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Congratulations to our 2017 Outstanding Environmental Project Awardees! Five multi-benefit projects throughout the Bay and Delta were recognized at the 13th Biennial State of the Estuary Conference on October 10. For more information on these projects, visit our awards page.

Bay-Delta Estuary Water News

What's up with the California WaterFix? What about the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and the Delta Plan? A compilation of the latest news on these three key planning processes follows below and is also available on our website.

CA WaterFix

Conflicting reports of the twin tunnels plan being rejected--or fully approved, or something in between--have led to a fair amount of confusion over the future of the $17 billion plan to substantially alter the state's existing water supply infrastructure. While the planning process continues, recent developments have called the future of the twin tunnels plan into question. Here's a summary of the latest:

Taxpayer money misappropriated: In September, the Department of the Interior released an audit finding that the Bureau of Reclamation had improperly used $50 million in taxpayer money to pay for planning the tunnels. The audit found that Reclamation had not disclosed the subsidy, nor had it offered a rationale for providing the subsidy. Over $250 million has been spent in planning the tunnels (Source: Sacramento Bee, 9/8/17; LA Times, 10/5/17).

Further financial woes: On October 5, a report by the California State Auditor on DWR’s management of the CA WaterFix planning process found that the project has experienced significant cost increases and schedule delays “because of the scale and unexpected complexity of the project.” The report also found that DWR did not advertise an RFQ before selecting the Hallmark Group to manage the conservation and conveyance program, and cannot prove that it ever evaluated Hallmark’s qualifications. The contract with Hallmark has ballooned from $4.1 million to $13.8 million. Finally, the report concluded that DWR has not completed either an economic or financial analysis to demonstrate the financial viability of the project, nor has it fully implemented a governance structure for the design and construction phase (Source: CA State Auditor Report, 10/5/17).

Six Key California Water Districts Vote on WaterFix: On September 20, Westlands Water District voted 7-1 not to participate in CA WaterFix. Westlands, the largest agricultural water district in the U.S., was expected to finance 1/6 of the cost of the project but released a statement explaining that the project was not financially viable (Sac Bee, 9/19/17). Eastern Alameda County's Zone 7 Water Agency, which receives approximately 87% of its water supply from the Delta, voted to participate in the project (Sac Bee, 9/22/17), as did Alameda County Water District in  southern Alameda County (Union City Patch, 10/13/17). Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the nation’s largest wholesale water agency, voted to support the project on October 10. MWD supplies water to much of Southern California, and has committed to fund over 25% of the CA WaterFix. Kern County Water Agency also voted to support the project. Last week, however, the Santa Clara Valley Water District created an uproar with its conditional endorsement of the project. This last key Bay Area vote subjects the District’s continued participation to significant conditions such as sustaining current import supply levels at a “reasonable cost per acre-foot” and possibly opening the door to redefining the CA WaterFix as a smaller, single-tunnel project. In the district’s own words, it is supporting a “lower-cost, scaled-down, and staged project” (Santa Clara Valley Water District, 10/17/17).

The Trump administration doesn't support the project, or it does, or nothing is changed: A statement made by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s deputy communications director on Oct. 25 led to some confusion over the Bureau’s future participation in the CA WaterFix by implying that the Trump administration does not support the project. Later that day the Department of the Interior issued a statement to clarify that the Bureau would be continuing to participate in planning and preparation of environmental documents, and not in construction and funding the project, as originally planned at the outset of the planning process (LA Times, 10/25/17).

What's next?
One of the major permitting hurdles for the CA WaterFix is a permit for the change in point of diversion from the State Water Resources Control Board. The State Water Board is reviewing the arguments in support of and in opposition to approving the permit through a two-part, quasi-judicial hearing process. Part 1 of the hearings, which covered injuries to legal water users, concluded in July 2017. Notice of Part 2 of the hearings, which will cover injuries to fish and wildlife and other beneficial uses, has been issued and is scheduled to begin January 18, 2018, with dates scheduled through the end of June 2018. These hearings take the form of a quasi-judicial hearing, with expert witnesses, cross-examination, and rebuttal. Friends has submitted a Supplemental Notice of Intent to appear with a policy statement. If you would like to make a policy statement, please contact us to help you with the process. You may also contact the State Water Resources Control Board directly at or (916) 319-0960.

