• Conveyance, Storage and Operational Principles for the Delta Plan by Tim Stroshane
• The Role of Science in the Delta by Tim Stroshane
• Flows and Fishes Report by Tim Stroshane
by Tim Stroshane
With the death and transfiguration of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan into a fake-hipster-formulation known as “California WaterFix” this past April, the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) finds it has a gigantic hole in its Delta Plan where BDCP was supposed to go. Upon BDCP’s demise, its resurrection omitted habitat restoration and other protective conservation actions.
Beginning in July (Item 10), the DSC and staff developed, a lengthy list of “principles” by which new Delta Plan policies concerning “conveyance and storage”—more commonly known as “canals” and “reservoirs”—would be developed.
The principles largely restate truisms from Tunnels project talking points and narrowly construe Delta Reform Act and Proposition 1 bond talking points.
But they were improved when water quality improvement language offered by Council member Mary Piepho of Contra Costa County was accepted by the Council in adopting the principles on November 19th.
When it comes to conveyance and storage, the Delta Plan stated just four policies of its own concerning improved conveyance and storage:
• “Complete Bay Delta Conservation Plan.” (Policy WR P12, p. 106.)
• Complete water surface storage studies.
• Identify near-term opportunities for storage, use and water transfer projects.
• Improve water transfer procedures.
Current conveyance and storage policies are thus no match for evaluating the Tunnels Project as a covered action.
Amazingly, the current Delta Plan contains no policies to improve water quality to protect the Delta ecosystem. (See page 153 of the Delta Plan.) We can hope that Piepho’s amendments to the principles will result in Delta Plan policies that address water quality and conveyance, since water quality impacts are among the most egregious problems with the Tunnels Project.
Improved conveyance in and through the Delta should improve water quality, not degrade it.
The Council’s Delta Plan was to incorporate the BDCP precisely because the 2009 Delta Reform Act all but required it to—so long as the Tunnels project it contained was tied to a habitat conservation plan.
But now that the Tunnels Project has no habitat conservation plan, the Council recognizes it must consider the Tunnels as a “covered action.” Before the Tunnels can be built it must be found to be consistent with the Delta Plan—an unmistakable case of putting policy before plumbing (unlike the State Water Board’s proposed “concurrent” approach).
The Delta Reform Act contained key policies that
• Define the coequal goals of a more reliable water supply for California and “protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.”
• Require reduced reliance on the Delta for California’s future water supply.
• Define “a more reliable water supply” as involving “water use efficiency and conservation projects, wastewater reclamation projects, desalination, and new and improved infrastructure, including water storage and Delta conveyance facilities.”
• Call for improving “the water conveyance system and expand statewide water storage.”
• Reaffirm the Public Trust Doctrine and reasonable use of water as forming “the foundation of California’s water management policy and are particularly applicable to the Delta watershed and to the other areas that use Delta water as the basis for resolving water conflicts.”
I commented to the Council before Council member Piepho’s amendments, that there still has been no genuine needs assessment and economic water supply justification for new conveyance and new storage, let alone whether such new systems would represent “improvement.”
Recent environmental documents simply restate the alleged “need” to meet contractual entitlements and increase storage and conveyance capacity across the Delta to do so. This does not qualify as a needs assessment—it essentially states, “because we’ve always done it this way,” is the justification. The principles follow in these footsteps, not the DRA policies.
This year, Californians have responded to a fourth year of drought by surpassing water conservation goals established by Governor Brown for the third straight month this summer. “For June, July, and August the cumulative statewide savings rate was 28.7 percent,” the State Water Resources Control Board said in an October 2015 press release. “That equates to 611,566 acre-feet of water saved—51 percent of the overall goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet from June 2015 to February 2016,” as the governor had sought in his April 1 executive order.
While this is a statewide figure, many of the largest conserving jurisdictions were located within the hydrologic regions where major state and federal water contractors have seen substantial decreases in residential water use. Making water conservation a way of life will be increasingly important as drought recurs throughout California under rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change conditions. None of this is disclosed or analyzed in determining the need for the Tunnels Project, and the Delta Stewardship Council does not appear to be defining a policy process that will address this either.
