METROPOLITAN BAY-DELTA COMMITTEE: Update on Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan update, California Water Fix proceedings

At the April meeting of Metropolitan’s Special Committee on the Bay-Delta, Committee members heard an update on the State Water Board’s update on the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan and a brief update on the California Water Fix proceedings.


The first item on the agenda was an update on the ongoing process at the State Water Resources Control Board to update the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan.  Steve Arakawa, Manager of the Bay-Delta Initiatives Program, covered the proceedings, the difference between the water quality control plan proceedings and the Cal Water Fix petition, what the key areas of focus are, and how this relates to the policy principles that Association of California Water Agencies adopted back in March.

The State Water Resource Control Board is the state agency that is responsible for establishing the carrying out the water quality provisions in the Water Code; those provisions require periodic review and update necessary, Mr. Arakawa said.  The Board’s charge is to balance among the different beneficial uses.  The Board has been working on phase one, which is San Joaquin River flows and Southern Delta water quality objectives; they have also been doing some foundational work regarding phase two, which is the Sacramento River and the rest of the Delta system.

After determining the water quality objectives to adopt, phase three will determine what kind of water rights changes are needed to implement the plan and what other kind of implementation steps are needed in order to implement the Water Quality Control Plan.  Lastly, in phase four, the Board will consider the need for flows and protecting in-stream needs in the upstream tributaries.

The Water Quality Control Plan and the Cal Water Fix are two separate proceedings, Mr. Arakawa said. The Water Quality Control Plan is an ongoing process that reviews water quality objectives.  “Essentially, the Water Quality Control Plan is tied to the federal Clean Water Act, but the state of California has been delegated the responsibility to deal with the water quality objectives in the state of California through the Porter-Cologne Act,” he said.  “They periodically review the water quality objectives, and in this case, the Bay-Delta Water Quality objectives.  They also have to take into account what kind of flow implications does that have, particularly when they get to the water rights phase.

The Board must balance between the needs of the different uses.  “For example, there are municipal and industrial needs in the Delta; there are municipal and industrial needs in the export areas that rely on the Delta system,” he said.  “There are also agricultural needs in the Delta, as well as agricultural needs in the export areas.  And then there’s fish and wildlife – fish and wildlife is beneficial use in the Delta system as well.  So the State Water Board’s charge is to identify what type of water quality objectives are necessary to protect the system in a way that balances between these beneficial uses and takes into account impacts, including economic impacts.”

When the Board does the balancing, they then adopt an overall water quality control plan, Mr. Arakawa said.  “Once they adopt a water quality control plan, then they go to the next step to determine what kinds of changes are needed to change water rights permits in order to implement that water quality control plan as it relates to flows that are necessary to meet the water quality parameters. And salinity is, in this situation, related to the flow that comes down into the system.”

In contrast, the California Water Fix proceedings are looking at the new diversion points on the Sacramento River for the proposed project.  The Water Fix proceedings, ongoing since July of 2016, are now in the rebuttal phase for phase one.  This first phase is considering what type of potential impacts the California Water Fix proposal would have to other legal water right holders.  They have heard direct testimony and the cross-examination, and now they’re in the rebuttal phase.  Once the biological opinions are approved with Cal Water Fix, then the State Water Board will proceed to phase two, which considers the potential impacts of the project on fish and wildlife, and what mitigations of impacts would be required to mitigate the impacts of the proposed project and diversions.

With respect to the update of the water quality control plan, the Board released a Substitute Environmental Document in September of 2016 for phase one which reviews the proposed objectives for the San Joaquin River and the South Delta and determines what effects the proposed objectives would have.  Comments on the Substitute Environmental Document were submitted in March.   They are now considering any final modifications; the final draft will be available to the public.  The Board will consider an action in September. Metropolitan and the State Water Contractors have been involved in this proceeding, working with contractors and commenting on the Substitute Environmental Document.

Phase two is the rest of the system other than the San Joaquin and the South Delta, which is the north and central Delta, as well as the western Delta.  A draft scientific basis report for phase two was released in October of 2016; a public workshop was held in October of 2016.  There is also an independent science review of the technical work that was done by the State Water Board staff.

