Friant Staff Evaluating Draft Bay-Delta Plan
Release of the Bay-Delta Comprehensive Plan’s administrative draft continues and as each chapter becomes publicly available the Friant Water Authority’s staff is evaluating what the plan says.
“We are taking a close look at each of the chapters as they relate to operational and environmental scenarios,” said FWA General Manager Ronald D. Jacobsma. “However, the water supply benefits and cost allocation information haven’t yet been released and that is of significant interest to Friant.”
‘BENEFICIARIES PAY’ CONCEPT
Crucial to the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is a massive water conveyance project – utilizing a pair of parallel 35-mile-long tunnels – that would be funded by payments from agencies benefitting from water supplies that the system would move through the Delta by bypassing the estuary’s troubled infrastructure and fishery habitat.
The tunnels as proposed would have a capacity of 9,000 cubic feet per second (reduced from an earlier design of 15,000 c.f.s.). They would reach from three Sacramento River diversion points south of Sacramento to federal and state Delta water export pumping plants near Tracy.
“All studies so far have indicated that there is little to no water supply benefit to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors,” Jacobsma said.
The Exchange Contractors are four West Side water agencies supplied with Delta water delivered at Mendota Pool as a substitute for the historic San Joaquin River water rights they hold. That Central Valley Project exchange makes it possible for water to be diverted at Friant Dam into the Madera and Friant-Kern canals for use on well over one million acres of highly productive farmland along the south valley’s East Side.
CROSS VALLEY BENEFITS?
Jacobsma noted that the same studies have found that “there could be benefits to Cross Valley Canal contractors.” There are nine CVP Cross Valley Canal contractors that receive Delta water (or related exchange supplies or up-canal pumping in the lower Friant-Kern Canal) through the California Aqueduct and Cross Valley Canal, which terminates in Bakersfield.
Friant agencies are also vitally interested in how the BDCP and twin tunnels might benefit the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s obligation to recirculate or return a portion of flows to Friant districts after that water has been released from Friant Dam for habitat restoration.
“Unfortunately, the models thus far have not provided much information relative to potential improvement for recapture and recirculation of Restoration flows in the Delta,” Jacobsma said, “but that is something that FWA is pursuing with state and federal agencies.” Those agencies are the California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
During a March 28 presentation to directors and managers (please see related story, front page), Reclamation’s Regional Director David Murillo noted that the Bureau is partnering with the state DWR on the BDCP. “We are going to see how we can integrate BDCP into the CVP,” Murillo said. “A lot of things still have to occur before anyone can decide who pays what.”
Murillo said Commissioner of Reclamation Michael L. Connor has been asking, “Who benefits?”
Jacobsma noted that the FWA Board of Directors “has been highly supportive of BDCP. We’re water short in the valley, whether it’s on the West Side or East Side, or in Kern County. We need to have more resources available but the key question is how much, if any, the East Side might benefit.”
DEBATE BEING HEARD
Meanwhile, with so many BDCP administrative draft chapters being released, there has been plenty of public comment and debate, especially over the twin tunnels plan, which Governor Brown and his administration support.
The California Farm Water Coalition points out that no one disputes the fact that the Delta, its land, water infrastructure and habitat are in trouble and need to be repaired.
“Likewise, the State and federal water projects were built when California’s population was less than half of today’s 38 million,” a Coalition statement said. “The [BDCP] provides a means to remedy these problems in a manner that benefits all Californians. The BDCP tunnels will receive water from the Sacramento River in an area that the endangered Delta smelt is not present. The water flowing through the tunnels will be delivered to 25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland that grows the fresh fruits, vegetables and other crops that the public depend upon. Habitat will also be created to protect endangered fish from predators. … It will not ‘drain’ the Delta.”
MUCH SMALLER ALTERNATIVE
There also continues to be a move from some in the environmental community, supported by a number of Democratic legislators, to drastically scale down the tunnel plan to a single bore with only 3,000 c.f.s. of capacity.
Nearly two dozen Democrats last month challenged Governor Brown’s Delta plans and urged his administration to consider the smaller alternative, which would not even meet full demands of one of the two main Delta export facilities, the Delta-Mendota Canal or California Aqueduct. A final BDCP decision is more than a year away.