Legislative hearing: Pending Delta decisions and their potential economic and other impacts on San Francisco and the Bay Area, part 2

Golden Gate Bridge by Joey Lax SalinasBay Area stakeholders have their say

On March 11, the Senate Select Committee on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta held an informational hearing in San Francisco that focused on the California Water Fix project and the State Water Resources Control Board’s update to the Delta’s water quality control plan, and what the impacts of the decisions made regarding those projects would have on the Bay Area.

In this second of two-part coverage, Bay Area stakeholders have a chance to weigh in.  On the panel are water resource consultant Richard Denton, the NRDC’s Tina Swanson, local restaurant owner Tom Creedon, Larry Collins representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, the Baykeeper’s George Torgun, and economist Dr. Jeffrey Michael.

Here’s what they had to say.

DR. RICHARD DENTON, Water Resources Consultant to Contra Costa and Solano Counties

Today I’ll discuss with you some of the problems with the planning and an environmental review of the California Water Fix proposed project; then I’ll describe a better fix for developing a sustainable solution to the ecosystem and water supply problems with the Bay Delta system,” Richard Denton began.  “What I want to make clear first up, though, is that the Delta interests I work with agree that the status quo in the Delta is unacceptable and that actions are urgently needed to restore and sustain the Delta ecosystem and to improve water quality in the Delta and improve water supply and reliability. These comments I’ll make today and some of the other comments made by Delta interests since the start of the BDCP process way back in 2006 are intended to help shape a solution that will achieve those goals. I want to also make it clear that it’s time to stop demonizing bay Delta stakeholders that have identified major flaws with the Water Fix proposal, have continued to urge consideration of more viable alternatives, and wish to make a positive contribution to California’s water future.”

Richard DentonIn terms of the Water Fix Project, you heard Secretary Laird refer to the big gulp approach for the Water Fix proposal,” he said.  “This comes originally from one of the planning principles for the Water Fix proposal established about 2009, that the project should divert more water in wetter periods and less in dry periods. However, if you look at the modeling data that’s available on the project in detail, what you find is that the project will actually increase exports during the driest periods when the Delta outflow is very low and the Delta ecosystem is stressed.  This is because they have that opportunity. They can only take about 11,300 cubic feet of water out of the system because of the south land pumps. With the project they’ll be able to take up to 15,000, so that’s what’s going to happen. Unfortunately, at the same time on the flip side, they are unable to capture more water during high flow periods. So this big gulp that we heard referred to and is being advertised as the big opportunity during wet periods is not showing up in the modeling data. There is no additional storage in the south land to take that additional water and the farms and the lawns in all those areas are already soaked, so there’s no demand for that water.”

When the BDCP’s environmental document came out in December of 2013, it acknowledged that there will be significant adverse water quality impacts and they were just shrugged off as unavoidable,” continued Mr. Denton.  “So it was a bit surprise to us when, in July of 2015, the Water Fix recirculated environmental document came out and then said that there will be no adverse water quality impacts. That was basically speculation because no model runs were done. No new model runs were done for the recirculated draft impact. No full model runs, just some sensitivity analyses. And so that any assumptions or speculation about those water quality impacts disappearing are just that, speculation.”

The Water Fix preferred alternative is not compatible with the increased Delta outflow standards that the state board has developed, or at least their criteria that they developed in 2010,” he said.  “There were some alternatives that analyzed in the environmental documents for the Water Fix and BDCP that basically were intended to show that the increased flow criteria were unreasonable because they didn’t work with that particular project. But to my mind, what they really show is that that particular project is incompatible with what is necessary in the Delta, which is increased flow criteria. So we could end up, as many have said, with a very expensive stranded asset.”

The other thing is there was reference to the 2009 co-equal goals in the Delta Reform Act, and what we’re finding is that this project is not consistent with either of those co-equal goals,” he said.  “Even the latest draft biological assessment for the project acknowledges there will be adverse impacts on migrating salmon and steelhead and on Delta smelt.  There will also be adverse impacts of key fish species due to continual reliance on unscreened south Delta intakes for 50 percent of the exports.  It’s interesting to hear that we can’t screen the south Delta screens, but in fact, on the website for the BDCP there is conceptual engineering report that was developed for a through Delta alternative that showed how you would screen water being taken into Clifton Court Forebay if you had a through Delta intake. So it is possible and it’s something that should be done.”

There will still be significant reverse flows in the south Delta and there will be no increase in export water supply,” he said.  “People will argue that’s not the point; the second co-equal goal is reliability, but there really is no guarantee that the twin tunnels or the associated export facilities will not be damaged in a major earthquake and there will be no additional storage south of the Delta to increase water supply reliability during droughts and emergency outages.

With respect to the Water Fix environmental documents themselves, there is an insufficient range of alternatives,” he said.  “Seventeen out of eighteen alternatives they looked at are basically the same alternative; you take water out of the north Delta, you put it in some form of conveyance, isolated conveyance, and you take it to the south Delta. So they’re not really different apart from sizing. There’s no new storage in any of the alternatives, so no way to capture water when it’s available and make it available in drought years.  You yourself pointed out that the Delta Independent Science Board and the U.S. EPA have said that this is an incomplete document not useful for decision makers and the broader public to review. The scenario for increased Delta outflows was not optimized or developed in the alternative, and that’s something that the State Board itself has commented upon.”

