Discussion continues at the Delta Stewardship Council on Delta conveyance, storage, and water operations principles

Panel DSC August 2 sliderboxLester Snow, Buzz Thompson, Tom Zuckerman, and Robert Shibatani give their thoughts on the draft principles

At the August meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, discussion continued on a possible amendment to the Delta Plan addressing conveyance, storage, and water project operations.

Executive Officer Jessica Pearson began the agenda item by reminding the Council members that the reason they are discussing conveyance, storage and water project operations at this time is because the Delta Reform Act in Section 85304 required the Delta Plan to promote options for new and improved infrastructure in the Delta, and the operation of both to achieve the coequal goals; it also required non-discretionary incorporation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan into the Delta Plan if certain criteria were met.

Accordingly when we developed the Delta Plan, the Council chose at the time to recommend completion of the conservation plan, consistent with law, but we also promised that we would revisit the issue if BDCP were not successful by a date certain, which was January 1st, 2016,” she said. “In light of the April announcement and the decoupling of the BDCP into Water Fix and Eco Restore, we’ve begun a discussion about how to appropriately amend the Delta Plan in light of these changes to be compliant with what the law originally intended as a critical component of the Delta Plan.”

Council staff has prepared a draft set of principles and brought in a panel of experts to react to the principles and advise you further, Ms. Pearson said. She then turned it over to Deputy Executive Officer Dan Ray to review the draft principles.

Dan RayDan Ray began by saying that the reason we are talking about principles as the next step stems partly from the recognition that if we can agree on some broad outlines early, that can maybe help us shape the way we think about things in the future. “Principles can help us as we consult with the Department of Water Resources as the project moves towards final decisions and it can help us as we consider other actions that are underway,” he said. “The Reform Act also includes a requirement for the DWR to undertake a study of the reoperations of the state and federal projects in coordination with the Corps and the Bureau and to submit that to the Council for consideration as a potential amendment to the Delta Plan. That work is proceeding, so it’s an appropriate time for us to think about how these big pieces fit together and what does the Council to say in the Delta Plan about these activities in response to the requirements of the law.”

Mr. Ray said that the problem statement presented last month has been revised, based on councilmember comments as well as the recommendations from the panel members. “It’s longer than the typical problem statement used in the current sections of the Delta Plan,” acknowledged Mr. Ray, “but I think that reflects how central these decisions are to the resolution of our Delta problems.”

He then reviewed the draft principles, noting that they were derived from the advice heard from panelists as well as the narrative that’s already in the Delta Plan.  He noted that the principles begin with a recognition the action on these issues is urgent. “The Reform Act recognizes and the drought demonstrates that the Delta watershed and our water supply are in a crisis, the situation isn’t sustainable, and after decades of study, decisions need to be made promptly,” he said.

There are three conveyance principles suggested:

  1. New Delta conveyance infrastructure and improvements should increase operational flexibility to provide more reliable water supplies.If we think back to the discussions we had during our review of the BDCP EIR, one of the things that the science panels pointed out to us is that the current system is quite inflexible with only two principle points of diversion in the south Delta and very rigid operating rules. There is very little flexibility in how the system is operated. So we’re suggesting that an important principle is any solution to conveyance has to improve operational flexibility.”
  2. New Delta conveyance infrastructure and improvements should minimize reverse flows and the entrainment of fish.We know one of the key ecological problems in the Delta is the way in which the current diversion system alters flows in the Delta and entrains fish and that’s both damaging to the environment and because of then the way the endangered species rules kick in, it interferes with the reliability of water supplies, so we need a solution that reduces entrainment.”
  3. New Delta conveyance infrastructure and improvements should increase the resiliency of the state’s water supply system against future threats from climate change and levee failures due to sea level rise, earthquakes, and flood events.We need a conveyance solution that improves resiliency as we know we’ve got climate change affecting us now … My recollection is that the current BDCP EIR suggests that we could lose up to a quarter of the south Delta water supplies by 2050 because of the effects of rising seas, so we need to be anticipating those impacts as well as addressing the current threats to the Delta levee system – Sea level rise is one of them, but also earthquakes and floods.”

There are four proposed water storage system principles:

  1. New or expanded water storage projects are necessary above and below the Delta to enhance the ability to divert and store water during wet periods and improve system flexibility to meet the coequal goals.We need more storage, both new or expanded storage, both above and below the Delta, and part of that that needs to be doing is helping us store water during the wet periods so that we’ve got the flexibility to better manage it to meet the coequal goals.”
  2. New or expanded water storage projects above the Delta should provide multiple benefits, including flows for enhancing the Delta ecosystem by better managing water quality, flows, or water temperature – especially during the dry years – or by increasing the reliability of water supplies for wildlife refuges.We realize that in terms of storage, people think about other things, too – they are interested in hydropower, flood damage reduction, and they are interested in recreation, but in terms of the Delta benefits, we think the new principle emphasizes improving flows that enhance the Delta ecosystem partly by better managing water quality, flows, temperature, especially during dry years. The new principle recognizes that our Delta ecosystem depends not just what happens inside the Delta, but because the fish and wildlife that are still part of the system migrate above the Delta above, also by increasing the reliability of water supplies, maybe temperature upstream but also water for refuges is an important issue.”
  3. New or expanded water storage projects below the Delta should provide multiple benefits, including greater water supply resiliency during dry periods.Areas we think as being above the Delta are south of the Delta, because we have projects under consideration like Temperance Flat that would release flows downstream to the Delta, but below the Delta, the key criteria for improving water supply reliability would be improving resiliency for dry years.”
  4. New or expanded storage projects should support a comprehensive approach to managing the water cycle, including conjunctive management of groundwater, surface storage, floodplains, and wetlands for enhancing groundwater recharge and improvements in regional water self-sufficiency.  “We emphasize that new or expanded storage should be managed in a comprehensive way that allows conjunctive management, for example with groundwater.”

