DELTA STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL: Panel examines the effects of the proposed conveyance amendment
Water officials and Delta advocates weigh in on the impacts of the proposed Delta Plan amendment to address conveyance, storage, and operations
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.
In this second of two-part coverage from the May meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, panelists discussed how recommendations in the proposed amendment address issues such as trust, water quality and salinity, predictability of water exports and in-Delta water use, SGMA, and options for improvements to through-Delta conveyance.
- Click here for part 1: DELTA STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL: Examining the science supporting the proposed Delta conveyance amendment
Seated on this panel was Lester Snow, former CEO and now policy advisor of the California Water Foundation; Michael Brodsky, an attorney representing Save the California Delta Alliance based in Discovery Bay; Jason Peltier, Executive Director of the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority; and Ohsa Meserve, a land use and environmental law attorney representing, among other clients, the Local Agencies of the North Delta.
Each panelist opened with their commentary on the proposed amendment.
Attorney representing Save the California Delta Alliance based in Discovery Bay
Michael Brodsky began by displaying an excerpt from the amendment that in his opinion should be changed. He acknowledged that the language does talk a bit about meeting the coequal goals, a more reliable water supply, and restoring the Delta ecosystem. “But the part that says that new conveyance should be a combination of new isolated conveyance and improved through-Delta conveyance with access to multiple points of diversion, including one or more screened diversions in the north Delta – that part should be deleted because we know from over ten years experience with BDCP now called the California Water Fix, trying to make exactly what this describes work, that they can’t make it work and meet the coequal goals. At best, they can make the water supply more reliable and limit the damage to the Delta, and that’s not your charge.”
Mr. Brodsky then displayed a map of the locations for the three new intakes as called for in the California Water Fix project. Council Chair Randy Fiorini clarified that the Delta Plan amendment suggests multiple intakes, but does not identify locations of the intakes.
Mr. Brodsky countered that he wants to make sure this couldn’t happen under the Delta Plan’s policies because right now it wouldn’t exclude this. The construction would be occurring next to the legacy communities of Hood and Clarksburg. “I don’t think that can possibly consistent with preserving and enhancing the Delta as a place,” he said.
Mr. Brodsky said that an important point is that there’s a lot of scientific agreement that the way water is currently exported is harmful because it causes reverse flows on Old and Middle River and sucks them into the pumps, and the solution is to move the intakes somewhere else, but in doing so, that would be harmful to the salmon.
He presented an excerpt from the October 30, 2015 scientific assessment by the US EPA. “Another thing that’s claimed about multiple intakes is that it will give more flexibility in the system,” he said. “But diverting water higher on the Sacramento River is going to cause an increase in salinity in the Delta and the EPA’s comment on that was that because of that, the flexibility that Reclamation and DWR have to operate the system to ensure the water quality criteria are met will be seriously diminished and the two agencies will have little room for error in operating the system to protect beneficial uses and achieve the coequal goals. So by a new point of diversion with multiple intakes in the north Delta, we have a credible scientific claim of less flexibility in the system, not more.”
“The new intakes are harmful as EPA concluded here, particularly to winter-run Chinook salmon, striped bass, American shad, and that winter-run Chinook salmon and sturgeon may be negatively impacted when migrating past new intakes because significant volumes of fresh water flows are diverted at the intakes, resulting in less water that is also of lower quality downstream of the intakes,” he said. “That’s going to be true with any multiple intake scenario and these are state of the art fish screen is that you have a very large, very long intake with very tiny little perforations in it so that the volume of water, the velocity of water being sucked in is at a low velocity, the idea being to protect the fish from being smashed up. But the other side of that coin is is that you’ve got a lot of water being sucked in over a very long stretch of river and it has a negative impact on salmon. That report was a couple years ago.”
Mr. Brodsky presented an excerpt from the independent panel review of the aquatic science peer review Phase 2B from March of 2017. The panel said that the life cycle model recognizes 5 life history strategies of winter-run chinook salmon and identified a significant overall reduction in survival associated with proposed operations with multiple intakes in the north Delta. “So we’re saying that maybe we’re going to save some smelt at the south Delta by having a new intake at the north Delta, but then that new intake at the north Delta is going to harm our salmon,” he said. “From your perspective, the Delta Reform Act, California Water Code 85302 specifically says that the Delta Plan should include measures that promote all of the following characteristics of a healthy ecosystem … conditions conducive to meeting or exceeding the goals and existing species recovery plans and state and federal goals with respect to doubling salmon populations, so it seems entirely inconsistent to me to have a policy that says multiple intakes up on the Sacramento River that we have good scientific evidence is going to harm salmon recovery when the legislature has specifically directed this body to see to it or to take steps that the salmon population is doubled.”
