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Excerpts from Switchboard:  Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog

Tina Swanson’s Blog

California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan Has No Clothes  Posted April 17, 2012

“The result of this five-year, $140 million effort is a [BDCP] draft plan that, according to its own ‘effects analysis,’ would make the existing situation worse by further degrading estuarine habitat, harming most of the fish species it is supposed to help and increasing water diversions from this already over-tapped system.”

“[The … Bay Delta Conservation Plan, intended to rescue the estuary’s collapsing ecosystem, prevent extinction of half a dozen fish species (including salmon) and improve the reliability of water supplies pumped from Delta channels to farms and cities… [the BDCP is a] collision of science and policy in California’s iconic San Francisco Bay-Delta…higher inflows result in higher abundance levels: this is the strongest scientific relationship we have between any environmental variable and biological response in this ecosystem. But water diversions, which reduce flows, have been increasing for the past several decades. …But one of BDCP’s preliminary proposed “conservation measures” is to build a new “isolated conveyance” facility (previously known as the peripheral canal) with a new diversion in the northern Delta, and to increase the amount of water exported from the Delta by an average of 20 percent. This increased pumping would further reduce freshwater flows to the estuary, which, according to decades of science, will worsen estuarine ecosystem conditions and reduce species abundance. A new conveyance facility is neither inherently beneficial nor inherently harmful to the ecosystem—its impacts or benefits depend on how it would be operated. But, the current proposal to increase diversions would clearly harm the estuary and Bay-Delta fish species….there is little scientific evidence that tidal marsh restoration will contribute to recovery for most of the endangered fish species…Despite this, the BDCP relies heavily on restoration of tidal wetland habitat and, to justify these actions, cites and misrepresents some of these same studies to claim that these conservation measures “may contribute significantly” to the food web and benefit species….BDCP’s conservation measures to address this problem are to provide funding for a few already-required pollution mitigation programs and to conduct limited monitoring in some areas. Meanwhile, other BDCP actions that reduce flows would likely exacerbate blooms of toxic algae, which occur under low flow conditions….BDCP’s plans to further reduce flows would likely improve habitat conditions for the clam and reduce dilution of ammonium pollution, exacerbating the principal causes of low planktonic food supplies in the Bay-Delta. And, since most of BDCP’s proposed restoration projects would not be implemented for at least 20 years, the plan offers little to address this immediate problem….BDCP’s plans for reduced flows and (possibly risky) tidal marsh restoration projects could worsen the Bay-Delta’s invasive species problem….From my perspective as a scientist who has conducted research and worked on policy development in the Bay-Delta for the past 20 years, the mismatch between what the science tells us about this ecosystem and what the BDCP currently proposes for its conservation plan is … astonishing….[The BDCP is] an illustrative example of the dangers of disproportionately empowering some special interests in the development of a public resource management plan. The Delta export water contractors, (the tailors in our fable) who have played a dominant role in the development of the BDCP, have developed a set of seemingly impressive, but likely ineffective, conservation measures…. To protect the Bay-Delta and sustainably manage California’s water resources—and to avoid further embarrassment—it’s time for the BDCP to put some scientific clothes on.” Tina Swanson, Natural Resources Defense Council, “California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan Has No Clothes” April 17, 2012, Switchboard NRDC staff blog

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