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News from Restore the Delta: 4/30/14

Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.
— Marcus Valerius Martialis

Articles
IFFI equals Iffy
A sample letter on the subject of Funding

IFFI equals Iffy

You can remember the major inadequacies of BDCP if you think of Eye-Eff-Eff-Eye — IFFI.

That stands for Impacts, Funding, Fish and Implementation.

Let’s look at these individually.

IMPACTS

All the benefits of BDCP go to people outside the Delta, and all the negative impacts are borne by people in the Delta region.

There are over 50 negative impacts that can’t be mitigated, and BDCP doesn’t even have to try to mitigate them if planners decide that mitigating them isn’t feasible. Basically, it isn’t feasible if they don’t want to do it.

Finding out what the negative impacts are is not easy. The place to find the worst impacts listed all in one place is in Table 31-1, “Significant and Unavoidable Adverse Impacts,” but that is in a chapter not-helpfully titled “Other CEQA/NEPA Required Sections.” (Here’s a link. The table is on pages 31-9 to 31-13.) It is in the footnotes of this table that you can find the section about air quality impacts from diesel particulate matter being so bad in the Byron area that people will have to be moved to avoid increased cancer risk.

Pick any section of chapters 5 through 30 in the EIR/EIS and you may stumble on a gem like this.

While we’re on the subject of CEQA and NEPA, the purpose of preparing an environmental impact report or statement is to give the public a chance to comment on a project. It kind of defeats the purpose when the document is so massive and so hard to use that the public can’t find anything in it anyway.

FUNDING

Before the fisheries agencies can issue take permits under a habitat conservation plan, the people planning the project have to show that they have enough money to pay for all the proposed activities. They have to identify all financial contributors and explain how the funds will be allocated. They do this in something called an Implementing Agreement, which the public should have time to examine. With fewer than 60 days left to the end of the comment period, the contractors still haven’t come up with this.

This is not surprising because we’re talking about a tunnel project for which design is only 10% complete. And that’s the biggest part of the plan.

Urban and agricultural users that would be the beneficiaries of BDCP are balking at paying for these tunnels that cannot guarantee them more water. Now that the whole state sees the effect of prolonged drought, it’s obvious to users that the tunnels could not even guarantee a more reliable supply of less water, even if water quality protections for fish and people are suspended. Metropolitan Water District member agencies in Southern California do not have take or pay contracts; some are looking for their own water supply alternatives and could opt out of taking SWP water, making MWD unable to meet its financial obligations. Similarly, agricultural users in the San Joaquin Valley have made it clear that they will not be able to afford the cost of water delivered by the tunnels. If contractors cannot meet their financial obligations for the project once it is built, taxpayers will end up paying.

As far as funding the actual habitat restoration portion of the plan, the water contractors have redefined ecosystem work as a public benefit and are counting on $3.5 billion dollars in federal assistance plus over $4 billion in state bond funding to pay for it. But there is absolutely no guarantee that Californians will approve a water bond this year or in the future, or that any bond they do approve will include funding for BDCP. And who know what can be expected from the feds?

FISH

You don’t have to understand the decision tree or adaptive management to see that BDCP cannot be expected to benefit fish. There are three reasons for this:

First, BDCP proposes to take fresh water out of the system, affecting water quality in ways that are unlikely to be good for either fish or people. Fish need water.

Second, BDCP proposes to create a lot of habitat in the Delta to compensate for taking more fresh water. But there is already a lot of habitat in the Delta. In fact, 33% of the Delta and Suisun Marsh are already open water and natural community areas. The total amount of habitat hasn’t decreased in the last hundred years. What has changed as fish populations have plummeted is that the state and federal water projects have taken more and more water. There’s no good reason to expect that more habitat will make things better.

The third reason we can’t expect BDCP to benefit fish is that the primary purpose of the plan it to create a reliable supply of water for export. We’ve seen this year that as soon as it looks like there might not be as much water coming through the Delta as the water exporters think they should get, they start putting pressure on regulatory agencies to waive rules for water quality and fish protections. These exporters have so much political power that the rules do get waived, time after time, year after year after year.

IMPLEMENTATION

All we really need to know about how this plan will be implemented is that final decisions about everything will be made by the Authorized Entity Group, which consists of the director of DWR, the regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation, a representative of the participating state contractors, and a representative of participating federal contractors. They are supposed to be advised by the Permit Oversight Group, which consists of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you were counting there, you noticed that there are four top-tier decision makers looking for water supply reliability, and three top-tier decision makers watching out for that other “co-equal” goal, habitat restoration.

And by the way, no one is including people in the Delta in the decision making.

Just do the math.

And remember, BDCP has major weaknesses in IFFI. It’s Iffy.

A sample letter on the subject of Funding

Feel free to use this letter if you’d like to comment on Funding issues in BDCP.
(Note: You can also submit this by email to [email protected])

BDCP Comments
Ryan Wulff, NMFS
650 Capitol Mall, Suite 5-100
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Mr. Wulff:

Before take permits can be issued under a habitat conservation plan, funding must be shown to be sufficient for all proposed activities, and all financial contributors and planned allocation of funds must be identified. You should be very skeptical of any Implementing Agreement that BDCP planners eventually submit, given the fact that they have been unable to give the public a reasonable amount of time to evaluate the funding proposal before the close of the EIR/EIS comment period.

The State and federal water contracts argue that the twin tunnels should be built because they have spent a quarter of a billion dollars on producing a Bay Delta Conservation Plan draft and environmental documents, including paying millions of dollars to consultants, holding years of meetings, and making dozens of presentations. However, they admit that the engineering for the actual tunnels is only 10% complete. This provides a poor basis for estimating the cost of building the twin tunnels that are the centerpiece of this habitat conservation plan.

It is therefore not surprising that urban and agricultural users that would be the beneficiaries of BDCP are balking at paying for these tunnels that cannot guarantee them more water. Now that the whole state sees the effect of prolonged drought, it is obvious to users that the tunnels could not even guarantee a more reliable supply of less water, even if water quality protections for fish and people are suspended. Metropolitan Water District member agencies in Southern California do not have take or pay contracts; some are looking for their own water supply alternatives and could opt out of taking SWP water, making MWD unable to meet its financial obligations. Similarly, agricultural users in the San Joaquin Valley have made it clear that they will not be able to afford the cost of water delivered by the tunnels. If contractors cannot meet their financial obligations for the project once it is built, taxpayers will end up paying.

As far as funding the actual habitat restoration portion of the plan, the water contractors have redefined ecosystem work as a public benefit and are counting on federal assistance and bond funding to pay for it. But there is absolutely no guarantee that Californians will approve a water bond this year or in the future, or that any bond they do approve will include funding for BDCP. Similarly, there is not guarantee that the federal government will come up with the $3.5 billion that BDCP is counting on from that source.

No one wants to pay for this ill-conceived infrastructure project, so I encourage the fisheries agencies to refuse to issue permits that would enable it to go forward.

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