[env-trinity] Westlands Water District Says Political Appointees Should Decide Delta Flows
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
“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
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,”
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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