At the September meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s Special Committee on the Delta, committee members were given an update on the California Water Fix project, the State Water Board hearings, and the groundbreaking on the Tule Red Tidal Restoration Project in the Suisun Marsh.
CAL WATER FIX KEY UPCOMING DECISIONS
Steve Arakawa, Bay Delta Initiatives Manager for Metropolitan Water District, began by reviewing the upcoming key decisions for the California Water Fix project:
Environmental documents: The Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act for the federal side, and the Environmental Impact Report is being preapred in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act; the Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation are working on these documents. Mr. Arakawa said that the state is focused on preparing written responses to comments that would go the final environmental documents from the two periods of public comment. “Once all of that is put together and the final document is available, that’s the decision making document for moving forward for purposes of California Environmental Quality Act on the state side and National Environmental Policy Act on the federal side. Efforts are focused on getting all of that done by the end of this calendar year.”
Endangered species permits: For the federal agencies, biological opinions are prepared; for the state, a 2081 permit is needed. Mr. Arakawa said there has been much discussion between the state and federal agencies, and those discussion are ongoing. “They’ve talked about the strategy for completing that and about timelines, and there’s a real interest by water contractors, particularly Metropolitan, in making sure that stays on track to complete the endangered species act permitting if not by the end of the year, then in January 2017.”
Water rights permits for the new points of diversion on the Sacramento River: This is referred to as the change in point of diversion permit; these proceedings are underway at the State Water Resources Control Board. The completion for these permits will be farther out in time, sometime in 2018, Mr. Arakawa said.
Army Corps of Engineers permits: These are needed to help support the construction of the project. A 404 permit is a construction related permit for placement of fill. That is proceeding as well.
The main thing is to get the environmental documents and endangered species permits to complete the planning process and get ready to make a decision, he said.
DELTA SMELT RESILIENCY STRATEGY
Mr. Arakawa then turned to the Delta smelt resiliency strategy, noting that this is important for how the project moves forward and how the adaptive management part of the project is formulated and implemented, as well as how the agencies work together with the project funding contractors to improve conditions for Delta smelt.
The Natural Resources Agency released the Delta smelt strategy in July. There are approximately 13 actions identified in the strategy, he said. “The intent is to try and take some near term actions to address some factors that likely could be impacting Delta smelt populations,” he said. “Some of them have to do with turbidity and the movement of water through the system and how to manage turbidity; some of them have to do with how to create habitat areas to help with conditions that could enhance survival of fish, whether that’s food production, or turbidity, and the whole important land and water interfaces necessary to create and estuarine habitat that support these types of native fish, like the Delta smelt.”
One of the actions in the plan is the summer flow proposal. “The state is continuing to develop a detailed implementation strategy for this, so these are actions that would go forward in the next two to three years, but as many as possible in the coming year to help address some of the concerns about Delta smelt,” Mr. Arakawa said, noting that surveys have shown very low numbers in the last year or two.
“One of the key things that is going on is the Collaborative Adaptive Management Team and the policy level group is involved in how some of these actions would move forward: the type of support that’s needed for that, the kind of priority that’s placed on each of these actions, and what type of monitoring and response program would be formulated and used to test whether these actions are having the intended beneficial result.”
One of the actions implemented this year as a result of the strategy was to run some of the water from the Sacramento River down through the Yolo Bypass floodplain to see if it would enhance the food supply for native fish. “This started in July, and the people working on this have been very pleased with the results,” Mr. Arakawa said. “The phytoplankton this summer were at higher levels than in the previous recent past, so there’s a high level of optimism that putting some water on the floodplain during certain periods could really boost the food supply for these native fish. The food supply could be increased and maybe the floodplain habitat would be a more hospitable place in the Delta for this fish. DWR is planning to continue this in the next couple of years, 2017 and 2018, and certainly our staff is very much tied into this action to understand what the next steps are in the next couple years.”
The strategy will be reviewed by the Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program (CSAMP). “The reason this is so important is because making the right decisions as the State Water Project is operated, and if approved, as the Cal Water Fix project is implemented and moves forward, the decision making on adaptive management is going to be key, given that in many areas the science is not completely clear,” he said. “In some areas, it’s not clear at all, so having an idea of what to do in order to sort some of that out and to understand what the system is telling us with regards to responses to certain physical conditions, flow conditions, other types of effects that are occurring in the system.”