Finally, there are seven suggested principles for operations:

  1. Storage and conveyance should be operated to provide more natural, functional flows and through the Delta by diverting water in wet periods and reducing diversions in dry periods, consistent with the needs of the Delta ecosystem and other water users.The first is derived from the Delta Plan that storage and conveyance should be operated to provide more natural, functional flows, this is the big gulp during the wet periods, the little sip during the dry periods that the Delta Plan already describes in some detail.”
  2. Surface and groundwater storage, whenever feasible, should be operated conjunctively to reduce long-term groundwater basin overdraft and improve groundwater basin recharge.
  3. Operation of storage and Delta conveyance facilities should be informed by best available science, adequately monitored and evaluated, and adaptively managed to assure progress towards well-defined performance measures.We talked about the importance of using the best available science and adaptive management as those are requirements of the Reform Act and the Delta Plan, and also the important of well-defined performance measures.
  4. Better integration of monitoring and modeling into decision making will require a long-term commitment to funding, making information and data collected available more quickly to inform and help explain operational decisions on deliveries and environmental resources.This is a point that’s repeatedly emphasized by the Independent Science Board to make sure that information is available both to inform operations and to explain those operating decisions to others.”
  5. Water storage operational guidelines should ensure adequate carryover of stored water at the end of each water year in case the following years are dry.I think that’s a lesson that’s been emphasized with our experience with the drought this year.”
  6. System operations should include more accurate, timely, and transparent water accounting and budgeting.I think that’s an outcome of the third and fourth principles above.”
  7. To ensure the durability of storage and conveyance projects’ benefits, ecosystem benefits should be assured through contracts, regulatory action, or other enforceable agreements comparable to those provided to water users.This is a response to the advice we heard to take the long view, and it emphasizes the durability of project benefits, making sure that benefits to the ecosystem are assured equally with those for water supplies through contracts or regulatory actions or other enforceable agreements.”

The panel was then brought forward to give their thoughts on the proposed principles. On the panel today, is Lester Snow, Executive Director of the California Water Foundation; Buzz Thompson, Professor of Natural Resources Law and Director and senior fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; Tom Zuckerman, water law expert and Delta resident; and Robert Shibatani, a managing hydrologist and CEO for Shibatani Group International.

LESTER SNOW, California Water Foundation

There is a new water resource reality that is changing faster than our policy, infrastructure, and institutions are capable of adapting, Lester Snow began. “That change is moving very quickly and it reveals one of the fundamental problems with water management in California and that is the fragmentation of agencies in both the sheer number that have some role in water management and in the silos we construct at the local, state, and federal level,” he said. “It’s a real impediment to achieving integration and in many cases, achieving adaptive management.”

Lester SnowFragmentation of jurisdiction, goals and authorities has always been part of the Delta problem in terms of devising strategies and moving forward, Mr. Snow pointed out. “Part of the discussion in 2009 and the creation of the Delta Stewardship Council was to have some organization that rises above the weeds and isn’t down in the operational details but looking at how do all of these pieces fit together,” he said. “What a daunting task, because it’s actually easier to get down in the weeds and argue about a flow in a particular month or the precise numbers of habitat, but what’s needed is looking at the system much more broadly and attempting to optimize the way that the pieces fit together to achieve balance and resilience.”

Now with the change in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan no longer being a Natural Communities Conservation Plan, it casts the Council into a different position, but it creates an opportunity, he said. “That opportunity is to look broadly at how conveyance and storage, integrated with each other, but more broadly with habitat in the context of climate adaptation and other issues, how those can achieve the coequal goals and bring resilience to the Delta?

Mr. Snow said the issue for him is how to respond to changing conditions. “Can the system adapt as people are building the pieces into it, and how do you constantly push to multiple benefits, so there’s a net improvement through the integration, in and of itself, so that we’re achieving what were set out as the basic goals,” he said.

He then turned to the principles themselves, saying there were three of the operational principles he wanted to draw attention to. “The first is number four, the monitoring and modeling and implicit in that is the data collection,” he said. “I think California has fallen way behind on our level of water data collection and analysis and development of information. We still have water rights in paper files. We have a system that is not conducive in my opinion to effective adaptive management and real time management. Also having lived through a number of budget cuts, often the first thing that goes are monitoring programs and data collection programs, and we suffer the consequences of that to this very day.”

On the fifth principle I want to accentuate groundwater as a primary mechanism for carrying over water for drought years,” he said. “Our most effective drought resilience strategy is adequate groundwater storage and recharge, and it has to be a critical part of any program. In fact, I’ve long felt that any surface storage that’s built in the state has to be connected to groundwater and if it isn’t, it’s not very advantageous.”

