DELTA STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL: Examining the science supporting the proposed Delta conveyance amendment

Science panel weighs in on the proposed Delta Plan amendment addressing conveyance, storage, and operations

At the May meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, councilmembers once again took up the issue of the Delta Plan amendment regarding conveyance, storage, and operations.  The marathon meeting was well attended by water export interests, Restore the Delta, and the Save the California Delta Alliance, and was punctuated by bursts of applause from enthusiastic Delta advocates at times.

The Delta Stewardship Council is proposing to amend the Delta Plan to promote options for water conveyance, storage systems, and the operation of both as required by Water Code Section 85304. The draft Delta Plan conveyance, storage, and operations amendment includes recommendations for Delta water management system operations and supporting infrastructure improvements that are intended together and in combination with existing Delta Plan policies and recommendations, to further the coequal goals.  The amendment is proposed to be included as part of the overall Delta Plan that was originally adopted by the Council in May 2013.

Executive Director Jessica Pearson began the meeting by noting that due to comments expressed by councilmembers and others at the last meeting, they would be hearing from two panels, the first a panel of scientists and the second panel that will be focused on operations and potential effects of the amendment.  Prior to starting the panels, she first offered her comments on the amendment.

To date, there have been many comments and suggestions that I’ve agreed with and which I believe in many cases are entirely consistent with our draft amendment,” she said, citing storage as one of those elements there is widespread agreement on.  “We’ve heard that Clifton Court is a death trap, and that we need improvements to fish facilities and handling at South Delta export facilities.  I do not agree that there is a silver bullet approach of screening Clifton Court to protect fish absolutely.  As long as the intakes are located in a dead end southern channel where fish have no placed to be screened to, this approach appears logistically infeasible and might in fact just lead to the demise fish by other means.”

Many have voiced concerns about how any new conveyance project would be operated; I think we’re all concerned,” she said.  “The Council’s been working to proactively support permitters and independent reviewers to ensure that robust science-based water quality and fish protections are put in place before any project becomes operational.  I’d also direct people to view our previous comment letters on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Water Fix; the recent State Board SED draft as well as our Chapter 4 Delta Plan description of more natural functional flows, and on our performance measures on flow to better understand the Council’s views on this.”

Several have cautioned that new conveyance won’t create new water; I agree,” Ms. Pearson continued.  “But it would likely improve water supply reliability, our concurrent investments in storage and conveyance so that water can be stored and moved when it is surplus to the needs of the ecosystem and senior water rights holders.  This is a key theme of our amendment.”

There were comments that expressed fears that salinity intrusion into the Delta will worsen without new conveyance, but Ms. Pearson said that it would also worsen without new conveyance.  “Seas are rising, more outflow will be required to combat that intrusion, and water supplies will be lost,” she said.  “South Delta intakes for exports will be impacted.  New conveyance could help alleviate some of these impacts.”

Regarding sea level rise, Ms. Pearson said they were using best available science and basing their recommendations on whatever is the most current planning guidance of the National Research Council or the Natural Resources Agency; it will be updated routinely, and will be in the form of planning ranges, not specific targets.

Ms. Pearson said that she doesn’t agree that doing nothing as it relates to conveyance is acceptable when the Council’s clear charge is to promote options for conveyance, storage, and operations, a commitment that the council made in 2013 that was triggered in 2015 when pursuit of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan ended.  “Deferring an update to our plan until some vague later date, such as when the State Water Board has completed its multiyear water quality control plan would not serve the commitment that we made,” she said.

Ms. Pearson said she didn’t agree with the assertion that the Council is promoting more water when they call for water supply reliability.  “Ultimately operations of any project, storage or conveyance will be governed by a myriad of permits and other protections including water rights and constitutional protections for beneficial uses.  These include but are not limited to the State Water Board permits and regional water board permits; state and federal fish agency permits, federal energy regulatory permits, all will play a role in how new projects are operated.”

Ms. Pearson concluded by saying that the Council is not promoting the California Water Fix, and in fact, they have appellate authority over any project that meets the definition of a covered action, including Water Fix.   Any such project must demonstrate consistency with the Delta Plan’s regulations, a determination that is subject to review by the Council once an appeal is filed.

