15. REVIEW REVISED DRAFT CARMEL RIVER FLOW THRESHOLD REPORT
Meeting Date: February 27, 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 presentation by Jones & Stokes Associates (JSA) and review the revised Draft Carmel River Flow Threshold Report, based on Board information requests at the January 30, 2003 meeting. The presentation will be a more detailed overview by JSA biologists and will also respond to new information requests by the Board at its January 30, 2003 meeting. The changes in the revised Threshold Report will focus on clarifying the purpose of the Threshold Study as compared to other studies conducted in the past, with special attention to the NOAA Fisheries (formerly referred to as the National Marine Fisheries Service) instream flow regimes. A new section of the report will compare the flow thresholds to actual flows and estimated “natural” (unimpaired) flows that occurred before European contact, as feasible within existing time and monetary constraints. Preparation of the report was originally authorized to be prepared as “Task 2.0” by the Board at its September 16, 2002 meeting. Exhibit 15-A is the Executive Summary for the February 2003 draft report. The Board will provide guidance on the level of agency interaction prior to 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). Thresholds are developed for different types of water years, ranging from very dry to very wet. 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.
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 (June 2002) condition of the species; that is, that the existing population would not be reduced or harmed in some way. It is notable that the flow thresholds, in nearly all cases, represent improvements over the existing situation. For example, currently the lower Carmel River goes dry for several months the summer and fall months, while the flow threshold report sets a flow rate of at least one cubic foot per second (1 cfs) during this period.
It is important to note that the purpose of a flow threshold is not the same as instream flow recommendations, such as those proposed by NOAA Fisheries, which reflect NOAA’s opinion on how a project such should be operated. It is assumed that NOAA project operation goals would be greater than the flow thresholds, whenever possible, because the context for NOAA Fisheries is species recovery and improvement in the future. This is in contrast to the CEQA context of comparing conditions under various water project alternatives to the situation as it existed when the Notice of Preparation of an EIR was issued in June 2002.
RECOMMENDATION: District staff recommends that the Board:
Ø Receive the revised draft Carmel River Flow Threshold Report;
Ø Provide direction on timing of agency and involvement and finalizing the report. The two basic options include:
Option #1 – Finalize the Flow Threshold Report without agency consultation and review, under the existing budget. Transmit the final report to resource agencies to serve as a focus of future discussion to develop refined instream flow schedules for various water supply alternatives. This option would be similar to the direction of the Board in September 2002 to remove agency interaction from the scope of work to reduce costs and save time.
Option #2 -- Transmit the draft report to resource agencies to receive comments prior to finalizing the report. This would entail budget adjustments and approval of a revised scope of work for consultants to meet with agencies and discuss their comments. This option would be similar to the original scope of work suggested by the consultants in September 2002, which the Board did not approve.
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 only on available technical information in close coordination with District staff. It was recognized that a variety of assumptions would need to be made in absence of current data or significant uncertainty about the future, such as the fate of sediment in San Clemente Dam.
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.
Potential uses of the Flow Threshold Report include:
Ø Support identified thresholds of significance in the EIR;
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 of the five subtalks listed below were approved by the Board in September 2002; subtask 2.0-3 was not approved:
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. 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 focuses 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 NOAA Fisheries 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 revised draft report were provided to each Board member under separate cover. Copies of the revised 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.
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 (approximately $50,000) for Task 2.0.
At its September 2002 meeting, the Board directed that the Threshold Report effort be prioritized over other District activities, including the Seaside Basin Groundwater Management Plan effort. Preparation of the report required extensive input from the Senior Hydrologist, Senior Fishery Biologist, Water Resources Engineer.