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Delta Flows: Water Bonds and Bay Delta Conservation Plan
by Dan Bacher
Friday Dec 7th, 2007 8:30 AM
In the latest Delta Flows newsletter, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla updates us the latest developments in the battle of the water bonds and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process.

Parrilla is very concerned that some environmental NGOs have signed on to the peripheral canal concept in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process. "While Restore the Delta has had a productive working relationship with these environmental groups in other arenas and a good deal of respect for their past work, we are extremely disappointed that they have made a theoretical statement supporting a peripheral canal without including language that would guarantee flows, water quality, and water quantity in order to protect the needs of Delta fisheries and Delta communities. Habitat restoration without freshwater restoration for the Delta is simply not achievable," she stated.

I agree completely with Parrilla's comments. The Governor has put tremendous pressure on environmental NGO's to support the peripheral canal - and these latest developments are very alarming. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the worst governor in California history for fisheries and the environment, is using the age-old tactic of "divide and conquer" that all corrupt rulers employ to attack those opposing their policies.
Delta Flows – Weekly Highlights from Restore the Delta for the Week of December 3, 2007

“Under all speech that is good for anything, there lies a silence that is better.”
--Thomas Carlyle

The Need For The Crane’s-Eye-View Of The Delta

Restore the Delta staff took an email hiatus this last month to deal with internal housekeeping matters, as well as to allow time to participate in over 50 community meetings with moms throughout the Delta. This brief detachment from the need to respond to any and all government processes has in a way proved fruitful in that it has given Restore the Delta staff the needed to time and space to evaluate the dangers ahead as the various Delta government processes converge in an attempt to form our future.

Turning first to the water bonds, the Governor continued to push for a bond measure for the February ballot. However, as compromise, meetings, and communications became increasingly rare during the Governor’s special session, a bond did not make it onto the February.

Enter the California Chamber of Commerce. Yesterday, the California Chamber filed four different initiatives from which they will soon choose one to begin gathering signatures for the November election. All four proposals in different degrees call for the building or planning of a peripheral canal. All four proposals seek to undo legislative oversight of water policy in California. And all four proposals seek to remove the goal of habitat restoration for the California Delta. In other words, there would be no guarantees to protect water quality and quantity for our region.

What perhaps is an even greater concern is that Restore the Delta has heard from several environmental organizations that the price tag for a 2008 bond that would include a new conveyance system around the Delta and new dams would be around $11.9 billion. This would create an annual repayment rate for the state of $700 million dollars.

Here it is worth noting that Steve Evans, Conservation Director from Friends of the River, has just completed comprehensive research showing that Southern California urban water districts rely on the Delta for only 16% of the their water supply. Without aggressive water conservation measures in place throughout the state, subsidizing water delivery primarily for specific Central Valley and Southern California growers – while ignoring the water quality and quantity needs of Delta growers and fisheries– is a wasteful use of California bond payers’ money. The record level of water exports taken from the Delta over the last five years, and the current push for a peripheral conveyance system (which would be the final ecological and environmental destroyer of the California Delta), are without a doubt being driven by corporate interests that value their own profit over environmental and economic sustainability for all of California.

We cannot help but wonder if an $11.9 billion dollar bond were to be financed, how would California then finance the much needed and future ongoing levee improvements to protect the nearly 500,000 people who live within the boundaries of the Delta? As climate change is bringing about a change in California’s rainfall, snowpack melt, and flood patterns, levee improvements and maintenance will become vitally important to protecting human life, ecosystems, infrastructure (such as railroads, highways, utility easements), and private property within the California Delta. If all the money is spent on water delivery to a select group of California interests, there will be nothing left to protect Delta communities, fisheries, and farms. (And because we are a community/ environmental organization, we will refrain from making extended comments on the negative impact a $700 million annual payback will have on funds for education and other vitally important social and infrastructure services.)

And Then There’s The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)….

