the consistency of Water Fix with our Delta Plan and its regulations,” he said.

Unfortunately, the Section 7 consultation and the Fish and Wildlife Section 2081 incidental take permit, those are not public processes, so we won’t be able to weigh in or provide any input on those processes,” he said.

Finally, DWR has indicated that they are eager to continue to consult with us,” he said. “They want to enter into early consultation on our consistency process, but they also acknowledged that they do need some assistance in developing a more robust adaptive management plan and they want to work with our science program to do so.”

So that concludes my briefing.”

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