19. RECEIVE UPDATE ON THE DRAFT CARMEL RIVER FLOW THRESHOLD REPORT AND POTENTIAL NEXT STEPS REGARDING THE WATER SUPPLY STRATEGIC INITIATIVE
Meeting Date: January 30, 2003 Budgeted: N/A
Program/Line Item No.: N/A
Staff Contact: Henrietta Stern Cost Estimate: N/A
General Counsel Approval: N/A
Committee Recommendation: N/A
CEQA Compliance: N/A; information supports EIR in progress
SUMMARY: The Board will hear a brief presentation by Jones & Stokes Associates (JSA) and receive the draft Carmel River Flow Threshold Report, which was authorized to be prepared as “Task 2.0” by the Board at its September 16, 2002 meeting. Exhibit 19-A provides excerpts from the report that includes flow threshold information. The Board will provide guidance as to options associated with completing the final report.
The primary purpose of the Flow Threshold Report is to provide information that will be used to evaluate and determine the significance of biological and water resource impacts on the Carmel River as a result of operating alternative water supply projects. The report focuses on steelhead, California red-legged frog and key riparian (streamside) vegetation species. This information is used to develop “thresholds of significance” in the water supply project Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In this context, a threshold is defined as what river flows are required to ensure that no adverse effect would occur to the species studied relative to the existing condition of the species. However, the thresholds consider the most limiting stage of the life cycle, which may vary depending on the water year type, as well as worst case scenarios such as extended droughts.
Regarding potential next steps on the Water Supply Strategic Initiative, JSA has been asked to provide estimates of the time and costs associated with preparation of an EIR for the following scenarios for Board consideration:
Ø Proceed with program-level EIR for all alternatives considered;
Ø Proceed with project-level EIR for aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) only, with program-level evaluation of other alternatives;
Ø Proceed with project-level EIR for local desalination only, with program-level evaluation of other alternatives;
Ø Proceed with project-level EIR for ASR combined with local desalination, with program-level evaluation of other alternatives.
RECOMMENDATION: District staff recommends that the Board:
Ø Receive the draft Carmel River Flow Threshold Report;
Ø Provide direction on timing of agency and involvement and finalizing the report; select Option #1 or Option #2 below:
Option #1 reflects the Board’s direction at its September 2002 meeting to minimize agency interaction to facilitate rapid completion of the report. The Board would not circulate the draft report to agencies and would set a deadline of Monday, February 10, 2003 for Board comments and questions. A final Flow Threshold Report along with a more detailed presentation would be prepared for receipt at the February 27, 2003 Board meeting. Staff would transmit the final report in early March to resource agencies to serve as a focus of future discussion to develop refined instream flow schedules for various water supply alternatives.
Option #2 reflects a preference to receive agency input before finalizing the Flow Threshold Report. Staff would circulate the draft report to agencies for their comment in February, and the final report would be received by the Board at the March 27 strategic planning session, one month later than with Option #1. The final report would serve as a focus of future discussion to develop refined instream flow schedules for various water supply alternatives.
Ø Provide Board input regarding development of the Phase 2 scope of work for preparation of the water supply project EIR, based on the EIR option information presented by JSA on January 30, 2003. The date of the Board meeting at which an amendment to the JSA contract should be considered is of primary interest.
BACKGROUND: At its August 29 and September 16, 2002 meetings, the Board voted not to proceed with the Phase 2 scope of work for the water supply project EIR until completion of Phase 1 engineering studies and receipt of other non-technical information. This action was taken with the understanding that completion of a Final EIR in October 2003 would no longer be feasible. The Board authorized the General Manager to issue a Task Order to maintain progress using available funds in the Phase 1 budget. The Board directed that a new “Task 2.0” be identified to prepare the Carmel River Flow Threshold Report with a completion goal of 90 days rather than six months. The shortened time frame would be accomplished by minimizing agency interaction, and focusing on available technical information in close coordination with District staff.
