Officials release draft delta plan for public review


Issue Date: March 20, 2013
By Kate Campbell

After seven years of development, the public may now review the first four chapters to be included in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which state and federal officials describe as a 50-year blueprint for restoring the delta and improving water supply reliability. State officials emphasized during a news conference last week that the plan remains in draft form. Three more chapters will be released March 27, with the final five chapters scheduled to be released in late April.

Officials said the full plan and an accompanying draft environmental impact statement/environmental impact report will be released to the public for comment later this year.

The BDCP is the environmental side of the state's proposal for new water intakes and tunnels to convey water to contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Officials said the plan aims to restore habitat and reverse the decline of native fish populations while building and operating new infrastructure to improve reliability of water deliveries.

Last July, Gov. Jerry Brown, joined by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, announced revisions to the plan, including a 40 percent reduction in the capacity of new water diversion intakes along the Sacramento River, which would be located near Clarksburg.

State and federal agencies have been working with water users and interest groups to develop a plan that meets legal requirements for permitting and water project operations.

"It helps define what the project will be," said Chris Scheuring, California Farm Bureau Federation managing counsel for natural resources, who added that Farm Bureau water experts are now analyzing the draft documents.

"Species-related pumping restrictions have certainly brought additional focus on delta conveyance in recent years," Scheuring said. "We hope the eventual solution will be beneficial for all California agriculture."

The BDCP provides the basis for regulatory compliance with state and federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, so the infrastructure improvements can be permitted and integrated into State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project operations, which combined meet the daily water needs of 25 million Californians and irrigation water for food crops that provide roughly half the nation's supply of fresh produce.

The newly released documents describe in detail the more than 200 specific biological goals and objectives to guide implementation of the plan during the next 50 years. Estimates for construction and operation of the new conveyance system, as well as costs for habitat restoration and potential funding sources, will be included in Chapter 8 of the draft plan, which is yet to be released.

"The existing water delivery system is prone not only to earthquakes and flooding, but also the effects of a changing climate," the state Natural Resources Agency said in a prepared statement. "Additionally, water deliveries to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California have been reduced in recent years, in part because of the presence of federally protected salmon and smelt near the existing water pumps in the south delta."

However, in announcing public availability of the plan's first draft chapters, officials said the amount of federal and state water project deliveries could be moderately lower or higher than average deliveries during the past 20 years. They estimated deliveries could be as much as 10 percent less than current contract amounts or up to 5 percent more. The variance could occur because of climate change and developments related to ongoing research on the needs of native fisheries.

"We are making real progress," said Mark Cowin, state Department of Water Resources director, who called the draft plan a document that reflects an "unprecedented amount of consensus."

The four chapters released last week include an introduction to the issues and a detailed discussion of existing ecological conditions; the conservation strategy; and activities for which permits will be needed from various agencies.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for agriculture to engage," California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said during the news briefing. "The rice industry is an example of the kind of conservation farmers can provide. This is the time to look at restoration and food production taking place on working landscapes."

Mike Connor, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said he is "very encouraged by progress on the BDCP. While more work remains, we will continue to be guided by sound and credible science as we support the Department of Water Resources in moving the plan forward."

A schedule for the next release of BDCP chapters and upcoming public meetings is posted at http://baydeltaconservationplan.com.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.