≡ Categories

News from Restore the Delta: The BDCP is NOT dead

“This is the way the world ends; not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.”
― Amanda Hocking, Hollowland

BDCP is NOT dead
How MWD proposes to make this pencil out
How the Water Bond plays into this
Wringing more water out of the Delta
Reducing flow for the SF Bay-Delta estuary through publicly funded water transfers

BDCP is NOT dead

On September 23, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) got an update on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) from Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin, Delta Stewardship Council Chairman Randy Fiorini, and MWD’s own Bay-Delta Committee.

Cowin told MWD that DWR is making progress on three fronts:
(1) Resolving the final issues on terms of the BDCP proposal, especially details of adaptive management (who decides, who pays, who’s on the hook)
(2) scoping work necessary for a recirculated CEQA/NEPA document, primarily because of physical changes to the proposal (alignment of tunnels and facilities), but also addressing other public comments, including those by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
(3) developing scope of work and organization for Section 7 consultation for federal agencies. (The Endangered Species Act (ESA) directs all Federal agencies to work to conserve endangered and threatened species and to use their authorities to further the purposes of the Act. Section 7 of the Act, called “Interagency Cooperation,” is the mechanism by which Federal agencies ensure the actions they take, including those they fund or authorize, do not jeopardize the existence of any listed species.)

Cowin said that DWR was surprised by the content and tone of EPA’s comments, which were very critical of BDCP. He admitted that those comments were a blow to the momentum of the BDCP process.

For some reason, the EPA thought that the water contractors intend to operate the projects in violation of water quality law. Now, why would they think that? Cowin said the misunderstanding comes from an analysis that is based on a monthly time step model that doesn’t account for daily actions. So even though the water contractors have promised not to violate water quality standards, the modeling shows that they would. Cowin said it is necessary to get into the appendices to fully understand the approach. He promised additional clarifying analysis for the recirculation of BDCP.

(It doesn’t surprise us that the BDCP modeling doesn’t support the water contractors’ assertions or that the appendices and the main body of the analysis don’t agree with each other. That’s the kind of planning and environmental documents DWR produced.)

The Delta Stewardship Council’s Randy Fiorini told MWD that the Council’s review of BDCP was very positive. The Council just had some comments on the need to expand discussion of adaptive management. Discussion . . . yes. When it comes to adaptive management, discussion is all we ever get. Managing the system to benefit species and habitat is all in the future, as current operations, managed most of the time for maximum water deliveries, wreak their ongoing havoc.

How MWD proposes to make this pencil out

Of particular interest in the MWD update was the discussion of the status of BDCP cost allocations. Here’s a link to the Bay-Delta Committee’s presentation.

To understand what is going on with the discussion of allocation methods, it is helpful to understand the concept of Table A water. All contracts signed by State Water Project (SWP) contractors in the 1960s included a schedule of the amount of water each contractor could expect to have delivered annually, increasing gradually until the SWP was fully developed for a “maximum project yield.” Each contractor’s annual amount is called its “Table A” amount.

The SWP was never was fully developed, and the Table A amounts were reduced in the 1990s, although not very much and not with any apparent regard for the actual amount of water available from the watersheds sustainably, on average. The only nod to reality is the recognition that deliveries will be less than the maximum Table A amount in some years (presumably dry years) and more in others (presumably wet years).

The maximum Table A amount is still the basis for apportioning water supply and costs to SWP contractors.

MWD’s Bay-Delta Committee staff presented three methods for allocating BDCP costs but eliminated one (payment based on the amount of water delivered) because it created administrative and financial challenges. What they were left with is the Table A approach and the Subscribed Capacity approach.

Using the Table A approach would allocate costs among all SWP contractors except North of Delta contractors (only about 2% of the total), based on Table A amounts. (MWD’s Table A share is roughly 46% of SWP.) The Subscribed Capacity approach would have contractors subscribe for tunnel capacity based on their water supply needs.

Either approach would include provisions for contractor-to-contractor annual/multi-year transfers and exchange programs. In fact, both approaches rely heavily on agencies working out transfer agreements. What they propose is to update transfer and exchange provisions from the Monterey Amendments to the SWP (which among other changes altered the way SWP water was allocated among urban and agricultural water contractors) to make it easier to move water from contractor to contractor.

In other words, the proposals are that South of Delta SWP agencies
• start with Table A assigned apportionment, then work out water transfer agreements among individual agencies, OR
• choose how much tunnel capacity they are willing to pay for, then work out water transfer agreements if what they want is different from their Table A amount.
In either case, they could use transfers and exchanges. Tunnel capacity and water supply are all available for purchase.

