Guest View: Real solutions needed for Delta
September 26, 2014
By Ken Vogel
San Joaquin County Supervisor
With seven years of planning plus $250 million of irreplaceable water ratepayer dollars already spent, the state is left with a 40,000-page deficient Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) that needs to go back to the drawing board. Delta farmers, homeowners and businesses have plenty to be angry about especially when you consider San Joaquin County — and other Delta counties were deliberately excluded by state water officials from the BDCP process at the outset only to now have our concerns be vindicated by the federal government.
The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently raised an almost insurmountable barrier in front of the State Department of Water Resources (DWR), which has led the long-term charge to win favor for the governor’s controversial $25 billion (nearly $64 billion including financing costs) twin tunnels project. On the heels of EPA’s determination that the BDCP could be in violation of federal law along with ongoing public backlash against the plan, Governor Brown was forced to concede that his over-hyped BDCP legacy project wasn’t quite “fully cooked.”
As citizens committed to the protection of the precious Delta and the Bay Estuary, we are proud of the strong stand we took against the governor’s proposed construction of massive twin tunnels to divert water to the south through new intakes. State water experts were confident this re-routing would stabilize water flows in the estuary, prevent salt water intrusion into the Delta and save threatened fish habitat. But now the EPA has stated basically the opposite — warning that the disruption in flows farther upstream from the existing intakes “would contribute to increased and persistent violations of water quality standards in the Delta” and the tunnels “would not protect beneficial uses for aquatic life, thereby violating the federal Clean Water Act.”
In essence, federal officials were only reinforcing what San Joaquin County has been saying all along — that the BDCP never was based on sound science and is devoid of adequate information and analysis to address its potentially significant environmental impacts. The tunnels would take too much water from the Delta, causing persistent water-quality violations. Sure, water quality would improve for the southern water contractors, but at the expense of degraded water conditions for Delta residents and farmers.
The DWR — while stopping short of admitting the BDCP should be revamped — did agree to a delay and to revisit certain areas of the plan for further study. This could result in a postponement of several months. With the money for the planning phase depleted, the remaining scarce dollars will be spent on revising the document and re-releasing it for public comment in early 2015.
This delay should be used as a welcome break in the state’s ongoing water wars between north and south, agricultural versus environmental and pro-BDCP against Delta and Bay Estuary protectors. But with plans now on hold for the BDCP, time can heal all wounds. We should agree to set aside our differences, reflect on the wrongs and make things right.
Here’s a genuine start toward a truly statewide solution to California’s water crisis:
• The BDCP is not a comprehensive plan that will address California’s water needs and a narrowly focused, single-shot solution surely will be destined for failure. If a plan is to work for today and future generations, it must include groundwater recharge, recycling and reuse, desalination and an investment in a variety of statewide water storage systems, similar to the state’s proposed water bond.
• The tunnels clearly won’t produce a single drop of new water. Conservation is a far less expensive solution than asking taxpayers and ratepayers to fund one of the largest public works projects in history.
• The Delta will be ground zero for any adverse impacts from the BDCP and as a critical stakeholder in the process; the Delta counties require a seat at the table for any statewide water solution to have a chance of succeeding.
• Any new proposals must meet the requirements of federal environmental laws and conform to the 2009 Delta Reform Act, which mandated major water policy reforms to save endangered species on the brink of extinction.
• San Joaquin County and the Delta counties continue to advocate that protecting the Delta, as sought in the Delta Reform Act, is all about adequate flows. The BDCP should follow, not precede, the State Board’s determination of necessary flows into and out of the Delta.
For the past seven years, San Joaquin County and our Delta partners have been consistent in our opinion that the BDCP is a gigantic boondoggle that would effectively destroy the Delta as it exists today. And now we have the nation’s authority on the environment, the EPA, agreeing with us. Rather than reallocating water shortages, we should examine ways to sustainably create clean, new water supplies both locally and regionally. Anything short of that is disingenuous, a colossal waste of time and resources and will ultimately fail.
Supervisor Ken Vogel serves on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors representing District 4. He farms cherries and walnuts in Linden and serves as Chairman of the Delta Conservancy.