[env-trinity] SF Chronicle 6/27/2010

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Sun Jun 27 10:31:34 PDT 2010

New state agency tries to revive delta

Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

San Francisco Chronicle June 27, 2010 04:00
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(06-27) 04:00 PDT Sacramento - -- 

Over the past 10 years, California spent more than $3.5 billion on an agency
that failed to solve the water crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River

Now, the state is trying again - with a newly formed agency.

This new agency is much like the old one with a different set of rules: It
has the same staff of about 50 employees who were transferred over from the
failed organization, and it has hired the same consulting firm to do much of
the ground work, raising questions of whether it will succeed where its
predecessor failed or whether it will be another expensive boondoggle.

The stakes are enormous: the ecosystem of the delta - which provides water
for 25 million Californians and millions of acres of farmland - is on the
verge of collapsing, water users have seen their yearly allotments slashed,
and a major earthquake could destroy the levee system protecting islands,
communities and farmland in the region.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, author of the bill that created the new
agency - the Delta Stewardship Council - said there is no guarantee the
council will succeed where the old agency, CalFed, failed.

But something needs to be done. Decades of "benign neglect and ineffective
governance have not served the state well," Simitian said. "There's always
some risk with a new direction, but I think the old model was a proven

CalFed's failure

CalFed began in 1994 as an agreement between the federal and state
governments to work together on delta water issues. But the pact proved
ineffective almost from the start. 

In 2000, the state and federal governments created a more formal process
that was supposed to fix the delta for everyone - its motto was "everyone
gets better together." They pledged to improve water supply and quality and
strengthen the ecosystem and levees.

Ultimately, CalFed became an amalgamation of 25 local, state and federal
agencies and other organizations with disparate interests in the delta. The
idea was to unite - and spend big - for a common cause. 

But, created under the Clinton administration, interest in CalFed waned
during the Bush years. To worsen matters, CalFed was enormous, with so many
agencies involved that it struggled under its own weight to create a
structure to make decisions.

In 2002, the Legislature created a new governing board to oversee CalFed:
the Bay-Delta Authority. But the authority stopped meeting in the past few
years because not enough members showed up for the scheduled sessions.

No consistent funding

Perhaps contributing most significantly to CalFed's failure is that it
lacked the force of law in its decisions and did not have a consistent
source of funding to operate. An audit of the program determined that the
state spent $217 million in general fund dollars from 2000 to 2004, along
with $813 million in bond funds. The federal government was supposed to
contribute significant money, too, but in the same period spent just $242

Later in 2004, the program released a controversial 10-year financing plan
totaling $8 billion, which drew wide criticism and led the Legislature to
slash its budget. Then, in early 2007, the Public Policy Institute of
California concluded in a report on the delta that CalFed "is now widely
perceived as having failed to meet its objectives."

The Delta Stewardship Council was created via a bill the Legislature
approved as part of last fall's comprehensive package of legislation to
overhaul California's water infrastructure. Among the other bills that
passed was one for an $11 billion water bond that voters will decide in

In crafting the stewardship council, lawmakers sought to avoid the pitfalls
that doomed CalFed. They made the council small and powerful - a panel of
only seven individuals - as opposed to the more than two dozen agencies that
made up CalFed. 

This group, appointed largely by the governor, is charged with creating a
comprehensive plan to revive the delta - with the "co-equal goals" of
restoring the ecosystem and ensuring water supply reliability for the state
- by Jan. 1, 2012, an extremely tight deadline by government bureaucracy

Final plan will become law

One key difference from CalFed is that the council's final plan will
actually be state law.

Simitian said some lawmakers were wary about how much power to give the
council, as it would limit the Legislature's authority. But he said he
believes giving it real legal teeth is essential for success.

"I would suggest to you that if everyone is a bit nervous, that is a good
thing," Simitian said.

The council first met in April and has had four meetings since, including
last week. 

"This is a bigger step than the kind of limping along of the last 30 or 40
years," said Phil Isenberg, the chairman of the stewardship council who is a
well-regarded former mayor of Sacramento and a former state assemblyman.

As for the similarities to CalFed, Isenberg defended the decision to
transfer the staff and said it is important to retain them to meet the new
timelines. "I think they are competent, and I don't think there is any way
the state deadlines would be met without" them, he said.

