Trying to get the Water Commission up to speed on BDCP

At last week’s California Water Commission meeting, Jerry Meral gave a rosy update on BDCP, including how it will be financed.  (Handouts from BDCP and BDCP EIR on finance here)  Interestingly, Meral claimed that the BDCP could still go forward without the Water Bond even though the draft Implementation Costs and Funding Sources chapter of the BDCP (Chapter 8 ) shows that over $2.5 million of the bloated Water Bond would go toward building the BDCP.

At the same time, Dr. Meral said that the Bond was not essential to the success of the BDCP.  He cited the ability to get funds from the CVPIA to help pay for BDCP.  This is alarming, since the CVPIA was adopted specifically “to protect, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and associated habitats” and the BDCP effects analysis itself throws doubt on the ability of the BDCP to recover fish species, as explained recently by the NRDC’s Science Center Director, Tina Swanson.

A panel made up of usual suspects Roger Patterson of MWD, Jason Peltier of Westlands, Richard Roos-Collins of American Rivers and Jay Ziegler of The Nature Conservancy followed Dr. Meral’s breezy reinterpretation of the state of the BDCP.  Patterson spoke of an alleged common vision regarding a need for action and later claimed that only “tweaks” were necessary to correct the problems with the BDCP.  Peltier described the closeness of the water contractors to the work product of the BDCP.  While he claimed it was not corrupt and was leading to something actually getting done, his comments made more than a few people uncomfortable.  Roos-Collins, to his credit, admitted the BDCP as proposed is not a permittable project.  He also noted that it is not clear that State Water Project (SWP) ratepayers in particular can afford to pay for the increases in rates that it would seem to require and that those rate increases should be disclosed now.  Ziegler focused his remarks on BDCP financing and the Bond, recommending that its girth be dramatically reduced in order for voters to be more likely to approve it.

Overall, the Water Commissioners who had not served previously on the BDCP Steering Committee (as Commissioners Saracino and Delfino did) appeared unaware of the scale and impact of the BDCP.  When attorney Osha Meserve commented on behalf of Local Agencies of the North Delta about the havoc the BDCP would wreak on local farms and communities, one of the commissioners challenged her assertion that there was already a preferred Project.  Meserve agreed that a true alternatives analysis would be a good idea and should be done, but the commissioner continued to look annoyed when Meserve suggested that the July announcement from the Governor and Secretary Salazar will most likely be the same 15,000 acre-foot capacity peripheral canal/pipe project as we’ve been hearing will “save” the Delta since at least 2008.

The commissioner also took issue with Meserve’s description of the scale of BDCP’s habitat creation component.  She said BDCP habitat creation would take up to about 1/5 of the Delta, most of which would be converted from existing agriculture, since all of the BDCP proposed infrastructure and habitat will be in the Primary Zone of the Delta (about 500,000 acres).  It may be time to drag out some documents and maps for some Commissioners if they are to seriously undertake their Legislative mandate to provide direction to the state on management of California water resources.

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