Finally, the facts on the Delta

If you read the various PPIC reports and the DRMS Phase One report and wondered what unrecognizable place they described, you will be happy to see the Delta Protection Commission’s “Economic Sustainability Plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” just released in a first administrative draft.

Portions of the “Economic Sustainability Plan” are still under development.  But here are some initial findings:

  • Delta agriculture supports 13,700 jobs, $1.1 billion in value-added, and nearly $2.8 billion in economic output in the five Delta counties. (It makes up about 45 percent of total employment in the primary zone.)  Agriculture’s contribution to California’s economy is nearly 23,000 jobs and over $4.6 billion in economic output.
  • Delta recreation and tourism supports 2,700 jobs, $152 million in value-added, and nearly $284 million in economic output in the five Delta counties.
  • Delta agriculture supports 5 times more jobs and 7 times more value-added (income) than Delta recreation and tourism, so it is unrealistic to expect recreation and tourism to replace agriculture as the Delta’s economic driver.
  • Improving the visibility and recognition of the Delta as a place will benefit Delta tourism and agriculture.
  • Delta levees are critical to economic sustainability.
  • Delta levees are in better condition than often portrayed, but still need investment.  Various reports have claimed that over a thousand miles of “fragile” levees need of billions of dollars in repairs, but this Plan finds that there are actually about 370 miles of Delta levees that need roughly $500 million in investment to reach appropriate standards, a goal that could be reached with strategic use of existing bond funds.
  • The current capacity of Delta tourism infrastructure and enterprises is insufficient to capture significant income from increased visitation.  If the goal of the Delta Plan is to increase Delta tourism, there need to be greater incentives for investment in tourism businesses, not increased regulation of “covered actions” in the Delta that discourage these investments.
  • Implementing the November/December 2010 draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan would be devastating to the Delta economy, causing a 20-40% decline in Delta agriculture and a possible decrease in Delta recreation and tourism.
  • If operated as proposed in the draft BDCP, isolated conveyance would decrease Delta agricultural production by about $50 million, and would have a negative impact on tourism development and the rural quality of life.  If a large isolated conveyance were operated to maximize water supplies (as some export contractors want), south Delta salinity could triple and agricultural production looses could increase to $200 million.
  • The BDCP proposal to create 65,000 acres of tidal marsh habitat would reduce annual agricultural production by a minimum of $84 million and generate little if any compensating tourism spending.
  • Several influential studies of Delta issues have significant errors in economic analysis.  The most notable problems are various PPIC reports that have misled decision makers about the Delta economy and inaccurately portray the economics of the peripheral canal and investment decisions in Delta levees.

Meeting in Stockton on June 23, the Delta Protection Commission heard from the plan’s authors, asked questions, and offered suggestions.  A couple of commissioners objected to the tone of portions of the report that are critical of the PPIC and DRMS.  Others noted that those earlier reports have been extremely influential in shaping public opinion and policies with respect to the Delta and need no defenders now.

Nevertheless, it is clear that much of the edginess will be edited out of this plan before the final version is released in September.

Commissioners called for strengthened support and documentation for statements r

egarding levee conditions and the economic value of agriculture.  Executive Director Mike Machado suggested that after hearing for years that the Delta has 1000 miles of fragile levees and that Delta agriculture is destined to fail, the audience for this report will be extremely skeptical of its assumptions and conclusions.  It goes very much against the grain and will have to stand up to heavy scrutiny.

The statute requires only that the Delta Stewardship Council consider this economic sustainability plan as it develops the Delta Plan to meet the co-equal goals of habitat restoration and water supply reliability.

It will make a strong statement if the Delta Protection Commission itself is firmly behind this Economic Sustainability Plan.  Different factions understandably have different self-interests.  Last year, the brigadier general of US Army Corps of Engineers for this region advised local officials, with reference to planning processes, that “If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.”  RTD suggests people not assume the menu will change just because those seated at the table change.  New diners could end up dining on their former allies with their new allies — the people who bought and paid for the PPIC reports and the California smelt-in-the-hand propaganda campaign.

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