On the sixth principle, I’ll just reiterate the need for much better data systems,” he said. “We need to have access, we need to have transparent data, and we need to have better data in order to move forward and operate the system more effectively and in an adaptive management fashion.”

Mr. Snow concluded by saying that he liked the principles. “I think you’re on the right path with this in laying out how the system needs to operate instead of getting into the details,” he said.

BUZZ THOMPSON, Professor of Natural Resources Law and Director and senior fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Buzz Thompson began by pointing out that the Delta Stewardship Council plays an exceptionally important role in developing the system which will get us through the next nearly 100 years, and in particular, taking a broad overview of the overall system. “So I think these principles are incredibly important because you serve yet another role in the review and the check of what we will be doing over the next several decades, so these principles are not only important in the abstract, but again the Council’s playing a critical role in this particular area.”

Buzz ThompsonMr. Thompson said he thought the staff did an exceptional job in laying out the principles. “I think they hit all of the major themes that you have heard from experts before and that you yourselves have raised, and so as a general matter, I think these are excellent principles.

He then focused one of the themes the principles pursue, that of flexibility, which is an element of resilience. “Flexibility is critical in the operation of the system today,” he said “One of the reasons it is so difficult to try to jointly pursue both the reliability of the water supply system and enhancing the Delta ecosystem is because of the lack of flexibility that exists in our system today. Flexibility is also going to be even more essential in the future because we’re going to be having to manage our system in a highly volatile environment, whereas as a result of climate change, changes in demand, and other shifts in the health of the Delta ecosystem, we’re going to have to be constantly reworking how we’re actually managing the ecosystem. So it’s not surprising to me that flexibility is one of the terms that you find most frequently set out in these particular principles.”

However, Mr. Thompson said the term ‘flexibility’ is very vague and broad, so he would discuss what flexibility actually requires, and what is needed to ensure a flexible system. First, a definition: “There was a report that came out about a year ago that I think has about the best definition of flexibility that I’ve seen, and that is ‘the ability of a system to cope with or adapt to uncertain and changing conditions in a timely and cost-effective manner,’” he said. “I think there are several important elements of that particular definition. The first is that the people who are managing the system need information on a timely basis to determine how the system needs to be operated to cope with and adapt with changing circumstances. Second of all, that system has to have the physical ability to cope with and adapt to uncertain and changing conditions. And then third, it needs to be able to do that on a timely and cost-effective basis.”

Experts have identified a number of important characteristics of flexible systems, he said:

  1. Slack in the system: “For water systems, that frequently means the amount of excess capacity that you have and the ability to change for example the amount of water being conveyed at a particular point in time.”
  2. Redundancy: “You aren’t simply relying on one part of your system to meet your goals, but hopefully you have multiple ways of meeting a particular goal.”
  3. Connectivity: “Not only that you have hopefully multiple ways of meeting your goal, but furthermore they are connected in a way which permits you to shift back and forth as necessary.”
  4. Integration: “Not only are the various parts of your system connected, but furthermore they are integrated and coordinated in a way that permits you to maximize the flexibility that you have.”
  5. Adjustability: “Perhaps the most obvious is adjustability – that you can actually adjust the way in which you are using your system at any particular point in time.”

Mr. Thompson emphasized that flexibility is not an unfettered good. “It is not true that what you want to do is simply to maximize the amount of flexibility that you have, both because flexibility can be costly and because flexibility can sometimes conflict with other goals,” he said. “As a stakeholder, to the degree that you are seeking in a particular system is durability or security, flexibility can conflict with that, because although you might want flexibility, at the same time you want guarantees, so you have to carefully balance between those two things.”

Council side viewHe then turned to discuss specifically the principles, and in doing so, he said he would be doing three things: “First of all, I urge the staff to add or broaden the principles to further promote flexibility,” he said. “Second of all, recognize more fully the benefits of flexibility not only to a reliable water supply, but also to the protection and restoration of the Delta ecosystem. And then the third thing is to think more fully about how you balance the needs of flexibility on the one hand and assurances on the other.”

He then gave two thoughts in connection with the Delta conveyance principles. “First is on item number one that provides that the new Delta conveyance infrastructure should increase operation flexibility to provide more reliable water supplies,” he said. “The flexibility of the conveyance system is important and can help not only in providing more reliable water supplies, but also in enhancing the Delta ecosystem, so I think it’s important that that first principle recognizes again that the flexibility can promote the coequal goals.”

The second point about the conveyance principles is that they address the ways in which the conveyance facility itself can help, but they should also address the potential impacts of the construction of the conveyance facilities on the Delta ecosystem. “I think it’s going to be essential that during the actual construction of those facilities, they make sure that they do not harm the Delta ecosystem, and that includes not only fish, but also other species like sandhill cranes that rely upon the ecosystem.”

Mr. Thompson had two specific thoughts with respect to the water storage system principles. “The first is that the first principle talks broadly about new or expanded water storage projects,” he said. “It might be worthwhile for the principles to talk also about what those new or expanded water storage projects might include – to emphasize that includes not only surface storage, but also groundwater storage, and to emphasize that it could not only be traditional large storage facilities but also smaller more distributed storage facilities, because all of that will help increase again the overall flexibility of the system.”