With Ms. Pearson’s comments concluded, Bethany Pane, legal counsel for the Council, had a clarification from last month’s meeting.  “I’ve corrected one of the slides from staff’s presentation on this item to be clear that recommendations do not apply to covered actions; that is to say, they do not apply to a project’s consistency with the Delta Plan under water code section 85225, or an appeal on the consistency certification under water code section 85225.5.”

Ms. Pane also responded to the comments received that imply that the trial court in the Delta Plan litigation ruled that performance measure targets for flows or other measures need to be adopted by the Council prior to its decision to promote conveyance options.  “I want to be clear that contrary to these implications, the trial court did not address in any manner or any connection between conveyance and the timing of performance targets for flows or other measures.  The suggestions that the trial court ruled in this way, that flows should be done first, cannot be found in those decisions.”

PANEL 1: EXAMINING THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT

The first panel discussed the underpinnings of science related to the potential effects of proposed recommendations for new or improved conveyance, storage and operations on the Delta.  Seated on the panel was Jon Burau, Project Chief at the USGS; Jon Rosenfield, Conservation Biologist with The Bay Institute, and Jeff Mount, Senior Fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California.

JON BURAU

Jon Burau, Project Chief at the USGS, began by saying he wanted to broaden the focus of the question beyond strictly conveyance.  He acknowledged that the amendment is very well researched, and he noted that the IEP has done more research on the effects of the pumps on the Delta’s ecosystem than any other topic.

In reading through that document, it seemed that the jist of things was how do we change water project operations in the Delta to achieve the coequal goals,” he said.  “What I would argue is that this is just part of the question … all of these actually relate to transport, so I’m going to change this question slightly.  It’s not just how do we change water project operations but how do we change transport in the Delta to achieve the coequal goals?

Mr. Burau presented a graphic of transport in the Delta system, noting that the top is the aquatic ecosystem function.  There are three things that move things around in the system: tides, rivers, and exports.  The tides are the biggest factor as this is a tidal system; rivers and exports have a smaller influence.

The landscape is the thing that no one ever talks about,” he said.  “You change any one of those things and you change the movement of water and organisms and other things in the system.  So these are basically the things we need to fiddle around with to achieve the coequal goals.”

There are two conceptual models of the Delta: the river export model on the left, which was at one time the most prevalent way of thinking about the Delta, and on the right, there are the tides.  “The tides are really big,” said Mr. Burau.  “At Chipps Island, which is the boundary between the Delta and the Bay, we’re looking at 5-6000 cfs going out to sea and the tides are 150,000 cfs.  In fact we can’t even measure the cfs at Chipps Island because it’s such a small fraction of the tides.”

These two things interact, so when you change the tides, a lot of time you change the net flows and when you change the net flows, you change the tides,” he said.  “In particular when we have our big flows during the winter, it really does change the influence of the tides in the north Delta.”

Mr. Burau said he’s not trying to downplay the effect of the pumps or the shape of the hydrograph; he’s trying to interject the landscape into the thinking.  He then gave two examples of how changes in the landscape affect the ecosystem.

The first example is the native fishes arc, shown in yellow on the map.  Dr. Peter Moyle and the group from UC Davis find most of the native fishes in this area.  Mr. Burau noted there are a number of possible explanations: it’s in the upper part of the system so exports don’t affect this area, but another explanation is that this area has the only two dead-end dendritic channel systems in the Delta.

Almost every one of these other channels is conveying river water or exports or whatever so it’s a pass through system, it’s a conveyance system essentially,” he said.  “But we have these two dead-end systems here, and ironically these two systems are directly affected as much by changes in Delta outflow than other places.  And yet they are still very productive, in fact some of the most productive places in the system.”

The right hand graphic below is work done by the San Francisco Estuary Institute that shows that the dead-end dendritic systems were what existed in the historical Delta; and on the previous slide, the Deep Water Ship Channel, a manmade dead-end channel is one of the most productive places.  “These landscape features, we’re starting to understand, are actually relevant to how the ecosystem functions, and this is again apart from conveyance and some of the other things that are the focus of that document,” he said.