DSC should strengthen its Delta Plan policies and regulations to implement Water Code Section 85021, actually reducing reliance on Delta imports by south of Delta water project customers. As you know, the Delta Plan is currently in litigation over the efficacy of the Council’s current formulation of implementing policies and regulations for this legislative mandate.
Whatever the principles state, the good news is that they do not represent final changes to Delta Plan policies concerning what “new and improved conveyance and storage” means to the Council moving forward to regulate the Tunnels. Through the upcoming process, which will be outlined as early as the Council’s December meeting, Delta residents and businesses will have an opportunity to influence the Plan’s policies.
by Tim Stroshane
Note: This article was originally given as a handout by Tim Stroshane, Restore the Delta’s policy analyst, to California State Senate Fellows at a field trip stop at the Delta Cross Channel on November 20, 2015, organized by Alf Brandt, State Assembly Senior Consultant.
Science has a big role in the Bay-Delta Estuary, and has for decades. Back in the 1920s, then-State Engineer Paul Bailey urged the state legislature to fund systematic collection of continuous streams of data about river flows and other parameters throughout California, and the role for monitoring and other forms of data collection and analysis has only grown since that time.
Topics I raise about science and the Delta:
• Understanding the Delta through science
• Setting policy informed by science
• Managing the Delta using science
• What do scientists think should be done in the Delta?
Understanding the Delta through science
Key scientific breakthroughs punctuate the history of Delta science and water quality regulation. The National Research Council summarized it this way:
California has been making major investments in its water and environmental infrastructure for decades, including varying amounts of support for science specifically to inform management actions. Many of the findings from monitoring and scientific studies, especially since the late 1990s, have affected the strategic view of California’s water issues. For example, recognition of the threatened status of a number of species native to the delta stems from the approximately 60 years of aquatic monitoring in the system, led since 1970 by the Interagency Ecological Program. This is no small accomplishment. Places with analogous issues (e.g., the Murray-Darling system in Australia) have no such systematic biological monitoring. One of the early syntheses of scientific knowledge about San Francisco Bay (Jassby et al. 1995) formed the basis and justification for a regulatory approach that remains a core ingredient in managing water for the delta (managing the position of X2…). As a result of numerous studies through the past 15 years, we now have a robust understanding of the likely implications of climate change for water management in the delta (and California in general). (NRC, 2012, 199.)
Thus, scientific research has shaped dramatically and fundamentally the conflicts over how fish populations are doing and how and when California as a society intervenes to help them. These two leaps in scientific understanding (i.e., the science supporting the federal government’s decisions to list Delta fish species as threatened or endangered in the early 1990s, and the adoption in 2000 of the estuarine habitat water quality objective) form the scientific background of present disagreements among stakeholders about Delta water supplies and public trust resources.
Passage of the Delta Reform Act of 2009 directed the State Water Resources Control Board to prepare Delta flow criteria, but which would have only informational value going forward. Board approval of the Delta Flow Criteria report in 2010 connotes only that they represent fresh water flows that fish populations need to recover to historical averages. It also made agency determinations about the robustness of scientific conclusions and levels of uncertainty in the science testimony collected and collated from stakeholders and the Bay-Delta scientific community.
Setting policy informed by science
The Act also placed into law a dynamic policy tension: it set “coequal goals” to increase water supply reliability and protect and enhance the Delta’s ecosystems. Both goals entail intensive reliance on a number of sciences: hydrology, biology, chemistry, physics, and geology (and numerous interdisciplinary combinations of these). Indeed, the Act commits the State of California to use the “best available science” to meet these two goals and the other closely related objectives set forth in the Act.
Water quality (its physical, chemical and biological character) is a subject of constant surveillance using a network of consistent monitoring locations throughout the Delta. Protecting quality here helps protect water rights. This network was mandated with adoption of the State Water Resources Control Board of its first water quality control plan for the Delta in the late 1970s. Under D-1641, the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources were made responsible by the Board for compliance with Delta water quality objectives with the reservoir storage they control and these operable Delta Cross Channel gates where we meet today.