The CSAMP is also focusing on the reoperation of the Suisun Marsh salinity control gates. Mr. Arakawa explained that the salinity control gates were constructed in the Suisun Marsh area back in the 1980s to help manage salinity in the Suisun Marsh channels in order to support managed wildlife, birds and ducks in that area and to protect the beneficial use of waterfowl and environmental uses.
“In this effort to develop a Delta smelt resiliency strategy, the idea of using the salinity control gates to create better habitat for Delta smelt in these channels was identified,” he said. “It could be a very effective way of utilizing flow, even if is existing flow levels that are going through the western Delta today and maybe moving some of the water up into the Suisun Marsh channels to help create good habitat. It could be a very effective, efficient way of managing fresh water for the species and creating more habitat in areas where there would be a food supply. That’s the purpose of that particular action.”
The CSAMP will also be looking at creating habitat and conditions for Delta smelt in the Frank’s Tract area. “It’s an area that was flooded back in the 1930s; it’s very shallow. Many times when we have the first winter flows in the system in December, the turbidity accumulates in that area in the upper portion of the South Delta or in the Central Delta, and so the idea of creating better physical habitat in that particular area to help support Delta smelt is one of the actions and doing the feasibility study is the primary focus of that strategy.”
The team will also be looking at the other actions and providing input, but much of the priority focus is going to be on the Delta smelt summertime flow action, reoperation of the salinity control gates in the Suisun Marsh, and doing a feasibility study for Franks Tract, he said.
SOURCES OF FUNDING FOR THE CALIFORNIA WATER FIX PLANNING PROCESS
Mr. Arakawa then discussed how the planning efforts for California Water Fix are moving forward. “If you recall, the water contractors both state and federal, implemented fundi ng agreements back several years ago totaling about $240 million to support the Cal Water Fix planning process,” he said. “As time has gone on, we’ve provided monthly reports to you in our Bay Delta board report, we’ve shown the accounting of those costs, both the commitments for the work to be done as well work that has been done and costs that have been incurred.”
“A month or two ago, there was some interest and questioning about where the funds are coming from now, given that the water contractor funds have been totally utilized,” he said. “The response that we provided a couple months ago was these are not general fund sources, because there was some stories in certain outlets that the planning process was being completed using general funds.”
“The response was that no general funds are being used to complete the planning process, and so today I want to give you a further definition of how the state and how DWR is able to continue supporting the completion of the planning process,” he said. “Back when the state funded the project and began all the planning, the state provided some initial seed money through grants and loans to help kick things forward. At that time, there were no contracts yet, and so the state of California provided that advance funding. The funds were repaid by water contractors, so these are not subsidized costs, but are the costs that are paid by the state project contractors with interest.”
“Those funds go back into what are called the State Water Resources Development System, which is the flood control and recreation aspects of the State Water Project,” he continued. “DWR has the ability to use those funds for different purposes, and they have been used for purposes such as paying for the components of the projects that are recreation-related, components that are related to fish and wildlife preservation and enhancement, flood control, agricultural drainage, and then they’ve also been used to help reinvest on some of the water supply components of the State Water Project. … That’s how those funds have been in use in the past for various periods. The state has utilized some of those funds to help finish the planning process.”
“At the same time, the federal government through the US Bureau of Reclamation has provided funding to help support completion of the planning process,” Mr. Arakawa said. “The plan and the intent is to complete the planning process with no further funding agreements from the water contractors. So I wanted to clarify these are not general funds, but are funds that are available that DWR has available to them for these kinds of purposes.”
UPDATE ON STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD PROCEEDINGS ON CALIFORNIA WATER FIX
Mr. Arakawa then gave a status report on the ongoing process at the State Water Resources Control board, noting that there’s nothing really earth-shattering in this update. The State Water Board is in the process of considering the points of diversion on the Sacramento River which is looking at the effects the project might have on other water right holders and on fish and wildlife.
He noted that there’s another effort underway concurrently by the State Water Board to update the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. “That’s a parallel process and they are continuing to move down the road of updating that plan and determining whether any changes in the objectives and ultimately the standards that are controlled by water rights decision and whether there’s any need to update things,” he said. “With the Water Quality Control Plan, the state has the jurisdiction. They’ve been delegated to handle those issues as it relates to water quality, and that’s under the Clean Water Act on the federal side, but it’s being done under the state’s Porter-Cologne Act, and it establishes the requirements to protect the formally-designated beneficial uses.”
