The Delta Stewardship Council held a hearing from Wednesday, October 24 through Friday 26, 2018 on nine appeals of the certification by the Department of Water Resources that the WaterFix project is consistent with the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan. The WaterFix project has been strongly opposed by Delta local government agencies. All of the Delta counties have filed appeals, including Sacramento County, and San Joaquin, Yolo, Contra Costa, and Solano Counties, which filed a joint appeal with Local Agencies of the North Delta. The City of Stockton also filed an appeal. In a dramatic development, the Delta Protection Commission sent a strongly worded recommendations to the Delta Stewardship Council on Friday, October 19, stating that the WaterFix project is inconsistent with the Delta Reform Act and the Delta Plan, and recommending that the project be remanded to DWR. Delta Protection Commission members testified in the hearing.
The Delta Protection Commission’s recommendations carry some weight, because under the Water Code, the Delta Protection Commission officially advises the Delta Stewardship Council on significant projects within the scope of the Delta Plan. The DPC recommendations are 19 pages long, so this post will quote some of the key findings.
In the introduction, the Delta Protection Commission’s written recommendations state:
As discussed below, the proposed CWF project is inconsistent with the Delta Plan policies and recommendations regarding “Delta as Place”. If carried out as proposed, CWF will irrevocably alter the rural character of the Delta, its economic pillars (agriculture and recreation), and its cultural heritage. We believe this represents a significant adverse impact on the achievement of one or both of the coequal goals, since the coequal goals must be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place. (p. 2.)
Delta Plan Policy P2, Respect Local Land Use When Siting Water or Flood Facilities or Restoration Habitats, requires that:
Water management facilities, ecosystem restoration, and flood management infrastructure must be sited to avoid or reduce conflicts with existing uses or those uses described or depicted in city and county general plans for their jurisdictions or spheres of influence when feasible, considering comments from local agencies and the Delta Protection Commission. (underlining added.)
The Delta Protection Commission’s recommendations state:
Our review of the record suggests that CWF does not “avoid or reduce conflicts . . . when feasible”, as required by DP P2. DWR’s supporting findings identify numerous impacts to Delta communities associated with the CWF project. Included among these impacts are disclosures of the impacts on community character of the CWF project’s construction activities, including declining property values, blight and abandonment. It is not hyperbole to suggest that the CWF project presents an existential crisis for the small Delta communities that would be most affected by the protracted, intensive construction period, the permanent infrastructure, and the radical – not evolutionary – effects on the Delta economic drivers of agriculture, recreation, and emerging heritage tourism. DWR has failed to grapple with the reality, demonstrated through evidence in the record, that CWF puts the long-term sustainability of small Delta communities in serious jeopardy; it also thoroughly fails to offer any meaningful mitigation for such impacts. (p. 6, underlining added)
Delta Plan Mitigation Measure 18-2 requires specific actions by lead agencies to mitigate impacts of projects on recreational facilities. The Delta Protection Commission’s recommendations state:
Impacts to Recreation: Recreation is second only to agriculture in contributing to the Delta region economy. According to the ESP, visitors to the Delta region generated a total of 12 million visitor days of use annually in 2010 with a direct economic impact of more than $250 million in spending, with most of this visitation in interior areas of the Delta that will be largely impacted by CWF. (p. 8.)
No mitigation has been proposed for the substantial “temporary” impacts to recreation in the Delta by the project proponents, other than creation of site-specific “construction traffic management plans” which are deferred to the future. There is no analysis in the record of temporary impacts, although FEIR/EIS Chapter 15 defines “temporary” as longer than 2 years, and construction could take from 5-10 years depending on location and facility. Regardless, this lack of analysis and associated mitigation or project modifications do not meet the standard set forth by the Council in the Delta Plan MM 18-2. (p. 10.)
Delta Plan Mitigation Measure 7-1 requires specific actions by lead agencies to mitigate permanent impacts to agricultural lands. The Delta Protection Commission’s recommendations state:
Impacts to Agriculture: Agriculture is the dominant land use and economic driver in the rural Delta region, with total crop value of approximately $919 million in 2016. Combined with approximately $82 million in animal products value, the total $1 billion Delta agricultural economy has an economic impact of 12,407 jobs, $999 million in value added and $1.81 billion in output in the five Delta counties. CWF mitigation does not provide equally or more effective protection than Delta Plan EIR mitigations.
The Delta Plan EIR Mitigation Measure (MM) 7-1 states that a project that will result in permanent conversion of Farmland should preserve lands in perpetuity with a target ratio of 1:1. (p. 12.)
Instead, DWR proposes that the Council accept an alternative type of mitigation (MM AG-1c)64 in which no mitigation ratios and no analysis is included. Within the analysis in the Final EIR/EIS of the short term and long term impacts to agriculture, DWR did consider a conventional farmland mitigation program with 1:1 ratios, consistent with the Delta Plan mitigations measures, yet dismissed it with the statement that it “may not be feasible because of cost or availability of land.” This type of dismissive conclusion is unacceptable and shows little regard for either the Delta Plan or the Delta agricultural community. (p. 13.)
.The Delta Protection Commission recommends that the Council remand the project to DWR, stating:
To inform your decision, we have provided numerous instances where the record shows the project as currently proposed is not consistent with the Delta Plan charge to protect the Delta as a unique, evolving Place and would irrevocably alter the defining characteristics of the Delta, rendering the Delta as Place policies meaningless and the recommendations pointless. We strongly recommend, pursuant to PRC section 29773, that the Council remand the project until the proponents can demonstrate that these Delta as Place inconsistencies have been greatly reduced or eliminated. DWR will be able to take the opportunity afforded by a remand to meaningfully engage with local communities to determine ways in which it might best support Delta as Place policies. (p. 17.)
The Delta Protection Commission’s recommendations and testimony appear to greatly strengthen the appeals filed by the Delta counties and the City of Stockton.
This post was updated on November 1, 2018 to reference the Delta Protection Commission’s testimony at the Delta Stewardship Council’s hearing on the WaterFix Consistency Determination.