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The BDCP: Where's the beef?

by Dan Bacher
The Restore the Delta newsletter for November 17, "Delta Flows, reports on the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Commitee oversight meeting held at the State Capitol yesterday.
November 17, 2010

"Never be frightened to take a profit. Better in your pocket then theirs."
-Michael Levy

Where's the beef?

After 4 years and $140 million, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is going to release some kind of document this week, but it won't answer the central question of the exercise: how do exporters plan to get the amount of water they want while giving fish and habitat the water they need?

On Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife held an oversight hearing on the status of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. In his introductory remarks, Chair Jared Huffman noted that reducing dependence on Delta exports is now codified in law.

But almost from the start, there was disagreement about what that means.

Laura King Moon, Assistant General Manager of the State Water Contractors, suggested that for the water contractors, reducing future dependence on the Delta meant that as demand increases in the future, they can't look to the Delta to meet that demand.

Westlands Water District's Jason Peltier made it clear that the contractors certainly expected to get back to exporting the amount of water they exported before fish protections cut their deliveries. Westlands needs that to continue participating in the BDCP process

Still central to the BDCP is building conveyance to separate export water from water for the ecosystem. But the type and size of conveyance have not been decided. Also unresolved, according to Moon, are important financial matters, operations issues, and the permit status of contractors. They don't yet know how the plan will integrate into the 2009 legislative requirements.

As Melinda Terry, Manager of the North Delta Water Agency noted after the hearing, 70% of the document may be completed, but the 30% that is still undone represents all the heavy lifting.

The Bay Institute's Jonathan Rosenfield said that a series of "place holder documents" are preventing forward movement toward issues such as measurable biological objectives. He said that steering committee members refuse to consider that fresh water flows play a role in the health of the ecosystem. This flawed premise results in an inadequate analysis.

The BDCP has come up with a plan for governance that includes a ten-member implementation office. But Cynthia Koehler of the Environmental Defense Fund said that the final BDCP will be very complex, with many moving parts, and she expressed concern about governance that delegates recovery of the Delta to the water user community.

The implementation office seems to represent a redundant level of governance. Don Nottoli, speaking on behalf of the Delta Counties Coalition, noted that the Delta Reform Act calls for a new conservancy board to implement the plan for the Delta.

In her testimony, Melinda Terry noted that the BDCP plan has not addressed loss of property assessments, seeping and erosion, loss of agricultural land, reduced water quality and availability, and unmitigated impacts. She objected to in effect "using Yolo County as a mitigation bank so that you can have developments in other parts of the state."

Resources Secretary Lester Snow said that large scale habitat restoration was essential, although it is unpopular with the Delta Counties. He called for payment to the counties in lieu of taxes for ecosystem restoration, and he said that the state should develop MOUs with individual counties to deal with differing impacts.

Snow also called for increasing integrated regional water management statewide to reduce dependence on the Delta. He suggested that we need to see what we can safely take out of the Delta, then build a project around that. As Tom Zuckerman noted, that is what people in the Delta have been saying for decades.

Snow said that the Resources Agency will publish a "transition" document early in December to make the plan understandable to the public. A draft conservation plan and environmental review documents are scheduled for release in June or July of 2011, with the final documents in 2012 and construction beginning in 2013.

So, for our holiday reading, we will be working our way through the some sort of BDCP document, and the Resources Agency transition document to explain the plan - both of which will leave out environmental impacts and costs for the proposed project. We will most certainly need some strong eggnog to wash down the empty content.
Size matters

Moon and Snow both noted that operating criteria determine how much water you get, regardless of what is built. But Assembly member Yamada and Huffman both made the point that with a large facility come large expectations. And the size of the facility is still unknown.

Huffman asked Snow about the meeting that took place last week with the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Snow said it involved an explicit discussion of cost and generated a great deal of frustration.

Westlands' Peltier voiced that frustration. He focused on two issues. First, what the water contractors heard from federal agencies is that the BDCP is on track to produce a document that the feds do not consider permittable. He blamed this on the work of "mid-level biologists" and suggested that it would be preferable to have political appointees make decisions based on the whole picture. "The world," said Peltier," is bigger than the word of a few biologists."

Second, Peltier voiced frustration about the "never-ending stream of letters" from environmental organizations both on and off the BDCP steering committee who seem to envision a perfect world but ignore economic realities.

Moon noted that the reform legislation did not call for flow criteria to be integrated in the BDCP. The flow criteria were supposed to "inform planning decisions." Contractors feel that the SWB report was done rapidly and should not be adopted wholesale.

But Koehler said that the plan is required to pay attention to recovery of endangered species. However, she also said that certainty can't be the decision-making standard. She recommended a broad adaptive management range and said that we can't wait for all the answers; we need to get something going.

And no one knows how this will all be paid for. One thing that seems clear, however, is that exporters are unlikely to continue to pay for a plan that will not give them the amount and reliability of water that they thought they were getting with their investment in the BDCP.

Uh. . . Let's think about this

More Dudley Ridge landowners are selling water rights

Last week in the N.Y Times, Felicity Barringer reported on a proposal for two farmers in Dudley Ridge Water District in the southern San Joaquin Valley to sell their water rights for development at Tejon Ranch. Selling 2,000 acre-feet annually for $5,850 an acre-foot will net the sellers $11.7 million.

Says Barringer, "Water managers in rural areas argue that without a consistent supply of water, farmers face economic chaos, if not ruin. Among other things, they cannot be sure of the viability of longer-term crops like fruit and nut trees. Annual crops like tomatoes can be abandoned for a year and the fields left fallow, but trees must be watered in wet years and dry ones. So they say they need the option of selling their rights."

"At the same time, it is inevitable that the push for new development, which is expected to resume if the economic recovery picks up speed, will mean a search for water rights for homes and industry."

So let's see . . . fruit trees need guaranteed water every year, but so do new houses. It appears once again that southern San Joaquin Valley land owners plan to make a tidy profit from growing new development, instead of fruit, with water from the State Water Project - all at the Delta's expense.
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Thu, Nov 18, 2010 12:17PM
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