[env-trinity] SF Chronicle Editorial-'Chunnel' plan to bypass delta is falling down

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Mon May 21 11:19:49 PDT 2012


'Chunnel' plan to bypass delta is falling down

Sunday, May 20, 2012
After six years in the making, the blueprint for authorizing a giant canal or tunnel to move water 45 miles around the delta to avoid saltwater intrusions and the fish-unfriendly south delta pumps appears unlikely to win approval. And no wonder: The implied goal - unlimited water for all when resources are limited - is not realistic.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan set out to meet the "co-equal" goals of conserving habitat for precipitously declining fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and providing a more reliable water supply for farms and cities in Central and Southern California.

Gov. Jerry Brown has pushed vigorously to get the plan done, and its outcome affects 25 million Californians, including 3 million in the San Francisco Bay Area who receive at least some of their water from the delta.

Yet "co-equal" cannot translate as more water for some at the expense of the environment.

The south delta water contractors - primarily Kern County Water Agency, Westlands Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California - have spent $150 million so far on scientific studies on a project slated for 2013.

Scientific studies show that to restore fish habitat and wetlands, the state needs to reduce delta water exports.

The Academy of Sciences National Research Council also found that restoring freshwater flows through the delta is a necessary, but not sole, condition for restoring fish populations. Despite these findings, south-of-delta water contractors are seeking increased water exports.

Federal agencies cannot authorize the 50-year permit for the "chunnel" unless the BDCP lays out scientifically supported steps to restore the delta ecosystem and avoid the fish-killing pumps (which violate the Endangered Species Act).

This month, California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird announced that the BDCP planners would deliver the public draft late - in September, not June 29 as agreed. Federal wildlife agencies had red flagged the document, saying the science "was not well integrated" into the plan. Laird then added a puzzling note: Brown and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar still would make their planned announcement on the project framework in mid to late July.

Meanwhile, water agencies are getting restless, if not pushy.

In a May 2 letter to state secretary Laird, the Kern County Water Agency said its board was awaiting the description of the BDCP "preferred project" before deciding whether to continue funding the plan.

The letter stated that the Kern board expected the state to "deliver a preferred project in time for the announcement by the governor and the secretary" (Salazar). The Kern board is expected to vote Thursday.

So it appears, six years and $150 million later, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan might come to nothing. Why? Because the project is struggling to justify what its backers want - new plumbing to increase water exports from the delta at an affordable price - but cannot deliver. The law authorizing the BDCP calls for a plan for "a more reliable water supply for California," not for more water for south of delta water contractors.

To calm these roiling waters, the governor should have the state focus on providing reliable - as in predictable - deliveries to contractors. That would put an end to congressional efforts to overturn the Endangered Species Act and other political high-jinks aimed at getting around current law.

Brown has reminded Californians that we must to learn to live within in our means - and that applies as much to water supplies as to the state budget.


This article appeared on page L - 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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