He added that while the state looks towards new and expanded storage projects, we also need to be thinking about protecting our existing storage capacity, and in particular, the vast amount of storage capacity that is provided by the state’s groundwater aquifers.

Mr. Thompson said his other thought with respect to the water storage system principles is that the second and third principle differentiate between above Delta and below Delta facilities. “I’m not sure it needs to differentiate as much as it does now,” he said. “For example, the third principle talks about below the Delta facilities providing multiple benefits including greater water supply resiliency, but those below Delta facilities can also again help the enhancement of the Delta ecosystems, so it’s not as if the facilities above the Delta serve both goals and those below the Delta only the single goal; both of them should be recognized as enhancing both of the two goals.”

He then shared some thoughts on the Delta water system operational principles. “The first is that there might be greater emphasis on the value of integrating the various operations and facilities,” he said. “There’s a reference to the importance of integrating between surface water storage and groundwater storage in section 2, but it’s quite narrow. In addition to that, the importance of integrating between above Delta facilities and below Delta facilities. I think there can be more emphasis on integrations.”

He noted that the first principle talks about the importance of operating storage conveyance for some very specific ecosystem goals. “In fact, storage and conveyance can be operated to promote a broader set of ecosystem goals and that should probably be emphasized,” he said.

With respect to the fourth principle, he agreed with Mr. Snow that there’s a need for more real time data. “It’s going to be valuable to get the data we have out as quickly as possible, but it’s also important that that data be as fresh and as on-time as possible,” he said. “We also should probably be giving more thought to how that information can be conveyed in a way which is valuable to decision makers – another thing that the paragraph could emphasize.”

Mr. Thompson noted that the operation principles don’t mention anything about flexibility. “In the same way as we want flexibility in the rest of the system, we will want flexibility in those operation principles,” he said.

Damrell, JohnstonFinally, with respect to the seventh principle and the durability of the ecosystem benefits, he called the principle ‘crucially important.’ “I’m not sure you’re ever going to get exactly what is set out here, which is assurances for ecosystem benefits which are comparable to those provided to water users, because those provided to water users are both legislatively protected as well as constitutionally protected,” he said. “To the degree you’re limiting yourselves to contracts, regulatory actions, or other enforceable agreements, you can go a long ways, but you’re never going to have assurances that are quite the same.”

It gets back to the balance between flexibility and assurances,” he said. “To the degree you have flexibility, you’re going to be limited on what assurances you can provide, and that means that the governance structure is going to be essential here, so that everyone can trust the flexibility is used in a way that protects their particular interest. I don’t see anything in the principles right now that emphasize the importance of a governance structure which is set up to ensure that in the operations that the interests of both the water users and the ecosystem are protected.”

Thank you very much for the opportunity to give these comments,” concluded Mr. Thompson.

THOMAS ZUCKERMAN, Water law expert and Delta resident

Thomas Zuckerman began by saying that it occurred to him as he was preparing for today how old these subjects are. In 2007, he and 24 of his colleagues submitted a document to the Blue Ribbon Task Force, and followed it up with a strategic plan document the next year. “I had the opportunity to review those and it was surprisingly fresh reading,” he said. “If you haven’t had the opportunity to review these documents, one is called “A Water Plan for the 21st Century: Regional Self Sufficiency Scenario” and the other is the Strategic Plan that spins off that. Please read them. This was the best thoughts of most of the important policy making type people in the Delta 8 years ago, and I don’t think our views and our comments would change appreciably.”

Thomas ZuckermanProbably the first lesson that would come out of that is concrete conveyance facilities projects are not the first item on the agenda,” Mr. Zuckerman said, noting that he was quoting Phil Isenberg who made that statement himself when the Blue Ribbon Task Force was adopting its plan. “The conveyance is the last piece of the puzzle, because you first need to know what water supply you’re going to be dealing with and to what uses you intend to put it. Until you know that, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to be spending billions and billions of dollars of money that may be in very short supply to address these issues at the outset.”

Quoting Sunne McPeak, for instance, you don’t really want to be putting the plumbing before the policy,” he added.

Mr. Zuckerman said his criticism of the principles comes from what someone with a Delta perspective reads into them more so than what the actual words themselves might convey. “You seem to be starting off with a picture in your mind of a conveyance facility which looks a lot like “The Fix” or the tunnels, and I think that’s inappropriate,” he said. “You have some rather large responsibilities to be discharged over a long time period, whether it’s the same individuals or others that take your place and go on to oversee the completion of this project and make sure that it has flexibility, functionality, and so forth over a long period of time. If you start with a fixed idea of what you think a conveyance facility looks like, it will lead to unintended consequences and it will lead to large, stranded investments.”

We’ve known all along but perhaps have forgotten that in effect, the emperor has no clothes here,” he said. “We’re missing 5 MAF at least of supply that was supposed to have been developed by the State Water Project to serve the contracts that were ultimately entered into that were backed up by bonds and so forth. That 5 MAF of water was supposed to come from damming various rivers on the North Coast. That possibility was foreclosed by Governor Reagan and ultimately by Jerry Brown the first in supporting the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which removed those various rivers from consideration as creating yield or water storage for the state and incidentally the federal water projects.”