Mr. Burau then explained that the graphic on the right shows an experiment where they dropped drifters in the water at Liberty Island and let the incoming tide go into the area; the white dots show where the drifters ended up.  “This is what we call the tidal excursion,” he said.  “Right there, everything changes.  If you go across those dots, you’ll find phytoplankton production as residence time changes.  What we’re finding in these systems is that these have a lot more diversity of temperature, chlorphyll, connectivity, and critters.  You don’t get this kind of spatial diversity in these flow through systems in the rest of the system.  This is unique to dead end channel systems and it’s unique to these particular parts of the Delta that Peter Moyle and others have identified as being some of the most productive.”

The second example he gave was salmon.  He presented a slide with a graph showing salmon survival plotted against Sacramento River discharge, noting that it was from acoustic telemetry data from about 6000-7000 fish released into the system.  “It’s an aggregate, and what you see is discharge goes down, survival of salmon in the North Delta goes down, so it goes from roughly 75,000 cfs down to say 35,000 cfs, and that’s not very good, because if you want to pull water in that range where it’s declining, you’re actually going to decrease survival in the whole North Delta,” he said.  “The good news is we think that it’s not just discharge that’s affecting survival.”

What’s really important is we think that it’s the effect of the Sacramento River on the tides that actually causing the decrease in survival at lower discharges,” Mr. Burau said.  “What that means is when the discharges go up, the tides go down.  If in fact it’s the effect of discharge on the tides, that gives us some opportunities because Sacramento River discharge isn’t the only thing that can affect the tides in the north Delta.  Restoration in other places in the Delta, even as far as Suisun Marsh, the amount of tidal energy that comes through the system is finite through the Carquinez Strait, so if we open up areas to more tidal energy, it means the tides won’t go in the north Delta where they are affecting survival; they will go somewhere else.  So for example, we could restore tidal wetlands in Suisun Marsh and improve survival in the north Delta without a single salmon going into Suisun Marsh.”

So to conclude, it’s not just rivers and exports that are moving things around the system, it’s not just rivers and exports that are affecting organisms in the Delta, it’s these three things here that work together that we can work with to actually help achieve the coequal goals.

DR. JON ROSENFIELD

Dr. Jon Rosenfield, Conservation Biologist with The Bay Institute, began by noting that the Bay Institute has participated in the discussion of alternative conveyance and solutions for the Delta for many, many years.  “As a science-based education and advocacy organization, we’re not reflexively opposed to the water management infrastructure that make water supply more reliable and certainly support ecosystem function, so we support the dual goals, but as a science based organization, we have been rather insistent that these goals be articulated in actionable, measurable time-bound manner … in other words, what are you trying to accomplish and how do you know when you’ve accomplished it.”

Dr. Rosenfield said that the draft amendment seemed to reflect a continuing lack of definition regarding what conveyance and additional storage are trying to accomplish and what ecosystem function looks like in a restored world.  “We need to know what ecosystem restoration looks like in order to know what kind of conveyance is acceptable and desirable and what kind of additional storage is acceptable and desirable.”

Regarding ecosystem function, the best available science reveals that the key to any restoration of ecosystem function in the Delta will require an improvement in timing and the volume of water flowing into, through, and out of the Delta, Dr. Rosenfield said.  “There’s simply a wealth of evidence from a number of fish populations, endangered species, and the invertebrate food population that supports those fisheries as well as water quality, particularly harmful algal blooms that the residence time in the Delta and flow of water through the Delta is essential to restoring ecosystem health.  That’s not reflected in the draft amendment – that that’s going to be a critical thing to achieving the ecosystem restoration goal.”

He also noted that there’s not a lot of discussion about what water supply reliability means, and in the absence of that description, the draft is interpreting the dual goals as being in conflict.  “It says in some places that operations are in conflict if you want to maintain the ecosystem, you’re going to reduce water supply reliability, but the Delta Reform Act actually calls for reduced reliance on Delta exports and that actually give a clue as to what the author’s intended reliability to mean,” he said.  “With that as a context, reduced reliance on the Delta, then the other two goals become complementary; if you reduce reliance on the Delta, you can increase the flow of water into, through, and out of the Delta, and you can increase the reliability of that supply because if you need less, all of the sudden what you have becomes more reliable.

Dr. Rosenfield said that because the amendment interprets the dual goals as being in conflict, it starts to read like an advertisement for dual conveyance proposals that are on the table.  “There are a lot of what I would call sloppy reasoning or unsupported, unsubstantiated reasoning – statements like the status quo is unsustainable.  Yes, it’s obviously unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions that are worse than the status quo and we’ve seen some of them … we need to see a solution that is markedly better and is reliably better than the status quo.”

