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Council Hires Consultant; Moves Forward on Levee Investment Prioritization Project

May June 2014

The Delta Stewardship Council (Council) approved a contract at its May 30 meeting hiring ARCADIS-USA to provide technical expertise and assist Council staff in developing a strategy to recommend priorities for state investments in Delta levee operation, maintenance, and improvements.

“This strategy will allow the state to use its limited funding for appropriate levels of flood protection and to ensure fair allocations of costs among those who benefit from the levees,” said Cindy Messer, the Council’s Deputy Executive Officer for Planning.

The creation of recommended priorities is a requirement of Water Code Sections 85305(a) and 85306 of the 2009 Delta Reform Act. Water Code § 85306 states, “the Council, in consultation with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, shall recommend in the Delta Plan priorities for state investments in levee operation, maintenance, and improvements in the Delta, including both levees that are a part of the State Plan of Flood Control and non-project levees.” The statute resulted in a Risk Reduction Policy (RR P1) and a Risk Reduction Recommendation (RR R4) on levee sustainability in the Council’s Delta Plan.

The Delta Reform Act language came about, in part, because various levee sustainability studies had alerted decision-makers to the vulnerability of the Delta’s aging levee system. One such conclusion by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in its August, 2008 report Levee Decisions and Sustainability for the Delta states that “the Delta levee network is rigid and brittle, with poorly constructed levees on weak foundations. Floods, earthquakes or high tides can cause local or widespread levee failures.”

In developing the strategy and recommendations, the Council and its consulting firm will partner with the Delta Protection Commission, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the California Department of Water Resources, local reclamation districts, stakeholders and others.

“An added benefit of this effort will be a much tighter coordination between the Council, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the Department of Water Resources, and local reclamation districts,” said Messer. “Although we are already talking to each other, we can all benefit by working together more closely. The vision I see is that we’ll all be better informed and working as a more unified entity with some common goals.”

ARCADIS-USA, a Dutch engineering firm, working with its project partners the Rand Corporation, a Santa Monica-based think tank, and Environmental Science Associates, an environmental science and planning firm, expects the development of the strategy and recommendations will require an estimated two years to complete including the environmental review.

This effort will focus on four objectives:

• Creating a comprehensive strategy for prioritizing limited state funding for Delta levees to ensure that the state has a coordinated and systematic approach for targeting the improvement of public safety, ecosystem conditions, and economic sustainability in this region.

• Recommending priorities for state investments in Delta levees based on an island-by-island risk analysis that factors in state interests, assets, categories of beneficiaries, risks, environmental impacts, and stakeholder input.

• Identifying appropriate levels of flood protection based on flood risk tolerance and guided by existing federal, state and local agency criteria, regulations and legislation, e.g., FEMA recovery standards.

• Proposing appropriate cost-allocation among those who benefit from the protection provided by the Delta’s levees, and then developing this proposal in conjunction with the Delta Protection Commission’s Delta Risk Management Assessment District Feasibility Study.

“We’re trying to avoid having this become a subjective thought process,” said You Chen “Tim” Chao, the Council’s Senior Engineer who is coordinating the development of the Strategy. “We need a comprehensive, fair, and systematic method to prioritize state investments for Delta levees.”

Chao says the first tasks the Council and ARCADIS-USA will pursue include:

• Developing a methodology for determining levee funding priorities, which will identify the categories of beneficiaries, use economic models to evaluate probable damage estimates and risk potential, and present these results with an investment planning tool.

• Conducting extensive stakeholder and public engagement both to take advantage of local expertise and to build an understanding of the project among state, local and federal agencies as well as stakeholders whose interests, programs and projects overlap with this effort.

• Forming an independent peer review panel via the Council’s Delta Science Program, once the proposed methodology is completed, to review the draft report outlining the methodology.

Data for the methodology will be derived from documents like the Delta Plan, the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) et al. as well as consultation with other state, local and federal agencies and the public at large. The review by the independent panel would then be followed by an environmental impact assessment to inform the State of the potential program-level environmental effects related to the components of this project.

“The end product will be a tiered ranking of all Delta islands to prioritize and guide State investments,” said Chao. “And the report will include an explanation on how we came to those conclusions.”

All the documents will be available for public review.

“The Delta is a dynamic environment and there will always be new data or new plans available,” said Chao. “In the future, if there are critical or substantial changes in the Delta, we should consider updating the Strategy using the best available science and the best available data at that time.”

An example of a similar investment planning tool ARCADIS-USA and Rand used to develop a 50-year, $50 billion master plan for Louisiana can be viewed by clicking here.

For more information about the Delta Levee Investment Strategy and the Delta Stewardship Council, please click here.

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)