Massive Delta Plan’s Release Sparks Debate
December’s release of the 34,000-page Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its environmental review for formal public review has unleashed a torrent of debate and obvious statewide division over the proposal and its key features – development of twin water supply tunnels to bypass the Delta’s many environmental and infrastructure problems.
“This is a rational, balanced plan to help meet the needs of all Californians for generations to come,” said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird.
“By meeting the state’s dual goals for BDCP of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability, we will stabilize and secure against catastrophe the water deliveries that sustain our homes, jobs, and farms, and do so in a way that not only protects but enhances the environment,” Laird added.
“Currently, we are crippled by outdated infrastructure and a regulatory environment that is hindering our ability to capture fresh water when it is abundant, lessening the amount of water available to use in dry periods—a problem that is exacerbated as we conclude one of the driest years on record,” said Terry Erlewine, State Water Contractors General Manager. “Putting in place a modern system to create a more reliable water supply is crucial to ensuring clean and adequate water for 25 million Californians and millions of acres of farmland, while also restoring the fragile ecosystem in the Delta.”
Others were not nearly so buoyant. While state and federal resource leaders were touting the BDCP as “a significant milestone in the effort to restore ecosystem health that helps endangered species while securing reliable water supplies for California,” many doubters expressed concerns on what they assume would be impacts to the Delta region’s economy and habitat.
Other worries focus on whether operations would work as intended in providing supply reliability because fishery agencies might still seek greater Delta water flows to San Pablo Bay and, ultimately, the ocean. Still others, including those shared by Friant water contractors and the Friant Water Authority (please see related story), involve unease over where the money is going to come from to meet the $16 billion tunnels’ costs under the project’s “beneficiaries pay” approach.
Senator Lois Wolk (D-DAVIS), a frequent BDCP critic, said the plan “pits region against region and relies upon huge ratepayer increases and taxpayer subsidies. The price of the water delivered to agriculture would make it impossible for farming to continue in the Central Valley. It’s time to put more effort into … a more affordable, less divisive and more achievable path forward.”
According to the California Department of Water Resources, “The plan seeks to protect delivery of the mountain snowmelt that supplies water to two-thirds of the state’s population from San Jose to San Diego and thousands of Central Valley farms.” In the Delta, the BDCP “aims to both reverse the ecological decline of the region and modernize a water system that now depends on hundreds of miles of earthen levees vulnerable to earthquake, flood and rising sea levels.”
The BDCP is intended stabilize water deliveries from the Delta and contribute to the recovery of 56 species of plants, fish and wildlife over a 50-year period. The Legislature delineated those co-equal goals in the 2009 Delta Reform Act. Currently, federal mandates to protect fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act continue to significantly reduce Delta diversions. The entire BDCP would cost more than $25 billion. Recent reports, confirmed by state officials, say financing could drive total costs 2.7 times higher, to as much as $67 billion.
Public review will last until April 14. DWR says all substantive public review comments “will be considered and discussed in a final EIR/EIS. Completion of the final documents would allow project proponents to begin seeking the many permits necessary to implement the comprehensive plan.”
Under the plan, the way by which the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP) divert water from the Delta would be changed by building new intakes in the north Delta along the Sacramento River and two tunnels of some 35 miles in length. Those would carry the water beneath the Delta to the existing CVP and SWP Delta export pumping plants near Byron and Tracy that supply the CVP’s Delta-Mendota Canal and SWP’s California Aqueduct.
By diverting water in the north Delta, the proposal seeks to minimize environmentally harmful reverse flows in the south Delta that are caused when the existing pumping plants draw water from nearby channels.
The BDCP describes 22 separate conservation measures that would be undertaken by the DWR, operator of the SWP, in coordination with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the CVP. The plan would provide a stable regulatory environment for operation of the SWP, while working toward the recovery of imperiled fish species. To learn more, visit http://baydeltaconservationplan.com.
QUICK NEGATIVE RESPONSES
BDCP opponents wasted no time condemning the plan. Minutes after the BDCP’s release by Governor Brown’s administration, opponents declared all-out use of available legal and political tools to kill it.
The California Farm Water Coalition observed, “It is interesting to note that opponents of the plan were condemning it only minutes after the release of the document that took many years worth of scientific research, engineering investigation, and conservation expertise to create. In their haste to maintain the precarious status quo, opponents of the BDCP are willing to sacrifice the opportunity to provide reliable water supplies while improving the sustainability of the Bay-Delta.”
Much of the CVP was built nearly eight decades ago to offset unsustainable groundwater pumping. In recent years, environmental pumping restrictions have cut irrigation supplies and led to massive new groundwater pumping by farmers to stay in business, leading to a rapid reduction in groundwater availability and increase in land subsidence.
“There seems to be a lack of understanding that the Delta is a key component in moving water that 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland have a legal right to use,” the Farm Water Coalition said. “Taking advantage of high flows during wet times of the year, water for users south of the Delta will be moved at a time that minimizes any impact on the Delta and bypasses endangered salmon and Delta smelt.”