With respect to the ongoing points of diversion proceedings, Mr. Arakawa said that the proceedings started in July. The hearing is currently in Part 1 of the proceeding; part 2 will start after the environmental documents and the biological opinions are approved. Part 1 deals with the effects on water rights holders, such as water quality or water supply. Part 2 deals with the effects on fish and wildlife, as well as what the appropriate flow criteria is to support the State Board’s approval of those new diversion points, and the fish species of interest, which includes Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, and different runs of salmon. Once the environmental documents and the biological opinions are completed and approved, that’s when Part 2 would start.
“The main thing that’s occurred so far is the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources and its witnesses have provided its testimony on a number of different areas, and then there’s been cross examination on those areas,” he said. “They are just at the closing part of that portion of part 1, and they are getting ready to launch on the direct testimony of other parties that have protested the Cal Water Fix petition or application. These are upstream parties or Delta parties looking to protect their interests as it relates to Cal Water Fix. It’s expected that around October 20th, the actual testimony will start regarding that particular part of the proceeding.”
“So far, the state and the federal side has provided testimony on project description, engineering, and how the project would be constructed, how the project would be operated with the facilities that are identified, going through all of the modeling results and modeling assumptions and such,” he said. “There are about 70 parties that have been a part of this process, representing different users, either in the Delta or upstream.”
Mr. Arakawa said there have been multiple days of questioning – over 100 hours. “In my experience, it’s been a bit different than proceedings like this in the past in that much of, the meetings are now webcast, so a lot of parties will monitor remotely from their offices and determine what interests they have and how they would want to plug into the cross examination, so in the past there might have been much bigger crowds physically in person.”
He said in the questions during cross examination, there are no big surprises; they are generally the same kinds of comments that have been raised through the environmental process and the BDCP process. “The key thing is that the State Water Board and its hearing officer have a role in keeping the focus on what this proceeding is about, which is the Cal Water Fix points of diversion, while also recognizing there’s a separate process for update of the Water Quality Control Plan. That’s one of the key things that the hearing officer and the water board is trying to manage.”
STATUS OF TULE RED TIDAL HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT
Randall Neudeck, Program Manager for Metropolitan Water District, then updated the committee members on the progress made on the Tule Red Tidal Habitat Restoration Project.
“Today, the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency and their partner, Westerfeld Ecological Services with the cooperation of the DWR and numerous other state and federal agencies, had a groundbreaking ceremony for the Tule Red habitat restoration project,” he said. “It’s the first project under the California Eco Restore program. Back in 2011, your board, in addition to Westlands Water District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District, provided some initial seed money to fund the purchase of the property. That seed money will be reimbursed by the Department of Water Resources and spread out among all the contractors. This project meets a portion of the habitat requirements under that 2008 US FWS Delta smelt biological opinion.”
The project is located in the Suisun Marsh just west of Sacramento Delta. The Suisun Marsh is about 70,000 acres; it’s made up of over 150 duck clubs and are mainly managed diked wetlands.
The Tule Red project is on the border of Grizzly Bay; the actual total property is about 2000 acres; the land portion is about 378 acres. They were also able to incorporate some adjoining land owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife into the project as habitat to make 400 acres of new wetlands as part of the proposal.
Mr. Neudeck explained that the duck clubs will bring in water the second week in October, flood it up and keep that water through February. “What they are going to do here is change that operational patterns … they’ll open that up to full tidal exchange eventually, for not only Delta smelt but longfin smelt and salmon smolts as well. The total cost of this project is estimated to be about $10.8 million, and that’s land purchase, planning, design and construction.”
He said the state will be giving them 600 acres of credit; 400 acres of new wetlands, and another 200 acres of enhanced habitat for the food production that will come off those lands and go in the front of the property in Grizzly Bay. The State and Federal Contractors Water Agency has acquired all the permits for the project. Groundbreaking was at the end of September; construction started last week. Construction will go into the next year or two; the levee will be breached probably in 2018.
