Been there, done that

It looks like the Delta Stewardship Council is getting ready to try balancing on that two-legged stool. The issue is risk reduction, and the problem is that as soon as you start prioritizing risks, you discover how much of the Delta is neither ecosystem nor export water supply.

Last week the DSC invited the public to participate in a Risk Reduction and Coequal Goals Workgroup. (Notice was short, and even some of the consultants didn’t get that notice, but that’s a different story.)

The DSC brought to the Workgroup eight questions related to prioritizing levee risks and conducting emergency planning.

This was déjà vu all over again for Ron Baldwin, San Joaquin County Director of Emergency Operations. In 2008, the five Delta counties produced an operations manual for a Multi-Agency Coordination System (MACS) for emergency flood response in the Delta.

It was based on the principle that “Counties operating with their cities and reclamation districts as an Operational Area can potentially provide more rapid organizational response to threats to levee integrity due to the fact that levee patrol and problem identification is a local responsibility and local administrative organizations and decision making authorities are in closer proximity to emerging levee problems.”

State and federal agencies should provide operational support to local agencies.

Then Senator Simitian came in with SB27, which turned planning over to State agencies. And everything started all over again under CalEMA.

Baldwin suggested that the DSC take a look at the plan developed by the counties in 2008.

The truncated Interim Plan process doesn’t leave much time for the DSC to do that kind of background research, or even define terms.

The DSC wants to know about short-term and medium-term levee risks, but no one could say whether “short-term” was 18 months or 10 years.

And in the matter of prioritizing risks, it matters so much what you want most to protect.

A representative of the State Water Contractors had a straightforward answer: Work first on the levees that protect export water supply.

Most of the other people in the room wouldn’t have put that at the top of the list of priorities.

One participant pointed out that the state is actually obligated to maintain public waterways, but they aren’t doing it. All levees should be continuously maintained; the state jeopardizes valuable assets if it assumes that weaker levees should be abandoned and flooded islands should not be reclaimed.

As Tom Zuckerman noted in written comments, “existing cost sharing programs have very effectively supported local reclamation districts and county flood control district projects. . . . Local programs understand the need to maintain levees at appropriate degrees of flood risk. . . and the need to restore levees in the event of failure.”

Unfortunately, although bond funding has been authorized, there is currently no market for the bonds.

But there always seems to be money for a redundant government planning process.

Delta representatives who have criticized State planners and legislators for not listening to their concerns have been told that they were heard, but the decisions simply didn’t go their way. The message: Get over it.

But it works the other way, too. The State is required to get public input into decision-making, but in process after process, the State doesn’t seem to be hearing what it wants to hear from people in the Delta and the Delta counties.

The State and the Water Contractors would probably like to hear that everyone in the Delta has decided to just move somewhere else. This would make it so much easier to reduce risks and to manage for the coequal goals.

But it isn’t going to happen. So good luck balancing on that two-legged stool.

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