Another interesting point that came up is that the future predictions for the Water Fix project in the latest analysis is 2025, which is ludicrous because in 2025 it won’t even be online; it’s going to take 10 years to construct,” Mr. Denton said.  “That’s not giving us a true picture of how this project will operate in the future.  Because this document is inadequate, it’s not really able to support the pending state board actions or the Army Corps Clean Water Act actions.  So they are left trying to make a decision on a document that’s incomplete, opaque, etc., and it makes hard for the public, as well, to comment on what the state board should do or what the Army Corps should do.”

I’d like to suggest is that we really do need to start thinking about moving to plan B,” he said.  “We need to recognize that the status quo is unacceptable; we need to recognize that it’s not too late to do the right thing. People are saying we’ll we’ve spend $250 million, we’ve spend 10 years on this, it must be right. Well that’s not necessarily true.”

Mr. Denton then gave his alternatives.  “We need to incorporate additional storage so that we really can take a big gulp. We can capture the water, we can move it to south of the Delta, and we can store it south of the Delta so that we have it available in dry periods,” he said.  “But first, we really need to start by restoring the Delta ecosystem and the state board’s Delta flow criteria give us a really good idea on how to do that. There are these issues about not balancing, etc., but I think the state board is now under a new directive, that according to the 2009 Delta Reform Act that they need to achieve both co-equal goals, and not just play them off against each other in a lose/lose situation. So based on what is in the Delta flow criteria, we need to start moving in that direction. Maybe not as high an increase in flows immediately, but at least we need to be increasing the flows.

We need to set a new baseline for the fish,” he continued.  “We need to significantly reduce reverse flows in the south Delta. The modeling that’s been done for the project so far does reduce reverse flows in some months, but actually allows increases in other months. We need to do a whole series to reduce demand, develop local water supplies such as storm water capture, recycling, desalination and so on. We need to include actions to manage and restore groundwater basins. And restore is important because the state is now implemented requirements to manage groundwater basins, but they are seriously depleted and becoming useless for providing water in dryer year periods. We need to actually recharging restoring those groundwater basins.”

We need to strengthen levees,” Mr. Denton said.  “What I’m saying here is just really consistent with what NRDC said in its portfolio approach in 2013 and what, remarkably, is in the California 2014 Water Action Plan. The state came up with a really good idea on what to do, unfortunately the Water Fix is not consistent with that and is probably inconsistent with the California Water Action plan because it doesn’t involve new storage and it can’t capture water under high flow conditions.”

My last point is we need to do something about the funding of this project because it’s all very well to say the beneficiary pays, but if you let the export water contractors control purse strings, then they will also get to control how much effort goes into developing a recirculated draft EIR, how much money is spent on developing a final EIR, and that was the problem with this recirculated draft,” Mr. Denton said.  “There was no new modeling done; there was very little new work done on that. It was one of the worst EIRs that’s been put out in the Bay Delta proceedings, all because the export water contractors said no and they had the control. So we need to get leadership back into the state agencies where they can make decisions on what needs to be done for the good of California and California water. And we shouldn’t be letting the fox design the chicken coop.”

Thank you.”

TINA SWANSON, Director of the NRDC Science Center

Dr. Tina Swanson said in her presentation she would be speaking on two broad topics.  “The first is the connection between the various planning processes that are going on up in the Delta and its connections to the bay as well as upstream,” she said.  “The Delta does not exist in isolation and what is being considered for the Delta cannot be considered or evaluated in isolation from the other elements of this system that those actions will affect.  I want to close with my second topic, which is the relationship between science and scientific understanding of a system as complex as this and public policy for its management and the management of its resources. That is where the focus of all of my work these days is. And I think it’s a critically important one and as there are some very serious disconnects with the current planning processes and our scientific understanding of the system.”

Tina SwansonLet me start with the first point which is about connections,” she said.  “The San Francisco that we all love, particularly those of us who live in the Bay Area here, is an estuary. It is, by definition a link between the rivers flowing over the land and the ocean to which they flow. Estuaries are unique and very productive ecosystems and they are formed by this connect between rivers flowing to the ocean. So for the San Francisco Bay estuary, that chain extends all the way up into the headwaters in the Sierras, down through the rivers in the lowlands and the valley, into the Delta, which is where those rivers converge and where a lot of these various planning efforts are being targeted, and then finally into the bay and then into the ocean.”

It’s a connective link, and so the main point is that you can’t affect any one link in this system without affecting all of those links downstream and if the actions that you’re taking in that intermediate link, the Delta in this case, rely on how you manage the upstream links, in this case the rivers, they’re affected as well,” she said.  “You cannot look at this system in isolation and almost all of the consideration for this project has been focused on the Delta and the ecosystem in the Delta and the water that’s going to be exported from that system, with very little consideration for the effects of what is being proposed on downstream elements, and quite frankly, not very much good consideration of the effects of how you would manage the Delta on how it would require you to manage those rivers upstream.”

One of the things that we know scientifically, just incontrovertibly, it’s from San Francisco, it’s from research all over the world, is that the health of an estuary is utterly dependent upon the timing and amounts and patterns of fresh water flow into that estuary from its tributary rivers,” Dr. Swanson said.  “In this system, one of the arguments that you will hear periodically, and it’s mostly from interests who rely on water exported from the Delta or from the rivers tributary to the Delta, is that any water flowing out of the Delta into the bay and into the ocean is water being wasted to the sea. Scientifically that is nonsense and, in fact, that fresh water flowing from the Delta into the San Francisco Bay estuary is the life blood of that estuary. It is what drives all the ecological processes, it is what makes the estuary such a unique habitat for both the fish and wildlife that live in the estuary all their lives or those that migrate through it or those that use it for very specific parts of their lives for reproduction and for nursery rearing, which estuaries are very important for that kind of use by a variety of fish and wildlife.”

