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Not as independent as we would like

The Delta Plan is moving toward its final version, and the revision process is proving troublesome for staff and the public. At the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) meeting last week, council members were irate with staff for not following some of their directions regarding revisions of the sixth staff draft. Some changes labeled “errata” were actually modifications of the last draft.

And some panelists hadn’t had time to vet the modifications, so they found themselves forced to defend their positions against proposals they hadn’t been briefed on.

Delta Protection Commission Director Mike Machado says that chapters in the Delta Plan are like silos, not logically connected with each other, or even internally consistent. Chapter 5 is supposed to protect and enhance the Delta as an evolving place. Part of that chapter notes that recreation and tourism have been flat for 20 years, with investments blocked by heavy regulations. But later, the same chapter claims that recreation and tourism will be the Delta’s salvation.

The economic sustainability of the Delta – recreation and tourism, agriculture, infrastructure – relies on robust Delta levees, but Chapter 7 (Reduce Risk to People, Property, and State Interests) is more concerned with limiting state investment than in protecting the Delta itself.  

Chair Phil Isenberg and staff (many of them former DWR employees) are pushing to make the Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) levee standard – which was intended to be an interim measure – the permanent standard for the Delta. The HMP standard doesn’t meet requirements for FEMA protection in the event of a flood. In fact, the HMP standard is so minimal that one engineer noted that you could meet it with a levee made of feathers, as long as the geometry was correct.

DSC staff members argue that it is too expensive to meet the higher PL 84-99, Delta specific standard for the whole Delta. They want to prioritize to provide 200-year flood protection with levees in urban areas. Delta reclamation districts would be happy with 100-year protection, but they need state cost share to make that happen, and it will be hard to get that cost share with the DSC promoting a lower level of protection.

At best, the Delta Plan burdens the Delta with a massive new bureaucracy. At worst, it undercuts efforts to protect the Delta’s interests as the State pursues the mutually exclusive coequal goals.

Few members of the public were present at last week’s DSC meeting. The DSC meeting on June 28 and 29 is critical because this will be the last opportunity for the public to have any input in the final draft of the Delta Plan.

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