METROPOLITAN’S SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON THE BAY-DELTA: Preparing to make decision on California Water Fix; pending amendments to the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan

ACWA’s newly adopted policy on Delta flows also briefly presented

At the March meeting of Metropolitan’s Special Committee on the Bay Delta, committee members heard the plan for bringing the California Water Fix project before the board for a decision and an update on the pending Delta Plan amendment process currently underway at the Delta Stewardship Council.


The first agenda item was a short update on the California Water Fix, and a briefing on how Metropolitan staff will be bringing the information to the board to make the decision on Metropolitan’s participation in the project.

Steve Arakawa, manager of Metroplitan’s Bay-Delta Initiatives Program, said that the agencies continue to work on completing the biological opinions.  Once those have been completed, a decision on the final EIR/EIS can be made; that is anticipated to happen later this spring.  In addition, conversations continue both on the state and federal side regarding cost allocation; there are no significant changes there.

At the board retreat held in April of 2016, staff heard from the directors that they wanted information about what the project is, what the features are, how the implementation of that project would be managed, the operating criteria and water supply that’s connected with Cal Water Fix, and the cost allocation and financing strategy.

Mr. Arakawa said there are three components to the information: the physical infrastructure and the benefits and reasons for improving and modernizing the system; the operations and the water supply yield; and the cost allocation and finance.  They will be developing white papers to help the board in deliberation in each of the three areas; the papers will help for collective discussion and deliberation in a board workshop format regarding the policies, the risks, and the benefits to Metropolitan.  “All of that leading to the ability for the board to make a decision and in a time frame where there is continuing interaction between you and your agencies and your regions so that they are certainly familiar with the direction that’s moving forward,” said Mr. Arakawa.

The papers would be provided in sequence, and possibly presented through a series of committee meetings; the papers would be sent out ahead of time so board members can be familiar with the key policy aspects.  This would then lead to a board workshop in which all three of those papers would be the foundational information to have a discussion and to really understand what the context and the decision making actions are, so that the Board could be prepared to make a decision on Cal Water Fix.  “The decision is really to support moving forward on Cal Water Fix, based on the cost allocation, based on the financing, and based on the benefits that it would provide to Metropolitan,” he said.

Mr. Arakawa said it’s unclear at this point when the biological opinions will be approved, but they are preparing for a decision so that when the decision is made, the board is prepared to deliberate and weigh in on the project.  The board deliberation process is expected to take between six and eight weeks.  “Conceivably, if things start to move quicker, we could be ready to start talking about the first paper as early as the fourth Tuesday in May, and we would take it from there,” he said.


The Delta Stewardship Council is continuing with its efforts to review and update portions of the Delta Plan that was finalized back in 2013.  Mr. Arakawa next discussed the Council’s activities and how Metropolitan is plugged into the process.

The Delta Stewardship Council was formed by the 2009 Delta Reform Act and charged with creating a long-term management plan for the Delta and its resources; the Council adopted the first Delta Plan in 2013.  The Council is currently considering Delta Plan amendments for the Delta Levee Investment Strategy which recommends how state money would be utilized for Delta levees; recommendations regarding conveyance, storage, and operations; and refining and updating the Plan’s performance measures.

The Delta Stewardship Council itself has continued to change over the years; most of the members from the early years have moved on.  Chair Randy Fiorini, a farmer from the Turlock area, and Patrick Johnston, a former state legislator from Stockton, are the two members that have been on the Council since its inception.  Newer members include Vice Chair Susan Tatayon, with the Nature Conservancy; Frank Damrell, a previous federal judge; Mike Gatto, former state legislator from Southern California; Skip Thomson, a Solano County supervisor and chair of the Delta Protection Commission; and Ken Weinberg, from the San Diego County Water Authority.

The Delta Plan that was adopted in 2013.  That plan included policies and recommendations for many areas, including science and adaptive management, governance, Delta ecosystem restoration, and water supply reliability, recognizing that the state’s policy is to promote the coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration.

That’s the underlying context for which all of the Delta Stewardship Council activities proceed as try to contribute towards these coequal goals,” he said.  “The Delta Plan and the Stewardship Council’s activity in managing the Delta Plan is to make sure that all of the various agencies and all of the actions move towards meeting this overall vision for the Delta, including the policies and recommendations that are in the Delta Plan.”

Since its adoption, the Delta Plan has been amended to refine performance measures, and to allow for single-year water transfers to proceed without having to certify consistency with the Delta Plan.