Currently, the State Water Board is tentatively going to release a draft Substitute Environmental Document that could potentially be finalized in December of 2017.  “All of this is kind of dynamic, so we expect to possibly see changes to these schedules, but this is kind of what the State Board has included in their description up until now,” he said.

Mr. Arakawa then presented a map of the Delta showing the Sacramento River flowing into the Delta system from the north and the San Joaquin River flowing into the Delta system from the south; the Delta is the confluence where these two rivers converge.  There are different water quality objective compliance stations throughout the Delta that make up the Water Quality Control Plan.  The Water Quality Control Plan includes salinity objectives for agriculture, salinity objectives for export water, and salinity objectives for fish and wildlife.

The X2 standard is a measure of salinity in the western Delta of 2,000 parts per thousand; the value represents how many kilometers in from the Golden Gate it is to reach that zone of salinity.  X2 represents an area of low-salinity that is believed to be important habitat for fish.  There are monitoring stations for X2 at Coolinsville, Chipps Island, and Port Chicago.  The regulations for springtime X2 have been in place since the 1995 Water Quality Control Plan.  The fall X2 requirement is a Reasonable and Prudent Alternative contained in the biological opinion for Delta smelt.

Other water quality monitoring stations are monitoring standards for agricultural water quality; there are standards for water quality for M&I purposes for the Contra Costa area with the Contra Costa diversion points; there are M&I standards for export water, and then a water quality operating requirement for the Delta Cross Channel Gates.

The last significant Water Quality Control Plan update was in 1995; it happened as a result of the Bay-Delta Accord that occurred in 1994, where there was an agreement that was reached between the agencies and water interests, the agricultural water interests, the NGO interests, and the agencies on how to move forward with a comprehensive set of water quality objectives for the Delta. That agreement was struck towards the end of 1994, and that resulted in an update to the Water Quality Control Plan, which was the last significant update to that plan.  They’re reviewing the current objectives to determine what other refinements are necessary.

Key issues

Mr. Arakawa then addressed the significant issues related to the Phase 1 proceedings, the portion that deals with South Delta water quality standards and flows on the San Joaquin River.  The State Water Contractors have been participating in this process, and Metropolitan has been fully involved in that with both technical staff and legal staff.

Our key comments that have been submitted deal with this issue of how a proposed unimpaired flow for the Delta system is not the right way to protect fish and wildlife because it doesn’t really relate to anything physically that occurred either in natural conditions or in recent conditions,” he said.  “Unimpaired flow is essentially an inventory of the water that enters into the watershed. If you can imagine, the rainfall and the snow pack at the upper end of the watershed that occurs each and every year over different year types … that volume of water, without any other diversion, any other storage, any other use, is essentially unimpaired flow.  So that water isn’t necessarily the water that would flow down into the Sacramento valley or into the Delta system itself.”

Even in conditions long before development, there was water that flowed into the system and went out into the valley because there were these broad floodplains that occurred; we didn’t have the flood control system that we have today, for example, on the Sacramento River,” he continued.  “So when that flow came down, it flowed out into the floodplains. Lot of it went into the ground water basins. And then later, that water seeped back into the river, to a certain degree, and then out to the Delta.  Under those natural conditions there were no flood control channels; there was no development in the Delta with the levees and such. It was more of a natural estuarine system.”

The comments that the contractors have been submitting to the State Water Board are along the lines that the measurement of unimpaired flow is not the right way to go about figuring out what’s needed to protect fish and wildlife.  Instead, that the State Water Board should be looking at what kind of functional flows are necessary, what’s the amount of flow based on the life stage of the fish during certain parts of the year, certain types of year types, and what’s the timing of that flow that’s necessary to be protective of that fish.  The term ‘functional flow’ has been a part of the commenting that’s been occurring, regarding the flow issue.”

Mr. Arakawa also ntoed that the water projects have been responsible for putting in temporary rock barriers in the Delta to help protect water levels and salinity in the South Delta.   “For a number of years, contractors have commented that the projects do not have a direct effect on salinity in that portion of the Delta where these standards exist and that in fact, the water quality in those areas are affected by the return flows that occur in that area or from other return flows that are farther upstream. But the water projects are not the source of that salinity that they’re looking to manage or control. And so having the barriers in for improving salinity is not necessarily the responsibility of the water projects, per se, because it hasn’t caused that salinity impact.”