In fact, the drought may be doing us a perverse favor by reminding us that the north-south water projects are at least 5 MAF short of yield across the dry cycle, he pointed out, noting that it was estimated at the last Council meeting that the amount could be as much as 8 MAF per year.

In my view, the drought has also demonstrated how manipulatory the state regulatory processes are under political pressure as evidenced by the SWRCB adopting temporary change orders over the last year, further reducing Delta outflows and water quality and withdrawing 1 MAF according to Jeff Mount’s estimate above water quality and flow standards that were designed for critical year performance with historic droughts in mind,” he said. “When those water quality standards and flows were adopted, they were based upon historical experience we had had in 1976-77, and other dry periods, and the critical year standards in those were supposed to take care of that, but we’ve dipped into the cookie jar another 1 MAF this year in order to try to serve water to the export projects.”

Now imagine what would happen with Delta tunnels in place under such circumstances,” he said. “Without an adequate supply, without dependence upon maintaining a common pool of usable water quality in the Delta, and a so-called adaptive management program, without real enforceable performance criteria, which as currently recommended is both multi-layered cumbersome and ultimately governed by the SWP and CVP operators. Imagine what might have happened in this last year to the Delta.”

Mr. Zuckerman pointed to the ‘Delta pool’ concept; he explained that both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project were authorized legislatively in connection with the Area of Origin laws and the Delta Protection Act. “Those legislative acts are still on the books, and they were intended to provide absolute assurance to the areas where the water for these projects was to be developed, that they would have first call on water necessary for reasonable beneficial uses, then and into the future, and that only water surplus to those needs as they might occur would be exported. These legislative acts were echoed by both federal and state proponents of Delta export in the effort to achieve voter approval for the export projects. This goes back to 1959 and earlier.

Mary Piepho Aja BrownThe concept of moving water for export through Delta channels provides another type of assurance, he said. “A physical assurance that Delta water would remain fresh since it was widely assumed that export users would have no greater interest in poor water quality than Delta users, and in fact, this was the picture of conveyance that was presented to voters in the 1959,” he said.

Mr. Zuckerman pointed out that the Council has received at least two proposals to study a western Delta facility that would preserve most of the Delta pool with ‘intriguing prospects’ for protecting fisheries, Delta water quality, and export needs. “We need to ask ourselves why these western Delta proposals have not been included amongst the alternative conveyance proposals which have been studied,” he said.

To summarize on the current conveyance scheme, the tunnels do not increase the water supply even one drop; the tunnels will scarcely operate during the drier years due to demonstrated need to maintain flows through the Delta to meet legal requirements, continuing to rely instead on direct diversion from the south Delta, which is the problem the tunnels are supposed to rectify,” he said. “Most of the damage to Delta dependent fisheries occurs during the drier years with significant bounce back in wetter years, the only periods in which the tunnels are likely to operate.”

The tunnels are unlikely to increase water delivery south of the Delta but will increase the cost of all water delivered to the export customers by hundreds of dollars per acre foot,” he said. “About three-quarters of the export customers are agricultural users who have been switching from annual row crops, whose fields can be fallowed when water isn’t available, to orchards and vineyards which must be irrigated every year to survive because of the need to produce higher revenues to survive with current water costs. Financing the tunnels is to be provided by the sale of revenue bonds which are supposed to be repaid from these higher water charges. Debt capacity, especially in the ag sector as well as in the urban and industrial sectors as well will be badly compromised by the eventual cost of the tunnels and the environmental mitigation required for them. The ability of these same water users to finance other projects that actually reduce the current and ever widening chasm between supply and demand will disappear.”

Water conservation, new storage above and below ground, demand reduction, reuse through cleanup and even desalination, and the operation of water and energy market forces are the paths to solution – not tunnels which are forestalling more productive approaches,” he said.

He pointed out that a vast potential reservoir has been inadvertently created by the massive overpumping from the groundwater aquifers, amounting to 1.5 billion acre-feet in the San Joaquin Valley alone by some estimates. “This existing reservoir can be utilized to store excessive stormwater when it occurs through conjunctive operation with upstream reservoirs and recoverable floodplains to refill this reservoir naturally and artificially. Examples like the Kern County Water Bank already exist. There are a large number of primarily local projects waiting to be financed and constructed. Collectively, these projects can advance the notion of regional self sufficiency and by slowing down the storms, we can help restore the ecosystems of the watersheds and the river systems as they were historically.”

Groundwater regulation in itself isn’t enough,” he said. “We can’t just tie up groundwater supplies without worsening the problem in the Delta. Vacated groundwater storage must be developed as a water bank to tide us through the dry periods.”

On the subject of operations, Mr. Zuckerman emphasized that the conjunctive use of existing and new storage reservoirs, recoverable floodplains, and replenishment of vacated groundwater supplies holds the greatest promise of solution for agricultural areas. “Floodplain management can be compatible with continued agricultural production, but not urbanization or permanent crop plantation,” he noted.

Deficits in urban and industrial areas are being made up through conservation and recycling; especially of less contaminated brackish waters,” he said. “I want to remind you that Southern California, after the 76-77 drought, and after the defeat of the peripheral canal in the 1982 referendum, has done wonders along these lines to try and drought proof themselves and to create a reliable water supply to the point where their needs from the state system during dry years are diminished.”

