Meral, Laird, and Hayes give the appearance of listening

In August of 2009, with the BDCP in full stride, Lester Snow invited Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes to Sacramento for a briefing by people from outside the Delta about what should be done about the Delta.  We challenged him to come back and hear from people of the Delta.

This past Monday, he finally made it back, this time hosted by Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral, Governor Brown’s appointee to move the BDCP forward.  Even after they brought in extra chairs, it was Standing Room Only at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in Sacramento.

They apparently weren’t expecting so many of us, all cleaned up and well-behaved.

In his remarks, Laird linked work to date on the BDCP to the previous administration and promised that there would be no preconditions this time to keep people out of the process.  He said that the BDCP must keep Delta communities whole.

Hayes sounded like he was addressing a different audience when he assured everyone that the federal government is “in lockstep with the Brown administration” about pushing the BDCP forward.  (Like this is what we want.)  The federal government has put together a leadership council (EPA, Commerce, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Corps of Engineers) to deal with California, and their short-term focus is on the co-equal goals.  (Of course, this doesn’t reassure us at all.)

We are, Hayes asserted, one seismic event away from having no water in Southern California for three years.  Asked to explain, he said that it would take three years to create a new channel to move water from north to south in the event of an earthquake.

Naturally, he assumes that ALL the Delta levees will fail in an earthquake, a scenario that those with experience of Delta levees consider ridiculous.  (He was less concerned about seismicity elsewhere along the water transfer system.)  However, any region that believes such a scenario is likely should be scrambling to ensure their own alternate supplies, since by Hayes own estimate, even the proposed conveyance wouldn’t be operable much before 2030.

After Laird and Hayes spoke, time was allowed for them to answer written questions.  Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla presented Hayes with a letter from Restore the Delta.(Click here to read) By the end of the question period,Hayes perhaps had a better sense of the overall sympathies of his audience.

Jerry Meral introduced the topic areas that will form the basis for the new BDCP working groups (14, apparently), which will cover everything from adaptive management to habitat restoration to governance to finance.  Meral’s plan is to have 12 or so people in each working group and to have monthly reports from the groups, presumably in a setting that will allow public discussion.  (Whether this system will be more efficient remains to be seen.  It will certainly involve lots of people, but they’ll be spending a lot of time in “silos.”)

Three panels provided stakeholder perspectives.

Speaking for the conservation community:

Spreck Rosekrans (Environmental Defense Fund) said the BDCP process is easy from the perspective of exporters but not from the perspective of fish and other species, for which adaptation will be required.

Dick Pool (Water for Fish) criticized DWR for implying that they speak for the state in trying to overthrow the biological opinions on fish.

Jonas Minton (Planning and Conservation League) cautioned against a headlong rush to get out a report and said that we can’t accept a process that gets by with a C minus.

Gary Bobker (The Bay Institute) noted that the big issue is not conveyance, but the appropriate sustainable level of transferred water.  He called for a clear definition of the goals and objectives driving the process and said that the coequal goals should not be balanced on the back of the Delta.

John Cain (American Rivers) said that he hasn’t seen enough integration between BDCP and the Central Valley Flood Planning Process, despite assurances by former Resources Secretary Chrisman.  He also said that recent efforts in Congress to undermine the Endangered Species Act send the wrong message that agreements will not be honored over time.

Speaking for Delta communities:

Solano County Supervisor Mike Reagan called for “Nothing about us without us.”  He noted that the 15,000 cfs proposed for an isolated facility is a volume that can be delivered by the Sacramento River only forty-six percent of the time.

Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan said that mere consultation is not enough; the Delta counties want to help identify goals.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, noted that State agencies don’t talk to each other as well as local agencies do, and he called for better integration of state and local planning.

(Cabaldon also said that it is important for Delta planning to preserve the economic health of counties.  This is the second time recently that West Sacramento has made a case on behalf of Delta communities that should be made as well by the City of Stockton.  Stockton’s already ailing economy stands to be severely impacted by loss of agriculture in the Delta or new layers of land use restrictions.)

Tom Zuckerman recalled a time early in the BDCP process when export contractors essentially offered to put up money for regulatory agencies in return for take permits.  He said that Meral’s plan to have a BDCP product by the end of the year was unrealistic, but he said that determining available yield was a good first step.

Speaking for water users:

Tom Birmingham (Westlands Water District) reminded the audience that the BDCP was initiated by the water contractors and said that the meeting was creating false expectations that everyone’s interests could be protected.  He pointed out that 90% of aquatic habitat in the Delta has already been lost to agriculture and other uses, and that habitat can’t recover without loss of ag land.  We can’t preserve farming, he said, and still achieve the coequal goals.

(Well, we certainly can’t preserve farming in Westlands and still achieve the coequal goals.  As to the tradeoff between habitat restoration and ag land preservation in the Delta, we’d like decisions about that to be made by in-Delta communities, not by Westlands and other water contractors.)

Greg Gartrell (Contra Costa Water District) noted that without water from the Sacramento River, what we will have coming into the Delta is ag drainage from the San Joaquin, which is not really a river most of the time.  He also said that when you have unknowns, there are a lot of benefits in a small facility.

Beau Goldie (Santa Clara Valley Water District) and David Guy (Northern California Water Association) provided perspectives from regions not usually represented in these discussions.  Guy said that the co-equal goals should include water supply reliability for users upstream, including agriculture, salmon and steelhead, and birds using the Pacific Flyway.  He noted that it is not possible to restore the natural hydrograph in the Delta, but we can optimize operation of the existing system

For all the talk about transparency, Meral appeared less than open when Melinda Terry of the North Delta Water Agency questioned him about membership on the Executive Committee, a question echoed by others who had been on the Steering Committee.

It turns out that the Executive Committee in question oversees the DHCCP, the Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program, which will conduct environmental review of the BDCP.  This is a different body than the BDCP steering committee, whose composition also isn’t clear at this point.

According to the BDCP website, the lead agencies in the DHCCP that are conducting the joint environmental review are DWR for California, and USBR, FWS, and NOAA for the federal government.

DHCCP will:

  • Analyze BDCP proposed actions and alternatives to those actions through a formal EIR/EIS process.
  • Analyze options and consider areas of concern presented by the public during the EIR/EIS process.
  • Develop engineering options for habitat restoration, other stressors, and water conveyance.

If you thought the BDCP itself was doing those things, here’s a clarification:  BDCP is a permitting process.  It involves developing a habitat conservation plan that will enable contractors to get 50-year take permits.  If the plan passes muster with the DHCCP, then the DHCCP will oversee the actual habitat restoration and engineering work.

There are whole careers tied up in this.

By the way, BDCP isn’t a dot gov website anymore.  It’s a dot com.  It has been divorced from the Resources Agency.  Curiouser and curiouser.

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