The BDCP under pressure

On Wednesday morning, October 19, the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee held a joint oversight hearing on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. This was one of the periodic hearings in which legislators are reminded of how little influence they have over the Delta planning processes going forward.

A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed recently by the State and Federal Water Contractors came in for a lot of scrutiny. Chair Jared Huffman described as “unique” the requirement that if contractor funds will be used, the Water Contractors have to approve planning documents before the Department of Water Resources (DWR) releases final documents.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) representative made it clear that the BDCP process is entirely dependent on funding by water contractors.   So as long as they are paying, we will get only a plan that they believe benefits them.

LAO called the relationship between DWR and the State Water Contractors “collaborative.” That’s a nice way to put it.

In his testimony, Resources Secretary Jerry Meral responded to legislators’ concerns about how the BDCP is responding to last year’s criticisms from the National Academy of Sciences. They are incorporating more science, he said. (Good to know, since this is a habitat conservation plan.) He agreed about the importance of adaptive management, since we can’t predict what we will be worrying about in 50 years – the term of the “take” permits the plan will authorize.

Meral said that BDCP has adopted 10 alternative project sizes and operating criteria for consideration, including no project at all. (He suggested that they don’t consider more because each analysis costs about $800,000 and takes several months.) They are focusing on the largest project for detailed analysis – a worst (or best) case scenario, depending on your point of view. He said that the environmental documents would have enough detail that a smaller facility could be chosen. He insisted that the project has not been predetermined.

Restore the Delta finds this statement from Meral very intriguing because we have heard from several sources that the upcoming BDCP Effects Analysis will not look at any alternatives to a 15,000 cubic foot per second tunnel or pipe.

Huffman quizzed Meral about whether the plan would reduce reliance on the Delta, as the 2009 legislation intended. Huffman noted that in the affects analysis, increasing exports out of the Delta is listed as a conservation measure. Meral said that wouldn’t be part of the next draft of the plan. But he also said that he doesn’t think DWR has the authority to require contractors to conserve water.

Meral wants the State Water Resources Control Board to deal with the issue of reduced reliance. We know that won’t happen.

In answer to a question from Senator Wolk about the need for more test drillings in the Delta, Meral said they already have enough information for the environmental documents, although not for Corps of Engineers’ permits for the final design. This point became a topic of discussion at the Water Commission meeting in the afternoon. (See below.)

Several people described the BDCP timeline as overly aggressive.

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