Delta Stewardship Council addresses Delta conveyance and water storage operations

Delta map generic sliderboxCouncil votes to start work on potential Delta Plan amendment, which would include additional regulatory policies and/or recommendations to address Delta conveyance

At the March meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, council members discussed and ultimately decided to move forward with initiating the process to amend the Delta Plan to address water conveyance, storage, and the operation of both to achieve the coequal goals based on the nineteen principles adopted by the Council last fall.

When the Delta Plan was originally adopted in 2013, it did not address conveyance, instead recommending that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) be completed as a Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP) and be consistent with the provisions of the Delta Reform Act.  However, the Delta Plan also provided that if the BDCP should not be completed by January 2016, the Council would revisit the issue to determine how to facilitate improved conveyance facilities without the BDCP.

In April of 2015, the Brown Administration announced the BDCP would not be completed as an NCCP, but instead, the water conveyance facilities would be pursued as the California Water Fix project, and the ecosystem restoration projects would be implemented under the California Eco Restore program. As a result, over the summer, the Council began the process to develop a potential Delta Plan amendment by developing a problem statement and a set of nineteen principles to address conveyance, storage, and the operations of both, which were subsequently adopted in November.

At the March meeting, staff presented the council members with the proposed scope and process for developing an amendment to the Delta Plan, based on the adopted principles that would include new recommendations and/or regulatory policies as well as related performance measures.

DSC NavaseroAnthony Navasero, Senior Engineer, began the presentation with an analogy.  “We are like a team in an agency bowling league on water issues, all wearing matching shirts and scuff-free shoes,” he said.  “We are deciding on which lane/water issues our team will bowl on.  The Council is providing 19 principles like bowling balls of varying weights to assist the staff to bowl.  For the team, the staff is aiming to throw strikes and spares to develop an applicable and actionable amendment, but the staff is seeking to have the bumpers raised to focus our attempts.  Hopefully these bumpers/council direction will assist staff to not throw any gutter balls, but help focus the development of a Delta Plan amendment that the Council will support.”

Mr. Navasero noted that last summer, the Council heard panels of experts who ideally described the characteristics of a flexible, resilient, and integrated system with benefits for the ecosystem and a more reliable water supply.  The Council subsequently adopted 19 principles for Water Conveyance in the Delta, Storage Systems, and for the Operation of Both to Achieve the Coequal Goals.  Of the 19 principles adopted, five principles are centered on Delta conveyance, five principles are centered on water storage systems, and nine principles are centered on Delta water system operation.

A problem statement was developed, which Mr. Navasero reiterated for context.  “The state’s interconnected network of surface and groundwater storage is insufficient in volume; conveyance capacity, and operational flexibility to meet the coequal goals,” he said.  “Increasingly, the system is tasked to satisfy demands from people and wildlife that it was not originally designed to address.  At times of water surplus, the state’s surface storage is insufficient to reliably capture and convey water to meet California’s needs while also providing more natural, functional, environmental flows into and through the Delta to help restore the Delta ecosystem.  Conflicts exist among the needs of the environment, the needs of agriculture, and urban needs, which only exasperate during extreme dry years.”

The current method of conveying water through the Delta and exporting it to water users contributes together with other stressors to the continued decline of the Delta ecosystem,” he continued.  “In addition, risks to the Delta levees from floods and earthquakes impair the reliability of water conveyance through the Delta, reduce surface water deliveries due to constrained surface storage, both above and below the Delta, and the limits on water conveyance through the Delta are increasing reliance on the groundwater and depleting aquifers.  Subsidence caused by this overdraft, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, degrades underground storage capacity and damages conveyance facilities.”

Too often, surface supplies and groundwater are not operated conjunctively.  Because of these factors, reducing reliance on the Delta to meet future water supplies is difficult.  In addition, current conveyance and storage infrastructure and operating rules lack the flexibility to both quickly respond to current needs and substantially address long term effects.  The lack of a consistent adaptive management approach across agencies impedes decision making.  Climate change threatens to compound many of these problems.  As decisions about storage and conveyance are deferred and investments delayed, the crisis in the Delta watershed and California’s water infrastructure that the Delta Reform Act identified grows more acute.”

