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Council Approves Comments on BDCP Draft EIR/EIS - Hears Multiple BDCP Reviews

May June 2014

The Delta Stewardship Council approved comments on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) draft Environment Impact Report / Environment Impact Statement (EIR/S) during its May 29 Council meeting after hearing three distinct reviews of the BDCP, all of which acknowledge the substantial amount of work that has been put into developing the BDCP document but also note several areas for improvement.

The Council’s comment letter is available here.

The BDCP is being developed as a 50-year Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP) with the goal of recovering the Delta’s endangered or threatened species. This will be accomplished in part by improving the conveyance of water from the Sacramento River to the south Delta pumps of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, by establishing parameters for operating those projects, and by restoring wildlife and fish habitats in and around the Delta

If the BDCP meets the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA), as well as the requirements set forth in the Delta Reform Act, it will be incorporated into the Delta Plan and will play a key role in achieving the goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta’s ecosystem.

The reviews were conducted 1) by the Council’s independent consultant, ARCADIS, which assessed how the BDCP addresses the Delta Reform Act’s goals and objectives; 2) by an independent science review panel convened by the Council’s Delta Science Program at the request of the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Water Resources to assess the scientific soundness of the BDCP’s Effects Analysis; and 3) by the Delta Independent Science Board (Delta ISB), which reviewed the draft EIR/S and portions of the BDCP itself.

In response to these reports, the Council approved comments on the BDCP’s draft EIR/S that suggest improvements to:

• Reflect more accurately the uncertainties about how effectively conservation actions may mitigate the BDCP’s adverse effects,

• Develop regional conservation strategies for the Delta’s six restoration opportunity areas in order to both improve certainty about habitat restoration measures’ outcomes and to enable further environmental evaluations,

• More carefully assess effects on the Delta’s values as a place, and

• Better mitigate adverse effects to in-Delta water quality, agricultural, recreational, community, aesthetic, and cultural resources.

ARCADIS Report

To assist the Council in its consideration of the BDCP, ARCADIS has prepared a summary report reviewing how the BDCP addresses the Delta Reform Act’s goals and objectives and the Act’s directions about the contents of the Delta Plan. You will find the report here.

ARCADIS reported that the BDCP’s conservation strategy, if successfully implemented, could partly contribute to furthering the Delta Reform Act’s coequal goals. The report noted, however, that the BDCP could also adversely affect in-Delta water quality and the agricultural, recreational and cultural values of the Delta if its projected impacts are not better mitigated.

Panel reviews Effects Analysis

The independent science review panel made up of seven nationally acclaimed scientists that assessed the Effects Analysis said that the draft BDCP Effects Analysis is a “monumental effort” incorporating over 745 pages of text and another 4,500 pages of supporting appendices. The Chapter 5 Effects Analysis is intended to provide the best scientific assessment of the likely effects of BDCP actions on the species of concern and the ecological processes of the Bay-Delta system.

Dr. Alex Parker with the California Maritime Academy, one of the panelists, presented the findings of the independent science panel.

“The implementation of the BDCP and its effects are highly uncertain, so the way to address this is through adaptive management,” he said. “The Effects Analysis needs to really clearly articulate the uncertainty in order to have an effective adaptive management process.”

He added that the challenge was in the technical appendices.

“The details seem to be there, and the uncertainty seems to be there, but it didn’t really translate to what we presume most people will be reading,” Parker said, “and that’s problematic because from the outset, for adaptive management to be effective, it needs to identify and really truly embrace the uncertainty.”

To view the independent review of the Effects Analysis report please click here.

Independent Science Board review

Dr. Tracy Collier, Chair of the Delta ISB, said they found a lot of things to admire in the documents they reviewed.

“There were a lot of really positive things . . . like the background descriptions of the Delta environment, the context for CEQA and NEPA, [they’re] really impressive. They are detailed and yet they are clear.”

He added that the ISB thought the presentation of the alternative water conveyance designs for CM1 was comprehensive and well balanced. Collier said that during their review ISB members were mindful of the need to be constructive, so when they identify problems, they’re trying to identify issues with the documents in a way so that they can be addressed and improved. Some of those issues include:

• Many of the impact assessments hinge on overly optimistic expectations about the feasibility, effectiveness, or timing of the proposed conservation actions, especially habitat restoration,

• The potential effects of climate change and sea-level rise on the implementation and outcomes of BDCP actions are not adequately evaluated, and

• There needs to be more specific discussion about adaptive management. There will be situations where adaptive management is not appropriate or even achievable, and that needs to be explicitly recognized.

To view the Delta ISB’s comment letter, please click here.

The Council will submit its comments, along with the entire report of the Delta ISB to the Natural Resources Agency and the Department of Water Resources with a request that the ISB’s comments be responded to in the final EIR/S.

The Natural Resources Agency recently extended the comment period for the BDCP, which now goes through July 29. According to the BDCP website, “All substantive comments received on the Draft EIR/EIS will be considered in the Final EIR/EIS and decision-making process. No final decisions have been made regarding going forward with the BDCP or in selecting an alternative; those decision will only occur after the completion of the CEQA and NEPA processes.”

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)