Bay-Delta Conservation Plan: A License to Kill?

Back to Peripheral Canals

Photo by Tim Stroshane

C-WIN's Twin Tunnels Campaign

After CalFED receded from public view, creating a Bay-Delta Conservation Plan became the latest statewide planning process attempting to resolve competing goals for the Delta:

  • Protecting listed aquatic species of the Bay-Delta estuary, while 
  • Increasing water supplies diverted from the Delta by the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, especially using some sort of "conveyance" facility.

Unlike most public planning efforts, participants in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan planning process had to sign a "planning agreement" if they were to have access to the high-level planning meetings and discussions among the water industry's power brokers, attorneys, and consultants.

By signing the planning agreement these "stakeholders" were agreeing that some kind of peripheral canal design had to be considered as part of the water supply management options that would be covered by the habitat conservation plan to be created. Groups like the California Water Impact Network opted not to join the process because we do not believe some sort of conveyance facility is needed to solve California's water problems.

At least in theory, the Plan's stakeholders (including representatives of state and federal water and natural resource agencies, urban and agricultural water agencies, and some environmental groups) hope that the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan will be a "habitat conservation plan" for the Delta estuary that meets the requirements of the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, as well as California's Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act. The Plan is to protect listed species (such as the Delta smelt) and enable some sort of peripheral canal, tunnel, or "dual conveyance" scheme to move fresh water from the Sacramento River around the Delta to the export pumps directly for eventual delivery to state and federal water contractors.

By law, however, a habitat conservation plan is simply a plan of action and regulation that intends to prevent extinction of a species while allowing some level of development to occur in its critical habitat. Such a plan is not a plan for recovery and restoration of species abundance. Habitat conservation plans provide developers (including water project operators) with a kind of "license to kill," under which state and federal fishery agencies may issue permits for the "taking" of individuals of an endangered species up to levels specified in the plan.

Although the BDCP planning agreement claims the conservation plan will provide  "protection of Covered Species", "minimize and mitigate, as appropriate, the take of proposed Covered Species", and "preserve and restore habitat and contribute to the recovery of Covered Species", the agreement does not take as a goal the recovery of population abundance of the listed species it identifies.

BDCP's "Covered Activities" will be the suite of actions that the "potential regulated entities" (that is, the California Department of Water Resources, the US Bureau of Reclamation, and other "entities that export, divert or otherwise benefit from diversion of water from the Delta and/or its tributaries" of the Delta region and its watershed) would like to undertake.

First on the list (in Section 7.5) would be "conveyance elements" of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project: various ways to move Sacramento River water around or now under the Delta. "Operational activities related to water transfers involving Water Contractors or to serve environmental projects", the latter a nod to the now-defunded Environmental Water Account.

Ecologically, it is questionable whether any number of "takes" undermines the effort to avoid species extinction.

The ecological hope under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is that enough habitat restoration and other protective actions can be established so that routine state and federal water project operations in the Delta will not cause extinction of endangered fish species.

The water supply hope is that the US Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources will be able to export enough water from a peripheral canal/tunnel/dual conveyance scheme to meet the demands of agricultural and urban water contractors in the San Joaquin Valley and southern California to make construction and operation of the canal economically feasible and worthwhile.

C-WIN wrote a letter to Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes in 2009 that included our take on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

BDCP Conveyance Concepts

I Want to Help continue C-WIN’s engagement with these activities and other advocacy work.