Kicking the can down the road again

The Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) has now taken all the feedback it is going to take on the final draft of the Delta Plan, the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report  (PEIR), and the Proposed Rulemaking (basically, how the DSC will make whatever rules it decides to make under the Delta Plan).

This Delta Plan is deeply flawed.

  • It doesn’t contain objectives for improved flows through the Delta, as the enabling legislation requires it to do, because the State Water Resources Control Board won’t complete those flow objectives until next year.
  • It dodges the question of how much water is actually available.  Without that information, State and federal water contracts can’t be adjusted to reflect water supply reality.
  • It acts as if the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) will actually be permitted by fisheries agencies, even though it is pretty clear that BDCP can’t meet the goals of ecosystem restoration while taking the amount of water the contractors want.  Looking at the Delta Plan, you would never know that reasonable alternatives have been put forward for meeting the co-equal goals: alternatives like the Delta Protection Commission’s Economic Sustainability Plan and the Reduced Exports Plan proposed by the Environmental Water Caucus.

(And now there are additional alternatives on the table: Dr. Robert Pyke’s Western Delta Intakes Concept and the “Portfolio Based” approach put forward last week by a coalition of environmental and business groups and urban water agencies.  Restore the Delta would like to see ALL alternatives considered, even those that don’t meet our criteria for dealing with the crisis in the Delta.)

  • It doesn’t press for a meaningful financial analysis of the BDCP, which will have costs and economic impacts far beyond those that beneficiaries will be willing to pay for.
  • It completely ignores the issue of the public trust value of water.
  • It doesn’t ensure reduced reliance on the Delta, as required by the 2009 Delta Reform legislation.

In short, the Delta Plan ignores the hard questions.  We didn’t need another long and costly process to do that.

At a meeting on January 24, the DSC took final comments on its proposed rule-making under the Delta Plan.  Commenters on all sides described the rules as in many cases unnecessary, ambiguous, or duplicative of other regulations already in place.

Attorney Bob Wright of Friends of the River noted that the Delta Plan acknowledges the need for flow objections, and he encouraged the DSC to make it clear in the Delta Plan that they are NOT yet calling for new conveyance.  And Nick Di Croce of the Environmental Water Caucus pointed out that when the Water Board sets flow objectives, they must be consistent with the public trust, not necessarily with the co-equal goals.

Several commenters noted that the proposed rules would make it harder for small entities like reclamation districts to do appropriate and necessary work in the Delta.  Osha Meserve of Local Agencies of the North Delta said that the Delta Plan blindly promotes BDCP, which would have a far greater impact than any local covered action.

What’s next?  DSC legal counsel Chris Stevens said that staff will be looking at all the comments submitted and coming back to the Council at the end of March to suggest any changes they think are worthy of the DSC’s consideration.  At that point, there may be an additional 15-day comment period.

The ultimate goal is final direction from the Council to certify the EIR before a vote on the Delta Plan and associated regulations.  Then the whole thing goes to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), which will have 30 days to review before the regulations will take legal effect.

Since the Delta Plan is supposed to consider the health of the Delta ecosystem, you’d think it would include information about matters like adaptive management.  You’d be wrong: that stuff isn’t ready yet.  The last presentations of the day to the DSC were by representatives of the Lead Scientist for the Delta Science Program and the Chair of the Independent Science Board.  Under questioning from Councilmember Randy Fiorini, it became clear that the Delta Plan science component won’t be completed until December 2013.  They seem to be relying heavily on BDCP science at this point.

And we know how solid THAT is.

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