Public input on canal planning

The 3-hour January 25 Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) public meeting was devoted to presentations on eight chapters of the BDCP draft by consultants ICF International. Most of the time was spent on appendices to the chapter that analyze biological effects of the plan, and on public comments and questions related to those appendices. With an audience of 40-50 people, plus call-in participants, there were a lot of comments and questions.

Without getting into important technical issues raised by Delta supporters, here are some interesting points that emerged:

  • The South Delta turns out not to be a very good place for habitat for “covered” (endangered) species.       Anticipated temperature changes will make the water too warm. However, that area will still be useful for fish passage and food production – for fish. When the consultant mentioned food production, she didn’t mean agriculture.
  • Consultants used 17 different models to analyze water flows. Contra Costa Water District’s Greg Gartrell suggested that consultants might be failing to analyze the precision of the models. For example, one model they used assumes that the San Francisco Bay will not be affected by sea level rise.       Gartrell cautioned against believing the models without thinking about what they actually mean.
  • Ann Spaulding of the City of Antioch noted that noted that BDCP will result in more salt in the western Delta. The consultant agreed, noting that that situation was driven by climate change (a regular scapegoat in the day’s discussions), restoration, and less Sacramento River water. For the consultant, less Sacramento River water is just a given, a factor in an equation. Resources Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral, who was chairing the meeting, acknowledged the significance of Spaulding’s comment. The question, he said, is What are we going to do about it? But before he could address that question, Westlands’ Jason Peltier interrupted with a comment on a different issue, and Meral never got back to the issue of salinity in the western Delta.
  • Bill Wells of the Delta Chambers and Visitors Bureau asked whether anyone could point to other situations where a restoration effort like this has worked. Someone mentioned the channelizing of Florida’s Kissimmee River, a project that is now being reversed to restore habitat. Meral hastened to point out that the situation in Florida is different. “It didn’t work,” he joked, “but look at the jobs it created.” Even Westlands’ Peltier didn’t think this was funny.

George Hartmann, attorney for several Delta reclamation districts, noted that Governor Brown announced recently that he thinks we should build conveyance now and get to habitat later. (What the Governor said is, “Our obstacle [to an initial plan for the conveyance project] is not the big water bond there. It’s the environmental impact report and the state and federal permits, that’s what we’ve got to do. . . . Then at some point, we’ve got to have the money for the habitat restoration, but these are 50-year programs . . . .”)

Meral had a complicated and not very reassuring answer to that, winding up with Brown meaning that you wouldn’t want to do habitat all at once because you might get it wrong. A federal fish representative noted that there would have to be a clear schedule for habitat restoration in order for the take permits to be valid. “Do you really believe,” asked Hartmann, “that the permits wouldn’t be amended [to allow project operations to continue]?”

Anyone who has been following water projects operations for the last 40 years knows that the permits would certainly be amended to enable exporters to get the water they wanted.

As for implementing the BDCP, Deirdre Des Jardins of California Water Research Associates wanted to know what entity – the Delta Stewardship Council? the Department of Water Resources? the Legislature? – would enact governance changes. Meral said that the Implementation Board would consist of DWR, the Bureau of Reclamation, and permitted agencies. That appears to give the water contractors quite a lot of authority over a plan that is supposed to govern their activities. How concerned can we expect them to be about the public trust?

At this point, nobody seems to know who’s going to be in charge.

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