The amendment contains statements that restoration and the effects restoration are uncertain, so adaptive management is needed.  “In order to do adaptive management, you have to, you must, you cannot avoid saying what you are managing towards – otherwise you’re just doing reactive management,” he said.   “There are plenty of uncertainties out there that are valid things to consider, but the draft plan that I’m reading seems to be promoting, we need new conveyance of a certain type to achieve our goals when I haven’t seen what the goals actually mean in order to evaluate what kind of conveyance you’ll need or what kind of storage you’ll need.”

In closing, describing the new conveyance and storage plans in the context of how they serve the dual goals is really critical, because simply put, the need for alternative conveyance, storage, and operation depends entirely on how much water will be withdrawn from the Delta in the future,” Dr. Rosenfield concluded.

JEFF MOUNT

Dr. Jeff Mount, senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, began his comments on the proposed amendment by saying that the adaptive management goals in the document should be strengthened and made more clear.  “Those are effectively statements of policy.  I really do feel like this is a policy document and we have to be as clear as possible,” he said.  “But on the other hand, we must be careful not to overprescribe – that is, to be too narrow in what we’re trying to adapt toward and to narrowly define it because we are so unloaded with uncertainties.”

Instead of the uncertainties, Dr. Mount then focused on the certainties that the Council has to deal with.  “The most advanced legislation in water that we’ve had in a generation was the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – it is revolutionary,” he said.  “I don’t know if any of us have begun to soak in what the consequences of that Act are going to be.  For the well being of the San Joaquin Valley, no – actually for the state in general, so there are some real complications on this.  We at PPIC just released the beginning of several elaborate reports on this where we’re documenting a 1.7 – 2 million acre-foot deficit south of the Delta.  That is going to produce a tremendous amount of pressure on the Delta, and it is too simple to be glib about the fact that we need more water to run through the Delta when we have to go at these very difficult policy tradeoffs that we’re looking at.  South of the Delta as they try to balance it, what they are going to be needing is not necessarily more water out of the Delta, but more reliable water out of the Delta.”

One of the major challenges for the Council going forward is how to establish reliability.  “We have been consistent at the PPIC for the last decade on this issue that one way or another, you’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that you are either going to have to live with less water out of the Delta, south of the Delta, if we maintain the existing configuration that we have and the existing approach we have to exports, or you’re going to have to come up with an alternative conveyance system,” said Dr. Mount.  “We have never come out in favor of either.  We feel you have an important policy choice, but we have not seen anything in your documentation, from BDCP, or Water Fix or any of this that would suggest anything but that conclusion.”

These are the kinds of policy choices that need to be front and center in your discussions and need to be more forcefully addressed because ultimately what you’re writing in this plan is a policy document,” he continued.  “It isn’t a scientific document; it’s a policy document.  And I would encourage you to face these difficult questions head on and answer them and at least make recommendations on them.”

The amendment language is in favor of an isolated facility along with a extensive efforts on surface and groundwater storage connected to it, and conjunctive use, so I think that’s a policy statement and it’s perfect clear,” Dr. Mount said.  “I want you to know I’m agnostic on that issue, but I think it needs to be made very clear, particular with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, that the pressures on the Delta and the Delta water supply will be immense within the next two decades, and anybody who thinks otherwise will be deluding themselves.”

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS

Councilmember Gatto asked how accepted are the principles they are applying.  “Can we say with any certainty that there is an orthodoxy on the topics that we’re tasked with looking into?”

There are certainly a lot that we can still know about the Delta,” replied Dr. Rosenfield.  “It’s a very complex ecosystem … it’s a uniquely complex place.  I would say what gets talked about as uncertainty regards the mechanisms behind the phenomena that we see.  The phenomena that increased outflow leads to improved populations of longfin smelt, .. shrimp, splittail, starry flounder, various phytoplankton.  There’s no controversy about it, it’s data on a graph that the two things have a very strong correlation, the P value tells that that correlation is very unlikely to happen at random.  There’s no scientific debate about that.”