Mr. Brodsky also noted that the Delta Independent Science Board said that the October 2015 draft of the California Water Fix environmental documents lack key information, analysis, summaries, and comparisons, missing content that is needed for evaluation of the science that underpins the proposed project and accordingly, the current draft fails to adequately inform weighty decisions about public policy.
Mr. Brodsky noted that Restore the Delta has been asking repeatedly for the Council to consider the impacts on the environmental justice community, particularly on water quality impacts for the drinking water and folks in Stockton. “They’ve sent you a letter … I think that Barbara with Restore the Delta has been working long and hard on this and we all think that her points are worth looking at.”
He then showed a picture of Bullfrog Marina and how it would be impacted by the construction of the tunnels. “Basically the amount of construction that we’re talking about – they say 15,000 in the EIR but I think they are calculations are off, so let’s say at least 15,000 barge trips, major subsurface geological investigations with blasting, huge muck piles, so this particular marina will not survive and will go out of business.”
He showed a slide of Discovery Bay, noting the multiple barge docks, barge loading and unloading facilities, and barge anchoring areas and that boating in that area will cease to be a viable option. Boaters who trailer their boats in will have a choice to go somewhere else, having a destructive impact on recreation, he said.
Land use and environmental law attorney representing Local Agencies of the North Delta, as well as Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Osha Meserve began by acknowledging that the proposed amendment does not call out the Water Fix by name, but that the Water Fix is the proposal that nonetheless on the table. “It’s my understanding based on representations at the Water Board this week, that they expect the project to be approved on the environmental review and for the biological opinions next month, so I don’t think it’s appropriate ignore what is a very large elephant in the room when we’re talking about the Delta Plan should say about new conveyance,” she said.
Ms. Meserve presented a map showing where the construction of the intakes is in relation to Stones Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. “It turns it into a major construction and it’s permanent, really,” she said.
“This would be a permanent change to the river and the community,” she said. “It’s about 3 miles of screens when you put the three together for the proposal that’s been proposed, and again that’s consistent with the council’s language right now, which says multiple diversions in the northern Delta.”
She presented a graph from the science peer review of the biological assessment. “The point of this is just to show that in a below normal water year, about 40% of the river would be diverted in the summer and the fall when conditions are most stressed,” she said. “So this idea of big sip, little gulp sounds quite good, but if any diversion project was to do that, it would need to be within the operational plan required for that project, and the type of flexibility being requested currently for this project in addition to the type of flexibility that is still allowable under the recommendations in the Delta Plan amendments wouldn’t prevent this type of operation.”
A key concern of in-Delta water users is that it will affect water supply reliability in the Delta. “It’s at our expense that others might receive better water supply reliability, arguably,” she said. “With respect to surface water supplies, all the diversions in the Delta need a certain amount of head for pumping or for siphons, and when water levels change, we can’t operate those diversions.”
“The graphs show the probabilities, based on the modeling of the proponents on the current northern Delta intake proposals, of a one to two foot change in water levels,” Ms. Meserve said. “It’s also in the south Delta because of the proposal to put the Head of Old River Barrier in for several months longer than it currently is.”
There are also concerns about salinity increases for agricultural diversions, she said. “With the high water tables in the Delta and the seepage, the kinds of things that can be done in other areas of the state potentially to leach out salts don’t work necessarily, and so we don’t have the option of applying more water in order to leach out salts,” she said. “So the conveyance amendments should make sure that the salinity doesn’t rise to the levels in the Delta that we can’t continue to grow the crops that we’re growing in the sustainable farms in the Delta, again for the benefit of farms in other areas.”
The California Water Fix project could potentially impact implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Ms. Meserve pointed out. “There is a huge problem with interference with groundwater wells all along the northern diversion tunnel route, as well as at the intakes themselves,” she said, presenting maps prepared by San Joaquin County that shows some of the known groundwater wells in the vicinity along the 35 mile length of the tunnels.
“Any Delta Plan amendments need to prevent interference with the groundwater wells. One of the effects of taking that volume water out of the river in the northern Delta, according to applicants for the current northern Delta diversion, the project would reduce groundwater levels up to 5 feet along the whole length of the river, and so that really interferes with counties like Sacramento, San Joaquin, Yolo – all the counties and smaller entities that are trying to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, may have a very hard time doing so if the lack of freshwater in the river prevents the recharge that is currently occurring.”