It’s also nonsense because currently the way we use the Delta, which is a site of diversion and that’s what the California Water Fix proposes as well, it’s a place where we divert water from this system to send it elsewhere to use for urban or agricultural uses,” she said.  “In fact, it is fresh water flowing through and out of the Delta which keeps the Delta fresh. If you don’t let any fresh water be wasted to the sea, the Delta will be salty and as a consequence, totally not useful for what it is currently being used for.  That said, just letting enough fresh water flow out of the Delta into the bay to keep the Delta fresh is insufficient to support the ecological processes in the fish and wildlife in the system, and there is a huge amount of science to document that.”

Dr. Swanson said it’s important to recognize that the amount of fresh water flowing through the rivers, the Delta, and out to the Bay have been decreasing for more than 50 years.  “For the past 50 years, and it’s been a steady, steady decline,” she said.  “The amounts of fresh water that are flowing into the bay as a proportion of the runoff from the bay’s watershed have been declining. There’s now overwhelming scientific evidence that the amount of fresh water flowing into the bay in most years is not sufficient to support it. And in fact, the State Board has confirmed that with their 2010 flow criteria report.”

How much water are we talking about? On an annual basis for the past 20-some odd years, about half of the fresh water that would have flowed into the San Francisco Bay no longer does; it is diverted either from the rivers upstream from the bay or from the Delta,” she said.  “In fact they’re cut by more than that in the moderately wet and drier years.  As a consequence, as far as the bay is concerned, this estuary, based on the amount of water that it is receiving from its watershed in chronic, persistent, manmade drought.  Almost two out of every three years, the amount of fresh water that the bay and this estuary ecosystem receives is the same or less as it would have received under non-dam, non-diversion conditions in the driest 20 percent of years. So we’ve increased the frequency of drought for this estuary system.”

Ecologically speaking, because dry years are in fact biologically and ecologically stressful for this system, we’ve managed this system to essentially be imposing upon the estuary chronic stressful, really harmful environmental conditions on the basis of fresh water flow,” Dr. Swanson said.  “We know that they’re not sufficient to protect the health of the estuarine ecosystem or the fish and wildlife, and one of the reasons that we know that is that this is a very well-studied system. The fish and wildlife populations, particularly fish, are monitored very, very intensively by numerous surveys. Boats go out and troll the system on a regular basis and count and measure and identify the fish that are caught.”

Ironically, those surveys are, in fact, required to be done by the state board of the agencies that have the permits to withdrawal water from the system,” she said.  “They were required to conduct these surveys so that they could monitor the impacts of their diversion of water from this system. Those surveys are showing that the overall ecosystem is in dire straits and bordering on collapse for certain key ecological components and fish populations have plummeted.  For example, the six formerly most common species that are surveyed by an annual survey that’s been going on for almost 50 years have fallen, the abundance has plummeted 95 percent compared to their abundance just 25 and 30 years ago.  A number of these species, many of them considered to be indicators or ecological health of the estuary, such as Delta smelt and long fin smelt, literally, scientists are worried about eminent extinction for these species. Other scientific research and analysis interpretations and syntheses have determined that the timing and patterns of flow are, in fact, key drivers for these population declines.”

All of this contributes and collectively confirms our understanding that currently the San Francisco Bay estuary is not receiving sufficient fresh water flows to maintain its health,” she said.  “That’s why we need to be extremely careful with the planning that’s going on and, quite frankly, give it a lot of scrutiny. You’ve heard good information about the California Water Fix plan, which is the next generation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, as well as the State Water Resources Control Board’s plans to establish new standards. So it’s important that we be looking at those very, very carefully and that we look at them not only in the context of the Delta, which is where most of the analysis has been, but in the context of the larger system; both upstream and downstream of the Bay.”

I wanted to mention a couple of elements that both illustrate and underscore the importance of those connections,” Dr. Swanson said.  “I’ve talked a little bit about flows. The amounts and timing and patterns of flow that are coming from the watershed, through the rivers, through the Delta and into the Bay is a critically important physical and ecological driver, meaning it controls what goes on in this ecosystem.  The flows in all elements of this system, both upstream in many of the rivers in the Delta itself and then fresh water flowing out into the bay are demonstratively, and based on scientific understanding of this system, insufficient.  The planning for the Delta that’s going on for the California Water Fix and also for the new standards for the State Board not only determines how much of that flow gets out into the estuary, which needs it; it also determines how the various parties that manage the rivers in the watershed manage the flows in the rivers to meet either minimum flows, as the state board will hopefully set for some of those rivers soon, but also flow into the Delta for the purpose of supporting diversions out of the Delta. It’s all connected and you cannot look at any of this in isolation.”

One of the other things that fresh water flow from the rivers all the way through does is that it carries sediment, and that sediment is the amount of sediment being carried by the rivers through the flows to the Delta then out into the bay is in large part a function of the amount of flow and the velocity of flow,” she said.  “High flows tend to carry more sediment, that’s when you see the rivers become all turbid. Those high flow events, and in fact, even moderate flows that carry sediment into the bay are very, very essential for maintaining not only water quality conditions that support the ecosystem, but also for providing the sediment that nourishes the bay’s shoreline.”

One of the things we’ve done here in the San Francisco Bay Area is there’s been hundreds of millions of dollars invested to restore tidal marshes along the shoreline of the bay,” she said.  “A lot of that was done for the purpose initially of habitat restoration and to provide and to replace a lot of the habitat that was lost in previous decades for fish and wildlife purposes and to improve the overall ecological health of the bay, including its fisheries. We now know that those tidal marshes are also going to be extremely important to help us militate against effects of sea level rise.  When you starve the bay of sediment, you starve those marshes of the sediments they need not only to sustain themselves, but actually also to accrete in response to sea level rise.  We run the risk of not only the current planning processes, which are either not going to leave sufficient flows flowing through this system or possibly make them lower, they also are putting at risk large scale investments that we’ve made in the bay to restore the habitat.”

