[env-trinity] Westlands Water District Says Political Appointees Should Decide Delta Flows

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Fri Nov 19 10:38:44 PST 2010


Here's the revised version.


“We cannot as a society continue to dump the burden of the remaining  
cost of the BDCP on the counties and water ratepayers,” said Senator  
Lois Wolk (D-Davis). “What the BDCP expects to do is simplify not  
feasible. There will be a revolution."

Westlands Water District Says Political Appointees Should Decide  
Delta Flows

by Dan Bacher

Fishermen, conservationists, Delta farmers, Indian Tribal members,  
environmentalists and elected leaders from diverse political  
perspectives have slammed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bay Delta  
Conservation Plan (BDCP) process over the past four years for being a  
thinly disguised plan to build a peripheral canal to export more  
water from the California Delta to agribusiness and southern California.

Now a new and surprising critic of the BDCP process – the giant  
Westlands Water District on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley –  
has emerged, although the district’s critique is much different than  
those working to provide the estuary with more water for fish and  
Delta farms. Westlands and other water contractors fear that the plan  
may include reduced water exports to comply with studies by state and  
federal biologists recommending increased Delta flows for fish.

Jason Peltier, Chief Deputy General Manager of Westlands Water  
District and one of the principals in the process, shocked many with  
his strong criticism of the BDCP’s current direction during his  
testimony at an oversight hearing held by the Assembly Committee on  
Water, Parks and Wildlife at the State Capitol in Sacramento on  
November 16.

Peltier blasted the work of "mid-level biologists" from the federal  
government for recommending increased flows through the Delta for  
salmon, Delta smelt and other fish and boldly recommended that  
political appointees, rather than scientists, make the decisions over  
how much water must flow through the estuary. Peltier said the water  
contractors have heard from federal agencies that the BDCP is on  
track to produce a document that the federal government does not  
consider permittable.

At the same time, Peltier slammed a recent report by unnamed federal  
biologists that said that at least one species of fish would be  
threatened with extinction if the BDCP went forward. The biologists  
concluded "overall habitat conditions under the proposed project are  
likely to be worse than present day conditions or future conditions  
(if the project is not built).”

"Yes, I would ask political appointees to weigh in to make a decision  
based on informed views - not just a little paper with no names,"  
Peltier emphasized, referring to the recent report. "The world is  
bigger than the word of a few biologists."

"It is important that agencies get the best available science,"  
Peltier stated. "It's unfair to ask biologists to choose the flows  
for fish."

He also claimed there is "scientific uncertainty" on the flows needed  
for fish, noting the "complex tidal swing" in Delta channels of  
30,000 cfs on every tide change. "We have to listen to debate and to  
make the best decisions we can," said Peltier.

While responding to questions by Senator Jared Huffman (D-San  
Rafael), chairman of the Committee, Peltier criticized environmental  
groups for "nasty rhetoric" and spreading a "mythology." Peltier  
voiced frustration about the "never-ending stream of letters" from  
environmental organizations both on and off the BDCP steering  
committee who ignore economic realities.

"They seem to envision a perfect world," claimed Peltier. "We can't  
find perfection in this process. If that is their demand, that rock  
doesn't exist, and we ought not continue spending money to try and  
find this perfect world."

Peltier also warned the Committee, "There's going to need to be some  
kind of a reset - some kind of a come-to-Jesus - about how all of our  
interests can be met, or not met, and tell people they're not going  
to get what they had been hoping for."

Peltier was on a panel of BDCP "stakeholders" including Laura King- 
Moon, California Water Contractors Association; Cynthia Koehler,  
California Water Legislative Director, Environmental Defense Fund;  
Jonathan Rosenfield, Ph.D., Conservation Biologist, The Bay  
Institute; Melinda Terry, Manager, North Delta Water Agency; and Don  
Nottoli, Delta Stewardship Council Member, Delta Protection  
Commission Chair, and Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

Jonathan Rosenfield responded to Peltier's complaints about  
"scientific uncertainty" by stating that federal, state and  
independent biologists have all identified, in a number of reports,  
the flows needed to maintain healthy salmon and Delta fish  
populations. These reports include ones conducted by the State Water  
Resources Control Board, the National Academy of Sciences and the  
Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

"I don't know of any scientist who disagrees with the need for flows  
out of the Delta," Rosenfield emphasized.

Ironically, the report that Peltier, a member of the BDCP Steering  
Committee, criticized was part of the "effects analysis" of proposed  
operations authorized under the BDCP process.

“They (Westlands) are decrying this report that the BDCP Steering  
Committee asked for,” said Jonas Minton, water policy advisor of the  
Planning and Conservation League. “Now Westlands is recommending the  
same policy of political interference that occurred under the Bush  
administration, a policy that allowed the collapse of the Delta  
ecosystem to occur.”