Monitoring stations form the scientific backbone of water quality regulation in the Delta, and have for decades. They measure flow, salinity, temperature, river height (stage). Some measure more specialized chemical constituents like pesticides, nutrients, heavy metals and metalloids.
Managing the Delta using science
Beneath the policy level at which legislators and regulatory agency appointees operate are agency managers responsible daily for implementing policy: by operating the large water projects; by collecting, analyzing and evaluating water quality conditions; and by studying and monitoring movement and populations of listed fish species.
The Delta Cross Channel (DCC) is a fine example of this. The DCC was planned originally in the late 1940s to conduct water from Shasta Dam into the central Delta for easier delivery to the south Delta pumps at what is now Jones Pumping Plant near Tracy. It still does that today.
But as understanding of the Delta and its aquatic ecosystem grew over the decades since, it became clear that the DCC conducted not only fresher Sacramento River water into the Delta, in winter and spring months it also conducted young juvenile salmon smolts (their life stage ready to enter the ocean) into the central Delta where striped bass and other predatory bass species lay in wait. In the late 1980s US Fish and Wildlife and California Fish and Game biologists studied young salmon survival rates between this part of the Delta along the Sacramento River to Chipps Island, and they found that smolt survival rates to Chipps Island (and from there to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate) plummeted for smolts using the DCC when its gates were open relative to those staying in the Sacramento River mainstem (which is a more direct route to Chipps).
As a result, the 1995 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and D-1641 required that the DCC gates be closed during periods when smolts out-migrate to protect them from central Delta piscivores.
What do scientists think?
Apart from their studies, their cause-and-effect mechanistic conceptual models, and needs for further research funds, what do scientists think of what the Delta truly needs? Normally, and understandably, scientists are cagey about a question like this. They have professional reputations to protect for objectivity and impartiality in the design and conduct of their research. And we should grant them this leeway. We trust them to do studies and to report to us what they learn. The hurly-burly of scientific debates and conferences is crucial to weed out scientific pretenders.
A recent social science survey of scientists and stakeholders in the Delta (including government officials) done by the Public Policy Institute of California helped addresses this question. (Hanak et al, 2013, available online.) PPIC reported that scientists working in the Delta (and responding to the survey researchers’ substantial assurances that their responses would be kept confidential) consider changes in flow and habitat the top overall causes of ecosystem stress in the Delta. They are most concerned about flow management as a future source of stress to Delta ecosystems. The survey found also that government officials and environmentalists are most closely aligned with scientists in their views on priority actions. (Hanak et al, 2013, Figures 2, 3, and 9.)
“For Further Research…”
Despite the survey finding that views of scientists, environmentalists, and government officials are “aligned,” alignment does not mean “alliance.” Other interests these groups hold cause them to diverge beyond the point of alliance.
Obviously, environmentalists like me take overt policy stands to protect fish and enhance ecosystem values.
Government officials are charged with, at a minimum, implementing legislative and executive directives and while balancing other constitutional values like equal protection and due process. They have to at least appear more or less impartial when making decisions.
And, scientists seek to preserve and protect their scientific objectivity in the service of providing reliable theories and facts about how the Delta works by avoiding overt policy stands.
Hanak, E., C. Phillips, J. Lund, J. Durand, J. Mount, P. Moyle. 2013. Scientist and Stakeholder Views on the Delta Ecosystem, Public Policy Institute of California, April, 36 pages, plus technical appendices, 70 pages. Accessible at http://ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=1053.
National Research Council. 2012. Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 260 pages. Accessible at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13394/sustainable-water-and-environmental-management-in-the-california-bay-delta.
State Water Resources Control Board. 2010. Development of Flow Criteria for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, August, 200+ pages. Accessible at http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/deltaflow/final_rpt.shtml.
State Water Resources Control Board. 2000. Water Rights Decision 1641. Accessible at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/decision_1641/index.shtml.
