Experts share 5 years of water transfer experience with State panel

Sacramento, CA 10/7/2015, Author: Waterfind USA

North to South water exchanges over the past year received a healthy review from all sides of the spectrum on September 24th as panels of water and ecosystem practitioners presented the status of Delta Plan recommendation WR R15 (Improve Water Transfer Procedures) and provide information that may be useful to the DSC “Delta Council”.

The Panel’s covered two topics:

  1. The progress being made on the Delta Plan recommendation (WR R15) to reduce administrative impediments to water transfers, including information on recurring single-year water transfers, specifically if these types of transfers are being used in lieu of a multi-year water transfer agreements.
  2. The longer term impacts single-year transfers have on the Delta’s ecosystem, including the impacts of single-year transfers that are not subject to the review of DWR, SWRCB or the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).

There were 3 panels that gave presentations to the Council on the past summers water transfer program, and assessments of changes that might be needed to achieve Governor Brown’s executive order to streamline regulations allowing water transfers and maintain the high quality of water available to the ecosystem under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and other policy drivers for the current challenges facing the system.

Panel 1

Progress report for Delta Plan recommendation WR R15:

  • Tom Howard – Executive Director, State Water Resources Control Board
  • Bill Croyle – Deputy Director Statewide Emergency Preparedness and Security Department of Water Resources

Tom Howard and Bill Croyle presented a paper that has been jointly developed by DWR and SDWR (see here). This was crucial in identifying ways to reducing impediments to water transfers; protecting water rights and environmental resources; making recommendations aimed at assessing recurring single-year water transfers and their impacts; and improving public notification of proposed water transfers. It was concluded that water transfers are a productive tool for water management in California during stressful times, with additional regulation only harming the current systems in place.

Comparing 2014 and 2015 by Type of Water Transfer

USA 2014 vs 2015 Water Transfer

Panel 2

Discussion of potential impacts that water transfers may have on the environment.

  • Bruce Herbold, PhD – Estuarine Ecology consultant, retired Fish Biologist from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
    • Conserving storage across years increases reliability and reduces impacts – addressing both co‐equal goals
    • Changes in delta ops unlikely to increase salvage, but could expose more to higher risks
    • Some involve no change in operations so no change in impact
    • Some affect upstream flow patterns, which can strand salmon young or change stream temperatures
  • Sandi Matsumoto – Associate Director, The Nature Conservancy, Integrated Water Management:
    • Focused on the ecological considerations for water transfers in relation to Fish, Feathers and Flows; and
  • Michael Jackson – California Water Rights Attorney

The panel spent some time criticizing groundwater use, and its impacts on rivers, saying that certain problem areas were creeping into the San Joaquin and Sacramento area river systems.

It was concluded that water transfers of any kind were bad for the delta, with begrudging acknowledgment that water transfers could be a useful tool for ecosystem managers, working on mitigation and restoration efforts.

Sacramento Valley Stream Depletion/"Repayment" Curve

Sacramento Valley Stream Depletion

Panel 3

Transfer practitioners panel to discuss the typical time frames for water transfers, related procedural considerations and identify any beneficial changes that have occurred since the Council adopted Delta Plan recommendation WR R15 including recommendations.

  • Dustin Cooper – Attorney/Partner, Minasian, Meith, Soares, Sexton & Cooper, LLP
    • Existing laws and policies encourage responsible transfers
    • Treating temporary transfers as covered actions has the potential to significantly undermine the ability to implement responsible transfers
    • The fallacy of “recurring” temporary transfers
  • Frances Mizuno – Assistant Executive Director, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority
  • Steve Hirsch – Program Manager III, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

It was concluded that single year transfers were conducted quicker that prior year’s efforts, now that state agencies had complied with Governor Browns 2013 executive order to streamline the water transfer process, and that additional regulations would not be helpful in water managers tool boxes. The panel offered several suggestions to further streamline the process.

The Delta council’s mission under the Delta Reform Act in Section 85304 required the Delta Plan to promote options for new and improved infrastructure in the Delta, and the operation of both to achieve the coequal goals[1] of better management of water in the northern part of the state.

[1] The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. “‘Coequal goals’ means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place.” (CA Water Code §85054)

Next Steps

The Council will need to decide if it wants to allow the exemption for single-year transfers to sunset on Dec. 31, 2016, as provided for in its current policy, or if it wants to amend that policy. The Council may request staff present additional information on impacts of single-year water transfers to inform the Council, or if the Council finds that it has received and considered the best available science on the subject, it may choose to take action with the information currently before it. If the Council chooses to take action, staff proposes the following next steps and tentative schedule:

October 2015 – Staff will provide any additional information requested by the Council, and the Council may wish to further discuss possible options for amending the Delta Plan and its provisions regarding single-year water transfers.

November 2015 – Staff will bring back draft language to amend the Delta Plan for the Council’s consideration.

December 2015 – The Council would vote on proposed new Delta Plan regulatory language and other provisions, and direct staff to pursue the next steps (e.g., compliance with CEQA and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), as needed).

2016 Staff will work with the Council to complete the CEQA and APA processes prior to Dec. 31, 2016, ensuring that the expiration of the existing determination is concurrent with any new or amended Delta Plan regulation.

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