Mr. Neudeck presented a slide of costs as compared to other tidal restoration projects under consideration by the Department. “You can see it’s fairly competitive, in fact, one of the lower ones there,” he said. “This project has taken about six years to complete, but this is one of the first projects to be completed to date.”
The project has a number of benefits, such as assisting in enhancing supply reliability, contributing to Biological Opinion requirements, a critical component of EcoRestore, improving habitat and food availability, it’s easily expandable, and the land/water interface is conducive to effective restoration. Mr. Neudeck said the improvement in habitat and food availability is key. “Especially in this area of Suisun Bay, it really improves the habitat and food availability for the Delta smelt, the longfin smelt, and the little salmon smolts that are coming down the river – not only the food but the habitat as well.”
He noted that being one of the first projects to start construction, it’s been a learning experience.
Under the Cal Eco Restore program, there are about 18 other projects listed, not just habitat restoration, but fish passage improvement projects, he said. “In addition the state, on September 13, released a request for proposal to complete their goal that by 2020 of having 30,000 acres of habitat completed. The submittal deadline for those proposals is in November.”
Mr. Neudeck then concluded by playing a video from the groundbreaking.
A BRIEF UPDATE ON THE CALIFORNIA WATER FIX COST ALLOCATION
During the Bay Delta Manager’s report, Assistant General Manager Roger Patterson said good progress is being made in the cost allocation. “I’m thinking by the end of next month, we’ll have a proposal we can start taking out and talking to policy-level folks about, so we’ll see. It’s obviously a difficult issue and it takes on all of these and what can folks afford to pay kinds of issues at the same time, so that’s where the rubber will meet the road. I’m thinking we’ll have a proposal by the end of October that we can start talking about then – at least that’s my hope.”
Director Fern Steiner asks about the recent newspaper articles about the report by Dr. Sunding. “I know it was discounted as being outdated and old,” she said. “Is there is a more current financial analysis that’s already been done, or has Dr. Sunding been asked to do further analysis to update this report? Because that report indicated that in order for the agricultural agencies to be able to be a part of this, a third of the money would have to come from the federal government, and I think that’s the first time that’s actually been said.”
“All I would say is that the state was pretty clear that they’re not anticipating and certainly we’re not anticipating any kind of either state or federal subsidy, which is what the article said,” responded Mr. Arakawa. “That’s not what is anticipated; that hasn’t been in the plan from the very start. I don’t know exactly what Dr. Sunding is going to be asked to do relative to completing the report. I would guess that that would wait until we get the final cost allocation figured out, that’s what I would do, but I’m not sure what the state’s going to do. I think there is no subsidy envisioned and it’s always been that the contractors and beneficiaries are going to pay, and nothing has changed.”
Director Steiner asks if the Delta smelt resiliency will affect exports.
“The key thing we focused on a month or so ago was on the summer outflow proposal,” responded Mr. Arakawa. “Many of the other actions are efforts to improve fisheries, but maybe not directly affect project exports. There are some actions that have to deal with how fish are sampled down in the screened facilities and how they are managed in putting them back in the system and such, but in terms of water supply related impacts, the summer outflow action is probably the main one. The effort here is to look at what type of outcome is targeted, the scientific basis for it, and then what kind of monitoring effort would you use in order to test whether it actually has an effect.”
“I think also in terms of project operations that Montezuma Slough control gate operation is project related,” continued Mr. Arakawa. “If there’s a way to create those kind of habitat conditions without having to release a significant amount of outflow, that may be a prudent measure, because those gates could produce a pretty sizeable amount of habitat without having to push out a lot of extra outflow which may or may not have a beneficial effect, given that it’s in Suisun Bay.”
Director Ackerman asks about the permitting being pushed off into next year.
“We are pushing to get things all in line, ‘we’ meaning Metropolitan and some of the other water contractors,” said Mr. Arakawa. “Certainly on the state side, having an environmental impact report and a 2081 permit completed by the end of the year. A lot of the discussion has been centered around the federal side and the federal permits, particularly FWS but even now the NMFS for the salmon and Delta smelt biological opinions. They are continuing to discuss that timeline and there is some talk that it would be pushed out a couple months or three months, but I think my remarks were intended to convey that there’s a interest in getting everything done, including the EIR, EIS, the 2081 permit, and pushing for completion of the biological opinions in a way that decision making could occur sooner rather than later.”