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Delta Plan Nears Completion - Council Approves Final Direction for Comprehensive Management Plan

April 2013

A final review of the Delta Stewardship Council’s proposed Rulemaking Package is under way now through April 22. The revised version out for review is based on direction from Council members in response to public comments at the Council’s March 28-29 meeting. The Rulemaking Package is part of the process to turn the 14 Delta Plan policies into enforceable regulations.

“The regulatory policies have been subject to public comment and review since August 2011,” said Council Chair Phil Isenberg. “The modified and refined versions have been reviewed in the 5th, 6th, 7th and now final draft Delta Plan, as well as the all three volumes of the draft programmatic environmental impact report.”

The revisions considered by the Council in March were based on more than 3,000 comments received on two documents derived from the final draft of the Delta Plan released last November. The documents were a Recirculated Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (RDPEIR) and a package of proposed regulations (Rulemaking Package) that would implement the Plan’s policies. Many reviewers also commented on the Plan itself.

In all 1,112 comments were received on the RDPEIR, 791 on the Rulemaking Package, and 1,136 on the final draft Delta Plan. The bulk came from the most active water districts, environmental organizations, and Delta interests during concurrent 45-day public comment periods held from November 2012 to January 2013. Each comment was reviewed by DSC staff members and then categorized into various themes.

“Many of the comments were repeated verbatim by various stakeholders,” said Cindy Messer, Deputy Executive Officer for Delta Plan Development. “Collating the comments into thematic categories allows staff members to more efficiently respond to the entire collective, and to offer a comprehensive report to the Council members.”

After collating the comments, DSC staff then devised changes they recommended to the Council members during the March meeting. “Sometimes, however, commenters simply continued to debate issues discussed and resolved by the Council in its review of earlier drafts of the Delta Plan. In those cases we recommended that the Council keep its original language,” said Messer.

The changes that were recommended were considered refinements in the language of the policies. Few changes are substantive, Messer also said. “Some of them deal with clarity, consistency, and technical correctness.”

The significant staff recommended changes to the proposed regulatory policies in the Rulemaking Package included adjustments to:

WR P1 – Reduce Reliance on the Delta through Improved Regional Water Self-Reliance
The Council approved the staff proposed changes including revisions to clarify how measurable reductions in the amount water used, or percentage of water used, from the Delta watershed will be reported.

ER P4 – Expand Floodplains and Riparian Habitats in Levee Projects
The Council approved the staff proposed changes. The revision will save money in the complying with the Delta Plan because it reduces the number of locations where the feasibility of setting back levees must be studied.

ER P5 – Avoid Introductions of, and Habitat Improvements for, Non-native Species
The Council approved the staff proposed changes with a modification to add bass, striped bass, and other predator fish to the proposed policy language. The policy now also requires consideration of whether those fish, which are important predators on native fish, may be affected by Delta projects, and how improvements in these predators’ habitats can be avoided or lessened.

DP P1 – Locate new Urban Development Wisely
The Council approved the staff proposed changes. The proposed policy now makes it even more clear that development conforming with the local government general plans in place now is consistent with the regulation.

RR P2 – Require Flood Protection for Residential Development in Rural Areas
The Council approved the staff proposed changes. This proposed policy was revised to provide elevation criteria for flood proofing building sites in new rural residential subdivisions. Originally it required “200-year flood protection.” The recommended revisions would offer specific elevation details including that construction would anticipate sea level rise that may accompany climate change.

Comments on all three volumes of the draft PEIR, the Rulemaking Package, and the Delta Plan are posted at: http://deltacouncil.ca.gov/public-comments. Responses to those comments will be available for review when the final versions of those documents are published and posted on the DSC website at least 10 days in advance of the May 2013 Council meeting, which is when the Council is expected to certify the final Programmatic Environmental Impact Report, adopt the final Delta Plan, and adopt the Regulations listed in the final Delta Plan.

“After two and a half years of arduous study, review and analysis, a comprehensive management plan for the Delta is now within reach,” said Isenberg. “State law tells us to develop a legally enforceable Delta Plan that will guide state and local agency actions on water use and the Delta environment. We will soon be able to focus on implementing the policies and recommendations that will help achieve the State’s coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem while protecting the unique values of the Delta as an evolving place.”

The Delta Plan is intended to be a comprehensive management plan to improve statewide water supply reliability, provide a vibrant and healthy ecosystem, and preserve, protect and enhance the rural, agricultural and recreational characteristics of the Delta. The Plan would include the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) when the BDCP is completed and successfully permitted.

When adopted, the Delta Plan and its regulations will:

Create a single blueprint for state and local agencies’ action to provide a more reliable water supply for California, and protect, restore and enhance the Delta ecosystem;
Ensure that significant state and local agency actions occurring wholly or partly within the Delta are consistent with the Delta Plan, with the Council as an appellate body to enforce those rules in a fair and timely manner;
Create a unified science initiative and improved accountability to achieve the co-equal goals in the Delta;
Create an effective interagency body to coordinate implementation of the Delta Plan.

Following the adoption and certification processes in May, the Council will submit the package of proposed rules and a Statement of Reason to the State Office of Administrative Law (OAL). The Statement of Reason is considered a significant component in how the entire document is presented to the OAL, the state agency that ensures the proposed regulations in the final draft Delta Plan are drafted appropriately.

As its name suggests, the Statement of Reason offers the OAL the reasons why the DSC believes the proposed regulations should be approved. The wording of the Statement walks through the Delta Reform Act, the DSC’s authority, and the role of the Council. It then offers context to the proposed regulations by discussing the issues at hand in the Delta and how each of the proposed regulations addresses those issues.

The documents dealing with the recommended changes are available for review at http://deltacouncil.ca.gov/event-detail/8636. The RDPEIR, the Rulemaking Package, and the final draft of the Delta Plan are located on their respective pages.

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall 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." (CA Water Code §85054)