We indulge in a bit of Meral speculation

Last week Dr. Jerry Meral, Governor Brown’s new deputy secretary for the BDCP, delivered an address in Los Angeles to the California Water Policy Conference (a project of POWER – Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform).  If you’d like to know what Dr. Meral has to say about the BDCP, you can read his comments here.

However, we are more interested in something Dr. Meral wrote back in 2005.  Even then, he was advocating “a water pipeline circumventing the Delta.”  But he recognized why Northern California doesn’t trust the water contractors to operate such a facility: Having built it with their own funds, they will naturally want to maximize their own benefits from its operation.

“One way to respond to this concern,” wrote Meral, “is to build the pipeline with general funds, and then turn it over to a new Northern California based operating agency.  That agency would have complete control over the operation of the pipeline.  They would contract with any water agencies who wish to take water from the pipeline, such as the State Water Project (SWP) and federal Central Valley Project (CVP).  The water agencies would pay only for water transmitted through the pipeline.  They would continue to have the ability to divert water through the exiting Delta water delivery system.  Operation of the pipeline would be subject to regulatory conditions placed by the State Water Board and other regulators.

“Possible members of the Agency could be the ABAG [Association of Bay Area Governments] and Delta counties, commercial and sportfishing interests, and environmental representatives.  Although Bay Area water agencies would be highly interested in the actions of the Agency, they would not be represented on it, since they could contract with the Agency for water service.”

Dr. Meral had more to say about this idea, including how fees paid by contractors could be used to fund activities like levee maintenance in the Delta.  (The whole document is available in the CALFED archive for 9/14/05.)  He didn’t address the twist that his proposal would put on the “beneficiary pays” principle.

Among our readers are many long-time environmentalist.  Their reaction to Meral’s recent appointment was less than enthusiastic.  One of them sent us a copy of Capitol Weekly (in those days, “The Newspaper of Record for California State Government”) dated October 5, 1998.  The lead article is a special report on the Planning and Conservation League under the leadership of Jerry Meral as Executive Director.

Author Jeremy D. Prillwitz opened the report by noting that Meral “has never shied away from controversial relations with large corporations.”  Prillwitz placed 1998 deals with utilities in the context of a “long line of controversial actions” by PCL under Meral, whom he described as “pragmatic.”  One of his interview sources, speaking anonymously to avoid dividing the environmental movement, described Meral a bit differently.  “Jerry,” said the source, “has become content with working unilaterally.”

So Dr. Meral has a reputation for cutting deals.  It will be interesting to see if he tries to resurrect this idea of a Northern California PC operating agency as part of some future deal for the BDCP.

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