Resources Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral said that the state has, in the past, had a plan to protect Delta levees (although the “plan” seems to have been somewhat piecemeal). This “plan” was supported by annual general fund appropriations, but support will have to come from bonds in the future. Meral said that the BDCP would not make levee maintenance unnecessary, because levee integrity would be necessary to maintain flows. But he steered clear of suggesting how maintenance would be paid for if the pool of beneficiaries changes. He thought Caltrans should perhaps be paying something.
He managed, as he sometimes does, to talk about the BDCP without talking about the tunnel.
South Delta Water Agency Counsel John Herrick was skeptical that the state and federal governments would have any incentive to support activities like levee maintenance subventions and dredging if the proposed conveyance facility is build. He recalled that the original state plan for water conveyance involved maintaining a common pool in the Delta that everyone would have a stake in protecting.
Westland’s Jason Peltier said that if history is a guide, BDCP will fail, and he blamed science and the realities of the Endangered Species Act. Everyone seemed to agree that regardless of what happens with BDCP, the existing through-Delta conveyance system will require levee maintenance for the next 15 to 25 years. And the state agreed with locals that locals can get levee work done more quickly and at less cost and that the levee subventions program works and is, in fact, a system-wide approach.
The lunch speaker was Delta Vision Foundation president Sunne Wright McPeak, who agreed with some of the morning’s panelists in calling for improving levees to protect existing through-Delta conveyance NOW. An interesting historical note: McPeak said that the coequal goals idea and the Delta-as-place idea came from the two Southern California members of the Delta Vision Task Force.
We’re not sure whether to be grateful for that or not.
The first afternoon session dealt with levees and habitat, including pros and cons of setback levees for flood and habitat benefits. American Rivers’ John Cain called for restoring the Delta as an ecosystem/flood management system (which takes “restoration” a lot farther back than Restore the Delta wants to go).
DWR’s Gail Newton, representing the state’s flood protection program, noted that although vegetation can make levee inspection more difficult, there has never been a Delta levee failure caused by vegetation. Even the Corps of Engineers representatives present weren’t defending the Corps’ riprap-only levees too vigorously.
The last session of the day focused on Delta levees and public safety, which is a matter of more than just theoretical interest to people in the Delta. Ron Baldwin, retired director of emergency services for San Joaquin County, continued his argument in favor of a Delta regional authority to maintain a flood fight system and coordinate local response. Westlands’ Peltier observed that if there is an earthquake, resources will be focused on population centers rather than the Delta. This sounds to us like yet another argument for the state to support the local reclamation districts that can move more quickly in an emergency to repair facilities that protect transfer and other infrastructure.