Comments of Delta stakeholders on revised Delta Levees Investment Strategy

The following are excerpts from the comments of Delta stakeholders to the Delta Stewardship Council on the Delta Levees Investment Strategy at the August 2021 meeting.

Dante Nomellini Sr. (Central Delta Water Agency):  We are very much opposed to what is being presented at the present time. We were very hopeful that by prior Council direction that staff would engage with our local stakeholder group. We’re the people that represent the Reclamation Districts that have to maintain the levees. And also the Central Delta Water Agency, which is concerned about water quality in the Delta, which is parallel in a great respect with the views of the people that have to export water from the Delta to various parts of the state.

We have been working closely with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, although we may have some differences on water rights and things like that, we have been uniform in our position of trying to protect what we call the Fresh Water Corridor. That’s the ability to bring Sacramento River water over to Clifton Court. And that, of course, involves trying to repulse salinity from intruding in the Delta because of levee breaks due to earthquake and the sea level rise. And it’s very difficult to predict where a levee will fail.

So we have met with staff a number of times, they’re very polite people and they’re nice people. They’ve been kind to us. But as one of those sociologists reported they were not very responsive to and didn’t value our input. Now from an engineering standpoint, their view was to look at overtopping. Levees don’t fail solely by overtopping. They can blow out from the bottom because of a structural deficiency. They can fail due to rodent activity and other things …  We’ve got this presentation from staff last Thursday evening and we have had — it’s a hundred and thirty six pages. We’ve reviewed some of it. There are major errors in the matrix that we see that we use to formulate this rating that staff is depending on as a rather sterile approach to the Delta levee problems. We think we can help get that cleaned up. It’s going to take some time. If you start your regulatory process prematurely with the attitude displayed by staff, we’re probably going to just be in a fight and not be able to achieve any any modification. The impression we got from staff was that the board has not suggested to them that they ought to work more closely with our stakeholder group. Anyway.

Melinda Terry (Central Valley Flood Association):  … But as Dante said, there’s still some issues from the Association standpoint… the Flood Board focuses a lot on those state plan of flood control levees because of the federal assurances that have been given. And, you know, they have reporting basically from the RDs on their ability to keep up with that maintenance, which is important because to get federal funding for repairs when there’s damage. And there’s damage every winter, you know. Some winters are worse than others, but they need to be eligible for that. And they do rely on the state funding… So they should be priorities and particularly for the state plan on flood control, because the state has liability. That 1986 flood resulted in 20 plus year lawsuit in the state paying a half a billion dollars. And part of the reason was they were responsible for failing to fund the maintenance of those levees that resulted in a failure. I will just add that we have not had an overtopping failure since 1986. Now that is due to the focus of these levee investment programs, funding programs to get the height of those levees up. But what is dangerous are those sunny day failures. And 2004 we experienced one. In 1972, we experienced one. It wasn’t talked about in the narrative and there are issues with the narrative as well as some of the other documents being considered today. But it failed to talk about the fact when you have those sunny days, those pumps get shut down and you have to release reservoir water, or wait for Mother Nature to flush it out. That’s what they had to do in 72. A half a million acre feet, had to be released, God forbid, happens in a year like this because we don’t have extra reservoir water. So the maintenance of these levees is extremely important. And I guess at this point, it would just be really nice if you don’t initiate this process right now. You’ve taken the time thus far. But we would like to be able to really read these documents fully before you initiate a process that makes any changes to it difficult because it could cause you to restart it all over again. Again, you’ve spent a lot of time. Why rush it? Let’s try and make sure that we have a little bit of changes that could happen before you do that. Thank you.

James Crowder (LAND):  … But the fundamental concerns that have been raised here today by both Dante, Melinda and myself are the same concerns that Delta stakeholders have been voicing for years and are unlikely to be addressed once the Council approves this item today. These areas should be corrected prior to the Council approving the specific prioritization table and draft regulatory language as recommended in the staff report. We therefore respectfully request that the council refer the item back to the staff and revise the regulations to better track the common sense and statutorily compliant amendments that the Delta stakeholders have been providing. Thank you for considering these comments.

Gil Cosio:  This Gilbert Cosio with MBK engineers. Thank you for listening to my comments. I mean, after three attorneys, a physicist and Melinda Terry, the only known human being to read all forty thousand pages at the Cal WaterFix project, I am pretty intimidated. I don’t want to repeat anything but just kind of describe my viewpoint of things. I’m one of those engineers that Dante referred to. I’m with MBK engineers. I’ve been working in the Delta for almost 38 years. Our company represents about 40 percent of the entire Delta. And through my nearly 40 years, I’ve probably represented a few more. So I probably have experience on about 50 percent of the entire Delta levees. I think the biggest problem we have is that … we’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and we’ve developed this round hole from all these years of experience… If you go back and read some of the documentation written by the letters written by Ron Robie, the Director of DWR at the time, that was one of the main reasons the Delta needed to be maintained as a whole, as a system because of this domino effect that that was real. I mean, we’ve seen it. We haven’t seen a whole lot of levee failures recently. So it’s hard to remember what happens after a levee fails. You get the seepage, you get the wave action, that sort of thing… Certainly, as I tell you and others have explained, the water supply portion is kind of limited in the table that the staffs put together. But in reality, it is the entire freshwater pathway that we’re concerned about. And that that was pretty clear up until about 10 years ago. Somehow that that fell out. I think people started focusing more on the Old and Middle River corridor and kind of forgot that that corridor actually starts way up at the Sacramento River. Also ecosystem, these levees protect a lot of ecosystem. And I think the table misses some of those those levee systems. A lot of them have private seasonal wetlands for waterfowl habitat. Some are permanent, wetlands are private. And then a lot of them have easements for wetland habitat that were purchased by the state and federal governments. If you want to look up a good document, the Estuary Institute assessment is to have a good map to show a lot of those. And I think if you looked at those maps, you’d see a lot more of the levees provide a lot of ecosystem habitat, specifically in seasonal and permanent wetlands.