There are major concerns of the impacts of northern Delta diversions on municipal water supplies, such as the city of Stockton. “If you look at the EBC 2-B1 for instance, which is the more aggressive pumping schedule that’s within the pumping schedule that’s proposed currently at the water board for the northern Delta diversions, you’re seeing very large increases in salinity,” she said. “In addition, you’re seeing longer residence times with less freshwater flow and that’s going to help induce harmful algal blooms which are bad, not only for municipal water supplies but also for recreationists and really people everywhere, so the amendments in the plan need to protect against these things from any new conveyance.”
The transmission line system that will have to be built to accommodate the construction and operation of north Delta diversions will be very bad for wildlife and in particular the birds, Ms. Meserve said. “We talk a lot about fish but there’s so much disturbance during construction and during operation that would be terrible for the wonderful birds of the Pacific Flyway that our farmers often support on their row croplands in particular, but also with the refuge being right there,” she said.
What we’d like to see is that the reduced reliance really guide the conveyance amendments and that be the underlying precept; we believe that is consistent with the way that the statute is written,” she said. “We need to support the improved flows, and we need to not just analyze the flow criteria but we need to work that into any kind of change to conveyance or even existing conveyance, because we can’t allow the creation of permanent drought like conditions within the Delta. It’s bad enough when we have a real drought; we can’t let new diversions in the northern Delta make conditions be like that all the time.”
This goes to respecting and protecting the Delta as a place, which is part of the coequal goals, reminded Ms. Meserve. She acknowledged that some of this is carried through in the amendments, but there is more work to be done to ensure that local water supplies, including those for agriculture and for underrepresented communities available for use in the area of origin and not compromised by additional or different exports out of the system.
“For this reason, you should not be endorsing any particular type or location of new conveyance,” she said. “I don’t believe that there’s anything set in stone that if there is to be new conveyance, it must be in the northern Delta so I don’t see why the Council would select a particular location. If the job of the Council is to implement the coequal goals and the Delta Reform Act, it would be best to lay out the parameters within which changes in conveyance would be reviewed for consistency without picking winners and losers but giving some criteria along the lines to protect the water uses that I’ve mentioned.”
Chair Randy Fiorini asks if not from the Sacramento River, then where would she suggest it be conveyed from?
That’s a long discussion and a question they’ve all been struggling with, she said. “I think we all understand that exports out of this particular system are a given, but whether the current level of exports is sustainable is a question,” Ms. Meserve said. “There has been a lot of discussion about other alternatives, other types of conveyance even, that may have less impact on the reliability of local water supplies, and those really haven’t been studied because they weren’t preferred by the exporters at the outset.”
“We all agree that operation of new diversions would be very controversial, and depending on your location, it’s sort of all about where you are sitting, what you think might be a good idea, and that’s a very good reason for the Council not to pick winners and losers – really ever,” she said. “I don’t think the Delta Reform Act requires that. I think there’s virtual unanimity among the local communities that would be most affected along with all of the environmental organizations that northern diversions now, as far as we’ve seen, would not improve conditions or meet the coequal goals.”
Prop 1 passed in part because it was tunnel neutral, and so likewise, the Delta Plan should be tunnel or north-Delta diversion neutral, she said. “That, along with incorporation of amendments to protect the Delta as a place, including our own local supply reliability as an area of origin, is essential, and that’s what we’d like to work with the Council on.”
Executive Director of the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority
Jason Peltier began by first noting that the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority has 29 member agencies that serve about 1.2 million acres of farmland, 200,000 acres of wetlands, and about 2 million people with a portion of their water supplies, basically all of which is moved through the Delta.
“Most of our farmers had experienced about a 90% reliability with that water supply until the era of regulatory reallocation began about 20 years ago; today they have about 40% average reliability,” he said. “That has had enormous economic and social consequences for the agricultural community and for the communities that are supported by agriculture, as well as the support industries. That is the lens through which we look at Delta issues.”
“Contrary to what Mr. Rosenfield said, absolutely that decline in reliability is a direct function of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and various discretionary decisions by the Department of the Interior and other agencies,” he continued. “When we look at the Delta, we see at a bottleneck in our water supply system that we don’t think needs to be a bottleneck. We can free up, return the Delta to a more functioning water system than we have today.”
Mr. Peltier had three issues to bring up regarding the proposed amendment: Regulatory realities, other stressors, and making the existing system work.
