Coalition Members Brief Water Commission on Portfolio-Based Alternative to BDCP

Coalition Members Brief Water Commission on Portfolio-Based Alternative to BDCP

Members of a coalition that is urging state and federal officials to study a portfolio-based approach to water management and conveyance as a stand-alone  alternative in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) formally presented their proposal Feb. 20 to the California Water Commission.

The conceptual plan, unveiled in January and backed by a coalition of environmental and business groups, calls for a scaled-down conveyance facility in the Delta as well as complementary investments in local water supply sources. The proposal also seeks to bolster water storage south of the Delta and improve levees in the estuary.

Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a backer of the alternative, said his group and others in the coalition are concerned about proposed “aggressive” pumping rules within the current BDCP proposals and believe a smaller conveyance facility coupled with investments in local water supply sources would lead to more reliable water deliveries from the Delta.

“We need a project at the end of the day that is both legally permitable and has enough benefit to water users that it is financeable,” Nelson told commissioners.

Jonathan Clay, representing the San Diego County Water Authority, also spoke in support of studying the alternative, saying it could lead to more reliable deliveries from the Delta.

“My board supports having a Delta fix,” said Clay. “But we think there needs to be additional analysis out there.”

The Water Commission did not take action on the plan. Commissioners listened to the presentation and asked questions of the presenters.  Commission Chairman Joe Byrne said commissioners may decide later whether to take a position on the alternative proposal following another hearing.

Much of the discussion Feb. 20 focused on whether the BDCP should include plans for increased water storage south of the Delta so more water may be stored in wet years for use in dry years.

Commissioner Daniel Curtin expressed concern that the coalition’s proposed smaller conveyance facility – which would transport 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water, rather than the BDCP’s proposed facility that would move 9,000 cfs of water – would be too small to move water during big storms and therefore inhibit the ability to store water.

“Would (the smaller facility) restrict that capability by being a smaller pipe to move the water when you’ve got it?” Curtin asked.

Nelson said it is possible that a smaller facility could restrict the ability to move large amounts of water in wet years, but “in dry years, we would operate a big facility and a small facility in the same way.”

Curtin also stressed the importance of water storage south of the Delta.

“At some point during wet years we need some more storage south of the Delta and that need will grow with climate change,” Curtin added.

Nelson said the portfolio-based alternative would likely require some funding through a state bond measure, although possibly a smaller one than the $11.1 billion bond proposed for the 2014 ballot.

The conceptual proposal, outlined Jan. 16 by NRDC and The Bay Institute, the Contra Costa Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Entrepreneurs, and the Planning and Conservation League, calls for a scaled-down conveyance facility and additional, complementary investments in local water supply sources, regional coordination, south of Delta storage, levee improvements, and habitat restoration. Details on the proposal are available here.

Seven urban water agencies, including the San Diego County Water Authority, Alameda County Water District, Contra Costa Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Otay Water District, the City of San Diego and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, also has asked that the conceptual proposal be thoroughly studied as a stand-alone alternative in the environmental review process for the BDCP.

Backers of the portfolio-based proposal will present the plan Feb. 21 to the Delta Stewardship Council.