Drawing lines in the sand

Under the terms of last year’s legislation, the Delta Protection Commission (DPC) has until July 2011 to come up with an Economic Sustainability Plan for the Delta.

The DPC has completed five community meetings to gather public input on the creation of the Sustainability Plan “framework” for the Delta.  The DPC held meetings in Courtland, Discovery Bay, Rio Vista, West Lodi/North Stockton, and Antioch.

This was the first of a series of community meetings on the ESP, and attendance could have been better.  The commission knows they need more outreach, but like everything else related to governance under the Delta Reform Act, this process is on a tight schedule.

Among the issues raised:

  • You can’t talk about economic sustainability without looking at the economic effects of unreasonable water diversions.
  • It’s hard to put a dollar value on an ecosystem.
  • There’s insufficient economic data about the Delta and insufficient time to acquire it.  (We wonder, for example, about a DPC pie chart showing that agriculture’s contribution to the Delta economy is 4%.)

The Commission lacks good data about the economy of the Delta because statistics about the region are mixed in with the statistical data of the Delta counties.

The Delta Protection Commission is defensive by definition, and this process is the latest in a long series of defenses against threatened and actual unreasonable water diversions.

Delta water users were threatened by the Burns-Porter Act that authorized the State Water Project.  The Delta Protection Act of 1959 was a way to placate them by ensuring their water uses and promising them good water quality.  It defined the Legal Delta.

The Delta Protection Act of 1992 established the Delta Protection Commission and defined the Commission’s principal jurisdiction, the Primary Zone.  The Secondary Zone is not within the DSC’s planning area, although both zones lie within the Legal Delta as defined by the Delta Protection Act of 1959.

(Patrick Johnston was one of the authors of the Delta Protection Act of 1992.  A former senator, he now serves on the Delta Stewardship Council.  It is interesting that that detail is not part of his biography on the DSC website.)

Looking at a map of the primary and secondary zones today, it seems obvious that the primary zone was drawn to exclude areas of the Legal Delta that were already approved for development, including a funny little boot-shaped chunk that includes Isleton.

These borders were created with the input of local communities so that they could either grow or survive (depending on the community’s needs).  Presently, as directed by last year’s SB 1, the newly reconstituted DPC is working on recommendations regarding the potential expansion of or change to the primary zone.

You can change the borders on a map. But you can’t isolate the economic well-being of the Delta from that of the five Delta counties, or the five Delta counties from the Delta.  The two parts of the legal Delta are linked economically and ecologically.  Water quality and quantity have a direct impact on the environmental and economic health of the five Delta counties.  And the five Delta counties have a duty to be good stewards of the Delta.

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