It may not be news as big as the naming of a new pope, but the release of a third of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) generated plenty of interest and a wide disparity of reactions to the first part of the 50-year plan to “fix” the turnbuckle of California’s water supply system.
California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office just released the first four of 12 chapters of the BDCP. The plan includes the proposal for new water intakes and tunnels and habitat restoration to reverse the decline of native fish populations in the Delta and provide reliable water deliveries for two-thirds of California’s population and much of the state’s agricultural economy. The plan has been developed over the last seven years, with technical advice and input from federal agencies.
State and federal projects pull water through the Delta. The water from these two projects is delivered to 3 million acres of farmland and 25 million Californians.
The plan drew mostly positive responses.
"Posting of the first four chapters of the Bay Delta Conservation ... marks another important milestone in California's effort to solve the water crisis in a way that will benefit everyone who lives here," said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority. The revised BDCP addresses concerns raised over the initial administrative draft and builds upon the shared vision of a long-term solution announced by Gov. Brown and Interior Secretary Salazar last summer.”
San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority agency members deliver water to 1.2 million acres of farmland and an urban population of 2 million people in small rural communities and larger metropolitan centers like the Silicon Valley. The authority also delivers water to the second largest contiguous wetlands in the nation, which is a vital link in the Pacific Flyway migration path. The member water districts are located along the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley from Tracy to Kettleman City and in Santa Clara and San Benito counties.
"California's water delivery system is broken, and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the best option our state has in securing a reliable water future," said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. The coalition represents more than 5 million irrigated acres and is the state's largest organization to focus only on farm water issues.
Fatally flawed plan
Not everyone is happy with the plan.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta said, says BDCP is “fatally flawed. In its rush to build a project that would exterminate salmon runs, destroy sustainable family farms and saddle taxpayers with tens of billions in debt, mainly to benefit a small number of huge corporate agribusinesses on the West Side of the Central Valley, the administration has yet to complete a valid cost-benefit analysis of its tunnels and seriously examine alternative solutions.”
Restore the Delta claims to be a 10,000-member grassroots organization “committed to making the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California.”
The full plan will be released in three stages over the coming weeks.
The newly-released documents describe more than 200 specific biological goals and objectives that will guide implementation of the plan over coming decades so that it achieves the dual goals of healthier, more resilient populations of native fish and wildlife while at the same time improving water supply reliability.
The chapters also detail the proposed operation of a new system of pumping plants and tunnels to carry water from the Delta. A new water project diversion point on the Sacramento River near Sacramento and 35 miles of underground tunnels would secure water deliveries against a potential catastrophe.
"California's water supply system is broken,” said Nelson.”It doesn't work for farms. It doesn't work for fishermen. It doesn't work for the environment. Science has shown us that a comprehensive plan is essential to meet the future needs of our cities, farms, and wetlands.”
"We are making real progress," said California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. "Getting to this point has been a long, complicated journey, but we have worked through some truly difficult issues. We are now closer than ever to finally safeguarding a water supply critical to California's future and restoring vitality and resiliency to the Delta ecosystem."
Mike Connor, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation added, “We are very encouraged by the progress on the BDCP that has resulted from the close collaboration of federal agencies and our state partners. While more work remains, we will continue to be guided by sound and credible science as we support the Department of Water Resources in moving the plan forward.”
"Not only will BDCP lead to a reliable water supply, it will also create 100,000 acres of natural habitat in the Delta," Wade said.
Wide range of opinion
"The material released is the result of years of study and research by scientists and others involved in the BDCP process. Their work has been invaluable in leading California toward a water future that protects both the environment and those who rely on water that flows through the Delta. Much is at stake in relation to California's water future and the BDCP effort is the closest our state has come to a proposal that presents a plan that benefits all of California.”
“This project will still cost billions upon billions of dollars to give ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidized water to corporate agriculture and real estate developers to make millions upon millions in profits. California will not go dry without these tunnels. There are no guarantees that Southern California residents will even receive more water,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “The proposal takes a build-it-now; figure-it-out later approach.”
The Brown plan includes 22 separate “conservation measures,” many of which are designed to offset the effects of covered activities, including operation with new diversion and conveyance facilities of the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP), which draw water from the Delta.
Chapters of the plan to be released in coming weeks will describe estimated costs and potential funding sources and analyze alternative ways that the dual goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability might be achieved.
Not all fishermen like the BDCP.
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance called BDCP “a recipe for ecological disaster. California is in a water crisis because the state has over-promised, over-allocated, wasted and inequitably distributed scarce water resources. The Delta is in a biological meltdown because the estuary has been deprived of more than half of its historical water flow; its hydrograph has been turned on its head and its waterways used as sewers.
“This project threatens the collapse of Delta and long fin smelt; American and threadfin shad; split tail; fall, late-fall, winter and spring runs of salmon; steelhead, green and white sturgeon, striped and largemouth bass; as well the lower tropic levels that comprise the food chain. BDCP is predicated on taking more water from or around the estuary.”
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