Portraits in hubris

The CWC received a briefing on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan from Jerry (Dr. Gerald) Meral and Karla Nemeth.  On the day of the briefing, Meral was sworn in as the Deputy Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency in charge of the Bay Delta Conservation Planning program.

Meral, who retired as the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League in 2003, served at DWR as a deputy director under Brown the first time around.  He made his career running bond campaigns for the environment, water, and parks through PCL.

Until this appointment, he served on the Boards of Directors of The Sierra Fund, the Tuolumne Trust and Restore Hetch Hetchy.

Meral is, by all reports, a big fan of a Peripheral Canal.

He briefed the CWC on the history of the BDCP, which we know, then turned the collective gaze toward the future “100 or 200 or more years these projects will last.”  These facilities, he said, need to be flexible; we will need adaptive management to continue operating them.

That’s an understatement.

Meral enumerated the various challenges facing the BDCP, then Nemeth took the podium  and provided more specific details.  “How,” she asked, “can we move 15,000 cfs through a tunnel and meet Delta habitat and water quality needs?”

The answer, of course, is “You can’t,”  But for BDCP, this is a technical challenge and there is of course some technical solution.

Nemeth noted that stressor issues would not be permitted parts of the plan (which makes it hard to justify so much time and so many resources being diverted to identify and rank stressors).  She said that a draft environmental plan for public review would be ready this coming fall.

Commissioner (and former Senator) Cogdill thought there was enough money in the water bond to acquire Delta land necessary for habitat restoration, estimated at 105,000 to 120,000 acres.  He can’t mean the $250 million that the bond designates for assistance to local governments and the local agricultural economy due to loss of productive agricultural lands for habitat and ecosystem restoration in the Delta.

The Water Bond does contain $2.25 billion for Delta Sustainability, but two-thirds of that is designated for “sustainability projects,” primarily developing and implementing the BDCP.  If there’s anything left after matters like mitigating impacts of water conveyance and ecosystem restoration, funds MIGHT be available for appropriation to the Delta Conservancy.

Anyway, we wouldn’t expect Commissioner Cogdill to be conversant with the Delta Sustainability section of the Water Bond.  As senator, his interest was in the $3 billion appropriated to the CWC for Statewide Water System Operation Improvement – dams.

Cogdill asked about the science behind a 15,000 cfs conveyance.  Nemeth said that BDCP had tried to match the capacity of the existing State and federal water project system.  Cogdill thought that wasn’t big enough for wet year management, sending water south for above ground storage and for recharge of aquifers.

Said Meral, “You’re absolutely right.”

By contrast, Commissioner Andrew Ball, a developer and green building advocate from San Mateo, thought the proposed conveyance was too large, with “little marginal utility above 12,000 cfs.”  He called it massive and expensive and suggested moving toward a smaller size.

And Commissioner Kim Delfino, of Defenders of Wildlife, noted – as she has repeatedly throughout the BDCP process – that goals and objectives for the plan are not well-developed, and that the plan is not as ready for refinement as Nemeth’s PowerPoint slides suggest.

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