The purpose of the briefing is for staff to present the scope and process for the development of a potential Delta Plan amendment, as well as to receive the Council’s direction to develop the amendment.

The Scope of the Amendment

Mr. Navasero then discussed seven aspects for the scope of the proposed amendment.

1. Problem statement: Council staff recommends the problem statement be used as a working draft to shape the amendment, he said.

2.  Application of the 19 principles:  Staff has evaluated the 19 principles for their presence within the existing Delta Plan. “The evaluation concluded that principle one, which is new or improved Delta conveyance infrastructure should A, enhance the Delta ecosystem including more natural flows, B, protect or enhance water quality, and C, increase the reliability that water available for export can be exported, is reflected in policy ER P1, Delta flow objectives, and in some recommendations, such as WQ R1, protect beneficial uses,” he said.  “Additionally, principle 5, which is that new or improved Delta conveyance infrastructure should contribute to achieving improved water quality both in the Delta and for water quality delivered to the end users of the conveyance system, is only reflected in recommendations such as WQ R3, special water quality protections for the Delta.”

Another conclusion of the evaluation is that principle 16, which is surface and groundwater storage whenever feasible should be operated conjunctively to reduce long-term groundwater basin, overdraft, and improved groundwater basin recharge, is reflected in recommendations such as WR R14, identify near-term opportunities,” he said.  “But the evaluation concluded that the remaining principles were not sufficiently reflected in the Delta Plan.”

3. Best available science: Mr. Navasero noted that the best available science, provided as attachment 2, was used to support the 19 principles, and will continue to be used in determining which measures to include for the Delta Plan amendment.

4. Types of influence: Staff recommends the Council consider the types of influence a potential amendment may have.  He then gave some examples:  “One is to encourage operations that would store water in wet periods and reduce diversions in dry periods to protect water quality in the Delta; and provide more natural, functional flows, and enhance Delta inflows and outflows, consistent with the needs of the Delta ecosystem and water users,” he said.  “Another example – establish a process to define, monitor, and evaluate Delta ecosystem benefits of conveyance and storage projects, based on the best available science.  Third, encourage water infrastructure planning that increases the resilience of state’s water supply system by incorporating the best available climate change projections.  And the last example, accelerate conjunctive use projects, such as coordinated use of surface and groundwater systems for water storage and supply to reduce long-term groundwater basin overdraft and improve groundwater basin recharge.”

5. Understand the roles of other agencies: There are a number of state and federal regulations that cover a range of issues relevant to the water conveyance storage and operation of both,” he said.  “While the development of the amendment would seek to appropriately complement the work of other agencies, staff proposes to provide Council briefings as needed to clarify the regulatory context.  Staff will consult with other agencies during the amendment’s development.”

6. Development of performance measures:During last month’s Council meeting when new and revised performance measures were adopted into the Delta Plan, there were some performance measures specifically pertaining to conveyance, storage, and operations that were tabled for consideration for this Delta Plan amendment,” he said.  “Those suggested performance measures will be developed as needed in coordination with the potential amendment.”

7. Language Updates: Staff recommends removing or updating outdated language throughout the Delta Plan, such as references to BDCP, and name changes such as Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

The process for developing the amendment

Staff is proposing a three step process for developing the amendment:

Step 1.  Define the problem and identify goals and objectives.  “The problem is currently defined, but staff is seeking goals and objectives, particularly the outcomes the Council might be seeking,” he said.

Step 2.  Develop draft amendment and solicit input and review. Staff will develop straw person policies/recommendations and obtain feedback from council members, experts, agencies, and the public,” he said.  “Actions to receive feedback could be but not limited to the following actions: Work with the Delta Science Program staff and consultants to develop technical white papers to inform the amendment as needed; convene a working group of agencies whose responsibilities affect conveyance, storage and operations to assist the development of amendment alternatives and help avoid overlap with existing regulations; and third, hold workshops as part of the Council meetings and potentially outside of meetings, to receive input from the Council members and the public.”