The lack of sediment and also the lack of flow has other water quality implications,” she continued.  “One of the things that has been measured in this system is the clarity of the water is increasing and that is also a factor in some of these toxic algae blooms that we’ve been having. There’s clearer water, there’s more sunlight going through; when you add in nutrients and excessive nutrients, particularly of the wrong kind, you can have these algae blooms, which have not only ecological consequences in the estuary, they actually also have water quality consequences for those of us using water from this system, and potentially even water quality consequences for fish and wildlife, including those that we like to eat. Just in the last year or so we’ve actually had our first red tide bloom in the south bay. That also may end up with having consequences on how local waste water treatment plants need to operate in order to maintain water quality standards in the bay.”

The last connection is actually a physical connection,” Dr. Swanson said.  “The connection between the Bay and the Delta and the rivers is actually a migration corridor for many important fisheries, most notably and most commonly thought of are the salmon. When you degrade the ecological conditions in any portion of that corridor, that makes it more difficult for those migratory species to complete their lifecycle. We already have seen that extremely clearly with Chinook salmon, but in fact, there are many, many other species that rely on that corridor, which will be greatly impacted not only by the operational aspects of what is being planned in the Delta, but also by the physical aspects. The California Water Fix proposes to install three very large scale, essentially industrial facilities along the Sacramento River in the north bay. That’s a physical insult to the river corridor; it’s going to affect both the structure and the function of the river there. The intakes presumably will be screened, but in fact, any fish moving up and down the Sacramento River is going to be exposed to those. Currently salmon migrating in this watershed, most of them don’t directly get exposed to the water diversion facilities because they’re in the south Delta. Now we’re going to expose all, virtually all of our salmon; 90 percent of them which use the Sacramento Basin.”

Dr. Swanson then turned to discuss the policy connection.  “I’m a scientist who works at the intersection of science and policy,” she said.  “My job is to understand what the problem is and to understand what’s driving the problem, and then based on that, to help my colleagues develop policy proposals that will solve the problem. That’s our objective, to solve these problems. And both the state board standards and the California Water Fix actually have very explicitly designated problems they’re trying to address, which is to provide for a reliable water supply and to protect and restore an enhanced Delta ecosystem.”

While I have not delved into the environmental documents as deeply as Dr. Denton has, I’ve delved enough to know that, based on evaluations of the plans being proposed, they won’t solve the problems that we’re supposed to be trying to solve with this,” she said.  “They don’t address the water supply reliability issue, which in this system is largely driven by drought. It is not driven by conveyance. And in fact, it sounds even worse based on Secretary Laird’s comment where he said that he recognized that the kind of drought that we’ve had in the past few years might be the new normal.  That was an extremely disruptive drought with regard to water supply in this system, both for the ecosystem and for users. And if that’s the new normal, that’s what they should be evaluating and it doesn’t sound like that’s what they are evaluating. Likewise, the various proposals certainly do not address the problems of ecosystem in the system, whether it’s in the Delta or downstream in the bay or upstream in the rivers. So I think, if you use that as a lens to evaluate these processes, you should have very, very serious concerns. And I think I’ll stop there.”

Thank you.”

TOM CREEDON, Owner and president of Scoma’s Restaurant in San Francisco

This is going to be difficult because I have lots of feelings about this, but I was asked to address how does this particular situation address my business,” began Tom Creedon.  “As a responsible restaurant operator, Scoma’s participates with the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch helping people make better seafood choices for a healthy ocean. This program is voluntary, but limits seafood that we will serve.  This environment is very difficult. The two biggest seafood attractions in San Francisco are Dungeness crab and Chinook salmon. There’s no crab season, and the salmon stocks are so small we might not have a salmon season this year. Twenty years ago, salmon brought $200 million to this state about the same time that the pumping of five and a half million acre-feet of water from the Delta into the Valley started.”

Tom CreedonWe’re starting to feel that, I can see,” he said.  “The drag boats that supply restaurants with sand tabs, English Petrale sole and many other species are limited to just a few fishing days per month, leaving a void in the supply line. There’s maybe one, maybe two boats left in Fisherman’s Wharf that supply us with bottom fish. I spoke to the chef this morning before I came here to say what local fish are we supplying to the customers today? And he said well, Petrale and salmon that was frozen from last summer’s catch, which flash frozen.  It’s special, but still it leaves us with one fresh fish that comes local. Everything else had to be imported from somewhere else.”

The difficult part is that in an attempt to preserve the industry, we’re really restricted,” he said.  “We end up purchasing fish out of Alaska, which it’s great, we love it. But 40 years ago when I came to Fisherman’s Wharf, there were about half a dozen draggers.  On Saturday and Sunday mornings, they were probably Jackie Douglas, who is our biggest supporter on the outside, and Roger Thomas will tell you probably close to 20 sport boats went out the gate; it was dark with smoke from diesel from these fishing boats.  There was a big industry.”