The lesson of the drought and the thought I want to leave with you is that we can’t operate ourselves out of a shortage in the system,” concluded Mr. Zuckerman.

ROBERT SHIBATANI, a managing hydrologist and CEO for Shibatani Group International

Robert Shibatani began by noting that this is a multi-faceted process, both institutionally, regulatory, and physically. “These issues are not independent, necessarily; they are all part of a larger fabric of operational commitments, of regulatory compliance requirements, and the need for physical infrastructure to actually deal with that.”

Robert ShibataniWe’re almost at a crossroads,” he said. “On the one hand, we have this recognition that is a very complicated and integrated process, and we have to make some action, and a consensus amongst all of us that there is a sense of urgency.  By the same token, how far afield do we want to proceed forward, with the full recognition that there are these other major endemic, perhaps even chronic challenges that define California water resources for the past several decades? Does the Council want to proceed with whatever strategic option you want to move forward with today, knowing that there are still several unattended governance issues that have been at the forefront of California water resources?

Without suggesting for a moment that this process embrace the idea of turning back the clock to Step 1, acknowledging the issues that we have faced here … the overall ESA mandate today, relative to 20, 30, 40 years ago and the overall water rights structure that was developed over a century ago – is it still relevant in the contemporary context of what we need to do in terms of water allocations and moving forward?,” Mr. Shibatani said.

There are broad scale issues like those and at some point, we’re going to have to make that decision, he said. “What do we put aside, accepting the fact that it could come back and face us straight and directly 5, 10, and 20 years down the road.

We have a physical environment that we have always accepted as being static, and hydrologists all across the world have now accepted that that is no longer true, said Mr. Shibatani. “Our institutional and regulatory frameworks were developed at the time on the assumption that the physical environment would never change,” he said. “Now certain things have happened over the last century: the ESA, NEPA, CEQA, Porter Cologne, Clean Water Act, they’ve always attempted to snapshot the actual conditions of the physical environment, but the physical environment has been migrated slowly away.”

What we have, therefore, is a discontinuity between our physical environment and the institutional and regulatory framework and structures that have been developed to manage that physical environment,” he said. “What we have therefore over the years has been a growing regulatory and institutional gap. Now unless we decide that our institutional and regulatory frameworks want to catch up or at least stay at the same rate of change as our physical environment, then we will see a growing challenge to meet compliance requirements in the ensuing decades ahead as the actually fidelity for environmental compliance will be comprised as that physical environment continues to migrate.”

On the issue of storage, most of us recognize the need for local and regional water sustainability, he said. “If you want to put to one extreme, if every single regional local entity in California were self-sufficient, we wouldn’t have a conveyance requirement or need in the Delta,” he said “I think we all recognize that owing to our significant spatial and temporal disparity between winter, summer supplies and winter-summer demands or North-South demands, there is that spatial and temporal disparity that has led to a large extent on why we need to move water through the Delta from point A to point B.”

If we as a state want to accept the fact that cross-state allocation of water is a responsibility and something we want to perpetuate, how much of that however is going to be offset by our second voice, which promotes local and regional self sustainability?” he said. “Ask yourself the question, have we done a hard water balance to figure out the supplies, demands, and overall beneficial use requirements for each one of those uses are – M&I, urban, ag, environmental flows, both now and into the future? Flash that comparison against the actual yield in those watersheds and how much we actually release through flood releases, and then do a mass balance calculation.”

Hypothetically, if it came out that a region had a deficit of x, they would legitimately have a request for imported transferred water,” he said. “If they didn’t, then any need for imported water would have to be compared against how much water is actually going out of their system – how much flood excess, how much stormwater is actually being lost.”

He recalled how in December, heavy storms in Southern California led to catastrophic landslides and even the loss of life, and then less than 30 days later, Governor Brown issues a press release saying that we’re in the fourth consecutive year of drought. “A drought alert three weeks after catastrophic floods in the Southland,” he said. “Obviously we haven’t closed the hydrologic loop, so one of the things I would suggest when you talk about storage … I would go so far as to say that before we even do dam 1, we have to look at our existing storage facilities and ask ourselves are they being optimally managed?

Mr. Shibatani explained that for all reservoir storage and carryover is dictated by those rule curves were developed based on historical analysis of what the hydrology of what those basins produced; this is especially true if they are managed by the Army Corps. “If we as a state accept that climate change is real, and we accept that the hydrologic baseline is real, then those rule curves have to change,” he said. “The reservoirs have been kept empty to manage the spring melt, so if we accept the fact that the spring melt, because of reduced snowpacks, are not going to be as significant as compared to historic conditions, then we need that large late season empty space. … so if we work with the Corps of Engineers and take a hard look at what kind of improvements can we make to all the existing reservoirs before we even start to think about developing new ones, how much water can we actually develop without dropping one additional cubic foot of concrete for a new dam?

Fiorini TatayonMr. Shibatani said that an argument often heard is that for new dams, all the best facility sites have been taken up, and to a certain extent, that is true. “The American River system is well developed, there are a lot of reservoirs in place,” he said. “The Joint Benefits Investigation Team conducted a study about a decade ago that identified 30 additional storage sites in the American River basin alone. So clearly all the best sites are taken, but you can still gain yield storage on other sites.”