Regulatory realities: The amendment is improperly focused on drought and capacity; it’s the regulatory realities that need to be focused on. “Even within the existing regulatory framework, there is a lot of flexibility to operate the system in a way that is more beneficial to the water supply picture,” he said. “Certainly the 20 years of endangered species act regulation, we can all pretty much say is a failed enterprise, given the way the winter-run have gone, the way the smelt have gone, and there’s opportunity here, though. We look forward to the reinitiation of consultation that the federal agencies are going to embark on; it’s about a 3 year process to redo the biological opinions. In our view, that is a great opportunity to wipe the slate clean of failed regulations and try and work to find actions that actually help the fish populations and the ecosystem, and we’re committed to that in an unusually optimistic manner.”
Other stressors: “When BDCP pivoted to become California Water Fix, we lost a really important institutional focus in California and that was the focus on other stressors,” he said. “At the root of our failure to protect the ecosystem and to protect our water supply system is the overly certain falsely precise focus on the water projects as the thing that needs to be regulated to help our ecosystem while virtually ignoring so many other factors: habitat loss, predation, toxics, there is just so much we need to turn our attention to.”
Making the existing system work: Page 23 has a list of items that are needed to be done to make the existing system work, but Mr. Peltier said but more important than any of those would be working with the Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program and coming up with real time adaptive management, not calendar-driven regulatory decisions. “All of this will help modernize the existing system, and make it work better hopefully for the fisheries, the ecosystem, and water supply.”
Former CEO and now policy advisor of the California Water Foundation
Lester Snow began by saying that in order to address these issues, he has to put it in the context of broader California water management. “Invariably in California, we end up arguing over projects: ‘I’m for the project’, ‘I hate the project’ – and nothing happens in California isolation. Everything affects everything else because of the elaborate system that we have, and so the broad context for me is what I call modern water management.”
He acknowledged that California has benefited from an elaborate infrastructure system that was developed over the last 50 to more than 100 years ago, but he pointed out that none of those systems work the way they were designed – not a single one of them. “We have seen fundamental change in terms of aging infrastructure, increased demand, a distressed ecosystem – methodically distressed I might add, and a dramatically changed hydrograph due to climate change,” he said.
“We have seen, as climatologists have been telling us for two decades, a fundamental shift in the way that water occurs in California, and there’s no better example than comparing 2015 and 2017. You can’t have a better example of what our future is going to look like,” he continued. “This means embracing climate adaptation, in terms of the way we manage water and what that means is water management diversification and rebuilding ecosystem resilience. Some of us call it integrated water management; some of us might call it implementing the Governor’s Water Action Plan, and others just refer to it as an all of the above approach, and that’s just part of our future. That’s the only way that we’re going to deal with the variability in the system and so the strategies all include conservation, wastewater reuse, stormwater capture, storage especially long-term storage.”
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been a symbol of water conflict in California for four decades; it’s looked at across the west as an example of not being able to get anything done and that has to change, Mr. Snow said. “It’s essential that we reduce demand on the Delta through this diversification that I’ve identified, and there’s a lot going on to move in that direction. However, there’s absolutely no question for me that to make the Delta more reliable, we have to specifically address the water supply reliability issue, and our flexibility to respond to these extremes, and that’s all embedded in the work that you have.”
“I don’t know how you can look at this and draw any other conclusion but that it needs a dual conveyance system,” he said. “I think anybody who looks at this objectively comes to that conclusion. What turns people often into aggressive opponents is the simple issue of trust: ‘I don’t believe you’re going to operate the system the way you say you’re going to, or you say there’s going to be a drought and you’re going to change the way you operate so I can never support you on this.’ And on that issue of trust, I think you’ve already laid out some framework to help address that.”
With respect to the Delta Plan amendment, Mr. Snow noted that on Section 1 on page 21, it discusses moving forward with some form of a dual conveyance system. “The one thing that jumps out at me is when I look at A4 where you’re kind of saying to DWR and Reclamation and other agencies, kind of ‘get your act together.’ I would like to say that more strongly. I’m not recommending that you do, but it’s kind of like, ‘what the hell, guys? You’ve been doing this for a decade and you don’t have a coherent coordinated plan?’ It’s kind of unacceptable at some level.”
In terms of real time monitoring and real time adaptive management, Mr. Snow recommended stating that if you’re going to build facilities, you have to fully fund monitoring programs to collect the right data. “I’ve been around long enough to see monitoring programs be the first thing cut during budget-tight times, so this is something that has to be hard wired in,” he said. “Even expressing transparent data such as a data platform where the data that is collected is accessible for people and it’s clear how that feeds into an adaptive management process.”