Right now, you’re lucky if you get three boats that probably go out. The salmon season has just all but fallen apart. The problem I have is that when I was a young kid, my mother died at 12. So I was sent down every summer to live with my aunt and uncle in a little place called Orange Cove down outside of Fresno. My uncle managed an irrigation district, and so I was a little bit closer in touch than the average city boy. It was difficult in that I still have relatives in the valley and every time I visit, we have the arguments. The problem is, as I heard previously, there’s been nothing to stop the advancing.  I have one relative who does farm loans and he said to me, Tom, he says I just am writing a farm loan for someone in Knights Ferry who’s going to put in eight acres of almonds in an area that was only irrigated by the rain up until now. This is not an isolated case.

As we go along, nobody puts a stop to it,” Mr. Creedon continued.  “To begin with, almonds consume more water than probably many other things. Although it didn’t address my original assignment, I just really felt that somebody has to look at where are we going? We have to put the brakes on somewhere before we’re ever going to fix anything.”

LARRY COLLINS, Vice President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen Association

Larry Collins began by noting that he is the president of one of the oldest fishing associations on the West Coast called the Crab Boat Owner’s Association.  “Half of our income is fishing Dungeness Crabs,” he said.  “We also fish for salmon and herring and a lot of different fish; black cod. A lot of it is dependent on the estuary.”

Larry CollinsI’ve always said that water is not wasted that flows out the gate,” Mr. Collins said.  “Without that water, we don’t have fish, we don’t have crabs, we don’t have herring, we don’t have salmon. When my wife and I stared fishing in 1985, at that time there was 5,000 licensed salmon boats in California. Today there’s less than 900 licenses and only about 400 boats actually fish salmon anymore.  You can’t make it on one fishery; you’ve got to be a portfolio fisherman. You’ve got to fish salmon, crab, tuna, black cod; everything that you can get access to.  Our fleet and the market and the infrastructure is in decline. Why is this happening? The simple answer is not enough cold, clean water in the salmon producing rivers.

Back in ’92, I though all of our salmon production problems were over,” Mr. Collins said.  “That was the year that the Central Valley Improvement Project passed.  It called for 800,000 acre-feet of federal water and 800,000 feet of state project water to be left in the rivers for the salmon. It also called for the doubling of the salmon population. To this day, the salmon haven’t gotten a drop of that water; very few drops, not hardly any at all.  I think that the Bureau of Reclamation and the State Water Resource Control Board should be held in contempt of Congress for 24 years of not doing what that bill said to do.”

Mr. Collins said he did some calculations and figured out it totals 38.4 million acre-feet of water that these fish, the fleet, and California are owed. “You want to bet how soon that’s going to get paid,” he said.  “But here we are again. The Peripheral Canal wasn’t a good idea in ’82 and it’s an even worse idea today.”

When I started fishing there was 15 million people in California; now there’s 38 million,” he said.  “There are also more than a million acres of land that’s gotten irrigated since then. It’s a lot more pressure on California’s limited water resources than it used to be. The salmon suffered and the salmon industry suffered and the consumers have been robbed of the high quality, health wild salmon that they own. Like the salmon, the precipitation that falls out of the sky is public trust resource; it’s owned by all of us. And the agencies in our government that is supposed to have the duty of protecting it and allocating these resources fairly. If we look at the condition of the salmon population and the fleet, it’s readily apparent that the agencies have done a less than stellar job as far as that fairness.

Now it’s the end of the governorship of the longest serving governor in California’s history and he wants to leave a legacy,” he said.  “His proposal to build two 40 foot tunnels to finish the [water project] that his father started would be a crime against nature and humanity.  The canals haven’t been paid for and the public will be on the hook for these tunnels also. He wants to misappropriate the water and the funds to build a conveyance to do it. Now that’s a legacy.”

The losses that the salmon industry have sustained stand in stark contrast to the huge gains enjoyed by the large farming operations in the Valley,” he said.  “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that these changes have occurred because of the massive reallocation of our water resources. You know, when the salmon is gone and when the fleet’s gone, they’re not coming back. You can’t engineer your way out of this water situation. You’ve got too many people, you’ve got where we live.”

They’ve been talking about the global warming and all the rest of that,” he said.  “I hope it’s not a permanent situation, but what I’ve seen the last couple years as far as ocean water temperatures, we started crab fishing last year out front it was 61 degrees, and that was November 15th. I’ve never seen the crab come in as weak as they did last year.  I wasn’t smart enough to figure out that we were going to have the domoic acid problem that we had this year and see that all come down. I spend $15,000-$20,000  on gear to get ready to go crabbing and we’re still sitting here.”

The Bay Delta is a huge dynamic nursery,” Mr. Collins said.  “The fresh water flows, they’re not wasted; they’re critical to salmon, crab, and herring production. The fisheries are critical to the coast fleet in California. The coastal fleet is critical of California’s food security. The tunnels will kill all of these links in the chain, and once their gone, their gone. We’ve got to slow this down. We can’t make these kind of huge mistakes like we’ve made in the past. We’ve got to look at it, we’ve got to balance this thing and we’ve got one chance here. We’re almost gone, this fleet in California and on the West Coast, I never seen it so bad in all these years.”

Thank you.”

GEORGE TORGUN, Managing Attorney for the San Francisco Baykeeper

As you’ve heard today, there’s broad scientific agreement that the existing water quality standards of the Bay-Delta, especially those related to fresh water flows, are insufficient to protect this ecosystem and the multiple fish and wildlife species that depend on it,” George Torgun began.  “Unfortunately, the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which establishes these standards, has not been meaningfully updated since 1995 and is now dangerously outdated. In fact, the plan hasn’t been updated at all since 2006 in direct violation of the Federal Clean Water Act, which requires such updates to be completed at least once every three years; it’s been ten.  As noted by others, the current plan doesn’t contain flow standards sufficient to protect species and these are the very same standards that were in effect in the early 2000s when we saw the collapse of many fish species, which is known as Pelagic Organism Decline, providing clear evidence that they’re not working. The plan also doesn’t address other problems that have increased in frequency in recent years, such as toxic algal blooms.”