He also noted that the rock barriers help to control water levels.  “The analysis that the contractors have submitted indicates that it doesn’t have a significant amount of effect on water levels in the South Delta, to the degree where these barriers would be necessary each and every year in order to protect Delta agriculture in the South Delta and the water levels in the South Delta. So those are two key areas of focus in our comments: the idea of unimpaired flows and what should be our responsibility of the projects or what shouldn’t be a responsibility of the project, regarding the agricultural barriers and control of salinity in the South Delta.”

The third area of comment is that the contractors support the idea of trying to reach voluntary agreements between upstream parties and export parties.  “The governor, several months ago, sent a letter to the State Water Board, encouraging that their process allow for such discussions and potentially agreements that could get worked out by the parties. That kind of approach has happened in the past. I mentioned earlier the 1994 Bay-Delta Accord. That was a pretty big example of parties coming together and reaching agreement on how the Water Quality Control Plan could move forward and be protective of the different uses.  So there is a comment that the contractors have submitted along the lines of being supportive of that suggestion from the state administration that the State Board process should allow for that if it were to develop.”

In terms of the schedule, phase two is behind phase one; there isn’t a Substitute Environmental Document yet, but a draft technical report was released.  “The contractors have submitted comments on that, again, commenting on the unimpaired flow,” he said.  “For those of you that have been on the Met Board for a good amount of time, you may recall scientific presentations we’d given on this idea of unimpaired flow and how that compares and contrasts to the idea of natural flow, and what would the fish have seen maybe pre-State Water Project, pre-CDP and SWP, more natural or pre-development type conditions. And so all of that technical, scientific published information is now being cited in these comments to the State Water Board. So that work that was done, that ended up in scientific publications is now helping to support comments that are being submitting by the State Water Contractors.”

The other area of comment is the science is continually evolving, and studies are getting updated each and every year, and we want to make sure that the State Water Board is taking into account the most up-to-date scientific information, including published information and other studies,” Mr. Arakawa said.  “To a degree there were studies that maybe were a little outdated, and the State Board staff ought to be looking to more updated information in terms of the science that we have to count on and helping to formulate the Water Quality Control Plan.  And utilizing the best statistical practices in identifying what types of relationships occur between protecting the uses and how the projects are operated.”

The board of the Association of California Water Agencies developed an overarching policy regarding the State Water Board process on the Water Quality Control plan, and they adopted some policies back in March.  “Those policies includes looking to collaborative efforts in order to determine how best to protect the resources in the Delta system; looking to comprehensive solutions, including the need for habitat in the Delta and how habitat and water supply and flow all kind of fit together, including other factors that affect the fisheries and the system that go beyond flows; utilizing the best available science; focusing on what the fish need in terms of flows, rather than this idea of unimpaired flow; considering economic considerations because the State Board is charged with balancing between beneficial uses; considering an update to the Water Quality Control Plan that fits with the state’s policies that includes the governor’s Water Action Plan as well as the state’s policy of co-equal goals to improve and protect both water supply reliability and ecosystem; and lastly, encouraging the State Water Board to play a leadership role in solving this very complicated issue of how to protect these various uses and do it in a way that’s protective of the state and the economy as well.”

As for next steps, there are continuing meetings and discussions with other water users, including upstream water users on how best to proceed in this process, including whether there’s room for a mutual agreement on water quality objective measures and how the water projects and upstream diversions can work.  Metropolitan along with the State Water Contractors continues to participate in the State Water Board proceedings.  Staff will continue to update the board and the committee on any progress made.


Director Keith Lewinger notes that slide 2 talks about balancing competing beneficial uses, yet through all the rest of the presentation, it seems like there’s generally two competing users: consumptive use of water and fish and wildlife.  “Those are the two major competing uses. Yet the former doesn’t seem to be getting any consideration or any balancing, and the latter seems to be getting all of the balancing. What does balancing mean?