Mr. Snow also commented that at some point, the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project need to be combined. “A lot of us have talked about this over the years but the politics have never been right, but when you look at optimizing operation of the system, having a federal system and a state system in my opinion is ridiculous,” he said.
He said that the amendment gets the essence of storage right; the only comment he had was to articulate the need for ecosystem benefit in storage. “It’s not just making sure there’s a benefit but that there’s actually a block of water in a reservoir or in a groundwater basin that is the ecosystem’s and not somebody else’s; it’s a block of water for that purpose,” he said. “For me, the emphasis needs to be in long-term carryover. To capture those high years and not use them the following year. And for me, groundwater storage is far superior for doing that. The way I look at surface storage, I only want to see surface storage projects that facilitate groundwater storage.”
“Having been around this for so long, it’s so easy to get down into the fight on these specific issues,” said Mr. Snow. “People want to drag you down into that fight, and I think it was the intent of the legislation and I think you are in a position to stay above the fray and look at what’s good for California, not who has given you the best argument at the moment of why they are impacted or why their ox is the most valuable ox, but really look to the long-term and make a call on these issues. I think you’re on the right path here.”
Councilmember Ken Weinberg asks Osha Meserve and Michael Brodsky if they are arguing to do nothing.
“No, I’m not arguing that we do nothing,” replied Mr. Brodsky. “The status quo is not acceptable. One of our great frustrations has been through this ten years that we’ve been involved in the BDCP process is that they are not willing to listen to any of our constructive suggestions about what could be done. I agree with Mr. Peltier in that there are farmers in the Central Valley, there’s an economy there, they have kids, these are real people who are affected by this. We understand that. It’s just that there seems to be one thing that’s been the same thing since 1982, and that’s they want a peripheral canal, they want to grab the Sacramento River, and put it in a pipe and send it to LA. That’s our problem.”
“Going back to the mandate of the Delta Reform Act, I don’t think it’s the role of the Council to try to decide what type of system should be built,” said Ms. Meserve. “In the proposals that we have in front of us, these are just framed as amendments to the chapter anyway. You’re not even saying they are enforceable, so really it’s just trying to influence perhaps policy is where you are at with your amendments. So if that’s the case, why not be promoting folks looking at some other options and a wider array of options than those that have been myopically studied focused around removing water from the northern Delta?”
Councilmember Ken Weinberg said in response to the role of the Council, he thinks legislatively the Council has to. “We also have to do something that we’re trying to achieve the coequal goals, and if the scientific community, if the preponderance of scientific evidence says the status quo is going to continue result in declining fish populations, and that we need to address that so we have to do something different.”
With respect to trust in operating the system, Councilmember Weinberg asked about water quality issues.
“Lester Snow mentioned the issue of trust and that the problem is that we in-Delta folks don’t believe that they are going to do what they say they are going to do,” said Mr. Brodsky. “That’s not quite right; it’s that I do believe they are going to do exactly what they say they are going to do. Water Fix right now is designed to take the majority of the water during July and August. The fish agencies are imposing a lot of requirements in the other months – we have fall X2, we have spring outflow, we have first flush, pulse flows, etc. So during July and August, the only operating constraints are a 5000 cfs bypass at the North Delta intakes and 3000 cfs at Rio Vista.”
“At the water board hearings, I’ve repeatedly pressed them that if in the situation where the Sacramento River is running 16,000 cfs in August, what’s going to keep them from taking 8,000-9,000 of that, taking half the flow of the river? They can’t answer that question. Their only answer is, ‘D1641 would prevent us from doing that.’ I’ve asked to see modeling that shows that’s the case and they can’t produce it,” Mr. Brodsky continued.
Currently for the freshwater to get to the pumps, it has to run through Discovery Bay; if instead of diverting from the south Delta pumps in the summer, they are diverting from the north Delta pumps, then that fraction of water at Discovery Bay and south and central Delta gets filled in with San Joaquin River water, which is much more polluted and has a higher nutrient load, Mr. Brodsky said. In terms of the turbidity and nutrient load increases, he doesn’t have numbers for that right now but they are working on that, and they are significant, he said.
Mr. Brodsky said that in terms of trust, the intakes could be placed in the Yolo Bypass which would ensure that the only thing being diverted is floodwater, which would be absolutely big gulp and little sip. “There’s trust established there because there is a structural feature that will not allow them to take water during low flows in the summer,” he said.