George TorgunNow as the state board evaluates a water rights change petition and a 401 water quality water certification for the Delta tunnels project, these are the very same insufficient standards that they’re going to be evaluating that project under and this is simply untenable,” he said.  “The California Water Fix is not going to fix any of the problems facing the Bay Delta.  Secretary Laird was here and spent a lot of time talking about how Bay Area cities and communities use Delta water and that’s true. However, it is not the Bay Area cities that are pushing for the Delta tunnels project; I think we all know that.  It’s a small fraction of the water that is being diverted that is supplementing drinking water supplies in the Bay Area. And honestly, a lot of those agencies, including the Santa Clara Valley water district, are still evaluating whether the Delta tunnels project is worth the cost; there was a board meeting last month and I think there were really serious concerns raised about it at that meeting.”

Sending more Sacramento River water through giant tunnels to the Central Valley and Southern California will only serve to starve the bay Delta of the adequate fresh water flows that it needs for decades to come, resulting in more harm to the ecosystem,” Mr. Torgun continued.  “And despite criticism from numerous public agencies, like EPA, the Delta Independent Science Board, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the revised draft EIR that’s been discussed today, the 14,000 plus pages that it consists of continues to exclude areas downstream of the Delta, including San Francisco Bay, from the defined project area and contains very little analysis of impacts to the bay.”

Nowhere in that project, in those 14,000 plus pages, does the Delta tunnels plan evaluate how the reduced flows are going to impact the designated beneficial uses of San Francisco Bay,” he continued.  “Nowhere does it fully consider how the reduced flows are going to affect existing impairments of the bay, including things like invasive species, mercury poising, selenium, and toxic algal blooms. Nowhere does that document analyze the impacts that are going to result from reduced sediment supplies to the bay, which are estimated to be about a nine percent reduction as a result of the project.  This will have significant negative consequences for restoring wetlands in San Francisco Bay and combating the effects of sea level rise, as well as it will also increase nutrient loading problems. In fact, while the revised draft document for the Delta tunnels admits that climate change, more regular drought, and reduced snow pack will even further reduce fresh water flows into the bay Delta, it fails to address these impacts in combination with the effects of the project itself.

Another issue that hasn’t really been addressed today are the Temporary Urgency Change Petitions,” he said.  “We’ve seen a number of these since the governor’s drought proclamation in early 2014. But essentially what’s happening is the state board has been weakling the already insufficient water quality standard to allow for more diversions from the system because of drought related concerns. And we’ve seen species like Delta smelt and long fin smelt pushed to the very brink of extinction. Continuing to apply the outdated water quality standards in the 1995 to new infrastructure projects like the Delta tunnels will have disastrous consequences to the health of the estuary and it’s contrary to both the Clean Water Act and the 2009 Delta Reform Act. The state board must complete its review and update of the Delta plan to ensure that current science informs the appropriate standards that are in place before we consider any new infrastructure projects like the Delta tunnels.”

Thank you.

JEFFREY MICHAEL, Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific

Dr. Jeffrey Michael began by saying he was asked to talk about the economic impacts on the San Francisco Bay Area.  “The first that I need to say is connections, like Dr. Swanson was talking about between the Delta area and the Bay Area, are also economic, actually,” he said.  “I think it’s well known that there are economic risks and costs for the Delta area for this project.  People in the Bay Area should recognize that as of 2013, the government’s data crunchers have defined three of the five Delta counties are formally part of the Bay Area. Now why did they do that? Because the economic linkages between Contra Costa, Solano, and now San Joaquin Counties are so large, with the amount of goods and people and commerce moving between them that they are essentially become some of the same regional economy.”

Dr. Jeffrey MichaelThis trend is increasing and it’s going to increase over the decades of this project,” he said.  “When you think about the Bay Area, you’ve got to think about a much bigger area with the impacts. But I’m going to focus on some of the more core Bay Area today, particularly some of the water agencies where you have this interesting dynamic, where you’ve got the Santa Clara County water district that’s deciding whether to invest in the tunnels and could be an investor in it. And then you have other water districts, like Contra Costa Water District and the Bay itself that will be downstream of these massive intakes if the project goes forward and could face some real costs.

The first question I’m going to talk about are whether those Delta tunnels for those who would pay for them, including those in the Bay Area,” he said.  “Now I’ve listened to Secretary Laird talk about what was good about the project, and there are potential benefits there. As an economist who does benefit costs analysis on these things, if we’re talking about a one, a two, maybe even a three billion dollar project, it might pencil out. It might be able to be operated in the responsible way that he talks about and there might be sufficient funds to mitigate all the negative impacts on others.”

But that’s not what we’re talking about,” Dr. Michael said.  “We’re talking about a $16 billion project, and it’s been developed in a way where they punt all the financial and economic analysis down to the end. Well that comes at the end, they’ll decide whether they’ll pay for it, and that’s bad public policy. You have to integrate the economic and financial analysis with your project design from the beginning or you end up with these kinds of projects. They’re bad projects and they just can’t go forward the way they’re described.”

I’ll describe this in very simple terms; no fancy economic modeling,” he said.  “If you look at the environment documentation, the EIR they put forward, the Water Fix has an average water yield of 265,000 acre-feet on a $16 billion dollar project, so assuming that the project is delivered on budget, that’s a capital cost of 15,000 acre-feet per $1 billion.  Let’s take a little tour around alternative water supplies in California and see how it compares to 15,000 acre-feet per $1 billion, and we’ll look at some of the more expensive ones and some of the more inefficient ones.”

