One of the four guiding principles for near-term actions identified by the Delta Stewardship Council pending adoption of the Delta Plan is that they “carry no regrets.” Basically, that means they won’t have to be undone when the Council adopts the Delta Plan and it is implemented.
Executive Director Joe Grindstaff, Lead Engineer Carl Lischeske, P.E., and Delta Plan Program Manager Cindy Messer brought the matter to the Delta Stewardship Council at its meeting on Aug. 23. The meeting was held at the Ramada Inn in West Sacramento, with all six Council members present.
Grindstaff put the item in context: “We hope we’re on the home stretch for the Delta Plan, but we will be making decisions in the near term about funding for the next fiscal year.” Later he said, “This is a complementary process. We can’t just stop working while we’re working on the Plan.”
The Delta Plan is sometimes referred to as a 100-year plan and sometimes described as a plan with a horizon that extends to the year 2100. The near-term actions refer to projects that might be completed before the Delta Plan is implemented. During the discussion Chair Phil Isenberg stated that would likely be no sooner than 2025.
Near-term actions part of Interim Plan
Messer said, “These are things we can and should be doing now.” She pointed out that the Legislature had declared the Delta is in crisis. She said the 7th and Final Draft Delta Plan is in public circulation. “Staff is getting close to ‘pens down’ time, and we’re moving toward the next critical phase, implementation.”
She offered a list of Potential State Funding Sources for Near-Term Projects and identified possible sources of federal grant and loan funds. She said they are “straw men,” proposals meant to kick off discussions. The “straw men” list is organized into categories that correspond to chapters in the Final Draft Delta Plan. For example, under Chapter 2, Implement Delta Plan through New Governance Structure and Using Best Available Science,” a near-action would be to develop a Delta Science Plan.
Staff is proposing that some of the actions will be done directly by the Council and some will be done in coordination with other state or local agencies. The final identification of near-term actions will be done through discussions with stakeholders and government agencies. Messer anticipates the discussions will go through the fall.
The Aug. 23 presentation was scheduled to set a framework for prioritizing, coordinating, funding and evaluating near-term projects.
The objectives of the near-term actions are:
1) Address statewide interests through achieving the co-equal goals (ecosystem restoration in the Delta and water supply reliability);
2) Address critical needs for water supply reliability, ecosystem restoration, protection and enhancement of Delta water quality, and flood risk management;
3) Serve as a test of new governance approaches proposed in the Delta Plan for water resources and environmental restoration programs; and
4) Demonstrate how science can guide water resources management and environmental restoration programs.
Staff recommended four principles to guide selection of near-term actions:
1) Pursue both co-equal goals with initiatives that are concurrent, comparable and coordinated;
2) Direct real funds by prioritizing proposed actions in alignment with existing fund sources;
3) Demonstrate new governance strategies, best available science, adaptive management, and payment of costs by the beneficiary(ies) or “stressor(s).”
4) Carry no regrets, i.e., actions that meet both near-term needs until the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is adopted, and that are compatible with the preferred BDCP alternative.
The BDCP is a 50-year comprehensive environmental plan for habitat restoration in the Delta and Suisun Marsh.
The BDCP is being prepared under the direction of the State Department of Natural Resources by a group of local water agencies, environmental and conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, and other interest groups. The BDCP will have regulatory power. Agencies or other proponents of water projects will have to agree to implement a suite of habitat restoration measures, stressor reduction activities and water operations criteria in order to receive approval of long-term permits to operate.
The draft BDCP and Environmental Impact Report/Statement will be submitted for public comment and review this fall. If the BDCP is approved by the State Department of Fish and Game, it will be absorbed into the Delta Plan.
On July 25, Gov. Brown, along with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Asst. Administrator for Fisheries Eric Schwab announced a preferred alternative for the BDCP.
The preferred alternative referred to by Gov. Brown places three intakes in the north Delta that would draw water from the Sacramento River and transport it 37 miles under the Delta via two side-by-side tunnels around 33 feet in diameter to the federal and state pumps near Tracy. Other alternatives will be evaluated in the BDCP process.
