METROPOLITAN WATER PLANNING & STEWARDSHIP COMMITTEE: Coordinated Operations Agreement for the SWP/CVP, Voluntary settlement agreements

At the January meeting of Metropolitan Water District’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee, Bay Delta Initiatives Manager Steve Arakawa updated the Committee with details on the Voluntary Settlement Agreement that was proposed to the State Water Board, the renegotiated Coordinated Operations Agreement (COA) for the State Water Project (SWP) and the Central Valley Project (CVP), and the status of the reconsultation on the biological opinions for the operation of the SWP and the CVP.


The state under the Porter Cologne Act is responsible for meeting the objectives of the federal Clean Water Act; one of those is the triennial review where the State Water Board looks at whether the water quality objectives are meeting its intended purpose and whether adjustments are necessary.  It doesn’t mean that they automatically update it, Mr. Arakawa noted, but rather they review and determine whether updates are necessary.  The Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan was last updated in 2006.

The Phase 1 proposal from the State Water Board staff for the San Joaquin River tributaries is to provide flows as a percentage of unimpaired flow.  With the process going on at the State Water Board, there’s also been a real strong interest by parties and particularly the state administration under Governor Brown to try to pursue voluntary settlement agreements, similar to the 1994 Bay Delta Accord.  There has been a lot of effort by the Department of Water Resources, the Natural Resources Agency, and the parties upstream and in the export area on the various tributaries of the system to reach a voluntary settlement that addresses both flow and non-flow actions.

At the December 12 meeting of the State Water Board, Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth and Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham were there to update the Board on the status of the voluntary settlement agreement, which is still in process and not yet finalized.  The State Board was very interested in the status and whether that was actually coming to a conclusion; however, the Board was scheduled to vote on the action, and so at the end of a full-day, the Board did vote to approve the Phase 1 of the plan which sets flow standards for San Joaquin River tributaries and Southern Delta salinity standards.

The voluntary settlement that Directors Nemeth and Bonham discussed is an integration of flow measures, such as dedicating water for instream flows and non-flow measures, such as habitat improvements, gravel beds, fish passage, and predator control.  The settlement would include water-quality actions related to salinity, temperature, and turbidity, as well as flow related elements.

The proposal that they described to the water board includes parties that are both upstream and in the export areas,” Mr. Arakawa said.  “The proposal has provision for a governance system for how future decisions would be made through adaptive management to make sure that the proposed approach is working.  It would be based on a program of science and structured decision making to make sure that we’re taking advantage of information as it’s obtained and scientists learn to update and make the proposal work as best as possible.  The proposal includes funding and the funding is backed by reliable funding mechanisms, but it’s both water users and the state, and it’s intended to meet the needs of the Clean Water Act and the state Porter-Cologne Act.”

The settlement discussions involve a number of state and federal agencies, such as the Natural Resources Agency, the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, the Dept. of Water Resources, and the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as a number of water agencies, including the San Francisco Public Utility Commission, the Modesto Irrigation District, the Turlock Irrigation District, the Friant Water Users Authority, the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors, the Yuba Water Agency, American River Agencies, and Feather River Agencies.

The parties have been in discussion on the settlement for some time.  In the settlement that was produced for the December 12 briefing, they put forth a proposal that had additional flow commitments of 450,000 acre-feet from upstream tributary areas on the San Joaquin side and on the Sacramento side, and a commitment on the CVP and SWP of 300,000 acre-feet, largely met by incidental flows that are met through export constraints that are in the current biological opinions, so basically committing to those dedicated flows that are in the biological opinions, said Mr. Arakawa.

There is also the possibility of additional flows through adaptive management to be considered in year 8 of the settlement agreement that would be based on the science effort.  Those additional flows could be through water purchases and through other means, but in the end, if the flows are needed and enough sources are provided, then the projects could be producing a portion of that, he said.

All told, a significant amount of water dedication to help improve and manage the system,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “I think importantly, a real strong point in time where the upstream water users are committing to meeting the Delta needs and the Delta standards, and that’s pretty significant.

Along with the flow commitments, there are funding commitments of approximately $1.7 billion to help with both the water purchases and with the science and adaptive management and monitoring with about $800 million coming from water users, and about $900 million from sources that are currently available to the state of California, much of that from existing propositions that have provided for improvements to the Delta through water purchases, he said.

The funding would be separated into a fund for science and monitoring and a fund for purchasing water.  Water users would be committing to a surcharge on their delivery of water with the state and federal projects paying $7 an acre-foot.   Upstream parties that are non-project water contractors would pay $2 an acre-foot and the Sacramento and Feather River settlement contractors would bay $1 an acre-foot to help support science and adaptive management.