I think that it’s a legal term, so I certainly don’t want to offer my characterization in that context, but the State Water Board is required to look at how do you protect fish and wildlife and how do you protect the consumptive needs that are in the Delta as well as export: municipal, industrial, and agriculture,” responded Mr. Arakawa.  “So when they compete, when they balance these competing needs, they look at, “All right, well what is needed for fish and wildlife? What is needed? What are the needs and demands of consumptive needs?” And they need to come up with a balancing of economic and other types of factors in order to come up with its Water Quality Control Plan. So the Water Quality Control Plan should reflect that balancing.”

For example, you can look at what the fish and wildlife needs are in isolation,” he continued.  “But when looking at all of the beneficial uses, you may determine that as a result of that, how you would manage the system is different than if you just managed it solely for fish and wildlife because you took into account the other needs for that water. And so it’s a balancing of legal issues, and it’s a balancing of economic impacts and economic needs that result in an overall Water Quality Control Plan.”


Mr. Arakawa then gave a brief update on the progress of the California Water Fix project.  The state and federal agencies continue to work on the biological opinions related to Cal Water Fix, the Delta smelt and the salmon, as well as the 2081 permit for the state Endangered Species Act.  “I remain hopeful that, by the time we get to the next meeting on the fourth Tuesday in May, we’ll have a more substantive report on where things are at. But a lot of effort is being put into it right now on that aspect.”

As for the cost allocation, the Water Contractors continue to meet regularly and make progress.  “I think that in many ways the contractors, on the state project side any way, are going to be looking at how the project comes to formulation under the biological opinions in order to push things over the edge. But in terms of how to develop a cost allocation strategy and be ready for that, I believe that all of that work is happening, and hopefully we’ll be in a good position to move together as contractors on that.  So once we have a feel for the outcome on the biological opinions, I think that’s going to help with kind of coming to fruition on the cost allocation.”

The State Water Board is resuming its meetings and hearings on the Cal Water Fix proceeding on the points of diversion with the new project.   They are now in the rebuttal phase on what kind of potential impacts does this have to other water right holders in the system.   “I don’t have a good feel for how long that will go. I don’t think anybody really does,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “I think it’ll come down to how the hearing is handled and managed, and how much new information is being provided in the rebuttal, hopefully not a lot of repetitive information from the prior phases. But it’s hard to predict how long the rebuttal phase would take.  Once they finish that, then they would be ready to launch on the second part, which is the impacts to fish and wildlife. They would proceed with that following the approval of the biological opinions so that that information can be taken into account.”


Assistant General Manager Roger Patterson had two items.  First, the Clifton Court Forebay repair has been completed and pumping at 3,000 cfs resumed on East Sunday.  “They intend to continue pumping at roughly that level probably the rest of the month,” he said.  “We are still seeing very substantial flows into the system. The Shasta, Oroville, and Folsom are all in some kind of a flood release operation, so the combined release out of those three reservoirs is like 75,000 CFS. So as a result, when we get to the Delta, we’re still seeing outflows of around 130,000 CFS. The combined pumping of the two projects is right around seven, just a little over 7,000.”

The San Joaquin River, which is what’s triggered our great water supply allocations this year by and large, is still running well over 20,000 CFS,” he continued.  “And it just continues to keep running, so as a result, basically the projects are able to pump to meet demand and keep San Luis full until the big demands start picking up.  We haven’t run into any really major conflicts with the species, including Delta smelt. We did do a revision to the incidental take this year with Fish and Wildlife because it was such a good year, and we were able to. Things were working well.”

Mr. Patterson also mentioned the process at the Delta Stewardship Council to amend the Delta Plan with guidelines for conveyance, storage, and operations.  There is a draft amendment out now.  “We’ll be working with other state contractors and other water users to provide input and comment on that language as it goes in,” he said.

After the report, Committee Chair Glen Peterson asked Mr. Patterson, “What kind of smoke signals are you getting from the Trump administration now regarding the Delta Fix?

The federal fish agencies have really been invigorated to work on the permits,” said Mr. Patterson.  “That’s kind of how I measure the commitment, and they are asking questions. And we get some of those secondhand through DWR, but they’re working pretty hard on this schedule.

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