Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Shrinking Delta Pie

The Bay Delta water issues are coming to a head this week, with the release of a preliminary study of the Bay Delta water allocation now scheduled for final form at the end of the year, just before new Governor Jerry Brown takes office.

The preliminary BDCP is posted on the state website for the Department of Natural Resources. The proposal has been in development for five years and is finally being completed in draft form. Unfortunately, it is considered seriously flawed by a coalition of Northern California cities and agencies because of the inclusion of a peripheral canal which removes more water from the Bay Delta ecosystem. The consensus is that this ecosystem is already over-allocated, and there is disagreement about how this proposed canal (a holdover from the original state water plan that was never built) would affect the estuary. The Northern California groups contend that it's a Southern California water grab.

It's an issue that's been controversial for years, with protests from some of the stakeholders. The plan generally focuses on old engineering and dam technologies to pipe water around, as opposed to using natural systems to relieve the demands on the ecosystem. The Bay Institute, a member of the BDCP steering committee, publicly criticized the plan. The environmental organizations are at loggerheads over this draft, principally with the Westlands Water District .

According to the PCL Insider,

This week Westlands Water District (Westlands) issued a press release withdrawing its participation from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process. Jean P. Sagouspe, the President of Westlands’ Board wrote to the Department of Interior, "As a public agency, Westlands cannot continue to spend millions of our ratepayers' dollars on a project that is likely to deliver no more and potentially less water to the public than they are receiving today.”

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that diversions from the Delta must be reduced in order for its ecosystem to be revived. Although Westlands does not like the broad scientific consensus, they are beginning to realize that diversions will be reduced, not increased.

Westlands’ withdrawal does create the possibility that the other parties to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, including the yet-to-be appointed Brown appointees, will be able to develop a reasonable approach that will provide what everyone really needs, not just what some want.

It will be a special challenge for the new Governor to resolve these issues, given the support of the BDCP peripheral canal solution by Schwarzenegger, Feinstein, and the Metropolitan Water District. Once again, it will come down to big agency politics, water profits and a possible intervention by mother nature - her diminishing ability to provide sustenance to natural systems and the demands of human habitation. In the face of global warming, studies have shown that there are clear impacts that must be accounted for, as required by another state agency concerned with future statewide resources.

Left hand and right hand need to work in concert, and not confuse public policy.

Update Nov 29th:
SEC Should Investigate Westlands: The (Salmon Water Now) letter asks, how could the largest irrigation district in the United States with declining revenues, highly leveraged debt, an uncertain water supply, and few actual water rights, borrow $50 million in a bond market still reeling from the credit collapse of 2008? Add to this Wall Street mystery, the fact that the borrowing was to quietly finance the early phase and highly uncertain phase of California’s most controversial public works project--- the “Peripheral Canal” -- a massive project previously defeated by the state’s voters in 1982.