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Going through the motions again

At the BDCP public meeting on August 29, Resources deputy secretary Jerry Meral provided an updated project description consistent with the one announced by the Governor and federal officials on July 26. Still unresolved are upstream effects such as reservoir operation and temperature issues; the exact location of the three proposed intakes; and how the project will be financed. Currently, the plan is to split the costs this way:

  • 75% exporters
  • 10% Bureau of Reclamation
  • 10% State Water Bond (the one that keeps being delayed)
  • 5% Other

BDCP will have to show “adequate funding” for both Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, but the water contractors are only expecting to pay for 75% of the Project cost, and those supplementary bond funds have not been approved.

Claims that Meral and BDCP planners are conducting an open process and working with Delta residents regarding impacts of the massive intakes ring hollow for those in the Delta, where meetings are scattered and have little or no followup.

The proposed gravity flow tunnels would save electric pumping costs and thus reduce the energy impact of the project. However, DWR can’t say whether 15 or more surge protection shafts will still be necessary, marring the landscape between Hood and Clifton Court along the tunnel route.

Work is underway addressing the biological goals and objects, which Meral said at the LAST meeting would be addressed at THIS meeting. But there was nothing specific to report. Melinda Terry of the North Delta Water Agency (NDWA) requested (for at least the second time) that “red flag” comments prepared by three federal agencies and the State Department of Fish and Game be reviewed at a BDCP public meeting. It is still not clear how the “revised” Project responds to the red flags. She also continues to be concerned about how water quality will be maintained as required by the NDWA contract (and basic water law principles) after the diversions begin.

There was some discussion of the Decision Tree that is supposed to guide operation of the Project for biological benefits to covered species. They think they may not need the Fall X2 water quality standard for fish anymore, but that leaves out of the discussion water quality for farms and people in the Delta.

Nevertheless, they’re claiming that a public draft of the BDCP and the EIR/EIS may be available in October. We knew they wouldn’t make the original September target for release when they started doing overwater geotechnical investigations, which must be completed for the environmental documents. That overwater drilling is going on now.

Local attorney Osha Meserve, who works with Local

Agencies of the North Delta and other Delta interests, asked about the status of a study undertaken by some of the water contractors regarding the feasibility of low-flow fish screens in the south Delta. These screens would reduce the number of fish killed in the south Delta during low pumping periods when pumping could otherwise be curtailed under the Biological Opinions.

Meral claimed that he was not aware of any BDCP consideration of this straightforward measure to improve the through-Delta conveyance system. This is surprising, since the pumps in the south Delta will continue to be relied upon even after the new diversions are built. While Jason Peltier of Westlands claimed that there would be nowhere for the fish saved from the pumps by the new screens to go, others opined later that the same tides that bring small fish into the South Delta could take them back out IF they are not sucked into the pumps.

Representatives of several environmental organizations had some pointed questions about the avoidance of discussion of the tunnel capacity. Nick Di Croce of the Environmental Water Caucus expressed skepticism since both Meral and the ICF consultant avoided discussing that during the talk of intake capacity. After a lot of back and forth, the best they could get for an answer is that BDCP is planning to only “take” 9,000 cfs (intake capacity), that the tunnel diameters had not changed, and that the only way to get 15,000 cfs is if the gravity fed tunnels were pressurized. Conclusion: nothing has changed about the capacity of the tunnels; they still can be 15,000 cfs.

At the end of the meeting, a participant confirmed that no meeting minutes would be prepared and that there would be no formal follow-up to any of the issues discussed or to any unanswered questions. That’s an odd kind of public process. In addition, it is hard to find public comments anywhere on the BDCP website.

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