[env-trinity] Sacramento Bee 11/19/10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Fri Nov 19 11:15:57 PST 2010
Delta plan churns up concerns
By Matt Weiser
In a glassy conference room alongside a Sacramento River levee, a committee
of 25 people struggled Thursday to do what Californians have never been able
to do before: reach agreement on how to drink from the Delta without killing
After meeting for four years and spending $140 million, the committee
drafting the Bay Delta Conservation Plan aimed Thursday to complete a "Nov.
18 draft" of its progress so far. This odd name for the document reflects
the enormous stakes in crafting a plan that meets two goals: restoring the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and building a pair of tunnels or
canal to ferry its water elsewhere.
It is not the final draft that water agencies and the Schwarzenegger
administration wanted by this date, nor even the "working draft" they were
prepared to settle for. It is enough of a draft, however, to keep
environmental groups and Delta residents in the room.
"It is a snapshot in time on where we've gotten to date," said Karen
Scarborough, undersecretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency and
chair of the steering committee. "We are not at the top yet, but we are at a
very broad, stable ledge."
The multibillion-dollar plan may be teetering on the brink of that ledge,
however, after developments over the last two weeks.
At a meeting last week in Washington, D.C., representatives of the Westlands
Water District, a huge irrigation agency in the San Joaquin Valley,
reportedly stormed out of a meeting with David Hayes, an Interior Department
undersecretary. Other meeting participants told The Bee the trigger was a
discussion that the plan may include reduced water deliveries.
And at a meeting in Los Banos on Wednesday, a number of federal water
contractors were ready to withdraw funding to continue the conservation
plan, said Brett Baker, a lobbyist for the Central Delta Water Agency who
was there. The group plans to consider the motion again next week, he said.
"It's just, in my opinion, not going very well," Jason Peltier, a Westlands
representative, told an Assembly oversight hearing on the Delta on Tuesday.
"There's going to need to be some kind of a reset - some kind of a come to
Jesus - about how all our interests can be met, or not met, and tell people
they're not going to get what they had been hoping for," he said.
The plan's goal is to protect freshwater exports while also restoring Delta
habitat. Seven fish species in the Delta, the West's largest estuary, have
been driven to the brink of extinction by demand for its water, which serves
25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland.
The centerpiece of the conservation plan is a tunnel system or canal to
divert Sacramento River water out of the estuary and deliver it directly to
export canals near Tracy. In addition, more than 115,000 acres of restored
habitat would help wildlife rebound.
The project is unprecedented in California and perhaps the nation. The
tunnels option would cost $12.7 billion, while the canal would cost $8.4
Habitat projects would add about $4 billion more to either option.
Completion of the Nov. 18 draft marks an important milestone. But numerous
political and economic obstacles loom, and the question now is whether the
project is on a path to construction or veering toward a bureaucratic
It came under attack by some committee members who objected to calling the
draft "finished," as Scarborough's agency did in a press release on Tuesday.
That's because, while the draft is the most complete so far, it leaves
enormous holes. One is a lack of substantive analysis of how water
diversions into a new canal or tunnels will affect the Delta's aquatic
Either design is large enough to divert the Sacramento River's entire flow
under some conditions, and environmentalists and Delta residents are still
waiting for language that would guarantee adequate river flows to protect
habitat and water quality.
"I'm not feeling well," said Deanna Sereno, a committee member representing
the Contra Costa Water District, which often finds itself allied with
environmental groups because it draws drinking water directly from the
Delta. "I'm really nervous about what we're finalizing here."
The committee plans to complete an official draft of the plan by July and an
environmental impact study by October. Final approval is expected in late
2012 or early 2013. The plan would then have to be approved by state and
federal wildlife agencies.
Whether all of this happens depends largely on two things: Gov.-elect Jerry
Brown and economics.
Brown asserted in his campaign that he intends to see the plan through to
completion of the environmental review process.
Money may be a bigger concern, and it is amplified by a growing realization
that water agencies may not get as much Delta water from the project as they
hoped. If deliveries are reduced, the economics make even less sense.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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