MET BAY DELTA COMMITTEE: Delta Conveyance update

At the end of July, Metropolitan Water District’s Special Committee on the Bay-Delta held a meeting; the main agenda item was an update on the Delta Conveyance Project.  In this update, Bay Delta Initiatives Manager refreshed the Committee members on the status of the project, gave an update on the Notice of Preparation and the State Water Project contract extension negotiations, and highlighted upcoming issues for the Committee members.

A brief history of the Delta Conveyance Project

Since it has been several months since the Committee has met, Bay Delta Initiatives Manager Steve Arakawa began by briefly touching on the recent history that brings the Delta Conveyance Project to where it is today.

During the Brown Administration, the Governor was working to advance the California Water Fix project.  The Metropolitan board voted in 2017 to participate in the project, which was at the time conceived of as a 9,000 cfs capacity two-tunnel facility.  At the time of the vote in October, contractors for both the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project were envisioned to participate.  At that time, Metropolitan’s share would have been 25.9% of a 9000 cfs project with participation by Central Valley Project contractors.

In July of 2018, the Board voted again and was considering how it would support financing the Central Valley Project share, and then at some point in the future, those contractors could participate by leasing participation rights or by some other means.

After Gavin Newsom became governor, he indicated in his first State of the State address in early 2019 that he did not support the California Water Fix project and instead wanted to move forward with a single tunnel, rather than a two-tunnel approach.  Subsequent to that announcement in February, the state took action to withdraw its approvals on the environmental documents and other actions that essentially prevented the California Water Fix project moving forward.

Notice of Preparation

In January of 2020, the Department of Water Resources released a Notice of Preparation which initiated the public process for environmental review of a single tunnel Delta conveyance project.  The Notice of Preparation defined the project objectives and the proposed project and solicited input from the public on the project and what types of alternatives should be considered.

The Notice of Preparation aid that the state is considering a proposed project of up to 6,000 cfs, but the documents will consider a range of capacity alternatives from 3,000 cfs up to 7,500 cfs.  This provides an ability to consider alternatives where there may be participation of Central Valley Project contractors, but also alternatives that would not consider their participation.  The Department of Water Resources completed the scoping project, receiving numerous comments from the public, including a comment letter from Metropolitan.

The final choice for what types of alternatives would be considered in this environmental document, the public draft EIR, happens in the public draft when it is released,” Mr. Arakawa said.

Facilities under consideration

The Notice of Preparation is looking at two 3,000 cfs intakes that would feed one underground tunnel that would be 150 feet or so below ground.  There would be a forebay in the intermediate length of that tunnel to help regulate the flow and the hydraulics, and a forebay at the south end to supplement Clifton Court Forebay, the existing forebay at the south Delta pumps.  There would be other ancillary services and facilities, such as the maintenance shafts and other shafts that would be used for initiating the tunnel boring machine and retrieving the tunnel boring machine.

There are two corridors being considered, the eastern corridor shown in purple and the central corridor shown in orange.  The orange corridor is similar to what was considered in California Water Fix, although the Department still has an opportunity to look at refinements in approaches if that corridor or alignment is the one that makes sense.  The eastern alignment presents some advantages, such as being closer to Interstate 5 and a railroad line, which would lessen the impacts in the interior Delta and possibly enhance the logistical aspects of constructing the project with workforce and staging areas.

A pumping plant would be located at the south end of the system, near the Clifton Court Forebay to move the water into the California Aqueduct, and then there would be other south Delta conveyance facilities that would allow the hookup of the tunnel to the aqueduct system and a possible tie in to the Central Valley Project.

With the scoping process concluded, the state is now going through the process of looking at the range of potentially feasible alternatives and considering how to avoid or substantially reduce potential significant impacts, as well as the physical footprint of the project.  They are also refining approaches, methods, and models to support the environmental assessment. 

Conveyance project efforts, board review and decision areas

The water contractors are looking for an initial cost assessment for the single tunnel project, which is currently in the early planning phases.  Staff is working to understand the cost drivers and geotechnical or other engineering that will help refine cost estimates, and will be also looking at water supply assessments.

We’re in the middle of understanding that with all the engineering information and so that’s part of what we would want to be bringing to your committee is, what does that cost assessment look like and what is the range,” said Mr. Arakawa.

He said that as they analyze the project, they will be bringing cost assessments and water supply benefits as well as the ability of the project to adapt to climate change and to capture large storm events.  They will also look at the seismic benefits of the tunnel.

We’ve talked with you in the past efforts with Water Fix about how the new intakes in the north Delta could correct flow patterns that would be helpful for fisheries and how it would provide water transfer capability that currently is constrained because of the limitations at the south Delta with the existing pumping plant, and what type of water quality improvements would that provide and certainly looking at how water quality in the Delta would be protected and how water quality for the supply moving to the SWP and how that would be protected and improved,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “All of that information on supply and resiliency along with what is the schedule which the state is still refining and how they plan to move forward in the remaining term of this governor, how that will all work.  This is all information that we plan to bring to your committee.”

Agreement in Principle for State Water Project contract extension

Staff would also bring the Agreement in Principle that was reached for the State Water Project contract amendment that deals with the mechanics in the contract of assuring that participants would be able to get the benefits that they are paying for, but nonparticipants would not pay but would also not get the benefits.

The mechanics of how that would work was the focus of public negotiations a few months ago that provided for an agreement between many of the water contractors and DWR on how that could work short of what is the exact participation level, so the exact participation level of each contractor has yet to be decided,” said Mr. Arakawa.