State water experts agree that California needed a new direction for the
delta and that putting decisions into the hands of a limited council is a
better process.

"The way it has been set up, the decision will come to seven people working
on a council rather than getting a bunch of agencies to form a consensus,"
said Ellen Hanak, director of research for the Public Policy Institute of
California, adding, "You have more of a sense of who is in charge."

And even though it ultimately failed to solve the crisis in the delta,
CalFed did fund a lot of research about the delta estuary that gives the
council a better starting point for making decisions than its predecessor,
Hanak said.

What is yet to be resolved, however, is how the council will fund its
ongoing operations - a key reason CalFed failed. The governor's proposed
budget for the year beginning July 1 sets aside nearly $50 million to fund
the stewardship council, money that previously was budgeted for CalFed. 

Long-term finance plan

But future funding was not specified in the water legislation, Simitian
said, because determining who would pay and how much they would pay probably
would have overwhelmed and doomed the debate over the package of water

Last week, a Senate committee approved a bill by Assemblyman Jared Huffman,
D-San Rafael, to require the Delta Stewardship Council to create a long-term
finance plan with fees assessed to the beneficiaries of the council's delta
plan. The fee plan would need approval by the Legislature.

Huffman called his legislation "a critical missing piece" of the water
legislation and the lack of funding a "critical flaw" in CalFed.

Whether the council succeeds where CalFed failed will depend largely on the
members of the council, said James Mayer, executive director of California
Forward and former executive director of the Little Hoover Commission, a
state body that investigates state operations.

That commission published a damaging assessment of CalFed in 2005.

People key to success

Mayer said he believes the ultimate success of the council could have more
to do with who is on the panel than the law creating it, and predicted the
council would be successful if its members take action that "represents the
long-term public interest."

"Regardless of what's in the law, the question is whether the stewardship
council will develop the political authority to compel cooperation and
alignment of otherwise competing public agencies," Mayer said.

Environmental organizations themselves were split on whether they supported
the legislation creating the council and that divide has continued in
predictions of the council's success.

"We felt that this was CalFed redux," said Jim Metropulos, senior advocate
for the Sierra Club California. "I just think the council is not really
empowered to make wholesale changes to the delta and improve water supply

Cynthia Koehler, California water legislative director at the Environmental
Defense Fund, said she is optimistic about the council's prospects.

"This is clearly a time-will-tell kind of thing," she said. "This is the
next experiment."

Delta Stewardship Council members 

-- Phil Isenberg, chairman, is a former state assemblyman and mayor of
Sacramento. He is a lawyer and, until recently, a registered lobbyist. He
also chaired the Delta Blue Ribbon Task Force, which called for creating an
independent body to oversee the delta.

-- Randy Fiorini of Turlock (Stanislaus County)is the managing partner of
Fiorini Ranch and managing partner of FarmCo. He is the past president and
board member of the Association of California Water Agencies.

-- Gloria Gray of Inglewood (Los Angeles County) is a member of the board of
directors of the West Basin Municipal Water District. She previously spent
36 years at the Los Angeles County departments of Human Services and Health

-- Patrick Johnston of Stockton is president of the California Association
of Health Plans and spent 20 years in the Legislature. He is a former member
of the Bay-Delta Authority and the Delta Protection Commission.

-- Hank Nordhoff of Del Mar (San Diego County) is chairman of Gen-Probe
Inc., a biotechnology company.

-- Don Nottoli of Galt is a member of the Sacramento County Board of
Supervisors and is chairman of the Delta Protection Commission.

-- Richard Roos-Collins of Berkeley is director of legal services for the
Natural Heritage Institute. He is co-chair of the Agricultural Water
Management Council and was a member of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan
Steering Committee.

West Coast's largest estuary 

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is home to more than 750 animal and
plant species. More than 500,000 people call it home, and it is a recreation
and tourist destination. The delta is the hub of state, federal and local
water systems providing at least some of the water needs for two-thirds of
Californians. It is formed by the confluence of the state's two largest
rivers: the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. 

Source: Delta Stewardship Council 

Read more:



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax

415 519 4810 mobile

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