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Friday, August 14, 2009

A screw the environment plan for the Delta?...

Plans to "make everyone happy" in Calif's water wars ignore the math--there is only so much freshwater, and it's all being used for Ag, Urban or nature. To send more water south for more So-Cal sprawl will result in
richer land barons, but fish extinction and parched farms. What will we do--eat our money?

Special by Jane Wagner-Tyack

The Delta Plan bill by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael (formerly AB 39), is schizophrenic in both the clinical and the common senses of the word: it is both delusional and internally contradictory.

The delusion arises from the bill's acceptance of the notion of coequal goals for the Delta, adopted by both Delta Vision and the BDCP as a way to make as many people as possible happy. This notion has always been flawed because it is not possible to guarantee water supplies for people and agriculture and at the same time guarantee water for the ecosystem.
Huffman's bill has to include the BDCP; otherwise, the governor will never sign it. But the BDCP is being presented as a Habitat Conservation Plan. According to state and federal law, a HCP should focus on habitat improvement. Since the main objective is to find adaptive management strategies that will enable endangered species to recover, levels of exports cannot be determined in advance.

Having set itself the task of guaranteeing contradictory goals, this bill establishing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009 cannot help being contradictory in trying to devise a plan.

Some sections of the bill are eloquent in describing existing Delta communities and values and the Delta economy ("existing developed uses . . . are essential to the economic and social well-being of the people of this state"). There is even a proposal for making the Delta a National Heritage Area. But elsewhere, the bill makes it clear that maintaining the Delta in its present form is not the business of the state. Several times, it refers to the Delta as "evolving." All human and natural communities evolve, but they change faster if they are made to change with strategies like refocusing "the economic and public values of Delta agriculture."

Similarly, the bill includes a detailed discussion of flood control, but mostly for the state and federal water projects; local flood protection plans may be incorporated, and the plan will "promote" emergency preparedness, appropriate land uses, and strategic levee investments. At the outset, the bill says that landowners are not entitled to state funding to maintain or repair private levees, suggesting an end to the subvention program for levee maintenance. There appears to be no commitment to protecting the Delta as a common pool, although it is "the hub of the California water system." And even more apparent is a lack of knowledge regarding levee protection in the Delta - private levees must be maintained so as to keep stress off of the state and federal levees that protect hundreds of thousands of urban residents in the Delta.

In one small section, the bill calls for regional self- reliance and says that it is the policy of the state to reduce long-term dependence on water from the Delta watershed. Then it spends pages describing a plan to enable continued dependence.

The bill claims that the Delta Plan Act would not affect area of origin rights protections under the law. Then it refers specifically to sections of the Water Code that have consistently been violated when water needed in the Sacramento Valley has been exported and when storing and releasing water for use outside the Delta has not met objectives for salinity control, an adequate Delta water supply, and maintenance of the common pool.

Early actions under the Act can proceed with just a quorum of the Delta Stewardship Council. (Neither the Council itself nor a quorum are defined in this bill.) One early action is to be the appointment of an Independent Science Board. Apparently recognizing that the science applied so far to this issue has not been good, the bill repeatedly calls for using "the best available scientific information."

One early action of the council will be coming up with a finance strategy for developing the Delta Plan. Coming up with a strategy is all this bill says about how the plan will be paid for.

The council will get DFG started on some identified near-term restoration projects in the Delta. DFG is also supposed to submit information and recommendations that it "deems reliable" regarding the Delta's instream flow needs, something DFG has not so far been able to do.

The bill uses "department" and "board" without defining them, but context makes it clear that the board is the SWRCB. The board is supposed to charge the department for the costs of instream flow needs analysis "pursuant to the board's authority to regulate the water rights of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Projects." It appears that the State Water Contractors, through DWR, would pay for this analysis of instream flow needs-a clear case of conflict of interest.

The bill includes reference to a "special master" (a water master) to help decide whether board's determinations of instream flow needs "were arbitrary or capricious."

The bill gives control of the BDCP process to the Delta Stewardship Council and incorporates the BDCP into the Delta Plan. It requires analysis of different conveyance alternatives but does not consider a no- conveyance alternative. The Independent Science Board is supposed to review data and hypotheses on which the BDCP's adaptive management is based. Apparently the whole process will go forward more or less as the BDCP intends, but under the Delta Plan. Alternative conveyance requires no further legislative approval. It is here that we find Assembly Member Huffman's implicit approval for construction of the peripheral canal.

But except for "the board" charging "the department" for instream flow needs analysis, this bill doesn't suggest how any activities or projects associated with the Delta Plan (apparently including both conveyance and storage-a canal and dams) will be paid for. Tomorrow, we will discuss funding as it is laid out in the other bills.

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