Home Delta EPA Provides Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

EPA Provides Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

by ECT


It appears that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  has a long list of items that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)  must address which it shared in a 43-page letter.

In summary, the letter highlights that the BDCP should consider a variety of approaches with the plan such as water conservation, levee maintenance and finding ways to less rely on the Delta. It also raises a ton of questions that have yet to be answered. The EPA also highlighted that the actions proposed in the Draft EIS may result in violations of Clean Water Act water quality standards and further degrade the ecosystem.

Ultimately, these concerns are in line to what Congressman Jerry McNerney, Assemblyman Jim Frazier, Supervisor Mary Piepho, Janet McCleery, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla and local advocates have been raising for over a year (note: this list could have easily been 100+ people deep)

The EPA also highlighted that the actions proposed in the Draft EIS may result in violations of Clean Water Act water quality standards and further degrade the ecosystem.

Here is the three page letter, with a link to the full 43-page document.

Aug 26, 2014

Will Stelle, Regional Administrator
West Coast Region National Marine Fisheries Service
650 Capitol Mall, Suite 5-100
Sacramento, CA 95814

Subject: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, San Francisco Bay Delta, California (CEQ# 20130365)

Dear Mr. Stelle:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has re viewed the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Draft EIS pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Council on Environmental Quality regulations (40 CFR Parts 1500-1508), and our NEPA review authority under Section 309 of the Clean Air Act. The Draft EIS explores options for a comprehensive conservation strategy to restore and protect the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta’s ecosystem health, water supply, and water quality.

As you know, the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary is one of the largest and most important estuarine systems on the Pacific Coast of the United States, supporting over 750 species. It is the hub of California’s water distribution system, supplying drinking water to 25 million people and irrigation water to 4 million acres of farmland. The decline of aquatic resources in the Estuary, along with the corresponding impacts on urban and agricultural water districts that rely on water exported from it, present significant challenges. Recent circumstances have only underscored the importance of working together on these issues, as California is experiencing severe drought and water shortages. We believe the NEPA process is well-suited to bring all of these considerations together, including the consideration of the environmental impacts of reasonable alternatives to the BDCP as it is currently proposed. We appreciate the effort to prepare the Draft EIS, and we support your recent decision to prepare a Supplemental Draft EIS to take a closer look at these issues.

EPA fully supports the stated purpose of the BDCP effort: to produce a broad, long-term planning strategy that would meet the dual goals of water reliability and species recovery in this valuable ecosystem, and we recognize the potential benefits of a new conveyance facility. However, we are concerned that the actions proposed in the Draft EIS may result in violations of Clean Water Act water quality standards and further degrade the ecosystem.

Our comments are consistent with those we have made in conversations that have taken place over the last few years among the agencies involved in managing the Delta. Many of our comments have also been made by others, both formally and informally, throughout the process, and we believe that they reflect a developing consensus within the scientific and regulatory communities. We are committed to continuing to work with you and other stakeholders toward a project proposal that meets the dual goals of water reliability and species recovery in the Bay Delta, and toward a well documented EIS that adequately informs decision-makers and the public, as required by NEPA.

Clean Water Act Water Quality Standards

The Draft EIS shows that operating any of the proposed conveyance facilities, which constitute Conservation Measure 1 (CM1), would contribute to increased and persistent violations of water quality standards in the Delta, set under the Clean Water Act, measured by electrical conductivity (EC) and chloride concentrations. We recommend that the Supplemental Draft EIS include one or more alternatives that would, instead, facilitate attainment of all water quality standards in the Delta. Specifically, we recommend that an alternative be developed that would, at minimum, not contribute to an increase in the magnitude or frequency of exceedance of water quality objectives, and that would address the need for water availability and greater freshwater flow through the Delta. Such an alternative should result in a decrease in the state and federal water projects’ contributions to the exceedance of any water quality objectives in the Delta.

We also note that, while CM1 would improve the water quality for agricultural and municipal water agencies that receive water exported from the Delta, water quality could worsen for farmers and municipalities who divert water directly from the Delta. In that regard, we recommend that the

Supplemental Draft EIS consider measures to ensure that the project would not increase concentrations of bromide around the intake for the North Bay Aqueduct at Barker Slough. In addition, we recommend consideration of whether additional measures, such as operational modifications both upstream and downstream, are needed to avoid increasing mercury and selenium concentrations and bioavailability in the Delta.

The Draft EIS indicates that CM1 would not protect beneficial uses for aquatic life, thereby violating the Clean Water Act. Total freshwater flows will likely diminish in the years ahead as a result of drought and climate change. Continued exports at today’s prevailing levels would, therefore, result in even lower flows through the Delta in a likely future with less available water. We recommend that the Supplemental Draft EIS consider modified operational scenarios for CM1 alternatives that would have beneficial effects on covered fish populations during all life stages and attain water quality standards in the Bay Delta.