State Water Resources Control Board. 1995. Water Quality Control Plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Accessible at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/wq_control_plans/index.shtml. >
by Tim Stroshane
For millenia, humans have known that fish need water to survive and thrive.
Last Thursday, the Delta Stewardship Council received a report from its Delta Independent Science Board that summarized the state of science concerning flows and fishes in the Delta, and a presentation from Board Chair Jay Lund, professor of civil engineering at UC Davis, summarizing the summary.
The flows and fishes report urged that Delta Stewardship Council take on science priorities that focus on “cause and effect” mechanisms that enable flows to affect fish; expand “integrative science approaches”; link quantitative fish models with 3-D models of water flows; examine causal mechanisms on appropriate time and space scales, and “monitor vital rates of fishes” like predation, mortality, and fertility rates. The Board also recommended the Council enlarge the scope of how many species it funds research on, since a large variety of species—from tiny floating plankton to huge green sturgeon—make up the endlessl fascinating ecological food webs in the Delta.
The Delta Reform Act of 2009 set up the Delta Independent Science Board to provide the Council with access to the best available science it needed to perform its duties, requiring that members of the board be “nationally or intenrationally prominent scientsts with appropriate expertise to evalue the broad range of scientific programs that support adaptive management of the Delta,” and would “provide oversight of the scientific research, monitoring and assessment programs that support adative management of the Delta through periodic reviews of each of these programs…”
Last Thursday’s report on flows and fishes is one such scientific review to support “adaptive management,” following on a review the Board performed for the Council in 2013 on habitat restoration. It is at work on new reports reviewing “adaptive management,” water quality, and “the Delta as place,” and plans future reports on Delta levees and water reliability, according to Board chair Lund in his presentation to the Council.
After Lund’s presentation of the flows and fishes report, a staff-invited panel of various agency experts gave their responses to the report, including Carl Wilcox, policy advisor to the director Chuck Bonham of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Maria Rea of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Ted Sommer, scientist with the California Department of Water Resources, and Ara Azhderian, a water policy administrator with the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority (indeed, Azhderian is not even a scientist, as the other panel members are).
Council staff asked the panelists to answer certain questions to “help frame the discussion of the review report’s recommendations.” These questions included, “how do you see your department utilizing these recommendations?”, “If you had monitoring information recommended by the Delta ISB, what would your agency do differently?”, and “are there any other recommendations that were not included in the report?”
Most panelists’ remarks centered on the interaction of flows and habitats together to benefit fish but none recognized the obvious deficits of flows needed to help desirable fish populations recover in the Delta, preferring to avoid direct contact with staff’s suggested ice-breakers.
However, the fifth panelist, Christina Swanson, director of the Science Center Program with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, and a long-time advocate of increased flows for fish to benefit the Bay-Delta Estuary, shook things up by insisting that the DISB report represented a very narrow summary of what is known about the conceptual factors that are involved in the interactions of river flows through the Delta and fish survival and recovery.
Swanson accurately observed that the report avoids what is known about the history of why fish species struggle now in the Delta since fresh water flows to the Delta have been pinched off and diverted since the 1970s. While initial development of the Delta islands removed most of the tidal marsh and wetland habitat in the Delta region, these fish have been subject to long-term human-induced drought conditions in the Estuary that have reduced fish populations and limited chances for their recovery.
Board chair Jay Lund commented that his UC Davis colleague, fisheries biologist William Bennett, has characterized the Delta as essentially having become a warm water southern Arkansas lake, replete with bass species that are typical for such a lake—largemouth and black bass, for example.
Swanson added that she felt that the report also failed to situate the state of the science in the context of the coequal goals the Council is charged with achieving. Counter to the report’s proposed focus on more research into “cause and effect” mechanisms, she argued that, “Really, we know enough to act to protect these fish by providing them with greater flows at key times of year than we now do.”
What we should do, she urged, is devote more research to the other side of the coequal goals: how to increase water supply reliability while preserving increased flows for fish, to make California’s economy more drought-resistant and drought-proof over the long run, especially through water conservation, efficiency, and recycling.