Chair Fiorini point out that the Yolo Bypass is also in the north Delta, and that the Delta Plan amendment does not specify the locations of intakes, so the amendment would not preclude that possibility.
Mr. Brodsky agreed, but notes that the so could the California Water Fix meet everything in the amendment. “That’s what scares us. Is because what you have written down here allows CWF to go forward.”
Chair Fiorini noted that this is the eighth meeting the Council has discussed this subject and fourth iteration of the amendment that has been produced. Mr. Fiorini expressed that a number of the issues raised by Ms. Meserve and Mr. Brodsky have been addressed. For example, they both expressed concerns about wiping out legacy towns, but Page 25 2F through H addresses Delta as a place issues as its related to new conveyance.
“My specific suggestion was that any conveyance facility should be located at least 10 miles away from a legacy community,” said Mr. Brodsky.
Ms. Meserve pointed out that the amendment language doesn’t address local water supply reliability, and that these are recommendations and not enforceable policies. Chair Fiorini asks her what her interpretation of ‘promoting options’ is.
“I think you have a lot of discretion, and you’ve chosen to exercise it in a way that promotes certain options over others,” said Ms. Meserve. “For instance, northern Delta doesn’t include western Delta, which might be something that is worthy of looking at. We don’t think you should be promoting new diversion points, but certainly not a location. Promoting options does not mean selecting options, so promoting options could be for instance, making a long list of all the different kinds of options that have been under discussion.”
“We have to also focus on reduced demand for Delta water,” said Ms. Meserve. “Mr. Peltier made a big point about the farmers in his area, and switching to drip, but at the same time, they’ve moved to permanent crops, so that takes away the flexibility to respond to the actual hydrologic conditions in California which include drought years. Hardening demand is not consistent with what the policy should be. They should be forced to be flexible. Of course we support farming throughout the state, but they need to be able to fallow fields when there is no water available.”
Chair Fiorini, Mr. Brodsky, and Ms. Meserve further discuss water quality.
Vice Chair Susan Tatayon asked Ms. Meserve if essentially she was asking for certain parameters in that section that would prevent the scenarios that she has explained?
“Yes, I think so,” said Ms. Meserve. “There’s a lot of detail within each of those things. I really appreciate that you have listened to a lot of the things we’ve said. The devil is in how can you recommend, for instance, a water level change that could be acceptable would have to work with the existing pumping systems and the person who changed those water levels would have to be responsible for modifying them.”
“It’s not really about trust, because if they do everything they’ve said, it will devastate Delta agriculture and communities, so that’s if they do all the mitigation they say they will,” Ms. Meserve said. “I think if anything, the Council could help push forward the identification of metrics that would actually ensure protection of Delta as a place to maybe add detail to what the flow direction means. There’s a Freeport facility that diverts water supplies for East Bay MUD and Sacramento, they are very concerned about the reverse flow events, and they don’t want to have to shut down local water supplies in certain conditions that any new tunnels would be operated. I think you have the ability to influence what goes into these plans, but time is really short for you to have an influence on this, and I think it’s important that you do it in a way that doesn’t pick winners and losers and certainly at least carries out the coequal goals and Delta as a place.”
Jason Peltier reminded that today, about 80% of the water on average that enters the Delta goes into the ocean; after a tunnel project is built, it would probably be just about the same. Today, Southern California use about the same amount of water as is used in the Delta, and that will be the same. “I just want to make the point that it’s not a revolutionary reconstruction of the water allocation in California.”
Councilmember Skip Thomson asks Jason Peltier, “If 80% of the water flowing into the Delta now goes out to sea, and if after building the tunnels, that would be about the same, why spend $20 billion to build the tunnels?”
“I think that’s an excellent question,” responded Mr. Peltier. “I agree.”
Chair Fiorini then turned to Lester Snow and asked if he had any final thoughts.
“I think you’re on the right path,” responded Mr. Snow. “I think you’ve framed this, I think you’ve listened to a lot of people, and you’re going to pull the trigger on your final amendments and there’s going to be people unhappy with it, but I think you’re on the right path.”
Mr. Snow noted that the diversification of water supplies is happening already in California: micro drip systems, potable reuse – all these sorts of investments are taking place to try and flatten demand. “That doesn’t displace needing to have the Delta be a reliable water supply, and the problem, even with Jason’s numbers of 80% now and 80% then, the problem is that the 20% that’s being diverted now is very unreliable and it causes serious fish problems and conflict with endangered species. The idea is to make investments to stabilize that water supply and stop the interference and conflict with ecosystems. This is about investing to maintain reliability in a system that has become increasingly unreliable.”