The BDCP is, in theory, a habitat conservation plan pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA). As we have written in the past, habitat restoration plans traditionally call for a thorough and thoughtful independent review of related science so that those at the table can make well-informed decisions (conservation strategies) that will not only protect, but restore threatened species for many decades to come.

The environmental groups participating in the BDPC process have, unfortunately, agreed in a document entitled “Points of Agreement for Continuing into the Planning Process – November 16, 2007” that:

The most promising approach for achieving the BDCP conservation and water supply goals involves a new conveyance system with points of diversion, the ultimate acceptability of which will turn on important design, operational, and institutional arrangements that the Steering Committee will develop and evaluation throughout the planning process. The main new physical feature of this conveyance system includes the construction and operation of a new point (or points) of diversion in the North Delta on the Sacramento River and an isolated conveyance facility around the Delta…”

While Restore the Delta has had a productive working relationship with these environmental groups in other arenas and a good deal of respect for their past work, we are extremely disappointed that they have made a theoretical statement supporting a peripheral canal without including language that would guarantee flows, water quality, and water quantity in order to protect the needs of Delta fisheries and Delta communities. Habitat restoration without freshwater restoration for the Delta is simply not achievable.

We believe that the primary problem with the BDPC process is that environmental NGO’s representing the Delta, while well-intentioned, neither work with Delta residents on the ground, nor have work facilities within the Delta or staff living within the Delta. Consequently, looking for guarantees, written assurances, and pushing for an answer to the never-answered question -- “How much freshwater must pass through the Delta to keep its ecosystem healthy?” -- do not make up these groups’ fundamental priorities. While we have heard their assertion that by being at the table they have a chance to guarantee a good outcome for the Delta in this solely volunteer process, we fear that remaining at the table has become their primary priority.

So How Does the BDPC Relate To the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force Recommendations?

In the coming months, the BDCP and the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force Plan for the Delta are to “meet up” and become so to speak a comprehensive plan for the restoration and future operation of the California Delta. This is where Restore the Delta staff believes that taking the Crane’s-Eye-View of understanding all the Delta government processes becomes important.

Days after the “Points of Agreement for the BDCP were published, the Blue Ribbon Task Force met to approve its “Vision for California’s Delta.” While a good deal of the plan incorporates suggestions made by local stakeholders, including Tom Zuckerman’s plan to restore historical floodplains in the Central Valley in order to store water for dry years, and emphasizes that the Delta is a unique cultural, historical, and ecological region worthy of protection and a special status designation, it has left the question of conveyance open. The report recommends either a dual conveyance system, where water can be exported from the existing pumps, along with a new northern conveyance system, or new alternative conveyance. And while the report does qualify that study, CEQA documentation, and an overall reduction in water exports would have to be met regardless of which method of conveyance would be implemented, it leaves open the possibility that the BDCP could become the determining force in what type of conveyance system is pursued.

Without a doubt those who are pushing for a peripheral conveyance system are influencing each and every process currently unfolding. Yet, we still do not know how freshwater must pass through the Delta in order for the estuary to have good water quality.

One Process That May Offer Some Hope…
This week the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB), which has governing authority over water quality and water use for California, decided to go forward with the creation of a workplan examining all the decisions being made in the operation and future planning for the California Delta. The SWRCB also decided on a public trust hearing next spring. (According to Wikipedia, the public trust doctrine is the principle that certain resources are preserved for public use, and that the government is required to maintain it for the public's reasonable use.)

While the SWRCB does not move quickly, Restore the Delta is delighted that this entity is going to look at what needs to happen for the Delta in order to serve the public trust. Perhaps then, the California Delta will eventually be maintained under the public trust doctrine, rather than utilized as the water supply for limited corporate interests in California.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla
Campaign Director
Restore the Delta
Making the Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable by 2010!
Barbara [at]
ph: 209-479-2053
PO Box 691088
Stockton, CA 95269

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