The mechanism – there’s a lot of discussion,” Dr. Rosenfield continued.  “That is a valuable area of research if you want to try and do things differently – restore habitat versus flow, etc. so we encourage that kind of research.  But when we dropped the piece of candy, we know it’s going to fall.  The mechanism behind that is completely not understood, and Newton was absolutely wrong about it, and Darwin was absolutely wrong about his mechanisms of inheritance, but the phenomenon are undeniable and we call them facts.  The mechanisms for smoking, the same thing.  We didn’t know why smoking caused cancer but we knew that smoking caused cancer, we know the relationship between increased Delta outflow and improved fish populations and improved water quality to a greater degree of certainty than we knew about smoking causing cancer.  The correlations are better.”

The question is in a policy context, what do we do?,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “Right now, I would submit that we know a lot about what to do and what can be done.  Will we find more elegant, less costly, more reliable ways of doing things in the future?  Potentially, and we should continue to explore those.  But to wait for us to understand gravity means not building buildings.  To wait to understand the mechanism of smoking means we keep smoking, and to wait to improve water flow through the Delta means we will lose species that are economically and socially important in the lifetimes of everybody at this table, so I don’t think that waiting for the certainty is really good approach to setting policy.”

Councilmember Gatto asked if there are some points that the panel agrees on.

When the three of us sit down and have a conversation about the science of this stuff, we are in agreement with about 99% of it,” said Dr. Jeff Mount.  “Seriously.  I really want to discourage the view that there is strong disagreement in the scientific community.  That is not the case.  We can have a conversation about it and we may disagree around the margins of some of this stuff.  The bigger problem is not a science problem; it’s a policy problem.”

One of the big changes that has happened,” Dr. Mount continued. “I was head of the DISB for a number of years and I was there for the Oliver Wanger events which were very unpleasant to the scientific community, in fact, very alarming to the scientific community because a federal judge basically made it personal to the individual scientists and I found this deeply disturbing as a member of the Independent Science Board.  But in fact after that, we actually changed things.  Dr. Cliff Dahm has played a major role in changing the culture of science.  You will find broad unanimity on the vast majority of the science in here.  That said, there are still major uncertainties that we cannot eliminate for you.”

One of those uncertainties are the thresholds embedded in the system, Dr. Mount said.  “It’s extremely difficult for us to tell you when we will cross an ecosystem or environmental threshold and you’ll get cascade effects within it, and that’s the chaotic nature of ecosystems.  This is why all three of us are very strongly supportive of the adaptive management elements of the Delta Plan, making those absolutely as robust as you can, because there will be surprises out there. … The majority of science we’re in pretty good agreement on this stuff.  Where we might disagree is the implementation of policy, and that’s what you guys do.”

Jon Burau added that the subtext of his talk is that the system is incredibly interconnected by the tides.  “We’re developing these projects with proponents who are looking at them in isolation.  I can guarantee you, especially at the scale that we need to implement some of these things to actually improve the system, that they are going to interact and oftentimes it’s the connections between things, not the individual things that are the most important.  So my concern is that the unintended consequences are going to be when we start doing things and they start interacting and we haven’t prepared for those interactions.  But we know enough to get started; we don’t know everything for sure, but we’re not going to learn how to do this unless we get started.  What we need to know, we need to know from getting started, because we’ve been very good over the past couple hundred years at draining swamps, but we’re pretty new to putting it back together.”

I want to underscore, again we’re agreeing here, that the adaptive management part of this is absolutely critical and that’s how you’re going to deal with the uncertainty,” Mr. Burau continued.  “The challenge or concern that I have is that with my project we collect a lot of data, and we do something called process studies where we try to figure out why things are working.  The salmon example trying to figure out why survival in the north Delta was related to discharge – that’s an example of a process-oriented study.  Most of the data we’ve collected is for status and trends, and what that tells you is either things are going okay or you’re not doing very well.  The problem is that you need that kind of data to know when you have a problem or when things are going well, but you also need the other kind of data to tell you what to do.  If you don’t understand why that critter or whatever is going down the tubes, you won’t know what to do.”

My concern with the adaptive management part of this is that we really need to make sure we fund it to learn, and that means not just monitoring status and trends,” said Mr. Burau.  “It also means doing some of these other things to figure out why a place is working or not so we can figure out what to do when things aren’t working.”