Delta Stewardship Council member Hank Nordhoff asked, “Are we going to proceed as though the Delta Plan is approved? Can we do that legally?
Grindstaff responded that the Council is required by legislation to develop an Interim Plan. “This [near-term actions] is an addition to the Interim Plan,” he said.
Nordhoff pursued clarification: “So this is moral suasion as opposed to something that has teeth in it?”
Lead Counsel Chris Stevens responded: That’s right. They’re not enforceable. The Delta Plan will have policies that are enforceable. We are pulling guiding principles from the Delta Plan and using them as a lens to look at all near-term actions.
Nordhoff: “I think it’s a great idea. I usually look at the potential downside consequences. Is there anything that we would be doing that could imperil adoption of the Plan that we’ve submitted?”
Stevens: “There’s always something we could do to imperil the Plan. I don’t think it’s this, though.”
Nordhoff suggested an explicit statement that “nothing should be done that is at variance with the Delta Plan as it now stands.”
Financing possibilities for near-term actions
Lischeske reviewed the categories of types of near-term actions that would meet the goals described in chapters 2 through 8 of the Delta Plan. He said the staff “tentatively identified a maximum of $1.58 billion, a portion of which might be available from existing state bond funds for these projects.” He added, “Where applicable, beneficiaries and ‘stressors’ will pay appropriate cost shares.”
He presented a list of Potential State Funding Sources for Near-Term Projects and a list of Federal Expenditures on Delta-Related Activities.
Coalition to Support Delta Projects
Members of the Coalition joined Messer and Lischeske at the presentation table to talk about the results of their meetings: Jonas Minton, water policy advisor with the Planning and Conservation League; Susan Sherry, Center for Collaborative Policy, California State University Sacramento; Tom Zuckerman, special projects manager, Central Delta Water Agency; Doug Brown, coordinator, Delta Counties Coalition; and Marguerite Naillon, representing Greg Gartrell, assistant general manager for Planning and Water Resources, Contra Costa Water District. Another member, Jason Peltier, chief deputy general manager for Westlands Water District, left the hearing after commenting on a previous item.
Chairman Isenberg recalled the events leading up to formation of the Coalition to Support Delta Projects, saying that five or six months ago four northern California water districts wrote a letter, also signed by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, suggesting spending $26 million on levee flood control projects, some of them relating to water reliability. “That led to your (Minton’s) suggestion to a process involving stakeholders to see if there’s a way to deal with that letter.”
Minton’s version was, “A while back I was having tea with Jason Peltier.” Jason said, ‘I’m really worried. What are we going to do about all the things that have to be done before all that other stuff might happen?’ About the same time, Sunne McPeak [president of Delta Vision Foundation] “ranted at you guys about near-term actions,” and Tom Zuckerman was asking you about projects that could be done.
Minton said he contacted a small group of people who agreed with the prospect of a group of stakeholders supporting projects in the Delta that could be done sooner rather than later. Susan Sherry was asked to be the facilitator and invitations were sent to attend a preliminary meeting.
The initial meeting attracted 80 people, said Minton. “There have been five and a-half meetings, and usually 50 people attend.” They come from reclamation districts, water exporters, Delta counties, Delta Conservancy, Delta Protection Commission, and state, federal and local agencies.
The Coalition identified 52 projects that the group agreed were good ideas that did not pre-judge the BDCP and could be done in five years. The list is on the Center for Collaborative Policy Website at csus.edu/ccp/deltaprojects.zip. It is also on the Delta Stewardship Council Website at deltacouncil.ca.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/Item_8_Delta_Projects_Coalition_Master_Proposal_List.pdf.
Both Minton and Sherry said the list was not arranged in order of priority since that would pit one party against another, and funding for each project was based on conjecture.
Sherry said that “time becomes the variable” when putting the recommended projects in order. The first category is those that are underway, that are undergoing or have completed their Environmental Impact Reports. The second are those that are ready to move forward from the planning phase. Projects in these two categories would be recommended. The third category contains those that are in the concept stage, but have no details fleshed out. In the fourth are those that are at the idea stage.