Currently, the Council is considering three amendments to the Delta Plan: the Delta Levee Investment and Risk Reduction Strategy; Conveyance, Storage, and Operations; and Performance Measures.  Mr. Arakawa discussed the first two, noting that the performance measures relate to how the Council will measure if the plan is effective and won’t be covered in this presentation.

The Delta Levee Investment and Risk Reduction Strategy Amendment

In the Delta Reform Act, the Delta Stewardship Council was also charged with developing a Delta levee investment and risk reduction strategy to attempt to reduce the risks to people, property, and state interests in the Delta and that references the areas of effective emergency preparedness, appropriate land uses given the topography and features that are in the Delta.  “The Council is charged with recommending priorities for state investment to look out for the state’s interests in Delta levee operation, maintenance, and improvements,” said Mr. Arakawa.

The Council and its staff have been working on the Delta levee investment strategy for some time now.  The document for the strategy has been through a number of drafts and comments have been made; the Council is now at a point where they’ve now adopted the approach for the levee investment strategy to provide an overview of flood risks in the Delta, to deal with current flood management efforts, and how to deal with agencies.

Levees are probably one of the core things in dealing with the Delta,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “The Delta area has these levees that are very important to the economy of the Delta, our water supply, and the ecosystem, and so the Stewardship Council has gone forward and developed this strategy based on some key things: to continue to prepare for flood emergencies, to prioritize the investments that are made by the state, to update funding strategies, to renew assurances of federal assistance for any kind of disaster relief or disaster response, and to try to limit and minimize state liability to make sure that as the state plays a role in helping to protect this area through its investments and the state’s interests that it’s also exposing itself unduly to any kind of liability.”

The Council has been receiving comments through several iterations; there have been at least three comment letters provided by the State Water Contractors, as well as meetings with Council staff and its consultant.  “It’s been focused on a few key areas,” he said.  “To make sure when identifying the beneficiaries in terms of understanding where the revenue should come from, to be pointing to the model that was defined in the CalFed days when the state and federal government was looking to improve the overall Delta situation, that benefits would be measured based on added value … that it’s actually based on a ‘beneficiaries pays’ principle.  As you can well imagine, a ‘beneficiaries pays’ principle is not a controversial term until you get into the details on how you define it and so the contractors have been commenting on how they see beneficiary pays working.”

Another area of comment by the water contractors has been how the Stewardship Council’s levee investment prioritization and strategy would work with DWR and how DWR spends state funds.  “They are the ones that actually implement levee maintenance and improvement projects, and our comment is to make sure that stays coordinated on a regular basis, and that there’s an annual opportunity to check in and report how the priorities and the funding for levee improvements and levee maintenance align with each other,” he said.

Lastly, there’s been some consideration of whether the state support should actually increase in the future.  “The State Water Contractors comment in that regard is that the existing cost sharing is what should continue on and that is, currently there is a 75% cost share that is supposed to sunset in 2018, and the contractors are weighing in and saying that should continue to happen and it should go back to the normal 50% cost share from the state in terms of maintenance and levee subventions.

During the discussion period, Director Murray asked for further clarification on the state’s cost share for Delta levee funding. “Is there anything that you see at this point that would indicate that that provision is not going to be renewed or extended?,” he asked.

There would need to be some kind of action to remove that sunset, so that’s what the comments are related to,” replied Mr. Arakawa.  “There has been legislation in the past looking at that kind of cost sharing continuing on beyond 2018. Conceivably that could occur again; we’re in a new legislative year.   There could be something written into the Delta Plan that says they should go towards staying at 75% and that’s what we’ve commented on – that we believe it should stay at 50% past that sunset date.”

What I think I don’t hear you saying is that at this point is that there is certainty; there are things that can be done, but it’s not a certainty, is that correct?” asked Director Murray.

Last year, there was legislation and it didn’t pass; the same thing could happen this year,” Mr. Arakawa responded.

If in fact, any one of those actions, legislative or otherwise, is not adopted, what is Met’s plan?” asked Director Murray.

There have been legislative proposals as well as administrative proposals, primarily by folks in the Delta, seeking 75% state share, sometimes up to 90% state share,” said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.  “We oppose that; we think something like 50/50 between the locals and the state is a reasonable policy.  Despite the fact that we are now a landowner, we had stuck with that position and advocated for that, so we intend to continue doing that.  My guess is something will occur in the legislature in 2018. Knowing the Brown Administration, they won’t be looking too fondly on something above a 50/50 cost share.  So my guess is we’ll see some legislation on that and there will be some proposals to make it higher and some to make it lower, and we’ll bring that back to the board when we actually get some legislative proposals, but what we have historically advocated for is that 50/50 cost share seems fair.  That is what we’ve continued to do absent some change in direction.”