There is a provision for working together collectively to identify and develop additional state and federal contributions as they are needed, but I think the main thing is that the $1.7 billion would be from funds that are currently available and currently what the parties are saying they would commit to,” he said.

The State Water Board decided to move forward with their proposed action at their December 12 meeting, mainly because they are looking for more complete development of the settlement, particularly on the San Joaquin River because that was the scope of the amendment they were considering, Mr. Arakawa said.  The next steps, based on their discussion on September 12, was to continue getting that additional commitment for moving forward with the settlement, and also to make sure that the analysis of the settlement is included in the State Water Board process so that the Board has the means of evaluating this alternative versus the other alternatives they’ve been looking at that. Then they would move forward with the process to complete their decision and to adopt an overall water quality control plan.

The Sacramento River and Delta outflow is Phase 2 of the update,” he said.  “The State Water Board is looking to this settlement to come together so by the time the decision on Phase 2 is made, the settlement has been evaluated and they can determine whether that makes sense to move forward with that alternative, and at the same time, wrap in the elements that could be a part of Phase 1.  The schedule that was proposed by Directors Nemeth and Bonham indicated that they would continue working through the springtime trying to get the settlement commitments together.

The State Water Board would produce the Substitute Environmental Document which the Board needs to support their decision making.  “They could be in the position at the end of this year to move forward on the decisions that they need to make, so even though their Phase 1 decision was made on December 12, conceivably they could wrap in both Phase 1 and Phase 2 in a more comprehensive decision by the end of the year,” he said.


The Coordinated Operations Agreement is what defines sharing of water supply benefits and obligations to meet Delta standards by Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.  Mr. Arakawa noted that it’s also a water rights settlement in a way because when the State Water Project came into existence in the 1960s, they needed a way to determine who is meeting what in terms of Delta standards, so in the beginning, they had year by year agreements for how that would work, both operationally and how their commitments for water rights would be met in front of the State Water Board.

In 1986, the Coordinated Operations Agreement (COA) was signed and has been in place ever since.  The Coordinated Operations Agreement defines the sharing of the water supply, how reservoir releases from upstream reservoirs are meeting in-basin and upstream water right holders’ needs, the water quality standards in the Delta, and how much water can be exported.  Since the time the agreement was signed, he noted that a lot of things have changed, such as regulations, additional facilities, and more importantly, the exports constraints that are in place today.

The Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation agreed in December 2018 to an addendum that outlines key changes on how reservoir releases and export capacity will be shared, he said.

For sharing reservoir releases to meet in-basin needs and the water quality standards in the Delta, the formula in the 1986 Coordinated Operations Agreement dictated that 75% of the releases would be by the Central Valley Project and 25% by the State Water Project.  There’s an accounting method that goes along with that because there are times when one project may be releasing water but that needs to be compensated for that so there’s an ability to manage that to balance things out, he explained.

Mr. Arakawa reminded that much has transpired since the original agreement in 1986: the changing hydrology, the North Bay Aqueduct, the intertie facilities between the two projects, regulations, biological opinions, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and now an update of the State Water Board’s water quality control plan.

There was a lot of analysis that was done and it was determined that these formulas ought to be based on year type and so the modified agreement through the addendum has changed, based on the year type,” he said.  “It ranges from wet and above normal years of 80% for the CVP down to in critical years, 60% for the CVP.  That’s one of the key changes that came out of these discussions.”

The other key change is how Delta export capacity is shared.  Before, Delta export capacity was shared 50/50.  “With the addendum, under excess conditions, the CVP would have access to 60% and the State Water Project 40%,” he said.  “When conditions are balanced where the reservoir releases and the water that shows up in the Delta are just enough to meet the inbasin needs, that’s called balanced conditions, then the formula would be 65 CVP, 35% State.”

Mr. Arakawa then presented a slide to show the impacts of the new agreement on the State Water Project, noting that the blue bar shows long term average, the orange bar shows dry years, and the green are critical years.  The left of the slide shows State Water Project exports; the right of the slide shows the change in Oroville storage at the end of the water year.

The State Water Project is capacity rich but storage short, and CVP is the opposite – they are storage rich and capacity short, so all of that gets factored in when looking at how these two projects share responsibilities,” he said.  “On a long term basis, a little over 100,000 acre-feet of impact to the State Water Project, so a reduction to the State Project.  To Metropolitan, given our contract amount, that would be about 55,000 acre-feet.  Then for dry years, it’s about 200,000 acre-feet, and so the impact to Metropolitan would be somewhere around 100,000 acre-feet when you look at the dry years, and similar for critical years, it’s about the same impact to Metropolitan as the long-term average.”