So there’s a lot of talk about building some new dams in California now,” he said.  “One of the lowest yielding of these is the Temperance Flat Dam; it’s very controversial because of its cost relative to its yield. About 70,000 acre-feet of water yield for about $3 billion. So if you do some division, that’s about 25,000 acre-feet per $1 billion; almost, not quite, but almost double what the Water Fix is. Now nobody pretends that the water users can finance these dams without a subsidy, right? I mean, this was part of the whole water bond. And in fact, if 50 percent of those costs were paid by the water bond, there are still questions of whether they can afford them. So there’s our first comparison.”

Desalination plants are something that a lot of cities are looking at as part of their portfolio but they’re criticized because of the cost,” Dr. Michael said.  “San Diego opened that billion dollar desalination plant; that’s 56,000 acre-feet of water a year; four times the yield in the Delta tunnels EIR. And that water is purified and delivered in the community in which it’s going to be consumed, not hundreds of miles away and untreated.”

Water recycling plants are often 100,000 acre-feet or more,” he said.  “Independent analysts have looked at the EIR and said water from the Delta tunnels costs $3,000 an acre-feet or more. So that’s left the staff of water agencies in a big quandary when they have to go to their boards and explain why they should invest in this project. And so their solution, and I haven’t come up with a catchy word for it … but we need a catch word for this because what they do and what they’ve done, including Santa Clara County water district staff, and luckily the board members are asking some tough questions about this, is they’re ignoring the official project documentation and assuming that the water yield is four, five, or six times larger than what’s in the environmental impact report. It’s a very unjustified assumption, very optimistic about, and I won’t get into the details of how they justify it, but it’s pretty weak.”

Even if it were true, if you assume that the yield is five times more than the EIR says, you can get the cost down to about $1,000 an acre-foot and show that it’s competitive with some of the other projects,” he said.  “The problems is they do that sort of math and ignore the fact that if you increase the yield, you increase the diversion from the estuary and you’re increasing the problems for the environment in all those downstream water users and related economies like the fishing industry and the tourism industry and the harm to all of those other Delta users. So you can’t just dial up the yield without dialing up the cost to other people.”

Not only are the tunnels more expensive than the alternatives, there are some real financial risks,” he said.  “The water agencies, including these Bay Area agencies, are really putting their credit at risk by financing a project of this magnitude with some financially shaky agriculture water districts. For example, Santa Clara County water district would be three maybe four percent of the project in the financial capacity.  Ag water districts are half of it in terms of the water received.”

Just this week, the Westlands water district became only the second municipal bond issuer in history to be fined by the FCC for deceiving investors,” he said.  “That was when they had about $100 million in bond debt. Their share of the tunnels would be three to four billion dollars.  And the reason they did that is because they were under a lot of financial stress because of a drought.  So think about the stress that’s going to be on them for three to four billion dollars of debt service.

Secretary Laird was actually honest that there’s a lot of questions about the agriculture water districts’ ability to pay for it but I don’t think actually there is any question,” Dr. Michael said.  “They aren’t able to pay for it and a lot of them are very honest about how this isn’t working out for them all that well. But to go into some sort of joint powers authority in partnership with these farmers, you have to understand how that comes back on Bay Area rate payers and water districts.  That puts your credit at risk, it puts your borrowing capacity at risk as those Bay Area water agencies.  So when they’re talking about all these wonderful local projects that they want to do to improve your community and your environment, all those just became a lot harder to finance if you go into this project and they’re depending on you to have the financial strength to back up the agricultural agencies.”

Dr. Michael had one last point to make, directing it at anyone at the handful of Bay Area business groups that have backed the tunnels.  “I’m directing this comment to them because they’ve put in letters supporting the tunnels and their justification in it rests in one issue, and that’s this concern about a Delta earthquake that would cause levees to collapse and water to rush in.   I’m going to speak to them today because I don’t think they’ve actually thought through about what this catastrophe, it’s a low probability even, but what it would mean and what actions you really should take as the Bay Area to militate against these risks.”

They talked about a flood, 30 islands flooding unexpectedly in an earthquake, as if the only thing that would do would mess up the water quality in the Delta so they couldn’t stop pumping anymore; talking about a massive catastrophe that would flood hundreds of thousands of acres without warning,” he said.  “The Delta’s got a lot more that the Bay Area cares about in it for its economy than water supply for one part of it. Areas in the Delta that would be devastated in such event include the Bay Area’s largest gas storage facility, the largest natural gas production field in Northern California, billions in transportation infrastructure, including state highways and Amtrak and freight lines that every year are moving more and more people and goods across Northern California. We’ve got a coastal shipping line; we talked about municipal waste water facilities for part of the Bay Area, and also the Bay Area’s closest and largest farm region, the Delta itself. The state’s analysis of such a flood that they’ve used to justify the tunnels, if you actually read the report and not the news release, also predicts hundreds of fatalities in such an event would make it the deadliest natural disaster for this region since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  None of these consequences would be protected by the Delta tunnels.

In fact, this analysis found, where they talked about billions of dollars in cost, that the tunnels would only prevent 20 percent of the economic harm and zero percent of the loss of life from such a disaster,” he said.  “In contrast to the tunnels, a common sense approach is to update the levees. Not only is it cheaper, it protects against 100 percent of the harm and loss of life, it helps all of the Bay Area, and a Bay Area that’s working together should be looking at these sorts of alternatives instead of tunnels.”