Julie A. MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and  
parks under President GW Bush, resigned on May 2007 after a scathing  
investigation by the Inspector General found that she had "injected  
herself personally and profoundly" in a number of Endangered Species  
Act decisions, including the Sacramento splittail of the Delta, a  
violation of the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Legislature failed to ask members of California Indian Tribes,  
recreational fishing groups, commercial fishing organizations, or  
environmental justice groups to speak on the hearing panels, even  
though they will be impacted dramatically by the construction of a  
peripheral canal or tunnel. However, Dick Pool, administrator of  
Water 4 Fish, spoke in the public comment period about the urgent  
need for immediate action to save collapsing runs of Sacramento River  
chinook salmon.

"I have a major concern about the rapid decline in fall-run chinook  
salmon from 800,000 fish in 2002 to only 39,500 fish in 2009," said  
Pool. "We don't have a lot of time left - there won't be any fish  
around if we rely on the BDCP schedule. We need to implement early  
projects to recover fish populations."

Resources Secretary Announces Release of Delta Plan Reports

During the hearing, Natural Resources Secretary Lester Snow announced  
that two major reports on the controversial Bay Delta Conservation  
Plan, developed after 4 years of meetings and $140 million spent,  
will be released in the next few weeks.

“While the Delta has become the most politically contentious water  
management issue in California,” Snow said, “our progress in  
developing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan speaks to a growing  
consensus that we must achieve a Delta ecosystem that is more  
resilient and improve the state’s water supply reliability.”

Snow said that the BDCP Steering Committee plans to finalize its  
"working draft plan" at its meeting on Thursday, November 18.

Snow lauded the draft as "a product of a collaborative process that  
has included the California Department of Water Resources, the U.S.  
Bureau of Reclamation, federal and state fisheries agencies, water  
contractors, environmental organizations and other stakeholders. It  
will reflect substantial progress towards a completed Bay Delta  
Conservation Plan, and identify remaining elements where scientific  
work and other analysis is needed."

Snow said a separate "status report and issues summary" on the BDCP  
will be released the week of December 6, 2010. This document will  
include the State of California’s assessment of the issues, but will  
reflect the work of state and federal agencies, water users, and the  
environmental community.

"It will also identify issues that require further resolution,  
including additional scientific analysis to improve upon water  
operations for Delta fisheries, ecological metrics to measure  
progress, and ongoing development of an adaptive management plan,"  
according to Snow.

Snow stated that a draft habitat conservation plan/environmental  
impact report will be released in mid-2011 and the final report will  
be released in 2012. He said the current plan could lead to the  
construction of the peripheral canal/tunnel by 2013.

Delta Advocates Blast BDCP Goals and Costs

Delta advocates who attended the hearing were very critical of the  
BDCP's failure to address how it can possibly provide both the water  
and habitat that imperiled fish populations need and the water that  
the exporters desire.

"After 4 years and $140 million, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is  
going to release some kind of document this week, but it won't answer  
the central question of the exercise: how do exporters plan to get  
the amount of water they want while giving fish and habitat the water  
they need?" said Jane Wagner-Tyack, a policy consultant for Restore  
the Delta.

Wagner-Tyack also criticized the BDCP for its failure to address how  
it will come up with the money for canal/tunnel construction and  
habitat "restoration" at a time when the state of California is  
besieged with an unprecedented budget crisis.

"And no one knows how this will all be paid for," she concluded.  
"However, one thing that seems clear is that exporters are unlikely  
to continue to pay for a plan that will not give them the amount and  
reliability of water that they thought they were getting with their  
investment in the BDCP."

Committee member Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) also pointed out the  
“incredible disconnect” of the BDCP proposals and the actual  
financing available for the plan as the state budget has grown to  
$25.4 billion.

“We cannot as a society continue to dump the burden of the remaining  
cost of the BDCP on the counties and water ratepayers,” said Wolk.  
“What the BDCP expects to do is simplify not feasible. There will be  
a revolution."

In response to Wolk’s comments that the state can’t afford the  
facilities, Peltier said, “My response is that we cannot afford not  
to invest in the future.”

“The contractors will pay for construction of the facilities, but  
none of the farmers want a tunnel or canal just as an accomplishment.  
They want something out of it more than they get out of the current  
system. If this is not going to happen, we need to have a discussion  
on closing down the economy of the state or letting anarchy happen,”  
concluded Peltier.

With the BDCP process now under attack by both Delta advocates and  
water contractors, it will be interesting to see whether the incoming  
Brown administration will move the BDCP forward under its current  
path or to start anew with a process that asks first how much water  
fish and the Delta need for full restoration before considering  
exports to corporate agribusiness and southern California water.

After all, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) of 1992  
mandated the doubling of all naturally spawning anadromous fish  
populations – Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley  
steelhead, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, striped bass and other  
species – by 2002. Rather than the doubling of these fish populations  
occurring, many of these species have declined to record low  
populations, due to record water exports by the state and federal  

Immediate action must be taken to double these fish populations, as  
well as recovering Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other imperiled  
fish under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

For more information about Restore the Delta, go to: http:// 
www.restorethedelta.org. BDCP documents will be available at http:// 
www.resources.ca.gov and http://www.baydeltaconservationplan.com.
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