The contract for the State Water Project was negotiated in 2019 which extended into 2020.  In 2019, the public negotiations were centered around an approach where each State Water Project contractor would decide to participate (or “opt-in”).  However, DWR made a determination after the first set of negotiations that there needed to be a mechanism instead where contractors would choose not to participate (or “opt-out”).   That was negotiated in the second round and the agreement in principle was reached in April.

A future board presentation will go through the principles that relate to project costs and operations to provide the benefits to the participants and protect the non-participants from any impacts.

The Feather River contractors are north of the Delta and receive their water upstream of the Delta; the North Bay contractors receive their water through the pumping plant at Barker Slough and not through the export pumps. 

All other State Water Project contractors would receive water through the new facility and so now must opt-out under the new agreement in principle.  Those contractors are South Bay contractors in the Alameda County and the Santa Clara Valley; the San Joaquin Valley including Kern County Water Agency; the Central Coast; and Southern California.  About two-thirds of the water served by the State Water Project is for municipal and industrial purposes and one-third is for agricultural purposes.

Mr. Arakawa said that there are agencies that have concerns about moving forward; largely it’s smaller agricultural contractors in the San Joaquin Valley, as well as one of the agencies on the Central Coast.  Southern California contractors, for the most part, are looking to participate, he said.

Funding for planning and permitting activities

The funding agreements for planning for California Water Fix has been spent; that funding was provided by DWR, SWP contractors, and Bureau of Reclamation. 

What we’re looking to do is consider how funding from January 2021 on is met, because up until now in the Newsom Administration and DWR has been meeting the funding needs through discretionary funds they have available to them,” Mr. Arakawa said.  “These are monies that are collected by DWR that are not specifically tied to the reimbursement of a cost for facilities, so the DWR Director has discretion on how to use those funds and they’ve used them in the past for fish and wildlife enhancements and recreational purposes.  That’s a key part of what we’re trying to decide is how does the planning and permitting move forward and where does the funding come from.” 

Changing the governance structure of the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority

The governance structure for the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority was established in 2018.  Currently, Metropolitan Water District has two members, Santa Clara Valley Water District has one member, and there is a seat for another State Water Project contractor that represents all the other contractors who aren’t represented otherwise on the board.  Currently, that seat is held by Sarah Palmer of Alameda Zone 7.  The Delta Conveyance Finance Authority was established in July 2018 and they have one director representing each member; there are 11 members that are participating on that board.

What we’re going to be wanting to talk to you about are consideration of changes that could be made to the DCA that may more effectively represent the broader participation of the contractors as things have evolved because we moved from Water Fix to this project,” said Mr. Arakawa. 

Next steps

Mr. Arakawa said they would be bringing the details back to the committee into the fall, with the Board considering around November or December what types of actions it might want to take in terms of funding for continuing the planning costs and any refinements to the governing structure of the JPA.    They will also be reviewing the agreement in principle, because that would be the basis for any future contract amendment that when that is all completed, the board would be approving that.

Activities of the two JPAs

Mr. Arakawa then gave an update on the activities of the JPAs, not really giving any more substantial information than that which is outlined on the slides below.


Director Tim Smith (San Diego) asked where Central Valley Project contractors stood on participation.

Up until now, there’s been no indication of participation from the CVP but DWR is managing the planning process that would allow for alternatives to be considered that would have some level of CVP participation so when they look at the range of capacities, that is intended to consider that,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “Certainly the state is continuing to gage and understand where the federal agencies and where the federal contractors are with regard to the project, but they are also moving forward with planning and making sure that alternatives are being considered so if there is a decision at some point in time, that the environmental analysis is able to cover it.”

Director Russell Lefevre (Torrance) asked if DWR was seriously considering a 3000 cfs project.

They are required to look at a range of feasible alternatives that have the potential to reduce or minimize impacts and they determined through their process that they should evaluate that, and that was their view going through the scoping,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “We will know more as the public draft is formulated and the analysis is completed, but at this point many contractors have submitted comment letters to the Department through the scoping process, Metropolitan being one of them, and those comments have had the theme that the alternative assessment should include what is cost effective for the participants that are investing in the project.  In addition to looking at how the impacts can be minimized and how you can get sufficient benefits, it’s also about cost-effectiveness and that was a key theme in Metropolitan’s letter and that was also a key theme in many other contractors’ letters.  So there has been a lot of feedback to the Department that it makes sense for them to consider a 6000 cfs project, which is equivalent to Cal Water Fix without the CVP participation.

Director Tracy Quinn (Los Angeles) notes that the agreement in principle was accepted in April.  Does that include Met’s financial obligation for this project?

The agreement in principle was primarily focused on how the contract provisions might get defined in a contract amendment, so that contract amendment language would need to be developed,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “It was an agreement in principle and it did not deal with a commitment, so that would definitely be out in the future.”

Director Quinn then asked when the Metropolitan Board would be moving forward on this project. 

The decisions at the end of the year, if that were taken up, would be focused more on the items that I described in my presentation,” said Mr. Arakawa.  “In terms of how Metropolitan would move forward similar to what we did with Water Fix, it would certainly be after the environmental impact report is adopted by the state.  There are other permits, particularly we have the endangered species permits at the time we took the Water Fix, so I think those would help inform the Board’s decision and that is at least two years down the road.”

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