One of the major issues in the State Water Resources Control Board’s hearing on the WaterFix Change in Point of Diversion is the proposal to exempt the new North Delta diversions from the Board’s export limits for the State Water Project and Central Valley Project. The export limits are part of the State Water Resources Control Board’s 2006 Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Table 3 requirements, which set standards to protect fish and wildlife. The 2006 Bay-Delta WQCP export limits basically limit total Delta exports to 35% of total Delta inflow from February to June, and 65% from July to January. (There is an exception for dry Februaries.) The export limits were originally proposed in 1995 by the water users to provide “substantial protection” to fish in the Delta.
The Department of Water Resources and Metropolitan Water District are now proposing that the State Water Resources Control Board exempt the new North Delta diversions from the export limits in the 2006 WQCP. If the North Delta diversions are exempt from the export limits, the Water Board’s only required bypass flows for the Sacramento River will essentially be the minimum Delta outflows, or the minimum to maintain salinity standards in the Delta.
The modeling for the proposed WaterFix operations does not show severe impacts from ending the export limits, and from the Board not requiring any bypass flows in the WaterFix permit. The reason is that the WaterFix modeling assumes very protective bypass criteria that are proposed to be triggered by the presence of outmigrating Winter and Spring Run Chinook salmon. But the National Marine Fisheries Service 2017 Biological Opinion for the WaterFix notes that all of the operational criteria are subject to change, stating,
Some of the criteria identified in the PA may have substantial water supply effects while providing limited ability to minimize effects to species. As a result, operational criteria identified in the CWF PA may be modified, relaxed or removed and may no longer apply to an operation with CWF, while other operational criteria, not currently identified in this CWF consultation or those already identified may be included or modified. Therefore, the operational criteria that are described in the CWF BA and in this Opinion are likely to change between now and when CWF becomes operational. (p. 16, underlining added.)
Chapter 3 of the WaterFix Final EIR/EIS also notes that the operations analyzed in the Final EIR/EIS are only “modeling assumptions,” stating:
While the analysis for Alternative 4A in the resource chapters utilizes H3+ modeling results, actual operations will ultimately depend on the results of the adaptive management program. (p. 3-262.)
Thus the initial operational criteria that are ultimately adopted for the WaterFix may be far less protective than what is analyzed in the Final EIR/EIS and Reclamation’s Biological Assessment.
An even larger long-term issue is what happens if the endangered Winter and/or Spring Run Chinook salmon go extinct because of climate change and/or the new diversions. Would the Water Board then step in and require minimum bypass flows on the Sacramento River to protect unlisted fish, boating, minimum water levels for agricultural diversions, and other beneficial uses in the Delta?