Councilmember Ken Weinberg said that in looking at the role of the Council in achieving the coequal goals, it’s coequal and there’s two of them.  “If we set up a condition where there’s only one lever to achieve one of the goals, then we’ve got a problem  … if outflow is the only lever that we have, then how do we achieve water supply reliability, which I will counter is easily understood in that you’ve got 26 million people in the state that rely on water going through the Delta, and that’s our charge as the policymakers, we’ve got to come up with something that balances the two and how do we do that?

Dr. Rosenfield said that this was an area where he found the amendment to be a little misleading of the situation that the council has to address with conveyance.  “The most frequent and highest magnitude limits on exports from the Delta are not endangered species and they’re not the biological opinion RPAs.  Water quality in the Delta during drought is the greatest limit by far, and during wet times, the greatest limit on exports is the capacity of the system to export water, which is degrading due to overtapped groundwater elsewhere.  Framing this up as endangered species versus export reliability is not quite correct.

I don’t think we have one lever,” said Mr. Burau.  “I think we have this question of landscape.  It’s not just one lever.  The tides are the tides, but we can control the distribution of the net flows and the tides by changing the landscape if we choose to do so.  I’m not advocating for that, but with regard to salinity intrusion, we can do it.  DWR put a barrier in at False River … when they put that barrier in there at False River – again I’m not advocating for that – it did a fantastic job keeping salinity out of the Old and Middle River corridor, so that’s an example of a change in landscape, so it is a tool at our disposal that we should think about in addition to all the other things that are going on here.”

Councilmember Frank Damrell pointed out that they are not free to do what they want to do or what they scientifically may want them to do.  “We have a legislative mandate and we have to follow that mandate.  It would be nice to follow what is scientifically correct, that is what we hope we would do, obviously, but nevertheless, we are constricted.  The law mandates that we promote options for new and improved infrastructure relating to water conveyance.  My question to you is this: do these amendments in your view, do they address that reasonably scientifically-correctly?

Dr. Jeff Mount said yes, because they are broad.  “You did not over-specify what will be done.  You don’t say how many reservoirs will be built; you don’t say exactly what kind of conveyance structure will be.  It’s broad enough; there’s plenty of room for interpretation within that amendment, so this is why when I read it, I didn’t have a struggling negative reaction to it.  It creates a lot of latitude for decisions that are going to be made later.  Not by you guys but by others probably later in the system.  I had no issues with it whatsoever in meeting that objective that you want.”

Jon Burau agreed with Dr. Mount.  “I think it needs to be part of this greater package and this is just one document, but the single project thinking I think really needs to be looked at seriously because these projects, particularly if they are going to do any good, they are going to have to be pretty big and they are definitely going to interact …  Certainly on the physical side, these computer models work very good and we can look at how they are interacting on the physical side.  Scaling that up to the ecosystem is our next challenge, but I think a broader package that this had slipped into, it looks pretty good to me.”

Dr. Rosenfield, however, disagreed.  “I don’t think that this provides much more definition of what the acceptable conveyance system or storage system is over things that all of us have talked about for a while: big gulp, little sip, restore the Delta ecosystem.  I imagine there needs to be a little bit more movement towards a ‘these are the parameters that any successful suite of projects would serve and here are some measurable guidelines that tell us how much each part of that project serves … there’s a lot of latitude in there and of course you want latitude, and I’m frankly agnostic about whatever program restores the fish that I work on; that will be good enough for me.  I think there are probably 8 good outcomes and infinite bad ones, so I want the space to be defined so that we talk about the 8 good potential ones, not just every idea that’s out there … ”

Councilmember Patrick Johnson asked Dr. Rosenfield what is his view of a good conveyance system if the flows were sufficient to protect the fish?

The easy answer for me is to say if the flows protect the fish, I’m good, because that’s my job and that’s what I do, but I know you’re searching for something more,” responded Dr. Rosenfield.  “It was in your question, it’s in a lot of the discussion and in the document that the real issue with the conveyance system or the only issue with the conveyance system is the reverse flow issue, and I would say that the point of diversion and the mechanism of diversion are problems for sure.  We litigated about it for a long time; they are definitely a problem.  But they are part of a larger problem which is the amount of water that makes it into, through, and out of the Delta …

So if we define reliability as ‘don’t interrupt my water supply to protect these endangered species,’ that leads to a certain type of conveyance system,” continued Dr. Rosenfield.  “If, however, we define reliability as ‘I want a water system that’s going to provide a very low variance amount of water in the face of sea level change and earthquakes,’ which are two different kinds of threat to your water supply, that would argue for a different kind of system.”