A more recent example is the Carmel River in the Monterey Basin where the San Clemente Dam is coming out, Mr. Shibtani said. “I was called down there and the first question that I ask, as I do in all situations when someone asks me about new supply development, is do you have a flood issue? If the answer is yes, there is excess floodwaters available, so the idea being, let’s take that 74,000 acre-feet of yield in that watershed, and put it somewhere. … You don’t want put a new dam on the Carmel when the old dam is coming out, so what we did is we looked at the tributary basins adjacent to it … so we have proposed to build a 180 foot concrete arch dam, we would increase yield in the watershed from 1000 acre-feet to 74,000 acre-feet … With this new storage facility, we’ll gain 20,000 acre-feet of storage, which we will then offer as part of our project to rewet the lower reaches of the Carmel, which now goes subterranean later in the summer, and we will voluntarily double instream flows downstream. We have a win-win project. I call it the on-off project because it is onstream but it’s off mainstem, so the idea about being creative and thinking about new storage sites is definitely there.”

Mr. Shibatani then turned to discuss climate-sensitized baselines. “Most of us realize that we need to look at the hydrologic baselines that are the fundamental foundations of what we’re planning for, not only in terms of infrastructure, but regulatory and institutional actions,” he said. “There’s been a strong reliance on historical hydrology, but I think more and more people are using forward-looking hydrology now. When we talk about best available science, if we are not using the most current, up to date, U.N. sanctioned GCMs, all their spatially-downscaled platforms, then we run the risk of not being able to say we’re using the best available science.”

Climate change science is advancing very rapidly, he said. “It could be dry or it could be equally wet in the future, and some people may not think that’s a big issue, but if the characteristics of those storms change – intensity, frequency, magnitude, it’s a big difference,” he said. “We receive about 80% of our precipitation in four or five storms. That total doesn’t’ have to change, but if that precipitation now only shows up in three storms, that could mean huge flood issues.

In conclusion, Mr. Shibatani then wrapped it up by saying we need to close the flood control-water supply gap. “We need to take a look at how much water is available at each of these different regions … Let’s use some of that flood storm-water surplus, put it into a water balance sort of matrix, figure out how much water each one of those regions need, and set that standard. We’ve never done that in the past. We have 80 MAF a year that we can do something with, but has that information from the water plan actually found its way into the regulatory instruments that the various agencies use to practice every day? I’m not so sure that’s happened.”

With those comments, thank you …

Discussion period highlights

Councilmember Susan Tatayon asked, hypothetically, “If we had all the mass balances for each of our regions and those regions were striving to achieve self sufficiency, and we had a water banking program, and we had a highly functioning water transfers market and we had those rule curves adjusted to we were optimally managing all these reservoirs, given the volatility spoken about both in the environment and climate change, what would the governance structure look like? What laws rules, what kind of agencies, how might those agencies operate, how would we change the landscape of this fragmented, rigid governance structure?

Susan Tatayon listensYou have to look agency-authority specific, so on the rule curves, you look at the Corps, state water contractors, DWR, the Bureau, but how that mosaic would actually work in an integrated fashion is really a wild card,” replied Mr. Shibatani. “I think it’s a huge issue, but I think it’s the only thing that can ultimately work without taking that step back saying we can’t integrate institutionally effectively so we’re going to go back to the status quo and have each agency deal with it on a piecemeal basis … The proof has been that hasn’t worked very effectively in the past.”

Mr. Snow said there’s been talk for four or five decades about the need for regionalization. “In LA County, for example, you have over 200 entities that in some fashion manage water, which makes it very challenging to have an integrated strategy … so I think there’s an increasing interest in moving money, largely incentives, into pulling regions together. This is an effort the Clean Water Act envisioned when it was passed in 1972; it had a whole section focused on developing regional plans but that didn’t change things very much. … There’s always this tension between very localized control and broader effectiveness in implementing strategies. The Delta is even more pronounced in that … Once you get beyond the policy concept, the details are very challenging, and the devil has always been in the details.”

Buzz Thompson discussionMr. Thompson said there were two aspects to the problem. “First is the authority; you have a number of agencies, some of which do not even really have the specific authority to be effective partners within the system,” he said, using the Army Corps as an example; they are a flood control agency and doesn’t technically have the authority to help on storage issues. “So the first thing is to make sure that all of the agencies that are participating have effective authority, and second of all, it would be useful to the degree possible that there be some common goals which they all share, which I think would have to be legislatively set. Then trying to find effective mechanisms for pulling the various agencies together. … I’ve always thought that the DSC is one of the few entities that’s actually set up in a way that could potentially play an effective role in ensuring that everyone is working together, both because of the broad oversight role that you play and also because of the consistency elements that you have authority over.

Mr. Zuckerman added, “I felt for a long time that we need to separate the regulatory and the implementation functions in the water field, and treat the water projects more like public utilities that are regulated by a public utilities commission, rather than having this inherent conflict of interest between the state government that is trying to regulate its resources for the benefit of the state and its people and at the same time, responsible for serving a segment of the population with a water supply. I think it would be one giant step forward to separate the regulation aspects of it from the implementation and get them out of the same office. The second observation that I would make is where things have gotten bad enough, historically, we’ve ended up with basin adjudications. They have some in Southern California with overdrafted groundwater basins … When things get bad enough, you get into a single authority that has jurisdiction to tell everybody what to do, and that’s a messy process to get there, but that’s the way it’s happened historically.”