Zuckerman commented on his involvement with the Coalition. “We think it is a valuable exercise that will result in real action. It’s encouraging.”
Brown reported that the five Delta counties are coordinating with the Jan Joaquin Partnership (eight counties from Yolo to Kern) to develop a wide range of projects at the same time they are involved with the Coalition. “The 12 counties pushing forward are meshing well.”
Naillon said, “It’s a highly productive group. It’s the best opportunity to get stuff working in the Delta in a long time.”
Grindstaff and Lischeske had attended some meetings. Grindstaff said he learned about projects that he never knew existed.
The Coalition has operated on a minimal budget. The Department of Water Resources contributed $35,000, and California State Association of Counties donated a meeting room. The group has one more meeting, to be held in September or October.
Sherry said that in addition to the people attending the meetings, others follow the work done. There are 140 people on the ListServe, she said.
Council members were uniformly elated with the positive news. Nordhoff said, “I’d like to applaud all of you. This is the way it should be done. We’re [the Council] sitting here in kind of an artificial environment with videocameras and people reluctant to say what they really think because of their constituency and all the rest of that. And you seized the initiative. Jonas, congratulations to you and Susan, Tom, the whole bunch of you! This is the way government should be done in any country, particularly in this country. What you’re doing is making our job easier. It’s nice to see the passion and the enthusiasm and the interest coming forward.”
Nordhoff had pressed for the recommended projects to be listed according to priority of importance, suggesting levees might be most important, but the other Council members were less concerned. Council member Gloria Gray joined in praising the Coalition members, adding, “You may want to look at priority, not with the money part, but things that can happen now and can benefit the co-equal goals.”
Zuckerman pointed out that the Council will be able to review any recommended project. “Ultimately, all these things will be involved as covered actions.”
Each of the Council members expressed concern that the stakeholder group be able to finish their work and not be constrained to one more meeting if more time is needed. The Coalition was invited to seek support from the Council if they choose to request any additional money and/or submit a proposal directly to the Council.
Two people spoke during the public hearing time. Charles Gardner, said Delta Vision is sponsoring a smaller committee with reclamation districts and others involved in levees and storage. We are working on streamlining funding and creating efficiencies, he said.
Mark Rentz, representing the Association of California Water Agencies and the Ag-Urban Coalition, said an early-on demonstration of success is important. “Success spawns more success and involvement and participation.”
Summing up, Chair Isenberg said that the role of the Council would be to take suggestions from the Coalition and other groups and put together a framework that is understandable.
“Doing something in the water world is so unusual, or being seen as doing something, that it would provide a really helpful ‘kick in the ass’ to all the other processes that are kidding around, whether they are BDCP, or us, the Water Board hearing, and so on.”
The theme of the framework for near-term goals should be that the Delta Stewardship Council views it through the prism of the co-equal goals. “That’s where we start statutorily.” He added that it’s now in federal law in the Budget Reconciliation Act and was mentioned in the Governor’s and Secretary’s statement.
He said the framework has to have a dollar fence around the discussion. “It has to be small enough, and I know it sounds crazy to say, because for real people $1.5 billion is beyond imagination. But in the water world, where we spend $20 billion a year for operation and maintenance of federal, state and local water systems, and another $6 billion for capital expenditures, $1.5 billion is minor. It’s important. It’s significant.”
Equally important, he said, is using existing money.
Isenberg indicated the framework should include a Delta Science Program and a test for a different form of government. The test government should include fast-track actions. If you are not doing fast-track, you’re not doing near-term actions, he said.
Isenberg suggested a motion to direct staff to move ahead with development of alternatives. The Council members concurred.
The next meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council is scheduled for Sept. 13 at the California State Capitol, Assembly Room 447, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The agenda and a redline version of the Proposed Final Draft Delta Plan is posted on the Website at deltacouncil.ca.gov.