Q&A: Update on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan
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In this edition of the Q&A, EID Director of Communications and Community Relations Mary Lynn Carlton talks with EID General Counsel Tom Cumpston and Deputy General Counsel Brian Poulsen about the progress on the BDCP.
Q. In the May/June 2012 issue of the Waterfront, I spoke with you about the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its implications on the district. Since that time a lot has happened. Can you give me an update starting with a basic review of the BDCP?
A. The BDCP is a habitat conservation plan and natural community conservation plan under the federal Endangered Species Act and the California Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act, respectively. When completed, the BDCP would provide the basis for the issuance of endangered species permits for the operation of the state and federal water projects that pump water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (“Delta”) and export it to other parts of the state.
The heart of the BDCP is a long-term (50-year) conservation strategy that sets forth actions needed for (1) ecosystem restoration in the Delta, and (2) water supply reliability for those that export water from the Delta. These are known as “the co-equal goals.” In short, the BDCP is an effort to provide water exporters with some supply assurances in exchange for large-scale ecosystem improvements.
This process started in 2006 and is being prepared collaboratively by state, federal and local water agencies, state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, environmental organizations and other interested parties. As an upstream water agency that has senior area-of-origin water rights, EID has actively monitored the development of the BDCP and we have provided input to the plan, especially voicing our concern with certain aspects of it.
Q. What is the status of the development of the BDCP right now?
A. After the issuance of administrative draft documents last summer, a Draft BDCP and a Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Study (“DEIR/EIS”) for the BDCP were released on Dec. 9, 2013. They contain more than 30,000 pages of analysis.
The DEIR/EIS identifies a preferred alternative that includes the construction of a supplemental conveyance system (two large underground tunnels) to move water around the Delta when operations at the existing pumps are constrained, as well as the creation or restoration of about 150,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat. As mentioned earlier, this plan would then be implemented over the next 50 years. The plan indicates that water users receiving water exported from the Delta will finance construction of the alternative conveyance system, presently estimated to cost $14.5 billion. Habitat restoration will likely rely on state bond funding and federal grants. EID is actively reviewing the DEIR/EIS in collaboration with other local and regional agencies that share our interests. We plan to submit comments on the draft prior to the public comment deadline of April 14, 2014. The plan is scheduled for completion in 2014, with decades of tunnel construction and habitat restoration to follow.
Q. I know the district has been concerned about losing water rights with this plan. Is this still the case and has anything happened to help ensure that this will not happen?
A. That remains a major concern to us and other upstream water users. The issue is whether implementation of the BDCP would require EID to forego diversion and use of water in order to provide more water for the Delta’s needs. This would essentially deprive EID of our senior water rights for the benefit of junior water rights holders who divert water from the Delta. EID, along with many other upstream water users and water groups such as Mountain Counties Water Resources Association and the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), has repeatedly advocated that the BDCP include explicit water rights protections and assurances for upstream and other senior water users. Although Gov. Brown has said that he supports water rights protections for upstream users and senior water rights holders, so far, the BDCP includes no such protections. Even more concerning, the governor has given no such instructions to the state regulatory agencies that will carry out his initiatives linked to the BDCP.
Q. Let’s talk about one of those BDCP-related initiatives the governor is proposing — the California Water Action Plan. Can you tell me about this plan and how it interfaces with the BDCP?
A. Gov. Brown recently announced that California is at a critical juncture for water policy. He stated that climate change, drought and population growth pose significant water-supply challenges to all of us. Therefore, in May, Gov. Brown directed the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to jointly identify key actions that need to be taken in the next one to five years to address urgent needs and lay a foundation for sustainable management of California’s water resources. In response, these agencies released a draft California Water Action Plan (CWAP) in Oct. 31, 2013. The governor’s hope is that, once final, the plan will supplement the Delta-centric BDCP to put all of California on a path to water-supply sustainability — and perhaps mute BDCP opposition.
EID is very involved in this planning process, both individually and through our affiliations with El Dorado County Water Agency, Mountain Counties and ACWA. Last summer, ACWA wrote its own plan, called the Statewide Water Action Plan (SWAP). The ACWA SWAP has much in common with the governor’s draft CWAP, but it’s a superior plan. Although the draft CWAP is a good start for addressing statewide water management challenges, it lacks some critically important actions included in the ACWA SWAP — actions that would protect our water rights, including area-of-origin rights, and promote better stewardship of natural resources, including headwater management.
For this reason, EID’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution on Nov. 12, 2013, supporting the ACWA SWAP and urging the Brown administration to revise its draft CWAP to include the critical actions and guiding principles of the ACWA SWAP that will protect water rights holders, including area-of-origin rights holders, and promote and support better stewardship of the state’s natural resources, including headwaters management. EID will closely monitor how the Brown administration implements its CWAP and continue to advocate that the administration do so in a manner consistent with the principles it outlined in its comment letter and which the board included in its resolution.
Q. It seems like there’s always a plan underway to fix the Delta or secure California’s water future, but in the end, little is accomplished. What makes this effort different?
A. Several things. First, the Delta’s condition is no longer just an environmental issue; it’s impacting the amount and reliability of water supplies for the majority of the state’s population and agricultural production. Second, the Brown administration is showing an unprecedented political commitment to hammering out solutions. And third, there’s increased public awareness of the significant threat that physical vulnerabilities, environmental degradation, drought and the projected impacts of climate change pose to California’s future prosperity.
Q. What are the key issues and events to watch in 2014?
A. For the draft BDCP and environmental document, the tenor of public comments in April and the state’s response next fall will be telling. Will the parties that would benefit from the BDCP make the huge financial commitments that are needed? Will there be sufficient details about project operations to satisfy upstream and in-Delta interests? For the CWAP, will we see prompt and decisive implementation actions to assure the public that the state is committed to addressing the whole water picture, and not just Delta exports? And if there’s a water bond on the November ballot to fund Delta habitat restoration and improve the water situation statewide, will the votes approve it? The year 2014 could be pivotal.