MET BAY-DELTA COMMITTEE: Update on Delta conveyance

At the May meeting of the Metropolitan Special Committee on the Bay Delta, Steve Arakawa, Bay Delta Initiatives Manager, updated the committee members on the Governor’s Executive Order announced on April 29, the Governor’s announcements supporting a single-tunnel option, and the activities of the Delta Conveyance Finance Authority and the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority.  This was the first meeting of the Committee since the announcements were made.

EXECUTIVE ORDER/SINGLE-TUNNEL ANNOUNCEMENTS

The Governor’s Executive Order issued on April 29th announced the development of a water policy strategy that considers the needs of communities, farms, the economy and the environment out to the end of the century and steps to take to adapt to climate change effects.  The Governor called on the California Natural Resources Agency, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Department of Finance to work in conjunction with each other inventory and assess the priorities.  The Executive Order also called for assessing current planning to modernize conveyance through the Delta with a new single tunnel project.

Mr. Arakawa then pointed out some of the water policy statements and associated communications from DWR to the JPA for design and construction that relate to the work being done on Delta conveyance.  “It emphasizes the need to modernize the infrastructure dealing with climate change and also preparing for earthquakes, so that’s a pretty strong theme,” he said.  “All of the communications spoke of modernizing the State Water Project’s infrastructure, considering a single tunnel approach, and then to look at what’s necessary to prepare for climate change, sea level rise, those kinds of things.”

As a result of both the Executive Order and subsequent announcements on May 2nd, the state withdrew the approval of the California Water Fix environmental document; DWR and Reclamation withdrew the petition before the State Water Board for the change in point of diversion; DWR and Reclamation requested that US Fish and Wildlife Service withdraw the biological opinion; and DWR requested that California Fish and Wildlife withdraw the permits under the state’s Endangered Species Law.  DWR also withdrew the applications for 404 permit and other Corps of Engineers related applications and also rescinded its bond resolution which was the primary mechanism for financing Cal Water Fix and testing through a validation action in court that the state has the authority to finance Delta conveyance and Cal Water Fix in particular.

These associated actions were taken because they were based on the Cal Water Fix project and with the state’s efforts to evaluate all the planning and determine what’s the best way to move forward with the single tunnel approach, there was a decision made to go back and pursue each of these in a new process,” Mr. Arakawa said.

He then presented an approximate timeline, noting that this is just a snapshot of how staff feels the planning approach might move forward.

What this graphic is showing is a 2-3 year period of planning that would include the environmental review process, the endangered species permits, the State Water Board permit, and the Delta Stewardship Council certification,” he said.  “There would be a strong outreach effort by the state to communicate and include the right stakeholders.  Then to support the environmental review, there would be technical and engineering work to update the conceptual engineering report which is the physical features of the project that the state would move forward with.  Other types of technical work that would inform the new environmental document would be part of this effort.”

Mr. Arakawa said that there will be a public negotiation to negotiate the terms with the Department of Water Resources on the cost and benefit allocation, or how the project would be paid for and how the benefits would be distributed for those who are paying for any project that moves forward.  That could occur as soon as early summer.

As part of the State Water Project contract, those negotiations need to occur in public, so the Department hasn’t noticed those negotiations yet, but we expect there would be some type of public negotiation to deal with cost and benefit allocation,” he said.  “All of that would result in an agreement in principle that individual contractors would be able to take back and report to their boards.  It would certainly be a part of the environmental review process as no approval on the project moves forward until that environmental review process is complete, but an agreement in principle on these negotiated terms could help inform the start of the environmental process.”

It’s projected that the Notice of Preparation could be released by the state sometime in the fall, and that would formally kick off the environmental review process,” he continued.  “So negotiations in the summer, Notice of Preparation in the fall, and then the ongoing work over two to three years to prepare the environmental document, the associated permits, and update the necessary technical and engineering support to help inform the environmental document.”

There would be a joint effort working to understand what’s necessary from an engineering standpoint to support the environmental document.  The JPA for Design and Construction is working and collaborating with the state to prepare a budget and a timeline for how all of that fits together.

Public negotiations could start as early as this summer, so we would be awaiting a notice from the Department on how that would kick off and what the process is that would lead to some type of agreement in principle that contractors would then be able to inform their boards,” Mr. Arakawa said.  “There would be an identification of what the funding is and how that would be contributed for both the planning and the engineering work, and then the Notice of Preparation in the fall.”

He noted that there will be more detail in the upcoming months, so he will update the committee further when the information is received.

FINANCE AUTHORITY/DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION AUTHORITY ACTIVITIES

Mr. Arakawa noted that on May 16, the Finance Authority approved its budget for 2019-2020 fiscal year and authorized the Executive Director to execute and agreement for audit services.

On the same day, the Design and Construction Authority adopted a procurement policy.  The Board also discussed the creation of an environmental committee, which is identified in the bylaws of the organization; it was just the start of the discussion and there will be further discussions at the upcoming meeting.

