Thursday, October 21, 2010

Comments submitted to the Water District Board on changing its environmental policies

(Yesterday I attended the Water District Board workshop on changing its overall guidance policies. In addition to attending, I spoke at the meeting and submitted the letter below. The District invited the Board candidates, but I was the only one who attended (in my case, on behalf of Committee for Green Foothills). It might help to read the Board materials for October 20, 2010 and Agenda Item 4 to understand the letter I submitted. We did get some action on one item, but the others will have to wait another day. -Brian)

October 20, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 4, Ends Policy Workshop and Recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee

Dear Chair Santos and Board Members;

I submit the following comments on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills regarding the Ends Policies recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee. We thank District Staff for their work with the EAC and other committees, and for Staff's support of the large majority of Ends Policy changes that the EAC has recommended in recent years. In some cases discussed below we disagree with staff on certain recommendations, and in others we believe that staff misunderstood the purpose of the recommendations.

My comments refer to Attachment 2, Advisory Committee Recommendations:

Policy 1 E-2, language regarding change in winter storms from a mix of rain and snow to mostly rain. The staff response misunderstands this recommendation to deal with water supply, possibly considering it a reference to Sierra snowpack changes. It actually concerned our local hydrology, where winter storms that currently deliver snow at high elevations will increasingly switch to rain throughout, with a possible increase to flood risk. While Executive Limitation EL7.7 on understanding climate change impacts might apply here, the EAC hasn't been informed that flooding forecasts have actually been analyzed to consider this issue.

Policy 2 E-2, language on policies for geographic areas outside of the District. Staff misunderstands this recommendation to refer to adequate supplies of imported water. It actually referred to the environmental impacts the District doubtless has on geographic areas through our imported water use and other potential effects (examples may include downstream flooding on the Pajaro and operation of the San Luis Reservoir). The idea is that the District's interest in minimizing its environmental impact extends beyond District boundaries.

Policy 7 E-4, language regarding habitat conservation plans. We may need more specifics on this recommendation from the EAC's July 2010 meeting.

Policy 10 E-4.1.3, recommending a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore the natural physical stability/dynamic equilibrium of streams." Staff disagree with this recommendation for two reasons. First they say (correctly) that the concepts are considered at Staff level. While true, the question is whether Objectives set by the Board provide sufficient direction for Staff to execute the Board Policies. The existing Objective most closely related to this issue is E-4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources." (See Attachment 6, page 1.) The opinion that EAC members and subcommittee members have expressed is that Objective 4.1.2 does not provide adequate direction. While details done at Staff level are helpful, they do not make up for inadequate direction given at the Board level in the Objectives.

The second objection raised by staff is that many factors need to be balanced for District projects. The EAC concurs and raises no objection to existing Objective 4.1.1, "Balance water supply, flood protection, and environmental stewardship functions." The proposed Objective no more conflicts with this balancing provision than does existing Objective 4.1.2 to improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources.

Policy 11 E-4.1.4, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance and restore thriving populations of key species indicative watershed health." The same issue arises here as above, that Staff interpretation does not remove the need for adequate Board direction, and Objective 4.1.2 is too general to provide adequate direction.

Staff also state that restoring habitat is better wording than restoring species. If the Board agrees with Staff, then the solution here would be to reword this Objective rather than reject it outright.

Policy 12 E-4.1.5, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore riparian and in-stream and tidal habitat conditions conducive to watershed health, including diked historical bay land wetlands and former salt ponds." Same issues as with the previous two Objectives, that existing Objective 4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources," does not provide real direction to Staff.

We appreciate Staff's support for Policies 14 and 15, as well as Staff support for many EAC policy recommendations that have already been incorporated into Board policies.

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