“You can only open up the bigger portfolio options by fixing the Delta problem,” Mr. Snow said. “Being able to reliably move water that makes a Sites very effective, it makes a marketplace in moving more water, not only for economic purposes but environmental purposes, so it’s a lynchpin. I’m just reminded of a UC Davis professor who says if we don’t fix it now, we’re going to fail into a solution in the Delta, and I just worry about that a lot.”
Ms. Meserve then added, “I think an important rule is first do not harm, and unfortunately there may be a proposal that would come to you in the future that would be consistent with that, but what we have seen so far is that the problems that Mr. Snow has mentioned would simply be relocated to other areas of the Delta and burdens put on different people. I think that’s really what we’re concerned with and what we’re asking you to implement is preventing that kind of outcome.”
The Council then heard from the substantial number of attendees present to weigh in on the amendment. There was a broader range of commenters at this meeting than at previous meetings; local government elected officials, water contractors, as well as Delta advocates gave their comments and opinions to the Council in a public comment period that lasted for well over two hours, even with three minute time limitation per speaker.
You can view the public comments at this link starting at 5:12:10 to about 7:30:00.
THE COUNCIL WRAPS IT UP
With the lengthy public comment thus concluded, the Council then discussed the amendment amongst themselves.
Vice Chair Susan Tatayon said she heard concerns over groundwater wells in the Delta; asks staff to look into addressing those concerns. Councilmember Ken Weinberg expresses concerns about impacts to legacy communities and water quality; Councilmember Frank Damrell echoes his concerns.
Councilmember Skip Thomson then gave his thoughts, noting that he has been reserving his comments, waiting for the public to make theirs. “As I sat here as a Delta Stewardship Council member, I was thinking, what is our charge? What is our responsibility? Some would say it’s to provide guidance for water supply that really reduces reliance on the Delta,” he said. “What I see before us on the conveyance, storage, and operations amendment is very narrowly focused on conveyance, and so reminding us, as we’ve been reminded all day, that the 2009 enabling legislation requires reduced reliance, achievement of coequal goals, and the measure of local self-reliance. In my opinion, these requirements aren’t met with what we’ve presented.”
Chair Fiorini reminds Mr. Thomson that the purpose of this is in response to one item in the statute: to promote options for conveyance, storage, and operations. “These other things, they are in the Delta Plan, and we can certainly take those up. We’ll be reviewing this in the normal course of a 5-year review, so I would take your comments that aren’t directed directly at conveyance, storage, and operations as maybe items to be considered later for the Delta Plan update.”
Mr. Thomson continued. “We focus on conveyance, but one of the things that should be connected should be storage, and we’ve talked about it, but not in detail. We should refocus our efforts on creating new water and incentives. We heard speaker after speaker from Southern California talk about the hundreds of millions of dollars which have been spent down in Southern California to reduce reliance on the Delta water. We ought to be considering making recommendations on not just conveyance and single tunnels, but on incentives on how we can help those in Southern California achieve the goals they are trying to achieve, which is self-reliance. What I hear today is that this dual conveyance effort is not going to get us to where we need to be, which is less reliance on the Delta, and more self-reliance.”
Mr. Thomson said that he thinks they should emphasize water storage. He noted that from January 13th through February 15th, Delta exports increased to maximum pumping which was greater than 13,000 cfs. When flows are greater, the large gulp, he said. But the problem is with the existing system – San Luis and some of the Los Angeles terminal reservoirs were full. “The problem that we have is not conveyance, it’s storage. So I’d like to keep in mind, while we push the dual conveyance, the levees have worked well. We saw over a very wet winter, how well the levees provided not only a way of getting water through the Delta but protection for some of the communities, plus protection for some of the operations. Why can’t we focus on putting more money onto levees? I understand what happens if we have an earthquake. If we have an earthquake to the magnitude that it destroys the levee system, I think our worries are much greater than just levees. I think it’s a statewide problem.”
Chair Fiorini notes these issues are addressed on page 27.
Thomson asks, “Maybe I can get clarification. With this big gulp, little sip, in the Delta Plan, is there a provable big gulp, little sip approach in its policies and regulations?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by provable,” responded Executive Officer Jessica Pearson. “I think the concept is embodied, particularly in Chapter 4 in the Delta Plan, and there’s extensive discussion of more natural, functional flows.”
“Let’s assume that we think big gulp, little sip concept is a good one. How is it going to be proven? What are the steps involved in proving that?” asks Mr. Thomson.