Conveyance, Storage, and Operations Amendment

The second amendment to the Delta Plan deals with conveyance, storage, and operations.  Mr. Arakawa explained that when the Delta Reform Act was passed in 2009, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan was being prepared as a Natural Communities Conservation Plan included both water conveyance and habitat restoration.  The Delta Reform Act had envisioned that if the Bay Delta Conservation Plan met the criteria for a Natural Communities Conservation Plan, it would be deemed consistent with the Delta Plan, and would have been incorporated into the Delta Plan.  This was still the assumption when the Delta Stewardship Council adopted its Delta Plan in 2013.

However, in April of 2015, the state reformulated its approach, no longer pursuing the NCCP approach but instead, breaking it into two pieces: the California Water Fix for the water conveyance and California Eco Restore for the habitat restoration.   “As the California Water Fix has been moving forward, the Stewardship Council has been talking about how do they now go through their decision making process, given that it’s no longer a Bay Delta Conservation Plan, it’s now a proposed California Water Fix,” he said.  “They adopted some principles a couple of years ago when they initiated a process to amend the Delta Plan so that they could be in a position to deal with this proposed project and that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about conveyance, storage, and operations.  It deals with not only the facilities themselves related to Cal Water Fix, but operations and storage and how the three of those work together.”

The amendments would promote options for new and improved conveyance including dual conveyance, and that’s what California Water Fix is by definition,” Mr. Arakawa said.  “To promote new and expand storage to address climate change and provide ecosystem and water supply benefits and that’s certainly conforming to the Governor’s California Water Action Plan.  And to increase integrated operations of storage and conveyance to further the coequal goals.”

The Stewardship Council is always looking to assure that the Delta Plan helps these various actions move towards meeting the coequal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration, and that was kind of a lynchpin in the Delta Reform Act of 2009,” he said.

The State Water Contractors have weighed in on this as well.  “One of the key things that the contractors continue to weigh in on is the Council’s policy on reduced reliance and how proposed actions would be considered as they go to the Council in the context of reduced reliance,” Mr. Arakawa said.  “In the legislation, it refers to reduced reliance, and through the life of the Delta plan, there’s been comments back and forth from various parties on that does reduced reliance really mean.  As the Delta Plan got finalized, there was a view by many water users that it seemed to be moving towards, ‘you have to reduce your take from the Delta out over time,’ and there were others that argue that the definition that was included in the legislation meant that through your investments in conservation, local water supply including recycled water and other types of supply management actions that could occur locally, you’re reducing your reliance on the Delta out into the future, that it would otherwise be if those investments didn’t occur.  The contractors continue to utilize the opportunity to weigh in on that issue.”

The contractors have also commented that these statements should be considered as recommendations in the Delta Plan, rather than regulatory policies, and that operations should be managed in such a way to take advantage of wet periods and wet years to store water.  “So literally applying the idea of reduced reliance, you don’t want overly constrain operations that you don’t get the benefit of storage facilities,” he said.

The contractors have also commented that the amendment should include statements about what dual conveyance does for water quality and that it is clear that the dual conveyance system can be operated in a way that meets water quality needs, including those in the Delta, to protect beneficial uses.

Next steps for the Council

The Council issued a Notice of Preparation in March and held a scoping meeting as they work towards preparing an Environmental Impact Report for these amendments to the Delta Plan.  They are going to have a presentation to the Independent Science Board on these topics in April and May.  “The Council will then consider an updated draft on these conveyance, storage, and operations statements and then the language, whatever they end up approving, would then be included in the EIR that they would be taking action on at some point,” he said.  “We’re anticipating that that EIR process will continue on through 2017.  That EIR would include the aspects of the Delta Levee Investment Strategy, the Delta conveyance, storage, and operations amendment, and then the companion performance measures that go along with it that make up the Delta Plan.”

We continue to work with the contractors, we continue to attend the meetings and comment when our interests are involved and we plan on keeping you updated on where things are and what the outcomes,” concluded Mr. Arakawa.


With Assistant Manager Roger Patterson not in attendance, Steve Arakawa also gave the Bay Delta Managers report, briefing the Committee members on the recent policy ACWA adopted related to the State Water Board’s process for flows in the Delta, and current Delta operations.