Patrick Johnston discussionCouncilmember Patrick Johnston asked Lester Snow about draft principles on conveyance, number 2 – that new Delta conveyance infrastructure and improvements should minimize reverse flows, and entrainment of fish. You gave that one at least a passing grade … ?

I did, but I’m glad you brought that up,” replied Mr. Snow. “I guess what I did with that one was I looked at the operating criteria, because all this says is don’t do too much damage to fish, but I think ultimately you want conveyance to be part of making things better for the environment.”

Councilmember Johnston asked what are the options to do that, noting that Mr. Zuckerman has suggested perhaps a western Delta project that would presumably tunnel water to the pumps, after it flows through the Delta.

You want to operate your facility in such a manner that the environment’s better off as a result of having the facility,” he said. “The big concept of big gulp, little sip where in theory, if you had these facilities in place, you wouldn’t’ be diverting any water during the drought, and the ecosystem would be the primary beneficiary of that, so you can with these facilities have more tools to provide ecosystem benefits. That always leads to the assurance issue and the governance issue and that’s been raised here. I’m glad you drew my attention back because it does read, don’t hurt the environment too much, and I do think that conveyance facilities and storage facilities operated properly can bring that benefit.

Councilmember Johnston said to Mr. Zuckerman, “You suggested at the outset that we were perhaps mentally putting the rabbit into the hat, that we have in mind something like the tunnels and we work against that and think about what are the principles. Is the rabbit in your hat no change to through-Delta process of exporting water?

Thomas Zuckerman discussionNo, that’s the one that’s in ‘The Fix’, because it proposes to operate basically during wet years, but continue to operate from the south Delta during the dry years, and I don’t see that that is an improvement of the situation at all,” replied Mr. Zuckerman. “What I’m suggesting is we need to figure out a way to utilize this massive reservoir that we’ve created in our overpumping zeal to be able to reduce the amount of water that we need to export during the dry years, and figure out ways of capturing it above the Delta during the wet years, so that we can work ourselves out of this dilemma. Now there may be an opportunity to divert water in the western Delta, I’ve seen two different versions … I am not advocating that as a solution but I bemoan that fact that nobody seems to be willing to take a serious look at it.”

Councilmember Judge Damrell notes that Mr. Shibatani did not really address the principles. “Do you think these principles that the staff has prepared in some measure address the mandate we have from the legislature?”

I think they do,” said Mr. Shibatani. “I’ve always been advocate that California doesn’t have a supply issue, it’s has an allocation issue, but there’s plenty of precipitation in California. So storage is really driving at least one part of some of the problems and challenges that the Delta ecosystem has faced … We are blessed with the fact that we have more water then we know what to do with. Ergo, we have a flood issue every single year, so the hydrology is definitely on our side. Just getting back to your question, the fact that you put in storage as one of your primary principles, I think it’s completely consistent with what we can do here in the state of California.”

Judge DamrellSo the conveyance notion is not necessarily something you endorse … “ responded Councilmember Damrell.

I think it’s more of a societal decision, number one, do we as a state of California want to perpetuate moving water from point a to point b, recognizing that we have a hydrologic disparity, both temporarily and spatially, and if the answer is yes, then conveyance can move forward,” Mr. Shibatani said. “Let’s find out what the regions have in terms of mass balance, accretions, depletions, and how much water is being left to flow to the ocean in a flood issue, once you’re done that sort of actuarial process, then you can figure out legitimately how much deficit or surplus you have. If you’re deficited all across the board in the southlands, than that would be justification for continuation of North to South conveyance.”

Councilmember Damrell then asks for comments from the other panelists to that analysis.

To me, the ultimate question is what is the combination of infrastructure that is needed in order to provide a reliable water supply and at the same time enhance the Delta and ultimately your goal here,” replied Mr. Thompson. “It is not clear to me that is what is embedded in the Water Fix, and it is at this point in time, still something that you need to look at to see whether or not any particular storage project or the conveyance facility is necessary. My own belief, based on what I’ve seen, is probably some type of conveyance facility is ultimately needed and that you probably cannot get where you want to be purely on the basis of regions relying upon their own water supply. Although that I’m not sure that the conveyance facility needs to be as large as what we’re currently talking about right now, but that’s the issue I think is important that this body take a look at.”

Lester Snow discussionI don’t see a scenario where you don’t need improvement to conveyance,” said Mr. Snow. “I think the existing system doesn’t work and it’s not sustainable, and I say that, even if you decide you’re only going to export 50% of historic exports out of the Delta. I just think that it’s a system that in my opinion is doomed, and you need to make changes to it. You can argue over the nature of those changes and the size of those changes, but the thought that Delta conveyance is just fine, that doesn’t work and we’ve know that for decades.

I think where my difference is with Lester is that we know that it doesn’t work if you’re trying to export 4 or 5 million acre-feet of water across the Delta in dry years,” said Mr. Zuckerman. “That’s where our differences would be. … That’s where I agree with this gentleman [Shibatani] that I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to decide what is the real need for water conveyance before we settle upon the methodology for doing it.”

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