Posted by: Deirdre Des Jardins | August 26, 2019

Delta Levees Investment Strategy: protecting Delta smelt?

The Delta Stewardship Council has considered and rejected an alternative for the Delta Levees Investment Strategy that prioritized reducing risks to lives and property in the Delta.  It’s listed as Alternative 3 in the Initial Statement of Reasons for the regulations adopting the strategy.

The Delta Stewardship Council explains that Alternative 3 was rejected because it would not prioritize levee investments that provide “ecosystem enhancements.”  This is from p. 23 of the Initial Statement of Reasons:

Alternative 3 – Prioritize Levee Investments in High Risk to Life or Property Areas

Alternative 3 focuses on prioritizing investments in levee improvements at islands or tracts identified as having a high risk to life or property, including urban and urbanizing areas of Sacramento, West Sacramento, and Stockton. Levee improvements that support other State interests (such as improving Delta ecosystem conditions or maintaining water supply corridors) would still occur but would be prioritized lower than investments in areas with high risk to life or property. Continued funding would be provided for maintenance of levees throughout the Delta where authorized by Water Code section 12980 et seq. and consistent with the recommendations of the CVFPB.

This alternative would not be less burdensome or equally or more effective than the proposed regulation. Alternative 3 was eliminated from consideration because although it would achieve or partially achieve many of the objectives of the proposed amendment, it would not prioritize levee investments that protect ecosystem enhancements that provide high benefits over other types of levee investments.

(underlining added)

But the rejection of Alternative 3 has more to do with the Delta Stewardship Council’s rejection of the initially proposed cost allocation method than with the need for ecosystem restoration projects in the Delta. The Separable Costs — Remaining Benefits (SCRB) cost allocation method was recommended by Arcadis and presented for the Delta Levees Investment Strategy peer review.

Under Separable Costs – Remaining Benefits, the extra costs to provide ecosystem benefits would have been assessed separately from protection of lives and property, and allocated separately.  Arcadis’ consultant, Dr. McMahon, stated:

In summary, the objectives are fairness primarily, so we’re trying to allocate only the costs incurred, so we want to allocate costs in proportions of benefits received; we don’t want any purpose to subsidize other purposes. There are four steps; the first step is the SCRB cost allocation by purpose and then that will inform the subsequent three steps listed here.”

In a previous blog post on the Delta Levees Investment Strategy, we explained that the McCormack-Williamson Tract and Dutch Slough restoration projects are part of the 8,000 acres of intertidal and subtidal habitat restoration required under the 2009 Biological Opinion.  The Tule Red restoration project on Grizzly Island is also part of the 8,000 acres of tidal habitat restoration.  Changes to levees are a relatively small part of these projects.
dutch slough EIR

The California EcoRestore web page lists several future habitat restoration projects on Sherman Island and Twitchell Island, both of which are designated as “very high priority.”  These include an $88.4 million setback levee on Twitchell Island, and restoration of 1,250 acres of wetland on the west end of the island. Funds have yet to be identified for an additional 3,900 acres of emergent wetland restoration on Sherman Island.  The EcoRestore program evolved from the CALFED Ecosystem Restoration Program.  The CALFED Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP) was part of the CALFED Record of Decision.  The ERP proposed extensive habitat restoration for mitigation of exports by the State Water Project and Central Valley Project.

As explained in a previous blog post, the Delta Levees Investment Strategy regulations will mandate that these ecosystem restoration projects take priority over protecting communities in the primary Delta from flooding. With the new prioritization, the issue of cost allocation becomes more critical.

The Davis-Dolwig Act, passed in 1961, directed that Department of Water Resources include in its water charges an amount “sufficient to repay all costs incurred for the preservation of fish and wildlife” as a result of the project.  But, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Department of Water Resources has generally not followed Davis-Dolwig in determining charges to the State Water Contractors.

This post was updated on August 27 to include future EcoRestore projects on Sherman Island and Twitchell Island.


Responses

  1. Another clearly written report, relying on science with a knowledge of history and awareness of policy.

  2. The Delta Stewardship Council seems to define, or had a defined for it, a problem that does not include either protection of lives and property or protection of public trust interests including public access to and use of navigable waters (meaning: waters actually susceptible to navigation even if only in a canoe; the temporarily dry beds below ordinary high water mark of those waters; lands above ordinary high water mark when submerged sufficiently to support navigation); and including state-owned land for purposes of fishing formerly state-owned land transferred after November 8, 1910, at least for purposes of fishing. However: however they choose to define the subject they are addressing, if they are a state or local public agency, they have no choice but to consider the effect of their decisions on public trust interests, including public access to an use of navigable waters (as defined above) and public access to and use of state-owned and formerly state-owned after 11/08/1910 land; and, to refrain from adversely affecting these interests when feasible.
    If the Council chooses to omit consideration and documentation of the affect of their work on public trust interests, then at some later stage all of their work will have to be re-examined from the point of view of the public trust. It would seem it would be wiser to include consideration of these interests now, so as to avoid the consequences of ignoring a fundamental requirement.
    In my short-hand definition of “navigable waters,” I don’t mean to ignore the “Inland Sea” as it existed prior to reclamation: that lands annually submerged prior to reclamation, and therefore still subject the public trust, possibly including great expanses of farm land and even housing subdivisions, long ago protected from flooding by levees and drained by artificial canals and pumps.
    Again, if these are not considered now, much of the planning and design may be faulty.


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