ACWA Policy Statement on Flows

Besides the ongoing process at the State Water Board regarding the California Water Fix project, the State Water Board also has an ongoing responsibility and jurisdiction over updating the water quality standards in the Delta that are part of the water quality control plan, which is tied to the Clean Water Act.   They are in the process of updating the water quality control plan, which they are doing in a multi-phase process.  The first phase is setting flow requirements on the San Joaquin River; the second phase is on the remaining part of the Delta, which includes the Sacramento River.

One of the key areas of focus has been should the flows that they develop for standards in the Delta be based on this term called unimpaired flow,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “Unimpaired flow is if you took the system today, the watershed with all of the channels and the Delta the way it is today, and you basically got rid of the storage reservoirs and you just allowed the water to flow, what is the accounting of that water.  How much water flows through that system?  That’s a way of thinking about unimpaired flow.  It’s kind of an accounting mechanism to say this is how much water in a wet year or a dry year or below normal year or etc.  It doesn’t really reflect if the water would have moved out into flood basins, what would happen in more natural systems, what’s good for the ecosystem and there’s where our interests lie.  We’ve argued that just setting flows based on this water accounting doesn’t mean that it’s going to have a benefit for fisheries.  And fact, there really ought to be focus on what functional flows are necessary for fish protection, how much habitat, how much water, and what’s the timing of that.”

As the State Water Board has proposed to go forward and set flows, they’ve used percentage of unimpaired flow as the mechanism,” he continued.  “They did that on the San Joaquin phase, and that received a lot of attention from the San Joaquin River users and the tributary users upstream.  They also have indicated the same kind of approach for the remaining part of the Delta.  So ACWA, whose membership includes upstream users and export users, put out a policy.”

ACWA’s adopted policy has some key things.  “One is that when we go forward to identify regulations and standards that are necessary for the Delta, it ought to be done in a comprehensive way; we ought to be looking at a variety of things that need to be addressed, rather than just single dimensional flow.  It ought to be based on best available science, and it ought to be consistent with the state’s coequal goals.  If it’s a flow action that has significant harmful effects to water supply reliability, then that would cause the coequal goals to get out of balance.”

The policy also recognized the Governor’s recent direction to address State Water Board requirements to try to reach mutually beneficial voluntary agreements as to how the flows would be met and what other kinds of actions could be possible to help protect the Delta, that ought to be considered in the process.

ACWA released the policy in mid-March; Metropolitan staff will be returning to the committee with a more detailed report on how the State Water Board’s water quality control plan update is proceeding, ACWA’s policy statement, and what steps Metropolitan might want to take in the future.

Delta operations

There are still high flows in the Delta.  The San Joaquin River is still flowing high, and then that is happening, there is more flexibility because there aren’t constraints with the reverse flow requirements that are in the biological opinion.  Delta outflow is high at 140,000 cfs.

There was some take of Delta smelt in the month of March.  “The Delta smelt salvage is 57 as of today, and the take limit is 64, but we’re getting to the point where the adult stage is wrapping up.  Most of the adults have spawned in the Delta.  We expect that we’re moving from a period of adult spawning to now Delta smelt larvae being in the system so we think there’s going to be less and less adult Delta smelt in the area of the pumps, but nonetheless the Bureau has been asking for consultation with the fish agencies as to whether anything needs to be adjusted, but right now it seems like since we’re moving out of the adult stage, it may not be a big problem.”

In another matter, in early March, DWR identified a problem on the inside portion of the intake facilities at Clifton Court.  As water flows through the gates, it flows over a concrete apron and DWR has found that the structure has settled somewhat, cracking the concrete.  DWR is in the process of moving forward with the repairs, which could take up to 45 days, although they hope to complete it in less time if possible.  At this time, water is not moving through the state’s Banks Pumping Plant; instead, they are utilizing the federal Jones Pumping Plant, so a portion of what’s going through the Jones Pumping Plant is State Water Project water.

We’ve been consulting with DWR and its staff’s view that this should not have any impact to our allocation for this year,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “There has been unscheduled water that shows up in the Delta that we’ve taken as Article 21 water, and a number of agencies have taken advantage of that this year.  A portion of that water is probably what we’d be impacted by as a result of this, but in terms of overall allocation, there should be no impacts to our water supply on our allocation.”

Daily emailsSign up for daily email service and you’ll never miss a post!

Sign up for daily emails and get all the Notebook’s aggregated and original water news content delivered to your email box by 9AM. Breaking news alerts, too. Sign me up!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email