“The first step is setting protections for the ecosystem and objectives and performance measures as we’re doing now,” said Ms. Pearson. “Then putting in the infrastructure to allow flexibility, so I would say it’s a multistep process.”
Mr. Thomson then turned to the Central Valley and storage. “As a layperson thinking about storage, it serves a couple purposes. Obviously, the surface storage and the water available for dry periods, or even banking it for mitigation purposes on Eco Restore projects, but it also serves a dual purpose of recharge. As we’re looking at SGMA, recharge is going to be a big issue and it’s going to be something that we figure out how we sustainably manage our water, and if we had storage, wouldn’t it assist us in recharging some of the underground storage areas?”
“This last winter has proven that our water infrastructure is in need of great repair,” said Mr. Thomson. “We need to start thinking how are we going to expend the monies that you made reference to – it’s limited. We can’t spend all this money on levees with all the other demands that the state of California has, but I think it’s imperative that we think about the Central Valley Project, the aqueduct that we’re using to get water from the Delta to Southern California. My understanding speaking to folks that are living in that area, it’s collapsing. Why? Variety of reasons, I think subsidence is one of them, but again, we’re looking at providing a system of conveyance that may not achieve our goals in the sense that we may not have the abilities to move it to store it or park it when it’s available.”
“Looking through the Notice of Preparation, I came across a map,” Mr. Thomson continued. “This map goes from the Oregon border down to the Mexican border, and that’s the charge of this Stewardship Council, that we have responsibility over that entire area, so my ask to this Council is, if this is our responsibility area, why don’t we start talking about how we move this state into the next century with a first class water system? We can make recommendations to those in Southern California, to the Central Valley, but out focus is on northern California and the Delta. I think our responsibility and charge ought to be larger than that.”
“If this tunnel project is approved, how is that going to devastate the legacy communities?,” said Mr. Thomson. “Legacy communities important to California. They are who we are. And if you’re going to have a tunnel project with 40 foot diameter tunnels, 35 miles long, with tunnel muck, it’s going to destroy the Delta as we know it, and we better get it right, because we don’t have any second chances. We either get it right, or we’ve destroyed a Delta, and again to my point, I’d like to have us think more broadly and more focus on storage and less on conveyance.”
“I think we have a system, if we put some money into it, the Delta levee system, that would really be a first rate conveyance system, but for whatever reason, the Governor has decided that he doesn’t want to put money into it to the extent that we need to keep the levee system working as it was designed,” Mr. Thomson said.
“The Notice of Preparation specifies dual conveyance improvements that allow use of multi-Delta intakes to increase operational flexibility,” Mr. Thomson said. “I would say that this eliminates other potential projects that do not meet dual conveyance criteria. This would be very limiting if Water Fix does not move forward and would preclude other options from being considered, especially in the short term, without additional amendments to the Delta Plan. What happens if Water Fix becomes the preferred option and then it doesn’t pass muster, it’s tied up in the courts for years. We’ve missed another wet winter like we had this year, because we’re going to be tied up in court for many years.”
Chair Fiorini noted that’s why they have the recommendations on page 27 to modify and improve through-Delta.
Mr. Thomson then wrapped up his comments by saying, “We have talked about State Water Board and how they are going to be making recommendations on flows and other criteria, and I’m wondering if our CSO amendment isn’t a bit premature because if we were to recommend an alternative and then the State Board comes back and makes recommendations or requirements that we haven’t fully vetted, are we going to have to start over because we have to take them into consideration. I think we’ve missed other opportunities to talk about other choices that are out there and I would hope that this discussion on the tunnels hasn’t precluded other possibilities and other what I would call portfolio options that are available.”
“I do think it’s important that we all make comments that further our views,” said Mr. Thomson. “I certainly want to work with the Council, but it concerns me that we’re focused more on conveyance, and my concern about the Delta and the legacy communities, I hope they aren’t being forgotten in this whole discussion.”
“Because we are promoting options, if there’s something we’ve missed, if there’s another option that should be promoted, let staff know,” said Chair Fiorini.
The Council is expected to vote on the amendment at the upcoming June meeting.
For more information …
- For the agenda and meeting materials, click here.
- Click here for part 1 of coverage from this meeting.
- Conveyance Amendment Staff Report
- Attachment 1 Delta Plan Policies and Recommendations
- Attachment 2 Summary of Council comments
- Attachment 3 Regulatory context for conveyance, storage, and operations
- Attachment 4 Summary of Public Comments
- Attachment 5 Amendment language, red line version
- Attachment 6 Overview of amendment
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!