Pavley empanels some of the usual suspects

Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee Chair Fran Pavley is holding hearings on the progress of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and the Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Plan. She held one on March 13 and invited as panelists mainly representative of groups that have been involved in these processes from the beginning. But during the public comment period, she heard from an ever-more-united voice of those opposed to the plans going forward.

Of the nine-person committee, only three members showed up, and one of them, Vice Chair Doug LaMalfa, stayed long enough to ask some questions related to climate change but wasn’t there for most of the public comments. It was just senators Pavley and Wolk, plus Senator Mike Rubio from the Southern San Joaquin Valley, who isn’t on the committee but asked a lot of very thoughtful questions.

Delta Stewardship Council member and Delta Protection Commission Chair Don Nottoli was the only person on Pavley’s panel who represents Delta interests. Associating his comments with the Delta Counties Coalition, he called for BDCP to

  1. evaluate non-diversion alternatives to reduce reliance on the Delta
  2. do a cost/benefit analysis of the plan
  3. incorporate flow standards for both quantity and quality
  4. give local interests a meaningful seat at the table as substantive partners.

In answer to a question from Senator Wolk, Nottoli said that although Dr. Jerry Meral, deputy resources director overseeing the BDCP, had reached out to counties, the outreach hadn’t really been adequate. He also said that BDCP’s timeline is too aggressive to allow cash- and time-strapped counties to analyze the plan. (The administrative draft of the BDCP and the environmental documents together come to about 10,000 pages. Governor Brown wants a complete BDCP by this coming summer.)

Pavley’s other panelists for “Perspectives on the Delta Plan & Bay-Delta Conservation Plan” were David Nawi, senior advisor to Interior Secretary Salazar; Roger Patterson, assistant general manager of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD); Jason Peltier, chief deputy general manager of Westlands Water District; and Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Interior supports the BDCP even though as far as Nawi knows, BDCP isn’t considering a non-diversion alternative. He said it’s the State’s choice. This of course contradicts testimony by Dr. Jerry Meral last year at an Assembly, Parks, and Wildlife hearing where he said the BDCP is looking at a range of alternatives.

Patterson said that BDCP won’t get the incidental take permits it seeks if fish protections are inadequate and if the plan doesn’t contribute to recovery of covered species.

(So we shouldn’t worry. We’re worried anyway.)

Peltier pointed out that we have a data-rich environment in the Delta, but experts draw different conclusions from the data about export pumping, seismicity, and habitat. He said that no outside panel is going to come in and resolve this for us.

Nelson seemed less sanguine than Patterson about the fate of listed species. And he seemed less skeptical than Peltier about the ability of science to sort all this out if it uses credible methods. He said that we need to

  • improve ecosystem flows, and improve habitat conditions dramatically
  • incorporate sound science
  • reduce reliance on Delta supplies
  • ensure adequate funding, especially for habitat restoration
  • have clear goals so that adaptive management can be measured.

In response to a question from Senator Pavley, Nelson said he’d like to see a broader range of capacity sizes.

Questions from Senator Wolk elicited the information that neither MWD nor Westlands is interested in a reliable supply of water that involves LESS water from the Delta. Both agencies are looking for water deliveries that are on par with levels they received prior to pumping restrictions beginning in 2006. Never mind that water exports at those greater levels contributed to the collapse of fisheries.

And of course there were questions about financing the project. Patterson said that MWD contributions to construction of the project would roughly cost his agency $17 billion dollars and that the project would cost $180 million per year to operate. (He was not clear as to who would pay for operations – our understanding presently is California tax payers.) Peltier tap danced around the contribution answer saying that several conveyance alternatives were still under consideration and when they settled on a plan Westland’s board would then take up the issue.

We cannot help but wonder how much more southern California rate payers are willing to pay for water? And can Westlands’ farmers afford to farm with much higher priced water from this project?

The audience broke into spontaneous applause when Wolk asked Peltier if Westlands would accept a stipulation that water delivered under the BDCP would go only to continued agricultural production. He said that would be OK; that’s what Westlands farmers do anyway. Peltier says Westlands farmers aren’t profiteering now.

The same can’t be said of all recipients of state and federal project water. Our concern is if Westlands farmers cannot afford to farm with water from new conveyance, then of course they will want to sell water like other farmers in the Dudley Ridge Water District, and in Kern County.

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