How the Water Bond plays into this

If this sounds like a free-for-all (with nothing free), that’s probably what it is, and the different provisions in the Water Bond for measures like enhanced instream flows would probably facilitate it. One section of the Water Bond specifically provides funding for intrastate agreements that enhance the reliability of water supplies on a regional or interregional basis and provide significant regional or statewide economic benefits.

The contractors will need to decide up front what each agency’s participation will be. If most agencies are taking their full Table A contract amount, then the Table A allocation method probably makes the most sense. If many contractors are not using their full contract amounts, then the subscribed capacity method would work better for determining how benefits and costs are allocated. Agencies that have invested in wet year storage capacity or transfer capacity might need and want to pay for less than their Table A amount.

Wringing more water out of the Delta

MWD and other state and federal water contractors had their export supplies reduced as a result of a 2008 Biological Opinion (BiOp) by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This BiOp found that operation of state and federal water projects threatened continued existence of Delta smelt, which were at their lowest numbers since tracking started in 1967. USFWS urged sharp cuts in diversions of fresh water from the Delta.

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger had ordered the USFWS to do the BiOp, but he didn’t like the result. In 2010, in response to complaints by water export interests, he ruled that USFWS had acted in an “artibrary and capricious” manner in crafting the 2008 BiOp. That decision in turn was appealed, and in March of this year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Wanger’s decision. So BiOp restrictions on export diversions remain in place.

MWD sees BDCP as an opportunity to increase their ability to capture more water, and staff are explicit about wanting to recover the amounts they reliably received before the Wanger decision reduced supplies. Without BDCP, they will have to obtain additional supplies somewhere else, probably at higher cost. If they don’t get full subscription by SWP agencies for tunnel capacity, they will have to negotiate additional transfer and exchange agreements.

Reducing flow for the SF Bay-Delta estuary through publicly funded water transfers

It is still possible that MWD could pay its share to build the tunnels and end up with no more water, but they expect to have a more a reliable supply. Staff is trying to figure out how to maintain the average level of supply over the past 20 years, plus or minus 10%. But they are basing their assumptions on BDCP’s low outflow scenario, the one that provides for the least outflow to the estuary and Bay and the highest export flows. (What was that Cowin said about not operating BDCP in violation of water quality law?)

MWD is hoping to make the whole thing work for them with water transfers and exchanges. They want a system where those who invest more money get more water (costs should follow water). MWD is one of the agencies with the ability to invest more. If they pay 60% of the costs, they get 60% of the water.

MWD board members are still asking what happens if ecosystem restoration money isn’t available. But staff said that as long as the plan is moving forward and the contractors have done what they agreed to do, habitat restoration isn’t their problem.

Click here to watch the September 23, 2014 meeting. http://www.mwdh2o.com/mwdh2o/pages/board/videostream/

Leave a Comment

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Jan Howe
    September 28, 2014, 11:20 pm

    The Feds evidently didn’t get any of the memoes from Gov Brown re: how wonderful the BCDP is. And our state water people must have been vacationing on another planet outside the loop if they were surprised by the “tone” of the criticism in the responses to the plan from the EPA. The Feds weren’t suckered by the lack of specifics on the “who pays”, “how much” “for what?” comedy routine. The Feds are big brother here, & it looks as if someone who should have been less political would have seen this outcome on the horizon. Sounds a bit like the Iraq war: based on a false premise about WMDs (ie. here failure of big ag to make money & feed the Sac treasury without its over-subscribed water share.) The tunnels won’t cost the CA taxpayer as much as Iraq, but it could be close. No one knows.
    The best reservoirs are the natural ones provided by a snow pack in the Sierras. No construction (& no jobs); no tax money spent / earned from income, sales /property and no bond repayments (or a credit rating slide for non-payment.) If we don’t have a pack, then how do we solve a commodity problem man doesn’t control and never has? Building something to transport a resource which never comes again as “excess” rain/ snow melt doesn’t sound sane.
    Don’t blame the pines and fir trees for sucking up all “our” water because we don’t have enough wildfires to thin the forests (yes, some nuts were trying to sell that one. Wildfires waste water, too.) Plant water guzzling crops such as almonds (shipped off-shore) or citrus in arid places which demand irrigation year round, and you’ve wasted a resource. Never monitor ground water use, levels, recharging since the beginning of the state. Blame the ag / water problem on tiny fish & flora. Flush waste water into the Bay, ocean, rivers without treatment for decades.
    Vote in November with your brain fully engaged.