Current Government Processes Impacting The Delta
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is, in theory, a habitat conservation plan pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA). Habitat restoration plans traditionally call for a thorough and thoughtful independent review of related science so that those at the table can make well-informed decisions (conservation strategies) that will not only protect, but restore threatened species for many decades to come.
The environmental groups participating in the BDPC process have, unfortunately, agreed in a document entitled “Points of Agreement for Continuing into the Planning Process – November 16, 2007″ that:
The most promising approach for achieving the BDCP conservation and water supply goals involves a new conveyance system with points of diversion, the ultimate acceptability of which will turn on important design, operational, and institutional arrangements that the Steering Committee will develop and evaluation throughout the planning process. The main new physical feature of this conveyance system includes the construction and operation of a new point (or points) of diversion in the North Delta on the Sacramento River and an isolated conveyance facility around the Delta.
While Restore the Delta has had a productive working relationship with these environmental groups in other arenas and a good deal of respect for their past work, we are extremely disappointed that they have made a theoretical statement supporting a peripheral canal without including language that would guarantee flows, water quality, and water quantity in order to protect the needs of Delta fisheries and Delta communities. Habitat restoration without freshwater restoration for the Delta is simply not achievable.
The primary problem with the BDPC process is that environmental NGO’s representing the Delta, while well-intentioned, neither work with Delta residents on the ground, nor have work facilities within the Delta or staff living within the Delta. Consequently, looking for guarantees, written assurances, and pushing for an answer to the never-answered question — “How much freshwater must pass through the Delta to keep its ecosystem healthy” — do not make up these groups priorities. While we have heard their assertion that by being at the table they have a chance to guarantee a good outcome for the Delta in this solely volunteer process, we fear that remaining at the table has become their primary priority.
So far in 2008, the BDCP process has recently finished a public scoping process regarding its intent to begin looking at the environmental impacts of the construction of the proposed alternative conveyance system. Simultaneously, the Department of Water Resources has begun the process to study of the environmental impacts of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. As the lead agency, preparing the Environmental Impact Report for the BDCP, Restore the Delta finds it highly disturbing that the Department of Water Resources recently released an analysis of the peripheral canal that:
- Is biased and that favors increased water diversions from the Delta.
- Does not examine the possibility of decreased water exports from the Delta.
- Does not discuss the impacts of a peripheral canal on salmon, particularly Sacramento River Salmon, which is experiencing a population crash.
- Does not take into account protections for Delta Smelt ordered by Judge Wanger.
- Compares water exports via a peripheral canal against a higher level of exports than is permitted presently.
- Fails to discuss potential impacts related to toxic contaminants.
- Fails to acknowledge that a peripheral canal would increase the percentage of inflow from the San Joaquin River, thereby further degrading water quality in the Delta.
- Fails to thoroughly examine Delta ecosystem needs.
- But lists the costs of an isolated water conveyance facility as between $4.2 billion and $17.2 billion.
So How Does the BDPC Relate To the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force Recommendations?
In the coming months, the BDCP and the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force Plan for the Delta are to “meet up” and become so to speak a comprehensive plan for the restoration and future operation of the California Delta. This is where Restore the Delta staff believe that taking the Crane’s-Eye-View of understanding all the Delta government processes becomes important.
In late 2007, after the “Points of Agreement for the BDCP” were published, the Blue Ribbon Task Force met to approve its “Vision for Californi’s Delta.” While a good deal of the plan incorporates suggestions made by local stakeholders, including Tom Zuckerman’s plan to restore historical floodplains in the Central Valley in order to store water for dry years, and emphasizes that the Delta is a unique cultural, historical, and ecological region worthy of protection and a special status designation, it has left the question of conveyance open. The report recommends either a dual conveyance system, where water can be exported from the existing pumps, along with a new northern conveyance system, or new alternative conveyance. And while the report does qualify that study, CEQA documentation, and an overall reduction in water exports would have to be met regardless of which method of conveyance would be implemented, it leaves open the possibility that the BDCP could become the determining force in what type of conveyance system is pursued.
Without a doubt those who are pushing for a peripheral conveyance system are influencing each and every process currently unfolding. Yet, we still do not know how freshwater must pass through the Delta in order for the estuary to have good water quality.
The State Water Resource Control Board
The State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB), which has governing authority over water quality and water use for California, decided to go forward with the creation of a workplan in late 2007 to examine all the decisions being made in the operation and future planning for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The SWRCB also decided on a public trust hearing in 2008. (According to Wikipedia, the public trust doctrine is the principle that certain resources are preserved for public use, and that the government is required to maintain it for the public’s reasonable use.)
While the SWRCB does not move quickly, Restore the Delta is delighted that this entity is going to look at what needs to happen for the Delta in order to serve the public trust. Perhaps then, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will eventually be maintained under the public trust doctrine, rather than utilized as the water supply for limited corporate interests in California.
At the same time, Restore the Delta, maintains a certain amount of healthy skepticism regarding SWRCB’s willingness to enforce its own findings. To date, the State Water Resource Control Board has failed to enforce water quality standards for the Delta. In part, their inability to enforce standards and laws stems from inadequate funding. The State Water Resource Control Board is also served by political appointees who may not have full freedom to execute their duties as they see fit.