Habitat Restoration
The Draft EIS describes a general proposal to restore approximately 150,000 acres of wetlands, uplands, grasslands, and riparian areas in and around the Delta to offset the adverse impacts of the continued operations of the water projects. However, the Draft EIS does not indicate whether suitable acreage is available or whether restoration alone would be sufficient to recover fish populations. We are concerned over the sole reliance on habitat restoration for ecosystem recovery, recognizing that existing freshwater diversions and significantly diminished seaward flows have played a significant role in precluding the recovery of Bay Delta ecosystem processes and declining fish populations. We recommend that the Supplemental Draft EIS consider measures to ensure freshwater flow that can meet the needs of those populations and the ecosystem as a whole, and is supported by the best available science. We recommend that this analysis recognize the demonstrated significant correlations between freshwater flow and fish species abundance. We also recommend that the Supplemental Draft EIS include gradients of partial success for each habitat type to be restored, as supported by available science. The impacts could be re-evaluated relative to each alternative (CMs2-11) in light of these gradients and the likely success rates for each habitat restoration type.

The Draft EIS defines the alternatives in terms of the design and capacity of the proposed conveyance structure. Each alternative is paired with a particular operational scenario. EPA agreed with this organizational construct early in the BDCP process, expecting that the Draft EIS would present a range of fully evaluated alternatives that clarifies the environmental and water supply tradeoffs being considered. The Draft EIS, however, focuses primarily on Alternative 4. It appears that the environmental impacts of certain other alternatives would be reduced if those alternatives were matched with more optimal operational criteria (for example, Alternative 5 with Operational Scenario F). Other reasonable alternatives could be developed by incorporating a suite of measures, including Integrated Water Management, water conservation, levee maintenance, and decreased reliance on the Delta. Such alternatives would be consistent with the purpose and need for the project, as well as with the California Bay Delta Memorandum of Understanding among federal agencies and the Delta Reform Act of 2009.

Project-level Analysis
The Draft EIS states that it includes a project-level analysis of environmental effects associated with CM1 (the conveyance facilities, which define the alternatives), and a programmatic-level analysis of 21 other Conservation Measures, including a suite of habitat restoration and aquatic stressors management initiatives. Programmatic-level inputs were used in some of the “project-level” analyses. We recommend that the Supplemental Draft EIS include project-level information and analyses for the conveyance tunnels, including the information necessary for permit decisions, to support the federal decision.

Upstream/Downstream Impacts
The federal and State water management systems in the Delta are highly interconnected, both functionally and physically. The Draft EIS does not address how changes in the Delta can affect resources in downstream waters, such as San Francisco Bay, and require changes in upstream operations, which may result in indirect environmental impacts that must also be evaluated. We recommend that the Supplemental Draft EIS include an analysis of upstream and downstream impacts.

NEPA Effects Determination
The Draft EIS presents NEPA Effects Determinations, but does not describe the decision rules that were used to make those determinations from the analytical information presented for each impact category. We recommend that the NEPA Effects Determinations and thresholds — quantitative when possible – be provided for each category so that it is clear why some estimated impacts result in one NEPA Effects Determination over another. We also recommend that the Supplemental Draft EIS explain whether all metrics are considered equal in the analysis or some are weighted. Please clarify whether negative impacts in one metric category translate into an adverse determination, regardless of the other metrics. Lastly, it would be helpful to include summary tables for each impact category so that the public and decision-makers can understand the metrics and their results and how they compare among alternatives.

Adaptive Management
The Draft EIS explains that the adaptive management program is a work in progress. The specific approach for an adaptive management program and its effect on environmental consequences is fundamental to the success of the BDCP and should be addressed during the NEPA process. We recommend that a more detailed adaptive management program be provided in the Supplemental Draft EIS, since the goal of species recovery relies significantly on an effective adaptive management program. As you develop the plan, include detailed information on the plan’s objectives, explicit thresholds, alternative hypotheses, responsive actions, and designated responsible parties.


EPA remains committed to working with the federal and state lead agencies to develop an environmentally sound, scientifically defensible, and effective plan for restoring the Bay Delta ecosystem and achieving greater water supply reliability. Please note that, because you are preparing a Supplemental Draft EIS, which we anticipate will address many of the issues raised about this Draft EIS, including the issues we have outlined here, EPA will defer our rating until the Supplemental Draft is circulated for public review and comment. We have also enclosed more detailed comments and recommendations for your consideration.

We are available to discuss our comments and recommendations. Please send one hard, and one electronic, copy of the Supplemental Draft EIS to this office at the same time it is officially filed with our Washington D.C. Office. If you have any questions, please contact me at 415-947-8702. Alternatively, your office may contact Kathleen Johnson, Enforcement Division Director. Ms. Johnson can be reached at 415-972-3873.



Jared Blumenfeld


cc: Ren Lohoefener, Regional Director, Pacific Southwest Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
David Murillo, Regional Director, Mid Pacific Region, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Here is a link to the entire 43-page letter


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1 comment

Tom Lamothe Aug 30, 2014 - 7:47 am

After reading the many issues and objections stated in this letter. Along with the same issues and objections brought up by so many throughout this comment period I have to ask Why? Why spend so much energy and money for such a proposal so filled with major problems?

I have voted Democratic in nearly every election on environmental issues since 1972. And I remember strongly supporting Jerry Brown and his many environmental friendly programs as governor in the 70’s. However this election I’ll leave the Governor’s box empty this November and write in Mary Piepho name. As Supervisor Piepho is a true environmentalist for The Delta.

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