Council Chair Randy Fiorini nearly skipped public comment on the flows and fishes report, but after a break, and a reminder from me, he provided my public comment opportunity.
By then, the invited panelists scattered.
I spoke for Restore the Delta, stating that, “We recommend you not limit the science agenda just to broadened consideration of non-listed fish species, but also how nonnative invasive species should be managed to help recover listed fish species. An important example is the nonnative invasive clam Potamocorbula amurensis.”
This clam is an aggressive consumer of planktonic prey species in open water, and competes directly and very successfully with larval stages of Delta smelt and longfin smelt for these tiny prey.
Potamocorbula is an important instance of an invasive species that responds to flow and lack of flow, and which could be much better managed to reduce its competitive edge over vulnerable life stages of listed fish species. Fresh water flows have a tendency to move its geographic range westward out of the western Delta and Suisun Bay and further downstream in Carquinez Strait.
The relationship between clam range and fresh water flows has been known since the late 1980s when Potamocorbula first arrived. This would have been an excellent example of a flow/invasive species/listed fish species interaction that needs further research to support protective action on behalf of the listed fish species, but the DISB report ignored it.
But I saved the bulk of my remarks to show how the Flows and Fishes report failed to acknowledge and examine the sad and troubling experience of the “real-time” fish management failures that occurred along the upper Sacramento River in the late summers of 2014 and 2015. As you may have heard, the Bureau lost control of water temperatures at Shasta Lake, probably from excessive water releases there earlier in the water year, and due to equipment failures at critical times each year.
“Upwards of 95 percent of the endangered Winter Run Chinook salmon brood stock was lost each of the last two years,” I told the Council. Another year like that in the summer of 2016 and the winter-run population will be history. “The Shasta Dam temperature control device suffered limited operability in 2014. Then, in May 2015, the Bureau discovered a thermometer it used to measure the temperature pattern with depth in Shasta Lake read colder than the water actually was, and they had to replace the thermometer.
“While those events did not take place in the Delta, they exemplify the need for caution in placing heavy reliance on real-time operational adjustments and triggers as supposed replacements for water quality and flow objectives that might provide a greater margin of safety for listed fish species had they been applied,” I went on.
“The proposed Tunnels Project of the California Water Fix would place heavy reliance on real-time operations and adaptive management research agendas to mitigate project impacts,” I told the Council. “The DISB has been critical of BDCP and Water Fix approaches to adaptive management in particular. Yet the DISB’s report ignores the scientific and technical limitations and problems of real-time operations that a complex project like the Tunnels poses to existing institutional expertise, organizational coordination, and legal rationales.
“I recommended the DSC fund forensic, ‘post-mortem’ social and organizational research through the DISB into what factors contributed to the real-time operational failures on the upper Sacramento River, and seek recommendations from the researchers on how such problems can be avoided in the future.”
Council members listened, but had no questions for me. Next item, quick!
The flows and fishes report also ignores many other important ways of gaining scientific perspective on the condition of the Bay-Delta Estuary and what actions could be taken to protect and recover its ecosystems and its agricultural and recreational economy. Several questions go unanswered:
• How does the Bay Delta Estuary compare in terms of reduced natural flows and increased water supply diversions with declining fish and other desirable species populations in major estuaries around the world?
• How does the Bay Delta Estuary compare with other estuaries in the nature, range, and scale of physical, chemical, and biological stressors it faces?
• Why limit the Delta’s use of best available science to just the physical and natural sciences? If you are not applying best available social science, including institutional analysis, economic and financial analysis, and sociological and planning analysis, you proceed as a stewarding body with one eye blind.
• The Delta is a common pool resource plagued by over-appropriation. What social and institutional scientific insights might be researched, reviewed, and applied to address the human allocation and resource renewal factors from social science research into common pool resources?
As such, however, the scientific research agenda of the Delta Stewardship Council is focused laser-like on how to make the Delta safe for south-of-Delta water exports while seeming to do something to protect and understand the Delta’s vulnerable listed fish species.