Financing remains a significant question as well. In July, DWR took the unusual step of filing a validation action with the Sacramento County Superior Court to determine whether DWR has the authority to issue bonds for the purposes of financing planning, design, construction, etc. of the tunnels.

Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Updates

This comprehensive suite of water quality regulations has not been substantively updated since 1993. The current update process, which commenced in 2010, has suffered substantial delays and will likely take several more years to complete.

Phase I (regulations for instream flows on the lower San Joaquin River, three major tributaries, and salinity standards for the south Delta): The comment period on the Revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Document (SED) closed earlier this year. The final SED with final regulations is estimated for release by the end of this year.

Phase II (regulations for instream flows on the Sacramento River, major Delta tributaries like the Mokelumne River, and Delta outflows): The Final Scientific Basis Report was released October 4. The State Water Board is seeking public input on a number of questions to inform the development of the program of implementation for Phase II; public input is due by November 9. 

Confidential voluntary agreement discussions: no agreements have been reported.

What's next?
The Phase II Scientific Basis Report provides the foundation for the development of a Supplemental Environmental Document (SED) that recommends specific regulations, similar to the Phase I process. The Phase II SED may be released in the first half of 2018, and given the high stakes involved for a broad range of powerful stakeholders, will likely undergo a drawn-out revision process similar to Phase I.

Both Phase I and Phase II will require a Program of Implementation to implement the proposed regulations. This Program of Implementation will include changes to water rights and will require a quasi-judicial hearing similar to the CA WaterFix change petition hearings.

Delta Plan Amendments

Adopted in 2013, the Delta Plan is currently undergoing an update and amendment process, in part due to changes in the twin tunnels planning process. Three amendments have been proposed:
Conveyance, Storage, and Operations: Originally, the Delta Plan was mandated by the State Legislature to incorporate the Bay Delta Conservation Plan or BDCP (the earlier name for the Twin Tunnels plan, which also included a more ambitious restoration plan for over 100,000 acres), provided BDCP received its regulatory permits. With the breakdown of BDCP into the two components of the CA WaterFix and EcoRestore, the Delta Plan needed an amendment to reflect that change. The new amendment reflects 19 adopted principles and recommends a dual-conveyance option for the Delta, consisting of existing through-Delta conveyance (the south Delta pumps) and an isolated conveyance. The new isolated conveyance language has been interpreted to refer to CA WaterFix by many opponents but is broadly written (Delta Stewardship Council).
Delta Levees Investment Strategy: The Delta Stewardship Council has undertaken a multi-year analysis of the Delta levees that combines risk analysis, economics, engineering, and decision-making techniques to identify funding priorities and assemble a comprehensive investment strategy. One outcome of this process has been the creation of the web-based DLIS Decision Support Tool. The amendment contains a number of recommendations regarding prioritization, maintenance investments, funding for further studies, and the integration of ecosystem benefits (Delta Stewardship Council).
Performance Measures: In light of the above amendments, the Performance Measures also must be updated. This amendment provides for updated metrics to track implementation of the above amendments (Delta Stewardship Council).

What's next?
A Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) for the amendments were released on November 1 for a 45-day public comment period, before the amendments can be adopted by the Delta Stewardship Council. A tracking tool for implementation of the Delta Plan is available online.

Compiled October 31, 2017
Congratulations to founding Friends Board members Arthur Feinstein and Barbara Salzman for receiving Estuary Legacy Awards in recognition of their exceptional dedication and advocacy on behalf of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary!
Copyright © 2017 Friends of the San Francisco Estuary, All rights reserved.

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