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Kern County Water Agency Is Shocked, Shocked! To Hear That Taking More Water From The Delta Will Not Restore This Important Estuary

Kate Poole

Posted May 7, 2012

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It seems only yesterday that Westlands Water District briefly stormed away from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan table when they were told that the days of diverting more water than the Bay-Delta estuary could support were over.  Westlands announced in November 2010 that it was quitting BDCP upon being told by the permitting agencies that “the goal identified by the water contractors of having operational criteria that will achieve an average of 6.2 million acre feet of water exports may not be realistic, given our scientists’ preliminary views that this level of exports may not be consistent with satisfying the co-equal goal of restoring the ecosystem.”  That news from the permitting agencies was no surprise in 2010.  At that point, all of the credible biology indicated that we were depriving this important ecosystem of necessary flows, and that a more natural flow regime had to be implemented if we are to sustain California’s 150-year old salmon fishery and restore a healthy estuary. Indeed, a comprehensive scientific analysis completed by the State Water Board in August, 2010 concluded that best available science demonstrated that the current level of environmental flows, including the protections in the existing biological opinions (which allow for an average of 4.9 million acre-feet of water exported from the Delta), are inadequate to protect and restore public trust resources in the Bay-Delta.

This biological evidence has only grown stronger since 2010, with the National Academy of Sciences, Delta Science Program, and numerous other scientists confirming that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan was failing to use the best available science and needed a significant overhaul of the project and of the scientific methodology used to analyze the potential impacts of that project.   In May 2011, the five state and federal agencies (DWR, DFG, USBR, FWS, and NMFS) issued a proposed alternative operational proposal to address the significant fishery problems identified in the preliminary effects analysis.  These alternative operations criteria were supposed to be included in “a wide range of alternatives that will be evaluated in a detailed Effects Analysis.” 

Nevertheless, for the last two years, the contractors have stubbornly ignored this overwhelming scientific evidence and clung to their desired project in BDCP, insisting that the environmental analysis focus on their proposal to substantially increase exports from the Delta over current levels.  Again, to no one’s surprise, the draft environmental analysis of the contractors’ proposal that was released in late February of this year demonstrated that the proposal would worsen the ecosystem and lead to the extinction of several important species.  And just last week, the Delta Science Program’s independent peer review identified numerous substantial flaws in the methodology of the BDCP effects analysis, reinforcing many of the concerns of the state and federal agencies.   

Meanwhile, NRDC and its environmental partners repeatedly urged the contractors and the agencies to analyze a much broader range of projects, including ones that were far more likely to achieve the co-equal goals.  (Analysis of a broad range of alternatives is also required by state law, under the Delta Reform Act.)  The contractors rejected our approach, insisting that the effects analysis focus only on their proposed project, with a much more limited analysis of other alternatives in the EIS/EIR. 

Now comes Kern County Water Agency in a letter to Secretary Laird on May 2, 2012 (and echoed by the State Water Contractors and others), expressing their shock and outrage at the fact that after six years of hard work, BDCP has not yet identified a permittable project.  Really?  If only the contractors had not ignored all of the input of the scientists, agencies, and other participants in BDCP, the process would not have spent the last two years analyzing a project that they knew was unpermittable. 

But Kern went even further, threatening to “withdraw all funding for the BDCP” if DWR Director Cowin does not exercise “unilateral decision-making authority” to identify a preferred project by late May.  That is a near impossible task for Director Cowin to do at this point since the only comprehensive effects analysis completed to date – thanks to the contractors – has focused on the contractors’ own unpermittable project.

As Hubert Humphrey reportedly said:  “To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.”  The contractors have spent over one hundred million dollars attempting to achieve their desire to squeeze ever more water out of the Delta.  But that goal was never what BDCP was intended to achieve.  The state can meet the co-equal goals by: (1) reducing water exports and restoring flows and habitat in the Delta; (2) investing in the vast potential of untapped local and regional water supplies, like expanded recycling, improved efficiency and stormwater capture and reuse; and (3) improving the physical stability of the Delta itself, along with the Delta's export facilities.  That type of project would achieve a real water victory in line with the directive of state legislature in the 2009 Delta Water Reform package. 

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MikeMay 8 2012 12:12 PM

State and federal officials agreed last year through a signed MOA to establish an aggressive schedule for completing the planning documents and an administrative draft analysis that was delivered in February of this year. Part of that schedule was a concurrent review of the administrative draft material by USFWS, NMFS and DFG that would lead to a public draft targeted for release next month. The MOU also acknowledged that the schedule could be amended, which was the topic of Secretary Laird's letter of last week.

It is interesting to note that this author opposed this portion of working toward a Delta solution because it did not align with her own viewpoints. Now, all of a sudden, she embraces the work of the agencies in order to question the commitment of others. She continues to twist the public record to support her biased views, which have repeatedly been rejected in the courtroom.

In fact, the SWRCB flow report mentioned in the blog was heavily caveated and didn't consider any of the legally required "balance" among interests that they would have to consider to implement the report's recommendations. Essentially, that it produces recommendations conceived in a vacuum and ignoring of all other biological and social issues. This lack of a comprehensive consideration/solution has been criticized by a number of science panels, including some the author of the blog points to.

Science has guided the BDCP process in the past and that science is expected to play an ongoing role. The author's assertion that science is rejecting moving forward in the process is simply wishful thinking.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Bruce TokarsMay 8 2012 12:44 PM

Mr. Wade says that "science has guided the BDCP process...". Maybe, but there is no question that the water contractors have consistently disparaged any science that they don't like. When Westlands walked away from the BDCP process, it was good theater but not seriously helpful (or honest).

The BDCP it seems, continues to be the water contractors (Westlands) cover to get what they want. Three videos that make that point show Westlands in action:

Westlands BDCP Blues

Railroaded Salmon

Myth or Fact? Westlands and Reality

Mr. Wade's employer, the California Farm Water Coalition, should be very pleased with the work he does. He is always right there ready to dismiss anyone who objects to their party line.

At this rate, it seems unlikely that the BDCP will be anything but a disaster for California's fragile water ecosystem. But then maybe that's what the water contractors want.

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