Another substep, staff will develop a draft proposed amendment, which will incorporate a potential suite of policies and recommendations with associated performance measures, revisions to the Delta Plan narrative, and issues for future evaluation and coordination,” he said.  “Staff will present and recommend the draft amendment at the Council meeting for additional public input and Council review.  Staff will revise the draft amendment based upon the public input in order to recommend a proposed Delta Plan amendment for Council approval.  Concurrently, staff will propose CEQA actions as needed.  The final substep to Step 2 will be the Council’s direction to staff to proceed with CEQA compliance.”

Step 3: Council vote on proposed amendment and CEQA documentation and direction on seeking regulatory approval, if required.The Council takes action to approve the amendment and CEQA document,” he said.  “If regulatory policies were included in the amendment, the Council will need to direct staff to fulfill administrative procedure act requirements, and process regulations through the Office of Administrative Law.”

Next steps

For the next steps, staff is proposing to draft a list of objectives and some initial straw person policies and recommendations based upon input received from the Council meeting today on scope and process for developing a potential amendment.

In conclusion, I offer the Council some questions as food for thought and conversation,” Mr. Navasero said.  “What types of influence would the Council hope to have?  What kinds of outcomes would the Council desire from the Delta Plan amendment on water conveyance storage systems, and the operations of both? I’ll wait to hear some feedback from you.  Thank you.”

Council discussion

DSC FioriniCouncil Chair Randy Fiorini suggests taking a 50 year look at the issues, considering what is the ideal they want to achieve 50 years from now and what are the steps to get there.  Referring to the four examples of influence that Mr. Navasero gave, “you mentioned planning exercises, you mentioned process exercises, and you mentioned potential projects, and I think that all four of these bullet points that you have identified are applicable, depending upon where they fall on this 50 year timeline.”

These issues are very complex.  Using principle #14 as an example, which reads additional water supplies can be derived from more efficient reoperation of existing infrastructure, Mr. Fiorini notes that this is largely included because of the panel discussion with folks like Lester Snow and Robert Shibitani, whose testimony focused on the US Army Corps of Engineers guidelines on protecting flood control space in many of the reservoirs. “The thought was that we have technology to better forecast runoff and water so maybe we don’t need to reserve as much space as we historically have, thus yielding potentially more water,” he said.  “But one of the problems that was overlooked in that conversation is that 20 years ago, we had a major flood in 1997, and one of the weak links in the process was the channel capacity below many of the rim dams that prevented releases at a rate that would keep up with the inflow.  Ultimately that, coupled with the amount of flood control space, led to serious emergency releases.”

The recommendation 20 years ago was to address channel capacity and to move structures that were limiting the through-put of water in some of the channels down below,” he continued.  “To my knowledge, nothing has ever been done.  Why?  Because it was hard and because it was expensive.  So it’s not enough in recommendation 14 to say, Army Corps of Engineers needs to review their protocol and perhaps allow less flood control space reserve from October through April, because there are other [considerations] and this is why I said in my comments this morning, this is going to be hard because there are a lot of elements to any one of these principles that we’ll need to consider.”

My recommendation is let’s begin to try and transform these principles into recommendations and with an eye towards the kinds of things that need to happen in the near term, the mid term, and the long term to get to this ideal view of 50 years from now,” Mr. Fiorini said.  “I think the problem statements should be framed in a way that leads the reader to conclude that here’s the problem, but here’s the preferred outcome 50 years from now.”

DSC IsenbergOur enabling act in 2009 told us to review the Delta Plan at least every 5 years, and earlier if circumstances change and we thought necessary,” said Vice-Chair Phil Isenberg, noting that much has changed since the Delta Plan was adopted, such as the change from BDCP to Water Fix and Eco Restore, as well as the lessons learned from the drought we’re still engaged in.  “All of that suggests that it’s important to take the principles that we are articulated trying to define with greater clarity, the conveyance, storage, and operations issues that relate to the Delta Plan, and decide which elements of those deserve the attention of either recommendations or policies and regulations that were not in the Delta Plan.  It seems to me that this is an important enough issue that starting what appears to be early on a mandatory date of 2018 is review is in fact exactly in line with getting us where we want to be and to meet the time frame.  So I’d like to commend you for assembling a process that seems to make sense.”