There was also an item before the Board on how the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement might be amended to incorporate the new planning work for the conveyance project for the next two to three years; there was no action taken at that particular meeting. Mr. Arakawa expects the JPA will be dealing with this issue in the near future.

DISCUSSION: Return to the legislature for clarification on ‘reduced dependence* on the Delta’?

Director Glen Peterson said he had a conversation with the Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council at the recent ACWA conference.  “I thought it was going to be a disagreement about reducing dependence* upon the Delta, and we really came to the same conclusion – it’s temporal.  It’s reduced dependence on the Delta when there’s no water in the rivers; it’s not when it’s plentiful.  He felt that the problem is that the legislature did not define what that meant very well, so my question is, should we go back to the legislature and get a confirmation about what they meant by reduced dependence on the Delta? … they’ve taken that interpretation to mean something the opposite, where they are going to every little water agency and finding out their dependence on the Delta ever, not when there’s plentiful water, so my question is it worth our while to go back to the legislature and get that definition rather than fight this out in court?

Those words were very carefully negotiated at the time among multiple stakeholders and multiple legislators,” said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.  “While clarification at the legislative level would be helpful, I do believe there is sufficient guidance in there at the administrative level for the Stewardship Council to reach appropriate conclusions and move forward.  If they choose not to, then maybe some legislative guidance direction would be helpful, but it would most likely be difficult and it might end up worse than what we currently have.”

It seems to me it could be a simple solution,” said Director Peterson.  “Right now we’re spending money suing over this issue, and we will probably be spending money suing over this in the future because I don’t see anybody changing their definition.  People communicate through words, and if you could get the words to say, ‘reduced dependence upon the Delta when the rivers aren’t flowing heavy’ or something to that effect would be very meaningful in helping them interpret the legislature to mean what it should have meant.”

That’s worth considering,” said Jeff Kightlinger.

*NOTE: The term in the Delta Reform Act is reduced reliance, not dependence, as in Section 85021: The policy of the State of California is to reduce reliance on the Delta in meeting California’s future water supply needs through a statewide strategy of investing in improved regional supplies, conservation, and water use efficiency.  However, Director Peterson used the word ‘dependence’, so I have left his words as he spoke them.

BAY DELTA REPORT

Assistant General Manager Roger Patterson then gave the Bay Delta report.

VOLUNTARY AGREEMENTS

The deadline for the voluntary agreements to submit further details on policy issues, governance, and science is June 30th, and Assistant General Manager Roger Patterson said they were on track to meet that deadline.

The Bay Delta Plan update and the Delta conveyance project are parallel processes, Mr. Patterson said.  “We always envisioned having an update to the Water Quality Control Plan before we had to submit an application for conveyance, and what happened is they got out of sync because the Board didn’t finish it,” he said.  “You heard in a lot in the proceedings in front of the State Board that had to do with things that should have been part of a water quality plan update – all of the flow issues, the outflow issues and all of those things.  I think this will be a better approach if in fact we’re successful with the voluntary settlement package and get an update to the water quality control plan, then you’ve essentially established the Delta flow criteria, at least for the next 15 years, so that then when you come in, whenever it occurs, with the permit application to move the point of diversion, you know what we’re moving it on, and I think that will be helpful.

DELTA PUMPING

Roger Patterson said it was the wettest May in Sacramento.  There is currently roughly 55,000 cfs of Delta inflow, which is a lot; they are pumping a little under 3 cfs.  “We are still under the restrictions on the San Joaquin, a 4:1 ratio, because it’s a wet year,” he said.  “The way the regulations work under the NMFS biological opinion, it’s 4:1.  So we’ve got roughly 12,000 coming in on the San Joaquin.  It doesn’t matter what the Sacramento is doing.  So you divide the 12,000 by 4, and you get the 3.  That’s where we’ve been since the 1st of April.  That goes away on May 31st and then we’ll be under Old and Middle River minus-5000 and we’ll see a pretty significant increase in pumping because we have a positive Old and Middle River flow now because of all of this inflow. … We’ll see a pretty big increase in exports starting on June 1 to catch up.”

We’ve dropped half a million acre-feet at San Luis combined storage, so even though we’ve had all of these inflows for the last six weeks, or better, we’ve dropped a half a million acre-feet or 25% of the reservoir has dropped,” he said.

Mr. Patterson noted that the Central Valley Project allocation for South of Delta ag was raised to 70% so it’s now same as the State Water Project.

This is one of the wetter years we’ve had in a while and we’re at 70%,” Mr. Kightlinger said.  “The reason we’re not at 100% is because of Delta restrictions and the San Joaquin ratios and the rules in place.  You have San Joaquin starting to pull down, you have space available and you can’t put the water, which is why we’re looking at conveyance.  You can’t get a better demonstration of what’s going on than that.  55,000 cfs and you can only pump 3 cfs because of the restrictions in place.”

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