What kind of system?,” asked Councilmember Johnston.

It would argue for a system that didn’t need to export large amounts of water,” responded Dr. Rosenfield.

Could you quantify that?,” countered Councilmember Johnston.  “You critiqued our plan as being inadequately vague.  You said less water ought to be exported presumably by a lot, so what’s the range of that?

I think we could look to the State Water Board’s 2010 report on the flows necessary to maintain the public trust,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “75% of unimpaired flow, the State Water Board said, doing nothing else …

That would be your recommendation?” asked Councilmember Johnston.

That wouldn’t be recommendation.  My recommendation would be to look towards that report,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “We’re not saying flow is the only solution here, but it’s essential to any solution as are restoration programs …

Your recommendation to us is that reliable water supply be conceived as a policy matter within what remains after the unimpaired flow in the water board’s earlier report, 2010 report cited as not being available for export,” said Councilmember Johnston.

I think in general what you said is correct, reliable is going to have to mean within the context that other public interests can be served,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “The amount of water that jeopardizes other public uses of water is the amount that would be unreliable because nature does not provide it all the time, so there are ways to get to use water more efficiently to provide ecosystem benefits …

So 75% of the unimpaired flow would not be available for export and would instead flow out to sea …  And with that you would retain for whatever remains for reliability south of the Delta, you would retain the same system of pumps,” said Councilmember Johnston.  “Would you change it, and if so, how?

I would design a system that performed the functions that the Delta Reform Act requires us to enact,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “That is to restore the ecosystem, maintain the reliability of water, and reduce reliance on the Delta while maintaining the Delta as a special place.”

But on conveyance, what would you do?,” said Councilmember Johnston.  “I can only conclude that the status quo conveyance system is sufficient if all the other things are done, in your view.

That’s not what I’ve said,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “My organization has in fact called for greater south of Delta storage, greater groundwater aquifer restoration, conjunctive use, water recycling, all sorts of things that would directly contribute to the goal and objectives …

Would you change the point of diversion?,” asked Councilmember Johnston.

The point you’re trying to get at is what system would I design,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “We’re scientists here to inform you about the implications of different policies, and I’m saying unless you define very carefully what you’re trying to accomplish, you will not necessarily result at the best assemblage of conveyance, storage, and operations, so if you want to get to the best of combination of those, you have to …

The interaction is where we’re at,” said Councilmember Johnston.  “You have science and you have policy and so the question with respect to point of diversion is relevant and you don’t have a view on that.  Is that it?

I do have a point of view,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “The view is that the current pumps, their current operations, locations, and the way the facility is maintained, the status quo, is unacceptable.  The question is, what is better than that?

You’ve talked about other aspects of admittedly a complicated suite of remedies that are needed,” said Councilmember Johnston.  “Some of them are environmental, and landscape, and some of them are flows, but on conveyance or point of diversion, you haven’t spoken clearly on that.

That’s because I’m not going to repeat the mistake that I think is made too often of starting to define an answer before I know what the system is trying to accomplish,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “Frankly I’ve spent a very long time – when this was called the BDCP, I spent 6 years trying to work out these details and get people to a point of defining what the outcomes are that we’re trying to achieve so that we could define a project that met all of those needs.  So I’m not trying to duck your question …

What I’m wondering is whether there are any circumstances where I change in point of diversion or an isolated facility in combination with any other set of solutions that you’ve worked on with BDCP and elsewhere would make sense?,” asked Councilmember Johnston.

The Bay Institute and myself as professional are willing to look into all potential solutions to improve the status quo, including a different point of diversion, different storage south of Delta, different conveyance, and different operations,” said Dr. Rosenfield.  “That’s why we’ve spent so long at the table and that’s why I’m here today.  We are willing to look at those solutions, we’ve been part of looking at those solutions.  But that’s not me telling you what the solution is going to be when no one is able to define what the desired outcomes are.”

Coming tomorrow …

Coverage of the Delta Stewardship Council meeting continues with coverage of the second panel and next steps for the amendment.

For more information …

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