All of our blind commitment to the status quo that we all hate and resistance to any change that might discomfort each one of us, the reality is the water world is changing now, will change more dramatically in the future, and the Delta Plan should reflect the appropriate elements of those changes that the evidence leads us to,” said Mr. Isenberg.

DSC TatayonCouncil member Susan Tatayon commented that water supply operations are continually bumping up against ESA mandates or situations where there is a conflict.  “If in moving through this process, you could reveal to all of us the points of conflict and the possible ways of operating the system that would reduce that conflict, that would be a wonderful section in our update of the plan or in the amendment,” she said.  “Another thing I’d like to see is while you’ve done a great job here of outlining the conveyance situation, the storage situation, and the operations and in reading the principles, if you had a section on the integration of those components such that we see the overlap in each of these principles and when they become recommendations, how they apply …

If we look down the road and get to a place where this work is done and we’re evaluating any recommendations or even regulatory policies, how will we be able to include for all the interested parties and the public on conveyance, what the Delta Plan and what the Council considers necessary as we might in the future consider a covered action, such as Water Fix,” asked Council member Patrick Johnston.  “In the Delta Plan that we have, we have best available science, which the attachment that has the statement of the problem is an update …  “

Yes we have our policy GP 1 that requires a covered action to make use of the best available science,” responded Program Manager Jessica Davenport.

DSC JohnstonThe other kinds of conditions that are going to come into play presumably as we evaluate any conveyance proposal would be the quality of the adaptive management program, and to what degree is regional reliability affected in any program, and then what mitigation to deal with any project’s immediate impacts on the Delta itself and the Delta community,” continued Mr. Johnston.  “The reason I say that is those sort of simple checklists of major items that are really already in our Delta Plan are going to matter if and when there’s a conveyance proposal before us as a covered action, but when I look at Delta conveyance principles, I don’t see them.  And if the answer is, they are already in the Delta Plan … is that the answer?

DSC DavenportThe principles were developed by the Council, and I’m assuming that you were taking into consideration some of the existing language in the Delta Plan,” said Ms. Davenport.  “However, I think from the staff’s point of view, we will be looking at what the principles say, not wanting to repeat anything that’s already in the Delta Plan and that’s why we did that review, but we actually found there’s quite a bit in these principles that isn’t yet reflected in the Delta Plan.  For example, if you look at principle #1, new or improved Delta conveyance infrastructure should enhance the Delta ecosystem including restoring more natural flows, protect or enhance water quality, and increase reliability of water available for export supplies, that water available for export supplies can be exported, we don’t have that explicitly in the Delta Plan for a covered action.”

At the end, if somebody wandered in and said, you’re going to pass judgement on Water Fix, what are the standards are you going to use, I want to be sure we have a coherent one place explanation – it may not be in the Delta Plan as such or in these specific recommendations, but somewhere where you’d get everything that matters so that we would know and others would know what’s the yardstick by which we measure a conveyance proposal,” said Mr. Johnston.

One of the things to keep in mind is that the conveyance storage and operations require integration – that’s the operations part of it, and we need to keep in mind as we move forward, how this integrates throughout the Delta Plan,” he said.  “It’s going to have to be high level, and we’re going to have to resist the temptation to dive into the weeds.  We have 14 regulations, many of which will be considerations that we will apply to covered actions that come to us, and I think the question as we move forward is will we want to add to that list, or will we be satisfied with recommendations?  Time will tell, and you’re going to bring us back straw persons to react to.”

Chair Isenberg moves to approve the three step process identified on pages 5 and 6 of the staff memo; the motion is seconded; after hearing public comment, the Council unanimously adopts the motion.

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