Mike Dunbar: Don’t try to bury us under your delta conservation plan

mdunbar@modbee.comDecember 14, 2013 

The 34,000-page Bay Delta Conservation Plan was released last week. If you printed it out and stacked it up, it’d be 11 feet tall.

As an old saying goes, if you can’t blind them with brilliance, then bury them in bull-something. Let’s call it bull-science.

That’s not to say that everything in this report is suspect. The overwhelming (and it is overwhelming) majority of this report, I’m sure, is based on solid research and (obviously) voluminous data. There’s no doubt the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and many of its native species, such as the longhorn fairy shrimp and the Delta mudwort and elderberry beetle are in danger. Something must be done.

But there are two “coequal” rationales for this $25 billion plan. One is to restore the Delta, the other is to provide more reliable water flows to other parts of the state. After perusing the executive summary (it’s doubtful anyone has read all 34,000 pages), we have a lot of questions and even more worries that this won’t do either. For instance:

• The plan would have all water diversions come from the much larger Sacramento River. But it doesn’t say how much water, instead offering two scenarios. One won’t satisfy those who want more water and the other won’t fix the Delta. You can’t split the difference.

• How do we pay for it? University of the Pacific professor Jeff Michael ran the numbers and estimates that even with a water bond there’s a 59 percent “funding hole,” i.e., a $15 billion gap. How do we cover that?

• How does the “no-surprise” rule work? This assures south valley water managers they won’t lose any water. But planners can’t make it rain, so how can anyone make such a promise?

• The BDCP calls this a 50-year plan. If this plan hurts farmers here, and we fear it will, shouldn’t we be able to call a timeout? In 50 years, our farmers could be back to raising dryland wheat, just as their forefathers did 140 years ago.

• And please explain, how do you fix the Delta by taking out more water?

Wait, there’s more

Even if someone has read all 34,000 pages, they’re not getting the entire picture. There are at least 20 agencies involved in the BDCP, and many are writing reports and making other plans.

We’re not suggesting that governmental agencies are in cahoots, but an apparent confluence of agendas makes us nervous.

For instance, three of our irrigation districts are in negotiations with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to re-license Don Pedro and New Exchequer dams. By law, FERC must have assurances from the State Water Resources Control Board that salmon and steelhead in the rivers will be protected.

How does the state board expect our districts to meet this laudable goal? By releasing more water from behind their dams. A lot more. The state board admits that this will deprive farmers of that water, and those farmers will likely pump more from underground to compensate – until another state agency steps in to tell them to stop doing that, either.

Where will water from behind the dams go? Into the San Joaquin River and then into the Delta.

What a happy coincidence. Just as the BDCP will be fulfilling its goal of more reliable flows to south valley farmers and big-city residents, our farmers will be forced to send more water from the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers into the Delta.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see a connection.

Give us a break

Our region was the hardest-hit in the nation during the Great Recession. We’re still fighting our way out. Having adequate water for farmers and the food industry is crucial to any future we can see. It always has been, always will be.

The agencies are taking public comment through April ( http://baydelta conservationplan.com /PublicReview /HowtoComment.aspx). Some people are already speaking up.

Rep. John Garamendi, who has farmed in the Delta, wrote this: “It is hard to imagine how these documents change the fundamental fact that the whole BDCP is a $25 billion boondoggle that will lead to the destruction of the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Western Hemisphere. This project still doesn’t create one gallon of new water, and it still doesn’t add one gallon of desperately needed storage for existing water. The BDCP remains a bad deal for California.”

Garamendi has the state’s priorities in order. The only way to save the Delta and provide more reliable water exports is to build more storage. First. Any other solution is just more BS – and we’re not talking about science.

Mike Dunbar is the editor of The Modesto Bee Opinions pages. Contact him at (209) 578-2325 or mdunbar@modbee.com.

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