The Board direction was that Task 2.0 be used for the EIR, while keeping in mind the broader overall goal of developing a flow regime associated with the recovery and long-term sustainability of the Carmel River ecosystem for a variety of species. A three-step process was envisioned. Step 1 is consolidation of historical information about species needs, based on previous reports and activities, including identification of conflicts and unknowns. Step 2 is use of the accumulated information by MPWMD staff and consultants to develop our best understanding of species needs today for use in the water supply project EIR. Step 3 is beyond the scope of the EIR, but would use the EIR information as a foundation for development of a flow regime that would support overall recovery and sustainability of Carmel River ecological system. Action on Step 3 will be based on future Board direction.
Uses of the Flow Threshold Report include:
Ø Support identified thresholds of significance in the EIR/EIS;
Ø Evaluate significance of biological and water resources impacts of project alternatives;
Ø Establish whether additional water rights for year-round diversions from the Carmel River, in combination with identified new water supply facilities, could be approved without harming the Carmel River environment.
Four subtasks and one optional subtask (to be performed only if directed by the General Manager) were approved by the Board in September 2002, as follows:
Task 2.0-1: Compile and review existing information;
Task 2.0-2: Conduct technical staff meeting;
Task 2.0-3: Facilitate agency review and coordination [optional task];
Task 2.0-4: Prepare draft threshold report;
Task 2.0-5: Prepare final threshold report.
Please refer to the September 16, 2002 board packet for additional background information.
The consultants are currently at Task 2.0-4 noted above. To date, MPWMD staff members have worked closely with the consultants to identify, provide and explain existing data available for review, carry out CVSIM computer modeling, evaluate results, review administrative draft documents, and attend meetings.
The report focused on three species (or groups of species): steelhead, California red-legged frog, and the assemblage of dominant vegetation that makes up the Carmel River riparian corridor, an important habitat for steelhead and frogs. Not surprisingly, the most critical species, and the species for which most information is available, is the steelhead. Flows that are conducive for steelhead are nearly always conducive to frogs and riparian habitat. The original scope envisioned developing information on aquatic insects, an important food insect for steelhead, but time constraints and lack of data precluded this analysis from occurring.
The thresholds define minimum acceptable flow amounts in contrast to optimum amounts or flows desired for the recovery of a species in the future. It is important to note that the flow thresholds in this report are not the same as an instream flow schedule used to operate a water project. Examples of instream flow schedules include flows approved for the New Los Padres Dam and Reservoir in 1995 by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), or the bypass flow schedule developed in June 2002 by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for aquifer storage and recovery or other offstream projects. The flow thresholds in the JSA report under consideration serve as the precursor to development of a refined instream flow schedule. They also can be used to help develop the water availability analysis that was requested in late 2002 by the SWRCB in relation to the District’s pending water rights applications.
Copies of the draft report were provided to each Board member under separate cover. Copies of the draft report are available for public review at the District office. Hard or electronic copies may be provided to individuals upon request for the cost of reproduction. Once the Board receives the final report, District staff envisions posting the report on the District website.
Project Election and EIR Timing
This report is being provided to assist the Board in its evaluation of the feasibility of a project election in March 2004. Based on an independent expert analysis of state laws affecting the District’s election process (Brown and Wood, 1995), a Final EIR (uncertified) and draft Engineer’s Report (a document that must contain specific financial/engineering engineering information as required by the District Enabling Legislation) must be completed a minimum of 176 days prior to an authorizing election. If an authorizing election is desired in March 2004, the Final EIR and Engineer’s Report must be completed in September 2003 at the latest. This assumes that city and County approval of a financing zone will proceed smoothly and be accomplished in a 1-2 month time frame. Attached as Exhibit 19-B is an excerpt (with one handwritten edit) from the August 1995 Engineer’s Report for the New Los Padres Dam and Reservoir Project that describes the various milestones required prior to an authorizing election.
If an election is advisory only, there is no requirement for an EIR or Engineer’s Report. The ballot measure must be called roughly three months prior to the date of election.
IMPACT ON RESOURCES: The Fiscal Year 2002-2003 budget approved by the Board in June 2002 includes a total of $620,500 for EIR related activities. In September 2002, the Board was advised that expenditures to complete Phase 1 were estimated to be less than the not-to-exceed amount in the current contract between JSA and the District, and that there should be adequate funds in the FY 2002-2003 budget for Task 2.0.
The mid-year budget adjustment assumes that in the March 2003 timeframe, the Board will approve a Phase 2 contract with JSA for preparation of a Draft EIR.