In closing, I know sometimes if I talk about the finances I can make the people pushing for the project sound pretty stupid when I talk about the costs and if they keep going forward, I think that will be accurate representation,” Dr. Michael said.  “But I think it’s valuable to step back and look at what they thought they were getting into when they started this planning process a decade ago. The original proposal and what they were talking about in 2006, 2007, 2008, early in the process. The one that the San Francisco Bay’s PPIC, Public Policy Institute of California said nice things about in a 2007 report, the project they looked at cost three or four billion dollars, the current proposal is $16 billion and rising. They project they were talking about then, they thought it would increase water exports by about 1.5 million acre-feet a year while restoring endangered species. Now after more analysis, we’ve got 225,000 acre-feet a year and it doesn’t claim to restore endangered species.

That project was worth looking at that they described,” he said.  “Now that they’ve looked at it the costs have increased four times and the water yield’s dropped by 80 percent and the environmental benefits just aren’t there. And this is why the project’s in trouble. I mean everyday more past supporters are looking at this and are walking away; more and more of them walking away. You mentioned that at a Met meeting, 40 percent of them voted not to buy the Delta islands.  So people are having second thoughts. And I think the evidence is becoming more and more clear that this project is not economically or environmentally justified.”

Thank you.”


Senator Wolk asked the panelists, what then, is plan B?

That really is the critical question and, quite frankly, that’s exactly where we should be right now,” replied Dr. Swanson.  “I wanted to start off with sort of another scientific fact, and that is that water comes from the environment. And in any particular year, we’re talking rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, groundwater aquifers, even the ocean if you want to go there, in any particular year, almost all of those supplies are finite but they vary from year to year. The amount of water supply that’s available for people, therefore, is not a function of water demand; it is a function of what the supply is out there. And everything that we know about this system says that we are living beyond our water needs. We’re taking too much from the environment and we’re still not meeting our needs.  So that means we people are going to have to make do with less.”

Panel 2So the obvious plan B, if the only plan B if we’re going to come up with a solution that is going to solve what our problem is right now, is that we need to first of all, in order to have a functional ecological and hydrological system, we need to restore flows to the environment and restore our management of groundwater on a sustainable basis,” Dr. Swanson continued.  “A lot of the groundwater recharge comes from rivers. If you have a dry river, you are not recharging your groundwater. And that is if you’re using groundwater, you are now really exacerbating your overdraft and depletion of those groundwater basins. And that’s a lot of where we are in the San Joaquin Valley.”

For the rest, for us, we need to make do with less and that means being more efficient, conserving, so actually using less, and reducing our demand,” Dr. Swanson said.  “Cash for grass was a reduction policy. You could be doing the same thing with agriculture. And in fact, you probably should because they use four times as much water as cities do.”

The other thing we need to do is find a way to increase our available supply in ways that are not damaging the function of the hydrological system and ecosystems,” Dr. Swanson said.  “The way to do that is with recycling, reusing the same water again, capturing water that is not being used right now in the form of rainwater capture and storm water management. Storm water capture is mostly used for infiltrating into the ground, but rainwater can be used for usually indirect non-potable use, but you can actually treat it as well.”

Finally, at the end of this list is desal,” Dr. Swanson said.  “The reason that it’s at the end is because it is more expensive. All of these other methods are, actually compared to as Dr. Michael was talking about, really relatively cheap. This is where we should be focusing our efforts.  One of the huge concerns about the direction that we appear to be taking right now is that it’s sucking all the air out of the room to explore all these other things. Secretary Laird talked about the fact that we’re doing it, but it’s small potatoes, the level of effort and the level of funding that is being devoted to these alternative supplies. So there’s plan B.

Senator Wolk added, “The suggestions you made are also locally based, regionally based, and therefore rate payers are much more willing to fund that kind of benefit, rather than for a tunnel that may not yield, in fact, will not yield the amount of water that it has before.”

One related question is how do we get to plan B?,” said Dr. Richard Denton.  “The state board at the moment is currently doing this expedited process of reviewing the Water Fix petition. That was very unfortunate in the sense that, that is such a bad petition that went forward because it’s not supported by and environmental document that is clear and contains modeling data that would inform the public. The other unfortunate part of it that really annoys me is that the state board made its decision to move forward were they accepting that document, or that petition, and setting up a hearing early in the day before the close of the comment period on that environmental document. So they have not opportunity then, to review some of the comments that were made by people regarding the inadequacy of that document.

What I’d like to see happen would be for the State Board to take a leadership role because someone needs to step in and set this process up by encouraging, in inverted quotes, a DWR recommendation to step back and look at all the new alternative by rejecting the current Water Fix petition,” continued Dr. Denton.  “I think there’s enough lack of information about the project for them to say no, this is not working. We need to look at a different approach.”

In 1976, the salmon industry was told it was going to become under a limited entry management program,” said Larry Collins.  “At that point they said there’s going to be no more additional boats that can access these public trust resources. If at that same time we had said there will be no more acreage put under irrigation in California because that’s a public trust resource also, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.  So we should cap. No more new development of irrigated acres in California. If we could go back 20 years, I would love that.”


After hearing public comment, Senator Wolk thanked everyone for coming and closed the hearing by saying, “Coming over the bridge this morning from the Valley into San Francisco, I was really struck by this extraordinary watershed frankly that goes from the mountains to the ocean, and what a gift it is to us.  When you have received a gift of that magnitude, we really have a duty – almost a sacred duty – to pass it on to our children and grandchildren better than when we received it, so I think this watershed is a gift and we ought to take very good care of it.”

Thank you all for coming.

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