EIR flaw of the month

To download the complete comment from California Department of Fish and Wildlife, click here.

In what may become a regular feature, we reprint comments on the Draft EIR for the desal project. A look at some of the 400 comments from agencies, experts, and the public lead us to conclude that the Draft EIR is flawed beyond repair. If the City chooses to spend more money on “fixing” the flaws for a final EIR, the only credible result would be a fair assessment of alternatives to the project, and a conclusion that the project is not needed.

In this newsletter we feature the comment from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW):

“Without an accurate representation of the effects of the different flow proposals on the City’s water supply, the analysis provided in the draft EIR may not be sufficient to support statements that the bypass flows in the Habitat Conservation Plan will have a significant impact on the City’s water supply or that alternative infrastructure improvements are not sufficient to provide water reliability.”

Background

The Water Department has claimed that the City’s Habitat Conservation Plan, which calls for leaving more water in the streams for fish habitat, will reduce our water supply by 25%. In their comment, the CDFW argues that the City’s water supply analysis “may not be sufficient to support statements that the bypass flows in the Habitat Conservation Plan will have significant impact on the City’s water supply”. The CDFW is in a unique position to make this critique. DFW is the only entity that has been privy to the assumptions and methodology of the City’s supply and demand analysis.

The City’s supply and demand analysis has been the justification for the desal plant since 2003, when a worst-case drought shortfall of 45% was predicted. Despite evidence that water demand was dropping precipitously, the Water Department stuck with the 45% shortfall prediction until 2011. The Urban Water Management Plan of that year revised the estimated worst-case shortfall to 39%. That estimate included a proposal for increased flows in area streams.

With the publication of the Draft EIR, the worst-case drought shortfall has been revised to 29%. Paradoxically, this lower shortfall estimate was based on leaving even more water in the streams for fish than proposed in 2011.

How is it possible that now we have more water for fish and better drought security for water customers? (not that we’re complaining that the City has found more water)

We didn’t know the answer to that question until reading the CDFW comment letter. The CDFW has been telling the Water Department to:

1. revise its data set for stream flow conditions.  “In December 2012, CDFW informed the City that the…data set… was incorrect.”

2. revise the assumptions used in the City’s “Confluence” modeling of water supply conditions. “The result of modifying these rule curves was… significant increases in critically-dry year reservoir  production in all scenarios.”

Here’s the knockout blow to the EIR:

“Although the City has since updated the Tier 2/3 data set and modified rule curves for its discussion with the Agencies, it does not appear that the corrected data input files and Confluence™ model assumptions were used for the Appendix C Technical Memorandum analysis provided in the draft EIR.”

It’s disturbing to think that the water supply and demand modeling, which has been fundamental to the argument for desalination, could be subject to grave error. Desal Alternatives asked in its comment on the dEIR, “How are elected decision makers to decide on spending millions of ratepayer money when the estimates of drought risk fluctuate dramatically and incomprehensibly?” Thanks to the CDFW it’s not so incomprehensible any more.

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