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Back to the Future with Jerry Meral and the BDCP

By Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

Whether one disagrees or agrees with Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for California, one must give the Governor high marks for holding a belief in the democratic process as exemplified by his effort to take the question of taxes directly to voters.

It’s too bad that the Governor’s appointee to run the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Jerry Meral, is not of the same mind when it comes to gathering public input.  Determined to implement his thirty-five-year-old vision for  building the peripheral canal without public involvement in the decision making process, Jerry Meral is doing all that he can to divide and conquer in-Delta residents, fishing groups, tribes, and California’s broad assortment of grassroots environmental organizations.

Next Monday, April 25th, 2011, Natural Resources Secretary, John Laird, and Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, David J. Hayes, will gather with stakeholders and the public to discuss the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  On the surface, this seems like a rather innocuous statement on the homepage of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.  ( Click here for the link.)

But if one digs a little deeper, say by looking at the agenda details for this event, one will find a strange lack of opportunity for public input.  (Click here for the agenda.)  While the Agenda clearly states that it is a public meeting, the only person discussing public involvement will be Jerry Meral.  The opportunity for public comment has been completely left off the carefully crafted document.  And the panel participants for the “stakeholder perspectives,” which includes a Delta communities subgroup, have yet to be publicly announced.

What we have heard from various sources is that Jerry Meral has told:

Sacramento area representatives that the five intakes for new conveyance are going in at Clarksburg.

San Joaquin County representatives that the decision regarding conveyance has not been decided.

Various members of the water community that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan Working Group will be divided into 14 subgroups that will not work with each other, but will report directly to him.

A national environmental representative that a new steering committee has already been formed and is meeting (again without public announcement).

An in-Delta community group that the California Environemntal Quality Act is really not of great importance regarding the construction of the project.

Another leader of a prominent commercial fishing organization that The Nature Conservancy is representing fishing interests at the table.

But he has said:

Not much to California’s Tribal Leaders as of this writing.

And he has failed, as of this writing, to launch an open and transparent process in which in-Delta interests who disagree with the construction of the peripheral canal can engage in an earnest dialogue with those who want to see it built — a conversation to see if a third way can be found to seek real solutions for protecting the Delta and securing California’s water future.

Although the Bay Delta Conservation Plan has been financed by public regulated entities, also known as water contractors, it is being administrated by the California Natural Resources Agency.  The Natural Resources Agency’s mission is, “To restore, protect and manage the state’s natural, historical and cultural resources for current and future generations using creative approaches and solutions based on science, collaboration and respect for all the communities and interests involved.”

We cannot help but to wonder where is the respect for in-Delta communities, California’s Native American communities, and California’s fishing communities?

Even more disturbing is that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is being led by someone who is failing to protect California’s most abundant treasure, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, for future generations.  Instead, we are having hoisted on us a backroom deal for a peripheral canal, dressed up as new conveyance.  And to boot, Jerry Meral is burying his plan, which we rejected decades ago, via a system of autocratic big government that leaves the primary stakeholders out of the equation.

It’s 2011, not 1980!  Big government boondoggle projects are abhorred by voters.  Circumventing public processes only works for so long in the age of social media.  Most importantly, the idea that California can sustain its water needs by sending water from the northern part of the state to the south is all dried up.

We need a more comprehensive and thoughtful approach to address our state’s water needs. We want an approach that safeguards the Bay, the Delta, the environment, and the people of California.  It’s time to create hundreds of local projects to help each region of California meet its water needs.  It’s time for California to create a sustainable water future, and for our leaders to quit going back to the future.

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