Lastly, Mr. Arakawa gave a brief update on the reconsultation for the biological opinions under the federal Endangered Species Act for salmon and Delta smelt.  The two biological opinions date back to 2008 and 2009.  The Bureau of Reclamation is looking to update the biological opinions and permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

A presidential memorandum in October of last year dictated a schedule for the reconsultation and the biological opinions.  “What that really means is developing the biological assessment and project description by the time we get to the end of January.  In order to meet that presidential timeline, the Bureau of Reclamation is working to get a biological assessment completed.  The biological assessment is then reviewed by the fishery agencies.  Then by June, the biological opinion would be completed, which then goes through the environmental process, which would lead to a final environmental impact statement and record of decision sometime later this year.”


Director Fern Steiner asked about the no-harm agreement for the Central Valley Project that was also signed but not covered in this presentation.   “It appears that DWR has agreed to cover CVP’s loss of water as a result of the WaterFix.  I didn’t see that included in this report.  In looking at it, it appears they can get either water or money, and if it’s water, my first question is can DWR unilaterally decide how much state water is going to be turned over to meet this commitment?

(Click here for the no harm agreement that Director Steiner is referring to.)

Bottom line, any time you build a water project, you are required to mitigate for impacts to downstream users and that’s effectively what this agreement does,” said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.  “Originally it was going to be a joint project with the CVP and SWP and they’d both share in the burdens and share in the benefits.  When the CVP backed out, it became necessary to say that to the extent that there are impacts associated with their water supplies/water quality, that the State Water Project would mitigate for that.  This doesn’t apply to CVP contractors that participate in the project, such as Santa Clara and down the road who knows, potentially others, but if to the extent that its determined that there are either water quality or water supply impacts, therefore they would be mitigated.  At the end of the day, that would be the department’s job, but it would also be certainly something that we certainly have input on.”

Director Steiner asked if those were the only losses that are covered by the no-harm agreement?  What if they are getting less water because of climate change or any of those reasons?

No, it would have to be but for the actions of the project,” Mr. Kightlinger said.  “It would have to be caused by the project itself, not caused by biological opinions, climate change, etc.”

Director Steiner notes that anything caused by the project could result in less water for the WaterFix.

Theoretically, but it’s hard to imagine how operations of the project really would cause impacts to south of Delta operations,” said Mr. Kightlinger.  “It’s just unknown at this point until you actually get there, but it would be pretty unlikely.  Maybe there would be some small impacts, but it’s really hard to see.  The more likely area might be some salinity impacts, so the State Project and the CVP at that time, worked at it, put the same sort of agreement with Contra Costa where their intake is south, so there might be some salinity changes within the Delta, but to date, modeling has shown those to be extremely small.”

Director Steiner asked about the bookends on the possible loss of water as a result of these agreements.

Mr. Arakawa put up a slide and said that based on year type what is expect and on average using the various years over the historic hydrology period, it would average around 100,000 acre-feet but it could get as high as 200,000 acre-feet in dry type of years.

“You have to remember, there is about 5 MAF moving between the two projects, so 50,000 acre-feet is 1% so you’re looking at a range of 2% swing or something on average,” said Mr. Kightlinger.

The interesting thing about these export constraints in the operations of both projects, they’ve been going year by year in determining how are we going to operate under these regulations, so in some cases, actually impacts that are shown here are probably impacts we probably incurred in recent years because of these export constraints,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “But this is an effort to dry to evaluate with this addendum, what does this really mean.  But because of the export sharing, which exports were not in the COA, some of this impact has already been incurred by the State Water Project.

Director Larry McKenney asked if the State Board was going to be implementing Phase 1 of its Dec 12 decision, and is that going to impact us in the next year?

They took an action to move forward, so they are going to go through that,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “They have to go through a program of implementation.  The objective I think with the voluntary settlement is to make room in that program of implementation for the settlement agreement.  The main way it would affect the State Water Project is just how the south Delta salinity standards are met; those are standards for agricultural uses in the Delta, and so that means the combination of what kind of flows to meet those salinities.”

I think more importantly, when you get to salt management in the south Delta, a lot of it is just circulation and how much salinity is coming in from the San Joaquin River and how much is draining from the Delta itself, so a lot of that is not even affected by the State Water Project,” he continued.  “That was one of the key parts of our comments in this process for years is the inability to manage salinity, but they are moving in a good direction with regard to those salinity standards, so I think it’s an improvement to where they were.  That’s probably the primary way that it would affect us, and in the end, if they do require those flows, those flows show up in the Delta and that’s water that gets managed.”


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