BAY-DELTA CONSERVATION: A LICENSE TO KILL?
After several years, CalFED ultimately collapsed. At that point, the idea of creating a comprehensive Bay-Delta Conservation Plan to resolve competing objectives for the Delta gained momentum. The basic goal was two-fold:
- Protect listed aquatic species of the Bay-Delta estuary
- Increase water supplies from the Delta by the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, using some sort of “conveyance” facility.
Unlike most public planning efforts, participants in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process had to sign a “planning agreement“ to gain access to the high-level meetings and discussions among the water industry’s power brokers, attorneys, and consultants.
By signing the planning agreement, these “stakeholders” were forced to agree that some kind of peripheral canal design had to be considered as part of the water supply management options that would be covered by any eventual habitat conservation plan. The California Water Impact Network and allied groups opted not to join the process because we do not believe that a conveyance facility is needed to solve California’s water problems.
In theory, the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan must meet the requirements of the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, as well as California’s Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act. As noted above, the goal is to protect listed species (such as the Delta smelt) and enable the construction of a peripheral canal, tunnel, or “dual conveyance” scheme to move fresh water from the Sacramento River around or under the Delta to existing export pumps 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.
Ecologically, it is questionable whether any number of “takes” dovetails benignly with efforts to avoid species extinction.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan thus aims to establish enough habitat restoration and other protective actions so that routine state and federal water project operations in the Delta will not cause the extinction of endangered fish species.
Simultaneously, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources hope to export enough water to agricultural and urban water contractors in the San Joaquin Valley and southern California to make construction and operation of a new trans-Delta conveyance system economically feasible.
C-WIN believes that the twin goals of ecological stability and increased Delta water exports are irreconcilable. The organization wrote a letter to Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes in 2009 that included our views on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.Although the BDCP planning agreement claims the conservation plan will protect listed species and preserve and restore their habitat, the agreement does not identify the recovery of population abundance of these species as a goal.
The water supply goal under the plan is to allow the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources to export enough water from a conveyance scheme to meet the full contractual demands of agricultural and urban water contractors in the San Joaquin Valley and southern California. However, as noted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010,
“…Combined, the SWP and CVP full contract amounts for Delta exports are around 7,432,883 AF. As noted above, historical exports by the CVP and SWP almost never exceed 6 MAF, so it appears that the “full contract amount” of exports is at least I million acre feet more than has ever been exported historically.” United States Environmental Protection Agency